The end of April is a great time of year, because it’s when we beer drinkers finally get to reap the benefits of New Zealand’s annual hop harvest. Hops grown in the Nelson region are harvested throughout the month of March¹, and taken away for processing. But some breweries² are lucky enough to be able to get their hands on fresh hops, and this year we’ve seen a larger number of breweries trying their hand at wet-hopped³ beers than ever before⁴.
The most well-known wet-hopped beer in New Zealand in years past would have to be Mac’s Brewjolais. First brewed in 2005, Mac’s Brewery would send a team to help harvest the hops and then take them back to the Nelson brewery, where they would put down the brew that same day. When the Nelson brewery closed, they continued the tradition by sending their Wellington brewer (with a helper or two) to harvest the hops, drive them to Picton, ferry them to Wellington and brew the beer – all before midnight.
The limited edition beer was my favourite of the Mac’s range, and I would make near daily pilgrimages to the Mac’s brewery bar on the Wellington waterfront or the Craftsman bar on Courtney place for a glass or two (or jug to share among friends) of the beautiful beer, until the taps ran dry a month or two later. The Brewjolais would show off the unique silky sweet characters fresh hops can give to a beer, a character that’s usually more muted – or non-existent – when dried or pellet hops are used. But with the closure of the Wellington brewery two years ago, 2010 was the last time the Brewjolais was brewed.
But to my joy, this year there are kegs galore of wet-hopped beers available in Wellington (and presumably elsewhere), and 8 Wired Brewing company’s even bottled its Fresh HopWired IPA as well.
8 Wired’s HopWired IPA is the brewery’s most popular beer and sent shockwaves through the New Zealand craft beer community when it was first released.
Its mix of Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops combine to create a beer with a big citrus aroma and very earthy, bitter flavours, with lemon, orange and grapefruit giving off a slight tart character and passionfruit and vanilla notes sweetening slightly. It’s big, it’s bitter and it’s fruity.
This year, the brewer, Søren Eriksen, decided he would mix things up a bit and make a wet-hopped version of HopWired. Based in Blenheim, Søren drove to Nelson as the Motueka hops were being harvested, picked up a truckload of them and drove back to Blenheim, where the hops were immediately used in a brew. Two weeks later, when it was time to harvest the Nelson Sauvin hops, he repeated the exercise, brewing another beer later that day using the Sauvin. The two beers were then blended to create Fresh HopWired IPA. I have been lucky enough to try the 7.3% Fresh HopWired in the bottle AND on tap⁵.
It pours clear amber with a white head, and smells earthy, slightly sweaty, with big passionfruit, mango and vanilla notes. The beer’s packed full of flavour. It has an initial earthy bitterness, with an incredible bouquet of citrus and tropical fruits – mango, passionfruit, grapefruit, lemon and mandarin. Vanilla and caramel flavours also come through, before finishing with an earthy, bitter kick and a warming on the back of the throat.
The Fresh is sweeter and fruitier than the original HopWired, while the original is significantly more bitter, tart and earthy. And while there were subtle differences between my notes on the the tap and bottle versions of the Fresh HopWired, I think it had more to do with the difference in serving temperature than anything else – it’s the same beer after all.
So is fresh best? In this instance, I think yes. Fresh HopWired has more flavour and, because it’s less bitter, I could drink it all night long. Hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy a few more bottles before the stocks run out!
¹ The hop harvest generally begins in March and lasts several weeks, though the harvest is dependent on the summer weather. Different hops also mature at different times.
² The ones who actually make the effort to head out to the fields while the hops are being harvested, and help pick them themselves.
³ Wet hops are hops that have not yet been dried or processed into pellets, aka, fresh off the vine.
⁴ This is an educated guess, because it would take a LOT of time and effort to actually confirm it, but I’m quietly confident it’s accurate. While breweries like Totara and Sprig & Fern tend to do wet-hopped beers most years, there have been several breweries around and outside of Nelson that have made the effort to make wet-hopped beers this year, which haven’t in the past (8 Wired, Townshend, Golden Bear, Tuatara, Three Boys, Garage Project).
⁵ Only eight kegs were made available for outlets to purchase after its launch in Blenheim.