After Labor Day comes and goes, many beers slip into their fall wardrobes: roasted malts, pie spices and notes of coffee and chocolate.
But for the past five years, Dogfish Head's off-centered brewers have spent a day in early September cooking up one last taste of vacation season, a beer made with fresh-off-the-vine hops called Wet Hop American Summer.
Using "wet" hops -- rather than the standard pellets or dried whole flower hops -- isn't easy. There's only a small window during the late-summer hop harvest when they're available, and since wet hops are heavy with moisture, they're pricey to ship.
"It takes a lot of work," says Dogfish Head President and Founder Sam Calagione. "We're adding lots of extra steps to the brew day. But there's something beautiful and vibrant that you get from these wet hops, so it's worth taking the extra time and trouble."
This year, we took 50 pounds of Cascade hops that were freshly picked, packed and shipped by West Coast supplier Hopunion and mixed them with a shot of hops from the vines at Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats in Rehoboth Beach. The whole harvest had to be in the 5-barrel mix within 48 hours.
"These are hops in their pure and unfettered form, so you don't lose any of the oils," says Hopunion's Pete Velez. "What you get is a much more fresh hop taste."
This year's batch will be a fairly dry, hop-forward English ale with an alcohol content around 5 percent. And in a nod to hop fiends of yesteryear, Sam sought out another special ingredient.
"Long before our friends on the West Coast were brewing hoppy beers, Ballantine in New Jersey was doing its generously hopped Burton," he says. "So we sought out their yeast as a reference point for this beer."
Watch for Wet Hop American Summer at Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats in late September and discover the subtle aromas and flavors of a wet-hopped beer.
"It's one of the most beautiful times of the year here," Sam says, "so a lot of the people that rented houses in September, one of their traditions is making sure they stop by for the wet-hop beer here at Dogfish."