Reap the harvest bounty.
People in the northeastern US often have a negative outlook on autumn. It’s the signal of summer’s end and the harbinger of another grey, cryogenic winter. It’s the time where everything dies.
But autumn is also a time to reap the rewards of the growing season, in beer as well as food. September marks the end of the year’s hop harvest, and craft brewers across the nation are rolling out their annual harvest ales.
The term “harvest ale” is more of a catchall than a definer of style. Every brewery’s example is different. In a general sense, they tend to be strong pale ales with complex hop character and a “fresh” grassy essence. Brewers also often use the harvest ale as a chance to show off their hop chops.
For example, the Harpoon brewery of Boston, Massachusetts is putting out a “wet hopped” harvest ale. Normally, picked hops are dried and refrigerated to keep them fragrant and preserved for year-round brewing. If the hops are left as they come off the vine, they quickly lose their potency and character as the oils break down.
If the brewer can dump them in the beer soon after picking, though, the reward is a significantly more intense presence of the entire hop fragrance and flavor, not just its more bitter qualities.
Harpoon’s Glacier Harvest Wet Hop Ale also has a strong local connection; the 600 pounds of fresh hops were picked at Pedersen Farms in Seneca Castle, about 40 minutes from Rochester.
Lakewood, New York’s Southern Tier Brewing Company has also released their Harvest Ale, which really pushes the grassy, newly-mown hay character to the fore. Southern Tier has also managed to squeeze a great deal of citrus character out of their hops, and this manifest self as an astringent, almost grapefruit character that meshes well with the beer’s dry malt flavor
Tap handles are also beginning to appear for Rohrbach Hop Harvest Ale, brewed and shamelessly plugged by Beercraft co-columnist Bruce Lish. Intended as a more subtle alternative to wet-hopped beers, Hop Harvest has a surprising malt body for a beer so pale, nicely balanced with a blend of challenger, Chinook, and East Kent Goldings hops.
Monty’s Korner, Monty’s Krown and The Old Toad are carrying a limited-release cask-conditioned version of Rohrbach Hop Harvest. This features a secondary dry-hopping using hops grown at the Ogden brewery.
By the way, brewers’ use of New York State hops is significant. Once the largest producer of hops in the nation, disease and prohibition extincted the state’s hops industry in the 1950s. It wasn’t until 2004 that a beer was once again brewed using only New York State hops.
And that highlights the harvest ale paradox: As everything begins to wither and die, we craft beer lovers get to partake in some of the freshest-flavoered, most vibrant beer of the year. Sometimes it isn’t so bad to reap what’s been sown
In Other Beers
Craft beer lovers will be paying more for their beer. The worldwide hop harvest is falling short of expected yield, and two kiln fires have severely damaged key U.S. hop processing facilities. It looks like there will be at least a threefold increase in the cost of hops this year. You can bet those costs will be transferred right on down to the consumer.
This could affect not only the price of the beer in your glass, but the very existence of some smaller craft breweries who suddenly find vital hop supplies unavailable. Expect many producers of big, hop-heavy extreme ales to find a new emphasis on more balanced styles that don’t require the same hop tonnage to produce.
While this will be viewed as a catastrophe by hopheads, we just might see a revival by American brewers of traditional European styles, which will only boost the prestige and credibility of American craft brewing in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.wordpress.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.