By Ben Waterhouse
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Our long, hot summer of sipping ice-cold radlers and macro tallboys in between wildfires has finally come an end, and I could not be happier to be returning to the big beers of winter. Fall is a time of rising ABVs and darkening malts as the temperature drops. The days grow shorter and we gather at the bar to salute the harvest. Here are eight season-appropriate beers to enjoy from the hop harvest through Oktoberfest and beyond — and not a one of them contains pumpkin.
Baerlic Brewing Company: Hellsner Helles Fresh Hop
5.0% ABV, 20 IBUs
As of this writing, the hop harvest was still in full swing, and few fresh-hopped beers had made it to bars. Baerlic, a 10-barrel brewery with a design-heavy taproom in Southeast Portland, was ahead of most, dropping three fresh-hopped beers in early September. The Pioneer Bitter, a gold medal winner from the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards, might be the most eagerly awaited, but my favorite of the bunch is this juiced-up Munich-style lager, which pours golden yellow. Flavors of mango and papaya mingle with floral aromas from a big dose of Santiam hops. It tastes like a bakery full of proofing bread with hints of apple juice. There’s no telling how long this one will stick around, but Baerlic’s lagers have been consistently strong of late, so if you can’t find Hellsner on tap one of its less-seasonal counterparts will likely suffice.
Hopworks Urban Brewery: Mt. Angel Volksbier Bavarian Session Ale
5.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Hopworks released this limited-edition homage to Oregon’s largest Oktoberfest just in time for the event’s 52nd birthday in mid-September, when the Portland brewery’s beers were the only non-German offerings in the Biergarten. The mild, straw-colored brew owes its lightly spicy aroma to Hallertau hops sourced all the way from Bavaria — a radical allegiance to the Reinheitsgebot if ever there was one. The bready bitterness gains some floral and citrus notes as it warms, but overall it’s a pleasant ale to pound while you polka. It may not capture the imagination as well as Mount Angel’s own Benedictine brews, but it’s far more appropriate for all-day drinking.
StormBreaker Brewing: Stormtoberfest Marzen-Style Lager
5.1% ABV, 27 IBUs
The label for this Märzenbier features an anthropomorphized fermenter tank sporting a feathered cap, four-legged lederhosen and a single, baleful eye: an unsettling vision for a comforting beer. The latest lager from North Portland’s StormBreaker pours clear copper with no head and strong aromas of anise and bubblegum. Although the marketing copy brags of putting “heart, soul and lederhosen into every batch,” I taste no leather here. Despite the low IBU, this isn’t a barley bomb. It’s clean and classic, with a creamy texture and enough bite on the finish to offset its sweetness. It’s a beer for an Oregon autumn, inspiring visions of grey skies and damp denim. It would make a good companion to a plate of brats, but is even better suited for braising them.
Occidental Brewing: Festbier
6.3% ABV, [Unavailable] IBUs
North Portland’s Occidental brewing is dedicated to classic German styles, and this very classic Marzen has long been a feature of its annual Oktoberfest party. Now that it’s available in bottles for the first time, it can become a fixture at yours, too. Festbier pours a clear Pre-Raphaelite red with unusually bright, fizzy carbonation. It smells Negra Modelo and tastes like fresh-baked biscuits. There’s no clever tricks or new concepts here — Occidental takes on the style and nails it. This beer is fresh, clean, mild and dangerously drinkable. Stay safe by downing it alongside an abundance of pork products.
Deschutes Brewery: Hopzeit Autumn IPA
7% ABV, 60 IBUs
Deschutes’ newest autumn seasonal is “Marzenbier-inspired,” which I take to mean that it’s an Oktoberfest beer for those who don’t much care for Oktoberfest beers. Hopzeit pours a rich coppery amber, the color of fresh apple cider, with abundant fruit-salad aromas. It’s got the sweet booziness of a classic Oktoberfest ale, but it’s balanced with a hefty dose of Herkules, Sterling and Hull Melon hops that lend a bitter bite and lingering peppery finish. It reminds me of nothing so much as Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. I’m not sure who the target consumer might be for this hybrid, but it makes for a pleasant pint. Just make sure you serve it straight from the fridge — as Hopzeit approaches room temperature, it becomes unpleasantly syrupy.
