The 25 Most Influential Oregon Beers

Oregon is arguably the greatest state in the union for beer. While brewers here got their start in the 80s, they took inspiration from German and English traditions a hundred years before them, meanwhile leaving their own mark on the craft beer landscape. These pioneers of “The New School” have inspired the next generation through their influential beers that I have painstakingly compiled the top 25 of here. This list though is not just of the beers brewed in the 80s; it encompasses even a few created in the last 5 years, as I see their pedigree already influencing brewers for many years to come.In making this list I consulted with many more craft brewing pioneers in an effort to not leave anything out.But as with any list of this nature, there will be omissions and there will be controversial decisions, so feel free to weigh in in the comments. Please note that these 25 most influential brews are listed in no particular order.



Bridgeport IPA

When I asked world-famous, award-winning Brewmaster Darron Welch, of the Pelican Pub & Brewery what he would say is one of the most influential beers, he did not hesitate to answer. “Bridgeport IPA. Landmark beer. Hugely influential. Totally extreme for its time. And it has stood the test of time.” It is perhaps the first bottled Oregon-brewed IPA. It was also my first introduction to the style and forever was a staple in bars and restaurants. Bridgeport Brewing was perhaps Oregon’s first modern brewery and is still the oldest currently in operation.This is a true American take on a classic English IPA, and while to today’s standards it is pretty mellow and has gotten lost in the shuffle over time, it is still a truly wonderful example of English hopping and toasty crystal malts. At one point this beer was thoroughly extreme and paved the way for Oregon craft brewers to up the dose on their hopping regiments in a time where the public was far from being onboard with IPAs. No doubt for most Oregon brewers this was the first IPA they truly got familiar with.

Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve “Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve has to be at least mentioned in my mind. I knew of it in California before moving here 22 years ago. It was considered special outside of the state, like Rolling Rock or another smaller domestic versus MGD, especially the big guydriven beers down there. I remember calling a friend shortly after getting to Eugene to tell him it was amazing that the worst beer I saw at a party was Henry’s. I had seen a Blitz keg, of course, but it was still awesome and also 1990. People drank Keystone Light kegs in California while my friends and I drank Bass because we had a friend who worked at a liquor store in high school. Oregonians were already choosing Oregon beer and that was awesome! The other important factor for Henry’s was the Portland brewery downtown. As a young home brewer and Oregon transplant, nothing gave me more pride than the smell of wort in the air. Even before the micro revolution really took hold, people who visited or lived in Portland smelled beer in the air when they went to Powell’s or Everyday Music. Literally, those memories are infused with the aromas of wort. I really feel that for especially those who grew up in Portland with that smell of wort, it helped propel the home brew movement. Steinbart’s, Widmer, Bridgeport, McMenamins, the Brew Pub Law, and the now countless brew pubs and breweries. It made the idea of owning a brewery legitimacy. I know for myself it was a very sad day when Henry’s stopped pumping wort in the air. Anyway, Henry’s was one of the most influential breweries in Oregon’s history for me, and I would bet many of the breweries owners that end up on the list.” – Jamie Floyd co-founder/owner of Ninkasi Brewing



Widmer Hefeweizen
“Widmer often gets flack in Portland for being one of the “big guys,” but I’ve always admired the company and, above all, their beers. One of my all time favorites is the iconic Hefeweizen. There’s really nothing like enjoying a pint at the Gasthaus, where you can use it to simply quench your thirst or geek out on why it’s so delicious. Between an attractive appearance, very satisfying body, pure malt flavors, and crack of bitterness, it hits all the marks and reminds us that even a simple wheat-based beer can be bold and interesting. In that same regard I’d like to think that the Upright Four follows suit by maintaining the drinkability of its general style while providing enough overall flavor and nuance to stimulate the senses.” – Alex Ganum, Owner/Brewer at Upright Brewing


