I hold in my hand (when I'm not typing) a mythical beer that no fewer than two people (all right, two people) told me was the best beer they ever tasted.* It is brewed by John Maier and was reputed to be served only at the Rogue Brewery. Impressive, no? These factors have created a mystique around the ale that have both attracted and unnerved me. For months I had this beer in the back of my mind, awaiting me in Newport like a green light across the bay.
Before I render my verdict, a comment. Obviously, expectation is a dangerous thing. One's mind can imagine transcendence in a way that one's tongue may be incapable of experiencing. On the other hand, I've had high expectations in rare cases exceeded by experience, which is the double whammy of transcendence--so you never know. As rumors of this beer circulated, I bided my time, nurturing the legend. This is the context into which I sat, regarding my beer, just a half hour ago. As it turns out, you can buy bottles of it at the brewery, which one of these friends did, and it's the one I'm drinking now. Let us proceed in hushed tones, so as not to defile this hallowed moment.
The beer in question is Dry-Hopped Red. It's a variation on Saint Rogue Red, draft-only, as the rumors claimed, until a bottling this year. Unlike some of the big reds we've grown used to here in Beervana of late, it is a more modest-sized beer with just 44 IBUs of bitterness (mid-range for Rogue). It has just two hop varieties, and a fairly standard array of Rogue malts. The transcendence comes from the dry-hopping. a point both of the friends emphasized when they were communicating to me which beer to seek: "It's the dry-hopped red, dry-hopped--remember that." Unfortunately, here's the rub.
Dry-hopping captures some of the most volatile and delicate oils from the hop cone, and in my experience, they don't age well in a bottle. The compounds react with oxygen, of which there is a small amount in bottles (less per ounce in the twenty-twos, but enough). What is available in the bottle, therefore, isn't what my friends tippled at the coast. It is a tasty beer, and the hops are vivid. But the life isn't here--it's a packaged product and the edges are gone. I would call it a great recipe and a very nice session, but I don't believe this is the beer that begat a legend. You may raise your voices--this is a false alarm.
So the mythic beer remains elusive. Somehow, I sort of hope I never find it. We all need a white whale.
*I wrote this last night. I don't regularly drink beer for breakfast.