Fresh Hops Week: On the origins thereof

Even though the fresh hop craze has been percolating nicely across the (American) brewing scene, it has much of its origins right here in the Pacific Northwest. With Bert Grant, more specifically, according to Jeff:

In the mid-90s, he decided to take advantage of the vast wealth of hops that grew within a few miles of his brewery in Yakima (where well over half all domestic hops were grown at the time). He sent folks from the brewery out to the hop fields during the September harvest while he started prepping the mash tun. They gathered a batch of fresh hops, brought them back to the brewery, and within minutes of having been picked, were dumped into the boil.

This was radical. At the time, I recall hearing a lot of derision about this practice; fresh hops were reputed to lead to off-flavors and "gasiness." A gimmick, said the critics. Grant, who spent the last twenty years of his life proving critics wrong, proved to be the visionary.

Since Oregon and Washington are big hop-growing regions, as well as a big microbrewing nexus, it makes sense that someone would be crazy enough to try it here first. Look at the preponderance of hoppy Northwest-style IPAs, for instance.

So besides Grant, who else was first with fresh hop beers? Sierra Nevada first brewed their Harvest in 1996—which they bill as "America’s first fresh hop ale" (they bottled it for the first time this year).

I have a surprise, though. Digging back farther, I find an article by Michael Jackson, originally from 1993, profiling a brewer in England who brewed a fresh hop beer.

Trevor Holmes, head brewer at Wadworth, of Devizes in Wiltshire, was inspecting the harvest a year or two ago when he began to wonder how beer would taste if it were aromatised with hops fresh off the vine.

The practicalities are such that it could be done only once a year. Mr. Holmes tried it first last year [1992]. The 100-barrel brew was meant to last a month; it sold out in a week. This year, there are almost 300 barrels.

Mr. Holmes has used the first of the new seasons malt to make his "green hop" beer. The brewery calls it simply Malt and Hops. I can think of only one other brewery that has tried making such a "biere nouvelle," and that is in the far West of the United States.

(I can only assume the "far West" brewer is Grant.)

Of course, I’m not even speculating on the role of homebrewers in the fresh hop origins here; it’s entirely likely that they were doing this sort of thing for years.

There’s more to be written here, for sure; a history of the subject would definitely be a worthwhile read.

4 Responses to Fresh Hops Week: On the origins thereof

  1. Jay Brooks says:

    A few weeks ago I interviewed Steve Dresler, head brewer at Sierra Nevada, and according to him the idea to do a fresh hop beer was first suggested over lunch in Chico by Gerard Lemmens, a hop expert who then worked for Yakima Chief (he’s retired now, sort of). Gerard had been helping a brewer in England do a fresh hop beer and thought Sierra Nevada likewise might be interested in trying it, which of course they were.

  2. Jon says:

    Interesting… do you suppose it was Sierra Nevada that Jackson was actually writing about then?

  3. Jason Tucker says:

    Cool article, I just had my first Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale on Sunday. Needless to say, it was pretty damn good.

  4. Jeff says:

    Nice post! The cool thing about fresh hop ales is that the NW has the serious home-team advantage. Whereas Midwest and East Coast beers tend to soak up all the limelight, they ain’t got the hops. So maybe this will bring some fame to our little corner of the country.