Beyond love-it-or-hate-it Beaujolais Nouveau—which isn’t released until late November—the wine-drinking world can only pour promises (and prayers) during fall harvest.
But a growing number of brewers are forgoing traditional techniques and making drink-now delights from this year’s bounty.
Mid-August through early September is harvest season for hops, the flowering cones that provide beer with bitterness, aroma and flavor. Farmers rush to reap the fat, resinous flowers, drying them for use throughout the year.
These beer buds must be dried quickly because they typically lose potency within a day of being plucked. But preserving them comes at a price.
“They may last longer, but drying drives off a significant amount of the most fragrant oils,” says Victory Brewmaster Bill Covaleski.
To capture these aromas, Covaleski and others are adding fresh hops straight from the field into their bubbling beer tanks, a process dubbed wet hopping.
The result is a bitter-light beer boasting richer and more seductive citrus and tropical fruit notes than dry-hopped brews. Many even show a delicate green scent, like a trimmed lawn’s chlorophyll bouquet.
Most hops are grown in Washington and Oregon, so Pacific Northwest brewers have easy access; others are overnighting hops to breweries across the country so they can add them before they go bland.
Likewise, don’t dawdle when you spot a harvest beer. Brewing hops doesn’t preserve them—just like the buds, the aromas and flavors in the suds fade with each passing day.
“It’s a once-a-year flavor experience worth seeking out—and quickly acting on,” Covaleski says.
Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Since 2003, this Denver brewery has enlisted truckers to rush-deliver Washington hops, which give this pale ale its grassy, citrusy verve.
Deschutes Hop Trip Pale Ale
Within four hours of packing up recently picked hops from Oregon farmer Doug Weather, this Bend, Oregon brewer dumps the flowers into kettles, creating this citrusy, appealingly sipper.
Victory Harvest Ale
Loaded with the lush, juicy flavors of ripe apricots and grapefruits, the tropical and elegantly sweet Harvest Ale receives its fruity profile from whole-flower Citra and Mosaic hops.
Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest IPA
For nearly 20 years, the trailblazing Californians at Sierra Nevada have cranked out a range of peak-freshness beers like this gently caramel-sweet IPA with aromas of pine resin, lemon and grapefruit.
Sixpoint Sensi Harvest Ale
Named after the Spanish phrase for “seedless” (female hop flowers lack seeds), the coppery Sensi relies on piny, woodsy Simcoe and floral, citrusy Cascade hops for its signature flavors.