Maybe. Most of us remember the episode in which all the Seinfeld characters express their love for The Drake. It was clever and catchy and at least three people I know with the surname of Drake ran that joke all the way into the ground, so far that they wound up speaking Chinese.
Now, The Drake is making beer. Not really, but if I could make that a fact, I’d do it in a hot minute. Not being a Republican, I’m unable to decide things are facts just because I say they are. So, I have to bend to the unshakable Truth that Drake’s Brewing of San Leandro, California, had already been in business for five years by the time Jerry and Elaine and George and Cosmo Kramer first debated the merits of The Drake and was, by that time, the virtual T-Rex of that prehistoric Oakland/Bay Area brewing scene. Not that we here in the Pacific Northwest or most of the rest of America ever got any first-hand proof of The Drake’s greatness. Here we are, 31 fuggen years after Roger Lind and John Martin opened the doors of their converted Chrysler/Dodge factory, and Drake’s just now showed up in this Soggy Corner of America…but I have to say, they have arrived, now, in a YUGE way.
With over 5K breweries in operation today, it’s become damned near a unicorn search to find any one brewery that’s working primarily in the British ale tradition and doing anything at all distinctive with it. Take 5,000 breweries in operation, most of them doing at least five IPAs and you come up with twenty-five thousand “different” examples of one beer style. How genuinely different can any of them be? And yet, Drake’s has managed to turn out an entire series of 2016/17 IPAs that just, well, don’t taste like anybody else’s, really. They’re suggestive of other IPAs but always a little twisted, tweaked, shifted just slightly off their axis, and all to the good. They express whatever repressed uber-weirdness lurks in their little black hearts with a series called “The Oak Project”, in which their core beers are mega-tweaked and new creations emerge, as from the forehead of Zeus. The names are definitely part of their charm (more on this later) in shameless wordplay like “Brette Davis Eyes”, “Mission Kriek” (from “Mission Creep” for the culturally slow), “Bourbon Drakonic”, and the mouthful (in every sense) that is “Oaklanderweisse”.
This Raccoon has foraged up some VERY interesting, dank (hate that term), and resiny hops. Then, it found a pokeful of very rich and nutty malts and dragged all of that back to San Leandro and dutifully dropped the whole sack in front of brewmaster John Gilooly and head brewer Chris Dunstan and said “Eeeerkzzzkt!” (translation: “Do it!”). Foraging Raccoon is beautifully balanced; just about the polar opposite of the one-note, herbs ‘n’ grapefruit Monster IPAs that have plagued American brewing for the past fifteen years. The malt backbone is firm and smooth and caramel-tinged and frames a pantload of pine/spruce, pepper, tangerine and Lemonheads, sweet herbs, flowers ‘n’ spice hops edginess that yanks the whole thing back from any accusations of sweetness. I want more of this beer and I want it quick, damnit, and I cannot find it anywhere in our local beer shops, which aggravates me no end. That crafty hops blend – Hallertau Mandarina, Idaho #7, Lemondrop, Equinox, and El Dorado – harmonizes better with the 2-Row malted barley, Toasted Rice Flakes, and Golden Naked Oats (and I like my oats naked, when at all possible) than Pentatonix doing a Gregorian Chant. This Raccoon is bitter but nutty-drinkable and doesn’t taste like anything else. 96 Points
The “summer/session IPA” was invented as a scrambling response to the old notion that o
Now…that “charm” thing…What is every bit as refreshing about Drake’s as their beers, here in this age of Taking Yourself Too Seriously, is the names and labels of what Drake’s sends to the marketplace. The labels, I suspect, were not actually hand-drawn by one of the owners’ kids but those gawky, off-kilter letters, while a bit hard to decipher, sometimes, express their beers as well as any brewery’s I have ever seen. The names, aside from the ones already mentioned, include…
War Pigeon…Woody Barrelson…Pretend We’re Dead…Macho Man Razzy Savage…Lawd Willin’…Hop Salad and Hop Sandwich…Go Dumb…Get Stupid…Dropsy…and, of course, showing that their ears are properly affixed to the rail, “Covfefe” Double IPA, the only tangible benefit to come out of a senile horse ass’ 2 a.m. Twitter nod-off. The main reason I started writing about beer in this blog – which was originally supposed to be a wine blog – was that beer is FUN, while wine has a big telephone pole up its collective kiester, though that is being forcibly changed by wineries like Sleight of Hand, K Vintners, and Purple Hands. Drake’s has turned the rare trick of getting to be almost thirty years in business with winding up with that wineish pole up its posterior and I just dearly love the look on my wife’s face when she asks, “Whatcha reviewing, Hon?” and I get to say, “Foraging Raccoon IPA, baby.” Priceless…
Drake’s sent me two of these beers and for that I thank them profusely. If they send more, I’ll trust anything that says “Drake’s” on the label but I’m gonna find them somewhere, even if I have to do it on our October trip to Arizona. Drake’s may be a bit late to the beer bash that is the Pacific Northwest but they are absolutely worth waiting for. You taste these and you won’t even have to ask: We definitely Love The Drake’s.