If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Buried Toolkit Graphic.

Widmer Brothers -- Secret Bushies?

For a couple years now, the Widmer Brothers have been getting into trouble over the design of their seasonal beer packaging, which I'll reproduce thus:



Looking closely, you may think it bears resemblance to the Bush bumper sticker from a couple years ago (which I can't seem to find online now), which had the W '04 logo. They have been accused of secretly sending red-state messages in blue-state Oregon. The Oregonian had an article about it recently (also not online), in which they resurfaced the rumors.

I have to say, it was a little bothersome to have to contemplate, so I did a little digging. Turns out both of the brothers have made financial contributions--which is where the rubber meets the road, politically. Care to guess to whom these donations were made?

Drum roll, please:

To Bill Bradbury and Ron Wyden, Dems both. (Go here and type in their names to see.) Whew.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ratings

One thing that arises with an enterprise like a beer blog is how to rate beers. On the one hand, I think it's a kind of fake endeavor--is a 9.0 hefeweizen really better than an 8.5 IPA? I mean, a lot of it is subjective and it's style-limited. On the other hand, having a rating does tell you something. Yesterday, when I was reviewing the Supris, what rating do you think I would have given it (on a ten-point scale)? I'd probably have gone something like a seven, with extra points for creativity and rarity. I'd probably buy a sixer rarely, but I'd recommend it strongly for people who haven't tried it. Would it have been more helpful to add that, or just go with the description.

There are a few different models. RateBeer uses this system (the link takes you to ratings of Supris):
Aroma 1-10
Appearance 1-5
Flavor 1-10
Palate 1-5
Overall 1-20
Scores work out to .5-5.0. The problem when you have a large sample set, though, is that ratings tend to flatten out. Westvleteren 12 gets the highest user rating 4.51, whereas 2,500 beers in, and the ratings are still around 3.4--which seems not very useful. But I digress.

The Beer Advocate has a similar system for its members (again, link is to Supris). A ten point scale for appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, drinkability. The site operators then convert users scores into a score similar to wine ratings, ranging from the 70s to 100, which seems more useful.

Homebrewers, for what it's worth, have a similar system.

Somehow I'm not so high on the aggregate based on component elements of the beer. You get averaging that way: a beer that smells awful but is actually kind of unexpectedly delightful might get a 3.5, along with a completely forgettable beer you wouldn't pay a plug nickel for. Finally, big beers always get better ratings because there's so much more to push the envelope higher (every beer in the RateBeer top ten is a big beer).

I'm at a loss. Any suggestions?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

BridgePort Supris

BridgePort is known ... well, mainly for its IPA. Among the beer geek set, it is known for the English-style ales of Karl Ockert, who brews perhaps the most authentic versions of the Isles' originals. So it is an interesting new foray for BridgePort into the land of Belgians with the new Supris. (They've apparently tried to do a viral internet campaign, which is just embarrassing--Google "Supris" to see.)

Belgian ales--and particularly American versions--are always hard to review because you have no reference point. Supris has qualities of a Belgian golden like Duvel ("Devil"), though it's milder. Duvel is triple-fermented, Supris double; Duvel employs Styrian and Saaz hops, Supris those plus Hersbrucker. If it's not exactly a strong golden, it's lineage seems evident. At six percent, I can't call it a strong, but how about a little Devil?

Tasting notes
It pours out with a vigorous bead; honey-colored, cloudy and golden. The head is snowy and a nitro-like tuft remained on my glass until the last swallow. The nose had a tart, cellary yeast smell that was pure Belgian (the first test). I got hints of citrus, mineral, and a candy undertone (perhaps from high mashing temperatures that produce high unfermentables?).

Supris has a soft palate, enlivened by the prickly effervescence. It is fruity but tart, and finishes with a gentle sweetness. The hopping is pretty subtle, which allows the yeast to come forward--a good, if commercially risky call. I drank it alone, but because the palate is crisp but not intense I suspect it would be great with food.

It's an authentic Belgian effort, if slightly muted. Even so, I wonder if it will find much of a market. I wouldn't call it a classic, but it's a nice beer.

Stats
Hops: Styrian, Saaz and Hallertau Hersbrucker
Alcohol By Volume: 6.0%
Original Gravity: 14.5
BUs: 17

Rating
Good

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Maestro's New Place

Originally published July 26, 2005 on BlueOregon.

