April 21, 2014

My Oregon Beer Trail -- Part 1

I've been looking forward to traveling to Oregon for a long time. Obviously the pacific northwest has a long history as an important part of the American craft beer movement but it isn't a place trapped in its history. There are certainly plenty of brewers putting out solid examples of the beers that built American craft beer but there are also plenty of brewers dropping a wide range of beers across a multitude of styles and techniques. I'm always interested in what new things are going on in brewing but I was also really interested to experience the modern reflection of the craft beer obsession with hoppy beers that flowed east from the west coast.

In Texas we don't have much of a craft beer culture in the way states like Colorado, California, Oregon, Massachusetts have developed through decades of exposure to craft beer. I am something of a history nerd and I find the development of those different cultures very interesting. Our craft beer culture is relatively young and still searching for an identity (or set of identities). In the Austin area the craft beer culture has embraced the broader German heritage of the area with several breweries developing a German beer-forward line up. That is undoubtedly the closest to a native craft beer identity we have in the state, although it is not an identity particularly well-shared among other parts of the state, such as here in Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, or El Paso. In time I am sure we will develop our own cultures but for now our brewers are mostly putting together a disparate mash of whatever they can sell plus whatever individual identity they want to express.

What I expected to find was an abundance of IPAs amidst a pile of avant garde beers. I didn't quite a bit of IPAs and some avant garde beers but what really surprised me was how closely tied to beer culture was to the larger identity of Oregon as a state. Oregon as a whole did not seem quite as embracing of the extreme beer phenomenon that drives many brewers to produce IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIPAs and beers with crazy ingredients. Instead, I found a beer culture that closely associated its beers with the massive amount of farming that goes on in the state. The wide appeal of IPAs didn't seem to be attached to a desire to brew extreme beers but to showcase the fresh ingredients of the region. Certainly a lot of the hops in the pacific northwest come from Washington but they are far more local to those Oregon brewers than they are to us down here in Texas. There were plenty of other beers featuring local ingredients but surprisingly also a large number of sour beers and saisons. That seemed to identify a connection to the farming communities of the state, even if the connection was somewhat (but not always) artificial since those styles are hardly native to this country. 

I had a tremendous amount of fun drinking my way across Portland, Hood River and Bend. I have a lot to say and plenty of breweries to discuss but I also have plenty of work to get done so I'm going to stop here for today and pick up the next piece of my Oregon Trail tomorrow or the day after.

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