I had a bottle of this beer hanging out in my fridge for the last month or so and had been meaning to sit down and drink it but never found a proper time until late in the afternoon this past Wednesday. Long story short the beer was in very good shape considering it was probably bottled in April or early May and tasted excellent.
Harvest style ales are pretty cool and for the most part seem to only exist on the outskirts of the craft beer territory. Maybe because you can really only brew a harvest ale in late August (if using North American hops) and for the few that do make it out to the marketplace, they have to compete with all the newly released Octoberfest style ales that begin to flood the market pretty aggressively this time of year.
But Sierra Nevada in Chico, CA must of recognized this theory and now release not one, but three harvest style beers annually: The Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, the Southern Hemisphere Harvest, and the Estate Harvest. Each beer is brewed with freshly picked hops from a particular location and then immediately thrown into the brew while the oils and resins are still fresh. Using “wet” hops, which are simply freshly picked hops right off the vine that skip the drying process, result in juicier more fruity characteristics that typically go unnoticed when in the “dry” or pellet state that looks like rabbit food. Dry hops are used widespread in the brewing industry because of their condensed state and are more practical for commercial production. Dry hops also take up considerably less warehouse space than wet hops and have a much longer shelf life.
Sierra Nevada’s Souther Hemisphere Harvest Ale features native New Zealand hops that are harvested in March and April and then shipped back to Chico within a few days to be used in the brew. Using a backbone of Caramel and 2 row pale malt, the uniquely fresh wet New Zealand hops create an invigorating piney and pungent aroma that is more earthy than fruity unlike its North American counterpart. The result is a delicious India pale ale that carefully dominates both the aromatic and flavor aspects of the beer.
Appearance: Pours a really nice and rich, copper color with about an inch of white foam for the head. An aggressive C02 display takes attention away from the hazy stature of the beer with a nice blend of orange and amber hues.
Aroma: A very fresh aroma up front. Piney, invigorating, with a pure and pungent sharpness to it. Very inviting.
Taste: Fairly light tasting considering the hop aroma. Definitely more of a malt presence over the hops but still gives way to an even body. There’s a strong malty/toasty aftertaste that lingers for a awhile. Also noticed notes of mealy caramel malts.
Overall Thoughts: A really nice IPA or pale ale depending on how you want to categorize it and creative for the Harvest style. This is a beer a non-adventurous beer drinker could probably enjoy because of the allure of using fresh New Zealand hops . It’s a basic beer malt-wise but highlights the true factors or “musts” that define the style which is a noticeable hoppy aroma balanced by a hoppy body. Really fresh for a 5 month old beer. Would love to try this beer on draft if given the chance.
Unofficial Rating?: B+
Here’s a bonus video of Sierra Nevada founder and owner Steve Grossman explaining the Harvest style ale history at his brewery…