The conventional wisdom has it that Big Fruit = Hazy...

Deschutes provides some Clarity

The word on the street was “Fruit”…

Fruit…in beer?

Well…okay. I guess.

After literal generations of beer being grains, yeast, hops, and relentless marketing, beer suddenly evolved a BIG Difference – FLAVORS. LOTS of flavors, of all kinds: flowers, spices, bread, cookies, infusions galore, chocolate, licorice…BIG flavors. This difference – derived at first by clever use of grains and very different yeasts and the relative handful of hops variations that existed when craft beer started to Boom – became the hallmark of that alternative school of brewing.

BUT…as with the Big IBU Scare of the early 00s, things like this escalate. We are Americans, after all, and for us Bigger Is Better. Nothing Is Too Much. And very little is ever Enough. Soon, those original fruity beers without infusions didn’t satisfy the craving for fruity beers. As clever people will, clever people began to experiment with ways to shovel up more fruit(ish) flavors – mainly citrus but also various melons, berries, flowers, nuts, anything, really, all of it kinda centered upon the juice boxes on which the new waves of people reaching drinking age were raised. “Tropical” became a core idea. Pineapple, guava, mango, papaya, lychi, citrus, and on and on. Even the exotic mangosteen and dragon fruit have had cameos in the Beer Fruit Thang. Coconut, produced by some newish hops, sticks its knobby little head up, pretty frequently. And, of course, this doesn’t even include the breweries which reasoned, correctly, that you could just, like, dump actual stuff into the tanks and induce whatever the hell flavors you want, without having to wrestle with those complicated ol’ hops and yeasts.

That begat Milkshake IPAs and Pastry Stouts and then beers infused with stuff like gummy bears, Snickers bars, tiramuisu, and whole pumpkin pies, crust ‘n’ all, macerating in vats of beers that had mostly become a vehicle for their weird additions.

Oy. Vey.

Because of my own solemn oath to not just dismiss anything that producers want to try (occasional gross-outs are just the price we pay for Freedom!) I tried hundreds of these uber-trendy things, made with varying degrees of skill, and finally came pretty much right back where I started: If you’re going to do something, do it Right.

I am DONE with beers that are called “Blueberry Pale Ale” or “Chocolate Cake Stout” or “Guava IPA” and make the drinker get a bloodhound, a flashlight, and a GPS for a big safari to find those flavors when you take a sip. My first disappointment with that was THIRTY years ago, when I first came to Seattle and found a bottle of a Blueberry Ale, made by a great local brewery, which tasted only very faintly of anything even close to blueberries. It intimated blueberries, sorta, had zero blueish color to it (not even a faint pink), and while it was a completely decent ale, was a total flop as an experiment at infusion. I love blueberries. I want to taste blueberries if it says “blueberries” on yer label.

And MOST of the allegedly fruity ales I tasted that were not made with actual fruit didn’t deliver that at all.

One axiom I have formulated about brewing has never changed, even a little: A newer brewery, if run by a brewer who already has significant experience, will make the occasional, rare exceptional beer but if you want to KNOW that this thing you never tasted WILL be good, buy one from a well-established brewery which has a justifiably celebrated brewmaster. THAT fails so rarely that a Cray Supercomputer would struggle with laying odds.

Which brings us to Deschutes Brewery and their brave new Tropical Fresh IPA.

I took a sip of this, fresh out of a can that Deschutes shipped to my door, and instantly groped for an appropriate adjective, even before I passed the glass to my wife. What I came up with was…


This beer makes mockery out of the generally accepted notion that the only way to get genuinely LARGE fruit flavors into a beer is to make a New England-Style hazy and add infusions. This is not the first ale ever to challenge that idea. The late, great Stone gave us “Delicious”, with its new Lemondrop hops, abetted by some nice El Doradoes, and it was a small masterpiece. But it was mostly citrus, mostly lemons, buttressed by some nice yeast spices. Tropical Fresh is a broad palate of tropical flavors, notably pineapple, mango, and bushels of citrus, with lurking notes of a dozen other things.

But what sets this apart is how genuinely chewy and substantial it is, while retaining a lovely crispness and clarity and the sort of freshness that seems to get lost in the calculated turbidity (suspended particulates) that is Job One in the Hazys. One leg up that Deschutes as a company has always had is a unabashedly geeky knowledge base of what hops are and what they do. Starting with original brewmaster, John Harris, that hops aesthetic continued and expanded with Larry Sidor (now newly retired from his Crux Fermentation Project of Bend) who actually worked for a hops grower and hybrider and arguably knew as much about hops as any brewmaster in the country. It’s been ably carried on by Larry’s successors, most notably Veronica Vega, so it comes as no surprise at all to me that that Deschutes should be the ones to take 2-Row and Unmalted wheat, marry those to Mosaic, Simcoe, Strata, and Experimental 586 from Yakima’s Hop Breeding Company and produce something which delivers every molecule of the intensity of flavor as any NEIPA with infusions but is only very faintly misty in the glass and transparent on your tongue.

This shocking IPA over-delivers on hops-derived fruit flavors and body. It is Delicious. DElicious. It is pure pleasure to drink. Along with only pFriem Christmas Ale and Echoes Oktoberfest, it stands as THE spectacular beer from anybody that I’ve sampled in the past year. Unless you are a hide-bound, tedious IPA IBU freak and purist, I defy you to try this and not say, “How the hell did they do that?” If I had been handed a glass of Tropical Fresh and knew nothing about it, I would have tasted it and said, “Whoa! Beautiful infusions!” But it ain’t got none. This is thoughtful, inventive, deft, and focused ale that takes on a perennially-knotty challenge and mops the floor with it. 98 Points

Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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