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Pushing the Envelope

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Pinot Suave 22oz Picmonkey

By Dan Clarke

May 30, 2016 -I really wanted to like this beer. I tried, but failed.

Pinot Suave is a new product from Deschutes Brewery. Almost all their beers have been popular with staff and guest reviewers for our publications over the years.

This one is billed as a Belgian-style ale “aged in Pinot Noir barrels that were filled with Pinot grape must.” The prospect certainly sounded intriguing. I love good Pinot Noir, whether from Burgundy, California, Oregon or even other parts of the world. Pinot Suave is from the Deschutes Brewery’s Reserve Series. Even the label has a sophisticated, understated appearance.

I tasted a strawberry-infused beer a couple of weeks ago. Having once enjoyed a Belgian lambic that had a raspberry personality, I hoped that the experience might be similar. Alas, it was not. On shortcake strawberries are delightful. In my beer they are not.

But this was different. After all, I’ve been reviewing wines for 30 years. Pinot Noir is a favorite grape variety and I have enjoyed some beers that have spent time in oak barrels that formerly held wine. Why didn’t these potential positives lead to a happy tasting experience?

There was a grapey or wine-y presence, but it didn’t put me in mind of Pinot Noir, a wine whose delights are real, but subtle—almost ephemeral. The alcohol seemed obvious and heavy-handed. A wine at 11.8% alcohol would be relatively light. That same percentage in this beer is a load.

So it displayed none of the charms of Pinot Noir and was quite boozey, at least to my taste. I hoped that it would grow on me and that at some point I would appreciate it as a “sippin beer” like Duchess de Bourgogne, a Belgian sour I’ve grown so fond of. It didn’t.

Maybe I was expecting too much of this beer. How could it taste like good Pinot Noir? Maybe I missed the gustatory point. A brewery in Oregon is more likely to have access to Pinot Noir must and Pinot Noir barrels than it would have residual products from wineries specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. Would using those grapes have benefitted the project? Perhaps not.

It’s understandable that craft beer drinkers could be looking for that newest experience and it’s reasonable that breweries would want to push the envelope a bit. However, just because a couple of things taste wonderful on their own doesn’t mean they’re candidates for that marriage made in heaven combination. I love anchovies. I also love crème caramel, but I’m in no rush to try them together.

We try to look for the good in any beverage, but we also feel an obligation to “call ‘em as we sees ‘em.” We’d love to hear from consumers who’ve tried and enjoyed Pinot Suave.