As summer winds down in Central Oregon, beer consumers begin to turn away from the crisp, refreshing lagers and ales that are so welcome on hot, dry days and look toward full-flavored and full-bodied darker beers.
But in the Pacific Northwest, maybe we should celebrate the harvest in another way. Yes, tastebuds tend to want something sweet, spicy and warming as the weather cools down, but we have three words to celebrate as soon as September comes around: Fresh-hop season.
The humulus lupulus plant, or hops, can only be harvested during a short window open from late August to early October, according to the Hop Growers of America. Each bine (not “vine,” which uses offshoots to climb, whereas a “bine” grows in a helix around an object) can produce mature hops at different times depending on weather and age. According to Bobby Jackson, head brewer at 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, the ideal time to produce a fresh-hop beer is right after the hops are picked.
“We have to leave super early in the morning to time when the hops get picked,” he said. “If it all goes perfectly, the hops will show up at the exact time that we are ready to use them.”
10 Barrel has produced fresh-hop beers before, all of which were immediately successful at the company’s pub on Galveston Avenue, Jackson said.
“Last year, we put our fresh-hop batch at the pub and it was gone in two days,” he said.
For Jackson, the appeal of fresh hops is about both that short window and their flavor. Struggling to pinpoint the exact difference between fresh hops and other hops, he landed on a way to sum up the flavor: “Fresh hops always pop a lot more,” he said. “There is always some grassyness from the vegetal matter, but for the most part it’s always the same flavors in a much bigger way. It’s so much (more) in your face (and) just so much more prevalent.”
Aaron Hofferber loves fresh-hop brewing year after year for the same reason. Even before he started as lead brewer for Bend’s Silver Moon Brewing, he worked with fresh hops on a homebrew level. By going through the trials of brewing with wet, absorbent, mushy hops on a small scale, he was able to make adjustments to avoid problems on a larger scale at Silver Moon.
“Fresh-hop season, to me, is a glimpse into the year ahead as far as what resources a brewer has to work with and how my next season is going to play out,” Hofferber said.
“It also reinvigorated the old homebrewing passion that got me my position as a commercial brewer, so I pay homage to fresh-hop season.”
Silver Moon’s Hoppopotamus fresh-hop beer will feature 240 pounds of Cascade hops from Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn for a 30-barrel (60-keg) batch. And 10 Barrel brewed two fresh-hop beers: One a “harvest-style ale,” Jackson said, featuring a darker malt background to complement Centennial hops from Umpqua Hops in Roseburg, and a special pale ale with Crystal hops from SodBuster Farms in Salem.
The best part? Thirsty consumers won’t have to wait long to see these beers on tap at local breweries: The earliest offerings will start showing up around Sept. 20. For an immersive fresh-hop experience, check out the Sisters Fresh Hop Festival, which will feature 24 breweries’ fresh-hop beers on Sept. 27.
Despite the early wake-up call to go get the hops, the long drives to and from the farms and the stress of trying to time the whole process to ensure peak freshness, fresh-hop season is always a time Hofferber looks forward to.
“Besides the fact that the public goes nuts about fresh-hop beers, I get excited knowing that it’s time for fresh hops,” he said. “As a brewer, we want the freshest hops available so we can celebrate it with the freshest beer made with the freshest hops.”
— Reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org