What’s Brewing? Now’s the time for harvest ales
Fall is here along with harvest ales for the season.
Many seasoned craft beer consumers move away from drinking pale summer-like colored beers in exchange for beers that are darker and a little more robust in taste. Harvest ales are just that.
On a cool night by the fire, they can be so fitting and taste so good, but don’t be fooled by the name — “Harvest Ale” — alone on a bottle. You should know if you’re drinking the real thing.
What is harvest ale?
In 1986, J.W. Lees Brewery in England first used the term “harvest ale” to help describe one of their brews. They created the brew to celebrate the end of the barley and hops harvesting season. Harvest ale is a general term used to celebrate freshly harvested barley and hops, but also to include the last harvest of some fruits and vegetables that are being used more today.
However, as the industry has grown, so has the need for desperate marketing tactics to help sell beer. Could some breweries be using the usual lineup of ingredients but with the words “harvest ale” on the bottle simply because it’s that time of year again and doing so sells the product? There’s no harm in doing so, but if we know what we’re drinking, the industry has no choice but to either sell us the “real deal” or take the risk of selling to a demographic of consumers who don’t know. So how do we tell the difference between a beer with freshly harvested ingredients and just a beer with “harvest” in the name?
Harvest ales can be copper in color all the way to brown depending on the ingredients used. What consumers look for most when seeking out Harvest Ales are freshly picked hops. Typically brewers use dried hop pellets which are amazingly delicious but, this time of year especially, brewers can use fresh hops picked straight off the vine. These hops still have moisture in them, which can really show off their grassy and floral flavors and aromas in a finished beer. Look for the term “wet-hopped” which will indicate that fresh moist hops were used as opposed to dried hop pellets. Other freshly harvested ingredients can include cranberries, gourds and more.
I’d be curious to know which harvest ales you’ve enjoyed. Here are some fresh ones you can find locally.
East End Brewing Co. (Pittsburgh)
Big Hop Harvest Ale (7.4% ABV). Golden orange in color. Grassy, citrus and pine aromas. Grassy with herbal notes along with lemon and a well-balanced caramel malt flavor. Slightly bitter wet hop finish.
Great Divide Brewing Co. (Denver, Colo.)
Fresh Hop Pale Ale (6.1% ABV). Dark orange color. Notes of honey, fresh flowers, mango and finishes bitter with a grassy character.
Spoonwood Brewing Co. (Bethel Park)
Mr. Freshly (4.6% ABV). Brewed exclusively with freshly harvested “wet hops” grown by Pittsburgh Hop Co. on a field in Washington, Pa. Mr. Freshly is lightly sweet with a pleasant floral hops flavor and very little bitterness.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, Calif.)
Northern Hemisphere Harvest (6.7% ABV). Well filtered with an amber color. This wet hop IPA has the aroma of cereal malt with a sharp bitter taste. Flavors of burnt caramel, pine and grapefruit. Bitter finish.
Mark Brewer is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He’s the author and illustrator of “Brewology, An Illustrated Dictionary for Beer Lovers.”