I hope you'll excuse a long post about beer at sea level.
I grew up in Oregon before leaving in 2005, when I made a beeline for Durango.
Oregon proclaims itself "Beervana" for the huge number and variety of beers brewed there. I lived there long enough to appreciate some of the pioneering beers of Oregon brewing, like Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Widmer Hefeweizen.
Since I left, the old stalwarts - Deschutes, Rogue, Widmer - have gotten better, adding big, interesting beers to their lineups. (The Dissident, anyone?).
Meanwhile, numerous small breweries have opened. Ninkasi opened in Eugene in 2006 and has won respect for its relentlessly hop-forward ales. Hopworks Urban Brewery opened in southeast Portland in 2008, offering a full lineup of organic beers. Even my old hometown, Corvallis, got in on the party when Block 15 opened in an old pizzeria downtown.
I love Durango, but it's fun to visit where I came from. I recently had the chance to do just that, and check out several breweries along the way.
In Oregon, brewing is part of everyday life. Nearly every restaurant has a good selection of Oregon craft beer.
The day after arriving, we visited my girlfriend's uncle in east Portland. He had recently had a party, and of course he had two kegs of superior Oregon craft beer. What could be more natural? Of course one of them was a superb IPA, in this case Terminal Gravity IPA (6.9 percent ABV) from the tiny, isolated Eastern Oregon town of Enterprise.
For lunch, we went to Hopworks Urban Brewery, an all-organic brewery on Portland's east side. There I enjoyed a seasonal, Whoop Whoop Wit, a very light Belgian wheat that reminded me of New Belgium's Mothership Wit. I also enjoyed a pint of their HUB Lager (pictured, 5.1 percent ABV, 32 IBUs).
After that, it was down to Corvallis for a few days. My old hometown now has a brewpub, Block 15, in a downtown space that was formerly a pizzeria/college bar. During two visits, I tried Block 15's Printmaster Pale Ale (meh, 5.5 percent ABV, 34 IBUs), a strong ale called Aboriginale (yummy, 7.1, 50) and a "One Hop Wonder" IPA. Unfortunately, they were out of their Belgian Blonde, which I had looked forward to trying.
Of the three Block 15 beers I tried, the One Hop Wonder IPA was by far the best and most interesting. Most IPAs combine three or more types of hops. Block 15 showcases one hop at a time in its rotating One Hop Wonder IPA. When I visited, the featured hop was Sorachi Ace, a variety of which I was unfamiliar. The IPA (7 percent ABV, 60 IBUs) was bright, floral and excellent, a refreshing effort to showcase one hop rather than a muddle of varieties.
Block 15 was barrel-aging several interesting beers, so I look forward to a return visit.
In Eugene, I enjoyed a couple of beers at Steelhead Brewing while the Ducks embarrassed themselves against Boise State. The cask IPA was an excellent treat.
Then it was on to the coast. Rogue Brewing in Newport is among Oregon's oldest and largest breweries. It has to have one of the best settings for a brewery in the country, on the docks of Yaquina Bay. It's absolutely beautiful. (Don't bother with Rogue's tourist outlet downtown).
The tasting room is upstairs; one has to tromp through a smelly, wet brewery to get to the staircase. I found a seat near the window - where the above photo was taken - and opted for a sampler.
Since Rogue distributes several of its beers in Colorado, I chose rare and seasonal beers among the 27 on tap: Latona Pale Ale, brewed for the Oregon Brewer's Festival; Sesquicentennial 150, brewed to celebrate Oregon's birthday; Double Dead Guy, an imperial version of their Dead Guy Ale; and Russian Imperial Stout.
All of the above beers were fine; none were superb. I liked the Latona best. It was light in color and exhibited a malty body and pleasant hop bite.
Rogue is worth a visit for the view alone. They make some fine, hoppy ales, but other Oregon breweries have surpassed Rogue's quality.
One of these is Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City, on the north coast. The beach adjoins the pub, and diners have a view of Haystack Rock, dory boats and surfers.
I tried a Kiwanda Cream Ale (pictured, 5. 1 percent ABV, 25 IBUs), one of Pelican's signature session beers. It pours a pale golden color with a big, fluffy white head, and a creamy texture. It was good, but I preferred the cask IPA my friend had. I bought several Pelican bottles, including a biere de garde and a Belgian-style brown ale, to enjoy later.
Pelican isn't cheap - pints run about $6 - but it's one of the best brewpubs in the country. Pelican is pushing the intriguing frontiers of Belgian-style craft brewing in America.
Lastly, I visited Fort George Brewery in Astoria, on the northwest tip of Oregon, where the Columbia meets the Pacific.
Fort George had a substantial selection on tap. I enjoyed a Quick Wit (pictured) and a Spank Stout. The beers were served in nearly overflowing mason jars. The wit was good, but I really liked the Spank Stout, a chili-infused, deep, black abyss. The spice had a pleasant kick.
Unfortunately, I missed Deschutes' brewpub in Portland, one of my favorite breweries around. Others were also neglected. When in Beervana, one simply cannot try everything.