Pumpkin beers arrived in August, and Oktoberfest beers hold sway at many of Charlotte’s breweries. But what of that other fall seasonal, the wet-hop beer?
Brewed with freshly harvested hops, wet-hop beers showcase a distinct hop character that dried hops often can’t match. There’s a reason, however, that you don’t see many examples here in the Carolinas. Most consider a wet-hop beer to be one that is brewed within 24 hours of the hops being plucked from the bine (yes, hops grow on bines, not vines). And since the world’s largest hop-growing region is thousands of miles away in Washington’s Yakima Valley, that presents a challenge to brewers on the opposite coast.
“It is logistically a scary, shaky time,” says Chad Henderson, head brewer and co-owner at NoDa Brewing Co. “But at the same time, it’s an awesome product that comes out of it. It’s one of our favorite beers.” Henderson is speaking of Sticky When Wet, which the brewery will release when it opens this Friday at 2 p.m. (Four-packs of 16-ounce cans will be $15.99.) NoDa has released the IPA every fall since 2016, and it’s been a true labor of love.
Because the brewery has to overnight the freshly harvested Citra hops from the West Coast, shipping often costs more than the hops themselves. And though the hop farms do their best to communicate when the hops are sent out, the exact shipping times can be unpredictable. With only 24 hours of time post-harvest, it doesn’t allow much of a window for the brewers, who also need to ensure they have an empty tank and staff ready to brew the beer at a moment’s notice.
Last year, Henderson was in the middle of brewing Coco Loco Porter when he saw a truck pulling up with “little green hops bouncing around on the inside.” While it was a welcome sight, it also meant he had to ask a brewer to leave and come back around dinner time to help brew the beer.
Despite the added cost and stress, Henderson says it’s undeniably worth it. While he says it can be difficult to describe the unique character imparted by wet hops, he notes that the moisture of the hop lends the beer a bright and “pleasantly vegetal” character. “It’s the smell that only a wet, raw hop can have,” Henderson says. “It’s almost like biting into a crisp apple straight off the tree, versus one that’s been processed and diced up and bagged. They’re both the same thing, but there’s a difference.”
He’s not the only local brewer that thinks so. Triple C Brewing Co. has for years brewed its Urban Hop Project beers with hops grown at the brewery. This year, it decided to do something different.
Though most wet-hop beers are IPAs, this year the brewery is releasing a traditional Czech pilsner brewed with 100 pounds of freshly harvested Zuper Saazer hops from Michigan. Triple C will release Wet Hop Czech Pils — which comes in at 4.6 percent ABV — at the brewery on Nov. 7.
Sycamore Brewing also sourced hops from Michigan, for Wet Wet, an IPA that the brewery released in cans just last weekend.
There is one way the brewers can get around having to ship hops from more-prominent hop-growing regions: by finding them closer to home. While hops aren’t one of the crops for which North Carolina is known (they grow best between 35-55 degrees latitude), several small hop farms have sprung up across the state in recent years.
D9 Brewing recently released a Wet Hop American pale ale in its Cornelius taproom. The brewery sourced the Cascade hops used in the beer from Hoppy Life Farms in Salisbury, and the malts used in the beer came courtesy Carolina Malt House in Cleveland, N.C.
Percent Tap House in Harrisburg also recently sourced several pounds of North Carolina-grown Cascade hops, though these came from Kelley Acres in Roaring River. The brewery used the hops in collaboration with Seaboard Brewing in Matthews.
“We were a small handful of breweries to use these Cascade hops and had to shift schedules by a couple days,” says Adam Glover, head brewer at Seaboard Brewing.
The two breweries used the hops in Seaboard Orchard, its 100-percent single-hop New England-style IPA. By using just one hop variety, the character of the hop is better able to fully present itself.
“Balance is key,” Glover says, “but the hop has every opportunity to present itself in its own light.”
Event of the Week
The hop harvest isn’t the only thing brewers look forward to every fall. Every year, brewers from around the world — including many from Charlotte — make the trip to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. There, they’ll not only have the chance to pour their beers, but they will also compete to take home medals in a variety of categories. If you can’t make the trip, Blue Blaze Brewing has the next best thing: a watch party. They’ll start live-streaming the event at noon this Saturday, and will also release two cans: SoBo Orangerine Hazy IPA and S’mores Blonde Ale. Noon-4 p.m. 528 S. Turner Ave.