Beer Review: Sierra Nevada 2009 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale

It pours a gorgeous, gem-bright orange-amber, with a medium, lacey head. There's less of the citrus and fruit character common in Sierra Nevada's other fresh hop beer, although the aroma carries a hint of apricot and woodsy tones. From the first sniff, however, your mouth starts clenching in anticipation of the bitter hops.

Unlike the crazy, over-hopped novelty beers popular with some craft-brewers these days, this is a more balanced package in the mouth, with a touch of ripe fruit blended into  hints of grass and caramel, along with a bitter, hoppy punch that's less powerful than expected. That changes on the dry finish, however, when the hops linger on your tingling bitter-receptive taste buds for long minutes.

A fairly simple beer, maybe, but the Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale is a fine choice for anyone looking for a readily-available dose of hoppy brew. At least, until the brewery's fresher, domestic version hits shelves later this month.

Sierra Nevada 2009 Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale

6.7% ABV, 24-ounce bottle

Sierra Nevada has always been the safety date for craft brew lovers, when they're forced by circumstance to buy beer at grocery and liquor stores with limited selections. Partly, that's due to this brewery's amazing success at penetrating the market — it's ubiquitous at almost any retailer that branches out even a little from American mega-brews. Partly, that's because Sierra Nevada has been able to maintain craft-brew style throughout its 29 years of business, even as the brewery's production has risen over 800,000 barrels per year.

The Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale represents both Sierra Nevada's small-batch quality and its ability to market a schtick. The brewery has been making fresh hop beers for over a decade, shipping in newly-picked flowers from Washington State every fall that haven't been dried or pelletized like much of the hops used for beer. Theoretically, that means more pronounced floral and drying notes from the fresh oils and resins, resulting in an annual ale that's bright and bitter and distinctly seasonal. Turns out, once a year isn't enough.

In 2008, Sierra Nevada expanded its fresh hop line to the spring, sourcing the powerful buds from South American growers (with their opposite growing season) to produce a brother for fall's fresh beer. With the brewery a few weeks away from releasing the latest domestic version, it seemed time to put a cap on the Southern Hemisphere variety. Or, well, pop a cap, I guess.

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