By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oregon is a quirky place. Long-established agrarian roots ensure plenty of rural charm, but the state is also home to one of the most laid-back urban areas in the nation. Framed by a breathtaking natural topography, Oregon is a land of great beauty, diverse people, geographic contrasts and even the occasional controversy. But Oregonians are known to discuss differences in an amiable manner, usually over a friendly pint. At least that’s the way I’ve always experienced it. Throughout the years, I’ve built a lot of good friendships from debates conducted over tables laden with empty pint glasses.
One matter of debate among brewers and beer aficionados alike is the International Bitterness Unit (IBU). Developed over a period of decades by a number of disparate parties, the American Society of Brewing Chemists collated and codified everything into the IBU scale, which has been adopted internationally. Simply put, the scale measures a brew’s iso-alpha acid isohumulone, assigning it a bitterness score ranging from zero to 100. Commonly accepted as the most accurate measure of a beer’s bitterness, the IBU scale is a good starting point for consumers, where a low IBU score indicates minimal bitterness and a high score the opposite. But that’s all it is: a place to start. Numerous other characteristics will affect a brew’s bitterness — flavors like malt, for example, serve to significantly diminish overall bitterness. Similarly, a “well-balanced” beer with high IBUs might taste less bitter than its score would suggest.
As we present eight excellent Oregon IPAs this month, keep in mind that IBU-rated bitterness can be relative. While all of these brews earned high IBU ratings, many are affected by other factors which alter the taster’s perceptions of bitterness. That’s why brewers are sometimes hesitant to publish IBU ratings — consumers can be over-reliant on the scale when selecting a six-pack. So grab a pint and have a look at its IBUs. But remember: the contents of your glass might not match your expectations if IBUs are your only consideration.
GoodLife Brewing: Descender IPA, Bend
7.0% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Descender IPA is a big, true Northwest IPA mixed with some West Coast style. We balance the bitterness with the aromatics of the hops to make this a downright enjoyable IPA. Bottoms up!
Consumer Comments: Offering an inviting hue of natural clover honey, Descender IPA earned our tasting panel’s top marks. A classic IPA, the Descender’s soft-but-gently-assertive character is hoppy without being overbearing — an upbeat and ebullient beer! The Descender’s hop character introduces itself confidently before subsiding on the mid-palate only to return for a clean and lingering finish. Panelists described this refreshing brew as soft and well-balanced — a “take me anywhere” beer.
Burnside Brewing Company: Isomer IPA, Portland
8.0% ABV; 86 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: We converged in our lab and concocted a new IPA with the help of two of our very favorite subjects: Meridian and Ekuanot Hops. This substantial IPA drinks deceptively smooth while featuring flavors of ripe berries, bubblegum and melon.
Consumer Comments: With a fresh nose evoking a stroll through an apple orchard, the appropriately-named Isomer IPA is a complex brew with enthusiastic carbonation and earthy notes of apple and citrus. Hops are immediately evident, building to a crescendo before a long and clean finish. Our tasters suggested the Isomer is a perfect companion for watching a local baseball game.
Elk Horn Brewery: The Flying Hawaiian IPA, Eugene
6.2% ABV; 80 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The Flying Hawaiian IPA is golden in color with a hoppy, fruity aroma. There’s big hop flavor up front complemented with a medium body and full hoppy-ness mid-palate. It finishes with a characteristic IPA lingering bitterness.
Consumer Comments: Offering a florally tropical nose, The Flying Hawaiian IPA tempts with its lively foam before hitting the taster upside the head with hop-happy enthusiasm. IPA aficionados will love this bright brew and may agree The Flying Hawaiian is built for summer celebrations on the patio.
Long Brewing: American-Style IPA, Newberg
6.2% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Six different whole hops and a complex malt base result in multiple layers of aroma and flavor that are well integrated and balanced in this beer. It’s dry hopped to bring out the freshest whole hop aromas and flavors. There are layers of citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, spicy and fruity character including grapefruit and passion fruit supported by the rich malt base. A long finish that is balanced with a firm, but restrained, bitterness.
