Hump Day at Bier One, Newport. It's one of the busiest nights of the week, said Luke Simonsen, who with his wife, Kris, owns the homebrew shop and destination alehouse on Highway 101. I assumed the crowd of 50 or so came to see me and taste the 19 stouts donated by Oregon breweries for the Perfect Pints consumer blind tasting. However, more likely they all came for the $1 off pints Wednesday special, the foosball, the darts, the pool table and the great selection of other beers.
Bier One began in 2009 as a small homebrew shop, with six rotating taps of craft beer. Last year, the couple expanded into the adjacent room, opening up space for games and events. Judging from Wednesday’s crowd, the expansion has been well-received.
Today there are 15 rotating taps, a bottle selection of about 200 labels, and a good selection of brewing ingredients and equipment.
Bier One is open seven days a week, but Wednesday, the Simonsens took the night off and tasted stouts along with their customers.
On the subject of stouts, I must defer to the experts, including Oregon Beer Growler’s Beer Champion, Will Oberst-Cairns, Beer Goddess Lisa Morrison, and Wikipedia.
The word “stout” traditionally refers to the stoutest or strongest porters – thus the confusion and interchanging labels with porter. Stout is usually a dark beer made with roasted malts and barleys, weighing in at 7% or 8% ABV (alcohol by volume), although there are light-colored stouts, weaker stouts, and stronger stouts. The stouts we tasted, for example, ran the gamut from dark tan to black, and from around 5 % to 11 % ABV.
“What is really impressive about the stout is its versatility,” said Will. Because the stout has been around as a style since the 1700s, it has developed local cultures of its own. Irish stouts, milk stouts, oatmeal stouts, chocolate, coffee and oyster stouts have all found their way into Oregon’s breweries. Stouts can range from bitter and hoppy to sweet and syrupy.
It was a pleasure to see Bier One’s consumers, many of whom reluctantly put down their IPA’s to taste the stouts, heartily take on the challenge of a blind tasting.
Following are their choices, in alphabetical order:
Beer Valley’s Black Flag Imperial Stout, Ontario – 11 % ABV -- Bottles
This American-style brew with 8 different malts and 4 varieties of hops. “Woah! Barn burner,” exclaimed one taster. “Bourbon, chocolate, young/green, one of the favorites,” wrote another. “The most distinctive beer of the 19.”
Deschutes Obsidian Stout, Bend –6.4 % ABV -- Bottles
The label describes the robust tastes of roasted malt and barley, with notes of chocolate and espresso. Consumers called it “delicious … so smooth!” “Full body with a bitter flavor that balances well.” Consumers agree with international critics who have sent awards to this beer since 2007.
Hopworks Urban Brewery Survival 7-Grain Stout, Portland – 5.3 % ABV
This organic beer with organic Stumptown coffee includes the grains barley, wheat oats amaranth, quinoa, spelt and kamut. Comments? “Thick and sweet,” “Great flavor of chocolate espresso,” “chocolaty goodness,” “ Maybe great for breakfast!” were among comments from fans.
Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout, Eugene – 7.2 % ABV
Dark roasted malts and hops are smoothed by oatmeal, which adds creamy smoothness to the style that’s been brewed by Ninkasi since 2007. Our consumer tasters agreed. “ A sweet start and a smooth finish,” said one. “Classic stout flavor,” said another. “Smokey sweet chocolaty goodness.”
Pelican Tsunami Stout, Pacific City – 7 % ABV
This jet-black beer is made with magnum and Willamette hops, unmalted barley and roasted malts which add to the dense head and creaminess. Four international gold medals in the past two years back up our consumers’ choice. “Good complexity,” said one. “Love the foam!” said another. “Drink it on a hot summer day in the early afternoon,” wrote a satisfied taster. Several noted that it tasted like a high-alcohol stout, with added smoothness.
Rusty Truck Procrastinator, Lincoln City– 5.4 % ABV
The company’s website suggests this stout is a nod to Ireland’s famous Guinness. Consumer tasters at Bier One must like that style: “Nice mouth feel, coffee and malt, chocolate malt,” described one fan. “Light maltiness and body,” said another. “Chocolately sweet,” Light and very good,” were among other comments.
Walkabout’s St. Outback Stout, Medford – 7 % ABV
This small brewery has no webpage or Facebook page to speak of, and yet its fans manage to find it and chirp its praises, as our tasters did. “Nice! Coffee!” said one. “The smooth grainy flavor is perfect,” and “full-bodied flavor with a touch of caramel,” said others.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.