Fresh Hop Season Just Over the Horizon – Q&A with Colin Lenfesty

July 1st, 2014 · No Comments · Washington Breweries

Thanks to +Russ on Flickr for the image.

In 2013,┬áthe first fresh hop beer of the season showed up in Seattle when Two Beers Brewing released their 2013 Fresh Hop on August 30. Today is July 1st, which gives us less than two full months till we might expect to see fresh hop beers start to hit the market again this year. Most breweries don’t get their fresh hop beers out until September or October, but early access to fresh hops will help many breweries beat the rush. Either way, many breweries are likely putting in their orders for fresh hops right about now.

I drink a lot of fresh hop beers every year, and I also help put on the annual Fresh Hop Throwdown at the Noble Fir. Two of my favorite fresh hop beers over the past couple of years were the Big Al Amarillo Pale Ale and the Bainbridge Island Locabore. Both of these beers have two things in common. First, they both placed in the top 3 of the blind judging at the Fresh Hop Throwdown; Big Al Amarillo took 3rd in 2013 and Bainbridge Locabore took 3rd in 2012. Second, Colin Lenfesty worked on the recipes and brewed both of these beers. Colin is now working diligently to open Holy Mountain Brewing this summer, but he took the time to answer a few questions about fresh hop beers. See below for that Q&A.

I also reached out to Matt Lincecum of Fremont Brewing, who makes the always awesome Cowiche Canyon fresh hop pale. Matt agrees with Colin’s points below about using 100% fresh wet hops. He says they don’t use any dried/extract hops for bittering and that the fresh hops should be used within 24 hours of harvesting them for best results.

I thought that this would be interesting to general readers but also hopefully to the multitudes of new brewers at small operations with zero to little experience brewing with fresh hops. I’m sure we’ll see more fresh hop beers than ever this season, and I’ll certainly be looking forward to it.

Q&A with Colin Lenfesty:
1) Can you explain your brewing process for the Big Al Amarillo Pale Ale, and how you incorporated the fresh hops? Do you run into any unique problems in the brew due to using lots of whole cone fresh hops?

I used whole cone Amarillo hops in every part of the brewing process. Mash hopping (seems appropriate for fresh hop beers?), kettle additions, and then using the mash tun as a hop back and steeping vessel. Final run off before the heat exchanger went through another, smaller vessel loaded up with hops.

2) What type(s) of hops did you use, and have you found that certain varieties work better than others for fresh hop brews?

The fresh hop beer last year was entirely Amarillo from Virgil Gamache Farms in Toppenish, Washington. I’ve been really happy using Amarillo for the last few fresh hop brews, but am excited to be moving on to try some different varieties at Holy Mountain. I think for Fresh Hop beers, Amarillo is great by itself and yields some awesome results. That holds true for most of these beers though. The unique flavors and aromas that come out of using just a single hop is pretty incredible, and it’s up to the brewer and their technique to coax it out to it’s maximum potential. I still love drinking an entirely Cascade wet hop beer. When done right, they are pretty incredible. I’m all for blending different types and can’t wait to move forward with some ideas we have for future beers.

3) What volume of fresh hops did you use, and did you use any dried/extract hops for bittering?

It was quite the pile, that’s for sure. I don’t believe in using kilned or hop extract for bittering. Only entirely fresh, wet, green hops. You can get pretty close to the desired bitterness with a little bit of math. The brewer just has to be willing to use the extra hops.

4) Any thoughts on what styles work best for fresh hop beers, and which might not be a good choice?

I think any style that can really showcase the unique character of the hop that the brewer has chosen is appropriate. Personally, I don’t like things to get muddled with any dark specialty grains, crystal malts or a really estery yeast strain. I’m kind of a straight up Pale guy when it comes to these beers. I would rather keep it around 5 % ABV and use more hops, instead of going for something more alcoholic or sweet. That being said, the Piled High from Bale Breaker last year was insane. We had it fresh in Yakima, and didn’t realize it was 8 percent until ordering our third one. That beer was incredible. If you have access to that many hops, why not?

5) Any other suggestions or thoughts for brewers who are new to brewing fresh hop beers?

Keep it simple and show off the hops. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel and come up with a crazy new style. Don’t be afraid to go for it with using a ton of hops in every part of the brewing process, and keep those suckers out of your heat exchanger.

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