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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Organic Brewers Fest Wrap-up

[Update (via Twitter @beerabe): People's Choice award winner: Standing Stone Double IPA. Tie for second: Crannóg Back Hand of God Stout and Hopworks Secession. Third, Oakshire IPA.]

It wasn't clear to me for years, but I'm beginning to see that for a beer fest to find relevance, it has to have a raison d'etre beyond "beer." The three standards are the Oregon Brewers Fest, International Fest, and Holiday (winter) fest. All of these have very clearly defined taplist identities and target audiences. Once upon a time, the Spring Beer Fest managed to bring to Portland lots of small breweries who couldn't otherwise get distribution. As a bonus, lots of the brewers came. Since that time, those breweries do get distribution here, and it's not obvious why the SBF still exists.

Which brings us to the Organic Brewers Festival. It has a reason for being, but a slightly artificial one. Organic ingredients don't suggest anything about beer styles. So now, after the fest has had three full-fledged years, has an identity emerged? I pondered this as I worked my way through the diversity of styles on offer, and I'm prepared to offer a tentative "yes." "Organic" may not be a kind of style, but it is a state of mind. The Organic Brewers Fest, held in that green bowl of Overlook Park and ringed by fir trees, promotes the idea of harmony. I sat under an amazing tree (chestnut, walnut?) that provided a Tolkien-esque view on the fest, further enhancing the whole experience.

When I visited two years ago, many of the beers were (generally very well-made) versions of more straightforward styles; this year, that element of natural harmony was expressed in the diversity of ingredients. Beers were made with basil, berries, honey, spruce, coffee (lots and lots of coffee!), and so on. There were even two gruit ales. This is already a trend in brewing, and the Organic fest plays on that theme. For the time being, it's the fest that actually best captures the current trends in brewing.

The Beers
But enough prattle. I was again impressed with the uniformity of quality. The only flat-out miss-fire I tried was Eel River's acai berry debacle (early tweets described it, accurately, like "Crunch Berry"), and in that case the brewery at least was going for something. All the other beers were B's or better; you had to work to get a bad pour. Below are a sampling of beers that stood out, not an exhaustive list.

Best in Show
Three beers stood out for me:
  • Crannóg Back Hand of God Stout. I'm a little reluctant to rave about this beer because I raved about it after the last Organic Fest. But since I haven't seen it in two years, what the hell. The brewery styles it an Irish stout, but it's really a hybrid--light-bodied and creamy like an Irish, but succulent with notes of chocolate and vanilla as in a sweet stout. The end is clean but slightly sweetish--you want to drink a full pint in a single swallow.
  • Standing Stone Double IPA. If only the beer geeks could vote, this would win the people's choice going away (it may win, anyway). I know why, and I approve of Standing Stone's cunning: they poured it from a cask. Nothing exhibits fresh, pine-cone hopping so well as real ale, and, with the lovely caramel base, the beer was in perfect harmony. Usually I find double IPAs overwhelming, but this one was just a tour de force of flavor. The visual of the beer engine didn't hurt, either.
  • Dupont Foret. This also feels like cheating, too--an identified world classic and one of the first organic beers. But it was also instructive: given that saison is the style du year, it's worth trying a standard. What I love about the Dupont beers is their dryness. The yeast is bone dry and peppery, but Foret is soft, floral, and lovely. The two elements leave you considering going back for an 8-token full pour (I resisted). My only complaint that it didn't come in a keg.
Other Winners
A beer that might have made it into my top three had I tasted it earlier in the day was Nelson After Dark, a beer brewed in what we might call the "Northwest mild" style. It was, as are all beers on the left coast, a mite strong for style (5%). Yet even at that, I was surprised at the amount of flavor they managed. A brown ale of such creamy substance I could imagine it sufficing as a winter tipple, it was toasted elegance. I regret not starting out with it.

I think I tried all of the coffee stouts, but the one that stood out was Oakshire's Overcast Espresso Stout. The trick with a coffee stout is to hint at coffee without overpowering the beer. You want it to draw out the chocolate and roast notes of the malt, not conceal them. Oakshire's did, and may have been the best coffee stout I've had.

I also quite liked Samuel Smith's Cherry Ale. It bordered on too sweet, but the cherries provided just enough sour to keep it from cloying. Definitely brewed in the English fruit-ale style (as opposed to Belgian), but nicely done.