Consumer Comments: The copper-tinted American-Style IPA leads with unashamed hops and spice, the brew’s bitter character skillfully overlaid with pine and grapefruit. Panelists decided this spirited brew would pair perfectly with summer’s favorite big meat dishes like grilled burgers or steaks. For a good time, call Long’s American-Style IPA!
Ordnance Brewing: FMJ IPA, Boardman
6.6% ABV; 53 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This fusion of New World hops and Old World malt create a Northwest/English IPA, and one of the highest caliber. We call it Full Metal Jacket. What does FMJ stand for to you?
Consumer Comments: A mahogany color and notes of tea on the nose — think kombucha — offer the first clues that FMJ IPA isn’t your typical pint. A bit of caramel, malt and rye coupled with a pleasant sour character confirm that the FMJ marches to the beat of its own drummer. This complex brew offers a delightful contrast between the boldness of an IPA and mellowness of a mead. Roundly favored by our panel, several labeled the FMJ a “creme brulee of beer.”
Rusty Truck Brewing Co.: Road Wrecker IPA, Lincoln City
7.0% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Proceed with caution: Road Wrecker is a giant of an ale, with major bitter and aromatic hops, topping out in the vicinity of 7% ABV. A coppery malt body and plentiful hop character make for a classic Pacific Northwest-style IPA to satisfy the Hopmonger in all of us. Seatbelts recommended!
Consumer Comments: A beautifully balanced brew, Road Wrecker IPA is hoppy enough to please IPA lovers but easygoing enough to lure newbies. The Road Wrecker’s light amber color hints at a freshly confident body that’s as full as it is smooth. Panelists declared this the perfect pint for summer picnic fare.
Three Creeks Brewing: Crowdpleaser IPA, Sisters
7.3% ABV; 75 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Our New Wave IPA uses a simple malt bill in order to showcase the newest and trendiest hop varieties. This beer is golden hued and medium bodied with a huge pine and citrus aroma, courtesy of late kettle additions and a double dose of dry hops. Sometimes you just have to give the people what they want!
Consumer Comments: An assertive and classic IPA, Crowdpleaser exhibits traits IPA-lovers crave: citrus, pine and hops. But for a hop-foundational brew, the Crowdpleaser manages to be both assertive and well-mannered. Nicely balanced and smooth, this pint’s medium body tapers to a long and pleasing IPA finish.
Widmer Brothers Brewing: Upheaval IPA, Portland
7.0% ABV; 85 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: With more than 2 pounds of hops per barrel, Upheaval IPA unleashes a huge hop flavor and aroma with serious bitterness and balanced finish. Brewed with wheat, the result is a hazy, bold IPA that’s unfiltered. Unexpected. Unapologetic. Uncompromised.
Consumer Comments: Cheerful hops and a hint of apple blossoms say howdy when the Upheaval IPA is poured. This golden-hued brew offers up a frothy head, hinting at a full and lively hop-built body to follow. Panelists suggested pairing with pizza or pasta dishes, great for summer social gatherings. One taster described this brew as “A party in your mouth!”
If you live in Oregon, you know the state is beautiful and quirky, its people laid-back and friendly. Fittingly, Oregon’s craft brew industry and its fans are perfectly suited to engage in spirited debate over the pros and cons of using the IBU scale — all over a friendly pint or two, of course. And while we may never arrive at an ideal solution, at least we’ll have a little fun, maybe make a few friends and enjoy some outstanding brews while we try!
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Here’s the conundrum I offered as conversation to a handful of party stragglers sipping the last of their brews around a solstice campfire: This will be the fourth, maybe fifth year I’ve written up the results of our Oregon IPA tastings. Surely by now, I say, everyone knows the India story — that English colonizers living in that faraway place, thirsty for their ales, packed their barrels with preservative hops to get the beer to India so it wouldn’t spoil along the way.
