I was speaking to a reporter for the Yakima Herald-Republic yesterday about fresh hops. Saturday, Yakima hosts its annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival--an occasion worthy of a little local press. (Saturday is also the Hood River Hops Fest, the South-of-the-Columbia cousin; kudos to anyone making the swing to compare Evergreen and Beaver State ales that day.) I was pleased to be consulted.
Thinking about it a bit more, I think there's more to the appeal than just the flavor fresh hops impart--even if that flavor is enough to drive certain people wild with joy. As everyone knows (and as some beer geeks now lament), the West Coast is hop mad. I sometimes think drinkers here find the soul of beer in the essence of distilled hops--not just the bitterness, but the kaleidoscope of flavors and aromas they offer. For hopheads, the fresh hop season is a kind of communion, when the ripened cones can be used to produce even more elemental flavors. That the season is fleeting--and the fresh beers, too--makes it all the more prized.
I'm not a huge fan of the grassy, sometimes vegetal qualities of fresh hops, and yet I love this season. The new hops are out, and with them, the fresh hop ales. It is a celebratory moment, and I get caught up in the excitement, too. The next few weeks ought to be a lot of fun.