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Island (Fresh) Hopping

A colleague of mine recently swung by town and was kind enough to bring me a couple of bottles of seasonal beer from Granville Island made at the original Vancouver brewery (as opposed to their big operation in Kelowna) and with limited availability outside B.C. (well, at least I didn’t see them anywhere).

I opened the first of the bottles up the other night. They call it Fresh Hop ESB, and as the name implies, they brewed it with fresh, locally sourced hops. I trust that by “fresh hops” they mean “wet hops” – as those terms are often as synonyms – but the bottle (a 650-ml bomber) does not clarify.

I have become a big fan of wet hopped beer for the fresher, softer, more floral aromas they provide. Personally I feel wet hops smell and taste more like hop off the vine. So I was imminently curious.

It pours light gold, building a dense white head with tight bubbles which lasts nicely. Bright and sparkling. The first waft of aroma is fruity, rounded, floral hop – lovely and fresh. It is just like rubbing a hope cone in your hands and smelling it (which I have done many times). I am pretty certain it is noble hops, likely British origin. Interestingly I find an almost peppermint character comes through in the nose as well. The background malt  aroma is moderate toffee and biscuit and hints of touches of honey. Even before I sip, I can tell the challenge will be matching this enticing aroma in the flavour.

Well, upfront it is a bit disappointing. The malt does not show through enough, making it seem rather flavourless.  Once the hops kicks in, the beer improves immensely. It builds slowly and offers wildflower, mint, some earthiness and a touch of fruit. The bitterness is persistent but not overpowering – which is how it should be in an ESB. A very attractive hop character. I can tell that wet hops were used as they are much more floral and green in their preception. The finish is balanced between the bitterness and generic malt sweetness.

I will say unequivocally I enjoyed this beer. The fresh hops are well done and really make this beer for me. I have tried better wet hopped beer (including Alley Kat’s experiment last fall – was it really only last year??), but there is no reason for GI to feel ashamed about this offering. Personally I was hoping for a bit more malt character (not sweeter, just more flavourful) to both hold up the hops more and move the beer into my preference zone for ESBs. The base beer seems a little too one-dimensional to deserve the lovely richness of hops. But if another bottle made its way across my desk, I wouldn’t be disappointed.



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