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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Curious Case of the Doppelbock Ale

Some months ago, the brothers Widmer released the first of a reserve series. This is now de rigeuer for larger breweries, so the Widmers decided to up the ante: theirs would appear in boxes (like Fuller's Vintage) and fifty would be signed. While the cynics (not to mention enviros) might dismiss this as a tad gimmicky, I disagree. Charge customers a ten-spot for a beer, it's nice to add a frill or two. Ultimately, though, the ten bones are buying you 22 ounces of beer, and so it better be good stuff. Widmers'? Well.

When I saw the news of the beer gamboling through the internet tubes, what caught my eye was the top-line story: an oak-aged doppel with added cherries. Definitely heterodox, possibly even blasphemous. Reviewing the terms of Reinheitsgebot--water, malt, hops, yeast--nope, no cherries. But okay, it's a new-world doppel and the new millennium, and we can tolerate a little improvisation. But then this, right on the label--proudly, you'd have to say--"oak aged ale." Ale! Definitely verboten.

That said, wipe your mind clear of these facts and study what appears, viscous as a pint of Valvoline in your glass, and you have to conclude it's a doppel. It is a bit of a throwback style, darker, heavier, and sweeter than most modern (esp. German) examples. Still, it is nevertheless pretty much within style. Even the chocolatey note (which seems to be partly a trick of the blending of dark malt with cherries) is appropriate. The cherries are nicely placed in the background, in the shadows where the caramel and chocolate lurk. Lots of body and alcohol, yet gentle and warm--a very nice winter ale. (I actually considered it in the 'lager' slot on my KOIN appearance, but it presented too much difficulty in explaining.) The Widmers have a very nice alt yeast, which behaves like a lager when they want it to, and I believe this is why their doppel ale tastes like it should.

Still, a curious beer all around. As the lack of chatter and wonder on the internets attest, it isn't an aggressive, in-you-face monster, which makes its selection as the inaugural reserve beer all the more curious. I think it's a promising sign. With these specialty lines, brewers have some latitude--they don't have to brew crowd pleasers that will turn big profits. They can please themselves. On the side of the bottle, it says this is a selection and fave of Kurt's. If the brothers continue to offer personal faves, flouting brewing tradition and even popular trends, I believe I'll like this new line.

Note: there was some phantom problems with the first appearance of this post. I think I have them all cleared up.


  1. It's a great brew, and I have bought many, some aging. I don't know, and would never try to explain Widmers way of lagering their ales etc... they have their own very unique ways of brewing, and do it with almost all of their beers. That I think is what people don't understand... It's "Their Own Way" of brewing "Their" beer. And there certainly is nothing wrong with that.

    I think it is fantastic that they are putting out some fantastic new things. The Drifter for one caught me off guard and is now one of my favorite pale ale's.. and one that I thought was even better than the Doppelbock was their 25th Anniversary Double Alt. I still have a few of those cellaring around.

    I look forward to the 2nd Brothers Release... whatever it may be! Vanilla Imperial KGB? Imperial Halo IPA? Perhaps a Honey Mead? ;-)

  2. "On the side of the bottle, it says this is a selection and fave of Kurt's."

    Hmmmmm. Interesting. Since Widmer has not made this Beer before (to my knowledge), how would he know it's his favorite? It's not a traditional style of Dopplebock in ANY sense or form. Can you say a beer is your favorite before you bottle it? It's on the label! They don't print labels overnight... They need to come up with label designs long ahead of time, don't they?

    Could this be a favorite beer concept that was acquired from another brewery or home brewer?

    Here's a home brewer who brewed a Cherry Dopplebock:

    There have been listings of Cherry Bocks and Dopplebocks recipes in the Home Brew Digest ( going back to 1989.

    Cherry Bocks and the like are rare but not unheard of. These breweries all make or made Cherry Bocks. I wonder which one was Kurt's Favorite? ;-} I bet none were $10 a bottle! ;-}

    Powerhouse Brewery
    540 Main Street
    Longmont, Colorado, 80501

    Indian Ocean Brewing Company
    Perth, Australia

    Croucher Brewing
    1282 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua
    New Zealand

    August Schell Brewing Company
    1860 Schell Road
    New Ulm, MN 56073

    Cherryland Brewing
    560 Gordon Road
    Sturgeon Bay WI 54235

    The Doc has had the Cherry Dopplebock. It's "reaching" in many way. It's not a great Dopplebock. The Cherry is there, but medicinal. The oak? Where? All in all, who in the hell would really would pay $10 for Cherry Dopplebock signed and put in a fancy box? ;-}


    Did you really write, "....Widmers way of lagering their ales..." :-O

    That's just plain hysterical!

  3. I paid $6.95 for it in New Mexico, not $10.

  4. To the Dr:

    Just a thought, but maybe Kurt homebrews? Nah, probably just a time machine.

  5. @Eddie

    I think Kurt can pay someone to Home Brew for him.... But, why would he home brew? It's a set up question. :-)


    $6.95! Wow! Must be a new program at Widhook, "Think Global, Screw the Local." ;-}

  6. Widmer brewed a cherry eisbock for the 2000 OBF that was based on their doppel bock. a small amount of this was bourbon barrel aged and served at the Gasthaus around xmas of that year.

    The next reserve beer is supposed to be Brrrbon, bourbon barrel aged Brrr, I've heard it's quite good.

  7. I wasn't as huge a fan of this as I thought I was going to be. It's decent, but I didn't feel the flavors worked as well as planned.

    I have high hopes for Brrrbon. On paper, it sounds like a winner.

  8. considering widmer's okto is an ale, it doesn't surprise me that they could make something dopplebock-y with the same yeast strain. (my body's delayed reaction to drinking a whole bomber seems to back this up as well.)

    widmer probably doesn't have fermenter space/time to do a full lager for seasonals. (I assume the kona longboard is a true lager, although I wonder for how long.)

    as for the "selection and fave of Kurt's", I bet a few different potential beers were brewed and tasted for the project.

  9. @dr wort

    That is what I have read many times... yes, it's an oxymoron of sorts... but that is supposedly exactly the process... in a strange sort of a way.

    It sounds very funny, but with their yeast strain...

    ... bah, who really knows right?

  10. Why the tortured conflict over lagered ales or stylistic constraints. Brewers are scientists as well as artist. Take a yeast strain and push it in any direction you want and you may get surprising outcomes. If we always held to stylistic guidelines we would not have the proliferation of styles we now have. Porters begat Stouts or vis versa.

  11. Why does every special release have to be in your face?

  12. Brew--tortured conflict over styles? Not here.

  13. I don't remember reading it was a "favorite" of Kurt's, my impression was it was his idea for the beer (his "selection"). Hm.

    And "As the lack of chatter and wonder on the internets attest"? Maybe so, but I called it out as one of the best beers of the year here... yes, I thought it was that good.