Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final Thoughts on the 2012 Fresh Hop Season

Fresh hop season is the reason I started writing It's Pub Night a few years ago.  The first post here -- a copy of four emails I sent to my friend Lee which ended up as installments on his blog I Love Beer -- is kind of quaint reading five years later.  Highlights:
  • Excitement over the fabulous first version of Full Sail's (really John Harris') Lupulin Ale (RIP).
  • Visits to Roots (RIP), Laurelwood NW (RIP), and the New Old Lompoc (RIP).  Hopworks was not open yet (!) but I was mistakenly told that their IPA was a fresh-hop ale.
  • Reports of new fresh-hop bottlings: Deschutes Hop Trip and Bridgeport Hop Harvest.
  • I found around 12 fresh hop beers around town that year, and 4 more beers that I thought had fresh hops, but which I now know were made with 100% kilned hops.  Remember: dried hops are NOT fresh hops.
Now let's talk about the year 2012.  Here are some random observations from this year:

1. Best fresh hop strategy: Fresh-hop your flagship.

Look at the list of almost 70 fresh hop beers I tried this year (with approximate ranking from favorite to least favorite).  The standouts tend to be fresh-hop versions of already popular recipes:  Free Range Red (Laurelwood), Mirror Pond and Bachelor Bitter (Deschutes), and Total Domination (Ninkasi).  Makes sense if you think about it: the recipes are already proven winners, the brewers can make them in their sleep, and they probably have a good idea of which hops to add at what point in the brew.

2. Draft is better than bottled.

I often feel this way about beer, especially favorites: the draft version is noticeably better than the bottled one.  Current examples: Gigantic IPA and Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout -- two fantastic beers which seem to suffer a little getting into the bottle.

With fresh hops, it's even more true that you'll get more of the distinctive flavor on draft.  A good example is Double Mountain's Killer Red, a must-try, stunningly good beer the last couple years.  The bottles I brought back from Hood River contained very good beer, to be sure, but not the mind-blowing elixir that flows from the taps.  Talking with Stan Hieronymous before the Hood River Hops Fest this year, he mentioned how much hop flavor escapes into the headspace of a bottle: volatile compounds which easily escape from the beer and vanish into the air when the cap comes off.  Yet another reason to drink local, wherever that happens to be.

3. Some people still don't get it.

I had a little aneurysm last week when I read Kris' report on Concordia Ale House's "Fresh Hop-A-Palooza".  Nothing wrong with the blog post, but Concordia's list of beers for their blind tasting showed an utter disinterest and lack of respect for the fresh hop style:
  • Of 10 beers on the list, 2 were not at all fresh hop beers: Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest and Rogue OREgasmic Ale.  To add injury to insult, these two beers came in 3rd and 4th place in the people's choice voting!  Sickening.
  • 3 of the 10 beers were incorrectly named on the list: Ninkasi Total Crystallization (should be Crystallation, but I'll give them a pass on that, I often make that mistake myself), Deschutes Little Freshies (Chasin' Freshies), and New Belgium Trip VII.  Kris says she learned that the NB beer was actually Trip X -- I hope not, since that was last year's fresh hop Trip.  This year's is Trip XIV.
  • We're already at a 50% confusion level.  That makes me think the glass is half empty, so I have to question whether Concordia really laid their hands on fresh hop versions of 2 other beers on the list: Everybody's Head Stash, and the vaguely labeled "Hales Fresh Hop".  Now, if they have Hales Harvest Ale, that is made with 100% dried hops, even though the label in years past has deceptively said "fresh hop".  There were a couple of Hales entries at the Hood River Hop Fest, but what is in Concordia's keg?  And while there was a fresh-hop version of Head Stash this year, is that what the dingalings who screwed up everything above really were pouring?
  • To sum up, between 20% and 40% of the beers in this supposed fresh hop showcase had no fresh hops -- including the 3rd and 4th place winners.  Another beer -- the 2nd place winner, by the way! -- might be from last year's crop.

The Sierra Nevada thing really galls me.  Here's a quote from SN's own description of the beer: "Like our Celebration Ale, the fresh hops in this beer are dried right after being picked".  Oh great, DRIED FRESH hops. (See also my rant on the subject from a few years ago).  Now, for the sake of argument, suppose you accept SN's lame posturing that the first kilned hops of the season are fresh, even though they are dried.  Even then, Southern Hemisphere Harvest was brewed months ago, when the hop harvest occurred in the Southern Hemisphere.  Not the ideal timeframe for the fresh flavors.

Too bad to end it on a rant.  Really it was a great year for fresh hop beers, and some of them are still rolling out.  But you better move fast, it's almost over.


  1. Your thoughts on the GABF judges awarding Sierra Nevada gold in the brand new Fresh Hop category?

  2. Brian: I haven't tried SN Estate this year, but it is often very good. In contrast to their other "fresh hop" beers, I think Estate always uses some undried hops. So I have no complaints, just congratulations for that.

  3. I'm only going by what the Concordia email (and corrections to it) said since I don't keep up on New Belgian beers. It was however confusing, adding to the confusion with fresh hop beers in general.


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