The inner workings of a beer reviewer’s thought processes:
Yet another Deschutes review….What to say without reading like a huge sycophantic crap weasel…heh-heh, ship may have already sailed on THAT, pal…So…”NOT the Stoic”…Was there something wrong with The Stoic? Must have missed that memo…”NOT” the Stoic seems a little defiant..or defensive?…Hmmm…Is there any more of that sausage left?…Later, later. Can’t eat sausage while tasting, dork boy…Hmmm, nice color; little pale for a Quad, maybe…Just like The Stoic, come to think of it…..Nice head…great aroma! Jeez, if they bottled a cologne like that, I’d go buy it…Whoa, missing the hockey game! NBC or CBC? PLEASE be on CBC…Yep! Win, Score, Hockey Night in Canada!…HEY! Back to the task at hand, okay?!?…First sip of NOT for someone who was a HUGE fan of IS…WOW…peculiar and a little shocking….Sweet,, spicy yeast notes, BIG caramel, tobacco, all kinds of fruit…Definitely, uh, NOT the dark fruit base of the original…More red, cider, vanilla, wet wood…sausage?…NO, forget the f%@$ing sausage, willya?…No sausage…But some burnt sugar…Fresh figs, dates, molasses…Pomegranate molasses?…Duh, says so right on the fact sheet…Rye barrels pretty far in the background but…present, yep….Pronounced wine character, tending toward maybe raspberry cider…Alcohol almost undetectable but still nicely boozy, warming…Huh…Another sip…a bit of roasted nuts, too…Treacle…I wonder if American readers even know what “treacle” is?…Seems a little affected for someone who only spent eight months in London, forty freakin’ YEARS ago!…Okay, okay…FOCUS…Do I like this as well as The Stoic?…more to the point, if I don’t, am I actually, finally gonna criticize a Deschutes beer?…Egad! The mind reels!…HEY! That was interference! He fell on the goalie!…GODDA….
We’ll interrupt that at this point, in the interest of good taste. And yes, I AM finally going to criticize a Deschutes beer…and me…and you, if you are one of those sad sacks who believes that nothing should ever change and that succeeding at something means just reproducing that same thing, over and over and over and over and…
Not The Stoic is quintessential Truth in Labeling. This is NOT The Stoic. Not even hardly. It could easily have been called “Stoic Doppleganger” or “The Anti-Stoic” or “Alyson Goes To Poughkeepsie” for all the relationship to The Stoic. It IS the same style of beer but that’s the extent of it and, past that, you have to either recalibrate your mental settings or agree to disagree.
Two ales, almost identical descriptions “pomegranate with 16.5% being aged in oak wine barrels and 16.5% being aged in oak rye whiskey barrels” for The Stoic; “Pomegranate Molasses, aged 11 months in 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Rye Whiskey Barrels” for Not. Both decidedly pale for a Quad. (The fabled Deschutes “pale” thing strikes again!) But Not is a virtual festival of red fruit, cider/wine acidity, and fruit sweetness. The Stoic was a LOT more about the dark fruit flavors and the raisin/currant end of the spectrum, as with most Quads.
Back when I reviewed The Stoic, before The Pour Fool even existed, I didn’t attach scores to beers. Since being badgered into that, I do now, every time. The Stoic, when I think back on it with this freakish sense memory, would have scored either 97 or 96. The exact difference in what I think of Not The Stoic is contained in its score…which I’ll give you in a moment.
My reservations about Not are purely a matter of taste; what Steve Likes and Steve Thinks and Steve Would Drink Again. As much as I or any other critic tries to be objective – and ALL credible reviewers TRY to be objective, no matter what mouthy jerks on the ‘net claim otherwise – our own tastes do creep in. The trick is holding it to an acceptable minimum and not letting your taste buds write the review that your brain should be generating.
I am not as big a fan of Not The Stoic as I was of The Stoic. But it’s barely a matter of degree. I would drink Not anytime – and plan to, as the Northwest spring lurches spastically into some semblance of a watered-down, quasi-semi-almost summer. It is a ridiculously fine ale that clearly shows the seriously world-class brewing skills of the current Deschutes staff who, let’s be honest about it, have maybe the toughest act to follow in all of American brewing. Larry Sidor very well may – after Crux Fermentation Project’s barrel-aged beers all start to come of age – turn out to the the greatest brewer of Belgian-style, sour, brett, and barrel-aged beers in the US. That Cam O’Connor and Brian Faivre were able to produce THIS ale – seriously tweaked askew from Sidor’s original – and still have it turn out like this is…well, Not The Stoic is all the resume item either one of these young brewers would ever need. 95 Points
Hop In The Dark is a different story. This is flatly better than every previous version. Back when the beer debuted, the style was far less common than it is now. Black IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale, whatever you want to call it, there were a relative handful being made, versus the deluge of them we see now. When I was in Virginia, recently, I counted five local breweries who were making a Cascadian Dark. Cascadian Dark does refer primarily to the NW hops used in making the style but it has also – in much the same way that the term “Champagne” properly applies ONLY to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of North Central France – usually been the province of Northwest breweries. There’s no laws that pertain, so anybody can make one and plenty do.
When I first tasted HITD, I loved it. Its only serious competition, at that time, was from what I still regard as the best CDA ever made, Fish Brewing’s Reel Ale Series “Swordfish”. The basic difference was creaminess. Swordfish had it, Hop in The Dark didn’t…as much. This 2014 version of HITD has it, in spades. I have no idea what may have been done with the recipe. I’m gonna presume, given the near-mantra of Deschutes for tweaking and improving all their beers, that some sort of revision took place…OR it may have just been the difference between newer batches of grain or something subtly different in the process. Whatever it is, HITD is now silken, smooth as a sheet of glass or baby’s butt or a still pond or a bunny’s fur or whatever your concept of something so smooth you could probably sleep on it may be. The core flavors – the roasty espresso, burnt sugar, blackstrap molasses, bittersweet chocolate, grilled figs, dark toast, all counterpointed dramatically by HUGE resiny hop notes of grapefruit, dried herbs, wildflowers, mixed citrus, and pine sap – amount to a delicious frisson between the warm, dark flavors and the edgy, sinus-clearing hops. The only thing I have ever found to be even mildly disappointed in with 99% of Deschutes’ beers is label art…and I’ve said my piece about that and don’t need to again.
This and Swordfish are still, to me, the template for how this style should evolve. How it does evolve may well be a different story but, in terms of what the style was invented to express – Dark Ale meets Big Hops, gets married, and moves to The Cascades – those two combine every virtue in as distinct a form as any I’ve ever tasted. 98 Points
To Submit a Beverage to The Pour Fool:
Send samples to: Steve Body/The Pour Fool 2887 152nd Ave. NE Redmond, WA 98052