Coronado is as good across the board as 90% of the breweries that surround them but have about half the name recognition.
Let me say this to start this thing, which is equal parts glowing review and very sour rant: Coronado Brewing “Berry The Hatchet” is a DAZZLING bottle o’ beer. It’s light and fresh and low in alcohol and perfectly balanced and is going to be one of the best summer beers made by anybody in 2016. I tasted this and immediately thought of all those great Euro fruitbiers that I’ve drunk and loved since I was in college; summer beers that, for me, almost define what hot weather in Washington, DC, where I went to school, was all about. But…
…because I am a fella of a certain age, I get guys sidling up to me in brewery tasting rooms and at bars and saying things to the effect of, “Can you believe all these foofy beers? ‘Infused” this and ‘Barrel-aged’ that. Can they not just make a damned Pale ale and be satisfied with it?“…
Even writing this, I’m having to stop for a moment and slowly count to ten…which I’m getting good at and deathly sick of. It’s people like that who occasionally make me want to go out to Cheney Stadium, home of the Tacoma Rainiers, pop into to their pro shop, buy one of those little souvenir bats with “Mariners” emblazoned on the barrel, drive back to the brewery, and just beat the livin’ s**t outta people like that, who really should stop taking up space and breathable air in craft beer taprooms and just…go load up on Budweiser by the case and be done with it.
That’s what that sort of thinking is: habit. The unwillingness to keep an open mind and even try something different. It’s the exact attitude that kept America drinking a cheaply-made, wimpy, insipid, faux-Czechoslovakian crap lager – Yes, Budweiser – and all its dozens of imitators, for ONE HUNDRED FRIGGIN’ YEARS. It’s a bald-faced lack of any sort of imagination; an open admission that, “Yes, by God, I am a freakin’ tight-assed, dull, pole-axed, Cheeze-Whiz-on-white-bread eater and I have no desire to ever do any better, even if ‘better’ is all around me and I literally have to shove ‘better’ out of my way to get to the trash beers.”
So, when I taste a beer like Coronado Brewing “Berry The Hatchet”, I think of those guys, the three dozen or so who have sidled up to me and said baloney like that over the almost 30 years I’ve been involved in the beverage trade. I once even sat with a brewer and suggested that his rather exceptional Red Ale would be great if he were to barrel age it and toss in some Rainier cherries. He snorted derisively and said, “Nah, I don’t make novelty beers like that. I like a good, straight-forward beer with just hops and malts and yeast.”
I gave his brewery a good review after that and he told me his business picked up as a result, which makes me happy because those predictable beers of his are really very good. But I never mention his place in any list of the best breweries in the Northwest…or Washington…or King County…or any area of Seattle’s north side because, for me, a brewery has to have range. And drinkers who don’t have it, too, are a total mystery to me.
I taste something like this forthright berry-soaked stunner from Coronado and I smile and say, “Mmmmm…” and share it with friends and family and I feel great about the future of American beer because we’re no longer stuck in that suffocating nook of ONLY Euro-knock-off adjunct lagers or, later, British-style predictability. The Belgian brewery, Liefman’s, has made a beer called “Fruitesse” for years and Europeans drink it without some huge debate about whether it’s “foofy” or not. It’s shockingly light and fresh and very low in alcohol, coming in at just over 4% ABV. Lindeman’s makes Framboise and Peche – raspberry and peach, respectively – which are serious beers taken seriously by beer experts, and no one giggles or finds them beneath their manhood – and they’re both TWO-POINT-FIVE PERCENT ALCOHOL! The tradition of low-alcohol fruit beers is centuries old in Europe but here, you hear “foofy“…**sigh**
Take a look at that face to the top left of this page. If you see that face in a tavern or bar or tasting room, DO NOT slide up to it and mention a freakin’ word about “foofy beers“. I bought that bat and I know how to use it.
Yes, I am a cranky old bastard. Even if I didn’t know that, my readers remind me of it at least weekly. But here’s the reason: we are living in the age of the greatest explosion of beer creativity and ingenuity in human history. 100 years from now, people will still be drinking beer styles pioneered during this first decade and a half of the New Millennium.
That’s Gripe #1.
Gripe #2 is that I’ve been selling beers from San Diego for about twenty years, now, from breweries with names like Stone and AleSmith and Green Flash and Ballast Point and Port/Lost Abbey. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Coronado, out of all those breweries, is still relatively obscure outside their own region. Here in Seattle, I meet people all the time who have never heard of Coronado and never tasted the beers. I often sit them down and make them try what these folks are producing. I do this because Coronado is as good across the board as 90% of the breweries that surround them but have about half the name recognition. Ballast Point was recently purchased by Constellation Brands for a billion bucks, so their name is on everybody’s lips, as are their beers. Stone, of course, is an Institution. AleSmith is a legit giant of the beer biz. Green Flash is an uber-versatile behemoth. Lost Abbey is arguably as good a producer of experimental ales as there is in the US. And Coronado is very much on a par with all of those.
So, I taste Berry The Hatchet and realize that there are going to be a lot of people who A) think “fruit beer” and decide to skip it and B) think “Coronado?” and give it a pass. And that’s not to mention the ones who are never going to hear about it at all. Which makes me crazy. Folks, it’s this simple: Just TRY all these new beers. What do you have to lose? If you don’t like it, spit it out and run back to your trusty Pale. But I’m betting you’ll like one or two of these infused beers a LOT. Berry The Hatchet is damned near impossible not to like. It’s a real, genuine tart beer, technically a Hefeweizen but built a little like a Berlinerweisse. It’s bustin’ with fat, juicy raspberries, blackberries, and boysenberries, and nicely effervescent without mimicking soda pop. It’s just a touch sweet but comes off as almost dry on the finish. In the glass, it’s absolutely gorgeous; a delightful, mouth-watering rosy pink that looks every molecule as refreshing as it turns out to be. It has a beautiful intensity of flavor, a big presence that’s usually what’s lacking in low-octane beers. And the 4.6% ABV makes it a beer that you can have a couple of on a hot day, without face-planting into your rhododendrons. Each of the berries shows discretely and vividly and the peppery wheat of the base ale, shot through with the yeast-driven tropical fruit notes, is heady and emphatic. 95 Points
If this is your introduction to Coronado, rest assured that, when it comes to those standard beers like your IPAs and your Pales and your Stouts and ESBs and Porters, they do those, too, and do an even better job of it than some of the more-celebrated SD producers. If you’re an IPA fan – and who isn’t, these days? – and you’ve never tried Coronado’s Imperial, “Idiot”, well, I envy you, because I have crushed on that beer for years and I’d love to get, again, that same little swoon I had when I first tasted it in my office, back in 2008.
Their basic IPA, “Islander”, is as good a “single” IPA as anybody’s making in San Diego, these days, and their “Stupid” Stout is, uh, stupid-good.
Coronado is a genuine, veteran Hot S**t brewery; one of California’s upper tier and a name that any real American beer fan should already know. If you don’t, FIX THAT. Try Berry The Hatchet, Idiot, Stupid, or any of the other beers under this label and leave those preconceptions about “foofy beers” to the Old and In The Way. Coronado is as fresh as the beach at their doors and they’re just killin’ it daily, down there in Beer City USA.