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Friday, June 06, 2008

Two Good Ones: Full Sail Prodigal Sun and Hopworks Baltic Porter

I have had occasion to actually drink some beer lately, and have a couple of must-tries for you to track down. The first is available, but not perhaps for long, the second not yet released. Make your preparations accordingly.

Hopworks Baltic Porter
While I find some of the paler Hopworks ales overly astringent--an intentional and popular house character--I generally cotton quickly to the darker beers. On my recent visit there (a day like today, grimly cold, spitefully drizzly), it was an easy call to make once I heard they had this seasonal on tap. It is a wonderfully elegant, warming beer, and an early candidate for the Satori award. Baltic porters are generally made with lager yeasts, and combine elements of blackbier, Russian imperial stouts, and sometimes even the smokiness of rauchbier. It is an under-appreciated style, perhaps because it's difficult to make well.

Hopworks has, producing beer of light-capturing blackness that is surprisingly creamy and light on the tongue. It has a sophisticated, aged quality that recalls a tawny port. As with some of the other Hopworks dark ales, it has a smoky, roasted note as well. The alcohol is evident and adds to the sophistication. It is a rare beer that is simultaneously complex, mature, and very approachable. I would love to see this beer become a regular at the pub--it could become a Portland classic.

Full Sail Prodigal Sun
Before we delve into the description of the beer, let us pause briefly to acknowledge--on this rainy June day when the forecast calls for a high of 57--the genius of the title. When summer starts elsewhere in the nation, here we soak. Sometime after Independence Day, the sun will return to Portland, penitently, having lavished its heat elsewhere. We will be welcome it with Prodigal Sun beer.

And what a welcome. This is a pure crowd-pleasing beer, for crowds made of hopheads. I don't doubt you could detect the vibrant citrusy, piney hops at six feet as they waft out of the glass. This is a beer saturated with hoppy goodness. It's bitter, but this isn't the first thing you notice--you're too distracted by the flavor, which has layer upon layer of hopping. Some heavily-hopped beers seem weighty, but this one is lighter and brighter. As John Harris pointed out, the bitterness does come eventually, gathering at the back of the tongue. There's a nice malt foundation here (in contrast to some of the stripped-down big reds), which I think supports the hops and allows them to express themselves on more levels. It gives it balance that allows you to keep enjoying the beer. The website says it's 80 IBUs, and I think John said it was 95, but you get the point: hopppppppppppy. It'll be on shelves for the summer in 22s, so get a bottle. (And, while it will age well enough, you'll lose some of the more delicate hopping, so drink it fresh.)

[Post slightly edited for clarity.]

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