I’m about to review another splendid beer from Deschutes Brewery and anyone who has ever read The Pour Fool will not be at all surprised that I think it’s wonderful, amazing, great, exceptional, etc., etc., etc. I’ve taken static ever since the first review of a Deschutes beer in this blog, six+ years ago, and as I pick up all these new readers, I get fresh waves of the same old questions:
“Do you work for Deschutes or what?”
“Do you work for Deschutes’ PR firm?”
“Do you ever taste beers from __________, because I really don’t get this obsession with Deschutes.”
“Does Gary Fish have pictures of you and a barnyard animal in flagrante delicto?”
No. No. Yes. No, at least I hope not…in that order.
Deschutes Jubel 2015, the ice beer version of Deschutes immortal winter seasonal, Jubelale – which is, as I freely admit, my favorite American beer – is another dazzling, near-impossible release from the folks on Simpson Avenue, on that picturesque hilltop above the even more-picturesque Bend, Oregon. The original inspiration for it came about when some hapless, ill-informed thief broke into the brewery, many years ago, after a snowstorm, when no one was about, and intended to make off with a keg of Jubelale. What the silly so ‘n’ so didn’t know was how freakin’ gargantuan heavy a full beer keg is. After about twenty feet of wrestling with the thing, with all that slippery stuff underfoot, he simply dropped it in a snowdrift and left. When the crew found it, much later, the keg was frozen solid, which, as when all liquids are frozen and then thawed, caused the beer to shed a lot of its constituent water content. This concentrates the remaining dissolved solids and raises the alcohol-to-water ratio, producing Something Totally Different. German Eisbocks are made by roughly the same process, as are ice wines, except that, with those, the grapes are actually frozen and then thawed and the whole process of reduction and concentration happens with each individual grape. What also rises significantly is the sugars, so Eis beers are sweet, ice wines are sweet, and both are strong enough to apply for membership in WWE.
Jubel 2015 pretty nearly makes me speak in tongues; a viscous, palate-painting wash of fruitcake and spices and dark berries and brown bread toast and a huge note of bran flakes and that maddening cherry flavor that illuminates the “regular” Jubelale…if anything that delicious and satisfying can, in any sense, be called “regular”. And that’s the accurate thumbnail of what was supposed to be a once-a-decade Reserve bottling: it tastes just like Jubelale, only waaaaay moreso. As Deschutes undergoes the changes that are now taking place in Bend and staffers come and go – co-brewmaster Cam O’ Connor recently left to join his old boss, Larry Sidor, at Crux Fermentation Project and budding ace Veronica Vega assumes more responsibility – there was apparently a wild epiphany that came to someone, something along the lines of, “Hey, we don’t really have to wait until 2020 to brew another super-Jubel. I mean…that’s just a policy, not a freakin’ law or something!”
And so they did and it is every inch the success it was in 2010 and doubtless will be in 2020…because Deschutes is just great. GREAT…It is, of course, VERY limited, so when you see it, GRAB IT. 99 Points
Which brings me to my next item…
One of those fresh waves I mentioned above rolled in this week and, while it was not as strident as most, it was even more pointed and came, as these things freakishly do, from something I wrote maybe a year ago, in the Seattle P-I wing of this bloglet. I was asked to produce a list of my top ten Washington breweries, so I did. When it was posted and up for a day or so, some of the same people who had asked me to do it emailed me and told me that I had done it wrong. There are two WA breweries that have been fawned over ever since the first opened their doors – and I am, of course, not gonna name them, not even if you guess both – and became wildly popular and to that I say: Good For Them. I absolutely LOVE IT when new businesses open and immediately blow the doors off. It literally makes me as happy as if I had done it myself and that is in NO way an exaggeration. Even if I don’t agree with the level of adulation lavished upon these breweries, I celebrate their successes and actively root for more for them.
But the simple fact is that my job with this blog – and my day job – is to evaluate beverages and in neither case do I think these two breweries have succeeded across the board with their beers. Each makes several transcendent ales but also makes several more than are just okay or worse, and my thinking about the whole of their rosters isn’t and cannot be influenced at all by their success or how many mouths are running overtime, shouting their praises. Three of those folks who asked for the list got back to me and said, roughly, “How the f___ can you make this list and have ____________ Brewing rated that low? They’re clearly the best brewery in the state, as all Washington beer fans know. You have a four-way tie at Number One and none of those breweries can measure up to __________!”
