Have you ever wanted to like IPAs but just couldn’t due to the overt bitterness that typically accompanies the style? Have you ever thought about trying a wet-hopped or fresh-hopped craft beer? Or, did you just automatically avoid it thinking you were just getting another bitter brew? If you did, you’re missing out.
Most beers are brewed with dried hops. After the hops are harvested they are taken and dried, either as whole flowers or crushed into pellets. They can then be used throughout the year until the next harvest. Wet-hopping is a whole other kettle. Instead of the hops going off to be dried and processed, the freshly picked flowers are loaded into refrigerated trucks and taken directly to a brewery within 48 hours to be immediately added in the brewing process.
Some of you may be thinking, now wait a minute…wouldn’t using fresh hops make the hoppy character of the beer stronger? Actually, no. Fresh hops can create lighter, smoother and more subtle grassy and citrus flavors. Because of that, the malt styles the brewers use as the backbone are designed to be a canvas for the wet-hop beer’s flavor profile. In a kind of reversed role, the mild malt tones provide an excellent platform to feature the hops. In fact, if the brewer isn’t careful, the malts can overwhelm the batch and the final product may lose the bright hop presence the brewer is trying to achieve.
Not all breweries use only wet hops in their wet-hopped beers, but purists don’t be discouraged. The recipes used still focus on bringing forth the unique notes that wet-hopping brings to beer and only use complimentary dry hops that boost the desired flavor profiles from the fresh yields.
In honor of the harvest season and the potential gateway beers that are being released, I broke into some of 2016’s best wet-hopped brews from breweries around the U.S. and Canada and picked the bine-minded brains of their makers. Check them out!
Two Beers Brewing started making their wet hopped beer Fresh Hop seven years ago. Their president, Caitlin Braam, talked with me about their offerings.
Caitlin said, “The process for brewing our Fresh Hop is one that’s special and really important to us. We drive the two hours out to Yakima in a box truck, head into the field to pull the bines down ourselves, and then drive the loaded truck back to the brewery that same day. On the dock outside, we have 40+ volunteers waiting for start picking the fresh hops straight from the bine by hand. From there, the hop cones head straight into the brewing process. It’s so much fun to be able to involve craft beer fans and Two Beers Brewing regulars into the process of this great beer.”
Two Beers Brewing is know for their IPAs, so of course they chose this style for their wet hop beer, Fresh Hop IPA. Like others, they love to brew with wet hops because of the “more lively, earthy aroma.” Brewed with Centennial hops, Fresh Hop provides a “smell and taste (that) makes you feel like you are standing in the middle of a hop field in Yakima,” per Braam.
No one at Two Beers Brewing Co. feels that the excitement of wet hop brewing is going to fade anytime soon. So if you live in Washington or Oregon, look for Fresh Hop IPA, available in six packs of 12-ounce cans. And if you are really lucky, you may even find it on draft!
When Mike Swihart was starting out Double Mountain Brewing, wet/fresh hopped beers were just becoming a thing. While Swihart was previously employed at Full Sail, he was part of the hop selection team (now is the hop selector at Double Mountain). When the time would come to pick the hops they would be awed with the various characters and aromas that came out while being kiln dried. Now what could they do if they were able to capture the escaping ambrosia in the beer?
Mike Swihart said, “We’ve spent many a year working with Doug Weathers at Sodbuster Farms. As each season has passed, we continue to perfect our process. Now we make multiple short runs of hops to Salem from our brewery in Hood River. We take a refrigerated truck, just before sunlight so the hops don’t have time to heat up during the day and our immediately taken from the pickers and put in our cold truck. Same time, the brewers in Hood River start the mash, so when the truck gets back to the brewery, the hops go straight into the brew.”
Killer Green, a somewhat of a larger version of Double Mountain’s Hop Lava IPA uses Brewers Gold for the wet hop by adding massive amounts of it in our hop back. Killer Red, an imperial version of the Red IPA, the IRA, uses Perle and lastly they used Mosaics in a beer called Killer Randall. This is an amped version of Double Mountain’s Randall Knife IPA, named in honor of the recently deceased Guy Clark who has a song of the same name.
Per Swihart, the Killer Green and Red are bottled and available on draft in their taproom and new restaurant in Portland in the Woodstock neighborhood. They are distributed with the brewery’s other beers in Washington, Oregon, BC, Alberta, and Idaho. The Killer Randall and Killer Homie (fresh hop Pale Ale with Simcoes) are draft only in those same areas.