Cartwright Brewing Portland Beer
“Chuck Coury was way ahead of all of us in here in Oregon…I think that he was third in line after Anchor and New Albion. Cartwright was the first craft brewery I had ever visited, and Kurt and I came away thinking “that’s what we need to do”! It made us want to brew beer for a living.” – Rob Widmer, co-founder of Widmer Brothers Brewing


Deschutes Mirror Pond
The beer that put Deschutes on the map has been a staple in Oregon since 1996. California has Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Oregon has Mirror Pond, which has served as an introduction to the style to a countless number of drinkers. Mirror Pond has also been an award winner, raking in medals like a Gold at the 2010 GABF. The beer is so popular in Oregon that the state remains one of the most difficult for Sierra Nevada to gain a foothold in with its Pale Ale, which is the 2nd best selling craft beer in the country.



Deschutes Black Butte Porter

The best-selling porter in the country and another feather in Deschutes’ cap. One could make a case that Black Butte Porter is the most popular and ubiquitous dark beer made in America outside of Guinness. True, it still has not made it to many of the eastern states, but in Oregon it served as my introduction to the coffee and chocolate flavors that could be present of beers of its kind. Black Butte Porter was first brewed in 1988, the year Deschutes opened, and thus has inspired a generation of brewers. In a blind porter tasting I conducted a few years ago, Black Butte surprisingly came in first.


MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale


Rogue Roguenberry

Full Sail Amber Ale
“There are quite a few beers that are influential in my eyes, as these were the beers that changed the the way I looked at the fizzy yellow stuff I was drinking as a youngster in Portland,Ore. Full Sail Amber and Portland Brewing McTarnahans- both of which were my first step into “Craft” beer- were deliciously malty and slightly hopped. Although bordering the style guidelines in my opinion, these beers were great first steps into a world that ultimately would shape my life. I then started to enjoy other offerings from breweries popping up like the Dunkel Weizen and Peach Cream Ale from Nor’Wester, Double Black Stout from Red Hook, Pete’s Wicked Ale from Pete’s Brewing Co., and most definitely Roguenberry from Rogue, as I do love fruit beer. These beers are very influential, as with any beer produced during that era, because these breweries paved the way for future brewers to gain skill and confidence in the craft to move on and open their own establishments. Portlands “beer identity” has definitely been created from beers of the past.”– Jason McAdam, Oregon born brewer, Co-owner/Brewmaster Burnside Brewing Co, formerly of Roots Organic Brewing


Rogue Hazelnut Nectar

The award-winning brown ale from Newport’s Rogue Ales makes this list over their flagship Dead Guy because it is their best year round offering and one of the only remaining year-round brown ales. Despite the consumer’s view that brown ale is too middle of the road, this beer crosses all boundaries with its delicious use of Oregon-grown hazelnuts with just the right amount of sweetness from the malts. It’s a beer that has inspired “nut brown” ales across the country and made hazelnut a popular beer flavoring. Not to mention its numerous medals as an stalwart example of the style.


Bridgeport Blue Heron Pale Ale
“Bridgeport Blue Heron is really the beer that introduced Portland and Oregon to Pale Ale. As such, it was the first Oregon beer that was widely available in the market to have a real hop aroma. Please remember this was in the mid to late ’80s – IPA didn’t really exist at the time. Blue Heron was a revelation in terms of how beer – American beer – and Oregon beer in particular, could taste. It really paved the way for all of the hop forward beers that have come after it.”– Van Havig, Co-Brewmaster/Owner Gigantic Brewing


Hair of the Dog: Fred
“Fred from Hair of the Dog Brewing Company is more than mildly worthy to be included on a list of 25 historically significant Oregon beers. A recipe from the late 1990s highlighting ten different hop varieties, rye malt, and a double digit ABV has indeed proven to be very prescient. This beer is compelling, not only for the fine fellow in whose honor it is brewed, but also as a measure of just how far Oregon craft beer brewing progressed in slightly a titch over its first decade.”– Scott Gerlach Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee from 1975 – 1979. Blitz-Weinhard Brewing from 1980 – 1999. Mt. Hood Brewing from 2000- 2001 and Rogue from 2004 – 2005. Gratefully enjoying my union brewer’s pension since 2012.