Or, do they? One person tells the tale of a beer server in Portland who suggested that IPAs were actually invented there. We all snickered, arrogant in our superior knowledge of beer. Did the fool not notice the name refers to India pale ales?
Someone suggested: “Why didn’t they name it Portland pale ale if this hoppy beverage were actually invented in Portland?”
“Because nobody wanted to order a “Pee-Pee A,” delivered Kate, ever the one-line queen.
Ba-dum-bum. Cheers all around.
Here are some of our consumer tasters’ favorite Oregon IPAs:
Ordnance Full Metal Jacket, Boardman 6.6% ABV; 53 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Western Europe meets West Coast in this quaffable IPA. A fusion of New-World hops are held up with a malty backbone reminiscent of a maltier English-style pale.
Consumer Comments: Floral, malty and thick. Citrusy, floral, nice smell, slightly piney. Strong bitterness but not too much, with a nice balance. Molasses. Easy drinking. Flavorage! Flowery smooth flavor. Sunny hop delight! Lightly floral and malty.
StormBreaker Handful of Hops V. 3.0, Portland 6.8 % ABV; 78 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: V. 3.0 of this experimental IPA series has aromas of mango, citrus and pine. Hoppy finish blends nicely as the slightly sweet fruitiness and characteristics of orange
citrus and pine find their way across the palate.
Consumer Comments: Hop in the sun for some of this fun! Fruity and sweet and a little bitter. A light citrus flavor and a smooth ending. Floral with a nice balance of bitter and sweet. Nice head. A bit tart. I love the citrus notes. Easy drinking. Crisp backbone.
Widmer Upheaval IPA, Portland 7% ABV; 55 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This IPA has more than two pounds of hops per barrel, unleashing a huge hop flavor and aroma with serious bitterness and a balanced finish. Brewed with wheat, the result is a hazy, bold IPA that’s unfiltered. Hops: Alchemy, Simcoe, Chinook, Willamette, Brewers Gold, Nelson Sauvin.
Consumer Comments: Piney, citrus, hoppy goodness. Sweet and smooth. Lemony hints. Spicy aftertaste with a little bite. Malty, sweet, easy drinking. Sticks to your tongue! Pleasant drink. Refreshing. Mowing the lawn IPA.
Full Sail Classic IPA, Hood River 6% ABV; 60 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This Northwest-style IPA is generously hopped with Centennials from the Yakima Valley and brewed in the classic style with two-row Pale and Crystal malt. It has a full, malty body and a hint of fresh citrus. Perfect after your favorite water sport, even if that happens to be the grueling drag-the-poolside-lounge-chair-into-the-sun event.
Consumer Comments: Light and refreshing. Bubbly fun. Flavorful, nice crisp taste. Very good, balanced and good summer fun. Smooth drinking and easy flavor to savor. Citrusy and herbal, quaffable and simple. A good go-to beer.
Hop Haus Genie In A Bottle, Gresham 5.7% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A well-respected Northwest-style IPA. It’s smooth drinking with a late hop addition. This medium-bodied, palate-pleasing beer is definitely something you’d ask for in
one of your three wishes!
Consumer Comments: Well-rounded, balanced, enjoyable. Zippy. Some pine and citrus. Nice! My favorite! Very easy drinking. Great beer. Very simple, which is nice. Pool party beer. Summertime fun beer.
Big Horse Paragon, Hood River 6.4% ABV; 65 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The Paragon is a light and bright summer IPA. Made with a blend of Amarillo, Centennial and Azacca hops, the Paragon pops with fresh citrus flavors of candied mandarin orange and subtle flavors of star anise.
Consumer Comments: Subdued flavor and not too intense. Sweeter with a floral aftertaste. A food one for a spring day when the sun is out, but still cold. Nutty. Licorice? Nice level of bitterness. Great color, light, dandelion notes, good spring beer.