Interesting, but...
Three beers deserve mention for expanding my world, if not rocking it. Let's start with Upright's Reggae Junkie, a gruit. Gruits are unhopped beers that compensate for the sweetness of the malt with a potpourri of other herbs and spices. Upright's had an herbal tea quality that was interesting but just a step too far away from beer. A bit of lactic zing gave it interest, but it wasn't for me.

Another interesting effort was Fort George's Spruce Ale. Jack Harris, one of the brewers at Fort George, has been working with spruce for years at his first brewpub in Cannon Beach. (Confession: I've never tried those beers.) That useless background out of the way, I will proceed to say that spruce is not what you think. Rather than being astringent and piney, like I expected, it's very sweet and almost citrusy, like lemon-lime soda. I'm not sure this wasn't a gruit, but if there were hops, there were few.

Finally, Hopworks Secession, a beer aiming to solidify Abe Goldman-Armstrong's emerging "Cascadian Dark Ale" in the brewing firmament. The idea is to have a hoppy dark ale where the dark malts contribute not just gimmicky color, but a rounded roastiness. If any beer can, this one should accomplish Abe's wish. It has both elements--a nice but not punishing level of bitterness and a gentle roasted note. The two conflict as little as any I've tried. But still, they do conflict. This is the problem--roasted dark malts rob hops of their vivid freshness. It's like trying to smell a flower while your head's in the smoke of a camp fire. Both aroma's have their virtues, but they don't go well together. (Obviously this view is not shared by everyone. Abe clearly loves the beer and so did Bill. That's the beauty of beer--spectacular variety! Of course, they're still wrong.)

Oh, and speaking of Bill, in addition to his review is another at the Hops and Barley blog. Dave was apparently there, but no review as yet.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Gallup: Beer Holding Steady Despite Recession

Gallup has some interesting results out today about drinking patterns. Bottom line? The recession hasn't affected consumption. However, below the bottom line are a few interesting trends.

America has pretty standard rates of consumption. Going back to 1939, the number of people reporting that they drink was consistently in the mid-60s (the low was in 1958 at 55%, the high in the late 70s at 71%). For the past decade, the number hasn't shifted at all--varying only within the margin of error. This year it was measured at 64%.

Where it gets more interesting is in what they drink. We generally consider the past 20 years to be a renaissance in both beer and wine consumption, yet overall beer consumption has actually fallen during that period. When Gallup started this poll in 1992 and for about the next decade, about 45% of American drinkers drank beer. But over the past five years, only about 40% of them did.



For those of us who just follow craft brewing, this look wrong--over that same period, sales of craft beer are way up. What the ... ? Actually, this is the same pattern we've seen in Oregon:
  • Over the last 10 years per capita consumption of beer is down in Oregon, yet
  • Over the last 5 years Oregon Brewed beer consumed in Oregon rose from 9.9% to 12%.
Gallup didn't dig down into the market segments of each kind of beverage, but we can intuit some patterns. While beer as a segment is down, there are winners and losers within the segment. I don't have the numbers on the large tin-can breweries, but they must be flatlining or declining. That's why we have seen products like Bud American Ale and the rise of the 'faux micro.'

Gallup also offered demographics of drinkers, and one number really jumps out: women. Only 21% of them are beer drinkers. They much prefer wine (50%). It is even true of younger women; only a quarter of them are beer drinkers. (Men are the big beer drinkers. Half of men drink beer, and two-thirds of young men do.)

This is very good news for craft brewers. The macros have encouraged a frat party sensibility about beer (sometimes bordering on mysogeny) and are going to find it hard to lure women. But craft brewing has none of the machismo. In fact, by highlighting taste and food compatibility, craft breweries are making a play for wine-drinking women. They could continue to grow at quite a clip for years to come simply by encroaching on that demographic. Based on who I've seen drinking in pubs and at beer fests, Oregon craft breweries are already doing great.

NAOBF Video

I'll post a wrap-up up the Organic Brewers Fest later today, but I thought I'd embed a nice little video the Oregonian produced. It captures the spirit of the event nicely, and in a wonderful bit of that Beervana serendipity, the videographers got a sound bite from a good friend of mine (Mary Woods). Beervana is huge, but it's also small, if you know what I mean...

Organic beer festival

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Live-Tweeting the Organic Brewers Fest

I don't know if my live-tweeting is really very interesting, but that's no reason to stop now. So here we go...




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    Friday, June 26, 2009

    The Session Phenomenon

    It was just one week ago, as the Beer Goddess and I were sharing an LTD 03 at the Brewers Games, that I first heard about Session Black. In the span of that time, everyone's heard about it: Full Sail had separate launch parties in Hood River and Portland, and there's yet another release cum meet-the-brewers at Saraveza next Thursday. And today John Foyston has an in-depth article in the Oregonian's Business section. It's a hell of a lot of heat and noise for what we must admit is surely a modest product.

