Roll over, Oktoberfest. There's a new beer festival in Canada, one that truly celebrates the fall hops harvest.
Granted, it doesn't yet have a name, dedicated venues, consistent dates or steady duration. But if you follow #wethops on Twitter, you will find legions of fanatical hopheads from Halifax to Victoria waiting with lip-smacking anticipation for the next wet-hopped brew.
Wet-hopped beer is a seasonal release made with fresh hops. Limited to breweries in close proximity to hop farms, it's now brewed all over the Maritimes (Garrison, Bridge, Boxing Rock, Big Spruce, Picaroons and Big Tide), in Toronto (Amsterdam) and scattered around British Columbia (Powell Street, Hoyne and Driftwood).
Hops, one of the four basic ingredients of beer (the others being water, barley and yeast), are fragile flowers that grow inside lime-green seed cones. When harvested, hop cones are slick with the volatile oils and resins that lend beer its balancing bitterness, natural acidity and citrusy, floral or herbal aromas. The wetness, alas, also makes hops extremely perishable. They begin to decay within 24 hours of being cut, which is why they are normally dried and usually pressed into pellets immediately. But thanks to a newly revitalized hop-farming industry in Canada, some brewers can now pick it themselves and pop them straight into the kettle without sacrificing any tangy, grassy vibrancy to the kilns.
The fresh taste of wet hops has garnered a cult following, especially in Vancouver, where enthusiasts raced to the Cascade Room last week when they heard a keg of Victoria's Driftwood Brewery Sartori Harvest IPA was being tapped.
"The fresh hop flowers shine right through," home brewer Dan Olson quietly raved while savouring a precious pint of the light-copper ale with its piney, orange-peel perfumed nose, stone-fruit notes, smooth mouth feel and long, lingering, bitter finish.
Tapped at 5 p.m., the keg was sold out 33 minutes later. Sartori Harvest, now in its fifth year, was the first wet-hopped beer in B.C. It has become so popular that some private liquor stores, including Brewery Creek Cold Beer and Wine and Legacy Liquor Store, went through their first 240-bottle shipment last week in a few hours. You can still find the celebration IPA at a few shops, including Vancouver's Denman Place Wines & Spirits, where sales are being rationed to two bottles a customer.
But wet-hopped beer won't be around for long. Nor should it be. The volatile oils that give fresh hops their bright-green intensity are short-lived. This beer is meant to be drunk within a few weeks of being bottled or kegged, making it a striking example of microseasonality. "This is something you can only get during harvest," says Laurie Thatcher-Craig, the co-owner of Clear Valley Hops Plantation near Collingwood, Ont. "It comes right off the plant and goes straight into the beverage."