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Monday, May 01, 2006

Widmer Broken Halo IPA

The Widmer Brewery has been in a bind since the late 80s, victims of inadvertent success. When Rob and Kurt founded the brewery, they imagined the flagship ale would be an alt like the one they fell in love with in Germany. Dry, bitter, and smooth--it would actually have been a great beer for current Oregon palates. Alas, they started brewing a wheat ale during a period of evolving palates and now their flagship--and anchor--is the bland Hefeweizen.

The Widmers have staked out a few interesting niches. Their Collaborator project, wherein homebrewers create obscure beers, has produced a milk stout, Snowplow, that is now part of their regular rotation. Mmmm, tasty. And they are famous for producing some of the most interesting beers for brewfests--beers locals can later try at the Gasthaus. But the commercial experiments tried and abandoned--Big Ben Porter, Sweet Betty Blonde, Hop Jack Pale (the list goes on)--litter beer bottle collections across the state.

Will Broken Halo break the string of bad luck? We'll see.

Tasting notes
The brothers always produce very bright, filtered beers, but Broken Halo looks too bright when it pours out. It's straw pale, clear as water. This is a hint to the central character of the beer, but we'll get to that in a moment. The aroma is nice--a clean, citrusy bouquet.The head is, like the picture in the photo, snowy white. My initial impressions were favorable, but there was something out of place.

Turns out that Broken Halo is not an IPA--which had been suggested by its delicate appearance. Judged against some of the broad shoulders of the NW IPA world, poor BH is wouldn't stack up well. But if the label said Pale Ale, you'd nod admiringly. The hopping is rich and resinous, not just bitter, but flavorful. The malting is subdued, coming through as a mildly sweet balance. A fine pale and a fine beer.

I think what we're seeing is the result of the misnamed BridgePort IPA--one of Oregon's most popular beers. Though it tastes big enough to be an IPA, it has the advantage of drinkability: people knock back a couple-three and they're not staggering around. All the flavor, but manageable alcohol. No other IPA has cracked BridgePort's domain because they tend to be actual IPAs--7% alcohol or more--which are just too big for people to drink regularly.

The downsizing of IPAs leads to compromises. The Widmers have made a tasty, balanced beer. Pour this in a glass and hand it to a hophead, and she'll be happy. Just leave out the India part.

Hops: Bittering, Alchemy, finishing Cascade and Columbus
Malts: Pale, Caramel (10 and 20l), and Munich (10l)
Alcohol By Volume: 6.0% by volume
Original Gravity: 14.25 degrees Plato
BUs: 45
Other reviews: Belmont Station Blog

As an IPA, Average. As a pale, Excellent.


  1. Hey Beer-Blogger Man, since your ammassed articles run pretty long, why not slap something in the right column that rounds up your ratings for the last dozen brews-or-so that you've reviewed? Maybe even an "Alworth-Approved" seal for the truly worthy?

    P.S.- My word verification was "boozdh".

  2. Yeah, the bells and whistles are planned, if not implemented. As to the Alworth-approved, there won't be any of that. HOWEVER, I do want to eventually get my tastings off the ground. A batch of 6 or 8 pales, mostly Oregon beers with maybe a coupla ringers in there to test the tasters. I like the idea of very sensitive palates along with palates honed in the usual way--in bars across the state, where you learn to know what you like and all else can piss off.

    Then we'll really have some "approved" beers.

    (It's interesting how the word verification often comes up with wordlike strings of letters. But that one's pretty good!)

  3. i had the W '06 the other day and it was tasty...

  4. I actually think this DOES fit the discription "IPA" well. It does not compare in Alcohol and bitterness to SOME american IPS'S, but those are AMERICAN IMPERIAL IPAS. As a standard BRITISH style IPA, it is just about right at 6.0% alcohol, and actually STILL on the bitter side for the class. I think Widmer did a good job with this one!

  5. I am a hop fanatic, and always venture toward IPA's. Of the IPA's I drink, Broken Halo is a lighter, easier drinking IPA. So the assessment, I think, may be correct by saying it is closer to a Pale than an IPA. However, whatever class people think that it fits into, it is a great beer. I think the comment of low alcohol/high alcohol compared to it's class should not be a consideration. If the beer is great, drink the dang thing and enjoy it. You get to sleep before you have to go to work anyway. I love IPA's, and I love Broken Halo. Hey Widmer, keep up the good brewing...screw the people that treat beer tasting like wine tasting!

  6. I STRONGLY disagree with the authors conclusion that BH is not a real IPA.

    Where were IPS's 1st created? Anyone? Anyone?
    Answer; England

    BH is very hoppy when compare to a British IPA.

    And at 6% BUZZ factor, it fits that catogory as well.

    Is it as hoppy and saturated with Alcohol as some of the American versions of the IPA class as BH?


    But that is due to the other brewers altering the characteristics of the class, NOT Widmer.

    I am NOT putting down other american brewers who "Push the envelope" then it comes to the IPA catogory, I am a hophead myself, and as such I enjoy most of the "over the top" american IPA's out there.

    BUT I also like BH, and my personnal favorite is "Bridgeport".

    Both are closer to the "true" IPA character than many of the others, and I feel that downgrading these fine beers because they are not "over the top" is kinda dumb!