Enjoyed on 10/6/2010
Location: Portland, OR
Beer: Fresh Hop Mirror Pond
Presentation: This is not bottled. Brown glass flip-top growler.
Style: Fresh Hop American Style Pale Ale
Hops: Fresh Cascade
Commercial Description: Our favorite pale ale plus our favorite time of year (hop harvest!) equals one of the staff’s most loved beers. This pale is tawny colored and full-bodied with a distinctive lingering hop flavor attained by adding copious quantities of fresh Cascade hops.
Beer Advocate: B+ (3.8) (1 review)
Rate Beer: Unrated
Ahh the fresh hop beer. What a marvelous creation. Us West Coast dwellers are very lucky to be close to the source. Remember, the Yakima Valley is home to nearly 80% of the U.S. hop crop. Though fresh hop beers are quickly growing in popularity and are now being brewed all over the country thanks to overnight shipping, there is little doubt that we have the most prolific access to beer of the style. I once read a top 5 list of the best beer festivals in the world. The Yakima Fresh Hop Fest was on the list. Why? Because there is no other place in the world that could host such a thing. Uniqueness wins massive points, and I think it’s valid.
Autumn is one of my favorite times to be a beer drinker. The harvest season brings about both wet hop beers and pumpkin beers. Since these brews have such limited availability, there is sometimes a sense of urgency to take them all in before they go away for another year. Thus, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to gather in as much harvest beers as possible. After hearing how much Geoff of Seattle Beer News enjoyed this beer on his blog, I knew that I needed to make a trip to Portland before it was all gone. When Hair of the Dog and Cascade decided to coincide the opening of their long-awaited tap rooms with fresh hop season, the stars aligned…and here I sit, sipping down that “greenest” of beer pleasures.
I strongly feel that one must approach fresh hop beers in a much different way than traditional beers bittered with dried hops. It’s actually surprising how different of an animal wet hops are versus dried hops. Of course, the brewing process must vary with the use of such a different ingredient, so why shouldn’t the tasting experience differ as well. When a brewer decides to craft one of these little delights, he or she is making a serious commitment. First of all, the hops need to go from vine to brew in less than 24 hours. The shorter the delay the better. You don’t want those little nuggets to start to wilt or lose acidity. Secondly, since fresh hops contain about 60% water, you have to use about 5 times more of them to produce the same effect as dried hops. That, on top of any shipping costs you may be forced to incur if you aren’t close enough to the source to pick them up yourself, can substantially increase your monetary commitment. Finally, fresh hops need room to fully infuse and unfurl in the wort. Unlike pellet hops that simply dissolve or dried hops that can be dunked using a hop bag, a hopback is generally required for full exposure. Not every brewery has one of those. The mash tun can be used, but this will add a lot of risk and time to the brewing process. It’s clear that brewers are dispensing a lot of effort to put a little bit of unprocessed (mostly) Earth into a beer.
So how should we, as drinkers, properly calibrate our palettes in preparation? Well, for me, it’s about that ‘bit of natural earth’ within. Fresh hop beers are generally not super bitter. The hops give off a much more subtle, greener flavor. Maybe it’s hard to explain. I guess you just know it when you taste it.
Let’s see if the extended efforts of Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery paid off.
Pouring out of a growler is often awkward and my initial serving was no exception. The brew met my glass with much vigor and I felt forced to cease the onslaught after the glass was about half full. My instinct served me right. The top half of the glass quickly became inundated with white foam built of mostly minuscule bubbles. It didn’t take very long for the mighty cap to subside, and in doing so, a picturesque slathering of lace was left on the inside wall of the glass. After all settling was complete, a potent ring of those tiny bubbles remained where the beer met the glass and a few globs of larger bubbles floated on the surface. The fluid itself displays a foggy, orange tinged amber that is very inviting indeed.
My initial impression of the scent, while the beer was still quite chilled, was of a very earthy, resinous, skunky hop attribute. As it warms a bit, more of the biscuit or cracker-like maltiness can be distinguished. The hop profile becomes less pungent as well, but the earthy quality is further solidified. It’s not to far from sticking your nose up to a honeysuckle bush. I get a nondescript floral essence, but also the odors of the actual green of the plant – the leaves and the stems. There is melon rind and unripened pear. Definitely honeysuckle…and honeydew.
The mouthfeel is thin and the carbonation is minimal, but I feel it unsubstantiated to make a proper judgment here considering that my growler was filled on Sunday and it is now Wednesday. Yes, chances are good that all is untainted, but for scoring purposes, I must give the benefit of the doubt. That is why this is the first time that I have ever properly reviewed a beer on this site that isn’t from a bottle. Actually, with that being said and upon further reflection, these potentially negative aspects can actually play to the advantage of the beer, or possibly more specifically, the hops. After re-reading Geoff’s thoughts, he is right about nothing standing in the way of the true essence of the hop. This is surely not hop candy in my hand, but hop juice, or water squeezed from a freshly picked hop flower it is.
The flavor, in many ways, matches the scent and is overwhelmingly of melon and flowers. It’s juicy, clean and crisp, like a massive bite out of a perfectly ripe piece of fruit, when the juices just trickle down the corners of your mouth. I am also reminded of an iced, flavored white tea…which is something that I am very fond of. The most enticing element of the hoppy front-end of the taste is the idea that this is what cascade hops truly and utterly taste like, and it’s delicious natural.
This beer has a low ABV, manageable IBUs, and is incredibly refreshing. It’s sessionable and infused with the bounty of the best part of our great country. I’m delighted with every sip. Any bitterness is very subtle and mostly found well after the swallow. Without a doubt, the malts play a role, but this is a fresh hop pale ale and we are dealing in subtlety. They mostly exist in the aftertaste, which is the most full flavored and beer-like…the best part in my opinion. The hop qualities linger, the biscuit sweetness creeps up and the bitterness drys…all at once.
Is this beer more flavor transcendent than America’s most highly heralded imperial IPAs? Simply put, no. But, there is so much more to fresh hop beers than the cut-and-dry flavor profile. There is history, geography, heart and soul… There is the absolute core of the Humulus Lupulus plant that we all adore so intensely. This is the beer that Mother Earth drinks, and tonight, I feel her presence within.
Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.98
Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.86
Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.85
Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 3.00
Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.66
Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.96
Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.31