Review - Double Mountain Brewing

8 Fourth Street
Hood River, OR
(541) 387-0042

Hours: Mon - Thurs: 4 - 10pm, Fri: 4 - 11pm, Sat: noon - 10pm, Sun: noon - 9pm
Prices: 14-ounce glass, $3; 20 ounce imperial: $4, five-sample tray, $5.
Other info: Seasonal sidewalk seating; kids allowed

As Oregon's brewing industry matures, we're seeing more and more places opened by brewers who have been honing their craft at larger breweries. For those who recall the first generation in the 80s and early 90s, the result is a marked improvement in quality, creativity, and sophistication. In the beers of these "second generation" brewpubs, you taste the intention and experience, as if the brewers had been biding their time and perfecting their art, just waiting to try out recipes they've been working on for years.

Double Mountain features alumni from Full Sail, which is literally just around the corner. Although the pub space could use a little more attention--it feels more like a coffee shop than a pub--the beer and food are both exceptional and allow Double Mountain to debut as one of Oregon's best brewpubs. A remarkable accomplishment for a place that just opened in May.

Brewers Matt Swihart and Charlie Devereux aren't slaves to style. Of the six beers pouring when I visited in late June, four had improvisational elements. The change-ups were subtle; rather than screaming out, "look at how funky we are," their beers featured, say, unexpected yeasts or hops. Their creativity is more a nod and a wink to the beer geeks they expect to come to their pub. (I wrote at greater length about this here). A testament to their attention to detail, I think there were three different yeast strains--and possibly four--in the beers I tried.

Most breweries have a house character, but with styles appropriated from Germany, Belgium, and England, I honestly couldn't describe Double Mountain's. Perhaps improvisation and surprise is the character. Have a look at these beers and see if you can tell what they'll brew next. It escapes me. [Note: I intended, but failed to steal the menu when I was there (you can see it in this picture), and so I didn't write down the stats or ingredients of the beers. Sorry.)
  • Kolsch. This is a style rarely brewed (in Oregon, anyway) with the appropriate yeast. It's the kind of beer you can fudge. If Double Mountain didn't use a kolsch strain, though, they did one hell of a job of fudging. Their version has a very lively tartness, detectable in the aroma right on through to the swallow. They have overhopped it for style, but selected hops that draw out a lemongrass note, complementing the tartness. People who love kolsches will forgive the bitterness, and people who like hoppy pales will find it interesting. Rating: A-
  • Pale ale. Northwest pale ales are almost always characterized by citrusy local hops, and are consequently rather soft and sweet. Here again, Matt and Charlie buck the trend. They opt for herbal, piney hops. What results is an unexpected pale. The nose is quite herbal, and the bittering tends toward a sagey, peppery hop. There are citrus notes, but they're subdued. Sally, who tends to like British hopping more than local varieties, was especially fond of this one. Rating: B+
  • India Red Ale. (Also known as IRA.) Ira is an IPA brewed with a Belgian yeast strain. The resulting beer is softer and rounder than a muscular Oregon IPA. It has a creamy sweetness that buoys the ample hops and simultaneously seems to enclose the bitterness in a gentle pocket. I am reminded of Orval, which is also a huge, yet deceptively smooth beer. Rating: A
  • Hop Lava. This was the most pedestrian beer pouring, though it isn't mild. Supposedly dry-hopped, but I got very little aroma (the beers came out quite cold, which may have dampened the nose). It's a straightforward IPA, crisp, clean, very bitter, and quite strong. It's the kind of green monster that leaves a slick of hop resin on your tongue. Rating: B
  • Alt. Altbiers are another style that breweries often try to fudge. The yeast used in traditional alts is an ancient German ale, but one with very little fruitiness--they taste more like lagers. Once again, if the brewers fudged this, they did a great job. It emphasizes the malt, which has a hearty grainy flavor, but also a touch of honey sweetness. It has impressive mouthfeel--close your eyes and you can in its creaminess almost conjure a porter in your mind. The hops are present and assertive, and they dry out the malt out so that it finishes cleanly. Alts are hard to pull off, and Double Mountain more than succeeds. Rating: A
  • Devil's Kitchen. This is a Belgian style strong that nods to Duvel (Flemish for "devil"). Served in a goblet, it looks like Duvel--deep golden with a snowy head. It is heavier than many Belgian strong ales, though, and sweeter. It is vigorously carbonated, and a mineral quality helps offset some of the sweetness. It has a bit of mustiness--a nice touch that recalls the cellared beers of Belgium. It was a bit too heavy and too sweet, and I wonder if subsequent efforts might be drier and slightly lighter. A worthy effort, though. Rating: B-
I am again hamstrung by my lack of a menu, so I can't tell you the full variety of what is available. We had salads and a pizza, and they were both wonderful. The salad was a lightly-dressed, very fresh Greek. The pizza may have been modeled on the enormously popular Ken's Artisan Pizza in Portland. Like Ken's, the crust is wafer thin and delicious. The choices included a nice mixture of traditional styles. Sally, who is regularly disappointed by brewpub food, gave Double Mountain a rave.

We arrived at about 5 pm on a Saturday, and there was only one table available. An hour later, there was a waiting line. It appeared to be populated mainly by locals, which is always a good sign. Translation: the word's out.

Don't let that dissuade you, though--Double Mountain should be considered a destination brewpub. Take a trip to Multnomah Falls, drive down the Columbia River Highway, check out the Vista House, and then conclude your journey at Double Mountain--a perfect day.