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Monday, April 30, 2007

Review - BridgePort Haymaker

Many people like light-bodied, mild beers. (Few of them read this site.) Many, many people. Anheuser-Busch sells them oceans of it. But there are a few people who hanker for a light-bodied, mild good beer, and in Beervana, their choices are limited. Periodically, a brewery decides to take up the gauntlet and brew such a beer, one worthy of the company's name (and able to command eight bucks a sixer) but as light an refreshing as an August breeze. Turns out, this is no easy task.

When you're working with fewer ingredients, you have a far smaller margin of error. Mistakes are amplified in the absence of massive hopping and dense body. A little too much of anything ruins the beer, a little too little and it's Bud.

So into this void comes BridgePort Haymaker, an "extra pale ale." The marketing department, much to BridgePort's shame, was allowed to write the copy, which reads:
Make Hay. It's an old, old phrase from a much simpler time. It's optimistic. It's positive. And it's the two words that sum up Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, the newest brew from BridgePort Brewing Company. Haymaker is a refreshing, extra pale ale that is simply sunshine in a bottle! It's a distinct blend of four malts and three varieties of hops that create a slightly complex, crisp and bright ale. So enjoy often and "Make Hay!"
I love the early language there, which seems to have come out of a pitch meeting and accidently got left in the description. "It's optimistic. It's positive. It's the kind of beer you take home to meet your Mom!" And later, the "slightly complex" comment is a strange miscue. (Isn't the first rule of marketing never to weaken descriptions?) However, I guess it clears up why there's a rooster on the label. Sort of.

All right, I'll lay off the marketing, which in fact belie an impressive effort at a mild beer.

Tasting Notes
The brewers at BridgePort gave themselves a little more oomph to work with, brewing Haymaker from a 12.8° P recipe for a beer that is slightly bigger, at 5.3% than Mirror Pond (5%). However, they restricted themselves to a paltry 15 IBUs, just a third of Mirror Pond's 40. Nevertheless, they get a fair amount of flavor out of the hops they do use. (The less time hops spend in the boil, the less bitterness they contribute; however, they add more aroma and the flavor comes through more perceptibly.) Haymaker's are spritely and fresh; definitely a minor note, but they give the beer critical interest.

What emerges is a crisp, light beer that recalls kolsch rather than a light pilsner. It lacks the fruitiness characteristic of most West Coast ales; instead, it's dry and seems to have a faint acidity I associate with kolsches. Perhaps the brewers finished it so that almost no residual sugars remain. And one thing about the hokey ad copy is right--it looks like sunshine in a bottle. I have attempted to capture this in a crude phone cam photo, but perhaps language will render it more accurately. It's not actually extra pale; it's a rich, bright golden that captures light and refracts it into liquid sunshine.

My guess is that most people will find this beer underwhelming. Since it's the same price as BridgePort's IPA, and essentially the same strength, many people will find it a beer to admire (at most), not enjoy. I do enjoy it and admire it. I'll be careful about whom I recommend it to, though.

Malts: "four"
Hops: "three varieties"
Original Gravity: 2.8° Plato
IBUs: 15
ABV: 5.3%
Available: Western states, through the summer

Also, the brewery is hosting a release party on Wednesday. From the press release:
BridgePort Brewing Co. is inviting the community to make hay and come to the brewery on May 3, First Thursday, from 6 to 9 p.m. to celebrate the launch of Haymaker Extra Pale Ale. Admission to the event is free. The Haymaker launch party will feature complimentary samples of Haymaker, food specials, and live knee-slapping bluegrass music by The Josh Cole Band, a group of self-described flat-picking hooligans. Inspired by the pure, time-honored stylings of The Stanley Brothers, Josh Cole's heart-of-gold voice and the group's hard driving instrumentation are a perfect fit to celebrate the release of Haymaker.


  1. Wow.... First the big corporate screw job on the brewery and restaurant.

    Then...Surpriz, weird mystery beer. Is it a Cream ale, Belgian Blonde or just a wheatie bunch of crap....

    Then, we went downtown! Brown that is... Lackluster at best!

    Now, we have Haymaker!

    I guess that big Canadian buy out is doing them well! They've gone from homey Portland Brewery to weird reckless beers to big coorporate influenced decor and even imbibment... What's next? Shetlin ponies pulling a big beer wagon??

  2. What the hell are you talking about? BridgePort was acquired by Gambrinus, a TEXAS company (which also used to handle importing of Moosehead, so if that's your Canadian reference it was a poorly researched one).

  3. Oooops!!

    Your right gambrinus... I can;t rememeber all the big corporate takeovers that have happened...or is it sell outs.... I guess it depends on your perspective or pocket book...

    No need to get cranky... Gambrinus, Molson, AB... All big corportate pigs who slash and destroy quality smaller breweries...

    Unless you like the changes at Bridgeport? ;-}

  4. Gambrinus acquired BridgePort in the mid-90s. I think claims of the recent demise of BPort are exaggerated.

  5. Come on Jeff...

    You can't say that Surpriz, Downtown Brown and Haymaker are set into new uncharted territory. They have been bland boring COrporate beers.

    Plus, look at the Pub.... What once was a homey local hangout for the everyday people is now a Modern Industrial Yuppie hangout for people who go to the brewery to sip wine, blended Martini's and to be seen by other phoney pompous trolls...

    Of course.... I could be wrong...


  6. I haven't any idea what motivates BridgePort, but, since they have been owned by Gambrinus for so long, I find your explanation for their current decisions unpersuasive. They're a business; they're trying to make money. I think what they did with the brewery was terrible, but I don't imagine that a locally owned brewery that found itself in possession of incredibly hot property and surrounded by wealth wouldn't make the same decision.

    And I thought Supris was a very bold move--one of the most interesting beers produced by a large brewery in years.

  7. I've been reading about some of the comments and I couldn't help but chime in a bit. As far as the brewery being owned by Gambrinus, they just own them, the brewery has had all the freedom to develop and run the brewery as they would want to for the most part. The corporate side promotes the beers and supports them to the distributers in other states. I am located here in Colorado and we are seeing many of the "staple" micros create a lot of new beers to keep the market fresh. Some breweries like Avery are coming out with "extreme" beers pushing the envelope with high alcohol and high hopped beers. New Belgium is coming out with new beers every year like Springboard, Skinny Dip, etc... I've been to the brewpub and I don't think that it was that yuppy, a little bit on the fancier side when you just want a place to shoot pool and grab a quick bite, but it still has the original feel.

  8. What do you suppose the Deschutes Brewery will be like in the Pearl?