Wheaty Brewing Corps' latest release wet-hop beer, Ella High Water, is an aromatic brew complex in creation but subtle in design.
Wheaty Brewing Corps and the fun and frustration of wet-hop season
Wheaty Brewing Corps is no stranger to the allure of the annual hop harvest, having brewed a number of wet-hop brews in its six-year history.
In the 2020 hop harvest, the Wheaty has employed a large amount of fresh Ella hops, freighted to SA from Hop Products Australia, for this year’s wet-hop beer: Ella High Water IPA.
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Wheaty Brewing Corps beer is available to take home in crowler form.
For optimal experience, the Wheaty recommends drinking the beer within a few days of it being canned.
The beer is a single-hop number, making use of fresh Ella hops, paired with a pelletised version, used later in the brew process to add body, resulting in a “tropical” and “spicy” IPA, Wheaty Brewing Corps founder Jade Flavell says.
For Jade, hop harvest is a particularly fun time of year.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to play with an ingredient in its raw form,” she says.
“The fresh hop is quite different to a dry hop. Most brewers, including ourselves, will brew most of the time with hop pellets – so they’re dried and pelletised – and they last a lot longer in that form and are more intense in terms of aroma and flavour.
“But to use wet flowers is quite a different beast.”
On the production side, there are two challenges in using fresh hops: the first is fresh hops’ perishability, and the second is the difficulty in fitting a large amount of unprocessed hops into a brewery’s kit.
Through trial and error over the years, the Wheaty brewing team has learned to have a “plan B and probably a plan C,” just in case of any delays in shipment.
In an effort to mitigate the risk of freight delays, the brewery will schedule two consecutive brew days of identical recipes. This way, if the shipmen comes late, the hops aren’t left to expire without a beer to go into.
It also produces two almost identical beers, with the only difference being the fresh hops, providing an opportunity to experience the flavours brought in by the harvest.
In a regular brew using dried hops, the team would generally use around seven to 10 kilograms of hops; however, for Ella High Water, the team had to fit 25—30 kilograms of wet hops into the brewery’s kettle, all the while making sure the unprocessed hops are fully submerged in the brew.
“There’s all different stories of breweries trying to deal with that, because if they’re… not being saturated, you’re not getting as much oil and acid as you would like out of the hops,” Jade explains.
“So it’s various attempts to sink the hops, so to speak – whether you encourage them down with a paddle, or whether you put stainless steel sinkers in the bags.”
Well-executed wet-hop beers are hard won, but for all the effort and intricacies of the process, and despite using a high volume of fresh product, the resulting beer is more nuanced than the “hop bomb” you might expect, Jade says.
Ella High Water is aromatic from the moment the can is cracked, with stone-fruit characters and an undercurrent of pineapple leaping from the punctured portal.
In the glass, the beer looks bright and golden, with the stone-fruit flavours becoming more pronounced on the palate. The beer’s bitterness is prominent, but balances well against the tropical flavours.
The malt bill plays a mostly supportive role, with no overwhelming flavour notes coming to the fore, but a richness in mouthfeel.
“It’s using American ale malt as a base, from Gladfield, a little bit of wheat just for lightness and mouthfeel, oats, again, for a bit more creaminess and to fill out the pallet a bit, and a little bit of Munich to counteract some of the big resin characters that you often get from that volume of hops,” Jade says.
The downside to all the fun of wet-hop season is the opportunity to tweak the recipe is now a year away.
“I guess winemakers would say, ‘Now you know how we feel.’ You get one crack at it,” Jade says.
“It’s exciting but also frustrating. And you absolutely have to make sure you take notes, because chances are by the time the next year comes around, you’ve kind of forgotten what you’d wish you’d done the first time.”
Ella High Water is pouring at The Wheaty now, and once it’s gone so too is your opportunity for a wet-hop beer from Wheaty Brewing Corps until 2021.