I had been looking forward to this night ever since I decided it was a good way to try the new wet-hopped IPAs that I picked up on a recent trip to Whidbey Island in Washington State. Wet-hopped, or fresh-hopped IPAs are made from hops that have never been dried, but have gone straight from the field to the kettle, and thus showcase the hop in its most natural form.
The Island's own version of this style, Driftwood's Sartori, is one of my all-time favourite beers. It can only be brewed once a year, during hop harvest, and always becomes a heavily sought after item for local hop-heads. (Note: I recently picked up 4 bottles from an undisclosed liquor outlet, score!) In addition to Sartori five of us would be blind tasting three US brews: Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale, Bridgeport Hop Harvest Ale, and Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale, and putting them in order from first to worst. Starting from the bottom, lets talk about the beers.
Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale
Coming in a custom bottle whose neck is sealed with a deep green wax, the Estate appears on the surface the most impressive. It was also the most expensive, a fact that the owner of Whidbey Island Beerworks, where I purchased it, said he found strange, considering Sierra Nevada's farm beside their brewery produced all its ingredients. It pours an attractively brilliant, deep amber and has a sweet aroma, with a bouquet of earthy, grassy hops. Its flavour, however, seemed somewhat one dimensional and sharply bitter. Its bitter aftertaste, although not displeasing, finished very quickly.
Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
I was excited about this beer as with no mention of India in its name, I assumed it would be a refreshing American Pale Ale, without the hop power of an IPA, but made with fresh hops, like a wet-hopped Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This beer surprised me, but not unpleasantly. It is a deep gold to light amber with a moderate piney hop aroma which implied a more lightly hopped beer. Its is medium bodied, with the flavour of earthy and slightly grapefruit hops. This beer's finish is where it really shines. It is long and hoppy and lightly bitter, its taste staying with you until you are forced to have another sip. Definitely an IPA, and a good one to boot.
The hometown hero made good this evening taking second place and only narrowly missing the top prize. Sartori is a real made-in-BC affair, using Centennial hops from the Sartori Cedar Ranch outside Chilliwack. Check out Driftwood's gallery to see some great photos of this year's hop expedition to create this amazing beer. It is a deep gold with a wonderfully hoppy aroma and its flavour is surprisingly subtle and varied, especially considering it contains only one variety of hop. Its complex hop flavours are difficult to describe but are blended fantastically, and its bitterness is so well balanced it somehow is able to satisfy the biggest hop-head, while not putting off someone who enjoys a less intense beer. It finishes well with great bitterness and is truly one of the finest beers ever produced in BC.
Bridgeport Hop Harvest Ale
Not having had many of Bridgeport's offerings before I wasn't sure what to expect from the Hop Harvest, but it ended up being a great beer. It is dark gold and unlike some of the other beers pours with a head of fine satin-like bubbles from which comes a beautiful bouquet of citrusy hops. Its entry is mild with the flavour of grapefruit and has a silky, smooth mouthfeel. It was surprisingly refreshing, making me mistake it for the Fresh Hop Pale Ale, and is filled with the flavour of light and tangy citrus hops. Like most of the beers it finished well with pleasing yet moderate hop bitterness. If you can find this beer, buy it.