Scouting for the Best Oregon Stouts

December 28, 2016 (Updated December 28, 2016)
Painting by Sarah Pedry Obuchowski

I have enjoyed craft beer for many years. And over the years, I have come to discover that my favorite kind of beer is stout. I’ll include porters in this category, too, as the differences between porters and stouts are not always easily defined and, in fact, many experts actually classify stout as a type of porter.

But this isn’t about semantics or the complex classification system of craft beers. This is about big dark beers. Not just dark. Black. And thick, too! Like motor oil thick. Some of them hardly have carbonation. Big, heavy, black, strong beers. Many would say stouts are the perfect winter beer or a lovely fall treat. Me? I love a 13% ABV barrel-aged beast just as much when the temperature hits triple digits. My wife thinks I’m crazy. More stout for me, I say.

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This summer, my family and I had the opportunity to visit Oregon. I was excited. Even though I had visited 42 of our 50 states (plus DC), I had never been to Oregon. And Oregon is one of the best states when it comes to craft beer. We would stay in Oregon in the final days of July and the first week of August. Peak summertime. The hottest time of year. I knew what I had to do: go on a quest for the perfect “winter” beer in the dead of summer.


DAY 1: PORTLAND (PART 1)

We arrived mid-morning and were picked up by my wife’s cousin who lives outside of Portland. After a brief stop-off to rid ourselves of luggage, we headed into the city. But not before my wife’s cousin’s husband (and my good buddy), Greg, opened his fridge to show me a variety of Oregon stouts he’d procured to help me in my quest.

While my wife and her cousin went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Greg and I headed to the breweries.

Our first stop: Hair of the Dog. They had a stout from Netherlands called Hel & Verdoemenis by Brouwerij De Molen. And it was the Port Charlotte barrel-aged edition. I briefly considering not ordering it since it wasn’t from Oregon. But I was sitting in a brewery in Oregon.

Of course I ordered it. And it set the bar quite high. I was fine with that.

From there, we hit another canine-named brewery, Lucky Labrador, where I had the Black Lab Stout — an excellent example of an Irish/foreign export stout. Not strong, not heavy, but big on flavor. Dare I say refreshing on a hot summer day?

After meeting back up with the family at OMSI for some science, snacks and sightseeing, we decided on McMenamins Cedar Hills in Beaverton for dinner. Their beer list was impressive, peppered with fruit-infused seasonals. The barrel-aged stout was tapped out (which I can only assume is because it’s a favorite among customers), so I went with the Terminator Stout.

DAY 2: THE COAST (AND BACK)

We traveled west and spent a misty morning on the beach before diving into the town of Cannon Beach, where we visited Public Coast Brewing for lunch. I met with the Ryan Snyder, the founder and proprietor of Public Coast. He gave me an advanced taste of a multi-hop IPA they were about to release, which was nothing short of sensational. (I love stouts, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate other styles, and this one was killer.) I told him about my stout quest, and he recommended Barley Brown’s Breakfast Stout from Barley Brown’s Beer out of Baker City. Easily one of the best breakfast stouts I’ve ever tasted.

That day was special because it was my son’s fifth birthday. His cousins planned a Star Wars-themed party for him back at their house. So after a long and lovely lunch at Public Coast, we made the drive back inland. For the rest of the day I focused my attention to the “dark side” rather than “dark beers,” as I played the role of Darth Vader at my son’s party. Until, that is, the birthday cake made its way out. For the grownups, we shared our own bottle of liquid dessert by opening a bomber (22 oz bottle) of Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter from Caldera Brewing. A sweet, fun, festive beer for sure!

DAY 3: TO THE HIGH DESERT

Along with the cousins, we headed east to a cottage we rented just outside of Sunriver. The location, we figured (correctly), would give us quick access to cool nature activities, as well as some time in a city I’ve heard many great things about: Bend. After a day on the road (we stopped to do some sightseeing along the way), we made it to the cottage, unloaded the cars and let the kids run wild. The grownups, in need of refreshment, shared some Rogue Ales Honey Kölsch. The touch of honey made this kölsch unforgettable (and I’m delighted to report, I can find this beer back home in Colorado).

