In advance of Monday night’s first ever College Football Playoffs Championship Game between THE (my own sincere emphasis/bias disclosure) Ohio State University and The University of Oregon, I tapped friend and Oregon beer expert (he literally wrote the book), Brian Yaeger, to see how his top picks would stack up to my own. (I’m committing to only using ‘Bucks vs. Ducks’ once in this piece; damn, guess that counted…) Since I’m a current Boston resident, apologies in advance for missing some of Ohio’s newest beer gems. Oregonians can lodge their concerns directly to Brian on Twitter @Yaeger
The ‘rules’ weren’t particularly strictly enforced, and we’ll leave the judging up to you (comments welcome), so without further ado…
Bucks vs. Ducks…
Round 1: IPA
I suspect my counterpart had an equally difficult time as I did with this one. Great Lakes Brewing Company Commodore Perry IPA is an
easyhomer pick (somewhere a photo exists of me crushing a wicked fresh one of these on a bus from the GLBC Pub to a Cleveland Indians game, send it along if you have it, please). I haven’t had enough from JAFB to speak authoritatively about their beer (though I’ve heard nothing but good things). But the top two contenders have to be Columbus Brewing Company and Fat Head’s Brewery. Columbus racked up two well-deserved medals at this year’s Great American Beer Festival; their beer doesn’t get nearly the attention that it should outside of the Buckeye state. Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA, on the other hand, makes the short list of IPAs I could drink every day. Furthermore, both go next-level with Columbus Brewing Co. IPA being brewed in the Bucks’ backyard, while Fat Heads has recently opened a brewpub in the heart of Portland, OR. My choice: Columbus IPA: any. (IPA, Bodhi, Creeper, they’re all phenomenal.)
(Note: Knowing that this piece is largely tailored to an Ohio audience, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Head Hunter pop up on Brian’s list…)
IPA: Boneyard RPM. Oregon breweries are among the world’s most innovative, and since virtually all of the country’s hops come from the Northwest, that innovation includes IPAs, too. When the rest of the US drinks, on average, only 8% craft beer, Portland and much of Oregon drinks 25% IPA. How any IPAs out of the 200+ offered year-round from around the state stand out above the rest, I dunno, but Ninkasi Brewing from Eugene (home of UofO) brews Total Dominationthat is the best-selling IPA in the state. Having said that, it’s clear that Oregon is RPM country and the brewery that’s much smaller than Ninkasi cannot keep up with demand. Boneyard’s RPM trounces in blind tastings with its perpetual juiciness as if peaches and apricots were added along with the hops.
Round 2: Porter/Stout
When I proposed the categories for this post, I thought I had this one down. Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout is a multiple award-winner, and an all-around amazing beer. But a late lineup change yielded a more perfect contender. No, it’s not GLBC Edmund Fitzgerald (a near perfect beer for me, always, but not for this occasion). Rather it’s Willoughby Brewing Company Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter. Some might say it’s an easy selection, since this beer has quickly become one of Northeast Ohio’s darlings (I’ve heard both friends and strangers refer to it as “liquid crack” though this The Office clip comes to mind). Why PBCCP? Aside from being a damn delicious beer (thanks for the recent sample, Rick), it also evokes the Buckeye candy: peanut butter balls coated in chocolate. Game. Set. Match.
Stout/Porter: Like I said, Oregon isn’t just hops. We love our dark beers. There’s even a huge Festival of Dark Arts hosted at Ft. George Brewery in Astoria on Valentine’s Day since that’s how we express our love. I’m struggling to choose between The Abyss or Black Butte, and both are brewed by Deschutes. While The Abyss is a barrel-aged imperial stout, Black Butte is a dry and robust porter. It’s not new school, but neither is the porter style. What it IS is the best selling porter in America. Y’hear that, Edmund Fitzgerald? You’re going down!
