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Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Half-Satori to Occidental

Starting back in 2006, I started identifying my choice for the best new Oregon release of the year and called it the Satori Award.  Usual boilerplate:
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award, now in its seventh year, honors a debuting beer that in a single instant, through the force of tastiness and elan, produces a flash of insight into the nature of beer. I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer.  The inaugural winner was Ninkasi Believer followed by Full Sail Lupulin (2007), Cascade Apricot Ale (2008),  Upright Four (2009),  Prodigal Son Bruce/Lee Porter (2010), and Fort George 1811 Lager (2011).

I am in even less position to claim to know which release was Oregon's best this year than usual.  I had to spend the year drinking a lot of beer not brewed in Oregon and therefore did not sample a lot of beer that was--especially given that 48 new breweries opened in the Beaver state in 2012.*  I managed to get to Pints, Solera, Gigantic, and Crux which was miraculous in itself, but I don't pretend I even began to get a sense of all the new beers that came out.  Fire on the Mountain, no.  Harvester, nyet.  Sasquatch, Falling Sky, Rusty Truck, nein.  And even among those I did visit, it was usually once.  And that, of course, ignores all the new releases by established breweries.

That's a delightful Únětické 12, close in
character to this year's Satori winner. I
took the photo mainly to capture the
Svíčková na smetaně in the foreground--
it's the national dish of the Czech Rep. 
That said, I did try one beer this year that impressed the hell out of me, and it seems a shame not to give it a shout-out just because I was too busy to test it against others for Best In Show.  There's every likelihood it would have prevailed no matter how many beers I tried.  It's appropriate for a second reason, too.

This year I had the great pleasure of cutting a swath through lager country.  I sampled bocks, helleses, and dunkles at their source.  I tried rauchbier and ungespundet.  I went to Pilsen and Ceske Budejovice.  I went to one of the few breweries in the world where malting is done on-site and the light lager made from it is as fresh and grainy as you would expect.  All those breweries have been there for decades, but for me, it was the year of the lager.

The lager I'm about to identify would have fit in with some of the beers I tried.  It was crisp, light, but a bit cloudy; it had a soft graininess and a rich, tangy hop presence.  The beer was named for the unfiltered lagers of Bavaria, but in retrospect--I tried it before making my lager trek--it had more in common with some of the lagers I tried in the Czech Republic. 
Those beers have greater depths than most German lagers.  They depend more on the malt for character, and the malts are a bit sweeter, grainier, and fuller than they are in Germany.  The hops, too, are a mite louder.  I fell in love with the beers there, and it may be that one of the only ways I'm going to scratch my itch to have another is if this brewery makes another batch of Half-Satori-award-winning lager--as the owner, Ben Engler, promised he would.

So here it is, your 2012 (Half) Satori Award Winner: Occidental Kellerbier.  Occidental is off the beaten path for most beer geeks who seem to congregate within fixie-riding distance of Hopworks, Hair of the Dog, and Upright--though I know there's an outpost of you who regularly make it to Plew's.  For everyone who hasn't made it to Occidental, though, make a trek out.  Drink no fewer than two pints, and take a growler with you.  And tell Ben, who I always find pulling pints when I stop by for my own growlers, that he needs to bring Kellerbier back this summer. 

*Approximate figure. 


  1. As soon as I saw Occidental come up for this Satori post, I wondered if it would be their Kellerbier. I was very impressed by this beer at the 2012 OBF. It's a unique one for the area and manages to be a refreshing summer beer without sacrificing character or flavor.

  2. I have an odd connection to Occidental. Your post reminded me of it, and resulted in me writing about them—and I've never even had one of their beers!

  3. Damn. Visited Occidental but Kellerbier wasn't on the menu. Maybe next time?