After dinner and the kids’ bedtime, the temperature dipped and the stars came out, so we opened up the playfully named Moose & Squirrel, a Russian imperial stout by Laurelwood Brewing. Russian imperials are what made me fall in love with stouts in the first place, and this beer was a great reminder of why. Awesomely executed, rich and flavorful. A great night way to end our first night in the high desert.

DAY 4: BEND (PART 1)

After a full morning at the High Desert Museum just outside of Sunriver, we headed to Bend for the afternoon. Our first stop was Deschutes Brewery for lunch. And, of course, beer.

I was tempted to buy a bomber of XXVIII Birthday Reserve (11.5% ABV imperial porter brewed with cocoa, vanilla and orange peel, then partially aged in whiskey barrels) from their cooler to share with the table, but it was hardly noon. So I went with the far more sensible Obsidian Stout. I’ve had Obsidian Stout more times than I can count, and it never misses. But this was my first time having it on tap, and it did not disappoint.

At the end of the afternoon, the ladies all headed back to the cottage, while the guys took one last stop: Crux Fermentation Project. This was a place I very much wanted to check out, as I had a Crux beer all of one time, and it was a year ago, but it was one of the best beers I’d ever had: [Banished] Tough Love. So I wanted to see the place, and even more importantly, see if they had any on offer.

Set into what appeared to be an industrial pocket of Bend, Crux eschewed the small-town quaint feel that was so pervasive in Bend. Instead, Crux is a big, wide-open place with lots of stainless steel, and its warehouse-like atmosphere blends in well with its industrial surroundings. More importantly, it turned out I was in luck: they had [Banished] Tough Love on tap.

It was a blazingly hot day. It was the middle of summer. Greg ordered an easy-drinking IPA. I opted for an 11.5% barrel-aged imperial stout. Huge and boozey and dripping with dark fruit flavors, [Banished] Tough Love was every bit as luscious as I remembered it.

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Greg reminded me of the many stout bombers that awaited us at the cottage. So we headed back, grilled up some dinner, watched the kids play in the treehouse. Eventually it was bedtime, and once again, the air cooled and stars came out. And so, too, did the stout. That night, we shared two: Black Heart (by Southern Oregon Brewing Company) and S’more Stout by Base Camp Brewing Company. The Black Heart was a highly enjoyable rich imperial stout perhaps just slightly bolder than Moose & Squirrel. And while S’more Stout delivered on the s’mores, it turned out to be one of the lightest beers of the entire trip. Maybe less of an evening beer, and more of an outdoors, afternoon beverage.

DAY 5: OTHER WORLDS

We dedicated the next day to exploring the otherworldly Lava Lands, and hiking the also-otherworldly Big Obsidian Flow, wrapping it up at Paulina Falls. We managed to stay out of breweries and in nature for the entire day. Well, until around 4 p.m. when we decided to pop into Sunriver to take the kids miniature golfing and to another Goody’s location. While there, I couldn’t help but notice a place called Sunriver Brewing Company. So we popped in and I got a taste of Lava Lands Stout.

From there, it was back to the cottage, the grill, the treehouse and, later, the night sky, under which we opened a bomber of Black Bear XX by Alameda Brewing Company. This was a lively foreign export stout, and at 7% slightly stronger than others of the same style. I’m a sucker for the big syrupy stuff, so this effervescent dry stout was a nice change of pace.

DAY 6: UNDERGROUND AND BEND (PART 2)

While we had spent the previous day hiking to the top of the Big Obsidian Flow, we spent this morning going deep underground, exploring the Lava River Cave. After that dark and chilly excursion, we decided to head back to Bend. This time we went to Cascade Lakes Brewery for lunch, where I enjoyed a Maltster Stout 2.0. And I do mean enjoyed. It was a super smooth and chocolatey stout, nicely balanced and not too heavy. A great lunch beer.

