Though the impending autumn season may bring about thoughts of pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers being enjoyed on chilly evenings, you may be overlooking some other fantastic beers that come to market during this time – namely, fresh hop beers that celebrate the bountiful harvest.
While Samhain may be one of the oldest festivals celebrating the harvest season, fresh-hopped beers may be one the newer and, some may say, tastier ways to celebrate a generous harvest. Many breweries have begun creating fresh hop or “wet hopped” beers, taking advantage of the explosion in the popularity of hoppy beers. This is a rather new phenomenon that began hitting the market around 10 years ago and has steadily grown in popularity every year since.
Before we can discuss what wet hopped beers are, a quick detour into differences within hops are in order. Hops come to brewers in two forms: whole cone or pellets. Many breweries use pellet hops as the shelf life in this form is much longer and thus more cost efficient. However, in brewing a wet hop beer, whole cone hops are needed for both its freshness and higher oil content.
Wet hopped beers are a true showcase of the nuances within hops. This is because in the fresh whole cone state the hops contain a higher amount of oils that emit more aroma and bitterness within the beer. How bitter and how potent of an aroma varies depending on which hops have been chosen for the beer.
Another important note with hops is the two categories hops mainly are divided into: aroma and bittering. Aroma hops add hop bitterness to the beer but, even more so, give hoppy beers a wonderful smell. Bittering hops add just what you would think, bitterness.
So what are wet hopped beers and why are they so popular this time of the year? Wet hopped beers are those beers which use fresh whole cone hops. The main difference between whole cone hops and pellet hops is that pellet hops are pelletized and kilned, whereas whole cone hops are picked fresh from the vine and have more moisture – hence “wet” hopped.
The reason they are so popular this time of year is that hops are grown. The peak of the hop harvesting season in the Northern hemisphere ranges from August through September; this is the time popular American hops such as cascade, simcoe, and citra are at their best and tastiest.
This style began to take off in popularity thanks to our friends at Sierra Nevada. In 1996 Sierra Nevada decided to buck the current trends at the time and add fresh hops to its beer with the release of Harvest Ale, now called Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale. The beer was an overwhelming success and has become a seasonal staple for the brewery.
Many other beer makers have caught on to this trend and have released great harvest ales, such as Founder’s Harvest Ale and Rogue Wet Hop Ale. Our own local heroes at Breaker Brewing Company are currently brewing up a wet hop version of their popular IPA, I Love PA, with locally grown fresh hops that will be unleashed upon the public soon.
Wet hop beers are just starting to hit the market now with many more to come as we plow through harvest season. Grab some bottles of your favorite pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers, but also be sure to enjoy these unbelievably fresh hoppy beers, or you will have to sit with regret until the next harvest season.