The Noble FailuresAs I mentioned yesterday, some of these beers were misfires; still, I may have learned as much about the properties of green hops by these beers as the winners. The breweries below therefore deserve our appreciation, not scorn.
Laurelwood Extra Pale
Hops used: Willamette
Laurelwood started out right--an extra pale ale is the perfect recipe to accentuate all the flavors of a wet cone. But perhaps Willamettes were the wrong variety to use. Typically a spicy, clean hop, in this beer they came out weedy. The bitterness was notable, but it didn't taste like hop bitterness, but like ... well, like a pot of boiled weeds. The gentle sweetness of malt is completely overwhelmed. Perhaps too many hops were added too early in the boil; alternately, Willamette hops just may just have been the wrong way to go.
Sierra Nevada Harvest
Hops used: Cascade and Centennial
The two hops used here are very closely related. Cascade, the signature hop of the West Coast, give pales like Mirror Pond (and Sierra Nevada's own pale) their classic flavor. Centennials are a a more bitter version, but supposedly very similar otherwise. Supposedly. As we'll see later, Cascade-hopped beers fared far better in the fresh-hop slate. But now twice I've had bad Centennial experiments. SN Harvest has a slightly off aroma that you might charitably call "cabbage." As it goes down the gullet, and particularly after it warms in the glass, "garbage" or "compost" spring more quickly to mind. Not tasty.
Hops used: Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial
This beer demonstrates the fragility of fresh hops. Even though they can contribute strong flavor notes, they're nature is essentially herbal and delicate. Hale's has used an ESB-like malt bill, and it is too much for wet hops. I didn't detect any particularly notable off-flavors (perhaps something that could be called "gassy"), but the predominant note is roasted malt; the fresh hops don't really have a chance to reveal themselves. It's not a bad-tasting beer, it's just out of balance, which makes it hard to identify the hops.
Decent OutingsMost of these beers are the kind I often brew--pretty good, but there are things I'd do to improve them.
Hopworks Red Ale
Hops used: ?
This one barely squeaked into the "good" category, and only because I let it sit in my glass until it was quite warm. Until then, I found it similar to the Hale's--heavy on malts. The hops (don't know which they used) are a little funky when cold, but when the beer warms up, it becomes a sweet, fresh beer.
Old Lompoc Harvestman
Hops used: Crystal
The Lompoc made two beers using Crystal hops, which turn out to be among the most reliable wet varieties. It is a descendant of a classic German hop (Hallertau) crossed with some American strains, including Cascade, and when dry is notably spicy. Harvestman, however, is a 7.8% bruiser of a beer, and while it's pretty tasty, the subtle elements of the hops are lost. Not to worry, though, Lompoc has a second Crystal-hopped beer that impresses (keep reading).
Lucky Lab "The Mutt"
Hops used: Fuggle, Cascade, Centennial, Golding, Willamette, Mount Hood and Crystal
The Mutt is easily the best story: the name comes from the many varieties of fresh hops used to brew it, some of which came off the vines that grow in the parking lot behind the flagship pub. Like Laurelwood, they have gone for a very mild substrate--a standard pale of just 5%. What results is a tasty session, slightly grassy and green. The various hops balance each other out, so there are none of the strong weird flavors, but also nothing that makes you sit up and take notice. (Quite a bit of reserve for the Lucksters--I wonder if they expected a stronger flavor, sort of a "wall of sound' effect. We'll see next year.)
The WinnersThree of the ten beers were great--the kind of beers you'll seek out the second they hit the shelves and lament when the final kegs are gone.
Old Lompoc Star of India
Hops used: Crystal
This is the beer Lucky Lab was aiming at--a light pale that highlights the freshness of the hops. In this example, I began to see how stable Crystal hops are--they contribute a clean, straightforward note that has the obvious (though hard to describe) character of wet hops. I'll use the word "lemongrass," but I'm open to something more accurate.
Deschutes Hop Trip
Hops used: Crystal
Hey, Crystal hops--seeing a pattern? In Hop Trip, they pop even more. I found the beer decidedly oily--I actually wrote down "furniture polish" but I'm worried there's no way that can be taken as a positive. Anyway, we're getting into territory that makes you appreciate what makes wet hops different, even if you can't describe it. The hops linger in the mouth almost tangibly after you swallow--a fresh, rich aroma you can chew on for a few seconds. I had Hop Trip on tap (Pilsner Room), and that probably didn't hurt.
BridgePort Hop Harvest
Hops used: Cascade
Of the four beers I really like, two used Crystal, and two used Cascade, including Hop Harvest. BridgePort must have used a ton of them, too, because they've brewed the bitterest beer using green hops. (Cascades don't have a lot of alpha acids, and using them to bitter a beer is hard in normal circumstances.) There are fewer of the funky notes here, but it's more herbal and peppery than regular Cascade-spiced beers. There's lots of residual sweetness in this big beer (7%), and it perfectly complements the hops.
The SublimeOne beer achieved a kind of transcendence that would normally earn it an ode, not a review. But since we're being comparitive, here we go.
Full Sail Lupulin
In rare cases in my beer-drinking experience, certain beers have reached out of the pint glass and grabbed me by the collar: BridgePort IPA, Pliny the Elder, Saison Dupont. The circumstances of the tasting are brought back as clearly as the sensations of the beer. So it was on Friday with Lupulin Ale.
I was in the Pilsner Room (
I think back to the first time I had the Belgian sour beers, when my palate was instantly and irrevocably reset to a much larger palette of flavors. I had that experience with these fresh hop ales--the more I tried, the more my tongue started to recognize them. But only in Lupulin did they go to that incredibly uncommon place that is the perfection of the new, wonderful flavor.
For me, it will be the beer all green-hopped ales are judged against,; it may even usher in that new, completely indigenous beer I have been hoping the Northwest would birth. I've tasted nothing like it, and at the moment, anyway, I want to taste nothing else.