Rediscovering Sheaf Stout

Although I don't welcome my incipient obsolescence, accompanied as it is by more frequent failures of this jalopy I call a body, it does afford me a benefit or two. One is a memory of standing in front of a beer case that did not contain microbrewed beers. (Or very few. My 21st birthday was in 1989, but this post-dated the event I describe. In the mid-80s, it is likely Oregon grocery shelves contained the first vanguard of the micros--Redhook, Sierra Nevada, and certainly Anchor--but I don't recall them specifically. The first locally-brewed micro appeared on Oregon's shelves in 1987. Whether my standing in front of these shelves pre-dated that, well, some facts are more interesting when presented as mysteries.)

Instead, Oregonians encountered most of their early micro on tap, so when they visited grocery stores, their taste buds enlivened by Widmer, McMenamin's, and BridgePort, they had only strange-looking imported beers to entice them. The Mexican beers did not count, but beyond that, we had little to sample. One of the most exotic I bought--though admittedly we're getting off into the weeds here--was Russkoye, a Kiev-made beer from the Soviet Union. I was shocked by this discovery, a Ukrainian beer just short months (years?) after Chernobyl. A terrible beer, but one of the crown jewels of my bottle collection.

One of the beers readily available was Sheaf Stout, a beer originally brewed by Tooth and Company (original name: "Tooth's Sheaf Stout"--even more peculiar). In those early days, I was a huge fan of Terminator Stout, which seemed as close to being the opposite of Hamm's I could find. My life-long love affair with stouts was in the infatuation stage, but I might have forsaken the style were it not for Sheaf. I recall it as being a hell of a beer. Even burlier than Terminator, not a bit sweet--casual drinkers thought it punishing and beyond the pale. I was also a big fan of industrial music, and one wouldn't have been out of line in accusing me of just trying to be cool.

And yet I did love it. I loved it enough that on Saturday night, when I saw a bottle in a grocery store in Manzanita, I paused every so briefly before buying it. (Sally and I made an impromptu trip to the coast over the weekend, and perhaps I was in an adventuresome mood.) The trouble with beers one discovered in the 80s and loved is that, twenty years on, they almost always disappoint. Our palates change and our memories lie and we end up feeling wistful, like we'd lost something valuable from our youth.

The story has a happy ending, though. Even as we drove back to our hotel room, I began ratcheting down my expectations. By the time I took my first sip, I expected something like a fizzy lager with a dash of caramel coloring. Of course, it wasn't. It was as intense as I recalled, if different. I remembered it as huge and malty, whereas it's actually a sharp dry stout (5.7%). It's got a luxurious bitter, equal parts tar and tobacco and a touch of sourness. I suspected that it was brewed with a lager yeast--it finishes out very dryly and there's not a hint of ester. Jackson says no, or did, a decade ago. The intensity is such that each mouthful pulls your attention back, but not so much that you don't almost immediately want another pull. It's not exactly a session stout, but it's in the ballpark. Two pints and you wouldn't suffer in the morning.

I will put it on my short list for satisfying stouts. After twenty years, it's back in the rotation.