Field Day IPA
The making of our new Field Day Fresh-Hop IPA was one of the most fun brewing experiences I’ve had in a long time.
All of the BJ’s Brewing Directors and our Senior VP of Brewery Operations met in a hop field in Clearlake, California early one morning in July. With the help of the skilled growers and workers at the field, we selected and hand-picked just over 70 pounds of Columbus and Chinook hops. Those were the two hop varieties that were at their peak of ripeness when we were there. We started just after sunrise and were done picking by 9:30, then we loaded them all into my car and headed off to Reno. The smell inside my car was amazing: fresh, floral, and earthy. I wish I could package that smell and use it as an air freshener inside my car all the time!
As I was driving back, I spent a lot of time thinking about just how different the hops in my car were from the hops that we usually use. We always use excellent hops for our beers, but freshly picked hops are different in some critical ways. First, we picked only the ripe hops from each vine. Normally, entire vines (entire fields, really) are cut down all at once, and since the hop cones on a given vine will ripen at slightly different times, there are always going to be a few over- and under-ripe hops mixed in. Second, almost all hops are immediately dried in special kilns to keep them from spoiling. The heat during kilning changes the delicate oils that give hops their distinctive flavor and aroma. Third, most hops used in brewing are compressed into pellets. This process involves grinding the hops, which ruptures the glands that contain all of those delicate hop oils, allowing them to react with oxygen and lose some of their freshness.
About a week before, we had brewed a special batch of IPA so that it would be done fermenting when we arrived with the fresh hops. Normally, we add hop pellets to our IPA after fermentation (a process called “dry hopping”). It’s easy enough to pour the pellets through a special port at the top of the tank. Dry hopping with fresh hop cones took some careful planning and still proved to be a challenge. When I arrived with the hops we poured them loosely into nylon bags. Then we stuffed the bags through a manway into a clean, sanitary fermentor. Since it’s necessary to keep the hops submerged in the beer to extract the most hop flavor, we tied the bags to a ring that we had welded onto the inside of the manway door. Once we got all the hops in, we closed the door. At least, we tried to: the hops were so heavy we could not get the door to close all the way. To get the door closed we had to start transferring the IPA into the tank to float the hop bags. Once the hops started floating, it was a simple matter to close the door and complete the beer transfer.
Over the course of the next week, we very carefully monitored the flavor of the beer as it soaked up the wonderful fresh flavor of the hops. (Tough work, right?) Intense fresh hop flavors started showing up almost immediately. We let the beer and the hops mingle for a full week, then we reduced the temperature of the beer to get it ready for filtration.
The beer is fabulous! Without a doubt the hoppiest and freshest tasting beer that has ever been made in our Reno brewery. It is fully loaded with fresh hop essence; mostly citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas with a distinct earthy character. I hope everyone enjoys drinking this incredibly fresh IPA as much as I have enjoyed being part of its production.
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