Fresh Hops in Portland (And Why Fresh Hop Mirror Pond Might Be the Best Hoppy Beer I’ve Ever Had)

October 12th, 2009 · 10 Comments · Beer Reviews, Beer Travels, Oregon Breweries

The Beer Retard & I hit quite a few spots on our Friday/Saturday trip down to Portland this past weekend, but the trip had one obvious common thread: drink as much great fresh hop beer as we can get our hands on. In addition to Saturday’s Fresh Hop Tastival at Oak’s Park with 30+ fresh hop beers from Oregon pouring, it seemed like most beer bars worth their salt in Portland had at least one fresh hop beer on over the weekend. Belmont Station was also in the middle of their “Fresh Hop Beer Week“, where they had 10+ fresh hop beers pouring in their cafe. I’ll have a separate post detailing the rest of our epic 30-hour trip, but this one is for all you fresh hop heads.

First of all, what is a fresh hop beer? It is a beer made with “wet”, undried hops. What do I love about fresh hop beers? I love the raw, “green” hop taste that wet hops straight from the vine impart on the beer. It’s an obvious reminder of how fresh the beer is that you’re drinking, and it’s a tough taste to corral. I enjoy the earthy fresh hop flavor even more than the fantastic citrus hop flavors in my favorite regular IPAs. One of the most intense fresh hop flavors that I ever had in a beer was an Iron Horse Fresh Hop a couple of year’s ago at Brouwer’s; it had intense earthy hop flavor, but it was just too unbalanced and over-the-top. Brewers strive for that perfect balance of fresh hop flavor, and many often fall far short of what I’m looking for. But, this weekend we found quite a few stellar examples of the style.

My favorite of the weekend was easily the Fresh Hop version of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. The regular Mirror Pond is a light, drinkable pale ale with good balance. I have no problem enjoying one when I’m looking for something highly sessionable, but it does little to blow me away these days. This fresh hop version is brewed with fresh cascade hops and has a completely different flavor profile (we did a side-by-side at the pub). The aroma is perfect fresh hop decadence. The green hops coming out of this glass made me want to run around and rip my clothes off (thankfully for the pub’s other patrons, I did not). The taste follows with intense earthy fresh hops that are a little more toned down and balanced than the aroma, which works out well. It doesn’t get too “funky” from the fresh hops, and there is a little bit of citrus thrown in. You still get all of that hop flavor, yet the beer is still just as drinkable and light as Mirror Pond. Finishes with a stronger bitterness than the regular Mirror Pond, but it’s not even close to being overly bitter. If the fresh hop flavor would have been much stronger in this, it might have just put it out of balance. Overall, I’m just not sure that a fresh hop beer can get any better based on what I look for. Thank you, Deschutes, for making my weekend and giving me a beer that goes straight towards the top of my all-time favorites.

Now that I’ve gotten that love-fest out of the way, here is a list with very brief notes of all the fresh hop beers that my friends Chris, Phil and I tasted over a 30-hour period this weekend. There were quite a few great beers from the weekend, but nothing that hit the notes like Mirror Pond did for me. I’ve listed the types of fresh hops used for each beer in parenthesis. These were tasted over a period of two days.

Outstanding – Four Stars
Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale Ale (Amarillo) – Big fresh hop flavor
Oakshire Harvest Ale (Chinook) – Big fresh hops with nice balance.
Fort George Cohoperative (Multi Hop) – mix of spicy Belgian yeast, and earthy hops. Unique and really enjoyable.
Alameda Failing St. Fresh Hop (Multi Hop) – Lots of earthy hops with some citrus…very nice.

Very Good – Three Stars
Double Mountain Killer Green (Brewers Gold) – Sounds like this was the crowd favorite. Nice, but didn’t have the intense fresh hop flavor of some of the above.
Barley Browns Roadside IPA (Wild hops) – They found these fresh hops on the side of the road…seriously. Worked out well.
Laurelwood Organic Goodness (Organic Chinook)
Oakshire Red Nugget (Nugget)
Pelican Elemental Ale (Sterling)
Upright Fresh Hop of Bel Air Saison (Liberty)
– Just a little fresh hops in the finish, but a very nice saison.
Full Sail Lupulin (Crystal)
Oakshire Conundrum Black Pale Ale (Cascade)

Solid – Two Stars
4th Street Brewing Fresh Hop Pale (Willamette)
Astoria Brewing Hoptimus Prime 2.0 (Cascade/Simcoe)
Deschutes King Cone (Centennial)
Cascade Brewing Cascadian Fresh Hop Dark Ale (Crystal/Cascade)
– Just a good stout; couldn’t have guessed it was fresh hopped.
Hopworks Sodbuster (Willamette)
Widmer Hopturnal Emission (Summit)
Lucky Lab The Mutt (Multi Hop)
Standing Stone Wet Hop Amber (Centennial)
Deschutes Fresh Hop Hop Henge #6 (Cascade)
– Nice double IPA, but couldn’t have guessed it was fresh hop.

