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Thursday, December 28, 2006

All Hail the King

Among the macho style of beers--doppelbocks, stong ales, barleywines--perhaps the greatest (mucho macho?) is the imperial stout. This is partly due to its strength and profile (huge, oily, black), but also its history: as early as the late 1700s, British brewers were shipping it throughout the Baltic region and as far as Tsarist Russia, from whence came the name, Russian Imperial Stout.

Original gravities range from 1.075 and go up past 11, with alcohol from 9% and up. When you brew an imperial stout, you throw about everything you can think of in it, including more hops than even extreme hopheads think is a good idea--to balance the malt, you need electric amounts of alpha acids. For me, the most characteristic quality in a good imperial is the narcotic effect it gives, a warmth that radiates right into the hypothalmus. It induces a sense of wellbeing and an insensitivity to chill winds.

Based on my informal glances in pubs across Portland, Beervanians drink a lot of stout, and this is supported by my (highly scientific) sample of friends and acquantances--a few of whom only drink dark ales. So I was both interested and not particularly hopeful when I picked up a bottle of Victory Brewing's Storm King. Fantastic name, but what could a Pennsylvania brewery hope to offer a dark-hearted Webfoot?

Tasting Notes
The information about Storm King is scant (malt: "2-row barley," hops: "American"), but there seems to be something special in the beer. It pours out like motor oil and from its viscous surface rises the aroma of peat. It's a smoky, earthy smell, and I wondered if the brewery somehow managed to peat-smoke some malt.

I was shocked to discover that the lovely aroma actually understated the complexity of Storm King. It's the kind of beer you could swirl around in your mouth for five minutes just to suss out the different elements. Its central characteristic is a deep bitterness, at times like coffee or very dark chocolate, but other times like a nice scotch. That's the impression I finally took away from this beer, too--it had the kind of satisfying intensity of a peaty Islay malt. It was one of the most extraordinary beers I've had recently. I have generally considered Rasputin to be the standard of imperial stouts, but I'm afraid we have a new contender.

I'd love to see an Oregon brewer consider this Pennsylvania gauntlet and see if it can be matched.

Hops: "American whole flower"
Malts: Two-row pale and ... ?
Alcohol by Volume: 9.1%
Original Gravity: Unknown
Bitterness Units: Unkown.
Available: Belmont Station.

A classic

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Two More Winter Ales

I continue to work my way through the winter beers, but there is such a bounty that I have my work cut out for me. (Not like it's ditch-digging or anything.) Two of my recent samples hail from Oregon and are a mixed bag.

Full Sail Wreck the Halls
Since Full Sail already had one winter seasonal, John Harris's cult favorite is called a "brewmaster's reserve." But make no mistake, with a name like "Wreck the Halls," you know it's a holiday beer. After Sierra Nevada's Celebration, Wreck the Halls may inspire the most fervent devotion of any winter ale, but of the two, it seems more worthy to me.

Tasting Notes
Pours out a warm bronze with a pretty white head, and bursts with aroma. Bursts, as in an orange, sending its citrus into the air like a freshly-peeled fruit. Almost every winter ale will be better six months or a year after it was bottled, but this is the exception--you want to get a bottle while those hops are still so energetic.

There are two central varieties of winter ale, and Wreck the Halls comes from the minority variety, a lighter, IPA-ish ale that is headed down the road toward barleywine. At 6.5%, Wreck isn't that strong, but it manages to produce the kind of thick, candied quality you like from this style. Perhaps because of the citrus nose, it reminded me of a traditional winter desert from a norther country--with dried fruit and the suggestion of liquor. I don't get the love of Celebration, but Wreck the Halls could inspire devotion.

Excellent (with room to grow)

Siletz Winter Warmer Ale
This was not a great beer. It was flat pouring out,
an indistinct brown with not much in the way of a head, and had a slightly sour, cidery aroma. The flavor wasn't awful, it just wasn't anything. Very little in the way of hopping, but the malt didn't come forward, either--it lacked mouthfeel or texture or any of the kind of qualities you'd like from a malty beer (nutty flavor, creaminess). I've brewed a few batches of homebrew that have this indifferent quality, and I didn't regard them highly.

Average (at best)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Roots Epic Ale

Last year, Roots Brewpub had a beer on tap they called "Epic," which quickly became a cult fave. It's back:
The release of the the (second year) Epic Ale is being released on Thurs 12/21. We have a Bitchin new label to bring in the new Epic Ale. The First Epic to be tapped will be last year's Epic Ale, aged for almost 16 months it's going to go fast so get here early. We open at three, Party starts at 6:oo with great music and food. We will start calling out #'s for the Jeroboams ( 3 Litre bottles) at approx. 8:oo so get here early as they go fast!

Craig Nicholls
Roots Organic Brewing Co.
Okay, Craig's a brewer, not a writer, but you get the picture. Those jeraboams he references are selling for a whopping $80 (a mere $.79 an ounce, or $12 a pint), but word is that they immediately go for big bucks on eBay. Anyhoo, that's tomorrow, the coldest, darkest day of the year. Nothing like a 13% beer to warm your belly. (And you can get it cheaper on tap.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Taxing Your Beer

For the past week or ten days, a fascinating discussion about beer taxes has lit up the Oregon Brew Crew's email listserv. The issue at hand is the new Democratic Oregon legislature, their desire to up taxes in general and on beer and wine specifically, the waning power of the central beer lobbyist following the great Maui legislative scandal, and how all of this may affect local breweries and the price of beer.

Gary Corbin has done a bang-up job summarizing the issues:
The proposals, it seems, have a few things in common. One, it would raise the beer excise tax from $2.60/BBL to around $34/BBL, a 13-fold increase. Two, it would exempt smaller brewers; specifics vary, but the number 200,000 BBL/year is being bandied about. Three, the proposals target only beer – not wine or spirits. The money, it is claimed, would be used to pay for drug rehabilitation and treatment programs....

Compare beer to the other alcohols and the change is even more amazing. Borrowing calculations posted by Mark Wilson on the Oregon Brew Crew listserve, on a per-glass basis, wine is taxed at 3 times the rate of beer (2.6 cents vs. 0.8). Under the new rate, beer would be taxed 10.4 cents per glass, over four times the rate of wine. Spirits, at 8.75 cents per glass, would ironically become a relatively “cheap” drink, tax-wise.
Despite my commie politics, I have always been against this tax. In a three-tiered system, producers, distributors, and retailers all make a dime off brewers back, but this tax would only target brewers--ironically the least able to absorb costs. If the legislature is serious about raising taxes on beer, they need to offer local breweries something in return. The real power brokers in the beer biz are distributors, who control which beer gets sold and where.

Many restrictions have limited the power of breweries (this goes back to the old country, when English breweries dominated local markets and forced taverns to sell their beer in the "tied-house" system), but breweries now have the least control over their market. Since protecting local breweries ought to be paramount, give them more control over distribution. For breweries below a certain size, allow them to self-distribute to taverns and grocers. And put the bar a little higher--say 400,000 barrels--so none of our local breweries get hit by this tax anytime soon.

Anyway, go read Gary's whole post. Good stuff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Winter Beers - Never Winter Ale

I am pleased to see David Zuckerman's signature on the label of the poorly-named Never Summer Ale from Boulder Beer. It is a tip of the hat to the person who is arguably Colorado's finest brewer working for inarguably its best brewery. Boulder has long given a little too much weight to the marketing department, who come up with names like Never Summer Ale. Witness the language on the bottle:
Welcome to Never Summer Ale, our version of an aggressive winter seasonal and the 3rd release in our Looking Glass Serious of specialty beers. Deep ruby red, assertively hopped and brewed with dark caramel malt, Never Summer Ale makes even the coldest Colorado peaks seem warm. Thanks for picking up our winter favorite. We invite you to discover all of our award-winning beers at Celebrate the long nights of winter. Cheers and enjoy!
I have no doubt Dave never laid eyes on this text, but nevermind the label, the name, or the fake homey text. (I think the signature is real.) This is a Zuckerman beer, which is good news for Webfeet--Dave honed his craft at BridgePort and makes great beers.

