Spring has sprung and there are a bounty of new beer releases to be had. Sometimes it’s tough keeping up with all the new seasonals and re-packaged beers, so we have tried sorting through the shelves of the local bottleshops to come up with ten of the most interesting–or just most drinkable–new spring beer releases, from citrus IPAs to lagers, sours, barrel-aged beers, and uniquely spiced farmhouse ales. All ten of these beers are available in cans or bottles in Oregon, and many are available beyond.
Yachats Brewing: Salal Sour
Don’t be surprised if you have not heard of Yachats Brewing in the tiny coastal town of Yachats, Oregon. Though the brewery has been producing beer for nearly a couple of years now, it started as a nano brewing out of a farm store. It has since expanded to add a taproom and also produce a line of fermented veggies like garlic dill pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Here brewer Charlie Van Meter and Operations Director Jenna Steward have recently begun bottling and self-distributing some of their wild farmhouse beers and sours.
Salal Sour is one of Yachats Brewing’s first bottle releases, and it claimed a silver medal at the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards in the American Sour category. I was able to obtain a hard-to-find bottle thanks to Jenna.
Salal berry is a little-used but commonly grown wild berry of the northwest. The berry looks a lot like a blueberry, but with a harder center that doesn’t like to come off when you pick the berry. Thus, all the salal berries for this beer were hand clipped off the bushes in the wild. The flavor is similar to a blueberry–sweet but mild, with its own unique depth of notes. The Salal Sour beer pours a pinkish fizzy, bright, and slightly gushing pour of bursting rose petals, settling into a dark magenta color. Cranberry meets marionberry is the closest I can come to describing the aroma of this beer and the salal berry itself.
Sunriver Brewing: Vicious Mosquito IPA Cans
One of the more underrated Oregon IPAs is Vicious Mosquito from the up and coming Sunriver Brewing near Bend. Previously available here and there on draft and in 22oz bottles, it is a very welcome addition to Sunriver’s recently launched 12oz cans and 6-packs.
“The entire Sunriver brewery team is jazzed to see Vicious Mosquito go into cans. We take great pride in hand selecting only the finest Northwest hops for this bold, West Coast style IPA,” says Brett Thomas, Head Brewer. “Even though we’ve been brewing this beer since our beginnings, I’m still amazed by the complexity of the hop profile–grapefruit, lemon, pine, dank–it’s all in there.”
Deschutes: Swivelhead Red
Deschutes has launched a new spring seasonal this year called Swivelhead Red, the brewery’s take on an IRA, or India-style Red Ale. Deschutes brewers enlist a surprisingly unique take on hop varieties, eschewing the typical citrus and piney hops used in the IRA style, and not going for the hot new tropical flavored hops, either. Instead, Deschutes is delving into a deep European herbal hop flavor with a touch of melony Australian hops, using no fewer than seven varieties: Millenium, Bravo, Willamette, U.S. Tettnang, Crystal, Northern Brewer, Triskel and Summer.
The orange, nearly red amber color leaves a nutty color and quickly disappearing head with a fruity black tea aroma. Caramel malts add some body and light sweetness, roasted barley adds a nuttiness and color, and I am guessing this English-yeast strain helps promote the undercurrent of soft fruit. The underlying herbal tea-like hops and moderate bitterness make this a pleasant sipper I almost want to drink with a lemon wedge, as blasphemous as that is.
Swivelhead Red is 70 IBUs but doesn’t taste like it. It’s also 6.5% ABV and available now in 12oz bottles and draft through September.
The Commons: Citrus Myrtle
Myrtle is one of the most popular beers from The Commons, an approachable farmhouse kettle sour. Now the brewery has introduced Citrus Myrtle, a juicier, obviously citrusier cousin of the original that just follows the path of flavor that Myrtle was already walking down. On the nose Citrus Myrtle is straight tangerine and grapefruit; even a little pithy rind in the aroma leads you to believe it’s straight squeezed citrus fruit. The flavor is light bready malts, grass, puckering tartness in the top center of your mouth that dries to those pithy tangerine and grapefruit flavors on the sides. Like the regular Myrtle, the citrus version would make for a great intro sour and a way to showcase a bridging of the gap between fruit and beer and it’s only 5.1% ABV.
