The Week’s Featured beer

Deschutes Brewery has had a dynamic year in beer, introducing new seasonals and specialties while phasing out others. For 2017, the brewery announced the addition of several new beers, including Passionfruit IPA, Swivelhead Red and Pacific Wonderland Lager. Pacific Wonderland is notable as only the second bottled lager the brewery has ever released; it joins the year-round lineup in 12-ounce bottles.

The name was inspired by the Oregon license plates issued from 1959 to 1964 to celebrate the state’s centennial. The limited-edition plates featured the blue and gold of the state flag, and the words “Pacific Wonderland” below the letters and numbers. Deschutes also intended the name (and the beer’s colorful label) to capture the essence of the diverse outdoor adventures and recreation available throughout the state — with the beer itself being the perfect accompaniment to them.

As part of their release, the brewery recently sent me three bottles of Pacific Wonderland to sample. It’s styled as a dry-hopped American lager, brewed with Pilsner malt and classic German Hallertau hops for bittering and a newer variety, Tettnang Mandarina for finishing flavor and aroma. To find out more, I reached out to Veronica Vega, Deschutes’ brewmaster of product development.

“We kind of found ourselves at this fork in the road, where we started making these hoppy lagers at the pub, and seeing success there,” Vega said. “And the brewers were excited about this type of beer and having it as part of the lineup. When you get the brewers really excited about what they’re making, there’s just love there, so they’re gonna make a good beer.”

As is typical for Deschutes’ recipe development process, iterations of the beer flowed through the pub for customer feedback. In the case of Pacific Wonderland, two different paths evolved: American hoppy lager and traditional German Pilsner. Ultimately, the hoppy lager became the favorite.

“Where we debated a lot internally was just about the hop character, because we didn’t want it to be so far that it went into an IPL (India pale lager) or even an IPA type of hoppy,” said Vega. “We argued a lot about the importance of having the malt character that we wanted, and the bitterness to be low, and the sulfur that comes from the lager yeast strain to not be totally blown out. So we wanted to marry all three of those components but still do something that was a little bit modern.”

The resulting beer is crisp, clean, and well-balanced as a light lager should be, with a lightly citrus hop aroma that is gently spicy with hints of white peppercorns. I find a light peppery bitterness in the flavor with a grassy and grainy character of bread crust in the malt. Overall the beer finishes dry and light bodied which enhances drinkability.

Lagers are one broad spectrum of styles that are still somewhat underrepresented in American craft brewing. I touched upon several reasons when writing about Pilsners last summer, not the least of which is the fact that lagers require colder temperatures for fermentation and conditioning than ales.

This results in longer periods of time to produce. Time and tank space is money, and if brewers can brew two or three batches of ale in the same amount of time it takes for one lager, economics favors ales.

And unlike those often flamboyant cousins in the ale family, well-brewed lagers are quiet and restrained, with a clean and subtle complexity that leaves nowhere for any flaws to hide. Skill, time and equipment are required in crafting a flavorful, balanced version of the style. Thankfully in recent years more breweries have been honing their skills in this area and have been adding lagers to their packaged lineup.

“I think on a macro level, the craft beer community is embracing lagers more than they have in the past,” Vega said. “This lager opportunity has been a hole in our portfolio. We’ve always been an ale brewery. When you talk about our history, what we based our beers on, we started as an English ale brewery. This is divergent for us, but we’re now in a time where we just want a diverse portfolio, and at this point it includes a lager.”

— Jon Abernathy is a local beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears in GO! every other week.