Thursday, September 27, 2012


Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Now that we are aware that some breweries -- most notably Sierra Nevada -- label certain products as "fresh hop beer" even though every hop in the beer has been dried, beer lovers often ask for clarification on whether a beer has "wet hops", and brewers often label their beers as such.

Stop it.  STOP IT!  Stop using this term "wet hops" which was only invented to give a cover to those who wanted to jump on the fresh hop bandwagon, but for whatever reason, did not want to mess with sticky, rapidly wilting fresh hops.  Stop giving cover to people who want to deceive, simply in order to elbow in on a beautiful thing.

I have ranted about this in the past, but let me state again some of the reasons "wet hops" is a ridiculous turn of phrase.  First of all, what other fresh agricultural product do you have to call "wet" to make sure someone knows you don't think it has been dried?  If you go to the grocery store and ask for fresh parsley, or fresh ginger, or fresh garlic, they will point you to the produce aisle.  Try telling them you don't want wet parsley, you want fresh-dried parsley.  And by the way, where is the wet ginger?  I'm making a stir-fry, should I put in dried garlic, fresh garlic, or wet garlic?  I see that you have fresh cucumbers and fresh lettuce on sale, but I was really hoping to make my salad with wet vegetables, not fresh-dried ones.

How about fresh fish?  Can that be dried?  Milk?  Eggs?  Better ask for wet fish, wet eggs, and of course wet milk.  On Valentine's Day you better remind the florist that you want wet roses, because a dried bouquet might convey the wrong message even if the vase says the flowers are fresh.

Furthermore, freshly-picked hop cones are not wet anyway.  Think of the roses I just mentioned -- they are vibrant and tender, but they aren't wet, and neither are hops.  You can't squeeze water out of them -- a potato is wetter than a hop.

Finally, crowdsourced wisdom at Twitter brings up this question:  what do you call it when you dry hop with wet hops?

Now, it is certainly no sin to have a mix of fresh and dried hops in a beer -- that's how most fresh hop beers are done:  dried hops for bitterness and fresh hops later in the process for aroma and flavor.  But to call a beer with only dried hops a "fresh hop beer" is completely unjustifiable.  Yes, the first dried hops of the season are the freshest ones you can use, and should make delicious beer.  However, the flavors in those beers are not what people expect when they ask for a fresh hop beer.  Most brewers that I have asked about this subject were completely dumbfounded to hear that some fresh hop beers contained only dried hops -- it had simply never occurred to those honest folk that anyone would tell such a ridiculous lie.

Go forth with the awareness that there are deceptively labeled fresh hop beers out there, and spread the word.  But do not give in to the falsehood.  Don't use the term "wet hop", and push back when you hear someone use it.  If you need clarification about a fresh hop beer, ask whether it has some hops that haven't been dried.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2012

A quiet edition of the PBPI this quarter, after the big increases last time.  Bomber prices have come down from the all-time highs of the summer, though they are still pretty steep compared to six-packs: $15.15 is the average six-pack equivalent (SPE) price for bombers on sale.  I went ahead and put up the graph for bomber prices again to illustrate the decline but also show how bombers are still near the top of the prices I've seen over the past three years.

Here are the Portland Beer Price Index numbers for this quarter:
  • 6-packs: $9.22, unchanged
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.76, down 7 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.83, up 1 cent
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.63, down 5 cents
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.39 unchanged
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.59, unchanged
Two notes about the composition of the index.  First, I was worried about Hopworks IPA:  a couple of the places I looked did not have any in stock, and QFC had it very obviously mismarked on the shelf (about 33% higher in price than other HUB bombers).  It made me fear that Hopworks was dropping IPA bombers now that they are canning it in tall-boys, but I have been assured by them that while there may have been a "temporary little burp in the pipeline", they are not discontinuing the HUB IPA bombers.  The other tweak I had to make was -- for the purposes of comparing to last quarter -- to pretend that QFC had Caldera Pale Ale on the shelf at the summertime price.  In fact, the prices above omit a Caldera price at QFC, because it wasn't out, and there wasn't a shelf tag for it.  Has it been bumped by the new 10 Barrel six-packs?  Or is it a temporary outage?  We shall see.

