By the time you read this, the first fresh-hop beers of the season will start to arrive in the bars and tasting rooms of Bend. But there's something new this year—not only is the beer brewed locally, but some of it features hops grown from a suddenly bustling scene of nearby farms, none more than a quick drive away.
Fresh-hop beer, simply put, is beer that uses freshly-harvested hops instead of the usual dried or pelletized variety. Popularized by varieties like Great Divide Fresh Hop and Deschutes Hop Trip (which debuted in 2006), they're typically pale ales or IPAs with plenty of hopping, but a softer, smoother, "fresher" effect on the palate. They can be a pain to brew with, but the genre is growing so popular in the Northwest that fresh-hop festivals now dot the landscape of Oregon and Washington. (Sisters has its annual fest Sept. 27.)
East of the Cascades, Tumalo Hops has been cranking out fresh material for local brewers' needs since 2010. This growing season, they've been joined by two new startups: Ladyhops in Powell Butte, and Smith Rock Hop Farm in Terrebonne. For Miles Wilhelm, who operates the latter in a two-acre strip of land adjoining an alpaca pasture, it's the culmination of a long-held dream of getting involved with the brewing business. He planted two neat rows of Centennial and Cascade vines in May and harvested the results with friends last week—not much Cascade, but several dozen pounds' worth of Centennial, "Far, far beyond what I was expecting for the first year."
Wilhelm plans to expand his operation for 2015, and he's already collaborating with multiple local brewers to help with this fall's fresh-hop beer crop. "To me," he said, "it's really gratifying to know that, two or three weeks from now, people are going to be drinking my work."