I bow to no man (or woman or any other sentient being in the universe who’s capable of operating a computer) at taking an idea that can be expressed in 500 words and giving you 3,000. That’s The Pour Fool: more words for your cranky internet beverage writer dollars!
But, just in the last ten days, I received THREE – count ’em, THREE! – new releases from Deschutes Brewery of Bend. Oregon, a firm whose products I’ve covered for the entire time I’ve been writing this fecund little bloglet. Seldom is heard a discouraging word about the Deschutesers in this space and I’m still – after seven years of patiently explaining, “No, Ricky from Paducah, I am NOT on the payroll of Deschutes Brewery” – accused of taking some wort of moist payola. The short explanation of why you read about every time Deschutes breaks wind in this blog is a simple two-parter: 1) They send me samples of almost every new release, and 2) they’re really, REALLY good.
And. today, none of that is going to change here.
Deschutes “Red Chair” NWPA (Northwest Pale Ale) has been called, by no less an authority than The World Beer Awards, ‘The World’s Best Beer”. No qualifiers, no hedging, unequivocal: “The World’s BEST Beer“.
I don’t know about the absolute best; I suspect that it a judgment that really cannot be made, but I have a very hard time finding anything about that statement to dispute, in a general sense, and this 2014 version of the stuff maybe even pushes the envelope a bit further. Let’s take my description of the 2013 – ” huge floral/citrus/resin hops, core of roasted grains, caramel, waffle cone, honey, red berries, subtle baking spices, orange peel, lime leaf, dried cranberries, and a hint of black cherries. It’s impossibly smooth, delightfully – not combatively – hoppy, and has a wildly compulsive drinkability that cannot be denied and does not, in any way, exclude craft beer newbies who still struggle with hops.” To that banquet, let me add, for 2014, dark honey, Red Vines, teaberry, and a tart apple suggestion, coupled with a hedonistic texture that makes it slide down so wickedly easy that it takes real will power not to drink three or four. In the year since that review, I actually did try it on several craft beer newbies and then was treated to a chorus of groans when I told them it ‘s a seasonal and will be gone in about six weeks. I’m telling you that, now. If you are a beer fan at all, and not just a BudMillerCoorsPabst addict, you will love this beer. It’s the biggest slam dunk in craft beer since Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. “Flawless” was the description I used in 2013. I don’t know what’s beyond that but, whatever is the better term up the Scale of Satisfaction, that is what Red Chair is. 99 Points
Deschutes “Hop Henge” Experimental IPA is The Brewery on Simpson’s yearly experiment in making a full-frontal IPA that’s also wildly drinkable and this 2014, IMHO, is the best Henge yet. Their PR sheet says that the brewers used “Millennium hops at the front end of the brew, adding in Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook at the back end. They promise that this year’s version will have a ‘s*%tload of hops’ that results in a massive nose and a beautiful bouquet of flavors.” Done and done. This one feels noticably more full-bodied than any of the past Henges; a silken, near-viscous quality that’s brought about by a malt backbone that imparts a chewy, caramel-drenched mellowness to the cloudburst of resins that follow…which is also the best edition of hoppiness I’ve tasted yet. Lovely, almost delicate notes of wildflowers, pink grapefruit, tangerines, and lemon peel gild a massive wallop of pine and spruce resins and wild citrus, with hints of pineapple, apricot, and quince. Just…magical. It’s not, very much to Deschutes’ credit, built like one of those “test of manhood” extreme IPAs that simply hammer home the bitter. This huge floral/citrus/resin hops, core of roasted grains, caramel, waffle cone, honey, red berries, subtle baking spices, orange peel, lime leaf, dried cranberries, and a hint of black cherries. It’s impossibly smooth, delightfully – not combatively – hoppy, and has a wildly compulsive drinkability that cannot be denied and does not, in any way, exclude craft beer newbies who still struggle with hops. Henge is layered, complex, composed; more like Ninkasi “Tricerahops” than any other beer I could compare it to and anyone who’s read The Pour Fool for any length of time knows that I consider that one of the best Double/Imperial IPAs ever created…and Hop Henge may just be even better. THAT level of quality, concept, and amazing drinkability is what you have in the 2014 “Hop Henge”. 98 Points
Deschutes “Dissident” Reserve 2014 is yet another chapter in the growing legend of a great regional brewery which has reached so shockingly far beyond its Brit-tradition roots that it seems like the work of two or three really fine breweries. Basically an Oud Bruin, or Flanders-style sour Brown Ale, Dissident is, to me, the second best American Our Bruin-style ale ever made…and the best was made by the same guy who originally formulated this one. Larry Sidor, former Deschutes Head Beer Wrangler, came up with the template for this ale and took his inspiration on to his own brewery, Crux Fermentation Project, where his “Banished Edition ‘Freakcake’ ” reigns as the single best American version of this ale ever. But what Brian Favre and the recently-departed co-brewmaster Cam O’Connor (now with Larry at Crux) have done with 2014 is a massive and soulful infusion of tart Oregon Montmorency cherries, aging in wet Pinot Noir barrels, and enough time in the cellar to allow the Lacto to get nicely started. Emphatic flavors of those maddening, tart/sour cherries(!), Brandied currants, raspberry compote, dried cranberries, Balsamic, toffee, and fruit leathers slam prettily into your palate and the aromas pouring out of the glass are almost hypnotic. No, Dissident is not for everybody. Those who love Flanders-style ales will swoon instantly and sour beer fans will find this a near-perfect, uber-sophisticated quaffer. As fate would have it, I had just had a bottle of Petrus Aged Red, an actual Flanders Our Bruin with cherries, the day before tasting this and Dissident, to me, was better in every dimension. This is an American version of a Euro classic that any Flanders/Belgian brewery would LOVE to have under their label and a stunning testament to the atmosphere of wide-open creativity and artistic freedom that Gary Fish has fostered ever since he started Deschutes. Several of his employees have referred to the place, in private conversations with me, as “Happy Valley” and their record of innovation and accomplishment bears that out. Dissident 2014 is a profoundly good and surprisingly approachable ale. 99 Points
Okay, let the questions about payoffs begin. These three from, Deschutes are all the evidence anybody should need that this Bend icon lays definite claim to the title of one of America’s Top Five Breweries.