Category: ipa

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.

Brewers Gone WildOld Town Brewing is quickly becoming a…

Brewers Gone Wild

Old Town Brewing is quickly becoming a buzzworthy brewery. When we moved into our place in North Portland some four years ago, it was just a basic pizza and beer joint. The Kolsch and IPA – an English styled brew – won an award or two. Nothing flashy, nothing wacky.

In the two years since we moved west, they’ve gone off the rails. Fruit beers, sours, green tea lemonade, and a ton of hazy IPA. And it all comes with the wit and charm of Joe Sanders, Old Town’s Instagramming pitchman.

The latest Old Town beer is Amazonia, a wild hazy IPA with it’s own Planet Earth segment. It’s fun. It’s silly. And the beer is really great, too. It starts out with the usual tropical faff, papayas and whatnot, but then makes a turn into the evergreens, with notes of juniper and pine. The combination of fruity Mosaic and Mandarina Bavaria hops with classics like Nugget and Cascade adds extra depth and complexity. The fluffy body and the dull haze are nice too I guess, but the bitte bite on the finish is what really makes the beer great. It’s that dry snap that really makes it worth drinking more. 

How Do You Spell IPA in German?There are West Coast IPAs, New…

How Do You Spell IPA in German?

There are West Coast IPAs, New England IPAs, English IPAs, but no one seems to make German IPAs. It’s not like they don’t have hops in Germany. But few people have tried to use to create an entirely German IPA.

Perhaps the best example of an intensely hoppy German beer is Hopfenweisse from Schneider. It’s billed as a wheat-doppelbock, but the dry hopping and eight percent alcohol make it taste more like a double IPA. The nose is floral and citrusy, despite being brewed with traditional Hallertau hops. The flavor fruity. The wheat adds a lot of body and bready sweetness. If they left it unfiltered and canned it, I bet Hopfenweisse could pass as a cloudy American IPA.

Closer to home, Zoiglhaus has started making their own German IPA. Hopfenbombe is brewed with unnamed German hops and malts. It’s a tasty brew, both more bitter and more malt balanced than many modern IPAs. The flavor is on the piney and herbal side – more juniper than doug fir – with a bit of citrus. It finishes with a nice pithy bitterness. 

Zoiglhaus was started by an Alan Taylor who spent decades in Germany training in German brewing school and working in German breweries. He can make a mean Pils. He has a great Kolsch. But you can’t last as an American brewery without an IPA.

Three Taverns Craft Brewery opened in Decatur, Georgia launched in 2013 making Belgian style ales. Now, half their production is an American IPA. Belgian styles make up only twenty percent of their sales. Closer to home, people place the blame on The Commons closing on their failure to make an IPA. It’s literally impossible to open a brewery without brewing an IPA.

It used to be that a brewery could specialize. There were breweries that focused on lager. Breweries that made farmhouse saisons. Breweries that made great bitter. Not anymore. It’s all shades of IPA with little experiments on the side. It’s a sad state of affairs. IPA is crushing diversity in American brewing.

Too Many Hops? Impossible!One theory behind the cloudy IPA is…

Too Many Hops? Impossible!

One theory behind the cloudy IPA is that the wheat and oats included in the grist add more proteins to the beer. The proteins give hop oils something to grab onto keeping them in suspension, resulting in a very hoppy tasting beer. If you don’t have the hazy proteins, the hop oils will fall out of the beer and you won’t get the full effect of intensive dry hopping. 

The problem with this theory – besides the lack of scientific evidence – is that i don’t taste it. In the last year we’ve tasted dozens of hazy IPAs, and while there are some really great ones out there, for the most part, hazy IPAs taste less hoppy than their clear cousins. Often much less. When a hazy IPA works, it works beautifully. When it doesn’t it’s worse than a clear IPA that’s been sitting on the shelf for months. 

Why?

There seems to be much less planning going into new hazy IPAs. No one knows exactly how the beer will be when it leaves the brewery. No one is tasting it at one week, two weeks, and three weeks after finishing. Most of these beers seem to be one time things. They’re brewed, canned, and thrown out the door. It could just be poor quality control. 

But maybe it has something to do with the incredible number of hops in many of these beers. There’s just too many different oils and esters mixing it up in there, and the result is a muddy flavor that just doesn’t taste of much in the end. Maybe it’s just a case of less is more. 

In For the Love of Hops, Stan Hieronymus writes about Marble IPA from Albuquerque. The head brewer was doing some regular spot checking, tasting bottles of IPA that had been in cold storage. The beer that was two weeks old actually tasted better than the fresh IPA straight from the line. It was fruitier and had a more vivid hop flavor. So the brewer goes back and tries tinkering with the recipe. He tries adding more late addition hops. He tries rearranging the dry hopping schedule. Nothing. Then he tries something paradoxical; he cuts back on the hops. He finally gets that flavor he was looking for. 

Maybe, that’s why sometimes a pilsner tastes hoppier than the juicy IPA next to it. 

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.

Kegged and ConditionedThis weekend, we found ourselves driving…

Kegged and Conditioned

This weekend, we found ourselves driving through the state capital in search of a nice pint. Salem isn’t a particularly beery city, but the metro area hosts a respectable ten or so taprooms and brewpubs. We went straight for Santiam Brewing on the southside of town. It’s not the fanciest place in town, nor the most famous, but in addition to a dozen beers on tap, Santiam serves not one but four cask conditioned ales

For the uninitiated, cask conditioning is a beer serving method most often seen in the UK. In a typical American brewery, when beer is packaged in kegs, carbon dioxide is forced into the beer. Carbonated beer is then dispensed on tap with more gas. Cask conditioned beers, or “real” ales, are fermented right in the keg giving it a much lighter carbonation. When it comes time to serve it, a tap can be inserted right into the cask and dispensed like a big gatorade cooler. To keep the yeast working, cask beers are kept at about fifty degrees fahrenheit. It’s this unique conditioning that gives English beer the appearance of being warm and flat.

