No brewery has more identities than Full Sail. On the one hand, it's a venerable old micro that puts out classic American ales. On the other, it's the sole major Northwest brewery committed to selling lagers. On the third hand, it's a regional brewery trying to kick-start a segment that effectively died out a generation ago when Rainier, Oly, and Weinhard fell to consolidation. In December, the brewery offered new products in two of the three identities. (One imagines that the third, the Session wing of the brewery, is set for the foreseeable future.) Below are a couple reviews.
Bump in the Night Cascadian Dark Ale
CDAs are starting to look a little old hat, but the fact that Full Sail proudly proclaims the latest Brewmaster Reserve one is fuel to the fire for the movement to establish the style. It also indicates that Full Sail is shooting for the more specific sub-style of the larger hoppy black beer category. Black IPAs are effectively IPAs brewed with dark malts. The character of the hops and dark malts are left to the brewer--an IPA brewed with spicy Hallertauers and some color-darkening malts would be totally appropriate for "style." The attempt to carve out some terrain for the hop-growing Pacific Northwest has resulted in CDAs, which focus on citrusy/piney American hops. These are steeped in a tea of dark malts that produce coffee-like bitterness, another characteristic of the region. CDAs are black IPAs with flourishes characteristic of the region. (This actually helps exonerate partisans from the debate about where black IPAs were first invented.)
Full Sail follows these cues, and Bump in the Night is a 65-BU hop fest. Now, full disclosure: I'm not a fan of the style and therefore a poor judge. While I've grown to respect a few versions (Deschutes and Widmer), I haven't found any I love. Bump in the Night? Well, my sense is that it's not the strongest example. The hops are aggressive, and despite the size of the beer (6.5%), seem to beat it up a bit. It's roasty but a bit thin (which I assume would be appropriate, too--IPAs shouldn't be as chewy as stouts), and some of the reviews mark it down for that. I guess I can see wherefore the faint praise. But actually, I enjoyed it. To me, the hops were woody and combined with the roast, the effect was of pine tar. Of all the different kind of flavor notes I've encountered in beer, I'd call that an acquired taste--a niche note--and perhaps not the most elegant. I nevertheless sucked Bump in the Night down pretty fast, all the time marveling that I so enjoyed fermented pine tar. Give it a B on the ratings scale for this reviewer, but it's probably closer to a B-/C+ for CDA fans.
Full Sail's foray into lagers has been most interesting. With the exception of LTD 03 (a pils), by far my favorite of the bunch, they are fairly similar in quality: hearty, uncomplicated lagers. LTD 01 was called an "easy-drinking lager," and that appears to be the mission statement for the whole line. Leaving aside 03, they're not brewed to any particular style except their own. With numbers for names and such a clear similarity, I'm prepared to declare it intentional.
LTD 04 is in this mode--and is even more stripped down. It takes Reinheitsgebot literally: one hop (Willamette), one malt (must be pilsner), yeast, water. The result is a very pale beer with a grassy, boozy nose. The grassiness continues on the palate. Working overtime, I can produce the adjectives lemon and pepper, but these are mainly impressions, not full flavors. The alcohol is pronounced enough that it creates a sweetness slightly out of keeping with the simple, grassy-fresh beer. As the glass takes on warmth, so does this disparate note. I enjoyed it, but wasn't distracted much by any subtle flavors. One minute I was enjoying my first sip, and a moment later I was done drinking: the beer was gone. I suspect this was the goal, and so I could consider a B- on the ratings scale, but so simple is the recipe and so uncomplicated the sensory offerings that I'll downgrade that to a C+. Back in the day, a 7% light lager would have been called Malt Liquor, but never have they tasted this good. So on the other hand, maybe I should give it an A. Ah ratings.