Dispatches from the Hood River Hop Fest

The festival showcased the variety and range of freshly hopped beers, many of which are worth seeking out around town.

By Nathan Tucker October 1, 2013

Crowds gathered at the festival grounds in downtown Hood River, right across the street from the Full Sail brewery.

Fresh hop beer festivals are the brewing world’s bacchanalian equivalent to a vineyard’s harvest festival: it’s a celebration of the land’s bounty and a show of gratitude for the ingredients that are the backbone of delicious drinks.

In that vein, the Hood River Hop Fest, held in the bucolic Columbia Gorge city’s downtown on September 28, reminded us of some things we already knew about craft beer in our corner of the world, and clued us in to some others:

• The first is obvious: Oregonians love their beer, and will turn out in almost any weather to drink and celebrate it. It was pretty foul out this weekend—though not as bad as in Portland, reportedly—and the crowds still filled the festival grounds, happily sipping suds in their raincoats.

• Fresh hop season brings out the best (or worst) of brewers' pun-making tendencies. Some of the most groan-worthy: “Hopularity Contest,” “Kama Citra,” and “Citra Self Down.” Sadly, these got steadily funnier the more beer we drank.

• We were also impressed by the range of styles on offer at this year’s festival. Fresh hop season is typically associated with floral and citrusy pale ales and other lighter beers meant to highlight the fresh flavors of the hop harvest. But fresh hops can be decidedly pungent, we learned: one favorite of ours actually just smelled like bleu cheese. These intensely earthy aromas and tastes can even be a bit off-putting to some—we witnessed more than one would-be hop head get a whiff or taste from their mug and immediately dump the remaining contents.

• Either way, the selection of freshly hopped takes on a variety of styles, from Belgians and Saisons to Cascadian Dark Ales, made clear that the Pacific Northwest is still the locus of brewing innovation it’s been for the past decade. Limitations like time and personal health sadly kept us from tasting every brew offered at the festival, but of the thirty or so we tried, here are some of our favorites (and some you might be able to find at brewpubs and beer bars around town):

  • A booth at the festival allowed attendees to smell different hop varieties.

    Breakside Brewery—If It’s Wet And Not Yours, Don’t Touch It: This beer was as out-there as the name suggests. It smelled like funky cheese, tasted deliciously hoppy, and finished dry.
  • Deschutes Brewery—Fresh Hop Pine Drop: They weren’t kidding with the name—this beer smelled a bit like gummy peach rings, but tasted aggressively piney. It was still incredibly drinkable. If they have it at the downtown brew pup, order it. 
  • Fort George Brewery—Fresh Hop IXth Chapel: A freshly hopped version of Fort George’s celebrated Belgian Double IPA, it smells like cider and is an expertly balanced fusion of the two styles. Might be hard to find in Portland, but it’s worth the effort. 
  • Gigantic Brewing Company—Sodbusted Simcoe: This beer smelled like a handful of hops and tasted of grapefruit and pine. A great showcase for this particular varietal, and worth seeking out. 
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery—Bitchin’ Camaro: Billed as a Northwest Craft Lager, this was a wonderfully refreshing way to end a day of serious palate abuse. 
  • Migration Brewing Company—Wyld Style: A fresh hopped Farmhouse style ale, this beer had a big, floral hop nose complemented by the pleasantly sour taste of the farmhouse yeast.
With flavors this multi-layered and demanding, it's easy to hit a hop wall. That said, the increasing incomprehensibility of our tasting notes as the day wore on is more a testament to delicious beers that kept us coming back for more, and a festival that has us excited to seek out fresh hop brews at taprooms here in Portland. 
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