September in Colorado brings juicy peaches, the smell of roasting green chiles and pumpkin spice lattes. But for beer drinkers, the transition from summer to fall means fresh-hop beers.
One of the most seasonally specific styles that a brewery can make, fresh-hop (or wet-hop) beers are brewed with just-harvested whole-cone hops rushed from farms to brew kettles to capture the most vibrant flavors and aromas of these pungent flowers before they begin to fade. This limits the brewing period to the very short hops harvest season every August and September.
Most small Colorado breweries use whole-cone hops from the Western Slope, while a few use hops from the Pacific Northwest, the largest hops-growing region in the country. Two dozen or so fresh-hop beers have gone on tap at breweries all over the state in recent days, and more will be available soon.
And this year will also see the return of the Fresh Hop category to the Great American Beer Festival, which runs October 3 through 5. In 2018, organizers eliminated the category because the festival took place in late September and they didn't think there would be enough time to brew and ship the beers. In addition, the Washington Beer Commission will operate a special booth with fresh-hop beers from ten breweries.
One of Denver's most-loved and most award-winning fresh-hop beers, Comrade Brewing's Superdamp IPA, went on tap yesterday. A version of the brewery's flagship Superpower IPA, it uses organic Chinook, Cascade and Nugget hops from High Wire Hop Farms In Paonia. A second version, using organic Chinook, Cascade and Nugget hops from Billy Goat Hop Farms in Montrose will tap next Thursday. Both versions began their hop infusions within 24 hours of when the hops were picked. Superdamp won back-to-back medals at GABF in 2014 and 2015.
At least three other breweries will tap fresh-hop beers today in Denver. Strange Craft Beer Company is offering two: Fresh Hopped 1000 Barrels Imperial Pale Ale and Heather's Ale, a fresh-hopped version of Strange's IPAphany, brewed with fifty pounds of fresh-harvested Cascade hops from High Wire. Bruz Beers and FlyteCo Brewing will both tap their collaboration, Hop Is Our Co-Pilot, a fresh-hopped saison.
To make Hop Is Our Co-Pilot, FlyteCo co-owner Eric Serani flew his garage-built, four-seat plane to Paonia with Bruz owner Ryan Evans and two others. They left from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield at around 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Paonia about 45 minutes later. From there, High Wire owner David Warren drove them to the farm, where they watched their hops being harvested.
Meanwhile, the head brewers at both FlyteCo and Bruz were waiting back at FlyteCo, mashing in the grain so the brew would be ready for the hops. By noon, the flight crew arrived back at the brewery with thirty pounds of fresh Chinook hops and immediately threw them into the kettle.
"I was jealous because they said the plane smelled amazing," says FlyteCo head brewer Jason Slingsby, who was in charge of orchestrating the timing. All three FlyteCo owners are pilots, and the brewery's decor, including a mock fuselage, is airplane-themed, so "this was a fun way to build in our brand and our passion."
Rather than brewing a pale ale or an IPA, which are the typical fresh-hopped styles, the breweries decided on a saison to be a little different and to carry on the Belgian theme of Bruz Beers. In addition to the hops, the beer was made with a blend of three Belgian yeasts and local Proximity malt, as well as CTZ hops for aroma.
To find out about more fresh-hop beer tappings, check the Facebook pages of your favorite breweries and keep an eye on Westword's weekly Beer Calendar, which goes online every Wednesday.
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