Drinking At Cascade, The Best Sour Beer Brewery In The Country – Forbes

Drinking At Cascade, The Best Sour Beer Brewery In The Country  Forbes

With so many new and exciting breweries, it’s easy to forget about the classics, but you’d be smart to give Cascade a second look.


If I have a flaw as a beer writer, it’s that I often run the old folks out of the room. With 7,000 breweries across the country, it’s easy to focus on the new and exciting. The beer scene isn’t the same as it used to be, and I often ignore the regional or national players pumping out tried-and-true flagships in favor of the sexy new kids on the block. I mean, the stalwart brown ale just isn’t as interesting to me as the experimental IPA. 

But recognizing this, it makes sense to reflect on the classics. And one name comes up time and time again: Cascade Brewing in Portland, Oregon.

Cascade was founded by Art Larrance and Ron Gansberg in 1998. Although they’re known today for their mastery of fruit-forward sours, many forget they originally started by producing well-balanced ales. But growing tired of what they called the “hops arms race,” they pivoted to sours in 2005 — not that long ago, but long enough to make them a grandfather in the craft beer scene, especially among producers of American sours. In fact, it was Cascade that opened the country’s first “House of Sour” in September 2010 with their Cascade Brewing Barrel House at 939 SE Belmont Street in Portland.

The brewery’s heyday was perhaps in 2009, when their beers took gold and silver for the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer categories at the Great American Beer Festival. At home, the brewery brought in 4,500 pounds of Bing and sour pie cherries, as well as 2,500 pounds of apricots, and a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Outside of Portland, their 750ml bottles popped up in supermarkets and beer stores, where connoisseurs were happy to drop $45 on the same occasions for which the less beer-focused would purchase a bottle of champagne. 

Nationally, the demand for beer in 750ml bottles has slowed, but in Portland, where Cascade still runs a 23,000 square-foot production warehouse, as well as their original brewery, and Eastside tasting room, the brewery shows no signs of slowing down. On the day I visited, they had almost two dozen beers on tap, ranging in color from straw yellow and light pink to ruby red and dark brown. The flavors also covered the spectrum, from floral and fruity to tart and musky. 

Although Cascade might no longer have the cool factor of today’s young upstarts, they have quality born of experience. I tried half a dozen beers and each one was a triumph. The brewery comes from a time in American brewing when precision trumped volume and technical excellence beat hype, and it shows through in their wide variety of sour beers. The 2017 Kentucky Peach was tart and juicy. The Kriek, aged for up to 17 months in red wine barrels, burst with cherries. Even the 6.3 percent ABV Mint Condition Gose, which could’ve been an overly sweet travesty of a cocktail beer, was refined and subtle, a perfectly balanced sour with suggestions of mint. 

Perhaps my favorite beer of the evening was 2016 Anniversary Edition Bourbonic Plague, a former GABF gold medal winner that was brewed to celebrate Cascade’s 20th anniversary. The beer was a blend of sour imperial porters aged in bourbon and wine barrels for up to two years with cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peel. It was a dark beer with notes of barrel and leather and a touch of residual sweetness.

Cascade was a reminder of what sours should be, and how an attention to detail and a passion fo excellence yields an incredible product. It’s also a wakeup call that perhaps the old guard needs a second look.

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