By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I have a tough job. For several years, I wrote a wine column called “Cellar Dweller” which appeared in a Portland Metro-area market publication. Today, that column has moved to a magazine celebrating the increasingly world-class food and beverage options in Oregon’s storied wine country. As you might imagine, I like writing about food and drink — maybe I love it. At the very least, I get to enjoy outstanding cuisine and libations from chefs and winemakers of significant renown. If all that isn’t difficult enough, now I get to add beer to my menu. Are you feeling sorry for me yet? Like I said, it’s a tough job but, as they say, someone has to do it.
Beer was always an escape for me, a way to relax, something that wasn’t “work.” Bluntly put, with beer I didn’t have to pay attention. When I drink wine or whiskey — something else I’m known to write about — I am usually careful to note the appearance, the nose, the various stages of the palate. I could enjoy beer without stopping to think about it, parse it and put my thoughts into words for others to read. That’s all changed now.
I spent my 20s in Portland, back when Widmer was a small local joint and Buck Night was an eagerly-anticipated twice-weekly event. On Thursday and Saturday nights, well drinks were a dollar-and-a-half and we always followed our hours-long visits to Virginia Cafe with music and beer at Satyricon. Or something like that. You’ll forgive me if my memory is a little fuzzy.
Whatever the case, I’m now middle-aged, jaded and curmudgeonly. And I get to write about beer. Perhaps the most amiable and forgiving of adult beverages, beer might be the perfect cure for middle-agedness, cynicism and the accompanying urge to make one’s displeasure known. With that thought in mind, I joined with a panel of beer lovers to taste and discuss some great Oregon porters — and an outstanding stout. Maybe we’re onto something here.
Three Creeks: FivePine Chocolate Porter, Sisters
6.2% ABV; 55 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A robust porter that features 2 pounds per barrel of the finest Belgian chocolate, making a slightly roasty pint with underlying chocolate sweetness. Malts: Northwest pale, Munich, wheat, British chocolate malt, dark crystal malt, brown, special roast
Adjuncts: Imported dark Belgian chocolate, flaked barley, yeast: American Ale
Consumer Comments: With an inviting coloring of brown honey; FivePine Chocolate Porter features notes of malt, caramel and molasses on the nose and palate accompanied by a delightful char character throughout. Several panelists described this brew as “roasty” and all liked its innate sweetness. One panelist thought this beer would pair perfectly with a sweet marinated beef dish.
Santiam: Coal Porter, Salem
6.2% ABV; 29 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Medium-bodied porter with a moderate hop character that allows the roast malts to shine.
Consumer Comments: Demonstrating a grassy affability, panelists enjoyed this pint’s spicy fruitiness. With notes of anise, coffee and maybe even a little bourbon, Coal Porter was a refreshing favorite, well-balanced and medium-bodied.
Calapooia: ‘Pooya Porter, Albany
5.0% ABV; 32 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A dark, robust and balanced porter, [this brew is] medium-bodied and moderately-hopped, with a crisp chocolate finish. Willamette hops.
Consumer Comments: Panelists liked the easy approachability of this pint, suggesting ‘Pooya might be a great introductory porter for folks accustomed to lighter brews. With hints of leather and wood, this brew might be called masculine but you can be sure he’ll remain a perfect gentleman.
Rusty Truck: Taft Toffee Porter, Lincoln City
5.0% ABV; 20 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Named for the Rusty Truck’s home in the Historic Taft District, Taft Toffee Porter is a dark, velvety ale with significant toffee and chocolate notes. Slightly lighter in color than mass-produced porters, our version is a tasty twist on the dockworkers’ old favorite.
Consumer Comments: The coffee-like character of the Taft Toffee Porter had panelists suggesting this brew might also be a good candidate for people who want a friendly introduction to fuller-bodied beers. Panelists described this porter as straightforward and honest, a cold reward after a hard day’s work.
