By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I was a mall Santa. Not my proudest moment, I was a 20-something who needed an additional gig to support my holiday celebration fund — more commonly called “drinking money.” I was young and slim, but my habitual chain-smoking had given me a gravelly “ho-ho-ho” at an unnaturally young age — probably not the best choice to play Santa but, hey, I’m pretty sure the mall people were as desperate as I was. Plus, I’ve always maintained a short list of jobs everyone should do once like driving a taxi, tending bar and, yes, playing a mall Santa. In my current portly, non-smoking, white-haired state, I definitely see the irony.
Mall Santas are subject to all sorts of abuse such as screaming toddlers, deluded parents and adolescents who, when they sit on Santa’s lap, laugh so hard they fart. Santa also hears the yuletide requests of a few full-sized adults who, for whatever reason, still believe in the magic of St. Nick. But altogether, the hundreds of children, awestruck and excited, eagerly whispering their Christmas wishes into Santa’s ear is a memorable and touching event — even for a young and self-absorbed Santa. Having occupied both the jolly red fellow’s seat and the place of the harried parent, these days I’m pretty understanding. Maybe that’s why I once told the long-suffering Meier & Frank Santaland Santa, whose lap my young daughter had just vacated, that I should’ve brought him a pint of whiskey as a tip.
No matter your take on the holiday season, it’s a good time for celebrating with family and friends. Even if you dislike the yearly display of crass commercialism, you must admit the chill of a dark Northwest December is best remedied with a pint. In celebration of the season, we bring you a selection of winter warmers — Oregon brews created to take the bite out of the long nights.
Three Mugs Brewing Company: Death Czar Russian Imperial Stout, Hillsboro
9.7% ABV; 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This huge brew has complex aromas and flavors that will explode in your mouth. It’s black as a winter night in Russia, with a perfect melding of malty, chocolaty and roasty notes that will kill your desire for any other stout.
Consumer Comments: Beer may be a Northwest hallmark, but the Death Czar Russian Imperial Stout comes complete with another regional trademark: coffee! December’s favorite, this darkly ruddy cold-weather brew is built on notes of robust java, a fleeting sweetness and a gently astringent oak-barrel finish, which makes for a very clean mouthfeel. Our panelists declared the Death Czar the quintessential winter warmer!
10 Barrel Brewing Co.: Beer Nog, Spiced Winter Ale Aged in Rum Barrels, Bend and Portland
11.9% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This full-bodied spiced winter warmer is just what you need to get out of the cold. A blend of spices and nuances of raisins, toasted oats, cocoa nibs along with the use of five different malts pack this beer with a ton of flavor. Take off your coat and enjoy this annual favorite.
Consumer Comments: What they said. (I love it when the brewer’s notes and the tasting panel’s are in agreement!) Beer Nog is indeed a spiced winter ale, which reflects its rum barrel aging. This brew’s mulled warmth is enhanced by its sour character, its creators deftly hitting a solid sour-hop balance. Seasonal spices underscore this brew’s fall/winter theme, offering a perfect companion for cold nights in front of a crackling fire.
Falling Sky Brewing: Wet Earth Winter Ale, Eugene
6.5% ABV; 58 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: It’s time to accept it, doom and gloom: the rain is here. Aromas of wet earth and spicy hops sink into roasted nuts and a hint of dark fruit welcoming a hearty winter offering. This mahogany brew has rich malt depth with a touch of alcohol warmth while being dangerously drinkable for an internal sweater when it’s pouring outside. Cheers to the season!
Consumer Comments: IPA lovers, take heed! Wet Earth Winter Ale exhibits all the characteristics you’d expect in a winter beer but with a little something extra: hops. This affable brew leads with moderate hops and malt along with bits of nut and fruit — even reminding several of our panelists of a well-balanced rye porter. This beer easily blends the comfort of a winter warmer with the refreshment of a brisk IPA.
