Fresh George – An Epic Adventure

Brewing Fresh George for GABS 2017 wasn't a walk in the park - more like a road trip of a lifetime

Beer – it is just four ingredients – but the heritage of those ingredients is fascinating. Hops were the last of the ingredients to be included in the mix of barley, water and yeast, and was purely added back in the day to stop the ‘beer’ from spoiling. The anti-microbial nature of hops is just one of the many characteristics of this vine like plant, with hops also attributing a large amount of flavour compounds including bitterness, aromatics and hop oils. Today, there’s something like 265 hop varieties and it is an ever-evolving industry.

Like other plants, hops have very specific environmental requirements, and flourish in moist temperate climates that can provide a minimum 13 hours of daylight. This is why most hop farms in the world are located between 35-55 degree latitude, with the major hop growing regions being North-Western America, Germany and the UK in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and parts of southern Australia (Victoria and Tasmania) dominate. At Newstead Brewing Co, we have a particular love for New Zealand hops, so when we were invited by our good friends at Hopco to see the 2017 New Zealand hop harvest, we jumped at the opportunity to gain more of an understanding about this much-loved ingredient.

The hop heart of New Zealand is located in Nelson, at the top of the South Island. In fact, Nelson is the only area where hops are currently grown in NZ. Hops typically grow between October-March, and are harvested only once a year. Like the plants themselves, the hop farms lay quite dormant before springing into action for an intense 40 days of harvesting. Despite a large amount of leafy green bine, the only component of the plant that is utilised is the actual hop flower or cone. It is within these cones that the yellow lupulin glands reside, which is the hop component responsible for bittering beer. Once the bines are cut down, a de-picking machine separates the cones which are then dried onsite. The dehydrated cones are then baled and sent to a central location where the cones are hammer milled and pushed into pellets ready for shipment to breweries.

Fresh hop cones contain a large amount of moisture which must be removed to stop spoilage. However, this dehydration process removes some of the best aromatic qualities of the hop, which is why many breweries like to produce fresh or wet hop beers at hop harvest time, and use the hop cones in their natural state. Newstead is no different. In fact, we have produced two wet hop beers this year at our Doggett Street brewery – our The Mayne Harvest Golden Ale saw fresh Australian Ella hops added to the standard brew at the end of fermentation, and we even decided to attempt a barrel fermentation of our Amber Ale (Liquidambar Harvest) using fresh Galaxy hops. To be even more unique, we thought we would take the opportunity whilst in New Zealand for hop harvest, to be the first Australian brewery to make a fresh hop beer using New Zealand hops. A major component of this plan was having a brewery in New Zealand to actually brew the beer…and this is where our good friends at Good George stepped in. The Good George brewery is located in Hamilton, a city in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island. Good George is a super busy brewery so finding a brew slot to make our beer was challenging.

Our adventure to make this beer started on a very hazy morning after sampling several fine New Zealand brews the night previous. We awoke to a phone call from the Good George brewery advising us that a brew slot had become available the next day. This was our only chance. Game on. And so began our 24 hour adventure to collect the fresh hops, and transport them 762km to Hamilton to brew the beer.

This is how the adventure unfolded.

Step 1. Secure 40kg of fresh hops from a hop farm…

Step 2. Hire a car to transport said hops 150km to the ferry terminal…

Step 3. Book a ferry to travel the 3 hours to the North Island…

Step 4. Ensure the hops sleep in a refrigerator overnight…

Step 5. Reload the car and travel the 527km to Hamilton…

Step 6. Arrive at Good George in time for brewing…!

Step 7. Brew…!

The resulting 6.4% XPA is one of deliciousness. Whilst the aromatics of Fresh George are very delicate, it is the taste that really packs a punch. Expect a floral fruity mix of melon, stone fruit, ripe pawpaw and citrus, that is balanced with a subtle bitterness.

Brewed as our entry into GABS 2017, there is only a limited amount of this beer available in Brisbane. So be sure to get in quick to savour the taste of our Fresh George brew, not only because it is a juicy delight, but as a salute to the pilgrimage that created this Australian first.

Kerry Claydon.