Every year, soon after hop harvest, we get the brewing world’s equivalent of Beaujolais nouveau—with a perennial burst of fresh-hop beers. To make it happen, many brewers try to get their mitts on freshly picked “wet” hops as quickly as possible before those hops begin to degrade. The logistics involved can be dramatic.
However, a Seattle-based manufacturer of low-atmosphere containers recently made an eye-opening announcement: Its product had preserved fresh-picked, unprocessed hops not just for hours or a few days, but for six weeks.
That company, called RipeLocker, says it conducted the test in cooperation with Yakima Valley’s CLS Farms and Connecticut-based Thomas Hooker Brewing. The hop dealer Yakima Quality Hops helped to facilitate the collaboration.
At the hop farm in Moxee, Washington, they packed 240 pounds of Comet and El Dorado into four prototype RipeLocker containers. The company says that the hops maintained their form, color, and aroma after six weeks in these “managed-atmosphere” containers.
RipeLocker designs its containers for fresh produce—for example, for preserving berries, thus lengthening the season when you might expect to find good ones in the supermarket. This appears to be the first time that a hop producer and brewery have used this type of technology to stretch the freshness window of unprocessed hops—potentially lengthening the time of the year that brewers could brew with them.
RipeLocker also says that the successful test suggests that it may be unnecessary for breweries far from the hop-growing regions to pay for costly air freight if they want to brew a fresh-hop beer. It could create possibilities for Asian brewers who want to try it with American hops, American brewers who want to try it with New Zealand hops, and so on. Obviously, it also would extend the time of year when consumers can enjoy these beers.
At Thomas Hooker, they used those hops to brew an IPA called Cultivate. According to the brewery, the containers “dramatically increased the longevity of the unprocessed hops. The result is an IPA with beautiful flavors of grapefruit and candied stone fruit backed up with some pine and resin.”