Thursday, October 1, 2009

Deschutes Hop Trip


I've been loving the expanded number of fresh hop beers this year, something I remember seeing start very small back in the 1990s and grow like mad in the past couple years; the recent hop shortage has only seemed to accelerate the trend, possibly because of the number of people who decided to grow their own.

Deschutes Hop Trip is on the docket tonight, claiming four hours from vine to kettle. It's a beautiful beer, glowing reddish-copper in the light with a solid cream of foam on top. But...the stuff under the foam falls short once I stop looking and get down to business. The beer's a bit heavy in the body for its flavor and bitterness, and there's not much aroma past a small, fresh grassiness. There's not a lot of hop flavor, either, and a restrained bitterness.

Hop Trip is okay, competent, but it falls far short of two beers from Deschutes I enjoyed tremendously in recent months: Twilight and Red Chair. Fresh, clean, competent, but ultimately disappointing. I really expected more from this one.

22 comments:

sam k said...

That Twilight was a remarkable experience earlier this summer, one I won't soon forget. Wish I could get me some more!

Jon said...

Yeah, the aroma's not there this year... I like the beer beneath, but the "fresh hop" nose I'm used to just... isn't. I posted my review here, with an afternote (straight from the Brewery's mouth, as it were):

"It wasn’t anything done different by the Brewery, it is in fact the character of this year’s fresh hops themselves—something to do with the early harvest"

I'm curious to try other fresh hop beers and see if the result is similar...

Jeff Frane said...

Deschutes is a shadow of its former greatness. Every once in awhile I try one just to check, and I'm always disappointed.

Bill said...

I'm drinking a Hop Trip right now, and I find it to be right on the money for a bottled fresh-hop ale. Jon's review describes it well, except let's not complain about the aroma, when the taste is so right.

In my opinion, the champion Oregon fresh-hop beer so far this year happens to be another Deschutes brew: the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond at Deschutes' Portland Pub. <hyperbole>Truly a world-historic beer.</hyperbole>

Jeff: lighten up, dude. A shadow of its former greatness? Oh puhleeze. They've never been better. Abyss, Double Black Butte, Double Cinder Cone, Mirror Mirror, Hop Henge, Red Chair, Jubel, fabulous one-offs at the pubs, plus turning out quantities of quality product in their everyday lines... Maybe they're not your favorite brewery, but I'd be interested to hear of a brewery that does that many things that well.

Lew Bryson said...

I'll agree about Frane needing to lighten up, Bill. Frane, gigy, you probably think Bigfoot is always better last year...

Double Black Butte and Red Chair were excellent, and again: Twilight is a freakin' great-drinking beer. But Hop Trip was just fresh-tasting, without anything that really tripped my trigger. It was good, but not striking. And what's a fresh hop beer without that fresh hop nose?

Jeff Frane said...

I've been drinking Deschutes since John Harris worked there and created Mirror Pond, so I have a little bit of experience to base my opinion on.

Sorry, I'm not planning on "lightening up" any time soon. And, in my not at all humble opinion, they went downhill a long time ago -- probably about the time they turned Bachelor Bitter into Bachelor ESB and dumped the original recipe.

I visited Bend a couple of years ago, and the in-house beers they had on tap were excellent--and they're nothing like the product coming out of the main brewery.

Lew Bryson said...

Do you really think Twilight is a bad beer, Frane? I'll certainly admit I don't have the intimate and constant knowledge of the beers that you have. But Twilight and Red Chair sure seemed like pretty damned good beers to me.

Jeff Frane said...

I never said the beer was "bad," Lew. What I said was that the beers from Deschutes were not as magnificent as they once were. Mirror Pond, for example, was a wonderfully complex melange of hops and malt; casked Mirror Pond was orgasmic. Their beer isn't "bad" but it also isn't "great". So, maybe I've had an emotional response, a huge letdown over the last decade.

There's too much really excellent beer around here (unlike that beer desert of Pennsylvania, which I hear is just like South Dakota) to waste my time on OK beer. I live five minutes from Hopworks Urban Brewery, where Christian Ettinger brews some of the most wonderful beers imaginable. Even a jaded old putz like yourself would be jarred awake by his cask IPA, Lew. Really.

Steve said...

