Fall is here and with it comes cooler temperatures, changing leaves and (thank God) the kids are back to school. For the brewing world it’s the only time of the year you can get your hands on freshly picked hops, also known as wet hops. Wet hops refer to whole hop cones picked fresh off the vine and used in a beer without being dried or processed in any way. Fresh hops usually need to be used within 24 hours of being picked or you risk decomposition and the loss of flavor and aroma. Since time is a factor, there has to be a close relationship between the hop farmer and the brewer.
I used to think fresh hop beer was a marketing gimmick. Just something to put on a label to get a hopheads attention until I finally made one at home. A few years back my home brew partner, Brandon Surprenant of Draft Science, planted some in his backyard. After a few seasons we were able to harvest and make our own fresh hop ale. The results were intense. The sticky, piney resinous hop flavor was unlike anything we’d achieved with traditional pellets. I was hooked and have been searching out the best ones for Paddy Long’s and Kaiser Tiger ever since.
Most of the country’s hop farms are located in the Pacific Northwest so the logistics of shipping fresh hops within 24 hours to Chicago was simply too expensive for most small breweries. This led to a severe lack of fresh hop beers being brewed in our area. Thanks to the awesome Sierra Nevada Harvest series and a few others out West we were able to get some fresh hop beers every year — but not a lot locally.
Then a few years ago all of that changed. Local breweries started coming out with fresh hop ales and I started hearing stories about a hop farm in Michigan that, on top of supplying pellets year round, were also loading a truck with fresh hops during the harvest season and delivering them to breweries all over Chicagoland. Finally local fresh hop beer was available and affordable.
These heroes of the Midwest hop world are Hop Head Farms in Hickory Corners, Michigan and when my friend, Frank Lassandrello of Motor Row Brewing, asked if we’d like to visit the farm with him and bring some hops back to his brewhouse to make a beer, I immediately jumped at the chance.
So a couple weeks ago Brandon and I headed to Michigan to meet Frank and get a crash course on hop growing from Hop Head Farms principal partner and farmer, Jeff Steinman. The next morning we raced to Motor Row brewery and made a fresh hopped lager.
The following week we harvested all of Brandon’s hops and added them to a batch of beer at The Moxee Mad Mouse Brewery on Maxwell street.