Serious Eats: Drinks

Serious Beer: Seasonal Fresh-Hop Beers

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Fresh hops awaiting harvest. [Photograph: Deschutes Brewery]

As Serious Eaters, you probably use a lot of fresh herbs in your cooking. Dried basil just doesn't have the aromatic sweetness of fresh basil. But have you considered whether there are dried or fresh hops are in your beer?

Hop flowers provide the bitter backbone that makes beer taste the way it does. Some varieties of hops add a fruity citrus taste, while others give off a juniper-like scent. Most of the time, brewers use dried, compressed hop pellets to do the job.

But once a year when hops are ready to be pulled from the vine, some brewers celebrate the season by heading out to local farms to harvest hops fresh. Once gathered, the hops need to be added to the brewing kettle as quickly as possible—the delicate flowers spoil rapidly, especially if exposed to heat.

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Pouring in the hops. [Photograph: Deschutes Brewery]

How do these fresh-hopped beers taste? Pretty delicious. The fresh hops provide a uniquely refreshing, subtle herbal quality to these beers, and you know you're getting something brewed recently if they're using wet hops from this year's harvest. But like any fresh seasonal produce, these beers won't be on the shelves forever—you should grab some while you can!

Serious Beer Ratings

***** Our new favorite
**** Awesome, worth remembering
*** We'd consider buying this again
** There are probably better options
* No, thanks, I'll have water.

Ratings are subject to personal taste.


Get These While They're Fresh

Founders Harvest Ale Michigan, 6.5% ABV
This golden-colored beer had a lovely velvety mouthfeel. It was focused, balanced, and very fresh tasting. We loved how sunny and citrusy this was, and enjoyed the delicate hopping and ripe peach notes. One taster was reminded of pineapple lifesavers (those are the clear white ones.) A beautiful, creamy beer.
*****

Chatoe Rogue First Growth Wet Hop Ale Oregon, 6.4% ABV
Drinkable and enjoyable. This beer is bit hoppier than the Deschutes and the Founders, but far from extreme. Herbal freshness and hints of thyme are balanced with nuances of peach, bergamot tea, and pinenut. This beer reminded one taster of marmalade on toast.
****1/2

Deschutes Hop Trip Oregon 5.5% ABV
The restrained style of this pale ale allowed the fruity, aromatic freshness of the hops to come through. This beer is smooth and malty with a hint of honey and citrus notes that reminded our tasters of sweet mandarin oranges. This is a drinkable beer, so clean that one of our tasters swore that he could tell it was brewed with excellent water.
****1/2

Two Brothers Heavy-Handed IPA Illinois, 6.7% ABV
This beer was a rich coppery color—a bit darker than the others. It's not, in fact, heavy handed at all, though it did have much more maltiness than most of the other examples. The toffee malt notes are well balanced with herbal hoppiness: hints of rosemary and pine branches are present, but the bitterness fades away cleanly. This is a slightly bigger beer than the others above, but we found it elegant and drinkable.
****

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[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

Tasty, but Less Subtle

Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale Colorado, 6.1% ABV
Each sip of this was a wallop of hoppiness: we tasted juniper, lawn clippings, and lemon peel. We liked this paired with gruyere; some found it a bit too potent and astringent on its own.
***1/2 for hopheads only,
** if you're not

Southern Tier Harvest Ale New York, 6.4% ABV
This aromatic beer had very gentle hopping and a lingering taste of honey. If you like your beers a bit less bitter, then you'll like this. One taster found this beer to have a bit of cantaloupe flavor; it might pair well with prosciutto. We also think this sweeter beer would be nice with Peking duck.
***
Sierra Nevada 13th Release Harvest Wet Hop Ale California, 6.7% ABV
Some of our tasters weren't sure this was that different from Sierra Nevada's regular brew, but we liked it, even if we didn't find it quite as special as some of the others. The hops bring traces of pine resin and citrus peel to this beer. There's an acidic grapefruit bite tempered by a hint of butterscotch.
***

Harpoon 100 Barrel Series Glacier Harvest '09 Massachusetts and Vermont, 6.7% ABV
This malty ale was a bit richer than the others. The flavors reminded us of dark honey, brown butter, lavender, and dried dates. While one taster found it quite drinkable, others believed its funkiness masked the fresher flavors we found in the other beers.
***

Disclosure: All beers except the Sierra Nevada and the Southern Tier were review samples.

About the author: Maggie Hoffman and her team of tasters are always looking for their new favorite beer. Maggie also writes about cooking on Pithy and Cleaver.

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