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by Carol White
September 11, 2012
Anyone who has ever picked, held, or crushed a fresh hop cone in their hand knows that lovely scent of lupulin. The pursuit of that fresh hop character in beer has become an annual labor of love for many craft brewers, who sometimes go to great lengths to get the freshest hops possible into their brew. The bright, grassy character of fresh hops quickly diminishes, so for fresh hop beers, hops need to be used within 24 hours of picking.

This is the first year that the category Fresh Hop Ales will be a beer style to be judged at the Great American Beer Festival. The description in the GABF Competition Guidelines is as follows:

15. Fresh Hop Ale
Ales which are hopped exclusively with fresh and undried ("wet") hops. Entries should have characters similar to the style to which it is brewed with the added nuances of green, almost chlorophyll-like character with fresh, new beers. These beers may be aged and enjoyed after the initial "fresh-hop" character diminishes. Unique character from "aged" fresh hop beers may emerge, but they have yet to be identified and discussed. To allow for accurate judging the brewer must identify a classic, hybrid/mixed or experimental beer style being elaborated upon. Beer entries not accompanied by this information will be at a disadvantage during judging. Original Gravity (oPlato): Varies with style - Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (oPlato): Varies with style - Alcohol by Weight (Volume): Varies with style - Bitterness (IBU): Varies with style - Color SRM (EBC): Varies with style.

Obviously, there has been a lot left up to interpretation. Like Patrick Crawford from Denver Beer Company says about this judging, "It's all just beer drinkin', isn't it?" It will be an interesting competition to follow, given the slim window of time breweries have had to get just picked fresh hops at their peak, into their brew, and have the beer ready in time. Here are a few examples of some fresh hop beers being offered up by some of our Colorado breweries.

Ska Brewing has once again brewed their Hoperation Ivy using 550 pounds of wet Cascade hops from Leroux Creek Foods in Hotchkiss. Co-owner and head of brewing operations Bill Graham said they also added some of the Ruby hops from San Juan Hop Farms. "The specs aren't real clear on that hop, but I believe it is like a wild Cascade" said Bill. "the hops are kinda grassy, like hay". Ska will have 60 bbls of Hoperation Ivy to be sold in 22 oz. bombers and on draft. This IPA will be entered in the GABF Fresh Hop category. "Yeah, it will be interesting to see how many breweries will make the deadline with an entry", Bill said. "The time frame is really tight, you got to get the fresh hops, brew the beer, and have it ready."

Copper Kettle Brewing has brewed Fresh Hop #9, an American Pale Ale, using freshly picked Cascade hops from their Mug Club #9 member, John. Owner/brewer Jeremy Gobien says that "The fresh Cascade hops give this Pale Ale great flavor". They are hoping to brew another fresh hop beer this season, if they can secure enough hops for it. Fresh Hop #9 will not be entered into the Fresh Hop category for GABF, because they did not have enough hops to make a large enough amount of beer. Gobien said "You had to sign up for that category months ago, so we're not entering this year, but we may shoot for next year." The beer was tapped at the brewery Aug. 25th.

Bootstrap Brewing sourced organic hops from Colorado State University's Specialty Crops Program and Boulder County's Andrews Family Farm to brew Big Mo-Mentus Imperial American Amber named after their maverick brewer, David Mentus. The 50 pounds of fresh Chinook hops were delivered from CSU to the Andrews Family Farm, who have been working with CSU on hop growing and production for the craft brewing industry. They were then picked off the vine with Andrews' hand built hop picker, saving hours of time over hand picking. Within 24 hours of picking the hops, they were added to the thick, ruby-colored wort adding a distinct grassy aspect to the citrusy, grapefruit-like flavor of the hops. This is a big beer, coming in at 10.1% ABV. Mo-Mentus was just tapped 9/6/12 in the Bootstrap Brewing taproom, and will be entered into the GABF competition Fresh Hop category.

