“Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout” from Rogue Ales (Newport)

In the beginning there was toasted barley and oats, and clearly a splash of molasses somewhere along the line. But deeper down the glass, like the travails of a long-forgotten nineteenth-century storybook hero, mystical events were transpiring within my mouth. The mundane oatiness, once deceptively simple, turned to an amalgam of cocoa and rich wheat, growing more complex with each drink. Pleasantly bitter and a touch astringent on the tongue, the lively body retained its light character to the end. The molasses, though unsweetened, possessed a vague saltiness that seemed to compliment everything. And at only 6.1% ABV I don’t mind if I have another…

Grade: 9.5/10

Learn more: http://rogue.com/

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“Maiden The Shade – Specialty Ale” from Ninkasi Brewing Company (Eugene)

As you pour, aromatic, floral hops hit you like pungent freshly picked flowers. As you guzzle, well-defined (but not overpowering) bitterness joins sweet, fresh hops within a juicy, enlivening tide of quasi-IPA benevolence. Yet another formidable and potent (6.8% ABV) mutation of grains and yeasts from Ninkasi. It’s a limited release, so drink it while you can.

Grade: 9/10

Learn more at: http://www.ninkasibrewing.com/

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“Spotless IPA” from Full Sail Brewing Co. (Hood River)

Why is it once-small breweries who’ve outgrown the “craft” moniker insist on merely dressing up their standard ales with skunky hops and calling them “special releases”? Well, this one’s “special” alright – but not in the way they intended. Essentially, you have a generic malty base to which they’ve added some unwelcome earthy/bitter hops. The closest approximation is Alaskan Amber seasoned with vegetable matter, like the inside of a vitamin capsule. Come on—wake up, Full Sail – this isn’t 1991. You need imagination these days if you’re going to compete in the craft beer market. Shame upon your vats!

Grade: 6.5/10

Learn more at: http://www.fullsailbrewing.com/

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“Ginger Beer” from Caldera Brewing Company (Ashland)

If you don’t like ginger, you’ll probably skip this one—but a message for you ginger-haters: first, you’re dumb for not liking ginger since it’s one of the most versatile and delicious substances around, and second, while this beer is certainly “gingery” it’s not overwhelmingly so. I tasted a beer called Orange Blossom once. Imagine Miller laced with artificial orange extract—this vile beverage is in my bottom three worst beers of all time. But Caldera’s Ginger Beer tastes of fresh ginger, with crisp, refreshing maltiness, like an Asian lager with its nice foamy head. The ginger, like it or not, provides a distinct and pleasant aroma and an unusual, lip-puckering flavor that goes well with a variety of cuisine. I enjoyed it.

Grade: 8.5/10

Learn more at: http://www.calderabrewing.com/

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“Fearless Scottish Ale” from Fearless Brewing Company (Estacada)

I’ve come to expect very little from Scottish ales. They tend to be overly malted and funky-sweet, like a batch of Old English gone wrong. Fearless’ aroma had me fooled too, with its typical malt heaviness, but everything changed the moment liquid touched tongue. Strange, it was like tasting something from another planet, with a delay while my brain processed the complex and completely unexpected flavors. I scrambled to comprehend the information sent forth from my palette: vanilla sugar—though not overly sweet, a vague oaky nuttiness, delicate malt balancing upon moist tendrils of buttery smooth gold—but there was more. I tasted an indefinable “fresh” flavor, like river waters passing over gleaming rocks. Then I realized it was actually brewed from water collected from the Clackamas River and it all made sense. On the can it reads, “Brewed just for you by Ken Johnson.” I can only assume that Ken Johnson did in fact brew this beer for me, placing it on the shelf where I would discover it and later consume on my patio, falling in love once again with my liquid ladylove. Thank you, Ken.

Grade: 10/10

Learn more at: http://www.fearless1.com/

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“Steam Fired Stout” from Fire Mountain Brew House (Carlton)

Supposedly, Oregon harbors 67 (probably more) hops-obsessed, dangerously thirst-quenching sects, where groups of like-minded workers toil contentedly in secret dank chambers, churning out, like pot-bellied alchemists, the liquid gold that we seek. But, alas, through the arcane manipulations of the yeasty quicksilver, a much more powerful elixir of blackened hue and syrupy form poureth forth. The Steam Fired Stout is but one manifestation of said dark beverages. Sweet molasses melds with deep, rich chocolate and hints of vanilla, with a mild underpinning of bitterness. At 7.6% ABV, it offers a fine kick after dinner, or before church. Sweet tooths, this one’s for you; but its many flavor depths will bedazzle anyone who drinks it.

Grade: 8.5/10

Learn more at: (sorry, no website yet)

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“Session Premium Lager” from Full Sail Brewing Co. (Hood River)

These are my beauties. Have you met them? When the sun beams relentless above and the barbecue sizzles and smokes to the thunderous pulse of reggae, I reach for them. And they don’t disappoint. Crisp, refreshing, vaguely sweet maltiness mixes with clean, pilsner-like qualities. Gladly, I accept these eleven-ounce love bullets upon my tongue, then into my gut, so rewarding are my beauties.

Grade: 9/10

Learn more at: http://www.fullsailbrewing.com/

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“Wry Pale Ale” from Laurelwood Brewing Co. (Portland)

What is pale ale, anyway? Most breweries take the less-is-more route, churning out “safe,” watery varieties typically with a single distinguishable flavor: wheat. Wheat and water: this is what they think of people – that these two generic ingredients are enough to captivate. Laurelwood, I want to kiss you because you live by a different credo. Ingeniously, you’ve produced a beer deceptively lager-like—golden and bubbly with a lively white head—but it’s pale ale through and through. The wry is very subtle, imparting just a whiff of nuttiness to one of the most refreshing beers I’ve ever had. Bitterness is present, but, like the wry, it hovers below the surface like toxins on a poison dart frog. I must confess, after the first few tastes, I tipped this monkey back and drained it. Hands down the best pale ale I’ve tasted.

Grade: 10/10

Learn more at: http://www.laurelwoodbrewpub.com/

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“IPA” from Caldera Brewing Company (Ashland)

This is the beer equivalent to a paperback novel about a homicidal clown. Let me explain. As an IPA, I’m obligated to compare it with its hops-rich, tongue-stupefying namesakes. But this doesn’t seem appropriate here. Imagine a Stephen King novel read by a professor of literature: it’s so easy to read, the words falling hypnotically off the page, boasting a complex, imaginative plot and expert characterization—and yet, it’s not technically literature. This beer is not “technically” IPA—it’s too mellow and so drinkable you almost feel guilty. Delicate floral hops join a pleasant guava-like sweetness, with just a pinch of bitterness. I love it! If it were called anything else it would rate a ten.

Grade: 9/10

Learn more at: http://www.calderabrewing.com/

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“Dead Guy Ale” from Rogue Ales (Newport)

After Widmer hefeweizen and all things Deschutes, Dead Guy is one of the most ubiquitous Oregon beers out there. As such, it’s an innocuous, if not poor, representation of Oregon and Rogue’s oeuvre, which is generally excellent across the board. Don’t let the pseudo-Día de los Muertos label fool you, this is amber ale brewed to please the masses. A slightly sour malty/yeasty flavor permeates notes of watery honey. Also, it tends to pour rather flat—but in a pinch, faced with the twin evils of Buttwiper and M(K)iller, go with the bones.

Grade: 7.5/10

Learn more at: http://www.rogue.com/

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