Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Slice, Armory XPA, Big Rig, Down ‘N Dirty IPA, and Pinot Suave

deschutes armory

A whole bunch of stuff has come down the pike from Deschutes lately. Here’s a look at five new releases — two in 12 oz. bottles and three oversized offerings.

Deschutes Brewery Hop Slice Session IPA – Hey, it’s an IPA brewed not with grapefruit but with Meyer lemon! The unusual addition on this session brew ultimately adds quite a decent kick of citrus to the brew, but there’s a heavy earthiness that does a good job of masking it with burly, almost woody overtones. Nice body given the alcohol level, though. A solid effort. 4.5% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Deschutes Brewery Armory Experimental Pale Ale (XPA) – The first beer brewed at Deschutes’ Portland-based pub, this “experimental” pale ale adds Northern Brewer and Nugget hops to give the beer a distinctly earthy character — just pure bitterness without either a lot of pine or citrus notes. Instead, a leathery, mushroomy character with coffee overtones rises up to greet the palate on the finish — which will likely divide drinkers looking for a more refreshing way out. 5.9% abv. B / $10 per six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Deschutes Brewery Big Rig – Aka Big Rig Bitter, a “classic pub ale” per Deschutes, or an Extra Strong Bitter if you prefer more austere terminology. Big Rig offers refined, Ye Olde Pub Style drinking with an American twist. Think nutty earthiness at the start, moving quickly into a heavily piney character more in line with today’s IPAs. The finish strongly echoes the earthy-bitter beginning, with notes of mushroom and tanned leather clinging to the palate as the experience fades away. 6% abv. B+ / $5 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Down ‘N Dirty IPA – A bold American IPA with Bravo, Cascade, and Centennial hops. It’s the Bravo that gives this brew its name and its character, which is intensely earthy — indeed a bit “dirty” — and washes away all but the slightest hint of grapefruit peel notes. Watch instead for chewy tree bark notes that inform its heavy, resinous finish. 6.3% abv. B / $5 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Pinot Suave – The very latest from Deschutes in its Reserve Series (complete with wax-covered caps), this is a Belgian style ale that is aged in French oak and Pinot Noir barrels filled with pinot grape must. The results are nothing if not unique, intensely fruity with a mountain of malt to back it up. A little must goes an awfully long way, though, and this oddity takes its upfront malt into lightly sour territory, complete with funky, dusky overtones that cling heavily to the palate. Strikingly original, but probably more conversation piece than anything else. First topic for discussion: Is it pronounced “suave” or “sua-vay?” 11.8% abv. B / $17 per 22 oz. bottle

Review: Redd’s Blueberry Ale

The latest in Redd’s flavored beer lineup is this “limited pick release,” Blueberry Ale.

It’s a surprisingly refreshing concoction, a little candylike but far from offensive, with mild (but clear) blueberry juice masking anything by way of the beer base beneath. The finish is a bit green and a touch bitter, but this works with the fruit up front. As with Redd’s original Apple Ales, the Blueberry Ale seems tailor-made for more casual consumption by folks who don’t like beer and for whom the concept of wine coolers seems hopelessly ’80s. Ensure it’s ice cold for best results.

5% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack /

Highlights from the 2016 California Beer Festival – Marin


Finally I was in town to visit the Marin stopover of the roving California Beer Festival, which I last attended in 2013. This year saw plenty of worthwhile brews on tap for the hop-loving supplicants, as well as an ample collection of ciders, sours, and even a refreshing kombucha or two. With live music and tons of great food choices, it was a great couple of days out on Novato’s Stafford Lake.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite beers sampled.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Full Swing IPA – Great citrus bite on this ultra-hopped quaffer.

DNA Brewing Dock IPA – A grapefruit double IPA with both fruit notes and some maltiness, which helps to balance out the heavy bitter notes.

067Hop Valley Alpha Centauri – Hidden behind the booth, you had to ask for it. A perennial favorite IPA just loaded with citrus and pine notes, and probably the best beer of the show.

Anderson Valley Brewing Briney Melon Gose – Crazy fun semi-sour features the addition of watermelon and sea salt. A unique brew in a sea of IPAs.

Campbell Brewing Winchester Wheat – My favorite witbier of the day, nutty and restrained, without that overpowering yeastiness that you can often get in a wit.

HenHouse Saison – Brewed with exotic black pepper and coriander, its slightly lemony and built for summer sipping (or hot days like this one).

There’s no need to visit Marin County for beer. Check out an upcoming CBF near you!

