The best new local food trend is wet hopped beer, and Halifax breweries are hopping on board. Craig Pinhey pours a cold one.
A veritable wave of beers hopped with fresh flowers from Atlantic farms hit Halifax this fall, as the local food trend swept through the brewing business. But now we have to wait a whole year for more "wet hopped" beer.
Although some Nova Scotia brewers, notably Randy Lawrence of Sea Level/Rudders, have been making seasonal beer using locally grown "humulus lupulus" for over a decade, only recently have others hopped on board. This fall Haligonians enjoyed wet hopped ales involving four different brewers: The Hart & Thistle, Garrison, Propeller and Sea Level.
Greg Nash of The Hart & Thistle brewpub made two batches: Window Pane, an IPA brewed with freshly picked Cascade and Fuggle hops from Pictou county, and Hopping Frogs, an IPA made with 40 kg of Cascade and Galena hops driven immediately to the brewery after harvesting in Quebec. Both ales were intense in aromatics and flavour, but not overly bitter.
Besides the marketing bonus points coming from using fresh local hops, Nash points out that there's another reason for doing so: taste. "The differences are derived from using fresh hops instead of dried," says Nash. "I use five or six times more hops than I would normally use, so the sheer volume of vegetative matter going in the kettle dictates the pleasant vegetal character in the finished product."
This is the second year that Garrison has used local hops, but the first time it has bottled a brew. The 3 Fields Harvest Strong Ale was only moderately bitter, with sweet malt to balance, and plenty of hop aromatics: herbal, floral and vegetal. It was also very popular, selling out in two weeks.
As the name indicates, Garrison got its hops from three sources: Ross Farm's experimental organic hopyard, Meander River Farm in Ashdale and Happy Hopyard Farm in New Brunswick. They used fresh Centennial, Willamette, Brewers Gold and "a crap-load of Cascade," according to Garrison's Brian Titus. "Hops had to be weighted down to keep from flowing out of the kettle." Titus expects to make more next year. "We would love to do twice as much," he says, "but perhaps we'll call it 4 Fields or 5 Fields by then. Supply should increase as fields mature and more growers come on line."
Propeller Brewery and Sea Level from Port Williams brewed together this season, resulting in the tasty Alpha Dog Wet Hopped Collaboration Ale, made with 100 percent Annapolis Valley hops. "We have been mulling over the agricultural potential of the province from brewers' point of view," Propeller's John Allen explains of the co-brew with Sea Level's Lawrence, "and the idea of a collaborative brew came from both Randy's experience with wet hopping potential and from a collaborative industry perspective."
"And it was fun," adds Allen. "As a packaging micro we don't often get the opportunity to play with recipes. For next year's brew we will be using local malt as well as 100 percent local hops."
Propeller's wet hopped beer was also very popular. "Our half of the finished product went on the shelf on Wednesday evening," says Allen, "and was gone sometime on Saturday. Randy's half went nearly as fast." It was delicious ale, with the fruitiness and caramel malt expected from these brewers, but with the fresh hop component as a bonus.
Consumers either love the aroma and taste of wet hopped beer, or are compelled to support the local food movement. It doesn't matter why; all that matters is that next year's hop harvest can't come too soon.
Craig Pinhey is a freelance writer, sommelier and award-winning homebrewer. Visit him at frogspad.ca.