Thursday, April 17, 2008

Deschutes Cinder Cone Red

Deschutes has always been one of my favorite breweries, by quality of output, attitude, business style, and setting. The unavailability of their beer on the East Coast is painful, but something I understand and respect.

So I was pretty happy when I apparently got on their mailing list for samples a couple weeks ago. A box from Deschutes showed up at my maildrop, and I just couldn't wait to rip it open and see what they'd sent. There were two beers inside: the Cinder Cone Red seasonal and the relatively new Green Lake Organic Ale. What with all the mess and fuss in the last two weeks, it was last night before I had a chance to pop the Cinder Cone with dinner (gnocchi with chicken sausage, red bell peppers, and fennel).

Cinder Cone is a bemedalled and well-reviewed beer, and the reasons why were apparent from the get-go. The aroma was energetic, fresh, and nostalgic: this wild West Coast ale freshness was one of the things that hooked me on American craft beer way back in the mid-1980s. It blossomed with green hops and juicy esters, a beer that grabbed me by the hand and said 'Let's go, let's drink!'

I did, and that's where I went off the rails with this one. The first gush in the mouth was great, delivering on the promise of the aroma with shovelsful of that hop character and fresh beer character I'd found so beguiling. But after it came a heavy-handed rush of caramel malt, accompanied by a grainy, husky dryness -- an addition of roasted barley is probably the source -- that could have been an asset if it had been less insistent. It was almost enough to make me angry; this beautiful promise crushed by an overplayed hand.

I'm not used to Deschutes doing stuff like this; the other beers from them that I love are balanced, drinkable, and brilliant. I'd blame extreme beer, but I don't really think it's to blame. I'd guess it's just over-exuberance. I will admit that I'm baffled by the popularity of this one, but that's what makes craft beer wonderful: something for everyone. Thankfully, Deschutes has something for me, even if it's not this one. I'll try the Green Lake soon.

13 comments:

The American Don said...

The Dryness I can understand, but a heavy hops being matched with subsequent heavy malt would seem cool to me. We're you expecting something to be on only one side, and subtle on the other? There's merit to that, but with the popularity of the "wow" beers like hardcore IPAs, I think they may be trying to match that.

American Don
thebeerbrotha.blogspot.com

Lew Bryson said...

No, I like serious malt support in a hoppy beer. But I think the caramel component was overdone, and the roasted barley gave the dryness a husky character that was not pleasant. I agree that they were trying to match the "wow" factor, but it's more like "whoa" from where I'm sitting. Still, as I've always said: it's my mouth. Your Mileage May Vary.

Anonymous said...

Hey, easy come, easy go. Its not like you paid to try this beer, so no real loss for you, was it? How do you get on their mailing list where they send you boxes of "free" beer?

Lew Bryson said...

I got on that list by writing for years about beer, and gaining some respect from brewers and readers. Getting the Portfolio gig, I suspect, didn't hurt.

I mean, if you're really interested.

Matt said...

Lew,

I just got a bottle of the Cinder Cone in a a prize package for coming in 3rd in my March Madness pool...your review at least gives me hope that it'll be somewhat interesting.

Lew Bryson said...

Oh, definitely interesting. I'm going to chill the remaining bottle and give it another run. Got a bottle of Deschutes HopHenge IIPA in the mail today, and it's already chilling: that's definitely getting a whirl, maybe later on the deck.

Jeff Alworth said...

Your review is spot on. I have never enjoyed the Cinder Cone--and it's really the only beer in their lineup (wait, hold the phone!) I can say that about. I have always assumed that that huskiness you describe comes from crystal malt, which can get unpleasantly tannic when it's overused.

Now, I'll be interested to hear what you think of Green Lakes, because it was also disappointing to me. A middling effort that lacks character. They can create symphonies out of subtle flavors, so it's not just that the beer isn't assertive--rather, it's lifeless.

But you must try the Inversion, which is a nearly perfect IPA (released two years ago) and try to get a bottle of the Buzzsaw Brown (a seasonal that is just now vanishing from shelves). The former is amazingly clear and articulated despite the bombast, and the latter is amazingly rich and lustrous despite the minor chords of malt and hop. They will restore your faith.

Jeff Alworth said...

Oh, and I suspect you'll love the Hop Henge, too.

Lew Bryson said...

Always good not to be the lone voice, Jeff. But my faith is solid; they're gonna have to screw up a lot worse than this to shake it!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one day the antiquated and unevenly-applied alcohol laws in this country will be amended to the point where a non-beer-writing peon in NJ like myself can order some fantastic Deschuttes beer online and have it delivered to me.

You know, like I can with wine.

Lew Bryson said...

If you can order wine, why can't you order beer? How do they explain that to you?

Jeff Alworth said...

But my faith is solid; they're gonna have to screw up a lot worse than this to shake it!

Top to bottom, they can compete with any brewery in the country for consistent quality. It would be weird and freakish if they didn't sound some off-notes from time to time. In medieval Hindu paintings, artists always added a flaw to represent the nature of samsama--they didn't want to offend the Gods. Same with Deschutes?

And, as a beer writer, it's nice that they give me the chance to do something other than look like a shill.

Steve said...

Cinder Cone has changed over the years, to my taste buds. The 06/07 versions had some toffee flavor that went well with the hops, to my palate. That toffee flavor seems to be missing this year, and it is not mentioned on the neck label, as in 2007. I preferred last year's version - I will have to try to make a similar beer for comparison.