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Craft Beer Brouhaha Reaches a Head

Stocks in this article: BREW TAP BUD

In other words, it gives them license to bend the truth. While some brewers will use dried hops for bittering and fresh hops for flavor and aroma -- a savvy move, given the sheer amount of fresh hops bittering requires -- bypassing fresh ones altogether is a no-no. Night singled out two Oregon brewers -- Widmer (BREW) and Hopworks -- for using only dried hops in "fresh hop" batches from several years ago. Each has since abandoned that practice in favor of the real deal.

But is "fresh hop" even the right term? To find out, both Night and I consulted the BeerAdvocate, where reviews of Sierra Nevada's Northern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale dated back to 2001. However, the Fresh Hop Ale brewed by pioneering Yakima Valley brewer Bert Grant at Yakima Brewing went back to 2002. With both Grant -- who died in 2001 -- and Sierra Nevada's Ken Grossman getting their start more than 30 years ago, there had to be more to it than that. Over at RateBeer, one member posted a review of a 1998 bottle of Grant's Fresh Hop, while the oldest real-time review came in October of 2000. Sierra's Wet Hop, meanwhile, didn't crop up until January 2002.

Though Sierra Nevada's own press releases indicate the brewery was making "fresh hop" beer as recently as 2007, a 1997 feature by esteemed beer journalist Sal Emma features Sierra Nevada referring to freshly harvested hops as "green hops."

Meanwhile, Grant's Fresh Hop Ale is name dropped by the Seattle Times as early as 1998, Meanwhile, beer blogger Jeff Alworth at Beervana argues that Grant's Fresh Hop Ale only dates back to 1996 or 1997, while commenters say it was first produced in 1995.

Night has politely asked that, given the confusion created by the two names and even Sierra Nevada's uncertainty about the usage, the term "fresh hop" become the standard and "wet hop" be dropped entirely. Again, it seems like a trifling distinction, but this is a corner of an industry that exists under a trifling distinction.

The term "craft" itself is becoming increasingly arbitrary. The Brewers Association craft beer interest group has not only revised the definition of a "craft brewer" as applied to its members, but created a much-ridiculed burn list of everyone who isn't considered craft, including legacy brewers such as Pennsylvania's Straub and Yuengling and Minnesota's August Schell -- all of which were founded in the 1800s, survived prohibition and came this far without being bought out by larger breweries.

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