Into the Woods
Portland beers barrel down
By Hilary Berg
Portland is most decidedly famous for its beer. The city boasts more breweries than anywhere in the world. So how can OWP pay homage to Portland’s frothy foundation with a wink to our wine world? Barrels.
Using oak for aging beer has enjoyed a revival in recent years. Barrels originally were used to store brew, and the flavors gained from the wood were considered a secondary benefit. The rise of stainless steel fermenters and storage tanks greatly diminished the use of barrels, but artisan brewers have resurrected oak for creative purposes by either infusing their batches via oak chips — or cubes or spirals — or by good ol’ fashioned barrels.
When brewing by barrel, the type of wood — most often French, American or Hungarian oak — and its toast level are part of the brewmaster’s program. What those barrels formerly contained — wine, brandy, gin, bourbon — also figures into the beer’s flavor.
If used properly, oak can add full, rich properties of the wood, weaving them delicately into the beer — used incorrectly, however, it can destroy balance, producing a taste experience like chewing on, well, wood.
The following barrel-aged beers demonstrate the former and all are crafted in the Portland Metro Area, also known as Beervana.
Cascade Brewing’s Ron Gansberg takes his barrel program seriously. The brewmaster’s Southeast “Barrel House” currently holds more than 750 French oak, Kentucky bourbon and Northwest wine barrels filled with all kinds of beer, aged and blended into “magical elixirs.” Figaro, a Northwest-style sour ale, is a blend of strong blond ales aged in Chardonnay barrels for three months — and up to two years — with dried Adriatic white figs and Spanish lemon peel. In addition, be sure to grab a pint of The Vine, a wheat/blond ale aged in oak wine barrels with white wine grapes, from the brewery’s own taps. ABV: 10.7%
939 S.E. Belmont Street, Portland | www.cascadebrewingbarrelhouse.com
Gigantic Brewing Co.
Located in Southeast Portland, Gigantic Brewing Company has become a huge hit among the city’s beer lovers. Brewers Ben Love and Van Havig are dedicated to small-batch brewing, including Pipewrench, an India pale ale aged in Ransom Old Tom Gin barrels for three months. Botanicals from the gin meld perfectly with citrusy hops and subtle wood in an incredibly complex yet balanced beer. A part the brewery’s artist series, the beer’s colorful, skateboard-inspired label is by artist Dave Gardner. ABV: 8.0%
5224 S.E. 26th Avenue, Portland | www.giganticbrewing.com
The Commons Brewery
Just like some wineries, The Commons Brewery was born in a garage. Mike Wright named his one-barrel operation Beetje Brewery but soon realized he wanted to upgrade to a true commercial system. In 2011, he leased space and hired help to start The Commons Brewery. This spring, the brewery moved into its current Southeast home, making and serving its European-inspired beer. Flemish Kiss, a decidedly American Pale Ale, “builds a bridge to Belgium” by aging five to eight weeks in neutral oak barrels dosed with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis yeast. The result is a slightly dry, fruity beer with a hint of floral Brett character that will evolve over time. ABV: 6.5%
630 S.E. Belmont Street, Portland | www.commonsbrewery.com
In 2010, Scott Lawrence opened Breakside Brewery in Northeast Portland as a restaurant and nano-sized brewery. As excitement grew about the beer, made by award-winning brewmaster Ben Edmunds, so did the need to expand. In late 2012, operations moved to Milwaukie, where tank space increased, a barrel room was created and a 20-tap tasting room opened for business. While Breakside makes many different styles, most of its barrel-aged beers, like Braggadocio, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial London porter — made in collaboration with Stone Brewing — is accessible only by joining Breakside’s exclusive reserve club. ABV: 10.1%
820 N.E. Dekum Street, Portland | 5821 S.E. International Way, Milwaukie
Inspired by Charles Mingus, the famous “upright” bass player, Upright Brewing owner/brewer Alex Ganum aims to defy categorization just like the jazz legend’s compositions. The North Portland outfit specializes in farmhouse-inspired beers rooted in the Old World but made with a New World twist, while also dabbling in both classic and quirky beer recipes. Influenced by the Prize Old Ale once made by George Gale & Company in England, Billy the Mountain is super malty and full of ripe fruit, leather, wine and oak flavors. The seasonal offering is partially barrel aged with Brett, giving it a distinct taste and an aroma that will develop over time. ABV: 9.1%
240 N. Broadway, No. 2, Portland | www.uprightbrewing.com