Thursday, February 11, 2010

Widmer Deadlift and Bridgeport Hop Czar

Two big Imperial IPAs are out now in 12-ounce bottles: old friend Bridgeport Hop Czar, and a new offering from Widmer, Deadlift IPA. Hop Czar is a beautiful hop bomb that used to go for about $5 a bomber -- $16.36 SPE -- that is now available in $7-$8 six-packs. We must be living right. Deadlift continues Widmer's romance with the Nelson-Sauvin hop variety; the big imperial gained early notoriety when Widmer had to dump a batch of 62,000 pints of it because of a power outage.

After I tried a bottle of Deadlift the other day, I imagined writing up a head-to-head between Deadlift and Hop Czar, with Hop Czar being declared the hoptastic winner. But when I opened a bottle of each at the same time, I was really surprised by how nice Deadlift is. If you're a hop-head, there's a place for both of these beers in your diet.

Let's start by describing the Hop Czar. It's got a surprisingly light body, dosed with tons of grapefruit-flavored hops. Grapefruit and grapefruit rind. The hop finish is oily -- like citrus rind -- and very, very long. My wife pointed out that the aroma of this beer is not as good as the taste -- she described it as smelling like beans cooking -- not in a bad way -- and I'll stand by her on that. Doesn't matter; the taste is wonderful if you like hops. Statistically, it's a 7.5% beer with 87 IBUs (though earlier releases claimed something like 100 IBUs). This is likely to be my new everyday six-pack beer; when it first came out in 2008 it made such an impression on me that I named it as one of the best beers of the year in Brewpublic's year-end poll.

On to the Deadlift. I mentioned above that this beer uses flowery Nelson-Sauvin hops, which are also used as aroma hops in Drifter, although Summit is the main hop variety in Drifter. Nelson-Sauvin has a big detractor here in Portland, Beervana's Jeff Alworth -- read his diplomatic panning of Drifter here. Drifter doesn't do much for me either beyond its beautiful aroma, but I remember liking Widmer's Full Nelson at the 2008 OBF. Whatever might be the impact of the Nelsons, I do find that Deadlift has a beautiful hop aroma on top of a very malty, full-bodied ale. The hops don't dominate, they harmonize wonderfully with the malt. It's a strong 8.6% beer, but I feel like it hits the flavor target that Drifter missed. This is a wonderful beer, I'm glad it is going to be a year-round offering from Widmer.

Here are some recent reviews of Deadlift: Dave Selden was impressed; Bulls & Brew was not, nor was Jason at Portland Beer and Music. Poor Jeff can't decide whether he likes it or not.

Too bad about the batch of Deadlift that had to be dumped because of the power outage. In case you hadn't noticed, every Widmer bottlecap has a toast -- a Prost, as they say -- printed on the underside, most of them submitted by fans of the brewery. Things like "To sleeping in!", or "To spooning!". A couple of summers ago I submitted my own, and I was kind of miffed that it didn't make it onto a bottlecap. See, my friends Lee and Bret were in town, and a surprise power outage meant I had to stop working on a beautiful sunny day and instead join them for a couple of beers at Deschutes. It sounded like a good Widmer Prost to me: "To power outages on a sunny day!". But now I understand why that might not sound so good to the owners of a brewery. [Update 2010/02/15: Today is a sunny workday for me, but now the power is out at my company's California office that I telecommute to! Best of both worlds: no wasted Oregon beer or Oregon sunshine.]

Speaking of which, when I was at Upright Brewing a couple weeks ago I asked Alex about that power outage, since he's in the same neighborhood as Widmer. He said that the power never went out that day at Upright. Interestingly, he mentioned that one time he did lose power overnight, but because he uses open fermentation, the rise in temperature in his fermenter was just a couple of degrees -- not enough to cause any damage. He figures that a closed fermenter that lost cooling for that long would have ruined a batch of beer.

Cheapskate that I am, I can't help but discuss the pricing of these beers. The more economical price on Hop Czar is very welcome. The price on Deadlift is a little higher: I think it was about $2 a bottle at Beermongers, and about $8.80 a four-pack at Belmont Station. The Oregonian article about the power outage described Deadlift as Widmer's "most expensive beer". Deadlift's $12-$13 SPE is pretty high for Widmer, but the Brothers' Reserve Doppelbock sells for about $10 per 22-ounce bottle -- a much higher SPE of $32.73. (Are the Brothers ripping us off on the doppelbock? No, more likely it's due to mathematically-challenged reporting at the Oregonian. After all, the O recently described Portland's 20-year bike plan as too expensive, even though it aims to serve 25% of the city's transportation needs for less than 5% of the transportation budget.)

Conclusion: Want a delicious tongue-scraper at a nice price? Pick up a six of Hop Czar. Want a little more aroma and balance? Snatch up some Deadlift. You won't go wrong either way.


  1. I have to agree with Beer and Darts. I didn't enjoy this one very much. I found it middle of the road and didn't pull any great flavors from the Nelson hops. I had Caldera's new IPA Hopportunity Knocks at the same sitting and found it far superior. Check out my thoughts at

  2. Thanks, Jason, I linked to your review now.

    My first impression was similar to yours -- that it should have more hops. But I think that was late on Super Bowl Sunday when my tongue was shot, because when I tried it last night I liked it a lot.

  3. Sally got into the Deadlift last night and drank two (!). I had a few slurps and am coming around to the idea that it's a pretty accomplished beer. I still can't get passed the Nelsons, but that's to the Widmer's credit, actually--distinctive character will always throw someone off--and Deadlift is an intersting fusion of styles. I find some elements in it that remind me of strong Belgian ales. It's definitely not cut from the same cloth as every other DIPA, and that's a good thing.