(Quick Note: When I posted this piece, it contained some rather comically WRONG information about the new Black Butte XXVI…Yes, XXVI, NOT XXVII. I also called it the twenty-seventh edition of this classic ale. WRONG. Deschutes has been making this Anniversary Edition since their 20th Anniversary. I was going to just change all this and slink off with my tail between my legs but I want to note it because, A) it’s funny and B) Occasionally, Mr. Research here needs a reminder that fact-checking – and double-checking – cannot be optional. My apologies to Deschutes and to you guys and especially to my friend, Jason Randles, at Deschutes, who managed to convey this correction without making me feel like a total moron.)
Yes, yes, my God, you’ve seen a regulation pantload of Deschutes reviews here. They were the first brewery to send me review samples, arguably the most consistent producer in the country, and – not coincidentally – my favorite NW brewery since 1992, seventeen years before The Pour Fool was born. And I hope to review Deschutes until I keel over into the potato salad (these days, quinoa salad) and slip these mortal coils.
But finding three beers in my box that are this experimental, this immaculately thought-out, and this varied is An Event, even for The Folks on Simpson…
…which leads me to a shocking admission.
There actually was ONE Deschutes ale that I just flat didn’t like. I didn’t write about it here because The Pour Fool is not about trashing beers, wines, spirits, or the makers thereof…okay, except for Budweiser and AB/InBev. But I would no more savage a craft beer than attempt a blindfolded auto-circumcision. So, I sent a note to their PR firm and politely (I think, I hope) declined to review the beer. That was about…three years ago.
The beer was called “MisSpelt Hefeweizen” and it wasn’t even that I just didn’t like it at all, aside from some overly-energetic spiciness. I just thought it wasn’t really a Hefeweizen and that the flavors were wrong for that style. Yeah, I know: monumental chutzpah, right? Who am I, your lowly Fool, to tell the likes of Larry Sidor (at the time) and the Deschutes Marketing team about beer styles? Given my level of experience, though, I couldn’t write about it. Not if I’m trying to be honest, which, let’s face it, is about all this bloglet has going for it.
So, when I saw a spelt beer in this box, I recoiled like they had sent a live scorpion…at first. Curiosity overcame any reservations that were lingering, and I cowboyed up, popped the cap smartly, and spilled some into the munchie cave.
And, BOY, am I glad I did. Spelt, as I should have remembered from my misspent career as a chef, is actually a grand, robust, earthy, chewy, mellow grain; like barley on steriods. It’s almost brazenly flavorful, as I remember quite well from my various uses of it in bread baking and hot cereals. And it’s that earthiness, that wonderful, palate-coating toastiness, that shows up so strongly in the new Deschutes/Distelhäuser collaboration, Doppel Dinkel Bock. Distelhäuser, for those not up to speed on German breweries, is a very modern, forward-thinking company that stands out even more starkly than their considerable skill would warrant, mostly because they’re such a breath of fresh air in a beer culture that can be a tad stuffy. They are, in many ways, the German Deschutes. When I saw the names linked for the first time, about four months ago, I thought, “Well, that makes perfect sense!” And now, the pair has created, for its type, a very nearly perfect lager.
Dopple Dinkel is a big, hazy-dark, brawny (10.7% ABV!) beast of a beer. The spelt announces itself with authority, laying down a roasty, dark-caramel-tinged, gripping bedrock of bran, grilled bread, malted milk, and mixed nuts. The German yeasts lend a vivid but nicely-restrained layer of bananas, cloves, tropical fruit, nutmeg, and citrus flavors. The Bock style produces a raisiny, dried fruit, Brandied character that leads, on the finish, to a subtle edgy hoppiness that’s perfectly in scale for this beer. This is officially Deschutes Conflux Series #3, a continuation of a grand set of collabos that Deschutes is using to reach into some new styles and regions and this is the best yet of that landmark series. It is also, coincidentally, a dark beer that is light enough in texture that it won’t put off craft newbies and the best use of spelt in any American beer yet. 95 Points
Just as fine but completely different was Deschutes “Foray” Belgian-Style IPA. Belgian IPAs are all the fashion, right now, and a lot breweries that would’t have thought to make one even three years ago are having a whack at it…with predictably mixed results. This is NOT, it must be noted, to be confused with Deschutes “Chainbreaker” White IPA, which is a hybrid witbier/IPA. Foray doesn’t use wheat exclusively and the “Belgian” part of the equation is driven mostly by the assertive Belgian yeast(s) used in the fermentation. This yeast-driven flavor profile develops voluptuous notes of tropical and citrus fruits, baking spices, bananas, bubble gum, mint, and hints of melon. To that, we add a bold cocktail of Nugget, Amarillo, Mosiac, CTZ, and Galaxy hops and…a little alchemy happens.
