HOP to It!

Now that autumn is officially here, we can look forward to cooler, shorter days. Well, shorter, anyway. We can also look forward to many great fall beer styles, even if they are more suited to cooler climes.

Fall also means that hops harvest season is finished and brewers nationwide are unveiling fresh hops beers.

Also known as wet hops, these beers carry a fresh, herbal character that brews made with more traditional dried hops do not. The character is often described as much “greener” than more intense dry-hopped beers. Using fresh hops allows for more subtle tastes to be imparted to the beer because some of the more volatile oils in the hops are not dried out during the kilning process.

Hops are the cone-shaped flowers of the humulus lupulus plant. After harvest, in late August to mid-September, most hops are destined to be dried and pressed into pellets for a longer shelf-life. Accordingly, the flavors imbued into beer are more concentrated and intense. For fresh hops beer styles, the flower is kept intact and not dried. This also means more hops are required to achieve a balanced beer.

Because hops are extremely perishable–they begin to degrade within 24 hours of being picked–getting the fresh hops to brewers can be a logistical nightmare. Breweries that are near the major hop-growing regions in the Pacific Northwest simply send refrigerated trucks to farms that rush the fresh-picked cones back to the brewers. Brewers that are farther away have to come up with more creative methods to get their hands on the fragrant cones. Many breweries outside Washington and Oregon have given up on the style because it’s too expensive to produce. A few use overnight shipping to get the hops to their kettles as quickly as possible.

To many beer lovers, the extra trouble and expense of shipping fresh hops is worth it. These styles are akin to the wine world’s Beaujolais Nouveau in that they’re limited to a certain time of year and should be enjoyed immediately. Because the fresh hops are so unstable, a fresh hop beer that languishes in the back of the refrigerator or, worse, on the kitchen counter, begins to lose its fresh flavor in just days.

Some fresh hop beers to try:

Sierra Nevada Fresh Hop Pack
Variety packs are becoming more popular with breweries like New Belgium, Sam Adams and Flying Dog, offering a selection in a 12-pack box. Sierra Nevada has a mix pack this time of year with four Fresh Hop beers: IPA, Double IPA, IPL (India Pale Lager) and Session IPA. It’s a great chance to taste how fresh hop affects several types of beer.

Full Sail Brewing 8 Pound Ale
Named for the brewery’s practice of using eight pounds of hops for each barrel, this ale is brewed with hops that come directly from the farm in under three hours. This is a highly limited release, so if you see a six-pack, grab it!