Barley Mowat 

Fresh Hop Showdown

with 6 comments

Scott over at WFLBC stirred the pot a bit yesterday by doing a side-by-each comparison between Driftwood Sartori and Hoyne Wolf Vine. The comparison itself wasn’t the controversy, and neither was the result (he liked Wolf Vine slightly more) but rather his views on the detection of diacetyl and the nuances around that caused more than a few comments.

Now, I agree that Scott took a provocative, abrasive approach to this whole topic. Let’s just say that I’m a fan of this more in-your-face style. I also think a lot of people overreacted. Dude has his own blog. He can post his opinion, even if we don’t agree with it. Heck, he could be posting nothing but pictures of his ass all day and I’d still cheer him on.

Although, I bet if he shaved it he’d get more hits.

In any event, the core issue is three fold. First, is the hype around Sartori justified? Second, is Wolf Vine actually better than Sartori? And third, does Wolf Vine have diacetyl, a buttered-popcorn off-flavour? Let me give you my opinion about all three. If you’re good, my opinion might be more than just three pictures of my ass.


Driftwood Sartori is probably the most anticipated seasonal beer release in BC. No other beer causes the local craft beer fans to, en masse, walk out of their day jobs and sprint from store to store buying their fill the second Twitter has a hint of availability (or sending non-craft beer husbands/wives clutching an order sheet and the kids, as I’ve seen more than a few times). Is this hype good or bad for craft beer in general? I’m firmly on the “good” side.

Demand creates excitement which creates interest. An independent observer noticing a bearded blogger stabbing a house husband in the neck to get the last case of a particular beer can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about. Someone is this excited by a BEER? How can that be? Even if Sartori is gone, the newly curious might ask around and find themselves going home with a similar beer to try out. That’s a good thing. Personally, I think we should build the hype further next year and alert the media. A couple segments on the news would be great for local craft beer.

I briefly considered a Thunderdome-style competition for Sartori, but “Two beer geeks enter, both realize the stupidity of their situation and agree to share the bottle!” doesn’t have a catchy ring to it.

Is the frantic demand for Sartori justified? In 2009, Driftwood unleashed the first wet-hopped ale BC had ever seen. It blew our minds with its fantastic awesomeness. Since then it hasn’t been quite as mind-fuckingly-astonishing, perhaps because there are now wet-hopped beers everywhere, or maybe because it just isn’t as good.

Does the 2013 version change this? Is this beer worth the three hours of scrubbing blood off my hands? Nope. It’s freaking good, and a rarity, but this beer alone doesn’t live up to the huge build-up. Of course, we didn’t know that last Monday. We dropped everything and raced to our local LRS for the beer that could have been, not the one we got.

Wolf Vine vs Sartori

Okay, problem two. If Sartori isn’t all it’s built up to be, and Wolf Vine is better than its sales suggest, is Wolf Vine better than Sartori? WFLBC felt that it edged Sartori just slightly, and a look at review sites indicate the crowd is mixed. What about me? What does Chuck think? I compared them last year and declared Sartori better and Wolf Vine a “decent wet-hopped beer that has the advantage of your actually being able to buy it.”

I did a side-by-each comparison of the 2013 versions of Sartori & Wolf Vine last night. This just reinforced the consensus that comparing these beers is difficult. They are very different. WV is a Pale Ale; Sartori is an IPA. There are those that consider IPAs to be superior to Pale Ales by default, so how could this be fair? In short, it can’t, but I did try:

Hoyne Wolf Vine Fresh-hopped Pale Ale
APPEARANCE Quickly dissipating loose head over a hazy copper body
NOSE Biscuit/caramel malt dominated by fresh hops (lemon, grass, slight resins)
TASTE Solid biscuit malt sweetness that’s matched well to the fresh hops. The final result is a sweeter beer than you might anticipate given the prevalence of the west coast pseudo IPA “pale ale”
SHOULD I BUY IT? Fuck yeah.

Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA
APPEARANCE Light amber, almost yellow gold with tight long lasting white head
NOSE Fresh PNW hops dominate here. Flowery, fresh, slight bitter citrus (grapefruit)
TASTE Builds off the nose. Beautiful hop freshness with a weaker-than-I’d-like-but-not-bad body. Smile-inducing Hop freshness builds over the course of the bottle
SHOULD I BUY IT? If you see it, buy it.

Who wins? Sartori wins. Head to head I prefer Sartori by a fair bit. However, Wolf Vine is unquestionably great and again has the distinct advantage of being a beer you can walk out of an LRS with today (although, notably, there is less supply than at this time last year).

