Northwest Beer Guide: Oregon Beer Guide: Portland: Opinion: Thirteen Virtues - Punchy, Yet Well-Balanced Ales

I grew up in a brewing family in the south-western peninsula of Britain. My family owned a microbrewery in the Devon hills, from which we have brewed traditional ales for over thirty years. Devon has long been a stronghold for what we Brits would term ‘real ales’ and Americans call ‘craft ales’, so I spent my childhood steeped – almost literally – in beer. 

Moving to America in the nineties was, needless to say, something of a shock. Not only did I find the ‘beer’ on offer here tasteless and weak, the general attitude that ladies either should not or did not drink pints was utterly bewildering for one who’d grown up surrounded by ale-swilling women. So it is with absolute delight that I have viewed the revolution in American beer habits over the past few years [1]. 

Not only have craft beers increasingly found their way into bars (what a relief to be able to drink beer with a taste!), but the whole American attitude towards beer seems to be maturing into something quite wonderful (and a lot less gendered!). 

One thing which particularly impresses me is the gradual proliferation of small brewhouses attached to pubs and restaurants. This is something which was once common in Britain but is dying out, so it’s wonderful to experience the charms of a brewhouse on this side of the Atlantic. Recently, I sampled the wares of Thirteen Virtues Brewhouse [2], attached to Philadelphia’s Steaks And Hoagies Restaurant. Although the brewery has been there since 1993, it is only relatively recently that it has begun to seriously up its game – with some impressive results.

image sourced via Creative Commons license "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic" via VJ Beauchamp's Flickr page
via VJ Beauchamp's Flickr page
Brewhouse Joys
The Thirteen Virtues brewhouse is ostensibly ‘small’ by American standards – but ‘small’ for America is ‘big’ for me, and its range of ales dwarfs that of my family’s microbrewery back home. Such ‘small’ ventures are, however, credited with bringing about something of an urban revival in places like Portland [3]. Brewhouses not only provide a use for old buildings, they also bring something of a personal touch to attached restaurants like Philadelphia’s Steaks And Hoagies, and give a community a general sense of pride in the craftsmanship inherent within their neighborhood. They also provide some mighty fine ales – although as Thirteen Virtues’ output tends towards the stronger end of the spectrum, customers are advised to drink in moderation and not to fall prey to the multiform complications [4] which can arise from overdoing it. I discovered to my cost the next morning that, when it comes to Thirteen Virtues’ German-style beers, I am not quite the stolid trencherwoman I had thought.

German-Style
One of the problems with a taste for beer developed since childhood (children are allowed to drink with parental supervision from the age of five in Britain – although we usually restrict them to the odd tiny sip. Getting them drunk counts as child abuse) is that I developed rather fixed ideas about what I liked in a beer fairly early on. Coming from a very traditional south-west brewery, I tend to favour malty brown ales [5] over the tart, hoppy flavors popular in American beers, and the mention of things like ‘fruit beer’ are likely to make my nostrils flare (isn’t that what ciders are for?). However, this does not mean that can’t tell when something is a very good example of a hoppy or a fruity beer, and it certainly does not make me averse to trying new things. Thirteen Virtues, as you might expect from a Portland brewery, make a lot of German-style beers and lagers, and they do it really quite well. They recently won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival [6] for their Woozy Weizenbock, so I felt that this was probably a good place to start.

Woozy
Woozy Weizenbock clocks in at 8%, so is not one to just chuck down your neck. A German-style wheat ale, WW is darker than one would expect, with a pleasant malty quality to it which suited my tastes down to the ground. It’s chocolatey, with a certain sweetness rather than the smokey quality which one often gets with dark malts. It has an overall smoothness with which I was impressed. Pleased with my first pint, I moved on to the 6% Rip City Red, hoping to indulge my love for ruby ales. It turned out to be rather hoppier than I was expecting, but perfectly balanced nonetheless with plenty of malty sweetness to help it slip down the gullet. I enjoyed it so much that I had another, which made me reckless enough to order a Jean-Claude Van Damn. This 9% Belgian dark packs quite a punch, with dark, fruity overtones and chocolately undertones. It was eminently enjoyable, but my head disagreed with my final choice the next morning!

written for The Northwest Beer Guide by contributing writer Helen Reynolds

[1] Niall McCarthy, “2014 Was Another Great Year For American Craft Beer”, Forbes, Jun 2015
[3] Tali Arbel, “Build a craft brewery, urban revival will come”, USA Today, Jul 2013
[4] MH Help, Alcohol abuse care
[5] Mike Reis, “A Beginner’s Guide To British Beer Styles”, Serious Eats, Mar 2014
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