Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. Unlike most craft beer styles that can be brewed any time of year (save for true, spontaneously-fermented Belgian lambic, made only in cold months), the U.S.’s most seasonal brews are fall’s fresh hop beers, brewed in August and September and rarely available much past October. Especially popular in the hop growing areas of Washington's Yakima and Columbia Valleys and Oregon's Willamette Valley, here’s how it works: Hops—the delicate, green, pine cone-like flowers that give beer its bitterness and aroma—will rot if not used or dried properly after picking. To make the very most of their fleeting summer beauty, brewers take whole hop flowers picked no more than 24 hours prior and plunge them into a batch, mid-brew.
Executed properly, the process imparts waves of fresh, floral, grapefruity, almost minty aroma to beer, a mouth-watering effect that really endures only a few weeks—at best. “It’s like the difference between dried basil and fresh basil,” says Todd Haug of Minnesota’s Surly Brewing. Where to find them? It’s easier in the Pacific Northwest, where entire festivals are dedicated to the brews; check out these in Washington and Oregon) but more and more brewers around the country are going to great lengths to grow or obtain their own über-fresh hops. Oregon's Bridgeport, Laurelwood, Deschutes, Rogue, Full Sail, and California's Sierra Nevada (which, like Rogue, grows its own hops) are all proven masters of the art.
What’s your favorite fresh hop brew? Tell us below.