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Monday, January 05, 2009

Satori Award 2008: Cascade Apricot Ale

The Satori Award
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award, now in its third year, honors the beer that in a single instant allows the drinker to realize brewing magnificence. It's that moment when your head snaps back toward your beer and your mouth, of it's own accord, utters a surprised "whoa!" I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer. Last year's winner was Full Sail Lupulin, and in 2006 it was Ninkasi Believer.
This year's Satori Award has been fraught with difficulties and painful choices. Any one of these beers could, in another year, easily win. One of the finalists I didn't select was brewed by Double Mountain, which finished second last year--it pains me to leave them on the outside again. All three are sour ales so mutable that at any given moment, one might be better than the other two. These factors have left me gun-shy, but at the end of the process, there must be only one winner. This year, I made my call based on that first, head-snapping moment I tasted the winner, Cascade (Raccoon Lodge) Apricot Ale.

Honorable Mention - Double Mountain Devil's Kriek
I only got a half glass of this beer at Puckerfest in July. We should observe first: a good kriek is a hard thing to pull off. A complex beer, it should balance three elements: sour, sweet, and fruit flavor. The best are dry and tart with a crisp fresh-cherry note. The fruit adds flavor more than sweetness, and the final result is closer to wine than beer. Double Mountain pulled it off. In July, I described Devil's Kriek like this:
It was appropriately sour and had a wonderfully rich (Hood River?) cherry flavor---not cloying, but not hidden or overwhelmed by the sour. These kinds of beers are extremely difficult to pull off, and now that more and more breweries in the US are trying them, I'm aware of the pitfalls. This was a good kriek by international standards, though, not by my usual lowered-bar standards for American newbies trying to master the old art. Charlie and Matt have really distinguished themselves as two of the most innovative and accomplished brewers in the state.
Incidentally, brewer Matt Swihart confirmed that the cherries were "bings from our orchard in Hood River." Great job, guys.

Runner-up - Deschutes Dissident
It is very difficult not to reward Deschutes for the Dissident. Not only is the beer an exceptional example of wild-yeast brewing, but the brewery really put a lot of time and intention into a beer that is in front of its market. No one that I know of was clamoring for a Flanders Brown. Yet here we have one, and a very good one indeed. I have nothing bad to say about the Dissident, and in September waxed long-winded about it in my review:
As you can see from the picture, it's a bright brown, with reddish highlights. The aroma is not as funky as Liefman's--there's none of that skanky brett, but rather a sweet chocolate and sour cherry-accented nose. As it opened up, the astringency of the sour diminished a little and the cherries muscled their way in... The body is creamy and rich, with malt notes contributing a brown sugar/biscuit base. Onto this are balanced the twin flavors of tart/sweet cherries and the sourness of the yeast and cultures.
It's worth noting that the beer has changed quite a bit since I wrote that. I busted out a bottle at Thanksgiving for Sally's family and it was substantially more sour. No doubt it will continue to change over the years; I'll know because I have a case in the basement.

The Winner - Cascade Apricot Ale
Like beer, the character of fruit is dependent on the moment and circumstances you eat it. At its best, fruit is eaten right off the tree, warmed by the hot summer sun, so juicy it falls into your hand. The flesh of the fruit eaten in these conditions is almost liquid and suffused with intense aroma and flavor. When I was served a goblet of Ron Gansberg's Apricot Ale, it had captured this quality of the apricot. From the aroma, which was so fresh you could almost smell the summer breeze in the orchard, to the flavor, which captured the evanescent quality of fresh fruit nectar.

Gansberg is a mad scientist with sour beers, and he has a bunch of different esperiments fizzing and burping in different barrels. The Apricot, however, is built on a base of his tripel (the Kriek and Blackberry start out as lower-gravity Flanders Red)--unique, I believe, among his sour ales. As a result, the beer is deeper, more supple, and far less sour than others in his lineup (not that there's anything wrong with that). After visiting the brewery last Spring, I wrote:
It has the aroma not only of fresh apricots, but that intense scent fresh fruit, warmed by the summer sun, vents off. The palate is also infused with this fresh apricot. It is warmly sweet, sensual. The body is deceptively delicate and I was shocked to learn it was a tripel. An amazing beer, both approachable yet complex.
Whether he can replicate this feat with the '09 vintage (2008's is long gone) remains to be seen. But never mind, we're honoring accomplishment. That beer was truly a revelation. Congrats, Ron, that was a helluva beer.

Incidentally, here was your choice for best debut:


  1. Incidentally, in "other" voting in the poll were four responses: two for Cherry Adam, one for Widmer Drifter (properly an '09 release I haven't yet tried, but a nice early nod from a reader), and Roots Calypso.

  2. Jeff, good call on the Cascade Apricot. Ron let me sample the upcoming batch and it is tasting really good so far.