I USED TO JOKE that there are so many breweries in Portland, pretty soon the only place left to put them will be inside existing breweries. While we've yet to see a new nanobrewery open on the Widmer Brothers campus, or even a new Elysian brewery plunked on 10 Barrel's rooftop patio, when Amnesia vacated its N. Mississippi spot, StormBreaker Brewing took its place. This scenario has played out once again with Mash Tun, which closed its doors on NE Alberta after a decade, and is now home to the brand-new Great Notion Brewing, which has rapidly become a destination.
Don't listen to folks who say that Mash Tun made bad beer; it just tasted like 2005—an era when cream ale was still a thing. Their stout was solid. The IPA? Passable. But Great Notion's beers are so much on the frontline of late-addition, fruit-throwing hops, their trio of IPAs seem plucked from an orchard.
Ripe IPA uses Mosaic and Citra hops, giving this 7 percent, full-bodied beer a taste of tropical fruit punch. Juice Box is an 8.2 percent double IPA, which brewer James Dugan describes as having "low bitterness and pillowy mouthfeel." In high demand, more often than not it was unavailable (it takes three weeks to brew and condition it, yet sells out in one week). After just a few months in operation, Great Notion has already ordered new 15-barrel tanks to double the production of Juice Box.
Rounding out the trio is Juice Jr.: a 6 percent "session" IPA, but really just a smaller version of Juice Box. This all-Mosaic beer reminds me of climbing a tangerine tree in my childhood. It's almost difficult to believe there's no fruit juice in these three IPAs; nary a tangelo wedge or drop of guava purée to be found. Yet.
The brewing duo of Dugan and Andy Miller, along with friend, neighbor, and business partner Paul Reiter, have spent years honing their hop chops. But Dugan insists, "I've never put fruit in an IPA before." In nearly the same breath, he adds that the next phase for Ripe, the always-evolving IPA, will see them "start fermenting [the beer] with fruit like mango and passionfruit. I want to keep people on their toes and be surprised by what we're adding."
So while hoppy beers sell six to one at Great Notion, and they've already got vital five-year hop contracts signed, Miller and Dugan have a propensity for brewing far-out beers, too.
"James is good at thinking outside the box," says Miller. "I was into traditional things."
As a result, Miller is interested in seeing where he can take his recipe for Stamper Stout, the nearly 8 percent rich roasty stout (named for the family in the Ken Kesey novel Sometimes a Great Notion). They already made a Mexican version with chilies, and the breakout hit Double Stack, which sees Clutch Coffee beans and dehydrated Vermont maple syrup added to Stamper.
Breakfast beers don't end there. There's Blueberry Muffin, the truth-in-advertising beer that takes Great Notion's kettle-soured Zest Berliner Weisse and throws a dozen actual muffins into the mash tun. One sip and you swear you're in a bakery, awash in blueberries and a kiss of cinnamon. Their Cream and Coffee beer is just that, a cream ale with coffee. Note: Great Notion is not open for brunch.
Speaking of cream ales, perhaps this was bound to happen: the hard root beer fad has hit Portland. The harbinger, Not Your Father's Root Beer, is brewed by Pabst and sold to the tune of $125 million last year, according to market research company IRI. Second-fiddles Henry Weinhard's Hard Root Beer (made by brand-owner MillerCoors), and Best Damn Root Beer (marketed by Anheuser-Busch InBev) have already carved out a spot in coolers and on shelves. But now a bona fide Portland stab at the style has entered the fray. Great Notion's Root Beard (sic and actually sick, dude) is, to the best of my knowledge, the only one that is actually a beer. The other brands are more like malternatives and made from sugar. Root Beard starts as a "dark cream ale," which is aged with sarsaparilla, wintergreen, birch, vanilla, and licorice root. Yes, it's back-sweetened with honey—but it's beer. And the mug of it served with Salt & Straw vanilla ice cream is quite an adult after-dinner treat in this family-friendly brewpub.
Whether cloudy IPAs are still popular a decade from now, or people still want to try root beer-flavored beer when the calendar hits 2026, no one can say. But it's a safe bet that Great Notion will keep up with the times and be a beer-soaked Alberta Arts District anchor when Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush are running for president.
Great Notion Brewing
2204 NE Alberta