Hop Hunter IPA, the Faux-Harvest Ale

Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA

A few months ago, the release of Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA was a highly anticipated event in the craft beer community. That hype became heightened with a near miss of a (frivolous) lawsuit with Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Why the buzz? Kerning and fonts aside, it was because Hop Hunter implemented such an innovative brewing method. Distilled hop oil was extracted on site in the hop fields, and later added to the ale, creating the coveted wet hop experience, year round.

You can watch Sierra Nevada’s official video about the extraction process to learn more.

A Quick Hop Hunter IPA Review

This post isn’t so much a Hop Hunter IPA beer review, but I made some quick tasting notes, since they support my additional thoughts about the beer:

  • Hop Hunter IPA: 3/5

    3 Stars

    Hop Hunter IPA was off to a good start, with ample piney hop aroma. It poured a vibrant golden color, but lacked the trademark volatile head seen in almost all Sierra Nevada India Pale Ales. Since it was not as malty as its predecessors, the ale became un-balanced and overly dry, without any sweetness to carry the finish. There was a hoppy kick, but it just seemed to evaporate without lasting on the palate, or much intensity leading up to it. Hop Hunter reminded me more of a hoppy lager / pilsner, than a harvest-style IPA.

A Few More Realizations About Hop Hunter

I’ll admit it — I have always been a Sierra Nevada fanboy, and I was as caught up in the pre-release hype over this IPA as anybody. But after a few drinks of Hop Hunter IPA, the blinders I was wearing got knocked right off my face, and I came to a few realizations about this beer.

Number one, which I have already covered above, was Hop Hunter IPA was really not that great. It’s not a bad beer, but barely above average, especially when compared to Sierra’s vast portfolio of proven IPAs: Torpedo, Ruthless, Hemisphere Harvest (either), or Celebration Ale.

It was if Sierra added hop oil extract to their new Golden India Pale Ale. A watery, lame duck of an IPA, that just made its debut during their recent foray into year-round variety packs. Hop Hunter was definitely not a top 5 IPA of theirs, and will barely cling to a top 10 spot on their roster by the time Sierra’s 2015 release calendar has expired.

Has Sierra Nevada started to slip, and become the West Coast mirror of Sam Adams? You know, barely above average, churning out as many new offerings as possible, often throwing gimmicky ingredients into the tank?

Sierra Nevada, the same guys who split hairs and pride themselves on the semantics of wet vs fresh hopping, now use distilled hop oil to mimic the natural wet/fresh hop process. So in other words, Hop Hunter IPA was taking PEDs…

Not the kind of cheating you would think hop purists like Sierra Nevada would tolerate.

Most importantly, Hop Hunter IPA just didn’t taste like a genuine harvest, or wet/fresh hop ale. It featured moderately punchy hops, but it was missing that integral sticky, and/or herbal quality fresh hop ales always showcase.

Hop Hunter IPA has delivered a new beer style: faux-harvest.

But my biggest knock on the beer was something I never even considered before its release. After the disappointment, I realized Hop Hunter IPA had the potential to ruin the true tradition of the wet, or fresh hop season.

If more of the true harvest ale flavor profiles were there, why make yourself wait until November when the wet/fresh hopped ales hit the shelves?

I just drank my last Hop Hunter IPA, and don’t see myself having another in the near future. It was a marketing beer, and just not worth picking up another 6 pack when there’s so much else out there. I look forward to the fall, when the real harvest ales arrive.

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