Tasting Notes
Despite the overwrought language, this isn't a crazy beer. It is in what I think of as the "classic" NW style of winter ales, ala Jubel and Wassail. It pours deep red with a white head--candy cane seasonal. The hop aroma is coupled with a candyish sweetness. It smells like a classic winter ale.

It falls on the lighter end of the winter spectrum (6%), but tastes robust and hearty. I was first put off slightly by the thin body--some winters are thick and creamy, frothed for warmth--but the flavor is as deep and rich as I was hoping for. Nice balance, a promising underlayment of alcohol bite, and a long, slow finish. The website claims there's an unnamed spice in the beer, but it apparently only draws out the hopping; anyway, I can't identify it. Extra points if you know, super ultra extra points if you can identify it with your palate alone. Great beer.

Hops: Nugget, Willamette, Cascade.
Malts: Two-row pale and dark British caramel
Alcohol by Volume: 6%
Original Gravity: 15 degrees Plato
Bitterness Units: unkown.
Other: "Top secret brewmaster's spice"
Available: Belmont Station.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

You're On a Desert Island...

Over at The Brew Site, Jon is currently in the midst of a multi-post series on "Fifty Beers to Drink Before You Die." I'm not totally clear on the methodology--the fifty beers I want to try before I die would not be the fifty I think you should try. Since I've already sampled a handful of transcendent beers, I would of course urge everyone to try those; on the other hand, I suspect there are at least fifty more that might make my short list if I could track 'em down.

So in a variant to Jon's enterprise, I'll offer up a game I've played with friends in the past: You're on a desert island and you can have five cases of any beer; which would they be? In beer drinking, we tend to appreciate more beers than we love. On a desert island, you only take your loved ones. Which would you take?

I'll ponder and answer in the comments.

Monday, December 11, 2006

137 Year Old Beer? Tasty!

And I thought my Fred #1 was valuable. Check this out:
It was brewed in the year that the Suez Canal opened, Charles Dickens embarked on one of his last literary tours and the Cutty Sark was launched in Scotland.

But the recently-discovered cache of 1869 ale should have been undrinkable, given the conventional brewing wisdom that even the best beers are supposed to last no more than a couple of decades. Beer experts, however, say the 137-year-old brew tastes "absolutely amazing".

The Victorian beer was part of a cache of 250 vintage bottles found in the vaults of Worthington's White Shield brewery in Burton-on-Trent. The bottles will not be sold and have yet to be valued....

The bottles were sealed with corks and wax and stored in even, cool temperatures, in the dark and placed on their side to stop the corks drying out....

The find includes ales brewed to commemorate royal events, including one made by the late Earl Spencer to mark the birth of Prince William in 1982. Another was brewed in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
The question is, if you actually acquired a bottle, would you have the guts to drink it?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Beer Tasting at Woodstock Wine and Deli

Just got this email, so don't blame me for the late notice! Looks cool, but I won't be able to make it. Perhaps you can:
We'll taste about 35 winter seasonals. Includes Beer Sausage (slow simmered in winter beer) on a bun, and all you can eat chips, popcorn, and pretzels. Don't have a lot of new imports this year, so we'll taste a few stashed in the cooler from last season (should have richened up a bit!) Might even crack open a few bottles of 1993 (I think I have the most of these, have to see!) Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale! Starts at about 6 P.M. and goes until about 9 P.M.

Woodstock Wine & Deli • 4030 S.E. Woodstock Blvd.
Wait, a '93 Celebration? Maybe I will try to carve out the time...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday Ale Fest Wrap-up

Whew, what a Fest. When I first attended this event a number of years ago (last century, I believe), it was a relatively sparsely-attended affair. The tents bustled, but there was appreciable space between bodies. This year, from the moment I arrived at 1:30 (Saturday) until I left four hours later, the lines were long, and I was in contact with other bodies the entire day.

I don't mind crowds, but this seemed mainly like a problem with design. Besides the beer, there is a whole section of the space devoted to arts and crafts vendors. This may have made sense five years ago, but it's a disaster now. (In your mind's eye, envision Pioneer Courthouse Square. Now envision Waterfront Park. Now take all the festgoers from the OBF and cram them into Pio Sqaure. Now add a flea market. You see, the physics are starting to work against us.) I actually like some of the vendors--it gives you a little something to do while you're ducking from the throngs. But with the growing sophistication and popularity of big, complex beers, there's just not room for it all.

One other gripe: more beer. When I arrived at 1:30, four beers were already blown (this is two and a half hours into an eleven hour fest). By midafternoon, the majority were blown. In my preview, I mentioned several international beers--all of these were either blown by the time I arrived or within minutes after I got there. No Samichlaus for me. So, recognize that this is a bigger fest than it used to be and make changes. Okay, enough on that.

The Beer
As I expected, the beer was almost uniformly terrific. Parsing the merely good from the excellent is a fool's errand and I'll avoid it. There were a couple beers that stood out, so I'll highlight those, and the rest I'll just include a few of my notes. (They were sparse and erratic this year not because of what I'd drunk, but because there was precious little room to jot notes.)

Believer - Ninkasi Brewing
This was my first beer and I think managed to take all comers and emerge as my fave. It had one of the most succulent aromas I've ever encountered--sweet, citrusy, with a little mint. I had four people give it a sniff and they all did the same thing: sniff, eyebrows up, head back down for another sniff. The palate was every bit as good. Although it was a lighter beer, it was one of the few that really said Christmas--it had a touch of pine, sweetness, and warmth. I wish this were available at every pub in Portland. (At right is a picture of Jamie Floyd that I stole from Belmont Station's blog.)

Cabin Fever (Stout) - Klamath Basin Brewing
A close second was the fest's only stout. It seemed like a sweet stout with a heavy dose of lactose--sort of a beery equivalent of hot chocolate. It was rich and super creamy and seemed to have the essence of wholesome milk blended in. I love it when a brewery I've never tried before knocks my socks off. Klamath Falls now has two good breweries--not bad for a small town.

Regifted Red - Widmer
Aggressive and alcoholic. Reminded me of the Seasonal red they do (maybe that's the "regift," but with more oomph.

Blizzard of Ozz - Off the Rail Brewing
This is the one beer I found substandard. Somewhat funky and mildewy tasting. I think it was supposed to be a smooth toddy-style winter, ala Tannen Bomb.

Strong Scotch - Fearless Brewing
A good beer, but it didn't seem strong. (Looking at the brochure now, I see that it was 8.5%, and I'm shocked--it seemed half that.) I wrote "Great Scotch ale, wonderfully malty, but quite light. a 60 Shilling, not a wee heavy." Goes to show I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Blitzen (tripel) - Rock Bottom Brewery
Long ago there was a chain restaurant in downtown Portland with a theme--they all have themes--of beer. You could get cute little ales that tasted like soda with your mediocre food. It was so popular people packed the joint. It was the one brewery in Oregon I never wrote about when I was writting for Celebrator and Willamette Week, because I refused to recognize it as a brewery. (They were pissed, but they would have been more so if I actually wrote about their beers.) Well, all that has changed. They brew real beers now, and I actually go out of my way to try them. This offering is a very tough style, and even good examples suffer by not having the complexity you'd find in a brewery with a 200-year-old yeast strain. That said, this was one of the best American examples I've had, with a complex recipe and decent yeast character. The head was remarkable, too--like whipped cream.

Full House - Pelican
In the Wassail/Jubel continuum of winter ales--rich, hoppy, strong, and tasty.

Jim K. - Hair of the Dog
Much has already been written about this beer, so allow me to be brief, since I wouldn't know what else to add in any case. It is a beer with great character from the nose to the aftertaste that seems to alternate among its various elements, seemingly emphasizing a sweet/sour note one moment and an old-fashioned hard candy note the next. I've never seen people respond to a beer like people responded to this. I'd love to see it come on the market and observe whether it was the festival atmosphere or the beer itself.

