If you suddenly see a lot of Portlanders with a pucker on their lips and a smile on their faces, here’s why: The long-awaited Cascade Barrel House has officially opened.
The Barrel House is the southeast Portland, Ore., extension of Cascade Brewing, which has made a name for itself as a creator of world-class “Northwest-style” sour beers made with lactobacillus, acid bacteria that produces moderate levels of acidity and sour flavors.
The Barrel House, 939 SE Belmont Street, offers about a dozen of its sour ales on tap, with a handful — about four or five — more taps devoted to more common craft beer styles such as an IPA, a one-off rye beer, a pale ale, a raspberry wheat beer and even an ever-rotating keg of something from Spatan for the folks who really want to just have a nice beer.
Despite the excitement over sour as the next extreme beer experience, the Barrel House’s move to conserve a few taps for other styles seems to be a wise one — it makes the place more approachable for those who aren’t quite ready or are just not in the mood to sip on the sour side.
Oh, but the puckerfest is what rules at this self-proclaimed “House of Sour” — with inaugural beers including Cascade Kriek; Nightfall, a sour wheat beer aged on blackberries; and the award-winning Vlad the Impaler and Cascade Apricot; not to mention two seasonal Goses; and the comely Noyeaux, aged in port barrels with raspberries and the toasted meat of apricot kernels (repurposed from making the Apricot, no doubt) — just to name a few.
But the fun doesn’t stop there, as the Barrel House is obviously run by people with Ale-DD (a.k.a. Ale-ttention Deficit Disorder). Behind the bar, on one side of the taps, there are two spots that are reserved for something special: Once a week, at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, a new whole barrel will be wheeled into the cooler behind the wall of taps and moved into one of those openings. From there, the barrel will be directly tapped, where it will remain for two weeks until a new barrel is brought in, or until the beer runs out. The next week, the second spot in the wall will benefit from the same ritual, meaning that a new barrel is tapped weekly. Additionally, and adding to the Ale-DD, brewmaster Ron Gansberg says that every couple of weeks, at least one never-before beer will be featured — maybe it will be the only time it’s ever on tap or it might become a standard; that depends on how well it is received at the Barrel House.
The beers are not brewed on-site. They are brewed at Cascade Brewing’s main location, the Raccoon Lodge, on the southwest side of Portland, put in barrels and then shipped to the Barrel House, where the beer will rest for as little as a few months or upwards of two years. The site has capacity for 350 barrels (there are about 250 in service at the moment) and also has some small fermentation space, which is currently being used for beer that is being infused with bing and sour pie cherries for this year’s kriek. If you are fortunate enough to get a quick tour or a peek into the barrel-room operations, don’t be surprised to see a barrel master scurrying about, testing barrels of this or that or trying a new blend. (There are plans in the works for regular tours, so don’t despair.)
Cascade’s sour beers are extremely food-friendly, and the food menu looks to be designed to highlight beers’ place with a meal. In addition to the ubiquitous hummus plate, there are soups, a wedge salad, black bean salad, hearty sandwiches such as meatloaf or ham & gruyere, an artisan cheese plate, and a platter of smoked meats. Oh, and how could I forget: Bacon Tapenade. That’s right: Bacon. Tapenade. A big bowl of bacon-y olive goodness with a side of crusty bread.
It’s still new, but it appears the Cascade Barrel House will be a sourlicious addition to the already thriving part of the city that I call the Beermuda Triangle.
Cheers to the power of Sour!
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