The fall season in craft beer brings us a trio of specialty styles with Oktoberfests, Pumpkin ales, and a growing number of so-called “fresh hop” ales with that year’s harvest making a quick trek from the field directly to the brew kettle. Rather than following the traditional process of drying, processing, and packaging; these hops are often added whole upon arrival while they are still in their “wet” form. Sierra Nevada, the legendary brewery from California that can take credit for launching many a craft beer trend, also claims to have started the fresh hop craze with their first harvest ale in 1996. An increasing number of breweries are now producing these beers, and Indiana homebrewers have had success planting hops at home and creating their own unique examples (my Cascades are pictured at the right).
To prepare you for the growing number of these beers hitting Indiana retail shelves, a blind tasting was assembled to try some of the more prominent examples in our market and give you a peek at the liquid behind the label. Beers were procured from Founders, Sierra Nevada, Three Floyds, Two Brothers, and Upland and served in a random order to the tasting panel by our lovely hostess Poppi Rocketts. Joining me on the panel were Andrew Korty, Jason Cook, and Tim Palmer. Here is each beer sampled, along with the brewery’s description and the panel’s tasting comments.
Beer #1: Upland Harvest Ale - Upland’s Harvest Ale is an American Pale Ale by design, but an even more vibrant rendition by loading up our hopback with freshly harvested Citra hops. Expect huge wafts of tropical fruit notes, balanced by a moderate bitterness and light toasted malt character. A showcase for one of our four favorite ingredients and a delight for all the hopheads out there.
|Andrew: Hop aroma of grapefruit, pineapple, mango, shallot. Low caramel and grainy maltiness. Orange-gold body with brass highlights. White, lasting head. Substantial graininess in flavor. Caramel is pronounced also. Hop flavors soon surpass this malt backbone with vegetal flavors and notes of citrus, dried flowers, and resin. While finish is not bone-dry, bitterness is strong and lingers long and strong on the palate through the aftertaste. Medium body, moderate carbonation. Slight alcohol warmth.|
|Jason: Decent hop aroma. Initial hit of hop character that fades quickly into strong bitterness with a very heavy finish.|
|Nathan: Assertive hop character up front with a dominant pineapple character complemented by other citrus fruits and a bit of pine. The hop character fades at the finish and is replaced by an assertive, lingering bitterness. Has a distinct green plant character, which can be expected from the wet hops, and leaves behind a resinous, mouth-coating sensation. The malt character is subdued and allows the hops to shine through. A tasty beer that could use a bit less bitterness and more complex hop flavor when compared to the other examples.|
|Tim: Had a very faint citrusy and resin hop aroma which was a little surprising considering this is a wet hopped beer and I was expecting more hop aroma. This beer had a light golden color with a large off white head that persisted. The piney and resin hop character was more pronounced in the flavor as compared to the aroma. The bitterness was moderate and lingered into the back of the throat, but there was a hop slickness that coated the tongue.|
Beer #2: Three Floyds Broo Doo - This beer is brewed during the hop harvest with a portion of unkilned or “wet” hops fresh off the vine. Apricot in color, Broo Doo’s nose has dominant orange, pine sap and floral notes, balanced by a glazed nut and toffee malt body. This celebration of the hop harvest has intense tropical fruit, citrus and spicy accents that showcase the complexity of the hops we all love. 7% ABV 80 IBU
|Andrew: Vegetal notes up front at low levels accompanied by resinous, citrusy notes. Orange-gold body is slightly hazy. Thick, white, lasting head leaves a heavy lace. Hints of sulfury peach character. Vegetal character carries over into flavor. Hop notes of orange and grapefruit. Grassy notes in finish. Malt backbone is only there for support; nothing prominent, just hints of bread and caramel. Dry, elegant, and easy to drink. High carbonation enhances dryness and produces a slight carbonic bite.|
|Jason: Very fresh hop aroma. Taste of citrus on the back of my tongue. Good bitterness but not overpowering. Seems fairly clean and doesn’t linger.|
|Nathan: Slightly darker in color with a nice orange hue. Prominent notes of pineapple, peach, and tropical fruit dominate the flavor. The malt character is again subdued and allows the hops to be featured. This beer is highly carbonated which contributes to the impression of a dry, crisp finish. There is a slight amount of vegetal/green plant character from the wet hops but not quite a noticeable as in sample 1. Very flavorful but easy-drinking beer that makes you want to go back for more.|
|Tim: Very strong citrusy (grapefruit)/piney hop aroma right up front and in your face with hints of caramel and toffee. This was a very clear, light amber colored beer with a persistent off white head. This was heavily carbonated with a crisp mouth feel. Bitterness was very strong and hop flavor was powerful with some grassy notes from the wet hops. Beer finished dry which contributed to wanting to drink more.|
Beer #3: Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA - Heavy Handed IPA is brewed to celebrate the harvesting of the hops every year. Within moments of harvest we add freshly picked "Wet Hops" to this IPA. Since the hops have not been dried before use, they add a wonderful character found in no other beer. A hop lovers dream. 6.7% ABV 65 IBU
|Andrew: Malt is subdued with hints of bread and grain. Hints of toasted bread, caramel, and toffee in flavor. Clear, light amber body with thin, white head. Hops are more straightforward but subdued and reminiscent of dried flowers although not entirely devoid of citrus. Pear-like esters round out the flavor profile. Considering the malt, hop, and ester profile, this beer seems more like an English pale ale. Moderate carbonation, medium body. No alcohol warmth. Darker in color than all other samples except number 5.|
|Jason: Nearly undetectable aroma. Color is closer to an Amber. Stronger, sweet malt character than I would have expected for the style but it isn’t unwelcome. Finishes pretty clean with nice bitterness.|
