Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

The Hunt For Fresh Hoptoberfest

Ron Swarner

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The Hunt For Fresh Hoptoberfest — Thirty-one days of fresh hops and Oktoberfest beers

Peaks and Pints is throwing a month-long autumn beer party marrying up two popular seasonal beers — fresh hops and Oktoberfest. We’re calling it The Hunt For Fresh Hoptoberfest, tapping fresh hop and Oktoberfest beers daily through Sept. 31. You’ll find bright, hop-hazy fresh-hop beers, just hours from field to kettle and mere days from the fermenter to your glass AND drink to your health with clean, hearty Oktoberfest-style lagers from Germany and nearby. We’ll wager our pretzel bread sticks you’ll drink both.

You see, fall beer offers far more than nutmeg and allspice. Historically, autumn was an important time for brewers. Before refrigeration and climate control, fermentation in warmer months was unpredictable, and brewing in the summer was more likely to yield an impure beer. In 1553, a Bavarian law was passed that banned summer beer production altogether.

The result? Brewers ramped up in March, brewing a strong, malty lager that could last through the beerless summer months. That style became known as Märzen, from the German word for March. Stored in cool caves and allowed to slowly ferment, the crisp yet robust beer became a perfect transition into the colder fall months, eventually fueling raucous Oktoberfest celebrations around the world.

These days, a true Märzen is hard to find. But plenty of brewers take a crack at similar styles, including festbiers, maibocks and dunkels. Whatever the name, a pint of malty, dark lager is the perfect accompaniment for the changing seasons, and Peaks and Pints will keep them on tap through September.

Fresh hops are another great gift of fall. Most of the year, brewers coax flavor and aroma out of dried and pelleted hops. But in late summer and early fall, when the precious hop cones are plump and fragrant, many brewers experiment with fresh- (or “wet”-) hopped IPAs and pale ales. Straight from the fields, fresh hops lend juicy, earthy notes that are often compared to newly mown grass.

Unlike Oktoberfest styles, wet-hopped beer should be consumed as quickly as possible after brewing, as all of those delicate nuances dissipate quite quickly. Peaks and Pints will also keep fresh hop beers on tap throughout September.

Oktoberfest

Given the Teutonic predilection with precision, you’d think the Germans would have at least gotten the name for Oktoberfest right. Why not call it “Septemberfest” or “Autumnfest,” since the annual celebration takes place primarily during the month of September? Then again, Oktoberfest just has a nice ring to it, a yearly reminder that fall is once again with us, and that it’s OK to eat hot bratwurst and drink cold beer in funny leather shorts. If historical precedence is your cup of tea, you’ll be happy to know that the Germans have been indulging in Oktoberfest for almost 200 years now.

Actually, we can’t really blame the Germans for mislabeling Oktoberfest, since they don’t even call the event Oktoberfest. They prefer the term “Wies’n.” Why Wies’n? Long before beer, bratwurst and lederhosen became Oktoberfest icons, Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. This was back in October 1810. Being a people person, Prince Ludwig (who would eventually become crazy King Ludwig I) invited the entire city of Munich to attend his nuptials, held on the lush fields in front of Munich’s city gates. Following the happy affair, those fields were re-named “Theresienwiese (Theresa’s fields), after the crown princess. In time though, the locals seemed to have forgotten Theresa and shortened the name of the fields where Oktoberfest is held simply to “Wies’n.” And that’s how the folks in Munich refer to their annual beer and brats bash.

This year marks the 184th Oktoberfest in Munich. And in case you’re questioning my math, know that although the first Oktoberfest was held in 1810, the Germans were forced to cancel their annual beer fest a few times due to war, cholera, and once, inflation. But present-day Oktoberfest is alive and well. Indeed, it’s the single largest festival in the world. Over the duration of the two-week celebration — which this year runs Sept. 16 through Oct. 3 — Munich’s Oktoberfest will host some 6 million visitors. That’s a lot of suds. But what really surprises us is more than 1 million litres of non-alcoholic beer is consumed. This, apparently, by designated drivers. In addition, half a million pork sausages, half a million chickens and 59,000 pork knuckles were eaten at last year’s Oktoberfest, not to mention 87 oxen.

Although the scale is a little less majestic than Munich’s, you don’t have to bolt to Bavaria to experience the spirit of Oktoberfest — you can enjoy our own subdued version of Wies’n right here in Tacoma’s Proctor District. While various Washington state communities host smallish, weekend versions of Oktoberfest, the longest festival is at Peaks and Pints. For 31 days, Peaks and Pints will host a daily Oktoberfest/Fresh Hop celebration of some sort.

Fresh Hops

According to most beer historians, hops were first cultivated by growers in the Hallertau region of Bavaria in southern Germany. Going back to at least the 11th century, hops were added to beer not only to preserve it, but enhance its flavor.

Improving on 1,000 years of tradition might seem like a fool’s errand, but brewers have continued to experiment with hops, cross-breeding them into countless varieties to create the kaleidoscope of styles and tastes we enjoy today.

Since 2011, the United States has experienced a 15-percent increase in the number of hop-acres harvested. Washington state’s Yakima Valley accounts for about 78 percent of the nation’s entire hop production. The Yakima Valley relies heavily on irrigation, so hop crops are unaffected by climate or weather, leaving the door open for Washington to pass Germany as the world hop leader. Brewers can drive to local farms on their lunch break and be home by dinnertime. Embracing proximity, Washington, Oregon and Idaho produce some of the best fresh hop beers in the world.

The process of making a fresh hop ale is deceptively simple: pluck the hops from the bine (yes, that’s spelled right) and drop them in the wort. The trick is doing it in as little time as possible to ensure maximum freshness. The resulting flavor is as fascinating as the process is picturesque.

Because wet-hopped beers can only be brewed and consumed during a short window in early fall, their release has become cause for celebration across the Northwest, including Peaks and Pints throughout September.

The Hunt For Fresh Hoptoberfest

Peaks and Pints will host daily a “toberfest” featuring fresh hop and Oktoberfest-ish beers through Sept 31, with a different theme daily beginning at 11 a.m. Here are a few theme days on the docket:

SEPT. 2: Harry Potter and the Fresh Oktoberfest;

SEPT. 3: The Good, The Fresh and The Oktoberfest;

SEPT. 8: Spocktoberfresh;

SEPT. 10: Fresh Hop Prince of Ba-varia;

SEPT. 25: Hitchcocktoberfest: Dial F For Fresh Hop;

SEPT. 30: Fresh Flintstones Do Bedrocktoberfest.