WA Boston Brewery’s craft brewer creates wet hop beers to help support farms

WA’s craft breweries are experimenting with wet hop beers to tempt drinkers and help support farms in an area that lost its local hops industry decades ago.

Boston Brewery head brewer Ben Bunker said he had a beer like no other, which was a feat in an experimental industry where it was difficult to create something unique.

He made a wet hop beer using freshly harvested hops straight from the bine rather than the dried, pelleted hops used in all other commercial varieties.

“Once upon a time all beers were made with fresh hops, but they weren’t really good until the first time of year they were picked.”

He said brewers would leave hops hanging over rafters or drains for the rest of the year.

“They would have this smell of blue cheese or feet and it would affect the quality of the beer as the year went on,” he said.

This problem led brewers to develop dried, pelleted hops that were used year-round.

Breweries buy pellet hops to make beer all year round.(Flickr: Alan Levin)

Bring Farms Back to WA

WA’s commercial hop farms collapsed in the 1980s after Perth’s Swan Brewery closed and the brand moved to South Australia.

a man stands in a shed full of hop cones
The Bunn Hop Farm in Pemberton produced 50,000 kg of hops a year at its peak in the 1960s. It closed when Swan Brewery stopped buying WA hops.(Provided: WA State Library)

There were almost no hop growers operating in the state for decades.

WA hops grower Trey Gee said the market collapsed completely when Swan Brewery shifted capacity to demanding pellet hops in 1978.

But a handful of commercial farmers have started selling to local craft breweries, including Aaron Alexander who owns a small farm between Denmark and Albany.

He harvested his third crop of hops by hand in March.

Drinkers were enjoying his wares a month later in the aptly labeled Cream of the Hops wet hop beer.

“Breweries are starting to recognize that there are local hops now.”

He said the locally grown hops offered different flavors and aromas.

“Hopefully over time it will become normal to see WA hops in our beers,” he said.

two men are laughing and drinking beer
Aaron Alexander (right) owns a hop farm just 20 minutes from the brewery where Ben Bunker works.(Rural ABC: Angus Mackintosh)

Unique infusions

Brewers from the hundreds of craft breweries scattered across regional Australia can struggle to create beers that stand out.

Wet hop beers grown, harvested and brewed in the same region are a way to create something unique without resorting to harsh flavors or additives.

“People often expect a wet hop beer to be super hopped, like a hopped bomb,” Alexander said.

“It’s generally more subtle, rounder and fresher.”

Hops and sunflowers, one month before harvest.
Hop vines and sunflowers thrive a month before harvest.(Rural ABC: Angus Mackintosh)

Mr Alexander said he liked the wet hop beer to taste “from the harvest”.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bunker said he was looking forward to using something hyper-local.

“It’s really good to be proud of something from the region that people are passionate about,” Mr Bunker said.

Bartender Callum McCamley said the beer appealed to a wide range of customers.

“Everyone wants to try it,” Mr. McCamley said.

“Personally, I sold mostly to people in their thirties.”

He said customers tend to have “a very good knowledge of beer”.

“A lot of young women actually really enjoy craft beers,” he said.

“It’s good to see a lot of young people enjoying something different at the pub.”

a baby nibbles a hop cone
Everyone participates in the hand picking of hop cones on small farms.(Rural ABC: Angus Mackintosh)

A tasting event was planned in Perth in April to celebrate wet hop beers grown and brewed in the South West region of WA, but it was canceled after COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in WA.

Mr Alexander said growers were eager to promote the harvest again next year with more wet hop varieties.

Until then, the rest of his 2022 harvest has been dried and pelleted for use in less urgent offerings from local breweries.

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