If you haven't made the relatively short pilgrimage to Troutdale for a concert or a round of golf, you might not know that the Edgefield brewing team is cranking out the best and most creative beers out of all the breweries in the McMenamins brothers empire.
Edgefield's massive 25-barrel brewhouse is the largest operation in McMenamins' fleet of 25 breweries across Oregon and Washington. Each location has a certain amount of creative freedom with their beers, but Edgefield is putting out more one-off beers than any of their peers. But that's not what makes this particular McMenamins brewery the crown jewel. The real magic lies within their barrel program.
McMenamins has spent some time in the barrel-aging game. They started pairing beer with wood back in 2005. Most of the company's smaller breweries have access to barrels, but Edgefield is the only one with a dedicated barrel program. With access to freshly dumped oak barrels still damp with whiskey or rum that was distilled and aged on the property, it would be a waste not to take advantage of all those magical barrels.
And if you try just one beer for yourself, make it the beautifully executed holiday ale, Lord of Misrule, the latest installment in an annual tradition that started in 2014, when Matt Bergfield became Edgefield's brewery manger.
"The core concept was mine," Bergfield says humbly, "but different parts of the beer definitely come from across the board."
The beer is aptly named after the lost late medieval-times tradition of appointing a commoner to reign over Christmas merriment and the annual Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule could only hold the title for one holiday season, and this beer keeps the spirit of that ritual by getting a new recipe each year.
"It's a short-lived beer just like the original Lord of Misrule," Bergfield says. "No two years will ever be the same and that's what really makes the project great."
In the past, the project had been a beery take on a hot, winter-time drink.
"It's always a really fun project to work on," he says, "but this year, we wanted to break tradition and just make something that sounded really cool."
The base beer was brewed with a heavy dose of oats for creaminess, kiln coffee malt to get roasty dark chocolate notes and a little lactose for a touch of sweetness. It spent eight months aging in Hogshead whiskey barrels, and each barrel was then put through serious scrutiny. Only the best batches were blended.
"We actually overbrewed the base beer so we could be really picky about what went into the final blend," Bergfield explains. "We only ended up using six of the original eight barrels."
And they weren't done yet. Bergfield's team had also been aging organic maple syrup in Hogshead whiskey barrels, right next to the beer. After spending four months unlocking all the oak and whiskey magic, the syrup was blended straight into the beer.
The result is a surprisingly balanced work of art. Up front, the beer is packed with fig, coffee and chocolate notes. There are whiskey notes, but they don't come across too hot or overwhelming. The maple syrup is almost undetectable at first, but shines through after the beer warms up a few degrees. It ties everything together without being cloying sweet.
If you miss out on the 2017 batch, there's always next year's version to look forward to. Bergfield is already forging a plan.
"I've already been thinking about the next recipe, and I'm really excited about it," he exclaims, "Because nothing says holidays like milk and cookies!"