Five years ago, after a string of four amazing editions of the classic Deschutes “Mirror, Mirror” Barrel-Aged Barleywine, the brewery suddenly decided to suspend production of what was fast becoming one of the West’s most sought-after Strong Ales. This was the ale, after all, that started Deschutes amazing Reserve Series and it had a certain…well, “compulsive” appeal for a lot of us, starved as we were by the relative scarcity of Barleywine-style ales from the Pacific Northwest. I distinctly remember buying my last bottle of it, at Larry’s Market in Redmond, just before it, too, abruptly disappeared.
Seeing this ale back – and finding it in a box on my own doorstep! – set off a brief episode of grinning and gyrating at my house, a thing which, mercifully, no other human was around to witness. I adored this ale. It was always big and gutsy and boozy and mesmerizing to sit and sip but was also subtle and nuanced and allowed for a lot of beer-geeky analysis and scrutiny, if one was so inclined, which I was. And, it was a tad dangerous, too. I once polished off two bottles of this in an evening at home (while my heavenly Domestic Partner was on a girls-only trip to PDX) and began to speak in tongues. It will bite ya back, with its deceptive, friendly character that masks a prodigious belt of High Octane.
But, again – and it’s really time to stop doing this crap every time Deschutes releases a new ale that the current O’Connor/Faivre two-headed Brewmaster beast hasn’t executed before – it wasn’t made by the original guy who invented it, so I was nervous all over again, even though Cam ‘n’ Brian have proven to be maybe the ideal inheritors of the Deschutes mantle and have, in fact, exceeded themselves fantastically with almost everything they’re produced. I needn’t have worried. Mirror, Mirror 2014 tastes and feels like this five-year hiatus never happened at all.
What set this ale apart from the git-go was that, as opposed to the British Barleywines from which it clearly evolved, MM shows a range of flavors and accents far beyond the fat, chewy explosion of malts that’s the hallmark of almost all British and many, many American BWs. It does show a big, prominent malty richness of caramel, treacle, figs, fruitcake, nuts, cocoa powder, and brown sugar but it also shows emphatic notes of citrus fruit, mango, white peach, overripe pears, apricots, mint, spruce tips, and a barrel character that shows as vanilla and wood shavings and distinct but subtle undertones of the Tempranillo, Malbec, and Pinot that occupied those kegs. It is, again, wickedly easy to drink and – no foolin’ – needs to be approached with care lest the drinker wind up on their lips. At 11.2% ABV, this has enough muscle to it to slap you flat and the smoothness of it makes that a real possibility.
Mirror, Mirror, of course, starts out as a double batch of Deschutes immortal, industry-standard Pale Ale, Mirror Pond. The changes it goes through, and the sheer mastery that shows in the way Deschutes does nearly everything, give it that same stately patina of quality that you sense, even if you can’t explain it, in driving a Porsche or cracking a bottle of Joseph Phelps “Insignia”. This is just better than the other Barleywines around it and its return is cause for celebration among all us West Coast fans of Strong Ales, Barrel-Aged Ales, and Barleywines. Mirror, Mirror is a bona-fide American Classic. 99 Points
This is about as far from the usual subject matter of The Pour Fool as it’s possible to get and I apologize. I would say I’ll never do it again but…well, that’s out of my hands, in a way. It all depends on whether a large group of millionaires in a building down in Renton can marshal their energies for another long, grueling, triumphant season of the kind they finished up on a grey winter day in February. If they do it again, expect to read another thing like this…because, frankly, your faithful Fool is not given to a lot of celebration or expressions of joy. I was taught, at a very early age, that shouting about everything cheapens it when greatness does find its way into your life. So, for twelve seasons, now, I’ve been a season ticket holder of the Seattle Seahawks and have suffered and empathized and agonized right along, during the okay and the awful, the transcendent and the mediocre, and, as Super Bowl 48 unfolded there on a big screen TV at our son’s house, I had an experience that I never expected to ever have again: a day when everything goes better than right.
I owe a buncha guys named ET and RS and DangeRuss and Okung and Beast Mode(!) and Bam Bam and Angry Little Brother and GT and Big Red and Max and Lock and Sweezy and Wags and Hausch Money and KJ and ‘Bane and all the rest a debt I can never repay. More than when my beloved Volunteers won the NCAA championship in the Fiesta Bowl in 1998, more than the NCAA March Madness Championships my Tarheels won in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, and 2009, this was the sweetest. In this one, I was there, I was Involved. I’m a 12, By God, and I was part of every one of those 10 home typhoons of sound and fury and exultation that got the team to the Promised Land. I spent ten weeks this year unable to talk until Thursday or Friday of the following week. I sat in the rain and froze and shouted and wept and hugged total strangers and saw our communal dream come true. Seattle needed it. I didn’t realize how much I really needed it but I will never forget ANY of it, no matter how the vagaries of business and fate scatter those who accomplished this to the four winds. In the days afterward, Pete Carroll said, “The 12th Man are all Super Bowl Champions” and that is true. We all did this together. We rose above the legendary Seattle futility and said, “Why Not Us?” Why not, indeed. Power of suggestion, maybe, but this city walks a little taller now. People smile more. 12s are everywhere and nothing seems too big or too far-fetched. I’m glad I lived to see it. And I’m glad you were there with me…
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