Santiam has four beer engines which pump the beer from under the bar. The result is a smooth, slightly bubbly beer. Without the extra carbon dioxide, even a light beer feels full bodied. But this is America, and an ordinary bitter with less than four percent alcohol won’t move too fast, so all the Santiam taps were over six percent. But that’s not to say they weren’t tasty.

Spitfire is an amber colored extra special bitter. It’s brewed with traditional Maris Otter malt with a little crystal malt and Belgian candi sugar for color and English Admiral and Fuggle Hops. Despite being on the strong side for a bitter, it’s incredibly drinkable, and even in the afternoon warmth, Spitfire is still cool enough to be refreshing. 

The IPA, Stonehenge, is a burnished copper color and full of classic Cascade hop flavor. I could stick to that for an afternoon very happily. The cask conditioning really brings out the grapefruit flavor. It’s not harshly bitter, but it’s far from the fluffy, sweet hazy IPA currently in fashion.

Coal Porter feels like a pint of nitro Guinness but with a deeper flavor. The low carbonation calls for gulping and glugging instead of the usual taproom sniffing and swirling. The toasty flavor goes perfectly with thick cut french fries.

I’m not a great judge of cask beers. I understand there is a certain art to tapping a cask. The beer should be lively and fresh, but not green or underdone, but it should be poured entirely before it gets old and stale. The care of casks is more like that of fermenting homebrew. But I only get to taste a few cask ales a year, so I don’t know the difference between a beer in good condition or bad. But I know I definitely enjoyed drinking the beer at Santiam.

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. 

3-Way IPAEvery year, the brewers at Fort George invite over a…

3-Way IPA

Every year, the brewers at Fort George invite over a couple friends to make a new IPA. But this is no one time brew. 3-Way IPA comes out in June but the collaboration starts in January. Throughout the spring, they brew test batches and serve them under the Beta IPA tag in Astoria. When the recipe is perfect, they can it and send it out.

This year’s 3-Way was brewed in collaboration with Seattle’s Holy Mountain Brewing and Modern Times out of San Diego. It’s a juicy, fruity, sweet, and tangy beer, but it looks like mud. Oats and wheat form the thick and creamy body. The fruit flavor is all over the map. It tastes like passion fruit. No. It’s tangerines. Peaches? I don’t know. But it’s pretty tasty. Just don’t look to closely at the weird beige pulp swirling around in there. 

Fresh Yakima Valley HopsEighty percent of all American hops are…

Fresh Yakima Valley Hops

Eighty percent of all American hops are grown in the Yakima Valley. Despite being so near the fields, Central Washington has never been a hotbed for brewing. In the early eighties, Bert Grant opened the first modern brewpub in the United States, Yakima Brewing and Malting Company. But after Grant’s death in 2001, the company quickly fell apart. Since that time New breweries have popped up here and there, but the largest is Bale Breaker Brewing. Founded in 2013 by three siblings and third generation hop farmers, Bale Breaker is now one of the larger breweries in the state.

Naturally, Bale Breaker focuses on hop forward beers made with locally grown hops. Their range has a distinct hoppy flavor, not so much juicy or fruity but raw and leafy. Opening a fresh can is like shoving your face in a bag of hops. The homebrewers out there know what I’m talking about. The flavors are fresh and green and earthy.

For example, Leota Mae, the juiciest beer in their lineup, still has certain earthy dankness. It’s brewed with trendy Mosaic and Ekuanot, but the flavor is balanced. The nose is floral. The flavor is fresh. No mango or passion fruit, just grapefruit and pine, yet the beer tastes new and exciting.

Top Cutter and Bottom Cutter, single and double IPAs respectively, are a more old school. The flavors are bitter and earthy – pine tar, cedar, a third thing. But the aroma is one hundred percent raw hops. Even Bale Breaker’s light pale ale – Field 41, only 4.5% ABV – reveals a huge scent. Herbal hop flowers just waft from the can. 

I’m not sure how they do it, but I am in love with these beers. Is it a new dry hopping technique? Is it just the freshness of having the hops grown right there? I don’t know, but I am definitely going to look for more.

To Beer or Not to Beer?Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t…

To Beer or Not to Beer?

Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t like beer. It’s an argument I’ve seen popping up a lot lately. Mostly from people who never liked hazy IPAs to begin with. But they have a point. The ultimate goal of these beers is resemble anything but beer. Despite using traditional beer ingredients like wheat and oats and hops, the beer tastes like mango, guava, orange juice. With the extreme cloudiness, most barely look like beers anymore. 

For example, Fort George is now canning a rotating selection of hazy IPAs under the moniker Fields of Green. The latest incarnation is codenamed Eleanor and features all the big hitters in fruity hops – 

Hallertau Blanc, Meridian, Idaho 7, Mosaic. It tastes more like a fancy mimosa than beer. No. It tastes more like birthday punch than beer. Two liters of 7up and one can of frozen juice concentrate. It’s delicious. But it doesn’t taste like beer.

That’s not a negative. There is plenty of room in the beer world for beer flavored beer and not so beer flavored beer. I just wish beer flavored beers would get equal time in the media.