Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Beer of the Moment - Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

A quick aside before I move on to the beer. Every time I sit down to write a Beer of the Moment, I inevitably start singing it to the tune of Asia's oh so catchy 80's super hit, Heat of the Moment. And now you can do the same. Maybe I can work up an entire song. "It was the beer of the moment, telling me what those hops meant". Well that's all I got so far.

Speaking of hops, (segue!) this moment's featured beer is a showcase of fresh hop taste. Eleven years ago, the folks at Sierra Nevada decided to brew a pale ale with 'wet' hops. How is this different you ask? Beers are traditionally brewed with dried hops that have been kilned to remove the moisture so that they can be preserved for use at a later date. This works out very well, but the drying process removes some of the natural resin and oil that is present. By brewing with freshly picked, or wet hops, you are able to retain the full flavor profile of the hop, which gives the beer a fresher, more oily hop taste. This is not an easy process, as hops begin to degrade as soon as they are picked. In order to retain the freshness of the hops, they are picked and shipped to the brewery where they must be ready to use the hops immediately. In Sierra Nevada's case, they get their hops from Yakima, Washington, which in turn are loaded on a truck that drives straight to Chico, California where they are unloaded and added to the boil, and all this usually happens within 48 hours. A few other brewers have followed suit, but there is obviously a catch. You have to be within close proximity to the hop source, so most fresh hop beers are produced by west coast breweries where a majority of the hops are grown.

Sierra has traditionally only released their Harvest Ale in kegs, but this year they decided to brew enough so that they could bottle it and distribute it nationally. Fortunately, we here in Asheville can pick up the special 24 ounce bottles, which are currently available at Bruisin' Ales and may be available elsewhere in limited quantities. The beer itself is a great testament to fresh hop taste. This is not a 'hop bomb', so those expecting some huge IPA may be disappointed. However, this beer is not lacking in hop flavor, and displays a wonderful herbal and grassy aroma. The hops dance on the tongue with an ever so slight bitterness, and a mild oily finish. This is a well balanced beer, and the malts provide a nice backbone to complement the hop flavor. Unlike some other beers, this is not meant to be laid down for any length of time. Drink this one as soon as possible, as the fresh hop taste will degrade over time. I have also seen this on tap in years past at both Barley's and Westville Pub, but this year you don't have to leave the house to try this wonderful beer.

Here is a direct link to Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale page, and if you scroll down you can watch a video that talks about the history of the beer. I am only aware of one other fresh hop beer that we will see here in Asheville, Great Divide's Fresh Hop Pale Ale, which should be available in the next couple of weeks.


  1. I’ve been dying to try this beer ever since I got wind of their plans to bottle it this year. I’ll be in the extreme NE corner of Georgia and the Highlands, NC area at the end of this month. Can you give me any leads on places near there that might have this (or other good beer) in that area? Thanks.

  2. Butch, check your email.