Sunday, September 09, 2007

Wine Envy: wet hops

Wet Hop ales are the beer world's equivalent to wine's beaujolais nouveau. Fresh choice unprocessed and barely handled hop cones are plucked from the vine and transported and added to a brew as soon as possible resulting in a level of hop flavor tastes you just don't find in any other style.

No, no, no! This oft-repeated comparison between beers of complex flavors and wines of insipid character is a fallacious and, to me, aggravating analogy. Stop it, already.

Beaujolais Nouveau wines might be amusing wines, but they are not great wines. They are immature, often sweet or acidic, wines of no real distinction, except maybe as a winemaker/marketer's brilliant idea to bring attention to the Gamay grape* (or possibly to vinify a deficient crop).

Wet-hop ales, however, are very complex and flavor-rich. They incorporate hops that have been only recently harvested ... and lots of them. Often it's mere hours from the fields to the brewkettles.

To compare the two shows a wine envy and a wine ignorance that beer adherents should not, and need not, express. Beer is beer; it is not wine. Take pride in that and stop these silly comparisons!

My good friends at Whole Foods treat me and Clipper City Brewing Company very well. This is a photo from a recent in-store demonstration. The beer manager had asked me to hawk my beers and to discourse on beer itself.

So, if only for a minute as Professor Thomas Cizauskas, let me continue about wet-hopping.

First, it's a silly term, just as dry-hopping is. All beer is wet.

Second, I believe (as do others in the hop industry) that hops gain character from a bit of curing. I like the taste of raw food, but I prefer the taste that food gains when cooked.

A friend in the beer retail business (not Whole Foods) recently showed me a bottle of a new West Coast highly hopped beer. He said, "It's out-of-balance. You won't like it." He missed the point.

I may feel that many of these hop bombs do indeed lack subtlety and beauty. But they are fun. They are a counterpoint; they are a spice. They bring contrast.

And I'll enjoy one.

But then, just as meat-eaters enjoy a steak with enough salt added to bring out the flavor of the beef, I'll return to a beer brewed with enough hops to bring out the incredible flavor of fermented malt. Hops are a spice, an herb, a flavor enhancer, not the flavor itself.

After you muck about in your mash of wet hops, come, my lad, and have a beer.


(By the way, Cru Beaujolais is a very different wine from Beaujolais Nouveau. Relative to Bordeaux, or the rest of Burgundy, it's quite the price bargain. With its bright cherry-fruit flavors and wonderful food-mating acidity, it's a tasty mate for turkey. Or simply for sipping!

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