There are two schools of brewing, the scientific and the artistic. They are not quite diametrically opposed. The scientific school, characterized by the great German brewers, holds that beer is a compound of precise elements--the more rigorously one strips this compound of extraneous flavors, the purer the product. The artistic school, characterized by Belgian brewers, views brewing as an improvisational art. For these practitioners, the essence of beer can only be expressed through originality and audacity. In the new world, Colorado brewers hew the scientific line, Oregonians the artistic. And in Oregon, the maestro of the art is Craig Nicholls.

Heather_3Nicholls, the founding brewer at the Alameda Brewhouse in the 90s, gained wide fame (among beer geeks) for alchemical brews that included roses (Spring Rose Doppelbock), juniper branches (Juniper Porter), and sage (Zeppelin Sage Fest Bier), among other odd infusions. He bumped around for several years, toting his bag of herbs to Hood River, Gresham, and points nearer by. Four months ago, he landed in SE Portland in a place he can call his own (in what may or may not be Portland's newest brewery)--Roots Organic Brewing.

The art continues at Roots. I know of only two beers in Oregon that are brewed without hops (blasphemy?), and both are brewed by Craig. The first is an old fave, Burghead Heather Ale, in which heather tips offset the sweet malt--a standard in the days before brewers discovered hops. Upon first inspection--sniff, swallow, smack--it seems different enough from a regular beer that many stop at the one sip. Weirdly, though, the more you drink, the more it starts tasting like a regular beer. With Nicholls' brews, that's usually the way; he uses herbs to accentuate beery tastes, not to mask them. You could travel the country and never find a beer like it.

Another of the no-hop specialties is a Kolsch made with a potpourri of herbs--lavender, coriander, bitter (Curacao) orange peel, paradise seeds (I think), camomile, among others that now elude me. I suppose Kolsch is the style closest to this beer--it's soft and mild--but again, it's in its own class. The spices come together to create a gingery aroma, but are very subtle to taste seperately. He was nearing the end of his supply at the brewery, but you'll have an opportunity to try it at the Oregon Brewers Fest.

But perhaps you want regular beers. Roots has 'em. The pub offers a pale ale of modest bitterness, but rich hop flavor, an IPA of profound bitterness and strength, a succulent stout so creamy and rich you don't notice the 7% alcohol (this recipe was brewed by Nicholls' partner, Jason McAdam, a McMenamins vet), and a beer called "Red" and "stout" which is neither, though it is rich with oats and sharp with English hopping. If you're really in the mood, there's also an Imperial IPA with enough Amarillo hops to knock you on your ass.

Craig and Jason are currently the whole staff. If you stop in, one of them will pour you a beer (if you find yourself shaking the bartender's hand, that's Craig), and if you order a sandwich, one of them will scuttle over to the side of the bar and make it for you on the spot. And if they blow a keg--as they did last night with the stout--one of them will wheel around to the brewery, which encircles the pub in stainless steel, and whip up a new batch. As I was on my way out, Craig stopped to sniff the air. "Smell that?" he asked. "That's the stout Jason just started." It was eight-thirty at night.

Artists and brewers are not beholden to office hours.

___________________________
Roots Organic Brewing

1520 SE 7th Avenue, Portland -- just two blocks from the Lucky Lab

Purple Beer

originally published 6/24/2005 on BlueOregon

BarnI have learned many things in pubs. I've learned to shoot pool, score a dart game, and how to snuggle a blue puck up to the edge of a shuffleboard table. I've learned all about beer. I've learned about the consequences of drinking too much. I've even learned that those consequences are substantially reduced if I stick to stouts. But the most important lesson came at the Terminal Gravity Brewpub in Enterprise, Oregon, when I visited there five years ago.

Enterprise is the major metropolis of Wallowa County, boasting nearly a third of the population. Of course, Wallowa County only has 7,082 people, and so Enterprise, despite its gravitational pull, is a small town. It sits in a valley of golden fields, sluiced with streams and dotted with red barns, everything framed by the mighty, snow-capped Wallowas to the South and West. It is, like most of Eastern Oregon, Republican country--and in 2004, 70% of the residents cast ballots for George Bush.

The brewpub--a converted bungalo--is a gathering place, where bronze forgers, ranchers, writers, and tourists gather for a beer after work. They congregate on the aspen-wooded lawn, next to a stream, on a scattering of picnic tables. There aren't enough tables for everyone, so you just crowd in and share.

