While on a solo road trip to the West Coast back in 2014, I decided to stop and visit some breweries. I’d only recently branched out from the likes of Blue Moon and Sam Adams seasonal beers into the world of craft beer, and was excited to see what was out there.
I stopped on a whim for a night in the adorable town of Eugene, Oregon. In all of my traveling, I’ve never had the overpowering sense that I belonged somewhere like I did in Eugene. I still consider moving there when I retire, and definitely want to go back again for a visit. This college town has a hip feel to it and I was glad I’d stopped after spending the day snowshoeing at Crater Lake. I didn’t explore much that night, but in the morning I got up early, strapped on my running shoes and ran Pre’s trail. It is a path behind the University of Oregon, that once was a well-worn training grounds for famed Olympian Steve Prefontaine.
I’m a terrible runner. I love it. But I’m slow. And I stop to walk a lot. And I’ve got injuries out the wazoo. Currently, I’m not even allowed to run, but am stuck on strictly walking for a bit. But that day, I ran my fastest mile (just under 10 mins!). And then a solid 5K (at least for me of just over 30 mins) I got soaked in a quick rain shower during which I had an epiphany that it didn’t really matter how fast I ran as long as I was moving.
Naturally, I followed this feat of athletism by devouring the world’s best waffles at Off the Waffle. They were Liege waffles, they made me a gluten free one (on the staff recommendation) that was covered in savory items and it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Then after wandering some shops, talking to some locals, I knew it was almost time to head out to Portland. But I had checked my recommendation list from friends and saw that Ninkasi Brewing was there and decided to have a “liquid lunch.” I mean, that waffle was gigantic enough for three meals and I housed it down in one sitting, and practically licked the plate in the process.
I went over to do a tasting, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. They gave me a random selection of the offerings they had on tap. I was told to drink my way from left to right, and happily sampled my way across, following their rules but skipping the Oatis, and going to the Tricerahops.
Why? Besides the fact that triceratops’ are my favorite dinosaur? I took one look at that heavy stout and thought, nope, not for me.
The gentleman serving the beer saw my “rogue” drinking pattern and asked why I’d skipped the Oatis. I told him I didn’t like stouts. He asked me which kinds of stouts I’d had and I sheepishly admitted Guinness. He told me this was a different experience entirely.
I was tired, and stuffed with waffle and had a long drive ahead of me and could have shrugged and ignored him, but I liked this place. The staff was super-friendly, there was a food truck outside, and he seemed so positive I might like this, that I gave it a try. And then I downed the entire thing.
“That was AMAZING. Whoa!” Was my response once I’d finished my tasting glass. I wanted more, and was tempted to order a full pint. When he said, “Oh, if you like that, I’ve got something you really have to try.”
Then he went over to the tap and poured one of my all-time favorite beers: a Vanilla Oatis. I’ve had Vanilla Oatmeal Stouts since this day (quite a few actually), and they’ve all been tasty, but nothing can ever compare to my memory of this 4 oz. taste of heaven. I looked up at him in a daze. I happily smiled, bought a keychain (which I still use to this day) and walked out. I was hit hard as I was walking out by how boozy my beers had been. I hadn’t quite learned that much about ABV’s at that point.
I sat in my car chugging water, and then went for another brisk walk, before heading out on the rest of my drive. And while I visited a bunch of other breweries around Oregon and Northern California on that trip, and even happily ordered any oatmeal stouts I saw on the menu, my mind kept drifting back to Ninkasi and their perfect Vanilla Oatis.
Beer Is Love, indeed.