Round 3: Saison/Farmhouse
Here’s where I have to profess that I’ve fallen a little out of touch with the heart of it all [cricket…]. I think I could count the number of Ohio saison’s I’ve tried on one hand. Of those, few (none, even?) are particularly memorable. Well, that’s not exactly right, if I stretch the category a little bit to tout the top-notch beers from (then) homebrewer Kyle Roth’s Ferndock Brewing Cooperative. Both the Altinak Lambic & Baden Gone Wild were delicious, and great indicators of bigger things to come from FBC. But I’m just as confident in touting Rockmill Brewery as OH’s representative for this category. When I was living in Cleveland, I consistently passed over their offerings on store shelves (yes, there was a time where I wouldn’t have ever considered buying 750ml bottles… sigh…). It’s been interesting to hear so many people (both deep ‘Beer Geeks’ and not-so-much) in Boston rave about their beer when my Ohio roots come up. Apparently, the brewery is gorgeous (looks it from the website), and their Saison holds a quite respectable 89 on BeerAdvocate. But yeah, I could use an assist from those more in the know for this category.
Farmhouse: This may be the most difficult selection since Oregon’s farmhouse ales are so complex and delicious that instead of one champion, entries could fill a field akin to NCAA hoops’ field of 64 (ed. note: Stop it, Brian 😉 ). While Upright’s Four and The Commons’ Urban Farmhouse spring to mind, I’ll put of Logsdon’s Seizoen against anyone’s saison. In fact, I get to count it twice since there’s Seizoen and Seizoen Bretta (fermented with Brettanomyces). Dave Logsdon was one of Oregon’s earliest brewmasters at Full Sail in 1987 but left to co-found Wyeast Yeast Labs so he knows his microorganisms! Seizoen (“say-zoon”) contains four cultures at work in that earthy ale with hints of lemon zest and unripe nectarine. The funky Seizoen Bretta, naturally, is another story, one told through dry flavors of fresh-baked Southern biscuits as well as lemon pepper and sharp apple skin. It earned gold in the Brett ale category at the 2012 GABF.
Round 4: Barrel-Aged Beer
The ‘right’ answer is probably something from Jackie O’s. But I’ve never been there, and haven’t had any of the BA ISOhards like Rum Barrel-Aged OoA or the other ones that are way better. Also, in a sports-themed post, I can’t, in good conscience, endorse anything that close to my rival college (I can, however, fully endorse everything that Jackie O’s has done in the wake of a devastating fire in downtown Athens, OH). But Ohio (nor, for that matter, any other state, to some degree) does not want for Barrel-Aged goodness. GLBC Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout is delicious (if not, historically, a little pricey. Tickets to the 2015 release party on Jan. 26 are still available; I’ve been before, it’s a fun time), and Hoppin’ Frog has proven extremely adept in their BA line. I’m also sure there are some smaller breweries in Cincinnati/Dayton/Toledo that have gotten their hands on barrels and produced some sub-100 count winners. But for me, Akron’s Thirsty Dog Brewing Company is a solid choice in a very, very subjective category. Ohio’s proximity to Michigan (where, seemingly, they begin teaching barrel/wood-aging to middle schoolers: lookin’ at you Founder’s, Bell’s, Jolly Pumpkin…), means a lot of locals plan calendars around the the next Black Note or KBS tapping. That Wulver was/is sitting around on shelves just means Ohio is spoiled for riches. Thanks to Alan for the inclusion of one of these bad boys in a summer birthday box.
Barrel-Aged Beer: Oakshire Hellshire. These categories are excellent reminders of how good we have it in Oregon Ducks territory! Most of the 200+ breweries do at least some barrel-aging, but let’s give it up for Oakshire in Eugene who hired away brewmaster Matt Van Wyk from Flossmoor Station near Chicago after creating a beer called Wooden Hell, a bourbon-barrel-aged barleywine that, after medaling in the barrel-aged category at the 2006 GABF, remains among the most cherished and sought after bottles in the beer geek community. No laurel-resting here, his annual Hellshire release day is something of a local holiday in Eugene and among aficionados everywhere. Hellshire V, a Knob Creek aged strong stout, comes out March 14 or as it’ll be known locally, the 2 month and 2 day anniversary of Oregon’s smackdown of Ohio State.
Round 5: Wild Card
We need your help again, sports fans.
What ONE beer (already mentioned or not) would you put up to best represent THE Ohio State University Buckeyes or The University of Oregon Ducks?
We’ll get back to you with our picks soon!