Beer Review 0517: New Belgium Hop Kitchen Fresh Hop India Pale Ale

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New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, Colorado) queued up a new series of beers for 2013 called ‘Hop Kitchen.’ Similar to their Lips of Faith offerings, Hop Kitchen focuses mainly on hop-forward beers that might be considered too extreme for New Belgium’s regular lineup. Four Hop Kitchen beers are released each year, and October 2013’s brew took advantage of fresh hop season. Previous to this brew, we haven’t dived into the Hop Kitchen — yet.

Dried hops, which are a wonderful thing for us beer lovers, are dried because they become more stable. But what happens when you brew with hops that are, say, only 48 hours old, as in — just picked from the vine? The beer picks up even more hop flavor; however, the tradeoff is fresh hops are notoriously difficult to work with, and the beer requires up to five times more raw ingredients to make versus using dried hops.

But the results are well worth it, and many breweries put out a fresh hop beer. Hop Kitchen Fresh Hop IPA uses salmon safe Oregon hops, which are hops grown with special care given to the water used and the downstream of agricultural areas. In order to be declared “salmon safe,” the hops used in this beer (Crystal & Sterling) had to maintain the following guidelines:

-Use only approved pesticides and only trained individuals could apply the pesticides;
-Be planted more than 100 feet away from any waterway;
-Have stormwater mitigation so runoff from fields goes into the ground and not a waterway

Hop Kitchen Fresh Hop is 7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and registers 65 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour produced a small, soapy head that lasted. Color of this brew is a nice vibrant golden; it’s translucent despite being slightly hazy. I’m crediting the haze to all the fresh hops dumped into this beer — although hazy, there’s no particles or sediment in the liquid. Lacing is pretty good, leaving behind thin sheets that turn into weepy pods.

The aroma is definitely typical of a fresh hop beer, just a bit restrained. There’s a great blanket layer of pine and resin, along with herbal hints, lemongrass, and some spice. Let this warm a bit and it exhibits notes of hemp. There’s a malt backing but it just provides some general sweetness; I thought I got a bit of caramel and sweet bread, but maybe I was just imagining that. Think ultra-hoppy yet reigned in a little. C’mon, New Belgium… let it all hang out (for once).

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On the palate, this is a very nice beer that builds layers of hop flavors as you drink. Up front, there’s a wallop of fresh pine needles and lemon peel, tempered with just a bit of sweet orange. The sweet aspect is helped out by some caramel malt — at first blush, you might think this is more malty than hoppy, but think again. After three or four sips, a soft bitterness begins to develop and the pine needles turns straight to resin. The finish is dry with tons of pine and menthol. It retains a light to moderate amount of bitterness, yet it’s still clean with an herbal bend. And the longer you drink this, the more hemp you taste. Fresh Hop is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.

New Belgium nailed the execution of fresh hops, and I was quite impressed with this brew. I figured it might be another safe offering from the brewery as they aren’t typically known for big, bold flavors — instead, New Belgium seems to thrive on the milder side — but this puts some fresh, dank, and resinous flavors right on the line. And it unwinds like a nice short story. Approved.

New Belgium Hop Kitchen Fresh Hop India Pale Ale, 88 points. Price: $4.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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