Monday, October 7, 2013

On the Evolution of Fresh Hop Beer

There was a moment, after having spent a couple of hours with Mr. Beervana himself at the Oregon Brewers Guild's Fresh Hop Festival at Oaks Park on a beautiful Oregon fall evening, when I turned to Jeff and said something along the lines of 'fresh hop beers have come a long way.  Do you remember a few years ago where there were many more duds than good beers at this fest and tonight it is precisely the opposite.'  He did.

Indeed, Oregon brewers are really beginning to master the fresh hop beer.  Most of the beers I tried were good to exceptional.  Those that weren't were generally not due to the misuse of wet hops.  I am firmly in the camp that there is no 'correct' way to brew with wet hops, a fresh hop beer is brewed with wet hops and is characterized by that earthy, raw fresh hop essence.

Not only were the beers good, but the fresh hop essences were refined - much less grassy than in the early days and more of the fecund essence of the hop flower.

These days many brewers take a lot of the guess work out of it by reserving the wet hops for dry hopping (wet dry hopping?  dry wet hopping?).  This is fine with me as long as the above mentioned fresh hop essence is present in the finished product.

Anyway, the point is there are a lot of truly exceptional fresh hop beers out there this year and here is a list of my faves from the fest (keep in mind I tried only 10 - I am sure there are many more):

Crux: Off the Fence

Maybe the Queen of the ball.  I found many Belgian fresh hop experiments lacking in the fresh hop essence.  The Logsdon Seizoen, for example, is a fantastic beer but you couldn't detect a hint of fresh hop. Ditto The Commons. This 'Belgian Pale' mixed hints of Belgian yeast, pale ale body and fresh hop essences beautifully in a truly new and winning way.

Deschutes: Hop Trip

The reigning masters of the fresh hop do it again: just about the perfect fresh hop American Pale.  The Blueprint.

Double Mountain: Killer Green & Killer Red

I prefer the Killer Green, the Red not being my preferred malt base, but both are exceptional. 

Gigantic: Sodbusted Simcoe

Go big or go home: this is Gigantic in all the name connotes.  Completely hop infused like their IPA but with another layer of fresh hop on top.  Yummy.

Ninkasi: Total Crystalation

Like Gigantic this is a hop infused IPA and even the fresh hops are saturated and envelope the tongue.  Very, very good. 

And, of course, you have to give a nod to perhaps the coolest of all the fresh hop beers: Lucky Lab's The Mutt.  Full of hops from backyards all over Portland, The Mutt is quintessentially Portland and tastes just like you would expect: a muddy, mashed up hop note, but a surprisingly good beer, especially when you know from whence it came.

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