Fresh Hops Beers Are Coming to Hawaii and Alaska with Help from Alaska Airlines

Thanks to the airline's cargo service, Hawaii's Maui Brewing was able to make a fresh-hopped beer for the first time ever.

Alaska Airlines fresh hops
Photo: Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Fresh hop beer hits different. Most beers use hops that have been preserved through drying in a kiln — and they can make terrific beers. But hop cones are a plant, and their properties change as they dry, so working with freshly-picked hops (sometimes also called "wet hops" or "green hops") can impart more lively flavors.

One small problem, though: The window to start working with fresh hops is small — typically measured in hours from being picked, not days. As a result, for generations, fresh-hopped beers have only been made by breweries with immediate access to a hop farm. And yet, as craft brewing has boomed and interest in making fresh-hopped beers has increased, so has the effort to find ways to get wet hops from America's Pacific Northwest, home to some of the best hop growers in the world, to places further afield.

Alaska Airlines says they're doing their part. This week, the company announced that its cargo division, Alaska Air Cargo, became the first U.S. commercial airline cargo service to deliver a bulk shipment of fresh hops in under 24 hours to America's two noncontiguous states: Hawaii and Alaska. As a result, Maui Brewing will be making a fresh-hopped beer for the first time ever, and Alaska's 49th State Brewing (which has previously only been able to make a small fresh-hopped batch) will be able to offer a fresh hop beer in cans and bottles for the first time.

Alaska Airlines fresh hops
Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Despite Alaska Air Cargo's self-proclaimed "decades of experience in shipping perishable products," the company said that, to make these firsts happen, they had to work closely with the Washington based distributor Yakima Chief Hops to ensure a "cool-chain" was in place to keep the hops preserved from the moment they were harvested until they reached the breweries. So as soon as the hops were bagged at the Loftus Ranches hop farm, they were loaded into refrigerated trucks for delivery to the Alaska Air Cargo offices at Sea-Tac International Airport to get ready for takeoff.

In the end, Alaska Air Cargo flew 1,287 pounds of hops in total to both breweries, with 833 pounds going to Maui and 454 pounds going to 49th State. The batches traveled 2,640 miles and 1,448 miles by air respectively. "This puts a Northwest agricultural product in places that don't normally get it," Adam Drouhard, Alaska Air's cargo managing director, said. "With the size and scope we have in Seattle, we are really positioned to own this."

The results will be 140 kegs of Maui's Hop Cargo Fresh Hop IPA and 60 kegs of 49th State's Freshial Delivery Hazy Fresh Hop IPA, both of which were created with the help of Washington's Bale Breaker Brewing — a brewery that is actually located on the Loftus Ranches hop farm and therefore knows a thing or two about fresh hop beers.

49th State Brewing is hoping to release Freshial Delivery Hazy Fresh Hop IPA by the end of this week. Meanwhile, Hop Cargo Fresh Hop IPA will be released by Maui Brewing on October 3.

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