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10 Best Fresh Hop Beers

Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale
McMenamin's, various locations in Oregon and Washington

Let the complaints begin. "McMenamin's is a chain." "That's movie theater beer.""Pick a real beer."

Shut it.

Behind every beer snob is the sniveling little dilettante in their past who didn't know a Rainier from a Rauchbier before some great beer blew their minds. Chances are they don't drink that beer now because they've deemed it too "commercial" but that beer was their all important bridge beer into the craft beer world. Thundercone Ale is just that kind of beer. Floral and fragrant without being overpowering, it goes down with plenty of citrus flavor and very little bitterness.

Granted, it's pretty much only available at McMenamin's pubs, music venues, movie theaters, hotels and resorts, but so what? Those spots draw a lot of people who might otherwise be scared off by the region's more high-octane brews. Thundercone isn't the single best fresh hop beer brewed in the U.S., but it ain't bad either. It's fantastic, if a bit low key. If that's what it takes to make a drinker part with his or her light lager for a few weeks to try some other fresh hop brews, then Thundercone and the McMenamin's brewers who poured all their hops and hearts into it have done their job.

Lucky Labrador Brewing, Portland Ore.

To understand fresh hop season in the Pacific Northwest is to look at the trellises, garages, backyard fences and even abandoned fields and vacant buildings covered in hops this time of year. Much like the invasive blackberry bushes that choke the sides of Washington and Oregon roads, hops here just are. They're ingrained into the community, history, agriculture and environment, and anyone whose property produces vines of those fragrant green cones can get in on the action.

That's Mutt in a nutshell: Hops from many places going into one beer. Each year, the brewery solicits requests for backyard hops and blends them all together in one smooth, sweet smelling brew. This year's concoction gathered more than 315 pounds of hops from dozens of backyards and swirled them into a brew that's a bit more amber and malty than an IPA. Why "Mutt"? Because the hops used could be Amarillo, Centennial, Citra, Cascade, Willamette, etc. The brewers don't know and don't ask, and the beer benefits.

Trip Series Imperial Fresh Hop IPA
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colo., and Elysian Brewing, Seattle

Fort Collins is a great beer town, but it's not exactly in the middle of hop heaven. New Belgium already trucks fresh Centennial, Amarillo and Cascade hops down from Washington for its 7% ABV Lips of Faith Fresh Hop. If it wants to put those same hops in a more potent 8.5% imperial IPA, it's going to need some help from friends with a hop hook-up.

Enter Seattle's Elysian Brewing, which has partnered with New Belgium on more than a dozen small-batch beers and is much closer to the hop source in Yakima than its friends in Colorado. With Elysian's help, New Belgium created an IPA with its trademark strength and bite, but a far more subtle bitterness than a drinker usually finds in New Belgium's hoppier offerings. There won't be a whole lot of this batch kicking around, but there's more than enough to remind lucky drinkers that it helps to have friends in all latitudes.
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