Far From India: India Pale Ales in the 21st Century. Wormtown Wet Hop IPA, Worcester, Mass.
Date: March 19, 2019
The Story— We’ve become push-overs for distinctive local East Coast hops. A brewer still has to have a good sense of how to use them, but iconic local hopped beers from Virginia to New York have been highlights of our beer travelling for the past couple of years. This past fall we found we could expand that range to Massachusettes.
Worcester has been a somewhat under the radar beer mecca for many years. One of the best fruit beers we’ve ever had was an ale that poured blueberries into a glass that rose and fell in a spectacular diorama; fortunately the beer was quite good and the whole fruit did little to belittle it. A fine pub not far away served burgers and complementary glasses and offered, for the time, a pretty good range of decent beers. Like nearly everywhere else, though, the beer scene has soared from that single brewery to five, and a new first class belgian themed pub, Armsby Abby, has offered tap takeovers that even included Hampstead Hill beers that are almost impossible to find outside the brewery.
Still, Wormtown, the original brewery that brought us here, has continued to find ways to capture our attention. They’re in newer digs with a bigger brewery, but still brew a wide range of very good beer and they’ll feed you well. We found this Wormtown gem, however, on tap at the Sole Proprietor, a first rate lobster house serving probably the best seafood in Worcester in a nicely nautical setting.
Wet hopped beers used to be almost exclusively a west coast indulgence. Hops hit the boil within hours of being picked and without the drying process almost all hops go through. They’re tricky. Unlike “fresh hopped” beers, brewed often with the new crop but after processing, which usually feature high IBUs and big hop flavors, wet hop beers may be much more subtle. It’s no easy trick for the brewer to calculate how much moisture is in the plant and therefore not needed as hot liquor (water) in the brew kettle. There’s usually a lovely gentleness to the hops character that is very nearly impossible to describe.
The Beer— Slightly metallic starting bitter quickly turns to a lovely hop spice and ends with a dry and balanced bitter. The local hop flavor is nearly unique and even more distinctive when presented in a wet hop beer. It’s less fruity than many IPAs despite the fact that it’s slightly juicy with stone fruit as it drinks. It’s the kind of clean straightforward hop you’d find 20– or maybe 90 years ago.
Value — Excellent. Not cheap at $7.50 for a less-than-pint glass, but we’d still call it a bargain at five times the price.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.