3 Beer Reviews and Gorge Views from Oregon’s Thunder Island Brewing

By Tony K

The town of Cascade Locks sits along the Oregon side of Columbia River Gorge at the base of the Bridge of the Gods, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses from Oregon into Washington. It’s one of my favorite jumping off points for adventures in the Gorge, but there’s a gem of a local business that’s a destination all it’s own – Thunder Island Brewing There’s no shortage of breweries in Oregon, but Thunder Island is unique. The independently and locally owned brewery has delicious beer, lends a voice to issues in the community, and has arguably the best views of any brewery in Oregon.

If you love the outdoors, like we do, Thunder Island Brewing is a mandatory stop during your adventure in the Gorge.

There’s plenty to look at while you’re waiting for your beer and food in their dog-friendly outdoor sitting area. Treacherous Table Mountain across the river on the Washington side of the Gorge, the towering Bridge of the Gods, and the glacier carved Columbia River. 

If you manage to snag a seat on a warm summer evening, you’ll share a beer with sweaty bikers, hikers, and paddlers. Thunder Island Brewing is mandatory stop for outdoor enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and sightseers.

Photo by Justin Myers

While most businesses are trying to navigate Covid-19 restrictions and stay afloat, Thunder Island is currently offering food and beer delivery to select areas. We had three different crowlers of Thunder Island beer delivered to our beer expert and brewer, Nathan Whitney. Here are his takes on Remember the Forest IPA, Dual Eagle Amber Ale, and Smoko: Smoked Marzen.

Remember the Forest IPA

IPA ABV 6.7% IBU 66

Remember the Forest was developed during the tragic Eagle Creek wildfire that ripped through the Columbia River Gorge in the summer of 2017. The brewers wanted to pay homage to the piney scent of the old growth douglas firs that surround the city of Cascade Locks. With that in mind, this IPA doesn’t disappoint. Brewed with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Mosaic, the first thing you notice is an intense hop aroma of strong pine and citrus. The flavor is reminiscent of a traditional west coast IPA with some bright floral flavors and tropical notes with a hint of blueberries. Delicious.

Dual Eagle Amber Ale

Amber Ale ABV 5.5% IBU 27

Amber ales are starting to be hard to come by outside of Montana and the Rockies, where the style reigns supreme. So when I noticed that Thunder Island brewed one I had to try it. The style is difficult to brew. Too much crystal malt and it turns into a malt bomb, prone to oxidation. Too much hop character and it drifts into india red ale territory. I’m happy to report that Dual Eagle is surprisingly balanced.

The beer pours a beautiful dark-orange color and has hop aroma for days. There is some graham-cracker-esque malt character which is pleasant and doesn’t drift into raisins/prunes like a lot of amber ales out there. Citra and Centennial pair well and offer hop flavors of lemon, lime, and intense grapefruit. Overall a great representation of the style.

Smoko: Smoked Marzen

Smoked Marzen ABV 6.1% IBU 19

Named after one of the brewers’ favorite Australian punk bands, Smoko is the highlight of the three. A crisp, clean rauchbier that has a subtle smoke character from a small portion of Vienna malt smoked over beechwood. Sometimes rauchbiers can drift into the smoked-sausage water/bacon territory but this is surprisingly balanced. At first I didn’t notice the smoke but it’s definitely there and becomes more intense as the beer warms. But don’t get me wrong, the malt is the star here with the smoked malt playing a supporting role, enhancing the overall experience. Overall this is a crisp, clean, flavorful lager with floral hop notes and a hint of smoke. Fantastic.

Nathan Whitney is Wild Human’s resident beer and brewing expert. He’s currently the head brewery manager at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon, and has been brewing professionally since 2011.

Why Wild Human Supports Thunder Island Brewing

Thunder Island is one of our favorite breweries, not only because they have delicious beer, but they’re also a community leader in Cascade Locks, Oregon and an outspoken environmental steward. 

In 2016, Thunder Island provided loud opposition to Nestle’s proposed water bottling plant in Cascade Locks. In addition to contributing more plastic bottles to the world, the plant would have required Cascade Locks to swap their well water with spring water controlled by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Nestle brands their Arrowhead bottled water as mountain spring water. The bottling plant needed the spring fed water to keep up branding. 

While many residents supported the deal, primarily on the promise of jobs at the bottling plant, there was plenty of opposition from tribal leaders and environmentally conscious businesses and citizens, like Thunder Island Brewing. The deal eventually stalled at the hands of Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown.

In 2017, Thunder Island Brewing, along with many other businesses, opened their kitchen up to feed firefighters during the devastating Eagle Creek Fire.

Thunder Island Brewing cares about their community and the Gorge. If you’re looking for a way to help support local businesses while we’re all on Covid-19 lock down, and you care about preserving the wilds of the Columbia Gorge, Thunder Island is a solid choice.

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