It's that time of year when everything really starts changing. The weather outside, the clocks themselves, and of course the flavor of beers. But whereas common logic might be to pick up your favorite pumpkin beer, mine is to take advantage of the very small window for breweries fresh hop offerings. The only question is: are they all hype and marketing? Or is it truly something special?
My decision on which fresh hop beer to choose wasn't all that difficult. While nearly every brewery offers up their own take on the style, I could find only one that offered it in the most fresh packaging available --- the aluminum can. Cans provide better and longer lasting freshness. And there are probably no canned beers more sought after than Surly Brewing. With their distribution limited only to the state of Minnesota, I had to search long and hard to get my hands on some Surly Wet (well, not too long or too hard. All I really had to do was ask around to some of my trading partners). When it finally arrived, I promptly checked the canning date (Oct. 5th, 2012) and got to drinking. This years batch was brewed with 100% Simcoe hops and tasted incredible. The flavors of grassy pine, fruity citrus, and sweet malts blended together amazingly. Sure, the weather may be getting cooler and the impulse for a darker, heavier beer looms large. But in this transition period here in Los Angeles where it can be 85 degrees one day and 65 the very next, Surly Wet hit the spot in every possible way. Oh, the bitter irony that the closest distribution for it is thousands of miles away.
With so much hops added to the brew, it's no surprise that the level of alcohol had to creep up to help balance the aroma and taste. Surly lists the abv on Wet at a perfect 7.5%. For myself, that is the magic number in creating a drinkable yet decently potent beer. Being packaged in proper-pint sized cans, I also managed to drink my upper limit of beer for this blog by slowly but surely polishing off 3 whole cans. With each pint, the buzz slowly and steadily crept in but never took total control of my senses. Being that it tasted, looked, and smelled great, and it was easy as hell to drink, I certainly looked forward to pint after pint. However, I also got to thinking somewhere during the 2nd or 3rd drink that while this beer was certainly remarkable, was it really all that much better (or different) than any other top-notch IPA? Was this notion of fresh hop beers more marketing than artistry? Certainly there are subtle differences...stronger aromas, sharper tastes, and brighter colors. But, do those slight adjustments make it an overall better version? Without doing a blind side-by-side test of Surly's Wet, Furious (IPA), and even Abrasive (DIPA) it's probably impossible to tell. But being that the entire notion of fresh hop IPAs is the freshness and importance of drinking as soon as possible, such a test may never even be feasable. So, for now, I'll have to rely on sensory memory. Which, after drinking about 48oz. of respectably alcoholic beer, may or may not be all that accurate.
After a night of drinking Surly Wet, I passed out happily feeling somewhat confident that the hangover the next morning wouldn't be too severe. I didn't feel excessively drunk before sleeping, and I made sure to drink a large glass of water just to be safe. Yet, while I slept soundly, when I awoke to Murdoch my boxer nudging me to feed him, my body felt like it had just been revived from a months-long coma. Although I could not sense any excessive headache or stomach pain that typically accompanies my hangovers, my entire body seemed to be weighed down. My eyes could barely open upon filling the dogs' water dish. I wavered and wobbled throughout the kitchen as if I was drugged. And while the thought of my wife secretly slipping me a roofie did cross my mind, I'm fairly certain that she would not do such a thing (nor know where to procure such a drug). Once I made my way back to the bed after the dogs were done with their business, I passed out once again. When I was awoken next, it was to my wife gently nudging me to inform me of the late hour. Despite my monthly embellishments I'm never one to sleep the following day away. Yet, on this occurrence I remained comatose until almost noon. Once finally getting up and around however, whatever hangover may have been there quickly faded and by the time I finished a cup of coffee, I was completely fine. So for all the freshness that Surly Wet promoted, one possible (and welcome) side affect may also be that of a sleep aid.
I'm quite thankful for the chance to have had this remarkable beer. Surly Wet definitely lived up to the expectations. And while I'm not quite totally sold on the notion of fresh hop beers being any better or worse than the average IPA, I do appreciate the effort that brewers go through to bring the people a unique spin on a typical beer. All the ingredients, work, packaging, and yes...even marketing can't just be for show. There is simply too much labor and resources involved to be anything less than an effort to brew a better beer.