Monday, December 3, 2007

Hop Harvest Beers 2007

My humble blogging start was a maneuver called "guest blogging" on my buddy Lee's blog. He was kind enough to let me write not one, not two, not three, but four posts about this year's fresh-hop beers around Portland.

It seems pretty lame to me to blog under someone else's marquee (though others have proposed that it's the best way to blog), so I'll start putting my beer scribblings on my own blog.

[Update: 2008/05/23]: Here are the original posts, in reading order, not backwards-blog-time order. I've added a little linkage and changed punctuation and formatting just a little.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Well, it's starting to rain again, so I guess we'll see less sun for the next, oh, nine months.

But this time of year has its reward: fresh hop beers. I hadn't heard of such a thing when we first got here, but now I await it eagerly every fall. The idea is, the brewer goes out to some farmer's place and gets some hops right after they're harvested, and throws them into the beer the very same day. It's a distinctively different taste, you get the nice bitter hop flavor, but also something herbal or vegetable-y on top of that.

I got caught off guard this year, Roots was the first place I saw it, Tuesday night when Dave and I headed over there for some darts. Their Hop-o-pottamus (what a name) was very much in character, it was one of their hearty, strong ales, it might remind you of Roots Red. Good stuff.

The next day Bridgeport was scheduled to release their Hop Harvest, so I took a chance and walked over there for lunch. They weren't going to serve it until 4, but luckily I overheard one of the employees talking about it to someone, and when I pestered him about it he took me upstairs and gave me a small sample. From that sample, my impression was that it was very competently done, but maybe not quite as tasty as what they had last year. They took a chance this year, and made a stronger (7%) ale, almost an Imperial IPA. I'll give it another chance and see if it tastes better in a bigger glass. Lee, you might look around Austin for this, they're selling some in 22 oz. bottles for the first time.

Well, since I had two days in a row of fresh hop beers, I went to Laurelwood's NW location yesterday (Thursday) to see if they had their version yet, but was disappointed. Apparently they do have it on the eastside.

Today I headed over to the Rogue brewpub for lunch, and they had just tapped their Hop Heaven. This was much more classic than Bridgeport's, and I'll probably try to soak up more of it while it lasts. Maybe you can even get bottles of this outside Oregon?

So, to paraphrase Meatloaf, 3 out of 4 ain't bad. Next week I'll pop into the New Old Lompoc to check theirs out (that's the same brewery as Hedge House), and Lucky Lab should have theirs pretty soon. I may even break down and go to Rock Bottom, since they have one on tap right now. Next month there is a mini-festival of fresh hop beers at the McMenamin's in Troutdale, I'll see if I can scare up a posse for that. Deschutes (Bend, OR) makes one called Hop Trip every year, with any luck I'll find that on tap somewhere.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Saturday evening the missus and I were downtown and happened into the bar at Higgins, and found that their cask beer was Full Sail's fresh hop ale -- guessing it's the one they calll Lupulin Ale. Perfect. This is the flavor I was looking for: a little sweet, hoppy and flowery with a little extra green flavor. A little flat and not-too-cold from the cask, just beautiful. The best one I've had this year, and I'll have to hit it a few more times before I'm satisfied.

Sunday I convinced the neighbors to join me at the Lucky Lab, where they have The Mutt on tap, named after the 4 different varieties of fresh hops. It was interesting, a little bit tart like a rye or even some wheat beers, but we found it disappointing. Not much flavor, so you had to concentrate really hard to pick up the fresh hop aroma. I notice they have a couple other varieties they will show at the festival, so I'm holding out hope that one of those will redeem the Lab.

Monday I pounced on the New Old Lompoc and was surprised to find that they were pouring two different fresh hop beers. The Star of India IPA was a winner -- strong hops, but with that nice grassy flavor. The other one was a dark, strong (7.8%) beer called Harvest Man, which they described as an Alt. It was delicious, especially after it warmed up a little, but I felt like the fresh hops were wasted on such a big beer. There was just so much to it, that you wouldn't notice the herbal notes unless you already knew they were there. As Joe Walsh said, I can't complain but sometimes I still do.

Tuesday we went for lunch to the Laurelwood on the east side, and tried their fresh hop Extra Pale. Good stuff, but didn't have the green herbal flavor I was looking for. Might have been because it had a ton of hops in it; if you're a hop-head you won't be disappointed to drink one. It seemed similar to Bridgeport's offering -- high quality but lacking a little pizazz.

Speaking of Bridgeport, I really have to sit down with a pint of theirs, since my small sample didn't do it justice. But I was thwarted Friday evening when I tried to pick up a half-gallon of the Bridgeport fresh hop ale at the Bridgeport pub on Hawthorne. A gal who looked like she might be the pub manager said their "policy" is to only fill their own growlers (I had an unmarked mason jar). Stupid policy -- here's a guy who wants to spend $10 and tip the bartender, and you don't even have to wash a glass or wipe a table. They lost more than $10 business on that one, because I'll skip a few lunches after that.

I'll see if I can keep my streak going a little longer -- that's 8 different fresh-hop beers in 7 days. If I run out of new ones to try, I can always drink up more Full Sail.

Monday, October 8, 2007

My fresh hop streak is continuing, a new one each day, though I did have to resort to bottled beer a couple of times. That's OK, one of the bottles was a big winner, my second-favorite harvest beer this year.

Wednesday I boldly ventured into the chain brewpub, Rock Bottom. The Hop Harvest beer there was drinkable, within the range of what I'm looking for. I almost had to report that their Hop Harvest was way off the mark, just a normal IPA, because when I asked for the fresh-hop beer, I was served just a normal IPA. I guess there aren't enough beer geeks to fill all the wait-staff positions at big corporate operations.

