Four Winds just can’t seem to do wrong if you ask me. Gifted with the Midas touch, their brew master Brent Mills has been consistently producing some of Canada’s best beer at his family’s small Delta brewery since they opened their doors in 2013 (and has correspondingly racked up some pretty impressive domestic and international awards – their recognition as Canada’s best brewery at the 2015 Canadian Beer Award surprised few in the industry). And although their core lineup is solid and dotted with awards, it’s Four Winds’ limited and seasonal releases that have really raised the bar on an industry that was already light years ahead of its counterparts across the country. Since the release of their phenomenal Saison Brett (now branded Operis Saison) in December 2013 (which was rightly acknowledged at the time as one of the best beers to ever come out of this little corner of the world), Four Winds has released a steady spate of complex, intriguing, and absolutely delicious beers that stand up to some of the very best beer being produced anywhere. Their Juxtapose Brett IPA and their Vexillum Imperial IPA from their Zephyrus series of West Coast ales (named after the Greek God of the West Wind) are two of my absolute favourite IPAs, and it doesn’t get much better than their Nectarous. As part of their Eurus Series of bottle-conditioned ales (named after the Greek God of the East Wind), this dry-hopped sour was considered by many to be the best beer brewed in BC last year.
Enter Portland’s The Commons Brewery. Opened in 2011, The Commons is a similarly small outfit, and like its counterpart north of the line, produces incredibly-well executed, nuanced beers that often utilize European yeast strains and – despite being brewed at a new facility in South East Portland – manage to evoke the distinctive character and terroir of the Belgian countryside. Regarded as one of Portland’s top breweries (quite rightly), which is saying something considering the impressive competition, its brew master Sean Burke produces a brilliant lineup of core offerings and seasonals that include a number of phenomenal farmhouse ales (their Urban Farmhouse Ale, a 2012 World Beer Cup winner and a personal favourite, is widely available at discerning Vancouver bottle shops). Visits to their quaint, original location (complete with a few sparse barrels for tables), were always the highlight of my trips to Portland, and since they moved last year to their current (and much larger) digs just a few blocks from Cascade Brewing Barrel House, The Commons’ tasting room has become an absolutely essential spot on any visit to PDX. (Did I mention that in addition to pouring around twelve or so incredible beers, the tasting room also happens to be equipped with an in-house artisanal cheese shop?)
So just imagine my delight when I heard that two of my favourite breweries were collaborating on a limited edition bottle-conditioned beer drawing on this shared attention to producing balanced, intriguing, evocative beers. ‘Common Winds’ – a Brettanomyces-fermented farmhouse ale conditioned with Keremeos apricots – had its genesis in a meeting between Burke and Mills some six years ago, and is a fitting by-product of such an epic collaboration.
For starters, the nose on this beer is absolutely stunning; it’s characterized by fresh, tree-ripened apricots along with hints of almond, green apple, and a nice touch of barnyard funk from the Brett. Once you get past the sensation of standing in an orchard on a warm summer morning and indulge in your first delicious sip, you’ll notice a rich mouth feel and a distinct tartness up front that lingers throughout and is balanced by some really nice, mid-palate notes of apricot, lemon, chardonnay, oak, and a little more barnyard funk (characterized by earthy and well-rounded ropey, hay-like flavours). Finishing with hints of pear, biscuit, a minerally tartness, and a really nice residual sweetness, this beer is gorgeous — a fantastic representation of what can happen when two of North America’s top breweries come together to create something unique and special.
Although nearly sold out, word is that a couple remaining bottles of this super limited edition beer are still out there. I’d grab whatever you can find because epic collabs like this one don’t come around too often.