Three Mugs: Sinfully Yours Imperial Porter, Hillsboro
9.5% ABV; 38 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Go ahead, be bad ... you deserve it. Indulge yourself with this huge, chewy, malty, chocolatey brew, with nice residual sweetness and a hint of roastiness and hops to balance. A perfect ale to warm your soul on those cold, rainy Oregon days and nights.
Consumer Comments: Defined by clear notes of vanilla and coffee with a hint of burnt oak, the Sinfully Yours Imperial Porter was a clear favorite with panelists. Well-balanced and complex, this brew’s satisfying fig finish delighted our tasting panel. Closer to the holidays, we might say “now bring us a figgy porter” — a Sinfully Yours Imperial Porter, of course!
Migration: Terry’s Porter, Portland
6.7% ABV; 42 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Terry’s Porter is the perfect compilation of five different malts, including chocolate and caramel that create a deep brown smoky body coupled with a mild sweetness. Finished off with Nugget, Willamette and English Fuggle hops, making this one an instant Northwest classic!
Consumer Comments: With a darkly fruity character, the Terry’s Porter earned raves from panelists attesting to its fruit nose, sweet mid-palate and after-dinner coffee finish. More than one panelist suggested using the Terry’s Porter as the foundation for a round of beer floats or maybe even pairing it with treats like caramel corn.
Widmer: Steel Bridge Porter, Portland
5.6% ABV; 48 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Developed by homebrewer Noel Blake, [this porter] was a winner in the Widmer Brothers Collaborator Homebrew Competition with the Oregon Brew Crew. Like the Steel Bridge itself, this dark ale is a Portland original and carries more than its share of weight. Rich flavors of mocha, chocolate and toffee are well-balanced and complemented by a refreshing body, a hint of citrus and a dry finish.
Consumer Comments: Another porter popular with panelists, the Steel Bridge Porter’s deep hue, robust body and flavors of spice and smoke, along with the barest suggestion of thistle, make for a truly perfect pint. Innately layered, this brew was lauded for its complexity and spiciness. The Steel Bridge Porter might hit you in the face — but I promise you’ll be glad it did.
PINTS: Steel Bridge Stout, Portland
5.2% ABV; 22 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Rich and chewy, this robust stout is girdered together with Midnight Wheat, Blackprinz, roasted barley, Special B and chocolate malts. You can tell: it’s jet black with a thick brown head, loaded with espresso, coffee and rich malt flavors. Bittered with Columbus hops and finished with spicy Willamettes, it all holds together nicely.
Consumer Comments: The Steel Bridge Stout earned unanimous and enthusiastic approval from panelists. From comments like “This is why I drink stouts” to “This is better than wine,” tasters loved the brew’s luxuriant head and themes of malt, caramel, molasses and vanilla bean — followed by a lingeringly sweet finish.
StormBreaker: Fall of the Iron Curtain Baltic Porter, Portland
8.0% ABV; 24 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Flavor has a big upfront but balanced sweetness with prominent chocolate flavors and hints of caramel. No roasty coffee-ness in this one. Just a smooth and silky finish with a touch of alcohol warmth.
Consumer Comments: Panelists liked the initial palate of Fall of the Iron Curtain, calling it fruity and a little tangy with notes of caramel and the barest hint of tar. Several panelists suggested this brew might be best served to folks looking to enter the world of full-bodied beers.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I was being a little facetious before. I love my job. A friend asked me once why I was eager to share the box of then-illegal Cuban cigars I had stashed. I told him smoking a really good cigar is wasted if one does it by oneself — enjoying the pleasant things in life is inherently social. Likewise, beer is best enjoyed together, in the company of friends, with people who want to relax, unwind and maybe even celebrate a little. Beer brings out the enthusiasm we should all have for life, particularly life in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m pretty sure there’s no better place on the planet to knock back a cold one — especially since so many of the world’s best beers are crafted right here.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.