Something in Jeff's last post (as well as a comment from Lew, which I'll revisit in a second), I think sums up the issue with Deschutes in 2010 compared to 1995 or 2000: and that's that there are many considerably superior beers in that neighborhood now, whereas there was a day that they were one of the best around Oregon.

We get a lot of Deschutes in California, and I've noticed over the last several years an overall slide as well. (In fact, I've also said "shadow of its former self.") Mirror Pond just isn't as striking as it used to be, the Black Butte's gotten a little rough around the edges. The special brews are hit or miss.

Overall, this Lew quote sums up Deschutes as a whole these days: "Hop Trip is okay, competent"; substitute "Hop Trip" with "Deschutes" and you've got the current situation.

There's nothing wrong with competent. The world frankly needs more competent, including the craft brew industry (which, while not plagued with the technical problems of a decade ago, still has a lot of poorly conceived and uninteresting beer out there). But competent's a step back for a brewery that was once great. Some of the transition may undoubtedly be my palate drift, but I don't think you can chalk it up wholly to that. It's not like I run around saying Sierra is a shadow of its former self, after all.

Ryan said...

I'll say it: Twilight is a bad beer. Not bad as in technically flawed, no. In fact it's so technically well-brewed that it's without any of the rough edges or distinctive characteristics that would make it interesting; the same kind of rough edges and distinctive characteristics that most of the Deschutes beers used to have before they gutted them back in, hell, what was it, 2003?

Now not every beer has to be Roddy Grand Cru, but if it's aspiring to be anything more than something like Miller High Life (not that there's anything wrong with High Life, mind you), to me it has to deliver something remarkable or different (while remaining good, of course). Otherwise, why bother? I may as well have a High Life.

The fact that Deschutes beers still get even obligatory lip service from anyone who considers themselves beer savvy is utterly confounding to me. Fact: They're boring, and when something like beer that, last I checked, is supposed to be fun is boring, well, it sucks.

It says a lot about the current state of craft brewing and its acolytes that anyone still gives them more than a passing thought. You want good beer to be the standard? Demand passion and vision from your breweries. Don't settle for this horseshit.

Lew Bryson said...

Ryan,
It seems clear to me that you and I have different visions on what makes a good beer. I'm not sure exactly what yours is, and I wouldn't judge, but I can see it's not the same as mine. I will say that Sam and I had the Twilight on a night when we were presented with a treasure cave of beers and a ridiculous assortment of whiskies...and Twilight was one of two standouts. If that says more about me than about Twilight, so be it. I'm okay with that.

sam k said...

Wow, there's a lot of animosity out west, isn't there now?

I can understand a drinker's disappointment if a particular brewery isn't meeting their expected standards, but to say that Twilight is a bad beer...not OK or acceptable, but BAD (i.e. undrinkable, putrid), simply because of an overall disillusionment with the brand, seems almost reckless.

Well, OK, Lew and I are unworthy easterners, both living in the "beer desert" of Pennsylvania, but on a rainy night this summer, that Twilight was wonderful stuff. I have little to benchmark this beer against, except to say that ten years ago, Mirror Pond was a highlight of my trip to Portland (along with the Tug Boat Brewery), though it seems I'd be disappointed with the stuff today.


Sounds like it's time for you guys to move on.

DA Beers said...

The fact that Deschutes beers still get even obligatory lip service from anyone who considers themselves beer savvy is utterly confounding to me. Fact: They're boring, and when something like beer that, last I checked, is supposed to be fun is boring, well, it sucks.

This statement is just ridiculous. Boring? How do you call the Dissient, Abyss, Black Butte XX, and others boring? Deschutes has to be one of the most solid breweries in Oregon. They produce well built beers in their standard line up, which I guess you find "boring", but they also continue to release amazing beers aside from their regulars. Have you been to one of their pubs? The beers they release there are outstanding.

Please inform us on which brewpubs you find interesting?

Jeff Frane said...

Lew knows damn well that I was kidding him about Pennsylvania being a beer desert, especially given that he gave a bunch of us a tour of Philadelphia and points (west?). Also that I'm a huge Victory fan. Someone with no history might miss the irony.

Ten years ago, Mirror Pond was probably still excellent, but Tugboat? Yeeps.

Jeff Frane said...

I can't answer DA Beers questions for Ryan, but yes, I've been to Bend (excellent beer) and Portland's pub (eh beer and overpriced food).