    And so here's the question--is it too much noise?

    A Brilliant Idea
    Releasing Session was a big gamble for Full Sail. So far as I know, no other craft brewery had or has attempted anything like it. The idea was born in 2004, during that period following the 90s shake-out when it appeared that the hearts of the next generation might be lost to PBR. On one side were craft beers and on the other industrial lagers, and the twain never met. What divides them seem as much to do with brand identity and customer loyalty as flavor--if you like a nice IPA and don't mind being seen by your brother-in-law throwing one back at the barbecue, Bud Lite is almost certainly dead to you. But if that fancy bottle and that thick goop inside seem like an unnecessary yuppie affectation--and a damned expensive one at that--you probably aren't about to give up your cooler full of cans.

    Full Sail's brilliant stroke was to have a closer look at that macro market and see that it wasn't monolithic. There was the PBR phenomenon. The brand had managed to appeal to younger drinkers not because of its product (obviously!), but because of its downscale authenticity. (Support of indie music helped.) This was the amazing thing. Watch a tattooed 20-something walk up to a beer cooler, and there was a 90% chance he walked away with a half-rack of Pabst.

    What Full Sail took away from their study was this: younger drinkers were drawn to Pabst out of a kind of nostalgia for local, regional breweries that had mostly been killed off before they were born. They didn't want micros, which lacked the working-class authenticity of tin-can beer, but neither did they want faceless corporate brands like Bud and Coors. Full Sail created Session to hit all the same notes. Even more, they knew it couldn't be called Full Sail. Foyston quotes Founder Irene Firmat:
    "That's the way we planned it because we were trying to break out of the boundaries of being a craft beer. If we'd put out Session Lager in traditional packaging and with the Full Sail logo, we would've had a much harder time drawing in new customers who might find craft beers too big and challenging."

    Session is available only in bottles and only in 12-packs -- no kegs, quarts, or six-packs. "We're sticking to that," says Full Sail brewmaster John Harris. "If we put out Session in longnecks or had it available on tap, we'd be just another me-too beer. This way, it stands out."
    So now Full Sail has the best of both worlds--a beer to compete with PBR, and the impeccable reputation of one of the most storied founding American craft breweries. Here's where I get a little worried, though--is it possible to keep the wall up between the two?

    One Brewery, Two Identities
    American craft brewing is relatively young. It has evolved in just 25 years from tiny breweries making niche beers to substantial breweries making beers with large audiences. Imagine a line graph in your mind, with barrels on the left side--as that line keeps going up and up, eventually the sheer barrelage will dictate that breweries make more and more mass-market beers. We don't know what that means. Will more and more people buy IPAs, or will breweries begin offering beer that attracts Bud drinkers? Beer geeks tend to think of a future where craft breweries change the beer market, but what if the beer market changes craft breweries? Full Sail is a test case.

    The good news is that Session is a good beer, and it looks like Session Black will be, too:
    A Budvar schwarzbier (black beer) sipped on a recent trip to Vienna was the inspiration for Session Black, says Jamie Emmerson, Full Sail's executive brewmaster.... The result is a beer that looks black indeed, but is far removed from the thick, malty, roasty beer that lager drinkers fear. "We worked hard to make it a super-drinkable, balanced beer," Firmat says
    The worrisome news? Session now accounts for a third of Full Sail's 90,000 barrel production. If we squint and look forward ten years, what proportion will it be? Twenty? Will the "Full Sail line" be a marginal, neglected sideline for a big, regional brewery? Could happen.

    Maybe that's not so bad. So long as I can still get a sixer of Full Sail Pale, what do I care how much Session Full Sail sells? In fact, using my future-seeing squint, I can even imagine a day in which Session makes the Pale possible. Things change, and that's not always terrible. Still, worth watching this whole phenomenon to see how it plays out.

    [Update. Okay, I'm sitting in the Pilsner Room with a bottle of Black (it's not on the menu). A very nice beer. This is going to please beer geeks even more than regular Session. A fine Schwarzbier, with a sweet, roasty palate. A year-round beer, it will do very nicely for those January Blazers games.]

    [Later Update. There has been some confusion about Full Sail's annual sales. I just got an email from Jamie Emmerson. The 90,000 barrels are all Full Sail brands. They do an additional 50,000 of Henry's. All FS brands are up according to Jamie. Also, the Czech style that inspired Session is called--sorry, no proper diacritics--"Tmave." "Not as malty as Munich Dunkles, but not as roasty as Schwarzbier."]



