I’ve never been to Wisconsin, but if Saraveza Bottle and Pasty Shop in North Portland is any indication of how the state looks and feels, I’m up for a road trip. Apparently, I am not alone. Tourists and locals alike flock to Sarah Pederson’s homey pub with its crafty bottletop tabletops, the 1950s-style weird green cooler with hundreds of bottles, the nine rotating taps and the daily pasty specials. It was to these visitors I served Oregon’s wheat beers, some were visiting Portland for the Rose Festival festivities that week; others had ducked into the pub to escape them.
Wheat ales are made with varying amounts of wheat, but after that, the field is wide open, especially in Oregon. Wheat beers are generally mild-tasting and low-alcohol, and as a result they are called “gateway craft beers” by the snobbier drinkers among us. Snobs should keep their opinions to themselves. Wheat beers are among the world’s oldest and favorite beer types, and are often the go-to beer for thirsty summer revelers. Weissbiers, including hefeweizen, witbiers, and sour beers including gose, Berliner Weisse and lambic beers are all wheat beers and are brewed filtered or unfiltered.
Wheat beers are generally less hoppy than most Oregon beers,– but as you can see from some of the samples below, Oregon breaks that rule, liberally. Here are the beers our consumers chose at the Saraveza tasting.
Columbia River’s Rose City Wheat, Portland
5.5 % ABV, 18 IBUs
This is a refreshing well-balanced and light wheat based Ale with Oregon Raspberries. If you’re a fan of Oregon raspberries and beer, you’ll love this beer, said Rick Burkhardt, owner and brewer. Fans of this beer agreed. “I’m going to drink this listening to the artist formerly known as Prince,” said one. “Sade, on a rainy afternoon, hoping for sun!” said another. “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!” suggested one taster. “Nice fruit!”
Deschutes Brewery’s Chainbreaker White IPA, Bend
5.6 % ABV, 55 IBUs
Brewed with wheat and pilsner malt, this IPA displays beautiful citrus aromas from Cascade and Citra hops that meld with the esters of Belgian yeast. Think thirst-quenching hopped-up wit beer with enough IBUs to warrant the IPA name, according to its brewers. “Stupid good,” said one fan. “My favorite,” said another. “ “I can’t even think of the best time to drink it except always.” “I’d love to drink this one with Che Guevera,” said a taster. “We could be happy drinking it in the jungle.”
Gilgamesh’s DJ Jazzy Hef, Salem
5.7 % ABV, 9 IBUs
A light-bodied, American-style hefeweizen with a late jasmine addition. This satisfying beer has a notable floral aroma and doesn’t need a lemon, said its brewers. “ “It tastes like I should be fishing on a quiet summer morning,” said one taster. “I’d take it camping with me,” and “Very crisp,” were among other observations.
Heater Allen’s Isarweizen Bavarian Style, McMinnville
4.8 % ABV, 15 IBUs
Sarah Billick, a friend of Lisa's (assistant brewer), spent a year taking classes and interning at the Isar Brau Brew Pub in Munich. She brought back the recipe for their Wheat Beer, and we made it here at the brewery. The Isarweizen will vary from year to year, but usually has some clove, nutmeg, banana, and tutti-frutti aromas, with the clove and nutmeg taking the lead. A little acidity balances with the sweetness of the beer's fruit flavors. Crisp and refreshing - just the thing for summer, said the brewer. “It’s so fun, I’d drink it playing hopscotch,” said one taster. “I taste the lemons. It makes me smile,” said another. “I’m thinking rainy flower petals in a German Spring”.
McMenamins Oak Hills Brew Pub’s Stephen Weizen, Beaverton
5.5 % ABV, 28 IBUs
Named for brewer, Stephan Harper, this beer is made with German wheat and Vienna Pilsner. The unique yeast is called Weihenstephan and it produces flavors that include spicy clove and fresh banana. This style is always effervescent and always satisfying, said the brewer. “Today is terrific,” said one person after tasting this beer. “Europe? Germany? I’m not tasting the Oregon here,” said another. “I think I like this one!”
Pyramid Hefeweizen, Portland
5.2 % ABV, 18 IBUs
The standard by which all other wheat beers are judged, our award-winning American-style Hefeweizen is a unique take on the traditional Bavarian classic. This refreshingly unfiltered wheat ale delivers a distinctively smooth flavor worth savoring with friends, said its brewers. “Even-tempered. If it were a color, it would be mauve,” said one taster. “It’s very wheatie,” said another. “It’s like being caressed by a woman with an orange glove,” said a fan. “I’m on the beach catching some waves,” and “Another summertime sensation,” said others.
Sky High’s June Bug Wheat Ale
4.9 % ABV, 23 IBUs
An imminently quaffable light ale with medium mouth feel and tasty wheat tone, said the brewer. We craft this traditional Euro-brew utilizing half wheat and half barley, with Perle and Czech Saaz hops. “It’s like day-drinking with Nana Mouskouri, said one jazz fan. “It’s the summer, and the livin’ is easy,” said another. “Eat it on a picnic with a turkey sandwich.” “What a good summer beer,” said other tasters.
Widmer Brothers’ Brotha From Anotha Motha
5.8 % ABV, 16 IBUs
This Bavarian-style Hefeweizen is an old world interpretation of Widmer’s flagship American-style Hefeweizen. Brewed at the Widmer Brothers Rose Garden pilot brewery, this limited release beer is only available on draft. Brewed with pilsner and wheat malt, this beer has a clean, subtle maltiness with flavors of clove and banana from the Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast, adding complexity, great mouthfeel and body to an otherwise dry beer, according to the brewers. 5.8% ABV, 16 IBU Brotha got rave reviews from the consumer tasters: “My favorite! Great all-around beer,” said one. “A great barbecue beer,” said another. “Love in my tummy!” Raved a fan.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.