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Clark County brewers make the most of seasonal hops

They race to farms in Willamette Valley to gather fresh flowers

By Rachel Pinsky, Columbian freelance food writer
Published: September 15, 2023, 6:07am
4 Photos
Fresh to Death from Vice Beer (Rachel Pinsky)
Fresh to Death from Vice Beer (Rachel Pinsky) Photo Gallery

In late August and early September, local brewers drive to Willamette Valley hop farms to fill up their rigs with fresh hops, then quickly return to throw their loads into brewing tanks. These expeditions take on the feel of a rural Pacific Northwest version of the car chase scene in the 1967 movie “Bullitt” because the race is on. These delicate flowers must be used within 24 hours of harvest.

Hops are the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant, a member of the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants that also includes marijuana. Most beer is made from hops that are dried and processed into pellets. However, around this time of year, Southwest Washington brewers use freshly harvested hops to impart special flavors and aromas to their brews. These specialty late-summer brews can be found in taprooms throughout Clark County until October. My advice: Seek them out early in the season because when they’re gone, they’re gone until next year. The pints I tried hover in the $6.50 to $8 range.

Vice Beer (705 S.E. Park Crest Ave., Suite D430, and 701 Main St., Vancouver) has seven fresh hop beers this season — three West Coast IPAs, three hazy IPAs and a pilsner. I stopped by the east Vancouver location and picked up a can of Erik Fresh-Strata, named after the hunky actor from 1980s police drama “CHIPs.” This hazy IPA is made with fresh Strata hops from Coleman Agriculture in Gervais, Ore. When I opened the can, I got a good whiff of tropical fruit. I also tried the Fresh to Death, a pilsner with fresh Centennial hops from Crosby Farm. This smooth pils really woke up my taste buds with its jingle of hops. I wished I tried it at the taproom so I could get some tacos from El Viejo to go with it.

I visited Ruse’s Crust Collective (650 Waterfront Way, Vancouver) to see what the restaurant had available in the fresh hop category. Ruse’s fresh hops hadn’t been canned yet, but two beers brewed with fresh Centennial hops from Coleman Agriculture were on tap: Reverse World, a West Coast IPA, and Dad Moon Rising, an amber ale. I tried the Reverse World, which had a nice hoppy flavor tinged with pine. Ruse will be adding more fresh hop beer that will be available on tap and in cans at Crust Collective.

On a recent visit, Fortside Brewing Co. (2200 N.E. Andresen Road, Vancouver) had three fresh hop beers on tap: Cold Dose, a cold IPA; Fresh Cut, a hazy IPA; and a fresh hop version of its signature hazy IPA, Orange Whip. Head brewer Paul Thurston values his proximity to hop growers.

“Being close to agriculture is why I wanted to brew here as opposed to other parts of the country. I don’t ever want to take that for granted,” Thurston said.

Thurston gets his hops from Goschie Farms in Silverton, Ore., where Gayle Goschie and her family have grown them for decades. He likes the green liveliness that fresh hops bring to beer. For the Cold Dose and Fresh Cut he used fresh Hallertau hops, named for a region in Germany. The Orange Whip has fresh Centennial and Strata hops. All three beers I tried had a bright melon flavor. Fresh Cut is ideal for someone seeking a big smack of fresh hop flavor.

At Trap Door (2315 Main St., Vancouver; 1834 Main St., Washougal), I grabbed Co-Hop Rad 90, a fresh hop West Coast IPA with Mosaic and Strata hops from Coleman Agriculture. All ingredients for this beer were sourced within 90 miles of the brewery. The beer had a tropical fruit aroma and a nice hoppy flavor. Trap Door’s annual fresh hop version of the popular hazy IPA Glowed Up will be available starting Sept. 20.

I didn’t make it to Heathen Brewing (1109 Washington St. and 2225 N.E. 119th St., Vancouver) or Brothers Cascadia Brewing (9811 N.E. 15th Ave. and 108 W. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver), but both visited Crosby Hops in Woodburn, Ore., this season and will be offering fresh hop beer at their taprooms.

Irrelevant Beer, the brewing side of Relevant Coffee, will offer some inaugural fresh hops brews that will turn up at Tap Union (1300 Washington St., Vancouver) and Thirsty Sasquatch (2110 Main St., Vancouver).

Irrelevant Beer’s offerings include Premium Plush, a West Coast IPA with Simcoe hops, and Indifferent Life, a hazy IPA with Mosaic hops. Irrelevant’s fresh hops come from Coleman Agriculture.

Untappd is a good place to find information about beer in Southwest Washington.

Columbian freelance food writer