Drank: Eternal Oktober

Our blind taste test of 29 lagers from across Oregon.

For a kind of beer that’s best fresh, the world’s top lagers are very old. Germany’s best—think Augustiner, Tannenzäpfle and Neumarkter—have been at it for a couple hundred years. Many of Portland’s best lagers aren’t new either. In our blind taste test of 29 Oregon beers, three well-known lagers made up the better part of our top five: Upright’s Engelberg Pils, Full Sail’s Pilsner and Long’s Linda’s Lager.

Craft lagers occupy an odd niche. Made with yeast that ferments slowly at cool temperatures, it takes up valuable tank space at small breweries and is often considered too subtle next to the big yeast flavors of ales. But lagers are gaining in popularity—Portland saw its first lager festival this summer, and there seems to be about twice as many on store shelves this year. But with the exception of a few notables, it's not really anyone's calling card.

Unsurprisingly, Upright and Heater Allen, which make a lot of lager, did very well in our taste test. In drinking 29 lagers, our critics got a little bored—"meh," "boring," "it's beer," were frequent comments. Then again, only two fell below the 50-point mark on a scale of 100. Perhaps the best indicator of mood is the three-way tie for 16th.

If you've had the first-place beer, you're probably not surprised where it landed. Even a hardened Real Ale enthusiast might be swayed by this complex lager with a floral, citrus nose, a bready body and, of course, a nice, clean finish. 

1. Upright Engelberg Pils (Portland)

Score:

Developed on the fly when Upright's brewers came into a batch of really nice Tettnanger hops and wanted to make a beer that suited them, it manages to be crisp and clean while remaining interesting. The defining characteristics of the lesser lagers are all herein manifest, but toned down. Engelberg is just a little bit sweet. A little bit lemony. A little bit hoppy.

Comments: "Beautiful, yellow, crystal color." "This is what Pilsner should taste like."

2. Pints Big Rig Cascadian Dark Lager (Portland)

Score:

An attempt to marry big malts with plentiful hops and a crisp yeast, Big Rig first caught our eyes at the Portland Pro/Am with its big, rich flavor.

Comments: "Bready chocolate with American hops." "This is a beer that delivers what the CDA promised and failed."

3. Long Linda's Lager (Newberg)

Score:

It smelled a little like vegetables, but its big, malty front end made up for it.

Comments: "Big, malty, salad." "A bit grainy; clean, smooth."

4. Gigantic Ginormous India Pale Lager (Portland)

Score:

A limited-edition beer from Gigantic, this India Pale Lager was far and away the hoppiest beer we tasted at 45 IBUs.

Comments: "Very IPA-like."

5. Full Sail Pilsner (Hood River)

Score:

Full Sail is famous for its stubby bottle lager. This Pils, which was just added to the Hood River brewery's year-round lineup this summer, has a nice citrus nose and smooth integration of hops.

Comments: "Light, citrusy, crisp and refreshing." "I'd bring it to a barbecue."

6. Heater Allen Pils (McMinnville) 

Score:

This beer from McMinnville lager specialist Heater Allen is a classic. Our critics appreciated its bitterness and subtlety, detecting notes of green apple and sourdough bread.

Comments: "Malt and bitter—spot on!" "Crisp, nice bitterness."

7. Old Town Union Pilsner (Portland)

Score:

Bready, with a bit of honey on the front end, this beer successfully combined the best aspects of many beers lower on the list.

Comments: "A bit of trees in Florida."

8. Seven Brides Lil's Pils (Silverton)

Score:

This is a proactive lager—clean, clear and under control. The beer's subtle hoppy note was appreciated. It may have benefited from a pairing with some meaty pizzas we ate midway through the tasting.

Comments: "On the lighter side of lawn-mower beers." "It goes great with pizza."

9. Ecliptic Spica HefePils (Portland)

Score:

Chock-full of hops and unfiltered, Spica had a grainy, citrusy quality.

Comments: "Hopped like a West Coast pale."

10. Breakside Liquid Sunshine Pilsner (Portland)

Score:

As its cloudy appearance suggests, Liquid Sunshine isn't filtered. Its pleasant, pastoral punch shows it pays off.

Comments: "Pleasantly farmy for a lager." "Sweet, but not too sweet."

11. Omission Gluten-Free Lager (Portland)

Score:

We included this beer as a goof, but it finished just outside our top 10. Guess you don't need gluten to make a good lager.

Comments: "Light as a feather, stiff as a board."

12. Alameda P-Town Pilsner (Portland)

Score:

A light, sulfury nose gives way to a cereal, lemony flavor. Some critics compared it to a gym, but they apparently really like gyms.

Comments: "This smells like a shoe." "Terror beyond the cornrows."

13. Worthy Local 36 Red Lager (Bend)

Score:

This is a solid red lager with a caramelly flavor and hoppy finish. Flames and a lizard in an apparent SoBe pastiche made its label the worst—and the best.

