The people that have done as much as anyone in Oz to introduce drinkers to hops in beer have been playing around a little. Coinciding with this year’s hop harvest, the brewers at Little Creatures attempted an experiment – to see if they could make a green hop version of their flagship Pale Ale by managing to get 100kg of hops from the bines at Bushy Park in Tasmania to their brewery in Fremantle in as short a time and in as good condition as possible. With help from hop growers Hop Products Australia (HPA), they succeeded, with the resulting beer currently on tap at their HQ in Freo and due to be tapped this weekend at the Little Creatures Dining Hall in Melbourne.
“I’d done a beer like this when I worked at Harveys in the UK,” says head brewer Russell Gosling. “We mooted the idea of doing it for a Single Batch release but didn’t know if it was something we could pursue. I had a conversation with Tim Lord [of HPA] asking how feasible it was and he wasn’t too sure so had some questions for a contact in the US about temperatures and how it could be achieved from a logistical point of view. It was a bit of an experiment but we thought we’d give it a go.”
Hops begin to change very quickly once the bines are cut down, hence why when harvested they are transported very quickly to a kiln and dried out, removing around 90 per cent of moisture before being further processed. For a “green hop” beer to be made, the hop cones have to make their way from field to beer as soon as possible. Bridge Road has made beer like this thanks to its proximity to HPA’s farm at Rostrevor, while HPA in Tasmania has done it with Cascade, which is close to their Bushy Park farm.
“HPA had never had to harvest, process, package, refrigerate and air freight in such a short timeframe,” says Russell. “We broke new ground. One of our brewers was sent to collect the hops from the plane but a courier had already collected it. We’d mashed in at 4am that morning to make sure the wort was ready for their arrival. It was an amazing day.”
All 100kg of the hops went into the hopback, the section of the brewery through which the wort passes late in the brewing process before making its way to the fermentation tanks. A typical batch of Pale Ale uses 25kg of hops, but because of the additional moisture content in the fresh flowers, this was scaled up massively.
“We weren’t sure if they would all fit, but we managed to slot all 100kg in,” says Russell, describing the beer as “interesting”.
“It’s a really good quality beer, although I think a lot of people had this mental perception that as the hops were as fresh as you could get so there would be a massive aromatic, in your face hop profile, but the reality is that the majority of the hop character is on the palate: grassy and more like prickly pear in its fruit component.
“From my perspective as a Pom the hop character on the palate is more what I’m used to; there’s less dominance in the aroma but more complexity on the palate.”
Whether the concept makes it to full Single Batch status next year is still being debated so this may be the only time Little Creatures Pale is ever brewed this way. If that’s the case, you’d best hunt it down quickly as it’s a draught only release.
The Crafty Pint joined a team from Little Creatures when they visited HPA’s Bushy Park farm earlier this month. The brewer has been increasing the amount of Australian grown hops in its beers year on year, looking to reduce the amount of US and other oversease varieties it imports and instead supporting the local industry.
HPA itself has been undergoing changes in its program in recent years too, recognising the growing importance of the craft beer sector and the growing desire for aroma hops and those with bigger hop flavours. The likes of Galaxy, Stella and Summer are the first fruits of this change of direction, with Tim Lord having high hopes for Stella in particular. Many new experimental varieties are being planted every year at their farms, with only a handful ever making it to the level of commercial crop.
Alex Troncoso, head of brewing development at Little Creatures and the man who is overseeing the construction of their new brewery in Geelong, says: “Over the past five years we have been exploring how we can start using Australian and NZ hops more in our brewing with a view of supporting our local hop industries.
“Going back to 2006 we didn't use any Australian hops and only used one NZ hop variety, which was Motueka in Bright Ale. The use of Australian hops has now expanded to include Tasmanian Hallertau (Pilsner), Galaxy (Pale and Rogers), Tasmanian Cascade (Pale, Rogers, Bright, White Rabbit Dark) and Cluster (White Rabbit Dark and White Rabbit White). This season we will be expanding further by way of Summer and Stella out of Tasmania. There is an equally large list of NZ hops we are using now – Motueka as well as NZ Cascade, Super Alpha, Riwaka and a lot of Pacifica. We are now keeping a lookout for any new varieties and experimenting with them in our brewhouses to judge their impact on our beers.
“On the whole our use of local (Australian and NZ) hops has increased markedly and now we are purchasing the majority of our hops from Australian and NZ, supplementing with supplies out of the USA, UK and Europe. It has been a lot of fun working on this and getting to know the local suppliers better in the process.”
It’s a sign that it’s not just the Australian craft brewers who are going from strength to strength, but also those supplying the industry. Some newer HPA varieties are proving extremely popular overseas too.
We’ll be adding more photos from the tour of Bushy Park and the current and historic hop kilns on its land soon.