Coming towards the end of August I often think about the hop harvest and what is going on the farm. It is an anxious time for the grower – last year I had a hop grower visit me in Blackburn when I was head brewer at Thwaites – after our meeting I offered my guests a beer but was taken aback when they said no that they had to return to the farm to see to the hops. This struck home to me how important it is to grower these few weeks at the end of summer. It can make or break the year. Some brewers also think about brewing a green hop beer and that reminded me that as head brewer of Wadworth my predecessor, Trevor Holmes, came up with the idea and that I wrote an article on the experience of brewing a green hop beer in 2009. So, I would like to share it with you as it gives a little bit of experience, history and reflection of my visits to the farm at the beginning of September. Unfortunately, Wadworth have stopped brewing the beer.
Malt ‘n’ Hops is the original harvest hop beer having been developed by my predecessor Trevor Holmes and brewed at Wadworth since 1992. He came up with the concept after a visit to a hop yard where he wondered what a beer would taste like using fresh hops. The name Malt ‘n’ Hops came from a beer produced from the Burford Brewery of Garne and Sons Ltd., which Wadworth purchased in 1969. The early brews not only contained the fresh hop element but incorporated new season’s barley specially malted early. This concept was soon dropped as the malt produced beers of poor fermentablity due to dormancy. This article is how this beer brewed; it is collaboration between brewer and farmer to produce this unique flavoured harvest beer.
The middle of summer always leads to the same question by our sales team which is “When will Malt ‘n’ Hops be ready?” The answer is always the same “I do not know. How can I predict the weather?” Forced in to a corner to give an answer I tend to yield to a conservative reply that “It will be ready by the third week of September”
Towards the end of August, usually about a week before the late Bank Holiday, careful planning is made between Richard Powell, manager of Lupofresh’s Newnham Farm, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire and I. Malt ‘n’ Hops is brewed firstly with freshly harvested Early Bird Goldings hops which are both newly dried on the previous day (fresh from the kiln) and wet hop cones picked on the day of brewing. Therefore, Richard has to tell me when he has both the dried and the wet cone hops available. This is so I can plan the brewing slot and the transport to collect the hops. This date is never fixed due to nature so it varies from year to year but we like to get this as early as possible, to keep our sales team happy.
Wadworth today uses the newly commissioned Steinecker copper house with an internal Stromboli kettle and whirlpool for brewing all their beers. This year we brought out of “mothballs” the old copper house to brew this beer. The reason is quite simple in that given the fact that any new seasons hop pellets will be difficult to produce in time and the sheer volume of fresh hops would never work in a Whirlpool. I have personally tried this – when I worked at Shepherd-Neame, I copied the fresh hop recipe for the Faversham Hop Festival beer. We used the “hop tea bag” technique of putting the fresh hops in a tea bag consisting of sown sheets sandwiching the green hops and adding this to the whirlpool. Needless to say it did not work. Alan Cox, the shift brewer at the time, had a nightmare of a job fishing out the split “hop tea bag.” So, the only realistic method of brewing this beer at the moment is to bring back the original coppers and the good old hop back. Until a solution is found to this problem, we will have to do this each year.
So how is this beer brewed? A Wadworth employee is dispatched on the given date; pre-dawn, to get to the farm by 6 am to collect hops both freshly dried on the previous day and green hops freshly picked on that morning. He returns to Devizes so that by 9:30 am the first of two coppers can receive the hops. This timing is very critical; in 2008 I decided personally to do the hop run. I made the mistake of stopping, for a cup of coffee on the way back, only to find a “posse” of brewery operators standing by the gate waiting impatiently for my arrival. Such is the important timing of getting the hops on time to meet the brew. Firstly, the newly dried hops are added to the copper at boil with a rate of 0.6 lbs/brl (166g/Hl). From the concept in the 1990’s dried hops have always been used simply due to the sheer bulk of the wet hops. We tend to use this same rate by experience as we do not know the alpha acid content. It should be noted that we do have full specifications for all of our beer but Malt ‘n’ Hops does not have a BU specification for that reason.
The fresh green hops are added in two stages. A proportion of hops is added 15 minutes from the end of the boil whilst the rest are added to the hop back (hop tea) prior to wort addition. The rate of addition is in the order of 1.26 lbs/brl (350g/Hl) which looks a very large figure but takes in account the 80% moisture content.
Brewing this beer is always a surprise as the recipe depends on using the same quantity of materials each year and seeing what happens. Most beers are carefully brewed using tried and tested materials to maintain a level of consistency. When we brew Malt ‘n’ Hops we are given what we are given and we see what flavours we get. Some years the resinous nature of using green hops comes through strongly whilst in other years it can be quite subtle.
With the 2009 vintage we produced a beer with BU of 47 compared with the previous year’s 31. The beer did not appear to be as resinous as usual but that could be caused by the bitterness masking these flavours. From this result we were able to feed back that the alpha acid this year could be exceptional. Richard Powell back on the farm confirmed this as he noticed that the lupulin cover on his picking machinery appeared much quicker than usual. Once the alpha acids were finally measured that Early Bird crop was in the order of 6.9% against 4.6% in 2008.
At the time of writing a second brew has just been made some two weeks later using the last of the harvest which Richard kindly held back for us this time to fit in with our brewing schedule.
So perhaps this is the one beer where you get the true vintage of the hop harvest perhaps the “Beaujolais Nouveau” of the beer world.
Written by Brian Yorston, Course Manager at Brewlab.Return to Brewlab blog