Sunshine Coast breweries are making beer with locally produced fresh hops, whether they were grown in a hop yard in Gibsons or in a backyard in Powell River.
Craft beer drinkers in British Columbia love hops. Most of us have lost count of all the super-hoppy, tongue-curling IPAs we’ve tasted from BC breweries. Cider makers are even starting to toss hops into their brews. For decades during the mid-20th century, BC was known for its hops production, but when the last hops farm closed in the Fraser Valley in the late ‘90s because of growing competition south of the border, craft brewers were limited in the hops they could source. Now that craft beer is booming in the province, we are seeing a return of hops production too, and this means brewers are able to incorporate the unique flavours and aromas of locally grown hops in their beers.
Hops are one of the key ingredients in beer, providing bitterness and other flavours and aromas, and acting as a preservative. Throughout the year, BC brewmasters generally use dried hop pellets, but when harvest arrives and fresh hops are available, they jump at the opportunity to use them in special seasonal Fresh Hop (or Wet Hop) beers. But they have to move fast–hops spoil quickly if not dried immediately after they are picked, so breweries must collect the “wet hops,” transport them to the brewery, and then add them to the brew kettle within 24 hours of harvest. The result is a beer with a uniquely fresh and grassy flavour and aroma that is only available for a short time each autumn.
On the upper Sunshine Coast in Powell River, Townsite Brewing celebrates the return of hops to the region in their seasonal beer called Time Warp Wet Hopped Pale Ale. Unlike most other breweries in the province that source their fresh hops from a single farm, brewmaster Cédric Dauchot and his team turn to the local community. “We usually use whatever hops we have on hand,” says Dauchot, “which is why every year the Time Warp will be different. Last year it had a kind of black tea smell and this year it is more herbal.”
On the lower Sunshine Coast, Persephone Brewing also incorporates local hops, but their source comes from a little closer to home. The brewery, which sits on Agricultural Land Reserve property, grows its own hops on its property, which is open to the public throughout the year. Matthew Cavers, one of Persephone’s brewers, says this year’s Fresh Hopped Red Ale is lighter in colour and maltiness than the regular version, but has distinct flavour from the fresh Cascade hops used throughout the brewing process, before it is conditioned with Centennial hops. With one acre of the Persephone property being used to grow hops, and four more slated for development, fresh and dry hops grown on location are going to be making their way into more of Persephone’s beers.
Many other BC breweries produce fresh hop beers each autumn. Some highlights to check out include Sartori Harvest IPA from Driftwood Brewery, which was the first fresh hop beer produced in BC in 2009, Wolf Vine Wet Hop Pale Ale from Hoyne Brewing, Longwood Brewery’s 40km Wet Hop Island Session Ale, and Yellow Dog Brewing’s Alpha Dog Fresh Hop Pale Ale. But hurry, they won’t last long!