By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
We live in a beta world. Back when companies put serious effort into beating their competitors’ quality, it was a big deal to be No. 1. It meant your product was better than the other company’s product. It meant your product would likely outlast or outperform the other guy’s. Now, No. 1 means you made the most money the fastest. It means certain careful steps in the testing and certification phase of product development have been sacrificed to hasten your product’s delivery to market. It means your shareholders are happy but your customers, well, not so much. If you ask me, this new No. 1 is a load of No. 2 (yes that number two).
In technology, we’ve witnessed amazing innovation and creativity flowing forth in an uninterrupted stream since the mid-1990s. But then we started seeing beta products — software still in test phase — released for public experimentation and scrutiny. Beta products became increasingly common until, today, pretty much everything is beta. Part of this is due to the dynamic nature of the industry — nothing’s ever really finished anymore. Part of it can be attributed to the speed at which events take place today — hesitation doesn’t win acclaim and make money.
Whatever the case, I don’t mind living in a beta world even though I’m occasionally frustrated by certain oafish flaws in my software — bugs that almost certainly would’ve been caught by a rigorous test protocol. But I’m grateful there’s nothing beta about beer. Sure, the Oregon brewing industry has seen a lot of experimentation and innovation. But in the end, I know I’ll have a great frustration-free product in my glass — like any of the five robust Oregon porters we explored.
Leikam Brewing: Hey Porter, Portland
6.4% ABV; 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Throw down your cash and grab our Hey Porter. You won’t be able to wait for a second pint once you taste this unique blend of coffee, chocolate and wheat malts. Created in honor of our third son, Daniel Porter.
Consumer Comments: A ruddy complexion and vigorous head introduce Leikam Brewing’s Hey Porter. This month’s favorite, the Hey Porter’s nose of blackcurrant, molasses and polite yeast yield to coffee and hints of juniper and a mildly bitter mid-palate. If it sounds complicated, it’s not. This well-balanced brew confidently evolves to a clean finish.
Long Brewing: Paul’s Porter, Newberg
6.2% ABV; 37 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Intensely black with a thick, tan head, this beer has layers of dark bittersweet chocolate, coffee and caramel aroma. Rich, complex malts create an almost chewy mouthfeel. Finish has some minerality. The porter is lightly hopped to highlight its soft malty sweetness. Little-to-no burnt roast, bitterness or astringency.
Consumer Comments: What he said. (It’s nice when the brewer’s notes nail the beer.) Paul’s Porter from Long Brewing demonstrates a double chocolate theme throughout, along with coffee, caramel and the barest hint of cherry. A lively brew with a big personality, Paul’s Porter is rich without being heavy — this is the funny guy everyone loves at parties, but he doesn’t cross the line. You’ll want to invite him back.
Hop Haus Brewing: Cocos Nucifera Toasted Coconut Porter, Gresham
5.6% ABV; 28 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Smooth, chocolate, slightly-sweet and roasted malt goodness is balanced with toasted organic coconut and late edition Willamette hops. Together, those flavors provide the basis for a wonderful porter without overwhelming the palate.
Consumer Comments: Coffee and caramel take the lead with Cocos Nucifera Toasted Coconut Porter from Hop Haus. Perhaps the perfect autumn brew, it serves as a segue from summer’s lighter flavors to the forthcoming stoutness of winter. Coffee-themed throughout, this brew’s malty character mellows its upbeat bitterness.
Rusty Truck Brewing Co.: Taft Toffee Porter, Lincoln City
5.0% ABV; 20 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Named for Rusty Truck’s home in the Historic Taft District, Taft Toffee Porter is a dark and velvety ale with significant toffee and chocolate notes. Slightly lighter in color than mass-produced porters, our version is a tasty twist on the dockworkers’ old favorite.
Consumer Comments: A dark brew with a white frothy cap, Rusty Truck’s Taft Toffee Porter is complex and thoughtful, layered in both flavor and hue. Gentle notes of cherry and plum give way to a lingering orange-citrus finish. This porter is that rare brew that manages to remain true to itself while offering the taster diverse nuances all the way to the bottom of the glass.
Three Creeks Brewing Company: FivePine Chocolate Porter, Sisters
6.2% ABV; 55 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a robust porter that features 2-pounds-per-barrel of the finest Belgian chocolate, creating a slightly roasty pint with underlying chocolate sweetness.
Consumer Comments: Subtle notes of smoky leather rise above the rich depths of FivePine Chocolate Porter from Three Creeks. A hoppy character asserts itself on the mid-palate, buffered by a bit of nutty malt. A gentleman of a beer, the FivePine will mind his manners but you won’t forget the quiet strength beneath his charm.
