For it's 19th anniversary Deschutes celebrates with a Belgian-style golden ale. It is an energetic experiment and a bit of a high wire act: 60 IBUs, 8.7% alcohol, ingredients unfamiliar to the brewery, including candi sugar and Curacao bitter orange peel. It is the first Belgian the brewery has attempted, and ... well, it shows.
Age is a funny thing. Nineteen years in the American market make Deschutes one of the venerable oldies. But compared to the breweries of Belgium that brew the original golden ales, it's not much time at all. Those world classics have resulted from refinements over the years or generations; one imagines the first batch of Orval wasn't the transcendent elixir it has become.
So 19th Anniversary Golden feels like the first draft of a very good novel, but it could use a little bit of editing.
It looks fantastic. A slightly hazy golden ale with a vigorous bead, it pours out like a beer from Brussels. The effervescence is a good sign that Larry Sidor got the yeast right--it hasn't been overwhelmed by the alcohol (later, the liveliness on the tongue will confirm this). The Curacao is evident in the nose, though the hops are somewhat subdued. There's a touch of volatility from the alcohol, and a wee bit of hard candy.
The palate is unrefined, however. Tibetan monks have a chanting technique known as "overtone singing" which allows them to produce multiple frequencies at the same time. The Golden Ale left me with that same impression. The high note is hops, which are sharp and peppery. Down below is the strong alchohol note, which has a liquor-ish heft to it. (Not to mention a licorice quality, but that's a different matter.) What I want is for these flavors to become stewed together, so that the alcohol strength is balanced by the hop bittering.
My guess is that this would be an entirely different beer had it rested for six months before bottling. I'll buy a couple to cellar, but the quality won't be the same--the beer will oxidize in the bottle (which aren't bottle-conditioned) and though the flavors should still come together, they'll be different that a matured batch would have been.
As I was drinking it, I was thinking that for a 19-year-old brewery, the economics of laying a beer aside for a year may not make sense. For a more established operation, it may not make sense to release a green beer so soon. Age is funny that way.
Malts: French pilsner
Hops: Czech Saaz, Slovenian Golding, Liberty, Brewers Gold
Alcohol by volume: 8.7%
Original Gravity: N/A
Bitterness Units: 60
Other Notes: Special Belgian yeast strain, candi sugar, and Curacao orange peel
Available: Through September '07