Largely the Truth

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Bobtoberfest! | Heater Allen Brewing | 907 NE 10th Avenue | McMinnville, OR

16 Sep 2010  ·  by Brennan Storr  ·  Be the first to comment!

Tagged under travel road trip beer brewing portland driving


Header picture:  Heater Allen brewmaster Rick Allen

The original Oktoberfest was planned by the German government as a celebration of their decisive victory in the Second World War. By the time they saw which way the wind was blowing it was too late to get their deposit back from the caterer so they went ahead and the celebration, unlike a lot of Germanic practices at the time, caught on around the world. The old-timers at your local Edelweiss club would probably give a different answer. Maybe something more to do with the horse-race organized to celebrate the 1810 marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The Germans prefer that story and since they throw a good party in the latter half of September I see no reason not to humour them.

Heater Allen Brewing, at 907 NE 10th Ave in McMinnville, Oregon, celebrate every Oktoberfest with their signature Bobtoberfest brew: a smooth, malty, beer named in honour of brewmaster Rick Allen’s late brother Bob. This year I happened to be in Portland visiting friends on the weekend of September 10th and 11th, the same weekend Heater-Allen hosted Bobtoberfest at their McMinnville brewery.



The state of Oregon is home to a number of microbreweries, wineries and cider houses, so it was no surprise to find Heater-Allen’s modest workshop flanked by two other such businesses, Carlton Cyderworks and Remy Wines. Two musicians were set up out front under a white tent, while next door in front of Heater Allen another tent was set up for anyone wanting to kick back out of the hot afternoon sun. The cost of entry into Bobtoberfest was $5, which included a taste of four beers and a light bite from the barbecue outside, either a half-brat or slider.

Heater Allen’s brewmaster Rick is a solidly-built man in his 50s, with close-cropped gray hair and an authoritarian voice that carries, particularly when he’s chastising his son Jeff for pouring the samples too generously. A former investment banker, he opened Heater Allen in 2007 and though the brewery’s distribution range remains within Oregon’s borders they’ve made a far-reaching name for themselves as makers of quality lager: “In Portland we’re on tap in a number of fine dining restaurants like Gruner and Genoa...partly because I think our beer compliments food much better than ales do.”


I don't know how, but beer
comes from here. Take it on

It’s hard to argue with Rick, not only because he could beat holy hell out of me, but because his beers are damn good, too. When I think pilsner I think “Pacific Pilsner”, which conjures images of furtive sips from a paper bag enjoyed underneath a freeway overpass as you contemplate where your life went wrong. HA’s Pils is the polar opposite of that, a refreshingly rich and malty brew that has no place under freeways or in broken dreams. Coastal Common, their interpretation of an amber lager, is also hard to knock. The literature supplied suggests it has “caramel and toffee flavours” but after a thorough researching, all my unlettered taste buds were able to report back was “me like”.

The feature beer was, of course, Bobtoberfest, Heater Allen’s version of an Oktoberfest beer. Rick explains, “It’s in honour of my brother, who died of cancer seven years ago...he was probably the best brewer in the family. Bob & I shared a passion for this style and I think this does him justice.” Bobtoberfest was prepared in the traditional style, meaning that it was brewed in the spring and then cold-stored, or lagered for over two months before kegging and bottling. It’s a smooth, balanced beer that’s great on its own or, as I discovered, paired with a grilled bratwurst.

Not for you

The final beer to be sampled turned out to be my favourite: Smoky Bob. Yes, the name makes it sound like an old, long-haired man who lives in a broken-down school bus by the industrial park, but it’s actually a striking interpretation of Rauch, or smoked beer, a local specialty in northeast Bavaria. The idea that beer can be smoked was completely new to me and so for all I know it could have been very bad Rauch, but given the quality of everything else Heater Allen had on offer that seemed unlikely. HA’s literature said that “the malt and smoke interplay with each other, with the dextrins combining with the smoke to bring out an almost bacon-y flavour.” I don’t know about bacon, but I do know that it was compulsively drinkable, and that the bottle I’ve brought home with me is lucky to have survived this long. It’s a limited-edition brew so, unless you hop in your car and go now, you’re probably too late to get your hands on one of the most unusual beers I’ve ever tasted. And before you ask, no, you can’t have the bottle in my fridge.

So, none of these beers are available in Victoria, and for that we’re all a little bit worse off, but the next time you pass through northern Oregon they shouldn’t be hard to find. Rick Allen has been home-brewing beer for over twenty years and when I asked him what made him “go pro” he said “I decided, as a second career, that I needed something to do and this seemed like it would be a lot of fun.” Three years later he’s still smiling, and after finishing that bottle of Smoky Bob, so am I.

Website for Heater Allen Brewing

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