There are a couple reasons this style is a real boon to the fest: for one, while it's not exactly an American invention, commercially speaking, it's really Amero-centric. Here in the Northwest, probably half the breweries make a fresh hop beer--orders of magnitude more examples than anywhere else. Since there aren't so many truly American expressions in brewing, we should really ride this horse.
Second, the GABF is perfectly scheduled to take advantage of these beers*. [And see yet another update here**] Fresh hop ales have zero shelf life. That green, leafy quality that defines the style comes only from just-plucked hops, and it has the life cycle of a gnat. Whatever it is in fresh hops that give these aromas and flavors doesn't last. If the GABF were in July, you couldn't really do this category. But early October is the perfect time--in fact, you could actually really play up the harvest hop beers. The only criticism I have of the style category is that it isn't a stand-alone. Give it a few years.
Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond
Speaking of fresh hop beers, I got a bottle from Deschutes of a beer I like to think of as the current owner of the Bill Night endowed chair of fresh hop beers. For Bill, no beers are as sublime as fresh hopped ones, and of this group, Fresh Hop Mirror Pond is king. (Given that each year is different and by necessity pretty much a one-shot deal, I understand this designation may be revoked.) In the case of this year's batch, Deschutes, working with Goschie Farms, went to OSU to find the original root stocks Cascade came from (they call them "heirloom" hops). It raises a separate, but perhaps digressive point: how has the strain changed? We'll leave that until another time.
In any case, the beer rocks. It has a vivid nose, alive with the green fresh hopheads demand. It's a vibrant, spritzy interpretation, not the least bit composty or strange. The quality of fresh hops is not for everyone; they're so green you get an almost weedy intensity out of them (this, I believe, would be considered among fresh hopheads a desirable quality). This beer has it in spades. No mistaking it as a standard pale. It's loaded with flavor. Although I am generally not a big fan of fresh hop beers, this one is in my wheelhouse. It tastes like a freshly-picked flower, still warm with the rays of the summer sun.
*Update: In comments, DJ Paul makes a really good point: "Beers that are to be judged have to arrive in Denver by the first week of September. Therefore the beers have to ship by late August and these Fresh Hop Beers are usually not ready by this time." It seems like there might be a possible fix to this; I'll ask around when I'm in Denver.
**Updated further. Tweet from Daniel Pollard at Pelican: "@Beervana the BA offered an exception to the beer due dates for Fresh Hop beers. Lots of us had harvest related delays to deal with."