Golden Valley Brewery: Tannen Bomb, McMinnville
8.0% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Fall is here and it’s time for the release of Tannen Bomb, our winter warmer ale. This strong, tawny amber features a complex malt character derived from the generous use of assorted specialty malts and adjuncts, including flaked barley, wheat, crystal, crystal rye and pale chocolate malt. The robust malt presence is countered by the judicious application of Cascade, Golding and Willamette hops.
Consumer Comments: With the husky hue of raw honey and an invitingly frothy head, Tannen Bomb is a decidedly Northwest seasonal choice. Less weighty than many winter warmers, this amber ale is true to its hop heritage while offering layered malts with just a bit of juniper before a very clean finish. Our tasting panel labeled the Tannen Bomb a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for holiday gatherings!
pFriem Family Brewers: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Hood River
11.5% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The first imperial stouts were high-alcohol concoctions brewed for Czar Peter the Great of Russia. Our own Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout absorbs the tannins of OOLA Distillery’s bourbon barrels for a full year, resulting in huge roasted malt, chocolate mousse, coconut and ripe cherry flavors that may leave you feeling like a bit of a monarch yourself!
Consumer Comments: A distinct nose of molasses introduces the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout. Notes of sorghum, coffee and a hint of raspberry shape the character of this full-bodied brew — several panelists even detected a little teriyaki. Almost Eastern European in its fortitude, this imperial stout isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Serve this meaty pint steakside and follow it with a generous slice of double-chocolate torte.
As you experience the holiday season this year, kick back, grab an Oregon brew and reflect on the connections you have with those close to you. If you’re like me, you’ll take some time to feel gratitude for the people you love, the things you have and for this beautiful state we call home. Even if your life isn’t perfect — whose is? — at least you’re not a mall Santa.
By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oregon is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Having lived in two of the most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S., I am acutely aware of the stunning features found all around us. Multiple times I’ve returned from Southern California or Chicago to the gorgeous Oregon landscape, framed by picturesque mountains, lush forests, spring-fed lakes and a breathtaking ocean. Like any Oregonian, I realize all this beauty is hugely dependent on our famously unending rain. Still, after a particularly vengeful winter, I’m ready for a long and bright Oregon summer.
Like the landscapes of Oregon, pale ales span a broad spectrum, exhibiting many personalities and characteristics. Our panel enthusiastically embraced this month’s brews and experienced difficulty selecting a single winner. While Elk Horn Brewery snagged the top spot, several others were close behind — and all this month’s entries were enjoyable. The best way to savor an Oregon summer might be with an Oregon pale ale in hand!
Elk Horn Brewery Powder Horn Pale Ale, Eugene
6.9% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Elk Horn’s Powder Horn Pale Ale uses a variety of caramel malts to impart a rich flavor and amber color, while liberal use of Cascade hops delivers a hoppy nose and assertive-but-balanced flavor from start to finish.
Consumer Comments: Powder Horn earned our panel’s highest marks and just barely edged out several others. This amber-hued ale with its frothy head is a lively brew, almost champagne-like in its enthusiasm. Powder Horn exhibits a floral fruitiness led by moderate hops. Just in time for summer, this brew might be the perfect pint for longer evenings spent outside. One panelist described it as a perfect “lake beer,” best enjoyed at your favorite getaway spot.
Hop Haus Brewing Dr. Bob’s Periodic Pale Ale, Gresham
5.8% ABV; 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A tribute beer to the late Dr. Bob, this American pale ale is true to the style, easy-drinking with a subtle malt backbone and smooth, balanced hop finish. It’s made with two-row, Crystal 40, aromatic and Victory malts as well as Chinook and Cascade hops. A perfect easy-drinking beer as we head into summer.
Consumer Comments: With a nose and appearance evocative of apple cider, Dr. Bob’s Periodic Pale Ale might be a bit heavier than its companions in this month’s tasting. Sure to please IPA lovers, this brew’s initial apple character gives way to a malt-and-hops theme on the mid-palate. Panelists liked this brew’s tartness and cleanly bitter finish. One taster exclaimed that the pint tastes better with each sip!
