You know why brewers use this crop to flavour their beers. Why some of them obsess over the choice of hops. Why some want a particular variety from a particular place. You know why this crop has been grown for centuries. Why new strains keep being produced. You know that while grain and water are the basis for so many alcoholic drinks, hops are what makes beer, beer.
Each year the top of the South Island is keenly watched by brewers, because, come March, the hop harvest starts. The same earth that makes for great grapes and hemp also grows amazing hops. The brewers scramble for their boxes of fresh green hops and brew straight away.
Time is of the essence, as fresh hops degrade very quickly. Usually they are whisked into the kiln for drying, but if you want the fresh hop flavour, time is not your friend. The fresh hops are put directly into refrigerated containers, which extends their life by roughly 24 hours. The boxes of chilled hops are taken as quickly as possible to the breweries, where often mashing in has already started so that the hops can be put straight into the boil. Last year, one brewery even set up a brewing kit in the hop fields to brew straight off the vines.
It’s all about the oil.
Green hops have loads of oil in them. This is what gives green-hopped beer a very different flavour to other beers. In the past, brewers have even thrown fresh hops in a blender to get maximum oil from the product.
Some brewers create new recipes designed to complement the fresher flavour of the newly picked hops. Others use old, familiar recipes to taste how they are changed by the extra oil. Most famously, Søren from 8 Wired Brewing in Blenheim used green hops to create a fresh version of his world-renowned Hopwired IPA. The taste was best described to me as “green, like you imagine grass tastes like” (but not what grass actually tastes like). In other words, a freshness you can’t get from dry hops.
The idea of ‘Brewjolais’ isn’t new, but only in recent years has it been considered a celebration of hops. This year’s Hopstock features a vast array of brewers from Nelson, Wellington and Auckland. It’s another chance to show off the amazing products that are coming out of craft breweries all over the country. The man behind Craft Beer Capital (SBC), Sean Murrie, sees it as a chance to educate the beer drinkers of New Zealand.
“If I go into a place with a thousand wines, I wouldn’t know what to do. I’d say, ‘Just choose one for me’,” Murrie says. The growth in the ‘craft beer’ section of the market has been massive over the past year. The new selection of styles and brands can be daunting for new drinkers, and festivals like Hopstock have been launched to both celebrate beer itself and help make finding a beer you like less difficult.
Such festivals also bring punters into our many craft beer bars. There are 16 CBC bars participating in Hopstock this year, most carrying two of the fresh brewed beers. Stacey Walsh from Little Beer Quarter and Sean Golding from Golding’s Free Dive see the event as a chance for the craft bars of Wellington to come together to promote the Craft Beer Capital.
“Nelson is the hop capital and we’re the style capital,” says Walsh. “We get to celebrate with them. They provide the hops, the brewers work their magic, and we provide the customers.”
“Hopstock is a great chance for all the local bars to work together and celebrate beer,” Golding says. “We’ve got bars from Kelburn Village Pub to Hashigo Zake all doing the same thing, showing off this fresh-hopped beer and showing off the quality and breadth of the bar scene in Wellington.”
As with last year’s Hopstock, the freshly hopped beers will be distributed evenly amongst the various bars. So if you want to try them all, you’ll need to do a bit of bar-hopping.
“We want to be clear that this isn’t about creating a pub-crawl atmosphere,” Murrie says. “We want people to try new bars and new beers at the same time.” You may want to try the beers as half-pints or tasters anyway, as some will have fairly high alcohol percentages.
As part of Hopstock this year, Craft Beer Capital in association with FishHead are running a “Hop On, Hop Off” bus tour of the participating bars. Or if you prefer to set your own pace, the beers will be exclusively available from 23 April to 26 April at all of the participating Craft Beer Capital bars.
D4 on Featherston
Fork & Brewer
Golding’s Free Dive
Kelburn Village Pub
Little Beer Quarter
Rogue & Vagabond
Sprig & Fern
The Hop Garden
The Tap Haus
8 WIRED BREWING (Blenheim)
BACH BREWING (Auckland)
BAYLANDS BREWERY (Wellington)*
BLACK DOG BREWERY (Wellington)*
CASSELS & SONS (Christchurch)*
FORK & BREWER (Wellington)
GOLDEN BEAR (Nelson)
PANHEAD CUSTOM ALES (Wellington)*
SPRIG & FERN (Nelson)*
THE TWISTED HOP (Christchurch)*
TOWNSHEND BREWERY (Nelson)
(* First year participating)