By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you’re a hophead as I am, you drink Oregon’s India pale ales (IPAs). I enjoy almost any of Oregon’s good beers — from sour to sweet, light to dark, warm to cold, tapped or bottled. But the variety of flavors, colors and smells available in Oregon’s IPAs brings me back to them, inspires me to visit the hop farms, squeeze the flowers, sniff the aromas, and even grow my own. Did I tell you about the 12-foot, 6-by-6 inch beams that make up the hop trellis in my garden, bearing the weight of my incredible obsession? I love hops. Mostly I love them because they make good beer. If they weren’t so itchy, I’d marry them.
I’m not the only one, of course. Oregonians love hops and brewers have splashed them across the greatest canvas on which to display hop flavors: the pale ale. Luckily for us, hops grow like weeds in the Willamette Valley, and even manage Central and Eastern Oregon climes.
Because Oregon has so many IPAs, we staged two consumer blind tastings for this month, one at Independence’s Three Legged Dog and the other at F.H. Steinbart Co. in Portland. As always, our consumers are untrained tasters who don’t see what they are tasting until after they have chosen favorites. Listed below, in no particular order, are their top selections.
Pfriem: IPA, Hood River 7.2 percent ABV, 65 IBUs
Brewery Description: You’ll exclaim “Zounds!” “Jolly good!” and “Huzzah!” when sniffing the piney aroma and tasting the big hops, huge citrus and candy-like malt of Pfriem’s own IPA. Drink up, Guv’nor.
Consumer Comments: Good finish. Deeply satisfying. Smooth and flavorful, and a little sweet. Mild and fragrant. I like this one, lots! Smells like pineapples. My favorite so far. Drink this one on the river. Refreshing and tasty.
Alameda: Admiration IPA, Portland 6.8 percent ABV, 65 IBUs
Brewery Description: A tribute to the farmers and the brewers, this IPA has a rich malt backbone that supports an intense hop character of earthy pine and citrus derived from massive amounts of Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops. Well balanced, yet intense, this dry-hopped IPA pays homage to its origins.
Consumer Comments: Root beer spicy! Mellow and quaffable. Soft on the tongue but spicy enough for pizza. I would drink this every day! Crisp and tart. Lively.
Vertigo: Uno Mas IPA, Hillsboro 7.3 percent ABV, 73 IBUs
Brewery Description: This Northwest-style IPA -- brewed with an abundance of Mosaic, Amarillo and Simcoe hops -- has a bold, citrusy-hop character and aroma. Finished with 8 pounds of dry hops, this IPA will leave you asking for Uno Mas!
Consumer Comments: Nice color and toffee taste. My favorite so far! Malt dominates. Smooth and silky. Good with bacon and eggs. Grapefruity. Tangy and almost sweet.
RAM: Big Red IPA, Salem 6.2 percent ABV, 65 IBUs
Brewery Description: Assertively hoppy, boasting a bold, citrus hop flavor and aroma. This award-winning beer is reminiscent of grapefruit.
Consumer Comments: Smooth. Fresh bouquet and slightly bitter. Sink your teeth into this one. Classic! Is it double-hopped? Hoppy, spicy, citrus and melons. Squirt you in the eye.
Salem Ale Works: Stump Humper IPA, Salem 7 percent ABV, 50 IBUs
Brewery Description: This single-hop IPA is made with Columbus hops grown in the Willamette Valley. Light bodied, with a biscuit malt note, this approachable IPA has a balanced bitterness with notes of resin, pine and subtle citrus.
Consumer Comments: Smells like black licorice. Nice! Light, great flavor. Great for a day with no rain! Yum. Vanilla smooth. Taste the bitter with the sweet.
Gigantic: IPA, Portland 7.3 percent ABV, N/A IBUs
Brewery Description: True to its name, the Cascade, Centennial, Crystal and Simcoe create a citrusy-hop confluence that continuously “embiggens” with each drink. This beer is the embodiment of our brewing philosophy to “Never Give An Inch.”
