Green Hop Beer Originated in England

Harvesting_hops_near_Independence,_Oregon

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

 

3 thoughts on “Green Hop Beer Originated in England

  1. While it may not be representative, the very first 19th century German source I looked at made no mention of undried hops, and said hops were best when they’d had a couple of years’ storage to mellow out.

  2. Interesting, thanks for this. During my years as an Oregonian (though not a native one), the wet/green-hop trend began, AFAIK originally with Sierra Nevada’s Hop Harvest amber ale on keg. It was lovely, but I also was quite enamoured of strong, caramelly keg ale back then, having not yet discovered proper cask ale.

    I’m just back home (in Franconia, Germany these days) from a week in Kent, where I was able to try some Kentish wet/green-hopped ale for the first time. And they were lovely, though honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve noticed that they were explicitly green-hopped, rather, just well-hopped. I suppose Gadd’s was the best, but it was also strong for me, at 4.8%.

    Anyway, I’d like to give Sierra Nevada the benefit of the doubt and suspect that they hit upon the idea of green-hopping after learning of the practice in Kent. Their Pale Ale was supposedly an attempt to brew a Fuller’s ESB using American malt and hops, and they were always known as having been inspired by English ale.

    Be careful, though: IIRC, SN use the term “fresh hop” for beers made with dried hops just off the field, and “wet hop” for proper green/wet hops. IIRC.

    • Thanks for this, and you are right, fresh hop is (can be) a misnomer, but I meant wet hop there.

      It’s impossible to know, unless one asks Ken Grossman I guess, what inspiration was received for its wet hop beers. It may have hit on the idea independently especially as there was until recently no known practice of modern English brewing using unkilned hops. Certainly the company deserves credit for commercializing the practice.

      I suspect green hop brewing may have antecedents in Germany too, a look at old books there might be revealing. It is easy to see why it died out until its revival: preservation and shipment of hops were impossible without drying. Only now with a restored local brewing industry in hop growing areas can the concept gain traction.

      Gary Gillman

Comments are closed.