Cuvée de Noël - St. Feuillien
No notes on this one. I recall that it emphasized the malts and was smoother and less complex than I expected. A gentler winter warmer.

I also had sips of various other beers and so got a sense of a broader range, but for the sake of journalistic integrity, I won't presume that these were adequate samples. That's it until next year--

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Holiday Ale Fest Video

I slapped together this video last night with clips from the Fest. As you'll note, I took liberties with the timing in the captions to emphasize what was happening. Cheers!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday Ale Festival - The Scrum for Jim

I intend to put up a fuller report on the HAF later today or tomorrow, including video. However, as I'm feeling a little remiss in not getting something up sooner, here is an interim anecdote.

As with many brewfests, the HAF has only a limited number of kegs. The summer OBF handles this by allotting a certain number of kegs to each day, but HAF refined this system and divided kegs up into two batches, afternoon and evening. So, moments after getting my first beer at 1:30, the Fest slapped up a sign on Hair of the Dog's Jim saying that it would be pouring again at 5. I decided to hang around until then and zip back in for a last nip before heading home, and so at about a quarter til, I (and two friends) made our way through the extremely packed crowd.

(Sidebar: It was easily the most packed I've ever seen the Holiday Ale Fest, and perhaps more crowded than even the OBF on Friday night. The crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder and there were literally times when an entire knot of bodies had to time their move to make way for passing drinkers. The crowd was racous and jovial and everyone seemed to take this in stride. Sally, off at the St. Feuillien tap late in the day, spoke to a bug-eyed Minnesota dad who was visiting with his daughter. Remarked he: "I've never seen anything like this. People really take their beer seriously here.")

So we started back into the scrum. Inelegantly, a group of tables had been placed at the center of the main tent, and these tended to gum up the movement even more. Opposite them was, somewhere in the throng, a line to the not-yet-on-tap Jim. When we finally made it to the right side of the tent, we discovered that most of the people were also waiting for Jim and ushering others through to get different beers. So as five crept slowly toward us, the crowd became more and more densely packed with Jim-waiters. Eventually the chants for "Jim, Jim, Jim" began and it looked like the crowd might rush the tap (in one slow, many-legged push).

The wait endured past five and the crowd grew more spirited. By about eight after, a guy came out and, with theatrical flourish, removed the "back at 5 pm" sign. A cheer went up. We pressed closer, mug-ended arms forward. One by one, we got our elixir and began making our way back into the crowd. By 5:22, all the Jim was gone.

Was it any good? Stay tuned--

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Preview - Holiday Ale Festival

Holiday Ale Festival, Nov 30 - Dec 3
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Thursday - Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 6 p.m.
Free admission. Souvenir mugs cost $4, a taster is $1, $4 for a full serving.

The Holiday Ale Fest combines the best and worst of the annual fests. Best beer, worst weather. Okay, both are subjective, but I loves me the dark, rich winter ales, and just have to rise above the grim barrier of gray drizzle to actually get to the beer. (The truth is, once you actually get from your car to the site, it's not bad--they've got heaters inside tents, keeping everything at a reasonable, dry temperature.

But the beers are the real reason to go. Unlike other fests, where you're as likely to see a brewery's flagship as something new, the Holiday Ale Fest generally has a bounty of rare beers. That's true this year, with specialty beers, international ales, and a fair sampling of one-time brews from brewpubs near and far.

As a result, I have only tried fourteen of the 30 odd offerings, so there's going to be a fair amount of intuition here.

Old Standbys
A few breweries have sent their usual winter offerings, which, while good and tasty, are available everywhere. You might like one as a palate cleanser, but leave them to the out-of-towners. There are too many other interesting beers you may never see again.

(Full Sail Wassail, Deschutes Jubel, BridgePort Ebenezer, Golden Valley Tannen Bomb, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Winterhook, Rogue Santa's Little Helper, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Pyramid Snow Cap)

Familiar Breweries, New Beers
This is a relatively small group this year. As is their wont, Widmer is sending something unusual, a beer called Regifted Red described as a "NW Red." Large and hoppy isn't a dangerous guess. Hair of the Dog's Alan Sprints brewed up a beer in honor of beer pioneer Jim Kennedy called, not mystifyingly, Jim K. (Not an allusion to Kafka, methinks, but in the four-letter tradition of their named beers--Fred, Rose, Ruth, Greg, Adam, etc.) A version brewed for the Horse Brass celebration of Kennedy was described as a mixture of "Maredsous 8, a Belgian dubbel, with a blend of his own beers."

The McMenamins
are sending a tripel, which I'll probably avoid--their experiments in lagers and Belgians have historically fallen short. Walking Man's Homo Erectus gets two more ho's and even more hops and alcohol to become "double imperial IPA aged in Jamaican rum barrels." (Motto: "if you're having less than one, Ho Ho Homo Erectus is the less-than-one to have.") And finally, celebrating their five GABF medals (two silver, three gold--a "full house"), Pelican sends an imperial version of their Doryman's Dark called Full House.

Distant Breweries
What do I know about these? They weren't brewed in Oregon. Wisdom of the elder fest-goer: camp out at the line, wait for someone to get a taster, then ask if they're any good. This crowd includes Eel River Triple Exultation (Fortuna, CA), Mad River Steelhead Double IPA (Mad River, CA--the Steelhead line of beers, not to be confused with Eugene's Steelhead Brewpub). Finally, the much-maligned New Belgium is sending 2 Below Winter Ale. (Don't blame me if you try it and don't like it.)

Among the great number of brewpubs sending beers are these that intrigue me: Klamath Basin Cabin Fever Stout (because I love stouts and haven't tried a beer from this brewery before), Ninkasi Brewing's Believer (because brewer Jamie Floyd long ago made a believer out of me), and Off the Rails Blizzard of Ozz (because I never even heard of this Forest Grove brewery).

Exotic Beers

From way beyond Beervana come several international beers, among which three look pretty beguiling. First, Cuvée de Noël, from St. Feuillien, a historic brewery in Le Roeulx, Belgium. Made with herbs and spices, matured "long," and at 9% alcohol, I'd say this beer is worth a buck. Also from Belgium, Dubuisson's classic Scaldis. It is rightly one of the more famous beers in the world for its richness and complexity. I've had it a few times, and wouldn't miss sampling it on tap.

Finally, the even more legendary Samiclaus ("Santa Claus"), which was, while in production from 1836 through nearly its demise in 2000, the world's strongest beer (at 14%). It was Switzerland's main claim to brewing fame, and was reknowned for its intensity. In 1997, the Hurlimann Brewery was closed, but Austria's Eggenberg Brewery bought the rights to the name, recipe, and even the original yeasts, and began production in 2000. It has now picked up an H--Samichlaus--but is still reportedly worth a try. I had the original, and now I'll try the clone.

If you happen to go early and have something to report back, by all means do. I'll report my findings next week.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Various Cool Things ...

... about which you should be apprised.

1. Gary Corbin, a long-time Portland beer guy (writer, homebrewer, drinker), has begun his own blog. Wine creeps into some posts, but don't hold it against him.

2. The Holiday Ale Fest is coming: Thursday through Sunday at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Twenty-nine beers, 39 hours. (Preview to come.)

3. A guy sent me links to three videos that feature a tour of Belgian breweries. They're part of a series called "Thirsty Traveler," they're professional (as opposed to, ahem, some online beer vids), high res, and pretty fast loading. And they're cool. First, Second, and Third in the series. (First two are the best.) Seriously, if you love Belgian beer, these are worth a look.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Chinese Beer

The last three weeks have been relatively unbeery as I made my way from India to Hong Kong ... but not completely so.

Never mind India Pale Ales, the subcontinent is a dead zone for beers. Once Mountbatten left, so did all the good beer (actually, I have no idea how long the Brits continued to line their hulls with ale). With names like He-Man 9000 and Knock Out, you devine quickly what the Indians are after. (There's an export market for beers made but not available there, but that's a different post.) In any case, I skipped the He-Man.

