Sisters Fresh Hop Fest, and some thoughts on fresh hop beers

I attended and thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Sisters Fresh Hop Festival this past Saturday, and while I don’t have a review with pictures per se (as the setting, layout, attendance, and so on was basically the same as in past years, and you can review some of my past reviews and photos for it here and here), I do have some commentary about it and some general thoughts on fresh hop beers.

Sisters Fresh Hop Fest 2014 glass

I seem to capture this shot at this Fest every year. I can’t help it, it’s just a cool angle to capture!

All in all I had 11 tasters of the 34 fresh hop beers that were pouring, as well as sips of a few others my friend Sandi was drinking. The beers I had were:

  1. Old Town Brewing, Sterling Kolsch (Sterling hops)
  2. Base Camp Brewing, Wet-Hop Dry Hopped Helles (Cascade hops)
  3. Ground Breaker Brewing, Meridian Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Meridian hops)
  4. Deschutes Brewery, Fresh Hop Oktoberfest (Willamette hops)
  5. Portland Brewing, MacTarnahan’s Fresh Hop Amber Ale (Unknown variety)
  6. Old Town Brewing, Cent’s and Censability Fresh Hop Pale (Centennial)
  7. Rat Hole Brewing, Fresh Hop Rye IPA (Unknown, donated variety)
  8. Full Sail Brewing, Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Simcoe hops)
  9. Three Creeks Brewing, Hop Wrangler Fresh Hop Red (Chinook hops)
  10. Three Mugs Brewing, Big D’s Memorial (Simcoe hops)
  11. Fort George Brewery, Fresh IPA (Simcoe hops)

I also had a taste of 10 Barrel’s Big Daddy Fresh (Centennials), Rat Hole’s Blood Orange Fresh Hop Pale (donated variety, though Susan Toepfer from the brewery told me the majority were Chinooks in that one), and possibly some others.

My favorites from this list were the Old Town Sterling Kolsch, the MacTarnahan’s, and two of the Simcoe beers—Full Sail’s Pale and Fort George’s Fresh IPA. In the end I voted for the Sterling Kolsch—every year the Fest awards the “Golden Bunny” people’s choice award to the favorite beer, though I haven’t heard who won.

One of the things I really like about this Beer Fest—a realization which really only gelled for me this year, whereas in previous years I would look at the hops used but would choose based on brewery and beer style that sounded good—is that it offers up the opportunity to sample a wide variety of hop varieties side-by-side, in beers that are not entirely dissimilar. It’s a great showcase to understand how each variety differs in real time; it’s also a good way to test some theories. For instance, theory: Centennial hops are “off” this year.

I’m basing this on an admittedly small sample size and an anecdote. But there is something in this year’s crop of (fresh) Centennial hops which seems to be lending a harsh, sharp, almost metallic (or steely) flavor to the beer; astringent and perhaps overly tannic. I first picked this up a couple of Fridays ago when I had a pint of 10 Barrel’s The Boss, a fresh pale-amber ale using these hops, and it was a bit off-putting (especially when expecting that bright, fresh, green character).

10 Barrel’s Big Daddy Fresh, also brewed with fresh Centennials, had that exact same character. However, it was brewed by Shawn Kelso in Boise, Idaho, on a completely different system than the one here in Bend that The Boss was brewed on. So my suspicion strongly became the hops. I went back for Old Town’s Cent’s and Censability in large part because I wanted to sample their Centennial beer, and while it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as in the 10 Barrel brews, that same sharp and astringent-to-the-point-of-metallic was there, in the background.

I mentioned this theory to a fellow sharing the table with us, who happened to be from Independence (Oregon), and he confirmed it and told me he’d pulled out all of his Centennial hop vines this year. Now, I don’t know that this is damning evidence, but that’s not entirely the point. The point is, were it not for this Fest and the opportunity to sample several fresh Centennial hop beers in one sitting (not to mention chatting with random beer fans), I may have been left just thinking I had a not-so-great beer. Instead, I have some idea how this year’s fresh hops are affecting beer in general.

(Note to self: talk to some hop growers and see if this theory holds up further.)

The best hops I sampled this year were the Simcoes, in at least two of the three Simcoe-hopped beers I had. (The Three Mugs Big D’s Memorial was so big—9.3% abv—it just obliterated any fresh hop character.) They were very orange-y and smelled fantastically fruity, and had a spicy, peppery flavor like fresh mustard greens that was really appealing. I need to acquire some cans of Fort George’s Fresh IPA just for that Simcoe alone.

I wish I had polled the various brewers as to how they managed their fresh hop additions. For the most part, I know most brewers only use fresh hops at the end of the boil, for the aroma additions, and use “regular” dried/kilned hops for bittering. (“End of the boil” encompasses late hop additions, whirlpool, hopback, etc.) I do that myself, though the very first fresh hop beer I brewed used all fresh hops for bittering and aroma—and I remember it was very vegetal-y up front, holding a heavy, musty, overly-boiled-greens character. The real benefit in using fresh hops is to get that fresh presence, which you don’t get from boiling long.

