Hops growing at Nopalito Farm this summer.
Wet-hop beers have started showing up in tasting rooms. The recent proliferation of hop farms in San Diego County has allowed some brewers to get hops on the same day they were harvested. Most of the year, all the brewers in San Diego brew with dried hop pellets. But late summer/early fall, we get a chance to drink beer made with actual hop cones going into the beer. That means freshness, just as if you picked a ripe tomato or pea pod from your garden to eat with dinner. The hops haven't dried out or lost any of their natural oils: therefore, they are considered “wet.”
2181 Logan Avenue, San Diego
Watching out for such things on social media, I've seen these beers popping up from the usual wet-hop suspects: Monkey Paw and Nickel Beer. But more are coming, and when I saw Otay Mesa's Border X Brewing announce the limited release of Nopalitos Pale Ale, it seemed like a great excuse to check out the brewer's Barrio Logan tasting room.
Nopalitos Pale Ale and art at Border X
I needn't have waited for an excuse. The place is pretty lively, with enthusiastic customers enjoying beers, games, and food served off an outdoor grill. Perfectly matching the Barrio Logan zeitgeist, there's artwork everywhere, ranging from white-on-black illustrations covering some walls to rotating artist exhibitions on others. After checking the place out, I ordered my beer and grabbed a seat at the window counter, which was open wide to the sidewalk and provided some pretty fantastic people-watching.
The beer went too fast. It's named for the farm at which its hops were grown — the certified organic Nopalito Farm in Valley Center. Called a pale ale, its recipe also incorporated wheat and rye, pouring an opaque 5% ABV with only a little lace.
I got some fruity aromatics — not huge, but there was a hint of pineapple I found pleasant complement to slightly bolder floral notes. But the nose didn't prepare me for how well rounded a beer this was. The wheat brought out the hops' fruitiness while the rye gave the bitterness some structure. It also finished crisp, with a clean aftertaste.
This proved important to a friend I'd dragged along. He denounces IPAs every chance he gets, claiming the hops offer him nothing but a trail of bad breath. For years I've been unable to show him the hoppy light, and I wanted to see whether fresh hops could win him over where pellet hops failed.
They did. He loved this beer. I shouldn't give all credit to the fresh hops — although they certainly pitched in with a huge range of beautifully nuanced flavors. It's just a well-conceived and well-crafted beer. I could drink this pale ale for days, and I look forward to finding more local wet-hopped beers at O'Brien's Pub — they'll be featured the weekends of September 11th and October 16th.