On to Hong Kong, famously urban and urbane city where the night life hums with action. No doubt a haven for at least one local brewer, right? No. There are exactly zero breweries on the island--except possibly for a brewpub, mentioned only obliquely (and without an address) in my guide book. You'd think that a former British colony would have beer, but in this case, you'd be wrong. Locals drink San Miguel, the poor Filippino beer, or hard liquor. Since San Miguel is available here, I skipped it, but did decide to pop into a grocery store to see if anything interesting was available there.

Turns out China has a number of breweries, and a few products are shipped to the Island. If you've been to Asia or tried Tsingtao (pr. "Ching Dow," at least on local commercials), you're probably familiar with the pale, very light lagers generally available. That's the case with the two Chinese beers I tried, one from Dali (大理啤酒) and another from Shenzhen Kingway (金威啤酒).

Kingway had a boring label, but beguiling copy: "With the best malt and Germany technology." Reading a little further, I found that rice was one of the ingredients--just like they make it in old Berlin. The beer was incredibly pale and light bodied. It was the closest I've ever had to tasting flavorless beer (Bud might take note). It was crisp, though, and had no cheap, offensive flavors. It may well have had no alcohol, either.

I bought the Dali Beer because the label was wholly in Chinese (I'll try to get a pic--I dragged the bottle home because it was so cool). The brewery is named after the city in Yunnan Province where it's brewed, and they apparently produce a number of different beers. The one I got was called "Wind, Flower, Snow, and Moon," which is apparently also a nickname for the city. The beer reminded me a lot of Singha, with that characteristic yeast note it has. Call it metallic, but in a good way. (Singha is one of my favorite pale lagers.) It was slightly soft and floral, and a rather nice beer. It was also surprisingly cheap--just a buck for a large bottle (seven dollars Hong Kong). The prettiest and the cheapest, and a good beer to boot. Cool.

Two other beer-related discoveries. There was a Turkish restaurant in the little town we stayed in (Mui Wo on Lantau Island) that had Efes Pilsener. Another very nice pale lager, and apparently the Budweiser of Turkey. It has a slightly sweet, noticeably hoppy palate--more character than I'd expect from an industrial beer, and better than anything you can get in a can in the US.

Finally, the little corner market also stocked the original Budweiser from Budvar, and so I picked up a bottle for the collection. And no US warning label!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Best Beer Towns

I'm back from my Asian jaunt, tired and off-cycle (Hong Kong, my last stop, is 16 hours in front of Portland), but I couldn't help passing along this tidbit discovered in my pile of email: MSNBC's absurd best-ten beer cities list:
1. Amsterdam
2. Berlin
3. Brugge
4. Burlington, VT
5. Dublin
6. Mexico City
7. Montreal
8. Portland
9. Prague
10. Sapporo
There's very little to be added to any list that has Mexico City and Burlington Vermont ahead of Portland. This isn't just home-town bias, this is reality speaking. The logic seems to be totally variable--in one case, the presence of a famous brewery and a lot of beer drinking make a city eligible (Mexico City), whereas in others, it's the richness of local culture--Burgge. But if that's the case, then surely Milwaukee deserves to be on the list. And Burlington, a city I've visited a couple times in as many years, isn't even the best New England city; the other Portland is. But some things are so absurd, they're useful as talking points, so here you go00

(As to my travels, there's a bit of beer news to include. More later.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Headin' to India

I'm off to India, returning Thanksgiving Day. I'll be at a Buddhist monastery in the Indian Himalayas, far from anything resembling beer or an internet connection, so this site will go quiet for a bit. I've got a cool documentary that the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery used to show before brewery tours. Now the brewery is gone, but these remain. Enjoy--I'll see you after Thanksgiving.

Part One

Part Two

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hair of the Dog Dock Sale

Hair of the Dog will be celebrating their 13th Anniversary on Saturday, November 11 from 10 am to 4 pm. Says Brewer Alan Sprints: "I will be releasing 2006 Doggie Claws and some Fred from the wood from this years bottling. Hope to see you here."

Be there or be without beer.

Hair of the Dog
509 SE 23rd Avenue
Directions here (if you haven't been to the brewery, you'll need 'em)

Monday, October 30, 2006

On Tap Around Town

Whenever we go out to eat, I look for unusual beers, and recently I encountered a couple to recommend. The first is Caldera IPA, which is on tap at Taqueria Nueve, just North of Burnside on 28th. The restaurant is haute Mexican, with smallish portions and biggish prices. It's a great restaurant and worth the price, but if you're used to spending three bucks fitty on two-pound burrito, it can be a little disorienting. Bolster yourself with the Caldera. It's a magnificent beer.

The second offering is just around the corner, the Screen Door on Burnside and 24th. Unlike Taqueria Nueve, there's almost no chance you'll walk out hungry. The food is Southern, which means deep-fried or butter-soaked. Mighty tasty, but don't wander in when you're only peckish. The beer menu includes Roots Red--always recommended--and Turbodog, from New Orleans' Abita Brewery. Consulting the webpage, I see it's actually an ale, but it tastes more like a dark lager. Cryptically, Abita writes of its yeast: "We culture our own yeast from strains developed by German brewers." So maybe it's an alt strain. In any case, it's a malty beer with a slightly strange, unidentifiable flavor that really complements heavy, fried foods. Not unlike Negra Modelo, but tastier. Go have yourself some red beans and rice and a pint of the 'Dog.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Winter Ales

Continuing along with our exploration of winter ales, here are three more home-grown offerings.

Golden Valley Tannen Bomb

When I first encountered Tannen Bomb in 1998, Golden Valley was having a little trouble with its yeast. Something in the process produced excess diacetyl, which actually made for quite a beer. It was ultra silky and butterscotchy, and you could gobble down a pint without recognizing it was 8% alcohol ... and thus did you get (Tannen) bombed. The brewery has gotten things under control, and now Tannen Bomb is a more complex ale and not nearly so stealthy (probably good).

It is about the color of maple syrup, and only just slightly less thick. The main aromatic note is alcohol--it smells big. Golden Valley calls it a strong ale, but it also tastes big, with the body and alcohol of a barleywine. It could do with a month or two of age, when the roasted malts, alcohol, and hops blend more fluidly together. But even at this stage, it's quite nice. Sally keeps sneaking over for sly sips as I write this.

Hops: Chinook, Liberty, Fuggles, alcohol:8.0% abv, bitterness units: 50, Rating: Good.

Full Sail Wassail
Full Sail's venerable winter ale has been brewed since 1988, and--full disclosure--it's long been my favorite. It's another one of the beers that is released too early, and which I buy too early, with delight. As evidence of how things have changed, it appears the recipe is now fixed (Full Sail gives very little data about what's in their beers, though they used to give all the details.) Until a few years ago, however, they would mix it up every year, using different hops, slightly differing malts--just to shake things up. I guess we've come to a "mature" phase where that kind of variability is no longer considered good business.

Wassail is a deep brown, almost tending toward porter dark. It has a pronounced roasted aroma, a bit like fresh toast. The flavor is a deep, resonant mixture, the dark malts blending with the hops for a dark, satisfying winter warmer. It also has a sweet quality somewhat akin to Cola or chocolate, drawn out by the very dry, bitter finish. In fact, that's not a bad comparison--it's liquid version of very dark, artisinal chocolate. Rich and decadent. The version on shelves now is, like Jubel, a little green, and I'll have to do a fuller review in a couple months. Another incomplete.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve
This is a beautiful red ale, and it packs a potent citrus candy aroma. I've been brewing with Chinook hops lately, and it has a particular quality of citrus that I recognized instantly in this beer. I imagine a lot of people will love this beer, and it reminds me of Sierra Nevada Celebration--a reddish ale (more copperish) made with Centennial and Chinooks, like Santa's PR. And, for the same reason I don't like Celebration, I can't fall for Santy. It's too thin, and the hops, even at 44 IBUs, overwhelm it. I also don't feel the warming glow I like from a nice winter ale. It's an icy, sharp beer. If you like Celebration, you'll probably like this beer. I don't.

