It's wet hop season in San Diego, when rare beers made from fresh, locally grown hops appear in tasting rooms and tap houses.
The availability of locally farmed hops is still relatively new, but the volume of hops has been on the rise the past couple years, and so has the number of San Diego breweries using them. No fewer than 24 breweries made wet-hop beers this year, many for the first time. Several brewers actually visited farms to harvest the hops themselves.
Pure Project, for example. Inspired by the chance to source locally, the first-year brewery made an all-California IPA called Everyday California. It's made from California-grown grain, yeast propagated by its Miramar neighbor White Labs, and hops the Pure Project team picked at SD Golden Hop Farm in Fallbrook.
Fallbrook Brewing also found a way to celebrate the local-ness of its wet-hop beer. The Fallbrook Homegrown extra pale ale marks the brewery's third anniversary, and brewmaster Chuck McLaughlin invited fellow Fallbrook High School alums to collaborate on the beer — all of them professional brewers in California.
One of these was Coronado Brewing head brewer Ryan Brooks, who also made Fresh Hopportunity pale ale for his employer. He says he tried shipping fresh hops from Washington a few years back, and logistical issues kept him from trying it again. This year's effort convinced him local is worth it. From now on, he says, "We're only going to do it from local farms, and we're going to pick it ourselves."
Some brewers use their fresh hops for existing recipes, producing wet-hopped versions of their usual offerings. Fall Brewing has made wet-hop versions of its Magic Hat IPA, for example, and Duck Foot Brewing made a limited batch of wet hop Contender IPA.
Recently opened El Cajon brewery Burning Beard made a wet-hop take on its Circle of Hops pale ale. Cofounders Jeff Wiederkehr and Mike Maass were homebrewers until this year and had a little experience using fresh hops. However, Wiederkehr says, "Using wet hops on this scale was new for us. For me personally, these were the freshest hops I have ever worked with."
Burning Beard got hops from Star B Ranch in Ramona. ChuckAlek Independent Brewers also operates out of Ramona, so this isn't the first time head brewer Grant Fraley has sourced hops from his neighbor. "We have been working with fresh hops since our first year in business," he says. He's played around with many styles, and this year made wet-hopped versions of Garten Variety IPA and Foreman bitter, and came up with a new recipe he simply calls Fresh Hop saison.
Enough locals are making wet-hopped beers this year, two events are celebrating the season. Nopalito Farm in Valley Center provided hops for several breweries and will feature beers at an overnight Wet Hop Campout (September 17). Meanwhile, Tom Nickel has split the annual wet-hop festival he hosts at O'Brien's Pub into two weekends this year — the first (September 16–18) exclusively dedicated to 25 San Diego–brewed wet-hop beers, including six from his Nickel Beer Co.
Here's a list of 30 wet-hop beers in limited release this month. If you know of others, please add them in the comments section.
Alesmith — American Amber Ale
Amplified Ale Works — Soundcheck #3 Wet Hop Pale Ale
Ballast Point — Roots to Boots Splash Zone IPA
Border X — Nopalitos Pale Ale
Burning Beard — Wet Hopped Circle of Hops Pale Ale
ChuckAlek Independent Brewers — Fresh Hop Saison
ChuckAlek Independent Brewers — Wet Hopped Foreman Bitter
ChuckAlek Independent Brewers — Wet Hopped Garten Variety IPA
Coronado Brewing — Fresh Hopportunity Pale Ale
Culture Brewing — Wet Hopped IPA
Duck Foot Brewing — Wet Hopped Contender IPA
Fall Brewing — Golden Girls Anniversary Ale (aka Wet Hop Spirit of 77)
Fall Brewing — Wet Hop Green Hat
Fallbrook Brewing — Fallbrook Homegrown X Pale Ale
Half Door Brewing — Best Day IPA
Helm's Brewing — Hand Picked IPA
Mike Hess Brewing — 40 Acre IPA
Mission Brewery — Local Hop Pale Ale
Monkey Paw — Fan Belt IIPA
Monkey Paw — Same Day XPA
Nickel Beer — Buffalo Paw Brown Ale
Nickel Beer — Fresh Mountain Crystal IPA
Nickel Beer — Green Truck IIPA
Nickel Beer — My Way IPA
Nickel Beer — Standing the Eagle IPA
Nickel Beer — Star B Pale Ale
Pizza Port Carlsbad — Plant 2 Pint American Pale Ale
Pizza Port Carlsbad — Wet Hop Raceway IPA
Pizza Port Carlsbad — Today was a Good Day IPA
Pizza Port OB — Get Wet IPA
Pizza Port OB — Coup D'etat IPA
Pizza Port Solana Beach — Low Tide Pale Ale
Pizza Port Solana Beach — Wet N Wild IPA
Pure Project — Everyday California IPA
Reckless Brewing — Freshalicious IPA
Stone Brewing — Stone Pilot IPA w/Wet Hops
Thorn Street — Moist Def IPA