Friday, November 07, 2008

A Fresher Take on Pale Ales

Fresh-hopping is an interesting phenomenon. The idea is that instead of drying out the hop flowers, brewers take some of them right off the vine at harvest time, insert them into the boil and see what unique flavors they can produce.

And now the experimentation has become a craze. Fresh-hop ales that used to be set aside only for the geeks that hang out at breweries are now being bottled (in bombers, not six-packs) and sold at good liquor stores. I recently found no less than four of them at my local store, and that was after Falling Rock Taphouse had six of them on tap one day last month.

Each brewer that tries fresh-hopping seems to produce a different taste, but the general result is beers with bigger noses and slightly more bitter backtastes. It doesn't bring the pounding sweetness of a double IPA, nor does it leave any of the room for mellowness that you find in some regular pale ales.

Here's one guy's thoughts on four of the most readily available fresh-hop beers this season, in order of preference:

1) Deschutes Hop Trip
This is the smoothest of the quartet, a slightly sweet concoction that carries many of the characteristics of an IPA. Its hoppiness is the loudest of the fresh-hop genre, and it's lively in lighting up your mouth.

2) Port Brewing High Tide Fresh Hop IPA
The taste is mouth-enveloping, a beer that you feel should swamp you in bitterness, though it doesn't. Instead, it lingers in a pleasantly mild way. I can't say I fell in love with the High Tide, but I enjoyed it enough where I'd like to try it again.

3) Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Considering all of the gigantic, butt-kicking beers that Great Divide makes, you might expect the flavor to be bigger here. Yet, it comes on in a very approachable manner and never grows to be very bitter or overpowering. This is the easiest sipper of the bunch and a good way to wade into the fresh-hop fad if you're not sure you're ready to jump in head-first.

4) Sierra Nevada Chico Estate Harvest Wet Hop Ale
As a member of the Fearless Tasting Crew astutely put it: "This is not a beer that you drink and forget." But it certainly has the strongest bitter backtaste to it, and by the time you're 16 ounces in, it begins to sting your tongue just a little. To me, the taste resembled a parabolic curve: A huge floral nose led to a very strong bitterness on the front, which mellowed as you swirled the beer over your taste buds and then left its presence long after you swallowed.

Are there any other fresh-hop beers out there that anyone would recommend?

Great Divide's Fresh Hop is the only one I have tried. It was a pleasing experience for sure.
Haven't tried any of these yet.
Will keep an eye out for them though.
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