Founders Brewing Co.
For many American farmers, fall means one thing: harvest time. Hardworking folks across the country are hitting the fields, picking everything from apples and pears to squash and sweet potatoes. And while I enjoy a good apple pie as much as the next patriotic glutton, my favorite member of this season’s cornucopia is, hands down, hops. Hops hit the spot all year round -- there’s no doubting that. But September’s crop brings with it one of my favorite beer styles of all time: wet hop ale.
Generally infused into IPAs, pale ales, and trumped up pilsners, these glorious sudsy numbers are exploding with flavor, gracing the palate with everything the chosen varieties have to offer. The beer’s flavor can be focused on aromatic orange blossoms and dank, hearty pine. It can also impart papaya and mouth-watering pineapple, or earthy, peppery spice. Still other brews unleash notes of crisp fresh-cut blades of the greenest grass imaginable. All of these are the hoppy beers that dreams are made of.
But what is wet hopping, you ask? Allow me to explain.
Don’t get them confused with their dry hopped brothers
Over the years, you’ve probably seen plenty of beers listed as “dry hopped” or “double dry hopped.” This, in a nutshell, means that the brewer tossed an extra dose of hops into his bubbling concoction after it finished fermenting in order to give the final product a more potent hop aroma and flavor. These little green guys are generally kept in a condensed pellet form, just like those used in the boil. The difference being that they were never exposed to heat -- they remain chock full of resiny oils that us craft disciples know and love.
Wet hopping differs in several ways. First, the hops come in whole, cut right from the vine. They’re kept in their natural form (as opposed to crushed into a hamster food-style pellet), either thrown in as whole cones or dried quickly in an onsite kiln. This method allows the hops to impart the same intensely bright, newborn flavors and aromas created by dry hopping at any time during the brewing cycle -- not just after fermentation has already occurred. Imagine the difference between Nonna’s Sunday gravy cooked with lush green herbs from the backyard garden versus a bottle of dried “Italian Mix” from the corner grocery -- there just ain’t nothing like it.
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Timing is everything
If you’re into hops, it goes without saying that this is the beer for you. The only caveat? Since, by definition, wet hops don’t undergo any processing, they have to be used within about 24 hours of harvesting or they’ll lose their deliciously magical powers. (In fact, there are beer festivals that solely pour fresh hop beers.) Thus, these extra special seasonal charmers are brewed but once a year, usually during the early fall, and they need to be consumed on the double, too. Leave a wet hopped beauty sitting in a bottle, can, or keg for longer than a month or so, and you’re guaranteed to lose all those crispy, fresh-cut notes that led you to buy that sixer in the first place.
They started as a West Coast thing
As mentioned, these untouched piney newborns can spoil very quickly, so it only makes sense that the style was pioneered by breweries in close proximity to hop farms, like those in Western states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
credits:"[Full Sail Brewing Co. / Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/FullSailBrewingCo/photos/a.93959131984.82110.60072986984/10155050804636985/?type=3&theater)" width:450 align:rightBack in 1996, OG California outlet Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was the first to experiment with wet hopping, eventually coming out with their best selling Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop IPA. Once Sierra’s Left Coast neighbors got a whiff of the stuff, they also hopped on board, with breweries like Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery and Full Sail Brewing Co. cranking out their own versions. We’ll get to those later!
That’s not to say that you won’t see breweries from other parts of the country throwing their hoppy hats into the ring (cargo jets do exist), but if you account for same day delivery costs, you’re generally talking big bucks. And while smaller scale hop growing areas are increasingly accessible, brewers still have to face the fact that wet hops, for all their merits, inherently lack the concentrated oomph of their danker pelletized counterparts.
So while both methods are a fantastic way to showcase a particular hop variety's unique profile, extracting as many enticing, ultra-fragrant floral and grassy notes as possible requires a lot more product when you’re going with the unprocessed green stuff. That can get expensive!
Then let's appreciate (even more!) the following five fine breweries from across the country for producing fantastic wet hop beers worth seeking out.
American IPA, 6.7% ABV (Chico, CA)
There’s a reason Sierra Nevada remains one of the country’s bestselling producers of hop bombs, and their willingness to venture into wet hop territory before anyone else is the case in point. This beer evolved from that first batch, bursting with rich, citrusy herbaceousness and brewed with undried hops cut that very day. If it ain’t broke, right?
American Pale Ale, 5.6% ABV (Hood River, OR)
Loaded with spicy Magnum hops, this Pacific Northwest stalwart’s autumnal offering focuses more on the palate than the nose. The aroma is there -- a subtle mix of bright, earthy grass with a hint of stone fruit -- but the flavor steals the show, with piney, resinous hops converging with toasty malt for a surprisingly dry, satisfying mouthfeel.
American IPA, 7.6% ABV (Grand Rapids, MI)
This harvest brew is a staple of Founders’ well-respected lineup, a bold, straightforward blend of dank hops teeming with a Christmas tree farm-esque scent. Each sip includes a splash of cooling lemon balm and rich orange backed by a steady stream of light, understated malt flavor.
credits:"[Lagunitas Brewing Co / Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/LagunitasBrewingCo/photos/a.198458196864219.47242.104967236213316/1376718319038195/?type=3&theater)" width:450 align:right
American Pale Ale, 7% ABV (Petaluma, CA)
As expected, this California hard hitter’s contribution is as hoppy as all get out -- it’s even bottled and shipped in a single day (hence the name). Made with whole cone, undried Mosaic, Equinox, Citra, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops, it’s basically a hop vine smoothie. Each juicy gulp erupts with aroma citrus and bitter pine -- there’s very little malt to distract from the hop goodness.
American Pale Ale, 5.5% ABV (Bloomington, IN)
Upland is one of the Midwest’s most promising craft joints, and their Harvest Ale, made with a bounty of tropical, grapefruit-tinged Citra and balanced out with a lighter, biscuity malt, is a shining example of their prowess. Smooth and crushable, it drinks like a refreshing love letter to this uber-popular hop variety.