Summer is nearing its end, and Oktoberfest is around the corner, which means we’re in that blink of a season for wet-hopped beer. The end of August and early September marks the usual harvest season for the flowering cones of the hop vine. These catkins are normally kiln dried and packaged immediately after harvesting for later use when brewing. But traditionally, brewers with ready access to fresh– or “wet” – hops would sometimes make small batches of “harvest ale” with just-picked hops for personal enjoyment.
Over the past ten years, an increasing number of Northern California, Oregon and Washington-based craft brewers have been making batches of these wet-hopped beers as a part of their seasonal offerings. Fresh hops are rare and challenging to use since the vines flower only once a year and the cones degrade quickly after picking. But fresh hops make for a serendipitous beer, capturing that season’s special terroir, sort of the beer equivalent of a Beaujolais Nouveau. Using wet hops, especially at the very end of the brewing process, enables the brewers to retain the volatile oils in the finished beer that are missing from beers made with kiln dried hops.
Dave McLean of Magnolia described his process for making their High Time wet hopped beer: “Our regular hop suppliers make the decision, field by field, of when the hops are ready to be harvested. As with grapes, it can be a very day-to-day thing and so we never know until the last minute when the hops are coming. We basically proceed with our brew schedule knowing that any day's planned brew is subject to change when we get the call from our supplier that the hops are on the way. Then we just slip into our High Time plan and get a batch of wort brewing in the hope that UPS shows up on time to add the just-picked hops directly into the boil.”
The best way to get notified when a local brewer has their wet hopped beers ready may be through Facebook or Twitter.
What’s on Tap?
21st Amendment – Co-owner and brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan announced that they will be making this their usual Harvest Moon IPA with chinook and cascade hops. It’s scheduled to be on draft around September 21st.
Almanac Beer Co. – Cofounder Jesse Friedman noted that Almanac has finished their first wet hopped ale. It’s made with locally grown and malted barley and hopped with a combination of cascade, chinook, ivanhoe and gargoyle. Jesse added that it will be available in draft only sometime in September.
Magnolia Brewery– Brewmaster and Owner Dave McLean reports that they enjoy making their High Time wet hoped beer so much that they now make two batches, each using a different hop variety. McLean notes, “These beers sell faster than just about any we make and, depending on the gap in time between the two fields being harvested, we don't always end up with both on at once. But when it works out, it is a very special and rare experience to try both wet hopped beers side by side, allowing one to have two tastes of what Mother Nature had in store for a particular year's hop harvest in two different fields.”
Social Kitchen and Brewery – Brewmaster Kim Sturdavant reports that they brewed two batches this season: Tom Tom IPA and Wet Hop American Summer IPA. Sturdavant added that both batches were “dank, delicious and went super fast.”
Brews on the Bay - Speaking of going super fast, tickets for the ninth annual Brews on the Bay (September 15) are on sale . This San Francisco Brewers Guild event sells out every year so if you are planning on going, get them soon!