As you read this, you may find yourself enjoying a crisp Oktobertest. Tis the season, right? Certainly, there are no other beer styles on the shelves right now that are as “seasonal” as the beloved Oktoberfest, right? Well, we would both be wrong if we thought that.
Rejoice! It’s also wet-hop beer season.
What is a wet-hopped beer?
Wet-hopping (also referred to as fresh-hopping) is a brewing process that requires fresh hops be harvested, transported, and used in a brew within 24 hours. It’s a style of IPA that has gained consistent popularity with American brewers (and American consumers) in the last few years for its scarcity as well as its powerful flavor impact.
Hops in the Northern Hemisphere are harvested in late August and into September, so using fresh, wet hops is an opportunity that only comes once per year that breweries must seize quickly. But as Rhinegeist Brewing (Cincinnati) points out in their Wet Hop IPA description, wet-hopping is a “difficult but delicious” endeavor. Hop farms don’t operate on an Amazon next-day-delivery model, so breweries tend to invest heavily in the transportation of hops for the opportunity to brew a wet-hopped beer.
More about hops
A quick hop primer: Think of hops as seasoning for a beer. Like the basil, garlic or thyme in your kitchen, hops can be dried, compacted into pellets and stored for long periods of time. This hop pellet process is the traditional way breweries make beers year-round.
However, hops – like those kitchen cabinet seasonings – can also be harvested and used immediately. This is wet hopping. Wet hops – newly picked and full of moisture – are used quickly to make the beer as lively and full of hop resin as possible.
The watch-out-for is that freshly picked hops, like freshly harvested seasonings, will go bad and lose their pleasant aromatic and flavor qualities once exposed to oxygen. This makes it critical that brewers get the whole hop cones into their beer as soon as possible (yup, within 24 hours) to ensure their beers absorb the strongest, freshest and healthiest elements of the hop.
How does wet-hopping affect flavor?
Like most aspects of brewing beer, there isn’t one answer here, but generally speaking, fresh hops give beer a “green” chlorophyll-like, perfumey, resiny and minty aroma and flavor. Hops thrown into a brew early in the process – as wet hops are – also add bitterness to the beer. It is possible to wet hop without adding too much bitterness, but as Allagash Brewing (Maine) points out in their own blog post on wet-hopping, why go to all the trouble of picking fresh hops if you’re not going to experience them in all their hoppy glory?
If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of this means wet hop beers should be kept refrigerated and enjoyed as soon as possible. Over time, that fresh hoppy goodness will degrade – like a basil plant left out too long on your counter – leaving you with undesirable off-flavors, bad bitterness, and beer stank.
A quick note on dry-hopping
You’ve likely also heard of “dry-hopping.” So what’s the difference? In a hop-cone (our new very cool way of saying “in a nutshell”), wet-hopping refers to the physical nature of the hops when they are used in the brew. They’re wet. Dry-hopping refers to when the hops were added to brew, specifically that they were added very late in the brewing process, which helps boost hop aroma, but not necessarily flavor or bitterness.
Like with dry-hopping, you can also add wet hops to beers at the end of the process when the brew is cool and finished. This is called wet-dry-hopping. (No, really!) But that’s a topic for another day.
Anyway, as you gaze longingly into the Oktoberfest in your hand, remember that you have a second hand to hold another seasonal beer. Better get it wrapped around a wet-hop beer today, otherwise, you’ll be waiting around for another year.
This post was penned in collaboration with Erik, our bar manager. Kudos and photo credit can be sent his way.
If you’re looking for other unique brews, check out these 5 overlooked craft beer styles in our cooler.