Today marks the official first day of Summer and it was a year ago (nearly to the date) that Marck introduced me to a new beer, Reel Good Summer Ale, produced by 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Oregon. Its target consumer is/was clearly the fly angling crowd and the appropriately-branded brew undoubtedly picked up many a new customer thanks to the joint labeling that features the Simms logo and mention of supporting Trout Unlimited on the packaging. Certainly the eye candy aspects of the beer caught my attention, but looks can be deceiving. However, after one taste, I was hooked (sorry, pun intended). Suffice it to say Reel Good became my preferred beer during the summer of 2021, unseating a long-standing, time-tested, mass-produced, once-local favorite.
I’m no beer snob, in fact I’m far from it. Anyone who knows me well is keenly aware of my genetic inclination toward cheap beer—a trait handed down to me from my dad— and my go-to has been, for years, Rainier. Having grown up and lived my entire life in western Washington, Mt. Rainier is visible on most clear days (of which there are not nearly enough) from nearly anywhere in the region. The beer whose name was inspired by the 14,410-foot tall stratovolcano is well known for the creatively quirky commercials during the 1970’s and 80’s. It was only natural that Rainier would become woven into the fabric of my life and I dare not speculate as to know how much “Vitamin R” I consumed during my 4 years of college at Washington State University. Rainier was a mainstay in the college town of Pullman, WA despite strong competition from the likes of popular (and even cheaper) swill such as Schmidt and Heidlberg. Rainier was sold to different brewing companies over the years, but it always continued to be brewed in Seattle at the iconic Rainier Brewery south of downtown, just west of Interstate 5, with the big red R atop the building. That is, until then-owner Pabst Brewing Company sold the company and closed the Rainier brewery in 1999. The “Mountain Fresh” beer soon thereafter disappeared from shelves in the Pacific Northwest and it seemed an end to a long-standing regional favorite. It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered Vitamin R was becoming gradually available in stores once again. Now it’s readily abundant anywhere and despite that it is no longer brewed in the northwest it retains the same look and taste as the beer that meant so much to so many living in the Pacific Northwest during the glory days of Rainier Brewing Company. Suffice it to say my allegiance to Rainier was once-again unwavering and I could see little reason that another beer would ever unseat it as my favorite.
Enter Reel Good Summer Ale. 10 Barrel’s Reel Good is (was) a Kolsch style beer, which means very little to me. I don’t pay much attention to what the different styles of beer are as long as I like the taste. All I know is I tend to dislike dark beers, I absolutely loath IPAs, and have a penchant for lighter-tasting lagers. It just so happens that my preferred taste in beers also has me grabbing 12 packs from the bottom shelf (which is akin to the bargain basement of beers). But after I sampled 10 Barrel’s Reel Good last year my beer budget doubled (and it wasn’t because I was buying twice as much beer). I wasn’t able to find Reel Good in every store, but I discovered a couple places locally that carried it. This was uncharted territory for me: having to hunt for beer that was expensive. Whether my inventory demanded it or not, whenever I came upon the 10 Barrel/Simms/Trout Unlimited Summer Ale, I always grabbed a couple of six packs and I gladly shared it with anyone who came to our house.
As Summer turned to Fall I began to notice Reel Good supplies gradually dwindling at my go-to suppliers. This came as no surprise given that it was a seasonal release—a Summer Ale—and would not be offered during the off-season months. No worries. I would stock up and carefully ration my supply until it was re-released for Summer 2022 (a beer this good surely had to have an encore performance, right?) I bought up every box of the stuff I could find, which wasn’t that much, and I quit offering it to anyone who came to our house. My limited stash my mine and mine alone.
The very last six pack I was able to find was procured while heading out to town for a weekend in October. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some supplies and happened upon a lone box of Reel Good. Little did I know that this would be the last six pack I would be able to find, anywhere. With a healthy but limited winter supply of Summer Ale I made a concerted effort to ration my cache over the course of the next several months, drinking more Rainier and less Reel Good. It was challenging but I knew my discipline would be rewarded as Spring droned on.
As Summer neared I began to wonder when (not if) I’d be seeing Reel Good once again gracing the shelves of my go-to beer sellers. I could find no mention of the re-release on the Internets so reached out to 10 Barrel through Instagram. “Howdy,” I wrote, “I haven’t been able to find out any news about whether you’ll be releasing Reel Good this summer. I sure hope so…yadda yadda yadda…Please tell me what I want to hear, thanks” Their quick reply was equally as prompt as it was disappointing, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news…..We are not having Reel Good this summer :(“
This troubling discovery obviously left me verklempt, as I am sure it did many others who may have also inquired. If you’re learning about this sad development here, I’m sorry to be the messenger of despair.
And so, as I gaze into the garage fridge at the lone can of Reel Good Summer Ale—the very last one—I find myself torn. I’m not sure whether to crack it open and drink it on this first official day of Summer, or put it on my shelf of vintage fly fishing things as a collector’s item and a reminder of the good ol’ days and better beers.
Disclaimer: in the absence of Reel Good, Marck turned me onto another offering from 10 Barrel that suits my palette nicely: Pub Beer. It’s not Reel Good, but it is a lager that’s on par with Rainier as far as taste, and it costs about the same. As the label says, Cheap Fun. It’ll be in my rotation until 10 Barrel and Simms come to their senses.