A few weeks ago I kicked off a new series of posts I am calling Beer Interpretation, the idea being to decipher the weird and wonderful world of craft beer jargon. The first post was on the term “hoppy”, which you can read here and given hops is such a HUGE topic in craft beer this seemed like the logical second post in this series …
“FRESH IS BEST”
Beer geeks can switch from conversations around the importance of fresh beer to then discussing beer cellaring techniques in the blink of an eye.
“Fresh is best” and similar phrases are often linked to craft beers with a lot of hop* character in them, it’s basically just short hand for “this beer is full of hops, drink it NOW, don’t wait”.
*Check out Beer Interpretation #1: Hoppy for more information and links to other hop related article
Whilst encouraging people to drink beer as soon as they get their hands on it might see a little irresponsible it actually isn’t. It is about making sure that the beer you are drinking is in the best possible condition.
The reason for this is that hops are pretty delicate, after all what do you expect from a plant that only grows in very specific parts of the world – namely between 35-55 degrees latitude in the southern and northern hemispheres. To top it all off the hop flowers can only be harvested once a year in each hemisphere. Once harvested the essential oils and alpha acids in the hops, the things that make them so wonderful and useful to beer, begin to deteriorate. It shouldn’t be too surprising really, I mean, can you run as fast as you could ten years ago? I didn’t think so. Age matters.
To combat this, to ensure that hops can be used to brew beer all year around and all over the world, hops are dried and made into pellets like little concentrated pills of awesome, then vacuum packed and cold stored to preserve them. It’s little wonder that hops are not a cheap ingredient in the brewing process. But they are oh-so-worth it.
Anyway, back to the subject of freshness.
The affect that hops have on a beer, namely contributing bitterness and flavour, are also subject to the ageing process regardless of whether the brewers used hop flowers straight from harvest or hop pellets stored in peak conditions.
As hop flavour deteriorates in a beer you stop getting all the lovely flavours and aromas that the brewer intended and instead get unpleasant characteristics like cheesy, sweaty and musty. That’s bad.
So when you’re grabbing a beer where hop flavour and aroma is important, like pale ales, IPAs, golden ales and such, drink them fresh and enjoy them a lot! As Feral Brewing says, “treat like milk”.
GO BUY SOME BEER
Any of the beers I recommended in the previous edition, if they are super fresh, are going to be great.
Add to the list Stone Brewery Enjoy By IPA, an IPA from the US that specifies a very short date range to drink this beer before. There’s even a timer on the website, counting down the hours and minutes of this beer’s peak life.
Draft Magazine | Off Flavours
Beer Sensory Science | Hop Flavor
Serious Eats | How to Buy Fresh beer and Why it Matters
BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog | Brewing Hops Storage: Preserving Precious Hops