Getting Sour at Cascade Brewing Barrel House

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If beer is the blood coursing through Portland’s veins, then you can think of the brews coming out of Cascade Brewing Barrel House as that super-rare AB negative blood that only 1% of the population has. The beer they make here is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, so if you ever find yourself feeling adventurous in downtown PDX, but also puzzled as to which brewery to visit, do yourself a favor and head over to Belmont and 10th on the East side and keep an eye out for a low-profile brick building surrounded by weathered oak barrels. Street parking is free around the lot, but you might want to take the Streetcar or call a taxi to get there – chances are good that nobody in your group will stay sober after they get a taste of what these guys are brewing.

Cascade specializes in barrel-aged sour ales; a style that brewmaster Ron Gansberg as been experimenting with and perfecting over the past 7 years. To achieve the sour flavor, he uses a technique adopted/adapted from an age-old Belgian style of fermentation – one that’s remarkably different than traditional methods.

In traditional brewing, great precaution is taken to prevent the introduction of unwanted yeast and rogue bacteria that could potentially ruin the flavor of the brew, but sour beers have the complete opposite approach. Brewers will intentionally add wild yeast and bacteria strains to the wort in order to achieve a good sour flavor. Methods differ from brewery to brewery and batch to batch, but Cascade’s mouth-puckering elixirs typically get their flavor from aging in oak barrels – barrels that have been treated with a particularly aggressive strain of yeast known as Brettanomyces. These bacteria thrive inside the warm, dark belly of the oak barrels and aggressively devour sugars, producing strong sour notes in the process, while also adding distinct aromas and flavor combinations of sweetness, tart acidity, earthyness, and hints of musty barnhouse funk.

Cascade produces a wide range of different sours, and they definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’ve got an adventurous palate you’re in for a treat. For starters, we recommend trying the Kriek – a blend of red ales that’s aged in oak barrels for eight months, then aged for eight more on top of bing and sour pie cherries. It’s wonderfully complex, has a highly agreeable funk to it, and strikes a perfect balance between sour and sweet.  Check out Cascade’s website to find pictures of the space and take a look at the menu. They’ve also got a small selection of 750 ml bottles available for purchase, but given their popularity, they’re always in short supply.