Hop Harvest 2016
by Josh J | 13 Sep. 2016
September has always been my absolute favorite month. There is nothing better than warm days and cool nights, fresh from the orchard apples, apple cider, apple pie, apple crisp, bugs finally going away so we can fully enjoy the great outdoors, leaves changing colors, not having to mow as much, and pumpkin flavored everything in my belly...
...and for the past few years I've added hop harvesting to the list.
You see, most of the year brewers use dried hops to make the delicious beers you drink. They are dried for easy storage and shelf life. But, one magical time out of the year we get to use fresh off the vine hops.
I've had my hops plants growing for 3 years now, 2 of which they've produced enough to make a delicious fresh hop beer (or what is also known as 'wet hop'). My sister also grows a separate variety at my parents' place, so harvesting and brewing has turned into a family event. Plus, my daughter (3 yrs) was super excited to help daddy harvest the hops this year. I love brewing (and growing my hops), but I love it even more when my family and friends get involved.
Similar to how different varieties of grapes produce different wines, hops too come in all shapes, sizes, flavors and aromas. The kind growing at my house are called Nugget: these exhibit spicy and herbal characteristics with a slight hint of pear and peach. The hops growing at my parents' house are called Centennial: these are heavy on the flower notes with an unmistakably pungent citrus aroma and flavor.
As for the beer, last year I made a light bodied, crisp, heavy on the Centennial hops IPA (a west coast style IPA if you are familiar). This year the Centennial at my parents' house didn't produce as much, so I developed a different beer to accommodate using more of the Nugget variety.
My goal was a medium body beer that has some malty/bready notes, so I used a large portion of German Vienna malt as the base (think an Oktoberfest style, but mine will be less malty) and added a side of Caramel Wheat to sweeten it up and give it some nice thick white foam when poured. Then I heavily wet hopped during the boil and reserved some more hops to add after fermentation (a process called 'dry hopping' even though mine are still fresh).
And now we wait. Right now the yeast is breaking down the sugars during primary fermentation to develop most of the alcohol in the beer. Then I'll move the beer from the primary fermenter to another vat, called the secondary. Here the yeast gets a last surge of life to break down some remaining sugar. This is where I'll also add a healthy dose of additional hops (the 'dry hop'). And finally I'll transfer to a keg for carbonation. The length of time for each of these stages will vary with beer style; this will be the quickest I've ever done to ensure the fresh hop delight can be experienced in full. Everything should be ready for a nice tall pint in ~2-2.5 weeks. Open door policy for my friends and family to come enjoy!
I'll keep you posted on how it turns out, cheers!
(Update: Click Here to check out the final product!)