Earlier this week we took part in a 52-person tasting panel at Widmer's recently remodeled pub. Alerted to it by a Facebook posting, "Become a Widmer Brothers Taste Tester!" it was billed an an opportunity to give their innovation brewmasters feedback on unreleased beers they're working on for next year. Following the link we found an application that was a bit different than we had expected. In addition to asking the reasons applicants felt they were qualified to participate, it asked which breweries applicants bought beer from and/or visited on a regular basis. Not a strange question but instead of a list there was a text box to type in the answer. While the format may have been somewhat random we thought it was an interesting approach to it; we put more thought into it than if we were simply checking the boxes next to a given list.
Whatever they were looking for we apparently met their criteria and were notified we'd been chosen. On our way there we pondered what styles of beers we might be tasting. Would their be a hazy offering? Would we be trying things that would be broadly marketable with the intent to be bottled? Would they be pub-only offerings?
Arriving, noticing the differences that had been made during the remodel, we grabbed seats next to a couple of familiar faces. The bones of the space have remained the same but the overall feel is more nightclub-esque with a stage and colored lights shining on the brewing tanks that are visible through glass windows. The biggest change however may be that they have ditched the kitchen. With the exception of a few snack offerings - chips and salsa and the like - patrons are invited to bring their own food in. This includes grabbing something from the food truck parked across the street, which on that night was the Chicagoland deep dish pizza truck.
But back to the reason we were there - to try the beer. A small group of marketing and innovation brewery representatives got things rolling, introducing the first beer, a pale ale named Hashburst. The pale ales that tend to tickle our palate the most are of the hoppy variety that come closer to being IPAs. This one didn't quite get there but the presence of the hops late palate and in the aftertaste were enough that we would consider drinking this if it ended up making the cut.
Next up was actually a trio of beers that featured hibiscus and other ingredients on a Berliner Weiss base.
Hibiscus Orange - The huge orange aroma and flavor overpowered the dry-finishing beer.
Hibiscus Grapefruit - As with the orange, the grapefruit flavor dominated the beer but then, oddly, all flavor completely fell off at the end.
Hibiscus Azacca - Finally the hibiscus got to take the lead with this beer but at the expense of a complete lack of hop character and like the grapefruit version, zero flavor in the finish.
Our impression was that all three of these were "training wheels" sour beers, ones that might play well enough in markets that are not familiar with sour beers on the whole. In a mature market like Portland it would be difficult to imagine them doing well in their current form.
The final beers were a pair of terpene-dosed beers. Terpenes are essential oils and in this case essential oils of hops' cousin, marijuana.
Dreifecta Pilsner - Huge weed aroma with a cedar backbone, the flavor had more pilsner characteristics with the cedar continuing its presence.
Hospitality IPA - A more balanced aroma, the flavor was consistent with that of an IPA with lingering pine-grapefruit notes.
Of the two beers the aggressively-dosed Pilsner seemed least successful with its cedar flavor being something that is unlikely to be appealing to the majority of consumers. The IPA had more commercial potential but we were left wondering "why terpenes?" on the whole. Perhaps Widmer is looking to ride the wave of weed's popularity (and legality) without incurring the cost of CBD oil. Who knows, perhaps it will be the next big thing once the hazy craze loses its shine.
Overall the evening was an interesting experience and we'll be interested to see:
A. If any of these beers make it to market.
B. If Widmer does future tasting panels.
C. If we'll be invited back.