Wet Hop | Head Candy
“Most people with at least a passing familiarity with beer are aware of the term (and practice) of dry-hopping, wherein hops are added to a beer after the boil is complete so as to impart pure aroma. This can be done with a mesh bag (much as tea is steeped), a hop back, whirlpool or even a hop torpedo (as pioneered most famously by Sierra Nevada). But what is wet-hopping, and why are wet-hop beers such a fascinating subset of the wide world of brewing?
Hops, like any vegetal matter, must be preserved quickly after being picked, to avoid spoilage. Untreated, they will soon rot. Drying and curing the hopcones, most typically in a kiln (a process known, appropriately enough, as kilning) immediately after harvest, followed by refrigeration, will allow for a longer shelf-life so that brewing can continue all throughout the year. This is invariably the case regardless of whether the cones are left intact as whole cones or crushed and compacted into pellets... with the exception of wet hops.Wet hops (also known variously as fresh hops, or in the UK, green hops) are, quite simply, the newly-picked whole cones intended for immediate use in brewing. The ideal window from bine to brewhouse is only a few days, or better yet within just 24 hours.
Some enterprising or innovative breweries have managed to shrink the time to mere minutes, whether through growing hops on-site or planning logistically and meticulously for a lightning-fast transfer from farm to kettle. Because of this incredibly constrained schedule, the wet-hop season is really only possible in the early fall, after the Northern Hemisphere's hop harvest. Since the state of Washington produces the overwhelming majority of hops in this country (with an astonishing 75% coming from a single region - the Yakima Valley), the locus of wet-hopping is the Pacific Northwest, where huge festivals celebrate the harvest and the beers made from it every year.
The effect on the flavor of the beer is analogous to using fresh (versus dried) herbs and spices in cooking. Some drinkers are surprised to find that wet-hopped beers do not typically deliver a blast of bitter, resinous hoppiness to their palates. Instead, it is frequently delicate, refined and often very "green". The earthiness and grassiness of the hop-character is amplified immensely when added as wet-hops - you are truly smelling and tasting the agricultural product in its natural state. Texture is also affected; I find many wet-hopped beers to have a far more slick and oily mouthfeel than usual. This is befitting of a final product whose essential oils have not been broken down by the kilning and/or pelletizing process.
Wet-hops season is upon us! I encourage you to take the time in the following weeks to enjoy the profusion of wet-hopped beers hitting the market. Many are draft-only; those found in the bottle are unusually fragile and have an even shorter life-span than IPAs brewed the rest of the year, even under precisely the same handling conditions. Find out what varietals have been used in the ones you taste, as it is a clear and pure expression of that hop's character. You may well get to know your beer's ingredients to an extent you could not have previously imagined.”
- Gene Fielden