If there is one defining trait of the Pacific Northwest, it’s the high propensity for quality, locally and organically made microbrews. Created from the rain and soil on the slopes of the Cascadian bioregion, the dark ales, IPA’s and recipes that shift from basement to house, to farm and city to city has come to reflect a growing and distinct regional identity and culture.
To say that Cascadia is a beer mecca would be an understatement. 78% of hops grown in the United States come from Washington, 14% from Oregon, 8% from Idaho; all from Cascadia - some 30,000 acres totaling more than 30% of the hops grown in the world, bearing names such as Chinook, Columbia and Cascades. As of 2012, Portland is now the leading city for numbers of micros/brewpubs if considering a radius of about 25 miles, it now surpasses Munich, Germany as the beer mecca of the planet in terms of number of breweries. In the continental US only Washington and Oregon have more bars than churches per capita, and if you factor in the rest who gets added to that list? Alaska. North of the 49th parallel, British Columbia also sets itself apart from the rest of Canada.
This beer even has its own name: Cascadian Dark Ale.
First classified by beer aficionado and Oregon native Abram Goldman-Armstrong, Cascadian dark ales have spread and grown in popularity throughout the Pacific Northwest, and especially into Washington and British Columbia. The first of these was brewed in the early 2000’s by John Maier at Rogue, about the same time Matt Phillips, owner of Phillips Brewing in Victoria, British Columbia brewed Black Toque becoming Mogul Madness, Black Brutal, Skullsplitter and Brewer, later incorporated by Rogue Brewery, Hopworks Secession CDA, Barley Brown’s Turmoil, Widmer Collaborator Cascadian Dark Ale, Lucky Lab Black Sheep, Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, Walking Man Big Black Homo, Rogue Black Brutal, Pelican Bad Santa, New Holland Black Hatter, Laughing Dog Dogzilla, just to name a few.
Abram, who first lobbied for the term ‘Cascadian Dark Ale’ in 2010 and whose recipe first gained recognition as a pitchy Secession CDA, has worked for some time to help raise the public’s awareness for the beer that he claims share a distinct characteristics of a unique Northwest IPA, part of a rich culture of brewing that recognizes the importance of harvesting local, organic ingredients from watersheds ranging from Northern California through British Columbia. He argues that: “This is a style that could only have come from the passion Cascadian brewers have for our hops. People (often correctly) accuse brewers in this part of the world (particularly Oregon of over-hopping styles that should not be. (NW style ESBs are a good example of this). Cascadian Dark Ale is a great example of how this love of hops can help develop new styles. Who would expect a big hop character to work with roast flavors? In the Northwest it’s been done in stouts, so when someone comes along and makes a CDA, people taste it and judge it in a “does this taste good fashion” instead of assuming that the beer did not work out right.
In 2011, Portland based HUB rolled out with their premiere Secession CDA which has become a regional staple. The beer displays a proud picture of WA, OR and British Columbia and is adorned in the colors of the Cascadian flag. As described by Andrew Barton on his beer blog www.actsofminortreason.com:
“There’s something to be said for self-determination and for independence. People always want to be masters of their own destinies to as great a degree as possible, and the whole of the New World has been shaped by those who wanted to pursue their futures on their own terms, from Nunavut to the United States and from Panama to Argentina. While today the borders are firmly drawn with thick ink on the maps and stern guards at the crossing points, that doesn’t mean they will stay the same through tomorrow and tomorrow… Cascadia! Not just a more aesthetically pleasing name to describe the Pacific Northwest, but a region made up of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. On occasion it’s been tapped as a country of the future, and perhaps one day that will be the case after all… Secession Cascadian Dark Ale is nothing to look at dimly. Indeed, it’s dark enough that even when you shine a light down on it, it remains resolutely opaque. Brewed by Hopworks Urban Brewery of Portland, Oregon, Secession is an organic, carbon-neutral beer that urges us to ‘join the party and uncap a revolution.’… As the old commercials say, you have to live here to get it. Secession is pretty much only available in Cascadia, though you may also be able to find it in parts of Idaho and Alberta, even though Alberta has never been part of Cascadia and would in fact stink up the place with all its coal and dirty oil. We keep all those all-natural pine-scented air fresheners all along the Rocky Mountains for a reason…”.
In its way, beer has a power to connect our commercial, social and political histories, and to allow individuals and community to help forge a joint commonality, a new nationalism and to drive and transform a cultural identity. Indeed, even the American revolution was plotted from the backrooms of pubs and taverns throughout Philadelphia and Boston and, in the words of University of Washington professor W.J. Rorabaugh “viewed as the nurseries of freedom” and that taverns were “certainly seed beds of the revolution, the places where British tyranny was condemned, militiamen organized, and independence plotted.” From these dark and dusky meetings, a shared sense of community, nation, history and symbol began to form.
While maybe not used in quite the same vein, one cannot deny the powerful impact taking place throughout bars and pubs in the Pacific Northwest, as people come together to sip Cascadian Dark Ales, talk about the latest regional rivalry between the Timbers, Sounders and Whitecaps as they compete in the latest round of the Cascadia Cup, and envision new ways in which to radically ferment better ways in which we can change the world.
by Brandon Letsinger