Posts Tagged ‘fresh hop beer’

Schell’s Stag Series #6: Fresh Hop Citra Pils

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Fall is fresh-hop season. Sometime in September the store shelves burst with super-citrusy IPAs that are loaded with unprocessed hops. They’re typically big, bright and a little bit grassy. I find the fresh hops impart subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) undertones of chive. By mid-October they’re mostly gone. There are still a couple lingerers as I type this, but the pickins are slim.

But just as the others disappear from stores, a new one from Schell’s suddenly appears. It’s a lager, so it had to cellar for a time before it could be released. That bottom-fermented identity is something that separates this one from the rest of the pack. Pilsners are the original hop-showcase beers. That perfumed Saaz-hop aroma is their claim to fame. Despite that, pilsners aren’t beers that most people think of as “hoppy.” Picking a pilsner to display the freshness of the new hop crop is an interesting move. It’s a choice that is perfectly in keeping with the Schell’s tradition of brewing great German-style lagers. It’s also in keeping with the somewhat hop-averse taste of Head Brewer Dave Berg.

Here’s my notes:

Stag Series #6: Fresh Hop Citra Pils
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: German Pilsner with fresh citra hops
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Bright citrusy hops – lemons and limes – do a delicate dance atop a base of graham cracker sweetness. Very yeasty. Malt and yeast dominate. Hop character blows off quickly.

Appearance: Light golden and hazy – reminded me of a witbier going into the glass. Mousse-like white foam that lasts and lasts – also sort of witbeir like.

Flavor: Yeast and malt hit first, giving the impression of bread dough. Bitterness is moderate, but hangs on into the finish. It’s a very delicate balance between malt and hops. The hop flavor is also delicate, but definite – revealing at varying moments lemons, limes, and ripe musk melons. At times the limes are almost tart, like Starburst candy. Hints of fresh-hop grass and chive occasionally poke their heads out in the background. Those lemons and limes linger long after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, but with yeasty fullness, like a witbier or a weizen. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Everything about this beer says that I should love it. Pilsner is my perfect beer. I love a good Zwickelbier (unfiltered lager). Citra is one of my favorite new hop varieties. But there is something here that doesn’t quite fit for me. I think it’s that the doughiness of the still-suspended yeast fights for supremacy with the super-delicate flavors of the hops. It comes off a bit like a yeasty Radler. It’s not that I don’t like it, I do. I would drink a few pints. I just don’t love it. Now if it had been filtered…..

Deschutes Hop Trip Fresh Hop Pale Ale

Friday, November 4th, 2011

It’s fresh-hop season. Lot’s of these beers out there right now. Hop Trip from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon is one of them. It’s lighter than many, being a pale ale as opposed to the more common  IPA. Here’s my notes:

Fresh Hop Pale AleHop Trip
Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon
Style: Wet hop pale ale
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: Peaches, peaches, peaches. Fresh peaches. Caramel and brown sugar underneath. Peach cobbler anyone?

Appearance: Deep copper color and slightly hazy. Good-sized, white head that persists as a thin film on the surface.

Flavor: Those fresh peaches carry over from the aroma and are joined by dreamsicle orange citrus that transforms into grapefruit at it warms. It has a summery feel. Bitterness is moderate, maybe even restrained. There are hints of the vegetal/garlic thing that I often find in fresh hop beers. The malt has a slightly biscuit bent and balances the bitterness. The finish is quick with light, lingering orange and biscuit.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Love the peach flavors that I got from this beer. Generally though, the beer fell a little flat. It was tasty enough, but I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out.

Autumn Beers Part I

Monday, October 12th, 2009

View from my office on October 12th.It seems strange to be writing about autumn beers when the temperature is in the twenties and there are two inches of wet, heavy snow on the ground. At this very moment the snow continues to fall. But autumn it is! It’s only mid October, and while the trees on the west bank of the Mississippi River near my home have turned bright hues of orange and red, most of the trees are still sporting green leaves. We haven’t yet set the clocks back for the fall, an act that dooms those of us in the North Country to early afternoon darkness until spring. “It’s autumn, damn it!” I keep repeating to myself. “I didn’t miss my window. It isn’t too late to enjoy the great beers of fall.”

