Review Panel: Widmer’s W’10


This is the first beer review post on the new blog.
These will run a little differently then most beer reviews. I have assembled a panel of esteemed beer geeks to review the beer instead of just one opinion you get a more fair and balanced take on the beer. I have 5 reviewers this time and I think it will drop down to 3 next time so it is not so long. The format is still being perfected but for now I have asked everyone to write an overall point score on a scale of 0-5 in .5 increments.
Please feel free to chime in on your thoughts.
On to the beer…

Cascadian Dark Ale or Black IPA?
Atleast that is what I have heard the most debate about in the beer geek circles in the last year. I think this will be the popular new style in 2010 if it wasnt already in 2009. Everyone from Laurelwood to Deschutes has been testing one.
This is the first one I know of to be released in a 6-pack and mass marketed.

I consulted the expert and proponent of the Cascadian Dark Ale term, local beer writer/homebrewer/NAOBF organizer Abraham “Abe” Goldman-Armstrong who is holding a symposium on the style at Belmont Station on January 23rd.
He wrote the following guidelines for submissions to the BJCP as a new recognized style. They have not been approved yet:

Cascadian Dark Ale (aka Black IPA)

Aroma: prominent NW hop aromas: citrus, pine, resinous, sweet malt, hints of roast, toast, chocolate malt, and/or Carafa, dry hopped character is often present.

Appearance: Deep brown to black with ruby highlights. Head varies from whit to tan/khaki.

Flavor: A balance between citrus-like and spicy NW hop flavor, bitterness, caramel malt, and roast, chocolate, or Carafa-type malts.

Roast character ranges from subtle to medium. Black malt is acceptable at low levels, but should not be astringent. Intense ashy, burnt character is not appropriate. Caramel malt as a secondary flavor is acceptable but the finish should be dry. Diacetyl should not be present. Emphasis should be on hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium, hop bitterness and tannins from roast malts combine to create a dry mouthfeel. Resinous character from high levels of dry hopping may create a tongue coating sensation.

History: A style that emerged on the Northwest Coast of North America in the early 21st Century. Northwest hops are prominent, balanced with malt, roast malts give color and flavor, but body should be reminiscent of an IPA, not heavy like a porter or stout. The style is not only gaining traction with brewers in the Pacific Northwest, but is starting to spread to other regions.

Comments: Some brewers prefer to cold steep the dark grains to achieve a very dark beer without the tannin contribution of adding the grains to the mash. The use of Sinnamar to enhance color is common.

IBUs 40-90

Color: 40+ SRM

Abv 5.5-8.5%

Classic Examples: Rogue Brewer, Phllips Black Toque, Hopworks Secession CDA, Barley Brown’s Turmoil, Widmer Collaborator Cascadian Dark Ale, Lucky Lab Black Sheep, Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, Walking Man Big Black Homo, Rogue Black Brutal, Pelican Bad Santa, New Holland Black Hatter, Laughing Dog Dogzilla,


REVIEWER 1

“A pinch of black malt and splash of roasted barley break this IPA apart from tradition. Cascadian Dark: Join the shady revolution.” If these promising words from the label of Widmer Brothers’ new W ’10 Pitch Black IPA don’t inveigle beer geeks to make a pass at the brewery’s latest hype beer, perhaps it claiming a gold medal at 2009’s Great American Beer Fest might galvanize one toward such an action. Known for its famous American unfiltered wheat ale, Widmer has put forth some dignified hoppy brews to the mass public such as Hop Jack, Broken Halo, and Drifter Pale, and even a few Gasthaus treats like the X-114 experimental hop IPA. But it hasn’t been until now that a commercial release of such bold, bitter proportions has reared its piquant head from the quarter-century-old Portland brewery.

In the beer geek community of our area, wax-dipped and foil-wrapped caps can only do so much to excite the real heads to gravitate toward perceived “buzz” beer. Word of mouth and the Internet have raised ears and tempted palates to get a quaff of the W ’10.

