THE GREEN GREEN GRASS OF ALBION, NOT OREGON
One runs into wet hop and green hop beers at this time of year: beers brewed from hops fresh-picked and not dried, pelletized (usually) and stored in the traditional manner. A number of festivals have sprouted up, one in – appropriately as will be seen – Kent, England, and a number in North America.
For 15-20 years I’ve read how American craft brewers created a new category of beer, one that has migrated to England and elsewhere. Americans get the laurels for wet hop beer as a commercial category. But the use of unkilned hop in beer is not an American innovation, it started in England. The truth is, if one goes back far enough, most brewing or beer notions have roots in the old country. When it comes to beer, England is everyone’s old country (not to exclude of course Germany and other important centres on the Continent).
And so, England was producing green hop beers centuries ago. In 1729, Richard Bradley, in his The Riches Of A Hop-Garden Explained, wrote, “Some use hops without drying in Brewing, even green as they are gathered…”. The rest of his statement seems to indicate disapproval of the practice. He says only a few people consider that using “fire”, i.e., drying hops on the kiln, harms their flavour, which is “fortunate”. He doesn’t elaborate on his view, but goes on to state if one is using green hops, use half the normal amount of dried hops. This seems odd as today the learning is the reverse: use much more than standard measure since wet hops are not compacted and concentrate by drying. One wonders why Bradley didn’t like green hops for brewing. It is possible he had never tasted beer brewed with this material. But also, encouraging green hop beer might have been seen as a threat to an established industry: artisan as it was, hop culture and processing were well-established by then.
I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada once which used fresh hops and it was very good, with a complex, layered flavour I never encountered subsequently. I’ve had some decent ones but many wet hop beers seem hardly different to standard, dry-hopped beers. One does encounter as well occasionally the well-known “grassy” tendency of these beers, not a plus in my view. As so often with beer, it comes down to what’s in the glass.
** Note re image above: image believed in public domain, original source used is here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/88/Harvesting_hops_near_Independence%2C_Oregon.jpg