Around the Green household, Fall means three things:
2) Chili (It's Mindy's signature dish.)
3) A new batch of freshly hopped pale ales
Two of those really just pertain to me. Mindy might like the changing of the leaves or something like that.
For many beer lovers, Fall means a series of pumpkin-flavored ales. There's nothing wrong with those...they're tasty enough. But for me, it's all about the wet-hopped harvest beers.
Here's how they work: a small portion of hops harvested every Fall are shipped directly to breweries and thrown into the beer making process as early as possible. Here's the description from Deschutes Brewery's website:
"...Fresh Hop Pale Ale is all about celebrating the hop harvest in the fall. Fresh picked hops have to be added to the brew immediately and in abundance. Roughly 680 pounds of Crystal hops from Doug Weathers' farm outside Salem, Oregon will be added to each 120 barrel batch in addition to some dry kilned whole flower hops. That adds up to approximately 5.7 pounds of hops per barrel brewed."The wet-hopping provides a crisp, clean and lively flavor, and the end result is lip-smackingly good.
More and more breweries are introducing their own wet-hopped ales, but I've only been able to try four of them this year. Fortunately, those four are from some very established breweries. We'll start with last year's best.
Hop Harvest Ale - Bridgeport Brewing (Portland, OR)
Bridgeport is a serviceable brewery, though I'll never forgive them for renovating their restaurant from a cozy pub with amazing hot wings to another sleek and manufactured Pearl District abomination.
But last year, Bridgeport outdid themselves. Their 2007 Hop Harvest was the best of the medium, delightful and bursting with flavor.
This year, the batch isn't quite the same. Hop Harvest is still crisp, but there are a series of oddly mismatched flavors here. The bottle boasts "From field to tank in one hour", much faster than most breweries could claim, but it's just a bit off.
But this is in comparison to last year. Even an off year for Bridgeport's best brew is dang good.
12th Release Harvest Wet Hopped Ale - Sierra Nevada Brewery (Chico, CA)
Sierra Nevada is another brewery known more for wide-flung and mediocre beers. Like Bridgeport, they've got the wet-hopped thing down pretty pat, and they've embraced the hop harvest movement with their Harvest Series.
Their Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, taken from New Zealand hops and released during the Spring and Summer, wasn't great. The American version is much better. Sierra Nevada does an excellent job with consistency on their wet-hop ales, and 2008's rendition is no exception. It's a good quality beer, but it won't knock your socks off. On the plus side, it's available here in Phoenix, so I'm assuming it's more widely available than the other beers on this list.
Lupulin Fresh Hop Ale - Full Sail Brewing (Hood River, OR)
Lupulin is, I'm sure, the most unique name for wet-hopped ales. Unfortunately, it's also the worst, like a glorified lager. I'd like to root for my fellow Oregonians, but they've got to do better than this. If it's the only wet-hopped beer you can buy, wait until next year.
Hop Trip - Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR)
Last year, this beer was just decent. This year, it's the best.
Deschutes' offer is complex and even creamy, a strange attribute for a wet-hopped ale, but it's also absolutely fantastic. I tasted Hop Trip and Lupulin together, so it's possible the rush of deliciousness from Hop Trip unfairly tainted Full Sail's example. Still, Hop Trip was excellent. If you can find it, get some.