13 May 2013

Delays expected

Widmer Brothers of Portland, Oregon are one of the veterans of American craft brewing. These days the brand is tied up with a couple of others in a company called Craft Brew Alliance which has beer megalith A-B InBev as its largest shareholder. A few of the range are available in Ireland now and I picked some up in DrinkStore a while back.

I was going to pass on the Widmer Hefeweizen but Ken almost insisted. It is, after all, one of the first beers produced under the brand back in the mid-'80s, before US craft beer became a hop-centred activity. Though the title is German the label depicts a very Belgian slice of lemon. Well there was no lemon in mine. A pleasing relatively dark orange beer poured out, appropriately cloudy, especially after I'd swirled and lobbed the lees in on top of the foam. It's not a weissbier aroma, however, showing the orangey spice of Belgian wit. Not unpleasant, though, by any means. The carbonation is surprisingly light and there's a very simple orange cordial and sherbet foretaste but very little behind it, just a slightly metallic wateriness. More of a sparkle would help lift it, I think, and it's very easy drinking, but I find it a little too sickly sweet for my liking. That it bears no resemblance whatsoever to any German hefeweizen is the least of its issues.

Moving on to something a bit more Pacific-North-Westy, Ken said Falconer's IPA was his personal favourite of the bunch. The deep orange colour heralds the inevitable crystal malt, and sure enough there's a huge toffee element to the flavour. It's, not exactly balanced, but more countered, by quite an intense cabbagey bitterness that incorporates the strong tannins of over-stewed tea. And, unfortunately, that's all that's happening. My bottle is almost six months out of the brewery so it's likely there are some fresh hop elements missing from the equation: the aroma certainly hints at a peach and mango character that is sadly absent from the flavour. Still, if bitterness and toffee is your thing: come and get it.

The first thing I noticed about the Pitch Black IPA is that it was over a month older than the Falconer's. It still smelled fresher, though: enticingly spicy peppery hops. The flavour is a bit of a let-down, however. It's mostly quite dry and a little metallic with just a bit of burnt treacle, adding up to a so-so stout, but not an IPA. The hop vapours make a return in the aftertaste but it's too late then to dispel the stoutiness. Again, perhaps it's a better all-round experience when fresh, but definitely not one of the best American black IPAs I've met.

Last of the collection is the Nelson Imperial IPA: a mere 8.6% ABV, only slightly up from the Falconer's 7%. It poured a lurid orange and smelled weirdly sour, with a kind of oily orange aroma, like the supermarket fruit section at the end of a warm summer's day. Again, this is over half a year out of the brewery but there's still a wonderful burst of freshness on tasting, a blast of jaffa orange and jasmine. All the hop spice I found missing from the Pitch Black flavour is delivered here. Recent experiences with American double or imperial IPAs have taught me that they're all either about the big heavy crystal malt toffee, or (if you're lucky) extreme citric bitterness. This is neither of those: delivering instead the zesty fresh soft fruit flavours which, for me, are the whole point of hops.

The bottom line? For Portland establishment, and an inevitable future subsidiary of A-B InBev, Widmer still seem to know what they're doing. My only real beef is whether we need this stuff to be schlepping 6,000 miles to us. It's all well within the bounds of European brewing these days, and our drinking it aged is doing neither party any favours. Drink local, as they say in Oregon, but probably not in St. Louis.