When last I was standing in front of the beer cooler at Freddy's, I selected a couple of bottles that would more properly served in May. Maybe it's the same problem that infects holiday marketing--you want to get an earlier and early jump on things, so Spring beers come out in January.
Never mind the season, there's something to learn here: the two beers form a nice little binary set. Both are good examples of Northwest brewing: they are loose, funky variations on a style, done in a sort of grungy garage-band style. One succeeds, one fails. Why this is so becomes an object lesson in brewing.
Widmer '07 Pale Ale
Each year, Widmer releases a beer in it's "W" Brewmasters' series. Two years ago it was an IPA and last year a strong red. This year they ratchet back the oomph and give us a very summery pale ale with an amazing depth of hopping. They have used four different types of hops in various additions throughout the boil and after (it's dry-hopped), to create a sublime aroma that is sweet and citrusy, but with a distinct lemony note. On the palate, the hops comingle with the malt to draw out the sweetness--at 34 BUs, it's not actually very bitter.
The beer is a becoming reddish-pale; a strawberry blonde? Crowd-pleasingly approachable, but with lots of flavor. I sometimes find dry, slightly grating quality in the Widmer yeast, but this is purely sweet and hoppy. It reminds me of some of the beers I've tasted by younger brewers who are filled with exuberence--they want to use every hop in the house. It is certainly not the kind of beer one would expect from the largest, second-oldest brewery in the state: W '07 is of the more surprising bottled offerings from the Widmers in recent memory.
Malts: Pale, CaraVienne 20-L, Caramel 80-L, Carapils
Hops: boil - Alchemy, finishing - Alchemy, Summit, dry-hopping - Summit, Chinook
Alcohol by volume: 5.4%
Original Gravity: 13° Plato
Bitterness Units: 34
Available: Through July
Thanks to our winter ale tasting, Dick's has now entered my radar. I was pleased to see it getting some shelf space, and had high hopes when I poured out the cloudy golden bottle. Alas, Dick's is a textbook example of a rowdy beer gone wrong. At just 5%, it's far from a true IPA (most standard pale ales are stronger), but who's slavish about designations? The problem is that it's hopped like an IPA, producing a brutally aggressive beer with no legs to support itself. Hops can be a good thing, and some nuclear recipes have the layered hopping and malt backbone to support 75+ IBUs (by "layered" I mean hopping that contributes flavor and aroma along with alpha acid bitterness). But Dick's isn't balanced, and it seems like an amateurish effort.
Northwest beers are test their mettle with hoppy beers--not so much for the dollars as for bragging rights. Dick's has come out swinging, but they've shown that hops ain't enough for bragging rights--the entire recipe has to sing.
Hops: Chinook, Tomahawk
Alcohol by volume: 5%
Original Gravity: 1.055
Bitterness Units: Unknown