|Nathan: Bready malt character with some caramel notes and a slight mineral quality to the water. Hop character is far more subdued than the first two samples, but is fairly well-balanced with a soft, floral, slightly citrus character. Seems to lean more towards an ESB style than an IPA hop showcase, although the bitterness could support a more aggressive hop flavor. It isn’t quite the style I expected, but still a very enjoyable beer.|
|Tim: Was surprised as there was very little hop aroma present when I first sniffed this beer. There was some toasty and bready notes, but little hop aroma. Beer was brown in color and had an off white head that laced the glass. The flavor heavily favored the malt, but there was some firm bitterness with some citrus and piney flavor, but the malt was taking the lead here. As beer warmed, fruity esters started to appear more and this beer reminded me or had more of an English Bitter character.|
Beer #4: Founders Harvest Ale - This liquid dream pours a hazy golden straw color with a white, two-finger head. Your first sip rewards you with a super juicy hop presence bursting with fresh citrus, then finishes to introduce toasted malt undertones. 6.5% ABV 70 IBU
|Andrew: Powerful and complex hop aroma with hints of orange, peach, papaya, spruce, black pepper, grass, and a hint of garlic. Hop character carries over into flavor. Brilliant pale gold in color—lighter than the other samples. Bread-like, caramely malt character is present throughout in a supporting role although it does contribute sweetness to an almost unwelcome level. Seems big and a bit boozy. Bitterness is aggressive and lingers long into aftertaste. Moderate carbonation, medium body.|
|Jason: Citrus hops are very prevalent in nose. Very light and clear in color. Nice bitterness with strong hop character and flavor throughout.|
|Nathan: Very light colored but seems to have a solid malt backbone. Very aggressive hop character that showcases grapefruit and other citrus and lingers long into the finish. The bitterness is well-balanced and the beer leaves you with the type of mouth-coating sensation observed in sample 1. A bit of a grassy character from the hops. The finish is a little sweet for my taste and the beer just generally feels a bit heavy. Overall a great beer, but seems like it would be hard to drink a lot of in one sitting.|
|Tim: Right up front, this beer was going for hop presence. You get hit a strong citrus, mango, peach aroma, which overpowered any malt character that was trying to break through. This was very clear golden colored beer with a very persistent white head. Harvest Ale had plenty of carbonation that helps with the crispness of the beer. The hops packed plenty of bitterness and had a nice citrusy and woodsy note. There was low toasted malt character that broke through and finished this beer nicely.|
Beer #5: Sierra Nevada Nothern Hemisphere Harvest - The cornerstone of our Harvest series is the beer that started the modern-day fresh hop ale phenomenon in America, our original Harvest Ale. Created in 1996, Harvest Ale features Cascade and Centennial hops from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. These hops are harvested and shipped as “wet” un-dried hops—the same day they are picked—to our brewery in Chico where our brewers eagerly wait to get them into the brew kettle while their oils and resins are still at their peak. 6.7% ABV 60-65 IBU
IndianaBeer note: Sierra Nevada also produces a beer called Southern Hemisphere Harvest in the spring that features fresh hops from New Zealand.
|Andrew: Subdued aroma with some hints of sulfur. Hint of umami / soy sauce. Perfume notes emerge with warmth. Brilliant amber-copper in color—darker than other samples. Tall, thick, lasting head. Flavor is more malt focused with biscuity, nutty, toasty notes. Esters of pear and other white fruit. Hop flavor is present but not complex, with elements of wood, spruce needles, and dried flowers. Powerful bitterness lingers long into aftertaste. High carbonation, medium body.|
|Jason: Mild hop aroma present. More amber in color and style. Stronger malt presence with nice bitterness. More balanced, the hop character is not featured but still present.|
|Nathan: Reddish color with the type of caramel and toasted malt character you would expect to find in an American Red or Amber. The hop character is subtle and leans more toward a piney character than the other samples. There is a moderate level of bitterness with a dry, crisp finish. A well-balanced and easy drinking beer, but I expected a little more of a showcase for the hops. This beer would taste pretty much the same without going to the trouble of using wet hops.|
|Tim: This beer starts out with a very balanced slight toasted caramel malt and low citrusy hop aroma. Beer has beautiful amber color with a creamy off white head that lingered in the glass. This was very highly carbonated with crisp pleasant mouth feel. Had a strong bitterness and citrus flavor, but enough malt character to balance this beer out.|
After tasting and discussing each individual beer, we lined up a sample of each to determine a 1-5 ranking of each person’s preference. After tallying up the scores, our collective preferences averaged out to (drum roll please):
|Fifth Place: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest|
|Fourth Place: Upland Harvest Ale|
|Third Place: Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA|
|Second Place: Founders Harvest Ale|
|First Place: Three Floyds Broo Doo|
All of these examples were solid beers that exhibited a bit more diversity than we initially expected. The Three Floyds and Founders samples were the best examples of the hop showcase you typically expect from these beers and made at least the top three on each of our individual lists. Does that mean these are the beers we recommend? That might depend on what you prioritize when choosing a beer as these were also the most expensive beers we sampled (not to mention quite possibly the more difficult examples to find). In our shopping, Three Floyds Broo Doo ran $9.99 for a 22-ounce bomber and Founders Harvest Ale was nearly $7 for the two 12-ounce bottles we were able to score from the local liquor store rationing.
On the other hand, an argument could be made that Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA at $11.99/six-pack and Upland Harvest Ale at $10.99/six-pack represented better overall values. Our results would not make a strong recommendation for Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest as it was neither highly-rated or the cheapest at $6 for a 24-ounce bottle. But Sierra Nevada could very well be the best option for those who enjoy hoppy West Coast Red Ales like North Coast Red Seal (and it was Poppi’s favorite of the group, which is the vote that really matters).