They’re Called Fresh Hops
In the wet hop vs.fresh hop divide, I fall firmly on the side of fresh hops. You don’t differentiate between dried and wet herbs. Herbs are either dried or fresh. Hops are an herb, so hops are either fresh or dried. Nothing else fresh is ever called wet. Fruit? Fresh. Vegetables? Fresh. Grain? Umm. unhulled?
Yeah, yeah, wet hop is evocative of the fresh dew of the fields. Yeah, the hops are literally damp with essential oils. But c’mon. If you say you used fresh hops to dry hop, that makes sense. If you say you dry hopped with wet hops, you sound like a toddler.
The only beer I see around here using the wet moniker is from Sierra Nevada (but they are wrong). I think part of the problem is that Sierra Nevada often call their Celebration IPA “fresh hopped” because they used the freshest kilned hops in that beer. They invented “wet hop” to differentiate. Of course, I am not the first person to notice.
This year’s incarnation of “wet hop” Northern Hemisphere Harvest is a lesson in forest imagery. The beer has layers of wood. From Oregon cedar on the nose, to some sort of spruce in the middle, to the familiar piney bitterness in the finish. Northern Harvest isn’t the best introduction to fresh hop subtlety, but the softer bitterness and greener edge are definite hallmarks of unkilned, un-dry hops.
The Montreal Sound
There is something about Montreal. The breweries there have a distinct Belgian flair. Maybe it’s the water or the French language. Take Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! for example. The brewery creates beers of all stripes — from coffee stout to German Alt — but all their offerings have a definite low country tang.
Rigor Mortis Abt was inspired by classic Trappist strong ales. Classic Belgian yeast esters rise out of the glass like phantom desserts, figgy pudding and bananas foster. The palate is brown and malty — dark bread, molasses, lightly toasted grains, toffee — but it feels extra dry. At over ten percent alcohol by volume, Rigor Mortis has a very warm feel to it. Not too hot, but a definite alcohol heat. It’s actually a little too boozy and dry for my tastes. This bottle was probably produced in January of this year. It had hint of a vinous port or sherry note. It’s subtle, but I can see Rigor Mortis developing with more age.
A Quick Trip
The trick to making a good fresh hop beer is time. Damp hops fresh from the fields are highly susceptible to mold and rot — one reason hops are usually dried. Transporting fresh hops long distances raises extra concern about spoilage, so you rarely see really good fresh hops past the rocky mountains. Fresh hopped beer is sort of a Northwest specialty — we grow the best hops.
To brew Hop Trip, Deschutes Brewery rushes fresh Crystal hops from the farm to the brewery in four hours. Hop Trip opens with fruity notes of tangerine, sweet and tangy. In the middle you get a hint of fresh bread and caramel before the hops reappear for a soft bitter finish. Hop Trip is a balanced ale with a lot of fresh, fruity hop flavor.
Since 1989, Friends of Trees has been planting trees all over Portland. If you see a little sapling in front of your neighbor’s house, chances are Friends of Trees helped put it there.
This month Friends of Trees partnered with Ninkasi Brewing to make a special pale ale. It’s a golden ale with above average bitterness and low profile biscuit malts. I found the bitterness flavorless, like pure alpha acid. But it pairs nicely with reruns of Friends.
Maybe buy a bottle to support Friends of Trees, not so much for the beer.
Beer Style Semiotics
I want to say right at the top, Base Camp’s Northwest Fest is a good beer. It’s balanced and interesting. It pairs aromatic German malts with classic American hops — Cascade or Centennial, one of those C’s. It’s a simple well executed beer.
But Base Camp fell into one of my big pet peeves, name checking an established beer style without delivering on it’s promise. The name Fest implied a certain malty lager made in Germany and the description on the back even mentions Bavaria. But cleverly the neither the words Oktoberfest nor Marzen are actually used, that keeps drinkers from assuming this is the kind of beer Weihenstephaner brews.
I’m sick of obscure, but tasty traditional styles being appropriated by American brewers and loaded up with crazy hops. Cigar City’s Tropical Maibock was tasty, but not a maibock. By calling the beer Maibock, the whole style is degraded. The name and the beer it signifies no longer match. Maibock can now mean strong lager brewed traditionally for the Easter season and strong lager loaded with New Zealand hops.
If the Northwest Fest label said it was vague like “amber lager” or “inspired by Oktoberfest,” I could more easily excuse Base Camp. I guess “Northwest” was supposed to imply this wasn’t strictly traditional.
But aren’t beer drinkers educated enough these days to know how a Belgian tripel, or a German hefeweizen tastes? When the name on the label doesn’t match the product within, isn’t everyone disappointed?