Malt: two-row Harrington, Klages, Munich, Hops: Chinook, Centennial and a "mystery hop", original gravity: 13° Plato, bitterness units: 44, Rating: average.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Craft Bud

Recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned that the major breweries were flatlining on sales and actually losing market share to micros? Well, turns out Bud doesn't like losing share to pissant micros. So now they're goin' micro themselves:
Mule Kick Oatmeal Stout, Confluence Amber Wheat and Pilot House Imperial Pilsner sound like good, localized names for craft beers.

But these beers aren't produced by some microbrewery at a local pub. They're brought to you by the nation's largest brewer. In its effort to tap into the popular and growing craft beer category, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. is going regional - even local.

By combining flavor and marketing cues from craft brewers with Anheuser-Busch's purchasing power, marketing expertise and distribution network, brewery President August Busch IV and his team could soon pose a significant new challenge to smaller craft brewers with specialty beers of their own, analysts said.
I can't imagine that this will work--it seems to me that one of the reasons we drink local beer is, well, because it's local. This seems like one of those good ideas in the corporate board room, not so much in the marketplace. But maybe I'm wrong--maybe the rest of the country isn't as parochial as Oregon.

Hat tip: Dave D.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Henry Weinhard Documentary

Sometime in the 80s or 90s, the Blitz Weinhard Brewery put out a cool documentary that details the history of the brewery. I can't remember if it was actually part of the pre-tour video they showed when you visited the brewery or not, but it is a stand-alone, in any case. I had to break it up into three, roughly 2 1/2-minute chunks to get it on Youtube. The good news is that I found a transfer format that keeps the video quality far higher than in some of my past postings. Enjoy--

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Flurry of Winter Ales

Never mind the 65 degree weather, 'tis the season ... for winter ales. In fairness, global warming may be to blamed for the cognitive dissonance--isn't late October generally at least chilly? In any case, I have a few mini-reviews here. Two of the four deserve revisiting later, once they've had a chance to age and mellow. As is the case every year, the first bottles of Jubelale are a little green. (Wassail is generally also, though I failed to buy a sixer at the single grocery store I saw it--downtown Safeway, I think--and haven't seen it since.)

The Style
There is no actual, or sole, "winter warmer" style. Breweries have wide latitude this one season each year to create a truly unique beer. Broadly speaking, these beers should be strong and robust, providing enough flavor and alcohol to warm your core. But whether that's a doppelbock, a strong ale, a stout, or something without category--that's the brewery's choice. We've had an ongoing discussion on Beervana about the characteristics of the "Northwest style," and I think you can see it clearly around this time of year. Oregon (and Washington) breweries tend to go to dark malts and rich complexity. Although hops are celebrated, almost without exception these beers resist the label of "out of balance" or "overly hoppy." In many ways, I think they represent the truest passions of the brewers who make them.

Alaskan Winter Ale
This beer is aiming for something greater than it actually achieves. Brewed in the style of an old ale, Alaskan adds the tips of Sitka Spruce for character. It is amber, rather on the pale side, with a very light (and quickly-evaporating head). I got a sweet caramel nose that may have had a note of diacetyl and also may have had a bit of spruce, but both were rather shadowy. The flavor of the beer is likewise subdued--mellow and sweet, with a butterscotch candy palate and a mild pineyness that may have come from the spruce. I also thought I detected a mint quality which I retrospectively identify as spruce. The sum is not quite the promise of the parts. I'd like a little more of everything--maltiness, hops, and spruce. Call it an interesting experiment that needs to be taken an iteration further.

Malts: pale, wheat, Munich and caramelized malts, hops: Saaz, alcohol:6.4% abv, original gravity: 1.066; bitterness units: 27. Rating: Average.

Deschutes Jubelale
Here's an interesting factoid: Jubel was the first beer Deschutes ever bottled, a fact about which I was until recently ignorant. Despite this, the brewery seems inevitably to always brew it late and/or release it early, so when I buy my first early-October bottle, it's green and not indicative of the beer will become. And again, as constant as the seasons, the pattern repeated--the beer's too green, but I'm still buying it in October.

What I can tell you is that it's a beautiful chestnut, full of roasty malt aroma and garlanded with a delicious peppery hop. The hops and alcohol currently overwhelm the smoothness of the malt, but give it time. This is typically one of the creamiest and smoothest of the big winter ales, so let's give it an incomplete.

Alcohol:6.7% abv, bitterness units: 60.

BridgePort Ebenezer
Tawny amber, very bright--looks a lot like an Oktoberfest. Comforting fresh-bread aroma, with a touch of black pepper and cola-like sweetness. I recall this being a slightly harsh, thin-bodied beer, but the 2006 incarnation is neither. It's a mellow, creamy, candyish ale with a slightly piney, spicy hopping. Some winter ales are a little like a brandy, with a sharper alcohol edge, while others are like hot toddies. Put Ebenezer in that last category. As with the Alaskan, I'd like a little more oomph, but Ebenezer has its charms.

Alcohol: 6.4% abv, original gravity: 16° Plato; Bitterness Units: 40. Rating: Good.

Redhook Winterhook
Extremely aromatic, rich with green, citrusy Cascades. No mention by the brewery that it's dry-hopped, but I wouldn't bet against it. This incarnation of Winterhook is a strangely summery beer, with a bright, layered hopping that comes off fruity and mild. It must be a new recipe--I recall an older version of Winterhook (it was actually one of the first winter warmers) that was darker and more vibrant.

A recurrent criticism I have with Redhook is similar to Portland Brewing--their beers are far too safe. This is a pleasant and polite beer, the kind you'd take home to someone's mother. But it isn't a hearty ale that could beat back the frost. Even the stats tell the tale--5.5% abv/28 IBUs. I definitely wouldn't turn one down--a beer with this kind of hop aroma is a keeper--but I'd hate to be stuck at a December Seahawks game with nothing more than Winterhook to protect me from the elements.

: English caramel and Munich, hops: Cascade, Northern Brewer, alcohol:5.5% abv, original gravity: 1.053; Bitterness Units: 28, Rating: Good.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The New York Times Takes on Porters

There is a bizarre article (hat tip: DF) on porters in the Times today. The writer, Eric Asimov, is the times drinks writer, and I suspect his palate is attuned to wine or liquor. With beers, it seems, he could do with a little remedial education. He starts out with a great historical introduction, but when he gets to the actual beers, I find I distrust his judgment:
Our No. 2 beer, Smoked Porter from Captain Lawrence, sounds like one of those brewing experiments, but the company, in Pleasantville, N.Y., insists that it is not.
Brewing experiment? And:
In the blind tasting, I was sure our No. 3 beer was American because of its powerful, assertive flavors of coffee, licorice and chocolate, but it turned out to be from Fuller’s, one of Britain’s leading breweries.
And I don't even know what to make of this:
By contrast, Mocha Porter from Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., did not make the top 10 because the hop aromas drowned out everything else.
The Times offers ratings for beers, from 1-4, but none of the beers they tasted did better than a three-star ratiing. Geary's, their fave (and a fantastic beer), got three. It begs the question: what does it take to get a four-star rating? Being a nice chardonnay?

Makes me think I need to do a porter tasting right quick.

Yamhill Brewing, RIP

From a Craigslist posting:
10,000sf warehouse space - dividable. Was used as brewery and tasting room. Has refrigerated area and freezer space. Whole brewing system set up and available as is a small kitchen/bar area. Prices starting at 50cents/sf/month NNN. Many possible uses. Zoned IG 1. Occupancy 58 people in approx 3000sf area. Drive by then call Ron at 503-750-1254 or Dwight 503-232-7673.

