A Fresh Hop Odyssey
In the Northwest, the period from Memorial Day to Halloween – give or take a week or two depending on the weather – is fresh hop season. It’s the one time a year when brewers can throw hops straight from the bine into their brew. The rest of the year, brewers use hops that have been dried to preserve them. Fresh hop cones begin degrading the second they’re picked. Within a few hours they already show signs of rotting. Within a few days, fresh hops turn to compost.
The limited viability is what makes fresh hopped beers so hard to make, and few brewers outside hop growing regions attempt them. But in Oregon and Washington, so near the Willamette and Yakima Valleys, fresh hop beers are an annual tradition. Every brewery from Alameda to Zoiglhaus is throwing fresh hops into any beer they can.
The first beer to hit shelves this year was Hopworks Totally Chill Hazy IPA with fresh Centennial hops. I don’t think the haze really let the fresh hops shine. There was an odd sort of oniony note on the nose, but it turned into tropical fuzz on the tongue. But I feel like the subtle fresh hop aromas were buried under layers of sweet bready malt.
Our bottles of Double Mountain’s Killer Red faired better. Also hopped with fresh Centennials, Double Mountain drew out more fall flavors by adding fresh Perle hops, too. Cranberry and fresh chopped wood on the nose. Pine needles and spruce meets citrus rinds on the tongue. The red ale base adds a nice toast note underneath without getting in the way.
When Sarah got a whiff of Stormbreaker’s Handfuls of Fresh Hops, she winced. She said it smelled “questionable.” It smells like pot. It’s infused with pungent Centennial and Amarillo hops. It’s raw and rough. It’s very herbal – basil, thyme, arugula. It tastes like the bitterest greens. It’s not a subtle beer.
For a change of pace, we moved back toward the fruity end with Hopican from Old Town Brewing. Hopicana is a hazy IPA with fresh Mosaic and Citra hops. It smells like fresh strawberries. The flavor is woodier – cedar and grapefruit. The body is full and juicy with a vanilla sweetness. But again, I thought all the malt covered up the freshness.
At this point, I should probably mention we didn’t drink all these beers in a single sitting. Freshness is incredibly important to fresh hop beers, so the best way to sample them is as soon as they hit the shelf, or even better the tap handles. But I digress.
Back at Double Mountain, Killer Green was ready. This IPA is chockfull of fresh Simcoe and Brewer’s Gold hops. It’s a straightforward IPA. The old pine and grapefruit aromas spread out across the palate. It definitely tasted fresh.
But nothing is as fresh as Gigantic’s Sodbuster VI: the Return of the Simcoe. It tasted incredible. In a word: herbaceous. Handfuls of garden fresh basil. Bunches of fresh cut flowers. Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Perfection.
Mazama Brewing’s Green Magic canned some of the same sorcery in a smaller package. Fresh Centennial hops meted out a constant low level of deliciousness. It’s exactly how a pale ale should taste. Balanced unassuming, but with a depth of character that only reveals itself through multiple glasses.
Next up, Field to Ferment from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing. Again, Centennial hops take center stage. It’s green and plant-y – spicy herbs, notes of cedar. Nice, but missing a bit of fruitiness.
The last beer of our 2018 fresh hop odyssey brought fruit in spades, but was about it. Hop Bot is Gigantic’s all Citra fresh hop ale. It’s got a nice citrus note, but also a load of berries. Blueberries, under ripe raspberries, maybe a red currant. Whichever berry it is, it tastes seedy and leafy. Not bad, but I think I’m convinced now, I only really like the old hops.