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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heater Allen Brewing in McMinnville--Who Knew?

I guess if John Foyston didn't know Heater Allen Brewing existed, I shouldn't feel too bad that I didn't know, either. It does exist, and in a welcome change, Brewer Rick Allen has decided to feature a lineup of lagers. The lineup includes a pilsner, schwarz (one of my favorite styles), Oktoberfest, bock, Vienna amber, and dunkel--plus a holiday doppel.

[Historical interlude. The Northwest, with its drizzly, Dublin-like weather, is ale country. You can trace the history of the pint back to a time that predated the mid-19th Century influx of German immigrants--Henry Weinhard, et. al.--back to the New England of Lovejoy and Pettygrove. When craft brewing revived beer culture in Oregon, we fell naturally into the pub-going of these deeper roots, eschewing the bright bier halls of Munich for the murky light of a London-esque pub. Lagers, ascendent in America for 65 years, didn't excite beer drinkers. Saxer, an early all-lager brewery, and one of the most celebrated in America, ultimately died from disinterest. But in the past few years, as Portlanders constantly look for the next cool style, lagers have made a bit of a comeback. The time may be ripe for an all-lager brewery to find a niche.]

The brewery describes itself as "artisnal," which is often code for "wee." But listen to how Allen describes it:
We use a step-mashing process that allows us to reduce the protein content of our beer, resulting in a naturally clearer beer without filtering. We lager our beers as long as it takes to achieve the clarity and flavor we desire - usually around eight to ten weeks, although sometimes longer. Our beers are bottle or cask conditioned. This creates a finer 'bead' (smaller bubbles) and a smoother texture. If you don't think this makes a difference, compare real champagne to cheap sparkling wine. Finally we work hard at controlling the distribution of our beer to avoid exposing it to excess heat, light, or aging (unless, of course, the beer was meant to age). Where possible, we try to sell directly to the consumer, because this insures that our customers receive the beer in the best possible condition.
I'm particularly impressed with the length of time he ages the beer--this is one of the keys to a really nice lager (the word lager means "to store"). It's expensive for big breweries to age their beers, and so they often take shortcuts. If the winter seasonal is any evidence, he's taking it very seriously--his first batch has been aging since April.

Here's how you track down a bottle. But don't do anything until I arrange to get some of that doppelbock first--he only made 60 gallons!


  1. Lagers made in Oregon? Woo hoo! It is about time. Thanks for the head's up, I can't wait to taste.

  2. I've been waiting for this place to start distributing, so thanks for updating and pointing me to the ordering page. Now I need to get them to deliver some our way and save the rest of us from having to trek out to McMinnville.