Hopworks: Ferocious Citrus IPA
Hopworks is the latest brewery to timidly embrace the burgeoning haze craze with a juicy northeastern or New England-style in the form of Ferocious Citrus IPA. A juicy, slightly pithy aroma greets the nose and a hazy, slightly creamy orange pour with a bright big head after being poured out of one of these 16oz tallboy cans. Hopworks is taking a similar approach to other northwest brewers by using wheat to get the hazy fluffiness; the only flour harmed in the making of this beer is hop flowers. The brewers at HUB have complimented the fruity, juicy hops from Twin Oaks Farm on the San Juan Island with grapefruit and toned down the bitterness to 40 IBUs.
Ferocious Citrus IPA is a new seasonal being released after the great Pig War White IPA and has a label with an inspired take off of the Abominable Winter Ale.
Zoiglhaus Brewery: Zoigl-Kolsch
This unfiltered-style Kolsch is one of Oregon’s best and most true-to-style from the underrated Zoiglhaus Brewery in outer southeast Portland. German trained, ex-Widmer brewer Alan Taylor has carefully crafted this hazy pale yellow Kolsch with love. Cereal, sourdough bread, and hints of lemon waft from the glass, a light but creamy and bready mouthfeel tantalize the palette and stir cravings for bratwurst and real German potato salad, and now I can’t wait for outdoor German beer garden season.
Full Sail: Session Red in Cans
Full Sail’s lovingly dubbed Session Red is far from a new beer; it’s a beer that launched the brewery’s most popular line and made it famous for lagers. But, Session Red has never been in cans before, and with that new, crushable, eye-pleasing packaging, I am getting reacquainted to the simple pleasure of a well-made lager with a touch of hops that’s slightly more malty than a pils, but just as good on a light day.
pFriem Family Brewers: Oud Bruin
Hood River-based pFriem Family Brewers continues to expand its oak and sour program with the balanced and complex Oud Bruin. Inspired by the beers of Flanders, this beer came out of pFriem’s oak foudres and pours a murky woody brown. Oak, funk, wine, balsamic all greet the nose in this nuanced barrel-aged beer. A moderate tartness comparable to an oaky sour wine makes this a fantastic food pairing beer or a complex aperitif of its own. Dig deep and you may find aromas of marionberry, apple butter, and Cabernet. The flavor is of oak- and leather-wrapped dark and red, winey and rich tart fruits.
Heater Allen: Helles
Oregon’s most famous lager-centric brewery, Heater Allen out in Mcminnville’s wine country, has released its seasonal Helles. Arguably the quintessential expression of lager brewing, the Helles style leaves no room for flaws. Extremely light, clean malt flavor forward with hops in the background, Helles might be the best definition of German brewing and outdoor drinking beer more suitable drank by the liter rather than the pint.
Wolf Tree Brewery: Spruce-Tip
I still haven’t made a much-needed visit to Wolf Tree Brewery in Seal Beach, on the coast just south of Newport, but I did pick up a bottle of the brewery’s award-winning Spruce-Tip Ale. This brewery exists on a real working farm and started as a twenty-gallon nano, but in 2015 stepped up to a 7 bbl system. Owner Joe Hitsselberger also recently built his own outdoor coolship for spontaneous fermentation. Then just a few weeks ago, Spruce Tip won a gold medal at the Oregon Beer Awards, instantly putting it on the radar.
I picked up a bottle of Wolf Tree’s Spruce Tip at Belmont Station and found the strangest, most unique beer I have had in a while. Here are my tasting notes:
Pours a cloudy mahogany brown with dense lacing and a crazy aroma of sweet tarts, sour cherry pie, and sugar coated cranberries and plums. Wow, the flavor is of fresh cut Christmas trees, cranberry sauce, and dried candied fruit in a lighter body than expected. Truly a surprising explosion of flavors, with an expected over-the-top candy sweetness that’s expressed in flavor but without any underlying sweetness, and a shockingly super clean finish. Striking down the normally strong, lasting flavors of the typical spruce tip beer. WOW.