Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fresh-hopped is not Nouveau

Fresh hop beers —sometimes called wet hop beers— are named for their liberal infusion with just-picked hops, still wet from the fields, rushed to the brewery. Those U.S. breweries close to hop fields —such as in Oregon and Washington— can arrange timely pickup and delivery. Those further afield will pay the postage.

Homegrown hops

In an essay posted at, here's how Andy Sparhawk describes them:

Fresh hop beer (FHB) comprises a loose category of beers that utilize "green" hops of the yearly harvest. Adding fresh hops to a recipe produces a character in beer that cannot be duplicated at any time other than during the hop harvest. Often the freshly picked hops go into the brewing process within a few short hours, depending on the source of these hops.

Fresh-hopped beers show a juicy grassy 'greeness' that is quite striking. Beers brewed with 'standard' hops —cured for storage and shipping stability— have less that and more a spicy and floral tone (and citrusy, in the case of US hops).

Some farmers and 'farm-breweries' are attempting to revive small-scale hop-growing in areas where it has become moribund, such as the mid-Atlantic and upstate New York. Fresh-hop beers there will be true harvest ales, rather than expected commodities, Sparhawk points out.

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

So far, so good.

But then, Sparhawk pulls out a nonsensical trope. Maybe, it's not his fault: I've heard other 'beer' people do the same. He equates the rush of hops from field to brewery to the rush of Beaujolais Nouveau wine from wineries in Burgundy, France, to wine shops here and elsewhere.

Like the Beaujolais Nouveaux, fresh hop beers are best experienced fresh, the brewing process itself though, depends on the brewer.

The beer, yes; the wine, no!

To be clear: Beaujolais (without the 'Nouveau' appendage) is a red wine fermented from the Gamay grape, fully matured in fermenter or barrel. It is a wine of bright acidity with hints of dark cherries in flavor. From good Crus, it can be a wine of great character and depth.

Beaujolais Nouveau —literally translated as "new Beaujolais"— is wine that is rushed, immature, just barely fermented, with little maturation, and often sourced from inferior grapes from lesser vineyards. It is thin and acidic, and without much flavor, depth, or complexity. It is a pressing of grapes for a quick Euro, a marketing gimmick, albeit a successful one (if less so, recently). To make any comparison between fresh-hopped beers and Beaujolais Nouveau is imply that the rush of freshly picked hops to breweries is a similar attempt to make a quick buck.

To even seem to imply an equivalence between marvelously aromatic and complex fresh-hopped beers and insipid Beaujolais Nouveau is, at best, silly. At worst, it is wine envy.

Coming as it does from Andy Sparhawk —who is the (U.S.) Brewers Association's Craft Beer Program Coordinator, a Certified Cicerone®, and a BJCP Beer Judge— it is distressing.

Stop it!

  • Sparhawk does go on to nicely review several commercial fresh-hopped ales, and interview brewers about the process.
  • In my neighborhood, northern Virginia brewpub Mad Fox brewed an IPA of 7% alcohol by volume (abv), they called 2 Hemispheres. They purchased freshly-picked Australian Galaxy hops through their hop merchant, paying a premium cost for them. For the 'second' hemisphere, they purchased freshly picked Oregon Citra hops, and paid the freight themselves. The hops cost $825; the shipping almost double that at $1500.

1 comment:

  1. When I've made similar comparisons in the past, I've been careful to point out that the similarity is in the HYPE and the marketing built around the rush to market and "freshness," not the flavors. Also, there are people who will enjoy a fresh/wet-hopped beer and those who won't, and there are well-made ones and not-so-well-made ones--just as with Beaujolais Nouveau.

    But I think you're kidding yourself if you don't concede that ALL such beers are, indeed, "marketing" gimmicks. Sure,it's fun, interesting, different, and even tasty, but it's still all a way to get you, the hop fiend or BeerAdvocate/RateBeer junkie, to buy a beer.


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