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December 28th, 2011 MARTIN CIZMAR | Drank
 

Oregon’s 10 Best Beers

2011’s finest brews from Portland and the rest of the state.

fooddrink_dranktop10_3808Illustration by Hawk Krall
Oregon makes—and drinks—a lot of beer. No one keeps a comprehensive list of every Oregon beer released, but informal estimates suggest at least 2,000 brews were crafted here this year. From that absurd number, three Willamette Week writers argued out the 10 best. These beers run the gamut stylistically and hail from across the state.

1. Fresh Hop Seizoen
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River
Authentic Belgian saisons are low-alcohol pale ales for working farmers. American brewers, naturally, amp up the alcohol. Yet the best American saisons, like the one Logsdon brewed with nine hop varieties grown and harvested in Durfur, keep the crispness. Logsdon’s fresh-hop saison pours a muted yellow with a big, rocky head and lots of lemon zest. The regular saison—same recipe, minus the field-fresh hops—is also excellent.

2. Killer Green Fresh Hop IPA
Double Mountain, Hood River
Like witnessing the aurora borealis or a grunion run, experiencing the hop harvest is all about being in one place at one moment. The most dazzling Oregon IPA in an impressive spectrum was Killer Green, which wowed us at fresh-hop fests with wet and sticky Brewers Gold. The versatile Humulus lupulus made this beer pop with spicy and herbaceous notes, yet it stayed balanced.

3. Doggie Claws Barley Wine Style Ale
Hair of the Dog, Portland
Alan Sprints’ bold barley wine has been a winner since it debuted a decade ago. Maybe it’s the cold weather, but this year’s release is especially good, even without the year of bottle-aging that’s practically mandatory: deep copper, with a heady aroma of pine sap, honey and butterscotch.

4. Vlad the Imp Aler NW Sour
Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland
The New York Times rated Cascade’s Kriek the No. 1 sour beer in America. That isn’t blasphemy, but we think they simply weren’t around when Vlad was on tap. Sour beer fans vacillate on their favorite draw of alchemy from sourmaster Ron Gansberg, but we like Vlad’s interplay of strong and spiced blonde ales matured in choice barrels.

5. De La Six
Upright, Portland
Upright sometimes plays it straight, à la Wynton Marsalis. Other times, it improvises like Miles frickin’ Davis. That’s the case with soulful De La. Using its Six rye ale as a launch pad, Upright blends in safflower, lemon peel and rooibos tea, then ages the whole shebang in gin barrels for a mellifluous aroma and semi-tart taste.

6. Black Butte XXIII Imperial Porter
Deschutes, Bend
Deschutes tinkers with the recipe for this higher-alcohol version of Black Butte Porter, first released to celebrate the brewery’s 20th birthday in 2008. Sometimes this backfires: Last year’s batch was spiked after added chocolate left a layer of undissolved material. This year’s variation is a home run. Brewed with bitter Spanish orange peel, black pasilla chilies and cacao nibs from Theo Chocolate, the beer has notes of vanilla and orange on the nose and tastes like a chocolate mousse from the kitchen of the Mountain King.

7. Dunkelweizen
Occidental Brewing Co., Portland
Portland’s Occidental brews traditional German styles like alt, hefeweizen and kölsch. The brewery’s fall brew was a cheerfully traditional Dunkelweizen. This dark wheat beer is mature and bready, with bananas that have gone spotty and red apples that have surrendered their crispness. 

8. La Ferme’ de Demons Dark Farmhouse Ale
Block 15, Corvallis
The body of La Ferme’ de Demons’ black farmhouse-style ale is bottom-heavy from roasted malt and candi sugar yet lightened by Belgian Pilsner malt and French wheat. The beer made an odyssey through three spent barrels (Pinot Noir, bourbon and Oregon Oak) before getting wild Brettanomyces cultures and local tart cherries.

9. Turmoil Cascadian Dark Ale
Barley Brown’s, Baker City
Known elsewhere as Black IPA, this beer is a dance crew battling on your palate: first popping with piney Northwest hops then locking in a rich macchiato mouthfeel. Pungent hops oils temper coffee notes, making a perfect Thermos-filler.

10. Summer Squeeze Ale
BridgePort, Portland
Remember that weeklong heat wave? We’d have liked to wade through an inflatable kiddie pool of this citric summer ale—or maybe just sip a bottle in a pool. Northwest hops and lemongrass made it less like a lemonade-cut Radler than lemon pepper shaken over summer barbecue. 

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