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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It Has Come to This: a Black Pale; Plus Two New Ones From Widmer

BridgePort's new beer is called Dark Rain. It is a hoppy brown ale or, in the fashion of the day, a black pale ale. But let us not dwell overlong on the terrible collapse of the English language.

Instead, let's consider the beer, which is actually damned nice. The whole black pale is meant to suggest something, and Dark Rain delivers. Pale ales feature the toothsome marriage of lightly sweet malts and pleasant, aromatic hopping. American pales are usually at turns caramelly, citric, and floral. So a black pale would suggest those characteristics but also a roasted note balanced right on top of everything else. Which is a pretty good description of Dark Rain, a roasty-smelling, tangy beer. The roast does have a tinge of that thin, metallic bitterness you find in a cup of Starbucks, but otherwise, this is an interesting, unusual beer and a good one.


If it's January, it's time for a new Widmer W' Series beer. The Brothers now have lots of non-core side projects: this one, the Rotator IPAs (see below), the Brothers' Reserve, and seasonals. Last year, Widmer brewed sixteen different brands, and this year it will be 23 [!]. The '12 W beer is a Dark Saison, brewed with Wyeast's French Saison yeast, about 10% wheat, and some malts dark enough to stain but not deepen the beer. I attended a release party, and the assembled crowd of writers was largely ho-hum about the beer (I think--we can watch the blogs and magazines to see), but I think it is pretty nice. Brewer Joe Casey fermented it at a relatively low 75 degrees, which meant the esters never really got revved up. Nevertheless, it does have a fair amount of zesty character. The series gets a nationwide release, and so it will be the first saison many Americans taste. If they move on from it to Dupont, say, they will note the family resemblance. W '12 isn't the most characterful saison on the market, but it's tasty and authentic.

We also got a chance to take the next Rotator IPA out for a test drive. The brothers reached out to QUAFF, a San Diego homebrew club to do what was in effect a collaborator beer. The beer they ultimately chose was Spiced IPA, made with a chai blend from Tao of Tea. In a reverse of the saison experience, the room lit up with this beer--while I found it a bit ... spicy. Actually, the spices are mainly aromatic. It was the asharply-astringent tea itself which I found off-putting. Weirdly, no one I spoke to could even taste it. It's made with a black tea and an assortment of spices--ginger, star anise, cardamom, clove, and black pepper. These are infused into water which is then mixed with the beer in the conditioning tank at a rate of a pound per ten gallons. A fascinating experiment. I will be interested to hear how it's received.


  1. It's interesting that you too find that metallic bitterness in Dark Rain. I have found that to be a common trait in all of their beers in the recent past. I never got that in their beers when I was guzzling them down in the 90's... primarily their IPA, and Blue Heron Pale. I am guessing through various discussions.. that that is a characteristic of their yeast? The first thing that popped in my mind.. was just some new big steel tanks.

    Huge fan of Widmer's new Spiced IPA.. drinking it now, and loving it.. high marks from me.

  2. For what it's worth, Blue Heron Pale is a Bridgeport beer. I suspect the IPA Brewmance refers to is also the Bridgeport version. I do not recall a Widmer IPA from the 90s.

    I wasn't at the release party...not on the guest list. However, I have tasted the Dark Saison and I think it's pretty good...much crisper than I expected. The spiced IPA I have not tasted. I have to say the concept sounds odd. I'll give it a try once they have it on at the Gasthaus.

  3. These breweries "Jumped the Shark" years ago. What's the point?

  4. Jeff, you definitely captured my feelings about the new Widmer brews: a little underwhelmed by the saison, and I really like the spiced IPA. If it's any consolation, a friend that I gave a bottle to said "it's not my cup of tea" [rimshot], though another friend likes it.

  5. @Pete Dunlop yes, my entire first paragraph was regarding Bridgeport beers.

    From what I understand, both the Blue Heron, and IPA either both changed due to expansion, or even went as far as a recipe change.

  6. Also couldn't Widmer's 'Hop Jack' be considered an IPA by today's standards? It was around in the 90's ;) I liked that beer too...

  7. The conversation seems to be wandering so I thought I'd jump in with my own random thoughts. First, Bridgeport IPA has changed. A year or so ago it seemed to lose a lot of character. Was this an attempt to reach a larger market? It wasn't unpleasant but it was not the crisp joy that it had been. I wrote Bridgeport and they said nothing had changed in either their ingredients or
    method. My tastebuds say otherwise. Still very good but has slipped behind Ninkasi in my opinion.
    Item 2. Enjoying Dark Rain, at this moment for the first time. Lots of taste and a pleasant, hoppy zing and lighter than most beers this dark.
    This brew will go places!