Beer writer and National Homebrew Competition Chief Judge Geoff Griggs has been described as a “tireless and fastidious reporter of the New Zealand Brewing scene”. Since arriving in New Zealand in the mid-1990s, Geoff has written for numerous magazines, newspapers and trade publications. Geoff is seen here judging at the New World Beer & Cider Awards, 2018.
The New Zealand hop harvest really is something worth celebrating. Given the entire southern hemisphere accounts for just five per cent of the world’s supply of the precious green cones, New Zealand can count itself extremely privileged to be home to some of the world's most distinctive and sought-after varieties. A couple of dozen different hop varieties are grown here, of which the majority are unique to this country, and around 90 per cent of the total crop is exported.
Just like grapes, hops are harvested once a year when they are deemed to have reached optimum ripeness. Timing is critical; when hops are ready they have to be picked within hours or there is the risk of losing them if the weather suddenly changes. Freshly picked hops contain high levels of moisture and are susceptible to rapid spoiling so they need to be processed and packaged as soon as possible in order to preserve them in a stable condition.
To reduce excessive moisture, which would otherwise cause the flowers to rot, hops are usually lightly kilned soon after picking. While preserving as much flavour and aroma as possible, this gentle drying process inevitably alters the character of the hops.
As a result, around the world more and more craft brewers are taking the once-a-year opportunity to make an experimental batch of beer using un-kilned ‘wet’ or fresh hops which have been transported directly from the hopfields to the brewery.
So what do wet-hopped beers smell and taste like? Noting that any style of beer can be made using green hops, the US-based Brewers Association guidelines suggest “These beers will exhibit especially aromas and flavours of green, almost chlorophyll-like or other fresh hop characters, in harmony with the characters of the base style of the beer.” It’s also worth remembering that although these beers are usually identified by the prefix ‘wet-, fresh- or ‘green-hopped’, brewers are free to use a combination of wet and regularly kilned hops.
This year New World has worked with Garage Project, Tuatara and Panhead to deliver fresh hop brews to all stores throughout New Zealand. This is an awesome feat as the whole process requires chilled transportation to keep the hops and the beer at their peak. And there are others to look out for from the likes of Behemoth, 8 Wired Brewing Co., Black Dog Brewery, Hallertau Brewery, Fork Brewing, Fortune Favours Beer, Beer Baroness, Southpaw Brew Co., Wigram Brewing Co., HeyDay Beer Co., North End Brewing Co., Choice Bros, Petrichor, Golden Bear Brewing, Baylands Brewery, Double Vision Brewing, Duncan's Brewing Co., Funk Estate, Eagle Brewing and Sprig & Fern.
Needless to say, it’s a short-lived season and if you want to enjoy these special brews then best get in quick!