If you consider yourself a craft beer enthusiast and haven’t heard of this beer before, then I suggest you wrest yourself away from whatever screen you are looking at (once you’ve finished reading this review, of course) and go pick up a bottle at your nearest private liquor store before it disappears. This is one of the most highly anticipated seasonal releases in BC’s madly hopping craft beer scene (with most of the others at the top of that list also coming from Driftwood—Singularity and Bird of Prey also earn high-pitched squeals of delight from many beer geeks). It is also one of the most short-lived, here today and gone, if not tomorrow, by next week most likely.
Sartori Harvest IPA is a unique kind of beer known as “wet-hopped” or “fresh-hopped.” What that means is that the brewer takes hops fresh from the harvest and, still dripping with the succulent oils that contribute so much aroma, flavour and bitterness, brews a batch of beer as quickly as possible, without putting the hops through the typical drying process that preserves them so they can be shipped and stored for several months. The result, hopefully, is a unique beer that showcases the hops’ freshest qualities above and beyond anything else. In other words: a hophead’s wet dream. But it is an ephemeral style, not ideal for cellaring, because the volatile hop oils and flavour compounds break down quickly. This is a beer to drink soon after you get it. After more than a few months, it won’t taste nearly as good.
Driftwood Brewery may not have been the first BC brewery to release a wet-hopped beer (I’m sure James Walton at Storm Brewing would have done this years ago and I imagine some of the brewpubs tried it as well), but when they first released the Sartori Harvest IPA in 2009, it quickly became the brand synonymous with the style in BC, and rightfully so. While it is difficult to compare wet-hopped beers because they don’t last very long, Driftwood’s annual release has been excellent each year, as you can see from these reviews from 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The name Sartori is in honour of the farm where the special hops are grown, the Sartori Cedar Ranch in Chilliwack. In this case, all the hops used in the beer are of the Centennial variety, which is well-known for its citrus aroma, and is often used in West Coast IPAs. Other brewers use Sartori hops, too, including Hoyne Brewing who just released their Wolf Vine Wet-Hopped Pale Ale last week. It’s quite delicious, too, but different from Driftwood’s as it is a pale ale rather than an IPA. Still, I highly recommend it. Phillips Brewing also plans on releasing one soon, as will Granville Island Brewing, Townsite Brewing and Salt Spring Island Ales (using hops they grow themselves on a farm about a mile from the brewery). I am already drooling over the prospect of an evening tasting session comparing all of these!
This beer was released yesterday in Victoria and today in Vancouver. It is a very limited release so don’t expect it to last very long.
7% ABV / ~75 IBU
Pours amber, almost bronze/orange. After settling, it is slightly hazy with a creamy, white head that sticks around for a while, and a nice lacing along the glass as I drink it.
Wow – a big, mouth-watering burst of sweet citrus, mostly grapefruit, but a little orange in the mix. I was expecting a little more grassy/pine aromas based on my memory of past Sartoris, but I don’t really smell anything like that.
This is a very satisfying beer to drink, starting off with a tingly sensation that melts into a pleasant alcoholic warmth and a creamy finish.
Right off the bat, there’s a big bite of citrusy sweetness, mainly grapefruit with a touch of orange, that is very similar to the aroma. But as that citrus fades away, a fresh, floral bitterness takes its place, which is a bit of a relief from all that grapefruit, as much as I love it. This is all balanced against a solid backbone of maltiness, almost like what you’d expect from an Imperial IPA. Each sip is a bigger pleasure as the entire spectrum of the hops is showed off from aroma to citrus burst to fresh floral bitterness.
I’ll admit I was a little concerned after my first sip or two because I wasn’t getting much “fresh hop” flavour other than a big citrus burst (in fact, I was flashing back to Phillips’ Pandamonium from earlier this summer with its big dose of fruity Amarillo hops). But then as my palate settled in, the fresh floral bitterness arrived and all was good again. Is it as good as past years? Tough to say, of course. I think I remember more grassy freshness in previous versions, but memories also have a way of amplifying expectations, so who knows? Still, it’s a great beer, no doubt, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it a few more times over the next month or so, hopefully on tap or cask.
Total Score: 21.5/25
Available: in 650-ml bottles only from private liquor stores in Victoria and Vancouver. Will probably be on tap at the Alibi Room, St. Augustine’s and a few other craft beer-focused pubs.