52 Beers Group, Week 43: Oregon Trail's Bourbon Barrel Porter

Beer at 11am again on day two. This time, our group meets up at Oregon Trail Brewery in Corvallis.

Several years ago, I lived in Corvallis.  This was the first place I landed after moving to the West Coast from South Carolina—and this is when I started to really get into local beer.  By that time, I had long since switched from the American macro lagers I drank in college to other American beers like Harpoon IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, as well as English beers like Old Peculiar and various Sammy's offerings.  My choices reflected that I wanted something more complex out of my beer, but I had yet to experience any West Coast offerings.  My whole first two years were spent running the gamut of breweries and styles through all the draft and bottles I could find--and I found a lot.  I drank beer, then I learned more about beer, and I brewed beer.  I wasn't quite an expert at that time, but I sure did a lot of research.

Oregon Trail Brewery, Corvallis, OR
Dave Wills, Oregon Trail Brewery.

The only brewery in town in was Oregon Trail Brewery, which is a 7 Barrel brewhouse strangely hidden in the back of the Old World Deli.  There since 1987, Oregon Trail Brewery was about the 4th or 5th brewery to open in Oregon. Despite this early opening, there were a few things that had people guessing about the brewery's past, present, and future.   First of all, let's go back to location.  Tucked into the back corner of a shared building, while visible through windows, the brewery doesn't have much public presence. They are completely a production brewery, so there's not much of a outward face directly related with the physical space.   Despite this lack of a public front, you can easily find Oregon Trail beer pouring at the Old World Deli as well as bars like Squirrel's Tavern.   Then there's the mysterious 5 year gap when they lost their license for because of an alcohol serving misunderstanding at a beer event.  For the only brewery in town, 5 years is a long time to sit idle.  Lastly, a lot of their draft beer goes out in the Party Pig™.  From the Oregon Trail Brewery Website:

"The Party Pig™ is a self contained 8.5 liter (2.25 gallon) reusable beer package/dispenser that keeps beer fresh and carbonated. The package is easy to carry and fits into standard refrigerators.

What makes the Party Pig™ so different?

The package requires no CO2 tanks or cartridges because it uses a self-inflating pressure pouch. As beer is dispensed from the PET plastic bottle, through an attached push-button valve, the internal pressure pouch expands and maintains a constant 15-20 pounds per square inch of pressure. This is accomplished by combining citric acid and bicarbonate of soda in a controlled manner to produce CO2 gas, which remains inside the pressure pouch and does not come in contact with the beer.

This new package uses the patented Q-Paq™ technology to maintain beer freshness while dispensing the perfect draught every time.

Using the Party Pig™ will save you time and money because everything is reusable except for the pressure pouch. With care, the components will last for many years."

Oregon Trail Brewery, Corvallis, OR
A barrel of goodness.

It sounds like a great device, and actually is a great device for distributing beer.  It helps the brewery save money on packaging: no expensive bottling and no labeling (or label approval).  However, the choice to go with this system does have it's downsides.  Branding is almost non-existent.   Of course, marketing doesn't make beer great, but it can be a huge help in getting your beer into the consumers hands.

All of these facets lead up to a vary unique brewery that is definitely cutting its own path—and possibly why you don't know much about them.

That morning, we hung out with Dave Wills, one of the owners of Oregon Trail Brewery.  Dave also owns and operates Freshops.com, a great place to buy and learn about hops.   There, you can read about hop varieties, look up current Alpha Acid Percentages, and click a button to have hops delivered to your home.   Today, however, we're examining hops in their final resting place: finished beer.  Some of the beers we tried included:

  • Wit: Clean and spicy, with orange peel & coriander seed. Our wheat beer is unfiltered, and unbeatable on a hot summer day.  Winner of the 2004 People's Choice Award at the Newport Microbrew Festival.  (4.2% ABV)
  • IPA: First brewed for the British troops in the 1800’s, extra hops and alcohol helped preserve the beer for the long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.  Oregon Trail IPA faithfully adheres to this old brewing tradition.  This malty flavored, copperhued India Pale Ale is balanced with generous amounts of Nugget and Centennial hops.  A hop-lovers delight. (6.3%)
  • Ginseng Porter: As the name implies, this robust porter is infused with American, Korean, Siberian, & Tienchi ginseng for an earthy, rooty finish. (6.4% ABV)
  • Smoke Signal: Our interpretation of a German-style Rauchbier is less smoky than the traditional version but maintains its old-style characteristics in every other sense. (7.3% ABV)

We also headed up to the barrel room, where they have, well, barrels of delicious beer.  We sampled some right from the barrels and wanted to take a few home with us.   The beer was delicious and in various states of aging—and in very small quantities.   And that's the horrible downside: we won't see much of Oregon Trail Brewery beers up here in Portland.   It's possible to spot Oregon Trail Bourbon Barrel Porter bottles in Portland, but they are few and far between. With much of the beer economically going out in Party Pigs™, Oregon Trail is basically supplying Corvallis and the surrounding areas.

So, you may have to do a little driving to check out this beer, but good things do live outside of the city limits.

Check out the rest of the photos here.