Smooth Hoperator. Modus Hoperandi. RoboHop. Hops are the crux of the craft beer industry, as exhibited by the bevy of brews sporting pun-tastic names. Beer is normally made with dry hops, since hops, like grass, lose their aroma and flavor as soon as they are picked. Yet, each fall, ‘tis the season of fresh hop beer, when ales incorporate just-plucked hops into specialty suds. Want to taste these brews close to the source? Head to the Yakima Valley, America’s hop heartland.
Two hours east of Seattle, this verdant valley grows almost 75% of U.S. hops. These bright green beauties are geographically desirable for nearby brewers; while other states are forced to ship, Washington benefits from having fresh hops in their agricultural backyard. Locavorism in a glass, Washington serves up the freshest of fresh hop ales.
What makes a fresh hop beer so special? First, let’s talk taste. Hops, specifically the flower (or seed cones) of the female hop plant, give beer bitterness. The spectrum of bitter, from piney to citrusy, plays a big part in beer’s flavor profile. In fresh hop ales, the fresh, green cones impart bright, vegetal aromas. The result is a less bitter, more vibrant quaff. Just as garden-grown tomatoes zing compared to their bland, store-bought counterparts, the fresh hop ales burst with verdant gusto.
The speed and short window of fresh hop beer production also adds to its appeal. The Beajoulais Nouveau of the beer world, fresh hop beers are brewed quickly — sometimes within 24 hours after the hops are picked. From field to pint glass in just a few weeks, the fresh hop ales are only available for a limited time.
To get the most fresh hop brews for your buck, head to Yakima’s Fresh Hop Ale Festival on October 3. Voted one of the Top Ten Beer Festivals by Thrillist, this beer-soaked bacchanalia features forty Pac NW breweries, like Yakima’s Bale Breaker, Leavenworth’s Icicle Brewing, and Seattle’s Fremont Brewing. A beer bike cruises around the festival pouring rare sips. There’s also a competition to crown this year’s tastiest beer. Bites from local restaurants — like BBQ ribs from Kim’s Got Smoke — plus live music round out the festivities. $35 general admission includes 3 half-pints while the $65 VIP tickets include a catered buffet and beer garden.