A Pyramid PR representative recently sent a press release announcing the Gold Medal awarded to the brewery's Haywire Hefewiezen at the Great American Beer Festival, and offered to send over sample bottle or two.
As if she needed to ask.
Ben E. Keith beer distributors did her one better and delivered two six-packs, free of charge. One was a Haywire sixer, while the other was a mixed pack with three beers from Deschutes: the Jubelale Winter Seasonal, the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale.
It's hard to gripe about free beer. But I'll do my best.
Back in college, Pyramid's hefe was the first wheat beer I ever tried. I remember finding it really refreshing, especially with a big wedge of lemon squeezed into the brew. Maybe my tastes have changed since then, or maybe Pyramid changed the recipe--they certainly changed the label, going with some kind of extreme-sports motif that looks like it belongs on a Mountain Dew bottle from 1998. Or maybe this beer just really needs the lemon--a serving practice that I've since learned makes German-beer purists wince.
Whichever the case, I was not at all impressed by this beer. It looked right, pouring a very foggy golden-orange color. But it smelled like a plain old American lager, almost like a barroom floor. The taste wasn't much better, either, with none of the citrus, banana or clove notes I've come to expect from good hefes, and hardly a hint of yeast flavor despite the very cloudy appearance. Then I noticed what may have been the problem: the Best By 11/26/09 stamp indicated this beer was on its last legs. Some beers gain character with age, but time has the opposite effect on hefes.
The Deschutes Black Butte Porter was a little better. It poured a cola-colored near-black, showing caramel-brown when held up to a light. The nose was all chocolate malt, caramel and molasses. As for the taste, though... it probably won't impress any serious dark-beer lovers. The chocolate malt notes show up to the party alone, without the accompaniment of any hops or roasty coffee flavor. The texture is watery, leaving no lacing behind on the glass, and it lacked the bitter finish of a good stout or porter. That may be the brewer's intent, though--the label describes it as an "approachable" porter. I can see it being a decent introduction to dark beers for someone accustomed to lighter fare.
As for the winter seasonal, I had one last night and didn't take notes, but I remember being quite unimpressed. Haven't tried the pale ale yet, but don't really have my hopes up.
But sometimes you get what you pay for.