ASTORIA BREWING ROLLS IN THE BARRELS

Astoria Brewing Co. has taken a bold new step on its journey into craft beer relevance.

That’s evident when you descend into the basement brewhouse from the 12th Street taproom and see racks filled with old bourbon barrels.

Inside, special beers are aging. 

Among them are a Baltic porter, imperial stout and barley wine that should reach perfection in another eight to 10 months. Or longer, because head brewer Andrew Brown isn’t rushing things.

“When it’s ready, it’s ready,” he says with a shrug. 

Pointing to a cluster of barrels, he adds: “These four have been here over a year now.”

Waiting so long is a first for the city’s oldest brewery, which started out as Pacific Rim Brewery in 1997.

Credit Brown for pursuing his dream of a multi-faceted brewhouse – one that can brew slow as well as fast. 

Twelve of the 16 French oak barrels came from Freeland Spirits in Portland, with a handful more originating at Adrift Distillers on the Long Beach peninsula. Brown will send the Adrift barrels back when he’s done with them. The distillery wants to reuse them for a new whiskey.

Andrew Brown next to barrels aging the 2024 version of The Boat Rocker, a Baltic porter.

Before Brown arrived from Buoy Beer Co. a couple of years ago, Astoria Brewing was known for brewing proven but dated beers that were poured at the brewpub on 11th Street and a couple of company-owned bars.

Brown immediately set out to update recipes as needed (if he could actually find the recipes), then followed up with a series of new offerings catering to modern tastes, including a West Coast IPA and an unfiltered pilsner that became a top seller. 

That, coupled with rebranding and broader distribution, served to demonstrate that Astoria Brewing was in the throes of a revitalization.

North Coast beer lovers who had eschewed the brewery in favor of more cutting-edge beer makers have been taking notice. They’re coming back and liking what they taste. 

The first barrel-aged brew to come out of the brewery was a creative stout featured at Fort George Brewery’s Festival of Dark Arts in February. The Head Ancho featured ancho chili peppers, cocoa nibs and cinnamon, and was aged in bourbon barrels. 

People raved about the combination of flavors and smooth finish, which is the kind of feedback brewers love.

“It’s just for fun,” Brown says of the barrels. “Trying different things and taking a break from the grind. It keeps things interesting. It’s a chance to be creative and gives us another dimension to our offerings.”

One of the brews in the barrels is the second coming of a potent Baltic porter called The Boat Rocker, a collaboration with North Jetty Brewing. 

Last year’s beer was finished with raspberries. Brown and North Jetty’s Titus Bentley haven’t decided what the special ingredient will be in 2024. It’ll be added a few days before the release, tentatively scheduled for November.

There will be many more special releases to come.

The barrels are proof of that.

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