Reviews: Widmer Deadlift and Double Mountain Porter A Go Go

You might imagine that a 5% porter and a double IPA have precious little in common and normally, I'd agree with you. But there is something surprising that unites these two beers, and so I've grouped them together. (Originally it was going to be Deadlift and Highland Ambush, but plans change.) Through a strange combination of hops, malt, and yeast, both have managed to produce interesting berry flavors in their beer.

Double Mountain Porter A Go Go
Double Mountain released Porter A Go Go a week or two ago, and I tried it at the Horse Brass. I'll give more detailed notes in a moment, but what really intrigued me was a predominant blackberry note. Sometimes we say a beer is fruity or has "raisin" or "plum" notes. These are metaphors to hint at the kind of flavors we detect. But when I say there was blackberry in Porter A Go Go, I don't mean it metaphorically. It was a pure, clear note. (It wasn't, however, sweet or dominant, more like the way blackberry tastes when its baked in a scone.) I shot DM's Matt Swihart an email, and he wrote back at length about the beer.
I’m a giant fan of porters, they don’t get the attention they deserve, and often end up being pretty timid from a large brewer market perspective or way too big into the stout range from the little guys. I found myself seeking a rich, dark beer, ruby black translucent with a noticeable hop nose, yet not zealot-hopped, or accused of being a new beer style with black or India in the title. I wanted the alcohol level to be more moderate than typical beers I produce, as this beer was designed specifically so I could have a couple at the end of the day in our pub in Hood River. The beer had to have some crystal malt sweetness to balance the roast, so I could throw in my hop back desires (also known as large amounts of whole hops). The hops are US challengers, which I find to have a tad of that US citrus, which can be a blessing and a curse, of course. But UK hops can be quite variable in quality, I find, so as a brewer 2 hours from Yakima , I tend to brew with what I can drive to between taco shack breaks.

I think the blackberry note you are getting is likely more from our Abby yeast strain. I underpitched the brew to drive the esters up a tad, but kept the temperature of the ferment lower. I’ve been having some good success with that lately. Could also be a combination with the dark malts, again that I didn’t want a giant roast presence so you can achieve some greater subtlety at lower levels.
I, too, am a giant porter fan. Porter was one of the first beer styles I brewed, and one of the first I consider when I arrive in a new brewpub. Porter is a flexible style, with version ranging from the sweet, gentle and nutty to the smoky, burly, and bitter (which Denver styles "brown" or "robust"). I think the style actually runs more along a continuum, and Porter A Go Go is one of those versions that falls just in the middle.

On the one hand, it's a gentle 5% and has that sweet, light body you like in a nice brown porter. The nature of the sweetness is characterized by that blackberry note, which I think takes something, in addition to the yeast, from the chocolate malts. On the other hand, it's a pretty hoppy beer, and the bitterness plays on the roastiness of the malts and gives it more of the charcoal quality you get in robust porters. Not your average porter by any means, and a beer you should try to track down. On a day like today--low forties, drizzly--it's really hits the spot. I might have hopped it a tad less, so on the ratings scale, I'd go B+ (though of course, that extra hop oomph is exactly what will recommend it to some drinkers.)

Widmer Deadlift
If Widmer hadn't lost a batch of Deadlift to a power outage, I wouldn't have known about it before receiving a four-pack in the mail. (Yes, federales, I was comped.) A strangely stealthy release. What we have in Deadlift is a further evolution of the Widmer style. House character can be achieved in a lot of different ways, but against all expectations, Widmer seems to be doing it through their use of unusual hops--especially Summit, Citra, and Nelson Sauvin. And Nelson Sauvin are leading the charge.

Deadlift utilizes four hops: Cascade, Alchemy, and Willamette--but the signature comes from the Nelsons. This is a hop the brewery started working with in it's "Nelson" trials (Half Nelson, Full Nelson), and which it later used in Drifter. Nelson Sauvin is a very distinctive hop and one for which I have no great love. The brewery describes its character variously as citrusy, or berry-like, and I have heard others call it piney. All true, but my nose finds some chemical that smells and tastes like sweat. Based on the commercial and critical success of Drifter, I'm in the minority, though, so take that for what it's worth.

So how do the Nelsons work in Deadlift? Widmer's approach is interesting. it comes in at only 70 IBUs, which for a Double IPA is pretty low. Instead of bitterness, they've gone for a tea-like infusion of hop flavor. From the moment it splashed into my tulip glass (beautifully, too--a sunny, bright gold), I could smell the Nelsons. They come across as more orange-citrus, but there's that characteristic Nelson-ness. The beer's not super strong, but a lot of volatile alcohol vents from the beer, too, lifting those aroma compounds, almost like wasabi. On the tongue, that Nelson-ness isn't so pronounced. The flavor they describe as berry I might call spruce, too. As the glass warms, the bitterness fades back a bit more and it almost gets too sweet--though the alcohol just keeps it in balance.

Not totally sure what the reaction is going to be to this beer. Because of the Nelsons, I'm having a hard time rating it. The early reviews on BeerAdvocate are positive, though.

Update. More reviews of Deadlift: It's Pub Night, 999 Beers, Portland Beer and Music, Bulls and Brew.

Addendum, 2/12/10. Sally got into the Deadlift last night and drank two (!). I snuck a couple of swallows and while the beer keeps me at arm's length personally, thanks to those Nelson Sauvin hops, I became more and more impressed. If it didn't say "double IPA" on the label, I would have a hard time characterizing it. There are ways in which it bears some resemblance to strong Belgian ales: full effervescence, the volatile alcohol nose, even the deep golden-orange color. It definitely isn't cut from the same cloth as most double IPAs, and this is to its credit.