This Year's Fresh Hop Beers

This Year's Fresh Hop Beers

We say it every year: there really is no better time to visit the Yakima Valley than during hop harvest. Suddenly, our sleepy little town becomes the center of the hop universe, and brewers and beer fans from all over come visit. The hop trucks flood the town and the excitement of harvest is contagious. How many towns are lucky enough to have an entire month to celebrate fresh, homegrown ingredients?

This year, we want to share some of the finer details that go into our annual fresh hop lineup. Bale Breaker Product Development & Quality Manager, Jacqueline Beard, is giving us the run down on this year’s fresh hop offerings. For those not in the know, wet or fresh hop beers are beers that are made with freshly harvested hops, before they hit the kiln to dry. We love to boast that we have the freshest fresh hops around – our hops come straight from our family’s hop farm, a 4 minute drive from farm to kettle.

“The first thing to know about harvest,” says Jackie, “is that you can pick your hop, you can pick your brew day, but you can’t pick both.”

This year’s harvest certainly made that interesting – Citra’s harvest window was the longest, so Citra became the MVP of our fresh hop lineup. We have our annual collab with our buds at Cloudburst Brewing, Citra Slicker, out now – we’ve told the Citra Slicker story many of times, so check out our previous behind-the-scenes video if you’re interested in learning more about that brew. But this year Citra wet hops became center stage in many of our Imagination Station (our 5-barrel brew system) batches as well.

Why is Citra such a star of this year’s fresh hop season? “It’s the hop with the longest harvest window,” Jackie tells us. “It’s the number one hop planted in the Yakima Valley, so both farms [Tributary and Loftus Ranches, our family’s hop farms] have a lot of acreage of Citra to go through. Plus, this year’s harvest had some hiccups – rain in the middle of the harvest window, which meant they had to pause harvest, as well as an equipment breakdown.”

With Citra as our longest harvest window, we were able to work it into many of our recipes that had pre-scheduled brew days. And this year, after the loneliness that was 2020’s harvest, we had a lot of collaborations on deck. Collaborations are always tricky for fresh hops – because, as Jackie pointed out, you can only pick the brew day or the hop used – and if you’re picking the hop used, you need to be cognizant of the harvest window.

For instance, our taproom partners in Seattle, Yonder Cider, wanted to do a fresh hop cider with an experimental hop, HBC 630. “The harvest window for 630 is roughly 6 hours,” Jackie points out. “And if you’re trying to target a specific hop like that, with other hops being harvested around it that aren’t good for fresh hops, it gets trickier.” HBC 630 is harvested alongside Ekuanot and Tomahawk – two high alpha varieties that don’t necessarily lean well to good fresh hop beers. Our buddies at Yonder Cider wanted to add fresh HBC 630 hops to their fresh hopped cider, but the timing just didn’t work out: So Citra it was!

So how do we differentiate all of our fresh hop beers if Citra was the main wet hop added? “By differentiating the malt bill and dry hops added,” Jackie answers. “That way, people also get to explore fresh hop Citra throughout the harvest window. What’s harvested earlier will be grassier, with more of a grapefruit or lemon aroma. Earlier harvested Citra often has more vegetal character – think tomato or celery. As it’s harvested later and ripens, you get more orange and lemon aromas, and it begins to pick up that pine resin that makes Citra the classic hop of the PNW. It’s exactly what you think of when you think of a West Coast IPA. The citrus, pine aromas that you smell and taste… that’s Citra.”

In addition to Citra Slicker (out now in both of our taprooms, and available to go in 16oz 4pks) and Yonder’s Fresh Hop Vantage Cider (available at our Ballard taproom), you can try fresh hop Citra in Kveik It Til You Meik It Fresh Hop Pale Ale – a collaboration with The Yakima Food Guy, featuring kveik yeast (a clean and fruity Norwegian farmhouse yeast) – out now at both of our taprooms.