Full Sail Lupulin
John Harris’s time at Full Sail Brewing may have developed more classics like the Amber Ale and Session, but Lupulin really highlighted what makes our region so unique–the amazing locally-grown hops. In an effort to highlight what these fresh undried hops could add to the beer, John brewed multiple batches with a single hop, which helped us to understand their flavor contribution as being quite different then the typical dry kilned hops. True, breweries like Sierra Nevada were making fresh hop beer far earlier, but Lupulin was many Oregonians’ first introduction to the style, and again highlighted some of the hops we are famous for growing. It’s no wonder that Hop Harvest season is now so huge in Oregon.


Terminal Gravity IPA
Oregon’s craft beer history could be categorized by our IPAs. I like to think we started out in the Bridgeport era and moved into the TG IPA phase. Setting itself apart from the more English-influenced Bridgeport IPA, the TG beer was built on a light body, natural conditioning, and the citrusy pungent hops that have now become a staple of the west coast style.


Deschutes Jubelale
One of the prototypical winter/holiday ales and an Oregon classic that has been around for over a dozen years, Jubelale is nothing if not influential. Still, to this day hoards of people collect the bottles for their ever changing labels and to taste verticals of different years in celebration of its release each winter. It’s so popular that it has created its own highly prized off-shoots like Jubel 2000, Super Jubel, and Barrel-Aged Jubel 2010. Many Oregon natives would tell you it’s their first introduction to the winter ale and inspired them to create their own.



Upright Brewing Four
You might question a beer so new being on this list, and yes I admit I work for the brewery, but I still argue that for a recent addition, Upright’s Four helped usher in the farmhouse and saison renaissance we are seeing now. From receiving Beervana’s Satori award to becoming a best-seller out of the gate as a summer must-drink and showing off that a table beer of 4% could be just as flavorful, the list of reasons to include it are numerous. When it was released just 4 short years ago, remember that there was no Commons or Logsdon and most people had never heard of farmhouse ale.


Ninkasi Total Domination
Just as Bridgeport IPA and TG IPA defined India Pale Ales in Oregon before it, Ninkasi became the king of the IPA throne in the late 2000s and continues to be the best-seller as the next heir to the throne (Boneyard IPA) nips at its heels. Like TG IPA established the west coast hopping influence, Total Domination took it up a notch becoming a mainstay at dive bars and restaurants not known for craft beer. To me Total Domination signals the point at which IPAs went from becoming a favorite of beer geeks to a mainstream best-seller and ushered in the total domination of the style in Oregon.

Deschutes The Abyss
Before barrel-aging and Imperial Stouts became mainstream press cool, Deschutes helped usher in the trend with The Abyss. Sure, you can argue there were many other great examples of the style far earlier, but The Abyss was the first in Oregon to really catch on like wildfire, achieving such mainstream press as Men’s Health Magazine’s Beer of the Year. By the time its first limited release was disappearing from store shelves, the buzz was growing, so when it came time for year two’s release people were lining up and calling stores trying to pre-purchase bottles. At the time I was working at Belmont Station and I have never seen so many non-beer geeks jockeying for bottles, many not even knowing what an Imperial Stout was. Now, 7 years later, virtually every craft brewer has to produce a limited edition Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout to retain beer geek relevancy.


Roots Organic Heather Ale
Some of you may remember the late, great Roots Organic Brewing, Oregon’s first all-organic brewery that was doing it before organic became cool. I choose the Heather Ale as the most important release, though, because it was the first year-round beer I am familiar with that was brewed with zero hops. Perhaps it was an early revolt against IPA’s domination, but I feel it also lead to brewers trying more unique ingredients to spice their beers, and is still probably the only Gruit style to go mainstream.