To this, as with the consistent adulation for Deschutes, I have this to say: when someone makes a statement like “as all Washington beer fans know”, what they’re really saying is, “as I and six or eight of my friends know”. To my knowledge, there is no public poll, no survey, no group that’s researching the tastes of all of Washington’s beer lovers. When the guy who wrote that thought about it, he remembered that he and his buds were standing in a crowd of 150 people in the __________ Brewing tasting room and it was hard to even get to the taps. It probably did, to him, appear as if every craft beer fan in the state was there. But, in reality, our 200+ breweries ALL have devoted fans who turn out on Saturdays and Friday nights and cram the taprooms and that tightly-packed 150 represents maybe .05% or less of all the beer fans standing in line at that moment, all across Washington.
What motivates remarks like his is trendiness; the Next Big Thing, the shiny new bauble. The desire to see and be seen, to be hip and Now and Inside, drives much of the wild popularity of certain new breweries. And, to a large extent, social media campaigns – such as those that started, for both these two breweries, better than a full year before their first beer was tapped – created a buzz that caught on and sparked the initial mania for the brewery. And having a couple of great beers, as both surely do, helped keep that buzz fresh.
I visited Holy Mountain Brewing in Seattle last weekend, a brewery that opened just three weeks ago, and they are already, in terms of consistent quality, FAR better than either of those breweries in question and remember: I DID name both among the ten best in the state. It was just that, for my three readers, I didn’t show their opinions – not the brewery or the beers – proper respect. And I’m not supposed to.
Both those breweries deserve a place in Washington’s Top Ten. Neither deserves to be called “the best brewery in Washington state“. Can that change? Absolutely. I hope it does, in fact. As I’ve said 100 times in this blog, I want ALL new breweries to become local and regional and – dare I say it – national icons. But there’s only ONE way to get to that, and it’s not social media buzz or allegedly-clever marketing or hitching your wagon to some corporate behemoth. It happens when you make GREAT – not “good” – beer and prove that you can do it consistently, over the long haul. The opinions you read here are totally unaffected by peer pressure or trendiness or buzz, but completely determined by that principle. I visit breweries alone or with my wife. I listen to no one but my own taste buds. I approach each individual beer purely on its own merits. That’s my JOB. That’s how being a reviewer is supposed to be done. And you read such consistent praise for Deschutes here because they’ve been around for 25 years, have amassed a ridiculous record for quality and innovation, are unafraid to tackle any new style or approach, and show peerless skill with every new release. They have also, just as importantly, sent me their new releases for six years now, and that saves me time and effort in finding them and removes any excuses I might have for not reviewing the beers. An increasing number of breweries are doing that, these days, which means that their beers move to the front of the line in likelihood to be reviewed.
Deschutes is the standard to which both of those unnamed breweries aspire: unbending quality, a flawless reputation, and a wide-open attitude toward pushing the envelope. And that only happens over time. Shiny new breweries are a legit cause for celebration. Everybody – me very much included – loves to be in on the ground floor of some new marvel. I fervently believe, from ONE tasting, that Holy Mountain is headed for lasting greatness, if they just don’t fall off the horse. I question whether the Mystery Duo will achieve that, after the sheen wears off. Reuben’s Brews, Sound Brewery, OId Schoolhouse, and several dozen others, here in Washington, have proven that they have the legs to stick in that upper tier. And that’s why I show them more respect.
If you don’t agree with anything you read here, you are more than welcome to respond, as long as you have a reasoned argument to make and not just “You Suck!” I am too old and been around the block too many times to waste my life with either wounded ego or lavish praise. One of my three offended readers demanded that I rewrite the list to agree with his judgments. That will never happen, not with me or ANY critic worth a damn. My opinions are based on 45 years of tasting and thinking about and studying beer. And I do not, ever, just pop off without thinking about what I’m saying. If you read it here, I Own It, I considered it, and I plan to stick by it. Factual errors are a different story but my opinions will only change when the beers or the wines or the booze or those producing them change for the better or worse. I’ve been patiently explaining this in reply emails for seven years, now. As the blog has grown, my time shrinks. Those with complaints about opinions will now be linked to this post and get their answer here.