In early October I had the good fortune to spend eleven glorious days in the beautiful state of Oregon. There was a bit of work involved which I won’t bore you with, but I did carve out two weekends and several weekday evenings for seeking out great beer. Think of it as a pilgrimage to one of the sacred places in the world of beer. Starting this week I will be chronicling some of the more memorable stops on my journey through this verdant and vibrant mecca of American beer.
Before launching into the details of my travels let’s take a moment to touch on some of the things that make Oregon such a special place for beer.
- According to the most recent Brewer’s Association statistics (2013) Oregon has a total of 181 craft breweries which amounts to 6.3 breweries per 100,000 drinking age residents, the highest of any state in the nation. By comparison Ohio has 0.9 breweries per 100,000 residents.
- Craft beer accounts for 46% of all beer sales in Portland, much higher than the national average of 17%.
- Many important hop varieties were first bred and cultivated in Oregon, including Cascade, a hop strain that helped American brewed IPAs emerge as a distinct style. (Check out this short video telling a bit of the story of Cascade hops.)
- Over the past five years Oregon has taken home 105 medals from the Great American Beer Festival, four times as many as Ohio. Oregon accolades at the GABF include gold medals the past two years in the über competitive American IPA category (Breakside IPA from Portland’s Breakside brewing in 2014, Pallet Jack IPA from Baker City’s Barley Brown’s Brewpub in 2013).
Despite the bevy of beer being produced in Oregon only four Oregon breweries distribute to Ohio—Deschutes, Rogue, Pyramid, and Widmer. That makes Oregon beers all the more exotic and enticing to someone living east of the Mississippi.
For me Oregon is more than just a fantastic beer location, it’s a place that I called home from 1991 to 1996. When I first moved to Oregon many craft breweries that we now consider venerable were still in their infancy. Beers like Widmer’s Hefeweizen, Rouge’s Shakespeare Stout, and Deschutes Black Butte Porter were an eye opening revelation to me, nothing like the mass produced lagers I’d been drinking as an undergraduate student back in Idaho. Even the small college town where I lived, Corvallis, had a nanobrewery, Oregon Trail Brewery, which I’m happy to say is still in operation. We will visit it later in this series.
My connections to Oregon mean that I still have quite a few good friends there. So I was able to enjoy the best beers Oregon has to offer in the company of good friends, the perfect pairing. As if that wasn’t enough the weather was unseasonably beautiful, highs reaching into the 80s and hardly a drop of rain. Not exactly the typical forecast for mid-fall in the Willamette Valley.
For various reasons nearly all of the trip was spent outside of Portland. While Portland is the best known beer destination in Oregon, and rightfully so, there is so much great beer and beautiful scenery to explore beyond the borders of the Rose City. Here is a preview of the posts to come in this series:
- Week 1: Getting Bent in Bend – So many breweries, so little time
- Week 2: Wild on the Coast – A visit to De Garde Brewing in Tillamook
- Week 3: Beer in the heart of the valley – Block 15 & Oregon Trail Brewing in Corvallis
- Week 4: Getting past the pink bottles – A visit to Rogue
- Week 5: Yeastwise magic on the slopes of Mount Hood – A visit to Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
The first post in this series, Getting Bent in Bend, will be posted tomorrow. Each week for the next month I will come out with another post in the series which will take us well into December. So grab a glass of your favorite malted beverage, sit back and live vicariously from the comfort of your living room. Hopefully these tales of wet hopped IPAs and spontaneously fermented sours will help to entertain you as the sun steadily retreats from the northern hemisphere and the days turn dark and cold.