Ninkasi Brewing Company: First Rule IPA
7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs
According to Ninkasi, the first rule of this new IPA is “Do not talk about this IPA.” Rules are made to be broken. This bright, fruity special release is the star of the brewery’s 2017 IPA variety pack and hardly seems like it could be the product of the same brewery that brought us Total Domination and Tricerahops. A clear golden ale with strong aromas of passionfruit and nightshades, it packs a huge tropical wallop of mango and papaya giving way to a smooth finish that leaves you wanting more. With a hop bill including El Dorado, Mosaic and Calypso, it reminds me a little of tropical punch. I want to sip it from a tiki mug with a tiny umbrella while basking under a sun lamp, but I’m more likely to schlep a couple of six-packs to the next neighborhood house party.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Tractor Pull Tawny Old Ale
8.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
This hefty English-style old ale has been kicking around in bottles since early 2017, but there’s something distinctly autumnal about the vanilla and cinnamon that give this tawny brew its kick. Sold in sturdy 500-milliliter bottles with cheery yellow labels, Tractor Pull pours a deep nut brown and smells like an orchard after harvest, with hints of cocoa and coffee. It’s brightly fizzy and tastes of rye bread, molasses, cinnamon and subtle vanilla. It reminds me of pain d’epices and Dr. Pepper, and should probably be sipped alongside a plate of fresh-baked spice cookies. Looking for even more autumn? Watch for Trolley Pull, a version aged in Eagle Rare barrels made in collaboration with North Portland bar Interurban, coming out soon in 750-milliliter bottles.
Claim 52 Brewing: Bird Up Milkshake IPA With Strawberry
7.3% ABV, 30 IBUs
Strawberries don’t exactly scream “fall,” but, thanks to a late harvest, this strange beast of a beer dropped in September. Bird Up is the latest in a series of “milkshake” IPAs from this small Eugene brewery in recent months, brewed with lactose in the manner of creamy, fruity brews from Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands and Seattle’s Urban Family. This one, available only in cans, was made with strawberries and vanilla and pours an enticing peachy-pink with thick haze. Its enormously hoppy nose is heavy on grapefruit. The strawberries contribute tart acidity and a lingering floral sensation. It reminds me of an Orange Julius, or maybe a scoop of strawberry sherbet floated in a pint of Claim 52’s coveted Fluffy IPA. Stout floats are common enough — why not other ales? Bird Up is a limited release, but if you can’t get your hands on a can I bet there’s another milky fruit concoction coming our way soon enough.
By Jon Abernathy
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Fresh hop season ties perfectly in with prime steelhead season,” explained Toby Nolan one early morning in late August, while driving from Bend to Silverton. Nolan, the senior lead guide of tours at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, was on his way to Goschie Farms to pick up 50 pounds of fresh Centennial hops destined for a special ale that will raise money for the Native Fish Society. “The release of this beer coincides with the steelhead runs.”
Nolan is an avid angler and fly fisherman, often found casting a line over a quiet stretch of river in his free time. He practices catch-and-release and is passionate about river conservation and responsible management. “People are starting to realize we are having a negative impact (on the watershed),” he said. “Water is life.”
A first-time visit to Goschie Farms two years ago introduced him to Salmon-Safe hops, inspiring the idea for the benefit beer. The Salmon-Safe program works to keep watersheds clean enough for native salmon to thrive, and the certification process works “to provide incentives for the adoption of practices that protect water quality and fish habitat.” All of the crops grown at Goschie Farms (which, in addition to hops, includes grapes, corn and barley malt) are managed in accordance with these guidelines.
Though not a brewer himself, Nolan worked with Robin Johnson, the assistant brewmaster of the Bend Pub on the concept behind the beer. “I think I’ve been bugging Robin for two years about making this beer,” he laughed. “Finally this year Robin asked me if I still wanted to do it, ‘cause he was going to brew it anyway!” In addition to the Salmon-Safe hops, they incorporated malt from Mecca Grade Estate Malt located in Madras.
