Fresh Hop Brews

Written by John Linn for

You might have noticed the proliferation of beers marketing themselves as “Fresh Hop” brews on the market recently. But you’re probably wondering: What does this mean? Don’t all beers have fresh hops in them? If not fresh, then what are they?

Hops are the budded plant that gives beer its bitter and aromatic qualities. They’re harvested in late summer/fall, from August to early September. Because of this, hops are most often dried or processed into compressed pellets or plugs that store year round. The techniques for this process are pretty sophisticated, so the quality of hop pellets are pretty good. If you’ve ever bought hop pellets from a homebrew store, these are essentially the same things that commercial brewers use year round in their beers.

During the fall, however, brewers have a rare opportunity to work with fresh hops. Also called wet hops, these buds don’t keep long and require a much larger dose than plugs or pellets to get the same bittering. They’re expensive and rarer, and so beers made with fresh (wet) hops are too.

Expensive and rarer, maybe, but what’s the end difference for the drinker? Well, some (not all) fresh hop beers offer a much more potent, aggressive aroma than their year-round counterparts. A good comparison is the difference between vegetables you might buy at a supermarket versus going to a farm and picking them yourself, then eating them straight away.

Hop harvest was only a few months ago, so right about now is the time that beer makers are releasing their fresh hop brews. You can find them all over at the moment: World of Beer had two or three fresh hop beers on tap last week, and a hole host in bottle. If you can try them on tap, I’d highly recommend that. Something about the keg seems to preserve the hop aroma that much better (of course, it could be my imagination).

Some good fresh hop beers to try: I’m really partial to Sierra Nevada’s Celebration series, with its honeyed Cascade hops and resinous Centennial. Great Divide’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale is seriously aromatic and robust — a really fine drinker with a ton of hop flavor that leans towards sweet rather than bitter. Rogue has a version called First Growth Wet Hop Ale that’s a solid entry (bottles you find year round will probably have diminished aromas, however). Athens, Georgia’s, Terrapin has my favorite named fresh hop beer — it’s called “So Fresh and So Green, Green,” a play on the classic Outkast jangle.

There are dozens (if not more) other fresh hop beers out there, so keep your eyes out. And drink quick! The freshness does no good if it chills in the bottle for months.

(Originally published as “Beer of the Week: Fresh Hop Brews.” First picture courtesy …taken during the 1999 Belgian Hop Festival.)

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