Bridgeport Brewing Hop Harvest

October 17 2011 - 2:44 PM

Bridgeport Brewing dates back to 1984 in Portland, Oregon.  They style themselves as pioneers in the Pacific Northwest beer revolution.   That's a bold claim. We're talking about a brewing movement that has resulted in outright brilliant producers such as Deschutes, Hair of the Dog, Full Sail, and dozens of others that never leave the region.  Thanks to an influx of corporate funding, Bridgeport indeed sent their brews east and started showing up on Chicago taps in 2010. 

The corporate connections paid off for Bridgeport and they ended up on, as I'm told, InBev's mighty distribution train.  If you are like me, you met them with suspici0n, as their "first" beer "Hop Czar" began appearing on taps at the type of bars that list Corona as a "premium import".   That's as much of a misnomer as calling Coldplay "indie darlings".  I tried the Hop Czar and it was what I expected: a watery, thin bodied attempt at an IPA – or maybe a pale ale.  Entirely forgettable.  I figured I'd never have much to do with Bridgeport.

Fast forward to the other day when I found myself ordering one of their beers, no knife to my back from a shady cousin of the brewery owner.  We're talking of my own volition. My journey to this point started a while back when I  got one of their beers, the Kingpin double red ale, pushed on me by a local liquor store clerk who shares quite a bit of my tastes.  It was a decent drinking experience, relatively hoppy, not flabby, and finished crisp.

The next point of salesmanship came from a dear friend of mine, I won't say who, who suggested I try their fall hop harvest beer, cleverly named the Hop Harvest.  Hop harvest beers are the hoppy antithesis of the Oktoberfest beers.  They're brewed in celebration of the ripened hops that are picked in September, and many brewers stream them through the wort to extract fresh hop flavors that are far more complex and varied than your more common dry hops.  The result of this once a year process is a lot of beers that have a "juicy" hop flavor to them, and can be a thing of greatness.  This can be a hophead's dream.

Given my one positive experience with Bridgeport, I took a flyer on the Hop Harvest at a local bar after serendipitously finding it on the beer menu.  I asked the bartender for just a sample of it (so I guess it was more of a toe dip than a true flyer) but it turned out that the Bridgeport labeled handle she had was actually for the dreaded Hop Czar!  My attempt to stop her failed and I ended up stuck with an ounce of hop water.   Ech.

To my luck, they had the Hop Harvest on tap in a 22 oz. bottle, and my buddy was into the idea of trying it so we split it.  If I didn't like it, at least I only wasted half the money I otherwise would have.   I filled my very tiny glass with it and the moment of truth arrived.   Meat Loaf sang about the significance of two out of three.  My Bridgeport opinion hung in the balance.  It would be forever up or down.

The verdict:  don't drink this unless you get it for free.  If you seek this beer out, then you are probably really into IPA's and the like, and are a hop lover.   In this regard, Hop Harvest is a pretender, a CBA player before Isaiah wrecked the league.  It's not hugely carbonated and didn't develop much of a head, but that's hardly a dealbreaker: several other harvest ales that are actually good share that trait.   There's no nose on it.  But this beer falls apart on taste.  The hop flavor (or should I say "flavoring", as if they used "Hop No. 5") is mild, with a sharp tinge of grapefruit.  It is exceedingly fleeting.   The body is thin and you can taste a bit of water.  The finish is far superior to and more complex than it's little cousin, the Hop Czar, but if you're used to drinking hoppy beers your cage won't get rattled by it. 

While I wouldn't say this beer is awful – it's not by any means a bad beer – I will say that whatever you spent on it should have been put towards something else. A quick internet scan shows that a 22 oz. of this retails between $7-8.  For about that price, maybe less, you can have an elite hop harvest ale, such as Port's High Tide, and for a couple of dollars more, Three Floyds Broo Doo which will bewitch you. 

As for Bridgeport, maybe their brewpub offerings are pretty stellar.  I'm not in Portland.  But I won't be revisiting any of their bottlings. 

–Mark Sheppard