Deschutes has a long history of giving back, from their Community Pints every Tuesday to their Street Pub block parties that raise money for local charities. Environmental sustainability is also a priority for the company; for instance, they restore one billion gallons of Deschutes River water each year through the Deschutes River Conservancy water leasing program.
There’s a nice bit of synergy between the two initiatives with this latest project: a fresh-hop pale ale named “Savin’ Freshies,” which will be available at both the Bend and Portland pubs on Oct. 7. The release party at the Bend Tasting Room will additionally offer a raffle and swag with proceeds benefiting the Native Fish Society, and Deschutes is donating $1 from every pint sold.
Arriving at Goschie Farms the morning of his hop run, Nolan met with owner Gayle Goschie and explained the concept behind his beer. Goschie Farms was the first hop grower in the country to become certified as Salmon-Safe, and their efforts to responsibly manage water use to protect wild salmon habitats meshes well with Nolan’s enthusiasm for fishing and conservation. Upon hearing of his efforts to benefit the Native Fish Society with proceeds from the beer sales, Goschie offered to donate the fresh hops to the project.
Partnering with the Native Fish Society was the natural choice for Nolan. The organization’s mission is to advocate for the recovery and protection of wild, native fish as well as the rivers these fish inhabit. Their River Steward Program spans 42 watersheds in Oregon, including the upper and lower Deschutes River, with volunteers working on initiatives such as suction dredge mining reform, hatchery steelhead management and more.
If Savin’ Freshies is well-received, Nolan imagines the possibility of additional similarly themed beers. “If this project goes well, I’d love to see more of these, maybe for each season,” he mused. “It would be a big project, but it would be great to have a lineup of conservation beers added to our bottled series.”
In the meantime, he’s focused on making the release of Savin’ Freshies a success. “I’m really thankful Deschutes has given me the opportunity to do this, and I’m a guide, not a brewer!” he said. “That support has made this a great, gratifying experience.”
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Andrew Bloo was not a farmer before founding Cascade Hop Farm, despite the fact that his roots were in agriculture.
“I was the first person that didn’t farm in my entire family,” Bloo said on a recent warm August morning in the shadow of his second-year farm near Bend, just outside of the small town of Tumalo.
After a career spent mostly in business — in marketing and as CEO of a software company — Bloo turned to hop farming as a way to spend more time with his family while starting a new endeavor.
Despite a lack of experience — outside of voluminous research on hop farming conducted by Bloo and help from his family of farmers — the first year resulted in a successful fresh-hop crop in 2015. Redmond’s Wild Ride Brewing used Cascade Hop Farm’s product for its Three Sisters Wet Hopped Red Ale.
“It’s exciting from the standpoint that someone showed the faith to buy it from us, a first-year farm, a local provider, instead of going to Yakima or over to the [Willamette] Valley,” Bloo said.
The Three Sisters beer quickly sold out last year, and Wild Ride came back to Bloo’s farm for enough hops to make a double batch this year.
The farm is also contracted with Central Oregon’s Cascade Lakes Brewing Company and Juniper Brewing Company this year. Bendistillery — literally right next door to the property — is also experimenting with a hop-infused product, Bloo said.
After that first year, Cascade Hop Farm has already increased its hop acreage from one to three acres in 2016. Another acre is planned for the coming years. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing in year two for Cascade: A late, hard frost in the middle of June killed most of the plants. But good weather and a solid root system allowed Bloo to start over nearly from scratch right as summer was starting. The farm, which is growing Centennial, Cascade and Nugget hops — is planning on harvesting early in September.
Cascade Hop Farm has helped to prove the so-called “craft hops” movement is on in earnest in Central Oregon, with a handful of small farms providing hops for area breweries.
For Central Oregon brewers, the advantage of getting their fresh hops locally is that the time from pick to boil is cut down dramatically. Getting hops from the big growers west of the Cascades or in Washington could take hours. Hops at Cascade Hop Farm or another local grower could go from bine to brewing in half an hour.
“You have such a limited window,” Bloo said on the harvest period for fresh hops. “A., you have to schedule a brewing opportunity, and B., your crop has to be ready. You can’t really sell hops until it’s time, and there’s this kind of tension of when brewers need it and when you can actually harvest a quality crop.”
