By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The headline of a recent article in the New York Daily News said it all: “Abandoned cars litter streets in Portland, Ore. after just a couple of inches of snow falls.” It reminded me of an evening in 1996 when I sat at my friend’s bar around 5 p.m., enjoying a nice post-work pint. Business was slow and some sports event was playing on the bar’s televisions. I was happy to relax with my beer, grateful to escape the wintry cold outside.
Then the snow fell.
Portland has a good measure of familiarity with two forms of downtown chaos: the political protest chaos and — you guessed it! — the snowflake chaos. As the first few snowflakes fluttered to the ground, Portland immediately panicked. Hundreds of evening-drive-time motorists abandoned their cars on Highway 26, trudging through the so-far-not-too-heavy snowfall and back up the first downtown on ramp which, as luck would have it, was located pretty much across the street from my friend’s bar. I would’ve been content to remain with my pint, but seeing as the joint went from dead to standing-room-only in a matter of minutes, my skills as a waiter and bartender were pressed into service and I found myself serving dozens of bad drivers who were also thirsty.
I learned several lessons that long-ago evening — mainly about Portland drivers, but also an important one about the value of a good adult beverage on a frigid, snowy, frustrating, winter night. Since we’re seeing some winter weather similarities this season, we thought we’d present five outstanding Oregon stouts, each of them a perfect companion for future frigid, snowy, frustrating, winter nights.
Rusty Truck Brewing: Pacific Grind Espresso Stout, Lincoln City
5% ABV; 33 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: We brewed this American-style espresso stout in collaboration with our local coffee roaster, Cape Foulweather Coffee Co. and Pacific Grind Cafe. With 3 pounds of ground roasted beans in the mash and 3.5 gallons of espresso added post fermentation, expect huge coffee flavors and a caffeine boost from this big-bodied stout.
Consumer Comments: Like the brewer’s description declares, the Pacific Grind Espresso Stout from Rusty Truck is built on a solid foundation of coffee. Panelists also noted characteristics of cocoa with hints of molasses and fig. While firmly full-bodied, this pint is eminently mellow and inviting. More than one taster commented on its “drinkability.” Ordinarily, I tend to like contrasting pairings but this brew might be fantastic with a really good brownie. The winner of this month’s group, the Pacific Grind Espresso Stout, is an outstanding example of its kind!
Fire on the Mountain: Electric Mud, Portland
6.6% ABV; 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: After the concert, the long hike or while simply sitting around the campfire, you reach for that one stout. The one that has chocolate depth, silky oatmeal texture, and rich roasty flavor. The one that fortifies your smile as you share stories with your friends. This is that beer. FOTM Brewing encourages you to enjoy responsibly, late into the night.
Consumer Comments: With notes of coffee, caramel and molasses, Electric Mud from Fire on the Mountain is well-balanced and smooth with an abundance of flavor. The Electric Mud starts deceptively simple, a mid-palate of chocolate and oatmeal evolving to a full finish. Panelists suggested hearty meat dishes like burgers, meatloaf or barbecue as accompaniment to this pint.
Gateway Brewing: Wood Hill Stout, Portland
6% ABV; 56 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The name celebrates Joseph Wood Hill Park, perched on top of East Portland’s Rocky Butte. Rich stout malt is balanced with Galena hops throughout and oats are added to help with a creamy, thick head.
Consumer Comments: Regular IPA drinkers might like Gateway’s Wood Hill Stout, with its hoppy personality and earthy character. Panelists noted hints of molasses, mushroom and a shred of olive (it may sound weird, but it works). Our tasters recommended pairing with dark meats or balsamic dishes, with one panelist stating that this brew stands just fine by itself. Appropriately, the Wood Hill Stout will warm you from the inside out.
Natian Brewery: Cease & Desist, Portland
9.2% ABV; 72 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Big, bold and full-bodied. This midnight-black stout incorporates oatmeal and unfermentable milk sugar, lending the finished beer a subtle sweetness and a full, creamy mouthfeel. The coffee notes from the roasted malt are further complemented by aging on Oregon oak, which has been soaked in Kahlua coffee-flavored liqueur.
