Oregon Trail is a funny brewery. I don't know what it's profile in Corvallis is, but in Portland, it floats in and out of our consciousness, never really finding solid purchase. What beers do they brew again? Where's it from? (And most dangerously), is it still in business? Even the website doesn't resolve these questions. It looks like it was built in 1992, and the "brewery/history" page features an 11-year-old reprinted article. I still am a little unclear about the beers they brew, but based on the bottle of Bourbon Porter I bought three weeks ago, I'm going out on a limb to declare that the brewery is still in business.
(Better evidence: Tim Akimoff at Will Blog For Beer posted a video tour of the brewery, which suggests a tangibility beyond the product.)
At some point in the past decade or more, breweries realized that they could get a hold of used bourbon barrels, opening a new vista of possibilities. After all, what goes better with beer than bourbon? You could sell boilermakers in a bottle or subtly flavor your imperial stout with the essence of whiskey. I have tasted some magnificent bourbon-barreled beer (an early offering by Widmer stands out in my memory). Alas, I've now tasted a mediocre one.
The first mistake was using a mildish brown porter, which is no match for the burly liquor with which it commingled. Stouts have a long, sweet, alcoholic middle note, and bourbon nestles right in next to it in fine harmony. Porters, on the other hand, are quaffing beers. Their middles tend to be much thinner and sweeter--no match for anything as strong as bourbon. In fact, what results is more a beer-flavored whiskey cocktail--and not a very good one.
The liquor and malt give it a cloying sweetness, but there's a strong, grating metalic quality to the bourbon, which muscles the beer out of the way. I'm going out on a limb here, but it also seemed like the bourbon was pretty cheap. That seems counterintuitive, given that cheap bourbon probably doesn't make it into barrels (or does it?), but I knows what I tastes.
Oregon Trail may be a robust little brewery that makes wonderful beers. My sample size is too small to comment. But if so, this is an anamoly: call it a gentleman's C.