Category: hops

A Fresh Hop OdysseyIn the Northwest, the period from Memorial…

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.

Name That OrangeWe were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic…

Name That Orange

We were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic Brewing’s Endless, a juicy IPA brewed with Citra and Mandarina hops, and I was at a loss. Obviously, it tastes of citrus. But I had the hardest time coming up with a better analogy. Is it like a satsuma? Is it a pomelo? What does a mandarin taste like again? I kept circling around looking for the right variety, but in the end I gave up. It’s been months since I’ve seen a cutie. I haven’t tasted a sumo in at least eighteen months.

Keeping track of beers in my mind is hard enough. Keeping track of three hundred fruits and vegetables is impossible. Despite writing about beer for almost seven years, I am regularly stumped trying to describe a flavor – especially in beers that rely heavily on tropical, new world hops. I am not a supertaster. Sometimes my beer notes are the typographical equivalent of a shrug. 

When it comes to writing tasting notes, every writer falls somewhere on a spectrum between between the ornate, flowery pole and the technical, utilitarian pole. One writer might describe how “sweet oranges dance with aniseed, biscuits, caramel, and hops in the tantalizing nose,” while another uses terms like DMS, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, esters, phenolic, or oxidized. Both are valid ways to evaluate beer, and no one drinker writes entirely purple prose or a technical manual. 

But all writers are trying to turn their subjective experience into something another person can objectively understand. You get into the weeds though when you’re comparing a beer to an obscure wine like barolo or a weird fruit like gooseberries. I doubt many readers can instantly imagine the scent of lanolin. (I know it well, Sarah is a prodigious knitter.)

In the end, all tasting notes are metaphorical. Unless a beer is literally infused with citrus, it only tastes like a grapefruit. I pray the “horse blanket” flavor in your lambic is figurative. But reaching for a really out there description like “Strawberry Shortcake met the Big Bad Wolf,” can be incredibly entertaining and evocative.

Hop TonicIt’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double…

Hop Tonic

It’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double IPA. It seems that the new hazy IPA trend has been covering up a more sinister drop in alcohol. All the hazies I’ve seen lately are 7% ABV and under. Makes you wonder. 

But Hair of the Dog recently released Green Dot, an extra special 9.5% ABV version of their classic Blue Dot double IPA. It’s a boozy beast designed to deliver optimal hop flavor. Like a tincture, the higher alcohol absorbs hop oils and delivers the resins directly to the user. A spoonful honeyed malt sweetness meets a juicy fruit flavor – melon and mango – before being swept away in a therapeutic wave of floral piney bitterness. The finish is a little medicinal, like cherry cough syrup, completing the image.

Catch and ReleaseCaptured by Porches always sounded more like a…

Catch and Release

Captured by Porches always sounded more like a midwestern post-rock band than a brewery. The tiny operation has had many ups and downs over the last ten years. Somehow, despite bad press, some really off beers, and bouncing from Portland to St. Helens to Gresham, the little brewery that could keeps going. And they are now malting their own barley, too.

Captured by Porches is a one man operation, Dylan Goldsmith seems to make all the beer even after a decade in business. He started as a homebrewer supplying house parties. His homebrew was so popular, his friends never left, hanging on his porch all night – thus the name. 

The first Captured brewery was wedged into a weird space behind the Clinton St. Theatre on some hand-me-down equipment found on Craigslist. The brewery moved from cramped corner to cramped corner – from an old gas station on highway 30, to an industrial park in St. Helens, and now the backend of a health food store turned organic pizza pub in Gresham.

Captured By Porches has never garnered a lot of press. Every few years, someone hunts down Goldsmith for an interview about beer and homebrewing and sustainability, but he seems more interested in making beer than self promotion. They never opened a proper taproom, but they entered the Portland food cart scene. The Captured by Porches beer buses popped up all over town selling beer from converted campers to thirsty foodies.

