By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Who can create the healthiest beer? That was the challenge presented to 11 Oregon brewers by Upstream Public Health for their 10th anniversary fundraising event in June.
The blind tasting took place at the Leftbank Annex in northeast Portland. Over 150 people turned out to help raise money for the nonprofit, which promotes policies to improve the health of all Oregonians.
When asked how they chose the theme for this event, Upstream’s co-founder Raquel Luz Bournhonesque referenced a popular television program, The Daily Show: “Jon Stewart is a brilliant satirist who talks about serious issues and makes people laugh. We’re a nonprofit that does serious work but everyone still needs to have fun. A lot of our work centers on nutrition and Portland is a beer-loving town, so the ‘Search for the Healthiest Beer’ is a fun vehicle to expand awareness of Upstream and to raise money. We gave a lot of latitude to the breweries to be serious or playful with this theme.”
Each participant took an entertaining approach to describing the beer. Breakside Brewery referred to their Guayasa Hibiscus Sour Ale as a “cornucopia of healthfulness,” a term which could also be used to describe many of the ingredients used in the featured beers: “high protein wheat malt;” “Ecuadorian guayusa tea leaves, which are full of antioxidants;” “pumpkin, which is known for its high levels of vitamin A, beta carotene, fiber and potassium;” “pomegranate, which contains an abundance of vitamins C and K;” goji berries, which are loaded with iron, vitamin C, healthy amino acids and 21 trace minerals;” plus “polyphenols, an antioxidant found in hops that lowers cholesterol and fights cancer;” and “xanthohumol, which is found in hops and inhibits cancer-causing enzymes.” So what exactly is a healthy beer? Josh Grgas, head of Sales & Distribution for The Commons Brewery in Portland, defined a healthy beer as “one that’s consumed in moderation. It should be produced in an ethical manner with clean ingredients and enjoyed in a pleasant environment with friends and family. It’s really more about the context and attitude than anything.” Of course, a healthy beer should also taste good, so it’s entirely appropriate that The Commons’ ‘Bien Etre’ was declared the winner of the blind tasting. The beer is a blend of Fleur de Blanc, a white farmhouse ale, with rose, elderflowers and Townshend’s Brew Dr. Nutritonic Kombucha. After the event it was featured on tap at Beer Mongers, Wilder Bar Cafe, Belmont Station, and Green Zebra Grocery, all in Portland. The runner-up, Cancellation Ale, was brewed by James Neumeister, founder and owner of the first dedicated gluten-free brewery in Portland, Harvester Brewing. James describes the ale, which contains milk thistle, hibiscus, lemon juice, goji berries, dandelion root and burdock root, as an ongoing experiment in making a beer with health benefits. “I pick a lot of wild mushrooms so that’s why I know about the medicinal properties of milk thistle (as a liver detoxifier that is used in emergency rooms to block liver damage from mushroom poisoning). And hibiscus flowers are traditionally used in Egypt to combat dehydration.”
Upstream enlisted long-time beer writer for The Oregonian, John Foyston, and Charlie Herrin, star of The Beer Traveler television show to sit on the panel of five judges. In keeping with the lighthearted nature of the event, their purpose was more for comedic relief than to provide professional criticism of the beers.
As event MC, Sasha Summer Cousineau stated “If there are two things I value in life they are health and beer.” Upstream successfully paired the two together on this special evening, raising $43,000. Drinking beer for a good cause - now that’s something everyone can support!
To donate to or volunteer for Upstream, visit the website, www.upstreampublichealth.org/donate.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.