Fresh hop/wet hop ales are not a common seasonal or one-off produced by many breweries around the world, especially within the US.
This is mostly because breweries may not have the capabilities to receive, or go get, fresh unkilned hops from the growers AND begin brewing a beer within 24-hrs of receiving those hops. But when the stars align, wet hop ales are some of the best representations of creativity you will find. Join me as I talk about what exactly a wet hop ale is and review one by Poseidon Brewing out of Ventura California called Harvest Ale, their first ever fresh hop/wet hop ale.
From the “wet hopping” entry in The Oxford Companion to beer: “Wet hopping is the process of using un-kilned, hence ”wet”, hops in brewing. In the Northern Hemisphere, aroma hops are typically harvested in late August and early September and high alpha-acid hops are used for mostly bittering and are typically harvested in mid to late September. Wet hops are approximately 80% moisture and this is reduced in a hop kiln right after the harvest to about 9%. Getting the hops dried correctly is critical. If left too dry, hops may oxidize, and there is the heightened risk of warehouse fire. If left too wet, bailed hops may “sweat;” become moldy, and develop off aromas. When brewers use hops wet, they must be loosely packed in cardboard boxes right after the picking and shipped via the fastest method straight to the brewery, where they are used immediately. If they aren’t used right away, the hops will deteriorate quickly, becoming usable for us in wort of beer”.
With the hops having so much moisture, breweries need to use about 4 to 5 times the amount of hops they typically would use if they were the kilned or dried type.
Essentially these hops have to be used right away, otherwise, they go to waste. Without a pandemic, most breweries make a trip to their respective hop growers in the very early morning hours and spend most of the daylight picking and harvesting their hops for the use in their version of a wet hop ale. Then make the trek back to their brewery with the hops nice and fresh and begin brewing that evening or night just like any other brew day. Now with a pandemic, those road trips have either been changed to extra special express delivery from the farm to the brewery or cancelled altogether. The exception are breweries who grow their own or have a very, very local farm within an hours drive that are capable of having visitors. The latter was the case for Poseidon Brewing’s Harvest ale. They sourced their hops from a local farm in Fillmore, CA just a mere 30 minutes drive away from their facility.
With the hops having so much moisture, breweries need to use about 4 to 5 times the amount of hops they typically would use if they were the kilned or dried type. These hops can be used just like any other type so depending on the hop, they’ll go in at the beginning of the boiling of the wort (sugar water) or used towards the end to bring a punch of flavor more than actually be bitter. They can also be used to “wet dry hop” beers which brings another layer of complexity to the beer.
Onto the beer at hand.
Poseidon Brewing’s Harvest ale. A 7% abv ale made with a single malt and a single wet hop. The malt they chose was simple American 2-row grown in California and the hop was Cascade grown in Fillmore, CA at the Sow a Heart Farm. By using just a single malt, it allows the hop to really shine. This is what is known as a “SMaSH” beer. Single Malt/Single Hop. I had the pleasure of having this at the brewery the day after they first released it. That level of freshness is very hard to come by, especially these days, so I was extremely grateful for being there. So grateful in fact, I took home 2 crowlers of the beer, in the form of 32oz cans, which is how I reviewed this beer on my stream for #BeerswithBorrie.
Having it the day after it’s release was amazing. The hops were super fresh, the flavor profile was just the right amount of “green” or “wet” yet still very very drinkable. Didn’t have too much bitterness to it. It was assertive enough to make any hop head happy but still approachable to those who may not like pale ales or IPAs. The citrus flavors of ripe pineapple and juicy oranges were what made the beer so delicious.
If this style of beer interests you (at least if you are in the US), right now as you are reading this is the best time these beers are released as most breweries that were able to make some have already done it and might be ready for bottling or kegging.
When I had this beer to discuss on stream, 2 ½ half weeks later, it had changed. It was NOT the same beer as I had at the brewery. It turned into more of like a standard IPA but not a fresh one. Like maybe a 2 to 3 month old IPA. The hops were way more “pith” bitter than juicy bitter. The aftertaste lingered much longer than when it was fresh and the aroma was basically more stale than having a burst of orange zest like it was at the brewery. It was pretty amazing to think it had changed that much in just 2 weeks. It was still drinkable and I did enjoy it but not as much as I did fresh. If this style of beer interests you (at least if you are in the US), right now as you are reading this is the best time these beers are released as most breweries that were able to make some have already done it and might be ready for bottling or kegging.
I would check with your local spots and see if they were able to make one. If you are looking for more of a commercially available version, Sierra Nevada Brewing makes their annual Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop IPA, which for 2020 is made with 100% Centennial hops. According to their Instagram page, this beer will be starting to hit shelves the last week of September. I highly recommend Northern Hemisphere. I’ve had it in the past and SNBC hasn’t let me down. Over the last 3 yrs, they have made some of the best beers on the planet, in my eyes, so I would most definitely check this one out.
There you have it. Wet hop ales are in season and I hope you learn a little more about them today. I also hope you are able to find one or 3 for yourself so you can taste this special seasonal that’s worth adding to your fall beer shopping list. Cheers!!
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