Autumn is an in-between time. There is a chill in the air, but it hasn’t yet turned brutally cold.Fall Color on the Mississippi The days are getting shorter, but it is still light at 4:00 PM. The leaves are turning colors and beginning to fall, but the trees are not yet the gray skeletons that they become in the winter. Most of the time fall is a beautiful season, the season of harvest. So what makes a beer appropriate for fall? Well, slightly higher alcohol for one thing, just enough to take the edge off the chill air. A little color would be welcome, amber, red, orange, and brown to match the colors of the season. A bit of spice is always nice and perhaps a wink and a nod to the fall harvest, be it of hops or pumpkins.

Fall is a great time for special seasonal releases including wet hop beers and pumpkin ales. Hops are harvested in the fall. The bulk of the hops harvested in the world are dried and pressed onto bales or processed even further into pellets that resemble rabbit food. The majority of beers produced in the world use these dried and processed hops. However, during the harvest season many craft brewers take advantage of the opportunity to brew with fresh, unprocessed hops. For these beers, huge quantities of “wet” hop cones are added to the beer often within hours or even minutes of picking. Now I have to say that I am not a huge fan of the wet hop beers. In most cases I don’t feel that the use of fresh hops adds any significantly different character to the already hoppy American pale ales. What it does sometimes add is vegetal or grassy notes that I don’t find altogether pleasant. That said, these beers are immensely popular at this time of year so you should try a few examples and make up your own mind.

Fresh HopsThere are several locally brewed examples of wet hop beers to choose from. Surly Wet is available on tap right now in several locations. I found this to be a one-dimensional beer with a muddy hop character and excessive bitterness. While you are greeted with a beautiful, bright, citrusy hop punch at the beginning, the bitterness just hangs on in a way that is oddly mouth-coating and throat-burning. The somewhat sticky malt in the background is not quite enough to balance. One of the things that I love about Surly beers is the articulation of flavors. Each flavor seems to stand apart while working together with the others to make a delightful whole. I missed this articulation of flavors in Wet. The boys at Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater are releasing their Harvestör Ale at the Happy Gnome on October 25th. Harvestör is brewed with hops grown in Lift Bridge’s own hop garden. I haven’t tried this year’s batch, but my notes from last year indicate a big American IPA with somewhat sweet caramel malt, bright citrus hop flavor, and assertive bitterness. Brau Brothers Brewing from down in Lucan, MN also brews fresh-hop beers using their own hops, this year including a Fresh-hop Lager. Town Hall Brewpub in Minneapolis will be releasing their Fresh-hop 2009 tonight (October 12th).

If you want to try some non-local fresh hop beers there are many to choose from. Founders Brewing from Michigan recently released their Harvest Ale, available in four-packs at better liquor stores. Another regional example is the Heavy Handed IPA from Two Brothers Brewery outside of Chicago. Sierra Nevada releases a line of fresh hop beers every year including the Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale with hops from South America and this year’s Estate Ale, brewed with hops and barley grown on the brewery’s own land.

The other big fall seasonal beer is pumpkin ale. While I may not be a fan of the wet hop beers, I do love the pumpkin ales. Not some extreme invention of American craft brewers, pumpkin ale has been around at least since the early days of colonial America when thirsty colonists, lacking barley which is not native to the eastern US, needed an alternative source of sugar for making beer. Pumpkin beers are usually amber-colored ales with generous amounts of caramel malt, relatively low levels of hop bitterness and flavor, and aromatic pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, clove, allspice, and nutmeg. The best of them will display at least some character from the squash, although some are more pumpkin pie spice beers than actual pumpkin beers.

I have made it a mission to discover the essential pumpkin ale. My favorite is Pumking from Southern Tier Brewing in New York. This 9% Southern Tier PumkingABV desert-in-a-bottle is rich and smooth with notes of buttered rum and cloves. The pumpkin fruit comes through loud and clear, complemented by overtones of hazelnut. If you can find this one, snatch it up. But good luck, it arrived on store shelves in mid September and sold out within days. There may still be a few bottles lurking around out there if you make some calls. My two other favorites are both Midwestern offerings that are not available in Minnesota. O’Fallon Brewing located outside of St. Louis and the St. Louis Brewing Company, who’s beer sells under the brand name Schlafly both make outstanding pumpkin beers. The O’Fallon offering is a low alcohol pumpkin session beer with surprising levels of great pumpkin and spice character. The Schlafly beer is bigger and richer with more caramel sweetness and alcohol warmth. For a locally brewed example look for Mummy Train from St. Paul’s Flat Earth Brewing. While I found this beer to be a bit over spiced, it does have nice pumpkin flavor and caramel malt. Mummy Train is only available on draft or in growlers purchased from the brewery.