Love the bitter, tangy taste of an IPA? You can thank hops, the fragrant, cone-shaped flowers that brewers use to flavor and preserve their beers. While most brews feature dried hops, the autumn hop harvest in the surrounding Willamette Valley gives Portland beermakers the “hop-portunity” to snag fresh-picked (aka “wet” hops) for one-off, limited edition creations loaded with peak season flavors. Some brewers are so giddy about the harvest they have been know to ride cargo-style bikes to local farms to gather the yields, demonstrating Portlanders’ easy access to world-class ingredients and our natural tendency to be a little “weird.” Celebrate the season in true Beervana style with these pints and parties.
Each October, the Portland Fresh Hops Fest fills Oaks Amusement Park with fresh hop beers from across Oregon. Past participants include local legends like Widmer Brothers, as well as regional all-stars like Eugene’s Ninkasi, Astoria’s Fort George and Bend-based Deschutes.
The biggest event of its kind in the state — if not the world — the Hood River Hops Fest features more than 60 fresh hop beers from dozens of Northwest breweries. Sample seasonal specials by Hood River locals like Double Mountain, Full Sail and pFriem Family Brewers, including a handful of fruity hop ciders. The party also features live music, Willamette Valley wine, arts and crafts from local makers and a family-friendly play area.
Oregon towns Eugene, Sisters, Silverton, Independence and St. Paul all host their own fresh hop fetes — dates and details available via Oregon Craft Beer.
You don’t need to buy a festival ticket to taste a wet hop brew. Many of Portland’s more than 60 breweries celebrate the hops harvest with limited edition beers crafted with freshly-picked ingredients.
Each September, the McMenamins team rushes more than 1,000 pounds (453.6 kg) of fresh Brewer’s Gold hops from Salem’s Sodbuster Farms to their two dozen breweries throughout the Northwest. Dubbed “The Running of the Brewers,” this annual event heralds hundreds of delicious barrels of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale, available at all 66 (and counting) McMenamins locations (while supplies last).
Around Labor Day, the Deschutes Brewery crew fills bags with fresh Nugget, Centennial and Fresh Crystal hops from a nearby farm, hurrying back to toss the flowers in the brew kettles within four hours of picking. The resulting Fresh Hop Pale Ale packs a bright citrus punch and pleasant fall spice — the unique combo even took home “World’s Best Harvest Pale Ale” at the 2011 World Beer Awards.
Stop by any local brewery in late September and chances are good that you’ll find a fresh hop masterpiece on tap. Recent favorites include “Hopularity Contest” at Base Camp Brewing, “Green Pig Pale Ale” at Coalition Brewing and “1.21 Gigahops Fresh Hop Brown” at StormBreaker Brewing. If you’re lucky, you might snag a sip of a fresh hop version of Widmer’s famous Hefeweizen or a bottle of a wet-hop Workhorse IPA from Laurelwood Brewing. With such abundant fresh flavors, Portland beer lovers are a very lucky bunch. But don’t delay — another bountiful season of fresh hops beer will be over before you know it!