Aside from the enormity of Powell’s Books and the glorious Pittock Mansion, Portland’s other main attraction comes in liquid form.
If you don’t like beer here, one of the many breweries in town might kindly ask you to leave. Beer is an art form in this city.
While generally characterized for being hop happy, Portland brews are undergoing a new trend. No, the trend is not hoppy and it is not sweet either. Sour beers are making a name for themselves in this city and across the United States.
Before I left for Portland, I had no idea what sour beer was. After sampling sour beer in the city, I know I won’t forget it. It is certainly not hoppy.
Even if you're only spending 24 hours in Portland, sour beer is definitely worth a bit of your time. Let's take a look at some of the history behind these unique brews.
Where did sour beer originate?—Portland brewers started to emulate the sour beers out of Belgium. While not a direct Flemish sour ale recreation, Portland’s sour beers are simply imploring age-old beer making practices. Before metal kegs entered the scene, back in the old days, grains were preserved in wood barrels to prevent spoiling. With a little bit of know-how, beer would develop as a result, specifically the sour variety. The wood from the barrels gave these beers an intricacy. That complexity would yield “sour” characteristics for palettes.
How is sour beer made in Portland?–Portland’s sour beer brewers utilize their position in America’s Northwest. Many of the breweries in the city create sour beer with the help of local fruits. Sour beer is aged in barrels for different amounts of time, depending on what the brewer is trying to achieve taste-wise. Sour beer is generally characterized by that barrel, usually aged in a former wine, port or whiskey oak barrel.
Is it really sour?–If you are a little skeptical of sour beer just based on the name, you are not alone. However, if you know what you are getting into, you can prepare yourself when you don’t get that classic hoppy Portland ale. Sour beers aim to avoid those hops with more of a flavor similar to that of wine. The idea is to make a beer with an extreme sensory experience, not just something to wash down those buffalo wings. A word to the wise, don’t just pick a sour beer to try and think they will all taste the same. Talk to your waiter or waitress about the different flavors you enjoy rather than just saying “that one”. Your sour beer experience can be truly sour with one sip of the wrong type of sour beer for your taste buds.
Where can I try it in Portland?—For the last year, sour beer has really caught on in Portland. Perhaps the go-to place in town for a sour brew is the Cascade Brewing Barrel House. Founded by Art Larrance of Cascade Brewing and Portland Brewing fame and Ron Gansberg, Cascade Brewing Barrel House focuses specifically on sour beers. You can also find sour beers on the menu at Deschutes Brewery in their reserve series along with at Upright Brewing, specializing in farmhouse inspired beers rooted in France and Belgium.
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Flickr: Sam Beebe