“KEEP FROZEN (ZERO DEGREES F. OR BELOW)” – That’s what the box says. That must make transportation and logistics a challenge, but if it means I get to drink freshly brewed fresh hop beer in January, so be it.

By now, most beer lovers who pay attention know the deal with fresh hop beer. The shortest version, it is brewed using hops that are freshly picked and have not been processed (dried and pelletized). Since hops are only harvested once a year, fresh hop beer is a seasonal treat, only available in the northern hemisphere during the late summer and fall. But you already know that.

hop harvest, a top-cutter at work.
Hops get harvested in late summer, early fall. Once a year.

Yep, that’s how fresh hop beers work. Until now. The clever folks at Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) did something that, maybe, nobody has done before. Some local breweries are discretely releasing fresh hop beers for the new year, brewed using flash-frozen fresh hops. As far as I know, the two varieties of fresh hops that made it into the deep freeze this year are Simcoe and Citra.

YCH is being understandably tight-lipped about the product and process, but here’s what we know. At least, this is what I can tell you without having to kill you. It’s unclear if this will become a regular offering or if this is just an experiment.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Whereas normal fresh hops, for normal fresh hop beers, are intercepted between the picking machine and the kiln, and then immediately used in the brewing process, these hops were intercepted en route to the kiln and sent immediately into the deep freeze in their whole-cone form. Like, serious negative numbers. Over in the Yakima Valley, where they grow a lot of veggies and fruit as well as hops, they have plenty of these kinds of deep-freeze facilities.

A hop kiln, where hops are tried for processing. “Fresh hops” never make it here.

I’m told this is a simplified version of the process but is one I can share. Before you get all smarty-pants, this is totally different than cryo hops. It’s a completely different process. Producing cryo hops involves subzero temperatures, way below zero, and deconstructing the hop flowers. This new process does not; the hop flowers remain in their whole cone form.

Chad Roberts, who works for YCH and is also one of the owners of Varietal Beer Company, told me, “We were told to be coy and reserved in how we describe what we are doing.”

Like I said, they’re being tight-lipped. Understandable. I haven’t heard of anyone trying this before. Maybe it will work and become a thing, maybe it’s just a lark and will never happen again.

It’s Not About the Beer, It’s About the Beer

I know of four breweries who’ve used the product. How YCH decided which lucky breweries would get these hops, I do not know. The beers will be popular so I leave you to your own devices if you want to procure some for yourself.

Seattle’s Stoup Brewing, which will release it’s Deep Freeze this Friday, January 1st, said the following on social media: “Stoup was chosen as one of a select few breweries to brew a beer with hops that had been frozen during harvest season. We have to say, once those babies thawed out, they looked and smelled just like freshly harvested hops. MAGIC.” 

Across town at Cloudburst Brewing, they also were among the lucky few chosen to get some of this newfangled, deep-frozen product. On social media Cloudburst said: “Yakima Freeze is an American Strong Pale Ale brewed with FLASH FROZEN wet CITRA and SIMCOE hops during the 2020 harvest… we brewed this beer with 14 pounds per barrel the same we always brew with fresh wet hops… but in December. And now it’s ready. And it can be all yours.”

Georgetown Brewing expects to release a beer brewed with these sub-zero fresh hops next week (week of Jan. 4th). I’m told it will be a pale ale. Think, fresh hop Johnny Utah. It will be available in growlers at the brewery.

Meanwhile, closer to the actual place where the hops were harvest and sent into cryogenic suspension, Varietal Beer Company of Sunnyside, WA released its flash-frozen fresh hop beer about a week ago. On social media, they described it like this: “Cone of Cold IPA is our mild hazy IPA brewed with 300lbs of quick-frozen hops in a 10bbl batch, with the mash tun used as a hopback. It’s a delicious taste of harvest slightly out of season. Enjoy this if you miss hop harvest on these winter days.” 

Ringing in the new year with a fresh hop beer. Now that’s a new one. It might be the best thing 2020 gave us.

KENDALL JONES

Kendall Jones is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest with a passion for great beer that dates back to the 1980s when the craft beer industry was in its infancy. He regularly contributes to local and regional magazines, produces the Washington Beer Blog, and frequently travels far and wide in search of good beer.This story was originally published by Kendall Jones on the Washington Beer Blog, January 31, 2020.