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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Deschutes Dissident, 2.0

Ah, the wild yeasts. They impart an intense, sour flavor, so we think of them as "wild" in a subjective sense. But although strains have now been isolated, they remain wild in the more accurate sense: they are feral and untrained. Put them in your beer and you take your chances.

From outward appearances, the first edition of The Dissident went just as planned. That beer was a rousing success, debuting as a lush, fruity beer and maturing into an intense, deeply layered beer. Version two point oh appears to have been more cantankerous. I didn't track the number of times I heard official or unofficial mention of release dates, but they began long before Deschutes finally settled on November. One can only imagine that the brewers were zwickeling samples off barrels and cursing their naughty brettanomyces for not getting on with the show.

So today, when I encountered the 2010 vintage, I wasn't surprised that it was a markedly different beer. Keep in mind that we must compare the just-released beer with the just-released beer of 2008. Here's what I wrote about it:
The aroma is not as funky as Liefmans--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. It is a lovely and approachable beer. I find the three major notes of the beer come together in very nice harmony. 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.... The result is a beer that is neither heavy nor overly sour.
This year's version is almost none of those things. Even before I put my nose in the tulip, I could smell the leather of the brett right away. There's a bit of chocolate, too, but mostly brett. The palate follows suit. In '08, the wild yeasts hadn't completely dismantled the sugars, but in this one, they're well on the way. It is thinner and far drier, and the malt and cherry notes have given way to that austere quality brettanomyces eventually produce.

I was surprised to see that this version is listed at 10.5%; the '08 was 8.8% at release. If Deschutes used the same recipe, that would be a huge difference. Perhaps the brewery felt the '08 was released too green, but I suspect not. That beer was so lush and complex--and it was so nice to try it "green" (to the extent barrel-aged beer can be) before watching it evolve. Also, the unpredictably late release date also suggests there was a reason they didn't put it out earlier. (Wild yeasts don't do the same things twice.)

It's very difficult to compare this beer head-to-head with the '08; they're quite different. This beer, with its more advanced brett character, will appeal to fewer people. The more sour a beer gets, the more people it loses. On the other hand, sourheads may appreciate this vintage more.

You have to go try it; as always with sour ales: your mileage may vary.


  1. Where can one buy/drink this beer?

  2. I'm what you'd call a "sour-head", but this vintage appealed a lot less to me than the first batch did. This one had less complexity, a thinner body, more brett flavors, less acidity and tartness than I remembered from the first batch (maybe just less lactic acidity?). When first served, I thought it was a little underwhelming in complexity, bite, and mouthfeel. As it warmed a bit, it opened up a little to reveal a bit of spiciness that I enjoyed, but it wasn't enough to live up to my memories of fresh 08.

    Where I could see this one improving is the way that Michael did after some time in the bottle. It was another kind of flat and flabby sour beer that was overpowered by the oak it aged in. After some time in the bottle, tartness improved, or at least the perception of tartness improved when the oaky flavors subsided, and became better integrated into the beer.

    Still, after Mother of all Storms, the Matt release, and making sure I had money left over to reimburse ezra for a bottle of figgy pudding, I decided NOT to buy these bottles this time around... which is a bummer, because I've been eagerly anticipating this release for over 2 years now.

    It could just be that I've spoiled myself with sour styles since the dissident came out the first time though.

    Since then, I've been to belgium, russian river began sending their beers to oregon, I've traded for other out-of-state wild ales, and Cascade opened the barrel house.

    While the deschutes reserve series is generally really well priced compared to other brewery's special bottle releases, I'd rather pay a couple bucks more for a sang rouge a mile or two away than the $12 deschutes wants for the dissident this year.

  3. Brewcaster, bottles should be in stores in Oregon soon--I don't know if Deschutes is rolling it out to all their regions or not. Both Bend and Portland pubs are serving them.

  4. The '08 Dissident was one of the most complex and lovely beers ever to pass my lips. It sounds like this year's release is quite a bit different. A Deschutes representative told me via Twitter that some will be coming to Colorado, so I'll look forward to trying it.

  5. I'm with pedXer on this one. I am a sour head, and this one just seemed a bit tame to me. It had a nice Brett funk to it, and was rather smooth... but not a stellar sour by any means. Just not worth the hype this time around. We'll see what happens over time with it.