3 Sheeps Brewing Company
A variety of malty and sweet seasonal brews compete for attention this time of year, but autumn brings some of the best hoppy beers too. After all, hop flowers are typically picked in September, and given the renewed interest in growing this crop in Wisconsin, this is the season when fresh-hopped beers can be at their best.
"We are not that big on pumpkin beers or Oktoberfests, so we figured we would do something different for a fall beer," says Grant Pauly, co-owner and brewmaster of 3 Sheeps Brewing. "I had a campfire and leaves in the back of my mind when I came up with the idea," he says about the inspiration for a harvest ale.
The Sheboyban-based brewery developed its own take on what makes for a good fall beer. Actually, 3 Sheeps expanded the idea and released two harvest ales to celebrate the season. While both are similar, there's an important distinction that hop lovers will appreciate. The first to be released is called Autumnal Hoppiness; it's made with hops that are dried, palletized and then added to the brew kettle, as is the case with the vast majority of beers. The second is a "wet-hop" beer called Fresh Hop Harvest Ale, which was released in the brewery's limited Nimble Lips Noble Tongue series.
This difference in hopping will not be lost of those who enjoy bitter beers. The condition of the hops and when they get used makes a big difference in the aroma, flavor and intensity of bitterness. Together these two new beers from 3 Sheeps make for a very special fall treat, and a fun side-by-side comparison of what hops are all about.
Style: 3 Sheeps refers to both beers as "harvest ales" because they are intended to call attention to the seasonality of hop farming. They fall loosely into a broad category of American strong ales that are dark in color, rich in both hop bitterness and malty sweetness. American strong ales offer robust flavors with lots of alcoholic warmth, and often exceed 7.5% ABV.
Background: "The goal is to try these side-by-side to see what fresh hops really do to a beer," says Grant Pauly. Both beers are brand-new, first-time releases for 3 Sheeps, which was established in 2011, and were initially released within a couple of weeks of each other. All of the hops in both beers come from Dodge County land managed by Rich Joseph, who also owns The Hop Garden near Belleville. (Joseph has his own a line of hop-focused beers that he makes in collaboration with Madison-based House of Brews.)
This fall harvest tandem from 3 Sheeps calls attention to the treatment of hops in both agriculture and brewing. Autumnal Hoppiness is made with three varieties: Nugget, Cascade and Centennial. The hops that go into it were actually harvested last fall, and then processed into pellets which were used for brewing the beer in early September. The Fresh Hop Harvest Ale contains Nugget and Cascade hops. Flowers of the latter variety were picked fresh on September 4, and immediately transported to the brew house for use. "We take Autumnal Hoppiness and replace all of the late addition hops with fresh Cascades for the Fresh Hop Harvest Ale," explains Pauly.
Making wet hop beer can be especially challenging due to timing issues. The process requires picking the hops and transporting them to the brewery within just a few hours. To make sure that the hops used in the wet hop beer were harvested quickly and that they remained fresh, 3 Sheeps called on its staff to help out.
"We had a nice field trip. Four of us from the brewery went to the Hop Garden farm near Neosho to pick hops, took them to the harvester, and then back to Sheboygan to brew," says Pauly. That all happened in less than 12 hours.
Actually, Pauly left the farm in the middle of picking to return to the brewery so he could start the brewing process and have the brew kettle ready by the time the rest of the 3 Sheeps crew returned later in the day. Once they arrived at the brewery, the hard work didn't stop. The hops were immediately dumped into the mash, and Pauly says they were heavy and very hard to stir. "They became a sticky mess," he quips about the hop-filled brew kettle.
Autumnal Hoppiness uses about one pound of hops per barrel, and finishes at 40 IBUs and 7.2% ABV. It's sold in four-packs for around $9, and is expected to remain available into late November.
About five pounds of hops per barrel were used to make Fresh Hop Harvest Ale, which ends up at 40 IBUs and 7.5% ABV. This beer is Volume 4 in the Nimble Lips Noble Tongue series, and is sold in 22-ounce bombers for around $10 per bottle. Its availability is very limited, with only 1,200 bottles produced. If you're interested in trying this beer, it's best to grab a bottle now and enjoy it as soon as possible. Wet-hop beers are best consumed as soon as they are released, when the hop oils are at their freshest.
