These are beers you’re going to see at picnics and softball games and rafting trips and bicycle races and around campfires for years to come, because they speak to everyone in the Pacific Northwest who really loves our epic brewing tradition…
There have been a few notable dissenters who’ve roped me into long and pointless email exchanges about my ongoing love for Deschutes beers. The very things that I love about them are the things that seem to set a lot of folks off. One guy, who has now mercifully moved onto to ragging somebody else in the Beerniverse, spent two solid months trying to argue me off Deschutes, back in 2009-2010. “Their beers are flabby!” he wrote, “They talk about hops but then they don’t deliver. It’s all just marketing. They know that Northwest beer lovers want hops and yet they crap up every beer with malts that blunt the bitterness! They claim to love hops but they know that newbie drinkers won’t touch a properly bitter ale, so they mute everything! When are you and they going to get a clue?“
From the beginning, I’ve tried, without coming right out and saying “F**k off!“, to discourage HopHeads from reading The Pour Fool. I love big, hoppy ales. In a certain mood, I’ll dig a Moylan’s “Hopsickle” out of a shop’s fridge and bliss out on those sinus-clearing buds. But for the most part, I want that Balance and so do the folks at Deschutes. They’ve been remarkably resistant to the idea of pandering to the “Test of Manhood” crowd and held course straight and true into drinkability and craftsmanship. Yeah, some of the beers are assertivly hoppy but all of them show Deschutes’ dedication to letting as many people as possible enjoy their ales.
So when I popped the cap on the brand new Deschutes “Down ‘N’ Dirty” IPA, I almost fell over. For this big, happy, HOPPY monster, Deschutes has doubled back behind their own aesthetic and produced an ale that is aggressively and shamelessly About Those Flowers. D’N’D is bitter, folks. It is, in fact, bitter in the way that I usually dislike intensely: mostly herbal, less citrus, scant florals, and tart grapefruit. I adore complexity and that’s a big part of what’s made me such a shameless suck-up to Deschutes for going on 26 years. This is the IPA that the Hopist Hoardes have long dreamed of from Deschutes, done in Beta Mode; a head-banger’s IPA as made by brew-nerds. I don’t know what exactly made them decide now was the time to stampede bravely off into The Past, but it couldn’t have happened at a better moment in their history. As they run headlong into East Coast manufacturing, a beer like this stands a very good chance of becoming their Mid-Atlantic signature ale.
That said, D’N’D is a sort of Stealth Bomber (literally; it’s shipped in 22 oz. bottles) because, upon careful tasting and a few minutes sitting quietly with this beautiful thing, I detected a tiny world of malty complexity and hoppy embellishments lurking behind the full-frontal bitterness. Grace notes galore show up on the finish, where tree fruit and baking spices and berries and tropical fruit slowly fade into peppery roundness and a lingering hit of grapefruit. But as you sit and sip this analytically, for a few minutes, subtle whispers of some hops traits that usually aren’t present begin to emerge. Jasmine hums along in the background. Lemongrass is there, too. Spruce makes its oddball little sweet rosemaryish character known, subtly, but very much there. A racy little ping of something like eucalyptus shows up and then is gone, while fat conifer resins sing in perfect harmony. The malts merely aid and abet the hoppiness and you could miss ’em, if you were to just take the stuff at In Yo’ Face Value. And, for HopHeads, here’s my open invitation to do just that – and get off it about “flabby”. Deschutes beers were never and are not now “flabby”, and the very fact that people write that to me tells me only one thing: their beer tastes are juvenile and painfully narrow. In fact, I’m predicting that most people will stop short of dissecting this stuff like a lab rabbit because, approached just as your basic IPA, it’s as good as anything currently Out There. This is a FINE bottle of just what the name suggests: down ‘n’ dirty basic IPA that will please everybody and that, I’m predicting right here, will become one of those beers that thirsty farmers and truckers and plumbers reflexively order after a hard day of Duty Calls. 98 Points
Released at the same time as D’N’D is Deschutes “Big Rig”. Labeled a “Classic Pub Ale”, Big Rig shows traits of those uber-pleasing Northwest Ambers that are pub staples everywhere in this corner of America, while muttering “ESB” in the background. Again, this ale is something that maybe Deschutes doesn’t try, just a couple of years ago. I have absolutely NO insider info on this (contrary to widespread rumor, I do not have some everyday pipeline into the decision process at Deschutes and wouldn’t be nosy enough to use it, if I did) but these two ales signal, to me, a sort of populist Statement about Deschutes’ new brew staff and reshuffled management. Deschutes has been so compelling, for me, because they’re bravely and actively experimental and if that ever stops, I’ll probably be less of a fan. But new brewmaster, Veronica Vega, seems to have a more Everyman view of what Deschutes’ beers can be and her universe makes room for the Good Ol’ Boy stuff like D’N’D and Big Rig…which is all to the good. Big Rig is, simply put, an inspired combination of some of the Northwest’s most beloved signature beer styles: it has the fat, malty backbone of Mac & Jack’s African Amber, the creaminess of Fort George “Sunrise OPA”, the sturdy/studly hops backbone of Laurelwood “Workhorse’, (scaled down to about half), and it shows the sinus-clearing crispness and resiny freshness of Georgetown Brewing’s iconic “Manny’s Pale Ale”. For me and my artsy tastes, it was a wonderful throwback to the days before sours, bretts, Bourbon barrels, wild ales, and infusions came along and seduced me so strongly.
It recalled my evenings, back in the early 90s, new to Seattle, kicking back on my apartment’s rooftop deck with a Thomas Kemper Marzen or Amber or a Maritime Pacific Flagship Red and thinking, “Damn, Bubba, you have moved smack into the middle of Beer Heaven!” Big Rig will be familiar to a lot of Northwest beer fans, with the small stipulation that not one of those original microbrews we all venerate was anywhere near this seamless, balanced, approachable, and just flat-damn compulsively drinkable. I could drink this ale every freakin’ day of this coming summer. I probably won’t, because we’re all literally awash with fabulous beers like Reuben’s Brews “Daily Pale” and Sound Brewery “Kanacitra” and Fort George “Suicide Squeeze” and the new immortal, “The Optimist”, but I’m betting that, at least once a week, Down ‘N’ Dirty and Big Rig will both see the inside of my fancy new Whirlpool fridge and the inside of my “Gavroche” tulips.
These are beers you’re going to see at picnics and softball games and rafting trips and bicycle races and around campfires for years to come, because they speak to everyone in the Pacific Northwest who really loves our epic brewing tradition, while giving the rest of America a delicious entrée into How The West Was Brewed. 97 Points