It’s harvest time on the North Fork. And while that means produce like fruits, vegetables and wine grapes are ripe for the picking, it’s also time to reap fresh hops for beer making.
This time of year is when local breweries make beers using the “wet hop” method. The process involves taking hops fresh off the bine (that’s what hop vines are called) and using them within 24 hours of being picked.
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The standard way of making beer is usually with dry hops. Dry hops are grown and desiccated before being stored to avoid moisture and mold. Many dry hops are also pelletized, which beer makers say stores even better than whole leaf hops.
“It’s a unique thing when you’re this close to hop farms,” said Matthew Spitz, co-owner of Moustache Brewing Company in Riverhead. “Ideally the hops have to be used within hours of being picked. Now that we have hop farms on the island, it’s a lot easier for brewers on the island to use fresh hops”
Moustache Brewery will release its Wet Hop Harvest Saison by the end of September.
“We got two varieties of hops from Condzella’s Farm in Wading River, Cascade and Mt. Hood,” Spitz explained. “Cascades are an American-style of hops, we use a little more citrus flavors and aromas, it’s a little grapefruity. This is my first time using Mt. Hood. It’s a German-style, so I’m expecting it to be more grassy, herbal, a little spicy character out of that hop.”
Moustache is making a two-barrel batch using wet hops. Spitz describes it as an amber colored beer made with French ale yeas and possessing a spicy kind of saison character. The term saison refers to farmhouse beers made in France.
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“I chose to do a saison because it’s traditionally the beer of harvest time and farm workers,” said Spitz. “It seemed appropriate for a harvest hop kind of beer.”
Serious beer drinkers can surely tell the difference between traditional and wet hop beer, those in the industry say.
“There’s a huge difference in my opinion,”said Nick Delong, manager of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s Peconic tasting room. “Wet hops is so much fresher. It’s the same as growing spices in the backyard versus buying dry ones at the supermarket. The dishes you make become so much more colorful and fresh. It’s the same with beer.”
“You get a lot more vibrant flavors in it and the aroma is amazing,” added Delong. “The nice thing about using wet hops is there’s still a lot of moisture in them, so they’re a little bit more sporadic then dry hops. Where dry hops are made a certain way, wet hops are a lot more fun to use.”
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On Friday September 18, Long Ireland Beer Company will hold a Wet Hop Release Party and Fundraiser. The event is set to coincide with the release of the Riverhead brewery’s wet hop beer, the working title being Co-Op IPA. Made with a blend of Centennial and Cascade hops from three local hops farms including Condzella’s Hops, L.I. Hops in Riverhead and Wesnofske Farms, 20 barrels are expected. That night’s wet hop sales will go back to those farmers to promote the continued growth of Long Island hop farming.
Crooked Ladder Brewing Company of Riverhead is also coming out with a wet hop beer. Their Fresh Hop Pale Ale is expected to become available within the next few weeks.