Hopworks Pig War, Portland 6% ABV; 60 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Organic Hard Red Spring Wheat grown on Twin Oaks Farm on San Juan Island imparts tart flavors, medium body and signature wheat cloudiness. Pig War refers to the 1859 standoff between American and British authorities over San Juan Island. The only casualty of this 15-year standoff was one wayward pig.
Consumer Comments: Refreshing. Great for a summer picnic. I wouldn’t hate myself for drinking too much of this. Flavor on the palate jumps like a kangaroo with hops in its pouch. The hops are very unique. Wonderful flavor. Would be nice with a burger. Real citrus flavor. A very pleasant beer.
Silver Moon IPA 97, Bend 7% ABV; 75 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Packs a punch with bold tropical fruit and citrus zest flavors, creating a light pine aroma.
Consumer Comments: Sound sipping with a Sitka spruce. Fruity body with a warm, hoppy after flavor. Perfect for a hot day on the river. Good and fresh tasting. Floral and slightly sweet. Would go great with Chinese food. Fantastic. The hop notes are spot on. Roasty, but light.
McMenamins Hillsdale IPA, Portland 7% ABV; 100 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The Hillsdale IPA greets your nose with the pungent, grassy aromas of Mosaic and Citra hops. A simple grain bill keeps the beer light in color and body, as sweet malts were excluded to avoid overshadowing any hop flavors. The name pays homage to the very first McMenamins brewery, opened more than 30 years ago.
Consumer Comments: Is it rude to ask for the recipe? Good basic IPA. Keep this one around for guests who love IPAs. Light and delicious.
pFriem IPA, Hood River 7.2% ABV; 65 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: When the first pale ales arrived in India in the early 18th century, outcries of “Zounds!” “Jolly good!” and “Huzzah!” were heard across the East Indian subcontinent. Expect the same exclamations when sniffing the piney aroma and tasting the big hops, huge citrus and candy-like malt.
Consumer Comments: The champagne of IPAs. Very good. Get me some curry. Great flavor. Smells like tropical fruit. Golden delicious. Candy with a bitter back. Long-lasting hoppy taste, coats my tongue.
Sunriver Vicious Mosquito, Sunriver 7% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The Sunriver Brewing Company’s flagship uses heavy handfuls of the finest Northwest hops (Warrior, Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Simcoe), which define this pungent, resinous brew. This hop attack comes at you like the vicious mosquitos at our nearby Cascade Mountains.
Consumer Comments: Bitter like my sister-in-law after the divorce, but in a good way. Classic IPA with a nice balance. Easy drinking. Good taste with no lingering aftertaste. Yes! Light and refreshing. Great smell.
Portland Brewing and Double Mountain Subcontinental IPA, Portland/Hood River 7% ABV
Brewer’s Description: Brewed for Portland Beer Week, these two brewing giants collaborated on an IPA with pepper, cardamom, clove, cumin and saffron.
Consumer Comments: No way. Anise? This is Christmas on my tongue! It’s like running through a clover field on a beautiful summer day. Very good. Hint of cloves or some other spice. Low bitterness. Santa’s workshop IPA.
Wild Ride Electri-Fly, Redmond 6.3% ABV; 65 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Prepare to lift off and experience an IPA that showcases a blend of premium two-row and honey malts, which lay a perfect perch for the addition of hops. Flown in from the Southern Hemisphere, the unique hops give this beer a pleasant flavor and the aroma of
Consumer Comments: Floral aroma. Pine cones. Slight butterscotch. Good and smooth. Smooth and fruity and not too bitter.
NEXT FREE TASTING: Oregon Beer Growler’s Canned Beer Tasting 2 p.m. Saturday, July 9 at F.H. Steinbart Co., 234 SE 12th Ave., Portland
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.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.