When I visited five years ago, I was parked in-between a rancher and a local artist. We struck up a conversation, and I learned that the rancher was Bush-red, and the artist Kucinich-blue. Yet we weren't there to discuss politics, we were there for the beer. As the night progressed, and after we'd become acquainted, the conversation did wander into politics--the environment, actually. But, instead of devolving into the usual partisan fracas, we continued to treat each other like three guys enjoying a beer. And guess what: we had a fascinating and productive discussion and walked out friends.

The partisan divide has become so stark that it's self-perpetuating. We seem to have forgotten that politics are really best when they serve the people. With our scorched-earth language (liberals as treasonous America-haters, conservatives as jack-booted Nazis), it's impossible not to elevate the partisan loyalty above the greater human loyalty. In a pub, though, looking a person in the eye, it's a lot harder to think of him as a stinking pit of evil.

Perhaps because of the loss of the public square and the rise of selective media, even in Oregon we've grown suspicious of each other. Maybe beer's the answer--anyway, it's a theory I'm working on. Yesterday, Oregon kicked off "Beer Week," which will culminate next weekend with the Oregon Brewers Festival (at which you'll find a tap of Terminal Gravity Ten--a massive barleywine). Let's all go out to a local pub (or pubs, if you're really feeling patriotic) and celebrate with our fellow Oregonians. We may not agree about Karl Rove, but surely we can agree that our brewers make the best damn beer in the world. In the dim light of a brewpub, all beer is purple.

Cheers!

(Oh, and when I went back to Terminal Gravity two weeks ago, it happened again: we made friends with a quartet from Idaho who'd come specifically to Enterprise for the beer. We were having such a good time that they bought us a final round just to extend the conversation. I tell you what, it's hard not to like someone who will buy you a beer.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Insiders Guide to the 2005 OBF

Originally published July 28, 2005 at BlueOregon.

Tom Potter and Ted Kulongoski have declared July 23-31 "Beer Week" in the Rose City and throughout Oregon. We are therefore doing our civic duty and offering beer-related content on Blue Oregon. Cheers!

[Now Updated. Details at post's end.]

Let's start with the stats: 72 beers, 30 styles, 15 states, 70,000 visitors, 1,200 volunteers, 18 years, and four--four!--days. I'm describing, of course, the Oregon Brewers Festival, that grand, sweaty celebration of malt and hop. All grown up now (18--able to vote, no doubt a registered Dem), organizers apparently thought the Fest required an extra day to accomodate its newfound gravitas.

Like last year, I will spend no time promoting the Fest. You either love or hate it, and ain't nothin I can say will change your mind. But I can help you navigate it, should you wish to brave the heat and crowds for the perfect (plastic) pint.

General Orientation
If you wish to dodge the throngs, go early. As the day wears on, crowds, lines, and temperatures grow. Another word to the wise: the Fest pre-buys kegs and allocates a certain amount to each day; by early evening, the favorites begin to run dry. The earlier you go, the more variety you'll find. Although the weekend looks to be cooler than the last couple days have been, sun and beer make a potent combination, so drink lots of water and make sure you eat before you go. Tote sunscreen, hats, water bottles, and bus fare as needed.

If you actually want to appreciate the beers, start with lighter, less-hoppy beers and work toward intensely-flavored, hoppy ones. Once you've downed a couple Imperial IPAs, your tongue will be coated with a protective layer of hop resin, and dainty blonde lagers might as well be water for all your palate will know. (Some of you appreciate only hoppy beers. Ignore previous.)

Finally, to help you navigate the manifold selection, we have created two printable (.pdf) checklists: one with breweries sorted by style and one sorted by state.

Obf_1With 72 beers on offer, even ambitious drinkers will have to be selective. Your job is made somewhat easier by breweries like BridgePort and New Belgium who sent their ubiquitous Ropewalk and Fat Tire. Why on earth breweries don't take advantage of the opportunity to experiment a little is beyond me. Fortunately some do: Deschutes sent a beer called "Enigma," and Widmer the almost-as-enigmatic "Halo." You'll find the beers that appeal to you, and I wouldn't presume to steer you away from them. But mixed in among the 72 are a good dozen beers you should give strong consideration to, and four you shouldn't miss.

