For the first time since 2011, New Yorkers will be forced to get through the fall without Sixpoint’s Autumnation, a beer that was technically categorized (on the internet, anyway) as a pumpkin beer despite containing (to my palate, anyway) no real sign of the big dumb orange vegetable that wreaks havoc on the beer world each year. It was, for all intents and purposes, an IPA, and a very good one at that.
Autumnation’s defining characteristic was that it used “fresh hops” as a key ingredient. The term, used interchangeably with “wet hops,” pops up on beer cans and bottle labels every year around this time, and it refers to a very specific process that involves harvesting the hops and getting them into a beer within 24 hours, imparting a richer hop flavor thanks to an oily residue that’s still present on the hop cone.
In place of Autumnation, the brewery has just released another fresh-hopped ale, Sensi Harvest. Sixpoint founder Shane Welch was kind enough to answer a few questions about that beer and the process of fresh-hopping in general.
First things first: Can you explain what it means when a beer is fresh-hopped?
It means the beer incorporates hops fresh-picked from the bine (not “vine” if you’re being technical). In all other instances, hops are processed in some way.
Aside from the obvious rush to get the hops into the beer, are there any other challenges inherent to the process?
Conversion ratios and when you add the hops are the most important factors. It’s much different than using standard pellet hops or whole-leaf dried and baled hops.
Is it true that wet/fresh hopping requires more hops than standard hopping. The only way I can wrap my head around why that might be the case is to compare it to cooking with fresh herbs vs dry herbs. Is it a situation where the flavors and aromas become more concentrated during the drying-out process?
Yes, you are exactly right. The drying-out process will take out close to 90% of the water in the hops. So as you can imagine, a lot of what you’re adding to the beer is actually water in the form of hops, so more are required.
So, moving on to Sensi in particular, what type of hops were used, and where were they sourced from?
Simcoe and cascade hops, sourced from one of the farmers we’ve been working directly with for over four years.
For a few years in a row, Sixpoint released another fresh-hopped beer, Autumnation, each fall. That beer was more robust, at 6.8% ABV, than the more sessionable Sensi — can you talk a little about why you decided to switch things up this year?
Sensi, with a limited malt profile, provides a better canvas for the hops to shine.
What kinds of food would you pair with Sensi? Will it hold up against the richer flavors people start to embrace as temperatures begin to drop?
Absolutely. I recommend some rotisserie chicken with plenty of black pepper and some lemon!
Check BeerMenus to find out where Sensi Harvest is available near you.
Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.