This past Friday morning found my friend Dave (of Urban Beer Hikes) and I driving down to Portland. Now, that’s not so odd in itself. But, our mission was a bit different than most trips to Beervana. We were on a quest to find as many fresh hop beers as we could, fill up a bunch of growlers, and then drive back home for a fresh hop tasting at my house Friday night. In total, we managed to pick up 8 fresh hop beers in growlers, and another 2 in the bottle. Add that to 5 more growlers of different fresh hop beers obtained in Seattle, and we had our own mini fresh hop festival with a total of 15 different fresh hop beers. While not all in attendance were in complete agreement on the top beers, there were a few that stood out for all of us. Here is my breakdown:
Best of the Best – Close to Perfect Examples
Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond– For the 2nd year in a row, this beer blows my mind. What I look for in a fresh hop beer is that “green”, earthy hop flavor that you just can’t get with dried hops. This beer has so much of that flavor it was even over the top for a few people at the tasting. For me, this is the perfect fresh hop beer. The base beer is solid, but light, and just lets the wet hops dominate. Note that the bitterness is kept way in check, and this is as balanced and drinkable as can be. This beer alone was worth the six hour round-trip drive to Portland. We obtained this at the Deschutes Portland Pub (filled 2 growlers!). It will not be available in Seattle this year. Also of note is that there is a possibility that they could do a very limited run of bottles for next year’s batch it sounds like.
Rogue Issaquah Wet Frog– We were all pleasantly surprised with this one. Lots of green hop flavor coming through, and tons of citrus and melon hop flavors as well. Very clean and drinkable, and just a great job all around. Oddly enough, we picked this up all the way down at the Rogue owned Green Dragon in Portland. You can get it a little closer at the pub in Issaquah.
Snipes Mountain Harvest Ale– There’s not much I can say about Chris Miller’s mad wet hop skills that I haven’t said in the past. He’s become one of the most knowledgeable fresh hop brewers in the industry. This year’s Harvest Ale is full of green fresh hop flavors, as well as some “armpit” hops and citrus to match. We filled our growler at Naked City Taphouse last week.
Very Worthy – Just Below the Top Tier
Pelican Elemental Ale– This is a great beer that highlights light bready malts and a high bitterness to go along with just enough fresh hop flavor. I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t make the top tier for me. Some others loved it, though. A limited number of bottles made it to Portland and were released on the day we were down there. Lucky for us.
Two Beers Fresh Hop – This was one of the first fresh hop beers on the market this year, and I was happy to finally try it. The aroma on this one might have been the most impressive out of all the fresh hop beers we tried. The taste was solid green hops combined with a nice bitterness and a little bit of a soapy character. Overall, really well done in my opinion. Some noted that they had previously tried it and though the bitterness was a but funky and over the top. I didn’t get that in our growler. They may have some left at the brewery, but I’d hurry since it was released almost a month ago now.
Rock Bottom Bellevue Hop Harvest – Very assertive citrus and moderate green hops to go along with a significant sweet malt base. Very nice. Check out the “Growler Grudge Match” between the fresh hop beers from Rock Bottom Bellevue and Rock Bottom Portland. Should still be available at the brewpub.
Laurelwood Hop Pickin Fresh Hop Pale– Light bodied pale ale with solid fresh hop flavors and a moderate bitterness. Very balanced. Lovely. Now available at the Laurelwood brewpub in Portland, I believe.
Solid – Good Beers, But Lacking Fresh Hop Character
Rock Bottom Portland Hop Harvest – Nice, drinkable pale ale with decent fresh hop flavors. I seemed to like this more than others at the tasting. I didn’t think it was too far behind the above tier.
Big Al Harvest Ale – Solid amber ale with nice bitterness and floral hop character, but not much fresh hop flavor. Available at the brewery tap room.
Fort George Hopstoria – Very hoppy and bitter, with a clean and light pale base. Drank similar to a very hoppy Czech pils, actually. Just doesn’t really showcase the fresh hop flavors well. Filled our growler at the Green Dragon in Portland.
Deschutes King Cone – This dark amber beer was slanted toward the malt side. Some nice tropical fruit hop flavors, but not much fresh hop. Available at the Portland Pub.
Bridgeport Hop Harvest – Pine hop flavors come through more than any earthy green hops. Not a bad beer, but that signature light resinous malt that distinguishes the regular Bridgeport IPA doesn’t work as well here. Bottles are available in Seattle.
Things Just Didn’t Work Out
Schooner Exact Fresh Hop – I love Schooner Exact these days, but this one was just too bitter and unbalanced for all most of us. Just very rough around the edges, and it didn’t have enough fresh hop flavor to make up for it. Available at the brewery, I believe.
Full Sail Lupulin– This Lupulin was brewed with First Gold hops. Light base malt with a big bitter finish. Fresh hop flavors just didn’t materialize. Not awful, but I expected more. They do several different batches of Lupulin each year with different types of hops, and I’ll look forward to trying others.
Rogue Chateau Wet Hop – Caramel malt is about all we got in the aroma and taste of this one. Zero fresh hop presence to go along with a thin body and low carbonation. Filled our growler at the Green Dragon (drank same day). This one is interesting in that they brew 3 distinct batches using different fresh hops and then blend them. I believe bottles will be available in Seattle.