Fresh hops smell like dope. Weed. Cannabis sativa. They also can smell like tropical fruit and flowers. When you pour hot unfermented beer over them the air fills with the aroma of a 1980s student share house mixed with Port Douglas fruit salad and a florists on Valentine’s Day. Hops are normally added dried or as pellets but the brewers around the High Country are lucky enough to have hands on access to freshly picked hops from the Rostrevor Hops Garden on the banks of the Ovens River near Eurobin. Owners Hops Products Australia work closely with the High Country brewers like Ben Kraus from Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth who use experimental varieties of hops and road test before general release.
For the second year running the brewers of the North East are coming together to celebrate the hops harvest and their chance to get hold of the fresh hop cones in the second annual High Country Hops Festival. Held on Sunday March 19 at Bridge Road Brewers and in the carpark behind this fun, lazy Sunday afternoon event sees Kraus joined by like-minded beer fanatics from the other local breweries. From Bright comes the team from Bright Brewery, a mob not frightened of flavour. Driving up the hill from Taminick are the mob from Black Dog Brewers known for their punchy cutting edge brews. From across in the Kiewa Valley is the Sweet Water Brewing Company and their very sessionable beers while new kid on the block Rutherglen Brewery is setting up shop. All will be pouring their new season wet hopped beers as well as their more regular brews.
‘Brewing is the opposite to winemaking in that you don’t want a vintage,’ says Kraus. ‘You need every beer to be as consistent as the last brew. But this festival is different. We want people to know that we make beer right next door to where these amazing Australian bred hops are grown. And we know how to have fun with them.’
For the record hops are a close relative to marijuana, but they don’t get you high.