JBU > Intermediate

What is Wet-Hopped Beer?

Confused by the term wet-hopped in your favourite beer’s description. This article will explain exactly what it means, so you can just sit back and enjoy!

What is Wet-Hopped Beer?

Fresh is best, they say, and beer is no exception. Fresh ingredients are important for flavor and quality, and hops are among the most celebrated. The hop harvest is like Christmas for brewers, though the harvest happens a bit earlier, sometime in late summer to early fall. But that doesn’t stop hop growers and hop heads from celebrating.

I certainly wasn’t the first person to add freshly picked hops to a batch of homebrew—I must concede that title to those who preceded me hundreds of years ago. However, countless beers across the United States owe their existence to the addition of fresh hops, also called wet hops.

The two terms aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. While brewers and beer drinkers tend to mean the same thing when they interchange them, fresh hops can mean hops used right out of the oast house, while wet hops are never dried (well, duh). The difference between the two matters just as much in the kettle as it does when you drink the beer. For this article, we’ll be focusing on wet hops.

Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing described the difference in For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus:

“They both do a great job, but you get more fresh aromas and flavors when the product is wet, and it takes more, as you have to compensate for the water that is still in the hops… I find more melon and grassy notes in wet hops, grassy almost like a Sauvignon Blanc.”

The late Michael Jackson described one of the most influential commercial wet-hopped beers in the United States circa 1996, Sierra Nevada’s Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, as having

“the lightest touch of malty sweetness to start; then a surge of cleansing, refreshing, resiny, almost orange-zest flavors; and finally, an astonishingly late, long finish of fresh, appetite-arousing bitterness.”

Not only do wet hops impart different flavors and aromas, but they are delicious when used correctly. There are a few keys to brewing great wet-hopped beers and a few more things you should understand about hops to keep that wet-hopped goodness in your homebrew.

Freshness Is Everything

When Ken Grossman, Founder and CEO of Sierra Nevada Brewing, first started homebrewing, he had difficulty finding quality hops because “the homebrew trade consumed an insignificant amount of hops and, apparently, in the eyes of hop growers and merchants, wasn’t worth pursuing.” Oh, how times have changed.

There’s been a resurgence in hop growing since the 2008 “hop crisis,” making it easier for commercial brewers and homebrewers to source locally grown hops or simply supply their own.

Once harvested, wet hops literally begin to rot because the cones contain a high percentage of water, which is why farmers transport them directly from the field to breweries—or in your case from your backyard to your brew setup. It’s important to use wet hops within a matter of days of picking, preferably within one day, lest you risk spoiling and ruining your hops.

Read more and learn about how to use wet-hops in your homebrewing in the article Wet Hopped Beer: Showcasing Fresh Hops by John Moorhead of the Home Brewer’s Association

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