As the summer draws to a close and colder autumn nights draw in, I often find solace in the arrival of the year’s green-hopped beers; the ultimate seasonal drink, and a celebration of drinking fresh and local.
In an age when we are constantly bombarded with information telling us how important it is that we consume our beer fresh, it never ceases to amaze me that these beers are not more popular. To me, the concept of using freshly plucked green cones, straight from the harvest, in a beer is one of the greatest traditions in British drinking culture.
For those unaware of the magic of green-hopped beers, allow me to explain. Hops are, by their very nature, a seasonal plant. They are planted in spring, and harvested in autumn (usually in September in the UK). The vast majority of these hops are dried and vacuum packed to prevent them from deteriorating in quality, and to be used throughout the course of the following year.
However, the hop harvest also brings with it an opportunity; the chance to make one-off, limited edition green hopped beers, made by taking hops fresh from the bine and straight into the brewery. These beers will appear in pubs, bars and at special ‘green-hop’ festivals over the course of the next few months, before disappearing for another year.
Using hops straight from the bine creates a unique flavour profile that is impossible to replicate using dried hops. As a result, green hopped beers are often more delicate, grassy, citrusy and refreshing than their regular counterparts. It’s the beery equivalent of using a freshly picked fruit as opposed to one that has been dehydrated.
For me, the real magic in green-hop beers lies in the pressure-cooker situation it creates on brewday. The moment the hops are plucked from the bines they begin to oxidize and deteriorate. Hence, speed is of vital importance – the hops need to be transported back to the brewery and thrown into the boil as quickly as possible to preserve their flavour. This is why green-hop beers tend to be more prevalent in the south-east, where the majority of the UK’s hops are grown.
For many years, green-hop beers were something of an oddity in the UK. It tended to be the more traditional, family brewers that brewed them, and the concept was not seen as being particularly relevant to the modern beer scene. I’m delighted, therefore, to see that in the last few years some of the UK’s newer breweries such as The Five Points Brewing Company and Pig and Porter taking up the mantle and experimenting with this quintessentially British tradition.
If you’re hoping to sample some green-hopped beers, then I can highly recommend heading down to the this weekend, where there will be over 30 to try, as well as a host of other fantastic cask and keg beers. I’m devastated to be missing it, but am consoling myself in the knowledge that come March I’ll be able to sample some green-hopped beers from New Zealand – a pretty good compensation, don’t you think?