Cascade has a lot of other things going for it besides having a quality product and attracting brewers who want to support a local business. Most of the property on which the farm is set is a wildlife preserve. The grounds surrounding the farm have been left in a natural state, and hop trimmings and spent bines are placed around the preserve so that animals can use it for habitat.
It’s also a truly family endeavor.
Bloo’s wife and children were out surveying the land in the morning as Bloo talked about the farm. Bloo’s mother lives in a house and acreage right next door to the farm and checks on the plants daily. Bloo’s father also visits regularly and plies his agricultural expertise to help the farm get off the ground.
“Our goal is really to do this as a family and spend our time out here,” Bloo said.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The McMenamins experience is one that is simultaneously unique and connected to the cosmic center that holds together the magical collection of quirky brewpubs. Its celebration of the fall hop harvest perfectly illustrates the company’s originality.
In early September, McMenamins brewers make identical batches of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale on the same day. Then about two weeks later, they release the Thundercone, again on the same day, at all brewery locations. The same beer plays out a little differently at each spot. The process of making Thundercone was aptly named the “Running of the Brewers” by Brian McMenamin when the beer was first introduced seven years ago.
“When fresh-hop brews became popular, we decided to try one,” said Rob Vallance, brewery general manager. “And Northwest fresh hops are the grandfather of all hops. My predecessor approached Doug Weathers, the owner of Sodbuster Farms in Salem,” he said.
Sodbuster is a family farm that grows more than 14 varieties of aromatic and bittering hops and has been cultivating the crop since 1958. They sell hops to many local breweries and were happy to add McMenamins to the list.
Vallance said, “Cascade hops were the most popular and best known, so we decided to go with Cascade hops that first year.”
A team of brewers known as the Recipe Development Squad decided on a style and ingredients. “They didn’t want an IPA,” said Vallance, “so they went with an American pale ale with Pilsner and Carastan malts. Nothing has changed. The base is still the same. The hops may vary from year to year.”
Hop harvest in the Northwest traditionally begins the first or second week of September. As that time approaches, the Thundercone team preparation gets into full swing.
“We start planning in mid-August,” said Jessica Standley, brewery administration, public relations and social media. “We can’t over-plan. We usually get a three-day notice before the harvest day. That’s part of the unique quality of the Running of the Brewers.”
Weathers, the hop expert, maintains close connections with his brewing partners and determines the harvest date. He chooses the variety that looks best each year. Last year it was Simcoe. This year the hop variety will be Cascade. “We are shooting for a harvest and brew date of Sept. 7,” Vallance said.
The brewers at the 21 breweries make sure they have all their other ingredients on hand, prepare the mash bill and prep the wort so they can drop the fresh hops in the brew the minute they arrive. (No easy feat, to be sure.)
On harvest day, brewery managers show up at the farm early in the morning. The hop bines are cut, the cones are separated and the sticky, green hops are put into 30-pound burlap totes.
Then the fun begins. The delicate flavors of fresh hops are diminished by time and temperature. The Running of the Brewers helps ensure the temperamental flowers are quickly and safely delivered to 21 different breweries. “We all take varying routes and full totes of hops, and within hours they will be going into the brew,” said Standley. “We go in completely different directions. We have eight or nine routes with multiple stops. The largest route has six locations.”
Vallance coordinates the assorted vehicles and drivers. “So far we’ve been lucky enough not to have any major last minute catastrophes,” he said. The brewery that’s farthest north is McMenamins Mill Creek, some 235 miles from Sodbuster. The north Washington brewery manager takes the hops to that location and makes stops in Olympia and Bothell, which is home to the new Anderson School. The southernmost deliver goes to McMenamins Roseburg Station and Pub. Lincoln City’s Lighthouse Brewpub is a stand-alone delivery. Although McMenamins has numerous locations throughout Oregon and Washington, 65 in all, most of the breweries are near the I-5 corridor, meaning they are situated just hours from the fresh hops.
