Most Portland fresh-hop beers were hitting taps as we were going to press. Still, some eager beavers managed to release beers in time for our reviewers.
Note: Part of the magic of fresh-hop beers is how delicate and brittle the hop flavors can be. The taste of these beers can change day to day. Your best bet is to sample around until you find one you love, and plant yourself at the pub for a nice, long session.
Ultra Gnar Gnar Fresh Hop IPA (Base Camp)
The word "gnar," short for gnarly, goes one of two ways, either describing something incredibly awesome or incredibly horrible. Ultra Gnar Gnar falls into the latter camp. It's way too malty and suffers from strong ester flavors, which usually occur when there is a problem during fermentation. Our guess is that something went awry with the thermostat. Better luck next year, Base Camp.
Fresh Hop Free Range Red (Laurelwood)
We're guessing that the 160 pounds of Amarillo hops that Laurelwood's brewers added to the tank had something to do with the intense, almost physical flavor of the fresh-hop version of their Free Range Red. This was one of the most vividly hoppy beers we've ever tasted, with a finish like a red, lupulin-lined laser slicing through the tongue. It tastes like hops on steroids.
Fresh Hop IPA (Breakside)
Breakside froze fresh Simcoe hops with liquid nitrogen, then used soil tampers to manually shatter the hops—the idea is to preserve more of the "hop essence" found in the hops' lupulin glands. The result is an extraordinarily complex IPA that balances the lush grapefruit notes of the hops with a fresh, mellow earthiness reminiscent of a fine farmhouse ale. This beer genuinely tastes the way that hop farms smell. I think we have an early frontrunner for fresh-hop beer of the year.
Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale (Crystal Ballroom)
Thundercone's malt comes through a little too strong, clashing with the Galena, Cascade and fresh Simcoe hops in a manner that leaves no one showing their best side. The fresh Simcoe hop flavor is buried in the beer somewhere, but does not pop out nearly as much as hoped. Thundercone is a little too unfocused to stand out.
Coastline Fresh Hop IPA (Crystal Ballroom)
Coastline has significantly more spring in its step than its Thundercone brother. Flavored with 55 pounds of fresh Amarillo hops, Coastline has a similar profile to Laurelwood's Fresh Hop Free Range Red. Coastline does taste resoundingly of hops, but does not have the same penetrating freshness that Laurelwood's Red offers. Although pleasant, this fresh-hop IPA is mostly IPA.
Fresh Hop Ibusive (Fat Head's)
This is Fat Head's flagship double IPA, but with fresh Amarillo hops from Crosby farm in Woodburn, giving it an earthy, piney nose and crisp bitterness. Amarillo is the hop variety found in Dogfish Head 60 Minute and Rogue Yellow Snow IPAs, and this beer has that classic orange-zest flavor, but with a fresh twist. At 7.3 percent ABV, it's a lot stronger than most fresh-hop beers, and yet you still feel like you can taste the yellow lupulin powder in each sip.