We have a new milestone to add to the burgeoning craft beer scene here in Hong Kong – the “wet hop” ale!
In essence “wet” (or “fresh”) hops are hop cones harvested from the farm and sent directly to the brewery within a 24- to 48-hour period. When delivered, brewers are ready and waiting with hot wort in which to immerse them, so as to not waste any valuable time and avoid any loss of the fresh acids and essential oils contained in the hops lupulin gland.
A large portion of the world’s aroma hops sourced for craft beer are grown in the greater region of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. These include the neighbouring states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho (the latter two of which, border Canada). In these areas, the prime season for fresh hops is between September and October.
It is important to note, however, that countries in the Southern hemisphere, particularly Australia and New Zealand, have developed their own unique varieties of hops. Due to the opposites in seasons from the Northern hemisphere, these countries’ fresh hop season is in April.
Overcoming logistical issues
As brewers in Hong Kong, one of our biggest logistical hurdles is importation. Everything and anything, for the most part, must be imported. Receiving fresh hops in Hong Kong is something many Hong Kong brewers have thought of and has been discussed over late night beers for some time but never actually realized – until now.
Unfortunately, flying to the hop farm and then straight back to Asia (not to mention, at the risk of navigating customs with a product that may, too suspiciously, resemble quite a different, yet closely related plant) sounds like and most definitely would be a complete bureaucratic nightmare.
Yet, alas! Thanks to the diligent, hard work of Percy Lam, Vice President of Sales for Yakima Chief Asia, plus all the farmers and farm hands, 2020 has turned out to be the year of the fresh hop in Hong Kong.
Hats off to Yakima Chief Hops
Two days before the release of “Operation: Hop Drop Talus,” I had a chance to sit down with Percy and get the low-down on the logistics to make this beer happen in the short window of time on the opposite side of the world.
Experimental hop HBC 692 became available to commercial brewers for the first time only just this Autumn, 2020. This hop was given the name “Talus” for the natural, rocky terrain of the sloped features around the area in which the hop grows.
In fact, she is the cultivated daughter of Sabro Brand HBC 438.
Specifically, Talus is solely grown on two farms – Perrault Farms in Toppenish, Washington and Carpenter Ranches in Granger, Washington.
As Yakima Chief states, “Talus delivers big aromas of pink grapefruit, citrus rinds, dried roses, pine resin, tropical fruits, and sage. Talus’ impactful citrus, floral, wood, and fruit aromas remain throughout the brewing process. The hops picked that day for this project were grown on Carpenter Farms.”
Percy then tells me that during the harvesting of the cones for Hong Kong “[the] US customs and agriculture were right there to inspect the hops right off the vine and into packaging before going straight to the plane.”
After landing in Hong Kong and getting the fresh hop into the hot wort, the total amount of time from farm to brewery was a remarkably short 39-hours!
To make this all possible Yakima Chief covered all of the logistics for this project, significantly easing the stress for the brewers involved and ensuring the hops arrived in peak condition in order to make the best beer possible.
To top off this highly choreographed and challenging feat four Hong Kong breweries (Double Haven Brewing, Young Master Brewery, Carbon Brews and Heroes Beer Co.) teamed up for what turned out to be an enjoyable brewday at the Carbon Brews facility in Fo Tan.
“The grain bill was fairly simple – Pilsen malt with some wheat and oats and about 5-6% Carahell,” Connor Hogan, Head Brewer for Carbon Brews, explained. “We did a slightly higher mash-in temp to finish with some residual sweetness to carry over the hops as we didn’t know how much bitterness would come through. 200 kg of fresh hops were all used post-boil ,using the lauter tun as a hop back, before going back into the kettle and whirlpool.”
Connor added, “It made for a long brew day, but having some good beers with some good people all getting their hands dirty makes these projects worth it.”
After fermentation and proper conditioning time was complete, the final beer clocked in at 6.4% ABV with an estimated IBU of 70.
The proof is in the quaffing
On Thursday, October 22nd, I attended the release of “Operation: Hop Drop Talus” at the Second Draft taproom in Tai Hang – and the craft beer fans in attendance did not disappoint. As I was approaching, from down the block, I could see a line formed outside by 5:30 in the evening.
As always, Second Draft pulled no stops, and before I could find a seat, I had some snacks and a fresh pint handed to me.
And… well? My opinion?
As someone who has made fresh hop ales before and drunk my share of many others, this beer hands down has been a big surprise. I feel this beer has been executed perfectly with a nice firm bitterness, but not over bearing backing the residual malt sweetness.
I picked up a lot of wood and resin elements, as Percy had told me I would, and as a big fan of Sabro the direct relationship shows. As with a lot of fresh hop ales vegetative aspects in aroma and taste are present most of the time, but with surprised delight I tasted none of that. The clean finish made it I quite easy to head back for a second … and a third.
After a long year here in Hong Kong, it was a beautiful thing to see the craft beer community all together again to celebrate a new milestone.
I think one of my biggest takeaways from this is that I hope to see more bright ideas and clever innovations as we continue to grow our craft beer scene here in Hong Kong and around the region.
A last minute addition
I had a fresh can 3 days after its release, and the beer had only got better! The Sabro aspects of coconut, vanilla and lime had developed more yet a strong, woody, resin aroma and taste popped out just as vibrantly. Job well done and appreciated.