Oregon beer, astounding as it is to believe, continues to grow. Crux has just announced plans to expand distribution to a few hot craft-beer markets in the East, including New York City, Washington ,D.C.,—and Vermont, where it'll be joining Boneyard on the taps alongside Lawson and Hill Farmstead. Oblivion Brewing, which just won Central Oregon Beer Week's SMaSH Beer Fest, has a taproom once again in northeast Bend. 10 Barrel, whose pub in the northeast is now open, kind of speaks for itself.
But as Oregon rolls into another summer season full of outdoor excitement and casual inebriation, now might be a good time to recall the original "killer app" to come from our state's scene. That would, without a doubt, be the Hefeweizen from Widmer Brothers Brewing, originally launched in 1986—the same year McMenamins introduced Ruby Ale at their Hillsdale Brewery in Portland. Together they're the oldest beers from this state readily identifiable as "craft," but it's pretty clear which one's the national favorite.
Widmer, part of the Craft Brew Alliance with outfits like Redhook and Kona (an alliance which is majority-owned by A-B InBev, which retains about 31 percent of common stock as of 2016), is literally the house that Hefe built. The Portland-based brew facility has a total capacity of 450,000 barrels per year, and the towering fermenters seen by anyone who takes a tour or passes by their building off I-405 in Portland contain Hefe that's destined for all corners of the US.
It is the original "American hefeweizen," unfiltered like the German version but made with yeast and hops more familiar to Oregonian palates, and thus it attracts jeers from stalwart lager enthusiasts. It does not taste much like Weihenstephan, the German standard-bearer, nor the similarly authentic hefeweizens coming from states such as Wisconsin or Texas where Germany enjoys an outsized influence on beer trends. What it has in common: A hazy look; relatively low alcohol; and a sense of refreshment that makes it ideal for afternoons spent mowing the lawn.
This makes Widmer's Hefe a perennial favorite in neighborhood bars across Oregon, although it's undeniably more a presence at the Buffalo Wild Wings of the world than, say, a fancy craft taproom like Bailey's in Portland. It's been sold in cans since last year, and Widmer's holding a "100 Days of Hefe" roadshow of events across metro Portland to celebrate it, which started Memorial Day at the Horse Brass, and meanders around the area until Labor Day at the original Widmer pub.
To commemorate this show, the brewery's launching a line of Hefe variants, including Hefe Berry Lime in bottled six-packs. This version features a mix of Oregon-grown marionberries, blackberries, limes and kaffir lime leaves, adding an extra tartness to the wheat ale that's bound to be more inviting as the mercury rises. Visit the pub in Portland to try it out, along with Hefe X Mosiac, Hefe X Ekuanot, Hefe Hopfruit and whatever else the mad scientists running the pilot brewery come up with.