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    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Organic Brewers Fest Preview

    The first Organic Brewers Festival started back in 2003, but I wasn't really aware of it until 2007, when the fest really came into its own. The Saturday of that festival it poured rain and was cold enough that we could see our breath, and even still it was one of the best events I've attended. I wrote at the time:
    In terms of overall consistency of beers, it may have been the best ever (even PIB, with its 200+ beers and dozen countries, always has a few losers in the bunch). This may have been due to a selection process--were the beers juried? More likely, it is a reflection of a particular moment in time: breweries don't lightly brew organic beers. Since they take special effort, it seems like breweries take special care with the recipes. We had habenero stouts, gingerbread browns, potato beers, and Belgian IPAs. And they weren't gimmick beers; they were serious and seriously good.
    When this year's version unfolds, I'm looking at two things: 1) are enough new organic beers available to give the fest variety year-by-year, and 2) is the quality still so high? To the second question, only the tongue and nostrils will decide. To the first, however, a glance at the beer list gives a clue.

    What emerges is that while there is a fair diversity among new beers, there isn't so much among breweries--and I guess this isn't surprising. Organics are still a niche, and most breweries still aren't making organic beers. Of the 41 breweries (that includes cider-makers and meaderies), only four are new--and three of those are new breweries. However, of the 78 beers pouring, 45% (36) haven't appeared in the past two Organic fests. Obviously, the organizers are doing a good job of making sure familiar breweries bring new beers.

    What I'll Be Trying
    It's worth noting that I try beers new to me. That means I won't be sampling a lot of local beers I can get easily, nor beers I've had in past years. If you don't live in Portland or have never been to this Fest, you'll have a larger and/or different palette to work with. That said, here's what looks good:
    • Bison Honey Basil Ale (Berkeley, CA). I've really enjoyed Bison's beer, and this is the only one I've missed.
    • Dupont Foret (Belgium). True, it was here last year, but it's generally extremely rare to see it on tap.
    • Eel River Acai Berry Wheat (Fortuna, CA). Acai (pn: ah sigh ee) berries are native to Brazil, and so you know this must be tasty, right?
    • Elliott Bay Coffee Stout (Burien, WA). An oatmeal stout brewed with coffee. Because I'm a stout slut and I can't help myself.
    • Hopworks Secession (Portland). Brewed for the fest, so I make an exception to the Portland rule. A beer brewed in the style Abe Goldman-Armstrong is trying to popularize as Cascadian Dark Ale.
    • Lakefront Fuel Cafe (Milwaukie, WI). See above.
    • Nelson After Dark (British Columbia). A dark mild ale. I hope to add another name to my growing list of great small beers.
    • Oakshire (Eugene, OR). Oakshire's sending two beers, yet another coffee stout (Overcast) and an IPA (Watershed), and I haven't decided which I'll try.
    • Pinkus Jubilate (Munster, Germany). From the founding brewery in the organics movement (1980!), a dark lager brewed in a throwback style.
    • Sam Smith's Fruit ales (Tadcaster, England). The famous English brewery is sending a passel of beer, including cherry, raspberry, and strawberry ales. I may go for the cherry.
    That's not a bad top ten. I may find the Upright Reggae Junkie Gruit irresistable, too. And of course, I'll be keeping my ear to the ground for any buzz beers I've overlooked.

    I plan to attend Saturday, and I'll be live tweeting. Any of you who go Friday, report back so we know what to look for. Cheers--

    Love

    The blogosphere is an organism, and it functions best when all the parts are working together. In the last couple days, I've had posts that produced comments like:
    "Come on, I posted a link to that weeks ago when we had this discussion."
    and
    "I think Angelo has blogged the $2 tuesdays [at Eastburn] at least twice. And I twitter it atleast every week."
    and
    "You should read It's Pub Night more carefully ;-). I blogged about the $2 @eastburn pints in Feb."
    I have been remiss. In atonement, I will show a little link love. Please bail me out by following the links that interest you. In the blogosphere, nothing's nicer than a little extra traffic.
    • Derek, for example, has a review of the much-hyped John John Dead Guy--Rogue's flagship aged in Dead Guy Whiskey barrels. (Dead Guy Whiskey is made from a wort of Dead Guy ale, which makes this a slightly incestuous beer.) I find his review highly plausible.
    • Corey taps a firkin. He hopes the act will get people more interested in cask beer. Fair enough, but I was already interested.
    Oh, and hey, did anyone hear that Eastburn has $2 pints on Tuesdays?

