I’ve been a craft beer lover for my entire adult life. I was fortunate enough to start my drinking life in Denver back in the mid to late ‘90s, at a time that saw Colorado jump to the forefront of the microbrew scene. I skipped right by the macro-swill phase and into the world of craft beer. Despite my long history with craft beer, it wasn’t until I moved to Washington that I made a discovery that would rock my beer life – the wonderful world of fresh hopped beers, and especially Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Pale Ale from Fremont Brewing.
Much like my initial entry into the beer world, I jumped straight into the deep end when I first got into fresh hop – or wet hop – beers. My first fresh hop experience was a beer that would become, and remain, one of my all-time favorite beers. I was given a 22oz bottle of Cowiche Canyon- this holy grail of juicy, hoppy, delight- by my Alexandria Nicole Cellars co-worker Matt Dodson. The saying in the wine industry is that, “It takes a lot of beer to make a great wine,” so our cellar crew drank a lot of beer during harvest- you know, in an effort to make sure we were producing the best wine possible…, so, you’re welcome.
By the way, as a side note, if you want to get in good with your local winery, drop off a case of a nice craft beer during harvest. The gesture will not soon be forgotten.
I’ve mentioned the countless hours that I spent commuting with Matt between my home and the winery in a previous post, and on one of our trips Matt was telling me about the life changing experience of drinking fresh hop beers. Needless to say, we didn’t get a lot of fresh hop beer in Texas, so I wasn’t really familiar with the phenomenon. Matt graciously parted with one of the bottles of Cowiche Canyon that he had managed to track down at a grocery store in the Tri-Cities, and a new obsession was born.
The lively expression of hop character that jumped from my glass upon first pouring myself the Cowiche Canyon was like the Platonic Ideal of hops make tangible. Everything that i love about hoppy beers was dialed up to 11, presenting lively citrus and pine notes that caused a choir of angels to begin singing an aria in my brain. I immediately started scouring the other stores in town to track down more bottles, and was only able to find two more. Every year since I have repeated the same search for as much Cowiche Canyon as I could track down, and the first thought that came into my head when discussions began about opening Nectar Wine and Beer was, “Sweet! Now I can start hounding my distributor to get Cowiche Canyon when it drops.” Although last year didn’t turn out to be as easy as I thought it would be, this year my dream of finally securing a decent supply of my most anticipated annual beer has finally become a reality.
The Fremont Cowiche Canyon is named after the organic hop farm outside of Yakima who they annually purchase hops from. Fremont contracts Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic hops from the farm, and the fresh hops that they harvest are used for brewing within 24 hours. I am a big believer in the concept of terroir, which has, at times, lead to a somewhat mystical appreciation for certain locations (again, see my post about revisiting the Horse Heaven Hills), but when I taste a beer that is as consistently amazing as Cowiche Canyon, it only serves to reinforce my belief that some places just have a special combination of circumstances that produce effects that are as close to magic as you will find in the real world. I know that there are scientific explanations for all of this, but I refuse to ruin the magic by exploring an explanation right now.
Another aspect of fresh hop beers that appeals to the romantic in me, is the ephemeral nature of the experience. It is true that all hop-based beers have a fairly short lifespan of full expression, but fresh hops are even more so. Beers made from these hops will remain pleasant and drinkable for about as long as any IPA or pale ale, but there is no doubt that they are at their most transcendent when extremely fresh. That brief window makes these beers something that you try to fully enjoy the moment with, and then immediately begin the process of anticipating the next year. It is a fleeting snapshot of the finished harvest; something that can only be enjoyed at its best for a short time. If you could enjoy them all year, they would still be delicious, but they just wouldn’t be as special.
Shameless Promotion – For those of you who are in Spokane, I have several fresh hop beers that I have either already tapped (including Cowiche Canyon on draft and in cans), or will be tapping soon. If you are seeing this on October 20th, we are also hosting Fresh Hop tasting flights tonight with 6 different fresh hop pale ales and IPAs from 6-9pm.