What does it take to be a truly dedicated fan of craft ale and liquor? A well-trained palate? A temperature-controlled cellar? A bank account the size of the moon? All three help—but exploring the upper tier of alcohol requires some education, too.
When it comes to beer, the biggest indulgence purchase you can make is undoubtedly Utopias. Produced on an on-and-off basis by Samuel Adams in Boston, Utopias is a barley wine-style ale, a blend of several beers aged in a selection of different barrels. Poured out of a metallic, potion-like bottle, it may technically be a beer, but it drinks more like a rye or some other sipping liquor—not the kind of thing you chug for summer refreshment, but a a drink meant to be savored over a roaring fire and a good book. It also costs $200 a bottle, ensuring that you'll look very refined (or very rich) if you leave it laying out on the table for your friends to gawk at.
On the local side, similar indulgent experiences can be found with barrel-aged or sour ales. The Abyss, Deschutes Brewery's annual imperial stout release, is due out in November, offering heavy oak/wine flavors and a heavier hangover if you attempt to complete a 750-milliliter bottle by yourself. (Hit the pub when it comes out—you'll get to enjoy it alongside the past several years' Abyss releases, giving you an insight into what aging certain beers can accomplish.) The Ale Apothecary's lineup of wild-fermented ales is an exotic mix of flavors you'll see with few other beers, and each one of them is worth the $20-30 a bottle. If you really want to exercise your wallet, however, Cascade Brewing is your jam—their line of sour fruit-flavored beers frequently cost over $30 a pop, and while the intense fruit and sour notes in their lineup is a love-it-or-hate-it thing, there's no denying that it's unique.
Why stop at beer, for that matter? The Distiller's Choice line from Oregon Spirit Distillers features a range of heady spirits, from a vodka flavored with Trinidad Scorpion peppers to a straight bourbon whisky aged in new American oak. If you want to go hardcore with it though, look up their Adopt-a-Barrel program. For a mere $1,300, you can purchase your own barrel, have them age whiskey in it at their facility, then reap the rewards when it's ready for tapping. (Thriftier drinkers can just sample OSD's line at their new Barrel Thief tasting room, staging their grand opening next Saturday.)
Not a wine at all, but a type of very strong ale originating from England. Mirror Mirror from Deschutes is a barley wine, a sort of "mega" version of Mirror Pond Pale Ale featuring earthy toffee-like favors and an eye-popping 11.2 percent alcohol by volume. Anchor Brewing in San Francisco was the first to reintroduce the style to the American craft scene, but Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot (an annual release since 1983!) is the most well-known barley wine in the country right now.
Certain types of heavier beer, such as barley wines or stouts, can be aged in casks that once held bourbon or wine, granting it a woody oakiness and flavors from whatever liquor it used to hold. The Ale Apothecary ages all of their beer in oak, and Deschutes' annual Abyss Imperial Stout is a blend of several beers, partially aged in bourbon, Oregon oak, and pinot noir barrels. Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout lineup is the stuff of dreams for beer fans, and it's now regularly available in Oregon every fall.
Using funky yeast strains and wild fermentation allows brewers to add hints of puckering funkiness to their beer, making it unlike any other style on the market. Portland's Cascade Brewing is Oregon's king of sour, with their $30 Kriek tasting precisely like liquid cherry pie in your mouth. Bay Area-based Almanac Beer Co. also provides a line of "farm-to-barrel" sour beers, all readily available around Bend.
Distillation is the step between fermentation and maturation when making whiskey. Phrases like "triple-distilled" often get bandied around by spirit makers, but generally speaking, the more distilling you do, the "lighter" and more aromatic the resulting liquor is. Oregon Spirit Distillers' Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a single-pass drink, one matured in a smaller 30-gallon barrel to allow a larger surface area of contact between the bourbon and the oak.