By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
What is a winter warmer? It’s an enigma wrapped in a label and poured in a glass. The answer, in Oregon anyway, is best left to poetic interpretation.
But perhaps the experts can help us. When I looked up winter warmer’s definition on the BeerAdvocate website, I found a description including “malty sweet,” “low hop bitterness” and some allusions to wassail-like spices.
Some of the beers judged by consumers at the Oregon Beer Growler’s winter warmer tasting fit those descriptions, but more often, winter warmers in Oregon lodge themselves firmly in categories all their own. Oregon’s winter warmers occupy a wide range of styles and innovation. Olde ales, IPAs, barleywines, brown ales, farmhouse ales and CDAs are all perfect winter warmers, as far as Oregon brewers who entered this tasting were concerned.
What’s this mean for you, craft beer drinker? It means a wonderful variety of seasonal beers are now in your local bottle shop or on tap in your brewpub. These brews can be enjoyed with a holiday meal, on the slopes, in front of a fireplace or at a New Year’s celebration.
As always in our blind tastings, our non-professional tasters were asked to indicate what beers they liked as a winter warmer. Their choices and comments are as follows:
McMenamins: *565 Strong Ale, Eugene 9.3% ABV, 100 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A big-time beer for big-time fans. This beer was brewed in the fall of 2014 and aged with Billy Whiskey-infused oak, giving it plenty of time to grow up and work its way into your glass. Plenty of Chinook and Cascade hops.
Consumer Comments: Tastes like a prized bottle pulled from the cellar and slowly sipped. Smells like barleywine teen spirit. Tequila! Full-bodied, flavorful brew; easy to sip by the side of a fire. James Joyce’s Chamber Music XXXVI. This is the beer you bring home to mom and dad if mom and dad respect beer, bourbon and liquid blankets. Great for winding down after Christmas or family gathering shenanigans. Bourbon, heavy, malty.
Uptown Market: Beeracle Off 92nd Street, Portland 9.5% ABV, 49 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Believe in Beeracles! Cold-steeped, roasted malts lend complex flavors without any acidic bites. This warmer also boasts a complex blend of chocolate, tobacco, fruit sweetness and is that a hint of toffee? Yes, yes it is.
Consumer Comments: Flavor explodes in my mouth at first taste. Very good … I enjoyed this one. Reminiscent of raw cocoa, so it’s good for me, right? Is it barrel-aged? Coffee strong.
Wild Ride: Nut-Crusher Peanut Butter Porter, Redmond 6.0% ABV, 18 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Wild Ride brings together two favorite flavors, peanut butter and porter, in this nutty, chocolaty and caramel beer. It’s a true liquid peanut butter cup.
Consumer Comments: Like a liquid chocolate truffle treat with a strong nuttiness. Tastes like semi-sweet baking chips. Very chocolaty. Makes me want to drink it with ice cream. Peanut butter explosion in my mouth. Drink this with a brownie. Sexy candy. Tremendously dangerous. Drink this for dessert after every meal. Dutch Bros. Can I drink this for breakfast?
Cascade Lakes: Slippery Slope, Redmond 6.4% ABV, 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This beer is one smooth, wintery ride. Full-bodied and well-balanced, this seasonal ale uses crystal malt and generous amounts of Cascade hops.
Consumer Comments: Not heavy, but good for a mellow Oregon winter. I loved it. Nice and mellow. Kind of takes you by surprise. Fragrant like a Christmas candle. Hoppy and floral. Piney.
Hop Valley: Festeroo Winter Ale, Eugene 6.8% ABV, 60 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: When it’s cold outside, wrap yourself up in this Northwest take on an English-style old ale. It’s brewed with a slightly spicy combination of malts and hops.
Consumer Comments: A respite from the season: bright, hoppy and a break from the rain. Super enjoyable winter sippin’ brew. Really enjoyed this winter brew. Lemon bread with jam. I could drink this in the summer, too.
Sunriver: Shred Head Winter Ale, Sunriver 8% ABV, 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A robust, Northwest-styled ale brewed with dark brown sugar, packed with the finest American and European malts and fortified with the a hearty helping of Northwest and British hops.
Consumer Comments: Sweet warmth. A winter treasure. Perfect for winter. Bready and malty. Christmas candy. Burnt sugar.
Montavilla: Old Fellowship Barleywine, Portland 9.8% ABV, 60+ IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Big malt aroma rides side by side with a figgy, caramel-toffee aroma. Centennial hops balance out this mighty barleywine with citrusy, dank notes. Young, but still smooth and drinkable.
Consumer Comments: This brew would be great to sip in an igloo. Spicy like an IPA but soft and syrupy. Malty and boozy. Big, but easy to drink. Zippy aftertaste.
NEXT FREE TASTING: Oregon Beer Growler’s Belgians Tasting, 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at F.H. Steinbart Co., 234 SE 12th St., Portland.
By Andi Prewitt and Will Oberst-Cairns
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
The Northwest is full of hop heads, which means IPAs are all the rage and pushing the boundaries when it comes to IBUs is now the norm. Enter the double or imperial IPA, where increased bitterness is expected and a stronger alcohol flavor usually comes through. According to Beer Advocate, the term “imperial” is borrowed from the Russian imperial stout that was originally brewed in England for the Russian Imperial Court of the late 1700s. The double IPA was the focus of a blind and random tasting competition held in February at homebrewing supply store F.H. Steinbart Co. in Portland. Only consumers are allowed to participate, no one who works for any participating brewery is allowed to vote. The top seven beers are listed below. The following descriptions and comments come from the participating breweries and consumer tasters who attended the event:
Lompoc: C-Note Imperial Pale Ale, Portland 6.9% ABV, 100 IBUs
Brewery Description: This highly-hopped ale has a deep copper to orange hue with a bold aroma of pine and herbal spice. Hints of toffee and caramel are followed by a citrus finish that is dry and refreshingly bitter.
