Last week, Bare Bones Brewery released its third annual harvest ale. Farm Fresh Pale Ale was brewed with freshly picked cascade hops from Glacial Ridge Hops and Grain Farm in Deerfield, Wisconsin.
Farm Fresh Pale Ale is a fresh hop beer, or a wet hop beer if you prefer. These are beers brewed with raw, unprocessed hops. Most hops are dried and pelletized for brewing use. The hops in Farm Fresh went directly into the brew kettle just a few hours after they had been picked in Deerfield.
The thought of fresh hops tends to create certain expectations in the mind of the drinker. But often what’s anticipated is not what’s in the glass. The aromatics and flavors of fresh hops tend to be milder than that of processed hops. The flavors are softer and earthier. Farm Fresh Pale Ale captures that.
It’s a golden beer that carries a formidable 6.7% ABV. The hops come up in the aroma with a spicy, herbal character that made me think of basil. I’ve noticed this before from Wisconsin-grown Cascades. They’re much less citrusy than those grown in Oregon. They more closely resemble the spicy, floral aspect of something like Strisselspalt hops.
The beer is full bodied with a classic American pale ale malt structure. Notes of honey and toast play off the spicy flavor of the hops. The bitterness is firm and somewhat lingering. This will be a good beer for the cooler days ahead. It’s also an instructive beer. Terroir (the flavor imparted by climate and soil) isn’t much discussed in beer. But here you’ve got a good example of it.
Jody Cleveland, head brewer at Bare Bones, was in Deerfield on August 20 for the hop harvest at Glacial Ridge Hops and Grain farm.
Cleveland left for Bare Bones loaded up with 45 pounds of freshly picked cascades. Back in Oshkosh, he started brewing. These beers are an undertaking. The average American craft beer uses about 1.5 pounds of hops per barrel. But because fresh hops carry water weight, brewers typically quadruple their hop load when using them. For Farm Fresh, Cleveland used over six pounds of hops per barrel. In all, it was a 13-hour brew day ending at 10 p.m.
On Wednesday, September 12, the beer went on tap in the Bare Bones taproom. From farm to glass in 22 days. This is as fresh as beer gets.
Fresh hop beers haven’t been around all that long, Sierra Nevada’s 1996 Harvest Ale is generally considered the point of origin for the style in America.
The first fresh hop beers made in Oshkosh that I’m aware of were the work of homebrewers. There were a few of them made here using homegrown hops in the early 2000s. Commercial brewers in Oshkosh got around to it for the first time in 2016. That year, both Bare Bones and Fox River released their first fresh hop beers.
But there were fresh hop beers available here well before any of that. In the summer of 1957, Tempo from Blatz became available in Oshkosh. This was an entirely different kind of fresh hop beer.
At Blatz, they weren’t tossing freshly picked, whole-cone hops into their kettles. They were using fresh hops to make a hop extract. The goal was to reduce hop-derived bitterness. Or as Blatz put it, a brew “Freed from beer harshness.” In Oshkosh, you paid a premium for that freedom. In 1957, s six-pack of Tempo sold for $1.10. A sixer of Chief Oshkosh or Peoples could be had for 89 cents.
One last thing about fresh hop beers. It’s commonly believed these beers should be consumed at peak freshness. There’s something to that, but I don’t entirely agree with it. Something I’ve noticed when drinking these beers locally the last couple of years is that as they age they develop a depth of flavor that I like quite a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing how Farm Fresh develops in the coming weeks.