The problem with reviewing fresh hop beers is that they’re so regional; the only one I’ve thus far been able to get in the bottle is (local) Hop Trip, and unless I’m willing to travel (which obviously isn’t convenient), the only other ones available to me are ultra-local brews—which, unless you live in Central Oregon, you won’t get to experience.
(Of course, if I make it to the Fresh Hop Tastival, I’ll have broadened my horizons significantly.)
The problem, of course, is that the fresh hop beers are really too volatile to store long enough to enjoy properly, or to travel well. Jay Brooks said it best here (emphasis mine):
But more importantly, drink it right away, too. This is the very antithesis of a beer meant to be aged. Make up your own special event to drink it. Get some fresh, locally made food and cook up a great meal. Invite your favorite people over to share it with you. This is the best way to celebrate harvest time, with the fruits of the harvest, both food and drink.
Anyway, it’s in this spirit of Drink It Right Away that I give you three reviews from Deschutes Brewery: two of which are fresh hops, the final being a cousin of one. All three were pub-only beers, on draft.
Sodbuster Pale Ale
I believe this was the first of their fresh hop beers this season. I had this at the pub a few weeks ago, and it was phenomenal: bursting with green hop aroma and flavor, really well balanced with a malty, "red" pale ale. The hops were the same as those used in Hop Trip—Crystal hops from Sodbuster Farms. They probably came from the same trip.
It was very much like breaking open a handful of fresh hop cones and burying your nose in them; floral, fresh, with that cut grass quality of freshly bruised leaves (though not "cut grass" aroma itself), strong and oily and earthy and sticky. Eminently drinkable.
Annen Golden Ale
This is a light session ale (4% alcohol) brewed with fresh Liberty hops (from John Annen’s farm in the Willamette Valley). It has a delicate, floral aroma that’s also green, sourish, and slightly fruity.
It’s a light, refreshing beer, with lightly toasted, cereal malts punctuated by a mellow hop flavor that’s incredibly fresh and clean, with an impression of fresh salad greens—arugula? There’s a slight bit of grassiness there, too, almost reminding me of hay.
This isn’t a fresh hop beer, but it’s related to Sodbuster: it’s basically the same recipe, only using dried Crystal hops instead of wet ones. I went with this not only because I figured this would be an enlightening comparison of the two techniques, but because they were out of the other fresh hop I wanted to try ("Superstition") and I liked the name, being close to Halloween and liking the movie and all.
What a difference fresh versus dried makes; the malt portion of the beer is largely as I remember from before: sweet, a tad syrupy, that tang of roasted malt (what I think of as "red" flavor) and bread dough. But the hops in this one are much spicier—the green notes are absent. Instead, they’re a bit resiny, peppery, and spicy—so much so that it reminds me strongly of a holiday ale, it has that kind of spiciness (allspice, mace, a hint of cloves and cinnamon? Ginger?). The peppery bite is noticeable at the end, too.
It’s quite good, and pretty surprising how such a fresh, floral, earthy character can transform into a spicy, resiny hop when dried. Definitely an interesting experiment in brewing—something I think could be turned into a "Tastival" event of its own.