Seasonal beers are normally pretty fun. While a stout can still be great in the summer, it is especially satisfying to sip something toasty, boozy, and barrel aged by a fire on a frigid winter night. Same goes for the bright ales brewed for quaffability in the heat of summer – they taste great year round but man are they appealing after (okay...during) a long day of yard work in the sun.
Fall has its own seasonal offerings that pop up on tap lists and shelves this time of year. When the leaves start to change, most people think of pumpkin ales and German style Oktoberfests for their seasonal drinking needs. But hop heads across the country have their collective eyes on something else entirely – after all, it’s fresh hop season too.
Fresh hop beers (or alternatively wet hop or harvest ales) necessitate a fall release because they require hyper fresh harvested hops. And if those hops are coming from the Northern Hemisphere, that means brewing in late August into September. That’s good news for the anti-pumpkin crowd who needs something to bridge the gap from summer to winter drinking.
Wet hop beers use hops immediately after harvest, before they are dried or pelletized. This ensures the hop oils (where the characteristic hop flavors and aromas comes from) are at their peak. It also means a fast brew to distro timeline, unpredictability in the final product, and way more hop usage.
This creates an interesting dynamic in the brewing of fresh hop beers. Smaller and more agile breweries are better situated to deal with the final product’s short shelf life – think tap room releases or limited distribution. But the craft giants have all the connections and resources to get their hands on the type of supply necessary to brew these beers.
Founders Brewing certainly qualifies as a craft giant and has been trying its hand at the style with its annual release of Harvest Ale. Amazingly, they are also able to reach my area of their distribution with a beer bottled 9/26/17 in early October.
Every aspect of this beer tells you it was crafted with care and experience.”
Founders Harvest has the signature wet hop aroma that really can’t be compared to beers brewed with dried hops. It features a huge punch of extra bright citrus and floral notes that fade into more piney earthy aromas.
Harvest Ale is also a beautiful beer in the glass, or maybe I’m just projecting some of the brightness from the aroma into the appearance as well. Regardless, it’s a beer with the look and smell that hints at a memorable drinking experience.
The first taste immediately distinguishes this beer from both traditional and more New England style IPAs. It marries the fruit forward brightness of a hazy IPA with a 70 IBU wallop of bitter pine. A bit of orange and melon pair with lemony flavor spikes and copious amounts of that pine.
One of my least favorite wet hop flavors also creeps in, a vegetable-like quality that pairs with the pine to steer Founders Harvest into a place that is maybe a little too bitter and earthy. But earthiness is also just part of the style – a consequence of dumping pounds of freshly harvested hop cones into a beer.
All of these complex flavors play over a pleasant mouthfeel that is smooth and prickly at all the right times. It has the body and feel of beer in the 7-8% alcohol by volume range and that is exactly where it falls at 7.6%.
Every aspect of this beer tells you it was crafted with care and experience. While I’d maybe be more interested in a beer that turns down the pine and bitterness in favor of letting fruitier hops shine, this is still a balanced beer and a welcome respite from the sweet pumpkin spiced or malty Oktoberfest alternatives.