Dateline, Olympia, Washington, 9/7/21, o-dark-thirty.
It was off to Roy Farms for the second trip. This time we were picking up El Dorado. This is a newer hop and high on my list as a favorite for producing IPA with. It always gives a juicy vibe, usually in the pineapple department, but as I discovered a couple of years ago, if you get the right crop field harvested at the right time, you can get juicy watermelon that is unmistakably amazing.
We are pretty far into this year’s fresh hop harvest, even though it seems like it just started. Some farms specialize in early harvest varieties. Idaho-7 comes to mind as a frequent late-pulled hop that would be closer to 9/20 as a picking date. I had motives for picking every variety for our fresh hops this season. I feel they could match up well to different substyles within IPA. As it is, we are looking at a West Coast, Hazy, and a completely new style to you folks that was brewed with El Dorado.
I had a close beer brewer friend go with me to pick up. We met with Andy Roy of Roy Farms and their head hop sales representative for the East Coast. It takes about 3.5 hours to get there from Olympia, and the only traffic hiccup has been heatwave-induced wildfires. The brewer that was with me was a Firefighter for 15 years, so it's impactful to have their insight on the drive. We loaded our freshly-picked El Dorado into the refrigerated van and were off on our return trip to Olympia, another 3.5-hour journey back to begin immediately working with 200 pounds of hops!
Our normal NA might have 11-33#s of pellets in the whirlpool as a late hop addition. The pounds don't necessarily line up directly to any formula to tell you what to use. Grain bills for the batches can help accentuate certain flavors. Sometimes adding specific malts like honey malt can make a specific hop oil compound pop. So, you really have to throw a lot of hops at it and hope it’s not too much. Fresh hops don't cost as much per pound as pelletized or dry-kilned flowers but to buy as much as we did, does. It's such a great once-a-year opportunity, you really can't pass up on that. And again, we want NA drinkers to experience the same beauty of fresh hops, so it’s an investment we are happy to make on your behalf!
You may not be familiar with Fresh Hop / Wet hop. It heavily relies on an ability to get to the farm and back as fast as possible. Shipping them overnight is detrimental to flavors and they should remain cold the entire time, if able. The biggest blessing to fresh hop season has been our refrigerated van. The hops were 30 degrees the entire 3.5 hours coming back and went right in within hours of being picked. I have never had the chance to use a refrigerated vehicle with any other brewery, and I wouldn't do it any differently. The soft delicate flavors out of our Strata NA already, and last year's Cashmere hopped full-strength IPA is great proof.
One more Self Care batch to go pick up hops for next week, and this time Zach our Lead brewer, and Felix our assistant brewer are making the journey. We really want Felix to be able to see how massive a hop harvest is, and what the process is like in person. I never forgot my first. It is absolutely an experience that epitomizes the notion that “the juice is worth the squeeze.”