Disclaimer: I am a proper hophead. Fresh hop beer release season might be my favorite time of year—sure, the metamorphose from sun-soaked summer patios to those scattered in cornucopia-colored leaves itself is as handsome as a seasonal transition can be, but the result of the harvest term is the most attractive to a devout hop-chasing beer drinker. The Northwest is not only the leading area for hops in the country (in 2014, Washington, Oregon and Idaho pulled in 100 percent of United States’ commercial hop yield) but it is a front runner for hops production on a global scale.
In the case of fresh hopped ales, what makes the freshly-plucked hop a hot commodity are the aromatic oils and resins unique to just-picked plant. These unprocessed and pure hops must be placed into the brew kettle within 24 hours or so of being picked from the bine (the stocks hops grow on) or they lose those fragrant and flagrant attributes—and the availability of these hops is usually offered to brewers with little notice, leading to a mad scramble. Needless to say, travel for these hops is limited, making this a style specific to the hop-growing regions and particularly those of the Pacific Northwest. We’re lucky, we know it.
This last weekend, the hop harvest was celebrated through a variety of events spanning the Northwest including the 12th annual Portland Fresh Hop Fest and the Springfield (Oregon) Fresh Hops Festival, while the Hood River and Sisters, Oregon festivals took hold the weekend prior. This last Saturday, I sampled and savored fresh hop ales while sitting judge (in company of some of the area’s biggest names in hop-growing, distribution and homebrewing) at Yakima, Washington’s Fresh Hop Ale Festival (FHAF).
“The Palm Springs of Washington” welcomed in nearly 9,000 attendees to the 13th annual festival in what is arguably the epicenter of the American hop scene, just weeks after the hops were picked and brewed. After learning the results of the blind judging, I chanced down a few of my favorites at the festival and selected a few more I tasted around the Northwest for this list of top 10 freshies to stock up on before they are sold out. Disclaimer: that will be soon.
- Breakside Brewery Fresh Hop Mosaic Bomb: You guessed it, this beer is built on Mosaic hops, a variety that brings some width to the palate. Loaded with grapefruit, pine, earth and plenty of body, the beer also sports a bright lift to refresh.
- Crux Fermentation Project Cruxtennial: Centennial hops from multi-generational Crosby Hop Farms goes into this pale ale, resulting in assertive hop aromas and flavors, packing a powerful punch any hophead would willingly take.
- Deschutes Brewery Fresh Hop Mirror Pond: A classic from this tenured Bend, Oregon brewery propped up with moderately floral and affable Cascade hops. The bright and juicy Chasin’ Freshies is another limited fresh hop release from Deschutes worth finding.
- Double Mountain Brewery Killer Red IRA: From the heart of Hood River, Oregon, Double Mountain puts a spin on their popular Killer Red India red ale by spiking it with Perle hops, a spicy and herbal hop of English heritage that complements the fruity and caramel-y red.
- Fort George Brewery Fresh IPA: From bine to bottle in about two weeks, this fresh Mosaic-hopped India pale ale exemplifies the style from this Astoria, Oregon-based brewery. A daughter of the Simcoe hop, this beer brings all the berry and fruit-forward qualities of Mosaic to the forefront, then administers a heavy dose of bitter in the finish.
- Fremont Brewing Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale: A maltier rendition than releases of years past, this annual favorite at Yakima’s FHAF is bigger and bolder with organic Citra and Simcoe hops from the namesake hop farm in Yakima Valley. To boot, a portion of all sales fund the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy.
- Georgetown Brewing Fresh Hopped Cousin Eddie: One of three fresh hops from this brewery that is best known for its Manny’s Pale Ale and never bottling anything ever, this iconic Seattle brewery takes Columbus, Simcoe, Mosaic and Amarillo hops to change their Eddie India pale lager to the Cousin Eddie pale ale.
- Old Schoolhouse Brewery Fresh Hop IPA: From the miniature mountain town of Winthrop, Washington, this equally nano-sized brewery puts Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo hops together for the beer that took home the title of “Best of Show” for this year’s FHAF. Citrus, piney and herbal with bitterness and balance—this was what the judges thought a fresh hop should be.
- Reuben’s Brews Amarillo Fresh Hop Pale Ale: Fruity and tropical, this Amarillo hopped pale ale is unctuous and filling, a rare delicacy to be enjoyed in their newly minted experimental brewhouse just two blocks from its larger brewery in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
- Two Beers Brewing Fresh Hop IPA: Tradition has it the whole team at Two Beers hits the road in pursuit of the hops for this annual beer excursion, sourcing Simcoe, Amarillo, Columbus, Centenniel and Cascade hops for the ale. The beer took first place in the India Pale Ale category for this year’s Yakima FHAF thanks to its affable and true-to-form fresh hop characters.