Burghead Heather Ale

By John Chandler May 19, 2009 Published in the July 2006 issue of Portland Monthly

Craig Nicholls is one brewer who doesn’t seem to be capable of sitting still. He started out at Rogue Brewing in Newport, interned at Bridgeport, worked at Big Horn Brewing in Lake Oswego and signed on as the original brewmaster at Alameda Brewhouse in 1996, where he created its signature beers.

But when the brewery he was working for a few years ago was sold, he knew it was time to settle down. "When we opened Roots, we wanted to be creative and totally different–and be the first all-organic brewery in Portland."

He’s fiercely committed to the principles of organic brewing (no pesticides or chemicals added to his raw ingredients), though he estimates it costs him between 35 and 40 percent more to import his hops and grain from Europe.

"Everything we do here is organic," he says of the tropical-themed brewpub that he opened last year with business partner Jason McAdam. "The whole place is built out of recycled materials for the most part. Everything except the drywall."

Apparently the organic bug is contagious. Nicholls says that Roots services close to 100 accounts around the state and that "two or three" local breweries set to open in the next two years will also be organic.

Roots also is the home of the Summer Beer All-Star team’s ideal relief pitcher, Burghead Heather Ale, an offbeat brew that throws hop-accustomed palates a mean curve ball. With its complete absence of hops, Burghead gets a substantial zing from heather–and from history.

"The story goes that archaeologists found these old Gaelic tablets at a dig site," Nicholls says, estimating the recipe at 3,000 years old. "They knew it was a beer, but they didn’t know what kind." Upon first taste, Burghead settles in the mouth like a fruit beer, but it’s light and crisp with a refreshing floral taste.

"The heather adds a nice dry finish but without the cloying, acidic taste that you get from hops," says Nicholls. "It’s a great beer, one of my favorites."

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