BREWTAL TRUTH: Drink This Now!

Given the opportunity to write about craft beer every month in Decibel has been eye-opening. The idea that our “Brewtal Truth” column would have lasted more than four years (and counting) and even spawn a book—The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, out in November—is pretty amazing. Now it’s time to bring a little “Brewtal Truth” to the Deciblog. Each week we’re featuring a different craft beer that you should drink now. These aren’t so much reviews as recommendations. We won’t post anything here that we haven’t happily poured down our own gullet. There’ll be a new one every week at noon Eastern time, a little something to get you thinking about your imbibing options for the weekend.
This week we’re feeling a bit nostalgic. Deschutes and other breweries from the craft beer “Class of ’88” have released a handful of collaboration beers celebrating their 25th anniversary. This is the very same year I became a legally imbibing craft beer drinker, though, despite living in the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t cross paths with any of these breweries’ beers until a few years later. A little brewpub (part of the local McMenamin’s chain) that popped up a block from my apartment in Eugene, the High Street Brewery & Cafe, was my gateway. We drank for cheap there: pints were less than $2 when it first opened. But more importantly, we learned about styles like porters and pale ales and amber ales and we came to discover how amazing well-made craft beer could taste. So, with this, we’re celebrating our own 25-year anniversary of drinking craft beer.

Barley Wine
Deschutes/North Coast/Rogue
Bend, OR/Fort Bragg, CA/Newport, OR
10.2% ABV

We’re not typically pouring barley wine down our drinkhole in August, but we’ll gladly drink a huge-ass double IPA, and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between one of those and this. OK, this does have a significant malt presence—like a barley wine should, of course—but the refreshing, lightening presence of fruity/foresty aromatic hops steers this clear of the likes of Rogue’s br00tal Old Crustacean.

The scent right out of the bottle is round, sweet and filled with summery stone fruit aromas. There’s some caramel and roasted nut notes in there, too, but this is really about the fruit. Not surprising considering the inclusion of Cascade and Mosaic hops. The taste is similarly fruity (with hints of toasted coconut, caramel and nuts), but in a way that’s atypical of many barley wines. This has a freshness to it that makes slugging it back, even in the heat of summer, pretty doable. There’s a fair swack of bitterness on the finish, but it’s perfectly balanced by this beer’s sweetness, which is present without being cloying.

This nostalgia for 1988—obviously a significant year for craft beer if it saw the birth of North Coast, Rogue and Deschutes, among others—got us thinking about what kind of year it was for metal. While thrash heavyweights like Metallica (…And Justice), Anthrax (State of Euphoria), Slayer (South of Heaven), Megadeth (So Far So Good) and Testament (The New Order) released some damn fine albums, the level of ridiculousness in the hairband mainstream had reached a fever pitch. To quote Mr. Burns’ novel-writing monkey: “It was the best of times, it was the blorst of times.”

Certainly the trajectories that (real) metal and craft beer were taking were different at the time. The above-mentioned bands all put out those landmark albums via major labels. They had long since ceased being “local” phenomenons. There was obviously an underground movement still chugging away, but the meat of the metal scene in 1988 (including Death Angel, Queensryche, Rigor Mortis and Danzig) was major label funded and nationally distributed. Those sorts of “alliances” wouldn’t figure into the craft beer story for another decade. And, to this day, nothing gets a beer geeks panties in a bunch more than a craft brewery having even the slightest hint of affiliation with one of the macrobrew megacorps (see: Widmer, Redhook, Goose Island, et al.).

But back to the beer at hand. There’s no mention of who did what in the creation of this beer, and I can’t say that it is particularly reminiscent of any one of their individual releases, but it’s a good, solid barley wine and certainly representative of the kind of quality all three breweries have demonstrated over the last quarter century. Buy this because it’s a tasty brew, not because it’s anything gimmicky. In fact, buy two. Drink one now and put the other down for the next 25 years when hopefully all three breweries will be celebrating their 50th anniversaries.