May 5, 2014

My Oregon Beer Trail -- Part 4

In the middle of our time in Portland we took a detour out I-84 to visit Hood River because people in Portland couldn't shut up about how great it was out there. It's a pretty awesome drive. You have the Colombia River on your left and the mountain range beginning on the right. There's Multnomah Falls not far out from Portland. Best of all, while we were driving out a bald eagle came off the river and flew right over our car. I stuck my hand out and it gave me a high five, which was awesome. (Ok, no high five occurred but the eagle really did fly over the car.)

Hood River itself is a really nice place. It's a small town on the banks of the Colombia River at the juncture of the Colombia and Hood rivers. It has that small tourist town feel to it but it's a lot smaller than Bend, which is a more common vacation spot. (It's not far from The Dalles, which I only know from being the place in Oregon Trail before you float the Colombia River to get the Williamette Valley. We had a lot of fun making Oregon Trail references in Hood River.) Most notably for us beer folk, Hood River is the home to Full Sail, which has a large brewery on the edge of downtown facing the highway and river and another operation on the other side of the highway where the city is expanding closer to the river. There are other brewpubs in town along with some smaller breweries not far from the town but deeper into the state. We mixed it up, hitting a few spots in Hood River and a couple really impressive places outside of town.

Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom

Double Mountain is one of the smaller breweries in the downtown area. They are actually right across the street from Full Sail, which doesn't seem to bother either brewery. Double Mountain has that classic craft brewery beer line up with several hoppy options (it wouldn't be Oregon without it) mixed with the usual mix of American light and dark beers. There are rotating taps that include some Belgian beers as well. Although the line up was admittedly dated, I am not one to disparage a brewery for putting out good beer in simple styles. They have put together a solid lineup and given the amount of business they were doing on a Thursday afternoon they have no reason to deviate. They do the occasional hype beer, such as a sour or a bourbon barrel aged beer, but they have carved out a niche that is working for them and they are doing a good job filling it.

The pizza was tasty and worth stopping for but you should stop by for the beer, too. Here are the beers that stood out for me:

  • Cluster dry hopped pale ale on cask: I can't avoid a good cask beer and they were kind enough to do a cask pour for a taster flight. I believe this may be a cask variant of their standard pale ale but I don't recall for sure. The underlying beer was pleasant and what one expects from a pale ale with a little more grainy character. The most interesting part was the cluster dry hopping. It's rare to see cluster used in a predominant fashion these days. It's sort of a throwback hop that isn't used much anymore but used to be grown a lot for bittering the big industrial light lagers like Budweiser. It has an interesting mix of Fuggles-like earthy character, American hop citrus and hints of tropical fruit. I don't know that I loved it enough to want to make it shine so much in a beer I would brew but it was interesting to get a taste of a hop that was as commonplace in American brewing in the past as cascade is today. 
  • Sinister 7 bourbon barrel aged brown ale: Stouts and porters (whatever the difference) are common subjects of bourbon barrel aging but brown ales deserve their place in bourbon barrels, especially when done right. This beer is an excellent example of how to bourbon barrel age a brown ale. It's a bigger brown ale (10.8%) so it's really somewhere in between a porter and a barleywine more than the usual under 5% ABV brown ale. However, without the overload of specialty malts and adjuncts the beer beer is a little easier to drink while retaining some body and plenty of bourbon-fueled complexity.
  • Carrie Ladd Steam Porter: I am real hit or miss on the whole steam beer/california common style. This was my first experience with a steam porter and I really enjoyed it. It's a robust porter fermented warm(ish) with a czech lager yeast. It's a good base beer with nice chocolate and roast undertones but the unusual fermentation produces a unique layer of bready notes and an unmistakable cherry flavor that was the real star of the beer. It's the kind of cherry flavor people are desperate to find in their flemish reds and other brett-fueled fermentation. I wonder what this beer would be like soured. Probably pretty good. 

Pfriem Family Brewers

pFriem (the P is silent) is located on the opposite side of the highway from downtown in a newer development near the Colombia River. Pfriem has a nice, modern facility (and it is very new) that focuses primarily on Belgian styles plus the obligatory IPA. There's also a very solid food menu that honestly outshines the beer. Overall, the beers were well-produced and absent obvious flaws but there just wasn't anything memorable about them. They were sort of like kit versions of Belgian styles but brewed really well. Nothing wrong technically with the beers but just generic versions of the styles that feel like bland attempts to clone iconic Belgian beers. What we disliked most about pFriem was the pricing. Growler fills, although we didn't get any, were 2-3 times what fills of comparable beers are elsewhere.

There were a few beers that stood out that I would be happy to enjoy again, especially with some of their food:

  • Belgian Strong Blonde: A Duvel-like beer with less hop character and more clove character.
  • Belgian Stout: Belgian stouts were en vogue a few years back during the throw-belgian-yeast-in-everything fad but it's actually a style I really enjoy when done right. This is probably where pFriem deviates most in its Belgian lineup from feeling like a set of clone beers. Nice mix of fruit and chocolate.
  • Hoppyweizen: Not the best hoppy hefeweizen I've ever had but a good rendition of a beer style rarely seen. It's a style that has to be extremely fresh to keep the weizen character robust and the hops lively and aromatic. This rendition captured the freshness and created a nice profile that allowed both the yeast and hop character to shine equally.

