It's brewers' favorite time of year: fresh hop season.

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On a warm Monday morning in late August, three Colorado craft brewers piled into a single-engine airplane and took off from a tiny municipal airport north of Denver. 

An hour later, they touched down on the other side of the state and drove to a farm, where they helped harvest more than 100 pounds of fresh hops. They quickly loaded bags of the small, leafy green cones grown by Paonia's High Wire Hops into the plane for the trip home. 

Meanwhile, back in Denver, another brewer started making beer so that when the high-flying crew from FlyteCo Brewing, Bruz Beers, and Uhl's Brewing returned, they could dump the fresh hops straight into the kettle.

lineup of Kraemer & Kin beers
Credit: Courtesy of Kraemer & Kin

The collaborative "Hop is My Copilot" hazy IPA is a fresh hop beer, meaning that it's made with fresh—not dried—hops. Fresh hop beers hold a special place in many brewers' hearts, since they can only make them once a year around harvest time in late summer and early fall. 

Though the differences between beers made with fresh vs. dried hops are subtle, the right-off-the-bine versions are typically brighter and slightly more intense. (Hops are one of the four main ingredients in beer. They're responsible for that crisp, bitter flavor you get when you sip IPAs and pale ales.)

harvesting fresh hops
Credit: Courtesy of Wasatch Brewery

"Fresh hop beers have a distinct flavor and aroma that is unmatchable," says Eric Serani, who co-owns Denver's aviation-themed FlyteCo Brewing and built the RV-10 airplane with his dad. "This is my absolute favorite beer that we make."

Fall beer-drinking typically conjures up images of spicy pumpkins ales and malty Oktoberfest Marzens. But before you go too far down that rabbit hole, give thanks to summer 2021's bounty with these fresh hop beers from around the country.

Clothing Hoptional (Wasatch Brewery)

Utah's Wasatch Brewery makes its fresh hop beer in a unique way: by recruiting volunteer "hops hunters" to hike out into open space protected by Summit Land Conservancy to gather wild-grown hops.

Their Clothing Hoptional fresh hop beer is made with 100 pounds of wild, local hops. Head brewer Nils Imboden has no clue what type of hops they are, but he doesn't mind the mystery— he loves the big notes of stone fruit, hay, and citrus they give to this 5% beer.

"We're lucky here in Utah to have an abundance of wild hops growing within miles of the brewery," he says.

Harvest Ale (Founders Brewing Co.)

Michigan's Founders Brewing Co. sources most of its dried hops from Washington's Yakima Valley, the country's most prolific hop-growing region — and, until recently, that's where they got their fresh hops, too. But as Michigan's hop-farming industry has flourished in recent years, the brewery's staff has been all too happy to incorporate fresh hops grown in the Great Lakes State into their repertoire.

This year, they worked with Pure Mitten Hops and Top Hops Farm to source 200 pounds of fresh Cascade and Paradigm hops for their Harvest Ale, a big, 7.6% IPA with pine, melon, and citrus flavors.

PLZ, PLZ (Fonta Flora Brewery)

This beer's name is a fun play on words — instead of ordering "a Pilsner, please," beer-drinkers at North Carolina's Fonta Flora Brewery can ask for a PLZ, PLZ, a 5.2%, non-traditional Pilsner brewed with fresh Cascade hops from SKYe2 Farm. It's light, crisp, and totally crushable, with notes of citrus and grass from the fresh hops.

Fresh Hop IPA (Kraemer & Kin)

Vermont's Kraemer & Kin is making a three-beer fresh hop series this year, with each beer showcasing Nugget, Comet, or Cascade hops harvested from the brewery's half-acre hopyard. The beers have varying levels of pine, citrus, cantaloupe, mango, and apricot flavors.

"If harvest season was longer, I'd do 10 wet-hops beers I love them so much," says brewer Levi Kraemer.

Fresh hops
Credit: Courtesy of Kraemer & Kin

Fresh Hop & Honey NW Red Ale (Public Coast Brewing Co.)

Made with 80 pounds of fresh Lorien hops from Oregon's Coleman Agriculture and 90 pounds of honey made by bees kept at the brewery's 40-acre culinary farm, this 5.8% red ale is light, floral, and delicious.

"This is the time of year where we get to use the freshest, rawest state of the hop flower and make a beer that accentuates those amazing characters in that hop," says Public Coast Brewing Co.'s Ryan Snyder. 

Killa Kali Wit (New Belgium Brewing San Francisco)

Ramon Tamayo, brewing manager for New Belgium Brewing San Francisco, lovingly tended to the Cascade and Nugget hops in this 5.2% Belgian-inspired wit beer in his backyard in Petaluma, California. 

After harvest, he loaded them into two paper grocery bags, then carefully transported them via ferry for his commute into work — from his garden to the brew kettle in less than 24 hours. This beer gives off aromas of peppercorn, coriander, fresh-cut grass, lemon, pine, and resin, then goes down creamy and smooth with a blast of fresh hop flavor.

"The whole inside of the ferry smelled amazing, almost danky," Tamayo says. "I definitely got some wondering eyes."

Celebration IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.)

Sierra Nevada's Celebration IPA is one of the best-known fresh hop beers out there — and for good reason. It's been around since 1981, when founder Ken Grossman wanted to expand his offerings beyond the then-young brewery's pale ale, stout, and porter. In the years since, it's developed its own following of die-hard IPA drinkers. 

Made with Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops grown in Washington and Oregon, this seasonal beer has a malty backbone and intense citrus and pine aromas. This year, Sierra Nevada is packaging the beloved Celebration in cans, instead of the traditional bottles.

Fresh Crystal India Golden Ale (Breakside Brewery)

Oregon's Breakside Brewery goes all out during hop harvest season, making eight different fresh hop beers. But if the brewery's staff had to pick just one to sip, it's this 7.5% double IPA made with farm-fresh Crystal hops grown 60 miles from the brewery. It's got hints of cotton candy grapes, watermelon, and sweet pine.

Contents Under Pressure (Lagunitas Brewing Company)

This 7.7% fresh hop IPA from Lagunitas packs a big punch thanks to the addition of fresh Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, and Sabra hops grown in the Yakima Valley. It's everything a hoppy beer should be and then some: fruity, citrusy, and tropical.