SE 9th Ave at Yamhill
It includes several pictures, including this identifying exterior shot:

It struggled for many years, and I'd even heard recently that it was back in forward motion. Apparently not.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Winter Beers - Widmer Snow Plow (Milk Stout)

Stout is a beer that lends itself to additives. With its roasty creaminess, it instantly suggests coffee and chocolate--common enhancements to draw out the flavor. This isn't new. In Victorian England, brewers went on a strange little marketing tear wherein they promoted their stouts as "nutritional," adding oatmeal, oysters (!), and milk. (Dickens mentions Cockneys drinking stout with their oysters; apparently some brewers decided to cut out the extra step.)

Roger Protz, in his nice book on stouts, has a couple of great quotes to demonstrate how early milk stouts were marketed.
"Make Stout More Nourishing! That was the aime of Mackeson & Co. when after a long period of exhaustive research in conjunction with one of the leading analytical food chemists, they were to produce a beverage containing nature's best food, scientificially and carefully introduced."
The "nutritional stout" phase continued for decades, but ultimately began to marginalize stouts as a medicinal drink. They became associated with grandmothers who offered them to stave off the winter flu. Mackeson survived, but mostly milk stouts died off.

The Style
Milk stouts don't actually employ milk, but rather lactose. Unlike most sugars, however, lactose can't be broken down by beer yeast, and remains unfermented, as calories and carbohydrates. It gives the beer a unique sweetness and silkiness on the tongue that does in fact suggest milk. It's not so much a flavor as a quality. Cream ales, the light summer alternative, often also employ lactose (and never cream).

Widmer's milk stout has a fascinating story behind it. Nearly ten years ago, the brewery embarked on a program with local homebrewers to produce little known-beer styles. The Brothers work with the homebrewers to come up with a style, and then the homebrewers have a competition to find the best example. It's brewed at the brewery and sold on tap at area pubs. The very first Collaborator beer was this milk stout, and it remains, to my knowledge, the only style to have made it into the bottle.

Tasting notes
Although it looks black in the glass, if you tilt the beer and hold it up to light, you see that Snow Plow is not opaque, like many stouts. Lactose is reputed to make heads thick and long-lasting, but I kept getting a rather meager mocha skiff--though it was very dense and creamy.

It's interesting that this style has slipped off the radar because it's a real crowd-pleaser. It's completely likeable--I can't imagine anyone not enjoying this beer. The palate is largely sweet and creamy, bordering on decadant, but there are hints of roasty malt and a breath of hop at the end. It isn't a burly stout, but it has enough body to satisfy big-stout lovers; on the other hand, it's modest alcohol content makes it a great winter session.

Oregon is rightly famous for our hoppy beers, but dark beers are an unheralded fave. Perhaps it's the rainy skies, but a lot of people love stouts and porters--some drink them exclusively, even through the summer heat waves. Brewers oblige this preference, and we have a number of great dark beers. But for milk stouts, you have to go to Widmer.

Malts: Pale, caramel, wheat, oats, carapils, roasted barley
Hops: bittering: alchemy, aroma: Willamette
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
Original Gravity: 17° Plato
Bitterness Units: 28
Other: 2004 GABF gold medal winner
Available: Throughout the Northwest

A Northwest classic.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Henry's Ad: The Airplane

I've had a hard time getting to a few reviews I have planned (the new wither beers are here, the new winter beers are here!) , and so in the meantime, here's another Hank's ad. I think the days of taking a suitcase full of beer on a plane are done. How many casualties of 9/11 will there be?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Blitz Weinhard Commercial from the 60s

There are an interesting series of commercials from the 60s featuring the jingle on this commercial--one of the more involved, lyrically, of any made. In the one I'm posting here, they've gone for the theme of the river, and the ad shows the mighty Willamette and recalls a time when you could walk across it on the floating Douglas firs. Other ads feature a farmer, a logger, and a fisherman, rounding out the great extractive industries on which the state was built.

This commercial shows how Portland, unlike other cities that are the centers of wealth in their respective states, was the focus of the state's wealth--it's commercial and shipping hub. I'd show the others, but the VHS they came from had degraded and they're in bad shape. This one's got a couple of rough patches, but it's the best. Enjoy--

Got the sun in the mornin' to get me out of bed,
Got an old hat to cover my head,
Got me a river runnin' by my door,
Got everything here, don't need no more.

Don't make a lot of money, but the livin's free,
I work when I want, break when I please,
Some folks say I gotta do more,
Guess I could ... don't know what for.

[announcer: In Blitz Country the river is still the road, and for 120 years, Blitz Weinhard has been the one premium-quality beer found wherever you stop along that road. Blitz country, where people enjoy the best of living, and along with it, the best of beer.]

Got a snow-capped mountain outside my door,
Got a beer called Blitz, don't need no more,
Got two good reasons for livin' here:
The best country in the country and the country's best beer.

Review - Broadway Grill and Brewery

A couple of weeks ago, my eagle-eyed spouse pointed out that there was a new resident at the corner of NE 18th and Broadway--the Broadway Grill and Brewery.* Its provenance was obscure, but the "brewery" in the title was enough to lure us in. Turns out it is actually an Eastside branch of The Old Market Pub and Brewery, which has resided in Multnomah Village for a dozen or more years.

There will apparently be an on-site brewery at Broadway sometime, but for now the beer comes from Old Market. The menu is also much the same. However, given that the Willamette essentially divides two cities, for many in the neighborhood, it is a new experience. (I visited the Old Market once, back when I wrote about beer for the Willamette Week, in the late '90s.)

The space is quite comfortable--and had already attracted a pretty good crowd when we visited a little over a week ago. The front of the pub curls around a groovy bar, and there are open spaces in the back festooned with large, flat-screen TVs (tuned to a Bears game when I was there). They both suit the sports fan but remain comfortably out of the way for non-fans. At the end of the review, I'll copy in a minute of footage I shot at the pub so you can get a sense of the space.

While I'll appreciate further reports (and learn more on further visits), the food seems like good, if somewhat predictable, fare. I had a honey mustard chicken sandwich that was perfectly cooked, moist, and tender. Sally had pizza, which turned out to be thick crust--not to my personal taste. However, it is hand made and seemed like it might have been made with beer and is pretty tasty, particularly loaded, as it was, with tasty veggies.

The pub offers a sampler plate with nine 4-ounce glasses of beer for $9--a great value. I won't go for it every time, but I might do it every now and again, as the seasonals rotate through. On the whole, it was an impressive selection. Except for a diacetyl note in a couple of the beers that I think was intentional, none had any off-flavors. Only a couple were so-so, and three were worth going out of your way for. Definitely an above-average range.

Below are my notes.

  • Pilsner. Bavarian style. Crisp, fresh. Could use a hop or two more, but quite nice. (Good)
  • Wild Red. The brewery's flagship, but not, I suspect destined to be the fave on Broadway. A diacetyl (butterscotch) note that is fairly nice. However, the hops are a bit soapy and the crystal malts impart too much tannin. (Average)
  • Golden. Hops are wonderfully spicy and floral and turn this throwaway style into something special. Rich without bitterness; great session. (Excellent)
  • ESB. A lot in common with the red--diacetyl and tannins, but a little less so. Slightly maltier, slightly sweeter, but again with the soap. (Average)
  • Porter. A nice change-up. It has an almost sour quality that recalls Guinness. Made with wheat. Quite distinctive. (Excellent)
  • Pale. Traditional West Coast pale. Citrus bittering, sweet malt. Pretty agressive and akin to--though not quite as complex as--BridgePort IPA. (Good)
  • British IPA. The brewery's most popular beer. Hopping is a little spicier than in usual NW versions--English hops? (Good)
  • IPA. Also not the usual NW hopping, again spicy. Great aroma--dry hopped? (Good)
  • Stout (nitro). Dense, creamy, and chocolaty, finished with a pronounced smoky and slightly roasty note. A touch of coffee. (Excellent)

The Broadway area has always been a little light on the brewpubs--just a McMenamins a few blocks down--so I think this will become a regular watering hole for locals. Please use the comments to let me know what you thought of the place.

