Put that Pumpkin Beer Down, It’s Wet Hop Season
It’s that time of year again, when brewers start brewing harvest beers. No, it’s not pumpkin season. It’s hop season!
While pumpkin beers are brewed earlier and earlier every year… and I have already seen a few Oktoberfest beers, I refuse to buy either until I brew a wet hop beer. It has become a tradition for me since I was first introduced to the idea of wet hopping a beer at Voss Farms in 2013.
In September 2013, Andrew Voss invited Copper Kettle Brewing Company and volunteers to pick hops on his farm. A few of my friends and I thought it would be fun to help, so we signed up to join them. Copper Kettle was going to pick hops for their Copper Hopper IPA to “wet hop” it. I had no idea what this meant and hated drinking IPAs, but I thought it would be fun to go learn what it was all about.
When we got to Voss Farms, we missed the turn. Not because the GPS didn’t tell us where it was, but because every year I have gone to Voss Farms I have missed that damn turn. It’s right off the road, tucked into what looks like a regular neighborhood, with only a sign to let you know you’ve arrived. At the end of that road, hidden behind the trees and a garden, is acres and acres of land filled with rows of beautiful hop bines stretching toward the sky.
We walked over to a group of people standing in the field and introduced ourselves. Andrew walked us over to a bine of hops (a bine grows upwards in a helix, unlike a vine) and ripped one down. He then loaded it into a small wagon and wheeled it up to a steel garage off to the side of the property. When we got inside, Andrew laid the hops down on a table and showed us how to correctly pick the cone off.
Learning to pick hops was a pretty simple process. Andrew showed us that you have to get right behind the head of the cone and pull from the stem so that only a small part of the stem remains. It takes a few tries to get it right without decapitating the head of the hop, but once you find what works best, it becomes a rhythm of pulling and dropping into a bucket. After a while, everyone developed their own process. I figured out to cut the bine into sections and then pick that section at a time. It allows you to get the bine waste off the table into a discard pile.
While we were picking, I also learned that wet hops, or fresh hops as they are sometimes called, refer to hops that have not been dried out yet. When brewers use hops in beer, they are normally dried, packaged, and sealed to prevent mold and decay. This allows packaged hops to last for years. This is not the case with wet hops. Wet hopped beers are made with hops as soon as they are picked. The style showcases the earthy, grassy, and floral aromas that are added to the beers that is very different from packaged hops. A lot of brewers will add these hops in the last five minutes of the boil, to sanitize the hops and to showcase the aroma the most.
If you are interested in picking hops, I recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt and some jeans. It may be hot, but it’s worth the scratches and bug bites you’ll receive. Your hands will get bit no matter what, it’s too difficult to pick with gloves. Also, there are spiders, centipedes, and other bugs in hop plants that will crawl on you, so if you don’t like insects in general, picking hops may not be for you.
Picking hops is something I find incredibly relaxing and fulfilling. It’s about getting back to simple things, being a part of the world again, and slowing down for a while. I think it’s something that only comes from getting your hands dirty and from enjoying good conversation with good people. The picking usually goes pretty quick if you have a good group of people and good beers on tap. Voss Farms always has both.
This year our club will be returning to Voss Farms to pick hops and to brew wet hop beers on site. We are planning to bring our homebrew equipment with us and brew each beer with the fresh hops added at the end of the boil. If you are interested in joining us or would like more information on hop picking dates, please send us an email at [email protected] and check out Voss Farms Colorado on Facebook