Portlanders have a regional reputation for frugality, but the all-star cast of brewers who joined Feast Portland's panel on quirky ales say price-balking is a problem for breweries nationwide.
"I'll be the first to tell people I don't drink cucumber gose by the pint," Ben Edmunds, founder of Breakside Brewing Co., said of his sour beer incorporating Oregon cucumbers, lime zest and Jacobsen's salt. But Edmunds and fellow brewers have had little luck persuading drinkers to spend $11 on four ounces of a dessert beer.
"Unfortunately, people want beer in larger quantities," Edmunds said. "We're not allowed that kind of differentiation."
The emphasis on pints is at odds with the sour beer trend, which has lately taken hold nationwide (although it's starting to wane in Portland, where light beers and lagers have nabbed brewers' attentions.) Edmunds and his peers poured samples of a half-dozen beers that wouldn't be suitable for long afternoon drinking sessions.
Edmunds acknowledged not everyone in the audience would appreciate the acidity of his gose, a "wild beer," meaning it's infected by natural yeasts and bacteria.
"It was sort of conceived as a margarita beer," he said of its mouth-puckering quality. "We accept there's some funkiness. That's part of the fun."
Chad Jakobsen of Crooked Stave shared his Wild Wild Brett Yellow, a beer featuring 14 spices associated with south Indian cooking. Although Jakobsen avoided curry and cumin, he included a heavy hit of turmeric so the beer would have a yellow hue.
"With this yellow beer, I was very on the fence," said Jakobsen, who initially feared his recipe would be done in by unripe mangoes. "That's why it aged an extra two months. It can be a little difficult. There's a certain part that's kind of luck."
Unluckily for Edmunds, a collaboration with an herbalist led to a beer with too little alcohol and too much fenugreek. "I didn't want to drink it myself," he said of the flop. But the brewers agreed educated drinkers have generally been receptive to their experiments, including a mole-tribute brown ale from Widmer Brothers Brewing that recently became a staple on supermarket shelves.
"Creativity is not limited to very, very small breweries," Edmunds stressed, pointing out that Widmer annually produces 450,000 barrels. "There's nothing that drives me more nuts than people thinking creativity is limited to small brewers."
But the panelists warned that future projects could be inhibited if drinkers insist on paying a few bucks for a pint, rather than shelling out for a small pour from a large format bottle.
"You often hear, 'oh, people are trying to make beer into wine'," moderator Christian DeBenedetti said of the dissension surrounding connoisseurship. "What I try to remind people is beer is becoming more beer-like. Brewers have always used what's at their disposal, the herbs and the plants. It's the home and the hearth."
And, just as in the wine world, upholding traditions and pursuing quality comes with a price. Now brewers just need to coax everyday drinkers - the drinkers who don't eagerly await, say, the release of a lychee fruit beer aged in white wine barrels - into paying it.