Quick, name the best German-style brewery in Portland.
Whatever you said, you're wrong—there isn't one.
In honor of Oktoberfest, we assembled a team of six tasters, including 10 Barrel's Whitney Burnside, Saraveza's Sarah Pederson, and New School Beer's Ezra Johnson-Greenough. We tasted every German-style beer from Portland's dedicated Deutschland breweries: Rosenstadt, Occidental and Zoiglhaus, plus the three German-style beers from Widmer.
Beer was poured, data was collected, and we even created a name for the award we'd give the winner: the Kaiser's Cup!
Then we crunched the numbers.
Out of a possible score of 100, the three breweries (and Widmer) averaged between 61 and 69 points.
Depending on what you're ordering, you can get a terrific beer—or a decidedly mediocre one—from each of our city's German-style locales. As far as we are concerned, this race is too close to call right now. Things might change in time for the second annual Kaiser's Cup thanks to the impending arrival of Wayfinder, which will specialize in lagers and has a veteran of Washington's famed Chuckanut manning the kettles.
Here are the top beers we tasted in each style category, as rated by our blind tasters on a 100-point scale.
Weissbier: Rosenstadt Weissbier, 87 points
Rosenstadt knocked it out of the park with its take on the Southern German wheat beer, offering our panel a cloudy ale with notes of banana, clove and just a hint of sulfur leaping out of the glass. The tasters' highest-rated beer, it's as good as any real German wheat beer we've come across.
Tasting notes: "Fuck. Yeah." "Something nostalgic about it." "I want to commit to a full pint of this." "Smells like an orange fruit gummy." "Cream dream!"
Kölsch: Occidental Kölsch, 86
A fresh and crystal-clear batch of German ale that came in as the second-highest-rated beer in our tasting, Occidental's Cologne-inspired brew was grainy, clean and quaffable, just like the genuine article.
Tasting notes: "Brings a certain Aaron Carter song to mind." "Mineral-y and delicious." "Lemon curd and fresh scone." "Day-drinkable."
Helles Lager: Zoiglhaus Lents Lager, 86
The most universally appreciated beer in the tasting, Zoiglhaus' take on Munich's malty all-Pilsner lager is about as authentic as they come. A crystal-clear brew with a perfectly frothy head, this beer was squeaky-clean with a slight bready afternote, a delicious version our tasters seemed sure could hang with its actual German counterparts.
Tasting notes: "Hello, Munich!" "Nicely done—gimme another!" "So snappy."
Altbier: Occidental Altbier, 77
As a stylistic average, the two hoppy copper ales submitted by Widmer and Occidental both did very well, earning solid B-plus scores in our tasting. That said, it was the creaminess of Occidental's beer that gave it an edge over the Widmer bros' original recipe.
Tasting notes: "Beautiful copper color, crisp." "Nice, malty chewy, creamy body."
Pilsner: Widmer PDX Pils, 71
The winner of this year's Oregon Beer Awards was once again the top Pils on the table, earning itself a solid B rating from judges. If anything, this lager dropped a letter grade from perfect due to what some tasters perceived as an almost overly drinkable quality.
Tasting notes: "Crispy gold grain juice. Yum." "Satisfyingly light." "Very tasty."
Oktoberfest (Märzen): Occidental Oktoberfest, 65
Neither of the amber lagers tasters sampled truly captured their hearts, with Occidental's dark and malty take on the amber lager barely beating out Zoiglhaus' paler submission. Both beers exhibited elements that tasters didn't love, but it turns out they were a bit more patient with a beer they thought was too heavy than one they thought was too hoppy.
Tasting notes: "Thick. Like a bitter chocolate that my grandpa gave me out of his pocket." "Too astringent for my Oktoberfest party." "Too much crystal malt."
Berliner Weisse: Zoiglhaus Amerikaner in Berliner Weisse, 45
The most divisive beer of the tasting was the lone Berliner, a sharply acidic ale in which Zoiglhaus head brewer Alan Taylor uses three strains of yeast he saved from a beloved, now extinct German beer brand. We've loved the beer in the past, but our tasting panel was harshly divided whether they enjoyed the acidic bite of the beer, with a down-the-middle split that hurt its average overall. The highest rating it received was a 96, and the lowest a 0, though we suspect some palate fatigue may have played a role in the harsher judgments of the beer.
Tasting notes: "Bill Nye gone brewer." "Sharp apricot with nice flavor and complexities." "Smells and tastes like a pickle."
Also tasted: Widmer Altbier, Zoiglhaus Schwarzbier, Occidental Pilsner, Zoiglhaus Weissbier, Rosenstadt Helles, Zoiglhaus OktoberFresh, Widmer No Lederhosen Kölsch, Rosenstadt German Pale, Occidental Hefeweizen and Rosenstadt Kölsch.