What an odd winter. Western Oregon has felt more like Bend this year than the Willamette Valley, with long periods of dry, sunny cold punctuated by flurries of snow. Today, as I sit looking out over a slate sky through the black fracture of a dormant maple tree, it feels a bit more like home. Some wet back in the air. After what feels like a rather longish period of stasis--breweries buried under December snow and hibernating?--these earliest signs of life welcome the blossoming of Spring beers. My nose tickles with itch of pollen. Outside, on the lawn, bulbs push up through the mossy yard. (Why do Portlanders plant bulbs in their lawns?) I have tried three of the spring beers in the past two days, and here are brief reviews. For reports of pollen and flower activity, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Widmer W '09
Each year the Widmer Brothers offer a beer under the "W" label. That is about where the similarities among them end. The last three years have featured a big NW red, a Summit-hopped pale, and a wheat beer. Add to that this year's edition, a Belgian, and you have quite a bit of diversity. It looks like the series is actually a kind of depth charge: the brothers toss out a strange beer and see what happens. The big red came back as Brrr and the pale as Drifter, slated to be released later this year. And this year's Belgian is already in edition #2. Some of you will remember it from its debut almost a year ago at the Cheers to Belgian Beers event. Last year, every brewery made a beer with the La Chouffe (Ardennes) yeast, and mostly, they made beers like La Chouffe, as did the Widmers.
Let us begin by stipulating that La Chouffe is a hard yeast to work with. Having now sampled beer created by it perhaps 30 times, I'm prepared to add that it's not a particularly tasty yeast. Beers come out sweet and heavy, two qualities brewers generally try to avoid. I personally think the Widmers did a better job than most of the other breweries I tried, but having surveyed some of the blogochatter, not everyone agrees. The beer is honey-colored, slightly hazy, and sports a white, seltzer-like head. Shadow coriander is a prominent note in the beer, though Rob swears there's nary a spice in it. I get the note in the nose along with an herbal, clovey one and also a bit of bubblegum/banana. It's quite a nose. The flavor follows the scent--sweet, with that bubblegum candy quality. I'd call it phenolic, but I also thought there was coriander. It's smooth, easy to drink. Go buy a sixer (or just a bottle) and tell me what you think.
Deschutes Maiden Oregon
Deschutes has made two beers for the sesquicentennial, one at the Bend brewery and one in Portland. This is Cam O’Connor's Portland offering. Made with all-Oregon ingredients (Klamath barley, Willamette Crystal hops, yeast from Wyeast, and sugar from Nyssa sugar beets), it's a Belgian strong, sort of a dry tripel. The nose is pronounced in a Belgiany-musty fashion ("Belgiany-musty"; see, that kind of descriptive muscularity is why I get paid the big bucks). It's a bit aggressive on the palate for my taste--alcohol comes roaring and biting its way onto your tongue, followed by a bitter herbal/licorice note. The sugar fermentation is evident by that biting alcohol, but also creates a sophisticated, dry finish. Once my Caeser salad arrived, I liked it a great deal more. It really went nicely with the garlic and lettuce.
Oregon 150 Ale
This beer, crafted by Paul Arney, baffled me. In addition to the local malt, hops, and yeast, it features blackberry honey and marionberries. I was expecting something along the lines of McMenamins' Ruby, but no. The brewery describes it as "a flavor that makes it hard to categorize ... a beer like you’ve never tasted before." How true. There's a strange scent which might be diacetyl. Hard to say, though, because the fruit, vaguely sour, confounds the nose. Mine came with almost no head, and not by accident; this is not a lively beer. The weirdness is in the flavor, though. It is vaguely sour, somewhat thick and syrupy on the tongue, and only very mildly fruity. It finishes tartly, but with a Sweetart (TM) zing. For added sesquicentennialness, they mashed it at 150 degrees, so maybe that created the sourness. Or residual sugar. Or ... ? (Brewers, help me out, here.)
My instant reaction was condemnation and rejection. However, I was waiting for a showing at the Portland Film Fest, entertaining myself with the UConn-Pitt game, and I kept working on the beer. Damned if I didn't start to enjoy it. By the end, I was actively wishing I had ordered a pint instead of a glass. An odd, odd beer. But one I wouldn't shun. Nope, wouldn't shun it at all.