Thursday I finally broke down and had to experiment with a bottle from Hale's Brewing in Seattle, their O'Brien's Harvest Ale. Hale's usually has great stuff, and this was no exception. Lots of flavor -- what do I taste there, charbroiled steak? No, I guess it's just a pretty dark, caramely malt, maybe some yeast flavor, and there just on top is the flowery fresh-hop. Very tasty, and I'll have it again, but this time of year I like the green hops to be the star of the show, not a supporting actor.

Friday I grabbed a Geschwills Golden Ale at the Widmer Gasthaus. Uh oh, "golden ale", isn't that secret code for "if you don't like beer, you'll be able to choke this one down"? This was pretty bland, I didn't really get much of the fresh hop aroma. I was hoping for better.

Saturday was Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale. It's in 6-packs, but I tried it on tap. A little bit of hop bitterness, but none of the exciting greenness I wanted. Put it in the same category as Widmer.

Hmmm.... Sounds like things are tapering off, have I already been through all the good ones? Luckily, Sunday's experiment restored my faith in the fresh-hop spirits. A bottle again, but a good one, 22 ounces of Deschutes' Hop Trip. Of everything so far, this is second only to Full Sail in my opinion for nailing the style. Honey sweet, fresh flowery hops, Hop Trip was what I was looking for.

I'm going to try desperately to keep the streak going for 5 more days, then Saturday there is a "Fresh Hop Tastival" that will be the icing on the cake.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Well, it looked like my mission had finally petered out. Monday was rather lame, I tried different presentations of beers I had already had. The Full Sail Lupulin on CO2 instead of cask; finally a reasonable quantity of Bridgeport Hop Harvest, from a bottle. Full Sail: excellent, though not as much so as the cask variety; Bridgeport: a fine beer, but doesn't quench my thirst for that grassy fresh-hop flavor.

Tuesday, fighting the smoke at the Horsebrass, got to taste Ninkasi's Ceridwen Harvest Lager. Now, Ninkasi beers are usually musclebound bruisers that make you beg for more punishment. A light lager is a little out of character for them. The waitress tried to steer me away from it, she said, "It's like the best Budweiser you ever had". Simile is a great way to describe things, and I think she nailed it. Very well done, but why the hell would you waste your freshly harvested hops on a light lager?

Wednesday, I can't even claim to be on track any more. The best I could do was a few cask Lupulins at Higgins before the George Jones concert.

Thursday, it looks like Monday all over again. The Full Sail Pilsener Room, trying beers on tap that I already had in bottles: Deschutes Hop Trip and Hales O'Brien's Harvest Ale (the menu calls it a Fresh Hop ESB). I was prepared to gloss over Monday's lapse, and pretend like Wednesday never happened, but this looks like the final nail in the coffin. Fortunately, the bartender asked me which one was better, and when I pointed at the Lupulin cask handle, he told me that the Lupulin cask had been replaced with a Harvest beer from Hopworks.

Hark, are those angels singing to me? The quest is alive for one more day! Hopworks is a Southeast brewpub that hasn't even opened yet; a few places have their IPA, but I couldn't believe it when he pumped out a reddish-orange pint of their fresh hop beer. This is an awesome beer -- I'd say it bridges the gap between the sweeter, lighter beers I crave each year, and the people who try to make a strong, bitter harvest ale. It's got the flavor, it's got the color, plus a little bit of extra bitterness. [Update: 2008/05/23]: A couple days later, there was a label on that Hopworks cask that just said "Hopworks IPA", which does have a grassy, "fresh" flavor. So I'm not 100% sure that this was truly a fresh-hop offering.

Then, as the icing on the cake, he gave me a tiny taste of Bridgeport's "firkin-style" Harvest Ale. The night before the Bridgeport people had been in and served it out of a barrel just by sticking a nozzle in and letting gravity do the work, no pumping or pressure. The bartender saved a pint overnight, so it was pretty flat, but it was awesome. I don't know if the firkins are from a different batch than the rest of Bridgeport's Hop Harvest, but this was sweeter and with more fresh flavor than what I tried on tap or from a bottle.

Friday I was able to try Killer Green from a new Hood River brewery, Double Mountain. This was an awesome beer in the same vein as the Hopworks from Thursday, with the fresh flavor but on the bitter side. Smooth and almost creamy.

Saturday I crossed the finish line for my marathon, by attending the Fresh Hop Tastival at McMenamin's Edgefield. Sadly, a number of the beers that were listed on OregonLive were not at the festival: nothing from Ninkasi, Amnesia, Standing Stone, Mia and Pia's, Raccoon Lodge, or Calapooia; none of the alternate beers from Deschutes or Lucky Lab. What the hell, that's a lot of gaps! Still, I got to try 6 or 7 beers that I hadn't had yet. Golden Valley's beer was in the acceptable range. Pelican's Elemental Ale was really good, but the fresh hop flavor got submerged by all the other flavor and nutrition -- the beer was thick and a completely opaque light-gold color. The only one I hadn't tried that lit a fire under me was from Mt. Hood Brewing, they had the style down.

Final verdict: My three favorites this year are Full Sail's Lupulin Ale, Deschutes Hop Trip, and whatever Hopworks calls theirs. Runners up are Double Mountain, Rogue Hop Heaven, and Mt. Hood. Excellent beers that I fault a little for lacking or hiding the green hop taste: New Old Lompoc's Harvest Man, Hale's O'Brien's Harvest Ale, Bridgeport's Hop Harvest, Pelican's Elemental Ale.


  1. Huzzah! That fresh hop series is first thing I read on Lee's blog. It was great!. I even linked to it in a post.