What’s the deal with fresh and wet hop beers?

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of EU Jacksonville.

Hops have been used to flavor and preserve beer since the 8th century but didn’t become commonplace until around the 17th century. At the time, their use in beermaking was a disruptive innovation, allegedly provoking King Henry VIII to declare them “a wicked and pernicious weed” that would spell the end of beer. The American lust for the piney, resiny, citrusy, fruity flavors that hops are known for prove just how wrong the old monarch was, and probably why we never got along with England in the first place.

Belonging to the same family as marijuana and hemp, hops are the essential oil-rich cones of the Humulus lupulus plant that contribute bitterness and flavor to beer. Containing at least 300 different flavor and aroma compounds they are known to yield notes as diverse as berry, cheesy, citrusy and balsamic. There are over 100 varieties of hops used in brewing with new hybrids being created all the time.

Harvested only once a year, dried, and stored until use, the hops in your favorite IPA could be a year or two old by the time they reach the kettle, but not always. Fresh hopped beers use only freshly harvested hops, typically about a week off the bine. Naturally these hops contain far more essential oils and therefore more flavor.

Wet hopped beers on the other hand are never dried and must be used within 24 hours of harvest. They retain even more essential oils and resins that burst with flavor. Because of their perishability not every brewery is capable of brewing wet hop beers. While some larger breweries can afford to express ship hops across the country, you can expect that cost to carry over into the price of the beer. So if you’re in the market for a true representation of the style that won’t break the bank, look to breweries in the Pacific Northwest where a majority of American hops are grown. Sierra Nevada takes the hyperlocal approach to the max in their Estate Ale, using both “homegrown” malt and wet Chinook hops from their own backyard.

If you spot either one of these styles in the wild between now and the end of the year, snatch it up while you can because they’re only brewed once a year. And don’t even think about cellaring it because when it comes to fresh and wet hop beers, there’s only one rule – drink them fresh or they’ll lose their charm.

Here are a few fresh and wet hop beers you can expect to find in the Jacksonville market this season:

  • Sierra Nevada Harvest Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop IPA
  • Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown IPA
  • Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
  • Left Hand Warrior Fresh Hopped IPA
  • Two Brothers Heavy Handed Wet Hopped IPA
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