After a lengthy study of this year’s onslaught of fresh hops beers (I’ve kept track of over two dozen) I have to conclude that generally this year’s hop crops were milder and less fruity-fragrant than in past years, tending towards earthier aromas. It’s not a bad thing, rather just an observation on the nature of agricultural products and how they can change every year; by and large we’ve been trained not to think in terms of “agriculturally volatile” beer actually is, but the truth is like wine beer is just as much a product of the seasons and this is amply illustrated with the annual fresh hop beers.
And in terms of my assertion that this year’s hop crop is milder and earthier than last, I point to the two fresh hop beers Deschutes Brewery sent me last month, their Hop Trip and Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA, both of which have been brewed before. (In Hop Trip’s case, since 2005(!) and for Chasin’ Freshies this is the second year.) One thing Deschutes does well is recipe consistency, and in the case of these fresh hops beers that gives us a fairly consistent base each year to showcase the fresh hop character and how it’s different from year to year. Of course, keeping notes each year helps!
It looks like I didn’t write down any info about last year’s Hop Trip but I have 2011 notes; that was a fragrant year (pungent and “full of catty hops”) and I remember last year’s being a fragrant, bright hop as well. This year’s is definitely muted in aroma and the hops have a wet earthiness that is tasty but it’s the toasty, bready malts that really comes through. The hops are there—fresh, an earthy spiciness like a muddled herb with a hint of mint, and very clean—but it’s mellow.
Chasin’ Freshies brings more of the fresh aromas I’m looking for; but it’s an interesting comparison because last year’s was made with fresh heirloom Cascade hops, and this year they elected to go with fresh Amarillo hops instead. So right off the bat there’s a difference and to be fair that could help account for the differences from last year’s that I’m asserting above. You decide: here are my aroma and taste notes from this year:
Smell: Spicy and green—very fresh but the earthy spice surprises me (I thought it would be more fruity and juicy). As it warms I can draw out some citrus and cactus fruit but the herbal, earthy spiciness dominates.
Taste: Lovely maltiness with dry body that lets the shops shine; earthy and herbal with hints of fruit and juice. Touch of mint, and a sweet leafy character, and possibly tobacco.
And, here is what I wrote last year:
Smell: Very fresh, bright with fresh-squeezed citrus (lime); a touch sweaty, with tropical fruit drizzled with juice from that lime. Really nicely fragrant and luscious while being delicate at the same time.
Taste: Lusciously toasty, bready malt punctuated by juicy hoppy character—without the bitterness and instead is very fresh and fruity and green. Super drinkable with a simple but clean and toasted-rich cracker malt base. Did I mention juicy? It’s really juicy, like fresh squeezed citrus hops.
Quite a difference! Yes some of that is undoubtedly the different hop varieties but I think it’s really that fresh, bright “juicy” character that practically leaps off the beer versus the more muted, spice-and-earthiness that gives hints to the year’s overall hop crop characteristics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: this is a fantastic beer that you should drink the hell out of if you can before it’s gone. But it’s a fascinating trend to be able to track year to year, and it would be interesting to correlate the character of otherwise-more-or-less-consistent fresh hop beers with the agricultural details of the hop crop like the weather, average temperature, water levels, and so on. And perhaps you could use that data and patterns to forecast how the next year’s hop crop will play in the beer.
Anyone want to take that on?