3 Sheeps is also gearing up for the next release in its Nimble Lips Noble Tongue series. Volume 5 will be a Ghost Pepper IPA that finishes at 11.2% ABV.
- Aroma: Firm floral and citrus hoppiness. The Autumnal Hoppiness has a more assertive aroma, and Fresh Hop Harvest Ale has a nose that is more floral and earthy.
- Appearance: Both are hazy, deep bronze; with a long lasting soft, tan, head.
- Texture: Both are medium bodied, with round and soft texture.
- Taste: Both have firm malt-forward sweetness that transition quickly into hops. Autumnal Hoppiness has the more assertive piney and light citrus qualities, alongside a malty-caramel background. Its blend of pine, citrus and malt give it a spicy-type bitterness. The main hoppiness of the Fresh Hop Harvest Ale has hints of woody and grassy bitterness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Both beers have a lingering hoppiness that is complex because of their alcoholic warmth, a spicy bitterness from the hops as they blend with firm malt tones. Fresh Hop Harvest Ale has a woody- and earthy-hoppiness that lingers.
Glassware: The Willi Becher with its inward taper near the rim does a nice job of showing off the brown color and focusing the nose of Autumnal Hoppiness. For Fresh Hop Harvest Ale, the snifter works well to focus a lighter, yet still hoppy, nose. The snifter also encourages sipping and makes sharing a 22-ounce bottle easier among friends.
Pairs well with: The spicy blend of hops and malts in Autumnal Hoppiness are great lightly spicy dishes ranging from pizza to sausage. I also found this a very nice beer to pair with a streak on the grill. The Fresh Hop Harvest Ale is a nice beer to appreciate on its own so to allow one to appreciate the flavor and aroma of wet hops.
Rating: Autumnal Hoppiness Harvest Ale: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
Nimble Lips Noble Tongue Fresh Hop Harvest Ale: Two Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Consensus: Autumnal Hoppiness does not have enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate or RateBeer. Nimble Lips Noble Tongue Fresh Hop Harvest Ale does not have enough ratings to be evaluated at Beer Advocate or RateBeer.
The Verdict: 3 Sheeps is making for a fun harvest season with its near simultaneous release of two nearly identical beers -- one made with fresh hops and the other with dried pelletized hops. While that demands a side-by-side comparison, each beer still stands on its own.
Autumnal Hoppiness has a blend of hoppiness and maltiness that delivers a spicy complexity and warmth from the alcohol. Those qualities make it somewhat like a hop-centric West Coast amber ale. It's a very nice beer for fall in Wisconsin with a deep bronze color, assertive flavor, and lingering bitterness.
The Fresh Hop Harvest Ale is softer in mouth feel. There is spiciness that lingers in the finish, along with a woody and grassy bitterness that I attribute to the use whole leaf hops. While it's hoppy, this just didn't give me a fresh, juicy-crispness in the form of a "pop" from the recently picked hops that often found in beers labeled as "wet-hopped." It was also mellow, which seemed odd given that I have followed this beer's making from hop-picking to brewing to bottling. I was hoping for a sharper hoppiness given the presence of freshly picked Cascades in the beer. The lesson here is that these types of brews need to hit shelves (and then your refrigerator) as soon as possible after being bottled; brook no delays if you want to get the most out of those wet hops.
I'm still content with the solid flavor and earthy hoppiness of Fresh Hop Harvest Ale, though. It's a good beer, but it was missing a key flavor component. This is still a solid entry among this year's wet-hopped brews, especially among those made with local hops. I don't want to fault it too much, because it's rather nice to sip from a snifter during a cool autumn evening.
To directly compare the two beers, my nod goes to Autumnal Hoppiness. It offers ample citrus and pine bitterness set against a rich, malty background. Those are all traits well suited for a fall beer.