Hop in the Dark C.D.A. (Cascadian Dark Ale) from Deschutes Brewery – ABV:  6.9%; IBU:  70

Delicious, richly creamy, dark as its name, with hops that are brightly in step with the malt.  Fully balanced.  If Guinness were lovingly craft-brewed, it would taste like this.  HITDCDA is suitable for beer aficionados, tyros, haters, and first-timers; this is a brew you can put in a wine glass or a pint jar.  And though I had a hard time with the trend in beer taxonomy for a while, calling this a “Cascadian Dark Ale” now seems more accurate and evocative than calling it a stout or a porter (however you define them, if you differentiate between them at all.)  My first reaction to reading “Cascadian Dark Ale” was “whatever that is.”  Now that I’ve drunk it, I know THAT is What It Is.  ♥

Hoptopia Double I.P.A. from Hermitage Brewing Co., San Jose CA – ABV: 8%; IBU: not listed

Huh.  Okay.  Not very hoppy, to me, though I love hops and would eat hops gravy on my taters if I could.  The hops are bright and slightly skunky, and there isn’t much else by way of flavor.  Like a crummy car stereo, it doesn’t offer much midrange presence; unlike a crummy car stereo, there’s no bass note, either.  It tastes of watery alcohol, which is what it actually is, I guess.  Definitely not a repeat purchase.

Two From Widmer Brothers Brewing:  Nelson Imperial IPA (Series 924) ABV 8.6%; Drifter Pale Ale ABV 5.7%; no IBUs given, as is so disappointingly usual, unless you go to their website, which shouldn’t be necessary.

The Drifter I’ve had a few times, and if I am buying from a grocery store, it’s the beer I hope to find (if Red Chair from Deschutes is out of season.)  Balanced, tasty, and substantial; there is nothing to complain about with this beer.  I don’t even mind its really weak hops.  So when I saw the Nelson, I was expecting better.  The glass featured on the label is the modified tulip; the alcohol is higher; it’s sold in a four-pack (special!); it has a gold band saying “Series 924” — whatever that means.  I am not in love with the Nelson hop, and the brew seemed less substantial than the nonverbal cues indicate.  It’s not offering much flavor, much body, or much of anything, and yet it seems to be trying for substance.  It’s not lawnmower beer, and yet it’s not greater than lawnmower beer.  If I want Widmer, I’ll stick with their Pitch Black IPA, and mourn the passing of their Hopjack.

But the winner today is Deschutes.  When I lived in Portland, I’m afraid I neglected the Deschutes Brewery a bit, preferring the Rogue and McMenamin’s at the time.  But their stock is definitely rising.  I do look for the Jubelale every winter, and since Red Chair and Hop Henge are spring seasonals, I’ll have to wait patiently for them as well.

Moving to the Bay Area, land of artisanal food and wine, gave me hope that the beer would blow me away.  It hasn’t.  New Mexico has a low population, very little money, and not what you would call a California-like wealth of crops — but the beer there was excellent, in part due to the proximity of Colorado.  Bay Area beer is for a palate almost entirely opposite my own.  My hope was that being due south of the Pacific NW (Hop Heaven) would make them love bittering agents, but alas!, that is a great big hell no.  Hop-focus is sneered at by many, who seem to cherish brews that taste like Mrs. Butterworth’s on stale bread.  Is it the wine culture that makes them crave sweet, rich, unbalanced beer?  Is the Asian standard lager keeping their horizons narrow?   If Little Debbie made beer, it would sell here, but I’m afraid my beloved Boulder Beer Company will not have a profitable time of it for a while.  I’ll be a loyal Hazed and Infused customer, but I might be their sole cheerleader at first.

Until then, I’m curling up with good old Ruination IPA, a sort of hops gravy with 100+ IBUs, and mapping what to brew at home this fall.  Hooray for beer!