Widmer Drifter

When a major brewery introduces a new beer in its regular line-up, it doesn't do so lightly (well, not anymore, anyway). It represents a gamble of time, money, and credibility. Widmer has cleverly limited some of the risk by testing beers in various venues--in the Gasthaus, at festivals, and in their experimental "W" line, where Drifter started life. But nothing is without risk, and Drifter arrives with more than modest intentions. The brewery is shooting for something novel. Here's Rob, discussing the beer:
We used the word Original because we really feel that Drifter is unlike all the other pale ales. Summit hops are my new favorite hop and they have taught me something that may have been obvious to others but was kind of a break-through for me. I now believe that eveyone likes the aroma and flavor of hops but many people just don't like the accompanying bitterness. The cool thing about Drifter is that beer geeks that I've sampled love it because it is so unique and delicious and "regular" folks like the tangerine/pink grapefruit quality but appreciate the lack of "afterburn."
So there is the goal for the beer, boldly laid out for us to examine. Did the Widmers hit the mark?

Tasting Notes
This beer isn't exactly the same as the W '07. It's a hair more alcoholic (5.7% to 5.4%), a hair less bitter (34 versus 32 IBUs). But the main thing is that it's got different hops. Here's how the Brothers tinkered:

____Alchemy, Summit___Summit, Nelson Sauvin
__Summit, Chinook___Summit, Nelson Sauvin

Nelson Sauvin--ring any bells? How about "Full Nelson?" That was the beer that Widmer sent to last year's Oregon Brewers Fest, hopped with the titular, rare New Zealand hop. A bold choice indeed. Full Nelson was a beer that thrilled some and kind of grossed others out. The quality is orangey--a nice idea to complement the lemony summits--but also strongly astringent, like urine or sweat. (At least to some palates.)

Which brings us to Drifter. It's ironic that Rob described the goal as a universal beer, because I think the result is a product that will divide drinkers who love or hate the Nelsons. It pours out surprisingly darkly--a rich copper. (Perfectly in accord with the style, but some folks may wonder what's "pale" about it--Jon has an accurate pic over at his review.) Superficially, the aroma has the standard citrus of an American pale. Sniff more deeply. You pick up an astringency that some are describing as piney or herbal, but which in my nose smells of sweat. It's the Nelson's. This is a chemical process, and the way you react to the scent will depend on your nose. (Mostly people are lovin' it.)

The palate continues in this vein. You get the nice lemony/grapefruit quality from the Summits, the astringency of the Nelsons, though without much bitterness at all. I'm shocked to see the IBUs listed at 32--this beer seems to have about 20 to my palate. I recall the '07 distinctly, and I liked that beer quite a bit better. It was more bitter, more lively, and didn't have the Sauvin sweat note. On this count, however, you really shouldn't take my advice. This is a beer to experience, not read about. Find out for yourself.

I will add, in conclusion, that the Widmers have gone boldly here. The instinct for a brewery is to make beers more broadly appealing--and therefore less characterful. Drifter is an original, and to the brewery's credit, that means, different strokes for different folks, some people just won't be thrilled. I wasn't. But it also means that some folks will be--and they'll appreciate the moxie it took for a major brewery to put something thrilling in the market. Their cred on the line, I think Widmer has acquitted themselves nicely.

Malts: Pale, CaraVienne 20-L, Caramel 80-L, Carapils
Hops: boil - Alchemy; finishing - Summit, Nelson Sauvin; dry-hopping - Summit, Nelson Sauvin
Alcohol by volume: 5.7%
Original Gravity: 14° Plato
Bitterness Units: 32
Available: Year-round

PHOTO CREDIT: J. Wilson, Brewvana