Mazama Brewing Tilikum Pale Ale, Corvallis
5.0% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This pale ale is light amber in color and has a moderate and caramel malt character. It has a smooth, yet firm, hop bitterness with pine, citrus and earthy characters coming forward.
Consumer Comments: Panelists loved the seductive floral nose of Tilikum. Along with its early floral theme, this bright amber brew offered hints of caramel and lemon on the palate before introducing hops. As the hops took the lead, Tilikum built to a quiet crescendo, like its IPA cousin, before subsiding.
McMenamins Edgefield Ekuanot Single-Hop Pale Ale, Troutdale
5.93% ABV; 38 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: We brewed this single hop pale ale to showcase Ekuanot hops in all their glory. A fairly new variety, you’ll notice hints of melon, orange, berry, pine and even fresh green pepper. We used most of these hops late in the boil and as dry hops in the fermenter, so while the aroma is all hops, hops and more hops, the flavor is only mildly bitter. Enjoy!
Consumer Comments: Hops and a hint of pineapple say hello when Ekuanot Single-Hop Pale Ale is pulled. Herbal, earthy and a little smoky, this pint resembles a Hefeweizen, but it’s all ale in the glass. Our tasters noted pine and a little nuttiness on the palate, all shepherded by surprisingly gentle hops. Panelists like the Ekuanot’s frothy head and declared it a perfect match for steaks or burgers right off the barbecue.
Ninkasi Brewing Company Pacific Rain Northwest Pale, Eugene
5.4% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This flavorful Northwest pale ale starts with a balanced, malty sweetness that lays the groundwork for profiling some of the most alluring hops around. Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Nugget hop varieties offer a captivating experience with notes that are citrusy, tropical, floral and piney. A residual sweetness rounds out the hop, making each sip as smooth and refreshing as the last.
Consumer Comments: Like a roller coaster ride, the crisp Pacific Rain Northwest Pale starts out easy and offers a smooth finish — but in the center, this brew will give you a little excitement. Roasted hops and a bit of coffee present on the nose, followed by moderate hops and a brisk carbonation. Panelists suggested pairing with pasta dishes.
Ordnance Brewing RX Pale Ale, Boardman
5.6% ABV; 34 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Pouring a light straw color, this ale gets its spicy flavor from a healthy dose of rye malt. The rye spice combines nicely with a Citra and Mosaic aroma and presents a beer that is perfect for day’s end — be it after work or a long day of outdoor recreation.
Consumer Comments: Brassy and a little sassy, RX Pale Ale earned high marks for its inviting golden hue and lively carbonation. Panelists described this brew as the love child of an IPA and a lager, remarking on its hemp-like nose and hoppy personality. With no lingering bitterness beyond a clean finish, this blond brew is a great summer sipper!
pFriem Family Brewers Spring Pale Ale, Hood River
5.0% ABV; 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: If you’ve got spring fever, here’s a perfect way to cool off. pFriem’s Spring Pale Ale is rife with aromas of powdered sugar-covered strawberries and flavors of fresh-cut citrus and melon, with a gentle, spicy body that finishes dry and crisp. Embrace the season and the beer that goes with it!
Consumer Comments: Hoppy without being overbearing, Spring Pale Ale is — as its name implies — airy and refreshing. With a gentle citrus nose, this brew might be described as an IPA-lite. Using terms like easy-drinking and smooth, our tasters unanimously enjoyed this well-balanced brew. One panelist said the Spring Pale Ale tickled her tongue and all agreed this pint will pair well with almost any lighter summer fare.
Stickmen Brewing Company Paddle Board Pale Ale, Lake Oswego
5.2% ABV; 46 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A pungent pale ale brewed with Cascade, Centennial and Mosaic hops. Big aromas of citrus and tropical fruit with a piney finish.
