Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: Harvest Ales
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Harvest Ales - JW Lees and Sierra Nevada
The hop harvest usually happens around this time of year. Fifty years ago, I might've gone down to the hop fields in Kent and spoken in clipped received pronunciation to a Cockney family, taking their holidays from the Smoke, and working as labourers during the hop harvest. Nowadays, the Cockneys are all mechanised, the hops no longer harvested by hand. But this time of year is still harvest time, and so two beers called Harvest Ale are a fitting subject.
The Sierra Nevada version is an example of what used to be called "green hop ale". This is made like a regular beer, but instead of using dried hops (they're dried to preserve them, as I'm sure you've worked out by now), fresh, sticky, resinous hops are added. This has the effect of bumping up the hop profile quite considerably, adding a fresh, resinous dimension to the beer - basically, it makes it more bitter. But there's something more complex about the bitterness derived from fresh hops; it somehow makes the beer taste more alive. I mention the slightly filthy, dirty quality that the fresh hop imparts. It's definitely not unpleasant; rather, it's an indecent, rude, sensory pleasure, like a stinky cheese or an overripe mango. There's something a bit naughty about having that much flavour on your tongue. Add Sierra Nevada's balance and drinkability, and the 6.7%abv beer becomes a lush, hedonistic treat.
An abundance of flavour is also apparent in JW Lees' Harvest Ale. In fact, as I tried to keep talking about something else, the flavours kept rolling around my mouth, making it hard for me to concentrate on what I was trying to say. Sultanas, figs, bitter orange; it's like I was struck down with flavour Tourette's. Lees' beer isn't a green hop ale, but it definitely is a celebration of the success of the harvest. Lots of barley, hops and a strong yeast produce a big but balanced strong ale (or is it a barley wine?), marked with the year of production. This 11.5%abv beer can age well for over a decade. In the video, I say that this beer can be laid down for a few years; five would probably be good for my palate, although some like it even older. I prefer beer (and wine, for that matter) to have a bit of youthful vigour about it.
So there we have it. Two very different beers, both celebrating the new harvest, a festival that is about as real and traditional as they come.