Beer: Fresh Magic Brewery: Huss Brewing Co. Style: American-style Pale Ale ABV: 5.7 percent
A hop picked right off the vine is a beautiful thing -- conical, verdant, wonderfully fragrant.
But a vast majority of the hops brewers use to make beer don't look like this. While prized for their vivid, green aroma, fresh hops (also known as "wet" hops, since the just-picked cones are about 80 percent moisture) are quite unstable. If baled and shipped along normal channels, they'll quickly develop mold and cheesy off-flavors. So most hop-growers will first dry their hops by circulating hot air through them -- a process known as "kilning" -- which drops the moisture content to around 10 percent and preserves the hops for shipping.
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Dried hops last longer, but many brewers feel the kilning process drives off some of the plant's grassy, chlorophyll-like aromatics. So, during the hop harvest that occurs each year beginning in late August and lasting until early October, they'll ask hop-growers to ship them a batch of un-kilned hops. It's not a cheap proposition. Wet hops weigh much more than those that are dried -- brewers will typically use four to five times the weight of wet hops as they would of the kiln-dried variety. The packages also have to be overnighted, lest the essential oils within the cones begin to deteriorate. But the effort is usually worthwhile. The resulting beers, known interchangeably as "wet hop," "fresh hop," "green hop" or "harvest" ales, showcase the terroir of American hops in all their wild, herbaceous glory.
Huss Brewing Co., a one-year-old brewery tucked into a South Tempe space that once belonged to the now-defunct Rio Salado Brewery, premiered its first wet-hopped beer in late August. Fresh Magic, as the ale's appropriately named, is based on the brewery's Magic in the Ivy, a pale ale brewed to celebrate the Chicago Cubs. The major difference: 50 pounds of wet Cascade, Columbus and Centennial hops -- picked just 26 hours before and shipped overnight from a California hop farm -- were added to the still-fermenting brew.
Order the brew at the source and you'll have it delivered in a mason jar, where it displays brilliant clarity and a golden-brown, apple juice-like hue. The aroma may seem more malty than hoppy at first, with a soft nuttiness backed by notes of sugar cookies and biscuits, but give the brew a swirl, and hop aromas do appear: wild herbal fragrances punctuated by mint, cilantro, berry and garlic. It's a surprising bouquet given the hops that were used -- C hops, as the group is known, tend to be more citrusy.
Gentle pinches of carbonation nip the tongue as the soft, medium-light body moves around. The flavor starts slightly metallic, but this is soon replaced by a bright, bracing bitterness and sweeter hop flavor that showcases more of the berry notes with a dollop of mint. Soft biscuity malts bring balance into the finish.
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Trying Fresh Magic beside its un-fresh-hopped brother, Magic in the Ivy, is an edifying experience. Going back and forth, they seem like completely different beers, with the standard Magic giving off less hop aroma but, surprisingly, more hop flavor, with a blend of lemon drops, grass and flowers I actually enjoy more than in the fresh version. Your mileage, as always, may vary.
Huss brewed up 28 barrels (that's 56 kegs) of Fresh Magic that are available at the brewery taproom and select bars across the Valley. Get it while it's fresh (HAHA!) and keep a lookout for other wet-hopped brews, which'll be arriving in force this month.