From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.
No longer relegated to a niche market, the popularity of prominent hop flavor in American beer has lovingly mutated from the crisp bitterness and note of grapefruit pith found in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to pine forest and tropical fruit practically written in the biology of Russian River Pliny the Elder.”Wet-hop” ales are perhaps the latest iteration of the insatiable hop craze let loose on the American craft beer landscape.
What is “Wet-Hopping?”
“Wet-hopping” as a phrase refers to the use of unprocessed, un-kilned (and therefore un-dried) hops in the brewing process. Much in the shape of a pine cone, the spine or strig of the cone is flanked on either side by bracts, the leaf-like outer covering of the hop flower. Lurking underneath the bracts are the lupulin glands — school bus yellow in color, these glands contain a multitude of acids, resins and volatile essential oils directly responsible for providing bitterness, flavor and aroma in beer.
Wet-Hops and Their Use in the Brew-house
While on the vine, hops retain roughly 80 percent of their weight in water. After harvest, hops are typically kiln-dried then compressed into bales and, finally, refrigerated. Wet-hops are harvested then almost immediately used, typically within days. By utilizing wet-hops, craft brewers attempt to capture the raw essence of the hop in its purest form, seeking to retain the aromatic compounds normally driven off during the boil. Moreover, the use of wet-hops maximizes hop flavor, inducing an intermingling perfume of everything from herbaceous grass to peachy stone fruit to pine needles, to tangerine and other citrus fruits. It’s tantalizing just thinking about the breadth of flavor lodged in this wonderful flowering perennial.
The Most Important Part: Where to Find Wet-Hopped Beer
Luckily, you and I can gladly indulge in a proud example of a wet-hopped beer, the beauty which we’re reminded of on an annual basis as we drink the autumn harvest. Below are three favorites, all can be found at your better Borderstan beer stores such as Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor (1529 Connecticut Avenue NW) and the Logan Circle Whole Foods (1440 P Street NW).
- Founders Harvest Ale (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale (Chico, CA)
- Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Denver, CO)
If you’re already busy this weekend, I suggest ditching your current plans and heading to Snallygaster. Although a bit outside Borderstan (near Nats Park), this event will likely prove to be the preeminent celebration of craft beer in our area this autumn. Look for an in-depth review of the event in the coming weeks — cheers!