It’s the beery equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau – well kind of. I’ve never twigged why, Kent apart, we don’t celebrate the UK’s new ‘green’ hops harvest by brewing with them. Virtually straight from the stalk. It’s a big thing in the craft ale heartlands of the USA.
On a road trip stop-off in Washington State’s hop capital, Yakima, we were devastated to discover we were one week early to join in the annual ‘Fresh Hop Party’. Bet it was an epic celebration in the heart of the fertile volcanic soil where 75 per cent of American hops are grown. Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and the rest.
At Indy Man Beer Con at Manchester’s Victoria Baths (Sept 29-Oct 2) we aim to make up for that miss in a small way by sampling ‘Hops are Green’, an Extra Special Bitter created by JW Lees specially for the festival, returning after a two year hiatus.
We suggest you do the same. Nominally sold out, IMBC have just released a batch of extra tickets.Tickets are available for the following sessions: evenings 5:30pm-10.30pm Thursday/Friday/Saturday; daytimes 11pm-4pm, Friday/ Saturday; and on Sunday 1pm-6pm. Buy via this link but hurry!
Of all the area’s traditional family brewers 200-year-old Middleton-based Lees are the ones who get down most with the craft beer kids. They’ve long shared with Cloudwater some of their legendary, long-lived yeast strains. Just this week I tasted a Cloudwater ‘JW Lees’ DIPA in a can that was quite splendidly balanced – at 9%!
Lees’ own ‘Hops are Green’ is a quite different beast, inspired by a need to start a conversation about sustainability in beer. The industry is facing multiple challenges from climate change and inflation to water shortages and demographic shifts.
Independent Manchester Beer Convention (to give its full title) and JW Lees wanted to explore how you might brew with a lower carbon footprint, which helps the brewer run a successful business, delivers a beer which the craft beer drinker loves, but which doesn’t break the bank. Beer brewed and drunk locally, with more locally sourced ingredients could be part of the answer.
That means marking the sustainble progress made by domestic hop growers rather than importing from far-away Yakima (or even New Zealand). Groundbreaking Brook House Hops in Herefordshire fits that bill admirably.
Matt Gorecki, Head of Beer at the festival told me: “We all love American Hops and we have for years, but we can’t ignore what people like Brook House are doing right here on the doorstep.They’re growing some mega stuff! When we first spoke to JW Lees and heard Michael’s story about working with the same farmers and fields as his grandfather we just felt that we could bring together the best of both worlds.”
Lees were definitely up for it. Head Brewer Michael Lees-Jones, said: “We are experienced in adapting as the world changes around us. In order to stay relevant and to keep pouring beer for the next 200 years we need to remain curious and to experiment with different ideas. We think it is great that the IMBC team are asking questions about sustainability in beer as we consider how we can be a more sustainable brewery.”
I haven’t tasted ‘Hops are Green’ yet, but like the sound of it – an Extra Special Bitter. “Typically a malt forward brew using English yeast and firm but not over the top hopping, it will be finished using freshly harvested green hops from the forward thinking hop growers at Brook House.”
So what are Green or ‘Wet’ Hops?
An ingredient with a lower carbon footprint due to their lack of time in an energy intensive kiln, where hops are usually cured to preserve and intensify their flavour. They’re used in an array of seasonal beers in the US around harvest time but curiously not so much in the UK. They’re grown in Herefordshire and were transported to the brewery by road. It will preview at the festival and be available at several JW Lees pubs as well as Port Street Beer House.
This beer is the first in a series of beers produced with sustainability in mind, with Cheltenham based Deya Brewery, picking up the baton to create the next product following the festival. Any brewery wishing to get involved can contact the IMBC team through their social media channels.
Welcome back Indyman
Since its inception in 2012 Independent Manchester Beer Convention (Indy Man Beer Con/IMBC) has proved a world class showcase for the most forward thinking breweries from the UK and beyond. Everything about it (apart from the amount consumed) is different from the traditional beer festival. Not least the venue – the Grade II listed, architectural gem Victoria Baths.
Inclusivity and diversity are part of its appeal. And great street food. This year’s focus on sustainability and environmental awareness of the impact of the brewing industry sees special, cross-Atlantic collaborative brewing and innovative approaches to recycling spent products.
It’s a big step up from that first pioneering IMBC, created by Jonny Heyes, founder of Common & Co (Common, The Beagle, Nell’s Pizza, Summer Beer Thing). Just two rooms were used, hosting only 20 breweries. Nowadays more than 60 breweries will occupy every nook and cranny . From the main ‘stages’ in the old swimming pools to tasting areas and snug bars in the Turkish Baths, the breweries will pour a selection of their beers to thousands of beer lovers and converts alike.