Blind Tasting: Can You Pick Apart Your Oregon IPAs?

Jeffrey Wiser, July 19, 2016

A month and half ago, I left the expensive confines of Southern California for the more affordable but still-not-cheap up-and-coming Portland, Oregon, choosing to return to my home state. In that time, beer has been a major agenda item.

As you probably know, Portland has more breweries per capita than any other city on the planet. With something like 84 breweries in the Portland metro area, there is absolutely no shortage of beer to drink. There are 29 more in Central Oregon, including 22 in Bend. Add a handful of good ones in Corvallis, Hood River, Eugene/Springfield and the developing Oregon Coast, and it's overwhelming. The word oversaturation doesn't do the situation justice.

But there's a little secret here that's not readily apparent. You see, with this many breweries there's bound to be some duplication, and in this case, lots of duplication. Nearly everyone's got your standard setup of IPA's, Pale Ales, Stouts, Ambers, Porters and so on. Originality is lacking to some degree, and although it's out there, it's pretty hard to find when you're literally wading through dozens of breweries offering the standard set of beers with attempted catchy names. Upright Brewing goes off the map with farmhouse beers and Cascade Barrel House does some exquisite sours while there are certainly others breaking the mold, but head to the local market and you'll find dozens of local offerings that don't stray far from the norm on the shelves. 

Which is where I found myself last week, picking through loose singles trying to put together a mixed sixer. Inspired by The Craft Beer Temple's video blog, I decided to pick to the Northwest's calling card and select six IPAs all brewered in the Oregon.

I figured I'd grab three beers I'd had before and three I hadn't, then see if I could pick them apart in a blind tasting. Being pretty familiar with three of these, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult. I was emphatically wrong. Here were my samples, along with their BAR and Style+ figures

  • Pelican Brewing Company (Pacific City, OR) Dirty Bird IPA: 0.18 BAR, 98 Style+
  • Lurelwood Brewing Company (Portland, OR) Workhorse IPA: 5.24 BAR, 108 Style+
  • Ninkasi (Eugene, OR) Total Domination IPA: 3.99 BAR, 104 Style+
  • Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) Hoplslice Session IPA: 0.89 BAR, 100 Style+
  • Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) Inversion IPA: 1.56 BAR, 99 Style+
  • Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) Pine Drops IPA: 1.07 BAR, 101 Style+

Each of these beers is readily available at most supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores and the like. In essence, this is normal fare. So, while only one beer is from Portland, you get the idea that these are all readily available Oregon IPAs. Well, technically Hopslice is a Session IPA, but you know what I mean. On to the tasting. 

Beers I Got Right

Hopslice: hey, good for me! I got the one IPA that wasn't a true IPA correct! Frankly, it was session all the way and I didn't think twice about calling this beer Hopslice. Its light, has a lemon-citrus nose and is super mellow. Session beer all the way and I got it right.

Beers I Got Wrong

All the others. Seriously.

I've had Total Domination, Inversion and Pine Drops a number of times before this tasting. Dirty Bird and Workhorse were new for me (although maybe I had Workhorse way back when). I really figured I could pick out a couple of these, although it's admittedly been a while since I've had any of them.

Here's how it went down: I thought Total Domination was Workhorse and vice versa. Both beers rate well and I was at least on track in terms of quality. I thought Inversion was Pine Drops, and it was the coloring that fooled me. I called Pine Drops as Dirty Bird and Dirty Bird as Inversion. Really, having never seen or tasted Dirty Bird, I was shooting in the dark. When Pine Drops poured much lighter in color than I'd anticipated, I got off track. I figured there was no way it'd pour a pale yellow and yeah, that's most of what did me in.

Along the way, I picked favorites and my power ranking went like this:

  1. Inversion IPA, Deschutes
  2. Workhorse IPA, Laurelwood
  3. Total Domination IPA, Ninkasi
  4. Pine Drops IPA, Deschutes
  5. Dirty Bird IPA, Pelican
  6. Hopslice Session IPA, Deschutes

Keep in mind, Hopslice wasn't on the same footing as the others and I happen to like hops, so it's not a surprise to see that beer at the bottom of the stack. Inversion, an old favorite, ended up on top for me, even though I mis-called it. I was surprised to see Pine Drops as low as it was , but liking Workhorse and Total Domination was no surprise once I saw their metrics. I've had a few other beers from Pelican Brewing and never been a big fan, so I'm not surprise to see it where it is on my list of favs. 

Simply put, there are 100's of IPA's brewed within 200 miles of here. Truth be told, there's very little separating many of them. This may be beer mecca in terms of breweries by zip code, but it's hard to stand out when the stage is so crowded, and that didn't help me when it came time to blind test. Maybe next time I'll be closer to the target. For now, it looks like I have my work cut out, both in terms of picking these beers apart and in finding something local but truly noteworthy.