Thursday, July 10, 2014

Deschutes Arrives in Oshkosh

From 2008 to 2011, we saw a steady stream of out-of-state craft brewers pull their products from Wisconsin. Allagash, Avery, Boulevard, Dogfish Head, Fort Collins, Stone and Two Brothers were among those that left the state.

Most of those brewers cited lack of capacity as the reason for their departure. As often as not, though, their exit from our state coincided with the placement of their beer in another. What none of them said, but everyone knew is that Wisconsinites have a tendency to be tribal about their beer.

That’s been the case for years. It’s the reason Wisconsin held on to so many of its regional breweries well into the 1960s; a time when most other states had long since seen their local brewers driven under by the likes of Pabst, Schlitz and Budweiser.

But a number of brewers are now betting that our bias for local beer is easing. Late last year, Dogfish Head came back and this year saw the return of Avery. They’ll soon be joined other out-of-state breweries including Ballast Point and Surly. The latest brewery to dive into Wisconsin is Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon.

Deschutes was established in 1988. It’s the sixth largest American craft brewery. They’ve been on a massive push recently to expand their reach, going into the Midwest and eastern states. Last week, they hit the shelf in Oshkosh. Let’s see what they’ve got.

Right now there are four Deschutes’ beers available here: Black Butte Porter, Chainbreaker White IPA, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Twilight Summer Ale. Gardina’s and Festival Foods are selling all four, with Gardina’s bringing Deschutes in on draught in the near future. Their porter and pale ale are the beers to go for if you want to get a feel for what this brewery is all about.

Black Butte Porter is a classic robust porter. Very dark brown with a chunky tan head, the beer gives off an aroma of moist brownies backed by light roast. Full bodied with a silky texture, Black Butte’s malt flavors dominate – the main thrust coming from mildly sweet caramel malt. There’s a slight undertow of roast that leads to a somewhat dry, powdery finish. I’ve been into porters lately and have been drinking a lot of them. This one shines. It’s an exceptional beer.

Mirror Pond Pale Ale is another ideal example of a beer style. American pale ales are changing, trending ever more heavily towards hop flavor. This beer is a portrait of what the American pale ale was prior to the recent tendency of brewers make it into a minor-league IPA. It’s a deep-golden ale with a fluffy white head that lingers down the glass. The piney smell of cascade hops is impossible to miss. The citrus-like hop flavor is prominent, but spread evenly over enough bready malt to balance the beer. There’s a satisfying bitterness in the finish that is especially likable. If you’re a homebrewer looking to nail this style, here’s a beer you ought to study.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Deschutes does around here. Their prices are just a bit higher than most other craft beers, but their quality is exceptional. I’m thinking they’ll do fine. These are flavorful, well-made ales that ought to find favor with anyone who loves a good beer.

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