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Craft Beer Month Calendar Posted

    Dunno how long this has been up, but some folks have been whingeing that there wasn't enough info on Craft Beer Month. (That be July.) It is here.

    Hodgepodge

    1.
    As I tweeted last night, I stumbled across Eastburn's amazing Tuesday beer prices last night. (Like Columbus', my "discovery" was not exactly the first.*) Two bucks! Sally and I ordered a six-dollar plate of fries (13 pounds, 6,291 calories) and three beers and were delivered a check for $12. Holy moly.

    2.
    Eastburn is currently pouring that New Belgium Dandelion Ale I mentioned awhile ago. Go have some. The brewery calls it a "strong blond ale," but to me it tends more toward saison. The unusual botanicals (dandelion greens and grains of paradise) add a fresh, herbal note, but an understated one. It's crisp and dry--very nice.

    3.
    Full Sail is planning to launch Session Black tonight at the Taproom in Hood River. The brewery's description--"With just a hint of roasty chocolate character, Session Black is short, dark and totally drinkable"--illuminates little. A throwback beer ala Henry's dark? A schwarzbier (light or otherwise)? We will have to wait and see.

    4.
    Stan Hieronymus muses about Oregon and the state of craft brewing generally. (Shorter Stan: Oregon is still out in front, but the rest of the country's gaining on us.)

    5.
    (Bonus item.) Abe Goldman-Armstrong is on a personal journey to popularize a style of beer that's a half step to one side of the Beervana-blog-maligned Black IPA. He styles the style Cascadian Dark Ale. Abe has (literallly) alerted the press with the following news of a beer he had a hand in making for the NAOBF:
    Secession is brewed in the emerging Cascadian Dark Ale style, often mistakenly called Black IPA. Pioneered by brewers in Newport, Oregon and Victoria, BC the style has been gaining traction across Cascadia and further afield. NAOBF organizers Abram Goldman-Armstrong, a homebrewer since 1995, and Izaak Butler who has helped him brew many 10-gallon batches of CDA, teamed up with Hopworks Brewmaster Christian Ettinger and Assistant Brewmaster Ben Love to brew 20 barrels of Secession on Hopworks’ biodiesel-fueled brewkettle. Secession is a classic example of this truly indigenous Cascadian beer style, bountifully hopped with Nugget, Magnum, Centennial, Atahnum, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops from first wort to the fermentor. Its 70 units of bitterness, are offset by a roasty character from organic chocolate and Carafa malts, with a hint of caramel lurking in the forest of hop flavors.


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    *Special note to Bill: I read your blog every day, but come on, that was February. I'm an old man. I can't remember everything I read on the damn blogs.

    Mark Your Calendars: Organic Beer Fest This Weekend

    I will get to a preview probably tomorrow, but I wanted to bookmark this event in your minds. (Meant to do it earlier in the week, in fact.) I missed last year's edition, but the event two years ago was a high-water mark in terms of overall quality and consistency of beer. I'm looking forward with great anticipation to the weekend.
    North American Organic Beer Festival
    Overlook Park, Portland
    Fri 12-9pm
    Sat 12-9pm
    Sun 12-5pm

    Admission is free, compostable mugs $6, tickets for a 4-ounce taster pour $1. Children are welcome with guardian. Bring 3 cans of (preferably organic) food as a donation to the Oregon Food Bank and get $1 off the mug price.
    Make a note of it--

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Wanted: Good Food

    It's a note I've sounded on this blog many a time, but it's worth seeing the NY Times play the full tune with their very big orchestra:
    More and more bars are taking a great deal of care to make new beers available while presenting the old classics. But too many bars think the job stops with the beer. Instead of serving food worthy of these great brews, many bars offer throwaway versions of clichéd pub grub.

    Good beer deserves better than fried mozzarella sticks, dried-out burgers, chicken fingers and greasy wings. American beer culture has progressed to the point where it offers wonderful, civilized beverages rather than the infantilizing mass-market brews, yet many beer bars offer grownups these reprehensible kids’ foods. I mean, chicken fingers?
    My idea: a joint that fuses the best of slow-food, organic Portland dining, with all its rich seasonal freshness, with a flight of beers that are designed to work perfectly with those dishes--which means a mostly-seasonal line-up of beers, too. Hardcore foodies know a little bit about beer, just not enough. Hardcore beer geeks know a bit about food, just not enough. Can we put these two on a blind date and see if they will bear us a wee brewpub worthy of both Portland's food and beer? I'm happy to play matchmaker--email me and we'll set something up.

