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Monday, November 10, 2008

Advice to the Widmer Brothers

As I mentioned below, I made a trip to the Widmer Gasthaus yesterday. About half-way through my second sip of their delightful Dortmunder, I had a a moment of clarity. It has evolved from this hope that they were starting a slow mosey back toward lagers. So imagining that they hired me as a consultant to help position them in the post-Redhook alliance era, here's what I'd say. Go lagers. Create a subsidiary line of four biers that bear their own branding. The "Widmer Family Line," say, with a nod to the Widmer's lineage. You could create a nice label that ties the beers together and also recalls an earlier era in American brewing. But the key is to select four types of lagers that are slightly unusual but geared toward the American craft market. A few suggestions:
  • Dortmunder. This is really just a variant of a pilsner, but so what? Real pilsners are in short supply. Widmer's version was exceptional--crisp but slightly sweet and vivid with Saaz hops. It is half-way between a retro lager like Session and an American pale ale, with the strength and hop vibrancy Americans like. Put this bad boy out in the summer, and I'd buy it by the case.
  • Schwarzbier (aka "blackbier") . This is the second bier the Widmer's already make. In some ways, it fills the same niche of a porter, but it's drier and lighter than most. People have already developed a tasted for dark beers, but few commerical options, and fewer styles, exist. A great Spring beer.
  • Rauchbier (aka "smoked lager"). Thanks to Rogue and Alaskan, we think of smoke beers as strong, in-your-face beers. But not all the beers of Bamburg (where the style originated) are so aggressive. Some are milder both of body and smoke. I'd suggest something like this, perhaps in the mode of a slightly smoky Oktoberfest, for fall.
  • Kellerbier. This is really an obscure style, but perhaps would appear the most familiar to American craft beer drinkers. Keller (German for "cellar") is a style of aged bier, usually matured in casks, that is often a higher gravity and IBU than most German beers. A big, burly, tasty beer that would go perfectly with your winter roast beast.
There are other options--a good pilsner hasn't been put in the bottle in these parts since Saxer's. Or, for that matter, a good doppel. There may be legal issues in producing an eisbock, but that's another possibility, too. The point is that there are a lot of lager styles I believe Americans would be ready to receive. (Or mine the German ales--roggenbier (rye), weisse, or gose, say.)

I know the Widmers have smarter people than I on their payroll, so perhaps the data don't back this idea up. But sometimes you have to anticipate the market, and I do think this would be a perfect time to try something like this. One man's opinion--

Brief Reviews
So in addition to the Dortmunder, I had the Teaser and an IPA made with an experimental hop known (not quite poetically) as X-114. The Teaser I enjoyed a lot. Since it's made with these new, greenTeamaker hops, I have no previous point of comparison. It would be nice to try a beer with Teamakers in their dried version. It was mellow and gentle--unsurprising for hops with no alpha acids. A bit cookie-like, with a salad-greens freshness.

The IPA was all hop, and X-114 is no fading violet. It is boldly citrusy in the lemon/orange continuum. Has cattiness in both the nose and palate, as well asa grassy, herbal quality. Fades to pepper. It is so aggressive that if I were to brew with it, I'd use it with other hops, and perhaps add it to the boil a little later, so it extracted the nice citrus and spice but left some of the grinding behind.


  1. Widmer did actually have a number of lagers in their bottled lineup a number of years back, including a Vienna, a Czech Pilsner and a Black Bier. Seems like you might be alluding to these in your post, but I'm not sure. They discontinued these and replaced them with the usual microbrew suspects (Pale Ale, Porter, etc), which I always thought was a damned shame.

  2. How do you know those are Saaz in the Dortmunder? And how do know the X114 is not hopped late in the boil or possibly even dry hopped. One should be careful with their assumptions.

  3. You state that "A good pilsner hasn't been put in the bottle in these parts since Saxer's. Or, for that matter, a good doppel", but Full Sail bottled a Pilsner for a while well after the demise of Saxer, and has a Doppelbock in bottles right now.

  4. Okay, will the anonymouses sign their name with some distinguishing mark so we can keep you all straight? You don't have to login, just put some initials or a fake name or even--shocking!--your real name at the bottom.

    That said, to the points. Anon 1, yes, that's true. I think Widmer always wanted to be a German-style brewer, but even ten years ago seemed to early for them--we were still an ale-only market.

    Anon 2, I know it because it says it on the webpage. But if you love Saaz like I do, it seems evident in the exhilarating palate and nose. As to how X-114 is brewed, I haven't a clue. But I wasn't talking about how it was brewed--I was talking about how I'd tone down what seemed like a pretty sharp-edged hop. I hold no assumptions.

    Anon 3. Full Sail had a pilsner? I totally missed it. And it's true that FS has a doppel out now, but I was sort of thinking of a regular doppel; you know, one you could buy at least seasonally. But you are correct, and I should be clearer.

    Am I being sensitive or have you all turned into a bunch of Terry Eagleton's? Sheesh, I'm going to have to be super precise in my language.

  5. Okay, I'll own up to having been anonymouses numbers 1 and 3. My apologies for being too lazy to type in a name. :-)

    Yep, Full Sail had a pilsner in 12oz bottles a few years back, and also a double pilsner named 'Capsize' in 22oz bottles. Both quite nice as I recall but there's been a lot of beer under the bridge since then.

    Now that I think of it, Deschutes also bottled a pilsner for a while in the same general timeframe, originally named 'Paulina Pils', then rechristened 'Pine Mountain Pils, supposedly due to pressure from Paulaner in Munich although that story may be apocryphal.

    Didn't mean to get all Eagletonian on you. Your post just happened to conjure up the ghosts of beers past, and I couldn't let them rest. ;-)

  6. I'll double- (dopple?) up anon #3's recommendation of full sail's dopplebock. it's a little on the hoppy side, but incredibly good.

    have you had any of the lagers from heater-allen?

    Jay Webb, ex-saxer brewer, is now at Max' Fanno Creek in Tigard. the celestine pilsner is a saaz explosion. bring a growler.

    portland brewing used to make zig-zag lager... another one I miss.