The California Hop Harvest and Fresh Hop Beer

In California, the hop harvest is an exciting time of year. As the farmers harvest the last of their crops, we’re able to sample some of the finest fresh hop beers in the world.

We caught up with Rohit Nayyar from United Hops (one of the local hop growers in California and a representative of the California Hop Growers Association) to find out more about the harvest and fresh hop beer in California.

Can you tell us about the hop harvest going on right now in California?

Ro: Well, since this is California, many of us have noticed a change in weather patterns.  The 2015/2016 winter saw early and strong rains, which helped replenish local water sources and reservoirs.  However, the rains cleared up by March, with the exception of the freak hail/rain storm in mid-May. As a result, of a dry and warm spring, we saw hop shoots popping up in March and many local farmers have been harvesting since late July.

Hop farmers in San Diego are having hop picking parties on their farms through the end of August and delivering fresh to the local San Diego breweries.

United Hops has about 1 week of harvesting left, hence we should have completed the 2016 harvest by September 5.  Early August 2016 saw a blast of heat and the Cascade hops were ripening extremely quickly.  Our native California Cluster, which are 3-years-old, look extremely robust and filled with lupelin.

CCBA: What are the advantages to brewers using hops fresh from the harvest in their beer?

Ro: Typically, brewers utilizing fresh hops are located close to the hop farmers.  Consequently, they tend to know each other and stay in close communication during the growing season so that the brewer knows when fresh hops will be ready.  This enables the brewer to visit the field during the season to literally watch the hops grow and monitor their progress.

Occasionally, the brewer and his team will visit the farm and actually assist in the harvest.  Back at the brewery, this first-hand knowledge of the growing and harvesting process becomes one of the great selling points for the brewery as the staff better understands  the intricacies and challenges of growing high-quality hops.  Brewers are enjoying bringing the Farm-to-Pint model to their tap rooms.

Brewing with fresh hops requires that the brewer to receive the hops within 24 hours.  The fresh hops impart all of the essential oils into the beer, depending upon when they are added, either during the boil, the whirlpool or dry hopped at the end.  As a result, the beer literally tastes like the fresh hops.

Conversely, the brewer has to be careful how many fresh hops to add to avoid over bittering the beer since utilizing fresh hops is more of art than science.  As the volatile oils and aromas continue to change throughout harvest, brewers are able to pinpoint exactly what aromas they are seeking from a variety.

CCBA:  How would you describe harvest or fresh hop beer to someone who isn’t familiar with the style?

Ro: As noted, fresh hops retain their oils, which can contribute a greater range of delicate flavors and aromas to the nose.  Simultaneously, the beer tends to have a bolder, yes a fresh flavor.

Conversely, immature hops will produce a green and grassy aroma while overripe hops can have an onion-garlic, coconut or herbal aroma.

From a sensory perspective fresh hops beers are similar to adding fresh herbs to your pasta vs using dried herbs.  The flavors of the hops pop out on your taste buds, creating a feeling of actually being in the hop yard surrounded by the aromas of hops ready for picking.

CCBA:  How does the harvest and the Fresh Hop style work into your display at the California Craft Beer Summit?

Ro: The CA Craft Beer Summit occurs just as the hops harvest is concluding in California.  This event serves as the culmination of a lot of hard work by the California hop growers, and the regional brewers who are able to showcase their fresh hop beers at the Summit.

The CA Craft Beer Summit and the explosive growth of the craft brewing industry in California has served as the impetus for a whole new generation of hop farmers, especially in Northern California.  As growers, we look forward to increased collaboration with our regional brewers and increasing the acreage of CA hops for more brewers to enjoy.

CCBA: What are examples of some craft beers that highlight the hop harvest?

Ro: All these beers are brewed with our Hops:

Ol’ Republic – Sierra Lighting Wet Hop
Jack Rabbit – Wet Hop IPA
Knee Deep – Fresh C’s Wet Hop
Rubicon – Deschutes Collaboration beer

Some other breweries that are brewing with fresh hops are:
Campbell Brewing Company
New Glory Brewing Company
Tilted Mash

If you’re looking to sample even more fresh hop beer, come check out the  California Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento September 8-10.

The CCBA is also working with Sierra Nevada on the upcoming Single, Fresh, Wet & Wild festival that will be held on October 22nd on the brewery grounds in Chico.