A bright Northwest hops aroma is not the first essence one would historical expect to experience coming from a deep black-brown bodied ale. Along with this whiff of dry hops, a mild roastiness adds a distinct olfactory element the W’ 10. As the tan-gray head settles to a viscous, filmy underbody, the warming spices and pepperiness ostend to the drinker a notion that this is no typical beer style. This is a Cascadian Dark Ale. Layers of resinous hops coat the tongue and pleasurably redress its mood. With a moderate amount of booziness (6.5% ABV), at center stage resides a marriage of lavish malts and assertive hops. W ’10 is certainly not for the squeamish, but absolutely from a blue print that exudes masterful recipe development and forethought. Unlike many gratuitously hopped beers, this is not simply one where the piney, fruity, floral soupéon is implemented to mask any imperfection or to ride as a one trick pony. Its depth of character and flavor exhibit something unique and ameliorating.

Many parallel lines can be draw with this new beer and BridgePort Brewing’s original India Pale Ale. Both have defined what a style could evolve to become while pushing the envelope of convention and imagination. W ’10 Pitch Black IPA places Widmer emphatically into the modern age of brewing and is a great starting point for understanding what a Cascadian Dark Ale can be. Rating: 4.5

By Angelo De Ieso II, Brewpublic

REVIEWER 2
The W ’10 Pitch Black IPA pours black, revealing a transparent garnet
hue when held up to the light. The beer sports a medium beige head
with nice retention that leaves a film of spotted lacing after a
couple of minutes.
Overall the nose is clean and a bit understated for an IPA, but does
reveal some subtle complexity. W ’10 smells of earth and citrus,
casting aromas of moss, black licorice and grapefruit.
This Cascadian Dark is medium-bodied and infused with a smooth and
rounded carbonation. Initially, the beer tastes medium-sweet with a
grainy profile backed by a touch of ash and coffee – imagine slightly
burnt pizza crust. The finish exhibits a moderate, lasting and clean
bitterness coupled with some fruity tannin that dries out the palate.
Overall, this is a very satisfying and drinkable dark IPA. It sports a
prominent malt profile that is very flavorful, while simultaneously
avoiding overt caramel and roastiness. Grace, complexity and
drinkability characterize the W’10.
4/5

By Jimmy “Swine-Flu” Blum, prolific award-winning homebrewer and Belmont Station employee

REVIEWER 3
The W’10 pours deep black with a beige and lacy head. The nose on this beer is piney and pleasantly strong, leading me to believe it has been dry hopped. Taking a drink of the W’10 first reveals a strong hop flavor, but this quickly yields to roasty malt flavors with a finish that is quite burnt and dry. In my opinion, a Cascadian Dark Ale/Black IPA should highlight the hops over the roasted malts, which is definitely not the case for this beer. Furthermore, I find the burnt flavor of this beer to be very astringent and almost unpleasant, not to the point where it is undrinkable, but I won’t be running back to the store for more. To sum it up, this beer has some good Cascadian Dark Ale quality’s like heavy hop aroma and a dry finish, but the roasted malts are way too overpowering to keep true to the style.
I give it a 3 out of 5.

By “SNOB” Ritch, a home brewer for 18 years, originally moved to Portland in 2000 primarily because of the beer scene. He shoots beer related video and photos for Taplister and other beer blogs.

REVIEWER 4
Color: you’d think it was a porter.
Aroma: hoppy and floral.
Taste: pleasant…but not as hoppy as it smells.

It might be my stereotypical Pacific Northwest bias towards big, brutal, hoppy beers, but the first thing I noticed was that it didn’t taste nearly as hoppy as the aroma led me to believe it would be. That’s not bad, mind you–not every beer needs an overdose of hops, though for a so-called “black IPA” I expected a bit more pep. If I hadn’t seen the label and tried it blind, I might have identified it as an overhopped brown ale instead of a Cascadian dark. The packaging doesn’t identify the hops used in the brew, but that quibble is more about stylistic guidelines than overall quality. I’m not one to frown upon a technicality if the beer is still good.

