Get 'em While They're Fresh

Over the weekend, judges gathered at the obscene hour of 9am to determine the finest fresh hop beers for the Oregon Beer Awards. The regular OBA judging takes place in January—but that’s obviously too late for fresh hop beers. Blessedly, organizers released the names of winners, so you can go track these down and taste them while they’re still at the peak of freshness—and you should do so. Last year I judged this competition, and the winner was Breakside’s fresh-hop Wanderlust. I remember racing to buy a pour a week later at the fresh hop fest and discovering that it had lost a bit of its super-freshness.

I’ll post the names in a moment, but a word or two first. There were two categories this year. This was, I think, a direct result of the finals round last year, when a delicate lager sparked a philosophical debate among the judges; I wrote about it here. To accommodate styles where only a delicate kiss of fresh hop flavor is appropriate, both to style and harmony, the OBA added an “other” category. I was fortunate to judge the finals there, and it was a delight to see how the nuanced use of fresh hops can add to a traditional style without completely changing its nature. Look especially for Stormbreaker’s fresh-hop steam beer. The floral, lightly perfumy fresh hops float above what is otherwise a totally straightforward steam beer like a cloud, giving it a sense of grace. A huge standout for me.

I also just wanted to note that breweries have turned fresh hop beers into an art form. We were given nine pales and IPAs in our first round to judge, and they were all good, and half were excellent. The first thing we noted was that none had any clear flaws or problems. A classic judge technique is to make choosing easier by eliminating those that are clearly inferior, but that was no use to us—and it was the first round!

Below are the list of winners. A big shout-out to the winners, which include a brand-new brewery and an undervalued one. Sasquatch beat out a couple of very big dogs, and West Coast Grocery already has an award to its name before I’ve even had a chance to visit! The awards were announced by Willamette Week.

Standard Fresh Hop Beers (Pales and IPAs)
Gold: Sasquatch (Hey I Just Met You and This is Hazy)
Silver: pFriem (Fresh Hop Centennial IPA)
Bronze: Breakside (What Fresh Beast)

Other Fresh Hop Beers
Gold: West Coast Grocery (Willamettes With Love, a saison)
Silver: StormBreaker (SteamBreaker, a steam beer)
Bronze: Level (Fresh Hop Let’s Play, a pilsner)

Jeff Alworth