Wet Hop Lager
Jack's Abby Brewing in Framingham, Mass.
The general rule of thumb is that once you're around 48 degrees north latitude, you can get to some excellent hop growing. That doesn't preclude folks from growing them just south of that point, however, and the limited success that some farmers in the Northeast are having with that endeavor is sparking an entire Northeast hop-growing movement.
Northeast Hop Alliance
is actively pushing a return to the hop growing that was a way of life in the region for more than a century.
Thomas Hooker Brewing
in Bloomfield, Conn., filled its
with images of workers harvesting its home-grown hops for a fresh hop India Pale Lager.
Four Star Farms
in Massachusetts supplies Greenfield, Mass.'
and Portland, Maine's
with hops grown on its six-acre farm.
With hop farms springing up in Maine and Vermont, the concept of fresh hop beer is taking root in New England, New York and elsewhere. Few have been able to use those fresh hops in a beer as regionally appropriate as Jack's Abby's Wet Hop Lager. Though beers such as Heady Topper from Vermont brewer
are chipping away at the Northeast's malty reputation, malt is still king among the brewers here.
That's not to be bemoaned. At a time in craft beer when just about every brewer is shifting attention toward hoppier offerings and increasingly bitter IPA and imperials, the fine Northeast tradition of making less hoppy styles well is under attack. That shouldn't be the case, and this lager is an example of why. Jack's Abby has built a brand around German brewing tradition and has largely shunned ale. The hops it's using here aren't building a floral aroma bomb, but enhancing an earthy -- dare we say peaty -- scent that evokes the late season harvest. Much of the smooth, bready flavor comes from cereal malt and unmalted spelt.
There are hops all over the labeling, but this beer tastes nothing like what U.S. craft beer drinkers have come to expect when they see all those green, leafy cones. Just as the Northwest hop harvest has created an expectation of Northwest-style ales, a burgeoning Northeast hop movement just might move the needle back toward classic Czech and German styles and the more subtle hops supporting them.