Friday, September 9, 2011
Growing Your Own: Fresh Hop Brewing
The hops, after a disappointing (but expected) first year with no blossoms, flourished this year and produced a bumper crop. So I finally got a chance yesterday to brew my very own fresh hop ale with my very own (organic!) hops. The problem is, of course, that I have no experience using fresh hops and the whole endeavor is pretty new, so there is not a lot of collective wisdom out there about the use of fresh hops.
Nevertheless, I forged ahead. I am a huge fan of fresh hop ales, but I also know how hard they are to make well. Most fresh hop festivals have as many failures as triumphs. One thing I have settled on is that dry hops should be used for the bitter charge. There are some who would argue that this then makes the beer not a true fresh hop ale, but I disagree. The point of the fresh hops is not the bitterness but the green earthy note they impart to the beer. And bad beer is bad beer, so using the very hard to anticipate fresh hops as the bitter charge increases the risk of a bad beer significantly. In fact, I am confident that my beer will be quite enjoyable no matter what I have been able to extract from the fresh hops.
I decided on a very simple recipe - a light colored pale ale (no, not a redundancy) hopped exclusively with Cascades, both dry and wet. My brewing compatriot came over at 10 and we began the harvest of the hops at 10:30 while the strike water was heating up and by 10:45 we mashed in and continued to pick the hops. Just for kicks I threw a couple of handfuls of wet hops in the mash at vorlauf for some wet hop first wort hopping. Then the dried Cascades at the beginning of the the boil with a big bunch of wet hops at the end. Having no idea how much to add I just grabbed handfuls and dumped until satisfied. Something about that lack of precision - in a process defined by precision - seemed fitting to the whole fresh hop beer ideal. All went well and the beer is now fermenting happily.
It'll be interesting to see how long the beer will last. We will have five gallons of the stuff and I expect the fresh hop note to be ephemeral - I wonder how long it will take for the beer to either lose its character or become stale and unpleasant. Those with experience are encouraged to chime in to prevent me from wasting beer.
The whole endeavor feels very Portland to me - backyard hops cultivating, home-brewing, and making a northwest pale ale. It was also a very cool experience regardless of the outcome.