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Something old, something new, something borrowed, something green

On 23/10/13 by Brian Yorston (Head Brewer at Wadworths)

I enjoyed reading Steve Livens’ recent BBPA blog about Kent green hop brews and it is great that this style of beer is becoming popular. The blog gave the impression that this type of beer stemmed from the smaller brewers who have, by their nature “more room to manoeuvre”. However it may well be of interest to many that the original green hop brew came from a non-hop growing area of England and a brewery which in nautical terms could be classed as “quite a large old barge”!

Trevor Holmes, as head brewer at Wadworth, came up with the idea of a green hop brew when he was walking in a hop yard back in 1992. Since then, Wadworth have produced their Malt and Hops beer each year by gathering the green hops on the day of brewing not from Kent but Worcestershire. Initially the team at Wadworth tried to produce a truly harvest beer by not only using fresh hops but also the new season’s barley. Unfortunately this did not work as the dormant nature of barley, malted too early, gave troublesome brews. So we stuck with the concept of brewing the beer with just the new season’s hops, both dried and fresh.

Since I have been brewing this beer I have kept the recipe exactly the same each year so that the hop character of the beer is unknown until the beer has been tasted. As a result, the beer reflects that seasons hop crop. For instance; the crop of 2009 was incredibly high in resins so the beer produced was very bitter with a slight, retsina like flavour. The kilning process of hop drying is used to preserve the hop for storage but this drives some resins and oils into the air. The green hop beers retain these compounds in the liquid to a much greater extent.

This year’s version was less bitter than normal and more balanced in nature, reflecting the measured alpha acid content of the hops which was rather low. The fact that we brew this beer very early in the hop picking season means that we at Wadworth may have an idea of the character of the early crop of Goldings even before the hop farmer knows, simply by measuring the bitterness of the beer and tasting it!

I believe that green hop brews are the “Beaujolais Nouveau” of the beer world giving an insight to what that year’s hop crop will produce. Since Trevor’s inspiration, over 21 years ago, this beer style has been reproduced all around the world. The green hop beer can only be celebrated once a year and for a finite time. So as a beer style for judging, timing will be an issue.

I applaud the Kent brewers for their initiative in raising the profile of the beer and hops grown in their county but ultimately green hop beers are a celebration of new seasons hop’s wherever they are grown.


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