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Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Junior Ethnographer Visits Sasquatch Brewing

I made a rare foray into the deep west side--beyond downtown--a couple weeks back and visited Sasquatch Brewing.  For grid-brained east-siders, it's in that tricky spot where the snaking Capitol Highway splits in half, and if you are in the wrong lane, you're in Hillsboro before you you get a chance to backtrack.*  If you're in the right lane--which is actually the left lane--you come almost immediately on one of Portland's newest brewpubs, the diminutive Sasquatch. 

A tight fit for brewer Charlie Van Meter. (Source)
I have seen domestic kitchens larger than the brewery, which peeks over the dining room's hind quarters.  It's apparently a 7-barrel system, but I suspect quantum physics were needed to get it in that space.  No matter, owner/brewer Tom Sims gets it to do the job.  I tried six of the nine beers on tap, and they were all well-balanced, polished, and accomplished beers.  The lineup is almost exclusively classic brewpub favorites--Anglo-American ales from the quite pale to hearty stout--though the best beer may be a strong Belgian Blonde that has lots of white grape to stone fruit esters and a dangerous smooth drinkability. 

As I was drinking through the lineup, I noticed something.  Production breweries like The Commons, Upright, and Cascade can afford to make beers that target a particular niche--through the magic of distribution, they can get their beers to their scattered fans.  A corner brewpub like Sasquatch doesn't have that luxury.  It needs to make beer that appeals to the broadest group in the half-mile radius around the pub where most of the clientele live.  As a result, brewpubs are almost perfect little reflections of what people drink. 

Let's look at Sasquatch's line.  They have a brown, a stout, and that Belgian on the one hand.  On the other, it has five or six beers, depending on how you count, that are versions of American hoppy ales: Oregon Session Ale (4.7%), which has quite a bit of Willamette hop zest, Healy Heights Pale (5.6%, 46 BUs), OR-7 Amber (6.6%, 45 BUs), Woodboy Dry Hop IPA (6.8%, 74 BUs), Red Electric IRA (6.7%, 70 BUs), and Moby Dick IIPA (10.2%, 90 BUs).  When a person sits down, she thinks: what variety of hoppy paleish beer am I in the mood for?  A light sipper?  A medium-strength powerhouse?  A titan?  If she has proclivities within this field, she may tilt one way or another.  Like caramel?--try the amber.  The most hoppy?  IPA.  Session beer?  Start with the OSA and go to the pale.  And so on.


The point is this: Oregonians like hops.  Two thirds of the beers on offer fit into a pretty narrow band of styles and flavors.  No doubt more than two thirds of the sales are of those six beers.  You've got to have a few choices for the oddballs (like me: although I enjoyed the session a lot--natch--my favorite was the Belgian, with a close second to the very silky mocha-like stout), but mainly you're trying to accommodate people whose tastes are finely tuned among this narrow band.  This is quite different from what brewpubs were serving one or two decades ago, when you would always have seen a wheat, probably a fruit beer, two or three varieties of black beer, and only a couple hoppy beers. 

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*I kid.

3 comments:

Kris said...

You're right about the space being tight. I ran into Charlie at The BeerMongers recently and in talking about the new tanks they got in he confirmed that while they all fit, it's a just-barely type of fit.
For those who "dare" venture into SW (I must admit I don't do it very often), one could stop at McMenamin's first brewpub (tucked just off the main road to the north) first, hit Sasquatch next and then continue on the same road out to Old Market.

Kelsey.Williams said...

Why does everyone scoff at SW? I think Hillsdale/Multnomah Village is a fine place to live. And Sasquatch a fine place to drink my hoppy pales.

Jeff Alworth said...

We are two cities joined by a river and a downtown. We scoff mutually at one another, but only in good fun.

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