Nuevo Noir Ale - Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma CA
Three of my big four are Belgian-style ales, which reflects a mini-trend at this year's fest. First up is a Flanders Brown (aka Oud Bruin) from Lagunitas. This style of beer is characterized by a classic sour Belgian note, but balanced with an approachable sweetness. The brewery told me that they've been experimenting with Belgian yeast strains, and this beer has more a figgy, dark-fruit sweetness and less sourness. Flanders Browns are rare even in Belgium (Liefmans is the most well-known)--for a domestic brewery to make a run at this style is all the rarer still.

Saison de Lily - Magnolia Pub, San Francisco

The Saison style was one of the most endangered until the good beer revolution revived it. Brewed mainly in small farmhouses, put away for winter cellaring, and drunk during the summer months, saisons (SAY zhan) combine all the attributes that appeal to IPA drinkers--robust alcohol, dry palate, and complex flavor. Magnolia's version (named for brewer Dave McLean's daughter) is brewed with chamomile, coriander, dandelion leaf and telicherry pepper. The coriander is responsible for what Dave describes as an orange-like quality. It will also be slightly sweeter than typical Belgian offerings, but not quite as strong (6.0 abv).

Yuzu's Belgian-Style Golden Ale - Elysian Brewing, Seattle
Black Gold Emperial Stout - Full Sail Brewing, Hood River

The most famous Belgian golden is Duvel ("Devil"), and it characterizes the style: rich, creamy, and seductively drinkable (but very strong). I couldn't find any info on Yuzu, but I've grown to trust Elysian, which consistently makes authentic--and usually exceptional--versions of classic beer styles. Imperial stouts were originally created by British brewers for the Russian Czars, and are incredibly dense, rich, and alcoholic. As with Yuzu, I wasn't able to contact the brewery about Black Gold, but Full Sail has a long track record with porters and stouts. This ought to be a special beer.

Short List
There are a number of other beers I plan to seek out. Here's a list with something for every palate.

Wisconsin's Sprecher Brewing is bringing their seasonal Mai Bock. Where the Northwest is rich in British-style ales, the Midwest, with its German heritage, boasts a number of top notch lager micros. Sprecher was one of the first, and this is a classic German style--and a good way to start the fest. Another beer that won't spoil your palate will be Walking Man's Flip Flop Pilsner. The brewery consistently wins people's choice awards at area fests, and knows its way around a hop back. I expect this to be a particularly aggressive version of the old Bohemian classic, but I can't be sure that it refers to Bush's position on firing Karl Rove. One more beer to try early in the day is French Prairie Blanche, a Belgian wit (white) beer by Golden Valley Brewing. Named for a hop-producing region south of Champoeg park, it is a tart interpretation of a wit that brewer Mark Vickery originally sampled in Bruges, Belgium.

As you look for more robust beers, you might like Siletz Chocolate Porter, made not with chocolate but oats, which creates a creamy texture out of the chocolatey malt. Rogue is offering a Schwarzbier, which is the name of the beer and also a famous black lager style from Germany. Generally light-bodied but rich, this might be the perfect July dark beer.

For hops, you have many options. Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA) is bringing an IPA called Pliny the Elder--satisfying even before you learn that Pliny was the Roman who first named the hop plant--lupus salictarius "wolf among scrubs." From New Hampshire comes Smuttynose IPA, named best American beer at the 2002 Great British Beer Festival. On my visits to my wife's homeland in Maine, I've enjoyed tippling Smuttynose ales, so I look forward to welcoming them to Oregon. Among the 14 other IPAs pouring, I recommend Ashland's Standing Stone IPA. I had this beer a couple years ago when I visited Southern Oregon, and recall it fondly. Finally, you might also see what the buzz is on Deschutes Enigma, Widmer Halo, and Steelhead Perigrin Took Pale. Any or all might be classics.

If none of those satisfy--well, you still have 56 more from which to choose. If, among those 56, you find one I should know about, just look around. I'm likely to be wandering around somewhere. Hope to see you there--

[Update:

Fave beers post-tasting (always more well-informed). Yuzu's Golden (Elysian) - Dense and rich, the best Belgian-style at the fest. Mucho complexity, from the layered palate to the vinous, tart yeast. Yum. Flip Flop Pilsner (Walking Man) - The only problem with pilsners is that even the really nice ones could use more hops. Walking Man gives 'em to me. I could drink it all day long. Deschutes Enigma - It's rare to find a beer that can achieve complexity to through soft, subtle notes. Aged in pinot casks, so perhaps that's the thing. Try to guess the alcohol content: you'll be surprised. Black Gold (Full Sail) - It was 85 degrees and I thought it was delicious. What would I think when it was 40 and raining? Scary. Pliny the Elder (Russian River) - Since the untimely demise of Sasquatch Strong, the world has seemed a little empty. Not any more.]

