Tuesday Tastings: Zarabanda, Topcutter IPA, Bu Weisse

I haven’t really been writing beer reviews on the site lately, and I have a backlog of them, so I thought I’d institute a new weekly feature—Tuesday Tastings. Each Tuesday I’ll post reviews of three or so beers—as simple a that! For this inaugural post I’m writing about beers from Deschutes Brewery, Bale Breaker Brewing, and De Garde Brewing.

Deschutes Brewery ZarabandaDeschutes Brewery Zarabanda

This collaboration beer is culinarily-influenced, a Spanish-style saison with spices. The Brewery says:

We looked to acclaimed Chef José Andrés to help us create a Spanish take on the farmhouse-style saison. The addition of lemon verbena, pink peppercorn, sumac, and dried lime infuse the Chef’s distinctive flavors into the brew – an ale purposefully crafted to complement all your culinary endeavors. Or to be savored all by itself.

It’s certainly a festive story and bottle, and the Brewery had sent one to me to sample. It comes in at 6.5% abv. My notes:

Appearance: Gold in color, nicely effervescent but a gentle pour into a Pilsner glass yielded a minimum head.

Smell: Nice herbal phenolics with a Belgian candi sugar and farmhouse spiciness that reminds me of coriander, peppercorns, grassy hay, and tart(ish) fruits or berries. Hint of funk.

Taste: Herbal, a bit on the sweet side. Not sure I can pick out unique ingredients, but I’d guess the fruity and slightly tart character is the lemon verbana (or possibly the dried lime). That sweetness comes from a bit more attenuation than you’d expect for a traditional Saison, and the flavors tend to go more in that direction than dry and funky.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with an herbal(ish), almost perfumey finish.

Overall: It’s a well-brewed, drinkable beer—but if I’m being honest, I was hoping for a drier Saison so the sweeter character is not what I’d been expecting or looking for. I’ve since had it on draft and it paired fine with Thai food.

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Bale Breaker Topcutter IPABale Breaker Brewing Topcutter IPA

Bale Breaker just opened in 2013, located literally in the middle of Yakima hop country—their brewery is surrounded on three sides by Cascade hop fields—it doesn’t get any fresher than that for hoppy beers!. Of their flagship ale, Topcutter IPA, they say:

Our flagship IPA is a well-balanced yet aggressive West Coast IPA that showcases Yakima Valley hops at their finest. Late additions of Simcoe®, Citra®, Ahtanum™, and Mosaic™ give this beer its complex citrus, fruity, and floral aroma and flavor. Named for a unique piece of farm equipment that removes hop vines from the trellis during the annual hop harvest, Topcutter IPA delivers loads of hoppiness all year long.

I picked up some cans of this when visiting Walla Walla, Washington last year. Topcutter is 6.8% abv and 70 IBUs. Notes:

Appearance: Honey amber-orange with a thick, fine-laced head. Golden highlights.

Smell: Resiny, sticky hops with a hint of cattiness overlaying some tropical fruits (mango, pineapple). Some sweet candy malts back the hops nicely.

Taste: Hoppy, resiny, with a nice caramel malt body that’s sweet but not overpowering and balances really well with the hop profile. The malt is a great support but the hops are definitely the star here, rightly so; they’re fresh and green and herbal a pack a nicely bitter punch. Very drinkable.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, a bit sticky-sweet yet paradoxically has a nice light presence on the tongue.

Overall: Very well done, very good IPA. Grab it up when you see it.

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De Garde Bu WeisseDe Garde Brewing Bu Weisse

De Garde is located in Tillamook, Oregon, and focuses on true spontaneous fermentation, relying on the wild fauna found on this section of the Oregon Coast to inoculate and ferment their beers. Bu Weisse is their defacto flagship, a soured wheat beer inspired by the German Berliner Weisse tradition and it only comes in at 2.3% abv(!). This is the base version, now more readily available in Oregon, which I picked up in Portland; they also do runs of varietals, blending with fruit and such.

Appearance: Slightly hazy, corn-yellow with an orange or perhaps more pinkish tint to it. It’s fizzy but there’s no real head.

Smell: Mellow, lacto-tart with hints of funk and corn grits. A lemongrass or perhaps lemon verbana herbal note to it. I do like that lactic acid character.

Taste: Hints of apple cider vinegar, what is basically an acetic acid note. Bready, like yeasty bread dough. Pretty tart and lactic but drinkable. That yeasty note persists as it warms. Pretty interesting actually.

Mouthfeel: Light, puckeringly tart, gets you right at the back of the tongue.

Overall: Interesting base beer for their various blends; it’s mellow but tart and I can see how it’s a good base for fruit.

Corollary—I confess wasn’t terribly predisposed to liking this beer much, based on the first bottle of De Garde that I had earlier in the year—their Spears, a wild American pale ale. Here’s mostly why:

De Garde Spears gusher

Yep, it was a gusher, which in this case “wild” definitely meant “infected,” and it was weird—funky, earthy, minty, and herbal with nettles or dandelion greens. Not a good representative beer to start with, so I’m happy to say Bu Weisse was much better.

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