Note: this column originally appeared in the Oct. 2 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Early fall in Santa Barbara is fantastic, because it’s really more like an extended summer — which, in Santa Barbara, is more like an extended spring anyway. So when my first book, “We Make Beer,” was released late last month, I wanted to celebrate at an outdoor venue.
I couldn’t think of any place better than Pure Order Brewing Co. on Quarantina Street. It has a lush grass yard and a nice hop garden growing right alongside the outdoor seating.
The only problem was those hops had all been picked.
The fall hop harvest is among the happiest times of year for a brewer and beer drinker. Many brewers celebrate the harvest by using freshly picked “wet” hops that haven’t been dried in new beers. Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale comes to mind, but I’m always a little overpowered by the herbal, grassy notes that shine through in wet hop beers. So I was happy to hear that Pure Order chose to dry their hops out before adding them to their product.
Before my book celebration, I sat down with James Burge, brewmaster at Pure Order, and tasted his next release. It was a lovely brown ale with a robust malt character that played alongside a beautifully fresh hop profile made with the hops grown in their garden and dried in the sun on top of their roof.
The beer is good but is only the first step for those freshly harvested hops. A brown ale is typically malt-forward, and the Pure Order version, which should be released this month, was no exception. The main purpose of brewing this beer was for James to gain an understanding of what his home-grown hops would contribute to a batch. The real showcase piece will be coming soon, as he intends to brew a black IPA using copious amounts of the Cascade hops grown on-site.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.’s A.J. Stoll recently collaborated with Sea Smoke Vineyards winemaker Don Schroeder, as they harvested hops grown at the Sea Smoke property for a pale ale brewed at Fig’s Funk Zone location that A.J. plans on calling “Hop For Teacher.” While the name is still pending approval, the beer is already fermenting away and is scheduled for release on or around Oct. 11. It will be available at all of the brewery’s tap rooms in Santa Barbara, Buellton and Los Olivos.
What sets this beer apart from other wet hop beers is that rather than using the fresh hops after the beer is fermented as “dry hops” for solely aromatic purposes, A.J. and Don transformed the mash tun, the vessel where barley is soaked in hot water to provide the sugary liquid for the brew, into a hop back.
Essentially, after the beer was boiled, A.J. pumped the hot liquid back into the mash tun over a bed of hops, and then pumped it out from there through the heat exchanger for cooling and into the fermentation tank.
What this effectively does is extract more of the acids and volatile oils that add to the bitterness, flavor and aroma of a beer. The end result is a beer that picks up a full hop flavor and aroma. By contrast, the more common method of adding hop aroma to beer is by “dry-hopping” them, or adding hops into cool beer after it is fermented. Running warm beer through a hop bed in a hop back will add a considerable amount of flavor compared to the dry hop method.
So even though fall is here and winter is just around the corner, don’t embrace the dark, malty beers just yet. In fact, there’s no better time than now to enjoy the fruits of the hop harvest with a fresh hop beer.
Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and the author of “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” (St. Martin’s Press). His column appears the first Thursday of the month. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_M_Lewis.