Yakima Valley produces 75 percent of the country’s hops. No wonder we also produce the best fresh-hop beers. Here’s where to find them.
Sorry Oktoberfest. And pumpkin-spice ales, we still dig you. But if we wanna get real, it’s our fresh-hop brew that should be crowned the beer of autumn. We do it well here. We do it better than anyone. And fresh-hop beer — also called wet-hop — is one of the distinctive brews unique to our region.
In the past three years, fresh-hop beers have become such a highly anticipated release that just about every serious beer hall or brewery in the Seattle area devotes a day or a week to them.
As the name implies, fresh hops are plucked out of the fields in Yakima. And then it’s a race against time as Seattle-area brewers load up thousands of pounds of the flowering plants into their trucks and high-tail it to their breweries before the fresh hops decompose.
When finished, those brews produce a pronounced hoppy profile with bright, aromatic notes. Reuben’s Brews head brewer Adam Robbings equates it to using “fresh oregano instead of dry on a pizza.” Other brewers liken the aroma to the grassy smell your lawn gets right after mowing.
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Fresh hop is a true seasonal beer, available only when the hop harvest is ready. It’s not some marketing ploy where you designate a beer style to a season. And because the Yakima Valley produces 75 percent of the country’s hops, local breweries can make it cheaper and without the logistical challenges that East Coast brewers face, like getting hops shipped overnight.
This year the most sought-after is from Fremont Brewing, which made four beers with different organic hop varietals, taking 11 trips to Yakima when the harvest was ready and brewing around the clock. Fremont Brewing projects it made enough to last until the end of October, though it has been going through so many kegs, you might want to hit the brewery by mid-October just in case. There’s also a limited release in cans and 22-ounce bottles sold at the brewery and at local grocery stores.
Others of note: Black Raven Brewing Co. in Redmond released its Amarillo Fresh Hop Pale Ale on Tuesday and made enough to last until early October, the brewer said. In Ballard, Stoup and Reuben’s fresh hops are on tap now through mid- to late-October. Reuben’s brewed a fresh-hop variation of its popular Crikey IPA to give it a “softer, more herbal and nuanced” taste, brewer Robbings said.
Short of going to the annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival in Yakima on Oct. 1, the next best way to sample a wide spectrum is to hit a beer hall hosting a fresh-hop night. But get ready to wait in line. Last Saturday, Noble Fir in Ballard held “Fresh Hop Throwdown” and had a line 20 minutes before doors opened.
Brouwer’s Cafe in Fremont used to run Hopfest for a week but expanded to the entire month of October, promising at least 10 fresh-hop beers on tap every day. Brouwer’s has all the Fremont Brewing fresh-hop beers and will tap those on Oct. 8 (400 N. 35th St., Seattle; 206-267-2437 or brouwerscafe.com).