Laurelwood Free Range Red
This beer obtains a place on this list for me especially because it was an introduction into the style of beer now best described as a Northwest Red, and also because it was the first certified organic ale in the state. Before reds became known as being hoppy, they were simply another term for amber ales, sweet and malty beers that wouldn’t offend with any harsh flavors. Free Range Red Ale turned it up a notch with classic Pacific NW hopping. Not as bitter as an IPA, but with the same chewy caramel malts, the novice beer drinker could get behind it made for a terrific introduction to hoppiness and organic beer, and it quickly became Laurelwood’s flagship in a time before IPAs went mainstream.

Cascade Brewing Kriek
When this beer was first released and you described it to a friend or customer as being a “sour” beer, they would have looked at you like you were insane. If they were familiar with it, then it was probably as a syrupy sweet candy version made by Lindeman’s and the public wasn’t prepared for the tart juicy and moth puckering sourness of the ale. True, there were other great sour ales before it, but Cascade Kriek was the first major sour release from an Oregon brewery and helped turn the tide that is still coming in today. Not only a major point for sour beers, but also for the resurgence of real quality fruit beers.


Full Sail Session
Lagers may be the most popular beer style in the world, but it’s still a dirty word to many craft beer geeks. Associated with the mass-produced corporate yellow fizzy beers, the lager has gotten a bad rap, so much so that I can’t think of one Oregon craft brewer producing a year-round lager before Session came along, and even still there are very few. Not only did Full Sail bring back the lager, the brewery did it ingeniously in little stubby bottles that established its own branding and demanded the consumer judge it on its own merits. A terrific introduction to craft beer and quality lagers, its’ become such a hit it has inspired two successful off-shoots with Session Black and Session Fest. Not only that, but the term “session” has become so synonymous people don’t even realize it means low-alcohol and quaffable beer.


MacTarnahan’s Bourbon Cask Blackwatch

“Early influential Oregon beers were predominately dominated by five local breweries (although it would be a mistake to not acknowledge the contributions of McMenamins, Lucky Lab, and Lompoc). Undoubtedly there is an expected overlap and consistency of products that had any real base appeal. It may seem like an easy out to name a beer made at PBCo (brewery I worked for), but an early Oregon beer that had a lot of influence on me was “Bourbon Cask BlackWatch.” “BlackWatch Cream Porter” was a solid beer on its own, but when we aged BlackWatch on Pappy/Rip Van Winkle barrels, the product became phenomenal. Working in a brewery where we produced 170hl batches four times a day, it was exciting to revisit small boutique projects. This was my first experience with barrel-aging, and the process was a better reflection of my perception of what “craft” should be and what I wanted it to be. It’s still a beer that acts as inspiration for my barrel aging today.”
Tom Bleigh, Brewmaster at Hopworks Urban Brewery, former Brewmaster at Pyramid/MacTarnahan’s


Caldera Pale Ale
There were many many pale ales before it, and the beer didn’t break any boundaries besides a delicious hop forward flavor that relied on flavor and aroma more than bitterness. Caldera wasn’t one of our first craft brewers, either. However, Caldera was the first Oregon craft brewer to begin canning its beer with the Pale Ale. Before it was cool and trendy, much before, Caldera released this beer in 6-packs to both demand and confusion from the market. I remember when it was released and having to truly argue with customers who believed it must be total crap because it was in a can. Oskar Blues may have been doing it before Caldera, but here in Oregon it was Caldera we knew of and who made it OK to put your beer back in aluminum.