“The fresh hop beers are here to stay, as long as I’m alive, I’ll make these beers every season, they are the most interesting and best example of what hops can do for a beer. I’m a big fan” Swihart declared.
Calicraft Brewing Company is a California inspired brewery whose mission statement is to push the boundaries of beer using California sourced ingredients.
Zac Taylor, Calicraft’s sales and marketing manager relayed, “It’s only natural to take advantage of wet hops since they are available from farms a few hours away. Wet hop ales have a distinctive fresh and vegetal flavor that we really like. The Wobblies imperial wet hop ale commemorates California’s hop growing history. We use California cluster hops as they were the primary hop grown in the late 18th century.”
After the Hop Riots of 1913 and prohibition was enacted, hop growing moved up to Oregon and Washington. However, the history of California hop growing remains in the names of places such as Hopland, Hopyard Road in Pleasanton, and Sloughhouse near Sacramento.
The Wobblies is available once a year in 22 ounce bottles and draught in very limited quantities. It’ll be available in November this year.
When asked if they felt the hop craze would continue, Taylor heartily agreed that as long as the hops craze continues brewers will continue to push the flavor and aroma range of hops. Wet hops are very much a part of that. In addition, more hop farms continue to pop up in California which will increase the availability of wet hops for California breweries.
To the rest of the world harvest time means that the crops such as corn, pumpkins, squash etc.
“Not for brewers, though,” said Jeremy J. Hunt, head brewer. “We have one thing on our minds when the word harvest is used. Hops!” Hunt continued that Deep Ellum wanted to “Bring to our hood the best of this year’s harvest. We have also been playing around with the idea of a unique hoppy beer that we will release on a quarterly basis. The first installment of that quarterly beer is Hop Seeker Wet-Hopped Ale! And rightfully so, we think.”
Using a traditional pale ale as the base, Deep Ellum wanted to brew a beer with a truly fresh character, rich with fresh citrus and tropical fruit. The hops needed to “steal the show,” so in Hop Seeker a very simple malt bill was implemented to let the hops–all 800lbs of fresh centenial–shine with all of their “sassy, hoppy might.” The final product is then canned 12 ounce cans, as well as kegs, and distributed to their markets in Texas.
When asked about the continuation of the wet hop craze, Jeremy responded, “As people get to know their neighborhood breweries, they’ll come to understand the labor of love that a wet hop ale. It takes a lot of effort on the part of our brewers, to bring this beer to our thirsty friends. Plus, the beer is truly a farm to pint glass beer and I think that folks will respond to that!”
Though most breweries only produce one wet-hopped beer, Deschutes likes to take advantage of being close to several local hop farms.
Brewer Ben Kehs stated, “Each fresh hop beer that we make has a slightly different vision. For example, Hop Trip has a well-rounded malt profile, with notes of caramel and toffee. We knew we needed a hop that would stand up to the sweetness and caramel of the malt, and chose crystal hops. The fruitiness of fresh crystals and the level of bitterness cuts the sweetness and brings everything into balance.”
The two main beers are available in bottle and draft in their markets. The fresh hopped pub beers are pub exclusives or for fresh hop festivals.
Heading over the border we find Driftwood Beer, the first brewery in British Columbia to brew a wet-hopped beer. According to Gary Lindsay, Partner at Driftwood Beer, their decision to brew a wet-hopped beer was influenced by their head brewer and recipe collaborator, Jason Meyer.
“Jason saw a unique opportunity to partner with an emerging local hop farm and work with locally sourced, fresh ingredients to produce a beer style,” said Lindsay. He continued, “Ours was first released in Sept. 2009, right when [wet hop beers] were beginning to emerge from some U.S. craft breweries that were ahead of the curve.”
Driftwood Beer chose centennial hops from Satori Cedar Ranch for the pine resin and juicy grapefruit flavor profile. They chose an America IPA style because it is all about the hops. The broad but simple malt body provides a perfect stage for the massive hop character to shine yet still retain a balance in the finished product. The hops are picked at Satori one day and brewed with the next.
