They're Called "Fresh Hop" Beers

In the Pacific Northwest, there is a spectacular harvest product made with hops plucked straight from the bine and placed thereafter in boiling wort, a whirlpool, and/or a tank of conditioning beer. These are known as fresh hop beers. For awhile, some folks toyed with "wet hop" ales, but that has largely died. (Do you call freshly-picked basil "wet basil?" Don't be absurd.) The reason for making beer this way is the same reason you'd select a fresh herb over a dried one: they taste and smell different.

I thought we had figured this out. For years, poor Bill Night had nearly annual posts trying to beat back confusion about the nomenclature and meaning of "fresh hop" beers (the pieces from 2012 and 2013 are worth reading if you want a primer on the long history of this debate). But over the weekend this appeared in the Twitter feed:

It precipitated a conversation (Twitter is the worst for conversations, by the way) about the proper name to use and what to call beer made with freshly-dried hops. People from places like Minnesota and Maryland and Ontario and Germany begged to differ. Then another version of this debate emerged on Facebook. Both Stan Hieronymus and a commenter on Facebook cited Sierra Nevada's early use of what they called "fresh hops" to refer to a beer made with freshly-dried hops.

There may be confusion in places like Minnesota and Maryland and Ontario and Germany where these beers are not made or made in very small quantities. (A number of hop fields have sprung up around the country and some of these are used in the manufacture of fresh hop beers. Joy! If you live near a brewery making those beers, go drink it now.)

But here's a bit of reportage for you. In the region of the country where 96% of the hops are grown--and basically all commercial hops--breweries produce hundreds of these beers. My guess is that we're in the mid- to high-hundreds at this point; there are ~600 breweries in Oregon and Washington, and a lot of breweries make these and many make multiple versions. Here in hop country, where the beers are actually made, they are uniformly known--and have been, for the better part of a decade--as fresh hop beers.

It is true that Sierra Nevada can stake their claim on the term and assert a different meaning. And while you'll find no bigger defender of Sierra Nevada's importance to beer than me, I have to say: so what? That term is not in wide circulation and confuses the matter. Beer made with freshly-dried hops is known as "beer." Languages evolve through use; rules are written through a descriptive rather than prescriptive process. You and I may think starting a sentence with "Hopefully" is a grammatical felony, but nobody cares. Society has spoken. Hopefully it will change, but stamping my little feet will not make it so.

Similarly, for everyone out there arguing that "we" should adopt a new term like wet or green hops to describe these beers, or that "we" should discontinue the use of fresh hops because one brewery once used the term differently, I have a serious question for you: what are you going to do with the tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people already using a term for the beers made almost exclusively by their breweries? Fresh hop beers are a massive deal in the Pacific Northwest, and they already have a name everyone uses. "We" know what we're talking about.

If you live outside the Pacific Northwest, I have a recommendation. Accommodate yourself to our nomenclature. It's served us well. A fresh hop ale is one made with hops picked fresh and never dried at some point in the process. (Conventional hops may also be used.) I will leave it to others to come up with definitions for beer made with hops processed differently--freshly-dried, or with frozen fresh hops, or whatever. That's the undiscovered country; no one currently has a term, so it's wide open. Just don't call them "fresh hop" beers. That term is already in wide and specific use.

Front PHOTO: Peter Law