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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Doomed Lagunitas Experiment That Wasn't

Lagunitas's Jack Alger called me last week to see if I would like to participate in an experiment.  The brewery had had a refrigerated truck full of fresh hops shipped from Yakima (Equinox, Amarillo, Mosaic), put them into a beer brewed on the equinox, and was offering to overnight me a bottle the day the beer was packaged--which was yesterday.

I have no idea if Jack knows that I have been assiduously documenting the maturation of fresh hop ales for years or that I am incredibly skeptical of 1) any fresh hops that spend longer than a few hours off the vine, 2) the techniques of breweries distant from the fresh hop epicenter where brewers have learned how to use them, and especially 3) bottled fresh hop beers. If he did, it was a ballsy move.  In my mind, this was an almost certainly doomed experiment.  But, because it was Lagunitas, where brewers are master-level hop wranglers, I figured I'd give it a shot.  I knew it wouldn't work, but I wanted to see for myself, anyway.

Guess what?  It worked.

The beer is called Born Yesterday, and it is in the market now (look here to see if it's in your area).  As with any fresh hop beer, the sooner you taste it, the better, and you should definitely track down a bottle/pint in the next week if you want the full experience (though Oregonians may rightly yawn after having indulged in our annual lupulin bacchanalia).   

There's a chemical compound in fresh hops that does not survive the kilning process.  Well-made fresh hop beers have it, and no other beers do.  The aroma resists description because it only smells like one thing: fresh hops. (Words like "green," "fresh," and "lively" sort of hint at the quality but are completely useless as identifiers.)  I have found good fresh hop flavor in beers without this aroma, but only very rarely. So as I poured out the bottle, I lowered a skeptical nose, expecting nothing--but there it was, the fresh hop smell, wafting mightily off the beer.

In a blind tasting, I'd guess it was Double Mountain's Killer Green.  Both Born Yesterday and Killer Green are IPA-strength (7.5%) and both are aggressively bitter (unusual for fresh-hop beers).  Like Killer Green, Born Yesterday starts with a loaded bitter charge that starts things with a pop.  Then the fresh flavors surge in, full of cannabis.  Sticky but lively and green, with a quality that seems to tickle the trigeminal nerve with the same zing as mint or menthol.  It's all there--a perfectly kosher, honest to goodness bottled fresh hop beer. 

I didn't think it was possible and I still don't think it's advisable (and I don't want to guess what Lagunitas spent making it), but I now know it can be done.  Kudos to Lagunitas.


  1. Did they tell you the process they used? Did they use standard (kilned) hops in the boil or did they use fresh hops? To me, fresh hop beers have improved over the course of the last couple of years because brewers have moved away from using fresh hops in the boil. Instead, they use freshies for late addition or in the fermenter.

  2. I didn't ask that question, but I would bet a ton of money that they used a bitter charge with standard hops. It's really bitter--bitterer than any wholly fresh-hop beer I've ever tried. (And Matt Swihart, making Killer Green, was one of the pioneers of that technique.)

  3. One of our favorite brewers recently likened the use of fresh hops in the boil as "cooking vegetable matter." He said they had moved away from that technique and were now using freshies only in the fermenters. It seems to be working. Their fresh hop beers were excellent this year.