Our "fresh hops" correspondent in Portland sends his final report, putting my own blogging to shame. Excellent job! Read on:
Well, it looked like my mission had finally petered out. Monday was rather lame, I tried different presentations of beers I had already had. The Full Sail Lupulin on CO2 instead of cask; finally a reasonable quantity of Bridgeport Hop Harvest, from a bottle. Full Sail: excellent, though not as much so as the cask variety; Bridgeport: a fine beer, but doesn't quench my thirst for that grassy fresh-hop flavor.
Tuesday, fighting the smoke at the Horsebrass, got to taste Ninkasi's Ceridwen Harvest Lager. Now, Ninkasi beers are usually musclebound bruisers that make you beg for more punishment. A light lager is a little out of character for them. The waitress tried to steer me away from it, she said, "It's like the best Budweiser you ever had". Simile is a great way to describe things, and I think she nailed it. Very well done, but why the hell would you waste your freshly harvested hops on a light lager?
Wednesday, I can't even claim to be on track any more. The best I could do was a few cask Lupulins at Higgins before the George Jones concert. [Ed. note: GEORGE JONES?!? Kick ass!]
Thursday, it looks like Monday all over again. The Full Sail Pilsener Room, trying beers on tap that I already had in bottles: Deschutes Hop Trip and Hales O'Brien's Harvest Ale (the menu calls it a Fresh Hop ESB). I was prepared to gloss over Monday's lapse, and pretend like Wednesday never happened, but this looks like the final nail in the coffin. Fortunately, the bartender asked me which one was better, and when I pointed at the Lupulin cask handle, he told me that the Lupulin cask had been replaced with a Harvest beer from Hopworks.
Hark, are those angels singing to me? The quest is alive for one more day! Hopworks is a Southeast brewpub that hasn't even opened yet; a few places have their IPA, but I couldn't believe it when he pumped out a reddish-orange pint of their fresh hop beer. This is an awesome beer — I'd say it bridges the gap between the sweeter, lighter beers I crave each year, and the people who try to make a strong, bitter harvest ale. It's got the flavor, it's got the color, plus a little bit of extra bitterness.
Then, as the icing on the cake, he gave me a tiny taste of Bridgeport's "firkin-style" Harvest Ale. The night before, the Bridgeport people had been in and served it out of a barrel just by sticking a nozzle in and letting gravity do the work, no pumping or pressure. The bartender saved a pint overnight, so it was pretty flat, but it was awesome. I don't know if the firkins are from a different batch than the rest of Bridgeport's Hop Harvest, but this was sweeter and with more fresh flavor than what I tried on tap or from a bottle.
Friday I was able to try Killer Green from a new Hood River brewery, Double Mountain. This was an awesome beer in the same vein as the Hopworks from Thursday, with the fresh flavor but on the bitter side. Smooth and almost creamy.
Saturday I crossed the finish line for my marathon, by attending the Fresh Hop Tastival at McMenamin's Edgefield. Sadly, a number of the beers that were listed on Oregon Live were not at the festival: nothing from Ninkasi, Amnesia, Standing Stone, Mia and Pia's, Raccoon Lodge, or Calapooia; none of the alternate beers from Deschutes or Lucky Lab. What the hell, that's a lot of gaps! Still, I got to try 6 or 7 beers that I hadn't had yet. Golden Valley's beer was in the acceptable range. Pelican's Elemental Ale was really good, but the fresh hop flavor got submerged by all the other flavor and nutrition — the beer was thick and a completely opaque light-gold color. The only one I hadn't tried that lit a fire under me was from Mt. Hood Brewing, they had the style down.
Final verdict: My three favorites this year are Full Sail's Lupulin Ale, Deschutes Hop Trip, and whatever Hopworks calls theirs. Runners up are Double Mountain, Rogue Hop Heaven, and Mt. Hood. Excellent beers that I fault a little for lacking or hiding the green hop taste: New Old Lompoc's Harvest Man, Hale's O'Brien's Harvest Ale, Bridgeport's Hop Harvest, Pelican's Elemental Ale.
I feel very lame to be blogging on someone else's blog, but thanks for the soapbox, Lee. Maybe this will motivate me to take the slightly less lame action of starting my own blog. [Lee says: You're welcome to do a guest spot here any time!]