Fall is my favorite season. I love the cool, crisp air. The leaves changing color. Football. Halloween. Fall has it all. Add to that list hops harvest and fresh hops beers. For the uninitiated, here are the fresh hops cliff notes:
Hops grow like crazy during the summer. They are harvested in late summer/early fall. The vast majority of commercial hops are dried (often in pellet form) for use in brewing throughout the year. In recent years, breweries near to the hop fields (lucky for us in the NW) have begun using hops to brew beer within hours of harvesting them - thus "fresh" or "wet" hops beers. The unprocessed fresh hops contribute more floral, earthy flavors to beer. Here is a nice NY Times article from 2009, featuring many local brewers, for more in depth analysis.
So, why is fresh hops season my favorite time of the year on the beer calendar? Let me explain.
1. I really enjoy the beers. I look forward to that earthy aroma and fresh, almost grassy flavor.
2. Fresh hop beers showcase the brewer's skills. In order to let the fresh hops take center stage in these beers the brewer has to tone down the IBUs. Hopbombs are not the way to go to showcase fresh hops. As a result, you have more subtle, complex beers. It is a tightrope to walk between a good beer with earthy flavors and a bad beer with that taste of decomposition. I like that challenge for the brewer.
3. Variety. Sure, the overwhelming majority of fresh hops beers all fall into the ale category and most of those are pale ales. But, there is a nice variety of styles from ambers and reds to IPAs and CDAs. Stouts and pilsners have even popped up. Even within each style is a wide variety of interpretation from each brewer. Hell, even the same beer from the same brewer can taste different from keg to keg or depending on when in the season you get a taste.
4. New beers are released almost everyday at peak season. I like nothing more than trying new beers. Even if brewers follow the same recipe from year to year, the hop crop will result in a different flavor profile every year. Add to that new recipes and you can basically drink nothing but new, exciting beers for 4-6 weeks. Part of the excitement is finding out when and where these beers have been released into the wild. The rise of Twitter will make it even easier this year to get that new fresh hops fix.
Now that I have got your mouth watering and you are pining for a fresh hop beer, let me tell you where to get them. As I said before, Twitter is gonna be your best friend. Full Sail tweeted last week as they began brewing their first batch of Lupulin for 2010. Hopworks already tweeted that they were brewing a Fresh Hop Pale for this Saturday's Biketobeerfest. That should be the first fresh hop beer on tap for the season, and is reason enough to attend this great event.
Full Sail usually produces a few versions of Lupulin, each showcasing a different hop. Deschutes produces several different versions of fresh hops beers, including the bottled Hop Trip. Last year Deschutes crafted an amazing Fresh Hops Mirror Pond, which was widely regarded as last years best fresh hops beer.
A few of my favorite events take place during fresh hops season. First up is Lucky Lab's Hop Harvest (Thursday, September 2nd per Brewpublic). Lucky Lab SE trucks in all of the hops grown at the different pubs, brewers backyards, and elsewhere to the back patio. Everyone is invited to help pick the hops and several people show up with their own homegrown hops to donate to the cause. Beer and often food are supplied by Lucky Lab. This is a great event that really emphasizes the community aspect of brewing.
My daughter helping out at Lucky Lab's Hop Harvest 2009
The poorly named Fresh Hop Tastivals take place in Sisters (9/25), Hood River (10/2) and Portland (10/9) this year. After moving around locations, the Portland festival found a great spot last year at Oaks Amusement Park. I had a great time at the festival last year. A total of 44 fresh hops beers were on tap. The site had plenty of room with a huge tent and plenty of greenspace along the river. The niche status of fresh hops beers keeps the crowd civilized and I didn't hear a single "tent yell" last year. The Hood River festival is also a great time, often with a few brewers not at the Portland version.
Another great event during fresh hops season is Belmont Station's Fresh Hops Beer Week. Some of the best fresh hops beer from the NW take over the taps at Belmont Station's bier cafe. A great way to catch up on some of the brews you have missed. As you can see, fresh hops season has a lot to offer. Get ready!