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As we head into Fall here in San Diego the leaves might not change much, but the beers available on beer shelves around the county sure do. Gone are the lighter summer seasonals and out come the darker beers that are more fitting for the Fall season including: Oktoberfest/Märzen and pumpkin pie spiced beers. But there’s one group of beers that comes out in the fall out of necessity, there’s a short window at the end of summer and beginning of Fall these beers can be brewed, these are fresh hop, or sometimes called wet hop beers.

Hop Pellets

Hop Pellets

To understand the fresh hop beers you have to understand hop production. Hops are an herb that are harvested once per year at the end of summer (technically hops are harvested twice per year, once in the Northern Hemisphere and once in the Southern Hemisphere, but we’re going to ignore the Southern Hemisphere for the sake of explanation). Once harvested hops are delicate and must be used in their fresh form very quickly (which is why not many Northern Hemisphere brewers make fresh hop beers with Southern Hemisphere hops, although Sierra Nevada has done it). In order to brew beer year round most of the hops harvested are dried and formed into pellets or plugs, this allows them to last longer. The vast majority of beers are made with these dried hop pellets.

Fresh hop beers are often Pale Ales or IPAs, but typically not as bitter as their more common counterparts made with dried hops in order to better showcase the fresh hops which can often be more bright and fragrant. Depending upon the hop variety used the beers can showcase more herbal, floral, grassy and even fruity characteristics. It can be hard to describe and sounds kind of silly, but often compared to traditional beers made with hop pellets these beers just taste more fresh.

Fresh Hops

Fresh Hops

Locally there are a handful of breweries making fresh hop beers. Port Brewing Company released Fallbrook Estate Pale Ale a few weeks ago, made entirely with hops grown in North County. This one is pretty limited and is draft only and available only at the brewery, it’ll go quick (if it isn’t gone already).

Port Brewing Company also produces High Tide an IPA every year. This one does make its way into bottles and hits distribution so it should be easier to find. Check out pictures of Port’s Tomme Arthur’s trip to Yakima, Washington to pick out the hops for this year’s batch.

Ballast Point releases their Schooner Fresh Hop Ale 2011 today. It’s a 5.4% ABV American Pale Ale that is only available on draft. It will be at both Ballast Point locations until it runs out, I’m not sure if they’ll be sending kegs out to other bars and restaurants.

Hess Brewing Company brewed two fresh hop beers this year, both called Wet Coaster IPA. One uses Centennial and Amarillo hops while the other is a single hop brew using only Crystal hops. The first version was released last week, no word on if they have any left or not as for today (9/22) Hess still has some of the Centennial and Amarillo hopped version of Wet Coaster available, and they’re planning on releasing the second all Crystal version tomorrow. Hess brews in small batches so check with them before hand to see if it’s available before making a special trip.

The Pizza Port brewpubs often brew fresh hop beers. Get Wet IPA is at Pizza Port Ocean BeachLow Tide a Pale Ale is at Pizza Port Solana Beach and Plant to Pint made with fresh Centennial, Cascade, Amarillo, and Simcoe is available at Pizza Port Carlsbad.

Fresh hop beers from Sierra Nevada, Great Divide and others usually make their way to San Diego in bottles, just make sure to drink them fresh like they’re intended to be had!

A note about the term “wet hop” and the process of “dry hopping” beers. Dry hopping means adding hops (in any form, fresh, dry, pellets, etc) to the beer after the boil while it is fermenting. This is done to add hop aroma. The term wet hop typically just refers to beers made with fresh hops. A fresh hop beer can be “dry hopped” with fresh hops, and some brewers choose to use the term “wet hop” instead of “fresh hop”. Kinda confusing ain’t it?

Got any questions about fresh hop beers? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Images used under Creative Commons license. Fresh hops: _Dekan_, Hop Pellets: epicbeer

Updated 9/22/2011 at 4:07pm