As the summer fades and the leaves begin to fall, beer drinkers know that there’s a sweet spot between the bright session beers of the summer and the flood of pumpkins beers October brings. A time when the hops don’t have to be dried and hit the brew kettles fresh and wet. The unique tradition of fresh-hopping beers is only enhanced by the tradition of making a pun out of the title of your flavorful brew.
If you’re not one of the people who enjoys the bitter nature of the west coast IPA, these fresh hop beers are the best way to get your feet wet. When the hops are freshly picked they have a much smoother, more flavorful taste than their dried counterparts, so brewers will often strive to get them into the beer while they’re still wet, sometimes within an hour of being picked, but always within a day or two. In Portland, the hop fields are so close to the breweries that everyone can get in on the fun, producing bright beers with big, hoppy flavor that you can smell from three feet away.
Among the many tasting opportunities in the Northwest every year is the Portland Fresh Hops Festival, which occurs at Oaks Park in South East Portland, Oregon the last weekend in September. Over 50 breweries will be there sporting fresh hop beers crafted from more than 16 different hop varietals.
The only problem with fresh hop beer is that it disappears as quickly as it arrives. The uncured hops don’t hold their flavor nearly as long, so after a month or so they begin tasting like pales and pilsners. That means some of the fresh hop beers won’t even make it to the festival this weekend, but we’ve been bouncing around Portland breweries tasting every fresh hop we can get our hands on in preparation. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Commons – Fresh Hop Myrtle
This isn’t the first you’ve heard us boast about Portland’s finest Belgian-style brewery and it won’t be the last. Normally a spring seasonal, Myrtle is a tart farmhouse ale that gets its unique taste and acidity from Brettanomyces, a yeast that’s used in brewing to create a musky, spicy flavor. Myrtle took home a silver medal in the American sour category at the Great American Brewfest this year, and the fresh-hopped iteration of this delicious beer features fresh Meridian hops, a strain that’s rife with aromas of tropical fruit and berries. It’s an incredible pairing for the already tart Myrtle, and a flavor you don’t get to experience a lot in its wet state.
Laurelwood Brewing Co – Fresh Hop Free Range Red
This one is a yearly favorite that brings us to the brewpub the first day it goes on tap. This local’s brewery’s Free Range Red is already an impressive beer with a beautiful color and full body. When they add in freshly-harvested Cascade hops, this beer takes on a whole new life. The beautiful bouquet of fruity and dry flavors, usually found in large quantity in Northwest style IPAs, is right at home in the darker body, so much so that you wonder whether Free Range Red was brewed with this season in mind. Laurelwood has produced this fragrant umber brew for the last couple of years and it’s always a winner.
Fort George Brewing – Fresh IPA
Astoria, a small Oregon coastal town, is home to one of the more prolific craft breweries in the area. While the team there limited its fresh hop beers to in-pub experiences, last year’s canned version of Fresh had us chasing four-packs for a solid month and this year is no exception. Bright, fruity amarillo hops cut through a clean, balanced beer, leaving you hunting for mango and pineapple flavors–and another can.
Ex Novo Brewing Co – Fresh Hop Elliot
Not-for-profit brewery Ex Novo already has a good thing going with its Elliot IPA, which recently began appearing in tallboys, but the fresh hop version shines with tropical, yet earthy notes. This one has actually been a bit divisive, as it takes a more subdued approach to highlighting the hops than most brewers, who have gone for splashy grapefruit and tropical fruit notes with amarillo hops this year. Ex Novo’s ingenuity has paid off, though you should know the trick to finding cans with fresh hops is looking for a green “fresh” stamp on the bottom.
Breakside Brewing – Wanderlust IPA
Producing over 100 unique beers per year, Breakside in Milwaukie, Oregon already had a winner on their hands with the crowd-pleasing Wanderlust, and the fresh hops only add to its charm. This golden IPA shines beautifully, and thanks to the less bitter hops, goes down smoother than its year-round variant. Not that Wanderlust isn’t an excellent choice any time of year, but it’s particularly tasty during September and October.