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Nor'Wester Best Bitter Ale

by Markian Gooley

Bottle labels with appeals to one's patriotism, loyalties, opinions, or such are generally the sign of a bad beer. "Union Made" is a prime example: not that union workers do worse work, but that mentioning their involvement is calculated to reinforce sales of an inferior product through labor solidarity. This beer's back label appeals to local pride (Oregon-grown hops), environmentalism (return the bottle to the brewery and get a nickel refund), and activism (after the return refund, another nickel given towards clean-up efforts). Nor'Wester Best Bitter Ale should be undrinkable. Not so.

A name like "Best Bitter" brings to mind an ale in the English style. A friend and I spent most of our waking hours during a visit to London slightly drunk: We were forever stopping in pubs for a pint of beer apiece, usually a bitter, served just slightly cool. We'd sit, chat, try to ignore the noise from the fruit machines, and goggle at the foolish Brits forsaking their tasty beers and ciders for American Budweiser. Both of us became quite familiar with the features of a bitter ale.

This American version is roughly the usual shade of light brown. The aroma is low on hops: they are overwhelmed by a slightly-burnt malt that seems to be in character. The same malt shows up in the flavor, and powerfully; one can all but chew on it, and it makes the ale decidedly sticky. The resulting sweetness would be cloying, but it's not sugary, and it's balanced very well by a mixture of burnt flavor, bittering hops, and alcohol. There's hop flavor aplenty; the label says Willamette, and that would be one of my guesses if it didn't. It's not a British sort of hop, to my taste, but although the flavor is distinctly American, it's delicious. The balance shifts a little as the beer warms, but remains excellent.

Nor'Wester Best Bitter Ale is not quite a bitter in the English style, then, but the brewers make no claims that it is. The words "all barley malt ale" on the label might give one pause, but whether you drink it in order to save the Earth or not, it's well worth a try.

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