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May 4, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Some of you have been asking me: “What are these hops you keep talking about?” This shouldn’t surprise me, as hop flavour is a rarity in common beers. A shame really, as hops can contribute a shed load of diverse flavours to a beer. But to state it simply: hops contribute the bitter and dry flavours in beer. Without hops we wouldn’t have beer as we know it today.

The hop flower is actually a relative of marijuana and grows on vines. In New Zealand, hops are primarily grown just outside of Nelson in a town called Riwaka. It is currently hop harvesting season, where the hop vines are fed into massive machines designed to remove the valuable hop cones from the vine. They are then kilned to keep them fresh till they reach the brew kettle. Two breweries have taken advantage of the abundance of fresh hops and have each created a beer which both showcase the remarkable and intense flavours possible with the generous use of hops.

First to get to the hops was Mac’s Brewery of Wellington. Brewer Ally Clem and beer writer Neil Miller drove from Wellington in a dodgy rental car to be in Riwaka to participate in the first hop picking. They grabbed the hops before they got to the kiln, and drove straight back to Wellington where the 200kg of fresh green hops were used in this year’s Mac’s Brewjolais (5.5%).

An American Pale Ale, the beer has little on the nose but makes up for it in the flavour. The beer has a strong hop character, with resiny hop bitterness coating the mouth. The hops contribute flavours of passionfruit and citrus which are well balanced with caramely malt. This is available at Shed 22 Brewery Bar and The Craftsman on Courtenay Place.

Richard Emerson of Emersons Brewery also visited the Riwaka hop fields and spied a pile of hops fresh from the kiln. He grabbed two varieties and used them in his latest once-off ‘Brewers Reserve’ brew, Harvest Fresh Hop Ale (5.3%). Unlike Brewjolais, Hop Harvest sports a powerful hop aroma of grapefruit and apricot. The flavour is packed with hop character, it’s so full of citrus you could think you’re drinking grapefruit juice. Disappointingly, there is little to balance the souped-up hops, meaning it won’t go down as easily. The only place you’ll find this in Wellington is Regional Wines and Spirits, so check it out.

Hops are to beer are like grapes to wine—they provide flavour and aroma. They are also the most expensive ingredient, which may explain why mainstream beers generally have about 1 hop cone per pint. Many more are required to get the flavour out of the hops, which the above beers achieve beautifully. Get out there and try them.

If you have any questions about this week’s beers or any comments, please e-mail me at

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