You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fresh Hop Ales

Although I am going to be unable to get to one of the vaunted fresh hop festivals (Saturday was my best bet--I was in Beaverton at an all-day meeting and it ended a little after six. The Portland stop was in Troutdale and closed at nine. There was a Red Sox game. Compromising, I went to the Pilsner room, tried six samplers, and watched the Sox.), I have nevertheless found ten examples of around town, which ain't bad. Here are my findings, grouped by quality.

The Noble Failures
As I mentioned yesterday, some of these beers were misfires; still, I may have learned as much about the properties of green hops by these beers as the winners. The breweries below therefore deserve our appreciation, not scorn.

Laurelwood Extra Pale
Hops used: Willamette

Laurelwood started out right--an extra pale ale is the perfect recipe to accentuate all the flavors of a wet cone. But perhaps Willamettes were the wrong variety to use. Typically a spicy, clean hop, in this beer they came out weedy. The bitterness was notable, but it didn't taste like hop bitterness, but like ... well, like a pot of boiled weeds. The gentle sweetness of malt is completely overwhelmed. Perhaps too many hops were added too early in the boil; alternately, Willamette hops just may just have been the wrong way to go.

Sierra Nevada Harvest
Hops used: Cascade and Centennial

The two hops used here are very closely related. Cascade, the signature hop of the West Coast, give pales like Mirror Pond (and Sierra Nevada's own pale) their classic flavor. Centennials are a a more bitter version, but supposedly very similar otherwise. Supposedly. As we'll see later, Cascade-hopped beers fared far better in the fresh-hop slate. But now twice I've had bad Centennial experiments. SN Harvest has a slightly off aroma that you might charitably call "cabbage." As it goes down the gullet, and particularly after it warms in the glass, "garbage" or "compost" spring more quickly to mind. Not tasty.

Hale's Harvest
Hops used: Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial

This beer demonstrates the fragility of fresh hops. Even though they can contribute strong flavor notes, they're nature is essentially herbal and delicate. Hale's has used an ESB-like malt bill, and it is too much for wet hops. I didn't detect any particularly notable off-flavors (perhaps something that could be called "gassy"), but the predominant note is roasted malt; the fresh hops don't really have a chance to reveal themselves. It's not a bad-tasting beer, it's just out of balance, which makes it hard to identify the hops.

Decent Outings
Most of these beers are the kind I often brew--pretty good, but there are things I'd do to improve them.

Hopworks Red Ale
Hops used: ?

This one barely squeaked into the "good" category, and only because I let it sit in my glass until it was quite warm. Until then, I found it similar to the Hale's--heavy on malts. The hops (don't know which they used) are a little funky when cold, but when the beer warms up, it becomes a sweet, fresh beer.

Old Lompoc Harvestman
Hops used: Crystal

The Lompoc made two beers using Crystal hops, which turn out to be among the most reliable wet varieties. It is a descendant of a classic German hop (Hallertau) crossed with some American strains, including Cascade, and when dry is notably spicy. Harvestman, however, is a 7.8% bruiser of a beer, and while it's pretty tasty, the subtle elements of the hops are lost. Not to worry, though, Lompoc has a second Crystal-hopped beer that impresses (keep reading).

Lucky Lab "The Mutt"
Hops used: Fuggle, Cascade, Centennial, Golding, Willamette, Mount Hood and Crystal

The Mutt is easily the best story: the name comes from the many varieties of fresh hops used to brew it, some of which came off the vines that grow in the parking lot behind the flagship pub. Like Laurelwood, they have gone for a very mild substrate--a standard pale of just 5%. What results is a tasty session, slightly grassy and green. The various hops balance each other out, so there are none of the strong weird flavors, but also nothing that makes you sit up and take notice. (Quite a bit of reserve for the Lucksters--I wonder if they expected a stronger flavor, sort of a "wall of sound' effect. We'll see next year.)

The Winners
Three of the ten beers were great--the kind of beers you'll seek out the second they hit the shelves and lament when the final kegs are gone.

Old Lompoc Star of India
Hops used: Crystal

This is the beer Lucky Lab was aiming at--a light pale that highlights the freshness of the hops. In this example, I began to see how stable Crystal hops are--they contribute a clean, straightforward note that has the obvious (though hard to describe) character of wet hops. I'll use the word "lemongrass," but I'm open to something more accurate.

