*Note from Dukes: A personal thank you to Nick who was nice enough to write this beer review for our little website. He is a very good writer and a respected voice in DC beer & wine community. Please make sure you check out this blog, twitter and other ventures which are listed at the conclusion of this review. Thanks for classing up the joint, Beermonger.*
Port City Derecho Common
Making the best of a bad situation
For those of you who aren’t from the DC metro area, it’s hard to describe some of the insanities related to the weather here ‘inside the Beltway’: living near the nation’s capital means riding the rain/snow line every winter, unsure of whether a storm will bring awful disgusting slush or blizzard-level snow accumulation, or both. Living in this area also means experiencing humidity as a vengeful spirit; arising late every spring to punish us all throughout the summer, making warm days oppressive and hot days unbearable. Some of us who are native to the area will joke with newcomers or visitors that if they don’t like the weather here to stand in one spot for five minutes—it’ll be sure to change. The rest of us just don’t have much of a sense of humor anymore; it having seeped out of our pores along with our joy and regard for our fellow man.
Just over a year ago, the DC area’s unpredictable weather threw something at us that even our parents and grandparents hadn’t seen before—the Derecho. Imagine a tropical storm with tornado-like winds and lightning of frequency and colors rarely seen except with the assistance of hallucinogenics. The hellacious storm brought death and destruction, leaving most of the area without power for days and even weeks in some cases. Alexandria, Virginia’s Port City Brewing Company had lost power, and for an up-and-coming brewery that made for a perilous situation: while five of their six tanks were deemed to be ok after fears the beer would be lost, the sixth contained a batch of their recently released seasonal beer, Downright Pils. Traditionally, Pilsners (like all Lagers) are fermented at the cooler temperatures that Lager yeasts thrive at. With the power down and the temperature rising, it seemed that this batch of Pilsner was doomed. What are you waiting for? Hit the jump!
Bill Butcher and the gang at Port City found a way to make the most of it, however: rather than try to ‘save’ the batch of Downright, they decided to ride the heat wave and turn it into a California Common. “Nick, what the hell is a California Common”, you ask? Well, on the West Coast in the time before air-conditioning was invented and refrigeration was an extreme luxury, breweries had to find ways to cool down their Lagers. The solution became a combination of innovation and evolution; shallow fermentation tanks allowed heat to escape more quickly and efficiently, while the yeasts adapted to thrive at higher temperatures than the strains used around the world. The term “California Common” is a relatively new one, however, owing to the litigiousness of a brewery that has trademarked the more well-known name this style goes by: Steam beer. I’ll let you guess who that might be.
So Port City saved the day by adapting their Pils into a California Common that they dubbed Derecho Common. The beer was released as a draft-only rarity, and the ensuing publicity brought a wider media spotlight to Port City—which had already been garnering acclaim from fans all over the Mid-Atlantic region. Being overworked as well as a miserable shut-in, I missed out on trying Derecho Common last year but all the reports I got were enthusiastic. So when I heard that not only was Port City re-creating Derecho Common for 2013 but bottling it, I cleared a space in my refrigerator so that it might be ready when the time came.
I’m a huge Downright Pils fan, and it’s amazing how the process of making Derecho Common creates so many differences: where Downright is crisp, with just the slightest extra bite from the dry-hopping. In Derecho Common, the malt flavor is richer, more bready and sweeter while the Saaz hops are more present with intense floral notes. All together, Derecho Common is complex—interesting without being ‘interesting’—and the finish is just something to behold, like a mild lemon candy. The best part is that at 4.8%, Derecho is a beer you can have a few of without needing to be peeled off the floor.
As far as I’m concerned, the wait was worth it. Derecho Common is outstanding, and I can’t wait to try it with pulled pork, chorizos, and as many kinds of seafood as I can. I suggest you do the same. Do it quick, though—Derecho Common is a limited run, and the popularity of Port City means it won’t last long.
Thanks to Chad and the crew at Beer & Pig for inviting me over. Now go forth and enjoy the finest beers and meats in the land.
Nick Anderson is the beer buyer and works in the wine department at Arrowine in Arlington, VA. He writes the Your Beermonger column for ArlNow.com, does some freelance writing on the side, and a couple of times a year updates his blog at Beermonger.net. Find him on Twitter @The_Beermonger.