Fresh hop beer, at its best, is lightning in a bottle.  A verdant, synesthetic aurora of living aroma and taste that only these special and intrinsically transient beers can capture.  With their ethereal, intense flavours they express everything from the conditions of the year’s hop vintage around the growing regions to every little nudge of the brewer’s technique in their production.

I asked Emporium brewer Paul Finney for his perspective on what makes the devilish mechanics of fresh hop beer tick, and the character he looks for in a brew.

“Fresh hop beers, for me, should be resinous, dank, chewy, oily, grassy and over the top! No time for balance here, I want to feel as if I’ve got my head in a hop field!

“I’m a bit of an odd one out with what I do with them. You’ll see lots of pics soon of breweries filling their mash tuns full of fresh hops and using it as a big sieve and running their hot wort onto it. But… why? The whole point for me is to capture these oils, not evaporate them off and then blow off a bunch more during fermentation. That’s why I fill one of our bright tanks with fresh hops and rack a finished beer on top. That way I’m effectively dry hopping with them and capturing those volatile oils.”

Finney’s approach is only one of many, which shows just how much the fresh hop brewing process remains uncodified.  Experimentation is still part of the art, and that means the results are exciting and unpredictable every year.

Ultimately there is no one recipe for success when it comes to brewing these beers, and for me that’s part of what makes them special.  For that short part of the year my taste buds get to roam on a wild and unpredictable frontier, free from the strictures of style guidelines and constraints of consistency. 

So how do I define a good fresh hop beer?  There’s no one element.  But you’ll know when you’ve got one.  When living green vivacity creeps up your nose, when the most impossibly fragile fruit purity shimmers on your tongue, when you’re suddenly standing between the vines on a Motueka hillside in the rain.  That’s a good fresh hop beer.

Michael Donaldson and Tim Newman pick their favourite fresh hop releases

Hop Federation Green Limousine

Formerly tap only, Green Limousine’s first canned release exploded straight to the number one slot in my ranking of fresh hop beers in 2021.  It held on very strong last year, so my expectations (and anticipation) is very high for this year’s release. TN

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Garage Project One Day In March

Garage Project have excellent access to one of New Zealand’s leading independent hop farms, Freestyle, and their annual celebration of the harvest is always delicious and sumptuous because they have the pick of the best blocks, using aiming to pick a number of varieties from the same parcel of land all on the same day. MD

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Baylands Waifly 9

One of the longest running fresh hop releases, Waifly will see its ninth outing this year.  Uniquely consistent year to year, I consider it to be one of the very few fresh hops to have truly ‘figured it out’.  As such it often serves as my baseline to judge other fresh hops against. TN

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Shining Peak Gung Ho!

Gung Ho! Was one of the picks of the 2022 hop harvest and it proved its staying power by winning gold medals weeks and months after release, with golds at NZ Beer Awards and the Australian International Beer Awards, which is no rare feat in itself let alone with a fresh hop beer. MD

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Parrotdog Fresh Hop Bitter Bitch IPA

Bitter Bitch is one of our truly classic IPAs, so getting to taste a special version has the makings of a real treat.  Add the fresh hop component — with fresh Nectaron joining the hop bill — and you’ve got a “must have” experience. TN 

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Sprig & Fern Harvest Pilsner

Sprig & Fern’s ready access to hop fields and their relationship with the farmers in the region ensures they get a bunch of the best fresh hops for a variety of beers, but a baseline beer for understanding how fresh hops work is their Harvest Pilsner, a legendary beer in New Zealand. But I’ll want to try their Superdelic fresh hop too. MD

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Huge array of Fresh Hop beers at New World

Fresh hop beers are a must on most brewery menus and many New World supermarkets will stock a number of fresh beers from the leading producers, including some breweries doing two or three versions. Among the fresh hop beers available this season are:

Double Vision Unseen NZIPA (Motueka, Nelson Sauvin), The Cauldron Hazy (Motueka, NZ Cascade)

Baylands Waifly (Nelson Sauvin), Fresh Hops Awaken (Superdelic), Fresh Outta Riwaka (Riwaka)

Heyday Scat (TBC), Better Yeti (TBC)

Sawmill Fresh Riwaka, Fresh Superdelic

Moa Rakau Vice

Te Aro XPA (TBC)

Urbanaut Cold IPA (Nelson Sauvin), Dip Hopped Hazy (Riwaka)

Boneface Cold IPA (Nelson Sauvin)

Mount Brewing Nectaron Unfiltered IPA / Nectaron Filtered IPA

Emerson’s Sticky Digits Hazy (Nelson Sauvin)

Panhead IPA  (NZH-101)

8 Wired Pilsner (Riwaka)

Mata  IPA (Nectaron)

Laughing Bones South Face Mountain IPA (Nectaron)

Deep Creek End of Hops IPA (Nelson Sauvin), Holy Hops Pilsner (Riwaka)

Black Sands Free Throw Pilsner (TBC)

Eddyline Hoptimus Prime (Nectaron, Nelson Sauvin), Hop Project 11 (Nectaron)

Epic Hop Gator (Motueka)

Garage Project One Day In March (Nelson Sauvin, Southern Cross)

Sprig & Fern Superdelic Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Superdelic)

Parrotdog Fresh Hop Bitter Bitch (Nectaron)

Hop Federation Green Limousine (Nelson Sauvin)

Waitoa Homeland Hazy IPA (Taiheke)

North End Zeal IPA (Nelson Sauvin)

Bach Sticky Buds (Nectaron, Nelson Sauvin)

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