Wash over Me . . . with rivers of Northwest beer
- By: Chris Santella
jLET ME START BY APOLOGIZING TO my guide friends for what I’m about to say: From a flavor perspective, PBR is a terrible beer. If it’s been cooled to 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the mercury is nudging 104, the first sip is tolerable, if only because the taste is deadened . . . though none but the most diehard hipster/alcoholic can stomach the last four ounces once it’s heated up to ambient temperature.
I decided many years ago that if I was going to drink beer, I was going to drink good beer. And since moving to Oregon 14 years ago, I’ve been awash in it (and it shows in my impressive 12-pack abs). According to the Oregon Brewer’s Guild, the Beaver State has 192 brewing facilities, with 51 breweries in Portland alone. (Bend, with a population of 80,000, has 16!) Not all of these breweries package their product, though more and more do.
You’ll find a smattering of porters and pilsners in the local grocer’s refrigerated aisle, but the Pacific Northwest is first and foremost hop country. Like many Oregon anglers I know, my tastes run toward India Pale Ales (IPAs) and aggressive pale ales. These dominate my short list of Pacific Northwest favorites.
In fairness, PBR has reinforced one good concept for beerdom—the can. A number of the better Pacific Northwest beers are now available in 12- or 16-ounce aluminum, an ideal package for river trips. Cans chill faster, stay cold longer, don’t shatter, weigh less and are more compactable than glass.
Cans used to be a sure sign of bad beer, but no more . . . unless they have a blue ribbon on them.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
As an Oregonian, I’m slightly ashamed to say that Sierra is my go-to fishing beer. It’s hoppy and crisp, and the piney taste is unique. It always goes down easy. When my buddies and I used to fish Alaska’s Situk River, we’d ship a few cases up. That would cost less now, as Sierra is available in cans.
Caldera Pale Ale
Caldera Brewing Company
Caldera was the first good canned beer we found in Oregon, and it continues to be a mainstay on float trips. The first sip delivers a good hoppy bite, though a nice malt balance smooths things out. One fisher friend described Caldera Pale as a full-flavored session beer. Enough said.
Good Life Brewing
I don’t care for grapefruit . . . unless it’s in an IPA. Descender has those grapefruit notes, plus hints of caramel. It’s accessible to non-hopheads, but has enough of the bitter to appeal to hop aficionados. Good Life is Bend’s ninth brewery, almost making it an old-timer (dating all the way back to 2011).
Double Mountain Brewery
Hood River, Oregon
There are few things that pull my posse away from the mouth of the Deschutes during steelhead season . . . except the desire to beat closing time at Double Mountain. In October, visitors are treated to Killer Green—a fresh hopped IPA that’s silkily balanced, boasts a beautiful orange tint, and has a resiny flavor that recalls another hop-like substance.
Mad River Brewing Company
Blue Lake, California
I’ll be honest: I was first attracted to the Steelhead Porter’s label. But after stopping at the tasting room following a fruitless steelheading adventure on the Mad River (where I was surrounded by surly bait anglers), I realized the beer was worthy of its noble package. Steelhead’s pale is flavorful though mild; the porter has notes of burnt chocolate without being cloying.
If it’s been a particularly bad day on the river, or a particularly good one—or if you’re channeling Bukowski—consider topping it off with one of the simplest cocktails ever created, the Boilermaker. Choose a pale ale (I’d recommend Dale’s, or Sierra) and fill a 16-ounce glass with it. Then drop a shotglass full of bourbon into it (I like Maker’s Mark, but that’s an expensive one to overwhelm with beer). No shot glass available? Just pour an ounce or two in your glass and have at it. Or, even simpler, take a swig off that flask and chase it down. Warm. Cool. Hmmm. w