I might be totally off the mark, however, because I had multiple bottles on two separate nights–the first time poured into a pint glass and the second from the bottle–and my perception of the second tasting is that of more hops than the first. Can my palate really be influenced by the visible color of the beer? It definitely doesn’t have the citrus flavor that permeates extra-hoppy IPAs, but it’s enough to sufficiently bitter it.

I realize that there are some implications that should be explored, but color of beer versus perception of taste is a topic for a more detailed experiment another time.

The W’10 has a subtle sweet maltiness that leaves a nice aftertaste, something that’s desirable if you plan on drinking multiple bottles. Nothing annoys me more than popping open that second bottle only to find that first sip ruined by the dregs of the last bottle.

Verdict: 4/5. It’s a very nice beer that’s both drinkable and re-drinkable, and it loses points only for an aroma that promised more than it delivered. Widmer can be applauded for releasing a solid and drinkable Cascadian dark ale and shedding some light on this growing style. Some beers lose their luster after the first bottle, but the W’10 is definitely a redrinkable beer.

Buy to taste? Yes.

Buy to drink again? Yes.

Andrew Self aka @AGSHender is a homebrewer, a craft beer enthusiast, and a Founder at the Green Dragon.

REVIEWER 5
Pours a clear deep ruby red with a white head and and soapy lacing. In the nose I get citrus and some sweet malt. In the flavor I get big citrus hop notes with a big malt backbone in the finish. This beer is nice and balanced. It could use more hops, but it is tasty like it is. It goes well with some crackers with a chile lime cheese spread.
4.0 I liked this beer.

By Charles Culp a veteran homebrewer and blogger from An Ear For Beer.

Pics 1 and 3 by “SNOB” Ritch and pic 2 by Angelo of Brewpublic at the Gasthaus

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

Discussion

  • Seanywonton
    Seanywonton
    Wed Jan 6, 2010 5:40 PM

    Ezra,
    If I might make a suggestion (and first a small assumption that might be wrong, if so forgive me):
    I am assuming the beer reviewed was tasted with everyone knowing what it was and seeing the bottle. If that’s the case, I would urge you to let the beer reviewers taste the beer “blind”. I think that one of the problems plaguing the big 2 beer review sites is the simple fact that people are highly influenced by labels and the reputation of the brewery in question (i.e. typically they are going to pan, or at least be harder on a beer from a brewery that they see as “mass market” or having less “street cred”, and overrate a beer from a brewery with a reputation as being a small brewer of “extreme” beers). I’m sure we can all think of examples of that.
    Obviously there are always going to be weak spots in objectivity, but this should take care of a very big one. Cheers, looking forward to reading more reviews!
    Sean

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous
      Wed Jan 6, 2010 7:39 PM

      Might want to check up on the Black IPA history. A quick internet search found that Black IPA’s are not a hidden Northwest treasure, but have a history that spans the entire West coast, possibly back into the mid 90’s. One report states an India Black Ale was being made in Japan in 2004. Check out links below. One is even from your arch nemesis.

      http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20090729/ai_n32393952/

      http://bairdbeer.com/en/blog/archives/2914

      http://wortblog.blogspot.com/2007/11/pelican-brewings-bad-santa-causes.html

      • Samurai Artist
        Samurai Artist
        Wed Jan 6, 2010 11:38 PM

        Sean,
        yeah I am into doing Blind Tastings. I am planning that in the future. However the practicality of doing that on a regular basis is difficult since I would need to buy the beer and get everyone over.
        It definitely will happen though. I am planning to do a blind tasting of a bunch of different Cascadian Dark Ales soon.

        Anonymous,
        I know that they date back further. I did not say that they did not. I was only mentioning their recent popularity and we were discussing them mostly in context of what one should taste like.

        I do plan to do the blind tasting of them in the future and on that post I will get more into their history and such.

        Thanks,
        Ezra

        • Seanywonton
          Seanywonton
          Thu Jan 7, 2010 12:30 AM

          Good to hear! Cheers.

          • Dantenatas
            Dantenatas
            Thu Jan 7, 2010 6:12 PM

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng4FmPP2Nc8&feature=channel

            Here’s a video with Abe, the leader of the Republic of Cascadia, talking about CDA.