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Monday, September 26, 2011

Best New(ish) GABF Category: 14b, Fresh Hop Beers

As you may know, I'm not a huge fan of the ever-widening range of new beers styles judged at the GABF. Blackberry brambles spread more slowly. And yet one category--sub-category, really--is very cool. Lodged in category 14 (experimental beer) is a subcategory for fresh hop ales.

There are a couple reasons this style is a real boon to the fest: for one, while it's not exactly an American invention, commercially speaking, it's really Amero-centric. Here in the Northwest, probably half the breweries make a fresh hop beer--orders of magnitude more examples than anywhere else. Since there aren't so many truly American expressions in brewing, we should really ride this horse.

Second, the GABF is perfectly scheduled to take advantage of these beers*. [And see yet another update here**] Fresh hop ales have zero shelf life. That green, leafy quality that defines the style comes only from just-plucked hops, and it has the life cycle of a gnat. Whatever it is in fresh hops that give these aromas and flavors doesn't last. If the GABF were in July, you couldn't really do this category. But early October is the perfect time--in fact, you could actually really play up the harvest hop beers. The only criticism I have of the style category is that it isn't a stand-alone. Give it a few years.


Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond
Speaking of fresh hop beers, I got a bottle from Deschutes of a beer I like to think of as the current owner of the Bill Night endowed chair of fresh hop beers. For Bill, no beers are as sublime as fresh hopped ones, and of this group, Fresh Hop Mirror Pond is king. (Given that each year is different and by necessity pretty much a one-shot deal, I understand this designation may be revoked.) In the case of this year's batch, Deschutes, working with Goschie Farms, went to OSU to find the original root stocks Cascade came from (they call them "heirloom" hops). It raises a separate, but perhaps digressive point: how has the strain changed? We'll leave that until another time.

In any case, the beer rocks. It has a vivid nose, alive with the green fresh hopheads demand. It's a vibrant, spritzy interpretation, not the least bit composty or strange. The quality of fresh hops is not for everyone; they're so green you get an almost weedy intensity out of them (this, I believe, would be considered among fresh hopheads a desirable quality). This beer has it in spades. No mistaking it as a standard pale. It's loaded with flavor. Although I am generally not a big fan of fresh hop beers, this one is in my wheelhouse. It tastes like a freshly-picked flower, still warm with the rays of the summer sun.

*Update: In comments, DJ Paul makes a really good point: "Beers that are to be judged have to arrive in Denver by the first week of September. Therefore the beers have to ship by late August and these Fresh Hop Beers are usually not ready by this time." It seems like there might be a possible fix to this; I'll ask around when I'm in Denver.

**Updated further. Tweet from Daniel Pollard at Pelican: "@Beervana the BA offered an exception to the beer due dates for Fresh Hop beers. Lots of us had harvest related delays to deal with."


  1. The one problem that I see with this new(ish) sub-category is that beers that are to be judged have to arrive in Denver by the first week of September. Therefore the beers have to ship by late August and these Fresh Hop Beers are usually not ready by this time. I'm curious to see if the winners are all from the Colorado area.

  2. Very cool to hear it gets its own designation this year, but I'm with D.J. Paul on this one. The first available fresh hop beer in Seattle this year was Two Beers on Sep 2, and that was the exception. Most aren't ready near when the submission deadline is (Sep 9).

    I'd be interested to see how many beers are submitted to this subcategory, but I don't think the BA usually shows the entry stats at that level, just overall by main category?

    As for the Fresh Hop Mirror Pond, had it on draft up here last week and we all though it was good...but didn't have the same fresh hop presence as previous years. But, haven't tried the bottles yet. Looking forward to cracking mine open soon.
    In contrast, also tried the fresh hop Oktoberfest last week from Deschutes and that was chock full of fresh green hop flavor, probably a bit over the top even.

  3. Give me a break!!!!

  4. Well Lompoc recently released a fresh hop beer from 2007...

  5. GABF allowed an extra week for delivery of fresh hop beers--still not a huge window, but better then nothing.
    But then again, it's not like the harvest is much of a window either.