Cascade Brewing Barrel House: The House of Sour

During the Beer Bloggers Conference, I sampled Vlad the Imp Aler, made by Cascade Brewing Co. in Portland, OR.  This was one of the more memorable beers I tasted.  In most beers, the predominate taste sensations are bitter and sweet.  Vlad is unique because it's a SOUR beer.

Cascade Brewing Barrel House specializes in sour beers.  Before the conference, I read a lot about Cascade in the local press and was excited to visit earlier this week as part of a media event.  Cascade itself is unique because most of their beers are inoculated with lactobacillus (which provides the sour flavor), aged in oak barrels for up to a year, and then blended together to produce their premium line of specialty beers.  

Check out their beer list.  They produce over 47 varieties!  At any given time, 16 are on tap at the Barrel House. While most are sour varieties, they have several non-sour options—some aged in oak.

During the tour, Brewmaster Ron Gansberg guided us through the barrel aging rooms, explained Cascade's philosophy, and described how they use fruit in beer.  Check out my video interview with Ron.

Ron tapped a few barrels during the tour and gave us samples of beer that was still aging.  This was a such a unique experience and I really enjoyed it! 

In the cellar, I had the pleasure of chatting with Art Larrance, owner of Cascade and The Raccoon Lodge in Raleigh Hills.  As the founder of Portland Brewing Co. and the Oregon Brewers Festival, Art is a craft beer legend.  When I asked Art how they decided to specialize in sour beers, he said, "all of the other beer categories were taken."  He also mentioned how close proximity to wine country was an added benefit because they re-use wine barrels. 

While using oak barrels produces a unique and complex flavor, it's also pretty darn smart because it allows Cascade to avoid the intensive use of stainless steel equipment, which is very expensive.

After the tour, it was time to sample some beer.  I decided to stick to the sour offerings.  As the say, when in Rome...

  • Blueberry:   A gorgeous pinkish-red color with a pink head.  Aroma and flavor of sour blueberries (surprise) and spice.  Lots of depth and complexity!
  • Spiced Cherry Blonde:  I tasted this minutes after it was tapped from the barrel (check out the video).  Starts as an oak aged strong blonde, 150 pounds of sour pie cherries are added, it's spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and then spends another 5 months aging in oak.
  • Cascade de Kriek:  This beer spends over six months in lactic fermentation and aging in oak barrels. This NW style sour red ale is fermented for eight months with fresh whole Bing and sour pie cherries.

While I'm not a huge fan of traditional fruit beers, Cascade's barrel aging and blending process produces a fruit beer that is in a completely different league.

The sensory experience of drinking a sour beer cannot be compared drinking a traditional beer.  In my opinion, it's actually more similar to the wine experience.  If you've never had a sour beer, you should give it a try.  Needless to say, I'll be back to Cascade to sample more of their amazing beer!  With over 47 varieties, I have some work to do!

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Spiced Cherry Blonde

Cascade de Kriek

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