New breweries are fun to explore every damn time. Even as AB InBev acquires SABMiller in the largest beer merger of all time, there's never been more opportunity to drink a beer you've never had or visit a brewery you've never seen. And there's maybe no better way to experience beer than to drink it straight from the brewery. They've decided the decor, they've decided the lighting, they've decided the accompanying menu, etc. You're drinking within the vibe they've created just for you, no different than drinking wine on the winery's estate.
In fact, a brewery is the closest thing to a beer's terroir that you can readily get your hands on. Unless you're willing to travel to Yakima or New Zealand to walk through hop fields and head to Montana or Wyoming to roam through two-row barley plots, the brewery is the best you'll do. On a recent trip to The Commons Brewery in Portland, I was reminded of how a brewery can bring its message and mission outside the bottle and showcase it to customers.
If you're unfamiliar with The Commons, let me give you the quick, unofficial crash course. With humble beginnings in the founder's garage, The Commons moved and expanded in late 2011. Now located just across the Willamette River from downtown Portland, they now enjoy the ability to bottle condition their products and host guests with an on-site tasting room. With an emphasis on farmhouse-style beers, they chose carefully in deciding their location as the building itself does, somehow, resemble an urban farmhouse.
Once inside, your even further ensconced in the farmhouse feel as the nature building elements and natural light combine to give the well-kept tasting room an earthy vibe. The exposed beams and open skylights are a wonderful touch. With the brewing equiptment clearly visible for all to see, the total package is unique. On the one hand, you have a comfortable, natural-feeling interior, while on the other you're keenly aware that you're only feet away from the latest batch of goodness.
The idea of a brewery succeeding with a focus on farmhouse ales isn't foreign to us now, but it might have been just a half-decade ago. Farmhouse ales and sour beers now constitute a significant market share and are no longer summer seasonals -- they're available year-round. Add beers brewed with spontaneous fermentation to the mix and you can see that Americans are enjoying more than just craft ambers and pales, the types of beer that helped launched the craft movement in the first place.
While they're hardly going it alone, The Commons has helped popularize these styles here in the Northwest. That's because they make really good beer, and overwhelming, good beer sells. I recently lobbied for some Portland beers that are more outside the box and all it took was a short bike ride to find them. I grabbed a flight of tasters and a sandwich on my lunch hour and wasn't disappointed.
From left-to-right, these were:
(You can read up on each beer here and/or click the links above for their stats)
While I truly enjoyed each offering, the Flemish Kiss stood out. I try not to research too much when heading to a brewery for the first time, avoiding as much bias as possible (unless I'm there targeting a specific beer). It was no surprise upon follow-up research to see that the Flemish Kiss had won a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival and had the highest BAR and Style+ scores of the bunch. It was somewhat evident after the first sip that this one stood above the others.
Flemish Kiss (foudre-aged pale ale with brett)
- Appearance: a golden orange with light foam and lacing (4)
- Scent: earthy with a touch of hops and notes of dank orange peel (4.25)
- Taste: noticeable funk with some bitter, yet earthy qualities reminded me of over ripened apple and deep citrus (4.5)
- Mounthfeel: highly carbonated, somewhat thin, starts sharp but opens up with a bitter aftertaste (4.25)
- Overall: a complex, yet pleasant experience that balances being wild, yet refined (4.25)
If you're in town and the funk is within you, I'd highly recommend giving The Commons a try. There are a billion breweries in and around Portland, but this one brings something unique to the table, which is both noble and enjoyable. As farmhouse beers continue to grow in popularity, The Commons is well-positioned to continue expanding its relevance. With one-offs like this floating around, in addition to their large fleet of offerings, The Commons has the goods.