This year has flown by.  The next installment of the Portland Beer Price Index will be out around Christmas.

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 Fresh Hop Beers and Festivals

We're just a week away from Oregon's granddaddy Fresh Hop event, the Hood River Hops Fest, next Saturday September 29, 2012.  My beer-blogging brother Ezra over at the New School pulled off the astounding coup of becoming the curator for this year's HRHF, and he put together a superlative lineup of beers.  Highlights include new breweries like Pfriem, Gigantic, and Solera; a couple of beers that I've already tried this year that are among the best ever; plus a first-ever fresh-hop offering by Block 15.  I don't recall ever getting a fresh hop beer from Lagunitas, but apparently there will be one at Hood River.  Seriously, read the list, you'll be amazed.  I also like it that Ezra notes the hop varieties on all the beers -- a crucial piece of information that is often lacking at events like this.

Last year was the first year I made it out to Hood River for the fest despite a longstanding interest in fresh hop beers.  Even though it's just in a parking lot in the middle of town, the views out toward the surrounding hills make a very nice setting for a festival.

Then Portland gets its turn the following Saturday, October 6, with the Portland Fresh Hops Beer Fest at Oaks Park.  I'm not sure the list is out yet for that festival, but Oaks Park is also a lovely setting if the weather is good.  Most importantly, I can ride my bike there on the Springwater Corridor.

This year I haven't gone as insane in trying to track down fresh hop beers as I have in years past.  The 2012 Fresh Hop Map tells the tale -- not much action compared to last year's map, and this year I have 3 people helping fill it in.  Still, it's becoming difficult to avoid fresh hop beers, so here are the ones I've tried so far (I will keep updating this list as the season goes on).  As usual, I'll rank them in order of my preference, and split them into four categories:  truly excellent must-try fresh hop beers, beers with good fresh hop character, good beers that somehow lost the fresh hop character, and beers to avoid.  Beers marked "(HR)" are on the list for the Hood River Hops Fest. 
[Update 2012/10/02: Beers that will be at Oaks Park on October 6 (according to the OBG's Fresh Hop Beer List (pdf)) are marked "(OP)".]

