The Twins are booking flights direct from LaGuardia to Cancun International. Politicians are spewing more venom than a knotted cobra. And department stores are running pre-holiday holiday sales like they’re afraid we’ll all forget what Christmas is really about. It can only mean two things – fall is officially here, and a bevy of fresh-hopped beers are starting to hit the market.
Twin Cities beer drinkers are blessed in that a variety of fresh-hopped beers – ales made with undried whole hops usually picked days, and in some cases minutes, before they’re used in the brewing process – are readily available on the shelves and in favorite pubs. Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale Series is solid. Great Divide’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale is impressive. And Founder’s Harvest Ale is heavenly. But beyond these beers, brewers in our own backyard have a handful of phenomenal offerings that arguably lead the way as some of the best examples in the country. And true to form…local means they’re fresher than the rest.
I rounded up the first few local fresh-hop beers out of the gates from Brau Brothers, Minneapolis Town Hall, and Surly, and subjected myself to some brutally wonderful palate punishment.
Brau Brothers 100 Yard Dash Fresh Hop Ale
This beer completely bowled me over when I tried it at Autumn Brew Review, likely my favorite of the day. The Brau bros pick their estate-grown hops just a short sprint away from the brewhouse, and toss them in minutes after they’re off the bine, literally as fresh as it gets. Beautiful light gold coloring, with a creamy, building off-white head following the pour. Not exactly certain when this batch was brewed, but even a week or so after packaging it’s evident the aroma is beginning to fall off, not nearly the West Coast-style punch in the nose I remembered. However, Centennial, Cascade, Mt. Hood, Sterling and Nugget are used through all stages of the brewing process to deliver what, in my opinion, is the most bitter beer of the selected bunch, a shocking bite that really impressed. At 6.8% ABV, a slightly alcoholic finish, leaving a dry, prickly sensation on the tastebuds.
Minneapolis Town Hall Fresh Hop Ale
This is Town Hall’s annual Fresh Hop Week, and they came out swinging with this year’s version. Poured from the growler with a rich amber coloring, the darkest of the group. Thoughtfully garnished with a whole Citra hop cone that surprisingly emerged from the growler as I poured, a very fun touch. The aroma is potently dank, with strong notes of fresh green onion. Slightly sweeter than the offering from Brau Brothers, but a smoother, more mellow bitterness throughout. The beer finishes full and rounded, the most balanced of the bunch.
Probably one of the most anticipated releases from Surly since…well, they’re all anticipated. But this is the first time they’re offering this in cans. And I can assure you, if you don’t have any in your grubby little hands by the time you’re reading this, odds are you’re already out of luck. The lightest coloring of the bunch with a straw-like appearance, Wet greets with an intensely aromatic combination of balsam, lemon and cut grass, with more of the green onion (and no wonder it’s intense, as this beer was canned earlier this morning). More bitter than Town Hall’s version, with a highly attenuated, dry finish. The 7.5% ABV sneaks up on you. This is what I think of when I think of a West Coast-style IPA.