I have found heaven, and it is in Oregon. I had long heard about all the craft and micro brews that had come from this state. Many times, you wonder if certain places and things start to get by on reputation after many years. Not so here. The beer has lived up to the hype so far, and we’re only half way through our trip. What has been so impressive to me is the freshness of the hop character that most of the beers have. These Oregonians are some hop heads, definitely after my own heart!
If you would like to read more from my adventure, check out the comments to this post.
EDIT – 9/27/2007 – We survived the journey and returned home yesterday! Like any good writer, however, I must keep my audience in suspense and will post the completion of our trip in stages over the next few days. Be sure to check back! :)
Part I – Posted 9/22/2007
Part II – Posted 9/27/2007
Part III – Posted 9/29/2007
Part IV – Posted 10/4/2007
We arrived in Portland on Wednesday, and after getting settled in our hotel, the Park Lane Suites downtown near Washington Park, we immediately hit the trail.
Our first stop was the Laurelwood brewpub. It claims to be the first organic brewery in Oregon. I ordered their sampler, 8 generous 5 ounce samples of their brews. Not a single one of their beers was a disappointment. My favorites were the Organic Free Range Red and the Boss IPA. Most of their beers featured Cascade in part as the flavoring or aroma hops, so they had a refreshing, citrusy character to them. I didn’t want to leave, but I was on a mission, so it was onto the next stop.
After walking further down 23rd street, we went into the New Old Lompoc brewpub. This was everything you’d imagine in an old-school pub. It was dimly lit, there was a haze of smoke, and the Red Sox were on three of the TVs. We sat down in a booth and studied the menu. Immediately, their C-Note stuck out to me. An imperial IPA, it boasted of 100 IBUs (international bittering units). For those that aren’t familiar with IBUs, that’s a LOT. Of course, I had a to try it. Holy crap, that beer has a lot of hops! And it was good! It was so flavorful and aromatic, it seemed like there were whole hops floating around in the beer. I half expected to just start chewing on some hop leaves.
Our final stop of the first night was at McMenamin’s Ram’s Head pub. McMenamin’s seems to have become the craft beer giant of the region. On 23rd and 21st streets alone, there were three brewpubs that featured McMenamin’s beer. At the Ram’s Head I ordered the sampler with my dinner. While the range of beers were very good, with some nice flavor and hoppiness, they didn’t seem to be as “make you slap your mama” good as the Laurelwood and New Old Lompoc beers. Perhaps it just had the unfortunate disadvantage of going last and my taste buds were already numb from all the hops I had enjoyed earlier in the night. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Yesterday (Friday) we drove east to Hood River, which features the Full Sail Brewery and a newcomer to the scene, Double Mountain. I haven’t had the chance to sample Full Sail’s complete lineup, but I did have their lager last night. As you may know, I’m not a big fan of lagers, but I thought this was an excellent representation of the style. Good body, no flavors that turned me off. It even tasted good as it neared room temperature.
Double Mountain also represented well. In the Cebu Lounge of our Best Western, they had the Hop Lava and IRA (Imperial Red Ale). Both beers were very tasty, and the red was a big hit with my travel companions, who I am slowly bringing to the Hop Side.
Overall, it has been an amazing experience thus far. I am thoroughly impressed with the quality of the beers, the scenery, and the friendliness of the people. I believe that beer (and food) is the gateway to relationships, and Oregonians seem to take that to heart.
Check back for more to come. We’re hitting Deschutes in Bend tomorrow and Rogue in Newport on Monday.
Ah, good. You ARE getting to Rogue. If you happen to visit momola, her favorite used to the the Hazelnut Brown, which is a bit on the sweet side for my usual tastes but nice on a hot summer’s afternoon.
The Nuclear Brewmasters
Upon your retrun from the Oregon Beer Trail, you may wish to visit this brewery in Aiken, SC.
Saturday afternoon, after a morning of biking on the Columbia River Scenic Highway, we ate lunch at the Full Sail Brewery in Hood River and I was able to sample their lineup. My favorite was their IPA. They also had an excellent lager, one of their limited edition brews, the LTD 2 on tap. This was similar to their Session lager that I had the night before. It had nice body and a slightly fruity finish. Very commendable effort.
