By Andrew Barton
There’s something to be said for self-determination and for independence. People always want to be masters of their own destinies to as great a degree as possible, and the whole of the New World has been shaped by those who wanted to pursue their futures on their own terms, from Nunavut to the United States and from Panama to Argentina. While today the borders are firmly drawn with thick ink on the maps and stern guards at the crossing points, that doesn’t mean they will stay the same through tomorrow and tomorrow.
Cascadia! Not just a more aesthetically pleasing name to describe the Pacific Northwest, but a region made up of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. On occasion it’s been tapped as a country of the future, and perhaps one day that will be the case after all – granted, in order for that to happen something would have to happen to the United States first, as history shows that it takes a rather dim view of secession.
Secession Cascadian Dark Ale, on the other hand, is nothing to look at dimly. Indeed, it’s dark enough that even when you shine a light down on it, it remains resolutely opaque. Brewed by Hopworks Urban Brewery of Portland, Oregon, Secession is an organic, carbon-neutral beer that urges us to “join the party and uncap a revolution.”
I’ve been looking for a bottle of this particular brew for months, and was pretty much resigned to having to go down to Portland to find some, when during an unsuccessful search for a bottle of Rogue’s Voodoo Bacon Maple Ale I found it on the shelf at the Central City Liquor Store in Surrey. According to the label, Secession is a Cascadian Dark Ale – this is a relatively new style of beer, the result of experimentation by craft brewers across Cascadia, making use of Northwest hops as a key ingredient. The style was pioneered by Rogue Ales of Portland with its Skullsplitter in 2003, and has been catching on since.
Technically it’s a kind of India Pale Ale, and while I know that the “pale” here refers to the nature of the malt that was used to make the beer, there is nevertheless something off about taking something as dark as Guinness and calling it “pale,” sort of like calling East Germany “democratic” with a straight face. As far as the beer itself goes – it’s got something of a spicy smell, one which brings to mind pine trees in springtime. The taste is recognizably that of an IPA, somewhat bitter with a vaguely metallic, hoppy aftertaste that is nevertheless much more tolerable than other IPAs I’ve tried.
With a 6.5% alcohol content, it hits somewhat hard if you’re not eating anything with it… and you really should be eating something with it, if only to cleanse your palate of the hoppy aftertaste once it’s run its course.
Keep this one cold before you uncap it, too – it was easy enough to tell that it would taste a lot worse if you give it the chance to warm up. The label gives it “15 degrees Plato,” but this isn’t an instruction to serve it at a temperature of 15 degrees – this refers instead to its sugar content. Apparently it’s a popular measure in at least the Czech Republic, but this is the first time I’ve encountered a North American beer using that particular yardstick. As the old commercials say, you have to live here to get it. Secession is pretty much only available in Cascadia, though you may also be able to find it in parts of Idaho and Alberta, even though Alberta has never been part of Cascadia and would in fact stink up the place with all its coal and dirty oil. We keep all those all-natural pine-scented air fresheners all along the Rocky Mountains for a reason. At Central City, a bottle of this set me back about $8.65 before taxes.
Stepping back from the beer for a moment, I have to give Hopworks kudos on Secession’s graphic design. It’s a clear, individual label – not many beers have national maps on them – done in the colors of the Cascadian flag, using Hopworks’ specific, eyecatching font; both in design and taste it strongly outperforms the other independence-themed beer I’ve tried, L’Independante of Quebec, and that one was an honestly pro-independence brew. I don’t normally like pale ales, but Secession was worth a go – so if that’s up your alley, uncap a bottle and raise a stein to a free Cascadia.
To read some of Andrew’s other beer reviews, or his more general writings, check out his blog at www.actsofminortreason.com