We hit up a handful of new places that have opened since we left 2 years ago: Deschutes Brewery's Portland Location, Green Dragon (which offered both Single Wide & Tank 7), and Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). HUB is pretty new to the Portland beer scene and focuses on organic, sustainable brewing practices as well as top-notch beer.
I tried to only drink stuff I'd never had or can't get in KC, so I had my eye out for new and unusual things. When we lived in PDX, we used to go to Concordia Ale House for all the latest stuff. However, when we showed up on Wednesday, half of their 35 or so taps were dedicated to Imperial IPAs from a recent competition. I had one, and it was good, but we all agreed - IIPAs are overdone and getting kind of tired. Where's the new stuff? What's the latest trend? We've done Imperials, we've done barrel-aged... sour beers were on the rise in '08 (and continue to be, thankfully!)... what's the new kid on the block this year?
Cue unhopped beer. This stuff was all over Portland and I was able to try examples from Deschutes, Roots, and Upright. There are two main styles of unhopped beers, both very old and invented before hops were recognized as "the" bittering agent and preservative: Sahti and Gruit. You may have read about Dogfish Head's recent take on Sahti, Sah'tea, or seen Craigmill's heathered Fraoch at the store. I only had Gruit, so I don't have much to say about Sahti other than I wish I'd have bought a bottle of DFH's Sah'tea to check it out.
Gruit beers are typically made with a variety of herbs, roots, twigs, and flowers that have preservative qualities (just like hops!): bog myrtle, yarrow, heather, juniper (berries and twigs), ginger, and a multitude of others. It reminded me of a wit, with the citrus and coriander flavors, but without any hoppiness and more flower. Lots more.
My first experience was with Deschutes' La Fleur which uses myrtle, yarrow, orange blossom, and spices (they don't specify, but I'm sure it had ginger in it). It was actually very good and my favorite of the three I tried. The floral taste wasn't overpowering and it was very light and summery. It was almost like drinking boozy iced jasmine tea. I also tried Upright's Reggae Junkie, which I thought was good but not something I'd want to drink all the time, and Roots' Gruit Kolsch which was way too heavy on the chamomile. They all kind of have the same floral-spice herbal tea flavor, which isn't offensive but appears easy to do poorly.
Overall, I'd say it's worth a shot. I've seen the Craigmill beers around town (Lukas and Gomers, I believe). Give the style a try - if you like wits, pumpkin beers, or other spiced and/or floral beers, you might find that gruit's a style you really like.
- Check out Gruitale.com for more information on the history and making of gruit
- I really liked HUB. A lot. The beer (all organic, lots of different styles, fresh, and high quality), the food (some different things on the menu and well executed), the atmosphere (open, airy, pinball machines upstairs, bike parts used for light fixtures), the staff (prompt, courteous, knowledgeable)... If you're ever in Portland, they're worth a visit. Note - they're crowded. We got there at 4:30 on a Tuesday and got one of the last spaces in the parking lot.
- Boulevard has recently made its entrance into the Portland market with Single Wide and the Smokestack series. I didn't see any of the seasonal Smokestacks available in bottles (Saison-Brett or Two Jokers), but I think they'd do fantastically well there. Portland's a good market for "different" beers, so I'm glad to see them making an entry. Tank 7 appears to be well-received, and I suspect the Saison-Brett, Imperial Stout, and BBQ will receive similar (if not more favorable) fanfare.
- I have a lot of confidence in Upright. The brewer did his internship for culinary school at Ommegang and was one of the first brewers at BJ's (a brewery/pizza chain I really wish we had here) to experiment with Belgian styles. I tried a couple of his beers, #4 (a wheat made from a sour mash and with a Belgian yeast) and the Gruit, and liked the #4 a lot. I would love to see his beer bottled & distributed some day. I'll be keeping my eye on this one.
- Roots' Gruit Kolsch was pretty bad. I don't usually leave half a beer behind, but no one at our table was willing to finish it. Every time we go to Roots, we seem to have the same conversation: "You know, I really want to like this place but...". I feel the same way about McCoys/Foundry. I want to love them. I really do. I used to think that the Foundry would take off as KC's place to go for new and good beer, but it seems that the Flying Saucer has really come through in this role.