Consumer Comments: A thick honey-tinged head and a hop-forward nose introduce Paddle Board. Panelists liked this brew’s bold nose, which gave way to surprisingly easy hops and spice on the palate. Our tasters suggested this pint will pair well with summer seafood like shrimp skewers or even sushi.
Two-Shy Brewing Everything is Awesome, Roseburg
5.0% ABV; 22 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Everything is Awesome is an easy-drinking, well-balanced rye pale ale — slightly sweet with a hint of rye and hop flavor. Great for those new to craft beer, very refreshing. “Tastes like sunshine.” Our top-selling beer for 2016.
Consumer Comments: With a gentle nose of hops, rye and oats, Everything is Awesome is a laid-back grain-themed brew with well-mannered hops along for the ride. Panelists noted suggestions of banana and nuts on the nose and early palate, but don’t worry — this is not a tropical beer. Our tasters enjoyed this brew’s gentle bitterness and easy finish.
If you’re like me, you’re eager for summer to arrive after an unpleasant winter. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the state, it’s fitting that so many excellent pale ales are produced right here, ready to help us get the most out of the warmer months. Here’s to a great summer — and some great Oregon brews!
By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I’ve become everything I ever made fun of. When you’re young, you think nothing’ll never catch up with you — older readers should know this. You younger readers already know everything, anyway, like I did when I wore your hipster ankle-boots. But the epiphany of grasping your own mortality can be jarring and, when you realize you’ve become everything you ever laughed at, you either find religion or double-down and order a round for everyone.
Naturally irreverent, few topics, people or afflictions were off-limits for my forward (and possibly sometimes offensive) humor. This means my conservative friends all think I’m a Pinko Commie and my progressive friends are certain I voted for Trump. Whatever. They’re all wrong: the funny parts of this life pretty much span the full spectrum. In fact, I sometimes think the most hilarious moments are spawned by the least humorous people. But that’s okay because they don’t need to be in on the joke for me to get my belly laugh.
The hazards from a willingness to find humor almost anywhere are numerous, especially when all that stuff you mocked stares back at you from the bathroom mirror. But my own life has been indescribably enriched by sharing these laughs with good friends as we sit ‘round the table at the neighborhood pub, swapping stories, sharing jokes and keeping the taps flowing. In celebration of friendship and laughter, we offer five Oregon double IPAs, guaranteed to take the edge off and help you find the funny.
pFriem Family Brewers: pFriem Double IPA, Hood River
9.0% ABV; 95 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Just like the name implies, brewing a batch of pFriem Double IPA takes twice the regular amount of malt and hops. That means each pint is brimming with doubly-rich aromas of fresh berries, notes of papaya and malty sweetness. Just make sure to raise your glass twice because a beer like this deserves a double cheers!
Consumer Comments: The favorite of this month’s tasting panel, the pFriem Double IPA from pFriem Family Brewers has a fresh and fruity character which is beautifully balanced on its requisite hop-crafted foundation. This pint says howdy with an enthusiastic head, tempting the taster with almost as much citrus as hops. The pFriem Double IPA is every inch a robust hoppy ale but its deft balance and amiable bitterness wins wide approval. If the bottle’s elegant labels have anything to say about the brew inside, a great deal of care and skill went into its creation — this Hood River brewery justifiably takes pride in its product.
Hop Valley Brewing Company: Alpha Centauri, Springfield
9.0% ABV; 100 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Big flavor. Intense pine and citrus aroma. We keep the malt profile clean in this Imperial IPA to let the love lights shine on the fine Northwest hops.
Consumer Comments: Bring on the hops! A classic double IPA if ever there was, Hop Valley Brewing Company’s Alpha Centauri epitomizes everything you love about IPAs — then double it! Alpha’s nose starts softly with a bit of floral and citrus but quickly brings on the hops, grabbing the taster firmly by the tongue. From start to finish, this brew builds to a crescendo, its big bitter finish belying its more subtle lemony handshake. If you’re looking for hop-forward and in-your-face, this bold brew’s for you!
