FRESH HOPPIN’ BEER: Idaho brewers rush to produce truly local, seasonal drink
Boise Brewing’s Hoptober Freshtival started two years ago with just a name thought up by Katie Vant, the brewery’s former bar manager. Now in its third iteration, the event has become the largest showcase of fresh hop beers in Idaho. Getting your hands on this locally grown crop, though, can be a scramble.
As the name suggests, fresh hop beers are made from hops plucked straight from the bine when they’re harvested in the fall. These justpicked hops aren’t dried or processed into pellets, which is common for those that remain. Dried hops typically provide a beer’s bitterness, but fresh hops impart a livelier flavor.
“As you dry these hops out, you’re concentrating the hop oils, which is what provides the bitterness. That’s not necessarily the case with fresh or wet hop ales,” says Andy Sparhawk, craft beer program coordinator for the Brewers Association. “You’re [typically] not looking for bitterness, you’re looking for this almost grassy, green chlorophyll type of zing and then that terroir of the actual location where they’re received.”
Sparhawk compares fresh hop beers to France’s Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine made from lightly fermented Gamay grapes that’s released annually to celebrate the harvest. And like in France, where winemakers race their bottles to retailers in Paris, craft brewers race from the hop farm back to the brewery, where other team members may have already started the brewing process.
Collin Rudeen, Boise Brewing’s president, said, “It feels like robbing a bank. You show up there [at the hop farm]. There’s a pile of green. You’ve got a garbage bag and you’re loading it all in. And it’s kind of hurried, too, like a bank robbery, because you’ve got to get back to the brew.” Last year’s heist resulted in 150 pounds of fresh Chinook and Cascade hops from Obendorf Farms in Parma. These were rushed back for Head Brewer Lance Chavez to make Mr. Freshy’s pale ale.
It’s a similar rush for Fred Colby, owner and executive brewer at Laughing Dog Brewing in Ponderay. He said the brewery uses only Idaho-grown fresh hops from neighbors and a major supplier two hours away to craft their Hop Dog pale ale.
“We tend to make the same beer pretty much every year. The only difference is which fresh hops do we get,” said Colby.
Last year, Laughing Dog used 400 pounds of the Amarillo hop variety and hopes to do the same again this year.
The team at Wallace Brewing in Silver Valley doesn’t have to go far for the vital ingredient in its fresh hop Vindicator IPA. They use a Cascade variety grown on co-owner and General Manager Chase Sanborn’s local farm, along with hops from neighbors who grow them as ornamental
The haul is longer for craft beer makers from east Idaho. Max Shafer, brewer and barrel manager at Grand Teton Brewing in Victor, says they source fresh hops from Gooding Farms in Parma. GTB’s crew drives nearly the entire length of southern Idaho in about seven hours to ensure fresh-picked hops make it into several different recipes cooking at their brewery. This year, they hope to offer a fresh hop IPA, Sweetgrass American pale ale and smaller, pilot batches of lagers and saisons.
Sparhawk said Northwest craft brewers are fortunate to live close to a major source of fresh hops.“The coolest thing is that this truly is the last remaining, truly seasonal beer that you can get into and it’s exciting for areas like [Idaho] that have this and can hang their hat on it. I’m sure it’s the envy of breweries around the country that they don’t have access to such an amazing ingredient that provides this sort of experience.”
According to the Hop Growers of America, Idaho is one of the top three hop producers in the United States, behind Washington and Oregon. Combined, these three states account for nearly all of the hops grown in this country. The Treasure Valley and the Panhandle area produce most of the hops grown in Idaho.
Although Wallace Brewing won’t be at the Hoptober Freshtival this year, Boise Brewing, Grand Teton and Laughing Dog will be among the 35 or so local and regional breweries, cideries and winemakers that will offer fresh hop and other styles at the event.
Hoptober Freshtival at Boise Brewing
521 W. Broad St.
Saturday, Oct. 1, noon–8pm