Third in my Ales Bells series is an intriguing offering. Hands up who wasn’t intrigued by the label of this beer and the promise of something “Fresh Hopped” or the tagline at the bottom “wet hopped”? With the yellow and spring green colours and the words of “fresh” I wasn’t expecting a beer that poured this colour, though admittedly, it does have the word “ale” on the label.
So what does it mean to be “fresh hopped” or “wet hopped”? Well, if you know that the “dry hopping” method is akin to putting a teabag full of dried hops into the beer after that fermentation process is complete, you might surmise the “wet” method is to not dry the hops first. The dry hop method is common in pale ales like IPAs and other ales as a way to make the beer “hop forward” (if I can borrow a wine term) and really accentuate the aroma vs. the inherent bitters that come by adding the hops earlier in the brewing process.
But here’s the thing, “wet hopping” doesn’t really contrast with dry hopping … so I assumed wrong. It is in fact better described by the bold words on the label, “fresh hop” because it uses a non-dried hop (think of “wet” hops as hops that are themselves still supple with their spring moisture). The rationale behind using a fresh hop is best described in this article on Chow website, but it boils down to this: using a fresh ingredient like a green hop is harder to work with, harder to procure, and represents a true craftsman. The result is intended to provide an ale with a more delicate, less concentrated flavour … and less bitterness.
Intriguing, isn’t it?
So the question is, how does this experiment work out in real life and in an ale? How does it measure out on my tongue? Interesting is my first response …
To be honest, I’ve been struggling with tasting and reviewing this beer because what I believe is a crazy amount of carbonation … a kind of carbonation that is a distraction, even though it is cool. It kind of reminds me of the carbonation in a Beaujolais nouveau.
When I first poured the beer, the head grew huge and as you can even see in the picture here, while there are a lot of bubbles over all, there are also a lot of small bubbles. The result is an uneven head that grows huge, fast, and which as it falls, grows tight and compact. Odd.
Likewise, off the pour, the beer has huge residual yeasts – which is not uncommon for a beer brewed “on lees.” Let the head dissipate, however, and the yeast also dissipates to reveal a delicately aromatic beer buttressed by the roasted caramel malts that define this beer at all levels, not the least of which is it’s deeply chocolate hue.
Take a sip and you won’t be surprised to find a lot of bubbles … and beyond those first impressions, you won’t be surprised to find a weird kind of absence which I’ll come back to in a minute. Through and through, the malts come through giving this beer its backbone, arms, and legs – and all I can really pull out is toasted caramel flavours. Around this, there is the fresh grassiness of the hops which are really more like confetti at a wedding than the bride and groom. All this is to say, the beer really lacks a lot … it lacks structure, balance, complexity, balance and refinement. It drinks more as an absence than a presence – it’s like a bit of a diluted beer taste and some burnt chocolate tossed into a bottle of San Pellegrino. Truly, I don’t think that description is far off. With the abundance of carbonation, a weak choice of malts, an insipid yeast, and no hoppy bitterness, this tastes like a flavoured carbonated water. And no, I don’t think I’m being harsh here … and, no, I don’t think this is a matter of taste and a hop-head reviewing a fresh hopped beer. There just isn’t anything going on here. It’s interesting because of that … like going to an art installation which is the sounds of “silence” being played back in a dark room: a cool experience, but do you really need to ever experience it more than once?
I’m sure there are some interesting and good wet hopped beers out there… I just can’t imagine this is one of them.
Stats: Fresh Hopped Beer. 6.2% ABV, Saint-Félicien/Lac-St-Jean, Quebec.
Colour: Chocolate brown (sur lies)
Mouth Feel: Very high carbonation, watery, slightly sour but refreshing finish.
Purchased: Bières du Monde
Pairing Notes: n/a