By Jon Abernathy

For The Bulletin

What: Deschutes Brewery Savin’ Freshies release

When: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 7

Where: Deschutes Brewery & Public House, 1044 NW Bond St., Bend

Contact: deschutesbrewery.com

What: Sisters Fresh Hop Festival — Twenty Pacific Northwest breweries serving fresh hop beers

When: Saturday, Noon-8 p.m.

Where: Village Green Park, 335 S. Elm St., Sisters

Cost: $15 for a pint glass and 5 tasting tokens; $1 each token

Contact: sistersfreshhopfest.com

Summer has transitioned into fall, which in the beer world means that fresh hop season is upon us once again. For the past six weeks or so, breweries have taken advantage of the narrow window of the hop harvest to brew special beers infused with freshly picked, undried hops. And right now is the best time to drink these beers.

You can find at least two dozen of these ephemeral beers on tap around Central Oregon. And beginning this weekend with the return of the Sisters Fresh Hop Festival, there are at least four special fresh hop events or releases to attend. The Sisters festival takes place Saturday beginning at noon at Village Green Park. Twenty-six breweries will be represented, pouring their freshest selections of the year.

In Bend, 10 Barrel Brewing Company is hosting a fresh hop beer pairing event on Oct. 5, with all of its different pub locations’ beers on tap. On Oct. 7, Worthy Brewing Company hosts its second annual Hoptoberfest Brew-Off, featuring home-brewed fresh hop ales brewed using hops from Worthy’s own garden.

The following week, Bend Brewing Company hosts Fresh Hops on the Pond, a mini-fest featuring beers from seven guest breweries as well as the first-ever fresh hop beers from Bend Brewing.

And also on Oct. 7, Deschutes Brewery is hosting the release party for Savin’ Freshies, a fresh hop pale ale that will raise money for the Native Fish Society (NFS).

Toby Nolan, the senior lead guide of tours at the Deschutes Brewery tasting room, is the originator behind the beer and the fundraising project. Savin’ Freshies is brewed with 50 pounds of fresh Centennial hops that Nolan collected from Goschie Farms in late August. He invited me along to learn about the concept and to catch a fascinating glimpse into how the just-harvested hops make it into the beer.

We left Bend about 7 a.m. on Aug. 23 bound for Silverton, about 15 miles east of Salem. Smoky haze from the Milli Fire shrouded everything east of Santiam Pass, but that didn’t dampen Nolan’s enthusiasm to talk about everything from beer to adventure guide management to fishing.

A native of the island of Jersey, he is an avid angler and fly fisherman and often spends his free time plying Central Oregon’s waterways with pole in hand. Primarily a catch and release fisherman, his passion for the sport and river conservation is apparent as he speaks. “People are starting to realize we are having a negative impact (on the watershed),” he said. “Water is life.”

How does fishing tie into beer? The answer is the hops. Goschie Farms was the first hop farm in the country to earn Salmon-Safe certification, and grows all of its hops in accordance with Salmon-Safe guidelines.

Salmon-Safe is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to transform land management practices so Pacific salmon can thrive in West Coast watersheds.” To that end, it works with farms to develop and encourage ecologically sustainable practices to help protect water quality.

In a nutshell: Responsible management of hop farming means healthier fish. Nolan learned about Salmon-Safe on a visit to Goschie Farms two years ago. The program’s philosophy meshed neatly with his own passions for fishing and river health. His brainstorm: a beer brewed with Salmon-Safe hops for which the proceeds could benefit the fish in some way. Using fresh hops was a natural step.

“Fresh hop season ties perfectly in with prime steelhead season,” said Nolan. “The release of this beer coincides with the steelhead runs.”

That’s where the Native Fish Society, or NFS, comes in. Its mission is to advocate for the recovery and protection of wild, native fish, as well as provide stewardships of the rivers they inhabit. Nolan approached the NFS about a partnership in which $1 from every pint sold would benefit the organization’s programs.

Jake Crawford, southern regional director of the Native Fish Society, plans to be present for the Oct. 7 release party to talk about the project and the NFS. In addition to pint sales, Nolan has arranged a raffle with proceeds also benefiting the organization. Companies such as DrinkTanks and Confluence Fly Shop donated items for the event.

Arriving at Goschie Farms that morning of the 23rd, we met with owner Gayle Goschie. When Nolan explained the plan for his beer, Goschie loved the concept and offered to donate the necessary hops.

A century ago, hops were harvested by hand, but today, at least at a farm on the scale of Goschie’s, where 450 of its 1,000 acres are dedicated to 10 varieties of hops, the process is almost entirely industrial. On harvest days, workers in the fields cut the flower-laden bines which are then fed into the hop picker. This machine separates the cones from the rest of the plant material, which are transported via conveyor belt to the oast (the kiln used to dry the hops).

The central feature of this kiln is a vast bed of hops, a few inches deep, with hot air blowing upward through it. For the variety of hops being harvested during our visit, Centennial, it takes about nine hours to dry them at 135 degrees.

We loaded Nolan’s Subaru with the two large bags of hops, and on the drive back to Bend the zesty, herbal aroma permeated the car, even cutting through the smell of wildfire smoke. The hops were delivered to the Deschutes pub mid-afternoon, and later that evening, Nolan added them to the pale ale.

I’ve since had the opportunity to sample the beer, which I found to be brightly spicy and earthy, which seems characteristic of this year’s Centennial hops. I expect that herbal spiciness will have mellowed somewhat, but judge for yourself on Oct. 7 at Deschutes’ downtown pub at the release party — and help save the fish.

—Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!

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