I stopped by the Isetan Craft Beer Fair last week, and while they had a strong representation of Japanese craft brewers, almost none of them had any special or unusual beers either on tap or in bottles. Except, for some reason SanktGallen, who normally don’t even release that many limited beers. But lo and behold, I was able to find a fresh hop version of the Yokohama XPA (we did a review of the regular version of the Yokohama XPA recently) and a fellow IPA they brewed for this event called the Hop Relax. Let’s take a look.
SanktGallen Yokohama XPA (Fresh Hop version)
(No Ratebeer entry yet!)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 48; OG – 1.058; hops – Perle, Cascade
Pour – Color similar to regular Yokohama XPA, copper gold, but less carbonation, flat
Aroma – Less sugar and malt, more pungent hop aroma, earthy and fresh
Flavor – Maltiness is still there, but there is an added spiciness and a very dry hop bitter finish, also grapefruit
First of all, what exactly constitutes a fresh hop beer? Also called wet hopping, it’s basically a beer brewed with freshly harvested hops without drying, whereas in a normal beer the hops are dried in a hop kiln right after harvest before being added to the beer (there’s a great rundown here). The unwritten rule is that beers that are made with hops within a 24-hour period from harvest to brew are considered fresh hop, so there’s a bit of a time crunch to make the deadline, and it’s pretty tough to do if you are not growing your own hops or located very close to a hop farm.
It’s not explicitly clear whether fresh hops were ever regularly used in the brewing of beer, but it is certainly a popular practice these days where practical. Sierra Nevada, Rogue, and Lagunitas are just some of the larger craft brewers annually producing fresh hop beers. Of course, as hop harvest time is limited to August/September, there’s only a small window in which brewers can actually brew these beers, so you won’t find these in great quantities. Fortunately, while the 24-hour time limit for brewing is quite short, once brewed the beers still have a shelf life of a few months, so you’ll have a bit more breathing room to enjoy them.
For those of you interested in learning more about hop processing, that first link (linked again here) is quite informative, and will tell you about the differences in terminology (wet hop vs fresh hop – they’re the same), processing of dry hops, processing of wet hops, and a bit about brewing with both. It’s also worth noting that there is a separate brewer’s trick called dry hopping, which is not the opposite to wet hopping and merely refers to adding hops during the fermentation phase, and in fact can use wet hops for dry hopping, if that makes sense.
So after all that, what do fresh hops actually do for a beer? A common comparison is with other herbs – a fresh hop will be generally be more intense in both flavor and aroma then a dried version, just like most herbs. A common way of expressing the difference in flavor is “fresh and bright.” That means we can expect to smell and taste more of the actual hop in the beer. For this reason brewers tend to usually pick a clean but already somewhat hoppy beer to add the wet hopping to in order to really highlight the fresh hops, so pale ales and IPAs are the most common, although of course in theory any beer can be wet-hopped.
SanktGallen doesn’t actually grown their own hops (not many brewers do – in Japan some of the larger ones would be Tamamura Honten, Daisen G, and now Baird), so for the Yokohama XPA fresh hop version they go to a hop farm in Yamanashi-ken. The particular fresh hop they use in this beer is a hop developed in Japan in 1980 called kaikogane (かいこがね), which is actually a variant of the Shinshuwase hop (itself a locally developed hop descended from the Saaz hop), which we discussed earlier in our Tamamura Honten Miyama Blonde review here.
It doesn’t require 100% fresh hops to be used in a beer to be called a fresh hop beer, and in this particular case SanktGallen uses the fresh kaikogane hops as an aroma hop. The rest of the hop formulation is the same as in the standard Yokohama XPA, and uses dried Perle and Cascade hops.
Finally on to the beer! The aroma still has the malt and sugar that you get in the regular version, but the hop smell is much stronger, and it also has that fresh earthy smell. In the flavor too, the hops are much stronger and make it more bitter, and also add a spicy citrus touch. Overall, as I find the regular Yokohama XPA to not be too exciting of a beer (especially as an IPA), I think the fresh hop version adds a more varied touch to it that makes it more interesting.
I’m not sure where else the fresh hop version is for sale – I know that they sell it online directly, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else other than at the Isetan Craft Beer Fair. The labeling is exactly the same as the regular version with the exception of a small green bubble that identifies it as the fresh hop version:
Fresh hop beers are not so common in Japan – besides this one, Tamamura Honten release some wet-hopped beers annually (and we’ll get to those soon), and that’s it as far as I know. So while the Yokohama XPA may not be the most exciting beer of all time, it’s not a bad one, and it’s worth doing a direct comparison between the regular version and the fresh hop version to see the impact of the fresh hops.
SanktGallen Hop Relax
(No Ratebeer entry yet!)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 55; OG – 1.058; hops – US Perle, Cascade, Amarillo, Gargoyle
Pour – Reddish amber, very mild carbonation, darker than the XPA
Aroma – Similar to the XPA, with pine and malts and hops, but relatively mild
Flavor – Pine and malts, quite bitter finish, hops
As mentioned earlier SanktGallen aren’t in the habit of releasing lots of new beers, so it was a nice surprise to find the Hop Relax at the Isetan Craft Beer Fair. They brewed it specifically for this event, but it looks like they also have plans to sell it at other Isetan stores soon after.
As far as this beer goes, it’s an IPA that essentially smells and tastes somewhat similar to the Yokohama XPA. They’ve added Amarillo and Gargoyle hops as aroma hops, and the IBU has been kicked up a notch to 55 (vs 48 for the Yokohama XPA), and there is a bit of a difference in that the XPA has more pine and earthiness whereas the Hop Relax is more bitter. Personally I think they’re quite similar, but if you like the Yokohama XPA you might find it interesting to try the new Hop Relax for a little bit of extra bitterness.
I suppose a large part of how much you like these beers might depend on what you think of SanktGallen. I like certain kinds of beers they produce, but not being a huge fan of their pale ale/IPA brews, I don’t find the beers we reviewed today too exciting in and of themselves. However, knowing that they are capable of producing some top-notch beers (their excellent Imperial Chocolate Stout and El Diablo for example), I’m definitely more than willing to try anything new they put out. And again, as fresh hop beers are quite rare in Japan I certainly do recommend picking up a bottle of the fresh hop version of the Yokohama XPA if you come across it and comparing it to the regular version.
Next time up we’ll take a look at what Tamamura Honten is doing with their fresh hop brews.