By Ben Waterhouse
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Our long, hot summer of sipping ice-cold radlers and macro tallboys in between wildfires has finally come an end, and I could not be happier to be returning to the big beers of winter. Fall is a time of rising ABVs and darkening malts as the temperature drops. The days grow shorter and we gather at the bar to salute the harvest. Here are eight season-appropriate beers to enjoy from the hop harvest through Oktoberfest and beyond — and not a one of them contains pumpkin.
Baerlic Brewing Company: Hellsner Helles Fresh Hop
5.0% ABV, 20 IBUs
As of this writing, the hop harvest was still in full swing, and few fresh-hopped beers had made it to bars. Baerlic, a 10-barrel brewery with a design-heavy taproom in Southeast Portland, was ahead of most, dropping three fresh-hopped beers in early September. The Pioneer Bitter, a gold medal winner from the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards, might be the most eagerly awaited, but my favorite of the bunch is this juiced-up Munich-style lager, which pours golden yellow. Flavors of mango and papaya mingle with floral aromas from a big dose of Santiam hops. It tastes like a bakery full of proofing bread with hints of apple juice. There’s no telling how long this one will stick around, but Baerlic’s lagers have been consistently strong of late, so if you can’t find Hellsner on tap one of its less-seasonal counterparts will likely suffice.
Hopworks Urban Brewery: Mt. Angel Volksbier Bavarian Session Ale
5.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Hopworks released this limited-edition homage to Oregon’s largest Oktoberfest just in time for the event’s 52nd birthday in mid-September, when the Portland brewery’s beers were the only non-German offerings in the Biergarten. The mild, straw-colored brew owes its lightly spicy aroma to Hallertau hops sourced all the way from Bavaria — a radical allegiance to the Reinheitsgebot if ever there was one. The bready bitterness gains some floral and citrus notes as it warms, but overall it’s a pleasant ale to pound while you polka. It may not capture the imagination as well as Mount Angel’s own Benedictine brews, but it’s far more appropriate for all-day drinking.
StormBreaker Brewing: Stormtoberfest Marzen-Style Lager
5.1% ABV, 27 IBUs
The label for this Märzenbier features an anthropomorphized fermenter tank sporting a feathered cap, four-legged lederhosen and a single, baleful eye: an unsettling vision for a comforting beer. The latest lager from North Portland’s StormBreaker pours clear copper with no head and strong aromas of anise and bubblegum. Although the marketing copy brags of putting “heart, soul and lederhosen into every batch,” I taste no leather here. Despite the low IBU, this isn’t a barley bomb. It’s clean and classic, with a creamy texture and enough bite on the finish to offset its sweetness. It’s a beer for an Oregon autumn, inspiring visions of grey skies and damp denim. It would make a good companion to a plate of brats, but is even better suited for braising them.
Occidental Brewing: Festbier
6.3% ABV, [Unavailable] IBUs
North Portland’s Occidental brewing is dedicated to classic German styles, and this very classic Marzen has long been a feature of its annual Oktoberfest party. Now that it’s available in bottles for the first time, it can become a fixture at yours, too. Festbier pours a clear Pre-Raphaelite red with unusually bright, fizzy carbonation. It smells Negra Modelo and tastes like fresh-baked biscuits. There’s no clever tricks or new concepts here — Occidental takes on the style and nails it. This beer is fresh, clean, mild and dangerously drinkable. Stay safe by downing it alongside an abundance of pork products.
Deschutes Brewery: Hopzeit Autumn IPA
7% ABV, 60 IBUs
Deschutes’ newest autumn seasonal is “Marzenbier-inspired,” which I take to mean that it’s an Oktoberfest beer for those who don’t much care for Oktoberfest beers. Hopzeit pours a rich coppery amber, the color of fresh apple cider, with abundant fruit-salad aromas. It’s got the sweet booziness of a classic Oktoberfest ale, but it’s balanced with a hefty dose of Herkules, Sterling and Hull Melon hops that lend a bitter bite and lingering peppery finish. It reminds me of nothing so much as Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. I’m not sure who the target consumer might be for this hybrid, but it makes for a pleasant pint. Just make sure you serve it straight from the fridge — as Hopzeit approaches room temperature, it becomes unpleasantly syrupy.
