If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Oregon's Influential Ten

Over at Appellation Beer, Stan has started a mini revolt by naming the "Ten Beers That Changed America." It provoked outrage not least for failing to include a single Oregon brewery (for shame!), but also at the sheer impossibility of trying to answer such a question. But what did emerge is that while only a few beers can be said to have real national influence, there are a lot of influential beers in local markets. So then certain bloggers started naming the beers that influenced their region, and--well, I can't resist. Stan constrained himself to the modern era, and I think that's wise. So here's my chronological list of Oregon's influential ten:

Henry Weinhard Private Reserve. It was actually Henry's that set out on the "good beer" path, albeit with a baby step. Still, it primed Oregonians to think that there was such a thing as good beer, and also to think that such a thing must be brewed in Oregon to be good--two of the hallmarks of our current industry.

Cartwright. No one seems to remember what beers Chuck Coury brewed, but they were impressed that he tried at all. Dick Ponzi, Art Larrence, the Widmers, Fred Bowman--these guys had an early example that you could do such a thing. It may even be that the poor quality of Cartwright's beer was an inspiration--early brewers thought, "hell, I can do that."

Terminator Stout. The McMenamins may have been more important to Oregon brewing than any of the bottled beer brewers because they started the culture of pub-going that has become the foundation of the Oregon beer industry. I've selected Termie because it was an example of the bold nature of the early Oregon brewers; as one of their first beers (brewed, I believe, by John Harris) Terminator was the perfect opposite of macro-pilsners.

Widmer Hefeweizen. If the McMenamins went lowbrow, Widmer Hef sparked a highbrown embrace of beer. In the late 80s, one of the "it" experiences was drinking a tall, cloudy orange beer in B. Moloch's downtown (now South Park). It was also the first beer to go "mass" market (I use that term advisedly.) Unfortunately, it sent brewers down the opposite path from the McBrothers, toward the doomed "crossover beers" that were competing with Bartles and Jaymes for mouths that would never grow to love good beer. Influence isn't always benign, and Oregon brewers spent the better part of a decade in the weeds thanks to Hefeweizen.

Full Sail Amber. Another of the intro beers that brought people to good beer. Unlike Widmer Hef, however, Amber was a more robust, challenging beer and the first to introduce Oregonians to the citrus they would later come to love. It no longer seems like such a flavor-packed beer, evidence of how the market has shifted. But back in the day, it was regarded as a burly, delicious beer.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter. Just looking around the brewpubs, you could see that Oregon was poised to love dark ales, but it took Bend's finest to actually muster the courage to sell it in grocery stores. Surprise! Despite being black, it was sweet and approachable, and made it safe to brew dark beers. Stouts and porters are now among the state's most popular styles.

Rogue Smoke. The early period of Oregon brewing was replete with noble (and some ignoble) disasters with additives. Thanks to Ruby Tuesday at McMenamins (now just Ruby), fruit of all kind went into beers (Lemon Lager, oy!). Other types of additives overwhelmed beer and turned off a lot of customers. But Rogue Smoke, a rauchbier, was one of the experimental brews that showed what authentic brewing could be like. It was beers like this that influenced Craig Nicholls and others to experiment with more sophisticated, subtle flavors.

BridgePort IPA. When BridgePort introduced their IPA, it wasn't yet clear to me that the Oregon palate was actually drawn to bitterness. But the amazing success of this beer--it quickly became the brewery's best-seller and supplanted Blue Heron as the flagship--proved the point. I remember hearing a beer novice complain that she didn't like "bitter beers." Instead, she liked IPAs. The tide had turned.

Hair of the Dog Fred. Hair of the Dog had always been a famous brewery among the beer geeks, but the release of Fred created a mini-revolution in brewing. It was Oregon's introduction to the whole "imperial" phenomenon (though as with all HotD beers, Alan Sprints declined to name it by style). It remains the kind of beer that's spoken of in hushed voice. [Ironic fact: Sprints got his professional start at Widmer, brewing Hefeweizen, Fred's opposite.]

Your Favorite Beer. I have to leave one slot open, because I know there are great arguments to be made for beers like BridgePort's Pintail, Saxer Doppelbock, Wild Duck Sasquatch Strong, and any number of beers past and present that brought people into the fold. When I first started writing about beer, brewers would tell me of the beer that "did it" for them. Fred Bowman (co-founder of Portland Brewing) described getting off a boat in Ireland as a young man, walking to the nearest pub, and buying a pint of Guinness. A brewer was born in that moment. And so it is with beer--we all have our sentimental faves, the beers that catalyzed something in us and turned us into beer fans. Which one did it for you? Here's its slot.

4 comments:

martin said...

What an awesome post!
The most influential beer for me was, I'm embarrassed to say, Nor'Wester Raspberryweizen. I was 18, and my girlfriend and I were trying to get someone to buy us a 12-pack of Busch Lite in front of the AMPM in Woodburn, Oregon. A balding guy with a beard took us up on our "keep the change" offer, but instead of the requested pee beer, he brought us out the Nor'Wester. We headed out to the Mollala River and sipped it down all afternoon. Looking back, I'm sure it must have tasted like Zima. But I haven't had a macro since (except PBR, but only because I'm a former hipster).

Rick Sellers said...

Portland Brewing...? Just a thought. It is a great list, each deserving their spot there.

HOWEVER... :D

Fred - the other Fred - must be acknowledged a little bit at least. He is not a beer, but I'd argue that many of the brewers listed on this post owe something to the writings of Mr. Fred Eckhardt - who will always deflect credit to The Oregonian, for publishing the first beer column in the US (written by Fred).

New list? Ten Influencial People? Ugh... Thanks.

Jeff Alworth said...

No intention to dis Fred. There are many whose contributions we are deeply indebted to. In Portland, you could throw Don Younger into that camp.

Martin, I think we all had "conversion" experiences with beers we now look back on as less than transcendent. Though mine was Terminator, so I'm not too embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

My fondest memories of influential PDX beer bend towards Portland Ale and later, McTarnahan's Scottish Ale. I still fondly remember the painted label of the former and the 40 oz availability of the later.
Cheers!

Post a Comment

NOTE: Blogspot has been eating some comments, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. IF your comment doesn't appear, it's not you, it's not me, it's the genuiuses at Google. Sorry--