Craft Beer Issue 2017
Oregon has a lot of beer. Some might even say too much beer. (Not us.) And our state’s many, many breweries don’t just plop out a style or two and call it good. Nooo—our intrepid, insatiable brewers keep churning out new varieties, seasonal beers, collaborations, and one-offs so that your local beer store’s coolers never look the same for long.
With that in mind, we rounded up a bunch of new, newish, seasonally recurring, and limited-batch beers to make sense of all the bounty Oregon has to offer. We stuck only to bottled beer made in the Beaver State, and tried to cram as many summer seasonals in as we could. (Also, check out our cucumber beer round-up.) Many of these will make for terrific hot-weather beers, but we were surprised by just how many hop-forward ales and IPAs are still hitting the shelves, even as the thermometer climbs upward. Some of the more prickly-tasting IPAs seem like leftovers from winter, but a lot of the crisper ones will work wonderfully at your next barbecue.
So we wet our whistles, and wet them again, and again. In spite of our valiant efforts, Oregon beers keep coming out at an obscene pace, and new batches by some of our favorite in-state breweries—including pFriem, Logsdon, Block 15, Hop Valley, and Pelican—hit the shelves after our tasting panel convened. We’ll hopefully get to those in the future... once our hangover wears off. NED LANNAMANN
This session of the Mercury Beer-Tasting Action Squad™ included Matt Allen, Ciara Dolan, Dustin Guy, Ned Lannamann, and Kate Schruth.
BREWERY: Full Sail Brewery
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Wheat Ale
ABV: 5.2 percent
This one divided our tasting panel. Two of us found its addition of blood orange led to a full-bodied and thirst-quenching summer beer (“I feel pretty good about it,” said one of us), while others found the fruit elements too artificial and overwhelming, leading to unfavorable Sunkist comparisons. While the wheaty, thirst-quenching flavors weren’t too noticeable, Blood Orange’s supporters concluded it was highly drinkable and good for summertime, even if the finish was a little boring. We’re confident certain people will really like it.
BREWERY: RiverBend Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Red Ale
ABV: 5.0 percent
This amber-colored beer broke up the parade of hop-forward, lighter-hued brews we’d been trying, and the contrast was a welcome change of pace. The warm, woody flavor, buttressed by a slight pineyness from the hops, was nutty, toasty, malty, and consoling, even if it didn’t seem all that different from your run-of-the-mill red ale. (Our resident red-ale fan loved it.) The crisp, appealing aroma sealed the deal—only one of us thought the beer tasted “mundane.”
Cactus Wins the Lottery
BREWERY: Ex Novo Brewing Company
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Berliner Weisse Sour Ale with Prickly Pear
ABV: 4.4 percent
If you’re going to drink a pink beer, you want to do it during summertime, so by that criteria, Ex Novo’s summer seasonal Cactus Wins the Lottery triumphs. We found this twist on the Berliner weisse style to be tart and light, with a very mild sourness that’s not too pucker-y. But as crisp as its Schweppes-like bubbliness was, our panel agreed it wasn’t overly exciting—one of us had fond memories of last year’s iteration and found the 2017 batch lacking in comparison. The addition of prickly pear cactus added a fig-like fruitiness, but yogurt flavors dominated and left us thirsty to try a different beer.
BREWERY: Double Mountain Brewery
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Single Hop IPA
ABV: 6.3 percent
While some of us thought it was fine—even appreciating its mellow simplicity—most of us considered this one a failure. One of us bemoaned the lack of hop magic despite its IPA-like qualities, unable to detect any fruitiness or piney notes in the citra hops. Another noticed some ester flavors and thought it was too one-note. Yet another thought it tasted like pennies and bad Mexican food.
BREWERY: Ancestry Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: American Style Ale
ABV: 5.7 percent
Two of us would have given this one star, but others thought it resembled “beer-flavored seltzer.” Those naysayers missed the subtleties of this plush, corn-tasting beer, which poured a hazy light straw color and offered an appealingly full, soft mouthfeel. This will be a fine choice to have on hand for your neighbor who refuses to venture beyond Hamm’s tallboys.
