Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stylish beer in Oregon

In Oregon, as in Colorado, just about every small town has its own brewery, and the larger cities have several.

I just spent more than a week traveling around Oregon, getting a sense of the beer landscape along the way. Things are good, and in some ways a step ahead of what Colorado craft brewers are doing.

Craft brewers in Oregon, having mastered the arts of the hop bomb and barrel-aged strong ale, are looking farther afield for inspiration. Most remarkably, I had three beer styles I'd never before encountered: Gruit, Gose and Berliner Weisse.

Gruit is perhaps the strangest and most unusual of the three, a hopless beer with a markedly different flavor profile from most ales. Gruit needs something else to stand in for hops, balancing the malt and making the beer drinkable.

Oakshire's Mountain Rose Gruit
The Gruit I had was Mountain Rose Gruit from Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. Oakshire used a crazy variety of herbs to spice the beer: mugwort, dandelion root, dandelion leaf, burdock root, licorice root, milk thistle seed, blessed thistle, chamomile flower and grapefruit peel.

The result was an herbaceous, almost sweet beer that finishes dry (7 percent ABV). It's not totally dissimilar from a saison brewed with herbs, or even rose tea, but you do notice the lack of any hop flavor whatsoever. Interesting, and a good sipping beer, but not a beer you want to toss down your gullet.

The Oakshire Gruit was pouring at The Bier Stein in Eugene, which beer journalist Lisa Morrison says has the biggest selection of bottles between Portland and San Francisco. Gazing at the stocked refrigerators, it's easy to believe. 

Perhaps the best beer I had on the trip came from Upright Brewing, a small brewery in Portland that makes innovative farmhouse ales meant to be paired with food. The Gose, a spring seasonal, is a slightly tart wheat beer brewed with a light touch of salt and coriander. An old German style (detailed information here from the Portland blog Brewpublic), Gose is seeing a minor comeback on the West Coast.

Upright Brewing's Gose
Upright's version (5.2 percent ABV) was fascinating: refreshing like a hefeweizen, but much more complex and flavorful due to the lactobacillus tartness. The salt and coriander were deftly restrained.

I've had about a half-dozen Upright beers now and been impressed by each, but I think the Gose was the most interesting.

Finally, Block 15, a relatively young brewpub in the college town of Corvallis, had several noteworthy beers on tap but most unusually a Berliner Weisse.

A very pale and low-alcohol summer beer style that also hails from Germany, Berliner Weisse looks and tastes a little like lemonade. In fact, it's popular to mix with syrups.

At only 3 percent ABV, Block 15's Berliner Weisse showed that beer doesn't have to be strong to be flavorful.
Block 15 Berliner Weisse

Rest assured, ridiculously good IPAs continue to proliferate in the homeland of American hops. But I quickly found myself tiring of hop bombs after visiting Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River and Walking Man Brewing across the Columbia River in Stevenson, Wash.

After a couple of sampler glasses, my palate could barely distinguish anything. Walking Man alone had a strong pale ale, two IPAs and an imperial IPA on tap. My taste buds were beaten into submission.

Fortunately, some of the little craft breweries in Oregon continue to stretch the definition of craft beer by reintroducing and reinterpreting some very old beer styles. After all, given the highly evolved state of American craft brewing, what's left to be discovered?


  1. Nice write up. Makes me want to visit that region or any other region with beermakers.

  2. Nice infotainment and next time in Oregon visit the breweries/brewpubs in Eugene, Oakridge, and Ashland. You will not be disappointed.

  3. I moved to Colorado not even a year ago. Your article makes me miss home and I'm trying hard to overcome that!

  4. Great blog! I'll definitely check these out next time I'm out there. Too bad you didn't make it to Bend. Some great brew pubs in a great town. Check out my reviews at beerwinechocolate.blogspot.com

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