It’s been a few years since I reviewed Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Fresh Hop IPA. Since then my taste for fresh hop beers has developed, and so has my interest. Just what is a fresh hop beer?
The term “fresh hop” needs to be explored. According to the Brewers Association, fresh hop ales are “brewed with freshly harvested hops. Such hops might be undried fresh or frozen cones or ground material, or, freshly kilned dried cones or pellets.”
To me, this definition stretches the meaning of fresh too far.
Here’s the normal process for harvesting hops. When the hops reach a certain moisture point, the bine is cut at the bottom and quickly moved to a processing facility where the hop cones are removed. From there, the hop cones are usually laid out and rapidly kiln dried to lock in the hop’s unique flavors. After drying, the hops are further processed into rabbit food-sized pellets that can be used for up to 3 years.
Fresh hop beer, according to the Brewers Association, basically comes in two categories: wet and dry. Wet hop beer is made from freshly harvested hop intercepted after separation from the bine. The hops are unkilned, and therefore wet. These hops are added to the brew within 24 hours of harvest. Since 75% of US hops are grown in Washington State and the other 25% are split between Idaho and Oregon, brewing with fresh, wet hops is difficult and costly outside the Pacific Northwest.
Perhaps the Brewers Association wanted to throw a bone to the many breweries outside of driving distance to wet fresh hops when they included kiln dried cones and even pellets in the definition of fresh hop beer. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Fresh Hop IPA uses kiln dried whole cone hops within seven days of harvest. The thinking is, like herbs, a freshly dried hop will be more flavorful than a 9-month-old dried hop. True, but…
To me fresh hop means beer made from wet hops within 24 hours of harvest.
There really is a difference in the flavor. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration is a excellent IPA with piney, citrusy hop flavor. It’s clean and complex with a firm malt backbone. A wet, fresh hop beer is another animal altogether. Taste Seattle’s Stoup Brewing or Fremont Brewing’s fresh hop beers and you get a mellow, herbal grassy character that is quite distinct. Sierra Nevada makes a wet hop beer is calls Northern Hemisphere Harvest with these characteristics.
Each year in Seattle from the end of September to the middle of October, I look forward to drinking fresh (wet) hop beer. These beers are only available in for short time and in limited quantity. It’s worth the pilgrimage to seek out real fresh hop beer.