NORTHERN CALIFORNIA'S Knee Deep Brewing invaded Portland in July and bottles of their Breaking Bud IPA—think fruit cocktail made from hops, but with a drier-than-average finish—have become ubiquitous at PDX bottle shops. Along with Nelson IPA from San Diego's Alpine Beer Company, these are the best-selling IPAs at Beervana's most illustrious bottle shop, Belmont Station. Throw in New York's Southern Tier Brewing—acclaimed for Pumking, an imperial pumpkin ale, which virtually outsells all other pumpkin-flavored beers combined (according to Belmont Station's Chris Ormand)—and you've got the shop's three best-selling breweries from outside the Beaver State.
Southern Tier's Choklat Oranj—a viscous stout designed to taste like those spherical confections you "whack 'n' unwrap"—has proven to be the number one seasonal at the Station. Interestingly, the aforementioned brewers are distributed locally via General Distributors. Jim Fick, General's owner, says, "You have to have either a huge amount of buzz or a local [sales] rep, and preferably both" to sell this well.
The lesson here: In the very crowded Portland market teeming with stiff competition from world-class beer makers, out-of-state competitors need to have a superb IPA at a good price, or a beer that's fairly unique. As such, Knee Deep and Alpine's IPAs don't sell as well as those from Astoria's Fort George and Portland's Breakside breweries.
Two breweries from beyond our state borders that just arrived in town this month are Sound Brewery from the Olympic Peninsula, and St. Louis' Perennial Artisan Ales. Sound makes Monk's Indiscretion (billed as a Belgian specialty ale), implying it's a "yeast-forward" spicy ale, but since it's extensively dry-hopped, it more closely resembles an American DIPA (double India pale ale). At 10 percent alcohol by volume, it's a potent hybrid that rates a near-perfect 96 (out of 100) on ratebeer.com. Conversely, Perennial's Saison de Lis is a soft, tart, floral farmhouse ale accented with chamomile.
Both beers are moving okay, but not making bottle shops or tap houses' registers blow up. Saison de Lis has proven to be the best-selling brand from the Missouri brewery, but Ormand notes that it doesn't move as quickly as, say, the Commons Brewery's Urban Farmhouse Ale, a beer that is, in this writer's opinion, equally delicious and refreshing, yet a fraction of the price.
In a state where, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild, residents drink almost 40 percent craft beer—more than three times the national average—some 20 percent of it is bought in packages (bottles and cans) and 60 percent of all draft is brewed in Oregon.
Having said that, after Thanksgiving, look for a limited number of bottles of Perennial's Abraxas, a coveted imperial stout made with cacao nibs, vanilla beans, ancho chilies, and cinnamon sticks. After Saison de Lis' popularity at Belmont Station, people—transplants from the Midwest looking for a taste of home or beer geeks seeking the latest, rarest beer—have been asking the bottle shop if they'll be getting Abraxas... and when? And if it's just the regular version or the even-more-in-demand barrel-aged version?
This Cold Beer Is So Hot Right Now: Winter IPAs
Winter warmers need not taste like gingerbread men and candy canes. Then again, a boost of tannenbaum pine ain't a bad thing.
(7.3% ABV, 70 IBU)
More of an India red ale thanks to toasty molasses notes from Munich malt, "A-bomb" is the holiday treat that delivers the flavor of candied orange peel.
Worthy Powder Keg
(7.1% ABV, 65 IBU)
This deep amber IPA imparts pine-tree notes wreathed in citrus peels courtesy of four types of hops.
Ecliptic Filament (7.2% ABV, 70 IBU)
It's only fitting this cosmos-centric brewery creates a hoppy solstice experience sweetened with caramel and Munich malts.
Pfriem Winter Ale (7.5% ABV, 65 IBU)
Who needs 12 days of Christmas when this wintry IPA packs a plethora of hops? The blend of lighter and darker malts further spruces up this seasonal gift.
The Next Fest: Holiday Ale Fest
Don't miss the best winter ritual in Pioneer Courthouse Square (besides Tuba Christmas, that is). The 20th annual Holiday Ale Fest boasts more than 50 winter warmers to fend off the holiday chill. Each brewer creates wholly new, show-stopping beers for this tented event.
Holiday Ale Fest, Pioneer Courthouse Square, SW 6th & Morrison, Wed Dec 2-Sat Dec 5, 11 am-10 pm, Sun Dec 6, 11 am-5 pm, $35 (includes tasting mug and 14 sample tickets), holidayale.com