Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 29, 2011

Home Brewin’:


It’s hop harvest season, and there’s no better way to celebrate it than by brewing up a wet-hopped beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
“ … on hot days there is no pleasanter place than the shady lanes of hops, with their bitter scent—an unutterably refreshing scent, like a wind blowing from oceans of cool beer.”

George Orwell

Yes, it’s the time of year when the hop vines come down and their hallowed fruit is given over to the making of the sweet (or bitter, as the case may be) nectar we here at like to call “beer.” And if you can manage to get your hands on a quantity of this green gold, there’s no better way to celebrate the season—other than maybe drinking beer—than by brewing up a kick ass wet-hopped ale (or lager).

Wet hopping refers to throwing fresh picked hop cones (their technical name is strobiles) into the boiling kettle in lieu of the more easily attained hop pellets (or dried whole leaf hops or hop plugs). This technique imparts a bright, fresh hop flavor to the beer, without a lot of bitterness, since the drying process accentuates the bittering quality of the hops. It’s become a trend among craft brewers—like Three Floyds and their BrooDoo or Founders and their Harvest Ale—to have gigantic piles of hop cones freshly plucked from the vines delivered overnight from the fields in the Pacific Northwest to throw into their brew kettles.

I personally do not have my own supply of hop vines (when it comes to plants, I have the touch of death—I managed to accidentally kill a fake plant once) or the budget to have anything shipped to me overnight, even something as important as beer ingredients. But about a week or so ago some acquaintances mentioned that they had some hop vines in their back yard that were hanging heavy with big, fat cones. They asked, since I seemed to be into the whole “beer” thing, if I wanted them. I immediately said “You bet your sweet ass” (or, “Yes,” I don’t really remember), and I immediately trundled the Gremlin over to their house to start picking.

A couple of problems arose almost immediately. One, they had no clue what kind of hops were growing in their back yard. The people who lived there before them planted the vines, and they’d been growing like weeds (albeit extremely well-tended weeds) since. I checked to see if they were ready for picking (if you see the yellow granules underneath the cone “leaves,” they’re ready ), then I gave the cones a good rub and sniff. My best guess was that they were Cascade (then again, I’ve sniffed ripe hops exactly about three times).

The second problem was I figured I needed about four pounds of hops to make a wet-hopped pale ale. Hop cones, you will notice if you’ve ever handled them, are very light. Meaning, it took in the vicinity of three hours to pick a bag full of hops by myself. During the day. A non-cloudy day. As in, that evil orb, the sun, frying my pasty skin for damn near three full hours. The things I do for beer …

But soon enough I was back in the safe, cool confines of the basement, where I furiously put together a recipe:

Hop Harvest Ale
11.5 pounds Briess 2-row pale ale malt (if extract brewing, substitute 6 pounds light malt liquid extract)
12 ounces fresh picked hops—60 minutes
12 ounces fresh picked hops—30 minutes
12 ounces fresh picked hops—15 minutes
10 ounces fresh picked hops—hop back (or, in my case, a boring old collander)
Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Mash at 153. Boil for 60 minutes. Ferment around 72.

I wanted the hops to be the sole star of the show here, so I went with just plain old base malt. From what I could glean from the interwebs, one ounce of hop pellets is roughly equivalent to five ounces of fresh or “wet” hops. So, as you can see from the above recipe, I went a little nuts. And even though I spent almost three hours getting my white ass fried by the sun picking hops, I didn’t even get a full four pounds. Actually, closer to three. I had four ounces of hops to burn and, since I didn’t think that amount would even be worth saving for dry hopping, I just tossed them into the mash.

I thought all those hop cones would really soak up the wort during the boil, but that didn’t happen. And the basement was filled with the intoxicating aroma of fresh hops. I pegged my target gravity at a perfect 1.050, so I’m hoping for a brew in the 5.5 percent ABV range. The beer is bubbling away in the fermenter as I write this, and all I have to do is get close to the airlock to smell the bright citrusy smell of hops—my own little ocean of beer (sorry, George).

Assuming I didn’t screw anything up and ruin my brew, I’ll post a follow-up about how it turned out.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...