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At the hilly southwest outskirts of Portland in Beaverton’s Raleigh Hills section lies freestanding hunter green stable-like restaurant-brewery, RACCOON LODGE, which conveniently houses CASCADE BREWERY’s enthusiastically experimental beers. Visited 11 AM, December ’09, this immaculate ‘sour ale mecca’ truly is on the verge of widescale popularity.

Going from the covered backyard patio into the side door, patrons experience ‘The Den,’ a downstairs pool hall sportsbar with full bar service, billiard tables, dart games, and TV screens opposing left side glass-encased brewery set-up full of fermenting wood barrels storing mostly lactic oak-aged sour ales.

Brewers Ron Gansberg and Curtis Bain have also been busy assembling a warehouse down the street for more barrel-aged offerings. Cascade’s unique sour ales have become highly sought-after commodities so it was a pleasure to share some suds with Bain after lunch. By keeping the vinous brettanomyces yeast in check, the sour ales never get mired by ethyl alcohol acidity.

Upstairs, the Raccoon Lodge’s green-walled main space featured a high ceiling, wood furnishings, and cafeteria-styled dining, reminiscent in some ways, of a ski lodge. An open kitchen served clam chowder, grilled Cajun Ceasar wraps, sausage-pepperoni pizaa, and burgers. At the left side bar, a large TV entertained lunchtime customers while the bartender, originally from cross-country Long Island, served up several large samples.

The most exulted libations on tap this brisk clear-skied December ’09 afternoon were unsurprisingly barrel-aged selections. Happily, several stylistically popular brews were also spot-on. Firstly, highly anticipated Vlad The Imp Aler proved grandiose. Its soft whiskey setting received sharp barnyard-funked red wine pucker, tart cider sparkle, tingly peach-pear-apricot seduction, and unripe blackberry souring to magnify caramel-vanilla-spiced rum raisin ice cream finish.

Heady Belgian-styled double porter, Bourbonic Plague, had more of a white-wined Sauvignon sourness with oaken chocolate nibs nipping at chestnut-date-mulberry conflux. An older vintage Bourbonic version placed dry bourbon, burgundy, and Riesling wine illusions below fig-date-soured chocolate-vanilla malting.

Tried tapped versions of Cascade’s bottled oak-aged Belgian-styled beers (buying 22-ouncer of fantastic Cascade Kriek for the road). Oak-soured peach-tannic Cascade Apricot Lambic, dark-fruited Belgian tripel/ Flanders Red mix Cuvee Du Jungleur, and lactic white-grape-parched Cascade ‘The Vine’ were endlessly intriguing. In a similar vein, tap-only Autumn Gose had a salt-hopped cherry-cranberry sourness abutting advertised orange peel bittering, cinnamon-nutmeg spicing, and tertiary lemon-soured cider acidity.

Better still, vinegary gueuze-like Flanders Red sour ale, Nightfall, a busy blonde wheat ale, brought eye-squinting blackberry-embittered theme to cranberry-limestone tartness and Sauvignon Blanc elegance. Crystal-watered sour ale sparkler, Apricot Ale, dovetailed green grape, white apricot, and cranberry tartness into tangy tangerine-orange segue.

Bringing some more warmth to this cold wintry day, Cascade’s seasonal Frostkiller pleated chocolate-spiced fig-sugared hazelnut into rich molasses malting. An as-yet-unnamed Stout offered chocolate-spiced hop-grained macadamia-walnut illusions. Those same macadamia-walnut illusions firm up peanut-shelled cocoa-seeded molasses-tinged stove-burnt coffee thrust of chocolate-stained Cascade Porter. Chipotle-jalapeno-spiced rye-breaded malt-roasted Celtic Copper Ale broadened stylistic approach.

Less adventurous brewhounds should try citric-peeled coriander-spiced lemon-honeyed licorice-tinged Spicy Blonde, corn-dried wheat-honeyed orange-fruited grassy-hopped Vienna-malted Cascade Pale Ale, hop-spiced fruit-dried mocha-backed Tap Ten Amber Ale, and peat-malted sesame-seeded pumpernickel-breaded cola-nutty O-Rye-On. Woody dry-hopped India Pale Ale forfeited stylistic fruity malt spangle for orange pekoe tea-embittered herbage.

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