The autumn harvest delivers an abundance of seasonal goodies: feijoas, passionfruit, persimons and figs – all perfectly delicious and worth making a fuss over. But, as a beer-lover, there's one autumn crop that leaves others in the dust: green, sticky, freshly-picked hops.
Hops are the cone-shaped flower of the hop plant, and an essential component in any beer. That delicious smell of pine resin and grapefruit in an American Pale Ale? That's hops. The dry tingle on your tongue that leaves you thirsty for another sip? Hops again, my friend.
As brilliant as they are, hops are fickle things. Once picked, they've got to be inside a drying kiln within 24 hours or they start to spoil. The dry hops are then usually made into pellets, and it's in this form that it will usually reach the brewers.
With fresh-hopped (or wet-hopped, as they're also known) beers, it's a whole different story. Every March during New Zealand's hop harvest, a number of brewers scramble to get hold of freshly-picked hops and, within 24 hours, get them into a brew. Unless you happen to own a brewery right next to a hop farm, this is a logistical nightmare. Tuatara Brewery, for example, had to load 800kg of hops into a single propeller prop plane with the seats removed, and fly them across Cook's Straight to the brewery door in Paraparaumu.
So why bother? Because the perfume that fresh hops impart is brighter, fresher and more delicate than those from dry pellets (and, secretly, I bet the brewers love racing around the country with precious cargo-loads of hops like their life depends on it). For the consumer, it means getting a rare, seasonal treat – available only in very limited supply for a few weeks each year.
Fresh hop beer season is almost over, so if there's one thing on your 'to do' list for this week, it should be to find and drink one before they're all gone. Here are three excellent examples I managed to try this week:
Tuatara Conehead - Citrus, pineapple and passionfruit sing out from this punchy, well-rounded showcase of fresh Nelson Sauvin hops.
Panhead Fresh Hop The Vandal - Herbaceous and vivacious, with notes of freshly cut grass, white pepper and pineapple, and a lip-smacking dry finish.
ParrotDog Rare Bird Kakapo A tropical fruit salad explosion tempered by rich, caramelly malt. It had a very limited release of only 126 bottles, so if you spot this beautiful label in the wild, swoop on it!
Alice found her fresh-hopped beers at Auckland's Farro Fresh.
Brought to you in association with the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. For more information on New Zealand brewers, breweries and beer, visit brewersguild.org.nz