Consumer Comments: Things that make you go hmmm. Rich and luxurious, this should be served in a fine wine glass. Would be perfect for Thanksgiving or even just with a turkey sandwich. Subtle, sneaky delicious. Beautifully red like an Irish minx. Great aroma and flavor. Like the flavor. A bit too bitter, but I would order more than one. Smooth, relaxing, light, refreshing.
McMenamins: Major Threat (Edgefield Brewery) Double IPA, Troutdale 9.29% ABV, 100+ IBUs
Brewery Description: The latest installment in our double IPA series is a true West Coast double IPA. Hops were incorporated in every step of the brewing process, from mash to keg. Nuggets were used for bittering and provide a smooth, mellow bitterness. Cascade, Centennial and Santiams were added during the boil to deliver a piney and citrusy burst of hop flavor. Simcoe and Chinook hops were added late in the boil to give a nice citrusy hop aroma. Finally, a mighty dose of Centennial hops were added during fermentation for a blast of hop aroma. Malts: 2-Row, Dextra Pils. Hops: Nugget, Cascade, Centennial, Santiam, Simcoe, Chinook.
Consumer Comments: You’ve got to hop me up. Great to drink while watching the home team play, even if they don’t win. Best so far, strong hops. Slightly syrupy like your grandma’s down-home pancakes. Balanced. I like mouthfeel for a slower-drinking beer. Like the fruitiness, but too bitter for my taste.
Wild Ride: Brain Bucket Imperial IPA, Redmond 8.5% ABV, 90 IBUs
Brewery Description: Buckle up your chin strap and enjoy the ride! This beer breaks free from the pack and cranks it up a notch. We give IPA lovers more malt and hops, ascending Brain Bucket to imperial status. Classic Northwest hops, pine and citrus tones will knock your senses senseless! It wouldn't be a bad idea to wear a helmet while drinking this big, bold delight.
Consumer Comments: Smooth and balanced. East Coast-style, but fits in perfect on the West Coast. Perfect rainy-day beer. Sweet on palate, tasteful. I’d pair this with fruit and cheese, maybe make mussels with this as the base. Dry finish, full flavor. Finish is very pleasant. More please, more please. I need some beer for an expedition to watch the aurora borealis. Smooth. Refreshingly hoppy. It’s like a unicorn prancing on your mouth. Good aroma, crisp clean taste.
Pelican: Imperial Pelican Ale, Pacific City 8% ABV, 85 IBUs
Brewery Description: Pelican’s mascot, Phil the Pelican, has recreated the flavor of the British Empire with his own American twist. Enjoy the huge Cascade and Centennial hop aroma, the subtle malty sweetness, and the floral, citrusy flavor of this robust, gold-colored ale. This brew began life as a seasonal beer during our first year and was so popular while we had it, and so frequently requested when it was gone, that we turned it into our fifth regular beer style our second year.
Consumer Comments: Summer here in Portland. Really pleasant ride. Love the hops. The hops never stop, brings the flavor to the top. Lots of floral and not too bitter. I’d order another. Light and refreshing, second favorite.
Laurelwood: Megafauna, Portland 9.5% ABV, 140 IBUs
Brewery Description: This beer takes its name from the oversized animals of the Pleistocene Epoch or Ice Age. Large saber-toothed cats, hairy elephants and sloths the size of buses roamed the frozen tundras. Everything was big and/or hairy, with extra horns, tusks, teeth, etc. Like those massive animals, this beer is huge with hop aroma and flavor. We used several new aromatic hop varieties to get a layered and hop oil-soaked beer which, unlike the frozen tundra, isn’t bitter and finishes dry. The aroma and flavor are layers of pine, citrus and tropical fruit and the beer is a pale gold. We hope you drink it in good health and keep warm. **2013 National IIPA Champion**
Consumer Comments: Was my favorite by far. Interesting pine flavors. Not gulpable, but fun to drink. Great flavor, great aroma, would drink this all day. Put on your spacesuit and prepare to blast off with flavor. Excellent flavor hops. Finally, a nice piney sticky (in a good way) IIPA. After a 60-hour week, this is perfect to start the weekend with.
Burnside: Project Ale, Portland 8% ABV, 99.5 IBUs
Brewery Description: An Imperial IPA with a clean, silky malt presence that is loaded with hop flavor and aroma. It’s extremely well balanced, thus maintains its ability to pair with food. Project Ale is not your average hop bomb!
Consumer Comments: Great color. Great aroma. Loved the fruit notes. Crisp and peppy. Want to pair this with chiles. You’ve got to be hopping me.
Coalition: Double Dog Dare Double IPA, Portland 8.2% ABV, 80 IBUs
Brewery Description: The imperial version of our popular IPA, Double Dog Dare, comes in at a very drinkable 8.2 percent ABV. Notes of caramel and biscuit make up the malt profile, while a distinctive Northwest hop profile round out this beer. Bittered with Nugget hops; Sterling, Cascade, and Simcoe provide flavors of citrus, flowers and tropical fruit. A dry hop of Chinook brings the aromatics together in this deliciously big, but balanced IPA. Try some. We dare you. We Double Dog Dare you.
Consumer Comments: Lots of floral which I like, but a bit too bitter. Don’t know if I’d order more than one, very drinkable. I’d have six on a summer day, nice smooth bitterness, great rich flavor. Nondescript, decent.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.