The Best early season Fresh Hop Beers of 2021 — New School Beer + Cider

The release of Fresh Hop beers every fall is the most exciting time of the year for many of us. The rise of small batch mobile canning operations has made it much easier to find fresh hop beers if you live in the Pacific Northwest. But…with well over 100 different fresh hop beers coming from Oregon breweries alone, it’s hard to know which to try, especially as these beers can come at a premium markup often costing $5-$6 per can in Oregon. Partially for fun, and partially for research, the New School is gathering a group of beer journalists together to taste through the seasons crop and share the best. For this entry we tasted through 15 different beers, and found that personal preference on what you look for, and expect from a fresh hop beer can vary wildly.

For the uninitiated; a Fresh Hop beer uses undried and whole flower hop cones typically picked and used within a few hours of harvest. This is in contrast to the dried and pelletized hops and extracts used by brewers year-round. Because hops are only harvested once a year in late August through September it makes these beers extremely seasonal, and native to the regions where the most hop farms are, ie Oregon, Washington and Idaho. There are not many breweries outside of the pacific northwest that make them.

When drinking and evaluating fresh hop beers there are two things to look for: the quality of the underlying beer whether it was fresh hopped or not, and the special attributes of the fresh green hops themselves. The latter can be difficult to find, and isn’t always pleasant! In general you can look for an extra pungent and grassy flavor and aroma, notes of fresh cut weeds and Marijuana, or especially oily, citrusy and bright zesty fruit. Or, in some cases they can remind you of a compost bin, rotting fruit, decomposing wet lawn clippings.

The following “reviews” are recorded over a single tasting session with notes from beer writers and fresh hop enthusiasts Neil Ferguson, Bill “It’s Pub Night”, and myself, Ezra Johnson-Greenough. Obviously, all tastings are subjective, and possibly even more so when fresh hop beers come into play as freshness fades.

Level Beer: Fresh Hop American Lager 

Style: American Lager Fresh Hop: Willamette

“Classic pale straw color, aromas of whole grain cereal, but I also detect a worty unfermented quality. Long grassy hop finish, not bad but not my fav either.” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Crisp and nicely bitter lager with a decent bite. Goschie Willamette hops make it a little grassy with a touch of breadiness.” – Neil Ferguson

“High A. Light and pretty with a great nose. Intense, sappy hops.” – Bill Night

Level Brewing: Fresh Hop Hazy IPA

Style: Hazy IPA Fresh Hop: Simcoe

“Wait a sec, did I open the wrong beer? Thought this was a hazy, but it’s about as clear as the Occidental FH Pils. This is a strange one, I am picking up marshmallow like fluffy flavors and mouthfeel, semi-sweet, nice full but soft body, vegetal flavors of zucchini end this on a bad note for me.” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“It’s worth noting off the bat that this is not actually hazy at all. The use of Simcoe gave me high expectations but overall it was pretty middle of the road. It’s definitely juicy with a little bit of stonefruit, but if this were a blind tasting you wouldn’t know it was fresh hop except for that slight vegetal taste that lingers a little too long.” – Neil Ferguson

“High A. Not hazy, orangey aroma. Fantastic citrus/green flavor.” – Bill Night

Breakside Brewery: Fresh IPA

Style: West Coast IPA Fresh Hop: Chinook

“A floral, orange juice, pithy citrus rind aroma greets the nose. Slight sweetness, balanced with hops, a little earthiness, weeds, rind. Super delicious but hard to say how much fresh hop” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Beautiful and fruity with all of that Breakside brightness and vibrancy but not a ton of fresh hop goodness we’ve come to expect from these guys. Overall a fine IPA but hard to distinguish it as fresh hop.” – Neil Ferguson

“High B. Maybe the “best” beer of the night, so delicious. But the fresh hops were lost in it. – Bill Night


Level Beer: Fresh Hop IPA

Style: NW IPA Fresh Hop: Strata

“A bouquet of flowers on the nose, then comes green beans, compost, hash seeds. You can really tell it’s a fresh hop and it’s fairly easy to drink, but when you really start looking for the fresh hops they show up, but are not so pleasant” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“If you were blind tasting and gave this one a sniff, you might catch a honeyed, lager-like aroma, but that isn’t a bad thing as the proof is in the pudding. Carrying the proper balance of malt and that wonderful fresh hop greenness, this is a well-balanced Northwest IPA that’s perfectly bitter and has an herby note floating over it all.” – Neil Ferguson

