For breweries in bushfire-impacted regions, it's been hammer blow upon hammer blow in 2020. No sooner had Victoria's High Country brewers seen the risk from fires recede than COVID-19 took hold, meaning plans to welcome visitors back to the region for their annual High Country Hops festival were scuppered by the ban on all non-essential travel. And no matter how much you love wet hop beers, well, it's not going to pass as essential.
Thankfully, the pandemic hasn't stopped festival founders Bridge Road from brewing their twin annual fresh hop beers or coming up with a virtual version of the festival – streaming on April 9. The pair will be familiar to many, even though they've evolved over time. In the case of the The Harvest Fresh Hop IPA, it's grown from the original pale ale to a heftier 6 percent ABV affair, with the 2020 version crammed with Galaxy hops plucked from the bines a mere six hours before being added to the beer. On the nose, there's a broad, earthier, grassier, relatively subdued version of the vibrant passionfruit and citrus characters for which Galaxy is best known, and something akin to melon too. It's livelier on the palate – full and dense with the oils pulled from the hops – with a touch of warmth and a lean, prickly bitterness layered throughout.
Its companion piece, Dark Harvest, was first brewed at night with Mikkeller back in 2012 and has become a perennial favourite for many. This time around, it features Vic Secret – best known for its piney and pineapple characteristics. Here, added fresh and wet to a rich, hearty blend of specialty malts, the hops play more of a secondary role. Early on, there's hints of liquorice and dark berry, yet it feels more a case of the Vic Secret providing support for the layers of chocolate, treacle and dark caramel in a beer that's like a smooth, lifted porter, right down to its dark brown colour and steepling tan head.