Yesterday afternoon, I got a nice, simple email that nevertheless caused much undue consternation at Drunkspin Headquarters. It was from the new head of media relations (or whatever) at Victory Brewing, a mid-sized, widely distributed Pennsylvanian operation of which I am quite fond. I have publicly praised their Prima Pils and Storm King Imperial Stout, though I was less kind to their HopDevil IPA.
This nice emailer complimented Drunkspin, as you do, and asked if I accepted review samples. Good question! Or rather, easy question: The answer is an emphatic "Hell yeah, free beer without leaving the house!" But it prompted the tricky question of should I accept review samples? I try to keep shit on the up and up around here, but I'm certainly not less sketchy than the next guy, and the next guy might be prone to praise a free and easy brewski, you know what I mean?
When I proposed this column to Deadspin, I said I'd gladly pay for all the beer, since it's generally only a couple bucks a day, and I like beer. I've never filed an expense report; we have a gentlemen's agreement (to the extent that a representative of Gawker Media and a beer blogger could ever be described as "gentlemen") that if I were to occasionally incur abnormally high expenses in the pursuit of a worth-a-damn-to-them story, they'd make it up to me. I haven't tested this, but I trust them; they're not trying to screw me, they're just not interested in tallying up an envelope full of $3 bottle-shop receipts every damn month.
Sorry for the inside media-about-media bullshit that normal people don't care about. I just mention it because it's about free beer, and what's more interesting than that? Also by way of establishing that I generally pay my own way. But I have to accept review samples from breweries that don't distribute to my market, because it's illegal to buy beer online from out of state. I'd have no ethical problem breaking this law, but it's not possible, since there's no infrastructure to do so without resorting to some terrible bitcoin-type scenario wherein I try to buy some gray-market Deschutes and end up on a Romanian sex-slavery mailing list.
So when I realized that you can't be a professional beer writer if you've never had Bell's Two-Hearted, I asked my editor if it was cool to hit them up for a sample. I can't remember the exact conversation, but I was left with the impression that the official corporate policy is "Yeah, whatever, get beer however you get beer, just don't be a scumbag about it." I interpret this to mean disclosing freebies within the body of the review.
Back to Victory for a second: I can buy their beer at any store in my town, so I don't need the samples they're offering to send. But if I'm going to get free stuff from Bell's, which may somehow bias me in their favor—no matter how hard I try to keep it real—then is it somehow paradoxically unfair to Victory to decline their graft? If I were Victory, I'd be thinking "Hey man, everyone knows free beer tastes better, so you put that wallet away and let me hook you up with the extra-tasty version." And thus concludes the six-paragraph unpaid advertisement for a brewery that hasn't even sent me any free shit yet.
We came here today to talk about Sierra Nevada, which I like very much personally and love professionally. The personal affection needs no explanation: They make great beer. The professional love stems from the fact that they are constantly coming out with new beers these days, their name looks pretty good in a headline, and I have never had any contact with them whatsoever—I don't think I'm even on their emailing list, and I've definitely never gotten free samples or invites to their festivals or any of the other cool shit that the world's very best and most handsome brewers tend to offer. The barrage of new beers gives me new stuff to write about, the famous name helps with clickbait-type concerns, and the lack of bribery means I can just unambiguously praise them without nagging doubts that I'm accidentally in their bag.
I've said nice things here about the flagship Pale Ale, Torpedo IPA, and Celebration, and I was fair enough to their Flipside Red IPA. I really like Sierra Nevada. But saying nice things gets boring, so it brings me great pleasure to disclose that I ain't that impressed with their new Hop Hunter.
The idea behind Hop Hunter is that by using their newfangled hop oil, Sierra Nevada will be able to provide a year-round beer that simulates the fresh-hop/wet-hop flavors that are currently in vogue right after the harvest season in late summer and early fall. The idea is sound, and Sierra Nevada has the kind of commitment to research and development that would enable them to pull off a stunt like this. So I'm not saying this beer failed to do what it says on the label so much as I'm saying it failed to convince me it's a necessary addition to Sierra Nevada's overstuffed portfolio.
Hop Hunter pours light gold, and it is very aromatic in the way wet-hop beers are supposed to be. Strong waves of pine and citrus jump up your nose, chased by lighter doses of grass and dank earth. There's some light caramel malt flavor, the citrus sharpens into a grapefruit focus with time, and the flaked oats lend a welcome smoothness.
This is a pretty good beer. But it's nothing special, and nothing necessary. I'm not saying every beer needs to be "special," but this hop-oil deal is presented as at least a low-grade revolution, and it may be from an engineering perspective, but it doesn't present itself as anything particular interesting in the drinking-man's glass, whether you paid for it or not.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse's adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We'll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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