September 13, 2014 by Alex Hannagan
The unholy Derecho which slammed Northern Virginia in 2012 was simply that: unholy. The intensity and sheer violence of the storm caught everyone by surprise. This wasn’t just a derecho, it was The Derecho. At the time, Ben lived a few miles West of me, and as he described the train-in-a-tunnel, divebombing fighter plane wind whipping through his apartment complex our power went out, too. What followed was a huddle away from the windows experience, the sound of trees being broken apart and lightning striking echoing up and down the street. We were lucky, but many of our neighbors had damage to their homes and cars. Many probably remember that when the power went out, it didn’t come back on for the next week, leading to pandemonium as the water went fetid and all the food everywhere spoiled. So now imagine that you’re a brewer and you lose the ability to keep your tremendous vats from overheating and skunking thousands of dollars of beer. Sucks on so many levels, doesn’t it? Now imagine you’re the geniuses at Port City, who realized as their new batch of Downright Pilsner was starting to heat beyond tolerable levels that what they were getting out wasn’t skunking! As secretive taste tests over the next few weeks showed (I was lucky enough to get some on a tour), the beer they had on their hands needed some refining, but they finally decided to release their own Derecho, a play on the California Common Lager (also known as Steam Beer) which is allowed to ferment at higher temperatures.
Since we included the Derecho Common in our Tailgate Throwdown, I felt it only appropriate to give a beer I’ve sampled on many other occasions a full review.
Derecho Common, Port City Brewing Company – @PortCityBrewing (Alexandria, VA)
California Common Lager, ABV 4.8%, IBU 43
Presentation: Draught pour into Pilsner pint glass.
Appearance: Beautiful – cloudy, golden. Medium head and lattice, dissipating slowly.
Taste: Owing to the striking popularity of the original Derecho Common, Port City has been toying with the recipe over the last two releases and moving the beer further from a hybrid to a true California Common. While the original came out as a sort of smoky lager, Port City told me during a recent visit that this year they decided to start using Centennial Hops which (WARNING: Beer Science!) is a much more high-alpha variety typically seen in Pale Ales. Since pale lagers (such as Pilsners) are typically infused with low-alpha hops, this was very much a statement on the direction of this beer. This put the Derecho Common into more of a hop-forward category, whereas their Pilsner only brings out hoppy notes near the end. It’s also hard to call this a lager, as every step of the way you’re reminded of an ale.
ABV/IBU: When I say that moving to Centennial Hops is a statement, what’s shocking is that this year’s Derecho is the same IBU as the Downright. That speaks volumes as to what such a seemingly simple change can do to a beer’s profile.
Overall: I’m torn about this beer. As my own tasting notes from our recent Tailgate Throwdown revealed, you’re expecting a lager from that (absolutely gorgeous) appearance but then get walloped by a hoppy ale (I even misnamed the style as California Common Ale in the Twitter post as a result!) I had the 2012/13 versions as somewhere in the 8-8.5 range and a good change of pace from Port City’s mostly hop-forward lineup. The Centennial Hops for the 2014 release simply overpower a beer that still shares a lot with its unfiltered brethren, which results in the beer completely breaking down as it reaches room temperature. That doesn’t mean this year’s release is a total whiff, but the profile seems more of a confused experiment than a true hybrid. Since something tells me that Port City isn’t done tinkering with the formula, allow me to be bold enough and suggest that for 2015 the Derecho Common should make the leap to full Brewer’s Gold Hops as (Beer Science!) Centennial Hops are 3/4 Brewer’s Gold to begin with. The Brewer’s Gold would retain the floral/ale elements, but has a more moderate acid alpha rating. Keep tinkering, fellas.