A little over a year ago, Bend's Wildfire Brewery agreed to change its name after a restaurant chain threatened them with a lawsuit. In an inexplicable move, they decided to change the name to 10 Barrel Brewing, which is sort of like naming your dog "Dog." But everyone makes mistakes. If the rest of the brewery's beers are as good as the two I tried last week, I'm happy they spent their blunder-chit on the name.
10 Barrel was founded just over three years ago as a production brewery and its beers have made regular appearances in Portland and in fests around the state. Business must be good, too, because they decided this fall to add a taproom to the brewery. (Apparently they have scores of tap handles around Portland, but I have somehow never had a pint.) They're also bottling, as you can see from the pic, and it was in this form that I sampled Sinistor (which the brewery spells in a cutesy manner I won't replicate) and Apocalypse IPA.
Sinistor Black Ale
Sinistor scored a major coup last year when it took a bronze in the out-of-category category at the GABF (the one that earned Widmer a gold for Pitch Black IPA). This beer is a effectively a schwarz ale. It is light and mild, with a malt and hop profile characteristic of a schwarz. It has a touch of roasty malt that has notes of raisins and a bit of hop spice for interest. But rather than a dry, clean lager, it's a fruity ale. This give it a touch of body, but also lots of sweet. It's easy-drinking, but I was finding it to be a hair cloying by the end, particularly as the glass had gained a few degrees. Tasty session, but I wouldn't mind a hop or two more just to offset the ale. Call it a solid B on the ratings scale.
The overwhelming ubiquity of IPAs means that they have to be more than good. To stand out in a crowd, they have to be distinctive. There are a couple ways to accomplish this, but the style is a showcase for hops, and this is where the opportunity lies. To build a better IPA, create a unique hop profile.
Apocalypse is such an IPA. It is totally distinctive--though perhaps not immediately so. It's a beautiful golden-orange, and the nose is mainly piney, with possibly a hint of grapefruit. So far, this is familiar (though promising). But then you get to the flavor, and here's where things get interesting. I found three distinct elements--a fruity sweet malt body, an insistent piney hopping, and a citrus-juice note. When they come together, they create a fourth quality--a lovely tropical fruit melange. It's a bit orange, a bit mango, and possibly even a bit passionfruit. The bitterness isn't aggressive, but the hop flavors are saturated, and you really find yourself pausing to swish and consider them. Eventually, the hops do collect stickily on the tongue, but it's not a particularly sharp IPA. One of the nicer beers in recent memory, and one I'll track down when I can. Seek it out. I'll call it an A- on the ratings scale, but I may revise it up later.