How could Oregon utilize fresh hop season? We don't have to run a thought experiment but instead turn our attention to Beaujolais in France.
At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! "The New Beaujolais has arrived!"There are a lot of ways in which the analogy is inapt: Beaujolais Nouveau is an inferior product released early because keeping won't do it any good. ("Its charm is its innocent, not-quite-wine character," says Karen MacNeil in the Wine Bible.) But fresh-hop beers, made well, are rare and exceptional--you could say almost the reverse, that they are the pure, innate essence of beer. The wine can be bottled and sent around the world, but to truly get the experience of a fresh hop beer, you need to have it within days of its release.
All of which means that to enjoy a fresh hop season, you have to go to the hops. There are only two states in the US equipped to handle large-scale commercial production, and they join just a slight few others across the globe (England, Bavaria, Bohemia, New Zealand). I encourage Oregon brewers to think a lot bigger and harness the moment to focus attention on what we do here. How? Here are a few suggestions:
- Start promoting it. This is a huge opportunity. One of the big problems in promoting Oregon breweries is that most of them don't distribute very far; they don't need to, since Oregonians happily lap up all the beer they can produce. But it means people elsewhere have a dim sense of the beers we brew. Making fresh hop season a destination akin to (if not on the scale of) Munich Oktoberfest and Beaujolais Nouveau season gives people a reason to come to Oregon--and a reason only one other state can match.
- Collect accurate, up-to-date information. I tried my best to keep track of the fresh hop releases, but come on, I'm a detail-challenged blogger. The Guild should set up a special website that has release dates of all the fresh hop beers and their details.
- I'm an "ambassador" for Travel Oregon and regularly get questions from visitors coming to Portland, the Coast, or Bend. For those heading to Bend, the answer is a snap: go download the Bend Ale Trail app. There should be a fresh hop app, too. The app would incorporate information about which beers were pouring, which hops they used, and which pubs and breweries you could find them at. And since you're collecting info for the website, it's a snap to keep the app up-to-date.
- Bring the hop farms in on the action. The brewers in Oregon have established great relationships with hop farmers in the Valley. We know the names of Gail Goschie, John Annen, Doug Weathers and others because breweries visit their farms at harvest. Highlight the terroir of the hops in the beer by identifying the hop farms and their hops.
- Tasting event focal-points. The heart of the summer beer season is the OBF, the sun around which all the other events orbit. I'm not sure that there needs to be a similar huge fest for fresh hop beers, but there need to be more opportunities to enjoy these as a group. Fresh hop farmers markets? A fest in a hop field in the Willamette Valley? Fresh hop feasts? One day in Hood River and a short evening and afternoon in Portland just isn't enough.
- Finally, bring journalists to Oregon to cover the event. You gotta get the word out.
This is one of the most interesting things happening in beer anywhere. Beer people who are constantly on the lookout for new things would have a ball spending a long weekend in Portland in late September. It's the kind of spectacle that supports all the brewers, irrespective of size or fame. It not only helps strengthen the Oregon brand, but could create and define it. (And creating a brand out of a collection of breweries connected only by location is no easy feat.) Finally, fresh hop season brings people into a state whose beers they may have heard a fuss about but never had a chance to really experience. But with a little organization and effort, it could bring an order of magnitude more people here, with attendant benefits for everyone from brewers and publicans to hop growers and hoteliers. The moment, like fresh hops themselves, is ripe for the picking. Don't miss another year's opportunity.