For Driftwood, this is a very labor intensive process since their brewery system is designed for hop pellets, not whole leaf or cone hops. There is limited distribution of the final product to private liquor stores, special events and growler sales at the brewery itself. As many others have indicated, Gary too felt that the wet hop beer craze would continue.
He said, “as more local farmers are producing relevant and quality hops; craft brewers will always gravitate to this style when they can.”
In the process of brewing Hop Sac, Ruhstaller only uses wet hops–there’s no dry hopping at all. According to JE Paino, founder and general manager of Ruhstaller, they found that gives the beer a longer shelf life. This is especially important to them, since Ruhstaller distributes throughout California, and immediate consumption is not a guarantee.
Paino said, “It actually tastes better about two-to-four months after brewing and keeps it’s flavor for between 12 and 18 months.”
He continued, “We wanted primarily to highlight the unique combination of variety, growing climate, growing region (aka terrior) and vintage (each year is different) that uniquely comes with a wet-hopped ale. We found that there was so much flavor locked in the moisture in the leaves that we lose when we dry the hop. By brewing with wet hops, we release the flavors within the leaves that have been influenced by the air and soil.”
The hop craze seems to have benefited the brewery, as its production has increased every year since Ruhstaller has brewed Hop Sac.
According to brewmaster Don Spencer, the creative team at Silvercity Brewery were collectively fans of the wet-hopped beer style and decided they wanted to create their own that showcased the fresh hops while having the drinkability of a pale ale.
Using the Citra hop for its intense sweet citrus fruit notes combined with a lighter style pale ale, there would be no conflicting roast or yeast character to overwhelm the hop profile. Citra Wet Hop is distributed in Western Washington on draft and in limited 22 ounce bottles.
Spencer said, “In our opinion Wet Hop beers and traditional Oktoberfest Lagers, which we do as well, have the biggest growth potential and frankly we are the most excited for of any other Fall offerings, eh hem Pumpkin beers.”
Fresh Hop was first brewed by head brewer Ethan Osborne back in 2003. He wanted to capture the super-fresh and grassy character of the wet hops and take advantage of a once-a-season opportunity.
Osborne wanted the brew to stay around 6% ABV to keep it from having an overwhelming hop bitterness. He kept the body, malt and bitterness on the moderate side of the chart which allowed for the brew to be lead with hop flavor and aroma. This flavor profile was best achieved by brewing an American pale ale, which is a beer all about showcasing the hops.
When the time comes around to brew Fresh Hop, Great Divide triples the brewers on staff because the process has become so labor intensive. Once Fresh Hop is complete, it is distributed to all of their typical retail locations across the county.
Both Ethan and Brian Ozborne agree: “The craze will continue to grow. It is a style of beer that can only be made once a year and who doesn’t love rare shit.”
Head brewer Joe Walton has a lot of passion, creativity and a willingness to take risks. He embodies what is at the heart of the modern craft beer movement. Not ironically, it was Joe’s drive to learn more about beer that born his Wet Hop Pale Ale.
Walton said, “I have always been a hop head, and in January this year I read the book ‘For the Love of Hops: The practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops.’ Upon its completion, I was inspired enough to go to a local farm where I met Dan…we hit it off and he agreed to sell me some rhizomes for the brewery.” Thus began the breweries own hop farm.
From their own hop bines, Walton and his team brewed their Wet Hop Pale Ale. The wet hops were used in all stages-the mash, Lautered through them to the boil kettle and added during both battering and late additions in hop bags during the boil. They proceeded to dry hop them for several days prior to kegging.
“We also did not filter it as we did not want to strip out any of the flavors we had worked so hard to produce,” Walton explained. The beer is released on both bottle and draft.
Rogue Brewmaster John “More Hops” Maier crafts their Wet Hop Ale with over 1,000 pounds of fresh Rogue Farms Yaquina hops. This is triple the amount of hops used in a normal batch. In late August, Mother Nature gives them the green light to start harvesting their own 42 acres of aroma hops growing on the Rogue Farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This is the only brewery who solely uses their own hops in this seasonal brew. Their team hand selects the hops and immediately drives them the 77 miles back to the Rogue Brewery to pitch them directly into the kettle. This process results in the hops going from bine to brew in just two hours! The final result is a delicious Ale with 5.6% ABV and a whopping 100 IBU’s!
These are just a drop in the barrel of the number of wet hopped beers out there. Check out your small local breweries to see what they are pouring!