Skip to main content

How West Coast Wildfires Led to Smoke-Tinged Beer and Wine in Oregon

There’s been a lot of talk recently about wildfire smoke and the drinks business. And for good reason, as the lingering haze can negatively impact everything from wine grapes to beer hops. Climate change dictates all ⏤ including booze and its many farmed ingredients ⏤ but when is a little smoke a good thing?

Late 2018 was a particularly intense one in terms of wildfires. Throughout much of summer and fall, much of the West Coast displayed the fuzzy orange tinge we tend to associate with Blade Runner. Some California wineries shut down completely, and in an event that will live in infamy, growers in Oregon had their fruit rejected due to alleged smoke taint (the poorly-worded term to describe negative impacts associated with too much smoke in the wine grapes), only to have a band of Oregon producers start their own label, Oregon Solidarity, in response. 

Oregon Solidarity

Breweries like Sierra Nevada made special beers to aid firefighters in their seemingly endless battle. But in areas where the smoke wasn’t as thick or didn’t stick around as long, it offered an interesting new flavor profile to the resulting wines and ales.

“We had smoke-infused peaches from the upper Hood River Valley that went into our Peach ‘n’ Brett,” says Dave Logsdon, longtime brewer and founder of Wy’East Labs in the Columbia River Gorge. “It had a nice subtle smokey effect on the beer, probably due to only a small amount of contact with the fires.”

At Teutonic Wine Company in Portland, winemaker Barnaby Tuttle saw opportunity in smoke-tinged fruit. He’s dubbed his creation Rauchwein, as a nod to the famous German beer style that uses wood-smoked malts.

fire grapes vineyard Calistoga California
Damaged grapes at a vineyard in Calistoga, California in 2017. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Made from Riesling grown on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, his 2017 Rauchwein finishes like a mezcal. It’s an interesting addition to Riesling’s traditionally clean flavors.

Corey Shuster of Jackalope Cellars, another Willamette Valley wine producer, had a similar experience. He has a pair of wines affected by smoke and addressed one by blending and the use of activated carbon. “I do think the smoke has added a fun extra layer to the wine that so far people are really digging,” he says.

Schuster describes his ’17 Grenache as crunchy, dusty, and red fruit-driven. “There’s a pretty savory note that offsets the fruit nicely,” he says. “It could almost be mistaken for a little barrel influence.”

His 2017 Cab Franc was mixed with some Merlot and Cab to balance out flavors and smoke influence. Schuster says it’s dialed-in at this point, with some bottles not even showing any influence.

Phelps Creek Vineyard Hood River Wildfire
Eagle Creek near Phelps Creek Vineyard in 2017. Bob Morus/Phelps Creek Vineyard

The unfortunate Eagle Creek Fire in the Gorge came within a few miles of Phelp Creeks Vineyards in 2017. So close that they built a defensive perimeter around the estate and evacuated a lot of the finished wines. Winds kept the flames at bay, but the smoke changed the makeup of the fruit.

The label cut down production that year because of smoke, but they will be releasing a small-batch Pinot Noir aptly named Eagle Creek this September, around the second anniversary of the blaze.

“It shows elements of roasted meats, campfire, and spice,” says Phelps Creek founder Robert Morus. “Perfect with barbecue.”

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
Rum brand Barcardi makes a vinyl record out of sugarcane
It features a track from Camila Cabello's new album
barcadi sugarcane vinyl bacardi camila cabello jpg

As booze-related promos go, this is a strange one, but undeniably kind of neat: Barcardi, the ubiquitous rum brand, has created a limited edition vinyl record made of sugarcane. The single chosen for the vinyl is  "I LUV IT" by Camila Cabello, former member of Fifth Harmony. Cabello hails from Cuba and has worked with Barcadi before, which she describes as the quintessential rum brand.

The sugarcane vinyl is created using repurposed materials and ethically sourced sugarcane, which is broken down to create a bioplastic which can then be formed into a vinyl disk. The process uses low temperatures, which helps to save on energy.

Read more
Hennessy XO debuts a limited edition inspired by famed department store Harrods
Harrods of London is the department store for the well-heeled in London
hennessy xo harrods edition rare cognac boutique at

Premium cognac brand Hennessy is teaming up with equally premium shopping location Harrods of London for the latest release in its travel collection. Inspired by cities around the globe, the Travel the World collection has previously featured iconic imagery from Paris, Hainan, Singapore, Macau, and Hong Kong. And now England's capital will be represented by a special edition inspired by the decor and styling of the classic department store.

Hennessy XO Harrods Edition is a limited editing bottling of the brand's esteemed XO Cognac, with green detailing inspired by the 1920s coffered ceiling at Door 7 of the store. The bottle comes with a leather luggage tag sharing the same design, which you can remove and presumably affix to your suitcase to mark you out as a Harrods enthusiast.

Read more
Two buttery-smooth cocktail recipes from Mezcal Union
Try the simple mezcal sour or the ambitious sous vide mezcal negroni
mezcal union butter cocktails image002

It's not only food which is improved by copious quantities of butter (just ask the French), it can a great addition to cocktails too. Using a process called fat washing, you can add richness and flavor to your spirits. And don't worry, you strain out the butter before drinking so your cocktail won't have a greasy texture.

The brand Mezcal Union has taken that idea as inspiration for its buttery tasting (but not actually buttered) Mezcal Union Viejo, which has notes of butter, toasted nuts, and smoke. The brand is sharing two cocktail recipes to riff off this idea -- one which showcases the color and texture of butter, and a second which actually uses butter.

Read more