But a few years ago, Goldsmith and his business partner/wife broke up. He kept the brewery; she got the beer buses. The brewery nearly fell off the face of the earth. The business had to pull distribution and focus on the smaller accounts that actually sold the beer. They continue to sell beer at local farmer’s markets and in small grocers and bottle shops but you won’t see Captured by Porches in the Whole Foods anymore. 

But I’ve been hesitant to pick up anything new from Captured, their beers do not have a great reputation. Their Invasive Species IPA made it into the finals of our grand all Oregon IPA taste off in 2012, then flunked out when we got two very off bottles. They had notable issues in the early 2010s with swing top bottles which were often infected, and came with a dollar bottle deposit. Those early bottles soured reviewers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. A single bad bottle can turn into even worse word of mouth.

But I was at the local co-op grocery and in between the hazy IPAs was Wind & Rain ESB. I had a hankering for something a little maltier, so I picked it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned the beer was made with Full Pint barley bred at Oregon State University, grown locally, and malted at the brewery. In 

2015, Captured by Porches started malting nearly all the grain in their beers. That’s insane. I had to try it.

Wind & Rain is a malty brew with a lot of character. It’s not just sweet or toasty. It’s tastes like bran flakes or wild rice. It’s slightly, slightly smokey. The caramel notes are kept in check by a firm bitterness and a hint of yeasty fruit. One sip and I was hooked. What else could they be making? So I went pack for an Oregon Sunshine golden ale and the reformulated Invasive Species. Both have a tasty malt flavor, but each shows off a different side of the grain.

Oregon Sunshine is like a sandwich, nice toasted bread notes with a seedy, grassy flavor topped with a hint of pickle and an oniony umami. Invasive Species is an old school IPA with plenty of bitterness backed by a malty sweetness. The flavor is toasted, nearly burnt like popcorn heated on the stovetop. There’s a raw grassiness underneath emphasized by the old school pine and citrus hops.

In a market dominated by massive multinational craft brewers – and small brewers aiming to become massive multinationals, it’s intriguing to see a truly tiny business overcome some serious struggles and continues to push the envelope. And somehow, despite using their own hand malted grain, Captured can still sell pint sized bottles for less than five bucks. If you see them around, I encourage you to give them another try. 

Maris Otter + Centennial ESBA few weeks back, my brother Nate…

Maris Otter + Centennial ESB

A few weeks back, my brother Nate came over to brew some beer. I picked up ingredients for a pale ale with a sort of English bent. Maris Otter malt and Yakima Valley grown Centennial hops and Wyeast’s ESB strain.

I have a theory about homebrewing. People always start out trying to copy a beer they really like. They find a recipe with ten separate ingredients using three different timers. In the chaos something inevitably gets left out, a step is missed, something gets burnt, and the results are muddled at best. I’ve been there. So my last few recipes have been incredibly simple – one malt, one hop.

As I master the simple steps of mashing grains and boiling hops, I can start to experiment with dry hopping and inventive ingredients. This time around for instance, inspired by that best bitter I had on our trip to Virginia, I added honey at during bottling instead of the usual corn sugar. The results, while not spectacularly complex, taste pretty good.

I brought a whole gallon of the stuff to a family gathering, and the lot of it was gone in a few hours. Though, I may have drunk the majority. The finished beer was a little under carbonated, but that didn’t seem to matter. The malt flavor was nice, not sweet, but full. The honey flavor didn’t come out in the finished product, but I might try it again.

The hops were just bitter enough to balance. But I would like some more aroma in there. Next time I think I’ve try dry hopping. But dang, it was quaffable. 

Field BierI’ve always been intrigued by Agrarian Ales. The…

Field Bier

I’ve always been intrigued by Agrarian Ales. The brewery is located on a working hop farm in the Willamette Valley. I’ve never visited the tasting room, but it looks cozy. And the concept of farm to bottle beer is everything I’ve ever wanted. 

They’ve recently started self-distributing in Portland, so I picked up a bottle of their Field Bier. It’s a simple, tasty saison made with only Belgian pilsner malt, nugget hops grown on the farm, and classic French farmhouse yeast. It’s a balanced, gulpable beer. It reminds me of a certain brew I made a month back, but of course cleaner and properly carbonated.