We collaborated with Seattle’s Future Primitive Brewing on Whose Bine Is It Anyway Fresh Hop IPA, out this week in our taprooms – while wet hop Citra was added on the hot side in the hopback to this beer, the beer is actually a love note to Mosaic hops. “This is a perfect example of ‘you can pick the brew day, or you can pick the hop’ – we planned to feature Mosaic wet hops, but due to the equipment breakdowns this year during harvest, Mosaic’s harvest window was pushed back and not available for the brew date we scheduled,” Jackie tells us. There’s wet hop Citra and Citra on the dry side as well, but really the Citra just works to add some complexity to the otherwise Mosaic heavy hop bill.

And finally, rounding out our Citra collabs: Yard Sale Fresh Hop Pale Ale, with Spokane’s Hidden Mother Brewing. “We build our recipes by taking something that the visiting brewers are excited about in the process and including that,” Jackie tells us. “Hidden Mother was really excited to showcase Marris Otter pale malt, so we started there.” Marris Otter pale malt is a classic for British cask ales and bitters, known for its nutty, biscuity malt notes – which interplayed really nicely with, you guessed it, Citra wet hops. Coming out this week in our taprooms!

As for our non-Citra fresh hop beers: this year’s fresh hop season started earlier for us than usual. Our first beer of the season was Seasonal Creeper, dry hopped with wet Sabro, rather than added on the hot side. “We ended up using half the hops we were expecting to – just a sprinkling of Sabro, since it’s so intense. We’re really happy with that beer, and were excited to get a beer out this year when everyone is excited for fresh hop season at the beginning of the month.” This beer is currently sold out at both of our taprooms, but we’re excited to bring a Sabro early fresh hop out next September.

No. 8 in our Homegrown Beer series (that’s a beer entirely grown by us – we grew the hops AND the barley) was our first canned Fresh Hop offering this year, featuring wet Simcoe hops. Similar to Seasonal Creeper, we added the fresh hops after fermentation. “Normally we load the fresh hops into these sort of giant tea bags and steep them into the beer,” Jackie tells us. “But we were getting that grassy, leafy character from that process so we wanted to change it up this year. We loaded the fresh hops into a separate, smaller tank and then ran the beer through it, kind of like a hop torpedo. We’ve never done it like that before but our cellar guys really killed it.” You can grab it on draft now at both of our taprooms, as well as to go in 16oz 4pks (although these are selling out FAST).

Our collaboration with Seattle’s Two Beers Brewing features wet Loral hops. “The team at Two Beers love Simcoe and wanted to make a beer showcasing Simcoe – and, as per usual, we thought we could get fresh Simcoe but instead, we got Loral. So it’s mainly Simcoe dry hops and wet Loral hops – this just added more complexity. It was a happy accident,” says Jackie. Loral Fixation IPA will be hitting our taprooms this week.

Rounding out our collaborations, Stoup opted to select a hop rather than a brew day - so earlier this week, co-owners Kevin Quinn and Kevin Smith loaded 600lbs of Idaho 7 into a UHaul and hit the road first thing in the morning, crossing the pass at sunrise to get that intense, unique hop to Stoup, fresh off the farm. “We grow a fair amount of Idaho 7,” Jackie points out, “which makes it easier to time a brewday.” You can find this collab at Stoup and at our taprooms in a couple of weeks.

And finally? We have our annual, fan favorite Fresh Hop – Piled High Imperial Fresh Hop IPA. This is our OG fresh hop beer, brewed every year since before we even officially opened! We debuted it at the Fresh Hop Ale Festival in 2012- making the recipe a decade old next September. Fresh hopped with Simcoe and featuring the world’s smoothest bitterness (self-proclaimed), this beer is a classic for a reason, and it just won 1st Place Fresh Hop Imperial IPA for the THIRD YEAR at Yakima’s 2021 Fresh Hop Ale Fest. It’s on tap at our taprooms now.

So there you have it: we’ve brewed 8 fresh hop beers at our brewery this year, and the collaborations at Stoup and Yonder bring us up to a whopping 10 fresh hop offerings. Head to our taprooms to try these beers now – they’re best as fresh as possible. When they’re gone, they’re gone, which is part of what makes this time of year so magical – just a quick blip of time when we get to showcase exactly what it is we love to do.

Posted October 08, 2021

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