Autumn is the season of the harvest and with hearty, earthy dishes hitting tables all over the country it stands to reason that breweries would take advantage of the harvest as well. With hop farmers around the U.S. harvesting their crops as summer ends and autumn begins, we’re once again seeing the short but tasty wave of Fresh Hop or Wet Hop Ales. These beers offer a short window for the enthusiast to experience a vibrant, complex hop experience that can be less aggressive than you might assume.
Sierra Nevada is largely credited with bringing the Wet Hop Ale to the public’s attention. Starting in 1996, Sierra has released a so-called Harvest Ale every year, using hops sourced from Washington’s Yakima Valley that are harvested and shipped same-day to their Chico, California brewery. Sierra Harvest Ale was such a hit that a few years back they started making one using fresh hops from New Zealand’s spring harvest. The original was renamed Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, and is currently on shelves. Keep an eye out for Sierra’s Estate Harvest Ale as well; arriving soon using fresh hops and barley from Sierra’s own crops at Chico.
Other popular Wet Hop Ales include New Holland Hopivore; Terrapin So Fresh and So Green, Green; and Sixpoint Autumnation, of which the latter two for 2012 will feature the ever-growing in popularity Citra hop. Terrapin’s Fresh Hop Ale is a punchy bass line built to allow the melody of the featured hop to sing out; Sixpoint takes a different and very interesting tack. Autumnation is not only Sixpoint’s Wet Hop Ale; it’s also their Pumpkin Ale. Using fresh pumpkin and ginger every year, Sixpoint leaves the fresh hop varietal to be used up to their fans via a poll. The result is a beer with subtle gourd and spice notes with a lot of hop flavor, but not a ton of aggressive bite.
Here lies the inherent dichotomy of Wet Hop beers; while one might expect fresh hops straight off the vine to be more intense and more biting than the dried hops and pellets commonly used by brewers, but in actuality wet hops aren’t as intense in mouthfeel. Rather, fresh hops tend to impart a greater spectrum of hoppy flavors into a beer with those flavors coming through with greater clarity and subtlety. Even for those who normally aren’t fans of ‘hoppy’ beer, Wet Hop Ales can be a delightful and enjoyable surprise.
That’s not to say there aren’t a couple of hop bombs in the Fresh Hop bunch. Particularly favored by hopheads is Founder’s Harvest Ale, a limited treat that flies off shelves almost as soon as it arrives. Founder’s Harvest has a rich, sweet citrus character to go along with its earthy, piney fresh hop notes. Also worth looking for this season is Warrior IPA from Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company. Despite its name, Warrior isn’t the only variety of hop used; there’s a fair amount of Cascade as well along with varieties from Left Hand’s property along with those from local fans of the brewery. Built to be well-balanced and drinkable, Warrior’s 69 IBU (International Bitterness Units) pack quite a punch.
If any of these beers aren’t on shelves in the area as of press time, they will be soon. Ask your local shop or bar for them if you’re curious and get in on the fresh hop phenomenon.
Until next time.