By Ben Waterhouse
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Our long, hot summer of sipping ice-cold radlers and macro tallboys in between wildfires has finally come an end, and I could not be happier to be returning to the big beers of winter. Fall is a time of rising ABVs and darkening malts as the temperature drops. The days grow shorter and we gather at the bar to salute the harvest. Here are eight season-appropriate beers to enjoy from the hop harvest through Oktoberfest and beyond — and not a one of them contains pumpkin.
Baerlic Brewing Company: Hellsner Helles Fresh Hop
5.0% ABV, 20 IBUs
As of this writing, the hop harvest was still in full swing, and few fresh-hopped beers had made it to bars. Baerlic, a 10-barrel brewery with a design-heavy taproom in Southeast Portland, was ahead of most, dropping three fresh-hopped beers in early September. The Pioneer Bitter, a gold medal winner from the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards, might be the most eagerly awaited, but my favorite of the bunch is this juiced-up Munich-style lager, which pours golden yellow. Flavors of mango and papaya mingle with floral aromas from a big dose of Santiam hops. It tastes like a bakery full of proofing bread with hints of apple juice. There’s no telling how long this one will stick around, but Baerlic’s lagers have been consistently strong of late, so if you can’t find Hellsner on tap one of its less-seasonal counterparts will likely suffice.
Hopworks Urban Brewery: Mt. Angel Volksbier Bavarian Session Ale
5.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Hopworks released this limited-edition homage to Oregon’s largest Oktoberfest just in time for the event’s 52nd birthday in mid-September, when the Portland brewery’s beers were the only non-German offerings in the Biergarten. The mild, straw-colored brew owes its lightly spicy aroma to Hallertau hops sourced all the way from Bavaria — a radical allegiance to the Reinheitsgebot if ever there was one. The bready bitterness gains some floral and citrus notes as it warms, but overall it’s a pleasant ale to pound while you polka. It may not capture the imagination as well as Mount Angel’s own Benedictine brews, but it’s far more appropriate for all-day drinking.
StormBreaker Brewing: Stormtoberfest Marzen-Style Lager
5.1% ABV, 27 IBUs
The label for this Märzenbier features an anthropomorphized fermenter tank sporting a feathered cap, four-legged lederhosen and a single, baleful eye: an unsettling vision for a comforting beer. The latest lager from North Portland’s StormBreaker pours clear copper with no head and strong aromas of anise and bubblegum. Although the marketing copy brags of putting “heart, soul and lederhosen into every batch,” I taste no leather here. Despite the low IBU, this isn’t a barley bomb. It’s clean and classic, with a creamy texture and enough bite on the finish to offset its sweetness. It’s a beer for an Oregon autumn, inspiring visions of grey skies and damp denim. It would make a good companion to a plate of brats, but is even better suited for braising them.
Occidental Brewing: Festbier
6.3% ABV, [Unavailable] IBUs
North Portland’s Occidental brewing is dedicated to classic German styles, and this very classic Marzen has long been a feature of its annual Oktoberfest party. Now that it’s available in bottles for the first time, it can become a fixture at yours, too. Festbier pours a clear Pre-Raphaelite red with unusually bright, fizzy carbonation. It smells Negra Modelo and tastes like fresh-baked biscuits. There’s no clever tricks or new concepts here — Occidental takes on the style and nails it. This beer is fresh, clean, mild and dangerously drinkable. Stay safe by downing it alongside an abundance of pork products.
Deschutes Brewery: Hopzeit Autumn IPA
7% ABV, 60 IBUs
Deschutes’ newest autumn seasonal is “Marzenbier-inspired,” which I take to mean that it’s an Oktoberfest beer for those who don’t much care for Oktoberfest beers. Hopzeit pours a rich coppery amber, the color of fresh apple cider, with abundant fruit-salad aromas. It’s got the sweet booziness of a classic Oktoberfest ale, but it’s balanced with a hefty dose of Herkules, Sterling and Hull Melon hops that lend a bitter bite and lingering peppery finish. It reminds me of nothing so much as Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. I’m not sure who the target consumer might be for this hybrid, but it makes for a pleasant pint. Just make sure you serve it straight from the fridge — as Hopzeit approaches room temperature, it becomes unpleasantly syrupy.
