While cool, blustery fall weather stirs longings for steaming cups of apple cider, beer lovers have a reason to drink to the season: fresh-hop beer, a libation that's as fleeting as it is delicate.
August and September signal harvest season for hops, the flower cones that provide beers' bitter flavors. Generally, plucked hops are dried and sent into storage, losing aromatic oils and resins in the process. But a small portion of fresh hops are hustled to breweries in a race against time -- like grass clippings, the hops quickly degrade and decompose.
"Our hops come in by truck, typically in the middle of the night, and we begin brewing within an hour of arrival," says Bill Manley, communications coordinator for Sierra Nevada. "We don't stop brewing until all of the hops are gone, 24 hours a day -- our kettles actually begin to warp toward the end of the week from the constant heat."
But the potential destruction is worth the payoff: Harvest Wet Hop Ale, now in its 13th year of altering drinkers' perception. "Wet-hopped beers can sometimes take a first-time drinker by surprise," Manley says.