Those who read this blog know that, for the past 22 years, Jubelale has been my favorite beer for just sheer drinking pleasure. I’ve tasted – and this probably underestimates it by maybe 10% – well over 10,000 beers in that time and still, to this very day, have never found one that slams into every one of my buttons the way Jubel does. Objectively, is it the best beer I’ve tasted? Probably not, but it’s in the discussion. I could certainly make a Top Ten list (If I were not, in fact, lazy white trash) and where it appeared in that list would probably change, depending on the day, the weather, my mood, and how the Seahawks are doing. Hell, it’s not even, IMO, the best beer Deschutes makes. That title belongs to my all-time favorite beverage of any type, The Abyss.
But, last year, I got a three-bottle sample pack from the Folks on Simpson, opened it, poured, tasted…and was STUNNED. Baffled, flummoxed, _________ (use your own synonym), at how different it was…and not in a good way.The gorgeous malt character was almost absent, while the equally fine hops presence had moved to the fore and been, well, dumbed down. I didn’t like it, for the first time ever, and, after retasting at least five times, sent emails to several folks at the brewery and their PR firm and said that I would not be reviewing the beer and told them why. To my dismay, a mild version of “all hell broke loose” ensued. There was almost audible consternation from down Bend way, and I eventually even got a tech sheet with the brewing analysis that showed that hardly anything was different from the previous batch. They eventually resent a sample pack and, voila!,it was back to at least normal and maybe a tad better, as you can read in this post about the 2014 version. I finally, to my own satisfaction, chalked it up to one of those occasional bottle-variation episodes that I’ve found in both wine and beer, over my 25+ year career in beverages. It happens and the reasons can range from improper fill in bottling to insufficient seal to agitation or overheating in shipping, to any one of a dozen other things. But, for a while, there, I just thought, “Okay, they Tried Something and it didn’t work.”
Deschutes…tweaks. They mess with success. They really do not ascribe to the old axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They “fix” everything – every year, for the seasonals and Brewer’s Reserve Series – and maybe even for the year-round selections. They always want to be better; it’s practically the Deschutes mantra and it flies in the face of almost every other brewery in the world, for which consistency is such a bedrock value that many try to brew to negate even the slight seasonal variations that distinguish one year’s crop of any agricultural product from the next. But this devotion to Trying is, in my book, Deschutes’ primary virtue. They mess with the beers but they “mess” from a base of tremendous knowledge and expertise and they generally have a good idea of what each tweak will produce before they even try it.
Jubelale, the 2015 version – as distinguished from last winter’s Jubel 2015, a titanic, Barleywine-ish version of the accidental Jubelale Ice that came about after an abortive winter burglary at the brewery – is the best Jubel yet. I have 22 versions of this ale stored in my freakish sense-memory and this new one is, in my opinion, the best they’ve ever done with this glorious beer, the perennial champion of America’s legion of offspring of Samuel Smith’s immortal “Winter Welcome”. Many US breweries have tried this style and many have come close to Jubelale but none has ever exceeded what’s in this bottle. This Jubelale IS different. Whether it’s the influence of the staff changes made at Deschutes in the wake of the departures of both Larry Sidor and Cam O’Connor, (which has now shaken out with the brilliant Veronica Vega in the brewmaster’s chair), those seasonal variations in malts and hops, a different water filter, voodoo incantations chanted around the tanks, or simply having just rewritten the recipe, this Jubelale shows a more complex and more prominent hops character, even more pronounced red berry/grain/spice traits to the malts, body for days, and a creaminess that shows up first as a mousse the texture of a milkshake and follows with a cool wash of pure silk on the tongue.
In today’s madly hops-centric Northwest beer culture, the expansion of the hops character in this ale was inevitable. It’s taken me some time and a couple of trips Back Home, to Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, to finally get it that we DO, around these parts, routinely drink and enjoy a hops presence that makes the rest of America wince a bit and say, “What The F__k?” Yeah, some breweries routinely overdo it, and I dearly love a lot of those beers, but Deschutes’ other core value is Balance and I have yet to taste a beer from them yet that wasn’t aimed, first, at being totally and undeniably drinkable. This new Jubel opens with a gusher of rich, spicy malts, red berry notes, dried cranberry, black cherry, licorice, chicory, and an intimation of herb tea, and finishes with towering resins, white flowers, myriad citrus peels, and a savory rosemary note than ties it all together. It’s complex, masterful, and enormously satisfying. Bear in mind, this is all just me. For my tastes, this is THE textbook example of what a Winter Ale should be. My primary value, Balance, is perfectly expressed. The flavors are boldly stated – or, to borrow an oft-used Deschutes slogan, “Bravely Done” – and distinct. You’ll never have to hunt and rationalize and over-analyze to find out what’s in Jubelale. It’s all right up front, best foot forward.
If you’ve never tasted Jubelale, why not? This is as iconic a beer as there is in the United States but, if your excuse is that you can’t get Deschutes where you live, just hang in there. Gary Fish and his crew are expanding the brewery’s reach dramatically and, very soon, Deschutes will be one of those names you can even find in small grocery stores in your Muskogees and Minonks and Kernersvilles and Suwanees. And that’s all coming about not because Gary & Company are greedheads whose bank accounts rule their preforntal cortices, it’s because people ask for, clamor for, demand Deschutes beers. One sip of this tells you exactly why.