Ninkasi Brewing Company: First Rule IPA
7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs
According to Ninkasi, the first rule of this new IPA is “Do not talk about this IPA.” Rules are made to be broken. This bright, fruity special release is the star of the brewery’s 2017 IPA variety pack and hardly seems like it could be the product of the same brewery that brought us Total Domination and Tricerahops. A clear golden ale with strong aromas of passionfruit and nightshades, it packs a huge tropical wallop of mango and papaya giving way to a smooth finish that leaves you wanting more. With a hop bill including El Dorado, Mosaic and Calypso, it reminds me a little of tropical punch. I want to sip it from a tiki mug with a tiny umbrella while basking under a sun lamp, but I’m more likely to schlep a couple of six-packs to the next neighborhood house party.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Tractor Pull Tawny Old Ale
8.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
This hefty English-style old ale has been kicking around in bottles since early 2017, but there’s something distinctly autumnal about the vanilla and cinnamon that give this tawny brew its kick. Sold in sturdy 500-milliliter bottles with cheery yellow labels, Tractor Pull pours a deep nut brown and smells like an orchard after harvest, with hints of cocoa and coffee. It’s brightly fizzy and tastes of rye bread, molasses, cinnamon and subtle vanilla. It reminds me of pain d’epices and Dr. Pepper, and should probably be sipped alongside a plate of fresh-baked spice cookies. Looking for even more autumn? Watch for Trolley Pull, a version aged in Eagle Rare barrels made in collaboration with North Portland bar Interurban, coming out soon in 750-milliliter bottles.
Claim 52 Brewing: Bird Up Milkshake IPA With Strawberry
7.3% ABV, 30 IBUs
Strawberries don’t exactly scream “fall,” but, thanks to a late harvest, this strange beast of a beer dropped in September. Bird Up is the latest in a series of “milkshake” IPAs from this small Eugene brewery in recent months, brewed with lactose in the manner of creamy, fruity brews from Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands and Seattle’s Urban Family. This one, available only in cans, was made with strawberries and vanilla and pours an enticing peachy-pink with thick haze. Its enormously hoppy nose is heavy on grapefruit. The strawberries contribute tart acidity and a lingering floral sensation. It reminds me of an Orange Julius, or maybe a scoop of strawberry sherbet floated in a pint of Claim 52’s coveted Fluffy IPA. Stout floats are common enough — why not other ales? Bird Up is a limited release, but if you can’t get your hands on a can I bet there’s another milky fruit concoction coming our way soon enough.
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
For the last three years, I’ve dressed up as a hop during the Halloween season because a.) hops are awesome, and b.) I’m both too lazy and not creative enough to conjure up some other costume. Although I love traditions, I’m growing tired of doing the same thing year after year. But one thing I never get tired of is Oregon beer — so, I’ve decided to brew up some new rituals for all of us featuring our favorite treat. Below, you’ll find four different fall activities — beyond just Halloween — and the beers that go with them. October will never be the same again!
Ashland’s Caldera Brewing is already Halloween-friendly thanks to their logo, a bubbling black cauldron. But what will really put you under their spell is the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter. The brewery uses in-house toasted coconut chips and natural liquid chocolate to create nothing short of Mounds bar goodness. The beer already claims to be dessert in a glass, so why not take your state of sugar-induced bliss one step further by pairing it with the Hershey’s tropical treat? | 6.2% ABV, 24 IBUs
Aside from having a great name, Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter from Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond blends the chocolatey, caramelly, nutty notes loved by porter fans and amplifies them times a thousand with an undeniably creamy peanut butter flavor. It’s a beer that pairs well with E.T.’s favorite food group — Reese’s Pieces. Added bonus: The candies will double as a type of breadcrumb trail when you’ve imbibed too many beers and can’t find your way back home! | 6% ABV, 18 IBUs
Fall Activity Pairing: Trick-or-Treating
Even though you’re too big to get away with going door-to-door asking for candy — unless you secretly steal from your kid’s stash — there are likely plenty of leftovers from that giant variety pack you had every intention of handing out to costumed little monsters. Instead of ravaging it like a zombie, here are some more Oregon beer and candy pairings to help you savor every last bite: Rusty Truck Brewing’s Taft Toffee Porter with Heath bars, Base Camp Brewing’s S’more Stout with Peeps marshmallows, and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar with Ferrero Rocher.
Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice
Pumpkin beer (or pumpkin anything for that matter) is one of those things people either seem to love or hate. But even the biggest pumpkin skeptic could be made into a believer with Rogue’s annual Pumpkin Patch Ale. “Crafted from patch to batch,” each year Rogue employees pick fresh pumpkins from Rogue Farms in Independence, load them up and drive them 77 miles to the Newport brewery. The pumpkins are then roasted and pitched into the brew kettle, creating a final product that rivals even the best witch’s brew. | 6.1% ABV, 25 IBUs
Complex enough to be in a category all on its own, Cascade Brewing’s Pumpkin Smash is not for the average pumpkin beer fan. The Portland barrel house is highly regarded for its sour beers, and Pumpkin Smash does not disappoint. Each year’s batch offers a different experience — for example, their 2015 version is a blend of blond and quad ales aged in bourbon and brandy barrels for up to 22 months with pumpkin and spices. In September, the brewery released the 2015 blend on draft only, with vintage 2013 and 2014 bottles available for purchase. If the spirits are in your favor, you’ll likely still be able to score a rare bottle at the brewery, or at bottle shops such as Portland’s Belmont Station and The Bier Stein in Eugene. | 10.8%-12.35% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Pumpkin Patch
Check out Heiser Farms in Dayton for the ultimate pumpkin overload. On Saturdays and Sundays in October, the farm has cannons that shoot pumpkins more than a quarter of a mile! They will also be serving Heiser Pumpkin Ale from Silverton’s Seven Brides Brewing, a brew made with pumpkins grown right on the farm.
Originally released as a seasonal in 2014, Ninkasi’s Dawn of the Red has become almost as much of a cult classic as the movie it’s named after — 1978 horror film “Dawn of the Dead.” The brewery’s label designer and art director, Tony Figoli, is obviously a fan of the film, so what better reason to add this zombie-themed pairing to your to-do list this Halloween season and beyond? According to the Eugene brewery, “it doesn’t take brains to know this IRA is a delicious choice any time of year!” | 7% ABV, 75 IBUs
The infamous Black Widow only summons herself two weeks out of the year, but she always leaves a lasting impression. Originally brewed at the McMenamins Thompson Brewery 25 years ago on October 15, 1991, this deep-black porter infused with licorice root is so enchanting she will be the star of her own “Widow’s Weekend” at various locations. While she’s available October 15 through Halloween at all McMenamins pubs, the Thompson Brewery usually releases the popular seasonal earlier than the rest. But don’t get too lost in her web, as she won’t be here for long! | 7.35% ABV, 30 IBU
Fall Activity Pairing: Scary Movie Marathon
Although there is a 1987 crime thriller which shares the name “Black Widow,” McMenamins has a lot more to offer than that in the scary movie department this month. The company’s Mission Theater and Pub in Portland offers a variety of screenings all year long, but in October, you’ll find that classic spooky movies are their specialty. “The Craft” and “Scream” are both celebrating their 20th anniversaries, “Little Shop of Horrors” is celebrating its 30th, and “Carrie” is celebrating its 40th. There will be multiple showings of each, along with the movie “Se7en.” Don’t forget to order your favorite McMenamins beer as liquid courage as you prepare to be scared!
Putting the Oktober in Oktoberfest
If you’re pumpkin-phobic, have no fear, Deschutes is here! The brewery recently added a new fall seasonal to its lineup: Hopzeit Autumn IPA. While this beer may or may not conform to the Reinheitsgebot (a German purity law only allowing water, barley and hops as ingredients), the beer is at least “100-percent gourd free” according to the brewery, and “blends the malt body and flavor of a Marzen with the hop profile of an IPA.” It even has its own hashtag: #SayNoToPumpkinBeer. | 7% ABV, 60 IBUs
For those of you wanting something you could drink a few steins of without being frightened by flavors, this section’s for you. Block 15 Brewing’s Autumn Farmhouse Ale, dubbed as a “harvest celebration of Pacific Northwest regional farms,” is a part of the brewery’s seasonal bottle-conditioned series. The beer truly lives up to its description, featuring organic North American malts, organic oats from Green Willow Grains, Willamette Valley hops, and honey from Queen Bee Apiaries, also located in Corvallis. | 7.4% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Oktoberfest
Although Munich’s famous Oktoberfest may be over, luckily for you there are still some Oregon breweries that are hosting their own versions of the revered German celebration this month, including Block 15’s Bloktoberfest on Oct. 21 (Pro Tip: You get free entry if you wear German-themed clothing). On Oct. 8 in Portland, not only is Zoiglhaus Brewing hosting its own Oktoberfest, but Widmer Brothers Brewing will be putting on an Oktoberfest at Pioneer Courthouse Square featuring rock band X Ambassadors.
