The Beaujolais of Craft Beer

By Andy Sparhawk

Fresh Hop Beers: A Rebuff to Deboeuf?

Cork dorks of the world recognize the harvest with the release of Beaujolais Nouveaux, a table wine made with the gamay grape varietal. Beer geeks celebrate the harvest with a multitude of different fall seasonals; from pumpkin beers to traditional German-style Märzens. While plenty will agree a fresh pumpkin beer is a great way to welcome the changing season, nothing is more representative of craft beer as an agricultural product that has not been commoditized, than fresh hop beers.

Fresh hop beer (FHB) comprises a loose category of beers that utilize “green” hops of the yearly harvest. Adding fresh hops to a recipe produces a character in beer that cannot be duplicated at any time other than during the hop harvest. Often the freshly picked hops go into the brewing process within a few short hours, depending on the source of these hops.

Much like the race to Paris that Georges Deboeuf made with Beaujolais Nouveaux, craft brewers have a race of their own. Often, one part of a FHB brewing team will begin the initial brewing process as another is returning to the brewery with their fresh hop payload.

Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi Brewing Company talks of his first time brewing a FHB at the Eugene, Ore. brewery. “For the first one I brewed at Ninkasi, I drove up to Mt. Angel, to the Annen Farm, and got about 80 pounds of hops. They put them in sacks for me and then away I went. I had the bags seat belted in the passenger seat of my truck because I wanted to smell them. It was a funny sight I am sure to anybody driving by and truckers who looked down into the truck would wave and give me thumbs up.”

Like the Beaujolais Nouveaux, fresh hop beers are best experienced fresh, the brewing process itself though, depends on the brewer. Today, brewers all over the country craft FHB in different ways. While some may still be available, mark your calendar for late August through October when many of these fresh beers are released.

Surly Brewing Company’s Todd Haug Explains the FHB Process

Fresh Hop Beers Straight from the Source

CraftBeer.com asked craft brewers all over the country to share about their fresh hop beers. While many might believe that the term “fresh hop” translates to hop potency, much of the character that brewers try to convey from brewing FHB is achieved in late hopping additions that contribute flavor and aroma to beer, though some brewers choose to use a tremendous amount of hops all the way through the process, which yields an aggressively bitter beer.

Hwy 19HWY19 Fresh Hop Pale Ale | Beer Valley Brewing Co.
Ontario, Oregon 

Explained by Pete Ricks, CEO: HWY19 is a fresh hop beer—not one ounce of dried hops was used. Although no hops were used in the kettle, the beer has about 40-50 IBUs, as the hops were injected through a completely non-patented brewing process. Fresh Chinook, Centennial, and Zeus hops from all four of the Treasure Valley, Idaho hop farming families were used in this brew. The beer gets its name from Idaho Highway 19, a key road in the Western Treasure Valley that runs through hop country.

Beer Valley Brewing also produces fresh hop Leafer Madness IPA and Fresh Hop Black Flag Imperial Stout on an annual basis.

Hop HarvestHop Harvest Ale | BridgePort Brewing Co.
Portland, Oregon 

Explained by Jeff Edgerton, brewmaster: This triple-hopped, imperial-style ale gets its name from the 625 pounds of fresh Willamette Valley hops that go into making this highly coveted beer. Carmel malt joins forces with a touch of wheat to produce a deep amber colored beer with a cloudy veil.

When announced by Gayle Goschie, farm head of Goschie Farms, that the crop was ripe for harvest, I drove to the farm with utility trailer in tow. Armed with huge burlap sacks, the group took to retrieving the fresh Centennial hops at the farm. Normally these hops would be sent through the drier and shipped throughout the U.S., but the team caught the green cones prior to drying and loaded them up for the trip up north to the brewery. Within an hour, the BridgePort crew cut open the sacks and the hops were blended with a base beer that had been prepared in advance and cooled to prevent cooking off the delicate flavor profiles. In around two weeks, brewers lightly filtered the beer and filled kegs and 22 oz bottles with this farm-fresh brew.

Apres Harvest | Icicle Brewing Co.
Leavenworth, Washington

Explained by Pamela Brulotte, owner: Our family has a long history of hop farming; we have now built a brewery in Leavenworth and have also run a Bavarian Grill and Beer Garden, the Munchen Haus, for ten years. After picking up 96 pounds of Citra hops from Yakima Chief, Apres Harvest was brewed the same day!

Lake PlacidBackfence IPA | Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
Lake Placid, New York 

Explained by Kevin Litchfield, head brewer: The Lake Placid Pub & Brewery has been brewing a fresh hopped ale called Backfence IPA for four years now. The hops are grown right in Lake Placid by a friend of ours here at the pub.

This year, we harvested 17 pounds of Cascade hops, and used them all for flavor additions. We also took six pounds of the hops and dehydrated them, two pounds were used as dry hops, and the other four pounds were used to make a hop tea that was added to our serving tank.

Sierra Nevada EstateEstate Homegrown Ale | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, California 

Explained by Bill Manley, communications coordinator: This is one of the few estate-made ales available anywhere in the world today. Produced with hops and barley grown on-site at our brewery in Chico, this ale reflects the flavors of our surroundings in California’s fertile Central Valley. By growing our own natural ingredients, we ensure the finest two-row barley and the freshest hops on earth, straight from the field and into the brew kettle with no stops along the way.

Rockyard BobcatF&B Pale Ale | Rockyard Brewing Company
Castle Rock, Colorado

Explained by Jim Stinson and Kjell Wygant: Our pale ale is generously hopped, and then hopped some more with locally grown Cascade hops. This beer is hopped in the mash, late hopped in the kettle, and then dry hopped again in the fermenter.

While investigating rumors of the largest bobcat known to man, we ran across a fence covered in decades-old hops growing with wild abandon in Sedalia, Colo. Many beers and a lasagna later, we were invited back to harvest what we could carry out on our backs. So we returned with ancillary low cone pickers in tow, and proceeded to clean the fence of fresh, fragrant flowers of flavor for foamy, fermented flagons of beer.

Oh, yeah, the bobcat… after 14 chickens and a duck, he weighed 52 pounds and is being stuffed and mounted.

Misty Brook Harvest Ale | Wormtown Brewery
Worcester, Massachusetts 

Explained by Ben Roesch, brewer: Misty Brook Harvest Ale, a Double Pale Ale, is brewed to celebrate the fall harvest. I used un-malted wheat and rye from Misty Brook Farm in Hardwick, Mass., along with Maine-grown malted barley and fresh picked Willamette hops from Pederson Farm in Seneca Castle, N.Y. to create this wonderful harvest ale. Juicy, wet hop aroma and flavor is followed by earthy, dry bitterness.


Andy SparhawkAndy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program Coordinator, is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Beer Judge. He lives in Arvada, Colorado where he is a homebrewer and avid craft beer enthusiast. On occasion, Andy is inspired to write on his experiences with craft beer pairings, and if they are not too ridiculous, you might see the results here on CraftBeer.com.

Andy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association's craft beer program coordinator, is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Beer Judge. He lives in Arvada, Colorado where he is a homebrewer and avid craft beer enthusiast. On occasion, Andy is inspired to write on his experiences with craft beer, and if they are not too ridiculous, you might see the results here on CraftBeer.com.

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