Every year for more than a decade, we look forward to the fall harvest…of hops.
Local Harvest Ale is an annual labor of love where the brewers use hops from The Hop Yard, which is (literally) right around the corner from the brewery in Gorham. Access to the freshest ingredients matters. Peter Dahlen, Director of Brewery Operations, compares it to another Maine tradition, strawberry picking:
“Using hops within minutes of their harvesting is like picking and eating a perfectly ripe strawberry in the field – it’s a unique experience that has no substitute.”
Directly after harvesting the hops, the brewery team subjects them to “cryo-whacking,” a technique they’ve perfected over the past several years. They use liquid nitrogen to freeze the fresh hops so that they can be shattered easily with a weed whacker. Yes, you read that correctly: a weed whacker. The goal is to break apart the hops so that the lupulin glands around the core of the hop cone are more easily introduced into the beer.
The liquid nitrogen serves a few purposes in the hop whacking. Peter explains:
Freezing the hops makes them shatter more easily without needing to grind them up, which can introduce undesirable vegetal flavors.
Keeping the hops cool protects their flavors and aromas as we process them. We want to make sure we get all their best characteristics into the beer.
As the liquid nitrogen turns back into a gaseous state, it drives off oxygen that would detrimentally react with hops as we work towards bagging them and putting them into the beer.
This year’s ale uses Cascade hops, which have notes of candy, citrus, and melon, and Comet hops, which tend to have fruity and mint characteristics. And while Local Harvest’s hops usually grab the spotlight, this year brewers used four different styles of grain and malt produced by local producers Maine Malt House and Blue Ox Malt House, making this year’s ale a real Mainer.
Although this year’s harvest was earlier than expected, that didn’t stop the brewers from turning out a delicious beer. Peter sums it up:
“The hop harvest this year was a rapidly moving target, but we made it happen because we’re passionate about making this brew. We’ve been working with the Hop Yard since they started, and we really enjoy brewing with them every year!”
Local Harvest Ale will be available soon at all five Sebago Brewing locations, including the Tasting Room on Main Street in Gorham.