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.
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
How do I love thee, Belgian-style beers? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the
depth and breadth and height your tastes can reach …
My apologies to Lizzie B. Browning. But the first time I tasted a Belgian-style beer many years ago – it was a Pelican Saison, sipped at the Pacific City pub while watching an incredible sunset – I felt like reciting poetry. Years later, and with many Belgian-style beers under my belt, this style still makes me feel misty.
So what is this bubbly wonder that has inspired so many Oregon brewers? Brewing “Belgian-style,” it turns out, is like saying you are brewing “American-style” or “German-style.” The number and variety of Belgian beers are as vast as the ocean between us. And, like Belgians, Oregon brewers are known for caring not an ounce about official beer styles, instead experimenting, mixing tastes, pushing limits.
There are more than a dozen official Belgian styles – tripels, dubbels, Trappists, strong ales, biere de gardes, sour ales, lambics, saisons – including specialty styles, the list is endless.
Do they have anything in common? Most Belgian-style beers feature traditional Belgian yeasts, which leave the beers dry and bring out fruity, spicy or other complex flavors available in the malts used. To get a good feel for the recognizable “Belgian” flavors, I suggest you start with a saison or a farmhouse ale, where the yeast flavors are unmasked, light and fun. But don’t stop there. Try them all. See if they don’t inspire a poetic line or two! Below are the results from the latest monthly blind tasting:
Sky High: Monk’s Mana, Corvallis 10.3% ABV, 15 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: In celebration of the Trappist Monks, this Belgian-style honey tripel is brewed with local Honey Tree Apiaries honey and Crosby Farm hops. Lush wildflowers, spicy and distinct.
Consumer Comments: Stronger, fruitier, tastier. Slight spice, full-bodied, nice sipper. Pair it with a salmon fillet. When you need to reward yourself after a long day, drink this. A crisp strong beer loaded with fantastic flavor. Meady and vanilla-ish. Woody … yum! Complex and delicious.
Pelican: Saison, Pacific City 6.5% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Fruity and spicy aroma from farmhouse yeast. Floral and slightly herbal hop character provided by Golding hops. Bottle conditioning provides lively finish.
Consumer Comments: Best yeast I’ve tasted so far. Great beer. Get me a bag of pretzels and a lawn chair. Great on a spring day or anytime. Frothy and silky. Champagne bubbles. Flavorful, super tasty. Mellow and smooth. Kick back in your lounger chair with this beer and a cigar.
Stickmen: Troonbeeckx Belgian Blond, Lake Oswego 7.9% ABV, 29 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This blond greets you with aromas of pear, orange and light spice, a bit of malt sweetness and fruit followed by a peppery bite and lingering alcohol warmth.
Consumer Comments: Oh yeah! Funk-a-licious! Great with seafood. Wildflowers. Serve it up with dessert! Belgian-y. I really like the aroma. I just want to stick my nose in that funk! Nuts and raisins. Spicy, smooth. Drink it on a sparkling clear snowy day.
Mazama: Saison d’Etre, Corvallis 6.3% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This beer is spicy and aromatic in the true Belgian tradition. Spiced with coriander, juniper berries, orange peel and black pepper. Dry and effervescent, the spice is balanced with soft malt flavors.
Consumer Comments: A good Belgian. Smooth and great. Different and slightly tangy. Almost apple-y. I could see myself drinking this on a summer day by the pool. Cheers to 2016. Drink this.
Elk Horn: Twisted Wood Saison, Eugene 7% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: An orange-colored, Belgian-style saison brewed with grains of paradise. It features flavors of banana, clove, mild bitterness, with a toffee malt backbone.
Consumer Comments: Crisp, clean aftertaste. Serve it with fruitcake. The “between-a-beer” beer. Belgian yeastiness. Chestnutty. Flavor is light and pleasant. Refreshing. Dry, tiny bubbles. The champagne of Belgian beers.
Worthy: Farm Out Saison, Bend 7.3% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Fruity and spicy flavors from a unique yeast strain add to the complexity of this French/Belgian inspired ale. Complex yet refreshing, an all-occasions beer.
Consumer Comments: Lots of flavor. Full-bodied. Would pair well with a pork loin. Wild! Just like what a Belgian beer should taste like. Wild at heart, soft on tastebuds. Zesty. Fruitcake.
Golden Valley: Grizelda, McMinnville 6.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This beer is brewed with Belgian pale and Pilsner malts, and graced with Hersbrucker, Willamette and Belma hops in the kettle and dry-hopped with whole Styrian Goldings. It’s then conditioned in oak barrels then conditioned in the bottle with Brettanomyces.
Consumer Comments: Is that my best friend, Brett? Smokey hints of mescal. Nice! Fruity and slightly sour. Good with a steak. Fruity! Tart and light. Pretty decent for a sour beer, and I usually don’t like sours.
NEXT FREE TASTING: Oregon Beer Growler’s Stout Tasting starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 at Frame Central, 6639 SW Macadam Ave., Portland. In addition to the tasting, artist Ron Pomeroy will be showing his unique paintings made with beer during a reception from 7-9 p.m.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.