*I'll get contact info soon.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Weinhard Commercial: Schludwiller

At long last, I have digitized copies of a bunch of archival Henry Weinhard material--including commercials, documentaries, and random errata. There's so much of it that I won't be able to post it all, but I'll give you a sample. This is one of the more famous ads from the 1970s, about the fictitious Schludwiller brewery from California.

It has extra resonance for Oregonians, because it was during a time when the state was particularly agressive toward California immigration. Oregon's most famous and beloved Governor, Tom McCall, exhorted non-Oregonians to visit but "please don't stay." Bumper stickers read "Don't Californicate Oregon." Webfeet have always distrusted Golden Staters, but this was the most fervent period.

Schludwiller never made it in. ("Earl, wanna try Idaho?")

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Beer and Politics

For those of you with an interest in the business of beer, The Oregonian has an article describing the politics of lobbyist Paul Romain and the clout of distributorships in the state. Romain got a little unwanted press last week when the O reported on a Hawaiian luau Romain threw for a number of Oregon legislators--in Maui--which went unreported by the pork-fed pols. It doesn't tell the whole story--and particularly not the role of smaller craft brewers in the state--but there are some good bits of context.

For instance, the clout of the distributors' lobby:
The Hawaii trips are just part of the group's influence strategy. Since 2002, the distributors have showered $1.2 million on lawmakers through lobbying and campaign giving, The Oregonian found, with much of the latter going to legislative leaders and committee chairmen who have the power to pass or kill bills.
Distributors, which have a unique, protected niche in American business, have maximized their power through consolidation:
Distributors have consolidated in recent years. Among the Oregon association's 19 members are some of the largest wholesalers. They owe their commercial niche to post-Prohibition reforms that split the alcohol trade into three tiers -- producers, distributors and retailers -- so gangsters could no longer infiltrate the entire supply chain.

In 1981, lawmakers also gave distributors exclusive rights to sell individual beer brands in their delivery territory. A tavern in a given area of Southeast Portland can buy Pabst only from Mt. Hood Beverage, for example, and Coors and Corona only from another distributor.

Romain cemented his influence in 1989, when he negotiated with big brewers to write the law that governs Oregon's beer trade -- the statute that, among other things, makes it difficult for producers to dismiss a distributor. He takes credit for getting many of the contractual terms between distributors and suppliers enshrined in the law.

And, although the article doesn't mention it, law prevents small brewers from self-distributing, but in many cases, they're too small to attract the attention of distributors. Hair of the Dog, notably, was stymied early in their existence because their small volume was ignored by local distributors. And in other parts of the state, distributors may have a monopoly, so small breweries have no alternatives for distribution.

Much could be writ, but perhaps we'll just watch the story and see how it develops.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ninkasi Interview

The Belmont Station blog has a very cool interview with Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge of the newly-founded Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene. Before Ninkasi, Nikos was a NY stock broker, and Jamie was the award-winning brewer at Steelhead. I've been wanting a little more info about Ninkasi, and the interview has lots of good stuff:
The name Ninkasi is that of the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer who is believed by many to have created the original recipe for beer some 4,000 years ago....

Currently leasing and brewing from the space at Sofia’s restaurant in Springfield’s Gateway district, the group plans on relocating in the not so distant future to downtown Eugene on Van Buren Street in the Vos Plumbing building....

[Floyd] I wanted to offer something different like our Lady of Avalon Münchner Dunkel and our Helles Lager, not just the standard American-styled beers—though that is also a big part of what we do. Taking risks and being different is important. I knew that I wanted to be more independent. I have believed in longterm dedication to the community and wanted to be “Eugene’s brewery”; something people of my town could feel proud of and identify with as their own. There are a lot of breweries in Portland, but not so much in Eugene.
Go read the full interview there. And by the way, anyone know where Ninkasi is pouring?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Okay, "Screwed" Was Hyperbole

About the time I noticed that my post about the GABF had attracted as many comments as my average daily traffic, I knew I'd hit a nerve. An anonymous commenter leveled a common charge at Oregon--"Oregon brewers brew what the masses want to drink" (ie, out of balance hoppy beers)--and I responded and ... we were off to the races.

To clarify: the Northwest (but principally Oregon) has developed a regional character. Beers here highlight hops. Not just bitterness, but a layered hopping that enhances the aroma and imparts delightful hoppy flavor throughout each sip. We tend to like styles slightly stronger than usual--an Oregon "mild" is 5%, but not excessively so, as best sellers Black Butte Porter, BridgePort IPA, Full Sail Session, and Widmer Hefeweizen demonstrate. Like Nortwest coffee, we just like flavor--strong, stiff, robust flavor. A recent trend has featured use of more exotic yeasts and styles as Oregonians continue to grow mor sophisticated.

Oregonians, being the most beer-friendly drinkers in the country, don't balk at a style they haven't tried--put a dubbel, Baltic porter, or old ale on the menu, and people will give it a shot. At Pix Patisserie in Portland, you can order a beer float (hat tip to Fred Eckhardt). I once sat in the Lucky Lab when a batch of of 8-year-olds invaded for a birthday party. Give those kids a decade and a half, and they'll be booking the Edgefield for August weddings. Having traveled around the country and sat in bars and brewpubs, I've seen from the overwhelming pale straw beers others drink that the penetration of beer into the culture just isn't there.

When I howled about the GABF's bias, I should have mentioned that that bias is, as I see it, toward lighter, less agressive beers. A friend of mine, who just returned to Oregon from a 6-year stint in Denver, guessed that this resulted from Coloradans' outdoor ethos: they're on the move and don't want to get weighed down like cloud-bound, pub-dwelling Stumptowners. (I saw this verified by a recent report that identified Colorado as the leanest state.) Colorado, because it is home to Charlie Papazian, the national Brewers Guild, the GABF, and assorted beer-related institutions, has reified the Colorado palate as the American standard.

Beer styles always allow for a range, but it is my opinion--based on the results I've seen in watching the GABF for years--that judges favor lighter beers and punish more robust beers even within accepted standards. And because Oregon brewers tend toward virtuosity, deviations from this narrow definition are also punished. It doesn't have to be this way. Lew Bryson recently addressed it on his site (hat tip Suds Sister):
"Any style of beer can be made stronger than the classic style guidelines. The goal should be to reach a balance between the style’s character and the additional alcohol. The brewer must provide the base style that is being created stronger and/or appropriately identify the style created (for example: double alt, triple fest, imperial porter or quadruple Pilsener)."

That’s what Garrett Oliver read to our judging panel at the Great American Beer Festival just two days ago....

I’m not against up-throttling beers. Doublebock came along over a century ago, and has proven itself in the marketplace and on my own happy tongue. More recently, double IPAs and double red ales have proved popular enough to have been granted their own categories. This category is kind of the proving ground for super-sizing beers.
He goes on to explain how just super-sizing a beer doesn't make it great, and we agree there. But I don't think Oregon breweries bloat their beers inexpertly--far from it. But their beers have historically not been recognized in Colorado (throw Washington beer into everything I've said here), and as a shameless partisan, I chafe at that.

How's that for being clearer?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Catastrophic Hop Fire

This seems ... not good:

YAKIMA, Washington (AP) -- Federal investigators were set Tuesday to begin an investigation into a fire that ruined about 4 percent of America's yield of hops, used as flavoring in the brewing of beer and ale.

The fire started shortly before noon Monday in a 40,000-square-foot (3,600-square-meter) warehouse operated by S.S. Steiner Inc., one of the four largest hop buyers in the Yakima Valley of central Washington. By mid-afternoon flames engulfed most of the building, sending up plumes of smoke and a pungent aroma....

The United States produces 24 percent of the world's hops, and about three-fourths of the U.S. crop comes from the Yakima Valley. Hops were a $77 million crop in Washington state in 2004. More than 40 families grow hops in the valley, which is dotted with orchards, vineyards and farms.

