The people you see in the photo above…Are these the staff of the best brewery in America?
If you read this thing, you know that I frequently scoff at the whole idea of “Best“. All those lists of “America’s Best IPA“, “Best Breweries“, “Best Beers“, all, to be diplomatic about it, a load of brainless crap. Why? Because they are NEVER – EVER! – anything but a judging of what’s around on one particular day or whatever breweries, beers, IPAs, etc., that the author or panel of “experts” knows of…and nobody – NO-freakin’-body – knows every brewery, every beer, every IPA in their own region, much less the entire country.
So, when I say that Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon, is the “best brewery in the US“, you should take that with not just a grain of salt but the whole Morton Salt factory. And yet…I’m compelled to say, (in all honesty, the principle upon which this website is based) that, based on my experience, and based on what is now fifty years of studying beer, I have found NO single brewery in this country – and not many anywhere – that exceeds Deschutes in across-the-board consistency of quality, beer after beer, year after year, without fail. This is not to say they never produce anything that I don’t like. In fact, I’ve now declined to review three Deschutes beers and one of those was because I received a sample which had been heat-tainted. A new sample was sent and then I reviewed it – in glowing terms.
But, in my head, there was a peak even these guys were not gonna be able to climb. The whole subject of low-alcohol beers just…makes me tired. Over those fifty years, I’ve tasted maybe 120 beers that advertised their low ABV and touted its flavor. Not ONE actually produced a beer that could not be reasonably called wimpy in comparison to a comparable beer with a normal level of octane. They lacked body, lacked complexity, lacked malts presence, lacked hops character…lacked. Left the drinker wanting more, even if that person was willing to rationalize away the beer’s shortcomings And drink it anyway because, well, “what can you expect from a low-alcohol beer?”
As it turns out, a lot.
Deschutes’ new “Da Shootz!” American Pilsner (that exclamation point is a part of the name, much like the movie, “That Thing You Do!”) is just simply a beautiful can ‘o beer. It would be just as beautiful in a bottle or a Mason jar or an old sneaker. It’s perfectly conceived and perfectly made and – unlike most of the vast run of contemporary Pilsners – TASTES LIKE SOMETHING – at just 4.5% ABV! That statement is going to get me a whole new avalanche of emails from Euro-weenies who preach the subtlety and nuance and elegance of the Pilsner style and screech at me – for all fifty years, now – that I just don’t get it. And, to a point, I don’t. I and millions of American beer fans of my age literally had NOTHING to choose from, for 120+ years, besides Pilsners – horrid, lowest-common-denominator, watery, insipid shit beers and not really many of those. BudMillerCoorsPabst, etc., etc., etc., unto grim death. I did NOT fall in love with craft beer so that I could go on drinking the least flavorful style of beer made in the US. If a brewery wants my $$$, they can do something interesting with the American Pilsner because just regurgitating the EuroPils, badly, is not interesting, even in terms of “authenticity”.
Da Shootz! tastes like a whole fuggen smorgasbord of Something. The Deschutes brew crew has slipped in a, ahem, dreamy finish of Tettnang, Lemondrop, and Azacca hops, instead of the undistinguished mish-mash of Whatever hops Americans have consumed in the Mass Crap Beers. BIG, fat, dripping flavors of that insane Lemondrop (guess what THAT tastes like!) hops suffuse every sip, and the riot of floral, spice, and herbal notes from the German Tettnanger and the shocking mango, papaya, orange, grapefruit, and other tropical fruit character of the Azacca flesh out this gorgeous tapestry. None of these is out of scale with the style of a Pilsner but all add a layer of interest that is, at least in my experience, almost never found in a Pils. There are three malts in play – Bohemian Pilsner, Pilsner, and the workhorse Carapils – that provide the hallmark cookies and bread and cracker underpinnings of every Pilsner.
In short: perfect.
But what really sets Da Shootz! apart is, ahem part 2, Body. This is Pilsner with meat on its bones. This is a graceful Boxer dog of a beer, instead of the Teacup Poodles I get sent to me by the dozens, every year. It’s actually – I can’t even believe I’m writing this – rich on the palate and assertive in its flavors. I don’t think, in that fifty years, I’ve ever attached “rich”, “assertive” and “tastes like Something” to any Pilsner. ALL of my all-time favorite Pilsners are Euro: Pinkus, Warsteiner, Radeberger, Javer, König, and a few more. Into that list go fewer than ten Americans: Chuckanut, Airways, pFriem, Victory, Upright, and five more.
This is the equal of any of them and quite possibly the better of all but pFriem and Chuckanut.
But beyond that, this is THE single BEST low-alcohol beer of any description I have ever tasted. I defy anybody to blind-taste this and tell me it’s a low ABV beer. For that matter, I would also bet that not more than five, six folks out of a hundred would even guess that it’s a lager and not a light-bodied ale.
This is now a year-round beer from Deschutes. I know what I’m going to be drinking on my patio, this summer, and you owe it to yourself to try this and see if you agree.
In 2011, Deschutes “Red Chair” NWPA was named, at the World Beer Awards, “World’s Best Pale Extra Strong Pale Ale“. In 2012, they went a step farther: “World’s Best Beer“.
While I may balk at naming anything “World’s Best…“, it’s kinda the mission of the World Beer Awards to do that sort of thing. And they did it rather emphatically.
Is “Red Chair”, in fact, the world’s best beer?
I really cannot argue with it. I can say that the Northwest Pale Ale is not really my ultimate favorite style of beer. I can even admit that I like a bunch of Deschutes beers as much or better than RC. But, if cornered, I also have to honestly say that Red Chair is possibly the best beer of any kind I have ever run across in terms of realized concept, structure, range of flavors, drinkability, and that most elusive quality of all: “I could drink this every day.”
Lotsa people DO drink the same beer every day. To me, that would be my precise definition of “hell“. There is a WORLD of friggin’ beer out there and I just cannot understand how anyone drinks the same damned thing, over and over and over again – and I’ve tried, because I have family members, people I dearly love, who are fully capable of getting married to one beer/wine/whiskey/soda pop/ice cream and wallowing in that cozy rut, forever. But I can, and have on occasion, had a Red Chair every day for an entire three-day weekend and never once felt like I was missing something.
In the glass, it is a seductive coppery red, with sunny highlights. On the tongue, it’s silky and viscous and insanely easy to drink. It has a classic-leaning but fleshed-out malt bill – Pale, Crystal, Munich, Carapils, Pilsner – in which the Munich provides a chewy, caramel-tinged impression of sweetness that’s just flat irresistible. And that hops character – the “N” for “Northwest” part of the NWPA tag – is our hallmark Cascade and Centennial varietals, both used to evoke every single aspect of their prodigious potential.
Red Chair, when all the geeky analysis is said and done, is just simply one of the most delicious beers ever produced in the USA and this 2019 iteration – with its SLICK, eye-catching new package has, yes, been tweaked just a hair, unless my tongue deceives me, but is the best version of this stunning ale I’ve tasted yet.
So…is Deschutes America’s best brewery? If I was held at gunpoint and told I have to cut the crap about “Best Of…” being a myth, I would have to name five and just might say that I think that Deschutes actually is. And this new edition of Red Chair is just more reinforcement.