Going, going … gone! The hopheads are outta here! A visiting team from Portland proper might feel a tad lost at this Raleigh Hills venue, because Lodge owner Art Larrance and his “chief imagineer” Ron Gansberg brew things a little differently just over the fence in the ’burbs, eschewing the bold bite of hops for Old World balance and palatability. Raccoon beers make an immediate impression as tasty, light and drinkable, but not particularly big or potent. Undercurrents of honey and herbs have a pleasingly vague presence.
Gansberg, who worked at Bridgeport for eight years and Portland Brewing for another three before joining forces with Larrance 10 years ago, is particularly pleased with the Blonde Bock, a beer that combines the lightness of a lager with the sturdier qualities of Belgian-style ales. It’s spicy, crisp and dry, isn’t overwhelmingly hoppy and makes for an excellent change-up from the IPA wave.
“I know what people like to drink around here,” Larrance explains.
“I didn’t really want to make a big, cloying, sweet beer,” adds Gansberg. “I work very hard to balance the hops and the malt. But we are in a hops arms race, there’s no doubt about that.” Indeed, the Lodge’s top-selling beer is an IPA.
Larrance is a highly significant figure in the beer scene: He brewed for Bert Grant in 1983, founded Portland Brewing in 1986 with Hillsboro High School classmates Fred Bowman and Jim Goodwin (Glass of ’62) and started the Oregon Brewers Festival in 1987.
“But I’m not really on the brewing side of things,” he says. “I’m more on the drinking side.
“I knew what kind of place I wanted,” Larrance says of the Raccoon Lodge, which opened its doors in 1996. “We have a McMenamins down around the corner … and we have a McCormick’s Fish House down the street. So physically I’m between two different levels of service. I’m financially in between, and I’m quality-of-food in between—and in beer I think I’m above all of them.
“But that’s in the eyes of the beer-holder,” he laughs. “And I’ve got one in my hand.”
Burghead Heather Ale
Craig Nicholls is one brewer who doesn’t seem to be capable of sitting still. He started out at Rogue Brewing in Newport, interned at Bridgeport, worked at Big Horn Brewing in Lake Oswego and signed on as the original brewmaster at Alameda Brewhouse in 1996, where he created its signature beers.
But when the brewery he was working for a few years ago was sold, he knew it was time to settle down. “When we opened Roots, we wanted to be creative and totally different—and be the first all-organic brewery in Portland.”
He’s fiercely committed to the principles of organic brewing (no pesticides or chemicals added to his raw ingredients), though he estimates it costs him between 35 and 40 percent more to import his hops and grain from Europe.
“Everything we do here is organic,” he says of the tropical-themed brewpub that he opened last year with business partner Jason McAdam. “The whole place is built out of recycled materials for the most part. Everything except the drywall.”
Apparently the organic bug is contagious. Nicholls says that Roots services close to 100 accounts around the state and that “two or three” local breweries set to open in the next two years will also be organic.
Roots also is the home of the Summer Beer All-Star team’s ideal relief pitcher, Burghead Heather Ale, an offbeat brew that throws hop-accustomed palates a mean curve ball. With its complete absence of hops, Burghead gets a substantial zing from heather—and from history.
“The story goes that archaeologists found these old Gaelic tablets at a dig site,” Nicholls says, estimating the recipe at 3,000 years old. “They knew it was a beer, but they didn’t know what kind.” Upon first taste, Burghead settles in the mouth like a fruit beer, but it’s light and crisp with a refreshing floral taste.
“The heather adds a nice dry finish but without the cloying, acidic taste that you get from hops,” says Nicholls. “It’s a great beer, one of my favorites.”