Mad or genius? The proof will be in the tasting after Urbanaut decided to make not one, not two, but six, fresh hops beers. And not just in one format either — they took two of the six beers and put them in 250ml cans as part of their Beer Blender series.
Founder and brewer Bruce Turner said the idea came up at a team meeting, where the topics for discussion included the upcoming fresh hop season and their new six-pack format for the hugely popular Copacabana Brut IPA.
“We’d been talking about six packs and fresh hops and the idea of a six-pack of fresh hop beers came up and I thought ‘it can’t be that hard’.”
When he sat down to plan it all out, it was a different story. “What was I thinking? I regretted it instantly.”
But Urbanaut have built a reputation for pushing the boundaries in terms of styles and formats, so Turner feels confident with taking a risk.
He’s also keen to “excite people” about how lucky we are in New Zealand to have access to these types of beers.
“The beautiful thing is we’re so lucky because there’s not many countries in the world where you can brew fresh hop beers with top-grade commercial hops.
“It’s only New Zealand, Australia, parts of the US, the hop belt in Europe — if you’re not close enough to fresh hops, you can’t have the privilege of making these beers.”
To make six beers meant getting six deliveries of hops on different days — and building the brew schedule around the picking windows. Because the hops have to be used within a day of being picked, they couldn’t take delivery of all the hops at once.
“We started looking at what varieties were available and worked back to see what would work best.”
Four sets of hops come from Freestyle Farms and two others from NZ Hops Ltd, who flew a large bundle to Auckland — dropping with them with Behemoth as a central pick-up point for other Auckland breweries.
The hops from Freestyle didn’t come by air, which was something of a risk, but Turner said a process of chilling the hops straight off the bine before putting them in a refrigerated truck helped keep them fresh for longer. “They’ve found that if they get them instantly cold before they go into the truck, they last much longer. The Nelson Sauvin turned up smelling amazing, and none had turned brown.”
The six beers are a Motueka Pilsner, Cascade Pale Ale modelled on Sierra Nevada’s iconic Pale Ale, a Moutere hazy pale ale, Nelson Sauvin hazy IPA, Southern Cross IPA and Nectaron Double IPA.
Talking to Turner mid-way through the brew sessions, on the day he was making a Nelson Sauvin Hazy IPA, he was confident he’d nailed the process for the beers. The risk with fresh hop beers is that all the green, leafy matter can make the beers too bitter.
“It is a bit of a gamble. With the Moutere hazy, I haven’t brewed a lot with Moutere let alone a fresh version — so that’s the last one we’re brewing. Every brew we’re learning more and more about what happens with X-amount of hops, with X-amount of alpha acids, at what temperature and for what time — by the time we get to brew the Moutere one we’ll be very confident in our process.”
The Southern Cross IPA was another one he’s watching very closely. “That is a high alpha acid hop so we’ll be watching that closely and we’ll do two different doses of fresh hop for that one, as we don’t want it to be too bitter and too piney.”
The Nectaron Double IPA was the one he’s most excited about. “The giant cones that turned up smelled amazing. The Nectaron cones are twice the size of Nelson Sauvin.”
Turner realises that if one of the beers doesn’t turn out quite right, he’s locked into a six-pack regardless.
“No one has done this before — so there’s an element of risk and our reputation is on the line. We’re aware we’re taking a gamble — but we’re confident with the processes. The contribution of fresh hops is hard to control and if something turns out really bitter, we have to live with that and explain it. There is no plan B — but I don’t think we’ll stuff it up.”
The six-packs will be distributed exclusively through New World as part of their fresh hop programme, where they ensure the beer is kept is chilled from brewery to customer. They will retail for around $26, which is super cheap considering how low yields are with fresh hop beer.
“It’s not a money-making exercise — it’s an experience we want to create. There’s not a lot of margin in it but it’s something we want to do — we’re wanting to excite people.”
Outside the six-pack format, Urbanaut are also putting the Cascade Pale Ale and Southern Cross IPA into a blender pack that will be available through Beer Jerk and Beer Hug in their respective fresh hop packs.
On top of the fresh hop six-pack, Urbanaut have also launched their Copacabana Brut IPA in 330ml six-packs.
“That’s the beer a lot of people know us for. While it’s a slightly stronger beer for a six-pack, I think doing it in 330ml cans is a better format.”