Don’t look at me like that. I was here first.


Diacetyl is a dirty word to a lot of people, and one that has been associated with Sean Hoyne’s beers since day one. However, it’s not the cut and dry defect that a lot of people seem to think it is. Sure, too much can make your beer or wine taste like buttered movie popcorn, and while I’m fairly sure my buddy Craig might like that, most folk would prefer a slightly more beer-y flavour.

In limited quantities, though, dread diacetyl can actually improve certain styles of beer by imparting a round, full bodied mouthfeel to otherwise thin beers. This is why a low level of the chemical is even considered on-style for some Pilsners.

Enough dancing around the bushes. Does Wolf Vine have any detectable diacetyl? I’m going to say yes, it has a little. I detected small amounts of diacetyl on both the nose and the mouthfeel. It should be noted that Leo from BeerThirst points out that certain malts have diacetyl-like properties, and lacking a chemistry kit, I was unable to determine if I was picking up the real thing or a pretender. Also note that just because I detected it doesn’t mean you will. Other experienced tasters did not detect it, and there is a real chance there might be some inter-batch variability with one bottle having none and the next having a bit.

In the end, though, I don’t care. The levels are not unpleasant, and the effect is very much the positive one I described above. Sure it’s not on-style, but the style was developed to describe more traditional Pale Ales, so screw the style.

And that is all I have to say about that. Ah, who am I kidding? You know I’ll never shut up about anything.

Written by chuck

October 1st, 2013 at 12:22 pm

6 Responses to 'Fresh Hop Showdown'

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  1. Eagle-eyed Dave Shea points out my typo. The first Sartori was 2009, not 2011 as previously stated. I wish I could say I was drunk when I wrote this and thus explain the mistake but, alas, I was not.


    1 Oct 13 at 12:41

  2. Saying that diacetyl has a buttered popcorn flavour is a bit misleading. Diacetyl is in fact the exact same chemical that is used to fool us into believing our microwaved popcorn is buttered. However, our sense of aroma is both subjective and contextual, so the same chemical compound can have different associations in different people and appear different to us in different contexts.

    Diacetyl often comes off as smelling like butterscotch instead of butter, making a beer smell a bit like candy – sound a lot better than a beer smelling like butter, doesn’t it? In some styles of beer, diacetyl is totally acceptable or even desirable. For example, every beer in BJCP category 9 (Scottish and Irish ales) has diacetyl or buttery listed as an acceptable flavour.

    As Leo said, people often get a false positive on diacetyl from crystal malts, which give beer a caramel flavour and aroma. Caramel is actually quite different from butterscotch, but because both often occur together in candies, we associate them with one another and it’s common to either confuse one for the other, or to smell one and fool ourselves into thinking the other is there, too.

    And therefore, I end this essay by saying that I STILL haven’t tasted Wolf Vine this year. I’m an irresponsible beer nerd, I guess.

    Ben Coli

    1 Oct 13 at 15:29

  3. @Ben — All true, especially the irresponsible beer nerd part. For me, diacetyl definitely has a buttery taste and chemical oily feel, or at least that how it was when I tasted it in the off flavour seminar (a seminar I highly recommend pretty much anyone take). I picked up both these qualities in my bottle of WV (as did the lovely Sharon), but neither was present to the point of detracting from the beer.


    1 Oct 13 at 15:35

  4. I found the Wolf Vine to be quite sweet as you mentioned. I also drank it at far too cold a temperature. It needs to sit out of the fridge a bit before pouring, served at just cool temperature.


    1 Oct 13 at 16:34

  5. Man, I was pretty excited when I first had my first taste of Sartori (it was the first time I had tried it – never made it to the store fast enough in previous years). Sadly, that same day I picked up a bottle of Kaleidoscope IPA. Now I have four bottles of Sartori stashed away in my fridge with no desire to drink them because I’m addicted to Kaleidoscope. So addicted, in fact, that I ended up buying two cases of it.

    By the way, I definitely think the comparison between Wolf Vine and Sartori is a bit unfair – as you mentioned, they’re completely different styles of beer. Personally I found Wolf Vine to be a really great pale ale, maybe even one of the better local ones I’ve tried (maybe because I don’t really go for pales in general, I dunno) but it obviously won’t stand up to an IPA in a taste test.


    2 Oct 13 at 00:47

  6. No detectable diacetyl in my growler of Wolf Vine. I am a 2,3-butanedione super-taster, I hate the stuff, it has no place in any beer, I’m mortified when it presents in my own product, but I didn’t catch any in WV.


    2 Oct 13 at 19:08

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