Recently, reader Rob posted a comment about Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Fresh Hop Ale and fresh or wet hopped beers in general:
“I had Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Fresh Hop ale yesterday and am intrigued by the fresh hop variety of beers. The aroma and bitterness in this ale had a very unique and pleasing and not at all the same as what I have experienced with beers using dry hops. Any thoughts on this particular type of beer? Any ideas why it hasn’t become more prevalent (and it may be, and I am just ignorant of it)? Have you tried the Sierra Nevada version?”
Rob’s inquiry got me to thinking about this unique variety of beer, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts here as opposed to continuing the conversation on the original post which you can read here. I also thought I’d share a word or two about the recent popularity of this unique brewing approach.
Fresh or wet hopped beers are unique in that they utilize, literally, fresh hop cones instead of dried and/or pelleted types. Given that the hop harvest is an annual occurrence, the ability to obtain and utilize fresh hops is quite limited. The Great Divide Brewing Company, for example, has the fresh hops they use for their Fresh Hop Pale Ale overnighted to them to maximize freshness and obtain the very best results possible.
Fresh hopped beers, often characterized by the moniker “Harvest,” for obvious reasons, are not generally as aggressively hoppy in flavor as the typical American style IPA, for example. Rather, they are known for their fragrant, flowery aromas and fresh, even “grassy” notes in the nose and palate. Because fresh hops contain over 60% water, they are not as concentrated as the brewer’s hop pellets. The goal with fresh hop brewing is the capture that herbal, grassy characteristic only available in a freshly-picked cop cone. This is just another way in which brewers can show their versatility with the hop – proving time and again that this flower is so much more than merely a bittering agent or preservative. Hops are a fundamental part of what makes beer what it is today, and the use of fresh, “wet” hops is just an example of the variety of the brewer’s art.
To answer Rob’s question about the prevalence of fresh hop beers, I know there is a popular fresh hop festival in Yakima in October, and probably over a dozen brewers creating fresh hop ales (most assuredly there are many more than this, but I’m only considering those that bottle and distribute their wares) like Butte Creek’s Fresh Hop Organic Sustainable Harvest IPA, Deschutes Hop Trip, and Harpoon’s Glacier Harvest Wet Hop Beer. Obviously, this style of beer is catching on and more and more brewers are doing what Sierra Nevada has been doing since 1996.
Considering the difficulty in obtaining fresh hops, and the hop shortages we’re currently experiencing, I’d imagine this is a trend that will only grow with time. More and more brewers will place orders for fresh hops as availability and demand dictate. As consumers cultivate a taste for fresh hop beers, I know there will be plenty of great craft brewers ready to produce these one-of-a-kind beers.