“Low B. Tasted a bit like dirt.” – Bill Night

Crux Fermentation Project: Pert Near

Style: IPA Fresh Hop: McKenzie

“Green bell pepper and stone fruit. Oddly smooth light caramel malt flavor, finishes with a soggy leafy herbs flavor from the fresh hops” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Brewed using a new hop variety called McKenzie, this beer is a tad on the sweet and malty side for an IPA. Fresh hops lead to notes of pepper and green onions, which might be exotic and interesting to some but didn’t make this a standout for me.” – Neil Ferguson

“High A. Apricot nose. Correct fresh hop flavor, quite bitter. Apricots again, and jalapeno (thanks Ezra).” – Bill Night

Zoiglhaus Brewing: Oktoberfresh

Style: Oktoberfest Fresh Hop: Abiqua (U.S. grown Hallertauer)

“Lots of nutty caramel, toasted bread, and fall leaves! Yeah this tastes like fall, with honey roasted nuts, toffy, a floral eathy hop finish. Whole grain honey nut cheerios. I want to drink this for breakfast” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Uber fresh and very similar to the Kolsch in the way it straddles old world styles with that modern fresh hop spin. It’s interesting to see breweries doing fresh hop Oktoberfest beers as they are not typically beers that play up the hoppier side of things, but here we are treated to a subtle garden freshness that contrasts nicely with the malty backbone.” – Neil Ferguson

“Lots of nutty caramel, toasted bread, and fall leaves! Yeah this tastes like fall, with honey roasted nuts, toffy, a floral eathy hop finish. Whole grain honey nut cheerios. I want to drink this for breakfast” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Solid B. A very delicious beer, that doesn’t deliver on the fresh hops. (This was always my complaint about Lompoc FH Oktoberfest.)” – Bill Night

Migration Brewing: Fresh Outta Portland

Style: West Coast IPA Fresh Hop: Strata

“Eminently drinkable, super grassy hops, lemon balm, zesty herb flavors. Nothing bad to say about this one, just may not stand out as much as some of the others.” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Decent but not mind-blowing. Nice bitter notes and citrus flavors, but mostly a straightforward IPA.” – Neil Ferguson

“Low B. Just OK, not very fresh hoppy.” – Bill Night

Little Beast Brewing: Green Keeper

Style: Pale Ale Fresh Hop: Centennial

“lemongrass, weeds, herbs, and yes even more grass. Very drinkable and easy to like, even if it doesnt blow you away with any out of the box big flavors/aromas” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Bright and snappy, well-balanced pale ale with berry aromas and a kiss of malt creating a hammock of flavor for the fresh hops to sink into.” – Neil Ferguson

“Low B. Some years Little Beast blows me away with fresh hop flavor combinations I never would have imagined. Green Keeper is not one of those. Just OK.” – Bill Night

StormBreaker Brewing: Handfuls of Hops

Style: West Coast IPA Fresh Hop: Centennial

“Might have drank too much at this point, but I am getting cauliflower and wet leaves. Solid beer, but it’s not making me reach for more” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Piney Centennial hops are the star of the show in this knockout beer that is what you might share with someone who had never experienced fresh hop season before.” – Neil Ferguson

“It didn’t seem to me as good as last year’s, but it does show the fresh hops and is a solid choice.” – Bill Night

Breakside Brewery: Fresh Hop Stay West IPA

Style: NW IPA Fresh Hop: Centennial

“One of the earliest fresh hop releases, might be past it’s prime, but I haven’t been a big fan of the base beer Stay West either. I think some of the brighter fresh hop notes have faded, now it’s more into the vegetal flavors.” – Ezra Johnson-Greenough

“Another riff on a Breakside favorite that keeps the flavorful green vibes flowing and feels like an elevated, hyper fresh take on the original.” – Neil Ferguson

“‘gamey’it shows the fresh hops better than Breakside FH IPA, but is not as tasty overall.” – Bill Night

TOP 5

if forced at gunpoint to fight each other over the 5 best beers, these are what we would choose

Source: New School Beer

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