Bare Bones owner, Dan Dringoli, and brewmaster, RJ Nordlund, were behind the bar. They poured a couple pints of the new beer. It’s part of the job. “Dan and I had to do a few quality control pints,” Nordlund says with a grin.
Those pints were the first wet-hop beers served in Oshkosh that were produced by an Oshkosh brewery. For a city with such a long brewing history, milestones like this one don’t happen often. This was something to celebrate.
Tuesday, the beer got its name: WHARRGARBL.
WHARRGARBL was brewed Monday, August 29, 2016. It wasn’t the first wet-hop beer produced by an Oshkosh brewery. The first had been brewed five days earlier on August 24 when Fox River Brewing made a wet hop beer at its Oshkosh brewery. That beer will see release within days.
For lovers of hop-forward beers these are welcome events. Wet-hop beers are typically aimed at aficionados; drinkers seeking beers with pronounced hop flavor. The people drawn to that flavor put a premium on freshness because hop flavor and aroma tend to be a beer’s least durable properties. That ephemeral character is what makes wet-hop beers alluring. This is beer at its freshest.
Wet hop beers are composed like other beers with one major deviation: the hops – instead of being dried and packaged – go directly from the bine to the brew kettle. The lack of processing preserves aromatics that would otherwise be lost to heat during drying. It all goes into the beer.
The difficult part is that wet hops are unstable. They quickly decompose.The freshly picked cones need to enter the brew kettle within a matter of hours. Most brewers consider 48 hours as the absolute limit of viability. For WHARRGARBL that meant a nearly 800 mile drive to Michigan and back.
The 15 barrel batch of beer was brewed with 60 pounds of Chinook hops grown at West Michigan Hopyards, a farm about 20 miles east of Grand Rapids. For Nordlund, a native Michigander, that’s familiar territory. The connection runs deep. Nordlund is a long-time friend of one of the growers there. “Yeah, actually I took his sister to prom,” he says.
The trip to Michigan began early on Saturday morning, August 27. By 7 a.m., Nordlund and Bare Bones assistant brewer, Jody Cleveland, were on the road. Along the way they stopped at two breweries – Founders Brewing and Harmony Brewing – where Nordlund had previously been a brewer. About 4:30 p.m. they reached the farm. Here are a couple of photos Cleveland took upon their arrival.
Harvested plants were being run through a mechanical hop picker when they arrrived.
Nordlund and Cleveland loaded up the car and began the drive home. “The smell in the car was incredible,” Cleveland says. “Tiny car, 4 tubs of fresh hops totalling 60 pounds. We really noticed it after getting out for pit stops and then getting back in. As much as I loved the smell, I was getting a headache by the time we got home.”
By the wee hours of Sunday morning the hops had been unloaded at Bare Bones. But it was too late to start the brew. The hops went into the beer cooler.
Monday morning Nordlund and Cleveland began to make the beer. The hops were divided into a chain of mesh bags called a hop spider. The spider would make it easier to separate the spent hops from the wort at the completion of the boil. Nordlund had brewed these beers before.
“I’ve done wet hop beers at Fetch Brewery and I helped brew at Founders for their Harvest Ale,” he says. “I got a lot more hops this time. I just sack ‘em all up and throw ‘em in the boil. We had some that wouldn’t fit in the bags. What we had left we put into the mash.”
|Nordlund with his spider.|
All of the hops added to the brew were wet hops. “And it’s all just boil hops,” Nordlund says. “I couldn’t have done any dry hopping with these. The hops wouldn’t have been fresh enough by then.” The boil ended. The wort was cooled and given to the yeast.
Dringoli and Nordlund were in the near-empty Tap Room at Bare Bones 14 days later drinking the beer made with the fresh, Michigan hops. Nordlund was pleased. “I’m happy with it,” he says. “It’s really easy to drink.”
WHARRGARBL is a 5.4% ABV, wet hop pale and it’s pouring now at the Tap Room at Bare Bones Brewery. “Hopefully it won’t be on too long,” Nordlund says. “Hopefully everybody drinks it on up.”