No matter how you’re celebrating this month, don’t be too spooked to try a new Oregon beer!
Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Wash. throws a Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which in 2014 featured 92 pumpkin brews, a costume contest and 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer. Dick Cantwell, formerly of Elysian, said it’s important to have unique ideas for festivals. Photo courtesy of Elysian Brewing Company
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Staging a Kickass Beer Event” takes planning, planning and more planning, according to the four presenters of the “DIY Beer Fest” at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland in April.
Dick Cantwell, former head brewer and co-founder of Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, said it’s important to differentiate the event and make it special. “If you don’t have a unique idea, it’s not worth doing,” he said.
For example, Elysian certainly brings plenty of unique elements to its two-day Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which features pumpkin beers front and center, a costume contest and giant 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer.
“We try to retain the Christmas-morning effect,” he said. “Last year we had 92 pumpkin beers and 18 were ours. We have beers people have never tasted before or heard of before.”
Cantwell helps guest brewers with beer ideas for the event with only one restriction — they have to contain pumpkin. The brewer from Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, named last year’s contribution Drunken Promise in reference to his promise to Cantwell to make a pumpkin brew.
Barnaby Struve, co-founder of 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Ind., said to, “plan ahead to manage the crowds. Our Dark Lord Day is the only time to buy Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout.” He recommended coding tickets with different groups, such as A, B and C, to control times and lines for pickup “if you have a special beer release at your festival.”
Other considerations: “Know what is legal in your municipality. Check for permit requirements and get the necessary ones. Go to events as a consumer and take notes. From the customers’ perspective, they are experiencing what you’re all about,” said Struve. “Make sure that your customers leave happy. It’s important to have this goodwill experience.”
Just the opposite happened last year at the Cigar City Brewing Hunahpu’s Day Festival in Tampa Bay, Fla., said director of marketing Geiger Powell. Named for a Mayan myth, the festival is a release party of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. In 2014, they tried something different. “We wanted to streamline the event and shrink the population. The $50 ticket included all the beer from the festival and the opportunity to buy beer bottles,” said Powell.
Originally, the attendees name was required to be on the ticket. “We changed our mind because so many people complained,” said Powell. “We should NOT have changed our mind.”
They had many fraudulent tickets and ran out of bottles. People were unhappy. “Riots broke out and yes, you can watch it all on YouTube,” he said.
The next day, Cigar City offered full refunds, free beer in the tasting room and paid out $200,000. “Ultimately it was positive with lots of press, and the next month we had our best sales ever,” said Powell.
This year was a different story. The tickets cost $200 and included food and four bottles of stout, plus access to more than 200 beers from 60 different breweries. “We insisted the name on the ticket match the ID of the attendee. We treated our brewers in town right. That’s essential because brewers will tell everyone,” he said.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing in Vankleek Hill, eastern Ontario, Canada holds an authentic Oktoberfest for two days in early October that swells the population of the small town. CEO and co-founder Steve Beauchesne said, “We have 8,000 people and 2,000 cows in town. Last year we had 20,000 attendees.”
They also had a big problem last year with their shuttle service. Since Beau’s is 50 minutes east of Ottawa, they offer a shuttle option as an add-on to the base ticket price.
“Last year it poured rain all day, creating a real mud fest,” said Beauchesne. “At the end of the day, everyone wanted to get on the bus at the same time and go home. But we had people waiting in line for more than an hour. We had mistakenly decided to go with less buses because we could loop them.”
He said they have a full-time person now in charge of Oktoberfest. “When we did our first one, we pulled it off in six weeks. Last year was our worst because it was the latest in the year that we started planning for it.”
Cantwell said planning for the Great Pumpkin Festival begins the minute the current one is done. “We have to pick a date and people want to plan,” he said.
He also recommends a thorough, detailed checklist, before and after. “We always underestimate the peak,” he said. To keep lines short, they split the beer into 25 serving stations, each with three or four beers. They also have a roving special beer.
Struve said they begin planning in December for the Dark Lord Day in April.
The group had different opinions on volunteer help. Powell said Cigar City has all their staff work the festival as well as volunteers from homebrew clubs. But Struve said that 3 Floyds does not use volunteers, only paid staff because of liability issues, regulations and required licenses. And Cantwell said Elysian does use volunteers, but they have to be licensed pourers. However, all agreed on the importance of paying participating breweries for their beer.
The takeaway? Diversify with food, music and other breweries, so it’s good for the whole industry.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.