Hopefully, we can get out to visit this summer. The folks at Agrarian are currently crowdfunding a new taproom. A sudden change in zoning law made it illegal to use the old barn to serve beer. In the meantime you can still visit the brewery and drink among the hop bines on sunny days. If your passing through Eugene, Oregon, make it a destination.

OverripeTanya, Nate’s new girlfriend, made a tropical fruit…

Overripe

Tanya, Nate’s new girlfriend, made a tropical fruit salad for Easter. I can identify a mango is on sight. Passionfruit is a bit of a mystery flavor, but I remember the shape of it. Papaya? Guava? What’s that even look like? When a new beer comes out boasting juicy, tropical papaya flavor, I had literally no reference point, until now. Thanks to Tanya I can tell you straight up: juicy papaya tastes like feet. 

Well, overripe papaya tastes like feet. Papaya is a tricky fruit. People say it tastes melony, maybe a little peppery and musty. As it ripens the distinct funkiness of the fruit can get out of hand. The papaya at Easter had gone nasty. But I learned a lesson. I have a distinct sense memory for papaya. And that is exactly Block 15′s Tropical Slam Sticky Hands smells like. 

Tropical Slam is a special variation on the “hop experience ale” brewed with

Galaxy, Citra, Mosaic, and Apollo hops. It is a stinky beer. Hop aromas spill out of the can reeking of cannabis and very ripe fruit. That’s not to say it’s not tasty. The papaya funkiness fades into a nice pineapple and mango flavor with a round solid bitterness. It’s dank and tasty – if you can get past the body odor.

Pilsner + Cascade + RusticIt’s been two years since I last tried…

Pilsner + Cascade + Rustic

It’s been two years since I last tried homebrewing. My last attempt was such an unmitigated disaster that poured the gunk down the drain and locked away the sanitizer. It just seemed too much work for so little. The ingredients for this batch cost twenty bucks, and only made a gallon of beer. That’s an expensive six-pack. It would be just as rewarding to spend that money on actual beer.

However, I’ve been reading Lars Garshol’s blog about tiny farmhouse brewers in Scandinavia and the former Soviet republics. Where brewers are making amazing beer without any modern equipment and bizarre yeast strains. It’s all very rustic – wooden equipment, superstitious screams,

brewers who would rather measure temperature with the skin of their elbows than thermometers. it makes brewing sound as easy and natural as cooking.

Then an old friend of mine bought his first home brewing kit. It sounded so fun. So I pulled out the old pots and pans, and, on a random Wednesday morning, I buckled by tiny brewing partner into the back seat and went looking for ingredients. I wanted to make something quick and easy. I grabbed three pounds of Pilsner malt, a packet of Cascade hops, a pouch of Imperial Yeast’s Rustic strain.

I had my beer: Pilsner, Cascade, Rustic. 

Well, I had the ingredients for my beer. We took everything home and started heating up water. I put the pot on the stove, and we poured hot water over our grains. An hour and a half later we pulled out the bag of mash and poured in more water. We turned up the heat, and when the wort started to boil, added some hops. An hour and a half later, tossed in the remaining hops and shut off the heat. It took some time to cool, but then those tiny yeasties went to work straight away. 

It was simple, but there were a few hiccups. I dropped the thermometer in the cooling wort. Whoops! That’s fried. Also, our tiny apartment stove couldn’t handle the pressure. Five hours of constant use was too much for it; the burner completely collapsed. The price of this brew just went up another twenty dollars.

For the few weeks I was convinced this was all a big mistake. It was fun, but it’s too much hassle, too much money. In those two weeks, my buddy texted with questions. Why does his beer taste smokey? Is it bad? And as his beer went off the rails, I was convinced mine wasn’t far behind. I mean, can you even bottle condition in a growler?

Well, yes you can. Last weekend I opened the first one and heard the hiss. I saw the bubbles. I made beer.

