You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Widmer Drifter

When a major brewery introduces a new beer in its regular line-up, it doesn't do so lightly (well, not anymore, anyway). It represents a gamble of time, money, and credibility. Widmer has cleverly limited some of the risk by testing beers in various venues--in the Gasthaus, at festivals, and in their experimental "W" line, where Drifter started life. But nothing is without risk, and Drifter arrives with more than modest intentions. The brewery is shooting for something novel. Here's Rob, discussing the beer:
We used the word Original because we really feel that Drifter is unlike all the other pale ales. Summit hops are my new favorite hop and they have taught me something that may have been obvious to others but was kind of a break-through for me. I now believe that eveyone likes the aroma and flavor of hops but many people just don't like the accompanying bitterness. The cool thing about Drifter is that beer geeks that I've sampled love it because it is so unique and delicious and "regular" folks like the tangerine/pink grapefruit quality but appreciate the lack of "afterburn."
So there is the goal for the beer, boldly laid out for us to examine. Did the Widmers hit the mark?

Tasting Notes
This beer isn't exactly the same as the W '07. It's a hair more alcoholic (5.7% to 5.4%), a hair less bitter (34 versus 32 IBUs). But the main thing is that it's got different hops. Here's how the Brothers tinkered:

____Alchemy, Summit___Summit, Nelson Sauvin
__Summit, Chinook___Summit, Nelson Sauvin

Nelson Sauvin--ring any bells? How about "Full Nelson?" That was the beer that Widmer sent to last year's Oregon Brewers Fest, hopped with the titular, rare New Zealand hop. A bold choice indeed. Full Nelson was a beer that thrilled some and kind of grossed others out. The quality is orangey--a nice idea to complement the lemony summits--but also strongly astringent, like urine or sweat. (At least to some palates.)

Which brings us to Drifter. It's ironic that Rob described the goal as a universal beer, because I think the result is a product that will divide drinkers who love or hate the Nelsons. It pours out surprisingly darkly--a rich copper. (Perfectly in accord with the style, but some folks may wonder what's "pale" about it--Jon has an accurate pic over at his review.) Superficially, the aroma has the standard citrus of an American pale. Sniff more deeply. You pick up an astringency that some are describing as piney or herbal, but which in my nose smells of sweat. It's the Nelson's. This is a chemical process, and the way you react to the scent will depend on your nose. (Mostly people are lovin' it.)

The palate continues in this vein. You get the nice lemony/grapefruit quality from the Summits, the astringency of the Nelsons, though without much bitterness at all. I'm shocked to see the IBUs listed at 32--this beer seems to have about 20 to my palate. I recall the '07 distinctly, and I liked that beer quite a bit better. It was more bitter, more lively, and didn't have the Sauvin sweat note. On this count, however, you really shouldn't take my advice. This is a beer to experience, not read about. Find out for yourself.

I will add, in conclusion, that the Widmers have gone boldly here. The instinct for a brewery is to make beers more broadly appealing--and therefore less characterful. Drifter is an original, and to the brewery's credit, that means, different strokes for different folks, some people just won't be thrilled. I wasn't. But it also means that some folks will be--and they'll appreciate the moxie it took for a major brewery to put something thrilling in the market. Their cred on the line, I think Widmer has acquitted themselves nicely.

Malts: Pale, CaraVienne 20-L, Caramel 80-L, Carapils
Hops: boil - Alchemy; finishing - Summit, Nelson Sauvin; dry-hopping - Summit, Nelson Sauvin
Alcohol by volume: 5.7%
Original Gravity: 14° Plato
Bitterness Units: 32
Available: Year-round

PHOTO CREDIT: J. Wilson, Brewvana


  1. I like Summits a lot, so I'll try it with an open mind.

  2. when did you stop rating your beer tastings?

  3. I had the Drifter the other night. I think you nailed it with the "sweat" hop flavor description.

  4. I've had a few recently at Blazer games. I like the balance -- it's a quaffer. Very orange-smelling. Did not get the sweat hit, but then again I was at a basketball game, so it smells that way regardless.

  5. Moose, on full reviews, I still do it. I would have rated this a B- or something, but it is almost exclusively because of the way my tongue receives the chemical compounds of the Nelson Sauvin hop, and in this case, that seems less than totally useful. At BeerAdvocate, people are raving about it. I think the lesson is to try it and find out which camp you're in.

  6. Are you sure it is the the Nelson? Maybe different crop year left the Summit wanting. Summits in large doses smell like onions, and BO as well. Stick your nose in a bag of both. I will take the Aroma of Nelson any day.

  7. I just sipped from my first Drifter and did one of those eye dilating flashbacks and immediately thought of the W' 07. Naturally, I had to google. Given the labeling of the beer, I wasn't expecting much, but I loved the W '07 dearly and so I'm rather pleased to see the fruits of that experiment live on.

    Regarding the summits - I thought I loved them, but I've had some experiences with home brewing with them and have been less than pleased. I've also been rather surprised by the smell of the raw ingredient. It's kinda nasty. Nothing like the mellow citrus I'm getting from the beer.