Coalition Brewing Co.: Dropping Science Double IPA, Portland
8.0% ABV; 85 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Brewing epitomizes the intersection of science and art. In this spirit, Coalition is proud to present our newest year-round creation, Dropping Science. This uniquely delicious and balanced double IPA provides the best of the art and science of brewing. Deep copper in color, aromatics of pine, spice, and citrus from northwest grown Chinook hops entice your nose, while a mellow sweetness from caramel malt and malted oats balances the 85 IBUs. Hop flavors of citrus, pine and spice from Cascade and Sterling hops intermingle beautifully in this supremely drinkable double IPA.
Consumer Comments: The earthy-hued amiability of Coalition Brewing Co.’s Dropping Science Double IPA might be the initial clue that this brew is laid-back and mellow — a great choice when you prefer less brass and more nuance in your glass. Not as hoppily insistent as its brothers, this brew’s medium malt body and subtle hops are framed with gentle citrus, a bit of butterscotch along with nutty smokiness. Panelists unanimously attested to the easy drinkability of this unpretentious pint.
Claim 52 Brewing: Fluffier, Eugene
8.0% ABV; 75 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Double Fluffy IPA with lactose is brewed with wheat and oats and hopped with Citra and Mosaic. This beer was made to honor the first anniversary of Willamette Valley’s original Fluffy IPA. There are notes of passion fruit, pine, grapefruit and sticky green.
Consumer Comments: I don’t know about fluff, but Fluffier from Claim 52 Brewing infuses a lot of personality into your glass! More exotic than classic, Fluffier’s tropical nose seduces with notes of pineapple and papaya with an underlying floral tease. On the palate, the island fruit yields to citrus but expresses as an extremely drinkable brew — don’t worry, you won’t mistake it for Malibu. Panelists were nearly unanimously delighted with this pint, more than one suggesting a teriyaki pairing.
Stickmen Brewing Company: Iron Mountain IIPA, Lake Oswego / Tualatin
9.5% ABV; 80 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A citrusy and bright Double IPA with heaps of Summit, Centennial and Cascade hops for bold aromatics and flavor.
Consumer Comments: Robust but evenly-tempered, Stickmen Brewing Company’s Iron Mountain IIPA has a bite but is marked by good manners. A medium-to-full-bodied brew, the Iron Mountain is well-balanced and not too heavy. Panelists noted its creamy head, moderate hops, and traces of wheat and rye, all leading to a clean finish. If you’re trying to please guests with a range of tastes, this brew should do the trick — IPA enthusiasts and virgins alike will agree.
When I think about it, maybe I haven’t quite become everything I ever made fun of yet — but I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of time until the dementia, bad driving and incontinence set in. Until then, I intend to keep finding the funny stuff and celebrating this wacky, unpredictable journey. I know that doing so in decent company will pay off in unexpected ways. Like me, one day you may look back and realize these ordinary moments with good friends and great beer are more special than you thought.
By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I used to hate the holidays. Well, maybe “hate” is a strong word. At best, the holiday season offered a reason for an extended period of revelry along with invitations to some great parties. Altogether, though, the sense of harried chaos that has come to define this holiest of all shopping seasons was a pretty strong turn-off. From traffic and crowded malls to artificially cheery canned music and incessant bells outside the doors of every drugstore, I had decided the whole season was something I could do without. But, hey, even though I may have experienced some inconvenience and irritation from all the commercial rush, attending parties is a pretty good way to take the edge off, right?
