Every year on the third Thursday in November, the world celebrates Beaujolais Nouveau, field-fresh young red wines from France that are meant to celebrate the harvest and be enjoyed right away. This September, Colorado beer brewers will do something similar for hops by kicking off a Hops Nouveau party that they hope to expand nationwide.
More than two dozen Colorado breweries are already making "fresh hop" or "wet hop" beers, which are brewed within days or even hours of the hops being picked. The hop cones are usually added whole during the brewing process rather than being ground down and pelletized, which is the way hops are used in the majority of beers.
"We want this to happen every year at the end of September," says Steve Kurowski, marketing director for the Colorado Brewers Guild. "Picking a set date is hard because it depends on when the hops harvest is. We want the beer to be as fresh as possible when it hits stores shelves and people's glasses and their mouths."
This year, for instance, Colorado's hops crop has come in a little earlier than usual, and many of the state's twenty or so hops farms are already harvesting.
The point of fresh hops is to capture the bright, citrusy and grassy flavors that begin to fade from the oils in the plant just a few hours after harvesting.
Colorado brewers have been making fresh hop beers for years, either with hops from some of the small farmers in Colorado or with hops flown in from Washington (and Falling Rock Taphouse has held a small festival for the past four years).
But the idea for a Hops Nouveau day didn't come about until two years ago when Tommyknocker head brewer Steve Indrehus started working on an exclusive fresh hop beer, called Colorado IPA Nouveau, for Old Chicago's Colorado restaurants.
Indrehus passed the idea on to Kurowski, who is now working with former hops farmer Randy Flores and Denver's Larimer Associates to host the three-week festival.
Here's how it will work this year: Four restaurants in the Larimer umbrella -- LoHi SteakBar, Ernie's Bar and Pizza, Billy's Inn and the Lowry Beer Garden -- will each put a dozen fresh hop beers on tap beginning on either September 21 or 28. Beer lovers will be invited to try them via special promotions. Some of the details, including the number of restaurants and the number of beers involved could still change.
The Guild thought about trying to have a traditional festival on one specific day, but Kurowski says that was a stressful notion for brewers who are already slammed in the fall when they're getting ready for the Great American Beer Festival. "Plus, if you have a one-day fest, and you miss it, then you miss all of them. This way, we can expose more people to fresh hop beers who may never have heard about them."
The festival will continue through Denver Beer Week and the Great American Beer Festival, October 11-13, which added a fresh hop judging category for the first time this year -- something that's only possible because GABF takes place in the fall.
Kurowski is working on a list of breweries that will be able to participate -- breweries like New Belgium, Ska, Odell, Tommyknocker, Great Divide, Bristol, Left Hand, Oskar Blues and Boulder Beer -- keeping in mind that they have to be big enough to provide beer to all four restaurants for three weeks. Many smaller breweries in Colorado make fresh hops beers as well, but aren't able to brew enough of them to participate, he says.
Many of the breweries will buy their hops from Colorado farmers, and Flores, who helped start San Juan Hop Farms in Montrose six years ago, says it would be great if they all could, but there isn't enough quantity yet in Colorado to allow for that.
But he'd also like to expand the concept of Hops Nouveau day and get brewers guilds in other states involved so that fresh hop beers could get the same amount of attention in this country as Beaujolais Nouveau.
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