By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oregon is a quirky place. Long-established agrarian roots ensure plenty of rural charm, but the state is also home to one of the most laid-back urban areas in the nation. Framed by a breathtaking natural topography, Oregon is a land of great beauty, diverse people, geographic contrasts and even the occasional controversy. But Oregonians are known to discuss differences in an amiable manner, usually over a friendly pint. At least that’s the way I’ve always experienced it. Throughout the years, I’ve built a lot of good friendships from debates conducted over tables laden with empty pint glasses.
One matter of debate among brewers and beer aficionados alike is the International Bitterness Unit (IBU). Developed over a period of decades by a number of disparate parties, the American Society of Brewing Chemists collated and codified everything into the IBU scale, which has been adopted internationally. Simply put, the scale measures a brew’s iso-alpha acid isohumulone, assigning it a bitterness score ranging from zero to 100. Commonly accepted as the most accurate measure of a beer’s bitterness, the IBU scale is a good starting point for consumers, where a low IBU score indicates minimal bitterness and a high score the opposite. But that’s all it is: a place to start. Numerous other characteristics will affect a brew’s bitterness — flavors like malt, for example, serve to significantly diminish overall bitterness. Similarly, a “well-balanced” beer with high IBUs might taste less bitter than its score would suggest.
As we present eight excellent Oregon IPAs this month, keep in mind that IBU-rated bitterness can be relative. While all of these brews earned high IBU ratings, many are affected by other factors which alter the taster’s perceptions of bitterness. That’s why brewers are sometimes hesitant to publish IBU ratings — consumers can be over-reliant on the scale when selecting a six-pack. So grab a pint and have a look at its IBUs. But remember: the contents of your glass might not match your expectations if IBUs are your only consideration.
GoodLife Brewing: Descender IPA, Bend
7.0% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Descender IPA is a big, true Northwest IPA mixed with some West Coast style. We balance the bitterness with the aromatics of the hops to make this a downright enjoyable IPA. Bottoms up!
Consumer Comments: Offering an inviting hue of natural clover honey, Descender IPA earned our tasting panel’s top marks. A classic IPA, the Descender’s soft-but-gently-assertive character is hoppy without being overbearing — an upbeat and ebullient beer! The Descender’s hop character introduces itself confidently before subsiding on the mid-palate only to return for a clean and lingering finish. Panelists described this refreshing brew as soft and well-balanced — a “take me anywhere” beer.
Burnside Brewing Company: Isomer IPA, Portland
8.0% ABV; 86 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: We converged in our lab and concocted a new IPA with the help of two of our very favorite subjects: Meridian and Ekuanot Hops. This substantial IPA drinks deceptively smooth while featuring flavors of ripe berries, bubblegum and melon.
Consumer Comments: With a fresh nose evoking a stroll through an apple orchard, the appropriately-named Isomer IPA is a complex brew with enthusiastic carbonation and earthy notes of apple and citrus. Hops are immediately evident, building to a crescendo before a long and clean finish. Our tasters suggested the Isomer is a perfect companion for watching a local baseball game.
Elk Horn Brewery: The Flying Hawaiian IPA, Eugene
6.2% ABV; 80 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The Flying Hawaiian IPA is golden in color with a hoppy, fruity aroma. There’s big hop flavor up front complemented with a medium body and full hoppy-ness mid-palate. It finishes with a characteristic IPA lingering bitterness.
Consumer Comments: Offering a florally tropical nose, The Flying Hawaiian IPA tempts with its lively foam before hitting the taster upside the head with hop-happy enthusiasm. IPA aficionados will love this bright brew and may agree The Flying Hawaiian is built for summer celebrations on the patio.
Long Brewing: American-Style IPA, Newberg
6.2% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Six different whole hops and a complex malt base result in multiple layers of aroma and flavor that are well integrated and balanced in this beer. It’s dry hopped to bring out the freshest whole hop aromas and flavors. There are layers of citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, spicy and fruity character including grapefruit and passion fruit supported by the rich malt base. A long finish that is balanced with a firm, but restrained, bitterness.
Consumer Comments: The copper-tinted American-Style IPA leads with unashamed hops and spice, the brew’s bitter character skillfully overlaid with pine and grapefruit. Panelists decided this spirited brew would pair perfectly with summer’s favorite big meat dishes like grilled burgers or steaks. For a good time, call Long’s American-Style IPA!
Ordnance Brewing: FMJ IPA, Boardman
6.6% ABV; 53 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This fusion of New World hops and Old World malt create a Northwest/English IPA, and one of the highest caliber. We call it Full Metal Jacket. What does FMJ stand for to you?
Consumer Comments: A mahogany color and notes of tea on the nose — think kombucha — offer the first clues that FMJ IPA isn’t your typical pint. A bit of caramel, malt and rye coupled with a pleasant sour character confirm that the FMJ marches to the beat of its own drummer. This complex brew offers a delightful contrast between the boldness of an IPA and mellowness of a mead. Roundly favored by our panel, several labeled the FMJ a “creme brulee of beer.”
Rusty Truck Brewing Co.: Road Wrecker IPA, Lincoln City
7.0% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Proceed with caution: Road Wrecker is a giant of an ale, with major bitter and aromatic hops, topping out in the vicinity of 7% ABV. A coppery malt body and plentiful hop character make for a classic Pacific Northwest-style IPA to satisfy the Hopmonger in all of us. Seatbelts recommended!
Consumer Comments: A beautifully balanced brew, Road Wrecker IPA is hoppy enough to please IPA lovers but easygoing enough to lure newbies. The Road Wrecker’s light amber color hints at a freshly confident body that’s as full as it is smooth. Panelists declared this the perfect pint for summer picnic fare.
Three Creeks Brewing: Crowdpleaser IPA, Sisters
7.3% ABV; 75 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Our New Wave IPA uses a simple malt bill in order to showcase the newest and trendiest hop varieties. This beer is golden hued and medium bodied with a huge pine and citrus aroma, courtesy of late kettle additions and a double dose of dry hops. Sometimes you just have to give the people what they want!
Consumer Comments: An assertive and classic IPA, Crowdpleaser exhibits traits IPA-lovers crave: citrus, pine and hops. But for a hop-foundational brew, the Crowdpleaser manages to be both assertive and well-mannered. Nicely balanced and smooth, this pint’s medium body tapers to a long and pleasing IPA finish.
Widmer Brothers Brewing: Upheaval IPA, Portland
7.0% ABV; 85 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: With more than 2 pounds of hops per barrel, Upheaval IPA unleashes a huge hop flavor and aroma with serious bitterness and balanced finish. Brewed with wheat, the result is a hazy, bold IPA that’s unfiltered. Unexpected. Unapologetic. Uncompromised.
Consumer Comments: Cheerful hops and a hint of apple blossoms say howdy when the Upheaval IPA is poured. This golden-hued brew offers up a frothy head, hinting at a full and lively hop-built body to follow. Panelists suggested pairing with pizza or pasta dishes, great for summer social gatherings. One taster described this brew as “A party in your mouth!”
If you live in Oregon, you know the state is beautiful and quirky, its people laid-back and friendly. Fittingly, Oregon’s craft brew industry and its fans are perfectly suited to engage in spirited debate over the pros and cons of using the IBU scale — all over a friendly pint or two, of course. And while we may never arrive at an ideal solution, at least we’ll have a little fun, maybe make a few friends and enjoy some outstanding brews while we try!
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.