I spent the holiday seasons of my twenties grumbling. Then I had kids. If one single event can wipe out a Scrooge’s Christmas crankiness, it’s having children. Something about the wide-eyed wonder of a little one discovering the season is truly magical. I think my transformation was complete when I took my preschool-aged daughter to see Santaland in a helicopter. Santa climbed out of the aircraft, dozens of excited kids looking on. The big red jolly fellow walked right up to me and said, “Hi, Matt!” My daughter, awestruck, looked up at me with giant eyes and asked, “You know Santa, Dad?” It turns out — unknown to me — one of my friends was playing Santa at that event. I am forever grateful to him for that moment.
So my seasonal outlook got considerably brighter when my daughters came along. I now tolerate the hectic holiday madness maybe better than most parents. Okay, let’s be honest: I actually enjoy the holiday season now — there’s no “tolerate” about it. But even though “party season” has become “parent season,” I still manage to celebrate the old-fashioned way with festive seasonal brews like the ones we feature in this month’s blind tasting evaluation.
Widmer: Brrr, Portland
7.15% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Brrr is a moderately strong dark red ale. The generous use of citrusy hops provides a tangible, but not excessive, bitterness that ultimately erodes into a candy-like malty sweetness and quick finish. Caramel and chocolate malts provide complexity, an enticing color and subtle dark malt flavors.
Consumer Comments: Of all the packages under the tree, this brew was our panelists’ favorite. Widmer hits the winter mark with Brrr, a bright, amber-colored brew with a sultry nose of florals and grains. Well-balanced and bold, this brew is defined by hops without being overwhelmed. Tasters noted its smoothness and up-front flavor, agreeing it could earn a place on any holiday beverage menu.
Full Sail: Wassail Winter Ale, Hood River
7.2% ABV; 56 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Wassail is brewed with a range of caramel and dark chocolate malts giving it a deep mahogany color and full malty body. We used a blend of Pacific Northwest hops for a pleasant hoppy aroma and finish, creating a deliciously balanced beer that appeals to both hop and malt lovers alike.
Consumer Comments: As winter approaches and night falls early, Full Sail’s Wassail Winter Ale provides an inviting warmth to ward off the chill. A favorite among tasting panelists, this brew exhibits notes of cocoa and toffee with a bit of nutty toast. Tasters described this brew as “full of flavor” and “very drinkable.”
Burnside: Permafrost, Portland
8.3% ABV; 77 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Our original winter elixir is a big strong ale brewed with seven different malts and copious amounts of Columbia and Amarillo hops. It’s designed to give this warming brew a chewy, complex malt body and a unique fruity, juicy hoppiness throughout. You won’t want to just sip this dangerously strong and tasty beer … but you should.
Consumer Comments: With an autumn hue of unfiltered apple juice, the Permafrost from Burnside sports exuberant carbonation, balanced hops and a clean finish. Tasters liked this brew’s sweet character, noting its balance, hints of honey and palate-cleansing acidity. All agreed this beer would be a great holiday party pleaser.
Golden Valley: Tannen Bomb, McMinnville
8.0% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Tannen Bomb is brewed annually to help take the chill off the Pacific Northwest winter clime. Our brewers use an enormous malt bill of primarily Northwest-grown two-row barley as well as Vienna, Monastique, Victory, crystal and chocolate malts. To balance the huge malt presence, Tannen Bomb is generously hopped with Apollo, Golding, Cascade and Willamette hops. Cheers!
Consumer Comments: McMinnville’s Golden Valley crafts this eagerly awaited holiday favorite every year. With a bold introduction, complete with notes of wheat, chocolate and even a little almond, this brew softens mid-palate, but returns for a strong finish. An altogether amiable brew, you might want to be careful — the Tannen Bomb will get the better of you if you don’t respect it.
Zoiglhaus: Nikolaus, Portland
5.1% ABV; 36 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Do you really think St. Nick wants to eat chocolate chip cookies and drink milk after busting his ass all night? Hell, no! He wants to pound lagers and eat gingerbread. With that image in mind, we thought we would save him some trouble and just put the two things together: German Pilsner, Wheat, Munich, Caramel, Carapils and CARAFA malts were selected to work their magic with a secret blend of gingerbread spices and a splash of German Magnum and Hersbrucker hops. Nikolaus is spicy, delicate, nuanced and plain fun. Enjoy our celebration of the seasons!
