Okay, First: “Fresh Hopped” and “Wet Hopped” are the same thing.People keep asking me what the diff is and there isn’t one. Fresh, resin-drippin’ hop flowers, picked, tossed into bins, driven hurriedly back to the brewery – often a journey of several hours – and tossed into a brew tank. A LOT of outright BS that gets slung around about freshness in dried flower, pellet, or extract hops IPAs, MANY of which remain viable for a couple of months, at least, when properly packaged.
But in Fresh/Wet Land, speed is king. Pick, brew, can/bottle, out the door, into the store, quick trip to your crib, open, drink. The faster the better.
This is the annual Challenge of this sensational style of ale and “challenge” is the precise term. MANY breweries fail at it, producing beers with obvious, even blatant off flavors, bad balance, simple bad judgment, even incomplete fermentation, in about a dozen I’ve tasted. Brewing Wet/Fresh is NOT just about the rush job aspects. It also requires skill and, each year, more and more brewers are Getting It. Kevin Smith at Bale Breaker Brewing has figured it out. Adam Robbings at Reuben’s Brews just…did it straight out of the chute, as he does with so many styles. Fort George had one sorta Meh year and then mashed down HARD on the accelerator and never looked back. There are a couple dozen other newer breweries making lights-out examples, but who’s best at it?
C’mon, you know this…The Old Guard, the veterans, the grizzled èminence grise of the American brewing community. And the grise-iest of these is a somewhat oddly dashing 60-something brew wonk named Larry Sidor.
Anyone who has ever read this website has probably come across this name. If you read regularly, you may well have seen it enough times that you are heartily sick of Larry Sidor and never want to see all this praise heaped upon his snowy cranium again. Well, I can tell you this: Probably not going to stop anytime soon. Because he, along with assistant brewmaster, Cam O’Connor, keeps producing stuff like this year’s THREE(!) exceptional Fresh/Wet ales.
While working, for eight years, as brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery, Larry was responsible for inventing what many regard as the seminal, transcendent PNW fresh-hopped ale, “Hop Trip”, the virtual template for making a Fresh/Wet ale, here in the cradle of the world’s hops production. Here, the use of and experimentation with hops borders on a religion. And Larry Sidor is arguably the High Priest.
This harvest season finds three new Fresh/Wet gems from Crux and I’m just gonna take ’em one by one and quickly, because time’s a’ wastin’ and you NEED, whether you know it or not, to run out and at least try to find all three…
Crux “Pert Near” Fresh Hop IPA is a celebration of what Tettnanger and Centennial hops can do for a pint o’ beer and the clean, fresh melon and white grape and herbal flavors they impart. But this is “herbal” as in mild, sweet wild foliage, as opposed to the savory herbaceousness of thyme and oregano that underpins so many aggressively bitter IPAs. It is also a celebration of the stunningly adept growing practices of Goschie Farms, in the Willamette Valley, the source of both these varietals, whose soil imbues these two varieties with some subtle variations found almost nowhere else.
At first sip, the term that came to mind, strongly, is “elegant” and that is rarely a word to describe most India Pale Ales. Many of the most sought-after IPA icons are built on an overwhelming resin/herb flavor profile, most notably Russian River Brewing’s immortal “Pliny the Elder”. A fellow beer writer from Denver once described Pliny to me, saying, “You might as well go lick a pine tree“, which is a pretty precise description. As it turns out, millions of craft beer fans seem to LOVE licking pine trees because Pliny is easily the most popular IPA ever made in the US and isn’t fading at all in popularity. And, no, Pert Near (in my Allegheney Mountains native vernacular, “pretty close to what you wanted/needed/expected“) is not really “pert near” anything. IMO, it gets right up against what you’d dream of when imagining a different approach, emphasizing the floral and spice and melon and vine fruit potential of our PNW hops. It is absurdly, almost dangerously easy to drink, with a seamless character, restrained and refined bitterness, and no hard edges. In one sense, this is a sort of anti-IPA, a robust 6.9% ABV and 55 IBUs but balanced perfectly and leading with its lush fruit and not its resins. Of these three ales, Pert Near is easily the most approachable and the one that will seduce newbies almost instantly. 94 Points
Crux “Dr. Jack” Fresh Hop IPA is named for Oregon hops pioneer, Dr. Chester Ellsworth “Jack” Horner, who passed away in 2015, after a LONG and very distinguished career as the original developer of the hallmark Cascade hops variety, which he and Dr. Stanley Nelson Brooks hybrided at Oregon State University in 1956, from an open-seed collection including English Fuggle, Russian Serebrianker, and an unspecified male hop. It has gone on to become one of the most popular hops in the world, consistently delivering brilliant flavors of mixed citrus fruits, red grapefruit, subtle spices, and flowers. It’s the most versatile variety yet discovered, working equally well as a flavor, aroma, and bittering hop. In this year’s Dr. Jack, its bright, fresh, aromatic resins overlay a succulent stratum of mango and lemon peel and tangerines and Ruby Red grapefruit.
All that is present here, in an in-yo’-face intensity that pulls up short of aggressive, parking squarely in a “Just Right” space. As a so-called “single IPA” (as opposed to Double or Imperial IPA), it’s not going to light up all the extreme HopHead dorks but, for those of us more concerned with excellent brewing and drinkability than tests of manhood, this is a near-perfect beer. It offers just that resiny edge that a Fresh/Wet has to have to deserve that label, while not putting your tongue in a headlock.
It is also a dazzling visual feast, glowing a lambent medium amber in the glass and giving off aromatics like crazy. One of Larry Sidor’s most prominent virtues, shown time and time again, at Crux and at Deschutes, is Knowing When to Stop, and this terrific ale is a virtual template of that sort of Practical Magic. 97 Points
That brings us to Crux “Way Too Fresh” Fresh Hop IIPA , Crux’s take on an Imperial/DIPA Fresh/Wet ale. It uses two different varieties – Mosaic and Simcoe – from the Willamette Valley and Yakima Valley, respectively, and somehow manages to marry the flavor profiles of each without losing anything of either. It also offers die-hard hops freaks that fat, savory, herbal/pine sap finish that has become synonymous with “Double IPA”. But, as with other great, time-honored Imperial IPAs, like Ninkasi “Tricerahops” and Fort George “Vortex”, there are layers of interest resting atop and alongside of that forthright bitterness. The Simcoe – along with Amarillo, my favorite hops variety – is described most often as “earthy and fruity” and both explode out of this ale. Citrus fruits (notably lime and pink grapefruit and Meyer lemon) shine out atop passion fruit, apricot, and berry. Pine and earthy scents like vegetation and loam give it a woodsy edge, and the eccentric, complex Mosaic lays down a carpet of blueberry and other assorted berries, mango, bubblegum, tropical fruits, new-mown hay, wheat grass, pine, forest floor, herbs, and distinct spices. The overall effect is crazily complex and interesting and it packs the sort of wallop that gets Hop Geeks all moist, you know…Down There.
I was figuratively (and a bit literally) knocked sideways by this stuff and am fixing to run out and try to Buy Mass Quantities this very afternoon. At least for my tastes, this is as close to a perfect Fresh/Wet ale as I have ever sampled, standing quite comfortably with the original Hop Trip as a classic example of what this quick unicorn of a beer style is (or, rather, should be) all about. 98 Points
All three of these lovelies are available in tall-boy cans and will, of course, be gone in about the same time as the average fruit fly that’s being born as you read this. If you love this style of American hoppy ale like I do, you will RUN to the car, fire that puppy up, and go find these, where fine beers are sold.