Insiders Guide to the 2004 OBF

Originally published July 22, 2004 on BlueOregon.

Enough of these political hors d'oeuvres, let's get to the main course--beer!

We are on the eve of the last weekend in July (and the summer's first brutal heat wave), which beer drinkers instinctively sense as time for the Oregon Brewers Festival. As befits Beervana--aka Oregon--it's the largest beer fest outside Munich. For a state where beer drinking knows no party membership, this is one great opportunity to rub elbows with your fellow Oregonians. Celebrate bipartisanism in style.

I will spend no time here promoting the fest--after 16 years, you know how you feel about microbrewing's biggest kegger. But, whether your aesthetics tend towar Mint or McMenamins, if you like beer, you can have a good time at the OBF. Provided, of course, that you read and heed this insiders' guide.

When and How
The brewfest's rep for sweaty, beer-fueled rancor arises mainly from activities in the evening hours. Early in the day--and most of Friday--you'll find a sparse crowd of portly bearded guys gently caressing their plastic mugs with adjectives like "mouthfeel" and "catty" (don't ask). After work on Friday and beginning about 3:00 on the weekends, this crowd gives way to a svelter, less-discriminating throng. Attend whichever suits your tastes.

It's apparently going to be in the triple digits this weekend, so ensure a pleasant time by drinking lots of water. At intervals along the tents you'll find water cooler-style bottles, but sometimes it runs out: take some with you. Also, I've discovered that a belly full of protein (soy or sinew) tends to moderate absorption rates. Again, adjust to your taste.

Which
Having made the decision to go, you are now confronted with the decision: which ones? With 72 beers pouring, you've got to be a little selective. And, since there's no accounting for taste, here's the one's I'm going to select. (After I recover on Saturday, I'll try to get a review up for you Sunday fest goers.)

There are four beers that look like sure bets. The Golden Valley Brewery from McMinnville is bringing a Champagne Barrel Aged IPA. In the past decade or so, breweries have occasionally spent some money investing in discarded liquor barrels to age their beers in--the Widmers did a famous bourbon bock a few years back. This is a first to me, though. India Pale Ales are marked by their high alcohol content, so the champagne should impart a clear, alcoholic note.

Two of my favorite breweries, Ashland's Caldera and Seattle's Elysian, are bringing intriguing beers. Caldera, famous for their mastery over the hop, has brought Dry Hop Pale Ale. Elysian, a great brewery known to dabble in botanicals, brought Avatar Jasmine IPA. Does it have jasmine? Dunno--but I'll be in line early to find out. Flying Fish sent kegs of Farmhouse Summer Ale all the way from Cherry Hill, NJ. Farmhouse ales are dry, aged ales traditionally from the Belgian-French border. They're creamy and thirst-slaking, but they usually pack a hidden wallop.

In the I'll-try-anything-once category, Far West Ireland (from Washington--wait a minute and you'll get it) sent down a beer called Mango Tango, which is also a Belgian-style ale. That means it could taste like anything. (As a historical note, I'll mention that the third beer I ever brewed was a mango ale. It was ... unsuccessful.) 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco) brewed something called Watermelon Wheat. Probably a treacly dud, but you never know--it could be stunning. Finally, the brothers Widmer have sent the punnily-named Muscat Love. Muscat is a kind of grape, which clarifies nothing. We'll just have to give it a try. (The Widmers have by far the best track record at the OBF. While other local breweries send over their uninspiring usuals, Widmer has made a habit of brewing up something just for the fest. I can think of only one time when their submission wasn't the it beer. So Muscat Love may be special.)

Finally, I should mention a sentimental fave. All the way from Boston comes Harpoon IPA--a New England version of BridgePort. My lovely and talented wife hails from New England, and I've spent many a fine evening with her family talking Red Sox and tipping back Harpoon. Amid the sea of 29 other pale ales, it may not stand out, but get a mug anyway. You can raise it to old John Kerry.