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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two Reviews

Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen
As I alluded to in an earlier post, this proves you can have too much of a good thing. A standard German hefeweizen will be rippling with wonderful flavors, all delicate and breakfast-gentle. Pyramid makes one of the oldest American examples of this style, with perhaps less character than Schneider or Paulaner--but far more than Widmer. So they know what they're doing.

However, the intention to imperialize this delicate beer leads one to wonder: what was Pyramid aiming for? What results is approximately what you'd expect. It is cloudy and cider-colored, and fairly glops out of the bottle. The head is nice and thick, but can survive the onslaught of alcohol--and not the only thing. Delicate cloves, tart yeast character, crisp finish; all of these are mugged by the wrenching alcohol. A wee bit of spiciness persists, like a single peppercorn in a winter stew. The beer is thick, alcoholic, and without much character. It's drinkable, but not much more can be said. The inevitability of the experiment seemed clear. So, what was the brewery thinking?

Malt: 60% wheat, pale
Hops: Nugget, Tettnang
ABV: 7.5%
IBU: Not many.
Available: Sept-Dec
Rating: C

Full Sail Vesuvius
Ten years ago, no brewery in Oregon--possibly on the West Coast--and few in the US could make a decent Belgian ale. Generally a brewer would brew a variation on a regular recipe, deploy a few obvious adjuncts--coriander, candi sugar, bitter orange peel--and call it good. Yeast character--overwhelmingly the most important aspect of a good Belgian--was uniformly ignored. So it is with great enthusiasm that I welcome beers like Vesuvius, a respectable Belgian-style ale.

Last year, Vesuvius led the vanguard of Belgian strongs that have lately appeared across the state. (An odd style to crash Beervana's hoppy gates, as it happens. Unlike English strongs, Belgian strongs are approachable and sweetish. Widely appreciated, they are nevertheless not the types of beer you typically find in a Portland pub.) I am slightly reluctant to give an honest review, because Vesuvius is a rare and interesting enough beer that everyone should go buy a bottle. Still, it cannot meet the standard set by Duvel, Delirium Tremens, et al.

It looks the part--beautiful spun gold, frothy bead, dense, white head. Softly sweet of palate, with a faintly biscuity maltiness; a slight bubblegum note (phenols), and alcohol warmth drying out in the finish. One criticism: the body is too light; it goes watery just when it should be supporting the heft of the style.

ABV: 8.5%
IBU: 24
Available: August-November
Rating: B

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