Did you catch a glimpse of the harvest moon a few weeks ago? Well, the brewers at Central Waters must have been basking in the moonbeams as they celebrated the release of their latest seasonal creation: Hop Harvest. Brewery staff did more than brew the beer -- they even harvested the hops. In fact, the hops and nearly all of the barley that goes into this beer were grown and harvested in Wisconsin.
What is it? Hop Harvest from Central Waters Brewing Company of Amherst, Wisconsin.
Style: Hop Harvest is an American pale ale (APA), a style that reflects firm hoppy bitterness from the primary use of American varieties of hops. The APA is commonly pale golden or light copper in color, and usually has a moderate to strong hop aroma that comes from dry hopping, where hops are added late to the brew kettle. An APA's flavor profile can have a citrus character, and the maltiness is subdued to toasty or biscuity tones.
Background: Central Waters co-owner Paul Graham says that Hop Harvest is made from 98% Wisconsin-grown ingredients. All of the base malt in the beer comes from a farm less than two miles from the Amherst home of the brewery. Only a small amount of non-Wisconsin specialty malt gets added to the recipe.
However, what makes this beer truly special are its hops. Graham called on his brewery staff to help pick the hops for the beer by hand: "Hand picking hops -- I don't wish that on anybody. It took 12 of us, working seven hours, to pick just over 100 pounds of wet hops."
Brewery staff went to the Wausau-area Settin Hop Farm to pick the hops and immediately bring them to the Amherst brewery, where co-owner and brewer Anello Mollica was waiting. "We didn't know how much hops we were going to be getting, so Anello was back getting the brew kettle ready while I was with the boys picking hops, weighing them out and calling him to design the recipe over the phone based on rough estimates of the hops we were getting," says Graham.
Because they did not end up with the amount of hops they were hoping for, he decided to lighten the body with less malt to compensate. Graham's goal was to have the beer be roughly between an American pale ale and an India pale ale in hoppy bitterness.
Hop Harvest is a limited release, but Graham says he expects this to be a fall special seasonal that the brewery will make every year, just as soon as the hop flowers are ready to be picked. But next year, he says he will need -- even welcome -- some automation in the picking process, especially if he uses more than 100 pounds of hops.
Central Waterd produced just over 200 cases of Hop Harvest, and the Madison area received about 20% of that. The beer finishes at 6.5% ABV, and is sold in single 22-ounce bottles for around $5/each.
- Aroma: Light floral nose.
- Appearance: Slightly hazy, orange copper color with a thick, tan, bubbly head.
- Texture: Full bodied.
- Taste: Lots of floral hoppiness with grassy-type bitterness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The light grassy-bitterness lingers.
Glassware: Try this beer in a Willy Becher style of glass with a taper near the lip that holds the beer's head and focuses the hoppy nose.
Pairs well with: Hops tend to counteract richness in food, especially entrees that have spicy qualities, like pizza. Hop Harvest offers a bitterness that isn't overwhelming, but will compete nicely with peppery meats like pepperoni and Italian sausage.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Hop Harvest has a different type of hoppiness, with a somewhat earthy bitterness. I like this beer for being a small brewery's attempt at making a product with local ingredients. For the serious hop lover, it comes off a bit vegetal or grassy. But for me, it's all part of its wet-hop, do-it-yourself charm. The commitment of the brewery staff alone in picking the hops makes me overlook the beer's timid bitterness.
I'm already looking forward to next year, because I expect Hop Harvst to be even better. Just like the local hops that went into it, it has room to grow.