Some months ago, the brothers Widmer released the first of a reserve series. This is now de rigeuer for larger breweries, so the Widmers decided to up the ante: theirs would appear in boxes (like Fuller's Vintage) and fifty would be signed. While the cynics (not to mention enviros) might dismiss this as a tad gimmicky, I disagree. Charge customers a ten-spot for a beer, it's nice to add a frill or two. Ultimately, though, the ten bones are buying you 22 ounces of beer, and so it better be good stuff. Widmers'? Well.
When I saw the news of the beer gamboling through the internet tubes, what caught my eye was the top-line story: an oak-aged doppel with added cherries. Definitely heterodox, possibly even blasphemous. Reviewing the terms of Reinheitsgebot--water, malt, hops, yeast--nope, no cherries. But okay, it's a new-world doppel and the new millennium, and we can tolerate a little improvisation. But then this, right on the label--proudly, you'd have to say--"oak aged ale." Ale! Definitely verboten.
That said, wipe your mind clear of these facts and study what appears, viscous as a pint of Valvoline in your glass, and you have to conclude it's a doppel. It is a bit of a throwback style, darker, heavier, and sweeter than most modern (esp. German) examples. Still, it is nevertheless pretty much within style. Even the chocolatey note (which seems to be partly a trick of the blending of dark malt with cherries) is appropriate. The cherries are nicely placed in the background, in the shadows where the caramel and chocolate lurk. Lots of body and alcohol, yet gentle and warm--a very nice winter ale. (I actually considered it in the 'lager' slot on my KOIN appearance, but it presented too much difficulty in explaining.) The Widmers have a very nice alt yeast, which behaves like a lager when they want it to, and I believe this is why their doppel ale tastes like it should.
Still, a curious beer all around. As the lack of chatter and wonder on the internets attest, it isn't an aggressive, in-you-face monster, which makes its selection as the inaugural reserve beer all the more curious. I think it's a promising sign. With these specialty lines, brewers have some latitude--they don't have to brew crowd pleasers that will turn big profits. They can please themselves. On the side of the bottle, it says this is a selection and fave of Kurt's. If the brothers continue to offer personal faves, flouting brewing tradition and even popular trends, I believe I'll like this new line.
Note: there was some phantom problems with the first appearance of this post. I think I have them all cleared up.