Handfuls of Hops Version 2.0
BREWERY: StormBreaker Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: IPA
ABV: 7.2 percent
This was the most aggressive IPA we tried, with a strong and healthy nose and an assertive if occasionally brutish, hop-forward flavor. This one split votes, with some appreciating its brash qualities and others finding it a little too overbearing. While we all agreed it was a bit much for summer, devoted hopheads will probably find its “C”-hop bite and not-too-thick mouthfeel a good match for any weather.
Hop Berry IPA
BREWERY: Culmination Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: India Pale Ale with Marionberries
ABV: 7.1 percent
None of us liked Culmination’s official entry for Portland Beer Week, made in conjunction with the soda-makers at Hotlips Pizza. The nose was of actual garbage, and the long-lingering bitter aftertaste was far too astringent. “It’s average—in a good way,” one of us said diplomatically, adding, “You would drink it if it were free.” “No, it’s just plain bad,” countered another.
BREWERY: Deschutes Brewery
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Summer Ale
ABV: 5 percent
This bright, fizzy beer satisfied us all in a wholly pleasant if unexceptional way, like a decent album track that pales only in comparison to the catchy hit single. “They nailed the idea of ‘summer,’” one of us ventured. If Hop Slice was occasionally green-tasting, the citrus qualities and clean-drinking finish had us agreeing it would be a fine one to down outside by the grill. “Fine” being the operative word here—this one fell just shy of earning a star.
★ Lime Kölsch
BREWERY: Burnside Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Ale Brewed with Lime Zest, Kaffir Lime Leaves, and Lemongrass
ABV: 5.4 percent
We were all dreading this one, but were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed Burnside’s lime-infused Kölsch-style beer. Any limey qualities actually took a backseat to the aggressive flavor and aroma of lemongrass, which made this one seem like the perfect beer to pair with spicy Thai dishes. Substantially but not overbearingly sweet, it also reminded us of kombucha, but had a delicate and summer-friendly quality that impressed us all. Thinking of our readership, one of us declared, “This is going to be somebody’s favorite beer ever.”
Maiden the Shade
BREWERY: Ninkasi Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Summer IPA
ABV: 6.8 percent
Our panel was unanimous: This one sucked. It was dominated by metallic and ester-y off-flavors and smelled like dirty hands. “It’s like a punch in the mouth by a metal fist,” said one, while another whispered, plainly: “I hate this beer.” Although a bright yellow gold, the liquid itself was flat, and the taste was muddled and dim. Irredeemable.
★ Oude DesayBREWERY: de Garde Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: A Tart Farmhouse Ale, Blended from 3 Years, Aged in Oak Barrels
ABV: 5 percent
This wild farmhouse has gotten high scores from the online beer sites, and our tasting panel found little to argue about with the neckbeards. The consensus was that this sour, funky, Brett-heavy brew was complex, balanced, and full of surprises. Every sip offered a new experience, with dollops of fruit in the scent and imbuing a lush, fancy sense of comfort and well-being. Our only stick-in-the-mud found it a little too sour (what a baby), but appreciated everything else it had to offer.
Out of Office
BREWERY: 10 Barrel Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Hoppy Pilsner
ABV: 5.6 percent
From the name to the style, we all concurred this beer was a terrific concept for a summertime beer, offering all the light, bubbly qualities of a golden lager with something of substance underneath. This would be great for downing after mowing the lawn or while sitting around the campfire, although a couple of us thought it was just a touch syrupy and should have been a little crisper to be a truly satisfying pilsner.
★ River Pig Lager
BREWERY: Breakside Brewery
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Not Your Old Man’s Lager
ABV: 4.5 percent
Brewed especially for the Pearl District saloon of the same name, River Pig was a “shut up and drink” beer of the very best kind—an easy-drinking, river-tubing lager that ducked the overbearing sweetness of the macro-beers that inspired it. Scoring the highest marks for drinkability out of all the bottles we tried, it prompted one of us to say, relieved, “It’s not trying to mess with my head.” The bright, brassy beer was clean, drinkable, and everything you could ask out of a summer beverage.
BREWERY: Laurelwood Brewing Company
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Passion Fruit India Pale Ale
ABV: 6.5 percent
We all basically liked this one, which injected a very slight sourness—via the passion fruit—into your standard IPA hop showcase. The color had us intrigued, too, looking mysteriously dark until we held it up to the light. Only one of us found it unappealing, with a too-wet, slimy mouthfeel that slid around on the tongue.
