A Nod to the Kiwi Hop Crop

This month, Southern Hemisphere Harvest® enters our seasonal lineup for the sixth year. For this fresh hop ale we’re indebted to the Internet—yes, the Internet.

When the Southern Hemisphere concept—a spring counter to our fall Northern Hemisphere Harvest®—surfaced in 2008, we didn’t have any experience brewing with New Zealand hops. And unlike our annual trip to the Pacific Northwest where we do the bulk of our hop selection, we couldn’t walk the Nelson, New Zealand, lots as easily (although brewmaster Steve Dresler repeatedly offers to make the, um, “arduous” trip.)

So what did he do? Dresler did what’s common these days: leaned on the help of technology. He fired up his computer to read New Zealand hop descriptions, using those notes to talk through the idea with New Zealand Hops Limited. That conversation and preliminary online research were enough to take the dive; thousands of pounds of distant, fresh, whole-cone hops—Southern Cross, Pacifica, and Motueka—soon arrived at our brewery. They were harvested, packed, and shipped within several days to ensure the oils and resins would be their most vibrant.

Really, though? Never having rubbed a single hop?

“What fun would that be,” Dresler asked, his smirk wide.

Fortunately we had a great baseline, having already brewed Northern Hemisphere Harvest, which informed much of the grist bill and bitterness targets for Southern Hemisphere.

“The trickiness was where to place the hops,” Dresler explained.

But after 30 years of brewing, Dresler has refined a most scientific approach to nailing such challenges.

“I drink the beer in my head first,” he said.

The New Zealand hops were, and continue to be, remarkably healthy and clean with vivid color. (Our hop growers, north and south, know our obsession with quality and always deliver the finest whole-cone hops.) The terroir lends unique floral and herbal characteristics, yet you can still detect similarities with more familiar hop varieties. For example, Dresler points out that Pacifica is a little more floral than a German Hallertau and “the Southern Cross is kind of like a Chinook.” Our friends at New Zealand Hops Limited picked up a “freshly crushed lime character” in this year’s Motueka, which they think is a knockout.

While we are fastidious about quality and consistency, brewing Southern Hemisphere is inherently a bit nebulous and takes us out of our comfort zone. We’re savvy to the nuances of the Cascade hop, for example, because we use it so often; however, New Zealand hops roll in only once a year, subject to all of the variables surrounding the growing season. Since Southern Hemisphere is a fresh hop ale, Dresler explained, we have to “brew with our asses on fire.” There’s no time for R&D tinkering. With each annual brew, though, our process gets better and better. We hope the 2013 release is your favorite yet. Cheers to the Kiwis for making it possible.

May 3, 2013 - 8:47am