Beyond the IPAs
“Oregon beer,” whether purchased by pint at the local watering hole or by six-pack at the grocery store, carries certain connotations attached to it. Hoppy, aggressive, bitter — all these and others are terms often used to describe Northwest beer.
However, several brewers in the Yamhill Valley seek to buck that trend.
Rick Allen started brewing a decade ago in McMinnville with a passion for beer far beyond those terms above.
“My favorite style is pilsners, Czech-style pilsners if you want to get serious about it,” the owner of Heater Allen said. “No one was brewing them when I started. No one else was brewing lagers, so I thought this would be a nice niche for me to get into. It’s worked out very well.”
Indeed it has — Heater Allen beers have won awards while developing a loyal following both locally and around the region. Heater Allen specializes in lager beer, which uses a type of yeast that works best in colder conditions — below 50 degrees Fahrenheit — than the ale yeasts most craft beer rely on can tolerate. The results are often described as rich, malty and bready — stark departures from the standard Northwest beer fare.
“Lager beer can be really delicious; they’re just different,” Allen explained. “As much as IPAs rule the roost, and they really do rule the roost, there are a lot of other styles out there and a lot of people who prefer other styles.”
“…working with what is available to you is the essence of life, or what we should be focusing on.”
Another approach to brewing, borrowed from elsewhere in Europe has been taking shape north of Newberg in, fittingly, a former farmhouse. Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery, which opened in May of last year, focuses on including locally available ingredients, from their well-drawn water to the yeast strains cultivated on site and more.
“We’ve thrown kiwi in some, those are from about five miles away from the brewery here. A local guy came in to the taproom and offered us some kiwis he had growing on his property,” brewer Zach Farrington said. “We have blackberries and plums in one, we’ve got peaches in another and also farm-grown figs. For me, working with what is available to you is the essence of life, or what we should be focusing on.”
Wolves & People’s philosophy blends well to a style of brew known as saison (which translates to English as “season”), originally from the French-speaking region of Belgium. What a fitting name for such a flexible style.
“We’re a saison-dominated brewery. It’s not anything we choose to focus on, but saison is definitely our bread and butter. Saison is a very loose term,” Farrington explained, “it uses what is available. It is a style in France and Belgium that would use local ingredients and local yeasts to produce a beer. It’s very variable. In modern terms, it uses saison yeast — that’s as loose as it can be.“
As a result of the farm’s proximity to some of the world’s finest hop fields and the typical tastes of their customers, Wolves & People has pushed the hop profile of some of their recipes to produce a marriage between old-world ethos and new-world palates.
“The people who come in to us and say, “I’m an IPA fan,’ we don’t want to estrange them by not having an IPA on the menu,” Farrington said. “We have a dry-hopped saison, we have a dark saison that was dry hopped. We’re making this sort of hop-forward, Northwest-style beer approachable in the farmhouse realm.”
Golden Valley Brewery’s Jesse Shue is among the most adventurous brewers in the valley. He releases a seasonal product at least every two weeks, matching the brews to the seasons.
At McMinnville’s other brew pub, Grain Station Brew Works, brewer Joey D’Aboy instilled a similar program when he took over early last year. And like Shue and Farrington, it’s all about affording the saisons a sense of place and regionality.
“I use oak barrels from local wineries and distilleries to ferment, re-ferment, age and add flavor and nuance reflective of the Willamette Valley where they are brewed,” he said.
Although he said a hoppy, aromatic, well balanced IPA is still a favorite to enjoy a pint of, including saisons in his tap list is imperative.
“Saisons are a very nuanced style of beer deriving a lot of their flavors,” he said. “Though we may not always have one on tap, we will most likely have one in the works of a test batch, fermentation, or barrel. Curious? Go get a pint and enjoy just how delicious bucking a trend can taste.