Freshness really sells when it comes to foodstuffs – hence all the adverts for flash frozen seafood and just-picked vegetables. But what about beer? The prime variable in ale – the hops – are most often added dried as they are easier to store and transport following their Autumn harvest. But if you want fresh beer, Harvest Ales are definitely the style to seek out. Green hops are added following their Autumn picking, before they have a chance to be dried. Arguably started by Sierra Nevada with their 6.7% Southern Hemisphere Harvest (which I sampled at the 2009 GBBF at Earl’s Court), these beers have tremendous aromas and flavours from the natural oils maintained in the fresh hops.
But it’s not just the North Americans who have a go at these beers – us Brits are having a stab too. Derbyshire’s Thornbridge Brewery produce some fascinating ales, their Jaipur (check back for our review soon) recently won Gold at the 2010 GBBF, taking their haul of Champion Beer of Britain medals to five in five years. They have recently put out a collaboration with Doug Odell – Colorado Red (5.9%) – and also have the reigning UK Brewer of the Year in Stefano Cossi. So when their harvest ale (7.7% Halcyon 2009) wins best in category at the 2009 World Beer Awards, they must be on to something.
Hopped with freshly picked Herefordshire Target, the 2009 vintage pours a dark yellow with a lazy rising carbonation and a rapidly reducing head. As you’d expect, the primary aroma is hops, with some grass and green vegetables in the background – very much an American-style IPA hop-forward aroma. The taste is wonderful, the high hop bitterness balances with the healthy alcohol really well. As a result, I don’t think a blind tasting would yield a 7.7% answer if I had to guess the abv – it’s incredibly smooth and drinkable. On a par with the best American IPA’s – and certainly on the same level with Southern Hemisphere Harvest, Thornbridge Halcyon pushes close to Sierra Nevada’s other jaw-dropper, their peerless Estate series.