Fall Foliage? Nope. Instead, Autumn Is Wet Hop Ale Season in San Diego

From www.sandiegouniontribune.com
Peter Rowe
Instead of leaf peeping, try these seasonal beers

Wet Hop What?

While not known for brilliant fall colors or crisp autumn days, San Diego does have one sure sign of the season: wet hop beers.

Unfamiliar with the term? Let Tom Nickel explain. Not only does he make wet hop beers at Nickel Beer in Julian, he serves them at his Kearny Mesa tavern, O'Brien's.

What are wet hop beers?

"Wet hop beers are brewed using the hops within 24 or 48 hours of picking, when the hops have not been dried and still have most of their water weight."

How do they taste?

"Wet hop beers tend to be not as bitter or as strong as, say, a typical IPA. Instead, the subtle characteristics of wet hops will play out. It may come across as more of a fruity or resiny character."

Why are these beers so popular among craft beer fans?

"Wet hops beers are something you can brew only once a year, when the hops are at the peak of freshness. That's unique."

You've brewed several wet hop beers. Other than your own, which do you enjoy?

"One of my favorites is Burning Beard's Circle of Hops, a wet hop version of their regular Circle of Hops pale ale. South Park Brewing's Baby Buck XPA (extra pale ale) was really nice. I've always liked Monkey Paw's versions and Pizza Port's wet hop beers are outstanding."

O'Brien's - 4646 Convoy St. in San Diego's Kearny Mesa - now has several local wet hop beers on tap. Consider this a tasty prelude to the pub's 15th annual Wet Hop Beer Festival, Oct. 13-15.


Great. American. Beer.

The nation's most prestigious beer competition is next week in Denver, Oct. 5-7. San Diego established its beer bonafides at previous Great American Beer Festivals, hauling home oodles of honors.

Last year's take: 18 medals, plus Karl Strauss being named the nation's best mid-sized brewery.

This time, Karl's production brewery and brewpubs are entering 20 beers. The original location in downtown San Diego is supplying three: Double Mosaic, Conquistador Doppelbock and Red Trolley. An Irish red ale, Trolley already owns two gold medals from this festival, winning in 2010 and 2013.

Karl Strauss is the county's oldest craft brewery, but you don't have to be a veteran to score at GABF. Duck Foot was wet behind the bill in 2016 when the year-old Miramar brewery took silver in the chili beer category, with Contender IPA with Chilis.


Kings of Beer

How does a newcomer to San Diego's dense, dank crowd of IPAs stand out? With something like No Güey! (6.5 percent alcohol by volume), one of the initial offerings from SouthNorte.

A new venture from Ryan Brooks, former brewmaster at Coronado, SouthNorte's goal is to blend San Diego creativity and Mexican verve. With No Güey! that means gobs of hops, globs of mango and lime, plus - knobs? fobs? aw, the heck with this rhyme scheme - a dash of chili powder.

The result is a fresh take on the IPA style, one worthy of being crowned this week's King.

If the exchange of insults between Washington and Pyongyang has you nervously anticipating an exchange of missiles, you may want to reach for last week's King. Unibroue is my favorite Canadian-Japanese brewery (based in Quebec, owned by Sapporo). Its Belgian-style tripel La Fin du Monde (9 percent) is - foreboding name aside - bright and crisp. Enjoy while you can!


Helix Brewing

I visited Helix Brewing in La Mesa on the first day of summer, then returned on the first day of fall. The seasonal timing? Strictly coincidence. My return? No coincidence at all. As long as owner Cameron Ball and brewer Michael Schlereth stay true to their vision, I'll come back summer or winter, spring or fall.

Helix is a healthy two-year-old, toddling along in the production front - a mere 500 barrels last year - yet with a mature outlook. The brew house is visible from the tasting room, "so people can see it and smell it and be part of it," Ball said.

Active IPA (4.4 percent) succeeds in the tricky session IPA style, while Galaxy Rye IPA's crackling spiciness plays well against the fruity Down Under hops.

"I like to make beer that tastes like beer," Ball said.

OK, now we have a coincidence. I like to drink beer that tastes like beer!


Words to Drink By

"Across the troubled maelstrom of time, people always need a beer." - Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman in "The Fall of the Kings" (2003). While "Fall" is a fantasy novel, it is not about the collapse of the Budweiser empire.


Twitter: @peterroweut

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