Deschutes Hop Trip
Hops used: Crystal

Hey, Crystal hops--seeing a pattern? In Hop Trip, they pop even more. I found the beer decidedly oily--I actually wrote down "furniture polish" but I'm worried there's no way that can be taken as a positive. Anyway, we're getting into territory that makes you appreciate what makes wet hops different, even if you can't describe it. The hops linger in the mouth almost tangibly after you swallow--a fresh, rich aroma you can chew on for a few seconds. I had Hop Trip on tap (Pilsner Room), and that probably didn't hurt.

BridgePort Hop Harvest
Hops used: Cascade

Of the four beers I really like, two used Crystal, and two used Cascade, including Hop Harvest. BridgePort must have used a ton of them, too, because they've brewed the bitterest beer using green hops. (Cascades don't have a lot of alpha acids, and using them to bitter a beer is hard in normal circumstances.) There are fewer of the funky notes here, but it's more herbal and peppery than regular Cascade-spiced beers. There's lots of residual sweetness in this big beer (7%), and it perfectly complements the hops.

The Sublime
One beer achieved a kind of transcendence that would normally earn it an ode, not a review. But since we're being comparitive, here we go.

Full Sail Lupulin
Hops used: Cascade Amarillo (see correction here)

In rare cases in my beer-drinking experience, certain beers have reached out of the pint glass and grabbed me by the collar: BridgePort IPA, Pliny the Elder, Saison Dupont. The circumstances of the tasting are brought back as clearly as the sensations of the beer. So it was on Friday with Lupulin Ale.

I was in the Pilsner Room (where, sadly, they serve cheater pints) in front of a flat screen showing the Red Sox in the ALCS. Six wet hop beers were arrayed in front of me, and I had just scored a free parking place directly in front of the pub. Then came the beer: an intense citrus aroma, but orange rather than grapefruit. The flavor continued in this orangey vein, agressively zesty. At the Horse Brass website, they say it has a red bell pepper note, which is close but not quite right. I kept going back to try to identify something it reminded me of; I never found it.

I think back to the first time I had the Belgian sour beers, when my palate was instantly and irrevocably reset to a much larger palette of flavors. I had that experience with these fresh hop ales--the more I tried, the more my tongue started to recognize them. But only in Lupulin did they go to that incredibly uncommon place that is the perfection of the new, wonderful flavor.

For me, it will be the beer all green-hopped ales are judged against,; it may even usher in that new, completely indigenous beer I have been hoping the Northwest would birth. I've tasted nothing like it, and at the moment, anyway, I want to taste nothing else.


  1. Hop Trip-- oily? Weird... I had the bottled version tonight (finishing up my review now), and I didn't get "oily" at all. Hoppy yes, for sure, but in a more subtle, "green" way than what's typically found these days in the super-double-Imperial quintuple-hopped IPA monster.

    I do confess a bit of relief when you picked it as a winner. Home town pride and all that. ;)

  2. I found all the usual adjectives were one-offs, and this was the biggest challenge in writing about these beers. They are absolutely a new thing, and beer reviewers are going to have to develop a vocabulary to describe them. This is yet another reason to regret the loss of Michael Jackson. His greatest strength (among many great strengths) was descriptive richness.

  3. The biggest flavor I got out of Lupulin was a pineapple/mango tropical fruit flavor. Very interesting and different.

    My favorite this year is still Bridgeport's Hop Harvest. The crystal hop flavor was big, floral, and delicious.

  4. Kealoha- Did you mean "The cascade hop flavor was big, floral, and delicious"? BridgePort poured this at the GABF this year, and it was the first beer to go (followed closely by Ebenezer Ale). I tried to get Charlie Papazian to come over and try some, but he only snapped a photo of the hops-and-chrome-keg-adorned booth and then moved on.

  5. Lupulin was a pineapple/mango tropical fruit flavor.

    Yeah, MANGO, that's it. A luscious, ripe mango--my fave fruit.

    Ryan, what'd you try that was good?

  6. Ryan,

    If it was full of Cascades, then it's still as delicious. I just figured it was crystal hops since it reminded me of Hop Trip from two years ago, which I think was either crystal or glacier hops. Either way, it is very delicious and one of my favorite beers ever.

  7. I haven't had Deschutes Hop Trip yet this year; but, I agree it is one of my favorite fresh hop beers. Lupulin is certainly another fine example of fresh hopped beer, I also have yet to find this year.

    Here's hoping Toronado choose to hold their annual Fresh Hop Festival again.

    I did have the Sierra Nevada Harvest in bottle down here in CA and did not find it anywhere near as objectionable as you. And I am not even particularly partial to Sierra Nevada's beers.