The Beer Here / "You're not from around here, are you?"
The question from the other end of the bar caught me off guard. I had not expected to get made so quickly in Vale, a tiny town near the Oregon-Idaho border, where pints are dirt cheap and the air smells like onions from the nearby farms. Maybe the exhaustion that hung on my body like a wet blanket following the six-and-a-half-hour drive there gave me away. Perhaps, I wondered while noticing the collection of old chaps worn by local rodeo legends displayed on the walls, the Sagebrush Saloon was one of those joints that rarely sees an unfamiliar face, rendering mine instantly out of place.
Turns out, it was none of that. My outsider status was based on my drink order.
All I wanted that Friday night last April was an IPA—with its pinpricks of bitterness spreading across my tongue—to shake off the fatigue. Before I asked what was on tap, the oversized ornamental belt buckle emblazoned with the brand "Coors" above the bar told me all I needed to know. There was not a single keg of craft beer in the building, let alone a hopped-up style.
I pressed the server for any other beers in a bottle. There had to be a secret stash for someone in Vale who couldn't choke down the Bud or Blue Moon flowing from the wall. The bartender turned and reached into a fogged-up cooler. A sense of relief washed over me as her hand emerged with a can from a craft brewer in Idaho that, in the moment, felt almost as relaxing as the buzz I'd soon get from drinking it. Sure, it wasn't an Oregon product, but by stocking a beer from Boise, its neighbor to the east, the Sagebrush was upholding a basic industry mantra: Support locally made beverages and drink as close to the source as possible.
This year's Guide to Oregon Beer was developed with the same principle in mind: We want you to explore the dynamic and widely varied breweries in the city you call home, but when you take that trip to the coast this summer or hit the road for a Ducks or Beavers game in the fall, we also want you to check out the beer scene there. That's why we've organized descriptions of the most highly recommended producers as quadrant-by-quadrant pub crawls in Portland and day or weekend trips for seven different regions across the state. The ambitious can strictly adhere to each suggested itinerary for a booze-soaked getaway or simply use it as a reference when you find yourself somewhere in need of a solid pint. New to the 2020 edition is a map of Eastern Oregon breweries that function as ideal pit stops when headed to vacation destinations like Walla Walla, Wash., and Wallowa Lake.
As always, we offer a list of the Oregon Beer Award winners as well as our editorial contributors' Top 10 Beers of the Year—which includes everything from complex saisons to hearty stock ales and IPAs to smoked porters. The class of 2020 is delightfully diverse and reflects the different paths the state's brewers have taken based on what interests them. For some, it's aging a second-runnings beer for four years to try to tame the flavors. Others give us still new variations of the ever-popular IPA. There's even an up-and-coming substyle of Pilsner. Such innovation should encourage anyone who's felt a little uneasy about possible market saturation following the closure of some long-standing brands last year. Disruption can be good—when it forces businesses to adapt and re-evaluate.
My fellow bar patron in Vale—Brian, as I'd later learn—picked me out as a stranger based on my persistence for 12 ounces of IPA, which would seem to indicate drinkers of big domestics still reign in those parts. But the interaction also illustrates the craft beer community runs deep. If I can find a quality brew made by an independent company in a dive surrounded by more crop acreage and wild canyonland than cities, it's proof positive the industry has reach beyond meccas like Portland. There are cans, taps or bottles in the dingiest bars in the smallest towns—which means people there are ordering them. Here's hoping WW's 2020 guide to all things beer inspires you to visit a brewery you've never been to or ask for a sample from an unfamiliar handle.