It's time for the release of this season's fresh hop brews. The five Wisconsin breweries that make up the Midwest Hops and Barley Cooperative are simultaneously releasing five different beers, all made with this year's crop of local hops. This is the first time members have attempted to directly coordinate the release of their beers, reaffirming what has become an outright fresh-hop beer season in Wisconsin.
The 2012 fresh hop brews from Central Water Brewing (Amherst), Sprecher Brewing (Glendale), Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee), Bull Falls Brewery (Wausau) and South Shore Brewery (Ashland) should start appearing around the state within the next two weeks. All five breweries started the fresh hop beer-making process in late August. That's when the brewers met on the Amherst farm of Ryan Trzebiatowski to witness the picking of the hops, which were collected and immediately put into batches of beer. Hop vines were harvested from three different Wisconsin farms and then brought to Trzebiatowski's Back 40 Farm where a picking machine removed the hop cones -- the part of the plant that is used to make beer.
Getting label approval for all five beers was more difficult than Co-op members had planned, so the release is actually a few weeks behind schedule. Regardless, each brewery used one or more of the hop varieties from this year's Wisconsin harvest. The beers will be released in 22-ounce bottles featuring painted labels. The front of the bottles are unique to each beer and brewery on the front, while the reverse side is common to all with the names of the five Co-op members and the three farms where the hops were grown.
"This came out of our collaboration -- that gave these farmers a little seed money to grow hops a couple of years ago," says Anello Mollica of Central Waters Brewing. "We're now at the point where we have some nice harvests coming in." Wisconsin-grown Cascade or Nugget hops are the main varieties being used to make the beers.
Central Wisconsin Brewing has "redesigned" a pale ale called Hop Harvest it last made in 2010. Sprecher Brewing made a lager called Hopfuzion. Lakefront Brewery tweaked its popular Local Acre Lager. Bull Falls made Hop Worthy Amber Ale. And South Shore Brewery is releasing a pale ale with the name Bitter Blonde.
"This is about taking a common product, hops, and making five different beers," says Sprecher Brewing's Jeff Hamilton.
"It was a really fun thing to do and it shows how collaborative we can be," says Mollica. He's been going to Madison-area liquor stores over the past several weeks, not just to promoting Central Waters, but encouraging store managers to carry all five of the seasonal fresh hop brews.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of this collaboration has been coordinating a near simultaneous release of the beers. The design and federal approval of the labels as a group helped insure they would be on shelves at about the same time. However, each of the five breweries has different wholesale and distributor relationships, which makes seeing them all on shelves at the same time a challenge. Smaller breweries (Bull Falls and South Shore) also made less beer, so finding their bottles might be a little more difficult.
What's more, federal trade rules prevent brewers from directly discussing pricing with each other. However, consumers can expect these 22-ounce bottles to sell for around $5/each. If you miss your chance at one of the limited-release fresh hop beers, Mollica says he and the brewers are already talking about doing it again: "I'm pretty sure this will go on every year now. It's a pretty cool idea."