What Could Oregon Possibly Know About Making Good Beer?
In 2005, I got my very first taste of craft beer at Rogue Brewery in the Pearl District. My beer education until that point: warm Munich lagers as a teenager, then, in college, American domestics in bottomless red cups. These experiences did not prepare me for the kick in the teeth from Rogue’s Brutal Bitter (since renamed Brutal IPA), which I now associate with the beginning of adulthood. Skyping with a friend back in my hometown in Southern Germany, I tried to tell him about the acrid but somehow delicious flavors of beers here. His face crumpled like a pair of lederhosen: What could Oregon possibly know about making good beer?
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. That same friend texted me a picture of a bottle of beer he found in Munich: They’re brewing IPA here now!!!
The beer itself wasn’t very good, he said—an initial probing of new territory by some ambitious German brewer—but its existence signaled hope for the future. The confession betrayed by his excitement, which he couldn’t quite bring himself to articulate: maybe Bavaria, dominated for centuries by tried-and-true Helles and Hefeweizen, had something to learn about beer after all.
Ah, the difference 10 years makes.
Oregon’s craft beer revolution, conceived three decades ago by a handful of ambitious brewers, has gone global. Of the more than 10,000 brewers and industry pros who converged on Portland this spring for the annual Craft Brewers Conference, 13 percent were from outside the United States. That Northwest-style IPA in Munich is no anomaly.
In our feature on Oregon's best beer this month, we salute the 220 (and counting) Oregon breweries that make our increasingly global influence possible. We travel to Belgium to learn about deep beer traditions. We uncover the history behind the seminal law that kick-started the state’s craft industry. We dissect the encroachment of macrobreweries into craft’s stronghold. And, of course, we tasted, sipped, and chugged our way to a refreshing list of Oregon’s 25 best beers right now.
My newest lesson? Though IPAs continue their reign in the Northwest, Oregon beers are more diverse than ever, with imported styles leading the pack: lagers, kölsches, pilsners, and saisons. Turns out, cultural pollination goes both ways. Prost!