ON THE OUTSKIRTS of the Black Forest in Freiburg run little streams called Bächle. They are infinitely more charming than our gutters, trickle through the streets, and it's said that if you accidentally step (or drunkenly fall) into one, you'll marry a Frieburger. Just not Tobias Hahn. This Freiburg native is already taken.
Hahn and Nick Greiner (whose wife happens to be from the Black Forest) are two homebrewers who launched Rosenstadt Brewery last year. The name translates to Rose City and their beers translate to the greater metro area's fourth German-focused brewing company, after Occidental, Zoiglhaus, and Heater Allen. Heck, let's throw in an honorary fifth with the forthcoming Wayfinder Beer, because their beer program will lean heavily on continental—Czech and German—lagers.
Our India pale ales are Northwest IPAs, meaning they're extra hoppy. Same goes for most pale, red, and brown ales. But our pilsners, Kölsches, and Helles beers are crisp, refined, and balanced. In most things, our palates seem to favor a "Go West" attitude of experimentation and creativity—but sometimes it's good to be reminded of the classics, return to the fundamentals, and appreciate the craftsmanship honed over five centuries. In April, the German Beer Purity Law—Reinheitsgebot—celebrates its quincentennial: 500 years of absolutely nothing but barley (or wheat), hops, water, and yeast. Not so much as a spruce tip or cacao nib may defile anything called "beer."
In 2007, Heater Allen became the first local Germanic beer maker when it opened in McMinnville. Founder Rick Allen—his wife Jan's maiden name is Heater—didn't study in Germany, but rather, as he puts it, "learned most of what I know about German beers by drinking them." That led to making such lagers at home with his daughter and current assistant, Lisa, in a more difficult process requiring fermentation at cooler temperatures and more time. That's a big part of why craft breweries steered clear for so long.
"When we started," says Allen, "no one was making a decent pilsner in the state, and there really wasn't other German-style beer around."
The users of ratebeer.com, a crowdsourcing site for beer geeks, rank Heater Allen Pils as tied for the best pilsner... in the world. Its straw color, grainy aroma, and sweet grassy flavor make it infinitely refreshing.
Today, German bierhalls such as Prost, Steinhaus, and Stammtisch are thriving. Stammtisch prepares food with fresh, local ingredients, but doesn't serve fresh, local German-style beers—imports only. Nothing against the Zunft Kölsch they serve on draft, but Kölsch is now part of the Portland zeitgeist; Old Town Brewing's Sun Dazed has won multiple auspicious awards. That wasn't the case when Occidental Brewing opened in St. Johns in 2011 with a killer Kölsch.
"Occidental mostly brews beers in the spirit (if not the letter) of the Reinheitsgebot," says brewmaster Dan Engler. The law "has helped shape a great beer culture that demands the utmost quality," he adds.
For Alan Taylor, who got bitten by the brewing bug while studying in Deutschland, gigs stateside at Gordon Biersch and Widmer Brothers landed him at Pints Brewing, the sister brewery to Zoiglhaus in Lents ["Zoiglhaus: Beer and Community in That Order," Lush Life, Jan 20]. Taylor has brewed Berliner weisse, Hopfenstopfen, Rauch Märzen, Doppelsticke, Dunkelweizen, and more. Only rarely have his German beers stepped outside the Reinheitsgebot (the rye in his rye lager is verboten.)
"I respect the purity law, but am pretty well known not to be a big fan of it," says Taylor. "It tends to be used as a marketing tool in Germany to frighten people away from trying beers from other countries. That all said, I strongly believe that holding on to the fabulous beer styles is well worth the annoyance of the purity law. Those stunning beers have been made that way and taste the way they do because of the heritage."
Speaking of German heritage, Taylor points to names like Saxer, Weinhard, Blitz, and of course Widmer—so perhaps the German invasion isn't so new after all.
When Wayfinder Beer opens soon in the Central Eastside Industrial District, founder Charlie Devereux says they're "going to make a lot of lagers." Asked about Germanic lager's resurgence, Devereux sums it up in one word: maturity. There's a "greater appreciation for nuance and refinement," he says. "Omnivorous craft beer fans recognize there is not one true path—but many."
Occidental's Engler agrees, adding, "Big beers, hop-forward beers with pungent North American hops, beer with bacterial fermentations, flavored with spices, fruit, etc., have diversified the beer market significantly in recent years—but it's had another side effect: Fans of good, well-crafted beer sometimes need to kick back with a few beer-flavored beers."