Mt Tabor Brewing held a media event unveiling their new, inner-Southeast location, and as things began dissipating, a dispute broke out about fresh hop beers. I thought I’d settled all this already, but I see there’s still work to do. As such, I’m reposting comments from September 24, 2014–“You Know a Fresh Hop Beer By Its Taste.”
Let us consider the fresh hop beer. A seemingly simple beast, it is made from the addition of undried hops rushed sun-warm from field to kettle (or tank). In recent years this simplicity has been obscured by off-topic etymological and existential discussions about what “fresh” really means. It has come to mirror–or rhyme with–the debates about gluten and organics, as if the best way to ascertain the true nature of a fresh-hop beer is to check your conscience. Can it be a fresh hop beer if some dried hops are used? Can it be a fresh hop beer if none are used? These inquiries lead in the wrong direction, to ethics, and away from the thing that is so blindingly obvious. The “fresh” in the fresh hop comes from the living plant and anyone who has tasted that life in a beer appreciates it through the proper instrument, her senses.
This is not rocket science. What we should be looking for in a fresh hop beer are those very obvious flavors and aromas that ooze out of the [pick one: fresh, wet, unkilned, undried] hop. We know a fresh hop beer not by querying the brewer about his methods, but by tasting it. I recognize that a lot of people in the world haven’t had the chance to try these beers, so Pacific Northwesterners must act as envoys to tell of these wondrous creatures from afar. The first lesson is: they’re about as easy to distinguish from normal beers as a porter is from a pale. If you’re sniffing and swishing and cocking your head trying to figure out if the beer was made with fresh hops, it’s not a good example no matter how it was made. If you’re getting lively, feral, sometimes unsettling flavors, that’s a fresh hop beer.
I am all for truth in labeling, and I endorse Bill Night’s long crusade to expose breweries who call their beer “fresh hop” when they’re nothing of the kind. But it obscures the far more relevant and important inquiry into the joys and wonders (and mishaps and disasters) that are to be found in those that are manifestly fresh hop beers. They are their own thing, and their thing is obvious by the way they taste. We should go forth and discover.