It's easy to forget now, but in 2013, Fort George's 3-Way IPA was a bit of a gamble. When Fort George teamed up with Gigantic and Lompoc, collaborations were far from ubiquitous and rarely included three or more brewers. And while plenty of seasonal beers got distributed, the idea of canning a one-off for wide distribution raised some eyebrows.
Well, 3-Way IPA was a runaway hit. The summer seasonal, which shows up right around the time the city gets patio weather, is now anticipated across Oregon. That went double for the 2017 edition, a hazy made with Portland's Great Notion and Seattle favorite Reuben's Brews.
When Fort George tapped Great Notion, the young brewery had already single-handedly changed the conversation around hoppy beers with its world-beating New England style IPAs like our 2017 Beer of the Year, Juice Jr., and its cousins, Juice Box and the Ripe series.
But while Great Notion was quickly selling out of crowlers each time the Alberta Street brewery released a new project, no one was quite sure how these delicate hazy beers would travel across a three-state network. In the Northeast, where the style was born, breweries rarely distribute them in cans at grocery stores. Would the hazies get skunky and clotted? Would they lose their magical glow and light fruitiness? The guys at Great Notion, who are opening a large production brewery in Northwest Portland this year, were as curious as anyone.
In the end, they delivered a classic. Not only did last year's hazy version of 3-Way IPA survive the rigors of distribution, it thrived—canned or on draft, it remained consistently delicious from the first batch to the last. And we know, because we were popping them all summer long.
Fort George's Chris Nemlowill and Jack Harris have taken turns organizing the project since 2013. For the 2017 project, they tapped the two hottest breweries in the Northwest.
Great Notion built a crazed following overnight. Reuben's won gold for its Triumvirate IPA at the 2016 World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival.
Picking the breweries is only the first step. Unlike so many casual collabs, which are more excuses to drink with buddies than serious commercial ventures, Fort George is rigorous about everything associated with 3-Way. The visiting brewers are brought out to Astoria and submerged in the port town's culture before they start brewing.
"We make it a full event where we take them around town while we talk about our favorite beers and our ideas and aspirations for the most ideal IPA," says Nemlowill. "After three days of us all hanging out, the brewers come together for, what we think, is going to be the perfect recipe."
That "perfect" recipe is just the "beta batch," which is created on their pilot system. Once it's done, the other two breweries get samples and the first round of tweaks begins. This year's beer, which Nemlowill describes as "a hazy Vermont-style IPA with characteristics of a Pacific Northwest IPA" ended up with Azacca, X331, Mosaic and Citra hops—a blend that's approachable, just slightly floral with a quick-hit bitterness that doesn't linger.
"We brewed nine or 10 beta batches of this beer before we were a 100 percent happy with it," Nemlowill says.
Each of those beta batches goes through extreme scrutiny by all three breweries involved. They also find their way into Fort George's taproom in order to get feedback from customers.
Making nine beta batches of a one-off seasonal is unheard of in the craft beer industry— and maybe a little insane. But it's what it took to make a flawless final product. And, surprising some, it stayed flawless all summer long—partly because it was brewed every couple of weeks for the entire summer. Even then, each batch was sold out before it would be replenished.
For our money, this was the best of the 3-Ways. It'll be hard to top by this year's partners, new Portland transplant Modern Times and Seattle's much-loved Holy