Fresh-hop ales, for the uninitiated, are just what they sound like: ales brewed using freshly-picked hops, with minimal time and/or distance between the vines being picked and the brewing kettle. (One serious contender in this category: Selin's Grove Brewing in central Pennsylvania, whose hops grow mere feet from the brewing kettle!)
Fresh Hop Ale Festival!), fresh-hop ales have become a craft beer variation of the hype and frenzy (much of it instigated by marketing forces, mind you) that surrounds the Beaujolais Nouveau vintage releases in France and elsewhere each November.
Spurred in part by the hop shortages of recent years and a corresponding rise in hop prices, many small farms have undertaken to add hops to their acreage. In Maryland, Stillpoint Farm, in Frederick County northwest of Mount Airy, has become the first farm to commercially grow hops in the state since (according to them) the 1870's.
Stillpoint has a video of their hop harvesting rig in action:
This year's hop harvest, their first, yielded Cascade and Chinook hops that were sold to Flying Dog, Pratt Street Ale House, Heavy Seas, and Frederick's Barley & Hops brewpub. All four are now seemingly in an informal race to get the resulting beers onto the market, possibly as early as late next week.
Flying Dog's Matt Brophy noted that they received over twenty pounds of fresh Cascade hops from the farm:
Kelly Zimmerman of Heavy Seas confirmed that their batch was in a fermenter, and would probably hit the streets late next week or by the end of the month: "Very limited quantities." Steve Jones reported that his share of the crop was delivered earlier this week to the Pratt Street Ale House:Our Fresh Hop has one bittering addition (90 minutes) with our standard Cascades, and then we used the “Stillpoint Cascades” in our hop-back. We started with a simple grist bill of pale malt with just a touch of C-80, Munich, and Wheat malts. This beer is still in the fermenter, but its flavor is already evident. Straw in color with subtle notes of fruit and citrus in the aroma that intensify in the flavor upon first sip. A solid malt backbone balances nicely with the 40 IBU’s of bitterness before a crisp and clean finish. The perfect beer for a hot late summer day after you have just finished up your special harvest . 5.5% ABV, 9 SRM, 40 IBU
Next week sees the brew day for this year’s Harvest Ale, an amber ale brewed with honey. . . . I’ll also be using the local hops to dry hop various casks over the next few weeks. The first, our Summer Light Ale, were filled today, dry hopped with Cascade and will be going out to T-Bonz, Meridian Pint, & ChurchKey next week. I’ll also be dry hopping casks of Ironman Pale Ale, some with Chinook, some with Cascade and some with a mix of both early next week and these will be going to DC also, though I’ll probably keep one back to put on the beer engine at the Ale House sometime soon.
The race is on, folks. Reports from the fields of kegs or firkins being sighted, along with tasting notes, are more than welcome, along with any leads from the brewers or distributors on where our local supply can be found, or incoming fresh-hop ales from elsewhere.
If you have the urge to try this yourself, Stillpoint Farm still had some Cascade available for homebrewers. Check their website for details.
Read this New York Times article from last October on fresh-hop, or "harvest," ales.
(Photo of 2007 hop harvest at Selin's Grove Brewing courtesy of the brewery)