Smaller harvests mean fewer wet hop beers
It’s harvest season, and beer is an agricultural product that includes harvesting hops. Breweries usually purchase hops from a supplier, sometimes even visiting hop fields or processing plants as part of the decision-making process.
Hops from suppliers are usually dried, or “kilned,” and often pelletized, before being used in a beer. A very small percentage of hops, however, are picked fresh and immediately added to beer, which is called a “wet hop” beer. Wet hopped beers are usually very flavorful and more aromatic with sharp or earthy notes.
Making a wet hop beer can take a lot of effort. Last year, for example, DC Brau’s Chris Graham drove to Michigan to gather freshly picked Crystal hops, which were used to create their “Crystallion,” a hazy pale-gold IPA.
This year only a few examples of the style were available locally. According to Dave Whipple of Whipple Creek Farms in Virginia, local hop crops had a hard year.
“This was a very challenging year for growing hops in Virginia,” Whipple says. “It seemed like the majority of growers in the region had very low yields this year. This can be attributed to the extreme heat that we experienced in late June. There were several days above 100 degrees which seemed to stress our hop plants during the end of the ‘burr phase’ or hop cone development.”
Fresh Cascade hops from Whipple Creek are the featured ingredient in Bluejacket’s “Darling Buds: Cascade” pale ale, one of the few true wet hop ales in the region this year. This is the fifth year Bluejacket has brewed a version of this beer, adding the hops within 24 hours of harvesting.
Other breweries are planning workarounds to address their fresh hop needs. Dynasty Brewing in Ashburn will be producing a harvest ale in which every ingredient will be sourced from Virginia.
“We brewed with pelletized local Chinook hops and freshly harvested and lightly dried Comet whole flower hops. Definitely a harvest beer, [but] not sure if we can call it a ‘wet hop’ beer,” notes head brewer Favio Garcia.
3 Stars Brewing is also making a beer that contains some fresh hops. Called simply “Wet Hop,” the IPA is available on draft in their taproom and cans in local craft beer stores.
Across the Chesapeake Bay, things are looking a little better. Black Narrows’ Josh Chapman cites a hotter and drier than normal late summer on the Eastern Shore for a “good, but not great” hop harvest, noting that the fourth year Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget hops his brewery uses are juicier than their Pacific Northwest counterparts.
Overall, it’s looking unlikely that local breweries can satisfy your fresh hop itch this year, but better beer stores in the area will bring in Sierra Nevada Wet Hop Northern Hemisphere and Estate Harvest beers. Founders, Lagunitas, and Terrapin, among others, will also have wet hop offerings.
Let’s hope that the 2020 harvest season is kinder to the locals.