One of the nicest things about being a beer lover in the PNW is the fact that our region grows the majority of American grown hops, upwards of 70% by some reports. The Yakima valley is home to much of the commercial
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acreage used by hop farmers, and there are the associated businesses that go along with any specialized crop; equipment sales, processing facilities, sales and warehousing sites, and research facilities. All this Lupulin oriented action helps our regions brewers focus on new varieties of hops, and they are often the first in the world to be able to brew with them.
One such relatively new hop is Azacca, named for the Haitian god of agriculture. It’s only been in commercial use for a few years now, and brewers are using it more frequently. Azacca’s family tree contains Northern Brewer, a long time bittering hop, and Summit, known for high levels of bitterness and a unique (often called vegetal or onion, it’s a take or leave hop for a lot of people) flavor.
Another thing our brewers benefit from is their geographic proximity to the hop growers. This is especially apparent now, for what many beer lovers consider to be the best time of the year, Fresh Hop season. Being so close to Yakima gives our brewers the chance to use hops that are only hours off the bine. You have undoubtedly seen these beers around lately, as the hop harvest starts, generally, in mid-late August, and continues into October. Different varieties ripen at different times, like all agricultural products, so brewers have the chance to make several different Fresh Hop brews a year, if they so choose.
A brief aside on terminology; “fresh hop” for the purposes of this article means whole cone hops that have not been dried or processed in any way, and are used within 24 hours of harvesting. “Wet Hops” are whole cone hops that also haven’t been processed, but have either been dried to a certain degree, or have been used up to a few days after harvesting. All Fresh Hops are Wet Hops, but not all Wet Hops are Fresh Hops. A certain large brewery based in Chico CA uses the term Fresh Hop for some of their beers that use dried and baled hops, but that haven’t been processed into pellets or oils. This often causes confusion. In my opinion, using the term Fresh Hop, when using hops several months after the harvest season is over, is at least a bit disingenuous. That Chico brewery does make some damn tasty brews with those hops though, and is usually a cause for celebration.
The FH beer we’re dealing with today comes from Bellingham’s only all organic brewery, Aslan. I slid up to the bar in their lively tap room and ordered the Azacca Fresh Hop. It was served in what I believe is called a “Cooler” glass, not as sloped as a standard shaker, but not completely straight like a Stange. Coming in at 6% ABV, the beer was a very cloudy straw-gold color with about a half-inch of white head that had moderate retention and lacing. The beer was translucent, but did border on opaque, and the golden color put me in mind of Aspen leaves bordering a mature wheat field.
The aroma didn’t bring to me a huge blast of the expected tropical scents Azacca is known for, but they were present. There was also a citrus component, and a hint of fruit farm trees. The malt profile was very subdued, as is often the case with FH brews, as brewers try to showcase the hop, or hops, used. I also picked up a slight yeasty spice note.
All those aspects were nicely magnified on the tongue: a nice hit of lemon, a bit of yeast tang, faint earthy grains, and a blend of apple-pear combined with tropical fruits. As I drank through the glass, the lemon was the most prominent factor for me. I think I would have liked a bit more of the grain to have shown through as a counter-point, but that’s a personal preference.
On the palate, a nice effervescence carried the flavors over the tastebuds, and the body was pleasantly medium, was crisp, and had a dry finish. The beer finished pleasingly clean, with flavors only lingering a few moments, thus leaving you ready for your next sip or bite. I don’t think this would pair well with Aslan’s tasty poutine, but would go with a salad or non-spicy chicken or fish dish. Drinkability was very good, if I wasn’t in the middle of an afternoon of errand running, I certainly would have had another.
Overall, Fresh Hop brews, especially if they’re of the Single Hop type (which I believe this beer is, but I forgot to get confirmation of) are very dependent on the hop used, and this one won’t blow you away, but it certainly is a tasty and well-made brew that’s worth your time. Aslan Azacca Fresh Hop earns a solid and enjoyable 5.8 on my 1-10 scale.