Fondy Fresh Hop Provides a Cleaner, Hoppier Take On The Harvest

As I walked through the doors of Company Brewing, head brewer and co-owner George Bregar calmly stood toward the back of the bar, sipping a 5oz “cupper” of Fondy Fresh Hop. It has been a few years since we last talked, but George welcomed me like a friend, taking time to comment on the opening of a new brewery in the city, give me his thoughts on why he brews lagers, explain how tasting is like a muscle, and, of course, to tell me the backstory on his latest beer, Fondy Fresh Hop.

Made with hops often used within hours of harvesting, Fondy Fresh Hop belongs to a family of beers that have grown out of Sierra Nevada’s 1996 Harvest Ale. Sometimes labelled as “wet hop,” “fresh-hop,” or simply as harvest ales, these beers are brewed with (as the name implies) freshly picked hops. In these type of beers, the delicate flavors of  newly-picked hops are preserved by delivering hops from vine to boil kettle within a few hours of the harvest.

I love to drink fresh-hop beers in the fall. There is an immediacy about them that I find immensely appealing. I love how they capture the essence of late August and early September: green, just-ripe, grassy flavors from the hops, with a touch of harvesty maltiness coming from the grain bill. The challenge of timing brewing with harvesting creates an ephemeral quality in these beers. Ideally, fresh-hop beers are brewed on the day or week when the hops reach peak flavor. Further, because fresh-hop beers are best drunk within three to four weeks of brewing, they are a perfect seasonal beer, tasting best in mid-October to mid-November.

Fresh hops beers also appeal to my sense of localism. The direct connection between farm and brewer powerfully captures the flavor of the place in which a beer is brewed — its terroir — and distills that essence into a beer. This is something George has done quite effectively in his Riverwest Backyard Hops, a pale ale made entirely with hops gathered from the backyards of Riverwest’s residents. Peppery and grassy, with a citrus bite on the finish, Backyard hop provides a quintessentially Riverwest-ian take on foraged beer.

But on to the Fondy Fresh Hop. Brewed with hops from Fondy Farms, Fondy is a lager while many fresh-hop beers are ales. I found this an intriguing, smart choice typical of Company Brewing. It brings into play Milwaukee’s brewing past and it showcases Bregar’s brewing skill by putting the hops in a subdued role, forcing them to balance and work with the lightly malty, clean flavors of a lager instead of driving the flavor of the beer, as is often typical of harvest ales. In this sense, I felt like Fondy Fresh Hop somewhat exemplified Company Brewing itself: it’s not the newest, noisiest, weirdest brewery in the city, but it is excellent and succeeds in producing a wide-array of beer styles.

My latest pilgrimage to Riverwest’s Company Brewing for the release of their Fondy Fresh Hop epitomizes what I love about Milwaukee’s craft beer renaissance: great beer produced by brewers dedicated to their community and their craft. If you haven’t made it out to try this beer yet, it was only released last weekend and should remain at peak flavor for a few weeks to come. Don’t miss it.