Fresh Hops are NOT the New Bacon
The Fresh Hops Workshop presented last Saturday night by Portland Beer Week at Saraveza's Bad Habit Room was an excellent opportunity to sample some outstanding fresh hop beers and to also experience fresh hops via other avenues. Like most craft beer drinkers in the Northwest, I love hoppy beers and look forward to fresh hop beers all year long. However, the workshop convinced me that, unlike bacon, hops do not make everything better.
The first item encountered as guests entered was the snack table which just happened to contain both bacon and fresh hops. The bacon could only be considered a side if you meant the entire side of the hog as these cuts were essentially bacon steaks. Bacon also made an appearance as bits on top of the stuffed jalapeno and on the charcuterie plate. Beyond the bacon, the snack table ended with bread for dipping into bowls of Cascade, Citra and Magnum hops that also happened to have a little bit of olive oil in there. The hop-infused olive oil was interesting, but I did not have trouble guessing why more brewpubs have not jumped on the wagon of having this as their appetizer. Besides fresh hops only being available once a year, the flavor of the olive oil was not enhanced by the hops and actually came across to me as having a bit of an astringent flavor. I would say the Citra olive oil was my favorite of the three. As a side note, Saraveza lived up to its Midwestern roots by also including deviled eggs in the spread.
The fresh hop experiments continued behind the bar. The four fresh hop beers mentioned in my preview of the event (with the exceptions of Ninkasi's Total Crystalation being replaced by Gigantic's Most Interesting Beer in the World and Double Mountain pinch hitting for Killer Green with Killer Red) were available on their own (1/2 pints or full pints) or as part of a taster flight where each was served via french press filled with Centennial hops. I started off with a pint of Breakside's Simcoe Pale Ale and was impressed by what Ben Edmunds described as 'the second best' fresh hop beer they have made this year. I then opted for the flight to keep me company during the panel discussion. Although I had only tried Breakside on this night, I can confidently state that I do not think any of the beers were actually improved by the addition of more fresh hops via french press. As I tried all the beers while each brewer described their offering, I was struck by how the rush of Centennial hops threw off the delicate balance that each brewer said they aimed to create through the use of both fresh and pelletized hops. Also on tap were Bridgeport's Hop Harvest served through the a DFH Randall and a side-by-side sample of pure Hamm's and Hamm's doused with hop oils. I cannot speak to how the Bridgeport fared to a Randallization, but I did try the Hamm's and would select pure Hamm's every day of the week and twice on Sunday. This speaks less to the quality of Hamm's and more to the overpowering nature of hop oil. Hamm's is essentially alcoholic water, so the hop oils were all you could really taste which I would compare to what I would think drinking an air freshener would be like. The bottom line is there is a reason the Reinheitsgebot requires more ingredients than just water and hops. Although hops often play a featured role in many of our favorite beers, it is a delicate balancing act that is best left to the experts.
Even though I did not leave the workshop excited to find more ways to incorporate fresh hops into all facets of my life, it was a great time. I would have preferred to have a more hands on experience as the workshop name implied, but maybe the OLCC rules would not allow the freedom to french press your own beer after purchase. With over half the beers changing, a chalk board lining out the options also would have been helpful considering Saraveza's bartender extraordinaire Tyler Vickers had his hands full keeping those tasting flights coming leaving little time to explain what was on offer. However, overall the event was well run and not too crowded thanks to the limited ticket sales. I am certainly looking forward to all the hop fests coming up where I will be able to enjoy the fresh hop beers just as the brewers intended.
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