Category Archives: Ordinary Brews

Common Ales: Laurelwood Free Range Red

Laurelwood Free Range Red aleThe nose has some caramel/roast qualities but it shows up a little late; there’s actual hops on the first few whiffs. Once those go away, though, we’re dealing with a red ale and by golly that is what it is.

It’s got a pleasant richness to it; the Free Range has a creamy quality that only fades after the effervescence which is persistent but not constant, comes to do a little cleanup. The head on this beer fades pretty quickly, but there’s a steady film of bubbles on the top.

What I like is that drinking this beer is similar to chewing on good caramel. It’s sugary but not overly so and the finish doesn’t linger. That clean palate experience means that I can line up another drink or nosh on some food pretty easy.

Common Ale: Deschutes Inversion IPA

Hey, it was hot last week and I needed some beer so I just picked up something I thought would be good. Plus, Deschutes has a good track record for me!

27432785406_2fe38bbbaf_cNose has a persistent but not oppressive pine quality. Nearly halfway through the glass and I’m still picking some up

The finish has a strong pine quality, no question. It’s almost, but not quite, as abrasive as chewing on pine needles. However that’s not a negative; more evocative, because this beer is clearly trying to push the hop notes, even for an IPA. What is important here is that the bitterness has a very, very light sweet quality to override and that makes a huge difference. Some people might go for the mouthful of hops-sometimes even me-but balanced beers are often far better and I can’t resent a commercial brewery that is making an undeniably drinkable beer.

Common Ales: Goose Island IPA

Goose Island is always the subject of a lot of discussion amongst the craft beer people, in part because they were one of, if not the first, craft brewery that ABInBev bought. Perhaps they were just the highest profile brewery at the time-I don’t recall. While the pro side of this arrangement (we can drink Goose Island beer in Portland, they can produce more styles) and the con side (eventually, the macro-brew mentality will catch up and the beer will suffer)  of the argument can go on forever, the proof is in the pudding. So to speak.

So let’s try their IPA.

25806551393_3aa5bd1b7a_cThe hops smell stale, old oranges coming up. The finish keeps with the start, a flavor like wet paper coming to round it all up. It’s practically vegetal, like celery.

I hate celery.

Note, this beer is in a can: It should last for quite some time, nearly impervious to  light and air. That leaves heat and age as the likely culprits.

Because while I think Goose Island is a brewery that people should have conversations about, re: their ownership by ABInBev, and especially what that means for the quality of their product in the future, it’s difficult to have that conversation when I’m reviewing a beer that is so clearly off.

The notation on the bottom of the can lists 12/15. Four months in the can shouldn’t have that much of an impact, should it? According to my brief research on the internet: no. Four to six months, assuming you’ve kept a can of beer under proper conditions.

Which leaves some other weak link in the distribution chain. And that sucks, because I dropped $9.50 for 4 cans of beer that doesn’t taste very good and it likely doesn’t taste very good because didn’t do their job. But you know who I’m holding accountable for that? Goose Island, because they have all the support of the biggest brewery in the world now. There is no reason why their product should reach shelves in poor condition or stay on them after their date.

Common Ales: Hop Valley Alphadellic

25073760884_aa17af0cb7_cThis was another beer that I just went for: the cans seem to be in every store I go to so I figured that even if this isn’t Hop Valley’s most popular beer, it’s got to be close.

The nose is grassy, which I really like. I may hate mowing lawns, but the scent of fresh cut grass is still a good one and this beer makes the most of it. Unfortunately, the nose evaporates really quickly. This just leaves the beer and the beer is.

It’s not bad. It’s got the sharp bitterness that IPAs ought to finish with and I can’t detect anything wrong with the style but the nose goes so flat so quickly that the beer itself tastes very one dimensional.

Still, first impressions count. The Alphadelic gives a good one and that can carry it a long way. I’m not sure that it carries it all the way for your average beer drinker but for a hop lover, it should work just fine.

Common Ales: Terminal Gravity IPA

The fine people at Terminal Gravity told me their IPA was the best selling ale they had. I have to confess, it wasn’t until this moment that I really understood: oh, I’m going to be drinking quite a few IPAs, aren’t I? It’s a good thing I enjoy the style.

There isn’t a very strong nose; citrus hints but the head dissipates pretty quickly, so the hop scents don’t stand out as I drink the beverage. While this strikes me as very unusual for the style, I can’t say that it’s flawed.

The bitterness on the finish seems to match the nose though; citrus notes but nothing overpowering. It’s a pretty easygoing beer to drink.

What’s unique about the Terminal Gravity IPA is that it’s far more malty than other commercial beers in this style that I’ve had. There’s a strong midrange sweetness to the beer, capped by hop flavors that aren’t incredibly intense. I have to say, it’s a nice way to get the beer to stand out from other IPAs and it does encourage the drinkable quality of this beer. The short lived nose is a ding against it but it’s not a big enough ding for me. It’s tasty and worth drinking.

Common Ales: Bridgeport IPA

The fine people at Bridgeport told me their best selling beer year ’round was their IPA (with Hop Czar occasionally jockeying for first as well). I haven’t seen the Hop Czar yet but the IPA is, of course, all over. So let’s get cracking!

Pine in the nose but nothing too strong. The beer itself reads a bit like this too; the hops have a nose slightly reminiscent of what I’d get from a commercial lager, in addition to the pine. Familiar but not.

There isn’t too much malt on the tongue but despite that, the bitterness is fairly restrained. This ale isn’t flavorless by any means but it’s not very adventuresome either. Now, I have to admit that this isn’t a bad thing. If someone didn’t know what else to buy and bought this, I don’t think they’d be sad about it.