Consumer Comments: Very piney. Is it English yeast? Good balance and flavor. This shows off the breadth of the Northwest beer scene. Good citrusy hop. This is the best so far. I could drink it all day.
Worthy: IPA, Bend 6.9 percent ABV, 69 IBUs
Brewery Description: Clean, crisp and refreshing, this beer is a tribute to our friends at Indie Hops. This amazingly balanced beer is bursting with the finest hops Oregon has to offer: Nugget, Centennial, Meridian, Crystal and Horizon. Renowned for his IPAs, brewer Chad just raised the bar.
Consumer Comments: Some tart lemons! Refreshing. Smiley face. Heart picture. Smooth. Goes down nicely. Goodness! Snappy! Light and crisp and fruity.
Unicorn Brewing Company: Grapefruit IPA, Portland 6.2 percent ABV, 80 IBUs
Brewery Description: This beer, produced at Portland U-Brew & Pub’s commercial brewery, has a light citrus flavor, thanks to one fresh grapefruit per 1 1/2 barrels.
Consumer Comments: Very interesting! Starts with malt taste and then the hops come in later, almost as an aftertaste. Good balance. Grainy smell. Strong hops with great flavor. Light and easy to drink. Light and crisp. Light bodied and nicer than most. Dry and clean.
McMenamins: Citra SMaSH IPA, Tigard 7 percent ABV, 65 IBUs
Brewery Description: John Barleycorns’ brewer, Tim Proctor, has created this single-malt, single-hop (SMaSH) beer with Citra hops and pils malt. The result is a clean, crisp beer with strong citrus flavor and tropical tones like passion fruit and lychee.
Consumer Comments: I like this one! Great for the sun! Smooth. Good flavor. Bright. Good lawnmower beer.
Hopworks: IPX Single Hop: Organic Simcoe, Portland 6 percent ABV, 60 IBUs
Brewery Description: This single-hop ale series highlights signature aromas and flavors of specific hop varieties that are further multiplied through our unique dry-hop process. Study the bitterness, flavor and aroma of the brewers spice and geek out on the signature nuances of each hop variety. Science homework never tasted so good!
Consumer Comments: Well-balanced. Session beer. Fresh and tingly! Just stepped on a green onion. A long walk on a hot day through a shady pine forest. Hoppy but not bitter.
Rusty Truck: Road Wrecker IPA, Lincoln City 6.9 percent ABV, 75 IBUs
Brewery Description: This IPA is hopped with Chinook, Zythos and Nugget and then dry-hopped with a burst of Columbus and more Zythos.
Consumer Comments: Rich and deep. Very hoppy. Crispy. Very nice. Aromatic and full-flavored. Smells like flowers. Smooth.
Barley Browns: Ratchet Strap, Baker City 7 percent ABV, 60 IBUs
Brewery Description: This golden-hued IPA has aromas of melon and citrus. Barley Brown’s combines Simcoe, Mosaic and Hull Melon hops with a light-bodied beer to come up with this refreshing summer IPA.
Consumer Comments: Smells like grapefruit. Love it! Is that Fresh Squeezed? A warm-weather treat. Grapefruit and melons. Soft and smooth. Mild and refreshing. Nice fragrance.
Widmer: Upheaval IPA, Portland 7 percent ABV, 85 IBUs
Brewery Description: This IPA is the result of our brewers’ relentless pursuit of the perfect IPA. With more than two pounds of hops per barrel, Upheaval IPA unleashes a huge hop flavor and aroma with serious bitterness and a balanced finish. Brewed with wheat, the result is a hazy, bold and unfiltered beer, unexpected and unapologetic.
Consumer Comments: Good lord! Tastes and smells like pineapples. Good mix of bitter and citrus. Smells like flowers, tastes like hop candy.
Sunriver: Vicious Mosquito IPA, Sunriver 7 percent ABV, 70 IBUs
Brewery Description: Awesome hops include Warrior, Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Simcoe.
Consumer Comments: Mild and refreshing. Okay, now we’re talkin’! I would give this to my dad for Father’s Day. Has bite. Good with spicy food. Big aroma. Hoppy but smooth.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.