One of the things that beer geeks pay attention to are special releases of highly sought after beers. There are various styles of beer that are released seasonally, like pumpkin beers or Christmas beers, but here I’m talking about something at an entirely different level. There are some beers that once they hit the stores are completely sold out within anywhere from a few days to a few hours. In the midwest one such anticipated release is Founder’s Harvest Ale, a wet hopped IPA.
Before going on let’s briefly delve into beer vocabulary 101. What do I mean by wet hopped, aren’t all beers both wet and hopped? A wet hopped beer is one where fresh hops are added directly to the fermenting beer (hops are also used during the boil as is done for all beers). The generally accepted guideline is that the hops should be added to the beer within 24 hours of being harvested, which is precisely the reason why wet hop beers are only available for very short periods of time in the fall (although Sierra Nevada does offer a Northern Hemisphere Harvest that comes out in the fall and a Southern Hemisphere Harvest that comes out in the spring). Wet hopped beers have very fresh, green aromas. The smell is reminiscent of holding a fresh picked hop nugget in your hand. There is a related class of beers called fresh hopped or dry hopped. These are made by adding dried hops to the beer as it ferments, which is something that can be done year round. Both approaches add fragrant hop aromas to the beer, but I think most people believe that wet hopping has a more dramatic impact.
Last year I picked up a 4-pack of Founder’s Harvest Ale at the Giant Eagle supermarket. My recollection is that the beer was available for about 1 week, but maybe I just got lucky and went in on the right day. I found it to be very unique (compared to year round offerings of IPAs) and I’ve been keeping an eye out for this year’s release, by following beer sites to see when it might hit the stores. I’ve been asking about it at stores for about 2 weeks and everyone just says it should be coming soon. Yesterday on the way home I stopped at Weiland’s Market to see if it might have hit the shelves. Just like every other time I’ve stopped there was no Harvest Ale to be seen. I spoke to one of the clerks and asked him if they might have any. He said that they did, but I needed to give the password from their Twitter account to get a bottle. This was a problem because I don’t have a twitter account. He told me that I could speak to his supervisor and see if he would sell me some. When I did speak to the supervisor he told me I could get some, no password needed. He went into the backroom and came out with a single 12 oz bottle. Apparently Weiland’s was only able to get one case of Harvest Ale from Founders. It cost $3.50 for a single bottle, but on a per bottle basis that’s about what it cost last year. Thanks to Weiland’s Market for doling it out one bottle at a time (or else I would never have scored a bottle), and for not forcing me to get a twitter account.
- Brewery: Founders (MI)
- Style: American IPA (7.6% ABV)
- Price: $3.50 for a single 12 oz bottle
What about the taste? Was the beer worth the hype? The label on the beer says it was bottled on October 12, so this beer is only 11 days old. It pours a deep golden color, clear but translucent, with 1-2 fingers white head that settles out pretty quickly. The highly aromatic smell is probably the best feature of this beer (that’s true of wet hopped beers in general). The best way I can describe it is to say it smells like fresh cut hay or grass that mingle with hemp/pine resin aromas that come from the fresh hop oil. The aroma is definitely distinct from IPAs that you can get year round. The taste is fresh and crisp, the grassy and hemp flavors come through strongest just as they do on the nose. The bitterness is just right to give it a crisp clean mouthfeel, but it’s not an overly bitter beer for an IPA, and the bitterness does not linger on the tongue. The malts are there to keep the balance but really they take a backseat in to the hops.
Compared to everyday IPAs I find this to be a unique take on the IPA style and a very well crafted beer. It captures the essence of fresh hops beautifully. If available year round I wouldn’t necessarily drink it all the time, but it’s a nice fall treat. If you come across this beer, buy as much as you can and then call me. If you can’t get Founders Harvest Ale look out for other wet hopped ales. Sierra Nevada’s Harvest, Three Floyds Broo Doo, Deschutes Hop Trip, Ninkasi’s Total Crystallization, and Terrapin’s So Fresh and So Green, are some other examples of wet hopped ales.
Rating = 8
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.