Since hops are a seasonal crop that is harvested in the fall, most hops used by homebrewers and commercial brewers have to undergo processing to dry them out and keep them in a state that will stable throughout the year. If hops weren’t dried out and subsequently packaged light proof bags and purged of oxygen, we wouldn’t be able to brew great bear all year long.
However, many brewers feel that the drying process itself results in the loss of some of the more delicate hop aromas, compounds that are driven off during the drying process. This is where the use of fresh, or wet, hops comes in. If a brewer has their own hop plant (which more and more homebrewers do), they can plan on making a wet-hopped beer and pluck a batch of hop flowers when they get ripe and toss time right into a batch of beer, to try to capture those delicate aromas in the finished beer. Because the main difference between fresh and dried hops is the aromatics, these hops are best used very late in the brewing process, to avoid driving those same aromas off with an extended boil.
Fresh hops also have a much higher water content (since they are still ‘wet’ and haven’t been dried), so a brewer will have to add more to have an equivalent amount to a dried hop. The ratio varies depending on the actual water content of the hops, but is roughly 5:1, meaning that you would add 5 times as much (by weight) of the fresh hops to equal a dried addition.
While not widely available commercially, keep your eyes out in the fall for fresh hop offerings. Some ‘harvest’ ales are fresh hopped, and some are just done using the dried crop from that year as soon as it’s available (not that you shouldn’t try them too).
Gentile’s in Grandview is currently taking pre-orders for fresh hops for this fall’s crop. The varieties available are Amarillo, Simcoe (both highly sought after newer varietals), Cascade and Centennial (good, solid American hop standbys), which will be shipped overnight from the hop farms in the Pacific Northwest as soon as they are harvested. Contact the shop for pricing, but orders must be placed through pre-order, which will only be taken until July 28th.
Photo Credit: DevilsChariot
Full disclosure: Ryan works at Gentile’s.