Review: Dogfish Head Squall IPA

dogfish head squall ipa

Dogfish Head’s Squall IPA is a “continually hopped, unfiltered Double IPA that’s brewed with three types of malt as well as dry-hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo and Palisade hops.” It’s naturally carbonated through bottle conditioning, which gives this a much different character than you’re probably used to in an IPA.

What you get immediately is how creamy and rounded the body is, a contrast to the typical sharpness of the usual IPA. On the palate, it’s got pine and citrus notes, but these soon yield to gentle notes of walnuts, light cocoa, and hemp seed. The bitterness on the finish is long and lasting but balanced with the light sweetness and a bit of chewiness that lets it last and last.

All told it’s just far enough off the beaten path to merit serious exploration.

9% abv.

A / $9 per 25.4 oz bottle /

Review: Woodchuck June & Juice Juniper Hard Cider


Woodchuck’s latest “Out on a Limb” cider is this true oddity — June & Juice — a juniper-based cider that takes the gin and tonic as its inspiration.

It’s a semi-sweet apple cider made by steeping fresh juniper berries, rose buds, and orange peel into the mix. The results are better than I expected, a light and refreshing cider which isn’t too sweet and which doesn’t overdo the botanical elements, either. Lightly junipery, the rose flowers make a distinct impression and give it a floral focus. With a little time in the glass, citrus makes a stronger showing. The finish lets the apple base shine — again, with just the right balance between dry and sweet.

While it’s loaded with uncharacteristic flavors, it’s one of the more worthwhile cider releases in recent months.

5.5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack /

Review: Guinness Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter

guinness West Indies and Dublin Porter

Guinness was experimenting with these two porter releases, based on old 1800s recipes, when I visited in the summer of 2015. Now they’ve made their way to the States, so everyone can see a bit about what Guinness might have tasted like — decades before it ever released its first stout.

English Porter isn’t an entirely well-defined beer style, but in many ways it presents as a slightly lighter version of stout. Porter gets its name from… well, let’s let Guinness explain:

With origins in a 1796 entry in the Guinness brewers’ diaries, the Dublin Porter was inspired by the golden age of porter in the 1800s. This was a time when porter was the working man’s beer and after a long day’s work in Dublin or London, Guinness would have been a respected choice. The West Indies porter is based on an 1801 diary entry for the first Guinness purposely brewed to maintain its freshness, on long sea voyages to the Caribbean and beyond. To guarantee the best quality upon arrival, Guinness brewers made a porter with more hops and a higher gravity.

Here’s a look at how both of these expressions (both tasted from bottles) fare:

Guinness Dublin Porter – This drinks like a very heavily carbonated version of Guinness Stout. At under 4% alcohol, it’s a surprising session beer that gives moderate coffee and licorice notes a sizable amount of hoppy fizz. Caramel notes emerge on the finish, along with a fairly intense maltiness, but ultimately it lacks real depth. 3.8% abv. B

Guinness West Indies Porter – Guinness Foreign Extra was designed for hotter climes and remains huge in the Caribbean, where it’s high-proof, racier profile is nearly ubiquitous. This is the porterized version of that beer, which offers a bigger hops profile, again with a ton of fizziness, and a heavy, somewhat oppressive nutty/malty character on the back end. Here the coffee notes creep in just as the finish is fading. Foreign Extra is a hefty experience, and West Indies Porter has the same approach, a heavily carbonated monster that is never as refreshing as the real thing. 6% abv. B

each $3 (500ml bottles) /

Review: Yuengling Traditional Lager and Summer Wheat


“America’s oldest brewery” gets minimal play out here on the west coast, but Yuengling (est. 1829) is nonetheless a well-known brand in these parts, even though we don’t often see its labels being peeled off of damp bottles. That’s because Yuengling is also a very large brewery — roughly the size of Sam Adams’ parent company, actually.

Today we look at Yuengling’s classic expression, a lager, and a more recent release, a wheat beer. Thoughts on both follow.

Yuengling Tradtional Lager – Traditional is right. This is a malty, robust, slightly nutty amber lager that exudes the old world from front to back. Grain lingers on the finish, with just a touch of gingerbread making a late appearance on the back end. Ball park beer at its best. 4.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Yuengling Summer Wheat – A simple hefeweizen, Yuengling’s take on this brew offers lots of coriander and dried orange peel, giving the heavy wheat notes underpinning it a huge amount of spice. Initially off-putting, I eventually came around to the brew, though its boldly sweet and malty finish left me longing for some hops. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack