Blogs will save us.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heater Allen Brewing in McMinnville--Who Knew?

I guess if John Foyston didn't know Heater Allen Brewing existed, I shouldn't feel too bad that I didn't know, either. It does exist, and in a welcome change, Brewer Rick Allen has decided to feature a lineup of lagers. The lineup includes a pilsner, schwarz (one of my favorite styles), Oktoberfest, bock, Vienna amber, and dunkel--plus a holiday doppel.

[Historical interlude. The Northwest, with its drizzly, Dublin-like weather, is ale country. You can trace the history of the pint back to a time that predated the mid-19th Century influx of German immigrants--Henry Weinhard, et. al.--back to the New England of Lovejoy and Pettygrove. When craft brewing revived beer culture in Oregon, we fell naturally into the pub-going of these deeper roots, eschewing the bright bier halls of Munich for the murky light of a London-esque pub. Lagers, ascendent in America for 65 years, didn't excite beer drinkers. Saxer, an early all-lager brewery, and one of the most celebrated in America, ultimately died from disinterest. But in the past few years, as Portlanders constantly look for the next cool style, lagers have made a bit of a comeback. The time may be ripe for an all-lager brewery to find a niche.]

The brewery describes itself as "artisnal," which is often code for "wee." But listen to how Allen describes it:
We use a step-mashing process that allows us to reduce the protein content of our beer, resulting in a naturally clearer beer without filtering. We lager our beers as long as it takes to achieve the clarity and flavor we desire - usually around eight to ten weeks, although sometimes longer. Our beers are bottle or cask conditioned. This creates a finer 'bead' (smaller bubbles) and a smoother texture. If you don't think this makes a difference, compare real champagne to cheap sparkling wine. Finally we work hard at controlling the distribution of our beer to avoid exposing it to excess heat, light, or aging (unless, of course, the beer was meant to age). Where possible, we try to sell directly to the consumer, because this insures that our customers receive the beer in the best possible condition.
I'm particularly impressed with the length of time he ages the beer--this is one of the keys to a really nice lager (the word lager means "to store"). It's expensive for big breweries to age their beers, and so they often take shortcuts. If the winter seasonal is any evidence, he's taking it very seriously--his first batch has been aging since April.

Here's how you track down a bottle. But don't do anything until I arrange to get some of that doppelbock first--he only made 60 gallons!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rise of the Faux Craft

Good beer is good beer, no matter where it's brewed, right? I hold this truth to be self-evident as a philosophical point; as an economic one, I'm less certain. The Wall Street Journal has a story about the rise of the "faux craft beers"--those beers like Blue Moon and Stone Mill that look crafty (Stone Mill's even organic) but which are owned and brewed by the big three.

They report that the fake micros are starting to become big business and represent the only bright spot for the national brands. Independent craft breweries grew at an impressive 16%, but faux crafts grew a shocking 45%--and are no longer a marginal player among good beers. Sales through August of this segment totalled $708 million, and 25% of that was macro craft.

So here's the rub: on the one hand, I think all beers should be judged on the tongue. But on the other, I recognize that the big three have no actual fidelity to my taste buds, and the more they muscle their way onto grocery shelves, they threaten the market for good beer. And the key here is that they do muscle their way in--with their size and influence, they have an unfair advantage:
The growth shows how the giants, although they can be lumbering, are able to leverage their huge advantages in staff size, marketing and distribution to quickly gain a foothold in emerging categories of the beer industry....

To spur interest, the companies have had representatives meet with bar owners to teach them how to talk up the brands' attributes. The companies also host tasting dinners at bars or restaurants, where they pair their beers with certain foods that bring out the flavor....

The big brewers' actions have also made Boulevard more cautious about expanding into new markets, which requires heavy investments in salespeople and advertising, Mr. Sullivan says. Now "it is much more difficult and costly when you go into a market," he says.

When a brewery decides to launch a beer in a local market, they have to find distribution, speak with retailers about shelf and tap space, and try to build a following that can support these new networks. For an independent, this is murder. Finding a distributor in most markets is next to impossible--either they already have deals with the bigs that eliminate competition (in Portland, Maletis is the exclusive distributor for A-B; Widmer and RedHook joined with St. Louis so it would have access to nationwide distribution), or they can't convince a distributor to bother with a small product. Retailers want to move product, so they are suspicious of untested new breweries. One way to get retail space is to offer discounts on pricing, but if you're a small brewery with razor-thin margins, you can't sustain that practice for any length of time.

For the big breweries, these networks are already established, so the market is wide open. They have additional advantage in being able to run a product as a loss leader for a long period of time. And of course, thanks to the economies of scale, they can actually produce the beer more cheaply to begin with, which means they generally beat local micros on price.

The upshot? Buy local. It's the best way to support the brewery around the corner and make sure you have the option to buy local in five years.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fake Content 'cause I'm Lame

Too busy to get to a real post today, so instead, I go back to the well and draw up the dregs of the Sam Adams story. Turns out the might Boston Beer company has issued a clarification. Hat tip to Michael at Witigonen for transcribing the .pdf (available here), and a hat tip to Brookston for finding the clarification in the first place:
The Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, wishes Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams the best of luck in his pursuit of higher office. And guess what – Samuel Adams Beer has in no way ever suggested that Sam Adams the candidate cannot use his own name. But, according to recent stories in the media, it sure hasn’t looked that way.

A little history: last week The Boston Beer Company learned that an individual named Dave Anderson of Portland, Oregon had registered two domain names that featured the name Sam Adams. Not knowing his intent, we sent him a letter asking him not to use these sites. Next thing we knew, we had a call from the legal department at broadcasting conglomerate, Clear Channel, at which point we learned that Dave Anderson is a DJ at Clear Channel’s KEX radio and that a man named Sam Adams was indeed running for Mayor of Portland. We wish we had learned a little more about Portland’s race for mayor before sending out that initial letter, and for that we apologize.

Why did we ask Clear Channel and Dave Anderson not to use those domain names? In the past we have experienced times when individuals and organizations have tried to use our brand name for commercial purposes or to disparage our good name. We have learned that, as a small company, we need to protect our identity. At the least we wanted to prevent a situation where people looking for our Web site end up linked to a radio station promotional site.

On the other hand, there have been occasions over the years when individuals actually named “Sam Adams” have registered domain names that included the words Sam Adams, and we have had no quarrel with that.

Similarly, we believe that Sam Adams, the mayoral candidate, has every bit as much right to use his name as we do. Our namesake, the patriot Samuel Adams, stood for public service and free speech, and we do too. We hope these URLs will, in fact, be transferred to candidate Sam Adams where they rightfully belong.

Candidate Sam Adams – shout your name from the rooftops and your Web site!

Well Beervanians, are you convinced?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Green Dragon: Early Appraisal

The Green Dragon, to its credit, has decided to throw open its doors before all the screws have been tightened. There's still no brewery, and the space has a certain provisional feel. But the kitchen's cooking, and the taps are flowing, and on the Friday night I visited, the seats were being warmed by the behinds of a full crowd. This is a similar effort--an interim, pre-review.

Background
The Green Dragon may seem vaguely familiar to you. This could be because you're familiar with the American ur-story or because you've seen one of the 97 Green Dragons elsewhere. About those that predate the Boston pub that inspired Jim Parker's Portland outpost I cannot speak. But about that Boston pub, I can at least quote:
The name the Green Dragon has historic roots, dating to before these United States were even a reality. The original Green Dragon Tavern was in the basement of a building and was the largest gathering place of its kind in Boston when Paul Revere and other like-minded Revolutionaries decided that they had had enough of that taxation without representation stuff.

They planned the Boston Tea Party at the Green Dragon. It also was where Revere started his famous midnight ride to Lexington with his warning that the British were coming.

The building that housed the original Green Dragon in Boston was torn down in 1854, but a Green Dragon Tavern in Beantown remains.
I have actually been to the more historic tavern in Boston, but the truth is that from the inside it's a little boring and generic. Ours is better.

Thumbs Up
The intention behind the Green Dragon was not just another brewpub. Owners Jim Parker and Loren Lancaster were aiming for something along the lines of a Belgian cafe--fantastic beer, sure, but also fantastic, fresh food. It is an evolution that has long influenced Portland dining, and I've been waiting (and praying) for it to spread to brewpubs. The two things are so closely connected--beer is an artisinal product very closely connected to its agricultural building blocks. In Belgium, cafes feature freshness of food prominently alongside their biere. But we inherited the English pub model, and with it deep-fried foods. I thought we might be forever doomed to have to go different places for good food and good beer.

The Green Dragon rectifies this. I didn't scrawl down which beers they have on tap--the list I saw was already substantially different from reports I'd heard just days earlier on other blogs. The taps rotate quickly, but they are selected on the basis of diversity. Lots of good locals and a few international selections as well. For those who have been to Higgins, it will look familiar.

The food is even more impressive, though. I was there as part of a quartet, and got to see four dishes--a bowl of steamed mussels and chorizo, Cajun meatloaf sandwhich, a fig and cheese sandwhich, and guajillo chiaquiles, which was a bowl full of Mexican goodness. I'm not really qualified to write about food, and I feel inadequate doing it. What I observed generally was fresh, unprocessed food, well-prepared, and ultimately well-received. Sally gave it a big thumbs up. There are almost no brewpubs you could envision going when you were hungry but not in the mood for a beer (a hypothetical, obviously). The Green Dragon breaks new ground in that respect.

Thumbs Down
Is it my imagination, or do these glasses not looke like full pints (look carefully and you can see a hand behind the glass in this picture). I'll have to take my pyrex measuring bowl in next time. They're cool-looking, but suspiciously diminutive.

The really big issue they need to address, and quickly, is heat. There was no heat on the night we went, and it couldn't have been more than 60 in there. I saw a regular I knew--actually even a member of the mug club with what looked like a 20-ouncer in hand--and he was draped with a blanket. The building's an old warehouse, and that's what it feels like inside. Take gloves and a coat.

I'll report back as the changes are implemented.

Beervana at the Bagdad

Oregon Public Broadcasting has put together a much-anticipated documentary that traces the history of Oregon brewing called--natch--"Beervana." It debuts Monday November 5th, and there's a special one-night showing of the documentary at the Bagdad Theater in Portland. From an open invitation by OPB:
Free to the public, first come, first serve. The doors open at 6 PM, the screening starts at 6:30 PM and there's a Q & A afterwards.
Dunno who the Q&A will be with, but my guess is that the crowd will be filled with the ale-erati of Oregon. Should be a cool time.

Sam Adams Trademark Dispute: The Last Roundup

Hey, when something like this comes along, you gotta ride it as long as you can. (For those who are now long disinterested, I have a Green Dragon review in the hopper for later today.) So, where do we stand now?

It looks like Boston Beer has realized what a blunder it was sending out the letter (the original of which is now available on eBay.) The company's current line:
A spokeswoman for Boston Beer called the Law Blog and said they never had an issue with the mayoral candidate using his name but they do have an issue with the radio station using Sam Adams for its own business purposes.
A reader of Jack Bogdanski's blog actually got a reply from the company after shooting off an email. The company repeated the line above, but added (with appropriately increasing humility):
While we understand that kicking up a controversy makes good radio, I hope you'll understand that it was never our intent to thwart the efforts of Councilor Sam Adams in his run for Mayor. We have no issue with him using his own name. A more extensive Google search on our part for “Sam Adams Mayor” was in order and might have turned up information about the race for Mayor in Portland before we sent off that letter.
Google search--there's an idea. Jack adds: "People who brand their companies with a very, very, very common name have to live with the consequences. Letting supporters of a real politician named Sam Adams express their support for him with an appropriately named web domain or two is just something that Boston Beer is going to have to live with."

Meanwhile, an anemic internet petition is underway, unneccesarily.

From a more beery perspective, I've been interested to see that Bostonians aren't backing the home company. In fact, it looks like most Bostonians don't even regard Boston Beer as a native product--at least as far as blog commenters go, Sam Adams is a national beer they drink only when Harpoon's not available. It's not exactly a parallel, but Widmer suffers this perception locally, too. Interesting how a national profile hurts you among locals. Anyway, check out the commentary at Universal Hub, Bostonist (where the blogger described Sam Adams the candidate as "kinda dreamy"), Boston Herald (check the photo), and Boston Daily.

Finally, the Beer Advocate also has a discussion thread that gives you a sense of what the level of blowback is likely to be.

I'll only return to the story if something substantive actually happens.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Sam Adams Cease and Desist Letter

A local radio station has posted the cease-and-desist letter sent to Portland mayoral candidate Sam Adams on his alleged "trademark infringement" in registering website addresses using his own name. It's a remarkable enough letter that I'm reposting it here, retyped verbatim, including the mispelling in the salutation. Thanks to 1190 KEX.
Mr. Andeson [sic],

We are the owners of the famous trademarks SAM ADAMS® and SAMUEL ADAMS®, and we write to you about a matter of serious concern arising from your registration of the domain names www.mayorsamadams.com and www.samadamsformayor.com.

Boston Beer has used the trademarks SAM ADAMS® and SAMUEL ADAMS® since 1984 and is the owner of a number of federal registrations for the marks in connection with a variety of goods and services, including beer, other alcoholic beverages and related merchandise. These trademarks have become uniquely identified with Boston Beer and they and their accompanying goodwill represent a substantial asset of Boston Beer's business.

We recently became aware that you have registered the domain names www.mayorsamadams.com and www.samadamsformayor.com. We believe that the sale of any services or products under this name will cause confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of such services or products and/or dilute the distinctiveness of our famous trademarks and trade name. Such infringement and dilution may subject you to liability under Sections § 43 and 32(1) of the Lanham Act, including the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

We trust that you do not wish to impair the intellectual property rights of another company or cause confusion as to the source or sponsorship of your services and products. Therefore, we hereby notify you that Boston Beer will take all appropriate action to protect its valuable trademarks and request that you immediately cease and desist use of the domain names www.mayorsamadams.com and www.samadamsformayor.com. Please respond to this letter confirming our request by October 29, 2007.

Very truly yours,
Helen Bornemann
Intellectual Property Manager
There are two remarkable facts about this: 1) that the brewery didn't bother to do a Google search to see if there was a Sam Adams running for mayor ("Sam Adams Mayor" resolves the question with the first result); and 2) that, having appropriated the name of a historical figure, the brewery now protects its mark against private citizens. It has all the makings of a huge PR blunder.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sam Adams Threatens Sam Adams

There is a very nice fellow on the Portland City Council. He was the chief of staff to long-time mayor Vera Katz before running for the Council; and now that one-term mayor Tom Potter has decided to pack it in, this nice fellow has decided to run for mayor himself. As things currently stand, he is very likely to win. His name is Sam Adams and here is his picture.

If that name rings any bells, it may be because there was a much earlier public figure with that name. This man did not hold office, but was also a political figure and was partly responsible for bringing about the American revolution. Here is his picture.


Now, it's possible that the name rings a bell for an entirely different reason. You may be more familiar with the name Sam Adams because it is associated with a tasty beer you enjoy when, say, you're watching the New England Patriots on television. And herein lies the rub. That tasty beer is owned by a company that is a little tetchy about the name it appropriated from an American patriot and now appears to be threatening our future mayor with trademark infringement:
Everything was swell until last week, when Anderson got a letter from The Boston Beer Co.

"Boston Beer has used the trademarks SAM ADAMS\STRIP and SAMUEL ADAMS\STRIP since 1984," said the letter, which asked Anderson to give up the Web sites.

Portland's Sam Adams is amused and a bit concerned: His campaign staff consulted lawyers Tuesday. The slogan "Sam Adams for Portland Mayor" is already on his Web site (www.samforpdx.com) and soon may grace yard signs and bumper stickers.

"They say they've been using this trademark since 1984," Adams said. "I've been using it since 1963."

Boston Beer's Helen Bornemann said she didn't know there was a real Sam Adams running for mayor when she sent the letter. The brewery has previously run "Sam Adams for President" marketing campaigns, she said, and feared someone was ripping them off. Bornemann said she's willing to discuss Adams' use of the Web sites "probably for the length of the time the election is being held."

It will perhaps not surprise anyone that this isn't playing well in the non-New England Portland. Early appraisals:

Here's a nice little response: f*** you, Boston Beer Company.

I, for one, am one hundred percent behind Mark and Dave. I hereby boycott all Boston Beer Company products. Since they only make Sam Adams beer, and since I never drank that swill anyway, that will be easy enough.

and
The trademark flap between Samuel Adams (the beer) and certain fans of Sam Adams (the next mayor of Portland) is quickly shaping up into a consumer boycott. Don't drink Sam Adams! And tell the corporate intellectual property bullies what you think of their harassment, here.
and
Personally, I don't often drink it. Not that it's swill. It's okay. But it's just not in my wheelhouse.

But I won't be drinking it again, due to the idiocy of their corporation.
Another wrinkle that makes this especially amusing: but for a coin flip, Portland would now be known (confusingly) as Boston, Oregon. Which would really bring the thing full-circle--Sam Adams, running for mayor of Boston.

I don't know, I think the whole thing calls for a nice, frothy pint of Oregon beer. Cheers!

[Update: a jpeg of the letter is here; further coverage on blogo-protests here.]

Asimov on Cask

I have taken the New York Times' Eric Asimov to task for crude, confused articles on beer. Today, he gets nothing but praise for his wonderful description of cask-conditioned ales. Like those luscious pints, he hits nary a wrong note.
She pulled down on the tap, then pushed back, pulled down and pushed up, in rhythmic repetition like a farmhand at a well. The ale poured slowly into a mug, at first all foam, then turning translucent before suddenly clarifying into a brilliant suds-topped amber.

I touched the faceted glass, cool, but not cold. A floral-citrus aroma rose up, and as I took my first sip I marveled at how soft and delicate the carbonation was, the bubbles giving the flavors lift and energy without aggression.

This was beer the really old-fashioned way. Today most draft beers are injected with carbon dioxide, filtered and often pasteurized, stored in pressurized kegs and served through gas-powered taps.

But the beer I was served was unpasteurized and unfiltered. Like the earliest bubbly brews, it was naturally carbonated, or conditioned, in its cask by yeast transforming sugar into alcohol with a side of fizzy carbon dioxide trapped in the cask. And it was served by muscle power pumping the ale up from its cask into the mug.

His prose isn't as elegant as Michael Jackson's, but for once his article has the same effect--opening a new world to people that is accurate, inviting, and rich with history and detail. It's exactly what good beer writing should be. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This Hop Shortage Thing May Be Serious

We have been hearing rumblings of an imminent hop shortage for a month now, and I'll admit that I haven't taken it all that seriously. I wasn't thinking very deeply about it, and ignored the market reality. In my mind, hops are grown in the NW, so somehow we'd be the first in line. Of course, that doesn't square with how the national hop market actually functions, nor with the unsavory truth that little breweries like Oregon's are going to have to get in line behind A-B and the national brands--never mind how close they are situated to the hop fields.

Well, about the time our NPR affiliate ran a locally-produced story about this (they've changed their website and it's not online), I started to get alarmed. A few facts worth considering:
  • Cascades, the signature hop of the NW and one you find in at least half the beers brewed here, was selling at $1.70 a pound last year, when the last of a backlog was finally exhausted. A month ago they were selling at $10 a pound. The 1,000 acres of Cascades are 300-400 short--and no new acres are being planted.
  • Hop supplies from around the world are down, thanks to a hailstorm in Slovenia and a poor crop in the Czech Republic. This will increase pressures on hop supplies coming from the US.
  • Hop acreage is down from over 200,000 acres from the 80s into the early 90s to just 123,000 acres now. It takes three years for a hop vine to reach full production.
The upshot is potentially grim. Industrial lagers aren't in particular danger--their IBUs are at or below the level of perception, and there's no way to tell the difference in varieties. (To save money, the big companies buy high- and super-high-alpha varieties so they can use fewer hops per barrel. Most of the planned new acreage is of these varieties--most of which aren't broadly used by craft brewers.) But craft brewers, especially those on the West Coast, use lots of hops, and the vast majority of our beers are distinct because of the hop varieties and amounts used. Mirror Pond, for example, is hopped solely with Cascades. If they run out, Mirror Pond will essentially cease to be Mirror Pond--no matter what label the brewery uses.

At the very least, beer is going to cost a lot more for craft brewers to brew: they can't easily substitute varieties, which will cause the supply of certain hops to spike. Where the bigs could take advantage of other types, craft brewers are going to have to bite the bullet and shell out. At the worst, breweries may have to experiment with different varieties and hope to approximate the beer's character. This will hurt bottling breweries more than brewpubs, where variability is embraced. Can you imagine the consequences of a beer like BridgePort IPA having to change its recipe? Oy.

If there's a silver lining for breweries, it's that this may force certain innovations--experimentation with new hop varieties, use of non-hop bittering adjuncts, new, low-hop styles. This would actually be a wonderful thing, but the cost may be high.

Brewing isn't a high-margin business. Thanks to the run on ethanol, barley production has lost acreage to corn, which is also driving price increases. Breweries will have to choose whether to cut margins even more or raise prices. If they cut prices, can they stay solvent? And if they raise prices, will they lose market share? Craft breweries will be at a competitive disadvantage to bigger breweries, which can absorb costs more easily. The result could be a downturn in the craft market, and a shakeout that kills off smaller or more unstable brewers. This happened a decade ago, and it was ugly.

I'll quit taking this so lightly and try to keep an eye on what's happening. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Authenticity

A mini-theme I've been exploring is touched on in the first chapter of Beer and Philosophy--authenticity of locally-brewed beer. My views are more colloquial and lacking the form of a discipline, but it turns out--more or less in line when we bring in the philosophers. I'll let Dale Jacquette take it from here.

The mere presence of a local beer doesn't necessarily make it authentic.
[T]he above-mentioned beers [Sakara Gold and Efes] are currently produced under the direction of a Dutch or German rather than Egyptian or Turkish Braumeister. These beers are made and sold in Egypt and Turkey; fair enough, but in a certain sense they might as well be made in Hanover or Eindhoven.
This seems totally sound. Put another way, in America we actually say that Indian food (for example) is authentic if the chef is Indian and cooks in a traditional Indian style. We deduct points for authenticity if the cook is Texan or the food made in a way that caters to American tastes. So having established how authenticity travels, we turn to the question of how it emerges. Jacquette--who as we will see in a moment isn't the greatest judge of beer--offers a pretty satisfying framework:
The only way for there to be an authentic Egyptian or Turkish beer is for an Egyptian or Turkish brewer to produce a kind of beer that specifically satisfies native Egyptian or Turkish tastes.... There can only be an authentic Egyptian or Turkish beer, cross-culturally influenced by German tradition, as historically it must be, if Egyptian or Turkish brewers make beer that appeals to a distinctive trend in taste preferences among Egyptian and Turkish beer drinkers.
and
Whatever we consider to be authentic assumes a level of perfection in an indigenous context that is expressive of aesthetic values as distinctive, original, or characteristic rather than imitative, derivative, or contrived.
By these standards--with which I agree--pockets of authenticity have clearly developed in the US--in New England, the Midwest, and the West Coast. (Colorado, though an avid brewing state, seems to fail the standard--the beer isn't brewed by Germans, but it hews to their standard and evinces no indigenous Colorado-ness.) But Jacquette doesn't agree: "We can only hope that our children and grandchildren will someday inherit a better world of American beers that they will surely deserve."

He also offers observations that will earn him no credibility among the alenocenti:
  • "I may not like Belgian kriek beers--indeed, I personally loathe them--"
  • "I must admit in my own case that while I am prepared to judge [the UK's real beer movement] as authentic, I do not find it particularly pleasurable when compared with the best Dutch and German product."
  • "For all its virtues, I nevertheless personally find UK real beer generally too bitter, usually excessively hopped ... and, above all, in the rightly motivated real beer commitment to serving beer at room temperature, flat and without the benefit of artificial cooling."
Okay, first of all, best Dutch beer? Secondly, excessively hopped and too bitter--your distinction? And thirdly, room temperature? Where you been drinkin' your real ale, buddy?

Well, never mind; your philosophy is good, Dale. Leave the beer to us.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Even in Portland

Last night I met some folks at the On Deck Sports Bar in the Pearl--two blocks from BridgePort. Sports bars are never known as great drinking places, but this is Portland, so I figure there will be something good on tap. The exchange unnerved me, sounding as it did like I was having it in Boise, Idaho:
"What do you have on tap?"

"What do you like?"

"Either something dark or something hoppy."

"Well, we have hefeweizen."
But it turns out they also had BridgePort IPA on tap, and it was fresh and clean. Of course, it came in a cheater pint with a Miller Light logo, but you can't have everything. I drank my ale, watched the Sox put a whipping on Cleveland, and talked politics. It could have been a lot worse.

I depart in moments for the Green Dragon, which will be an entirely different experience. Report to follow...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Beer and Philosophy

A very good man named Steven D. Hales has done two very good things: 1) he edited a book called Beer and Philosophy which is written mainly by professional philosophers who turn their keen minds to the central subjects of Beer Philosophy, and 2) he had the publishers send me a copy for review. This is not the first book publishers have sent me under the mistaken belief that I can move sales, and I often don't provide glowing reviews. I tell you this because I am about to not only give this book a glowing review, but actively milk it in this blog over the coming days and/or weeks (depending on how fast I move through it).

Beer books don't come in many flavors. There are technical brewing manuals, beer review guides, and introductions of various kinds. An occasional history or business volume, I suppose. In any case, it constitutes a thin gruel for those of us who really like to sink our teeth into the subject. So it is with great joy I welcome this offbeat book that has only something to do with beer but a lot more with enjoying beer.

I'll give you a little taste here, from the first chapter, of the kind of book it is:
Phenomenologically, then, we must take our bearings from this defining moment in the emergence of the objeject that you are proposing to savor. It is a beer. Nothing more or less. But what is a beer? Say it is a fermented malt beverage, and if I were your Zen master, I would break one of your legs with a 2 x 4. (Not really. I mean, as a teacher, how often do you need to create that kind of memory? I think there are insurance problems these days with trying to be a Zen master in the classic sense anyway.)
I select this passage for its dual resonances. As a (non-Zen) Buddhist, I really appreciate the allusion to the rod-bearing monk, ready to rap his acolytes at the first sign of dozing--the single stroke of which was occasion for many an incident of enlightenment (or so the stories say). But you also see the light hand and wit employed in the consideration of a subject which the author clearly relishes. (That author, by the way, is Dale Jacquette, of Penn State.)

I'll bring some of the sections to the blog and offer them for their literary pleasure and for your consideration. It may be something you'd like to pick up, but I don't want to be responsible for that kind of thing. I have my credibility as a useless blogger to think about.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Department of Corrections

I don't think anyone is going to jail, but maybe I ought to. I just learned two important facts I got wrong on my Pilsner Room visit.

Amarillo
First, John Harris's transcendent Lupulin Ale is not--repeat not--brewed with Cascade hops. He used Amarillo. I have no excuse for this oversight. When you get the taster array of fresh hop beers there, they actually include a little paper mat that tells you what hop each beer used--somehow I wrote down Cascade.

This actually makes some sense. The character of the beer was really different from other Cascade-only fresh hop beers. It also highlights again--not that we needed it--how different fresh hops are from their dried kin. Amarillo is a pretty popular hop, but I find that when it's used to bitter a beer, it has a sharp edge I don't like. All this time, Amarillo has been in my doghouse.

Not Cheaters
John Harris also says the pint glasses at the Pilsner Room aren't cheaters. I'll find out what the ounceage is and update my Honest pint list. I must have really been blind that night. The Sox got beat, so I'll blame them.

More Fresh Hop Analysis

Come on, you know you want it. Jon's got it, on his new themed-week blog. This week: all about fresh hops. I could riff on it a little, but best you just go see what he has to say.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fresh Hop Ales

Although I am going to be unable to get to one of the vaunted fresh hop festivals (Saturday was my best bet--I was in Beaverton at an all-day meeting and it ended a little after six. The Portland stop was in Troutdale and closed at nine. There was a Red Sox game. Compromising, I went to the Pilsner room, tried six samplers, and watched the Sox.), I have nevertheless found ten examples of around town, which ain't bad. Here are my findings, grouped by quality.

The Noble Failures
As I mentioned yesterday, some of these beers were misfires; still, I may have learned as much about the properties of green hops by these beers as the winners. The breweries below therefore deserve our appreciation, not scorn.

Laurelwood Extra Pale
Hops used: Willamette

Laurelwood started out right--an extra pale ale is the perfect recipe to accentuate all the flavors of a wet cone. But perhaps Willamettes were the wrong variety to use. Typically a spicy, clean hop, in this beer they came out weedy. The bitterness was notable, but it didn't taste like hop bitterness, but like ... well, like a pot of boiled weeds. The gentle sweetness of malt is completely overwhelmed. Perhaps too many hops were added too early in the boil; alternately, Willamette hops just may just have been the wrong way to go.

Sierra Nevada Harvest
Hops used: Cascade and Centennial

The two hops used here are very closely related. Cascade, the signature hop of the West Coast, give pales like Mirror Pond (and Sierra Nevada's own pale) their classic flavor. Centennials are a a more bitter version, but supposedly very similar otherwise. Supposedly. As we'll see later, Cascade-hopped beers fared far better in the fresh-hop slate. But now twice I've had bad Centennial experiments. SN Harvest has a slightly off aroma that you might charitably call "cabbage." As it goes down the gullet, and particularly after it warms in the glass, "garbage" or "compost" spring more quickly to mind. Not tasty.

Hale's Harvest
Hops used: Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial

This beer demonstrates the fragility of fresh hops. Even though they can contribute strong flavor notes, they're nature is essentially herbal and delicate. Hale's has used an ESB-like malt bill, and it is too much for wet hops. I didn't detect any particularly notable off-flavors (perhaps something that could be called "gassy"), but the predominant note is roasted malt; the fresh hops don't really have a chance to reveal themselves. It's not a bad-tasting beer, it's just out of balance, which makes it hard to identify the hops.

Decent Outings
Most of these beers are the kind I often brew--pretty good, but there are things I'd do to improve them.

Hopworks Red Ale
Hops used: ?

This one barely squeaked into the "good" category, and only because I let it sit in my glass until it was quite warm. Until then, I found it similar to the Hale's--heavy on malts. The hops (don't know which they used) are a little funky when cold, but when the beer warms up, it becomes a sweet, fresh beer.

Old Lompoc Harvestman
Hops used: Crystal

The Lompoc made two beers using Crystal hops, which turn out to be among the most reliable wet varieties. It is a descendant of a classic German hop (Hallertau) crossed with some American strains, including Cascade, and when dry is notably spicy. Harvestman, however, is a 7.8% bruiser of a beer, and while it's pretty tasty, the subtle elements of the hops are lost. Not to worry, though, Lompoc has a second Crystal-hopped beer that impresses (keep reading).

Lucky Lab "The Mutt"
Hops used: Fuggle, Cascade, Centennial, Golding, Willamette, Mount Hood and Crystal

The Mutt is easily the best story: the name comes from the many varieties of fresh hops used to brew it, some of which came off the vines that grow in the parking lot behind the flagship pub. Like Laurelwood, they have gone for a very mild substrate--a standard pale of just 5%. What results is a tasty session, slightly grassy and green. The various hops balance each other out, so there are none of the strong weird flavors, but also nothing that makes you sit up and take notice. (Quite a bit of reserve for the Lucksters--I wonder if they expected a stronger flavor, sort of a "wall of sound' effect. We'll see next year.)


The Winners
Three of the ten beers were great--the kind of beers you'll seek out the second they hit the shelves and lament when the final kegs are gone.

Old Lompoc Star of India
Hops used: Crystal

This is the beer Lucky Lab was aiming at--a light pale that highlights the freshness of the hops. In this example, I began to see how stable Crystal hops are--they contribute a clean, straightforward note that has the obvious (though hard to describe) character of wet hops. I'll use the word "lemongrass," but I'm open to something more accurate.

Deschutes Hop Trip
Hops used: Crystal

Hey, Crystal hops--seeing a pattern? In Hop Trip, they pop even more. I found the beer decidedly oily--I actually wrote down "furniture polish" but I'm worried there's no way that can be taken as a positive. Anyway, we're getting into territory that makes you appreciate what makes wet hops different, even if you can't describe it. The hops linger in the mouth almost tangibly after you swallow--a fresh, rich aroma you can chew on for a few seconds. I had Hop Trip on tap (Pilsner Room), and that probably didn't hurt.

BridgePort Hop Harvest
Hops used: Cascade

Of the four beers I really like, two used Crystal, and two used Cascade, including Hop Harvest. BridgePort must have used a ton of them, too, because they've brewed the bitterest beer using green hops. (Cascades don't have a lot of alpha acids, and using them to bitter a beer is hard in normal circumstances.) There are fewer of the funky notes here, but it's more herbal and peppery than regular Cascade-spiced beers. There's lots of residual sweetness in this big beer (7%), and it perfectly complements the hops.

The Sublime
One beer achieved a kind of transcendence that would normally earn it an ode, not a review. But since we're being comparitive, here we go.

Full Sail Lupulin
Hops used: Cascade Amarillo (see correction here)

In rare cases in my beer-drinking experience, certain beers have reached out of the pint glass and grabbed me by the collar: BridgePort IPA, Pliny the Elder, Saison Dupont. The circumstances of the tasting are brought back as clearly as the sensations of the beer. So it was on Friday with Lupulin Ale.

I was in the Pilsner Room (where, sadly, they serve cheater pints) in front of a flat screen showing the Red Sox in the ALCS. Six wet hop beers were arrayed in front of me, and I had just scored a free parking place directly in front of the pub. Then came the beer: an intense citrus aroma, but orange rather than grapefruit. The flavor continued in this orangey vein, agressively zesty. At the Horse Brass website, they say it has a red bell pepper note, which is close but not quite right. I kept going back to try to identify something it reminded me of; I never found it.

I think back to the first time I had the Belgian sour beers, when my palate was instantly and irrevocably reset to a much larger palette of flavors. I had that experience with these fresh hop ales--the more I tried, the more my tongue started to recognize them. But only in Lupulin did they go to that incredibly uncommon place that is the perfection of the new, wonderful flavor.

For me, it will be the beer all green-hopped ales are judged against,; it may even usher in that new, completely indigenous beer I have been hoping the Northwest would birth. I've tasted nothing like it, and at the moment, anyway, I want to taste nothing else.

2007 GABF Winners Announced

There's a lot of GABF stuff going on in the blogosphere (start with Stan and go from there), but here's a quicky on Northwest winners:

Oregon
Bend Brewing
Outback X - Old Ale or Strong Ale (Silver)

Deschutes
Abyss - Imperial Stout (Gold)
Pub Bitter - Bitter or Pale Mild Ale (Gold)
4K Pils - International-Style Pilsener (Gold)

Laurelwood
Organic Deranger - Imperial or Double Red Ale (Gold)

Pelican
Doryman's Dark Ale - American Style Brown Ale (Gold)
MacPelican's Wee Heavy Strong Scotch Ale - Strong Scotch Ale (Gold)
Kiwanda Cream Ale - Silver Golden or Blonde Ale (Silver)

Rogue
Russian Imperial Stout - Imperial Stout (Bronze)

Widmer
Brewmaster Reserve - American-Style Wheat Beer (Silver)
Widmer Export Lager - Dortmunder/European Style Export or German-Style Oktoberfest/Wiesen (Bronze)
Washington
Elysian
The Wise ESB Extra Special Bitter or Strong Bitter (Gold)
The Great Pumpkin Fruit Beer or Vegetable Beer (Silver)
Dragonstooth StoutOther Strong Ale or Lager (Silver)

Fish Brewing
Old Woody Old Ale or Strong Ale (Gold)

Flyers Restaurant and Brewery
Bottleworks VIII - Other Strong Ale or Lager (Bronze)

Hales
O'Brien's Harvest - Extra Special Bitter or Strong Bitter (Silver)

Pyramid
Crystal Weizen - American-Style Wheat Beer (Gold)

Rock Bottom Brewery
Hop Bomb IPA - American-Style Strong Pale Ale (Silver)
About usual for the Northwest--some nice beers honored, but our performance is meager compared to the number of breweries entered (225) or compared against other, lesser states (Colorado, as usual, raked in the medals with 29).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Brave New Frontier of Fresh Hops

In the past couple months, I've been talking about the emergence of indigenous styles or elements in Northwest beer. In a great oversight, one ingredient I didn't mention were wet hops--the use of which have proliferated rather astonishingly in the past couple years. As the touring fresh hop festival demonstrates, this isn't a niche practice anymore. What's more significant is that this isn't a gimmacky practice to capitalize on local produce; in my fairly broad tasting of these beers this year, I've found that they produce completely original flavors, some of which are extraordinary, and some of which are ... gross.

It is unclear why this would be the case, but the various oils, resins, and acids behave differently when the hop is wet. The alpha acids don't seem to produce the same level of bitterness, and other properties emerge that are as intense as traditional alpha bitterness. One brewery last year--they asked to keep this on the QT--brewed a batch they thought would be intensely bitter, but it came in at something like 30 BUs. The beer was never released. Yet it doesn't seem to be uniform--in some strains, the alpha acids seem to convert better. In my sampling of fresh hop ales this year (reviews to come--or at least begin--later today) I tried beers that were grassy, cabbagy, and in one notable case, weedy. In all cases, fresh hops offer an herbal, organic flavor that isn't totally familiar to the tongue of hopheads like me.

In the next few years, I suspect brewers will learn to work with fresh hops, figure out which work best, and they may start to mix them with dried hops to select the best elements of both. I hope you have a chance to get to a brewery or a hop festival to taste some of these. They are far from universally successful, reminding me of an earlier era in craft brewing. But the experiments are something tasters and brewers can all learn from, and the failures are as important in this regard as the successes.

And as an inducement, here's a teaser: one of the beers I tried was absolutely transcendent. Maybe it's not the only one. Hunting is half the fun!

Friday, October 12, 2007

GABF Happening Now

Although I am somewhat critical of the Great American Beer Festival, it's the beeg event on the national calendar. It started last night and runs through tomorrow and many eyes are focused on the results of the tastings. I will report out those in due time, but here's some info in case you want a virtual experience:
GABF website at Beertown.org
A podcasting site, including live streaming and chat.
There's even a chance I'll be able to break you off some commentary from a brewer I know who's attending as a BridgePort rep.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mmmm, Brettanomyces

My experiment in using a brettanomyces culture to try to evoke the twang of Guinness Extra Stout (described here) continues apace. Last night I added the funky yeast and this morning, their activity was visible. I almost lost my nerve: when I transfered the beer into this carboy, I tasted a bit, and it was marvelous. Sally asked if I was sure I wanted to risk screwing up such a wonderful beer, and I'll admit to a bit of second-guessing. But hey, worst case is I brew another batch and forget the brett.

In any case, I write all this as an excuse to post a picture of the stout, so you can see the yeasties in action.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hello SABMillerMolsonCoors!

Actually, it will just be called MillerCoors (bizarrely), but it's the same thing: consolidation continues as brewing conglomerate SABMiller is poised to merge with Molson Coors.
Peter H. Coors, vice chairman of Molson Coors, said the transaction was prompted by “profound” changes in the American alcohol business that are challenging large beer companies. Sales of domestic beers have been battered as consumers switched to wine, spirits and craft beers and imports.
It looks to me like a beautiful multinational metaphor for the moribund macro American market: they all look and taste the same anyway, so why not merge them into one giant company? Everything else is just marketing.

Sometimes, you wonder if the companies behind the beer even know what beer is:
Besides cost savings, the merger will create a strong portfolio of brands, from domestic brews like Coors Light and Milwaukee’s Best to import beers like Leinenkugel’s, Peroni and Molson Canadian.
Add to that list Henry Weinhard's, formerly a Miller subsidiary, which has now been owned by just about every parent company in the country. But what's really surprising is that no one seems to recognize that while this may make some kind of abstract business sense, I have seen absolutely no evidence that it's anything but business suicide.

Bud has held steady at about 50% of the market for years. A decade ago, A-B brewed 91 million barrels and held a 48% market share. Miller, once an ascendant company in American brewing, was still holding its own with 44 million barrels, or nearly a quarter of the market. Coors sold 20 million barrels and had a market share of 11%. A decade later, after consolidation?
The joint operation will control about 29 percent of the American market, compared with 49 percent for Anheuser-Busch, analysts said.
In ten years, Miller and Coors have given back 5% of the market. So the little fish keep eating up even littler fish, but counterintuitively, they shrink. Not only do they not gain market share by picking up the small brands, but they actually lose ground over time.

Here's what the brewing companies seem to miss: beer is a local product. With consolidation, the little local brewers get sucked up into a corporate borg and brewing is shifted hundreds of miles away--the beers change, they're no longer local, and the market dries up. Who cares about Henry's if it's brewed in California--it's just a label on a beer can at that point. Many of the brands will die a slow death, perhaps even Coors, which may no longer be made with "Rocky Mountain spring water."

Here's an early prediction: in ten years, SABMillerMolsonCoors will have reduced the number of brands in their portfolios substantially and will command less than 20% of the market. Of course, they're unlikely to make it ten years before further consolidation happens. Which will be greeted, as always, as a shrewd business move by Wall Street.

(Of course, it's all just entertainment for those of us here in Beervana. We'll pour a pint of stout and watch the mini-macros battle for A-B's scraps.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New Mag: Beer Northwest

When I stuck my head into the Green Dragon last week, I copped a free copy of the new high-end magazine Beer Northwest. (How's that for cheap--I don't stay for a pint, but I make off with print matter. I'll make it up to the Green Dragon, though--promise.) I finally had a chance to read it and was both surprised and intrigued.

Print publications are, as you probably know, dying off. People read less hard-copy content as we move online, and magazines are expensive to produce and deliver. The recent postal increase on small mags will only worsen the problem. So into this environment comes Beer Northwest, a magazine targeted at a fairly small niche audience (beer geeks) made smaller still by regional focus. When I met the two principles at this summer's OBF, I wasn't really sure what they'd come up with. Generally, to save money, beer publications have had to go for lots of ads and cheap newsprint or a black-and-white format (or both). In terms of content, they've had to go general, trying to reach a broader readership but inadvertently alienating their core, geeky base.

Beer Northwest has taken the opposite approach. From the design side, it's beautiful--full-color, clean, inviting. The content is even better. There is useful info on events and new openings (relevant, because the mag is local). But it's the features that are the big winner. Two in particular, on Higgins' beer steward Warren Steenson and native African beer, are wonderful for both newbies and serious geeks. It may not be possible for the mag to keep this level of content up, but they're clearly headed in the right direction.

(The website, alas, needs some attention. It has little info, even about the contents of the debut issue, and the "blogs" are actually posts by one of the contributors and a promise that Megan Flynn, the editor, will start one soon.)

Are there enough readers to keep the mag afloat? Time will tell. It's worth tracking down a copy of the first edition (it's free, but subsequent issues won't be). I'll be watching, and I wish them well. It's a fine debut.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Selected Beer News

Fresh Hop Tasting at the Pilsner Room
0309 SW Montgomery St (Harborside)
503-220-1865

The Pilsner Room at McCormick & Schmick's Harborside debuts seven taps of fresh hop ales tonight. These are the experimental, one-of-a-kind beers breweries made from freshly-picked hops in the past several weeks. It's a nice opportunity to sit down and sample more than one so you can begin to pick up on the characteristics that distinguish fresh hops from dried hops--you can't miss the difference. For some reason, I have a list that includes only six names, so consider the last one a mystery tap:
  • Full Sail Lupulin Ale
  • BridgePort Hop Harvest Ale
  • Sierra Nevada Havest Ale
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
  • Great Divide
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Extra Pale Ale

Green Dragon Gears Up
928 SE 9th Avenue

I stuck my head in the Green Dragon last week on my way to the Lucky Lab for a pint of Mutt (the brewery's fresh hop offering--review to come) last week. It's going to be a pretty cool place. The seating portion of the pub is on the 9th Avenue side, and you can see the brewery space in the warehouse beyond. The seating is elegant but not posh--it has a decidedly East Side feel and will fit in nicely in the Beermuda Triangle. Brewing should begin soon, with beers ready in--according to the waitress I asked last week--a month. Also, this update from owner Jim Parker:
"As I type,the draft lines ae being installed and we will soon jump from four taps to 18. Make that five to 18... we just tapped the first pint of Old Rasputin on nitro... the first beer through our draft system. The other taps will be up and running before the end of the night. We also just tapped Double Mountain Killer Green... a fresh-hop IPA.

Other current offerings include Czechvar, Bend Black Diamond Dark Lager, and Collaborator Cascadian Dark Ale. Coming soon: New Belgium LaFolie, Hopworks Urban Brewery IPA, Amnesia ESB, Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, Racer X double IPA, Walking Man Sasquatch Legacy, an imperial steam beer, Avery 14 strong ale, Redstone Black Raspberry Nectar mead, Deschutes Lone Rock organic red ale (a test batch of the upcoming Green Lakes organic red that will be released in December), Dupont Saison Avec le Bon Veaux.

We're still trying to get our hands on the European tavern heads that will allow us to tap such goodies as Maredsous 8 and JW Lees Harvest Ale. So no guarantees on extra taps tonight, but by tomorrow, is a lock. Beer engines next."
If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth ambling over to the Lucky Lab and Roots for the fresh hop ales, too.

Friday, October 05, 2007

On Economics and Beer

Turns out this cheater-pint thing isn't just an irritant to beer drinkers. Even economists don't like it. A newly-founded blog by an OSU econ prof describes the problem:
Which finally brings me to the economics point: a classic market failure for which government intervention is appropriate is what is known as 'asymmetric information.' One of the most classic economics papers of all time is a fairly simple story of used cars and shows that since owners of used cars know much more about the true quality of the car than prospective buyers, market inefficiencies can result. Thus governments can step in an enact truth in advertising laws, anti-fraud laws, etc. In my current example, most customers do not know they they are being served considerably less than a pint and when informed of this, often react in outrage.
In a second post, he offers an obvious solution:
The British have been requiring a government stamp on pint glasses used in pubs since 1699 to assure the 'punters' that they are getting a right measure of the best bitter. (Something by the way that is changing due to the vagaries of the EU) There you have not only an economically correct government regulation, but one that works beautifully - all parties are immediately satisfied that a full imperial pint is being served and the government has little to do, but licence glass manufacturers and verify on occasion that they are meeting the 20 oz requirement. So why not in the US?
Why not indeed. In the meantime, we have the Honest Pint Project...

The Honest Pint Project

I have made sporadic hay of an issue of some import to denizens of Beervana: the use of the dreaded "cheater pint." This bantam-weight shaker-style glass offers a maximum of just 14 ounces of liquid--a baker's dozen or less if there's any head. They aren't quite ubiquitous, but you find them in the majority of pubs, restaurants, and breweries around town. Going back to the mid-90s, gonzo beer writer William Abernathy pioneered the campaign against cheater pints, and the battle has been taken up from time to time. To, obviously, no great avail. Maybe we had it backward, though. Maybe the goal shouldn't be shaming the delinquents, but praising the good and true.

So, beginning today, I plan to assemble a list of pubs and breweries that offer an honest pint. Below is a woefully incomplete list, but you have to start somewhere.

Since the main enemy of this project is lack of thoroughness (abetted by my native holing-up instinct), I would love your help. However, in order for this to be an authenticated guide, I need some info from you. In an email (the_beeraxatyahoodotcom), include the following:
  • Type of glass,
  • Ounces, if you can determine them
  • Per-pint cost
  • Picture or web link showing the type of glass in action.
As I was assembling my tiny little list below, I was shocked at how little I remembered which type of glass was used. Horse Brass? Been there 800 times and damned if I can remember. I'll include any place that serves beer, sorted by type.

Let's make Beervana proud!

Breweries and Brewpubs
BridgePort Brewery - 20 oz. pints, $3.75
Laurelwood - English-style pint, $3.75
Lucky Lab - English-style pint, $3.50 [?]
Mash Tun - 20 oz. pint, $4
Rock Bottom - English-style pint, $[?]
Roots Organic - 20 oz. pints, $4.25

Pubs
County Cork - English pub glasses, $[?]
Goose Hollow Inn - 20 oz pints, $4.25
Belmont Station Cafe - 16 oz pints, $[?]

Restaurants
Higgins - Glassware appropriate to style, $4.75 and up

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Guinness, Brettanomyces, and Me

The St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin produces a beer called Guinness--you might have heard of it. Actually, it produces a whole bunch of beers, and they're all called Guinness. They vary from the light-bodied draft beer you get in pubs to a strong Nigerian version that employs sorghum rather than barley. My favorite--and one of the best beers in the world--is the strong version you can find in bottles with the name "extra stout." What makes it delightful are not the virtues of density and creaminess (though virtues they are), but a characteristic sour tang.

Jackson attributes this to funk resident in the crevices of the 100-year-old wooden tanks at St. James Gate in which only the strong stuff ages. Diageo, the parent conglomerate, denies this, but something's causing it. Rumor (and Jackson) credit a certain strain of yeast known as Brettanomyces. In the brewing world, Brett cultures have notorious reputation and are mainly regarded as contaminants. So profound is Brettanomyces (the cool kids call it "Brett") that brewers regard porous equipment (plastic, rubber, cork, wood) as permanently defiled and useable only in beers where Brett character is tolerated. On the other hand, Orval, the extraordinary lambics, Belgian browns and reds and others include it in their world-reknowned recipes. So you can't throw the Brett out with the bathwater.

I have decided to test the theory. I am in the midst of brewing up a batch of Irish stout, a fairly standard recipe that employs roasted barley, as appropriate to style. But after an initial fermentation with a standard ale yeast (I eschewed an Irish strain, rogue that I am), I'm going to dump in a Brett culture to finish it off. Brettanomyces are apparently voracious eaters and can gobble down sugars regular Saccharomyces (ale yeast) can't digest. Brettanomyces--the goats of the yeast world. My intention is to give the beer a wee taste of the sour without overwhelming it. We shall see.

In any case, I will report back as the experiment evolves. I don't know that I can prove what lives in the vats at St. James Gate, but you never know. I may also prove what doesn't live there. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Another "Best Of" List

I suppose it's inevitable that these "best in the world" lists proliferate. Men love beer, and men love lists. And so you have lists of the beer men love. The newest comes from Beers of the World magazine (via Stan) and my do they love the Deschutes. American breweries generally did poorly, but Deschutes was listed as "best-of" in four of the 41 styles, and Full Sail picked up a nod as well:
Best Bitter - Deschutes Mirror Pond, 5%
Imperial IPA - Deschutes Hop Henge, 7%
Brown Ale - Deschutes Buzzsaw Brown, 4.8%
Export Stout - Deschutes Obsidian, 6.4%

Best Premium Lager - Full Sail Session Lager, 5.1%
But Deschutes did better than just winning 10% of the categories--Buzzsaw Brown and Obsidian were also bumped up to the 15 sub-category winners (as was FS Session), and Obsidian was named as one of the world's four best beers. Joining them were Budějovický Budvar Dark, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, and Grolsch Weizen. (Chalk one up for the good ol US of A and Holland, and ptthppfffd to Germany and Belgium, obvious brewing punks.)

These things are getting kind of silly. Beers of the World magazine, about which I know very little, is probably trying to stir up some attention. Bully for you boys. Now go back to the drawing board until you can figure a way to get Belgium into the top four.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Full Sail is Twenty Today

Cheers all around!

A trivia quiz for our old timers: What was the first beer Full Sail released 20 years ago?

Extra credit: After Cartwright's demise, what was the first craft beer to appear by bottle on the market?

Growler Index

Dave at Champagne of Blogs has done a real service: he's collected together the prices of a half-gallon "growler" 15 area breweries. [Why do they call them growlers? "Jug" is both more descriptive and comprehensible. But they don't, so there.] I will simply cut and paste the info, since it is so useful. However, for added value, I'll try to gussy up my theft with a per-pint cost. A grower contains 64 ounces, or four regular (not cheater) pints.
  • Amnesia Brewing: $10 ($2.50 a pint)
  • Big Horse Brewing (Hood River): $9 ($2.25)
  • Bridgeport: $11 ($2.75)
  • Double Mountain (Hood River): $10 ($2.50)
  • Full Sail (Hood River): $7.50 ($1.88)
  • Laurelwood: $9 ($2.25)
  • New Old Lompoc: $8 ($2)
  • Mash Tun: $10 ($2.50)
  • Max’s Fanno Creek Pub (Tigard): $12 ($3)
  • Pelican Brewing (Pacific City): $13 ($3.25)
  • Portland Brewing: $4.95 ($1.24!)
  • Rock Bottom: $6.95 ($1.74)
  • Rogue: $15-20 ($3.75 - $5)
  • Roots: $11.25 ($2.81)
  • Tugboat Brewing: $10 ($2.50)
  • Walking Man (Stevenson, WA): $9.35--$10 after tax ($2.50)
To Dave you should direct your love and thanks and comments.