Smell that? That’s the aroma of Colorado’s hop harvest season!
Over the last several weeks, farmers across the state and the country have been taking down their hop bines so that local brewers can buy them up for seasonal delicacies known as fresh or wet hop beers. Instead of using the standard dry hops, these beverages utilize the raw cones, which offer greener and more floral flavors.
When it comes to wet hops, the fresher the better. That’s why on Aug. 29, the folks behind Denver’s FlyteCo Brewing made a special trip to the 32-acre Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose to pick up 80 pounds of Cascade and Nugget hops. The owners, who are pilots, and their team flew private planes into Montrose at 9 a.m. and around 10:30 a.m., flew back to the Front Range, where the brew kettle was boiling, and dumped in their haul of hops.
FlyteCo Brewing’s fresh hop West Coast IPA will debut on Sept 12.
The flight has been a tradition since 2019, when FlyteCo and Bruz Beers embarked on a similar mission to Paonia and collaborated on a wet hop saison. For FlyteCo co-owner Morgan O’Sullivan, it’s one of the most fun trips of the year.
“The seasonality, the rarity. There’s just more of a delicacy to [fresh hop beers],” he said. “And the taste, I just love it.”
Plus, the opportunity to connect and support local farmers reminds him of shopping at farmers markets while growing up in central California. Support from local brewers has become a crucial piece of Colorado’s hop farms’ survival, as Billy Goat owners Chris DellaBianca and Audrey Gehlhausen told The Denver Post in 2021.
“That attachment to the land is so cool,” O’Sullivan said.
Thirsty yet? Here are the best places and events to indulge in the season.
Fresh Hop Festival at Joyride Brewing Co. (Sept. 24)
For a second year, fresh hop beers will take over the taps at Joyride Brewing Co. for a daylong festival. The event is a couple weeks earlier than last year due to the fact hops were harvested slightly earlier, too. That will ensure “that every beer served is as fresh as possible so attendees can appreciate all the subtle and volatile hop compounds before they start to fade away,” co-founder Dave Bergen said in a statement.
Beers will be available from more than 10 breweries, including Joyride, which is tapping two seasonal beers this year – an IPA and a pilsner – both made with Colorado ingredients. Other attractions include a T-shirt tie-dying station.
Entry to the festival is free and attendees pay by the pour. A portion of proceeds benefits the Colorado Brewers Guild.
Sept. 24 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Joyride Brewing Company (2501 Sheridan Blvd., Edgewater). facebook.com/events/766164181291080.
Southwest Fresh Fest and Pickin’ Party (Oct.1)
Billy Goat Hop Farm is a 32-acre plot in Montrose that supplies locally grown hops to breweries throughout the state this time of year. And where better to get a sampling of how they’re used than at the hop farm itself? Billy Goat is bringing more than a dozen beer makers out to the Western Slope for the first Southwest Fresh Fest and Pickin’ Party, where drinkers can try – you guessed it – fresh hop beers paired with live bluegrass music.
Tickets cost $30 and include free shuttle service from downtown Montrose to the farm. As a bonus, leaf-peeping season will be reaching its peak around then and Montrose is a quick drive from the San Juan mountains where you can see the colors changing.
Oct. 1 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Billy Goat Hop Farm (67181 Trout Rd., Montrose). southwestfreshfest.com.
Freshtober Fest (Oct. 15)
Head to The Empourium Brewing Co. in Denver for a fresh hop block party. The brewery will be closing off 42nd Avenue at Tennyson Street, as well as its adjacent parking lot for beer tents, food trucks and live music. Expect 10 breweries, including European-inspired outfits Hogshead Brewery and Barquentine Brewing Co., to be pouring seasonal recipes. Empourium’s is called Now and Forever, a wet hop IPA brewed with El Dorado hops flown in from Michigan.
It’s free to enjoy the patio vibes and tunes, but beer sampling costs $45 for 10 pours (5 ounces each). A portion of proceeds benefit St. Francis Center, which supports the homeless population in Denver. Empourium will also collect gently used jeans to donate to the center.
Oct. 15 from noon to 6 p.m. at The Empourium Brewing Co. (4385 W. 42nd Ave., Denver). theempourium.com.
Broken Compass Brewing
So you’re craving something that has malt sturdy enough to support the wet hops? Broken Compass’ annual Wet Hop Pale Ale should fit your fancy. The brewery used 75 pounds of the namesake crop from Montrose’s Billy Goat Hop Farm – 25 pounds each of Cascade, Copper and Chinook – to make this beer.
Now available on draft at both Broken Compass Brewing Co. locations (68 Continental Ct Unit B-12, Breckenridge and 520 S. Main St., Breckenridge). brokencompassbrewing.com.
Call to Arms Brewing Co.
Hopheads will find two wet hop recipes on tap at Denver’s Call to Arms Brewing this season, including a 2018 World Beer Cup gold medal winner. That’s the More Like Bore-O-Phyll fresh hop IPA, a West Coast style brew with Amarillo hops that lend tropical citrus and grapefruit notes to the flavor. Second is Janet Reno’s Dance Party hazy fresh hop IPA, which also utilizes Amarillo hops, but leans into an East Coast brew style.
Find Janet Reno’s Dance Party starting Sept. 26 and More Like Bore-O-Phyll starting Oct. 3. Both will be available on draft and in cans at Call to Arms Brewing (4526 Tennyson St, Denver). calltoarmsbrewing.com.
Comrade Brewing Co.
Comrade’s flagship Superpower IPA gets a seasonal twist, thanks to “hundreds of pounds” of wet hops brewers procured from Billy Goat. In case you need another reason to seek it out, the fresh hop recipe won back-to-back silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014 and 2015.
Now on draft at Comrade Brewing Co. (7667 E Iliff Ave., Suite F, Denver), comradebrewing.com.
Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery
Jagged Mountain, located in downtown Denver, will have two fresh hop recipes to satisfy drinkers this fall. The first, a collaboration with Denver’s Laws Whiskey, is a double IPA brewed exclusively with Cascade fresh hops grown in Littleton and a touch of Laws’ honey bourbon. The second is called Sticky Icky and leverages Strata fresh hops for notes of pineapple, strawberry, orange and pine. They are both heavy hitters at 8% and 7.5% alcohol-by-volume, respectively.
Find them on tap at Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery (1139 20th St, Denver) starting Sept. 21. jaggedmountainbrewery.com.
WeldWorks Brewing Co.
Adding its own twist on fresh hop tradition, WeldWerks Brewing Co. used frozen whole hop cones to create the Cryo Fresh Hop Juicy Bits, adding seasonal flavor to one of its staple IPAs. The hops in this 6.7% ABV recipe are from the renowned Yakima Chief Hops company in Washington.
Find it on draft and in cans at WeldWerks Brewing Co. (508 8th Ave, Greeley) starting Sept. 23. It will be distributed along the Front Range shortly thereafter. weldwerks.com.
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