A few weeks back, I hopped across the ditch via Auckland to Nelson, the regional centre for hop growing in New Zealand. Hop Harvest is like a magical time of the year, especially in the Southern Hemisphere when it goes down in March. During this period, different hop varieties take their sweet time to get just right over about four weeks. It's up to the hop growers to play the part, deciding when it's time to pick those juicy cones, also known as 'harvest.' If they jump the gun, the hop's full flavour might not have hit its peak, but if they drag their feet, it can turn into onion-garlic territory, not the vibe brewers are after. This art is usually handed down through generations of growers

On a sleepy Sunday afternoon, our first move was hitting up the Free House, a rad craft beer spot inside an old church. They rocked three hand pumps at the bar, a rare gem for me coming from Queensland. Our first drink? An English-style ESB, spot-on for that chilly Nelson weather. And hey, since it was Paddy's Day, we couldn't resist a pint of Guinness, which some call 'Black Gold.'

Fast forward to the crack of dawn on the first day of Harfest, put on by NZ Hops – where close to 100 brewers & beer fanatics from all over the globe landed in Nelson for the hop hoedown. Brewers from places like Poland, Japan, US, UK, and cheers to our Aussie mates were all in town to soak up the hop hubbub. Harfest was a two-day party with learning seshes, hop-rubbing fun, farm tours, a sick cable car ride down a mountain, a peek at NZ Hops, leading to a legendary long lunch – but more on that coming.

We all jumped on the bus and rolled out to Moutare for a morning filled with talks by brewers, hop heads, and the hop breeding maestro at Plant & Food Research Kerry. This rolled into sensory hop feels and sampling some beers made with new trial hops. Some of these could be the next big thing like Nectaron or Superdelic, very exciting stuff! At Revel Brewing, we're always chasing new hip hops for our IPAs, with many of them shining in our core lineup down the line. And our mates at Balter? Well, they've already brewed up a beer using one of the newbies – 109.

After a jam-packed morning, we savoured a tasty lunch at the Moutaree Inn, followed by a peek at Mac Hops Moutere farm. Brent Mcglashin, a fifth-gen hop grower, gave us a tour of the picking shed, smelling like heaven with fresh Nelson Sauvin hops wafting around.

Ready to go back, we made a quick pit stop at  P M Lines and the growers were Peter and Marlene Lines for an afternoon brew in his gardens, where he had his very own tiny brewery on-site and brewed the beers with fresh hops. How rad is that? Back in town for 'the Gathering,' for a feast & beers – a chance to catch up with fellow brewers from around the world.

Day two was another whirlwind, starting with a bus cruise to Cable Bay for a sweet cable car ride, offering sick views as we zipped down the mountain. Next, we checked out the NZ Hops palletting & storage facility, learning about the top-notch standards each farmer needs to hit to get their precious hops in. At every hop farm, they have a kiln as part of their setup to dry the hops to stabilise them,  it's the 'drier's' duty to get it just right – a critical task.  Enough moisture needs to be out of the hops to avoid a fire risk!

The peak of the Harfest was the epic long lunch at Colin Oldham's farm - New Hoplands, a spot-on view in the hop garden with a hundred people sipping NZ's finest Savi B. Post-feast, we rolled back to town, swung by Eddyline Brewing for some hoppy tipples before wrapping up the night at the Sprig 'n' Fern swapping tales over a drop of whiskey.

Starting the next morning with a hint of post-party dustiness, we dove into hop selection with Bintani joined by Kiralee & Glin, from NZ Hops. Holed up in a hotel room surrounded by hop samples, the playful hotel manager peaked in, curious about the aroma – a straight-up hopfest, like Nelson Sav, famous for its dank vibes, kinda like its cousin in the cannabinoid crew. Reassured him it's all about the hops for beer, which got us all chuckling.

Thursday was another jam-packed day, set up by Clayton Hops, another grower in the hood. We hit up the Plant & Food Research hub with a tour led by Kerry, the maestro running the breeding program. A sneak peek at new trial varieties, tasting beers dry hopped with them, Some pretty cool stuff for brewers.

Kerry told us they dry-hop 900  beers annually with different trial varieties as part of the program. Each beer is tasted for the hop's aroma impact and either moved to the next stage or dropped. Once a hop's been deemed to have positive flavour attributes it's then grown and assessed for its agronomic qualities before it is offered to a farmer to grow as a trial. If the farmer is happy with the hop it will then be offered to select brewers as a trial variety, At Revel we brewed with Hort 4337 as a trial variety before it was fully commercialised and became Nectaron. This whole process can take up to 15-20 cool years from the hop first being crossed to it becoming commercially available for brewers

After a busy hops morning, we kicked back with lunch at The Riwaka Pub, featuring fresh catch fish & chips and a range of tasty locally brewed beers. A tour of Clayton’s hop-picking setup followed, showing off the incredible hop cone transformation into the craft beer gold we love.

To wrap up this amazing adventure, we hit the hop harvest bash at Clayton headquarters, playing tunes, and having brews on the go. A perfect ending to a memorable trip packed with hop picking and brew sipping.

All in all, it was a rad journey seeing where our fave hops are born and getting a taste of farm life for a day. Already stoked for next year's round! Here's to hops and good times! Cheers!

Matthew Cuthbert, Head Brewer, Revel Brewing Co.