Consumer Comments: Our panelists immediately observed notes of both oatmeal and Kahlua in Natian’s viscous Cease & Desist. This darkly intriguing brew also exhibits subtle notes of coffee and ginger with respectable bitterness. Perhaps more than any other brew in this group, the Cease & Desist is a slow-pull pint, perfect for enjoying in front of a crackling fire after a day in the snow. But be careful — you’ll want to treat this one with a little respect.
Three Creeks Brewing Co.: Frontier Justice Coffee Stout, Sisters
8% ABV; 55 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This collaboration with Sisters Coffee Company features 1-pound-per-barrel of their special roast. The base is a huge imperial stout brewed with 10 different malts and Cascade hops. The final beer is dominated by rich coffee aroma and flavor.
Consumer Comments: If there exists such a thing as an early morning beer, this is it. The cappuccino of stouts, Frontier Justice Coffee Stout from Three Creeks, might just be the best part of waking up — at least its nose says so. Anchored in coffee, this aromatic stout has a big personality that starts strong, but finishes surprisingly clean. Nutty and rich, pair this robust brew with over-the-top chocolatey desserts or, better yet, enjoy it along with a substantial cigar and a good story.
When our tasting panel gathers to sample pints for Super Brews, there are usually several standouts and this batch of stouts was no exception. But more broadly speaking, I was delighted to discover I enjoyed all five of these pints. It’s also worth noting that, more than any other Super Brews tasting, this group featured brewers’ descriptions that very closely matched the notes of the panel. (Remember, we do this blind — we have no idea what we’re sampling until we’re done.)
So when it’s cold outside and the skies are dark early, when the rain turns to snow and you think about leaving your car on the freeway, make sure you do so near a watering hole where you can order a belly-warming Oregon stout to take the chill off. Not only will you feel warmed, but it’s amazing how a pint or three can help with road frustration, too.
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Defining an Oregon stout is like trying to define art. Both are defined in the eyes, or tongue, of the beholder. As a result, the variety of art and stouts in Oregon is endless. Therefore, it is fitting that the Oregon Beer Growler’s annual stout blind tasting was at an art center, Frame Central Macadam in Portland, and that the tasters were interspersed with those who came to see artist Ron Pomeroy’s “BeerColors” show of art that uses beer and paint.
Although stouts were traditionally the term for the stoutest or strongest porters beginning in the 1700s, the written references to “stout” actually preceded porters by nearly 50 years to indicate a strong beer, no matter the color. According to 1700s criteria, most Oregon beers are “stouts.” But I digress.
Eventually, as porters lost favor and pale ales and lagers rose in popularity, stouts took over as a catchall name for dark beers made with roasted malts and barleys, usually weighing in stronger than most lagers and ales. Today, stouts have returned, bringing with them the international varieties that have been made for hundreds of years. Russian imperial stouts, dry Irish stouts, English and Belgian stouts, even oyster, milk and oatmeal stouts have found their way into Oregon craft breweries.
You wouldn’t have guessed from the crowd that gathered last month to taste stouts, but less than 50 years ago, there weren’t many breweries left making stouts in the world. Now, it’s a rare brewery here that doesn’t have one on tap year-round.
And in case you try all of the stouts below and still can’t find one you like, keep trying! Stouts can range from bitter to sweet, tan to black, dry to milky. There’s one out there for you!
Our tasters, who sampled each stout “blind,” chose the following Oregon stouts as their favorites.
Stickmen: Does A Body Good, Lake Oswego 6.7% ABV, 19 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This milk stout is brimming with big notes of bittersweet chocolate and mild roastiness. On the dry side for the style — keeps it far from cloyingly sweet.