From there, we went to Bend and Greg and I took the kids to Vector Volcano Classic Arcade, which charges you by the hour instead of making you pump quarters into the games. Greg and I enjoyed the nostalgia as much as the games themselves, and our kids were in heaven by all the bleeping, blipping options. Wisely, the arcade also serves beer, and I availed myself of a Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter. Then I beat my two-year old daughter handily at the driving classic, Off-Road. Though, judging by her squeals of delight, she either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

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After more treats for the kids at Goody’s and shopping and lounging by the river, my wife and I stopped into Crow’s Feet Commons, an awesome coffee shop and bike rental place. But unlike most coffee shops I know, this place had a rather stunning tap list. And on that list was the one, the only: [Banished] Tough Love.

It was the hottest day of the trip. I already had [Banished] Tough Love. There was no reason for me to get it again. Except for one: it’s an amazing beer. And so I did. We found refuge from the sun outside in the shade of their porch area, and I shared some Tough Love with my lovely wife while the kids played in the grass.

That night, we opened the last remaining bomber of stout: Tsunami Stout by Pelican Brewing Company. Like the Black Bear XX, this was another foreign export style, and another slightly stronger version (about the same as the Black Bear XX). Roasty and dry and highly drinkable with layers and layers of flavors, the Tsunami was one of the best foreign export stouts I’ve had in a very long time.

DAY 7: TIMBERLINE LODGE

We woke up and packed up and headed out of the high desert. We weren’t flying out until the following evening, but we needed to get back to the Portland area. On the way, we stopped at the iconic Timberline Lodge for lunch. There, the kids enjoyed honey-sweetened sodas while the grownups enjoyed beers. It being summer, my wife and her cousins went with ambers, while Greg went with an IPA. I ordered up a Hogsback Stout from Mt. Hood Brewing and immediately fell in love with this delicious and hearty oatmeal stout, which at only 4.5% ABV was just the right strength for the early afternoon.

DAY 8: THE BIG FINISH IN PORTLAND (PART 2)

We decided to bookend the trip by spending the day in Portland. From parks to Powell’s City of Books (and plenty more), we packed in a ton.

But I’m here to tell you about the beer. As we waited for a table at 10 Barrel Brewing, Greg and I went across the street to Rogue Distillery and Public House, where I tasted a clever blend of their Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Double Chocolate Stout that they call Hazelutely Choctabulous. Even more exciting, I got to sample their Dead Guy Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Chocolate Stout. I’ve heard rumors they’ll be bottling it. Let’s hope those rumors are true!

We headed over to 10 Barrel for lunch where I tasted their Double Chocolate Stout, as well. (There’s was not barrel-aged.) Comparing the two standard Double Chocolate Stouts, I’d say that I liked 10 Barrel’s Double Chocolate Stout a bit better.

But Rogue won the day by having a version aged in Dead Guy whiskey barrels. That beer was tough to beat.

QUEST COMPLETED

I saw a lot of places in Oregon, and I drank a lot of stouts in Oregon. But did I complete my quest for the perfect winter beer in the dead of summer? I did. It was the one that I couldn’t pass up seconds on: [Banished] Tough Love by Crux Fermentation Project. So the next time it’s a swelteringly hot day and you’re thinking about reaching for a light and fruity radler or a dry refreshing pilsner, might I suggest going in the completely opposite direction? Go for a beer so dark, even the brightest sun could never penetrate it. Go for the [Banished] Tough Love.

Oh, and it’s probably great in the winter, too.

About The
Author

David Obuchowski
David Obuchowski is a freelance writer and a musician. His essays have appeared in Deadspin, Gawker and The Daily Beast. He is the guitar player of post-punk post-metal band, Publicist UK (Relapse Records), and guitar player/singer of indie-metal band, Goes Cube (Old Flame Records, Greenway Records). A native of New Jersey, David now lives in Colorado with his wife (an artist and illustrator) and their son and daughter.

Featured in this story

Hair of the Dog Brewing Company
Lucky Labrador – Hawthorne Brew Pub
McMenamins – Cedar Hills
Public Coast Brewing Co.
Cannon Beach, Oregon Coast
Deschutes Brewery & Public House
Crux Fermentation Project
Sunriver Brewing Company – Sunriver Pub
Cascade Lakes Brewing
Vector Volcano Classic Arcade
Crow’s Feet Commons
Mt. Hood Brewing Company
10 Barrel Brewing – Portland
Rogue Distillery and Public House