Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Harvest time

While one of the main distinctions between the arts of brewing and winemaking lies within the winemaker's adherence to a yearly calendar of growing, picking, crushing, and bottling, whereas the brewer can get busy, well, whenever they want, there is a budding interest in seasonal brewing that seems to reflect food culture's widespread "seasonal ingredient" phenomenon. And, while there have been holiday beers and summer beers since time immemorial, the most recent incarnation of the "fresher is better" ethos is the autumnal "wet hop" brewing school.
Historically, hops have been used as a bittering and antiseptic agent in beer not only because they grow like weeds, but because they also - once dried - store quite well. Brewers in hop-growing regions, on the other hand, have also latched onto the ephemeral qualities of the freshly picked, green hop cone - an oily, resinous, piney quality whose attributes would best be understood by folks who have dealt with both dried and fresh versions of various herbs, like bay, sage, and rosemary.
Since the hops are picked, like grapes, at the exact moment when they're just right, brewers interested in making wet hop beers have to be quite flexible in their schedule to be prepared to brew on a moment's notice. For example, the brewers at Sierra Nevada recall the excitement around the early days of brewing their Harvest Ale, never knowing just when they'd be loading up the fresh hops and firing up the kettles. Deschutes' delicious new Hop Trip (above) is a wonderful example of what makes a fresh hop ale special; the thick layer of floral, piney aromatics that would typically cover a heavily bitter, bracing and harsh American IPA are in fact resting over a much softer, somewhat grassy and sweet pale ale that cuts to the essence of the hop in a way that resets your tastebuds to the first time they ever encountered that magical flower.
Interested in getting your tastebuds reset? Did I mention that this coming Saturday, Toronado's hosting it's very own wet hop festival?


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