I love Pumpkin beers… don’t get me wrong. You don’t even want to get me started on how much joy I get from Oktoberfest season. But fresh hop beers (also called wet hop beer)? Holy hell, they are good. They might be one of the most under appreciated fall seasonals (in the circles that I frequent at least).

If you’re already lost, this is perfect. I wanna shed some light on this fantastic fall phenomenon.  Wet hopped beers are simple to explain – they are just beers made with hops that haven’t been dried out first.  That sounds easy, and simple, but most of the hops we are used to are processed first.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the story….

Sierra Nevada LogoFresh Hop History

It all started with Sierra Nevada (that’s a theme with quite a few things in craft beer). It’s been about 20 years since American wet hop beers first got their start at the California brewery. The story goes that Sierra Nevada brewer Steve Dresler was having a conversation with good friend (and hop merchant) Gerard Lemmons and the idea was proposed to try using fresh off the bine hops in a beer. Gerard mentioned that he’d heard of some European breweries trying the technique in very small quantities for special festivals and what have you.

The idea was unique…it was difficult, and it was exciting. This is exactly the type of thing that gets American craft brewers excited. So, the next season… they ran with it. We now have Sierra Nevada’s ‘Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale’ to thank this experiment for, along with hundreds of other fresh hop beers all across the country too.

Hop ConesWhat’s the Big Deal?

I mentioned how difficult these are to make, and how exciting they are, but the question of ‘Why?” might still be lingering. The biggest factor with wet hop beers boils down to time.  Freshness is almost always important when you’re talking about craft beer – but wet hops take this concept to an entirely different level.

We’re talking in most cases about a beer that is made with hops that were harvested the very same day from their happy little home on their bine.  Hops are a flower, and very delicate one, at that.  They start degrading around 24 hours from the point of picking, and if you really want to capture all those oils and resins you either need to process them, or freeze them or use ’em pretty fast.  It’s cool stuff.

When you use a fresh (also referred to as wet) hop, it lends an entirely different character to the beer.  Less intense to me, the hop character still has the same basic flavor compounds, floral, spicy, tangy and bitter notes… only more vibrant and earthy.  But what’s the real reason to use them?

Because this is craft beer.

Maybe this is just my opinion, but the difficulty of making a beer like this, is one of the big draws.  Craft beer pulls a lot of character from challenges, inspiration and fun.  Making a wet hop beer is a celebration of all those things.

Why Not?