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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Lupulin Nouveau Season Arrives in Oregon

Sometimes things right in front of your nose are harder to see.  In Oregon and Washington, the celebration of fresh hops has, dare I say it, almost become routine. It's anything but:
The blogger with hops.
Oregon is home to 120 brewing companies, and nearly 100 fresh hop beers will be made during the hop harvest....  Four Fresh Hop Fests are scheduled across the state in September and October as part of the Oregon Bounty culinary tourism program. Each Fresh Hop Fest will feature original limited release fresh hop beers produced by OBG members. Fresh hop beers are only produced during the small window of Oregon’s hop harvest, which typically takes place from mid-August to mid-September. These once-a-year beers are ready for consumption in September and October and are packed with unique flavors that simply aren’t available the rest of the year. 
Breweries of the Pacific Northwest weren't the first to produce fresh hop beers--that distinction goes, probably*, to England's Wadworth Brewery--but we are unique in the world for turning harvest season into a celebration of a new style of beer.  Despite the abundance of hop fields in England, only a dozen or so breweries have followed Wadworth's lead and make fresh hop beers there.  New Zealand may add a Southern Hemisphere season to the practice, but they still trail us by a few years.  In no other countries do breweries seem to have an interest in it.

Beyond the Beaver and Evergreen states, almost nobody knows what's going on here.  The beers don't travel well, so you pretty much have to drink them in situ, in that small window when they're super fresh.  The season arrives after summer, when the tourists are heading home to put the kids in school and head back to work.

Even among casual beer fans in Oregon, the concept isn't perfectly clear.  In order to understand fresh hopping, you have to know that regular beer is made with dry hops.  Then you have to try to explain how fresh hops affect beer--which nobody actually understands--and, oh, never mind: just taste it.  It's that experience that convinces, and for Oregonians, the experience is right at hand.  But it's much harder to communicate that to people who live further afield.

So as with so much, we in the Pacific Northwest may have to just relish our bounty, knowing that it will go unappreciated by most of the rest of the country.  All of which is to say: don't forget to relish.  The rest of the world has no idea how tasty this beer is.

*A now-forgotten brewery in the NW may actually have been first.  Michael Jackson wrote an article about Wadworth in September 1993 for the Independent, adding this curious line: "I can think of only one other brewery that has tried making such a 'biere nouvelle,' and that is in the far West of the United States."


  1. Michael Jackson must have been thinking of Grant's right? It seems like Bert Grant was making fresh-hop beers about that same time? (10 years before I arrived in Oregon, so I'm no expert, just that I read about it.)

  2. The anticipation has been killing me, can't wait to start seeing them show up on the local handles

  3. Bill, I'm pretty sure it's not. Grant was early, but I think only about 1996 or 1997. He wrote about it in his book.

    My guess, since no one has claimed the brass ring, is the brewery Jackson mentions no longer exists.

  4. Bill is correct. Although his and your timelines are off a bit. Bert Grant's Yakima Brewing and Malting Company opened in July of 1982. I'm pretty confident in surmising it was Grant's Yakima Brewing and Malting Company Michael Jackson was referring to.

  5. Apparently, not strictly a west coast phenomenon: I'm not sure where their wet hops are coming from, though.

    I still don't even have many burrs yet on my plants here in Tokyo.

  6. There are 24 hops farms in Colorado [to my knowledge]. 10 on the Front Range; 14 on the Western Slope.
    Map here

    A good number of the 140 craft breweries/brewpubs in Colorado are producting fresh hopped ales.

  7. Charles, you'll have to take it up with Bert Grant himself, who argues against the point in The Ale Master, his autobiography. Anyway, I wish you could take it up with him.

    Anon and Jack,
    It's true that breweries outside the Pac NW do fresh hop beers. But I am talking about the bacchanalia that hits our region every year where a huge number (a majority?) of the breweries make a version and the taps turn green for a month. It's like nothing happening elsewhere.

  8. Jeff, out of curiosity, which point is it that Bert Grant argues against in The Ale Master?

  9. Jeff, I haven't read Bert's book but have placed it on hold at the library and look forward to reading it. Thanks for the book suggestion! What point did he argue against in the book?

  10. Bert Grant preceeded Sierra Nevada's first fresh hop release by at least two years.

    I distinctly recall drinking Grants Fresh Hop Ale in 1995. I don't have to take it up with Bert. I remember where I was at the time.