If you’re in Auckland, then stop in at The Shakespeare Hotel and Brewery (61 Albert Street, Auckland). It’s a 100-year-old pub that added a small brewery in 1986 (although brewing ceased for a few years in the 2000s), making it the first brewpub in New Zealand. The brewery is still tucked in behind the bar; there’ll be sports on TV and you can play a game of pool or sit by the fireplace. Their Jester is a light, fruity little lager. They also have hotel rooms if you need somewhere to stay. Worth popping into for a quick one.
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See a Hop Harvest A HOP-HEAD’S DREAM
You could go to see the seemingly unending rolling hills of Germany’s Hallertau region, with its huge trellis structures like a vast garden metropolis. There are the fields of Kent, England, with their old oast houses peeking above the canopies of hops. You could see the mountain-range backdrop of the Pacific Northwest and breathe in air that’s sticky with pungent hops. Or there are the fields west of Nelson, at the north of New Zealand’s South Island. Any of these places and more will, for about six weeks of the year, allow you to experience the annual hop harvest and to see how hops complete their journey from bine to brewhouse.
My trip to New Zealand coincided with their hop harvest, so I drove to Motueka, where the majority of Kiwi hops are grown, surrounded by grapes and apples and other orchard fruits, and all backed by steep, verdant hills.
You’ll never forget the smell of a hop harvest. It doesn’t smell like a glass of beer; instead, it’s green, like freshly cut grass on a hot day. It’s woody with freshly cut branches, then it’s like fresh herbs, minty, and
spicy; it’s all the shades and smells of green. The bines are cut and dragged onto the backs of trucks or tractors to be processed and passed into huge mechanical pickers, which grab and tug them, sifting and shaking, ultimately separating the hop flowers from the stems and leaves, with belts and screens and fans of air combining with the weight of gravity to allow only the hops to move forward through the rattling, clanking, grinding, old, rusting machinery.
The hops then travel to large, deep kilns where they are heated and dried, gradually giving out more familiar hop aromas—the leafy greens, the fruits, and florals. Half a day later and they’re bundled tightly together into burlap (hessian) sacks. From here they might go to be processed further into pellets, before going onward to a brewery.
The mesmerizing quality of mechanized processes, combined with the rural setting and fresh green crop, reveals a side to beer that you only usually see in photos and rarely associate with the liquid in your glass. The hop harvest is that rare period of the year when you can get to see beer from the roots and appreciate how the harvest has taken place, with roughly the same processes being undertaken for hundreds of years, to give beer its defining ingredient. Take the time to see the hop harvest one year; you’ll gain a new appreciation of how those wonderful aromas and flavors end up in your beer.
Drink Fresh-hop Beers
Hops don’t always need to be put through the drying process. Instead, brewers take them from the field straight to their brewing kettles and make “green-hop” or “fresh-hop” beers. Hops begin to degrade and oxidize as soon as they’re picked, so these types of beers can only be brewed during the hop harvest and there’s a tight timeframe from bine to brewery to maximize the
fresh hop flavor—and these flavors are very different to the dried hops we’re so familiar with. They are softer and more melon-like; there’s cucumber, leafy green herbs, under-ripe fruits; they are a little vegetal. Some say it’s the difference between fresh herbs and dried herbs, but I think it’s more like fresh tomatoes versus oven-roasted ones—there’s a wateriness in the fresh tomatoes or hops that gives them a distinctive taste, whereas the oven-roasted or dried ones are intensified in new ways. You’ll mainly find fresh hops and fresh-hop beer festivals in the hop-growing regions. If you’re ever nearby at the right time, then look out for them.
New Zealand hops allow brewers to add aromas including tropical fruit, grape, gooseberry, and mango to their beers.