Ninkasi Brewing Company: First Rule IPA
7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs
According to Ninkasi, the first rule of this new IPA is “Do not talk about this IPA.” Rules are made to be broken. This bright, fruity special release is the star of the brewery’s 2017 IPA variety pack and hardly seems like it could be the product of the same brewery that brought us Total Domination and Tricerahops. A clear golden ale with strong aromas of passionfruit and nightshades, it packs a huge tropical wallop of mango and papaya giving way to a smooth finish that leaves you wanting more. With a hop bill including El Dorado, Mosaic and Calypso, it reminds me a little of tropical punch. I want to sip it from a tiki mug with a tiny umbrella while basking under a sun lamp, but I’m more likely to schlep a couple of six-packs to the next neighborhood house party.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Tractor Pull Tawny Old Ale
8.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
This hefty English-style old ale has been kicking around in bottles since early 2017, but there’s something distinctly autumnal about the vanilla and cinnamon that give this tawny brew its kick. Sold in sturdy 500-milliliter bottles with cheery yellow labels, Tractor Pull pours a deep nut brown and smells like an orchard after harvest, with hints of cocoa and coffee. It’s brightly fizzy and tastes of rye bread, molasses, cinnamon and subtle vanilla. It reminds me of pain d’epices and Dr. Pepper, and should probably be sipped alongside a plate of fresh-baked spice cookies. Looking for even more autumn? Watch for Trolley Pull, a version aged in Eagle Rare barrels made in collaboration with North Portland bar Interurban, coming out soon in 750-milliliter bottles.
Claim 52 Brewing: Bird Up Milkshake IPA With Strawberry
7.3% ABV, 30 IBUs
Strawberries don’t exactly scream “fall,” but, thanks to a late harvest, this strange beast of a beer dropped in September. Bird Up is the latest in a series of “milkshake” IPAs from this small Eugene brewery in recent months, brewed with lactose in the manner of creamy, fruity brews from Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands and Seattle’s Urban Family. This one, available only in cans, was made with strawberries and vanilla and pours an enticing peachy-pink with thick haze. Its enormously hoppy nose is heavy on grapefruit. The strawberries contribute tart acidity and a lingering floral sensation. It reminds me of an Orange Julius, or maybe a scoop of strawberry sherbet floated in a pint of Claim 52’s coveted Fluffy IPA. Stout floats are common enough — why not other ales? Bird Up is a limited release, but if you can’t get your hands on a can I bet there’s another milky fruit concoction coming our way soon enough.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“The smallest amount of hops.”
Known for big, hoppy beers, that’s not something you normally hear from Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing Company. But balance and minimal hopping are part of the profile of Lux, a Munich-style helles — or craft lager. It’s been brewed not as a limited release from the primarily ale brewery, but as a year-round lager in Ninkasi’s six-beer 2015 Flagship Series.
What could seem like a strange move for Oregon’s fourth-largest brewery is actually part of the long game for Jamie Floyd, Ninkasi co-founder: “I have always wanted to have a lager out year round. It’s taken us eight years to get there.”
Floyd got his first taste of Bavarian-style lagers during his homebrewing days. “Not many craft breweries were bottling in the U.S. yet, so I tasted a lot of imported beer and fell in love with lagers. They epitomize balance and nuance, as their delicate flavors leave nothing for a brewer to hide behind.”
After founding Ninkasi in 2006 with Nikos Ridge, Floyd always kept working toward adding lagers. The fledgling brewery’s ninth and 10th batches were a Munchner-style helles and a Munchner-style dunkel. Ninkasi began developing limited lager releases, including Lux in 2011, under their now-discontinued Prismatic series. Their journey toward the right lager paid off at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival (GABF), when Ninkasi’s Pravda won gold in the “Bohemian-Style Pilsner” category.
In order to step up lager production, Ninkasi needed dedicated space — no easy thing when a brewery can make four batches of ale in the time it takes to prepare one lager.
“Part of why we did our recent expansion was to build capacity large enough to allow us to have properly aged lager beer,” Floyd explains. “We also purchased our GEA brewhouse that is U.S. made and German designed by folks who have made breweries for lager makers for decades.”
Ninkasi’s expanded capacity, including nine 550-barrel combination brite/fermentation tanks, came online last year. Expanded lab space also made it possible to cultivate the multiple yeast strains needed to produce their ales and lagers.
Market realities and distribution logistics also prompted a decrease from four craft lagers to one. “We heard back from our wholesale and retail partners that switching out lagers every four months was tricky for them,” says Floyd. “A lot of work goes into resetting new beers on shelves, especially chain stores. We needed to look at what was best for the beer. Also, because these beers take six weeks to make, it can be hard to forecast how much to make.”
Ninkasi also understood that the dominance of pilsners in the market gave them an opportunity to do something different.
“We chose Lux for a few reasons,” Floyd says. “Helles is the Bavarian national beer, made originally in response to the relatively hoppier pilsners of Northern Germany and the Czech Republic. Helles defines balance and drinkability. Also, the ingredients for this beer are more reliable than some other styles.”
Contrary to what a certain Super Bowl ad might have insinuated, Floyd believes that “consumer tastes have become a lot more sophisticated.” He sees today’s craft beer drinker as wanting more diversity and nuance. “I love me some hoppy beers but I also love lagers too. A helles sits really well next to an IPA in a cooler at a barbecue in the park with friends.”
Now that Floyd’s lager dream is a reality, he’s not stopping at Lux. “We have some other draft lager surprises coming up too.”
(a) 272 Van Buren St., Eugene
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