    2009 Summer Brewers Games

    In Greater Beervana there are at a minimum 2,397 annual beer events (2008 totals). Of these, something on the order of 2,393 are designed for public enjoyment. A select few, however, are reserved as a kind of collegial celebration among the brewers themselves, and the Brewers Games may be the signature event of this kind. Not that spectators can't come--they are invited, encouraged to come, and more than welcome. But it is not an exclusive event. Having attended my first Games, this is the key fact I walked away with: brewers come here to have a hell of a good time and enjoy each other's company (not to mention beer). All of this is important context for appreciating the Games.

    Events
    The Brewers Games is based very loosely on the Olympics, with a series of events (eight, maybe?) designed to test the strength, dexterity, and endurance of the contestants. All are based on beer: keg toss, service with a smile (a slalom course wherein contestants hustle a tray of beer), a game involving scooping spent grains from one plastic bin to another, and so on. This is the straightforward part.

    Points for Style
    Less straightforward are the "style points" awarded by judges for teams completing events with flair. One event--the most entertaining--involves throwing cans of cheap beer at a target; in this case a board mounted with a keg sawed in half and surrounded by a bed of nails. Points are awarded for landing a can on the nails (1), inside the ket (5), or cracking the can on the edge of the keg (10). But style points constitute a major part of the score. Hopworks threw hula hoops back and forth in front of their team, who had to time their throws to get through the hoops. Many teams raced out after their turn and drank the oozing or undamaged beers in creative ways. It was up to the judges to determine the degree of difficulty and creativity of the style efforts.

    (My general observation: working for style meant sacrificing performance on the event itself, usually to the detriment of the final score. But for many teams, the final score was immaterial.)

    Official Corruption
    Over the years, a highly sophisticated process of judicial corruption has evolved, so that teams bribe the judges with everything from compliments to rare beer in the hope of currying favor. It is not only sanctioned but encouraged, though the parameters are specific and unwritten. (Do: offer hooch, any hooch, as much as you can. Don't: offer cash. Gauche.) While you may bribe the emcee in hopes that s/he will appeal to the judges on your behalf, it's a bankshot effort, and rarely used. Special kudos to Jamie Floyd, who brought me a Radiant. I didn't help you in the end, man, but I was ready to.

    The Emcee
    I should mention briefly that being the MC is difficult, perhaps even for those not handicapped with congenital introversion. This year, I didn't have a chance to connect with Pelican's Jason Schoneman, who was the real MC. He was the center of everything and was literally running around the event for hours. So I was handed the mike at 12:15, with no real sense of what I was supposed to do. The first few minutes were rough, but after that, we all muscled through. It only took me two or three hours and several gentle reminders to get all the teams' names right. I don't think I did a stellar job, but I also don't think I marred the event, which was what I feared/expected. In other words, a good outing.

    The Point of it All
    On Friday night, I witnessed a scene that reminded me why this event exists, and why I am such a shameless booster for Oregon breweries. We stopped in at the brewery for a bite, and hung for a bit with the brewers who were having a private kegger back among the tanks. There was a lot of pre-Games trash-talking and merriment going on. At some point the weather came up. The forecast was for a high of 58 and a good chance of rain. Amid the bravodo, someone bragged that the rain would be good because it would help his team. Darron Welch, masterbrewer at Pelican, wilted and said, "No, it can't be rainy--all this money's for the kids!" He was genuinely distraught at the possibility, and perspective swooshed in like a bracing wind. (I heard at the end that it was a success, perhaps the best ever, with proceeds going to the Children's Cancer Association and our local schools through Nestucca's Booster Club. It was sunny a good portion of the day and not a drop of rain fell.)

    I've run out of categories, but there's one more story to tell. The final event is a truly Oregonian spectacle, and worth driving to Pacific City to see. The brewery sits on a slight rise above the beach, perhaps thirty feet up a pretty steep, sandy hill. In this event, two runners take one side of a pony keg and race down the hill, out across the sand, and into the icy surf where they dunk the keg. A second pair picks up the keg and returns it. The whole event is grueling, but especially so is the dunking. Apparently in past years the judges felt the efforts were a little lame, so this year judge Abe Goldman-Armstrong went fairly far out into the sea and made everyone go that far. He stood out there for maybe a half hour as three flights of teams went in succession. When they came gasping back up the hill, totally exhausted from the day, it felt like the end of something. The sun was setting, starting to filter orange through the clouds, and Haystack Rock was fading to black. A wonderful final image, and a fitting one for a great day.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    The Next-to-Last Brewers Games Post

    I plan to do a full recap of the Brewers Games at some point during the week. I haven't quite figured out how to tackle it, yet; I'd like to make my report interesting for those of you who weren't there. But while that post percolates in my brain, I am duty bound to give a little wrap-up.

