It’s a crazy time of year for most everyone, yet in some ways, even more so for the brewing industry. The daily grind and routine has returned – back to school and work, though for those in the PNW beer industry, it’s a special kind of crazy.
We’re in the midst of another festival season, which may as well be called Oktofresh or Freshtober. A perfect example of this takes place this weekend when Prost! Portland (Prost Marketplace and Bloodbuzz) will simultaneously be hosting their annual Oktoberfest, filled with traditional German Fest Biers, while also hosting the Fresh Hop Pop-Up Fest (finishing it’s second week) which will feature Bend breweries tonight and Fresh Hopped Oktoberfest-style beers Saturday.
Concurrently, the Portland Fresh Hops Fest begins today and continues till 8pm Saturday night, at Oaks Amusement Park. Then next weekend, the granddaddy of all Fresh Hop Fests goes down in Yakima, the Fresh Hop Ale Festival. Also kicking off next weekend is one of the PNW’s largest Oktoberfest celebrations, situated in the beautiful Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth, WA.
So there’s still an ample amount of chances to try the best beers the season has to offer, just make sure you get out there to try some of the most unique tastes of the year!
The Fresh Hop Brewing Process
Dates of harvest vary from farm to farm, based upon varieties grown, terroir, and planting dates. What’s more definitive is that the Pacific Northwest has become the largest producer of hops (by tonnage) in the world, with over 100 million pounds harvested annually.
As a result, the production and demand for fresh hopped beers has also grown exponentially. And between the growth in popularity of NE-style or Hazy IPAs and a focus on producing as many beers, as quickly as possible within a two month window, breweries have somewhat shifted how they produce these beers.
According to Jeff Alworth’s The Beer Bible, the process is described in the more traditional sense of brewing on the “hot side”:
In order to capture the most evanescent volatile elements, brewers collect hops from the fields and race them back to waiting kettles. The length of time between picking and brewing is never more than a few hours.
The emphasis on kettles is mine, and done so because these days hops are more often added in the whirlpool or on the cold side (both common when making Hazy IPAs), during the tail end of fermentation and/or conditioning in the brite tank, fresh hops or not.
So when you’re sampling the latest fresh hop (I recommend purchasing only draft or freshly canned fresh hop beers), you’ll certainly get different flavors based upon the varietal or style in question, though you’re also going to find that some breweries will only add hops to the boil, use one varietal or two, add only on the cold side, and/or use other kilned or dry hops to balance the greener, sweeter, or more earthy/grassy flavors that often accompany fresh hopped beers.
If you’re curious, don’t hesitate to ask the brewery how they made it – you’ll often hear a different answer each time and might just find that they have a definitive rationale for why they use the process they do.
For example, I moderated a panel discussion on hops a few weeks back and found that some breweries are ready and willing to take an existing finished or near finished beer and simply add the hops to conditioning, enabling them to get a beer on draft/canned as soon as possible in August. While others, such as Grains of Wrath (Camas, WA), have only just released their first Fresh Hop beer of the season now because they brewed the beer the more traditional way by adding Amarillo to the mash and/or kettle (FH Papermaker Pale).
This season I’ve tried roughly 30 fresh hop beers and each was a little different from the other. My last post went into some detail about the beers breweries are planning to release or had released at that time. And while I could go into full on “beer nerd review mode” here, I’ll save you the details. If you’re really interested, check out my untappd profile. I’m sure I’ll be trying a few more through mid-October when fresh hop fever begins to subside.
And to be honest, I’d say I enjoyed half or maybe even less than half of those I tried this year, likely because the results have been all over the place. Brewing with fresh hops can create unpredictable results because the harvest is different each season, when you’re tasting it vs. when it was brewed can have an impact, as well as the brewing process being undertaken.
Some highlights include both of the canned Ruse Beers (FH Dial M for Mosaic Hazy DIPA and the can pictured above), Culmination’s FH Momentary Lapse of Reason (Citra), Cloudburst’s Chasing Waterfalls IPA (Sabro & Simcoe) and Sparkle & Fade Pale Ale (Amarillo), and Baerlic’s FH Primeval Brown (Comet).
As someone mentioned to me last night, “drinking fresh hops is like panning for gold” and I couldn’t agree more. You may not strike it rich, but you’ll have fun trying to.