Beer Review 0511: Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale

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Great Divide Brewing Co. is the vision of Brian Dunn, who during the late 1980’s, spent five years outside of the United States building farms in developing countries. Dunn had a passion for beer, and upon returning home to Colorado, started home brewing and graduated from college.

Dunn thought that he could start a brewery in Denver, and with help from family, friends, and a loan from the city, Great Divide started producing beers in 1994. At first, Dunn was the only employee — but his beers were outstanding, winning medals at beer festivals and catching attention by word of mouth.

Things got big, and today Great Divide has 47 employees, and has won eighteen Great American Beer Festival medals. Now brewing 9 year-round beers and 12 seasonals, Great Divide proudly says they have “something for everyone.”

Coming from the seasonal category is Great Divide’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale, a beer brewed with wet, whole cone hops freshly harvested from the Pacific Northwest. “Wet-hopped” beers require much more work than other hoppy beers as the brewing process requires many more hops — using whole cones over pelletized hops means the brewer has to use five times as much material than normal, which drives up the cost of the beer. Along with the increase in raw materials comes the time spent processing the hops; fresh hop brews are notoriously laborious, with increases in time to brew and time to track down freshly harvested materials. When hops are picked, they have to be used in beer within mere hours in order to achieve peak flavor. Great Divide Fresh Hop comes in at 6.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 55 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour issued an average size, off-white soapy head that lasted. Color of the beer was deep golden, with a translucent body that was brilliantly clear of particles and sediment. Lacing was very nice, leaving behind ample suds on the side of the glass.

In the aroma department, those fresh hops shine, but it’s not as pungent as you might expect. There’s bold hops for sure, mostly resinous pine with lighter notes of citrus, grapefruit, and orange peel. The color indicates this should have a decent malt backing, but there is little here, perhaps some grain and straw. The hops are nice, I just wish the volume was turned up a few notches. As the brew warms, a dominant note of grass takes over, but it’s crisp and clear, not stale.

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Best way to describe what this beer tastes like: sweet hop juice. It’s grassy and grainy up front and generally mild, but this really opens up into a fine display of orange peel, grapefruit, pine, and peaches. I wouldn’t exactly call this a hop bomb, but the freshness is on display and it’s a fine showcase compared to the typical massively bitter IPA you might think of when considering a beer brewed with five times the amount of hops than it otherwise would contain. And while the bitterness is toned down, there is some here; a light amount on the finish, which is actually really clean. But as you get further into the bottle, the bitterness starts to build, leaving the palate to soak in crisp pine and resin flavors. Fresh Hop is light-bodied, with a medium, foamy texture.

This beer is very nice in terms of drinkability and freshness. I had this bomber down quick, and I was looking for more after it was gone. Great Divide has my respect on this one; it’s a well-crafted beer obviously with all the right ingredients. Yummy!

Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale, 93 points. Price: $8.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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