The thing that has – for the entire twenty-eight years I’ve lived here in the uber-verdant Pacific Northwest – made Deschutes Brewery my favorite maker of beers that I can just sit, sip ‘n’ savor is their relentless experimentation.
I get bored easily – very easily – and especially with beer. I try, really hard, never to drink the same beer any more than once in any thirty-day period, the sole exception being when we buy a growler of something and have a finite window for draining it. But if it’s in bottles or cans, it’s in a large rotation and is gonna sit for a while.
Back in the late 90s and early 00s, the folks on Simpson had a brilliant light-bodied ale called Deschutes “Twilight” – long before those crappy movies forever ruined that name – that was in my once-a-month rotation and, in fact, kinda bent it out of shape for a whole summer. It was a sort of companion piece to their “Cinder Cone” Red Ale, a beer that Deschutes later discontinued from their packaging roster but which was such a cult fave that it had its own fan club, the “Year Round Cinder Cone Society”…of which I was a member. Both went on hiatus in the later part of the 00s but each has made a quick return. Now, happily, (ecstatically, in my case) Twilight makes a comeback, in a svelte 12-ounce bottle, with slicked-up graphics but that same crisp, hoppy, seamless character that made me a fan in its first incarnation.
Now rebranded as a summer ale, Twilight shows the same sturdy malt presence that it did originally but has a revised hops bill that features a whoppin’ blast of the dreamy, spicy, vivid Amarillo, bolstered artfully with Northern Brewer, Cascade, and US Tettnang flowers, all floated gracefully atop a backbone of four chewy (but not pushy) malts, with Munich providing a fat caramel tinge that works on me like catnip. The overall effect is more the original with updates than a whole new reinvention. The shower of hops recognizes the 2018 reality of beer in the PNW: hops as main focus but not the whole show. It’s a simple fact that we out here – where about 60% of the world’s hops are grown – have far more of an appetite for the resins than folks in the rest of America. Deschutes may have now become a nationwide pillar of the craft brewing community but they are still deeply rooted in Bend, Oregon, arguably the beeriest small city in the western hemisphere, the bombast about Asheville not withstanding. And this beer is a virtual mission statement of those roots.
This reworking of one of their classic ales comes as a lovely surprise, here in ’18, and summer ale is the perfect rebrand for something that most of us used that way, anyhow. Twilight is madly refreshing, light enough on the palate to have more than one, and has now had its alcohol content reined in to a near-perfect 5%, placing it squarely into the sweet spot for summer drinking. It is a stoopidly delicious bottle o’ beer and that is actually a bit ahead of what it was In The Beginning. Twilight, as the kinds used to say, Rocks. 97 Points
But Deschutes is rarely satisfied with a roster of beers that most breweries would kill for. Just look at their list of classics: Mirror Pond, arguably the Northwest’s landmark Pale. Black Butte, a Porter always mentioned in any beer expert’s Top Five nationally. Obsidian Stout and The Abyss Imperial Stout, consistently in the argument for best Stout made in the US. Fresh Squeezed, their tropical fruit IPA that has conquered most of modern civilization, Red Chair, named the “World’s Best Beer” in a big international competition…and then there’s The Dissident, The Stoic, Mirror Mirror, Inversion, and my favorite all-time winter seasonal, the immortal “Jubelale”. And still, every year, they push aggressively to find new things to make. Sagefight, Hopzeit, Pacific Wonderland, River Ale, Pinedrops, Hop Slice, Down ‘N’ Dirty, Swivelhead – and those are all just in the past three years!
Now comes Deschutes “Just Tapped” Series Passion Fruit IPA, Deschutes’ nod to the whole tropical fruit IPA mini-phenom, with an ale that is notable more for what it is than what it’s not: Not hazy, Not a “milkshake ale”, NOT trendy, and adamantly not chasing any style points with the “I want an IPA but I don’t like IPA” crowd. This ale IS a freakin’ IPA, in the truest, most traditional sense of that term. There is no muting of the resins to suck up to those young drinkers who have lately graduated from BudMillerCoorsPabst because their friends have all gotten “into craft beer” and discovered that hangin’ in taprooms is more fun – not to mention waaay cooler – that hunkering down in a greasy tavern. Many of the fans that are driving the wave of NEIPA/Hazy IPAs are those kids, intimidated by overt bitterness, but in search of an IPA because, well, all their friends are drinking IPAs and, hey, we feel left out. So take an IPA, make it taste like a juice box, and take out those nasty, bitter-beer-face ol’ hops and – Voila! – an “IPA” that even the timid can enjoy.
Deschutes has not pandered at all to that stylistic tangent. This beer does, yes, absolutely, have a full-frontal passion fruit Thang going on but it deals out both the bitterness and the hops-driven fruitiness, big citrus, tree fruit, honeysuckle, jasmine, and lemongrass with a snow shovel and dares you not to like it. I did. You will. It’s almost a foregone conclusion. It is a damnably refreshing, crazily drinkable beer that finishes clean and uncloying and offers a beautiful complexity that will keep even the most devout beer geeks riveted to the last drop.
It’s entirely in keeping with Deschutes’ communal aesthetic that they would wade into a trend but do it their own way, without compromise, and with a mouth-watering tartness that is at odds with the stylistic wave it’s riding but is so flattering and so right that it makes you wonder if the whole milkshake beer ideal wouldn’t benefit mightily from having that moment of deliberate counter-balance, that delightful frisson of contrast that just amplifies the fruitiness that comes before it. Leave it to Deschutes to think outside every box they find in front of them. The Just Tapped Passion Fruit IPA is a very unassuming release for Deschutes but one that states their bona fides clearly and frankly. This is a ridiculously tasty ale that wears well and offers a surprise in every bottle. 97 Points