Now that fall has completely elbowed summer to the side, it is that wonderful time of year in the craft beer aisle—fresh hop season. Fresh hop cones, still sticky with resiny lupulin, are harvested, shipped, and tossed into boil kettles of breweries all around the country, sometimes in as little as 24 hours, lending their beers an extra burst of hop aroma and flavor with minimal bitterness. The fresh hop beers that result are also commonly called harvest ales or wet hopped beers (and not for the way that they cause beer geeks to wet themselves with anticipation). Because of the emphasis on newly harvested hops, they’re only released during the late summer harvest, and although the majority of the country’s hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest, top breweries around the country have found creative ways to get them from vine to kettle to your hands as quickly as they were intended to be. Save your barrel-aged cellar beers for the winter, though, these beers are best consumed the way they were crafted: fresh.
Surly’s Wet, a perennial favorite among hopheads, will not be produced this year, but fear not, these world class brews should scratch your fresh hop itch.
1. Founders Harvest Ale (Grand Rapids, MI):
This beer leads with the pronounced citrus aroma of Cascade hops, evoking grapefruit and tangerine. Bittering hops lend earthy notes of pine and grass. A hefty, nutty malt backbone gives this beer higher strength, making it a perfect sipper for muggy Michigan evenings.
2. Sixpoint Sensi (Brooklyn): The lower alcohol content (4.7% ABV) in this beer allows the bright, fragrant character of Simcoe and Cascade hops to shine without competing with the sweetness and warmth of stronger maltier beers. The beer’s name, Sensi, is derived from a Spanish phrase for “without seeds, referring to a method of growing only female hop cones, minimizing the resources needed for seed production.
3. Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere (Chico, CA): Does Sierra Nevada make a single mediocre beer? The short answer is no. Like so many of this brewery’s other beers, it’s an exemplary take on the style; a perfect marriage between bready two-row pale malt and bright, floral Centennial hops. Bonus: the brewery also releases a Southern Hemisphere fresh hop beer in the late spring, which is made with New Zealand hop varietals and brewed during their harvest season.
4. Fremont Brewing Cowiche Canyon (Seattle):
ashington State produces over 70% of commercial hops grown in the country, and a massive amount of them get put to good use to brew this gem. Named for the region in which the hops are grown, Cowiche Canyon is brewed with Simcoe and Citra hops, giving it the classic orange and grapefruit characteristics you’d expect. But take a second sip and you might detect herbal notes of thyme and basil underneath.
5. Deschutes Chasing Freshies (Bend, OR):
Like the Sensi, Chasing Freshies is a smaller fresh hop at 5.4% ABV. However, it packs big, fruity Nugget hop flavors and is complemented by a combination of grainy specialty malts and English ale yeast that give it an earthy, almost spicy character. Because of its lower strength and balance, Freshies is one of the most sessionable fresh hops on the market.