“Mirror Mirror Barley Wine Ale – 2009 Reserve” from Deschutes Brewery (Bend)

Like imperial stout or any high-alcohol hard cider, barley wine is somewhat of an acquired taste. Here, traces of whiskey-oakiness and fermented fruity malt are at once blaringly sweet and surprisingly smooth. With 11% ABV you’d expect more bite, or at least a more present bitterness, but Mirror Mirror is mellow and only moderately mouth-numbing. Its character is a bit reserved, making it ideal for “sensitive” palettes. There is a wealth of much stronger (and less expensive) barley wines out there. But few of these astringent nectars could be enjoyed with a charcuterie or peasant plate of fruit and cheeses (as an aperitif) and as a digestif. I can think of worse ways to spend twelve dollars—for instance, on a case of Coors, which is essentially good beer in urine form. This is the purity, baby.

Grade: 8.5/10

Learn more at: http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/splash/default.aspx

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“Radiant Ale” from Ninkasi Brewing Company (Eugene)

Somewhere within the vast matrix of possibility, where IPA and pale ale coexist as one and neither, the seasonal Radiant materializes. Copper-hued and astringently malted, with a vaguely syrupy body and a sharp, sugarless finish, what it lacks in depth it makes up for with bold simplicity. It’s good, and sometimes that’s all that matters.


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

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“Morimoto Soba Ale” from Rogue Ales (Newport)

This effervescent, refreshing ale made from roasted soba (aka buckwheat—Doesn’t sound as exotic, doesn’t it?) stands out thanks to a mild, malty-sweet nuttiness and a lager-esque, slightly bitter character similar to Japan’s Sapporo. But it’s better than most Asian lagers by a long shot. It’s not watery or one-dimensional—it’s just flavorful enough to accentuate a range of cuisine without overpowering the palette. There’s no other beer like this from Oregon.

Grade: 9.0/10

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

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“Snake Bite Porter” from Silver Moon Brewing (Bend)

It’s been a while since a porter has rocked my taste buds’ tiny world. But even now, hours after ingestion, Snake Bite’s impact lingers on. Good porters should be sweet without being sweet. The brain should detect molasses and other viscous sugar cane-derivatives, but too much of this and you have beer syrup, or beerup. Like Snake Bite, porter should be bitter and strong, with two or more layers of flavor. Add just a ghostly whiff of roasted coffee and subdued malt and you’re drinking one of the boldest and best examples of porter around.

Grade: 9.5/10

Learn more at: http://www.silvermoonbrewing.com/index.html

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“Ashland Amber” from Caldera Brewing Company (Ashland)

Cans? As the first Oregon craft brewery to use them, Caldera stands out in the city of glass that is the beer section. Cans have become trendy, yet retro, appealing to can-loving fisherman and active folk alike. This one looks like a relic from 1986—but that’s where the criticism ends. This is just plain good beer, boasting a smooth balance of tame hops and muted fruit sweetness with just a touch of sour malt. Not quite a Pale Ale, but calling it an Amber doesn’t do it justice either. And you get to hear that pscitt! sound.

Grade: 9/10

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

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“Hop In The Dark Cascadian Dark Ale” from Deschutes Brewery (Bend)

Coming at you like Jubelale’s soft-spoken cousin from the moon-shadowed hinterlands, this “CDA” is so good it nearly left me with nothing cute to say. Yes, it does remind me of the aforementioned Christmas love-juice—but its ultra-subtle smokey malt flavor combined with deep caramel sugars and emphatic hops bitterness distinguishes it from Jubelale, or anything else I’ve tasted in a while. Instead of producing another “black” or “dark” IPA, they’ve mutated the IPA’s genes and created something unique. This is why I love beer! Didn’t know what to expect, only that Deschutes seasonals rarely miss the mark. This one’s a bullseye!

Grade: 9.5/10

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

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“Rooster Tail Ale” from Cascade Lakes Brewing Company (Redmond)

I’m trying to imagine the type of guy who would buy this beer. Does he have callused hands and listen to radio broadcasts of minor league baseball? Does he buy Ballpark franks in bulk, freezing them for later? Does he meet a young woman one night, bra-less in a sarong, smelling of burnt herbs and candle wax, perched near him at his favorite bar? Does her practiced condemnation of corporate America, as he ogles her tanned body while ignoring nearly every word, cause his hand to drift, his body to drift to that previously invisible craft beer section the next day, thinking, “Yeah, this will get me some.” She’s coming over for dinner, and he wonders, as he enters the frozen food aisle, “What shape of tater tot would she like?” All right: This beer isn’t bad. It’s Miller disguised as something special, which it’s not. A watery wheat beer with an attenuated pinch of malty bitterness. Not awful, not great.

Grade: 7/10

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

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“S1nistor Black Ale” from 10 Barrel Brewing Co. (Bend)

Imagine a mild porter cut with a few ounces of malty lager. That’s what you have here. Overall, I’m unimpressed with these novelty “black” ales that keep cropping up – and this one’s not even black, it’s a very dark amber. S1nistor is watery and rather one-dimensional, its only distinct flavor being stunted toasty malt combined with a slightly dry bitterness. While not bad, this is not something I plan on drinking again. However, if you enjoy milder porters and ales, you may find it more palatable.

Grade: 6.5/10

Learn more at: http://www.10barrel.com/

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“Survival 7-Grain Stout” from Hopworks Urban Brewery (Portland)

Get ready for a double-shot of shit! This did-they-taste-it-first? organic/sustainable concoction could have come from moldy compost buckets inside the dilapidated shed of some Carhartt-wearing neo-hippie. But it didn’t. It came from an actual brewery – and this saddens me. The overwhelmingly persistent flavor is that of stale iced coffee – and I’m a coffee lover, but I still hated it. There’s also the suggestion of general refrigerator decay, like old broccoli that has absorbed some funky “off” flavor. Burnt malt commingles with charcoal… You get the point. I couldn’t finish the bottle – and that’s saying something. It’s saying: Ick!

Grade: 5/10

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

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“Brown Eyes Ale” from Silver Moon Brewing (Bend)

You know pretty much what you’re going to get with a bottle of wine. Everything is categorized and described, down to the variety of grapes used, to the region where they were grown. The only question mark is whether it will be “good” wine or if it’ll taste like the piss of horses who got into a berry patch. With beer, you have the term “Ale” being applied to a thousand and one unique brews. Ale is a catchall in the United States, meaning: not lager. But this is a good thing. It means that the incredible variety resulting from the disparate nature of beer far exceeds the established categories and styles utilized as marketing schemes. The limited release Brown Eyes is a good example of this. First taste offers hints of hard apple cider and a carefully maintained bitterness that helps to balance the fruity sweetness. Second taste reveals whiskey-like flavors and an appealing sweet ‘n’ sour combination that veers rather closely—and approvingly—near barley wine territory. This would make a great after-dinner or dessert beer. It also offers further proof that you can’t judge a beer by its title.

Grade: 9/10

Learn more at: http://www.silvermoonbrewing.com/index.html

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