Over-Hopped, Over-Hyped

by Steve, July 31st, 2007

If you read the Portland bloggers over at metblogs, you might get a somewhat skewed view of Portland. For example, you might think that we’re all a bunch of whiteys who love football, shiny transportation toys, street fairs, dogs, and beer. (Actually, that view might not be so skewed. But I digress.)

Oh, the beer. Any Portland booze hound will happily tell you that Portland has more breweries than any other metro area in the U.S. This is beervana, people. This past weekend was the annual Oregon Brewers’ Festival down at Waterfront Park. It’s basically a giant keg party. This year, Mayor Tom Potter got things started by leading a parade through town and tapping the first keg.

People get really excited about lining up to drink beer from little plastic mugs that they get to take home and line up on a shelf with mugs from past booze fests.

But here’s the thing about Portland “craft” beer (they had to stop calling it micro-brew because so many of the micro-breweries went macro a long time ago): it is freaking horrible tasting.

Now before anybody jumps on me as some kind of Budweiser drinking know-nothing, let me give you some background. I love a good European beer. I’ve drunk Paulaner in Munich and Pilsner in Plzeň. I even had a “real” Budweiser in České Budějovice. I love Chimay, though I can’t drink it anymore because I always end up in a lovers’ spat when I do.

I moved to Portland in 1989 and was really excited about the micro-brew thing. My first job here was in a one of the McMenamin’s brew-pubs. But it didn’t take long to burn out on the stuff. First off, McMenamin’s beer was notoriously skanky, with bad yeast and poor quality control (they’ve always been known more for their venues than their food or beer anyway). Their beer got better when they invested in some larger-scale brewery equipment, but it’s never been their forte. But even the finer brewers in town suffer from one common affliction.


Virtually every single beer I’ve tasted from Portland is so over-hopped as to be nearly undrinkable. Fans of this kind of beer, who have evidently never experienced the nuanced hopping of European beers, are quick to dismiss people who gag on local brews as fans of weak mainstream American beers.

But beer isn’t supposed to taste like this. It’s not supposed to have a bitter, sticky finish, and it’s not supposed to make you feel drowsy after a pint. Maybe it’s because we actually grow hops in the Willamette valley that brewers here feel inclined to over-hop. Or maybe they just don’t have the refined palette of European brewers.

Whatever. I never touch the stuff anymore. On the rare occasions I drink beer, it’s generally PBR, Pacifico, or Bohemia, any of which taste closer to a fine European lager than anything you can find from a “craft” brewery in Portland. (You want to see a Portland beer snob lose his mind? Tell him what a fine lager PBR is. Hey, it’s union-made, and you know I’m all for that.)

12 Responses to “Over-Hopped, Over-Hyped”

  1. Comment from Terry:

    What? You don’t like Black Butte Porter (on tap, of course)? Heresy!

  2. Comment from marcia:

    I had the worst beer at Edgefield Sunday at the Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash….something like McMenamin’s Ruby Red?…Tasted like water with some type of horrible flavoring added to it. McMenamin’s IPA is also bad… way too bitter. However, I like Widmer’s Heffeveizen (SPELLING?) on tap with lots of lemon…sends me right to heaven.

  3. Comment from Himself:

    I probably drank a few kegs worth of BBP in 1989-90, as well a few of Blue Heron. One thing was certain: it was a hell of a lot stronger than the Old Style I’d been drinking in the Midwest.

    I realize I’m an apostate for pointing out that Oregon beer lacks nuance and sophistication. I don’t care for Sumptown espresso, either.

  4. Comment from divebarwife:

    It is sad that McMennamins was your first real intro to Portland beer – because it really is pretty bad – there is a lot of beer here – some of it good, some of it bad.

    But if you’re a fan of the European flavored beers – have you ever attended the International Beer Festival – 2 weeks before the OBF? There are many many fine European (and a few local attempts at European – some good some bad) at that.

    OBF is more about a fun day out with beer – the International Beer Fest is much more about beer tasting – and not at all the uber-hoppy NW styles. You should check that one out next year.

  5. Comment from Terry:

    Mt. Hood makes a good porter, too. So does the Lucky Lab. But I agree. I don’t like real hoppy beer, or bitter beer either.

    Stella Artois? Now there’s a good clean tasting pale beer.

  6. Comment from Himself:

    To be honest, I’m a vodka rocks guy. And I make a wicked mojito.

    Like I said, I’m pretty happy with a PBR if I’m in the mood for a beer.

    Now there’s a fine American lager.

  7. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Like my friend Art was fond of saying: “I only know three things. Women are different. Beer tastes good. And I forget the third thing.”

  8. Comment from Betsy:

    I’m also not a fan of hoppy beers – give me a Black Butte Porter, though, and I’m happy.

    *You* make a wicked mojito? We’ll have to compare notes, ’cause I thought *I* had that title…

  9. Comment from benson:

    You should know better than to drink a Belgian around women you’re well-acquainted with.

  10. Comment from Becky:

    My husband really dislikes hoppy beers (he says they give him heartburn!) so it’s always a chore to find a good non-hoppy beer.

    me, I’d rather have a bourbon and coke.

  11. Comment from MikeS29:

    Sorry, but I love a nice dry-hopped IPA. I’ll never go back to Iron City. Yes, European beers are great, and Northwest Micro-brews should not try to emulate them.. They are their own product and shouldn’t be compared. Like pizza in Italy and pizza in NY… two different dishes, both delicious in their own way, not to be compared and contrasted, just enjoyed!

  12. Comment from matt:

    You are so right on. I realize I’m late to this party, but you are so very right on. As a guy who moved first to Keizer (from Colorado), I thought I was in heaven when my commute to this town took me past the hops fields every day. Little did I realize that’s the only ingredient in most Oregon beers. Bleah.
    That, and it saddens me to this day that I can’t buy my all-time favorite, O’Dell’s 90 Schilling, here. Malty and quaffable. mmm.