The northeastern US, plucky go-getter that it is, will have a whole lot of hops in the coming years. In five years, ten years, the entire country's hop industry could start to look very very different as new growers, new flavors, and even more new varieties start hitting the market at scale. This is old news, of course, but it still feels like we're waiting to observe the real impact of the restored northeastern hop growing region, and we'll be waiting a little while longer.
There are two big primary questions yet to be answered, from my perspective:
1. How will these new hops taste? Plenty of beers have been brewed with northeast hops now, but even the most established hop farms in the region are still quite young, and thus, I'm guessing the character of the hops will only really begin to take up an identity in the next few years. We'll hopefully start to see new varieties (or renamed varieties) with flavors distinct to this region.
2. How will breweries be able to use the hops? This seems like a fairly mundane logistical question, but it's going to be pretty significant in what kinds of beers these hops are used to make. Pellet hops are much, much easier for most breweries to use — conversely, leaf hops can be almost impossible for some breweries to use at different stages of the process. But pelletizers are expensive, and at the moment, inaccessible to most hop growers in the region.
What we're left with is a lot of mildish leaf hops. And a lot of leaf hops means a very large mound of hops indeed — hell, another reason it's not practical for us to use leaf hops at Kent Falls is that we'd simply have no space to store what we'd need. While the go-to strategy to dispose of any large pile of hops would typically be to throw them in an IPA, you'd have to be very deliberate when taking this approach. Wet hop IPAs have become a huge thing every harvest season of the last few years. But even an IPA blasted with a comically-large pile of hops may turn out with a surprisingly mild flavor. The returns, in other words, maybe be somewhat disappointing in proportion to what went into the beer. There's also the fact that wet hops simply taste very different from traditionally-used dry hops, and this needs to be taken into consideration when adding a wet hop IPA to a brewery's profile. If all of Kent Falls' other IPAs are juice-forward, an earthy, mild, grittier harvest IPA may stand out as a bit odd next to the rest of the lineup.
Barry and I were talking to Mike from the Brewery at Bacchus (editor's note: Mike and Jay, who have been brewing the beer for Bacchus for a couple years now, will soon be taking the lead at Hudson Valley Brewery, in Beacon, NY, so watch out for their stuff to hit the market in a big way soon) about doing a collaboration, and it quickly arose that we should do something based around our hop harvest in early September. From there, we decided that a wet-hopped farmhouse ale was the way to go. Both Bacchus and Kent Falls brew a lot of saison-ish beers, and we decided that the communal nature of the hop harvest was a very fitting start for a collaboration. For fermentation, we literally mixed together our cultures — saison yeast, lactobacillus and Brettanomyces from both Kent Falls and Bacchus went into the batch. There's quite a variety in this batch, though the cultures here are very aggressive. Fermentation was quick. While Tiny House has had several months to age and condition since we brewed it, the turnaround on a beer like this can be much faster than conventional wisdom used to have it. Such sourish mixed culture saisons rarely need more than three months before they can be packaged, in my experience — but obviously, different procedures, cultures, gravities and other extenuating conditions have to be taken into account.
The brewday itself for this beer was quite fun — as some of you may know, as there were a hundred plus people in attendance, and maybe you were there yourself . We're going to be hosting a hop harvest festival every year, and to make it Fun For The Whole Family, we make a big to do out of it. Pig roast, live music, beer, etc, and the general good vibes of a community gathering. Lots of fun, etc. All day long, the hops being harvested were thrown directly into the beer. I mentioned that leaf hops / whole cone hops are quite difficult to use in our setup, and the only place we can practically toss in such large quantities of vegetable matter without an epic bagging nightmare are the lauter tun. Fortunately, this is quite easy — I cleaned the spent grain out of the lauter tun real good, and transferred the wort out of the kettle and into this vessel instead. The false bottom allowed us to dump close to a hundred pounds of wet hops in without fear of clogging anything. At the end of the day, I simply knocked out as I normally would, and cleaned up the used hops as if they were a soggy mass of spent grain.
The resulting beer is simple but delicious — a well-balanced sour farmhouse ale with a good blend of acidity, Brett funk, and tannic rustic earth-notes from the hops. It's extremely complex for its low weight of only 4% ABV. I'll be looking forward to brewing something like this each year. If you would like to try this beer and are / know someone who is in the western Connecticut area, we will be releasing this at the New Milford farmer's market (indoors, basement of the school) this Saturday, January 16th. Keep in mind that while you may think I am a hack and my beer is all dumb, this *was* a collaboration with the Brewery at Bacchus, and those guys are pretty legit, and have never really bottled much before. So! Also, thanks to Mike's fiance Natalie for the lovely beer label. She knows how to art it up real good.