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.   

11 comments:

Jeff Alworth said...

Regardless of outcome??? It's going to be brilliant.

Brett Begani said...

I Brew a fresh hop beer every year, both at Hop Madness and from my own backyard pickin.' What I do is use them exclusively at/after 10 minutes remaining or in Mash/Dry hop. Because I'm unable to know exact AA levels I use commercial hops for bittering. At Hop Madness this year I picked an entire 5 gallon bucket full off the bines (that I cut from the fields as well just a 1/2 hour before) and dumped them in to an amber at flameout. Dropped the temp to 130, put a lid on the pot and went to drinking. The next morning I drained to carboy and pitched yeast at home. It's fermenting very nicely and smells fantastic. I might even throw some of my own hops in when I put it to keg. If you need a great way to dry a ton of hops overnight, just message me and I'll get you some pictures. (20" box fan and a furnace filter with a cardboard box)

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brewyourownbeer said...

You've been spammed by a plumber! Going to harvest my Nugget hop next week for a wet hop ale, thanks for passing on your experience. Not wishing to tell you how to brew, but you should record your 'dumped until satisfied' quantities because people like me want to know!

Curtiss Gulash said...

I know this is an old post, but any chance you can share your grain bill? I'll be harvesting my first batch of cascades in a few weeks and need a recipe. Thanks.

Patrick Emerson said...

Hi Curtiss,

We used 9 lbs of 2-Row, 1 lb of wheat, and 1 lb of 20L Crystal. Very simple - we wanted to highlight the hops. The wheat we used for a touch of softness and mouthfeel and was something of our signature element at the time, but we have moved away from it as we experiment with other things. I would probably go lighter as well -- maybe only 1/2 lb of crystal -- because I am into more pale beers now. I think if I were making a free hop beer now, I would do a very small bitter charge using dry hops and then dump an enormous amount of wet hops in the whirlpool.

-Patrick

Raymond Boyle said...

Boil kettle space can be a challenge, at least is was for me on my fresh hopped brews. There simply is a limit to how much will fit! As an aside, I like to let the hops become paper dry and opening up. That's my cue to brew. In the
photo above they look greener and closed.


Raymond

Patrick Emerson said...

Yes, they had been picked literally 30 minutes before. This is the essence of fresh (or wet) hopped beer for me. Downside is the vegetal flavors you can get, upside is the amazingly fresh and green hop flavors. Some hate them, I love them. But in the last few years, brewers have become much better at getting the latter without the former. Breakside in Portland flash freezes them with nitrogen and then shatters them before putting them in the hop back, for example.