Beer Review 0075: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest

The beer up for review today, from Chico, California’s Sierra Nevada, is a wet hop ale. What’s a wet hop ale?

A wet hop ale is beer that has been brewed using hops that are picked and shipped in the same form, in this case “wet,” meaning they are as fresh as possible when the brewery receives them. Most beers are made using dried hops. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, the freshest hops are of the wet variety, when the oils and resins that hops are known for are at their peak.

The wet hops used in Northern Hemisphere Harvest are from Yakima, Washington, and they are delivered in Chico (presumably ready to be added to a kettle) within twenty-four hours of picking.

According to Sierra Nevada, this is the beer that started the United States’ fascination with hops. While I’m not entirely sure about that, Northern Harvest was first brewed in 1996, registers 66 on the International Bitterness Unit scale and delivers an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 6.7%

This is a seasonal release that comes out in the fall, which is when the hops of Yakima are at their peak flavor. Sierra Nevada also has a Southern Hemisphere Harvest, which coincides with peak hop time in New Zealand. Look for that beer in the late spring.

This beer pours a large, almost huge head which sits atop a golden amber liquid. When held to the light, the beer produces orange highlights. The body is translucent but is slightly clouded with small bits of sediment floating throughout. The lacing is extremely excellent right from the initial pour, leaving a thick sticky film in the wake of each sip.

And as promised, the aromatics are where the wet hops stand out. This is quite a display of fragrant west coast hops — grapefruit, pine, lemons, hints of burnt orange. Wow. The malts are there, too, with caramel playing the lead to some background grain and biscuit. The piney note, in particular, is outstanding and very fresh.

So far, Northern Hemisphere Harvest is a perfect beer.

On the taste buds, that wonderful pine jumps right out, leading to caramel malt in the middle of the taste. Then the drink transitions into the finish, which rides a citrus note of orange and grapefruit. The bitterness isn’t out of control, and the mouthfeel is both creamy and drying — but due to the freshness of the hops, this is a very juicy beer in flavor.

This is a great beer. The balance is superb and the flavors are alive. Sierra Nevada have outdone themselves with this brew, showcasing what fresh and high quality ingredients can bring to a well crafted beer. It joins a distinct group of beers that I have deemed classic, which rate 95 points or higher on my rating scale.

Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest, 95 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 24 ounce bomber bottle.

And you really do learn something everyday: While drinking this beer, I noticed what I thought might be a spelling error on the bottle. The bottle states: “This Harvest Ale features ‘wet’ or un-dried whole-cone hops from Yakima, WA that are plucked from the bine and delivered to our brewery within 24 hours of picking.”

Bine? Yes, I thought it was supposed to say vine, but hops really do grow on a bine. Thanks to my good friend Wikipedia, I learned that a bine is a climbing plant which climbs by its shoots growing in a helix around a support. Vines climb using tendrils or suckers. Hops are, indeed, a bine.

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