It was a happy coincidence that I waited one extra day to write this review, because in the meantime, Food&Wine published an article heralding their choices for “The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed.” As with all opinions, there is agreement and disagreement of varied intensity, but their selection of Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen as number 19 gave me pause and context with which to consider their Hopside Down India Pale Lager. Widmer’s old guard status in a crowded Portland beer market reminded me why a recognizable name persists.
This seasonal offering immediately reminded me of San Diego's style of IPA. The aroma hits with floral hops and as the thin, laced head fades you can see straight down to the bottom of the glass. The malt flavors are basic, primarily pale malt with a bit of caramel malt for color and sweetness. There were some aromatic and floral yeast flavors from that long, cold lagering process, but unless I stopped to think and recognize those flavors they were hidden by hop flavors and 65 IBU bitterness.
I do enjoy hoppy lagers because of the characteristics I have listed above, namely how easily consumed they are. I do like this beer, and I find it to be an accurate representation of style.
The liberal use of Alchemy hops, a hop varietal specifically designed by the brewery for growth in the Pacific Northwest, and for use in their beers, lends a spruce-like flavor. However, it drinks like a very dry IPA. This is less a comment on Widmer Brothers and more of a challenge on the style of IPL.
Widmer is one of the ubiquitous, legacy labels that helped launch the movement of diversified stylistic offerings.”
Even though it is seasonal, Widmer’s IPL probably will not be the subject of beer trades and press releases. As Food&Wine reminded me, Widmer is one of the ubiquitous, legacy labels that helped launch the movement of diversified stylistic offerings. As part of the ninth-largest brewing company in the U.S., the Craft Brew Alliance of which Anheuser-Busch InBev owns at least a third, Widmer certainly resides in that grey area of where we question their use of the word “craft."
Rather than debate Widmer’s “craft beer” legitimacy, I’d rather just acknowledge that a beer with corporate-driven distribution channels and retail shelf space is actually a thoroughly enjoyable, pretty aggressively hopped lager.
Although the Widmer brand may very well carry baggage for the craft brew aficionado, in a blind tasting I am confident that Hopside Down IPL would surprise many discerning skeptics. It's technically sound and beautifully hopped. Why wouldn’t we expect this from a Northwest brewery with the resources of Widmer? It's a legitimate Northwest hopped India Pale Lager.
The India Pale Ale has been the darling of the craft beer world and 75% of U.S. hop production is in Yakima Valley, and the IPL is very close in style to the IPA. Aren’t many of the hoppy brews we consume northwest-hopped anyway? Hopside Down IPL is not innovative, but it absolutely showcases earthy Yakima Valley hop flavors against a pleasingly simple, yet crisp malt background.
Other things may catch my eye the next time I'm in the beer store, but with Hopside Down IPL, I know Widmer does offer a great tasting beer for a reasonable price. We can shake our fist at InBev or others that are corporatizing the craft brew world, but still recognize that this hoppy lager is undeniably quaffable, regardless.