Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Harvest Wet Hop Ale

Grade: B-
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

An offwhite head tops a crystal clear golden/copper ale. Fresh cut grass, herbs, citrus, and earth mingle in the aroma. Slightly vegetal, sulfuric offnotes in the nose. Mouthfeel is medium light, slipping past the tongue quickly and leaving only a slight bitterness on the back of the palate. The flavor echoes those herbal, vegetal characters from the aroma. The bitterness is present, playing a strong role in the progression of this beer from beginning to end. Some citrus, lemon, and lime elements come through from the hops. I can't shake that grassy, vegetal feeling however, and I know it comes from using fresh picked whole hops. The malts are here, but as in most Sierra Nevada beers, take a definitive backseat to the driving force of the hops.

Wet hop beers are made with fresh hops that aren't dried, but are added to the brew kettle almost immediately after being harvested. These types of beers are obviously only produced once a year when the harvest comes around. The hops themselves are still 70% to 80% water at that point, which means that significantly more 'wet' hops are needed to impart hoppy flavor to a beer versus dried hops. Hops are essentially leaves, and they carry with them the resinous and grasslike flavors that fresh cut plants have. If you use a lot of them in a brew, they will not only give you that bitterness you're looking for, but a lot of vegetal flavors as well.

It seems that most wet hop beers, while rare and sought after, all have that same offputting plant-like quality. Personally I find that beers made with dry hops offer the brewer much more control and much more consistency. After all, we want to taste the hops as they exist in the beer, not as they existed on the vine. No one eats wine grapes from the vineyard. Instead they're harvested and changed in the winemaking process to yield flavors that hearken to the grape as it was on the vine, yet is a unique flavor that only exists in the glass. I feel the same way about hops; only when they are dried and concentrated to their purest essence do they truly show their uniqueness.