Why You Need To Drink A Cold Glass Of Fresh Hop Beer

In the Pacific Northwest, we have it so good in so many ways. Lovely scenery. Beautiful weather. A good economy. And a million other things.

But now we have one more feather in our cap.

It’s called fresh hop beer.

Now if you’re a big-time beer geek from Washington or Oregon, fresh hop is nothing new to you. It’s been around for a few years. But if you’re a more casual consumer of beer, you may not even know what it is.

It’s time you became acquainted with it.

It’s a seasonal beer experience unlike any other.

A “seasonal beer experience”, you ask?

Yes, beer can have a seasonality to it. An ebb and flow. Like fresh tomatoes on the vine in August. Or grapes ripening in the vineyard come October.

Sure, seasonal beer is in many ways nothing new. Germany has lots of seasonal beers. Think Octoberfest.

But what they don’t have—what no one else has!—is fresh hop beer.

So, what the hell is it?

Well, much like it sounds, fresh hop beer is made using hops picked fresh off the bine. The bine? Yes, confusingly, that is the term for a hop “vine”. Pour yourself a glass and maybe it will make more sense.

Now hops fresh off the whatever you call it are full of moisture. Moisture equals potential for rot. Thus comes the extreme seasonality of this beer. The fresh or “wet” hops must be used within 24-36 hours of being picked. You may or may not know that Eastern Washington is one of the largest hop-growing regions in the entire world. That means that brewers from Seattle or Portland are literally driving over there to pick up truckloads of freshly-harvested hops and bringing them back to their breweries to get them into their brew tanks. I like to think that they are driving all night only to brew beer all day. Perhaps that’s my own over-romanticized vision of how things work. But it’s probably not too far off.

It may be obvious that once the hop harvest is over—most hops are quickly dried and shipped around the country and the globe—so is the fresh hop beer season. Not unlike football season, though much shorter, you have to get it while it lasts, and then spend the rest of the year waiting for it to come around again.

What does fresh hop beer taste like? Well, it’s brewed in different styles by different breweries, but, in general, it’s used to make pale ales and India pale ales. Since fresh hops are aromatic and not as bitter by weight as dried hops, some fresh hop beers are not mouth-puckeringly bitter at all. They can be light and effervescent and very drinkable.  The beers can be crystal clear and golden-hued, or they can be as cloudy and unfiltered as our skies.

But what all fresh hop beers have in common is a fresh, aromatic taste. They have a character. A gestalt. They smell, look, feel and taste like the Pacific Northwest. A perfect embodiment of place and season.

How does one try these beers? If you live around here, you don’t have to go far. There are enough breweries putting fresh hop beer into bottles and cans that you should be able to go to your local grocery store and find some.

But you’re likely to find more variety, and even “fresher” fresh hop beer, if you go to either a brewery tasting room or a bottle shop. Fresh hop beer tastes best pumped from a keg with clean hoses and taps. If you have a local shop with lots of taps, they are likely pouring a variety of fresh hop beers at this very moment. They are likely also turning over their beer inventory at a high rate, i.e., tapping new kegs all the time. The enemy of fresh hop beer is sitting around too long.

So, if you like beer but have never tried fresh hop, there’s no time like the present. Put on a cozy flannel shirt and your most worn pair of jeans. Perhaps revisit that old Nirvana album. And get you some fresh hop beer. You live here. You’ve earned it.

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About Paul Redman 122 Articles
Paul Redman is a writer and chef in Seattle who grew up in the Midwest. His work has appeared in print and online, including San Francisco magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Contrary. He eats too many chicken wings and cracks way too many dad jokes and food puns. Follow him on Twitter @predman.