Justin Azevedo, the Wilsonville brewer, will be making Thundercone for his third year. “We all have the same brew sheets and the same grains. The hops might change from year to year. They are a late kettle addition. We want to preserve all the delicate flavor.” Azevedo continued, “The neat thing from a brewing perspective is the similar concept to terroir with grapes. The hops are right out of the field; the fresh hops preserve all the flavors of the fields.”
Azevedo feels fortunate that Wilsonville is so close to Sodbuster, and he’s one of the first locations to receive the hops. “This is one of our biggest events,” he said. “Everyone gets ready for when the hops come in. It’s a fun, seasonal treat.”
Standley tracks the exact time that hops arrive at the breweries, the distance traveled and other fun stats, like how many cups of coffee were consumed during the Running of the Brewers. All this information, plus photos, are posted online at mcmenamins.com/Thundercone.
Vallance said that all the brew houses receive the same amount, about 30 pounds, with two exceptions. The new Anderson School will receive close to 50 pounds and Edgefield will get about 100 since these two sites have bigger systems.
The Running of the Brewers is organized chaos over one day, leading to the release of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale several weeks later. “It’s usually all gone within a couple weeks, a month at the most,” said Vallance.
Start looking for it mid-September and order it as often as you can.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Smith Rock Hop Farm co-founder Miles Wilhelm was drinking a pint of beer on a recent August evening while surveying the acres of hop bines that he and volunteers would harvest the next morning.
“Beer absolutely tastes better when you grow your own hops,” Wilhelm said with a smile.
Wilhelm didn’t have to wait long to savor that improved flavor. Smith Rock Hop Farm, near the small Central Oregon town of Terrebonne, is now in its second year of growing hops and features two types: Centennial and Cascade. The entire crop of Centennial was earmarked for Redmond’s Wild Ride Brewing that went into a boil the same day it was harvested to make a fresh-hop beer.
While other areas in the Pacific Northwest are famous for growing hops — notably Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Yakima Valley in Washington -- the conditions are actually fairly ideal in Central Oregon as well, according to Wilhelm. Evidence comes in the form of a growing number of hop farms that have sprung up around the region. Smith Rock is just one of them. The most well-known is probably Bend’s Worthy Brewing Company, which actually has a greenhouse and hop yard on its campus. There is also a smattering of hop farms throughout the region, including Cascade Hop Farm in Redmond, Tumalo Hops in Tumalo and several others based in the Lone Pine Valley, Madras and Powell Butte. Those farms work together on selling hops and improving growing techniques as the Central Oregon Hop Growers organization.
The real advantage of having a readily available supply of hops — even in small quantities — for the numerous Central Oregon breweries comes at harvest time and during fresh-hop beer season. Instead of waiting for a shipment of hops from a larger grower hours away, the hops from area farms can get to the brewers much more quickly.
“There were 26 different fresh hop beers last year that were just made by Central Oregon brewers,” Wilhelm said. “And we would love to supply that. That way they get a fresh hop beer, which is en vogue, and we don’t have to dry, pack it, store it, et cetera.”
For those interested in growing and harvesting their own hops on a much smaller scale, it doesn’t sound like rocket science, at least to listen to the way Wilhelm described it. Before starting Smith Rock, he just grew hops in his backyard.
“You just stick them in ground, give them as much sun as possible and make sure they get enough to water,” Wilhelm said. “You don’t have to baby them.”
Clearly, successfully growing hops -- especially on a larger scale -- is a little more nuanced than that. But Wilhelm explained that anyone from about Ashland to the Canadian border could find success in trying to grow hops in just about any type of soil.
A setup for growing hops can be as simple as running a piece of string from the ground to your roof, although hops can also grow on a trellis. On a larger scale and with more materials, that is the basic arrangement at most hop farms, allowing hops to grow upward. Adding a little bit of fertilizer and nitrogen is good, Wilhelm says, as is watering them regularly, though not to the point out of “drowning them.”
Harvesting is easy -- you just pluck them off the bine. Although getting to the hops can be difficult if the bines reach their full height at maturity, in excess of 20 feet.
When you’re done, you have fresh hops, which could make your homebrew or the fresh-hop beer at a local brewery taste that much better.
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