Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The Stony Power of Wet Hops

By William Brand
Thursday, October 27th, 2005 at 9:02 am in Uncategorized.

I started to post the list of wet hop beers served at the The Bistro in Hayward, CA last week and I realized that to non-readers of my column, the list made little sense. Sooooo….Here’s the column. The wet hop list follows:

As anyone who has been around both marijuana and hop plants for any length of time no doubt knows, the two plants are closely related. The female plants flowers are quite similar and I’ve been told that it’s possible to graft a hop plant onto marijuana rootstock and create a hybrid.

Unfortunately for the stoners among us, I’m also told the new plant does not produce THC. That’s the compound that turns marijuana into a psychoactive herb, which inflames drug task force members, turning them into caped crusaders, who dump Agent Orange in Jamaica and send armed drug-fighters into backwoods California.

It’s a strange thought train for a beer column, but I swear when I walked into the Wet Hop Festival at the Bistro, 1005 B. St. in downtown Hayward Saturday evening and sampled a half dozen beers made with “wet, ”just-picked, hops, my head spun for a minute and not from the alcohol.

Hops are not psychoactive. But they have an unusual intensity that is quite special. And the Bistro was the place for hops on Saturday. There were 19 wet hop beers and each had a strong, herbal nose. There were the signature, citrus, flowery notes from Cascade hops; the piney notes of Simcoe, the spiciness of Clusters.

Proprietor Victor Kralj said the rules are simple “wet”, that is, just picked, not kiln-dried, hops must be used throughout from first additions in the brew kettle to dry hopping in the fermenter.

Vic said more than 400 attended, ate barbecue, danced to live music and sampled the beers. There was a three-way tie for the People’s Choice Award:

Drake’s Harvest, made with Simcoe and Cascade hops from Drake’s, San Leandro. This was a 6 percent, alcohol by volume, dark copper beer with a huge, creamy head and deep and heady hop aroma. Hops predominated, but there was enough malt to balance the hops, well almost enough.

20th Street from Sierra Nevada, Chico used Sierra Nevada’s signature Cascades and Centennial hops. It was a hop experience from the first hit of the aroma to the last swallow. Like hops? This is the beer: 6.2 percent ABV. About the name, Sierra Nevada’s located at 1073 East 20th St. in Chico.

Hoptime Harvest, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa. This 6.75 percenter, was made with California Cluster hops, picked by Russian River brewers and friends in its own hop field near Santa Rosa. The result is a dusty gold beer with a hoppy, but delicate nose, with plenty of malt to balance the hops. Another spectacular beer.

I don’t believe any of these will be bottled; they’ll be on tap at the Bistro, 1005 B St., Hayward, until the kegs run dry. The Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco, will also have a supply and proprietor David Keene has set the Toronado Wet Hop Fest for 6 p.m., Nov. 5.

They’re also trend setters. Brewers are interested in what the beer-drinking public thinks. So if you get a chance to sample some, let me know. I’ll pass it on.

I tried several others and truly loved Simply Simcoe 2. a dry-hopped, 6 percent brew from Bear Republic, Healdsburg. Best name and my good beer award goes to Last Hop Standing, a 5 percenter from Blue Frog Grog & Grill in Fairfield.

I also really liked Rip Tide IPA, a big, 7 percenter made with Chinook hops from Pizza Port in San Clemente. If you’re headed south anytime soon, don’t miss the the three Pizza Port brewpubs, in San Clemente, Carlsbad and Solano Beach.

Rocking in downtown Hayward…they closed the barbecue pit at the Bistro before I arrived, so I wandered down B Street to Buffalo Bill’s, 1082 B. St. If you want to see the future of brewpubs, check out Buffalo Bill’s. At 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, there was a waiting line for dinner, families with kids, 20-somethings on dates and a few gray hairs. I saw a lot of Hayward Hefeweizen and Tasmanian Devil being consumed. Tasy’s a luscious, 6.5 percent ale made with Pride of Ringwood hops from Tasmania and Cascades.

But I was beered-out, so I settled for an excellent and large, BLT with a Thomas Kemper root beer on the side and watched the White Sox win one more. — William Brand

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