Lockdown or no lockdown, we are all enjoying more craft beer at home right now. Whether you are able and willing to go out for draft beer, or self quarantining, The New School’s expert contributors have some recommendations for you.
Crux Fermentation Project Hayduke Helles
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
The stressful situations of the present have many reaching for simpler pleasures, like comforting beers that bring you back to a happier place. Though I didn’t discover the quiet beauty of Helles lager until later into my exploration of craft beer and imports, it’s clear and precise nature provides a terrific fallback to the basic pleasures of yeast, malt, water and hops.
Judging by the early summer beer releases, 2020 will be highlighted by Helles. Crux Fermentation Project’s Hayduke Helles is one of the few beers of this style available in a smaller 12oz format and a very competitive price.
When I poured Hayduke into a generic nonic 12oz pint glass I was welcomed with a big pillowy white head though it died down quickly. One sniff took me back to childhood and the lightly sweet and grainy cereal aroma of whole wheat Cheerios. For such a light beer with it’s pale faded yellow color and 5.5% abv, Hayduke has a full and creamy body, soft and foamy but not toverly heavy. It’s true that 5.5% is a little strong for a traditional Helles, but this America and we do everything a little stronger. That commitment to new school flavors extends to the use of Oregon grown Fuggle and Crystal hops instead of the classic German noble hop varieties, though their contribution is of similar earthy, minty, spicy, floral hop flavor that’s slightly amped up from the usual Helles.
The only negative is that because of the pandemic, you won’t be able to find this Helles on draft, but cans are widely available now all over Oregon and Washington. I picked up a 6-pack at Fred Meyer’s grocery store. https://www.cruxfermentation.com/
Gorges Beer Co. Golden Eagle Golden Ale
By Gordon Feighner
Pours a bright golden color with really nice clarity and a small amount of bright white head. Aroma is like walking into the malt room in a brewery—super fresh pale malt, accented by just a touch of grassy hops. Crisp, clean, slightly malty palate, light notes of berries and clover honey, with a finish of grassy hops and a hint of bitterness. Mouthfeel is lightly creamy, fuller than a lager, but certainly not heavy. I’d hesitate to call this “crushable” for two reasons: 1, I’m not a douchelord, and 2, it’s just full enough and delicious enough that you want to savor it a little slowly. This may be my go-to beer for the summer months.
One of the first times I stepped into Baerlic was a scorching summer day after a mega walk around Portland’s Eastside neighborhoods. A cold lager was the perfect choice.
The last time I stepped foot in Baerlic for a beer? February 22, 2020. Sitting out on one of their benches and watching the traffic go by and sipping on a beer (I’m guessing an IPA) during one of those mild winter days was just perfect.
When I found out they were delivering beer to homes (like many Portland breweries) a few weeks later I jumped at the chance to order. I’m sure many reading this have had the same experience: loving beer, supporting local business, and getting beer hand-delivered to your front door. It’s quite the luxury.
One beer I’ve enjoyed by them: Day By Day Hazy Lager. Described as “brewed like a hazy IPA and fermented cold and clean with our house lager strain and Citra, Galaxy and Hallertau Blanc Hops,” it’s become one of my favorites from the brewery. I like lagers, most of the time, more likely after hoofing around. I like hazy beers (if done right). This combines both. Give it a try. Pick some up to-go or have it delivered.
Von Ebert has been on fire for the last few months, quickly adapting to a changing environment with weekly specials, beer delivery, and a whole bunch of draft beers canned up on the fly. They have also stepped up their lager game substantially. They already had knocked it out of the park with their Agostini Pils – one of the best local offerings when it comes to this trendy style – and they have since been canning up one lager after another to satisfy every preference. Enter Motueka Pils, a gloriously crushable beer that is as much for the lagerheads as it is for those of us who love flavorful effervescent West Coast IPAs.
With its crisp backbone, this beer serves as a proper platform to showcase the popular New Zealand hop variety with tropical aroma and flavor hitting you on the first sip. The addition of Motueka balances with slight maltiness, leaving a lingering citrus flavor and a beer that ultimately isn’t too bitter or too sweet, and the delightful punch of citrus seems to replace the breadiness you might expect from a super crispy pilsner. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more drinkable, refreshing beer out there right now, and one that manages to bring to mind modern West Coast IPAs and staying firmly and proudly a pilsner. The crew at Von Ebert have proven themselves to be masters at both of these styles, and Motueka Pils is yet another fine addition to their roster and one that is pretty much perfect for summer session drinking. It’s worth mentioning that both locations of Von Ebert do $2.50 cans every Tuesday, making this beer a steal at $10 a 4-pack.
Ruse bills this as a Mexican inspired Dark Lager brewed with flaked maize, a touch of specialty malt, and Spalter select hops, in the style of beers like the well-known Modelo Negra from Mexico. Beers of this style are based on old world Vienna lagers, with the addition of corn-based adjuncts typical in new world brewing. These beers present a moderately toasty malt profile and just enough hops to balance with modest bittering, weighing in at a sessionable 5% alcohol by volume or so – Exit Dream comes in at 5.3%. Ruse’s Exit Dream has all of these attributes in an eye-pleasing light-brown beer, and is great with some good spicy food, especially Mexican, Indian, or Thai.
Ruse collaborated on this one with Modern Times, and the result is a winner, one of the best lagers released this year in what has become an increasingly crowded field. As with most current Ruse brews, Exit Dream was released in sixteen-ounce pint cans, easy for one to drink, even easier for two to share. Ruse has been increasing the variety of its releases – lots of hazies, lagers aplenty, some sour specialties – and continues to be a brewery on the rise, in spite of the pandemic.
Often breweries that have been around awhile are forgotten when chasing only new gratification. AKA, “the tick.” You can stay around by balancing the sexy releases with well made beer that appeals to the average craft beer drinker. Some friends with trusted palates recommended Oakshire Brewing’s Reclaim the Fame, so I jumped on it.
Oakshire’s Reclaim the Fame delivers on all the characteristics of a traditional West Coast IPA with an update. A light melon aroma entices you to see what happens next. The clean flavor showcases how balance can be achieved when combining traditional and contemporary hop varieties. Mosaic, Chinook, Simcoe and Falconer’s Flight each do their intended job to get to a hoppy, drinkable beer. The finish dries out just enough, with very little alcohol warmth, so it keeps you yearning for more. The smoothness is deceiving as Reclaim the Fame is 7.3% ABV. https://oakbrew.com/
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.
John Chilson writes about Portland history and architecture at Lost Oregon. He's also written for Neighborhood Notes, Travel Oregon, Portland Architecture, Askmen.org, San Diego Reader, and Portland Food and Drink. Follow him on twitter at @LostOregon for local history nerdism; for beer tweets he's at @Hopfrenzy. Shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get in touch.
Don Scheidt has been into good beer since before the dawn of craft brewing in the Pacific Northwest. He created the Northwest Brewpage, a regional guide to good beer in Oregon and Washington, back in the mid-1990s, but has since retired it. Don started writing the Washington state “Puget Soundings” column for Celebrator Beer News in 1998, and continues to do that today. Don also wrote about beer for the Seattle Weekly in 2005-2006.