We decided to stay in Saturday night to recover from all the activity and beer drinking. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to drink and sample different beers, I am a mere mortal and am limited by what my body can handle. On Sunday we left Hood River and headed for Bend. After a two hour drive to Bend, the scenery changed from mountainous, green terrain to rolling plains surrounded by sheer cliffs off in the distance. It totally reminded me of some western movie. I even hit a tumbleweed bush that rolled into the highway! :)
Once we arrived in Bend, we found a room at the McMenamin’s Old St. Francis Hotel, Pub, and Theater. If you’re ever in Bend, you have to stay there. It has a soaking pool complete with lion fountains. The theater even has a bar. Now that’s the way to watch a movie.
After settling in at the hotel, we walked a couple blocks to the Deschutes Brewery and Public House. Their menu greeted us with 16 of their beers on tap. We ordered two samplers to get us started before dinner. Every one of the twelve beers that we tried were excellent. Deschutes did not disappoint. My favorites were the Inversion IPA (do you sense a theme with the Oregon IPAs?), Nitro Obsidian Stout, Wolf Mt. Witbier, and Green Lakes Organic Ale.
The Inversion IPA was a very hoppy IPA with a citrus aroma and finish. The Green Lakes Organic Ale was a balanced amber, with noticeable malt and hop character, but it wasn’t overpowering. A very solid all-around beer.
The Nitro Obsidian Stout was a very interesting beer. It has nitrogen infused to give it the same feel as a Guinness, but this beer made Guinness taste like a Budweiser. Don’t get me wrong, I like Guinness, but the Obsidian Stout had an awesome roasted character and came strong with coffee and chocolate undertones. It was a very tasty and complex stout.
The Wolf Mt. Witbier was equally complex. A Belgian style wheat beer, it had a noticeable orange finish that kicked in about two seconds after swallowing. As Nicole described, while some Belgian wheats she has had have a somewhat overripe fruit taste, the Wolf Mt. Witbier tasted perfectly fresh and sweet.
After throwing down some more Deschutes beer, we took a pause for poise and walked around the Mirror Pond, the namesake for Deschutes’ pale ale. On our way back to the hotel, we came across the Bend Brewing Company. We stopped in for a pitcher of their Hophead Imperial IPA. It was every bit as good as the other uber-hoppy ales we’ve had throughout the trip. Some of their coasters cracked me up, including one that said, “Our beers were developed to travel great distances, like to our deck.” I think it is also worth mentioning that the Brewmaster of Bend Brewing, Tonya Cornett, is one of the few female brewmasters that I have come across in my brief travels. Very cool…
We finished up our evening in Bend at the Silvermoon Brewery. Nicole and I sampled two of their beers, the amber and octoberfest. I think that Silvermoon suffered the same fate that McMenamin’s did on Wednesday night. By the time we got there, we were pretty beered out. The beer was good and the atmosphere was very cool. We chatted it up with a few of the locals about beer, music, and living in Oregon. I must say, everyone we met in Oregon was extremely friendly, and everyone seemed to love living there. I can’t say enough about all the people we met. They represented their state very well.
It appears you made the rounds.
Saw this online and it may be an idea for your next brew trip.
Down East in Maine, by the Pint or the Vat
Article on Portland, Maine. The East Coast version (on a smaller scale) to Oregon’s brewing scene. Article by the NYT.
Monday marked one of the highlights of our beer tour. We left Bend around 7:30 in the morning to begin the four hour drive to the coast to get to Newport, the home of Rogue Nation. By this point in the trip, my body was starting to wear down. Between all the hiking, beer and wine, and jet lag, my 30 year-old body was feeling the effects. However, we pressed on and persevered, and was it ever worth it!
Just a little background for you about my personal history with Rogue. Being from South Carolina, there were very few craft beers available in stores and bars when I first started to branch out with beer about five years ago. Rogue Dead Guy and Hazelnut Nectar were two of my early favorites that really opened up my palate and sense of adventure to try new beers. After all, if those beers were that good, there had to be more great beers out there. I was very excited to be heading to where my own beer journey began, in a sense, to the Rogue Brewery.
When we pulled into Newport, it felt like the perfect setting for a craft brewery. Winding mountain roads led us into town, and suddenly the horizon opened up to the Pacific ocean and a quaint little harbor town. Nicole had arranged for us to stay at the House of Rogue Bed and Beer. Our apartment was upstairs from the Rogue public house and card room. (Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get into any Hold ‘Em tournaments. I was far to tired and tipsy to be mentally sharp and didn’t feel like burning any more money.) Our apartment was awesome. It came with two complementary 22 oz. bottles of Rogue beer (the Puffin Pale Ale and Newport Anniversary Ale) and two pint glasses. (A note to any hotel managers reading this: free beer is key to customer retention!) The apartment was also like a brewer’s library. There were all sorts of brewing magazines and books throughout. It was a beer lover’s dream! :)
After checking in, we headed over to the brewery on South Beach. It is an old boat garage right on the water. They also have a tasting room and restaurant in the brewery. (and an RV park right next door!) We had a sampler of some of their beers on tap before we began our tour of the brewery. I was able to sample a few of their beers that I have never seen out in South Carolina: Chamomellow, Glen, 100 Meters, and Menage Frog.