And it isn’t half bad. There’s still a lot of yeastie particulate floating about, but it tastes like beer. It’s got great yeasty esters throwing off all sorts of banana and clove notes. There’s actual depth to the body. And the bitterness is sharp but layered. I made an actual beer. It feels amazing.

The Haze Craze2017 was the year of absolutely thick fruity IPA…

The Haze Craze

2017 was the year of absolutely thick fruity IPA smoothies. Some were dead good. Some were just bad. But the consumers demanded haze, and the brewers delivered.

I’ve never seen a fad catch on so quickly, and strangely, without the reflexive backlash. There seems to be a few middle-aged beer writers who hate the yogurty new IPAs, but from every corner you see small and large breweries trying to catch the wave with their own interpretation of the New England style – maximum haze, almost no bitterness, tons of fruity hops.

But when Sierra Nevada makes a hazy IPA the trend is dead, right?

Hazy Little Thing looks the part, opaque and orange, sporting a fluffy head and thick body. It tastes ultra fruity – that unnamable citrus flavor of Mosaic hops. If this doesn’t push the hazy trend into the mainstream of the mainstream for years to come, or –god willing– it will signal the end of the fad. 

Personally, I’m done with the haze. Correction, I am done with the hunting for haze. There’s a certain mania that follows these beers. Every release is turned into a craze, fueled by social media and general fear of missing out. You have to drink a hazy IPA the day it was canned – always canned, why canned? – or your doing it wrong.

More than the flavors and the floaties, the manipulated scarcity is the worst thing imported from New England. Breweries like Tree House and the Alchemist before them have perfected the hype machine, and now, every brewery is trying to do the same thing. Every Instagram and Twitter is a mix of hazy IPA, pastry infused stout, and a barrel aged sour. It’s a great time for people who love queuing, but I stopped waiting in lines years ago.

Beer Sans-GlutenLast month, Jeff at Beervana wrote about his…

Beer Sans-Gluten

Last month, Jeff at Beervana wrote about his experience at Ground Breaker Brewing, a totally gluten-free brewery. Owner and head brewer James Neumeister uses sorghum, lentils, and toasted chestnuts in place of barley and wheat. It sounds like a weird mash, but as Jeff pointed out, “By sixteenth-century standards these ingredients would have been entirely normal.”

More important to me, Jeff says the beer tastes good. And unlike some gluten-free beers, they look and feel like normal beers. They roast and toast the nuts and lentils by hand to get exact flavors, just like malting. When you add it all together, I think Jeff’s right, Ground Breaker might be “the Most Interesting Brewery in Oregon.”

We’re sensitive to the needs of the gluten intolerant. Sarah and I haven’t eaten meat in almost a decade and – spurred by a lactose intolerant baby – have eaten an almost entirely vegan diet for the last three years. (Full disclosure: I got a whole milk latte by accident last week, and I drank it.) I hate it when people assume vegan food is gross, so I figured I owed Ground Breaker a try, if only to see what lentils do to a beer.

I defy you to find a problem with Ground Breaker’s Dark Ale. It’s their flagship for a reason. It’s dark, ruby edged and roasty.

I got a whiff of something odd on the nose, but it was quickly subsumed by a wave of black coffee.

The body is full and flavorful. The full mash includes belgian candi sugar, which must enhance the dry finish. I got a whiff of something odd on the nose, but it was quickly subsumed by a wave of black coffee. The beer has depth and would easily pass as a porter at any bar.

The IPA No. 5 on the other hand has a few more issues. The coppery color is a little dark, but it is crystalline. It’s hard to get a barley beer that clear. The hops are spot on. Citrusy Crystals are on full display, bright and fresh. The malty replacements come out more with every sip. The color says crystal malt, but it’s not quite sweet. And then there’s the lentils. Like I said, we’re vegan. We can taste lentils. There’s a savory flavor that’s off putting in a beer like this. The IPA is admirable, if flawed.

Would I drink Ground Breaker again? Sure. I would definitely suggest Ground Breaker to any friends going gluten-free. They make good beer, full stop. No need to qualify it.