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Friday, March 11, 2011

Underrated Breweries and Your Poll-Winner

On Monday, I proposed a concept: underrated breweries. It requires a little unpacking. When we consider what a "good" brewery is, we are actually applying a composite of several dimensions: quality, innovation, wow-factor, uniqueness, consistency. The dimensions are not weighted equally. If a brewery delivers innovation, big wow-factor, and uniqueness, they earn buzz. If they merely provide quality and innovation, not so much. So, breweries like Upright, Hair of the Dog, and Cascade draw a lot of attention.

I cited Laurelwood as my example of most-underrated, and it handily won in polling. The win was Facebook-aided, though they were leading in the polling from the very start. Perhaps this was a result of my comments, or perhaps because they have several locations and a lot of fans. The Facebook posting is definitely responsible for making their win a gaudy, one however.

A few commenters noted that Laurelwood is big and popular and has won a number of awards, so how could it be overrated? It's a perfect example of a brewery that delivers quality and consistency, but doesn't spend a lot of time on uniqueness, wow-factor, or innovation. In all the years I've been going, though, I've never had a beer with brewing defects, and I've rarely had a lame beer. Laurelwood's line invariably starts at a B rating and goes up. That kind of consistency is very hard to maintain, and it deserves more respect than it sometimes gets. So: respect to Laurelwood.

Now, there's another dimension to this story. The second-place brewery, which produces beer much like Laurelwood's with great consistency and quality, is tiny by comparison: Heater Allen. It's a small production brewery, located well outside the Portland Metro area, and the beers are hard to find. Yet it beat out the likes of Lompoc, Widmer, and the Lucky Lab. Impressive! I wholeheartedly endorse this result and agree with voters--Heater Allen is way undervalued, all the more because it's the only lager brewery in the state.

So, congrats to Laurelwood and Heater Allen, Oregon's most underrated breweries.

Full results, including write in votes, are below the jump:


  1. The two grocery stores I shop at - Whole Foods and New Seasons - both carry Heater Allen, so I didn't realize they were hard to find. Do you mean on tap? I haven't tried them yet, so I think I know what's going in my cart next week.

  2. Laurelwood is great.. Chad is awesome.. but I hear a lot of crap about the owner.

    Fort George is solid, and is doing great things now... and Astoria doesn't get enough attention at all in my book. They work very hard, and continually crank out awesome beer after beer. My .02c

  3. It's funny, when I moved to Portland almost 3 years ago and started in on the craft beer, one of the early bottles that I tried was Heater Allen. I think they stocked them at Cork, the wine shop. After that I saw them at eventually New Seasons and other places, so I didn't think they were hard to find at all. And I did my best to get all my friends to try them since it seemed no one ever heard of them.

  4. Bottles of Heater Allen are reported available in 10 Oregon outlets outside Portland and McMinville on Heater Allen's website. They are not routinely available in Salem from personal experience.

  5. Heater Allen's distribution is defo improving. In Eugene we can find his stuff pretty consistently. As far as I'm aware, Bier Stein, 16 Tons and Market of Choice regularly have some of his beers on hand.

    Heater definitely deserves more attention. The beers are excellent -- and it's ballsy for a small craft brewer to make lager. The stuff takes longer than ale, so longer to market.

    Well worth it though.