Today at Rhinegeist, we kegged Wet Hop Centennial, our first ever wet hopped beer. Allow us to take you through the labor of love that produced this tasty creation.
What is “wet hopping?”
First, a few basics. When hops are harvested in the Northern Hemisphere each Fall, they are typically pelletized, in order to maintain their characteristic flavor and aroma throughout the year. Much less frequently, hops are used in brewing straight off the bine, a process known as wet hopping. Wet hopping is the process of harvesting hop cones at their peak freshness and brewing with them as quickly as possible. The reason for this expediency is that hop oils — which contribute flavor and aroma to beer — degrade and oxidize as soon as hops leave the bine. Wet hopping drastically reduces the time from harvest to brew — often to less than 24 hours — minimizing degradation and oxidation, and maximizing flavor and aroma.
A wet hopped beer is a rare treat, especially for a brewery in the Midwest. The process requires that a brewery successfully build a relationship with a hop farm to execute a speedy delivery, and that that brewery be in close proximity to a hop farm. Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to meet both these criteria.
Our Head of Brewing Operations Cole Hackbarth expressed his excitement about the wet hopping process, saying, “We’ve always considered ourselves a hop forward brewery, and wet hopping is using a hop to its fullest potential. You really get the hop at its peak awesomeness.”
He continues, “To be able to make a beer with fresh hop cones is the coolest for people who are into brewing hoppy beers. As a guy originally from the Northwest, where there are hop farms in abundance and wet hopping is more popular, it’s really exciting to see hop farms popping up in the Midwest...For me, this wet hopping process is very nostalgic.”
Getting the Hops:
We planned our entire brew schedule around when our friends at Neptune Hops (http://www.neptunehops.com/), located in Cedar, Michigan, were harvesting their Centennial hops. On September 6th, 150 lbs. of Centennial hops were picked in the morning and delivered to us by Neptune owner John Bolan. Special thanks to John and his team for their incredible grit and hustle.
The Brewing Process:
Wet Hop Centennial started out going through the normal brewing process on our original brewing system in the taproom. It was milled and then mashed in the mash tun, a small quantity of pelletized hops were added in the kettle to give the beer the necessary bitterness, and then it was spun in the whirlpool. After the spinning, the wort went through a heat exchanger to lower the temperature to 170 degrees, and then back into the mash tun where 150 pounds of fresh Centennial hops were waiting to steep.
At this stage, wet hopping begins to present unique challenges. In particular, as Cole points out, the use of full hop cones instead of pellets, complicates matters.
“Hop pellets, which we usually use at Rhinegeist, are smaller, lighter, easier to handle and don’t take up as much space in the whirlpool,” Cole said. “Conversely, hop cones have a lot more volume, so the brewing process changes. We can’t use the whirlpool, as it would clog the vessel, so to get around this we actually use the mash tun twice.”
Our brewers lowered the temperature to ensure there wasn’t any bitterness extracted from the fresh hops, as they were exposed to wort below 180 degrees, which is the isomerization temperature that converts the alpha acids in hops to bitterness. What we did get from the fresh hops were potent flavors and aromatics of grapefruit, tropical fruit along with dank and intense Centennial aroma.
Finally, after 20 minutes of steeping, the brew passed through the heat exchanger for a second time, before landing in the fermentation tanks. The end product has over 5 pounds of hops per barrel, which leads to a seriously intense hop character. It carries the same characteristics as a normally hopped Centennial beer, however the grapefruit, lemon and citrus are a lot heavier and bolder. We’re excited for y’all to taste Wet Hop Centennial and hope that this flavor-packed-aroma-bomb will serenade your senses!
The majority of Wet Hop Centennial will stay in the Cincinnati area (including our taproom!), but a few kegs will certainly make it to outlying markets.
The key for this beer? Drink it as soon as possible. Cheers!