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Beer Reviews

Harvest Fresh Hop Ale

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Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, CA
USA
http://www.sierra-nevada.com

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)


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A quick confession before I begin: I love autumn in the Midwest. Come to think of it, I also love spring in the Midwest and summer in the Midwest, leaving only that son of a bitch known as winter as Nigel’s arch nemesis. Many of you are probably tired of my anti-winter rants, which were in overabundance this past year, so I will make this promise to you now, before the season gets underway: I, Nigel Aloysious Tanner, WILL NOT rant about winter this year. There, I said it. Not only were many (read: both) of my readers sick of hearing about it, but Emperor Eddie IV, supreme leader of the Beer Dorks, threatened to cut me off if I continued. I believe he eloquently worded it as such: “if you hate it so damn much then move, you (insert expletives here).” Fine, I get it, so let’s just move on.

Anyways, there are many things about a crisp Midwest autumn day that I enjoy, one of which would be a trip to the farmers market, or one of the little side-of-the-road produce stands that pop up in the rural areas. Pumpkins, gourds, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, corn, you name it—its great! The look, smell, and feel of those little stands reminds us all of another successful Midwestern harvest, despite the continued deterioration of conditions brought to us by our friend, Mr. Global Warming. My Danish Princess and I are looking forward to carving our pumpkins soon, with mine hopefully looking like a hop flower and hers undoubtedly looking like her knight in shining armor, Sir Nigel the Brave.

I also enjoy drinking the seasonal offerings that warm you on a crisp, autumn evening or refresh you on a bright, sunny afternoon as the trees glisten and the smell of freshly fallen leaves tingles the nostrils. Oktoberfest/Marzens, later followed by Dopplebocks, have that perfect, uniquely roasted taste that reminds you of fall. Thus far I’ve really enjoyed two new brews, Lakefront’s Focktoberfest (new to me, at least) and Goose Island’s Harvest Ale. Add in a number of other quality Midwestern Oktoberfests and seasonals and my first sample of 2007 Autumnal Fire, and it’s good to be Autumnal Nigel, even if he is a bit chilly.

On my most recent trip to my favorite good beer retailer, I discovered the 11th edition of Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale. I thoroughly enjoy most of Sierra Nevada’s brews, especially since they seem to love hops almost as much as Nigel does, which is not easy to do. I try to stay away from reviewing them, however, as they are in California and thus not really “Midwest craft beer.” As you may recall, I LOVED their Bigfoot Barley Wine (because it’s hoppy), as well as their Pale Ale (because it’s hoppy) and the Christmas-themed Celebration Ale (because it’s hoppy), so I was hoping they would be the first to make a hoppy Marzen, if that’s possible.

Well, that’s really not possible, since abundant hoppiness would alter the characteristics that make up a true Marzen, but Sierra Nevada did the next best thing. SN Harvest Ale is an IPA and therefore NOT dedicated to the typical fall harvest of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, but to that wonderful time of the year in the Pacific Northwest when they harvest the hops. Sierra Nevada Harvest Fresh Hop Ale debuted in 1996 as a way to showcase what a beer would taste like if it used fresh hops harvested the very day it’s brewed. That’s right; Sierra Nevada brews this beer the same day the hops are picked. SN claims that this makes the hops “thicker in natural hop resins, producing unmatched aromatics and layers of spicy-sweet notes that hop fanatics like us dream of all year.” As one of those “hop fanatics,” Nigel says “mission accomplished.”

It makes sense that “wet” hops (those used immediately after harvesting) would accentuate a beer more than the typically used “non-wet” hops. However, given the logistics of brewing, the use of wet hops is extremely difficult (SN says as much after stating they use 8,000 pounds of fresh hops in a single day: “it sounds insane because it is”). It would be virtually impossible to do that here in the Midwest, as hops aren’t grown on a large scale in this region. Having to ship them any distance in bulk eliminates the practicality of using wet hops, so we’re stuck with the old-fashioned version. Granted, the difference is likely fairly minimal, but psychologically it just seems so much better to use fresh-off-the-vine hops, and after all, perception is a big part of reality.

Harvest Ale pours beautifully, with a deep amber color that has a striking resemblance to an Oktoberfest. A nice, creamy head billows up, quickly settling into a lively trace that lingers throughout most of the drink. It truly looks like a beer should during this season.

The aroma is phenomenal, and clearly that’s largely due to the use of fresh hops. While it may be somewhat debatable as to the difference in flavor between wet and dry hops, the aroma is significantly enhanced when using freshly picked flowers. As Sierra Nevada claims, and I wholeheartedly agree, the natural resins and oils contained on a fresh hop flower create that clean, crisp aroma that send hopheads into a tizzy. While this aroma remains on a lesser level with dry hops, it can never be captured to the fullest extent as it is when you first snip the cone off of the hop vine. The overwhelming aroma of Cascade (perhaps Chinook and/or Centennial as well?) hops makes this a sweet, floral, aromatic dream.

The taste is fantastic, although this isn’t the hop monster you might expect after hearing how it’s brewed and inhaling massive amounts of Cascade aromas. Hoppy? Yes, no question, but very well balanced with a plethora of malt, both in sweet caramel and earthy, likely two-row barley form. The earthiness combines with a nice zest that is equal parts fruity and spicy, giving this a surprisingly complex flavor, one that I didn’t expect after seeing it was an IPA loaded with fresh Northwest hops. A nice, balanced, medium-bodied brew that goes down smooth, Harvest Fresh Hop Ale is a fantasy come alive for hopheads, and sure to be an enjoyable treat for any lover of good beer, regardless of style. Definitely pick up a bottle of this limited-edition brew should you see it, as it’s reasonably priced at $4 for a 24oz. bottle, and its an excellent beer with an interesting concept.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on October 31, 2007.
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