Consumer Comments: Everybody loves a visit from St. Nick and Zoiglhaus’ Nikolaus was no exception. This brew captures the holiday spirit up front with aromas of cinnamon and clove. The gentle spices yield to ginger and citrus, never letting the taster forget its spicy foundation. Panelists thought this brew might accompany a spiced holiday ham or act as a perfect stand-alone beverage to boost your guests’ holiday spirit.
Cascade Brewing Barrel House: Sang Noir, Portland
9.9% ABV; 10 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Sang Noir is a blend of sour imperial red ales aged in bourbon and wine barrels for up to two years with Bing cherries. It features flavors of dark roast malts, bourbon, cherries and port.
Consumer Comments: Cascade’s Sang Noir is a great holiday treat, perfect for the fall and winter. Presenting a uniquely seductive fruit nose, the brew’s fruit character merges effortlessly with its mid-level carbonation. Sang Noir’s bold notes of apple and cherry delighted our panelists, drawing comparisons to ciders and wines.
As an all-year-long rule, the exceptional creativity of our regional brewers manages to capture the independent spirit of the Pacific Northwest magnificently. But at no other time of year is this talent as evident as it is during the holidays, when their efforts produce some of the best seasonal brews around. And whether you have children or not, you can hoist a pint and toast the good cheer the season offers.
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It happens every year when I serve this style at our monthly blind tasting. Someone asks: What are amber and red ales? And as usual, I talk about toasted malt flavors that lend robust, sweet, caramel or fruity flavors, with emphasis on balance, even though in Oregon you may find this style hopped to the hilt.
And as usual, all of my so-called expert opinions fall apart as my tasters move through Oregon amber and red ales’ variety of flavors, colors and textures — from high-alcohol imperials to Flanders-style sours and all variations between. I’m not alone in my confusion. Even the biggest contests in the U.S. put reds and ambers into categories together. The caramel and medium-toast malts give the ales their distinct amber to red colors and full bodies, but after that, especially in Oregon, anything goes.
So, with all this fuzzy variety, how do you know what you’re getting when you buy an ale named “red” or “amber?” You could spend your time reading the description on the label or bar menu – that might help. Sometimes, breweries name their hoppier reds and amber “IRAs” or India red ales. The higher alcohol ales might have an “imperial” designation. Or, you might skip the reading and go straight to the tasting. The combinations of flavors in this style are sometimes genius, sometimes edgy, sometimes weird. You decide. And take your time.
To get you started, here are the favorite reds and ambers chosen by visitors to our blind tasting:
Rusty Truck Fender Bender Amber Ale, Lincoln City 6.2% ABV; 35 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Not your Mama’s amber ale, Fender Bender has notes of chocolate barley and an assertive hop character.
Consumer Comments: I’ve been on the road awhile and wasn’t sure where I was until I tried this – Oregon – hoppy, laid back. A nice red with a medium-hop character. Good malty flavor. Nice bitter finish. Dark beer taste with center of the Earth power.
Fearless Loki Red Ale, Estacada 7.5% ABV; 45 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This big, bold red ale has a slightly spicy sprinkle of rye malt. Roasty malt flavors are accentuated by massive helpings of Galena and CTZ hops. Just like its namesake, it can be a little sneaky!
Consumer Comments: Unlike me, this beer has a backbone. I like it! Well-balanced, medium and delicious. Amber taste with a kick. Great beer with a perfect amount of bitterness. This could be dangerous, but I don’t care. Sweet aftertaste.
Full Sail Amber Ale, Hood River 6% ABV; 31 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This amber is a sweet, malty, medium-bodied ale with a spicy, floral hop finish. It’s brewed with 2-Row Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts and hopped with Mt. Hoods and Cascades.
