Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Fresh Hop Beers - The Class of 2011 (Part 1)
Fresh Hop season. Idealized for many months prior, then briefly enjoyed upon arrival. Complaints echo throughout the interwebs.. “This fresh hop isn’t hoppy enough!” “These wet hops do not improve upon my tasty Imperial!” and so on and so forth. After spending countless, aimless minutes at work perusing Bill Night’s Fresh Hop Map, I decided that as a beer journalist, it was my duty to get out there and start sampling. Those hops weren’t going to stay fresh forever, and at the risk of becoming an iconoclast, I needed to make a pilgrimage to the mother temple of all fresh hop gods: Deschutes.
At the Portland pub, Deschutes is currently offering four fresh hop beers. Inversion had just blown. Maybe by the time you’ll read this, they’ll be up to five or six. I believe they’re shooting for eight or ten by the time the season wraps. I wanted to understand why they felt the need to overdo it, and understand (with a fresh palate) what flavors or sensations are actually contributed by this Pac NW-elite process. During my visit, Deschutes was offering the following fresh hop beers: Mirror Pond, Oktoberfest, Chainbreaker & Twilight. In the interest of your education, I tried ‘em all.
Fresh Hop Chainbreaker at Deschutes Brewery, Portland
Fresh Hop Chainbreaker was a tasty beverage. I’m not sure if it was tastier with or without the fresh hops, though. I noticed the IBU on the fresh version was 50 versus 55 for the reg. The spicy, intense Belgian yeast overpowered the subtle nuances of the fresh lupulin extraction, leaving a mild herbal essence behind and a lot of work for little result. Even with the Cascade/Citra/Centennial powerhouse, there was little to be found.
Fresh Hop Mirror Pond, served from the cask, was a raging disappointment. Sweet fruity blowoff from the yeast, out of place dry-roastiness, and a hint of butter got up in your face. The fresh hopping added zero to this beer, and if anything, there were zero hops in any format to be found in here. I remember that sweet, herbal tea-like zing in last year’s version; this one lacked any of that zippy character. I look forward to trying the regular draft/bottles, hopefully this cask was a simple one-off mistake.
Fresh Hop Oktoberfest at Deschutes Brewery, Portland
I did find those herbal iced tea notes in the fresh hop Oktoberfest, which played the same notes as last year’s special-ed Mirror Pond. Menu talk of a traditional sour wort and German ingredients was all fine by me, but it’s those fresh Sterlings that shined as only a fresh noble-inspired hopping could. I would be interested to try this Oktoberfest sans bonus hops, and feel that it would be a typical clean, pretty Deschutes exercise in perfection. For now, it’s a spicy-yet-subtle hop forward Fall classic.
Fresh Hop Twilight at Deschutes Brewery, Portland
The winner for the night was the Fresh Hop Twilight. Stealing the show were those proprietarily-fresh Amarillo hops from nearby Virgil Gamache Farms. Since Gamache is the only legit grower of Amarillos, we’re pretty much the only part of the country that can get fresh, wet hops in to the kettle in a reasonable amount of time (Gamache Farms is 3 hours from PDX). This beer exuded a beautiful fresh, floral spiced orange flavor that was decidedly rare and thought-provoking. Amarillos typically provide such a general citrus note, but this application brought forward more bitterness and sharp rind than one would expect. The base beer provided a lightly-toasted yet malt-light canvas for this botanical beverage of wonder. Get thee to Deschutes and order a Fresh Hop Twilight post haste! At the very least, I see the reason for the excess: the beers here were paired with fresh hops like they would be with beer dinner courses. An attempt to be complimentary was certainly made in each case.
Seven Brides Fresh Hop (l) and Bridgeport Hop Harvest (r) at Green Dragon, Portland
Bonus Freshies: Yes, folks, I was still thirsty. Green Dragon was hit and both Bridgeport Hop Harvest and Seven Brides Fresh Hop were sampled. The Bridgeport brought back familiar sense-memories; I don’t think that beer changes much. This year, however, I got a bigger burst of chlorophyll-yness than usual. Perhaps this is a freshness thing that diminishes with time? Either way, one of the best applications of the fresh hop out there, and consistent. Perhaps consistency takes the excitement out of the fresh hop deal? For me, a bit. Seven Brides? Let’s not talk on this one too much. It’s a big, roasty porter. To think any fresh hop oils would come through this was a misstep of the highest order. As a beer, it’s pretty good. As a way to close an evening of fresh hop delights, pretty effin miserable.
I'll return to discuss some more fresh hop nonsense in a week or two. Cheers!