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For many beer brewers, it’s like Christmas in August. That day when David Warren rolls up with a truckful of fresh hops packed in coolers, ready to be brewed into the freshly hopped (or wet hop) beers we’re seeing poured at breweries right now. “A lot of brewers are really passionate about them—it’s their favorite day of the year when we drive the hops to them,” says Warren, who owns and farms at Paonia’s High Wire Hops. “Fresh hop beers, they don’t taste like other beers,” he says. “They’re really unique. It’s a great opportunity to try something different—and so many fresh hop beers are available right now.”
What makes fresh hop beers different?
Typically, hops are harvested, dried, and converted into pellets that’ll stay usable for years. Brewers are on the clock with fresh hops, though, which are available only once a year (in August for Warren’s hops) and need to get thrown into the brew immediately.
“They’ll go from the field to the brewers’ hop kettles within 24 hours,” Warren says. “We coordinate with brewers weeks or months in advance of harvest dates.”
Like cooking with fresh versus dry spices, the fresh hops have higher amounts of water, so you need more of them than the dry stuff. Wet hop beers tend to taste less bitter than dried, with a fresher, more herbal flavor profile. Because it’s such a limited opportunity, brewers and fans go crazy for them, anxiously awaiting those first sips in late September and October.
Why is Colorado Such a Great Place to Grow Hops?
Paonia’s North Fork Valley has a long history of agriculture, thanks to its hot days and cool nights. Like the peaches and grapes that do so well there, hops also like the temperature fluctuation, which gives them a little more punch in terms of aroma and flavor. In early summer, hops will grow six to nine inches each day, climbing their 20-foot-tall trellises. “They just explode,” Warren says.
By mid-August, the hops’ cones are mature. This is important because it’s in the cones that the oils flourish, and that’s where all the flavor and aroma come from. Depending on the hop variety—Warren grows Cascade, Chinook, Nugget and the high alpha hybrid CTZ at High Wire—the oils in those cones are all different, lending their earthy, piney, spicy, or fruity notes to the beer.
This summer, Warren delivered 4,000 pounds of fresh hops—less than in years past. He believes demand is down right now because of pandemic-induced belt-tightening. As these beers cost more money to make, brewers might be nervous about fronting the higher cost. But don’t worry: There are still plenty of fresh hop beers to be drank.
Meet the Grower
Warren got into farming hops in 2011, at a friend’s urging. That friend was a Colorado State University professor and avid home brewer who’d experimented with growing different hops varieties in the North Fork Valley.
Warren had lived in the area for more than a decade, growing medicinal herbs, but with the state’s craft beer scene blowing up, locally grown hops seemed ripe for the picking. Warren started with an acre in Paonia, and now he’s up to seven. Over the past eight years, his hops have won eight Great American Beer Festival medals, and, with awards season right around the corner, hopefully counting.
Where to Drink High Wire Fresh Hop Beers Now
Want to try fresh hop beers made with Warren’s High Wire bounty? Here are just some of the breweries with fresh hop beers on tap this month:
Joyride Brewing Company is so into fresh hops that it’s hosting a Fresh Hop Festival Saturday, October 9. Fourteen craft breweries will join them in the fresh hop lovefest, which will include Joyride’s Fresh Budz, an all-Colorado IPA made with High Wire’s Chinook and Cascade hops, as well as hops from Root Shoot Malting in Loveland.
Fiction Beer Company’s Stone Village Swamp Man is a West Coast-style IPA using Cascade and Nugget hops. It’s got earthy citrus, mango, and pine characteristics, and a subtly sweet malty and nutty profile.
Ratio Beerworks used more than 225 pounds of fresh Chinook hops for its Wet Hopped Antidote, a twist on their classic Antidote brew. The American IPA features tropical flavors of peach and orange marmalade combined with notes of pine and sap from the fresh hops.
Breckenridge’s Broken Compass Brewing will bring its Wetter than an Otter’s Pocket New England IPA to Joyride’s festival. Brewed with a trio of hops, it’s billed as the wettest beer at the fest.
Station 26 Brewing Co. took their flagship IPA and brewed it with three varieties of High Wire hops for their Fresh Hop Juicy Banger IPA.