The Pacific Northwest contains many of the most forward-thinking beer producers in the country, many of whom are more under-the-radar than their Northeast contemporaries. In Oregon and Washington, some really thrilling barleywines, saisons, and even more free-form beers are being crafted. Here is a group of artisans who demonstrate that the PNW sensibility is about much more than the aggressive hop bitterness often associated with the area.
The Ale Apothecary (Bend, Ore.)
As its name might suggest, the Ale Apothecary’s beverages seem to exist at the halfway point between booze and ancient medicine, classical ale-production and natural wine-making. Its extremely rustic approach is genuine and substantial, never feeling gratingly precious or twee. Case in point—to make its interpretation of a traditional Finnish Sahti-style beer, the company separates the wort and grain during brewing in a hollowed-out, 200-year-old spruce tree that fell onto brewery property. The process results in evergreen notes leaping from the glass when Sahati is poured from the bottle.
De Garde Brewing (Tillamook, Ore.)
De Garde is a rare breed: a superhyped craft brewery that seems to have no interest in cashing in on the massive attention it has earned from beer nerds. Amazingly, it has kept pricing of its barrel-aged, hyperfruited wild ales very much within the realm of affordability (generally around $10 per 750 mL). Add to that refreshing altruistic attitude a ridiculously prolific creative output, and you have one of the country’s more exciting producers. Of particular note are its gin barrel-aged experiments, which often pack a wonderful quenching brightness.
Fremont Brewing Company (Seattle)
In its production of barleywines, stouts, and nebulous “strong ales,” Fremont runs one of the most consistently excellent barrel-aging programs in the country. With its track record, you can rest assured that any annual special release or even entirely new recipe will invariably be a deeply tasty treat. Most recently it unveiled its Brew 1000, an English-style barleywine that was put to rest in bourbon casks last year to commemorate the brewery's 1,000th batch of beer. A rich, toffee-like pleasure epitomizes the joys that can be had from the style.
Holy Mountain Brewing Company (Seattle)
Fans of cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and/or iconic doom metal band Sleep should have something to love about Holy Mountain Brewing because of the outfit’s name alone. More broadly, beer drinkers with the full gamut of film/musical preferences will appreciate the brewery’s studious reverence for traditional Belgian farmhouse ales (a specialty, but not its sole focus). A truly crushable recent entry was the Seer—a saison aged in giant oak tanks (called foudres) that had just enough New World hop character to elevate the beer’s underlying funkiness (which itself comes from the presence of wild yeast Brettanomyces).
Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales (Hood River, Ore.)
Where most fashionable craft breweries are brewing farmhouse-style ales in sterile warehouse environments, Dave Logsdon’s facilities are situated on the real thing—his family’s 10-acre farm. There his organic, Belgian-inspired saisons take unique shape, such as the pastorally pleasurable Seizoen Bretta. Bottle-conditioned with pear juice for a natural carbonation, it’s an accessibly dry table beer. Schaarbeekse sour cherry trees have been grafted on the property and when the fruit is ready for harvest will be added to beer.
Propolis Brewing (Port Townsend, Wash.)
The couple behind Propolis, easily the tiniest operation listed, have a keen interest in reviving beer’s traditional antiseptic, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Their fully bottle-conditioned beers are often made with their own-grown herbs, foraged fruit, and other location-specific ingredients, resulting in harmoniously beautiful and lush small-batch creations (sometimes yielding fewer than 20 cases). For a primer on these lovingly hand-bottled/corked/capped/labeled/waxed releases, try their Birch saison brewed with the tree’s sap, which has an exhilarating subtle Wintergreen note.
Upright Brewing (Portland)
While I’ve gushed about Upright’s Special Herbs before, this is a producer whose entire production is worth delving into. In short, the team’s brewing sensibility is jazzy in the very best sense, taking twists and turns that often end up redefining genres. The intimate tasting room is the best place to enjoy their draft-only offerings, most notably Four Play—of which only two early vintages were bottled, with noteworthily titillating label artwork—a wine cask-aged tart cherry saison that is now exclusively poured at Upright's brick and mortar. It’s an endlessly enjoyable fruit-forward delight that balances the tightrope of indulgent refreshment and intellectual stimulation, up to its attractively mineral-heavy finish.