Logsdon Brewing

Logsdon is tucked away a few miles south of Hood River in a little barn. Yes, the whole brewery fits in the barn. Well, actually that's not entirely true. They dug out a cave off to the right where they are aging some barrels. But everything else is in this building. To get out here, you drive down some country roads and it's easily missed unless you know to look for the red barn. GPS will tell you that you have reached your destination but there is no sign. Just awesome scenery. Unfortunately there's no tap room where you can sit and drink. They will give you samples of all the beers they have on hand but it is primarily a sales location rather than a bar. They don't encourage you to leave but they don't keep giving you beer so don't plan on spending your day out here. However, everybody is very friendly and happy to talk about what they are doing.

Logsdon is a partnership named after Dave Logsdon. Logsdon (the feller) owns the property where the brewery resides. He's also a former partner and initial brewer at Full Sail. After he left Full Sail he opened Wyeast Labs in the right side of the barn. The original yeast lab is used in the brewery. Hard to imagine a yeast lab had its origins in a barn. They have turned the barn into a small brewery. The brewing space is a fairly tight fit but they are doing good things with it.

For those of us who don't have access to Logsdon beers, these guys are making a small run of various Belgian beers ranging from clean to funky to sour. The flagship beer is Seizoen, the most tortuous spelling of saison to spell. All of the beers are pretty damn good and each beer deserves a spot on this list but here's what we loved most:

  • Seizoen: The flagship beer is a damn good saison. It's made with four different yeast strains along the same vein as Saison Vieille from Dupont. It's also bottle conditioned with pear juice. There's an incredibly complex fruit profile going on. Lots of other flavors on the edges. Floral, bready, phenolic, etc. Everything you would expect from a saison jammed into one saison and well balanced.
  • Seizoen Bretta: Seizoen gets a brett strain that adds a crisp dryness and an added layer of funk. The fruit is subdued by the brett funk which adds more complexity on top of more complexity. I actually slightly liked the non-brett version a little more but I enjoyed this one a lot as well.
  • Straffe Drieling Tripel: This is the newest beer going into the lineup and deserves a spot among these other great beers. Again a lot of yeast complexity shows up. It's not as complex as the seizoen but has enough complexity from the yeast and hops to make other tripels seem boring and bland. Heck, it's making many saisons seem bland. 
  • Cerasus: This flemish red is soured and then dosed with two pounds per gallon of cherries, using a blend of sweet and tart cherries. It's obviously huge on the cherries but the brett funk and transformed malt character is still readily apparent. The best thing about this beer is how fresh the cherry flavor was in the beer. Often sour beers end up showing up with a aged fruit character but this one was bright and vibrant. 

Solera Brewery

If any brewery accurately captures the idea of "saison" it's Solera. Solera is located a little deeper south from Logsdon in Parkdale, a small community surrounded by apple orchards. The people drinking in this small brewery are working class and many clearly work among the farms/orchards in the area. The people sitting around drinking sour saisons had come right out of the field for a drink after work. I'm not one to romanticize beer but it was hard not to in that moment.

Solera was recommended pretty much everywhere we went. Even the Icelandic feller at Logsdon recommended it.  We were told the beers would be great but it's also worth going just to sit on the patio and drink here. Yeah, you can see why. The below picture came from the patio. That's Mount Hood up in your face and apple orchards below.


Solera is not a large operation. It's basically just a brewpub. It isn't fancy but it doesn't have to be. Aside from the tourists, it's serving good beer to local people. The view on the patio makes up for the unimpressive interior. The brew house is a small space. It's not quite the tiny space that makes up Trinity Brewing's brew house but it isn't much bigger. The picture to the right is a shot into the brew house.

Solera does lots of farmhouse beers and puts out a regular line of sour beer. I found it surprising that these exotic beers sold so well in a community that you would guess would be dominated by Coors or Budweiser. I guess that just goes to show how established the craft beer industry is in this state. The beers are as good as the scenery and here's a few that placed at the top of our list:

  • Long Division: Long Division is a sour farmhouse ale with a prominent honey note. It could be passed off as a mix of sour beer and mead (with a small amount of mead) but it was straight beer. Maybe there is some honey in the beer itself but that honey note actually can be coaxed out of a sour beer with the right kind of blending of young and old sour beer. Maybe it's just some honey malt.
  • Half Naked: Another sour farrmhouse ale. This one is brewed with no hops so it's really open to whatever got into the wort. As a result, it was very earthy rather than boldly sour as Long Division. My guess here is that there is a lot of incidental fermentation from enteric bacteria and other bacteria usually held at bay by hops and the flavor contributions from those bacteria were chewed up by brett into earthy flavor.
  • Good Smoke: A smoked imperial porter with a nice integration of smoke into the porter. It was a deliciously chocolaty porter and the smoke was well-balanced and created a nice smoky chocolate flavor. 
Whew, ok. That's the end of Hood River but I still have all of Bend to hit. And we hit all of Bend. I am going to try very hard to get the rest of this trip posted by Wednesday because Thursday I leave for California for more drinking and surely I am going to forget some more details from Oregon if I don't get it locked down beforehand. (We're heading out for The Bruery's Sucreversary and then driving up to Firestone Walker's Bottleworks and regular facilities and then on to Russian River.)
 

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