Consumer Comments: Nice and malty amber. Good and sweet malty flavor without the bitter aftertaste. Very refreshing with a hint of roses and chocolate. Romantic! Valentine beer. Dark, but not heavy. Love it.
Elk Horn Viva La Rouge, Eugene 8% ABV; 20 IBU
Brewer’s Description: This sour red saison was aged on plums in a red wine barrel for 14 months with lactobacillus, pediococcus and brettanomyces.
Consumer Comments: Love this sour. Cherries? A sour beer! This seems like a higher-gravity ale, but it’s still well-balanced and level. I don’t like sours — well, I used to not like sours, but this one is tart and refreshing.
Leikam Grateful Red, Portland 7.1% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Chinook, Columbus and Willamette hops take this into IRA territory, but the specialty malts offset any overwhelming hoppiness.
Consumer Comments: Refreshing on a hot, summer day. Woodsy. This is odd, but good. I’d want to drink it with split pea soup. Very good. Enough hops to be an IPA. Roses?
GoodLife Redside IRA, Bend 6% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Named for the unique subspecies of rainbow trout found only in Oregon’s Deschutes River, Redside India Red Ale is one of a kind. Bright hops and a red malt base create a flavorful, aromatic and balanced ale with notes of guava nectar and a fresh floral hop bite.
Consumer Comments: Very balanced, unlike me. I can, and will, drink this all night! Light and tasty, and pretty hoppy for a red — just the way I like it! Oregon-style.
Royale The Visitor Red Ale, Portland 6% ABV; 42 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a rich, malty, flavorful red ale with a lush red color and a subtle tropical fruit and berry hop aroma. Medium-bodied, this ale has toffee, caramel and baked bread flavors that are malty, but not too sweet.
Consumer Comments: I like the malt. I’d like some more of this, please. Pretty beer! Perfect malty taste with just the right hopping. Another glass, please. Great!
Stickmen Red Kit Northwest Red Ale, Lake Oswego 7.1% ABV; 75 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This Northwest red beautifully balances four different malts with four fruit and citrus-forward hops for a harmonious drinking experience. The ale is dry-hopped with Amarillo, Citra, Pacifica, and Simcoe hops.
Consumer Comments: Nice hop nose and aftertaste, almost like a red or amber IPA. It’s been a long day, but with this beer, the night will finish nicely. Long live the night! Love this one! Excellent bitterness.
Plank Town FURTHR Ambr, Springfield 5.8% ABV; 32 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A smooth, malty, English-style ale with seven U.K. malts balanced by a variety of noble hops, leading to a clean, dry finish.
Consumer Comments: Smooth! It’s sweltering out, but this beer makes it worth it. My mouth feels wonders. Is this a brown? I like it. Take it to the park, forget your troubles and watch the river go by. This one goes down easy.
Worthy Eruption Imperial Red Ale, Bend 8% ABV; 100 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The numbers say it all. This brew is bursting with flavor. There are six pounds of hops per barrel, including Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, Meridian and Mandarina Bavaria. Despite all of that volcanic bigness, Eruption is incredibly smooth.
Consumer Comments: Two Exclams!! Oh my king, as in, King Louis IV. Sweet, malty and good. Pretty hoppy for a red, but nice citrus flavor. The malt balances the hops, making it very drinkable.
Burnside Too Sticky to Roll IRA, Portland 6.2% ABV; 72 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a Northwest-style red ale with medium bitterness accented by chocolate malt and candy-like sweetness from caramel malt. It is brewed with Centennial and Millennium hops for both bitterness and hop aroma.
Consumer Comments: Well-balanced with depth. Smooth between sweet notes and bitterness. That’s real good. Malty enough for a 95-degree day. I could drink this with a nice steak dinner. Mommy just took me to the candy shop and bought me a drink.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.