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.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.