Review - Deschutes "The Dissident"

“You do not become a ''dissident'' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”
--Vaclav Havel.
Why "the Dissident?" Is Deschutes serving notice that they are now taking up a most unusual career of brewing exotic beers? If so, it is not because they have been cast out--no brewery has boasted more success of late than the boys from Bend--but because they are casting themselves out. The label suggests something of mid-century rebellion, with its spareness, the rising crow. It could be a handbill to a Sartre play. But enemy of society? Not with this beer.

The Dissident is brewed to the style of a Flanders brown, and in the "provision" strength of Goudenband. To a pretty large beer, Deschutes added candi sugar and Montmorency cherries, resulting in a beer of 8.8% alcohol. It starts out with a sour mash (I think), and two varieties of brettanomyces are used (Bruxellensis and lambicus) as well as a lactobacillus culture. (That's a lotta funk.) Finally, 20% is aged in pinot/cab oak barrels. The entire batch has been aged 18 months.

Tasting Notes
As you can see from the picture, it's a bright brown, with reddish highlights. The aroma is not as funky as Liefman's--there's none of that skanky brett, but rather a sweet chocolate and sour cherry-accented nose. As it opened up, the astringency of the sour diminished a little and the cherries muscled their way in.

It is a lovely and approachable beer. I find the three major notes of the beer come together in very nice harmony. The body is creamy and rich, with malt notes contributing a brown sugar/biscuit base. Onto this are balanced the twin flavors of tart/sweet cherries and the sourness of the yeast and cultures. The strength of the beer helps bring the flavors together, and I imagine the age is a huge help, too--though alcohol is not a major flavor note. The result is a beer that is neither heavy nor overly sour. It's inviting enough that you could swill a fair quantity before realizing what a whollop it packs.

It is a triumph of a beer. The brewery clearly put a huge amount of thought into this beer, not to mention time and money. None of that guarantees success, though. Yet I found The Dissident to be the measure of an authentic oud bruin in every way. The style is a very high bar to clear; in fact, I don't know of any American brewery to even try an authentic Liefmans-style old bruin. But Deschutes has cleared it, and the bar didn't even wiggle. A great beer and a very impressive effort. Let's hope this isn't the last batch we see of the Dissident.

Original Gravity: 1.090
ABV: 8.8%
IBU: 30
Malts: pilsner, acidulated, Munich, caramel, crystal
Hops: "Czech" (presumably Saaz), Tettnang, Hallertau
Adjuncts: dark candi sugar, Montmorency cherries
Yeast: brettanomyces bruxellensis, brettanomyces lambicus, lactobacillus culture
Methods: sour mash, 20% aged in wine casks (pinot/cabernet)
Availability: Extremely limited. As I write this (9/5/08), you can get some at the breweries in Bend and Portland. Don't delay, supplies won't last long.

Update: The good news is that The Dissident is still available at the brewery in Portland. The bad news? There's one fewer case.

Update 2: I forgot to include the sour-o-meter reading for the Dissident. Call it a three.