However, Susan Toepfer (Rat Hole Brewing) told me in addition to a majority of Chinook hops (donated) in their Blood Orange Pale, they also use all fresh for bittering, aroma, everything. Of course, Rat Hole is still small enough that it’s not impractical to do so, whereas larger breweries on much larger systems simply can’t—the volume of fresh hops would be too great.

It begs the question: are fresh hop beers really “fresh hop” if you don’t use all fresh hops throughout the brew? I would say yes.

Deep thoughts. In general, the Sisters Fresh Hop Fest was a great event to enjoy a whole bunch of one of my favorite seasonal “styles” of beer, and if you get a chance to attend a similar event, do so! The Portland Fresh Hops Fest is coming up this weekend at the Oaks Amusement Park. Get all the details here.

Oh and I also see there at the first-ever St. Paul Fresh Hops Fest is taking place the following weekend, in St. Paul, Oregon. So there’s another opportunity. Get these beers while you can!

Received: Coors Colorado Native IPL

I recently got onto the Coors mailing list (technically MillerCoors), and today received a package from the AC Golden Brewing Company which is a subsidiary venture in the vein of Blue Moon. That package contained AC Golden’s Colorado Native India Pale Lager.

Colorado Native IPL

Now, I’m not going to get into that whole goofy “craft vs. crafty” debate, simply because it’s a marketing ploy. As far as I’m concerned, the main question should be: Is the beer good?

In this case I’m intrigued and looking forward to sampling these bottles. They brewed this IPL to 6.5% abv and 62 IBUs which makes me think the hops should be fairly prominent, and by focusing on finishing and dry-hopping with Centennial, Cascade, Nugget, and Crystal, there should be some good American hop character present.

I will report on what I find.

Portland Brewing Noble Scot

Portland Brewing Noble ScotI have to say I definitely enjoyed Portland Brewing’s fall seasonal, Noble Scot, of which they sent me two bottles a few weeks ago. With the weather cooling off it’s been a good beer to enjoy and will be sticking around for another month.

Noble Scot is a Scottish-style ale, 6.5% abv, with the brewery’s description stating, “Noble Scot is a complex and full-bodied Scottish Ale with notes of toast and caramel and a sweet, subtle smokiness for the bonnie days of fall.” It has a more complex grain bill than some of the Portland Brewing lineup: 2-Row Pale, Smoked, Carapils, Roasted Barley, and Melanoidin.

Appearance: Classic brown color, with auburn highlights that looks lovely when held up to the light. Light tan head.

Smell: Rich and nutty with a roasty, warming, almost spicy aroma that’s a little bit chocolate, a little bit biscuit, and steely. Hints of smoke are present, though not predominant for me.

Taste: Malty with a layers of flavor revealing a deft hand with the grain bill—a solid pale malt base with a depth of graininess that makes me think crystal malts, roasted grains, a touch of (pale) chocolate, something like Vienna or Munich and more. [Speculation before I looked] It doesn’t get cloying, it’s got a balanced, dry presence that has the hint of tang (the roasted and chocolate notes I think, along with the smoked malt) but it’s not thin either. Earthy bitterness but it’s definitely malt-forward and hearty.

Mouthfeel: Shy of medium-bodied, but it has a rich and broth-like feel with a drier finish.

Overall: I quite like it. It’s got a well-balanced “fall” feel to it in the maltiness and it hits the spot.

Look for it in both 22-ounce and 12-ounce bottles. According to the website, it will be available through October 15.

Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 81/100. RateBeer: 3.22/5, 66th overall percentile.

The Sisters Fresh Hop Festival is bringing the hops

Update 9/25: The online list has been updated, specifying some unknowns and revealing some last-minute changes. I have updated the list below and the hop counts accordingly.

As if you weren’t getting enough fresh hops-related posts from the site lately, it’s time to start talking up the Sisters Fresh Hop Festival! This is one of my favorite regional beer events, because this is one of my favorite times of the (beer) year, when I’m hunting down as many fresh hop beers as I can drink, and what better place to do that then at a festival dedicated to them?

Sisters Fresh Hop Festival

The fest is taking place on Saturday, September 27, at the Village Green Park in Sisters (Oregon) from noon to 8pm. The details haven’t really changed from last year: $5 to get the tasting glass, $1 per four ounce taste. Beers will be pouring in the tent, and all ages are welcome. There will be food trucks/carts on site and live music as well.

This year is the biggest festival yet, with 24 breweries (many of them local) pouring at least one fresh hop beer. (All but one—Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider—are pouring two beers, and though they all have at least one fresh hop beer pouring, some only have the one, plus a regular beer.)

Here is the list of breweries in attendance, with their beers as well (I’ve marked the fresh hop beers in bold):

  • 10 Barrel Brewing
    • The Boss Fresh Hop Ale (5.5%, Centennial hops from Umpqua Farms)
    • Big Daddy Fresh (6.1%, Centennial hops from Gooding Hop Farm)
  • Base Camp Brewing (Portland)
    • Fresh Hop Gnar Gnar IPA (6.7%, Meridian hops)
    • Wet-Hop Dry Hopped Helles (4.9%, Cascade hops)
  • BridgePort Brewing (Portland)
    • Mettle and Mash IPA (7%, Crystal hops)
    • Witch Hunt Spiced Ale (5.8%)
  • Burnside Brewing (Portland)
    • Couch Select Lager (5%)
    • Fresh Hop Oatmeal Pale (5.6%, Crystal hops)
  • Cascade Lakes Brewing (Redmond)
    • Farmer’s Choice Wet Hop (5.8%, Centennial hops)
    • Paulina Lake Pilsner (4.5%)
  • Crux Fermentation Project (Bend)
    • Crystal Zwickle Belgian Pale Ale (6%, Crystal hops)
    • Off the Fence Estate Grown Fresh Hop Ale (5.8%, Cascade hops)
  • Deschutes Brewery (Bend)
    • Fresh Hop Oktoberfest (5.2%, Willamette hops)
    • Fresh Hop Horse Ridge IPA (6.1%, Centennial hops)
  • Fort George Brewing (Astoria)
    • Fresh Hop IPA (6.5%, Simcoe hops)
    • Cavatica Stout (8.8%)
  • Full Sail Brewing (Hood River)
    • Fresh Hop Pale Ale (6.7%, Simcoe hops)
    • Session (5.1%)
  • Gilgamesh Brewing (Salem)
    • Fresh Prince of Ales Double IPA (8.2%, Centennial hops)
    • Mamba Ale (6.5%)
  • GoodLife Brewing (Bend)
    • 150 Hippies Fresh Hop Pale Ale (5.3%, various donated hops)
    • Sweet As Pacific Ale (6%)
  • Groundbreaker Brewing (Portland)
    • Meridian Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Gluten free, 5.8%, Meridian hops)
    • Cascade Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Gluten free, 5.8%, Cascade hops)
  • McMenamins Old St. Francis School (Bend)
    • Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale (6.19%, Brewer’s Gold hops)
    • Mr. Peacock’s Special Bitter Fresh Hop Ale (4.9%, Fuggles and Mt. Hood hops)
  • Ninkasi Brewing (Eugene)
    • Jarrylo (5.3%)
    • 100 Years of Hopitude (Centennial hops)
  • Old Town Brewing (Portland)
    • Cent’s and Censability Fresh Hop Pale Ale (5.2%, Centennial hops)
    • Sterling Kolsch (4.9%, Sterling hops)
  • Portland Brewing (Portland)
    • McTarnahan’s Fresh Hop Amber Ale (5.1%)
    • Zig Zag Lager (5.1%)
  • Rat Hole Brewing (Bend)
    • Blood Orange Fresh Hop Pale (5%, local “mystery blend” of hops)
    • Fresh Hop Rye IPA (6.7%, local “mystery blend” of hops)
  • Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (Portland)
    • Hallelujah Hopricot Fresh Hop Cider (6.7%, Cascade hops)
  • Seven Brides Brewing (Silverton)
    • Fresh Hopped Emily’s Ember (5%, Cascade hops)
    • Fresh Hop Chinook Pale (5.25%, Chinook hops)
  • Silver Moon Brewing (Bend)
    • Hoppopotamus Fresh Hop Ale (6.4%, Cascade hops)
    • Voodoo Dog ISR (5.5%)
  • Three Creeks Brewing (Sisters)
    • Cone Lick’r Fresh Hop Pale (5%, Centennial hops)
    • Hop Wrangler Fresh Hop Red (5.8%, Chinook hops)
  • Three Mugs Brewing (Hillsboro)
    • Big D’s Memorial Fresh Hop Imperial IPA (9.3%, Simcoe hops)
    • Firey Wench Imperial Red Ale (9%)
  • Wild Ride Brewing (Redmond)
    • Journey to Planet Fresh Hop (6.6%, Nugget hops)
    • 3 Sisters American Red Ale (6%)
  • Worthy Brewing (Bend)
    • Easy Day Kolsch (4.5%)
    • Big Sticky Fresh Hop Pale Ale (5%, Meridian hops from Goschie Farms)

For those of you hopheads keeping track, these are the hops represented (by my reckoning), in order of most to least:

  • Centennial – 8
  • Cascade – 6
  • Crystal – 3
  • Meridian – 3
  • Simcoe – 3
  • Chinook – 2
  • Brewer’s Gold – 1
  • Nugget – 1
  • Fuggles – 1
  • Mt. Hood – 1
  • Sterling – 1
  • Willamette – 1
  • Unknown/variety – 4

Obviously Cascade and Centennial are big this year, but then again they are classic American aroma hops, so why not? But I would also make an effort to try some of the lesser-used hops; the Sterling Kolsch from Old Town is catching my eye simply because I cannot remember if I’ve had a fresh Sterling hopped beer before—and the Kolsch will be a good platform for it, I’m thinking.

Incidentally, this year it seems as though nearly all of the state’s fresh hop fests are taking place on the 27th; look here to see the list of them all. That is a lot of fresh hop beer pouring that day!