10 Best Fresh Hop Beers
There are drinkers who equate this time of year with the nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger of pumpkin ales and others who raise a stein of milder Oktoberfest brews. But there's an entire corner of the beer universe that -- for a handful of weeks in late summer and early fall -- is either rushing between farms and backyard trellises to pick as many fresh hops as they can, rushing those hops straight into kettles to brew floral, sweet beers or rushing around to local breweries to drink those brews before their flavor dissipates or they disappear completely. They're not as bitter as a typical hoppy beer and, hovering around 5% alcohol by volume, aren't nearly as potent.
Though brewers and beer fans in hop-growing regions such as the Pacific Northwest usually benefit most from the hop harvest season and big brewers get left out of the game altogether, the logistical wonder of modern commercial delivery has made it possible for even remote breweries to get in on the action. The fresh hops being used by brewers at the Craft Brewers Alliance's Widmer Brewing facility in Portland bear a distinct resemblance to those being flown in by brewers on the Atlantic.
After taking a few long, hard whiffs and sips of some of the best fresh hop brews the season has to offer, we've put together a list of 10 great fresh hop brews to get ahold of while the season lasts:
Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, Calif.
According to brewing lore, this is where the fresh hop push all began. Back in 1996, Sierra Nevada introduced its first "fresh-hop" or "wet hop" Harvest ale. That was followed by years of semantic arguments about whether a "fresh hop" could ever be a "wet hop" if the harvesting process dries it or if that wetness even makes a difference if the fresh oils and resins remain regardless. It was also followed by years of great beer.
The 6.7% ABV Harvest Ale is still made with fresh Cascade and Centennial hops from Eastern Washington, but it's now just one in a fresh hop series. Sierra Nevada also produces a Southern Hemisphere fresh-hop Harvest ale with Halertau, Motueka and Southern Cross hops flown in from New Zealand and Estate Ale with organic hops grown at Sierra's own facilities in California's North Valley. That's just spreading the fresh-hop love, baby.
Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale
McMenamin's, various locations in Oregon and Washington
Let the complaints begin. "McMenamin's is a chain." "That's movie theater beer.""Pick a real beer."