Must Try:
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Free Range Red (HR) (OP)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Bachelor Bitter (HR)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond (OP)
  • Double Mountain Killer Red (draft -- bottle isn't as good)
  • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (OP)
Good Fresh Hop Flavor:
  • Crux Crystal Zwickel
  • Alameda 100# Nugget
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Deschutes River Ale
  • Upright Kiln 'em All (HR)
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Seizeon (OP)
  • New Belgium Trip 14
  • Gigantic The Most Interesting Beer in the World (HR) (OP)
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop (HR) (OP)
  • Lucky Lab Mutt
  • Pelican Elemental Ale (OP)
  • Lucky Lab Last Little Fresh Hop in Oregon
  • Full Sail Hopenfrisch Lager (OP) 
  • Base Camp Hoptastic Voyage
  • Ft. George Fresh Hop Vortex
  • Burnside Nuggets With Attitude
  • 10 Barrel Crosby Fresh Hop (OP)
  • Falling Sky Whoa Dang
  • Commons Fresh Hop Farmhouse
  • Three Creeks Cone Lick'r (OP)
  • Big Horse Paragon
  • Breakside Wet Hop Simcoe 
  • Anderson Valley Mendo Mellow
  • Falling Sky So Fresh, So Green Lager (OP) 
  • Oakshire Ask the Fish 
  • Hales Fresh Hop Supergoose 
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Amber
  • Migration Green Reaper 
  • Sierra Nevada 2012 Harvest Ale (bottle) 
  • Deschutes King Cone (HR) (OP)
  • Rock Bottom Fresh Hop Ale (HR)
  • Double Mountain Killer Green
  • Pints Fresh Hop Seismic Upgrade IIPA
  • Amnesia French Connection
  • Cascade Lakes Harvest
  • Everybody's Brewing Fresh Hop Head Stash
  • Sasquatch Fresh Hopped Healy Heights
  • Burnside Pub Draught
  • Astoria Fresh Hop
  • Golden Valley Crystal Fresh Hop 
  • McMenamins Thundercone (OP)
Good Beer, Can't Taste the Fresh Hops:
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest (HR) (OP)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Black Ale
  • Lompoc Harvest Man Red
  • Pfriem Fresh Hop Strong Blonde 
  • Hopworks Powell Estate IPA
  • Beer Valley Fresh Hop Leafer Madness
  • Alameda Failing Street Fresh Hop IPA (OP)
  • Oakshire 100 Hops (OP)
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Seizeon Bretta
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Black Butte Porter
  • Hopworks Give Me Liberty (HR) (OP)
  • Pints Fresh Hop Saison
  • Ninkasi Smells Like Purple (OP)
  • Lucky Lab Reaperweizen
  • Block 15 Heliotropic
  • Schooner Exact Amarillo Fresh Hop
Beers to Avoid:
  • Two Beers Fresh Hop IPA (bottle)
  • Coalition Green Pig
  • Solera Kwazy Wabbit (OP)
  • Old Market Vers Bloem
  • Flat Tail Home Grown
  • Beer Valley Tri-State (OP)
  • Fire on the Mountain Magnum P.A.
  • Walking Man Cents and Centsability

Some of these beers deserve special mention.  Gigantic's beer reminds me of the first fresh-hop beers I ever tried, 7 or 8 years ago when the trend was just getting off the ground: an almost honeyed light ale with beautiful fresh aroma and flavor.  It's an indication of how far this style has progressed that the flavor that made me a maniac only gets you into the "good" category these days.  Speaking of which, my favorite from the last two years -- Fresh Hop Mirror Pond, which I have often proclaimed the best beer in the history of the world -- is outdone this year by Laurelwood's astounding fresh-hopped version of their Red Ale, and also by Deschutes' own fresh-hopped Bachelor Bitter.  Don't miss any of those three beers this year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My New Local

At the beginning of the year I got excited when Caps and Corks opened within sleepwalking distance of the office I was renting. Alas, after a few months I changed offices.  Homebody that I am, I rarely make it by C&C these days.

There are definitely some good watering holes near my new digs:  I'm just a few blocks from the Deschutes pub; Bailey's is only about five blocks away and plausibly on the way home; and the new brewpub Pints is just across the park.

But one place that I was surprised to find myself returning to for a beer at least once a week is the Pizza Schmizza at 11th and Glisan.  The thing that keeps me coming back is that happy hour starts at Schmizza at 2 PM, which is often about when I get around to eating lunch.  Happy hour means $1 off beers and slices priced from $2.50 to $3.  The beer list is not geeky, but it has as its basis a simple three-beer spectrum that works well at lunch: Widmer Hef, Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, and Oakshire's fabulous Overcast Espresso Stout.  One of those will work with whatever mood I'm in on a given day.

I mentioned happy hour.  The picture above doesn't do justice to the "Mighty Mug" of Hef sitting there.  I haven't measured its volume, but I've been obsessing about glassware lately so I feel pretty confident in guessing that it holds at least 24 ounces of beer, and goes for just $5 at happy hour.  If I'm right about that, it's an SPE of $15 -- not the best happy hour SPE in town, but pretty good, especially if you consider that you might be saving money and tips by just having one giant beer instead of two smaller ones.  Regular-sized pints are $4 at happy hour.

Big beers, quick service, cheap prices.  Fine qualities to find in a new local.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My New Beers

Tuesday I wrote about my new glassware, and since each glass in the fashion show was being worn by a different lovely beer, I thought I'd say a few words about each.

