Tuesday Tastings: Straight Outta Burns – Steens Mountain beers

If you’ve been following any of the crazy news coming out of Eastern Oregon over the past month—the ranching militia takeover and occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, near Burns, Oregon—then today’s edition of Tuesday Tastings will be especially apropos, as I’m reviewing two beers from Burns-based Steens Mountain Brewing.

Back around the end of August last year, you might recall we visited Steens Moutain Brewing in Burns, where I sampled a variety of their beers and interviewed owner/brewer Richard Roy. Since then things took a turn for the bizarre for the town, with the militia people arriving in November which led to growing tension (to put it mildly) before coming to a head at the beginning of the year with the Refuge takeover.

There’s additional backstory with Roy and Steens Mountain that is for another post, but suffice to say that for the brewery business is finally getting back to (relative) normal. So I thought it was a good time to write up my notes on the two bottled beers I brought back from that late August trip. Both of these were purchased at Reid’s Country Store.

Harney Valley Ale

Steens Mountain Harney Valley AleThis beer is turning into one of their flagships, and like most of the Steens Mountain beers, is brewed exclusively with feral heirloom hops that Roy harvests from secret sources on the High Desert. (Old homesteads, ranch properties, and the like.) One thing you’ll note in both of these reviews is hop notes that tend strongly toward “grassy” which I’m pretty sure is characteristic of their feral nature.

Harney Valley Ale clocks in at 4.7% alcohol by volume.

Appearance: Golden copper color, fairly clear, with an off-white head that broke down to a skiff of foam that is still being fed by active carbonation.

Smell: Bready, sweetish malts, with a gentle, herbal and slightly grassy hop that tends towards earthy overall.

Taste: On the malty side of “pale” with a very earthy and grassy hop presence, exactly matching the aroma, though it reminds me somewhat of mellow, green, freshly-picked hops. They do go a touch vegetal on the tongue, which makes this pale read a bit more like an “amber” ale to me.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with a soft, easy-drinking finish.

Overall: Nicely drinkable, not too heavy, with soft pillowy maltiness and easy hopping, what I would look for in an English-style pale or bitter.

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Lone Pine American IPA

Steens Mountain Lone Pine IPAAn “American IPA” that is influenced more by the east coast styles than the Northwest, according to Roy himself. This is about 6% abv.

Appearance: Darker amber color than you’d expect, a touch hazy, with an ample, lacy, off-white head. The color is almost brown.

Smell: Pungently grassy hops, not terribly floral, which want to go vegetal with a bit of dandelion. The malt is fairly neutral and does not contribute much.

Taste: Solid hop bitterness punctuated by arugula and dandelion notes. (Assuming this is characteristic of this feral hop?) Malts are a touch cakey and caramelly, working well as a backbone to the beer but this could easily go into big amber ale territory. “Old school” flair.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with a bitter-coating aftertaste.

Overall: This is what I would consider an “old school northwest IPA,” lots of caramel malt notes influenced by the English style, with a solid vegetal/grassy bitterness.

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