By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
More than 30 tasters took advantage of the opportunity to try 11 different Oregon-made beers at this magazine’s monthly blind tasting. The December event was hosted by F.H. Steinbart Co. in Portland.
The chosen style, most commonly referred to as Cascadian Dark Ale or Black IPA, has only been around since the early 2000s. First recognized by the Brewers Association in 2010 as American-style India Black Ale, the name was shortened in 2011 to American-style Black Ale. Portland beer writer and cider-maker Abram Goldman-Armstrong was an early proponent of the style, which is generally characterized by a medium-bodied deep brown to black color with medium caramel malt and dark roasted malt aromas. The style’s flavors are punctuated by medium-high to high hop aroma, flavor, and bitterness, contributed by hops of all origins.
Whatever you want to call it, our tasters found plenty to love about the top six vote-getters, which are listed in alphabetical order by brewery along with the commercial description of the beer and consumer comments (creativity is always encouraged).
Base Camp: Celestial Meridian CDL, Portland 5.1% ABV, 45 IBUs
Brewery Description: Fruity, floral hops meet velvety, dark malt in our Cascadian Dark Lager. Loads of citrus, tropical fruit, and pine aroma spin off the top of the pint, thanks to Meridian hop additions at knock-out and in the lager tank. Light sweetness and toasty, roasty malt provide the counterpoint to a solid hop bitterness. For a beer of this dark color, the Celestial Meridian finishes surprisingly light and clean thanks to its fermentation and lagering character.
Consumer Comments: Party down good. Makes my face pucker! Much like a hoppy hot chocolate with whipped cream. This is what I want to wake up to each morning. I’d drink this at a BBQ or fire pit or while stargazing. This is best enjoyed with a smooth cigar, a good friend and Tolkien. Very, very drinkable! I want to drink this while tailgating. I’m watching a Blazers game at a bar. I see a mahogany bar and lots of tobacco pipes. Nice caramel and chocolate balance up front. I’m walking through a filbert field. I want to be really cozy with this one, maybe in a nice hotel room by a fire. I’d be stuffing my loved ones’ stockings and watching “A Miracle on 34th Street.”
Brannon’s: Benzonator Black IPA, Beaverton 6.5% ABV, 81.7 IBUs
Brewery Description: Reminiscent of being deep in an Oregon forest, this Black IPA has massive late additions of spicy, pungent hops that lend balance to the bitterness of midnight wheat and roasted malt. These intense flavors give way to earthy hints of lemon and pine. A perfect beer for a gloomy day in Cascadia.
Consumer Comments: I want to share this with all my friends, or maybe just keep it for myself! A nice blend of malts and chocolate; this would be good with a pastrami sandwich. Very refreshing despite its dark appearance; I could drink this on a warm day. Playing Cards Against Humanity with my friends. Happy hour jazz concert. Balanced, safe and goes down easy. Good in front of a fire with a bowl of mixed nuts. Just need cookies to balance out the bitterness. Smooth cocoa jazz with some percussive kick. I’d buy a case for a road trip and give it to new friends I meet on the road as a gift from home (Cascadia).
Lucky Lab: Black Sheep, Portland 5.8% ABV, 75 IBUs
Brewery Description: The malty goodness of pale, crystal, Munich and just a kiss of dark malts.
Consumer Comments: Dancing, hoppy elves in a smoky forest. Light & tart, I could drink this all afternoon with a burger and fries. Happy hour comedy club or BBQ party at home. Mmmm, beer! Love this! Perfect beer for hanging out in east Portland. This is a good dinner beer; I feel like it would go well with everything. I want to watch “White Christmas” while drinking this; I feel jovial and light-hearted.
Old Market: Spike Hyzer, Portland 6.2% ABV, 75 IBUs
Brewery Description: This Cascadian dark ale is very dry and crisp with subtle chocolate and roast flavor to follow the Northwest hop additions. It’s brewed with modest amounts of midnight wheat, roast and chocolate malts to add black color without overwhelming the hops. An addition of flaked oats and flaked barley lend creamy head and help round out the roast flavors.
Brewed with 60 pounds of fresh Cascade hops in the kettle, the hops came from Horseshoe Lake Hop Harvesters in St. Paul, which the brewers picked themselves. Early boil additions include Sorachi Ace, Liberty and Saaz hops while the aroma hops are Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo. This hop bill gives the beer a spicy pungent hop bitterness while allowing the citrus and floral aspects of aroma hops to play through.
Consumer Comments: I’m back from snowshoeing and turning on “A Christmas Story” with my family. Makes me want to decorate and listen to Christmas music. Dark and smoky, for some reason I picture a coal mine. Very sippable for an evening with friends. Tastes like caramel-coated hops (insert smiley face). Ahhhh, a sunset-watching selection. After dinner with a chocolate dessert. Smooth and easy like Sunday afternoon, not like Monday morning. My classic CDA — great with breakfast, lunch or dinner. Like a Twix without the caramel, dunked in dark roast coffee. Iced coffee and peppery hops; opposites attract. Really good!
Pelican: Bad Santa, Pacific City 7.5% ABV, 68 IBU
Brewery Description: You’d better watch out. You’d better not cry. You’d better not pout. The brewers at Pelican are telling you why: Bad Santa has arrived. This mysterious dark nectar is filled with complex malt flavors and aromas. Toasted malt and roast character blends seamlessly with the alluring herbal hop aroma that comes from copious amounts of Fuggle hops. Bad Santa doesn’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice; he wants this beer on your list!
Consumer Comments: Perfect afternoon slammer. I would drink this after working in the yard on a hot day. Great for sitting at a bar and catching up with an old friend. Hanging out on a sunny fall day. Sweet brown sugar flavor near the end, perfect pairing for Christmas cookies. Lite Brite! I think of going down a slide when I sip this beer. I’m watching “Elf” and laughing with my friends.
Stickmen: One Ton Trolley Imperial Rye CDA, Lake Oswego 9.1% ABV, 123 IBUs
Brewery Description: This Cascadian Dark Ale has four kinds of rye malt balanced by Summit, Centennial, Chinook and a load of late-addition Simcoe hops. Viscous with plenty of spice and pine – you’ll see things.
Consumer Comments: An eclectic hop bomb. Would be good with pizza or fish. Nice frothy and creamy coffee notes, just need a blanket and fireplace. Rich; brings back memories of long winter nights in front of the fire. This would be good with a beer sausage or steak stew. I’m sitting in front of a blazing fire with snow outside. Oooh, I would like dark chocolate with this. Après-ski by the fire. This has a great hoppy aroma and is pleasantly bitter. I would drink this at night with friends in a pub listening to classic rock. Good beer for wintertime. Falling old-growth trees. This is a robust beer; I’d drink it around a fire while roasting marshmallows. I would drink this on a rainy night while watching “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.