The fire destroyed or ruined about 10,000 bales, each weighing about 200 pounds (90 kilograms) and likely worth $1.75 to $2 a pound, Ann George, administrator of the Washington Hops Commission in nearby Moxee, told the Herald-Republic.

Four comments:
  1. I wonder if it smelled like ganja in Seattle.
  2. "Flavoring in beer and ale"--oy!
  3. I think I could get by on two or three bales this year, in a pinch.
  4. Maybe the crop was mainly for use in macropilsners--how could you tell if they used fewer hops in Bud Light anyway?
Rest in peace, wee hops--we never tasted ye.

GABF - Oregon Screwed Again!

As I mentioned last week, Oregon tends not to do so well at the Great American Beer Festival, despite the fact that we empirically brew the best beer. And so has the 2006 festival confirmed. Among all states, Oregon finished fourth, just a nose in front of famously beery Illinois, with only half the medals of Colorado and a third of Cali's. Behold the horror of the medal count:
39 - California
28 - Colorado
18 - Wisconsin
14 - Oregon
12 - Illinois
19 - Washington
Yeah, Oregon and Washington together have less world-class beers than Colorado. And George W. Bush is one of the great presidents of American history.

However, due props to those that did manage to get beyond the obviously untutored palates of the "judging" staff--you must stand in the stead of the rest of Oregon's great brewers!

  • Barley Brown's Brew Pub, Tumble Off Pale Ale (American-Style Pale Ale category)
  • Bend Brewing Co., HopHead Imperial IPA (American-Style India Pale Ale)
  • Laurelwood Brewing Co., Organic Deranger (Imperial or Double Red Ale)
  • Pelican Pub & Brewery, Doryman's Dark Ale (American-Style Brown Ale)
  • Pelican, Tsunami Stout (Foreign [Export]-Style Stout)
  • Pelican, Kiwanda Cream Ale (Golden or Blonde Ale)
  • Widmer Brothers, Hefeweizen (American-Style Hefeweizen)
  • Alameda Brewhouse, Black Bear XX Stout (Foreign (Export)-Style Stout)
  • Full Sail, Black Gold Imperial Stout (Wood- and Barrel-aged Strong Beer)
  • Pelican, MacPelican's Scottish Style Ale (Scottish-Style Ale)
  • Pelican, Stormwatcher's Winterfest (Barley Wine-Style Ale)
  • Widmer, Brewmasters' Pale (American-Style Pale Ale)
  • BJ's Restaurant & Brewery, Lasto's Oatmeal Stout (Oatmeal Stout)
  • Widmer, Export Lager (European-Style Pilsener)
Oregon should have its own awards: the Beervana awards for transcendent ales. Now that would be a mighty honor.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Broadway Brewery and Grill

I went to the newly-opened Broadway Brewery and Grill last night. It's a satellite of Old Market Pub and Brewery in Multnomah Village--but far handier to access for Eastsiders at its 18th and NE Broadway locale. I will get to a review at some point, but here's a little video in the meantime. And anyway, can't you tell, just by looking, whether a beer's good or not?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Other Portland (And Its Beers)

[Updated: Geary's Autumn Ale and Shipyard Bluefin Stout added Saturday, Sept 30.]

This may come as a shocker to Stumptowners, but there is actually another Portland in the US. Originally known as Machigonne, it was settled in 1632 by the English as a fishing settlement. Some years later, it became "Casco" (for the city's bay) and then "Falmouth" before landing on Portland. Had New Englanders managed to get out to Oregon a couple hundred years earlier, who knows--we might be proud Falmouthers, with none of the subsequent (and now mostly vanished) confusion the two Portlands caused each other.

There are a number of similarity in the cities--but, since this is a specialized blog, I'll confine myself to beer. Much as in Oregon, there is a thriving market for micros in Maine. The state, with a population of just 1.2 million, has 25 breweries. Portland, with just 63,000 people, has eight. When you go to a pub (which look a lot like English-influenced Oregon pubs), you'll find a number of local taps. When I went into the supermarket to buy beers for review, there were perhaps a dozen local offerings (making my decision difficult). And when you go to the airport, there's a local brewpub--Shipyard--offering fresh pints. The beers are mostly British-influenced ales, and are tastier, more robust, and hoppier than any region outside West Coast.

Enough preamble--to the beers!

Geary's Autumn Ale
DL Geary is Maine's oldest brewery, and one of its best. (In fact, it's the oldest micro east of the Mississippi.) In my visits to Maine, I've had most of their beer, and was impressed especially by the pale ale. Thus did I look forward to their interpretation of a nut brown. It's not a bad effort, but it unfortunately lacks transcendence. It looks great--tawny brown, bright, with a nice roasty aroma. It's meaty, too, like too few browns, but the flavor misses the mark. It's slightly too bitter and not malty or sweet enough. Fine, but the wrong balance, neither sprightly and aggressive nor comforting. If you're in Maine, try the Pale Ale. (Two row English malt, clarity, crystal, chocolate and wheat; Cascade, Golding & Fuggle hops 5.8% abv)
Rating: Average.

D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: David Geary
Founded: 1986
Beers: Pale, London Porter, Autumn Ale (nut brown), Hampshire Ale (winter warmer), Winter Ale (IPA), Summer Ale (kolsh).
Available: New England and the Northeast

Shipyard - Blue Fin Stout

Pours black with dramatic effervescence--and a fluffy brown head. The aroma, of rich chocolate, is delightful but misleading--as you discover with the first sip, which has not the hint of sweetness. It's a bit like smelling baker's chocolate. It is a wonderful beer, thick and dense, highlighted by the strongest roasted barley I've tasted in a stout. It produces a earthy, rooty darkness on the palate that is intense like coffee, though more akin to chicory or even beets. (Hard to claim that beets taste good in beer, but here the note is delightful.) It was a beer brewed to cut through the harshest North Atlantic winds (and they are harsh). I've never had a stout like it, and I regret I have to travel 3,000 miles to get more.
Rating: A Classic.

Shipyard - IPA
Classic cloudy golden hue, with a rather weak head. Spicy aroma with a slightly bicarbinate note. Hopped solely with the classic English hop Fuggle. The flavor is a little weak for an IPA--as is the strength. It's a nice beer, with the Fuggles imparting a spicy, soapy quality. (Interestingly, though I found it to be only mildly bitter, Sally thought it was harshly so--more evidence of how bitter perception is variable.) There is little malt quality except for a pleasant, residual sweetness. Worth trying for the Fuggles, but not an exceptional beer. 5.8% abv
Rating: Average.

Shipyard Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: Alan Pugsley
Founded: 1992
Beers: Fourteen, including flagship Export and a range of mostly English ales.
Available: Throughout Southern Maine (sorry, Webfeet!)

Allagash White
Cloudy, classic white head. One of the whitish whites I've seen--like unfiltered pear juice. Nice crisp aroma with the suggestion of coriander without cloying. Palate tends toward the light and dry. The spicing is modest, producing a more vinous interpretation of the style. A great choice for a brewery's first beer (as this was)--I expect it has found its way into the coolers of many of the vacationers across "Vacationland." 5% abv
Rating: Good.

Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: Rob Tod
Founded: 1995
Beers: White, Dubbel, Tripel, Grand Cru, Four, specialty and barrel-aged beers.
Available: Belmont Station

Casco Bay Oktoberfest
Honey-amber with a brief, light head. Oktoberfests usually have understated aromas, and so does Casco Bay--just a bit of Munich malt and a hint of floral hops. The palate is delightful--rounded and creamy, subtley sweet, and a long, spicy finish. The brewery uses a special Munich yeast for the beer, and it pays dividends--a great beer.
Rating: Excellent.

Casco Bay Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: Bryan Smith
Founded: 1994
Beers: Casco Bay: Red, Pale, Summer, Winter, Oktoberfest; Carrabassett: Pale, Brown, Winter, Summer
Available: Five states outside Maine--none closer than Ohio.