As we approach the end of Fresh Hop beer season, we get to make another trip out Mt. Baker Highway, and make a left hand turn between mile markers 20 & 21, and stop once again at our favorite little Brewery, Pizzeria, Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel, the North Fork. It’s always a pleasure to visit the cozy roadside home of the colorful cast of characters led by an outgoing bundle of energy, Victoria Savage. Vicki can often be found holding court, talking sass, or marrying some folks up at the North Fork, and it’s always a pleasure to see her. Her long-time brewer, Eric Jorgensen, oversees the unique brewing system installed in their facility.
A powder-shredding native of Alaska, Eric has been brewing at Deming’s only brewery as long as I’ve been in Whatcom County, and it often seems like he came pre-installed in the building. In addition to brewing the standard IPAs and Barleywines that his regulars crave, Eric has earned the right to experiment a little bit, and has an outstanding barrel-aging and sour beer programs going on, as witnessed by the recent release of Doolittle. On a quick side note, there was an outstanding Kriek (cherry sour) on tap during my recent visit, and there are now bottles of the third batch of Electric Berryland available. But, today we are here to get up close with this years Fresh Hopped Harvest Ale.
“Harvest” beers, whether Lagers or Ales, are not a clearly defined style, and brewers are pretty free to brew what they want, and give it that appellation. Often Harvest brews get lumped in with the Oktoberfest/Marzen style, which can be true, but it’s not an automatic equation. Generally brewed to celebrate the Autumn season, a Harvest beer might honor any number of crops; hops, barley, corn, pumpkin, whatever is the main crop in a given area. The 2016 version NFs Harvest Ale seemed to be at the crossroads of an American Pale Ale and an American IPA to me, so that’s how we’ll approach it.
Brewed using 22 pounds of Chinook and Cascade hops grown in the Nooksack River Valley by a couple of regulars at the NF who get great sun on their property, the 6.3% ABV brew came served in a shaker pint glass. The beer poured a hazy dark yellow, bordering on gold, color with about a half inch of off-white head that quickly dissipated and left very light lacing. The beer looked quite nice against the stained glass and breweriana backdrop of the North Fork’s bar area.
Raising the glass to my nose, I was greeted by a very light grain scent that provided a bit of earthiness to the foundation. On top of that base was a good dose of citrus, leaning towards grapefruit, from both hops, along with some pine and spice from the Chinook. I didn’t think to ask what strain of yeast was used, but the very faint yeast aspect that was apparent didn’t detract from either the aroma or flavor. The malt was a bit less noticeable in the flavor profile, likely due to the juicy hop tastes, provided by the freshies. The blend of citrus and pine coated the palate nicely, and lingered for a few moments at the back of the tongue, giving the opportunity to soak in the flavors before diving back into the glass.
The body was nicely medium, and helped the brew flow smoothly across the tastebuds, leading up to a crisp finish. The carbonation was a bit lighter than I would have preferred, but the drinkability wasn’t affected by this at all. I had a couple pints, and found that the beer went nicely with some of North Forks tasty pizza, and would have worked with a bowl of steamers too.
Overall, a very pleasant brew that highlights what’s so special about the hop harvest season in the Pacific Northwest. While other areas of the country are starting to increase the acreage of hops grown nearby, the sheer amount we have access to, along with the length of harvest season, still shows the strength of experience and knowledge we have available at our fingertips. I suggest getting out to The County, and washing down a couple slices of pie with a couple pints of Fresh Hop Harvest, which earns a solid 5.9 on my 1-10 scale.