The Chamomellow was very interesting. It had a smooth feel, floral aroma, and hints of chamomile flavor. Nicole, a lover of herbs and spices, said that she felt very soothed by the chamomile. :) One of the unique things about Rogue is how they use different herbs and spices in many of their beers. Some of the unique beers they make use juniper, hazelnut, chipotle peppers, chocolate, and smoke. They also use fresh ingredients to create the flavors, not artificial flavoring or extracts.
The tour of the brewery was very interesting. Our guide, Michelle, took us through each step of the brewing process, from the storage of the raw ingredients, through brewing and fermentation, all the way to bottling and shipping. I’ve been on several brewery tours before, but I felt that we had more access to each piece of the process than I had in any of the previous tours I was on. Another interesting thing about this tour was that it was the first that I have been on since I started homebrewing in January. For the first time, I was actually able to really understand and appreciate the steps and equipment that the guide was describing. It was really pretty fascinating and I felt like my eyes were opened. And (surprise surprise) what I found was that there is no magic. Commercial brewing at its heart is the same as homebrewing. They just have bigger stuff, better instruments and a crap load more brewing experience. I felt that was very encouraging to a new homebrewer like me.
After our tour ended, I had the wonderful fortune of being able to meet and speak with John Maier, the brewmaster of Rogue! Nicole had been in touch with Stacey (who also happens to be John’s wife) to book our room at the Bed and Beer, and also asked if she thought it might be possible for us to meet John when we visited the brewery. I knew he would be very busy making some of the world’s best beer, so I thought it would be a longshot at best. However, after our tour, I heard Michelle say that John was upstairs at the bar. After visiting the men’s room to make sure I didn’t pee my pants while talking to him, I made my way upstairs and introduced myself. I will write more about our meeting in a separate post, but he was a really nice guy, very knowledgeable, and very passionate (yet humble) about his beer. He even bought us all a round of his Hop Heaven IPA! Now that was a highlight for the ages! Check back to the blog in a few days to read more about my meeting with John.
Sounds like ya’ll had an awesome time out there! It was nice chillin’ with you at Oktoberfest as well, see you soon bra.
PART IV – (written on the plane ride back to SC)
Now that I’m back on the plane headed to South Carolina, I’ve had a chance to look back on the past week. I have to give Oregon tremendous praise. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. The beer came through as advertised, but what was so unexpected was how friendly and welcoming all the people were and how beautiful the scenery was.
While I would consider myself a world traveler by no means, I have been to Colorado, Arizona, Seattle, Vancouver, and Italy, and I have to say that while each of those areas has certain places and views that might be more spectacular than what we saw in Oregon, nowhere have I seen such a wide variety of different landscapes and beauty in such a small region. One day you can be on the Columbia River Gorge among vineyards, the next you high in the mountains. Then you are only a couple hours from grassy plains and plateaus, and a few more hours from being on the coast, which was truly breathtaking. Along the Oregon coast are mountains, lush rain forests, and rocky beaches all within the same view. Absolutely amazing.
From a beer perspective, the winners of my trip were Laurelwood and Deschutes. You couldn’t go wrong with any of the beers I had from their arsenals. And that’s not to give any less love to the other breweries that we visited. There honestly was not a bad one in the bunch. I wish that I had more time to sample some of the smaller, more local brewpubs that we passed by. We came across so many as we traveled through the state, but we didn’t have the time or the stamina to try them all. I would need a month or two for that.
So if you ever make your way to the northwest, I highly recommend adding Oregon to your travel plans. It is an amazing place, and since most people have no idea what is out there (at least on the east coast), it much less traveled and congested than other travel destinations. As I travel back to South Carolina, I have a little case of the post-vacation blues, but I now have something to look forward to like a little kid awaiting Christmas, when more of these Oregon beers make their way to the east coast.
Hey Brian! Thanks for giving our state and our beer such a good review…we think they are pretty great too =). I’m so glad you and Nicole had such a good time and we hope to see you next time you make your way out here.
Amy and Cole
(your friends from Bend)