Midwest greets Far West beers
BY MICHAEL AUSTIN February 26, 2013 8:41AM
The nicely balanced Mirror Pond Pale Ale is Deschutes’ best-selling brew.
Updated: March 28, 2013 6:04AM
We have no shortage of California craft beers in Chicago, and that is a good thing.
Most of them are quite nice to drink; some are flat-out delicious. Recently two other Pacific Coast beers entered the Chicago market and this is also a good thing.
Deschutes comes to us by way of Bend, Ore., which is not exactly on the coast —it is closer to the middle of the state than the ocean — and Kona comes to us from Hawaii, a place with Pacific coasts all its own. Two of the country’s largest craft brewers, both are very involved in the “green” movement, not only with their ingredients and product but also with their business practices.
Kona Brewing Company (http://konabrewingco.com/) was founded in 1994 by Cameron Healy and his son Spoon Khalsa. The brewery started local and kept expanding, today reaching 35 states. Hawaii is a long way from here, but do not worry about freshness. The Kona beers that make their way to Chicago are made in Portsmouth, N.H.
Kona’s flagship beer, Longboard Island Lager, is on draft in bars and restaurants, and available in six packs year-round. The beer also was expected to be available in “Hang 10” packs, which include ten 16-ounce cans. It is light and refreshing, with a slight sweetness on the finish. Big Wave Golden Ale is another lighter-style beer but with more of a hop presence than Longboard.
These are great summer beers or just easy-drinking anytime beers for people who shy away from full-bodied, high-alcohol warming brews. Put another way, Longboard and Big Wave bouth would be appropriate to drink outside on a perfect day in Hawaii. For a little extra flavor, Kona’s Fire Rock Pale Ale offers a manageable bitterness and an alcohol content that is not off the charts (5.8 percent).
The seasonal Koko Brown Ale is made with toasted coconut and there is no mistaking that flavor. Kona expects that Koko Brown will be available until about the end of April when it is replaced by the brewery’s spring seasonal Wailua Wheat, a golden ale made with passion fruit. That interesting-sounding concoction should be on shelves through September. And of course Kona Coffee shows up in a Kona beer — Pipeline Porter.
Deschutes Brewery (http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/) was founded in 1988 by Gary Fish in Bend, an outdoor lover’s paradise three hours from Portland. An early proponent of the craft beer movement, Deschutes is now available in 19 states.
The brewery’s creamy Black Butte Porter was the first beer it ever made. Slightly hoppy and chocolaty, it is a great antidote to chilly Chicago winters and springs. The same goes with Deschutes’ Hop Henge Experimental IPA, which has been described as a “grapefruit sledgehammer.” With a puckering 90 IBUs and 10.6 percent alcohol, this is not a beach beer.
Mirror Pond Pale Ale is the brewery’s best-selling beer, and it is obvious why. It starts with a nice hop bite and then finishes smoothly. The word that describes it best is “balanced.” I do not mind a beer that loses its balance every once in a while — I like grapefruit sledgehammers — but when I come across one that is as balanced as Mirror Pond, I take notice and show my respect.
Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale was named the “World’s Best Beer” in 2010 and 2012 at the World Beer Awards and is available every year from January through April. More citrusy than bitter, the hops are there but not overpowering. Another Deschutes beer readily available in Chicago is the Chainbreaker White IPA, which is spicy and citrusy — perfect for when spring temperatures start to rise and you can almost taste summer in the air.
Who would have believed in 1988 that one day specialty craft beer brewed in a small town in Oregon would eventually make it to the Chicago market and be available at package stores, bars and restaurants? And who would have thought that beer brewed in the same spirit in Hawaii in 1994 would do the same?
It is a wonderful beer world we live in today, a world that keeps getting smaller and cozier as our beer lists expand.
Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.