To get to the beer, you had to walk past the hops.
At Saturday’s 11th annual Hood River Hops Fest, the best attended yet, some people stopped to smell the Crystal, Cascade and other flaky representatives of the Northwest-grown product that gives so many beers their spicy, citrusy, tangy, or piney flavors and aromas.
Nancy Sites of Oregon Hop Commission and volunteers including Salem hop grower Susan Weathers answered questions and gave out swag at their booth. Small baskets of aromatic hops were there for people to pick up, rub in their hands, and breathe in the distinctive, and varied aromas.
“It’s a great time to remember how much we love hops and a celebration of hops and how important the product is,” pFriem Family Brewing founder Josh Pfriem said Saturday as he sampled fellow brewers’ ales and connected with guys like brewer Tyler Brown of Barley Brown in Baker City.
By 2 p.m. Saturday — two hours into it — the fest had already far exceeded attendance at the same point in any past year, said Ashley Huckaby May of the organizing Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s the tradition of Hops Fest, and the great weather,” May said, asked about the success. “It’s gotten better every year and people recognize it as solid beer festival, and people like the large variety of fresh hop beers. A lot of these you will never see again, they’re brewed just for this event. This is the season a lot of new beers are out. It’s fall, people are getting into the beer-drinking mood, maybe.”
This is the second year the Hops Commission has had a booth, and in addition to displaying samples and handing out goodies, they fielded questions such as where hops are grown, which hops go in which beer, and what are the acids and other properties of hops.
“And ‘can we have a keychain?’” added volunteer Steve Smith.
Live music by Tess Barr, Tony Smiley and other local and regional blues and rock musicians added to the festivities, along with a popular kids’ zone, photo booth, and plenty of food. Hood River Cidermasters had a booth for the first time, and were nearly out of cider — made from hops — by about 3 p.m.
Hops Fest is about “the smiles and the happy,” said Ed Wilder, owner of the taproom Da Brewshop on Cascade in Hood River. “People come here to have fun,” he said.
“It’s always fun,” said Wendy Hersher of Corvallis. She and her homebrewer husband, John, have been coming to Hops Fest for years.
“What we like about it now is that when we first started coming, there weren’t as many true fresh hop beers, and they’re getting better and better,” she said.
John wore his personalized “Two Barrel Brewing” shirt (“it’s in my garage”).
Hop Fest “is a good party,” he said. “At home, we do a fresh hop party every year, our own version. It’s good to see what others are doing. A good comparison.”
“It’s a beautiful setting, and you get to try everything. We invite our friends,” Wendy said.
Tyler Brown was on his second hops event in two days; early Saturday he drove straight from a Boise, Idaho fresh hop event — though someone else brought the Barley Brown fresh hop kegs.
“His beer was already gone by the time he got here,” laughed Josh Pfriem.
“This festival is great because it celebrates the small breweries of the area,” Brown said. “People are crazy about hops in general. It’s not by accident that IPAs are the best selling beer in the world.”
It was Brown’s second festival and Pfriem’s third. He opened his waterfront brewery and restaurant in 2012.
“It wasn’t that long ago I was a rookie. It’s been a big three years,” he said. “This is one of my favorite festivals I get to look forward to every year. I love this one because there’s so many Hood River folks who come out. It’s a good mix of trade folks and people who just love beer. Sunshine or rain, people always weather out,” he said, referring the to 2013 event, where parkas were as prevalent as pale ales.
“It’s good both ways,” pFriem said. “Huddled under the tents or under the sun, it’s a great time to remember that we’re right in the very end of the hop growing region, right between two of the largest hop growing regions of the world, (Willamette and Yakima valleys), and to be able to celebrate right in the middle of it, with the most breweries per capita. It’s great.”
Asked, “Does an event like this make people think of the beer or the hops?” both Brown and pFriem answered, “Both.”
“In the Northwest, these fresh hop fests are a challenge because it’s such a tight window,” pFriem said. “This was such a hard year to get beers ready for because there was such a late harvest. Mother Nature is more in control, and you just have to work to get the beers ready, and the beers will reflect that.” Late fall events such as this are part of the Oktoberfest tradition generated in Germany, when the last of the “marzen” beers made in March are consumed to prepare for the next brewing season.