The brutally honest Brewers Union 180 22-ounce pint glass got filled up with Gigantic IPA.  Perhaps it's not the style of beer the glass was intended for, but I liked the idea of putting a Gigantic beer in a gigantic glass.  The IPA is an instant Portland classic: big, full-bodied, with orangey hops.  I fancy that it tastes better on tap, but in a pinch the bombers are available wherever fine beers are sold.


The stalwart Rogue goblet was shown off by the lovely and talented Widmer Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.  At the 2011 Fruit Beer Festival I declared Widmer's Raspberry Hibiscus Gose my biggest disappointment, despite being easily the prettiest beer served that day.  On the other hand, I really like the 2012 marionberry version, which is probably still out there on the shelves in 12-ounce bottles.  It's not as visually stunning, but it seems maltier and a touch saltier than I remember the raspberry one being.  I didn't get much hibiscus flavor from either of them, which is probably a good thing.  Hibiscus strikes me as a very strong, distinctive flavor which is interesting on its own but doesn't play well with others, though I'm sure it contributes to the gose's beautiful color.

Oddly, one of my complaints about the 2011 was that it wasn't as tart as Cascade's Goses -- which is a surprising thing for me to complain about in the first place -- but one thing I like about the 2012 is that it is less tart than the 2011.  Go figure.  Meanwhile Widmer brewer Ben Dobler told me he liked the tarter raspberry version better.  Isn't beer wonderful?   (Thanks to Widmer for the free bottle.)

Last but not least, that nutritious-looking potion in the giant grail my Austin friend Brady gave me is a treat that Dave recently stocked in his kegerator next door:  Migration's Luscious Lupulin IPA.  Even though Migration is not more than a mile from my house, I rarely seem to make it over there.  Luckily, they're doing a booming business without me, and a couple years in they seem to be hitting their stride with the beers.  Luscious Lupulin is cloudy, dank, and delicious.  It's bitter for sure, but really it's the floral qualities of the hops that shine through, balanced with enough malt.  I know I've had it in the past, but it seems better to me than it used to, a very well done NW IPA.  I'll be filling my chalice with it as often as I can.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My New Glassware

It all started in May, when Carla and I finally visited the Brewers Union 180 Pub in Oakridge.  Oregon's only 100% Real Ale pub also serves tactlessly honest pints.  A beer glass at Brewers Union is not only shaped like an English pint glass, it doesn't only hold an imperial 20-ounce pint of beer, it is marked with a 20-ounce fill line that also leaves room for a head.  The pub sells them for 10 bucks each, so even though I have been instructed to reduce the number of logo-bearing beer glasses on our shelves at home, I just had to bring one of these beauties home with me.  As you can see from the picture, if you're careful and slurp off some of the head, you can fit a 22-ounce bottle of beer into a gigantic BU180 glass.  Brilliant.

Then I transgressed further.  For a long time, I have admired the hefty goblets that Rogue pubs use to serve some of their bigger beers.  At one of Rogue's "garage sales" this summer I finally treated myself to a pair of them so I could feel kingly when drinking beer at home.  I really enjoy these goblets, but they don't hold much -- 10 ounces at best.  That can often be a good thing, though it would be nice if a whole 12-ounce bottle could fit in one.

Then I got goblet envy once more in early August when I was at the Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin.  They were serving some beers in giant fishbowl goblets that weigh about two and a half pounds and hold at least 16 ounces.  They didn't bear any logo, and they weren't for sale as souvenirs, but my friend Brady took note of my excitement over this Holy Grail-shaped vessel.  When he saw several of them for sale at an estate sale shortly thereafter, he bought them up and was kind enough to give me one.  This is the glass I reach for first nowadays, though the huge surface area and heavy weight means I tend to slosh a bit of beer on my feet if I'm walking back to my house after filling it up at Dave's kegerator next door.