As long as we’re on the subject of innovation and creativity, I want to suggest an idea for a beta product. I volunteer to exhaustively test this product myself: a built-in USB two-brew cooler with cup holder for my PC. Or maybe six-pack size. Surprise me. Until I get such a device, I’ll have to get up and walk to the fridge for my Oregon craft refreshment. But I’m anxious to begin the beta testing.
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 and Will Oberst-Cairns
Dark, rich porters arrived on the beer scene in the early 1700s as the love child of London’s brown beer and strong ale. It was the first beer to be aged and mixed at any brewery. Before porters arrived on the scene, beers were delivered fresh to the pub, and if there was aging to be done, it was done because the patrons didn’t drink it fast enough. I lie. Sometimes, the publicans and distributors aged it on purpose.
I could talk about Harwood’s Entire Butt, and a lot of other geeky stuff (look it up!), but suffice it to say early porters weighed in at over 6 percent ABV, rather strong by historic standards. Early porters were also brewed with brown malt, but the invention of black patent malt in 1817 made it possible to brew porter with pale malts, as they still are. It was the porter that prompted the use of thermometers and hydrometers in brewing, to push the ABV. Thanks, porter!
For various reasons – I think it was because porters were growing weaker than their predecessors – the popularity of porters began to wane from the mid-1800s until the mid-1900s.
The 1970s saw a revival in the production of porters, including the Baltic porter, originally brewed with top-fermenting yeasts in the 1800s, and with lager yeasts later on.
American porters have followed both British and Baltic traditions. You may find them as lagers or ales. Oregon’s porters are no less various.
One of Oregon’s oldest porters, Black Butte, produced in 1988, is still Deschute’s flagship beer. Other Oregon porters, as you will see below, vary in strength and ingredients.
Our porter tasters included industry professionals, distributors, writers, and friends and family of Blake Crosby, who gathered at his hop farm last month to celebrate the hop harvest. Here are their favorites, chosen in a blind tasting.
McMenamins Black Widow, Oregon 7.35% ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Originally created at the Thompson Brewery over 20 years ago on Oct. 15, 1991, and made once per year by all Thompson Brewers to come after that, Black Widow has generous amounts of black and roast malts, Horizon hops and flavors of caramel and licorice.
Tasters’ Descriptions: Malty goodness, roasty chocolate. Sweet molasses with smoke. Ice cream with a candy aroma like an old-time hardware store.
Laurelwood Organic Tree Hugger, Portland 5.8% ABV, 45 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This porter features a chocolate malt flavor that finishes dry and roasty. Delicate organic Newport, Cascade, and Fuggle hop flavors round out this rich, full-bodied ale. Brewed with 100% organically-grown crystal, carafa and chocolate malts.
Tasters’ Descriptions: More malty goodness. Get my cigars and tobacco pouch out. Fresh and tangy. Classic and true to style. Excellent balance.
Twisted Snout Honey Oatmeal Porker, Toledo 6.9% ABV
Brewer’s Description: A smooth, roasted chocolaty porter made with whole grain oats and wildflower honey from Queen Bee Apiaries, a honey company in Corvallis.
Tasters’ Descriptions: Roasty delicious. Fresh green tobacco leaves with cardamom. Very creamy, thick and chocolaty. Is it bourbon-barrel? It’s sweet and complex.
Rat Hole Vanilla Porter, Bend 5.5% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A mild, appealing aroma of vanilla and a soft creamy mouth feel with a chocolate finish. Madagascar vanilla beans, six malts and chocolate and flaked oats.
Tasters’ Descriptions: Mild coffee. Nice chocolate flavor with a light body. Smokey vanilla smooth with hops. Chocolate decadence. Just a hint of coffee with nice malt.
Long Brewing Paul’s Porter, Newberg 6.2% ABV
Brewer’s Description: Intensely black with a thick tan head. Layers of dark bitter-sweet chocolate, coffee and caramel aroma and flavors supported by rich complex malts. Lightly hopped.
Tasters’ Descriptions: Smooooth as molasses. Creamy. Clean. Vanilla notes.
13 Virtues Baltic Porter, Portland 8.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This Baltic porter is a strong black lager that was given a healthy period of cold-conditioning to achieve its crispness. Chocolate and cocoa entice the taste buds for a moment.
Tasters’ Descriptions: Crisp. Good and clean. Pretty nice. Flavorful.
Mazama Pyroclastic Porter, Corvallis 5.2% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This porter pays homage to the bean roaster of the Pacific Northwest. It combines roasty aromas with a dark cocoa finish. Brewed with Oregon hops, these balance the bitter- sweet chocolate malt.
Tasters’ Descriptions: More malty than the others. Good alcohol balance. Good bold flavor but not too heavy. Good body. Lots of chocolate. My favorite.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.