Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The Great American Wet Hop Festival

By William Brand
Thursday, December 2nd, 2004 at 3:21 pm in Uncategorized.

HAYWARD — Can hops stone you? I didn’t think so – but after an evening in Hayward sampling the hoppiest beers on the West Coast, I’m not so sure.
I certainly got a headful of hops.
Hops have been used to bitter beer and balance the sweetness of malt for at least 1,000 years and are reported to be distantly related to cannabis.
However,naturalists and other experts point out that the relationship is so distant that unlike marijuana buds, the common hop flower has no psychotropic character.
According to herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, (Brewers’ Publications, Boulder, CO, 1998), there were many unhopped beers in Medieval times that were indeed stony – ales made with wormwood, ales with broom tips — a bush with narcotic properties common in England.
Topping that, Buhner says, was gruit ale, made with a psychedelic cocktail of bog myrtle or sweet gale, yarrow and wild rosemary.
When hops finally made their way out of Eastern Europe and the monasteries of the German kingdoms, there was great resistance. Hops were tagged with all kinds of evil properties. Among other arguments, they didn’t “do anything” to your head.
Wish some of those old gruit-fans could have been with me at the The Bistro Harvest Festival at the Bistro, 1001 B St., in downtown Hayward.
Proprietor Victor Kralj started this festival a couple of years ago to showcase craft beers made with hops from this year’s harvest. But it has evolved, and how — as brewers discovered new and different ways to increase the hoppiness of their beer.
The latest wrinkle is wet hops, that is — hops fresh from the field, the morning dew still on them so to speak.
The Bistro’s festival featured 10 beers made in this manner, using fresh hops, plus seven others, each famous for hop character.
The tasting drew a large crowd and even though a good band set up to play, tasters ignored the music. Finally, the musicians gave up and joined the tasting.
When I walked in the door I had a surreal moment: The first person I met was Mid-Atlantic Brewing News writer Greg Wiggins, who lives on the East Coast. No – he didn’t fly out especially for the wet hop fest. He was visiting in San Francisco, heard about the festival and came over.
“But if I had known about it and was still (home) I would have flown out for it,’’ Greg said.
We tend to take the Bistro for granted. But in the rest of America, Victor’s modest little tavern is famous as a place where some of the most interesting beers in American get their first trial.
Here’s the wet hop list and my tasting notes. However, if you try to find one of these, remember that to balance these extreme hop beers, brewers had to increase the malt bill for balance. So each one was high octane _ well above 7 percent alcohol by volume for most:

— Lagunitas Double Icepa ****,. Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA. This one wasn’t in the wet hop section, but it was a champ. Made like a German ice beer; frozen, then water-ice drained off to make a stronger beer. A deep copper with a hugely hoppy nose, malty, taste with a hit of alcohol, and a dry folo. Wow.
— Bear Republic Grandma’s Harvest ***, Bear Republic, Healdsburg, CA. From the makers of Racy 5: Hops from aromatic s tart to dry finish. Stony stuff.
— Drake’s Imperial Harvest ***, Drake’s Brewing, San Leandro, CA., Brilliant, clean copper, hop aromas pouring from the thick head of tan foam. Tastes full and sweet with hops lingering in a dry follow.http://www.drinkdrakes.com/images/big_drakes_logo.gif
— Russian River Hoptime ***, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA. Awesome hoppy nose and hops dominated from the first sip to the last. A nice malty taste in the background.
— Widmer 100th Harvest Lager **, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Portland, OR. I’m sure this is a great beer on its own. But paired against this string of extreme-hop ales, even a fine lager like this one, seems restrained. The warmer temperatures of ale brewing brings out a massive fruity quality. There’s a wildness in a big hoppy ale, that a more delicate lager can’t even imitate. They’re different creatures. Both worthy. Note of vanilla in the nose, some malty sweetness.
— Sierra Nevada Harvest **, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA. I never expected to rate a Sierra Nevada beer with just two stars– average. But consider the extreme competition. Medium copper, clean, hoppy nose. An excellent, but not extreme, beer.
— Rogue Hop Heaven ****, Rogue, Newport, OR. For many a year, Rogue brewing genius John Maier was the hop king. He still is. A light copper with a lively head and a bit of malt, along with hops in the nose. This one had a silky, malt complexity that I loved. Hops came on strong in the follow. A real champ. I’d love to have this in my beer refrigerator.
— Bellhaven Harvest **, Bellhaven Brewery, Dunbar, Scotland. Clean, malty nose. Restrained taste, malt and hops in balance.
— Snowshoe Mountain Harvest **, Snowshoe Brewing, Arnold, CA. Hoppy nose, nice balanced taste, but not extreme.
— Steelhead Off the Vine Lager ***, Steelhead at Burlingame Station, Burlingame, CA. Very drinkable; nice hoppy finish.
— Moonlight Home Grown ***, Moonlight Brewing, Sonoma County, CA. Brian Hunt has been at this a long time and he’s a master. This was easily one of the most drinkable beers of the night. Everything in balance, deliciously hoppy aroma, clean malty taste with hops to die for.

Hops forever!

– William Brand, Oakland Tribune, whatsontap@sbcglobal.net

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