Consumer Comments: Light and tasty. Nutty, smoky and a hint of beef jerky. Very smooth, great flavor with a mild aftertaste. Slight sharp finish. Mildly pleasant. Coffee, tobacco and chocolate.
Ordnance: Blackfisk Imperial Stout, Boardman 9.5% ABV, 58 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This imperial octopus ink stout is not one to be taken lightly. This stout boasts a full body that coats your mouth with every sip. Malt sweetness counters the heavy roasted grains perfectly, making this imperial stout surprisingly drinkable.
Consumer Comments: Slow-sipping after dinner beer. This beer was fantastic for me. A good beer to finish on. An after-dinner, bittersweet chocolate fix.
Pelican: Tsunami Stout, Tillamook 7% ABV, 45 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Midnight dark color and rich dark-roasted aroma created by Magnum and Willamette hops combined with unmalted barley and roasted malts. Full-bodied, dense, creamy head and espresso-like finish.
Consumer Comments: Mellow and dark with a smooth finish. Notes of chocolate. Smooth at the front. Tangy, citrusy, light and minty. Coffee flavor. I can taste the hops!
Elk Horn: Nutella Stout, Eugene 6% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This stout includes flavors that occur in Nutella, a popular spread made from hazelnuts and chocolate.
Consumer Comments: Would be a great dessert beer, like a float. First thing I thought was ‘Cookie!’ Dark with a hazelnut, nutty flavor. Yum. Order it for dessert. Smooth chocolate and hazelnut. After-dinner drink. Great! My favorite!
Baerlic: Noble Oatmeal Stout, Portland 6.2% ABV, 60 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A dense, chestnut head floats atop rich aromas of cocoa and shortbread that unfold into a full body of milk chocolate and coffee. Brewed with Bob's Red Mill rolled oats for a luxurious texture.
Consumer Comments: Sweet, but balanced. Rich and loaded with flavor. Dark, bittersweet and chocolaty. Breakfast beer! Wakes you up, but not too alcoholic.
Natian: Cease & Desist Imperial Milk Stout, Portland 9.2% ABV, N/A IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Formerly named McGuinness (after the owner), but asked to cease and desist by the similarly-named brewery, this stout now has a different name, but maintains the same great flavor. Aged on Kahlua-soaked oak.
Consumer Comments: Dark chocolate with slight bitterness, cherry undertones. Dry. Very good. A real stout! Smooth and perfect lingering flavor. I would definitely order a pint and sit by the fire with this. This would go great with bacon. Smooth and smoky.
Worthy: Lights Out Stout, Bend 7.7% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A vanilla cream extra stout with vanilla beans and milk sugar added. When coffee and chocolate cravings call, this is your answer. Smooth, creamy, rich, sinful and sip-worthy.
Consumer Comments: Sweet and caramel. I’m thinking vanilla latte with a splash of something-something. Lighter-bodied stout with a sweet finish. This would be good with ice cream.
Hopworks: Motherland Russian Imperial Stout, Portland 9.8% ABV, 60 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Rich and smooth, black as a Siberian winter night, but warming enough to weather it. Anise and cherry aromas mingle with bittersweet chocolate flavors. Warming, spicy finish.
Consumer Comments: Very strong. I think I could only drink one! Big, bold brew brightens bad days! Nibbles at your cheeks. Oh, yeah that’s lighting my fire all the way down.
Fort George: Bourbon Barrel Cavatica Stout, Astoria 9.9% ABV, N/A IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Aged in Kentucky’s Willett Distillery bourbon barrels. The brewers dutifully filled each one with rich, dark Cavatica Stout and aged them until the brewers determined it was time. Pours jet black with a lacy caramel head. Strong, welcoming aroma of bourbon and roasted barley and a lingering warmness.
Consumer Comments: Layers upon layers! Delicious flavor in this stout. Would be my go-to on any night I’m looking to make my mouth happy.
The next consumer tasting will feature Oregon Double IPAs (IIPAs) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at F.H. Steinbart Co., 234 SE 12th Ave., Portland.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.