Friday, November 21, 2008

At last, Harvest Ale

This was worth the trip.

Almost three months ago, Weyerbacher Brewing, Easton, Pa., came out with a harvest ale that brewers there had dosed with Nugget and Cascade hops grown by owners Dan and Sue Weirback on their Lehigh Valley farm.

It’s the hops-growing project we video-chronicled back in August, an intrepid endeavor that now lets Dan and Sue add “agri-consultant/hops specialist" to their resum├ęs, should any other craft brewer tempted to sow the soil seek some how-did-you-do-it advice.

Fount of ideas
Weyerbacher is a brewery that doesn't stand in one place too long. And planting an acre of hops fits their explorer identity. They have a flight of brews you'll always find on the shelf, but they love to push new ideas and styles, dressing up their packaging with artwork that's reminscent of the LP record's early 1970s era, when album cover artwork was as expressive and expansive as the music.

Their harvest brew, as far as the label goes, doesn't exactly follow that arc, but then this was a brew that depended on Mother Nature to do her part, namely allow that acre of nurtured hop bines to produce enough cones in a first-year growing season. So early on, it was a gamble whether there would be a beer at all, and hence a simpler label, compared with, for instance, the drama and intrigue of Insanity, Prophecy or Heresy. But isn't harvest time an inherently simple moment anyway?

A 6.2% ABV India pale ale, the brew met those freshly picked, still wet, hops in the hopback, in the limited run brewed for release in the Pennsylvania-only market.

Happily, and thankfully, Dan saved us a case, which we picked up yesterday. Indeed, it was worth the wait. Tasty, citrusy hoppy, kind of resinous, almost chewy, but above all, a quaffable beer, two bottles downed upon arriving home.

Sometimes when you have a beer that’s all about hops, you’re temped to keep swirling the glass to kick up the aromas. This one is definitely that kind of swirler, but the pleasure is in churning up some foam, taking a bite of that, and following with a hearty swig.

The backbone is definitely IPA, with some maltiness on either side, and some bitterness in the finish that’s neither harsh nor overwhelming. But the beer’s more earthy-complex thanks to the fresh hops added for a signature flavor, straight from that hand-picked harvest on that August Saturday afternoon.

Next up
Dan says they're now working on Fireside, a 7% ABV brown ale with 10% smoked malt, just enough to rauch things up for the snows of January, but not too much that you won't reach for another. Where there's smoke, there's Fireside.

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