Not Exactly Stellar – One Star
Lompoc Harvest Man Red (Crystal)– Too much diacetyl
Golden Valley Mt. Hood Fresh Hop (Mt. Hood)– Too much diacetyl
MacTarnahan’s Fresh Hop Mac’s Amber (Cascade) – Started nicely, but finished with a strong metallic bitterness.

Couldn’t Finish a 4oz Sample – Zero Stars
Ninkasi Nugg. E Fresh (Nugget)– My sample was a HUGE diacetyl bomb.
Beer Valley Black Flag Imperial Stout (CTZ) – Not sure if it was just me, but whatever they did with the fresh hops in this one just clashed badly with the intense stout flavors.

Well, I think that’s all folks. We sampled at least 27 fresh hop beers over the course of 30 hours…have I ever said how much I freaking love Portland?

This kid had a few too many hops.

This kid had a few too many hops.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Beer Retard

    I’m with you on most of your ratings, cept for the Barley Brown’s. That one was in my top four or five from the 20+ we tried. I’d probably give it a 4.

    Impressed with how fast you got a post up. Expect something from me by Halloween…

  • SeattleDuck

    Love your description of the Mirror Pond Fresh Hop, this is exactly the kind of taste I crave in an ale. Any idea where to find this in western WA?

  • Kaiser

    Beer Retard – yeah, an hour bus ride to/from the office is a nice time to do write-ups like these. I definitely enjoyed the Barley Brown’s, but I don’t think I got quite the fresh hop dominance in that one as I did in my top tier. Then again, I only sampled the couple of glasses of it that you had…

    SeattleDuck – I think we’re out of luck…haven’t heard of any making it up this way, and I don’t expect it to. If you’ve got some time to kill, I’d highly suggest a $60 round trip on Amtrak to Portland to get a $26 growler fill of it:-)

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    […] The Beer Here ← Fresh Hops in Portland (And Why Fresh Hop Mirror Pond Might Be the Best Hoppy Beer I’ve Ever H… […]

  • elvis

    sounds like a killer w/e. can’t comment too much on the beers since i haven’t had many (or any), but in terms of beer bars, which did you like the most?

    never really dug green dragon’s feel, and this new one in NPo sounds intereting.

    concordia is great.

  • Portland Weekend Recap – Part Two (With Lessons Learned)

    […] you missed Part One of the weekend review, or my review of all the various fresh hop beers we tried, feel free to check them […]

  • blackhook

    Totally agree on the Fresh Hop Mirror Pond…it is so unlike any other beer I’ve ever had, and so stunning in its flavors & aromas – as you say, beautifully balanced as well, not overly bitter by any means. And at just 5.2% the absolute *perfect* session beer.

    Just to test that point, I had to stop in at Deschutes on Sunday, ostensibly to watch sports but really to sample their fresh hop beers (by “sample” I mean establish a continuous intravenous feed of fresh hops).

    I had maybe 4 pints of the FH Mirror Pond, and I just don’t have words to describe what an absolute stunner this beer is. I can immediately conjour up the flavor in my mind, of the wallop of fresh hops — I really think Deschutes has given us the essence of the majesterial Cascade hop (which was developed right down there at Oregon State).

    Also, after trying a little more of the King Cone than we had at the fest, I think that is another home run…wonderful extra dose of Centennial hops.

    And with Black Butte XX, Jubelale and The Abyss (coming soon for ’09), Deschutes just keeps the special treasures coming.

    So my bottom line is that I have a tremendous new-found respect & love for Deschutes. In the last few years, they’ve become *very* adventurous, rewarding us with new delights — as you say Geoff — on virtually every visit to the Portland brewpub. [And another bonus for me: wheat/gluten free hamburger buns!]

    The Portland market seems to be responding in kind, as from what I can see the Deschutes pub is doing a gangbuster business. Wave after continuous wave of people came in the 6-7 hours I spent there on Sunday. Seemingly every concierge & guidebook in PDX is pointing people to the good beer beacon at the corner of 11th & Davis. Good for Deschutes, and good for all of us that love great, innovative beers.

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    […] Fresh Hop Ale Festival in Portland – If you’ve been visiting my site for a while, you realize how much I love fresh hop beers. Just a $60 round trip, 3-hour Amtrak ride down south led me to one of my favorite beer weekends of the year. The highlight festival itself featured around 30 or 40 fresh hop beers, but there were also special fresh hop beers on tap at bars and brewpubs all over town. We sampled a ridiculous amount of good beers in about 36 hours. In comparison with Washington, a larger volume of Oregon brewers seem to embrace the fresh hop beers, and there is definitely better organization as far as getting a bunch on tap at once at a bar (like Belmont Station) and putting together a great festival. The Yakima Fresh Hop Ale festival is a fun event, but I’d love to see something for us city-folk in Seattle. […]

  • Tony B.

    There’s a nice Fresh Hop Ale Festival that goes on in Yakima in October that I think every beer drinker should attend at some point. I mean come on, Yakima and Fresh Hops, NUFF SAID.

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