Beer of the Week: Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie will

select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it: How

does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find it?

But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer

you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.

And now for another edition of "You Know You're a Hophead If..."

  • You know you're a hophead if you have a section of your personal budget labeled "plugs and pellets."
  • You know you're a hophead if you identify citrus and pine in your breakfast cereal.
  • You know you're a hophead if you've started drinking everything out of snifters, not just beer.
  • You know you're a hophead if you jones for Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale like Kanye does stage time.

The term "hophead" at one time denoted a drug addict, someone who was hopelessly crushed on pot or opium. These days, it has a slightly less insidious meaning. It's someone who is so obsessed with the bitter, floral, honeyed flavors of fresh hops in their beer, that every single brew they taste needs to somehow be more hopped than the last.

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How does one become a hophead? It's a slow evolution, really. You start out small, maybe with something like a Red Hook or even a King Fisher -- beers that are relatively mild all told, but will expose you to that dry, heady scent of hops. After a while toying with lagers and ESBs (extra special bitters, for you non-Brits), you might graduate to light pale ale like Dale's or maybe Sierra Nevada. But once you start toying with IPAs, those enamel-peeling, bitter giants of the craft beer world, you can't turn back. If you go from, say, a Dogfish 90-minute down to a Hazed and Confused, well, you're likely to be disappointed, because the latter is just not as bitter a beer. Nope, the only way to go is up -- up to Imperials like Avery's Maharajah or Great Divide's Hercules, beers so simultaneously bitter and honey-sweet they'll wreck your palate for days. But they're worth it.

Somewhere along that hophead trajectory you might run into Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale collection, a series started back in 1996 when the craft brew giant combined the woodsiness of centennial hops with the honeyed scent of cascade. This beer, the Southern Hemisphere Harvest, is a very special beer in that it collects hops typically not seen in America (or not seen fresh, anyhow) and infuses their flavors into a classic, American caramel malt base. Pacific Hallertau, New Zealand Motueka, New Zealand Southern Cross hops -- these are hop strains you won't hear much about in these parts let alone taste them. So it's a special treat when a brewer like Sierra Nevada can leverage their clout to bring them as fresh as possible to bottles stateside.

How does it taste? Hopheads used to double IPAs and Imperials will find the flavor mild in comparison, but drinkers who've gotten over the MORE MORE MORE quality of those strong IPAs will really get a kick out it. The body of the beer itself is light and fizzy, a very clean slate upon which the hops can work. And work they do. You'll taste orange and citrus, but mostly honeysuckle and melon. The nose is heady and dry, like a mellow version of cascade. It's a great sipping beer that also pairs well with rich, fatty food. The carbonation and thick, lacy head cut right through shellfish, dairy, pork, and the like.

All of Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale is seasonal, but you can still pick up bottles at Total Wine and (usually) BX Beer Depot. Happy hop hunting, hopheads.    

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