Aspen Brewing Co. has brewed Double Conundrum, a fall seasonal Fresh Hop brew. According to Duncan Clauss, co-founder of Aspen Brewing, "Yes, we are entering it into the GABF fresh hop category. We are really excited about this beer! I got to go to San Juan Hop farms to pick us the hops directly off the vine. They came off Wednesday morning, into my truck by 10am Wednesday, and in the beer by 1pm!" Aspen Brewing's description of the beer is a "Fresh Hop Imperial Red ale inspired by the bounty of Colorado's burgeoning hop growing scene. We took a local's favorite, our Conundrum Red, and shifted it into high gear, resulting in an 8.6% Imperial Red that is packed to the brim with freshly picked cascade hops from our friends over at San Juan Hop Farms... Smell it, sip it, and most importantly say a cheers to our local hop growers who made this beer possible."

Denver Beer Co. has been brewing their way through lots of fresh hops this season. They first brewed 2 fresh hop beers after a camping trip to Palisade, where they hand-picked hops at the Palisade Hop Farm. They brewed an IPA with all Chinook hops, then 1 with all Cascade hops. The fresh hop Cascade ran out in 3 days, as it was poured during their anniversary party. Next came a beer brewed with fresh Chinook hops brought in from a farm in Paonia. This beer is more of a red IPA brewed with honey. Then, Sept 1st they brewed their annual Neighborhood Hop Swap brew, a beer brewed with hops grown in and around Denver. Denver Beer Co. provided plants in the spring, helping create new urban hop farmers, and asked folks to donate the hops for a special brew. It includes hops grown at the brewery.

Pikes Peak Brewing in Monument once again brewed a wet hop edition of their America The Pale Ale Sept. 1st. The fresh Cascade hops were sourced locally from the Twisted Bine Organic Hop Farm in Monument. This is the hop farms' first harvest, and Pikes Peak Brewing owner Chris Wright is excited to be using their hops. "It's a fun brew for us. We get the bines the night before, then that morning we invite customers to come and pick the hops off the bines. It then goes right into the beer. Last year everybody had a blast". Chris would like to have his wet hop beer entered into the GABF competition, but doesn't think he'll make it this year. "The timing is tricky" Chris said.

Telluride Brewing Co. also sourced San Juan Hop Farms for their fresh hop beer. An american pale ale that has Cascade, Chinook, Citra, and Simcoe hops was brewed just hours after the fresh-picked hops arrived. The fresh hops that were added to the mix were 150 pounds of Cascade and Nugget. Then an extra 7 pounds went into the fermenter. The result? Wet Hopped American Summer Ale, tapped at the brewery Sept. 7th.

The Colorado Brewers Guild is providing a way to sample Fresh Hop beers with a new Hops Nouveau festival this fall, starting at the end of September. As reported by Jonathan Shikes in Westword a few weeks back, the idea was brought to the guild's marketing director Steve Kurowski by Tommyknocker Brewery's head brewer, Steve Indrehus, who was brewing a fresh hop beer for the Old Chicago restaurants. Kurowski has been working with former hops farmer Randy Flores and Denver's Larimer Associates for venues to host the hops festival. Four Larimer restaurants, LoHi SteakBar, Ernie's Bar and Pizza, Billy's Inn, and the Lowry Beer Garden, will each carry fresh hop beers from some of Colorado's breweries. Look for the beers to be coming from some of Colorado's bigger breweries that have the capacity to produce enough for all four restaurants to last throughout the festival, which is planned to go through Denver Beer Week and the Great American Beer Festival.

These are just a few examples of Colorado brewers sourcing local hops to create fresh hop beers, giving us all the chance to taste the essence of fresh Colorado hops, the terroir, if you will. Does it get any better than this? And how will GABF judges respond to their efforts? We'll know by October 13th. Meanwhile, find out if your local brewery has made a fresh hop beer, and get out and drink some!
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