Widmer Bros. Brewing might be best know for the, "hef," but I like to think of them as a brewery of gateway beers. A gateway or transition beer is a beverage that either gets people to notice craft beer or enhances the current enjoyment of beer and makes people want to get to the next level of beer knowledge.
It is difficult to balance being a beer geek and a craft beer promoter. As a beer geek, it is easy to claim beers or breweries are overrated. See Sam Calagione's (the Dogfish Head guy) perfect description of this conundrum here. What happens is some beer geeks confuse overrated with limitless access. Because beer(s) are readily available, they become ordinary and not something that you have to chase. People get used to regular line ups on the shelf, which is why breweries have year around beer line ups. Some beer geeks, also known as tickers are just out to score the latest releases or get a little bit of limited, small batch brews. I am guilty of this and I have no shame about it. I want to try as many beers as possible, but for the right reasons. I love to see how brewers incorporate nontraditional ingredients and I want to see how struggling brewers improve their skills. While I am busy doing this, excellent craft beer that is always available gets skipped. Widmer ends up being one of the producers that gets missed
This is not fair to Widmer staff as they work hard and it undervalues the impact that they have had on craft beer. I am not the only beer geek that fails at supporting the people that made it possible for us to be where we are today. I can recall dozens of people who have told me that they do not drink Widmer beer because it is overrated. The beer isn't overrated, it is just accessible.
The beer that has brought me back and made me reflect on my flaws is the Oatmeal Porter. Widmer recently started the 924 series, 924 is the address of the brewpub in Portland, OR. The series is meant to be on-offs and experimental beers, but they are made on a large scale because Widmer has the production capacity. Once again, just because something is accessible doesn't make it overrated. The Oatmeal Porter, which you can read reviews here, here and here and here and here (I stole that from Alworth) is an amazing example of hard working brewers and people who care about the product they put out. It is my favorite Widmer beer and it has changed my life. It made me realize that I have been missing out on other well crafted beers for years. I have let no less than four years go by without drinking a beer from Widmer's regular line up. I put a stop to that! In the past few weeks, I have revisited every mainstay beer from the brewery that brothers Kurt and Rob turned into an empire. My beer geek palate didn't enjoy all of them, but my unbiased judging palate scored most of them high when judging based on style guidelines. I have a stock of beers that I recommend to people getting their feet wet in the world of craft beer and I have dismissed Widmer. That has stopped too!
If you are a beer geek, get back to your roots and try a Widmer beer. PB&M [ED: Nicole] officially endorses the Oatmeal Porter as a beer that will make you believe again. If you need a gateway beer back to the generation that paved the way for craft beer, get the 924 series porter. It won't be around much longer as the next 924 series will be coming soon, a Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.