The sun is out, and it’s the season for cold drinks, but why run to the safe beers that you know? You know, the lagers and pale ales. Just because you’ve been stuck at home doesn’t mean you should confine your palate to the same old beverages.
One way to break out of your drinking shell is to head over to Eugene Beer Week, which runs June 7-13. From 16 Tons to WildCraft Cider Works, local breweries and cideries are participating in DIY-type festivities. For more information and to stay updated, head over to the event’s Instagram page.
But for those who are still primarily drinking from home, Eugene Weekly staff ventured out into the Final Frontier of adult beverages (and root beer to keep us grounded with our inner child). From ciders to barleywine to CBD sodas, EW got buzzed for the sake of journalism.
Now, Claim 52’s Kolsch, the brewery’s flagship beer, is one of the finest local beers out there. Its lightness and crispness make it a great choice while mowing the lawn, but we dove deeper into the brewery’s current product line, which includes barleywine and gose beers.
The brewery sent over a few versions of their Emerge Barleywine. It is blended with an imperial stout and then aged for 21 months in bourbon barrels, Claim 52 tells EW. The first sample was just the barleywine — and no funny business added. It reminds one taster of hazelnut coffee, but overall the flavors of the barrel take the limelight. The second barleywine drink was a blend of flavors, including graham cracker, cinnamon and vanilla. With those flavors mixed together, EW tasters thought the flavored barleywine was like a toasty hot chocolate.
The Eugene brewery is really making waves right now with its creative concoctions, specifically the Thicc series. The Thicc line offers gose beers with a fruit puree at the bottom (don’t swirl too hard or the drink explodes on you). The beers sell out fast — like, really fast. The brewery posts on Instagram when they are available for sale online, and they often sell out in a few minutes or hours.
EW had a taste of Claim 52’s Mystery and Banana Fosters dessert sour gose beers. The Mystery drink had fruity flavors. EW’s staff thought the Mystery gose beer was flavorful and something we hadn’t had before, and something we’d drink for fun.
If you’re looking for a literary comparison to Claim 52’s gose beers, look to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. In the book, Ed “Doc’” Ricketts (a real-life friend of the author) wonders what a beer milkshake would taste like. He later orders one — revolting a restaurant server. But if Ricketts were around today, we’re certain he’d dive head first into a glass of Claim 52’s milkshake-like gose, relieved that society approves of it.
Big things are happening at McKenzie Brewery. There’s no date planned but the brewery’s director of sales and marketing, Michael Mack, tells EW that the business is in the midst of building a tasting room, with a food truck hub, at the 6th Avenue distribution center.
The brewery has a huge catalog of current and outgoing beers — which run the gamut from blonde ale to stout to the IPA spectrum. That’s a lot to fathom, but we were ready to explore the McKenzie Brewery river.
One of the brewery’s upcoming releases is a blonde ale named James Blonde Ale. Although one editorial staffer suggested another brew name — the Beer With the Golden Gun — the beer is as smooth as the double agent it’s named after, and one taster says the beer is reminiscent of a Korean rice tea. The hops take the backseat to malt, resulting in a beer that’s light enough to go along with a salad, or a martini olive if you’re paying homage to 007.
Turning the hops up a skosh, we head to the W. 6th Spring IPA. Since Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was once the “People’s Champ” while in WWE, that means he’d likely drink this since it’s the “People’s Choice” — right? Well, the people who bestowed this name on the beer were the folks who were recently invited to taste three different IPAs by McKenzie — and this was their favorite. The beer isn’t a hoppy IPA (its international bitterness units come in at a mere 25); it’s light and reminds one taster of a lager.
Shifting up on the IBU rating leads to the Hazy IPA. It’s 33 IBU, but being a hazy IPA, fruit flavors hit first. It’s good for those who like their IPAs with the accompaniment of citrus. The hops increase with the Twisted Meniscus, not a pleasant name for anyone who’s had a torn ACL. But the taste quickly makes you forget your knee problems. At 70 IBU, it’s got bitter elements and has strong hops flavors at first taste. But it’s a well-balanced hoppy beer.
McKenzie’s hops go all out with the Hopasaurus Rex Imperial IPA, but it’s not over-the-top with hops. There are some floral notes from the hops, but it’s well balanced and won’t leave you puckering from bitterness. It was just perfect for one of the more bitter reporters on staff.
McKenzie isn’t focused only on hops beers. The brewery’s Bulldog Beer is a premium stout, with toasty and caramel notes. Although darker beers are best during Oregon’s colder nights, EW had no problem drinking it on a warm spring day.
Speaking of winter, McKenzie sent over one of its winter ales. Now, it’s seasonal, but EW’s tasters really enjoyed it. One taster says it reminded her of a flat, roasty root beer (and that’s a good thing, she adds).
That comment leads perfectly to a convenient truth: McKenzie Brewing also makes root beer. It’s arguably some of the best root beer on the market — great news for sober folks or designated drivers. And to make things even better, there’s a root beer with CBD. Its CBD content is similar to others on the market and the calming effect hits almost suddenly — the usually over-caffeinated newsroom fell into a deep quiet after drinking it.
Portland Cider Co.
Somewhere along the way, Oregon entered the era of good ciders — but we’re not complaining. Throughout the state, it’s not hard to find a good locally made cider. Portland Cider Co. sent over some samples of its seasonal drinks, all of which were off the beaten path of the usual cider.
First, Kinda Dry is a naked cider — no sweeteners or extra flavors. And this is where Portland Cider Co. really shines. It almost transcends cider, as if it’s a white wine. It’s perfect for days where you’re sitting around, trying to stay cool in the heat. Or as one taster says, “It’s a champagne you can get at Hilyard Market.”
The next cider was a bit of an experiment that seems to be an attempt to be a “hair of the dog” drink: Lemon Lime Ciderade. It’s a cider with electrolytes, so it’s basically the Gatorade of ciders. This could really hit the spot if you’re hydrating after a long night of drinking or if you’ve just got back from a long summer run. If you’re a fan of other sports drink flavors, strawberry is replacing lemon lime, according to the cider company, and in September orange will take over.
Another limited release is the Bloody Hell. This cider is blood orange with a hint of habañero, but don’t be scared to give it a try if you’re sensitive to heat. Some of EW’s tasters found the cider to have a small spicy kick, a level reminiscent of spicy chocolate. Last is the Imperial Peach Tea, which tasters called it a twist on the Southern sweet tea classic. Although the cider is a tad sweet for some, the high alcohol content will make every swig worth it.
CBD sodas are on the rise in the beverage world, so with its growing popularity, we decided to include some in this issue. We mentioned McKenzie Brewery’s CBD Root Beer, but Eugene-based Zentopia provided zero-calorie options with samples of its 50 mg sparkling waters and iced teas, which is more than the 25 mg other CBD sparkling waters have.
Zentopia offers a range of flavors — from lime to watermelon — and the teas come with caffeine. What’s surprising with Zentopia is how smooth each drink is despite the high level of CBD. The flavors aren’t overwhelming and it’s not too carbonated, a positive for those who are repulsed by the fizziness. With the teas, which come in both raspberry and peach, you get more bang for your buck with 150 mg of caffeine in addition to the CBD, because sometimes we all need the slightly insane combination of chilling out and waking up (looking at you, college students).