Although it was released weeks ago, I only just got around to sampling Widmer's 25th Anniversary celebratory beer, a "double alt," last week. (Not a traditional style, but hey, you can double anything, right?) Before I get into the review, I should make note of how much this beer contrasts Guinness's recent 250-year anniversary beer--an opportunity squandered with a dud of a beer. Maybe when your company is owned by an international conglomerate and the oldest surviving employee was born 185 years after the brewery was founded it just doesn't inspire romantic recipes. Maybe that explains Guinness's lame beer.
Widmer, on the other hand, offers true romance. Although their milestone is somewhat more modest--a tenth the time--that also means it's more personal. The brewery doesn't have to guess what the founders would brew to mark the anniversary, they just have to ask. And so that brings us to 84/09.
I could be wrong, but I think that if the Widmer Brothers Brewery were a novel,Kurt and Rob wouldn't have written a hero of the shy, retiring Hefeweizen variety, but rather the burly, can-do mensch like the alt they first brewed. Thus we don't get an Imperial Hefeweizen (or, in the Guinness mode, another variation on that them designed purely to drive sales), but a double alt. It celebrates the heart and soul of the brewery, not its commercial base.
Alts have missed out on the current (now years-long) trend of imperialization, but this isn't surprising--alts are mostly missed by breweries in the first place. Yet alt isn't a bad style to beef up. Alts exhibit the characteristics of lagers--clean, crisp beers with no fruity esters typical of ales--and yet they are ales. The style predates true lagering, but indicates the German predisposition toward this type of beer. Yet they differ from many other German lagers, too--though they're malty, they are marked by an often assertive hoppiness. The Widmers' original alt was vividly hopped (and too aggressively so for the mid-80s palates of Oregon drinkers). 84/09, though different in character, captures that original energy.
This beer has a lot of heft to it. It comes out of the bottle like oil, very thick and surprisingly opaque (though about the expected hue of brown). It's not that the beer is murky, just that the malt parts per million are a lot higher than in an average beer. The head is dense and creamy, and managed to stick around despite the nearly 10% of alcohol trying to burn it off from below. The nose is roasty and warm.
The flavor is equally impressive. Lots of roast in the malty first note, but the hops are there, too. It has much the quality of a doppelbock, but the hops suggest something else. There's a pronounced caramelized note that comes through like brown sugar. What really lept out to me (though not so much to other drinkers, apparently) were the hops. No doppelbock has ever sported this kind of bitterness. It's by no means overwhelming (70 BUs in a beer this dark and strong isn't aggressive), but they are present and persistent.
To be honest, the beer could use six months for the flavors to come together. When you have high-hop, high-alcohol, and richly-malty beers, that's usually the case. These flavors could do with a bit of time to get to know each other. Put a few bottles away for winter and break them out with the roast beast. It'll be perfect then. If I was forced to rate the beer now, I'd give it a B+, but my guess is this will be an A by November.
Malts: 2-Row Pale, Munich Malt, Caramel 40 L, Dark Chocolate malt, Roasted Barley
Hops: Alchemy for bittering, Willamette’s for aroma
OG: 21.0 Plato
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