For a few days in April, Wellington’s beer lovers become determined, power-walkers - from brewery to bar - with pamphlets in hand, in search of stamps, untapped badges and, ultimately, fresh-hop beer. It’s Hopstock, Wellington’s annual celebration of the hop harvest. So, what’s a fresh hop, and what’s Hopstock?
Fresh hops, straight from the bine are sort-of special. Hops are a flowering plant. It’s the female flowers that are used in beer but because the hop harvest only happens once a year those flowers are mostly dried, often compressed into pellets. It’s at harvest time when you can get them fresh…whole…wet. And, you have to get them quickly. The moment hop flowers are picked they start to decompose and turn to compost. They oxidise and go brown. This is why, when you can get them, they are celebrated.
Each year our hop growers in the Tasman region ship fresh hops around the country, sometimes within hours of picking, pretty much always within days. And, into beers they go – like we said – wet and sometimes dank. The beers often have a big wet hop aroma – fruity, minerally, earthy. Sometimes, it has to be said, they also smell a bit vegetal. But, when they’re good, they’re very good. Which is why Wellington has a festival to celebrate them.
For the past three years we’ve partnered with Hopstock’s organisers, Craft Beer Capital, to run tours of the bars and breweries taking part. Here are a few observations from 2017:
There’s lots of IPAs. We love India Pale Ales (IPAs), right? White ones, red ones, yellow ones, brown ones, black ones, cloudy ones. (OK, those last two are the subject of some debate)! The whole United Nations of IPAs – as long as it says IPA on the tin, bottle or tap handle, we’re in. If you subscribe to that ethos, and let’s face it, most of you do, then you were in luck with Hopstock in 2017. Lots of IPAs. This was good, better than previous years where our brewers and breweries got a bit too funky, and wasted their hops. But, we’d also like to plug a minority group (in the context of this festival) – pilsner. There were lovely fresh hop pilsners from Emerson’s, Te Aro and Townshend. Get yourself some if you can.
There’s fresh air and exercise. There’s always a down side!! To properly experience Hopstock you do have to walk in the outdoors. There’s no propping up the same bar for seven hours having a session. There’s beers to be drunk and stamps to be collected. This year, across 22 breweries and bars. You can put a positive spin on this. Think of Hopstock as a kind of beer orienteering! Strangely enough, and we’d hate to jinx it, but the weather always seems good for Hopstock – we know – we’re your orienteering guide! We take you form brewery to bar to get your exercise!
And, actually, there’s also bus. Since we’re on the subject of our tours, this year the bus legs took punters to the far flung Wellington suburbs of Newtown, Thorndon and even Karori. We brought people back from Karori as well, because we’re not mean. This is one of the great reasons to join a tour actually, for your dollars you get us, your beers, tasty food and a bus to the suburbs and back. We know people like the bus, so this year we planned some silly stops – Maccas Manners Mall to Husk. Reckon we could have done the exercise thing and walked there quicker, but we did have time for a wee sing-a-long!
Hopstock starts on a Wednesday, with or without you. Get in early next year so you don’t get FOMO, and so you can make it through all the beers over a couple of days. Talking about next year…We’ve got to say…
…Temperature matters. We’re all for a cold, refreshing thirst quencher from time to time but if beer is served too cold it makes it difficult to smell or taste anything – even the freshest of hops. We think that a number of Wellington bars serve their beer far too cold – and Hopstock provided ample evidence of that. Fresh hop beers (in fact, all beers) need to be served above the two to three degrees that some venues were serving them this year, to let those intense aromas and flavours shine. We’re not suggesting that they all need to be served like an English-style cask ale (though credit to Golding’s Free Dive and Hashigo Zake for having handpull versions of their fresh hop beers), but a just a couple more degrees would make a great difference. It’s just a minor bugbear in what was another great few days of fresh hop tomfoolery.