Forget pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests, the true fall seasonals are the fresh and wet hop beers. Used interchangeably, the term refers to a beer hopped with hops fresh off the bine. Due to the quick deterioration of hops, most are kilned and dried immediately in order to preserve freshness. Without this process, beer would be much more like wine, only able to be made during a small window of time each year. But every year when the hop harvest begins, typically in September or October, a small portion of the freshly-picked hops is set aside to immediately make its way into beers. These hops are often flown across the country to be placed immediately in already boiling beer. The result is a hoppy beer with a distinctly fresh taste. There’s a slightly more green component to these beers that can only be enjoyed for a few weeks at a time.
While the majority of fresh hop beers are produced in the Pacific Northwest due to the proximity of the hop fields, the increase in hop growing outside of that region and the ability to transport the hops by plane has lead to more and more fresh hop beers appearing elsewhere. The Midwest happens to have two great examples, Founders Harvest Ale and Lagunitas Born Yesterday Pale Ale.
Almost every fresh hop beer is some variation of a pale ale or IPA. These styles best allow the fresh nature of the hops to shine through and Harvest Ale and Born Yesterday are no exceptions. But despite both beers sharing a style, they vary quite dramatically.
Harvest Ale leans towards the IPA side of the style, with 70 IBUs and 7.6% ABV. It’s a clear beer with a frothy thick white head and a traditional American hop aroma that blends citrus and pine. The hop bill changes each year, but this year’s drinks like grapefruit pith with a pine edge, all backed by toasted malt. There’s a certain fresh cut grass presence as well that let’s you know this was freshly hopped. Founders is a beneficiary of the increased hop harvest in Michigan and gets some of the hops used in Harvest Ale locally.
Born Yesterday represents the new wave of American hopped beers. A pale ale, although mostly in name only, Born Yesterday comes in at 7% ABV and a whopping 110 IBUs. Despite that increased IBU count, the perceived bitterness is less than that of Harvest Ale. Born Yesterday also arrives unfiltered, contributing a juicy twist. The aroma practically leaps out of the glass, a melange of papaya, mango, and pineapple with a slight green onion note from the Mosaic. Amarillo and Equinox join the readily apparent Mosaic, along with other unnamed varieties, to create a Petaluma/Chicago take on the burgeoning New England IPA style. It’s a cloudy beer, although nothing like a milkshake, with an extreme juiciness and high degree of drinkability.
Harvest Ale and Born Yesterday provide a glimpse at the wide range of flavors and approaches that make up the fresh hop style. For a more traditional, classic approach, the Harvest Ale delivers superbly. And for a readily accessible take on the hard to find and harder to pull off cloudy, unfiltered New England style wave of beers, Born Yesterday performs brilliantly.