This is not rocket science. What we should be looking for in a fresh hop beer are those very obvious flavors and aromas that ooze out of the [pick one: fresh, wet, unkilned, undried] hop. We know a fresh hop beer not by querying the brewer about his methods, but by tasting it. I recognize that a lot of people in the world haven't had the chance to try these beers, so Pacific Northwesterners must act as envoys to tell of these wondrous creatures from afar. The first lesson is: they're about as easy to distinguish from normal beers as a porter is from a pale. If you're sniffing and swishing and cocking your head trying to figure out if the beer was made with fresh hops, it's not a good example no matter how it was made. If you're getting lively, feral, sometimes unsettling flavors, that's a fresh hop beer.
I am all for truth in labeling, and I endorse Bill Night's long crusade to expose breweries who call their beer "fresh hop" when they're nothing of the kind. But it obscures the far more relevant and important inquiry into the joys and wonders (and mishaps and disasters) that are to be found in those that are manifestly fresh hop beers. They are their own thing, and their thing is obvious. We should go forth and discover. (I've already written about my discoveries. A lot.)
Hood River Hops Fest
Saturday, September 28, noon-9pm
Between 5th & 7th Streets and Cascade and Columbia Streets
Kids okay until 5pm
$10 for a mug and 4 tickets, additional tix $1
Full list of beers here
One way you can make your own discovery is by heading out to Hood River on Saturday for the annual festival of fresh hops (called, slightly misleadingly, Hops Fest). There are other, smaller fresh hop fests around, but if you want to get a serious immersive experience (and you should!), Hood River is the place to go. They have a large selection and equally as important, a large enough supply so that the kegs won't blow at 2 pm. It is a fantastic way to spend a fall afternoon, and after about three tasters, you'll begin to full appreciate why the nature of "fresh hopping" isn't a dry philosophical inquiry but rather a immediately sensuous one.