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Tough Times at 10 Barrel

Exploding bottles and a weak collaboration bring out summertime blues



Normally a reliable brewery, 10 Barrel's summer seasonals are creating a headache. The recent recall of Swill was actually a welcome surprise for consumers. Though the bottle of Swill reviewed for this column was very good, a subsequent sixpack purchased in June was far too carbonated. It seemed each bottle was shaken before opening. No matter how careful the pour, foam was overflowing the glass. This ultra-carbonation was due to a secondary fermentation in the bottles. The extra fermentation also knocked the flavor out of whack by making the beer too dry.

10 Barrel has been handling the issue with grace, being proactive with a voluntary recall and offering refunds. Then last week they added Beer No. 1 to the list of recalls. Are they flummoxed by fruit beers? It's important to note this has nothing to do with health concerns from consuming the beer. They're concerned that the glass can fail and shatter under the abnormal pressure. Common bottles aren't designed to handle high pressure. Beers that undergo intentional secondary fermentation are placed in much stronger, champagne-style bottles. Standard beer glass is too thin. Fortunately, it's rare for a beer to be recalled. Unfortunately, recalls aren't 10 Barrel's only problem this summer.

Fizz is the collaboration beer between 10 Barrel and Widmer. It's the third in Widmer's anniversary series. Reading the label is misleading. Brewed with ginger and Meyer lemons, it is easy to mistake it as a beer to fill the void left by the Swill recall. It's not.

The aroma has a faint pale malt, but the lemon is barely perceptible and the ginger is absent. Labeled a "spritzer style," the carbonation lives up to the promise with big coarse bubbles like club soda. It's honest, but unpleasant. Interestingly, the lingering mouthfeel is oily, are in beer. The flavor presents little lemon and the only ginger perception is some heat in the back of the throat. If the goal was to brew a beer with flavors of a fine extra-virgin olive oil, they nailed it. That probably wasn't the goal. The finish is all lemon pith and it lingers, begging for the next sip to wash the bitterness away.

At a lower price, Fizz wouldn't warrant this level of scrutiny. It could have been a low-key summer refresher at its modest 5.5% ABV. But like the Boneyard-Widmer collaboration, Widmer priced Fizz very high for the type of beer it is. At $8 a bottle, take a pass.

These issues aren't forecasting the future of 10 Barrel. It has been, and remains one of Bend's finest. It's just a tough summer. Hopefully, Beer No. 2 and beyond will get this train back on track.

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