Comments: "Maltiest aroma yet, and a flavor that fails to match that malty aroma." "Warm fur coat."

14. Cascade Lakes Paulina Lake Pilsner (Redmond)

Score:

With floral and honey notes, and a scenic, lakeside landscape label, this beer found our panel in an amorous mood.

Comments: "Making love in a canoe."

15. Burnside Couch Select Lager (Portland)

Score:

Burnside's Couch Select Lager, which it advertises as "best drank in large quantities accompanied by a cheeseburger," proved divisive with our critics. While some found it to be a good "chuggin' beer," others complained of a chemical taste.

Comments: "This is lawn-mowing beer." "Very sweet, welcome, bitterness."


16. (Tie) Hopworks Urban Brewery Lager (Portland)

Score:

Hopworks' lager has won awards at the World Beer Cup and the Australian International Beer Awards. While some critics found it clean and sturdy, others complained of an overpowering sweet flavor and skunky smell.

Comments: "Way too sweet." "Catcher's mitt full of kittens."

16. (Tie) Lucky Labrador Papa Paul's Pilsner (Portland)

Score:

Tasted as our critics hit the proverbial wall in the lager marathon, this Pilsner failed to inspire much malice or praise.

Comments: "Not my bag." "Dusty." "Hollowness."

16. (Tie) Hop Valley 541 American Lager (Springfield)

Score:

The first beer in our tasting, this lager set the bar for the rest with a taste that was clean, lemony and a little uninspired.

Comments: "This tastes like PBR." "A little sour, if otherwise clean."

19. Caldera Lawnmower Lager (Ashland)

Score:

Clear, malty and sweet, this beer reminded some critics of a certain item crowding Rivers Cuomo's icebox.

Comments: "Booooooring." "Way too saccharine." "Needs more hops."

20. Full Sail Farias Clara Helles Lager (Hood River)

Score:

Full Sail's Helles Lager is part of its small-batch Brewer's Share series. But drinking this malty brew from a 22-ounce bottle instead of a 40-ouncer was kind of weird.

Comments: "Malty and slightly sweet." "Off-putting caramel malt flavor; cloying aftertaste."

21. Heater Allen Coastal (McMinnville)

Score:

It's not a red ale, but its red coloring almost fooled our critics.

Comments: "Liquid meh." "Kinda cheesy smell."

22. Deschutes Pine Mountain Pilsner (Bend)

Score:

The old standby of Oregon ale lovers, Deschutes did not fair well in the lager competition. Our critics complained of a Band-Aid-like smell and nondescript flavor.

Comments: "Off." "Grainy, nutty, dry and fruity."

23. Fort George 1811 Lager (Astoria)
Score:

Fort George's lager proved divisive. Fans liked its fruity taste, but detractors thought, at best, that it didn't taste like a lager and, at worst, that it tasted like we poured it in the bathroom.

Comments: "More ale, less lager." "Full-bodied, hoppy and tropical." "Smells like urinal cakes, tastes like pee."

24. Southern Oregon Brewing Na Zdraví (Medford)

Score:

Named for the Czech toast, this beer's sweetness and weird flavor alienated all of our critics except one, who likened drinking it to an experience that we can't print.

Comments: "I think I found my cavity." "Cardboard and eggs."

25. Base Camp Celestial Meridian Cascadian Dark Lager (Portland)

Score:

Plaid Pantry sells six-packs of this beer for, like, seven bucks. It's dark and easy to drink, as I do all the time. Our other critics are wrong.

Comments: "Not sure if this is lager, but whatever, it's beer." "Watery brown."

26. The Commons Helles Lager (Portland)

Score:

I called almost all of the Commons' suppliers in the metro area trying to find this beer—thanks to Shut Up and Eat on Southeast Gladstone Street for coming through. But it wasn't worth it. Our critics agreed that a rotten taste was this beer's defining feature.

Comments: "They just flat screwed up." "Smells like apple juice."

27. Base Camp In-Tents India Pale Lager (Portland)

Score: 53.9

This beer did have a few hesitant supporters, but their support was drastically outweighed by how much its sweetness bothered everyone else.

Comments: "Candy sweet. Ouch!" "I would obtain a future for this."

28. Full Sail Session Lager (Hood River)

Score:

Our critics couldn't agree if it tasted like ketchup, vegetables or caramel corn, but they agreed that they didn't like it.

Comments: "So eh…"

29. Deschutes Doppel Dinkel Bock (Bend)

Score:

At 10.5 percent, this beer had far and away the highest alcohol content. They needed to ferment it a little longer to get out the sweetness, though that might have further encouraged the isoamyl acetate. If this was a caramel banana tasting, this beer would've won.

Comments: “Super sweet and cloying.” “Liquid banana.” 

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.