A Long-Simmering Mea Culpa…
Please forgive me, Joel VandenBrink, but this beer got lost in my review shuffle a LONG time ago. I meant to sing LOUD praises of it – God, how long ago WAS that? Eight years? Ten?!? – and just…fumbled at the one yard line. But let me do it now – in NO uncertain terms…
I had two breweries in Seattle (or, as we hip NW types say, sometimes, if not prevented, “Sea-patch”) that I constantly confused and I have no idea why, as their names are not even remotely similar: Two Beers Brewing and Schooner Exact Brewing. See? Just as I confuse Christine Baranksi with Wendy Malick and Christine Lahti, for no rational reason, I got these two intertwined in my twisty brain practically ever since they came on the PNW brewing scene. This was complicated by the fact that both started in 2007 and both started as nano-breweries which struck a nerve in the Seattle-area IPA culture and blossomed. Joel VandenBrink was a home brewer who eventually decided that, “…if we all take some time, we can see things a bit more clearly. The daily grind will become less, the pace of life will slow, and friendships will be enjoyed.” This was his hippy-dippy rationale for the perilous financial risk of opening a brewery. If this sounds a bit, well, Lollipops ‘N’ Unicorns for ya, rest assured that here, in this soggy corner of America, second only to Parisian attic apartments as fertile growth medium for belly-button gazers, it resounded with a LOT of folks.
The story of the name is even kinda quintessentially Seattle: (from the Two Beers website)…
“In 2005, founder Joel VandenBrink found himself in a disagreement with a
friend, so they headed to a local pub to talk it through. Down went one
pint, then another. As the second pint disappeared, a true and honest
conversation conspired. As the two walked out of the bar, Joel looked at
his friend and said, “I guess life is just a little more honest after two beers.”
Somehow, I never really looked past this. Two Beers made some very nice stuff and I tipped back maybe a dozen pints of their original “EVO” (Evolutionary) IPA at various Sea-patch taverns, when I was still hangin’ out a lot, in town. It was uber-clean, brisk, prettily hoppy, and every-fuggen-where, for a time. I think it was probably on tap in auto body shops and insurance offices, back then. Then, my wife and I fuh-tup and moved across Lake Washington to Bellevoid, Washington, (the name has been changed to protect my recent breakfast, which I prefer not to hurl) or, as I like to call it, “The Worst Place on Earth, after Roanoke, Virginia”. I didn’t mean to renounce All Things Seattle, especially since, uh, That Place is less than five miles away, but that’s how it worked out and EVO IPA disappeared like the dodo bird while I was distracted by the urge to burn down my condo complex. There was some real mourning, for about three, four hours, but by then Reuben’s Brews and a dozen other new breweries showed up and staggering IPAS were plentiful.
But, one day in my office in…That Place, a sales rep plopped down a can or bottle or something holding beer, anyway, onto my desk and said, “I tasted this and thought of you.” Bless his scruffy little bearded head. I think maybe, in its first incarnation, Two Beers “Southern Resident Killer Whale” Chinook Hazy IPA was neither hazy nor Chinook hops Only, nor labeled with the “Killer Whale” addendum. I think it was just Southern Resident IPA. I could be wrong and probably am. What I mainly remember about it is that not one fuggen place that sold beer, in Bellevoid or Seattle or anywhere else that I looked, was selling that ale. It was infuriating. I drove over to the brewery, on a Saturday, and THEY were out of it! I drove back two weeks later and bought a six-pack and nursed that tiny universe of pleasure for so long that I could have qualified for my R.N.’s certification. It was going on spring and I drank the stuff and swooned.
And then it disappeared again.
I moved later to Tacoma, WA, which is forty miles and about two decades down I-5 and, of course, NOBODY had it here, either. But all these years later, I walk into my local beer shop and there it sits and I believe I did a jaunty little Irish jig (I take my 20% Irish DNA VERY seriously) and snapped up what they had on the shelf, which was twelve cans, total. Those sat in my beer fridge and, again, I have on my white hose and nurses cap and am nursing these now-seven(!) closely as I did that first six. I went to Virginia for six days, last week, and I thought seriously about hiding them, as I knew that my wife’s daughters, both beer fans, would be staying over but thought, “Nah, they’ll never touch those. We have Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout and Union Jack in there!“…They never touched the Belching Beaver, drank ONE Union Jack, and downed SIX Southern Residents. I’m putting a padlock on that fridge, TO-DAY.
Hoping to salvage at least a bit of feedback for this post, I asked how they liked the Two Beers.
“It was awesome!” my wife replied brightly. (She uses that word, from time to time, and I still adore her, anyway. Go figure.) Our daughter, Shannon, pronounced it delicious.
I don’t get stuck on beers. I have a hard ‘n’ fast rule that I buy beers in threes and that two of the three MUST be something I have never tried before. And I don’t let the one repurchase get habitual, either. There are about twenty beers that rotate in that Faves list and I usually never buy the same one of those two times in a row. I’m heading out to pick up beer this very afternoon and am picking up another six of Two Beers Southern Resident…which will make THREE times in a row.
IMO, this is one of at least the top ten IPAs I have EVER tasted from WA state. It us STUPIDLY fine: lovely subtle fruit flavors, dazzling, fine-grained, prettily BITTER Chinook hops, great, satisfying body, pleasing finish…just a bona fide masterpiece; EASILY the best thing Joel and his venerable Two Beers has produced, which is no slight on the rest of their roster. Southern Resident got me curious, so I started trying other things from Two Beers and each one was squarely excellent.
Add to all that the fact that the term “southern resident” refers to the native populations of Orcas (Killer Whales) that live and migrate through Puget Sound and that some of the proceeds from this beer go to the care and preservation of our regional Orca populations. This resonates strongly with me, as this tattoo on my left “bicep” (and I use that term in its loosest and most matronly sense) is not just a nice design, culturally misappropriated from our NW tribes. Here’s my own hippy-dippy Thang: I firmly believe that the Orca is my spirit animal. I have had several very close and moving encounters with Killer Whales and it touched me in depths I wasn’t even aware I had. I care passionately about these gorgeous creatures and if buying this beer, stunning as it is, helps preserve them for my grandkids to see and marvel at, I can’t think of anything that has ever met the definition of “Win/Win” more emphatically.
I just now started seeing “Resident” in cans, in stores, in TACOMA(!) and snapped it the hell UP. I urge you to do the same. Readers in other parts of America will have a heckuva time finding it, unless someone is shipping it, but the search is rewarded with a truly FINE, exceptional IPA, at a point in the EVOlution of the American IPA in which the field is SO monumentally crowded that being exceptional is no guarantee at all that your beer will get noticed. Well, NOTICE THIS. Got a pal in Seattle? Ask them to grab ya some. You can thank me later, if you are any kind of IPA fan at all.
*Two Beers Brewing Co. and Seattle Cider Co. have entered into an equity partnership with Agrial, a farmer owned co-op based in France. They are the owners of some of the largest apple orchards in all of Europe, as well as partners with one of the few craft breweries in France.