Barley Browns Turmoil
The newest beer to make this list should need no introduction to the local connoisseur who knows it as the greatest Cascadian Dark Ale ever created. Brewer Shawn Kelso became a superstar at the tiny Barley Browns Brewpub in Baker City largely because of this beer that takes hops to another level, unheard of in an act of balancing brilliance with the roasted malt. When the Brewers Association first introduced the compromise name to CDA–the American-Style Black Ale–it was Turmoil that took home the gold firmly planting the flag of Cascadia in Oregon soil. Whether you hate the term CDA or not, the style seems here to stay, and Turmoil is its greatest example.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

Discussion

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Mon Feb 11, 2013 5:15 PM

    Thanks for revisiting the craft beers we seen to forget about. Just talked about Henry’s Blue Boar as one of my introductions to craft beer, as a minor in the late 80’s. Just one question. I thought Mactarnahans Amber was one of the first craft beers in a can?

    • pk
      pk
      Mon Feb 11, 2013 6:25 PM

      Thomas Kemper Weizenberry is my long lost first love of fruit beers.

      • Steve Armbrust
        Steve Armbrust
        Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:02 AM

        I think you’re right about MacTarnahans in the can. Didn’t they can for a while and then stop?

        • ElGordo
          ElGordo
          Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:54 AM

          I remember Mac’s was available in cans around 2000-2001 for a while. The beer was actually brewed and canned up in BC, though, not at Portland Brewing’s facility.

        • Steve Armbrust
          Steve Armbrust
          Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:12 AM

          I can’t argue too much about your list. But I wonder how “influential” some of the newer beers such as Upright Four and Turmoil really are. And I would think one could make a case for either Terminator or Hammerhead to be included on this list. They helped launch the Mcmenamins kingdom.

          • Andy Davenport
            Andy Davenport
            Fri Feb 15, 2013 7:02 PM

            Upright’s influence is just starting to be seen, but the Four did start stirring up interest in the Farmhouse style, which also gave us Beetje/Commons, Logsdon (oh man Logsdon), and pFriem. I’ve noticed several one-offs from other breweries in the saison/farmhouse style more recently too.

          • Kenzie
            Kenzie
            Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:13 PM

            I just had the Deshute’s Private Reserve last night, It was amazing: Definitely an inspirational beer. Also, Rogue’s Hazelnut is probably my favorite of the brewery though it is so hard to pick just one.

            I had no clue you worked for Upright. Upright is in my top three favorite breweries hands down.

            • MJ from the grave
              MJ from the grave
              Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:45 PM

              Who did these beers influence? Some are marginal at best.

              • Andy Davenport
                Andy Davenport
                Fri Feb 15, 2013 6:51 PM

                They’re not the BEST beers in Portland, they’re the most influential. There might be a couple you could argue with, but by and large these are the beers that made Portland’s current craft scene possible. Ten or fifteen years ago, these are mostly your options if you didn’t want macro. Many of Portland’s best brewed a lot of these beers or learned from someone who did.

                The success of beers like the Widmer Hefe or Bridgeport’s IPA is why Portland turns its nose up at Bud or Coors, which in turn allows for the kind of experimentation we see today.

              • Pete Dunlop
                Pete Dunlop
                Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:30 PM

                I think this is a very contemporary list. Mine would look somewhat different, though it would include many of these. I don’t know how you can include Cartwright on a list of influential beers because the beers were (reportedly) quite inconsistent. But Cartwright certainly belongs on the list of influential breweries because many (the Ponzis, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Mike and Brian McMenamin and likely Art Larrance, Fred Bowman and Jim Goodwin) were influenced by what they saw and tasted. Not to go too far afield, but I think there should be a McMenamin’s beer on here…probably Terminator. Widmer Altbier is another one. Although it didn’t gain the following of the Hef, it helped launch the Widmer empire and influenced many brewers.

                • KennyLofton87
                  KennyLofton87
                  Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:47 PM

                  No Red Chair??

                  • iing_alhuzna
                    iing_alhuzna
                    Sun Jun 1, 2014 2:32 AM

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                    • Frutablend
                      Frutablend
                      Tue Aug 9, 2016 1:43 PM

                      They’re not the BEST beers in Portland, they’re the most influential