By Gail Oberst
Go ahead. Try it. Try serving small tastes of beer to a bunch of hopped-up revelers who, as part of a hop harvest celebration, took tours of Crosby’s hop farm in Woodburn, jiggled to the beats of Blake Crosby playing the drums with his rockin’ “Beware the Bear,” band, followed by the more bluegrassy notes from Ron Gansberg’s “Black Lodge” band. Needless to say, everyone was distracted by the sheer hoppiness of the evening.
Despite that, tasters got the job done, choosing seven favorites from among beers donated by Oregon brewers.
Fresh hop beers, for the uninitiated, are beers brewed with this year’s hops, generally unkilned. There is much geeky conversation about how old the hops should be (are they 48 hours old, or a week old?) and where in the brewing process they come to play (in the mash? In the boil? After/before fermentation?). Some of the breweries listed below when to great effort to get their hops into the beer immediately after they were picked. Others were more intent on presenting fresh hop taste from one grower, or from one variety of hop. But the tongue is the final judge, and as you can see below, our tasters’ tongues love a variety of flavors.
One other note of interest: For those who haven’t yet discovered that IBUs and hop flavor are not always related, let the following be a lesson to you. Most of the following IBUs are on the low side, and yet the beers literally burst with hoppy goodness. Talk amongst yourselves, or better yet, don’t think, just drink.
If seven of our tasters’ choices isn’t enough for you, a longer list, compiled by Emily Engdahl, is on pages 10 and 21. Most fresh hop beers, by the way, are available only for a short time, and are usually served on tap in limited and lucky bars and taprooms. A few fresh hop beers can be found on store shelves this month.
Each month, the Oregon Beer Growler invites consumers to “blind taste” a category of Oregon brews. For next month’s issue, tasters on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. will choose their favorite IPAs in a tasting at Eugene’s Bier Stein, 1591 Willamette St.
Following, in random order, are the fresh hop winners of the consumer tasting for this month.
Coalition’s Green Pig Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Portland
5.0 % ABV, 50 IBUs
This pale ale was made with all-fresh Cascade hops from Crosby’s Hop Farm, according to brewer/owner Elan Walsky. “Beautiful grapefruit, lime and garlic aromas. A clean juicy flavor,” said one taster. “I taste passion fruit,” said another. “The record for the 100 meter dash is 5.4 seconds,” said a third taster, expressing amazement.
McMenamins Thundercone Ale, All Locations
6.19% ABV, 56 IBUs
This fresh hopped ale is now a McMenamins seasonal tradition, complete with the “running of the brewers” who gather the freshly-picked Cascade hops from Sodbuster Farms near Salem and then deliver them within hours to McMenamins breweries in Oregon and Washington. Dried Chinook hops were used in the wort for bittering, but 5 pounds of fresh hops were added per barrel during the brewing, giving Thundercone an “earthy, raw decadence,” according to company descriptions. Tasters were enthusiastic: “Lemon gumdrop bubblegum airplane!” wrote one taster. “Lemons. Eat this with onions,” said another. “Nice and fruity,” and “Peter Pan meets the crocadiles,” said others.
Hopworks Fuggin’ A, IPX Single-Hop Ale, Portland
6.0% ABV, 60 IBUs
HUB brewers visited Leavy Farms, a certified organic hopyard near Aurora, to pick up fresh, organic Fuggle hops for this beer. The IPX brews are part of a series that showcases the flavor of individual hops – this one, the much-loved fuggle. “Nice!” said one taster. “Summer evenings on the deck,” said another. “Fishing fly bittersweet hook caught on a tree,” mused a fan.
Sky High Brewing’s Fresh Hop Ale, Corvallis
5.0%, 27 IBUs
From the first harvest, the company bagged 170 pounds of fresh Centennial hops from Ben Smith’s B&B Farms, and brewed them within 24 hours. A big hop aroma and flavor without the bitterness, according to the brewery’s description. “Lime zinger pucker superball bounce!” exclaimed one taster. “Woody citrus,” described another. “Mild and clean,” “Nice finish,” and “Tastes like a bull moose party,” were among other taster comments.
Stickmen’s Cascade SMaSH, Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Lake Oswego
5.8 % ABV, 34 IBUs
This is a single malt and single hop (thus the clever acronym) pale ale uses only Maris Otter malt and fresh Cascade hops from Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn. The Cascades give the beer a beautiful orange blossom aroma, according to Stickmen’s description. “Nice balance,” said a taster, and “Big and juicy” said another. “Lime gobstopper skateboard punk,” described a fan. “AC/DC in my mouth!” said another. Others liked the beer’s aroma.
Golden Valley Fresh Hops Ale, McMinnville
5.1% ABV, 35 IBUs
Alex Kircher, whose family owns the brewery, said: For our first fresh hop beer this year we crammed eighty pounds of freshly picked Centennial hop flowers into our 7 barrel brew kettle. No kiln, no freezer, just the essence of hops straight from the field. Rye and crystal malt were added to accent the spicy aroma of fresh hops. The beer’s fans waxed poetic: “Grandma’s tea rose garden is hosting a Grateful Dead tribute band,” suggested one taster. “Lavender, roses,” suggested another. “Mouses playing tag,” mused a fan. “The bitter notes are nice, left me wanting more.”
Laurelwood’s Fresh Hop Red (Not Pictured)
6.2 % ABV, 60 IBUs
This beer is a version of Laurelwood’s Free Range Red racked over pounds of fresh Cascade hops from the Cosby Farm, said Vasili Gletsos, Laurelwood’s brewer. Even without the addition of fresh hops, the red ale, with its caramel sweetness and rich copper colors was a popular favorite. Our consumer tasters love it too: “A perfect finish with my dessert,” said a taster who was eating one of Grandma Crosby’s cupcakes. “Do I smell cucumbers? What a nice tangerine flavor,” said another taster. “It’s melons! Subtle but good,” said one fan. “Delicious!”
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.