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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Maybe This Beer's Just Not For Me

It has been five years since BridgePort first released Stumptown Tart, and in that time they've changed brewers and much of their line has turned over.  I therefore assume that Stumptown Tart is popular enough that they've brought it back for a sixth iteration.  Originally, the idea was to create an actual tart fruit beer with, you know, acidity.  Then-brewer Karl Ockert consulted with New Glarus' Dan Carey, who of course has his own pretty-popular tart fruit ales.  They used native Marionberries and brewed a large beer but, alas, just dumped in some lactic acid to achieve the tart part. 

It was a flop, but they retooled the recipe and next year came back with a fruit beer minus the tart.  Ockert used sour cherries in an effort to add a bit of acid, but it had wandered away from the wild-yeast sense of tart the geeks expected.  In subsequent years, BridgePort reissued the beer with a rotating variety of fruit, and the '13 vintage was brewed with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.  And like the beers in the post-tart period, it's fine. 

It's a vibrantly-colored beer with a soft, blossomy fruit nose and a light, sweet palate.  The fruit is fresh and sweet and the beer is delicately wheaty.  I did find the finish, with a slightly tannic-bitter note, less than ideal, but it's a minor note.  Although the fruit changes year by year, there's a real coherence in the line.  If you like the Stumptown Tart, you'll like it every year no matter which fruit the brewery chooses. 

I, of course, want the tart.  Nothing showcases fruit so well as a little acidity.  In regular beers, the malt competes with the fruit, which becomes a little duller and more flaccid.  Acidity preserves flavors and aromas and deliver the fruit to one's mouth almost as if it were coming straight off the bush.  As I was drinking it, I was thinking: why not add a touch of acid malt or even do a sour mash?  I know the brewery doesn't want to make a wild ale, but this would surely give it some depth and distinction.

At one time, I would have been confident to say that these choices would make a "better" beer.  Something about traveling around the world and seeing how palates differ really highlights the subjective nature of "better," though.  If BridgePort took my advice, they'd very likely sell less beer.  More people, in other words, like it the way it is than would like my "improvements."  It's easy enough to dismiss the masses as untutored, to actually use this as evidence that it's a lesser beer.  But geeks are slaves to their own preferences, too; they love imperial stouts but give a shrug to helles.  The things different people like sometimes reflect different levels of discrimination and education, but a lot of times, it just reflects base prejudice.

So Stumptown Tart is not for me. Let's leave it at that.

3 comments:

Pondering Porter said...

At this point, it's just better to pretend that Bridgeport doesn't exist anymore....

Samurai Artist said...

I try this beer every year and am always disappointed. It really is just a relatively bland fruit beer just slightly better than artificially flavored fruit wheats.

jfwellspdx said...

Stopped even trying this beer after the first one. Always forget that they even make it.

I was recently at an event held at Bridgeport (my first time back since the remodel) and had the Porter. Was delicious!

I would also like to note that Marrionberries, while developed here in Oregon, are anything BUT native.

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