I just wonder if they’d be interested after that.

To it’s credit, the IPA holds up nicely over the course of the drink. The nose doesn’t falter, the head remains steady throughout and a little more malt arrives as the beer warms up. Overall, I have to say this is a solid beer, the kind that might just lure someone who IS interested in craft beer into trying something else Bridgeport does but the limitations of needing to appeal to such a broad audience means that I am not feeling the hook.

Ordinary Brews: Redhook ESB

The fine people at Redhook told me that the Long Hammer IPA was their best seller outside of the Seattle region but in the Seattle region, their ESB sold better. So let’s take a look at what those Seattlites apparently know that we don’t.

Redhook’s ESB has a pretty malty nose, with some uncooked bread scents there. There is a little bitterness in the finish but nothing too strong.

Nothing too strong might be a good throughline for this entire beverage. It’s got a sweetness in the back third of the drink but nothing really before that. The effervescence plays cleanup to most of the flavors and all in all, this feels like a good picnic beer. The kind I’d bring to some outdoor event, have something barbequed, wash it down with this ESB.

In this respect, I have to praise this beer for that quality. It’s a decent ‘intro to craft beer’ ale, with nothing overpowering going on to intimidate the neophyte but enough of something going on that they know they aren’t drinking a macro lager. And because I can see this in a more social setting, it’s the kind of beer that I can envision handing off to someone who might feel a bit of trepidation about beers that aren’t fizzy and yellow.

I, personally, would like just a little more malt there. This ESB isn’t soda light in the mouthfeel but a little more ooomph there and I’d probably dig it more. As it is, I still feel like I’ve got a solid little beer to bring with me to the next picnic.

Ordinary Brews: Mirror Pond

Now we’re on to the second of the Deschutes ales: Mirror Pond, their best seller.

Nose is a little skunky. This doesn’t seem right but it happens across multiple bottles. The rest of the beer is quite light but it also moves very quickly across my tongue. The flavor of malts and hops are hard to pick up. The finish is faintly bitter but the lingering flavor is less citrus or pine and more of that skunky flavor that the nose provides.

I’m wondering if I got a bad batch, or an old one. Or one that perhaps sat on the dock for a little too long. After the quality of the Black Butte, this is surprising.

Final note: the last beer in my sixpack tasted more appropriate. The nose had some pine notes, the finish was what I expected in bitterness and the skunky quality that I’d gotten in the other beers wasn’t nearly so pronounced. There’s still something a little awkward on the finish and this leads me to conclude that this particular sixpack had something go wrong. Nonetheless, based on the beer I bought, I couldn’t recommend it, with the caveat that this beer might’ve gone bad due to circumstances beyond the brewer’s control.


Ordinary Brews: Black Butte Porter

When I asked Deschutes what their best selling ale was, they said it was Mirror Pond but added that their flagship ale was Black Butte Porter. Well, why not have both then?

So I start with the flagship ale, and this is a well earned flagship beer. It’s working an interesting tension, because as a dark ale-and make no mistake, in the glass it looks like a place that light flees from-the expectation is that it will be heavy and dense.

Instead, Black Butte is very light. The toasted notes from the malt are absolutely present and forward in the nose but the beer itself doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Some chocolate in the middle, a coffee on the finish to keep anything too sweet from lingering and creating a sourness, all in all it’s just a nicely put together beer.

I want to say this falls in the Robust Porter category, because of the dryer, roastier coffee flavors involved. While being a pretty light beer on the tongue, there’s just enough body to suggest that it’s a bit more than the Brown Porter style. But I definitely like it and would say Black Butte has more than earned it’s place on the store shelf.

Ordinary Brews: Widmer Hefe

To start this series off, I wanted to begin with one of the most well known ales one can find in this area: Widmer’s Hefeweisen. I didn’t want to assume that this was their best selling beer so I emailed them to ask but didn’t hear back. I went with it anyway: if someone from Widmer wants to correct me, I’ll drink another beer. Promise.

The nose has a faint stinkiness to it; belgian yeast funky, almost. It went away almost immediately but then it reappeared as I drank further into the glass. I’m told by the guidelines there ought to be wheat notes, with maybe some spice hop character but I’m not picking it up.

The beer doesn’t really provide dominant flavors at any stage of the game, actually. Nose isn’t too strong, the wheat notes exist but I think the wheat malt is there more to provide some body. The finish is fairly clean until the effervescence passes and then there’s something sticking around that just isn’t appealing to me.

I’ve realized what it is: this beer is sweet. You know that sourish note that can come after you have a really sweet piece of chocolate? That’s what I’ve got.

I think that this hefe really isn’t an ‘all season’ brew for me. I can see this working on a hotter day, and I totally get why people serve this beer with lemon; the tart contrasts well with the sweetness of the malt. The lemon also contributes to the ‘summery’ feel of hefeweizen.

I don’t think I’d get more of this beer because I don’t know that I’m in love with this iteration of the style. I don’t hate hefes but I don’t think; Yay, gimme! That’s me, not an issue with the beer. The fact that it’s overly sweet is far more problematic. If I’m only supposed to have this beer with a lemon wedge for contrast, I’m not sure that I can recommend it. I feel like the sweetness that’s probably there to encourage the casual craft beer drinker is actually discouraging me from enjoying it, which is a strange spot to be  in.  I don’t want to suggest that my tastes are better than the average bloke’s but I cannot deny that the imbalance of this beer is off-putting to me.

Fortunately, Widmer makes a ton of other stuff that I do like; it’s just an interesting spot to find myself in.