    1. The Winners
    The competition at the Brewers Games involves something like eight beer-related tests of strength, athleticism, and comedy. Of these, something like half involve kegs. It is no wonder, then, that two of the strongest competitors were beer distributors--Maletis and Point Blank. These guys look like the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they know how to handle a get. Point Blank finished third, I think, and Maletis (team nickname: the Barley Pops) were the overall winners. Hopworks finished a very close second.

    The trophy, which you can sort of see in this photo at the awards ceremony (those are the Maletis Men), is extremely cool. It's a chromed keg atop a wooden base. As is the case with the Stanley Cup, the trophy goes to the winner for the year, and their name is added to the base. So congrats to Maletis.

    2. The Beers
    I managed to sample a few beers over the course of the weekend. Although these three deserve further exploration, I tried Full Sail's new pilsner (LTD 03), Ninkasi Radiant, and a pilsner Deschutes brought for the event. The Full Sail was a preview bottle Lisa Morrison brought, and we split a bottle on Friday night. Very tasty. More a Bavarian pils than Bohemian, but full of flavor and life. I tried the Radiant during the event. Emceeing is a hugely involved affair, and it allowed very little time for beer drinking. Still, a hand-delivered glass from the brewer, Jamie Floyd, meant I was able to get one beer in. I had no real time to study it, but it was as the name suggests, a bright, saturated, sunny beer. Definitely a crowd-pleaser. Finally, I had a pils Deshutes brought as my post-Games beer. Unfortunately, I was starting to get cold, the beer was poured into a plastic cup, and my impressions are dim. I hope to have all three again and tell you more. Look for the FS and Ninkasi to hit the stores soon.

    More to come--

    Saturday, June 20, 2009

    Live Tweeting the Brewers Games

    [Note: for some reason this post didn't load yesterday, and so the whole live part of the live tweeting didn't pan out. I include it for historical purposes.]

    Well, it's a cloudy, chill day here on the coast--and we wouldn't want it any other way. The participants are stretching and regarding the field of play with steely resolve, and the air crackles with the thrill of competition. Last night, I heard a little trash-talking and witnessed a bit of swagger. But today, as the chrome trophy awaits it's new owner, the time for talking is done. Now it is time for battle.

    For the blow-by-blow, we go to the Twitter feed...



      follow me on Twitter


      Friday, June 19, 2009

      Weekend Best Bets - Summer Solstice Edition

      Well, here we are, preparing to celebrate the summer Solstice Oregon style: under drizzly skies, with temperatures in the mid-60s. Okay, so it's a celestial event, not one tightly associated with good weather. Still, the days are long and the warmth is imminent. Time to ignore the weather and celebrate.

      Brewers Summer Games
      Two events will aid you in this endeavor. The first is of course the most star-studded: the Summer Brewers Games at Pelican Brewery in Pacific City. And indeed, the stars are bright. For example, the Emcee is widely-known to his literally tens of readers as one of several Portland beer bloggers. Oh, and I guess there will apparently be some brewers there, too.

      More seriously, it looks like it will be a blast. The Beer Goddess, Lisa Morrison, will be judging the event along with Abe Goldman-Armstrong, and there are some fair-sized bragging rights at stake. Of course, there will be more kegs of good beer than you can shake a stick at, so whether you find the festivities interesting or not, your attention will be occupied.

      Noon-8pm, on the beach, kids are encouraged and can participate in the Root Beer Games. All proceeds go to charity.


      Raccoon Lodge Summer Solstice Celebration
      For Portlanders unable to make it to the coast, you can at least make it across the river to the Rac Lodge for a party. In particular, this looks like a fantastic idea:
      The brewers will roll out a full 58-gallon barrel of Cascade Brewing’s Summer Solstice IPA. This barrel conditioned beer will be ceremoniously tapped old style, with a bung and a mallet.
      It looks like it will be big fun:
      The event features an afternoon of live music, including Cascade Brewing Brewmaster Ron Gansberg’s bluegrass-folk band, Black Lodge. There will be pork roasted over an applewood fire for delicious BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, as well as other food for purchase.
      Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub
      Saturday, 3 - 9:30pm
      7424 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy
      503-296-0110

      The 2009 Beer Tax: Daid

      Well, it's happened once again--the latest version of the beer tax has died of asphyxiation. As a historical matter, this is hardly new: every couple years, someone proposes a new beer tax, and every couple years, it gets shot down. However, I see some signs that things may be changing. You can see evidence of this shift in the obituary Janie Har wrote in today's Oregonian (I'll highlight the interesting bits):

      [Rep. Ben] Cannon [D-Portland] had originally proposed raising the privilege tax on beer from $2.60 a 31-gallon barrel to $49.61.

