Beer: Conflux No.1 - Collage Brewery: Deschutes Brewery, Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. Style: American Strong Ale ABV: 11.6 percent
If you've never heard of Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, don't feel too bad about it. Although the Portland-based brewery has been around since 1995, annual production of its acclaimed ales hovers at around 15,000 barrels. I called the brewery a few years ago to set up a tour, and with his dog barking madly in the background, founder and head brewer Alan Sprints replied, "Nah, I'm not really feeling up to giving tours today." You can do that when you're tiny.
Deschutes Brewery, however, is not tiny. At a production rate of 220,000 barrels a year, the Bend, Oregon-based beer maker was recently ranked the fifth-largest craft brewery in America based on 2011 sales. But just because you're different sizes doesn't mean you still can't work well together, and by their powers combined, we get Collage.
Collage is the first of Deschutes' Conflux brewery collaboration series, but is actually premiering second. Conflux No. 2, a White IPA made with Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City, hit shelves in July 2011. Collage was brewed first but took some additional time to age and blend -- two years and more than 100 rounds of mixing and sampling, according to brewers. It's made up of two beers from each brewery:
- Hair of the Dog Adam: The first beer ever produced by HotD, Adam's the recreation of the historic "adambier" beer style originally made in Dortmunder, Germany. A straightforward smoked malt character with notes of bitter dark chocolate leads to sweet yet subtle figs deftly balanced by the faintest hint of bitter, piney hops. The crazy part hits at the finish: leather, like a lick of an old baseball mitt.
- Hair of the Dog Fred: Fred was created and named to honor Fred Eckhardt, a Portland-based homebrewer and beer writer who authored The Essentials of Beer Style in 1989. Colored deep gold, the brew includes 10 different hop varieties, rye malt and other aromatics that give it the fragrance and flavor of mead spiked with flowers, oranges, agave nectar and Jasmine tea.
- Deschutes The Dissident: an Oud Bruin -- a sour brown ale from the Flanders region of Belgium -- the Dissident is the only beer Deschutes makes with wild yeast. It's fermented in isolation from the brewery's other beers for 18 months, with a portion going in pinot and cabernet barrels, and tastes like sour cherries, oak, caramel and balsamic vinegar.
- Deschutes The Stoic: Deschutes calls the Stoic a Belgian quadrupel, though its light color and flavors of green apple, pear and vanilla belie that label. It does, however, go through four fermentations and was aged in casks that once held pinot noir and rye whiskey.
To make Collage, the Dissident and Adam were placed in oak barrels that had formerly held Oregon pinot noir. The Stoic was aged in rye whiskey barrels, while Fred was aged in bourbon barrels.
Poured into a tulip or snifter, Collage is the color of rosewood, clear but dark, topped with a finger of feathery khaki foam. The nose is a dance between two partners: the Stoic and the Dissident, which lend aromas of white grapes, biting balsamic and a touch of green apple. Oak is huge here, fresh and untoasted. Deeper inspection reveals weird stuff -- pencil shavings and the lightest hint of leather.
Were I given beer-naming privileges, I might have gone with Mosaic. It's like an image crafted of smaller images -- discernible and enjoyable as a whole, but easily broken into its contributing parts when you focus on them. Here's the Stoic, lending vinous oak, white wine and green apple; there's the Dissident with dark vinegar and cherries. Adam contributes savory leather and dark fruits, while bourbon-aged Fred delivers toffee, vanilla, grapefruit pith and bitterness. There's no getting around the alcohol flavor, but it works well here.
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With the combined strength of these brews and the hefty alcohol content they carry, you'd expect an equally hefty body, but this isn't the case. The liquid's actually rather delicate, peppered with just a bit of silky carbonation and pretty well-hidden alcohol. The combination makes the brew surprisingly light and drinkable -- it goes down far more easily than the ABV should allow.
Collage's combination of beers and aging platforms makes for a very interesting sensory experience -- though if I'm being honest, I expected a little more. I think this is too heavy on the Stoic and needs more Adam and bourbon. The bottle advises that it'll taste best a year from now, so we'll see how I feel about it after the malts have had some time to mature and the souring yeast takes more hold.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.