As to the last question, I guess I'd have to expand the question: where are the brewpubs in question? Portland? HUB, Full Sail. Seattle? Elysian, Pike, Hales, Maritime Pacific. Mukilteo? Diamond Knot. Chicago? Goose Island, Piece. Boston? BBW. Hood River? Full Sail, Big Horse. Victor? Spinnakers.

I don't really get the relevance, though.

What I said originally was that their beers are a shadow of what they once were. Unless you were drinking Deschutes in the early 90s, I don't think you're qualified to judge whether my statement was hyperbole or not.

Lew Bryson said...

"What I said originally was that their beers are a shadow of what they once were. Unless you were drinking Deschutes in the early 90s, I don't think you're qualified to judge whether my statement was hyperbole or not."

Can't argue with that. However...I do hear people say the same kind of things about Victory, who were around here in the mid-1990s, and I think to myself, 'You're so full of shit.'

You, Frane, I would not think that about you. Just wanted you to think I would for a second or two, but I wouldn't. You've been at this a long time, and thoughtfully, and I trust your judgment cuz I know you, and have enjoyed beers with you. I even enjoyed cask Mirror Pond with you.

I wonder if it's because you guys have stared so deeply into The Abyss of Hops...that it's staring back into you.

Jeff Frane said...

Someone from PA sent me a mixed case of Victory beer back in '93 or '94, mostly Prima and Hopdevil (apologies if I got the date wrong). If I hear anyone say they have dumbed down their beer I will hunt them down and force-feed them Budweiser Light Taco (or whatever they call the next release).

My only complaint with Victory is that they do not send the 750 ml bottles of Golden Monkey out here. Selfish bastards!

sam k said...

Jeff, I hit at least ten pubs in Portland ten years ago, and the Tug had them all hands down, not on any one particular aspect, but the entire experience. I was treated like family and drank some respectable beers with like-minded regulars in an out-of-the-way location that I still love. Megan made some jewelry that I brought home as souvenirs to my daughters. But then again, it seems that the overall quality of old-line breweries in Portland might not hold up for the long haul.

Taste is absolutely subjective; one man's meat is another man's poison, and that won't change, thank God. Once you come to terms with that, life is easier to navigate.

Makes me appreciate what we've got in Pennsylvania even more.

Bill said...

@Jeff Frane: You're a brave man for putting some names out there. Sounds like we don't live too far apart, maybe we'll have a beer at some point.

But good Lord, you find Hale's and Pike's output to be more interesting than Deschutes? That's just... weird (and I'm pretty fond of some of Hale's stuff). Spinnakers? Easily the dullest beer I tried in Victoria.

Jeff Frane said...

sam k, the Tugboat is a great pub, very warm and friendly and much more to my taste than a lot of recent arrivals in town. But, that being said, their own beers are "variable." Fortunately, they have enough guest beers that it's possible to find something worth drinking.

By the way, Oregon bars went non-smoking in January. The Horse Brass has become an entirely new experience.

Jeff Frane said...

Bill, honestly I haven't been to Spinnaker's in years and probably should have left them off the list. I give Pike credit for reversing a terrible slide after Fal Allen left. Hale's is perhaps the most underrated of the old guard, and as long as they have cask Mongoose, I don't care what else is on--that beer alone justifies their existence.

Erlangernick said...

Deschutes' terleting of itself (coinciding with a certain brewmaster's departure?) was one reason why I moved away from Orygun years ago. One of my ties to the state got broked.

No, really, they changed focus. They'd always been about quality and had just a few seasonals, and kept control of their beer by keeping it close to home. Then Dr. Bill left, the regular beers got dumbed down, they jumped on the hoo-hoo bourbounne 3xtr3m3 bandwagon, started exporting to Kalifornien, and that was it.

It was after the dumping of Bachelor Bitter for Bachelor ESB, by a few years. That was just an honest mistake.

God, what I wouldn't do for a casked BB right now....bit too strong though, at probably nearly 5%!

Actually, perhaps ironically, Krautley's best beer, the Kellerbier from Brauerei Roppelt of Stiebarlimbach in pastoral Upper Franconia, often reminds me of the old, pre-bottled (1996?) MPPA, though a bit maltier and less hoppy. Pity the keller season's over now.

Having been away from OR for 5 years now, I just can't fathom the idea of a Deschutes joint *IN* *PDX*. Symptomatic of its un-rightness. But they ruined my Bridgeport, too, so...