It’s a weird time for craft beer right now. On one hand, the beer has never been better. The sheer volume of breweries operating in this country is staggering, and they’re producing such a vast array of styles (from wildly inventive to wildly traditional) that you’re guaranteed to find something to suit your palate. On the other hand, some of the most lauded breweries in the country are joining forces with Big Beer, which is frustrating the hell out of some craft beer fans. Chalk it up to growing pains.
Harpoon Brewery, in Boston, has managed to eschew getting in bed with Big Beer so far by transitioning to an employee ownership plan. Deschutes, in Bend, is also employee owned (for the moment), so the two thought it would be nice to brew a beer together in honor of their shared membership in the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) club. They each brewed an amber ale, both of which are called EHOP (Employee Hops Ownership Plan), both of which used employee-grown hops, and both of which were brewed with sage and thyme. The similarities end there.
I tried them both side-by-side and was blown away at how different the two versions were. Deschutes’ EHOP was darker in color, but lighter in body. It was clean, crisp and smelled grassy and herbal. It had a holiday kind of taste to it—not spiced, but wintery, even delivering a subtle, but refreshing evergreen, minty finish.
Harpoon’s EHOP landed on the opposite end of the spectrum—really malty with plenty of caramel, but none of the herbs that were present in the Deschutes version. No sage and thyme in this one, and just a subtle hop character too, which is surprising given the laundry list of hop varieties that Harpoon’s employees contributed (Cascade, Challenger, Willamette, Tettnang). The beer’s high ABV (8%) was also a surprise, as it’s totally covered up by that sweet malt bill.
Side by side, Deschute’s EHOP is certainly the more unique of the two, but Harpoon’s EHOP hits the amber style dead on, delivering a solid, slightly decadent beer that’s somehow still really easy to drink. Given a choice between the two EHOPs, I’d reach for Harpoon’s version again.
Brewery: Harpoon Brewery (with Deschutes)
City: Boston, Massachusetts
Availability: Limited, 22-ounce bombers