This ale sports one of the most aggressive and surprising primary flavors of any one thing I have ever found, without actually using even a molecule of that thing as an infusion. What you get, right up front and massively, is lime…Lime juice, limeade, lime peel…LIME, like a punch in the face. I don’t know what sort of chemical collision would produce this, although I suspect that it’s some odd, serendipitous frisson between the yeast’s citrus component and the flamboyant Mosaic hops, possibly in cahoots with the punchy Amarillo. I don’t know what did it, nor do I really care. All I do know is that, for the love of all that’s right and holy, I want Deschutes to keep making this beer until the next Apocalypse. I want to drink it, all flippin’ summer. I many want to bathe in it, although I’m fighting that impulse. It is flat-out, ass-kickin’, eye-poppin’ DELICIOUS. What everyone hopes to get, while fighting the heat and humidity and seeking some measure of refreshment, is what the idea of a Corona with a fresh lime wedge in the neck suggests. This wonderful idea falls apart when you drink it because, basically, Corona is Budweiser with less character (if that’s even possible) and a truly insipid wateriness. This – Foray – is what you were after the last time you did the Lime-Necker trick, and you don’t even need the lime! Behind that is a subtle, mellow cushion of malts and a sublime and multi-faceted hoppiness, leading with an herbal edge and finishing with citrus and white flowers. Foray is complex as a Cray computer and utterly, totally refreshing; maybe THE most refreshing NW ale I’ve tasted, give or take a 10 Barrel “Swill” or two. 95 Points
Last came the Main Event…Deschutes Black Butte XXVI, the seventh installment of one of the great zymurgical love affairs in all of American brewing. Deschutes’ flagship ale, the first beer they ever brewed, given an all-out, No Boundaries rethinking, every year, every batch. Matched only by the relatively-new majesty of their own “The Abyss”, BB Anniversary is one of America’s true hallmark dark beers. It’s wildly sought-after and has been, every single time that I’ve tasted it, one of the two or three top brewing experiences of the year, not only for me but for virtually everyone who scores a bottle. (Or – O, Heavenly Days! – a Pint On Tap!)
#26 is a feast; a tar-black, dense, impossibly creamy, fiercely complex concoction that offers up classic dark ale flavors of molasses cookies, cafe au lait, bitter chocolate, figs, and dark caramels as just a starting point, after which grace notes by the dozens surface and flit by: mixed citrus, cherries, sultanas, sage, anise, licorice, burnt sugar, whole-grain toast, roasted nuts, pine and spruce resins, sweet herbs, gorgeous barrel flavors, and Brandied dates, just to name a few.
I’m not going to beat this magnificent thoroughbred to death. Beer drinkers, basically, fall into two groups, vis a vis Black Butter Anniversary ales: those who already know and admire them (or harbor a creepy obsession, as I do) and those who are simply Not Ready Yet. If you’re in the latter group, don’t despair – you WILL get there, if you continue to love craft beer at all. Those in that first group, GO, NOW, and lay hands on as much of this splendid ale as you possibly can, ’cause it’ll be gone almost before it hits the shelves. It’s just exactly that great, that scarce, and that impossibly, wonderfully delicious. 99 Points
All future beverage submissions to The Pour Fool should be sent to
Steve Body/The Pour Fool 1300-7 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA 98004