Yesterday I wrote that I’d received a free growler of McMenamins’ Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale, the one brewed here in Bend at the Old St. Francis School, and that it’s my first fresh hop beer of the season. The usual disclaimers apply: it’s received as an unsolicited PR item with no expectation of anything in return—good, bad, or indifferent. I do like to make a point of writing about what I receive and drink, and in this case I should also mention that I know OSF brewer Mike White, and I’ve been a big fan in recent years of the brewers and beers that McMenamins has been putting out.
That being said: I like this beer. It’s basically a pale ale brewed with Pilsner malt and Caramunich grains, bittered with Chinook and infused with fresh Cascade hops from Sodbuster Farms that are acquired during McMenamins’ annual “Running of the Brewers” where “using seven different vehicles, over 1000 pounds of fresh Cascade hops were frantically delivered from Sodbuster Farms just north of Salem, OR to 22 McMenamins Breweries all over Washington and Oregon.” This is the fourth year Thundercone has been brewed and, like all fresh hop beers, it has a limited shelf life.
The first thing I did of course when pouring a glass was to smell it, getting the full experience of the fresh hops. It’s amazingly fresh, very green with a wet spicy character to it (imagine the aroma of freshly-picked mustard greens or—better—watercress), vegetal and floral and quite unlike the usual bright citrus/grapefruit notes that Cascade hops lend to a beer. It’s not terribly pungent—the aroma doesn’t jump out at me from a distance like some beers—but I don’t think it could smell much fresher, and it has its subtle moments but it’s nicely appealing.
The taste mirrors that freshness, with a great bready, toasted-grain malt base that’s really refined (it remind me, actually, of Maris Otter malt) highlighted by the juicy-fresh hops. The hops aren’t “juicy” in the usual sense you’d expect from Cascades or other American citrus-infused varieties (full of grapefruit juice and zest, for instance) but softer, more earthy, and definitely crisp and fresh. It’s really easy to drink, and honestly surprising to me that it’s as strong as the posted 6.19% abv—it drinks like a really nice session bitter.
I really like it, and will be seeking out more when I get the chance—and in fact, knowing that 22 different breweries each brewed their own version of Thundercone (following the same recipe, using the same fresh hops, but all on different equipment and at the hands of different brewers), I would love to try the different breweries’ versions of Thundercone as well. And so I tweeted to @CaptainNeon (the McMenamins account), “how about all 22 breweries send a keg or 2 of their version of Thundercone for some sort of side-by-side tasting event?” That would be high on a list of must-attend events for me.
Bottom line: a tasty, well-brewed fresh hop beer, one I would definitely recommend seeking out—which (not so coincidentally) goes on tap tomorrow! If you get a chance to try Thundercone, do so, and let me know what you think!