BREWERY: Terminal Gravity Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Hoppy Pale Ale
ABV: 5.5 percent
Another one that split the panel. Two of us liked it just fine, finding it a well-made, straightforward, malty brew with a good hop kick, its basic piney notes evoking deep woods of timber. But one of us thought it merely average, another of us found it bland, and yet another outright hated it: “It makes my mouth jolt. Not fun.” Just like a real-life roshambo, not everyone came out of this one a winner.
BREWERY: Coalition Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Citrus Infused India Pale Ale
ABV: 7 percent
Certain types of hops can do a more than adequate job of adding citrus-like elements to a beer, but Coalition decided to get the real thing for their Space Fruit IPA, adding five different citrus fruits to the brewing process. Beyond the dank, musty smell—which gave one of us hints of Fruit Roll-Ups—we mostly shrugged at its grainy, bitter flavor. “This is neither fruity nor spacey,” one of us said. “There’s no payoff,” agreed another.
BREWERY: Alesong Brewing & Blending
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Gose-Style Ale Brewed with Sea Salt and Strawberries
ABV: 5.2 percent
We were mixed on Alesong’s one-off brew, made in collaboration with the Eugene Symphony. If beer and classical music make for strange bedfellows, Strawberry Symphony actually hangs together pretty well, even if none of us could detect much in the way of strawberries. Its decidedly mild flavor is dominated by a mineral-y element (likely from the sea salt), and the beer won some of us over with its thirst-slaking qualities, which make it ideal for hot weather.
★ Test Flight
BREWERY: Baerlic Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Session India Pale Ale
ABV: 5 percent
The first thing our crew fell in love with was the terrific aroma—jam-packed full of citrus, cannabis, and Starburst candy. Once inside our mouths, Test Flight boasted some tropical flavor elements, but on the whole, it was gently bitter rather than sweet, giving a complete impression of restraint and balance. One of us, not normally a fan of IPAs, was totally converted, while another found it a bit horsey and one-dimensional at first, but after a few more sips had succumbed completely to Test Flight’s charms.
★ 3-Way IPA
BREWERY: Fort George Brewery
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: India Pale Ale
ABV: 7 percent
This canned collaboration brew from Astoria’s Fort George, Portland’s Great Notion, and Seattle’s Reuben’s Brews was one of our favorites. The hazy, cheese-yellow beer offered tons of flavorful hoppiness but no overbearing bitterness to speak of, following in the trendy footsteps of Northeast/Vermont-style IPAs while assertively staking out its own Northwesterly claim. 3-Way was like a ray of sunlight: bright, cheery, illuminating, and wholly satisfying, and these 16-ounce cans should be a staple of your Coleman cooler all summer long. We really hearted this one.
BREWERY: Silver Moon Brewing
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: IPA (“piney, tropical, bready”)
ABV: 7 percent
This one sparked a tiny controversy with the label, which some of us found appealing and others thought was uninspired. However, once the bottle was open, we generally agreed this was a solid if not out-of-this world choice, featuring a biscuity malt backbone and a brisk, crisp hoppiness. If Tropic Zombie didn’t offer anything beyond the ordinary, it was well-rounded and refreshing, in the way any worthwhile beer needs to be. “It’s fine” seemed to be the consensus.
★ Zester Queen
BREWERY: Wolves and People Farmhouse Brewery
WHAT THE LABEL SAYS: Ale Brewed with Grapefruit Zest and Fir Needles
ABV: 5.6 percent
An unmitigated winner. This limited-edition farmhouse-style beer with wild yeast, brewed in collaboration with Texas’ Jester King Brewery, elicited the strongest reactions among all the bottles we tried, with it becoming the easy favorite of several of our drinkers. (Only one of us rated it anything less than lovable, finding it a touch too acidic.) The beer’s burnished, honeywax-gold color and flat, somewhat thin mouthfeel belied Zester’s jam-packed flavor, which was sour in the very best way—like a refreshing splash in the face. Its briskness, no doubt, came from the grapefruits included in the brewing process, although we didn’t really detect any of the fir needles that had also been added. We loved how the citrus and sour flavors married together so harmoniously, making this one of the best in the bunch.