Early autumn in the Northwest is marked by the return of the rain and drastically shorter days, but brings with it a special compensation: beer flavored with fresh hops. The Hood River Hops Fest kicks off a series of fresh hop beer festivals around Oregon each year, and I was glad to finally make it the HRHF for the first time last Saturday. The weather could not have been nicer, the crowd was bustling but manageable, and there were some very nicely done beers on tap.
There were 38 fresh hop beers offered up, and I had already slimmed down the task ahead of me by scouting out 16 of them around Portland in the couple of weeks that the fresh stuff has been out. I also cut a few corners by skipping Portland breweries that I knew I could easily catch up with if I didn't get to those beers at a festival. Even so, the taps started drying up mid-afternoon, and I missed out on a couple of beers that I intended to try: Pelican Elemental Ale and Beer Valley Fresh Hop Leafer Madness. Those are pretty popular numbers, and both are bottled in limited quantities, so I expect to track them down somehow or another. Is it just a coincidence that these are also the two breweries that give me so much trouble every time I go to compile the Portland Beer Price Index?
My favorites of the day were:
- Big Horse Vernon the Rabbit Slayer -- giant double IPA, with a beautiful flowery hop flavor
- Elysian Kama Citra -- awesome, very fresh flavor
- Logsdon Fresh Hop Sezoen -- very different take on fresh hops, nice apricot flavor
- Double Mountain Killer Red -- malty red ale with good fresh hop presence
- Ft. George CoHoporative Ale -- great orange blossom hops (lots of Centennials?)
I was a little disappointed in Ninkasi's Total Crystallization -- Total Domination with fresh Crystal hops. Last year it was stunning, and really a breakthrough for Ninkasi, who had always come up surprisingly short at fresh hop time. This year it was nicely bitter, with a pleasant grassiness, but not up to the level of last year's. Their Fresh Hop Tricerarillo had a little more going for it, but could still be better.
There was one disaster at the festival: Lucky Lab's Reaperweizen, which was either infected or had something else strange going on with it. A couple weeks ago I had an early taste of Reaperweizen, and it seemed promising at that time, so I don't know what happened in the meantime to it.
The Hood River Hops Festival was a great time; if you've never been, consider going next year. As with every festival, early is better, as some of the buzz beers were gone in just a few short hours, and by about 7 PM very few of the 52 beer lines were still flowing.
The Portland Fresh Hop Tastival is coming up this Saturday, October 8, 2011 at Oaks Park, 12 - 8 PM (there is also a sneak preview Friday night from 5:30 to 8:30). I've updated the Fresh Hop 2011 Progress Report with my opinions from the Hood River Festival -- when the Oaks Park taplist is published I'll probably put up another progress report annotating the beers that will be on tap Saturday.