Photo by Caitlin Abrams
I remember where I was my first time and how YouTube was involved. It all started in my kitchen, when I popped the top on a Surly Wet, so innocent looking in its grass green can. I took a sip: whoa! Resinous. Vibrant. Seriously alive. As just-baked cookies are to Chips Ahoy, as fresh basil is to dried, as spring chickens are to rubber chickens, so was this beer to other beers. Electric! I ran to my computer and watched a video of Surly brewer Todd Haug explaining how a fresh hop beer is different from other kinds of beer.
From that day forward I was totally hooked: Fresh hop beer season became one of my favorite food-seasons of the year, right up there with spring ramps and Christmas cookies. That was five years ago. In the interim, I have watched a little breathlessly as locals have started their own hop farms, I’ve driven up to Ham Lake and down to Waseca to see them, always thinking: When every Minnesotan has the eye-opening fresh-hop experience I have had, the world will be a better place.
If you’ve ever had a fresh hopped beer, you probably remember your first time.
Steph March remembers her first time: It started in Stillwater, in a crowd. “It was part of the awesome mayhem of the fresh hop harvest at Liftbridge’s annual Pickin n’ Grinning. There’s something about pulling the hops right off the plants, watching them get tossed into a kettle, and then grabbing a can of Harvestör Ale a few weeks later. It’s like being a beer farmer.”
Matty O’Riley, owner of Republic, remembers his first time: “The first wet hop beer I remember having was Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale in the early 2000s. I remember it was really good, fresh, hoppy. I was more inspired by the story really, what a cool process rushing the hops to the brewery!”
Last year when Mpls.St.Paul Magazine threw our first Harvest Beer Festival with its Fresh Hop throwdown it was the culmination of a dream I had long held: We could get every Minnesotan to have that eye-opening, life-changing fresh-hop experience, and we could take it a step further by bringing fresh-hop brewers and fresh-hop growers all together to get to taste each others’ work, thusly nurturing the fresh hop scene. But also we could get all the special fall-beer makers together to taste and sample all their special fall beers, and it would be the best celebration of the harvest season that anyone could ever have!
I learned so much about fresh hops: I tasted them in their just-picked Minnesota guise, which was often bursting with notes of celery and young sage. I tasted hops in their fresh West Coast guise, which offered more citrus and pine, but didn’t taste as fresh. I remember the Pryes Brewing fresh hop, which was so fresh it tasted like beer made in a fancy juice bar—I have longed all year to try it again! I remember last year’s audience-choice and critic’s-choice winner for fresh hopped beer, from Fair State, which had a lemony liveliness to it that made you want to hop and skip in joy. I later learned, from the Mighty Axe hops growers, that perhaps the Minnesota hops had that celery taste because they were picked too young. So maybe this year all the flavors will be completely different?
WE FIND OUT SATURDAY, OCT. 17. That’s the date for this year’s Harvest Festival and Fresh Hop Throw Down. You’re invited.
Here are the breweries who have signed up so far: Bauhaus, Excelsior, Lucid, 56 Brewing, Lake Monster, Voyageur, Tin Whiskers, Fulton, Badger Hill, 612Brew, Brau Brothers, Mantorville, Stagecoach, St. Croix, NorthGate, Surly, Fair State, Lift Bridge, Take 16, Pryes, and Castle Danger. (If you’re a brewery and want in: message me, Steph March, or Ashley Wall.)
We’re going to throw it in the pretty back lots of Bachman’s this year, with access to their covered greenhouses in case it rains. (Save $10 a ticket by buying your tickets in person at Bachman’s.) There will be a bunch of good food trucks like Potter's Pasties, Moral Omnivore, and of course that Lotzza Motzza pizza from last year, and The Wedge will be doing a grilling demo.
Most importantly: This is the chance to have a beer that you might just remember for the rest of your life.
Want to win a pair of tickets? Post in the comments your first time trying a fresh-hop beer—or if you’ve never had one, what you imagine your first time will be like. In the spirit of the Internet, we will give the tickets to the person whose comment gets the most “likes.” (Must be 21 years old with valid ID to use tickets.) In the event that two or more people have the most likes, the winner will be chosen at random from among the folks with the most likes. Good luck! And remember: You never forget your first time—though the time you have on Oct. 17 might be way better.