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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Midwest-West Coast Collaboration

The notion of collaboration is no longer novel. Yet rarely do you see two breweries of the stature of Deschutes (5th largest) and Boulevard (10th largest) come together to craft a recipe. Or even more pointedly, two brewers of the stature of Larry Sidor and Steven Pauwels. They're still in the process of fine-tuning the result of their brainstorm, a beast they're calling a "white IPA." More on that in a moment.

One of the most frustrating things about good-beer fandom is how regional American brewing remains. The first problem is access: most craft beer distributed only locally or regionally. Because of this, the second problem is that we don't see how other regions brew differently. And this is where the collaboration really gets its fizz.

The two regions have different agricultural influences, different histories, different people, and different tastes. The Northwest, of course, is the land of the hop. Our beer is hoppy and that's how the beer drinkers want it. The Midwest, by contrast, is a malty place. Anyone who has directed the nose of their Ford along the blue highways of America's breadbasket understands how important grain is to the psychology of the region. As proof, Boulevard's best-seller (from a vast line that includes lots of exotica) is a wheat beer.

The idea of fusing the sense of these two places guided Pauwels and Sidor as they thought about what style of beer to brew. The concept they came up with was a beer with wheat and hops, where both elements were both distinct and at the same time harmonious. A wheat IPA wouldn't do that, so they came up with this white IPA thing--with lemongrass and white sage. (They also liked the idea of riffing on the black IPA trend.) When Pauwels and Sidor were in town, I failed to get a quote, but trust John Foyston, the old pro, to bust out his pen:
"We liked the beer but we both agreed there was a hole in the middle," said Sidor at the Deschutes Portland Pub event yesterday. "So we started experimenting with a bridge between the citrus of the hops and the herbal flavors of lemongrass and other spices and a hint of sage worked best."
The final version still isn't ready, but last week, we got to try an early batch. For Deschutes, this is a rush job--fewer than ten test batches til go time (Hop in the Dark took two dozen). It'll be interesting to see how the thing pans out. This version was strong on the sage, which gave strong aromatics but a strangely cooling sensation on the tongue, and weak on the hops. The wheat was a lovely, soft bready touch. It tasted more to me like a farmhouse ale than a wit-IPA cross, but we'll see what the final version looks like.

Both breweries will brew the final recipe separately. There will be subtle differences: they each source their malt from different companies, and of course, both systems are different. Look for them in the "summer"--which appears to have no intention of visiting us anytime soon.

Update: The New School has more on the beer, including a nice video. And from that video, I learned that Deschutes' code name (31-25) was a Packer's Super Bowl reference. Is there nothing Deschutes can do wrong?


  1. Bill Schneller3:45 PM, May 31, 2011

    "Anyone who has directed the nose of their Ford along the blue highways of America's breadbasket understands how important grain is to the psychology of the region. As proof, Boulevard's best-seller (from a vast line that includes lots of exotica) is a wheat beer."

    Isn't Widmer's biggest selling beer a wheat beer also? So is that proof of the importance of grain to the NW's psychology (as opposed to the importance of coffe, rain, and hops)? I know, I know, poetic license and all (or maybe it's blogger's license). Sorry, I just couldn't resist a little nitpicking...

  2. I think it's time to get that "enemies" list going... :-)

    You're right, Bill, but I would say the Widmer's luck with Hefeweizen wasn't based on the connection Oregonians felt toward the occasional wheat fields the noses of their Fords drove by.

    And anyway, that was their story, and I'm sticking to it.

  3. Bill Schneller4:55 PM, May 31, 2011

    Wow, I actually made the enemies list. Sweet. That's got to be an accomplishment since you're such a mild mannered guy.

    I told you it was nitpicking. In any case it'll be interesting to taste this one when it's out.

  4. Several pairs of brewing co.s are using the term 'collabeeration'.

    I like it.

  5. Enjoy reading about all the beers this blog reports on. We are in the planning stages for a new brewery in Northeastern USA called Nor'easter Brewing Company LLC and our business plan is to grow to over 25,000BBL within 5 years.
    The breweries you report on, allow for much encouragement.
    About to take the craft beer industry by storm!

  6. @ Jack R. I'll disagree with you there. I'm not a huge fan of making up words like "collabeeration" when perfectly good existing words will suffice. It reeks of the cheesier tendencies of marketing.

    A brewery around my parts lists its head brewer as "brewdog." Seems a little silly when the word "brewer" has been around for centuries, and its meaning is clear and widely understood.

  7. I thought Widmers luck was in the fact that their Hefe is flavorless and boring which fits the Moral Majority of America?

  8. @Soggy Coaster
    I respect your opinion; but, I enjoy wordplay.

    'The People' are the authors of the language, there is a 'Cult of Innovation' among American craft brewers; so, it comes as no surprise that the language is being stretch by the craft beer industry and its fans.