Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Almost Oz, definitely Chico, and seen in Alexandria: all wet

The 2008 Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale is a "wet-hopped" ale.

An American craft beer neologism, the term refers to a beer made with hops that are used in the brew kettle on the same day -- or close enough -- that they have been harvested. Commercial hops normally undergo a curing period, but not so-called wet hops. Beers made with them are intensely grassy and herbal, tasting as if biting into a fresh sprig of mint covered by a bale of newly mowed grass.

[Some beer lovers, in a love-hate relationship with wine, often unintentionally demean wet-hopped beers by falsely comparing them to the Beaujolais Nouveau wines of France, which are generally poor, insignificant, wines. Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale and others of its ilk are emphatically not insignificant beers. Go here for an earlier rant on that.]

Sierra Nevada can claim most of the credit for creating the first commercial fresh harvest beers. Beginning in 1996, the brewery arranged for shipment of hops from Pacific Northwest fields on the day they were harvested. The harvest is in Autumn. The 'wet-hopped' beers are released soon after.

But this year, Sierra Nevada has traveled to the seasonal and geographic antipode, New Zealand, for the uncured 'wet' hops for its 2008 Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale. And the brewery flew them in. this is the first time any American brewer has done such.

Hops from New Zealand have historically been pesticide-free, as has been most of its produce. Over a decade ago, I was using NZ Hallertau and Pacific Gem as aroma and character hops in beers at two different breweries. Lacking the typical catty, grapefruit aromas of US varietals, these hops may not appeal to many American craft beer lovers, but I was then (and am still) a fan of their distinctive piney/berry/citrus/medicinal herbal character.

So how is 2008 Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale? Delicious! A firm sweet malt character in balance with the basil/minty dark berry citrus character of the hops.

2008 Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale is allocated, in short supply. But, several stores in the DC-Baltimore-Richmond area do have this wonderful beer to sell ... at least at present. So don't wait too long.

I was alerted to the coming of this delicious thing by Nick Anderson, the "beermonger" at beer/wine store Rick's in Alexandria, Virginia.

Nick has recently begun writing both a blog at, and a weekly on-line column at The latter's inaugural piece featured a nice write-up on Clipper City Brewing, for which I'm a Territory Manager. Thank you, Nick.

[Baltimore Sun reviews Sierra's Southern Hemisphere.]

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