      His latest proposal, with Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, would raise the tax to $5 a barrel for smaller craft breweries and $23 for big beer makers that pump out more than 2 million barrels a year. That would raise about $85 million every biennium for public safety and alcohol and drug treatment. (Each barrel contains about 330 12-oz glasses or 248 16-oz. pints.)

      When this year's debate commenced, Senator Cannon made a few key mistakes with HB 2461: he treated all beer the same way, making no exemption for small local brewers; he started the tax out at a rate far in excess of the current highest state tax in Alaska and twenty times the current rate; he used language in the bill accusing brewers of sins ranging from teen consumption and death to child abuse. In service of the bill, he also used language I found frankly dishonest, characterizing the tax as a per-glass hike.

      As the Janie Har piece demonstrates, we are not where we started. Cannon has addressed most of my own concerns: the current proposal is much more modest; he treats small local breweries differently; he devotes the money to public safety and drug and alcohol treatment; he's dropped the phony language. Now we're talking very clearly about a tax on breweries and how the revenues will be spent.

      This is a bill I could support. I would prefer and exemption on the tax hike for a certain number of barrels sold in Oregon--say 50,000--and then a tax of $8-$10 per barrel on all remaining sales. This would treat all breweries fairly but still give the smaller players a little breathing room. The problem with this proposal is that it creates two classes of breweries, and this seems a little funky. More importantly, by putting the tax at $23/barrel for big breweries, Cannon invites a huge fight: that would make Oregon the 5th-highest in the country. Paul Romain, the famously powerful big-beer lobbiest, would certainly have something to say about that. But I could live with and would support the bill as Cannon describes it.

      No doubt we'll be talking about it again in due course...

      Thursday, June 18, 2009

      Still Slammed

      I still have a huge amount going on, including preparing for the Brewers Games at Pelican this Saturday. I will attempt some live tweeting there, and with any luck, I'll have a decent post up tomorrow. I have a bit of content, just no time...

      Wednesday, June 17, 2009

      Beer Tax Update

      I anticipate this being a bit of a low-blogging week, and as evidence, I offer this brief post with two items on beer taxes. First, from Forbes, evidence that high taxes in Britain are damaging pub sales.

      "Tax rates in the U.K. suck an awful lot out of the pub sector," said Hastings, who believes that pub closures and beer duty are connected. "Over the last 12 months, beer tax increases have taken an additional 600 million pounds ($984.5 million) out of the sector. It goes to show the scale of the money not being spent on marketing, improving pub quality and competitiveness."

      The increased beer duty and the collapse of the British pub trade also bodes ill for Britain’s tourism trade. "Around the world, the British pub is regarded as a unique institution. It’s just one of the reasons people flood to Britain every year," said Hastings. "If we were in any other country in Europe, their governments would be doing all they can to furnish these institutions."

      One of Beervana's signature qualities is, of course, our density of wonderful pubs. Which brings us to rumors that Ben Cannon's beer tax proposal may be back on the table in Salem.
      The capitol is a buzz with talk of the beer tax making a late crash to the Legislative party. The Beer tax supporters are pushing a round of lobby calls to push through a master beer tax compromise. While under the emergency speed session rule, ordinary citizens may not know what this is until it hits.
      (Though it should be noted that Cannon's updated proposal is likely to be a whole lot more reasonable than his first version.)

      Tuesday, June 16, 2009

      Alcohol, Health, and Causality

      All right, let's have the good news first: if you are a moderate alcohol drinker, you are on average healthier than heavy or non-drinkers. Now the bad news: you may not be healthier because you drink alcohol moderately.

      Causality is a funny thing. Sometimes we think we can see a the flow of causation simply because we see an association. And so since doctors have, study after study, seen an association between health and moderate alcohol consumption, they have jumped to the conclusion that one begets the other. But what if they have it backward? That's a hypothesis in today's second-most popular story in the New York Times.
      It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.

      “The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right — they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately,” said Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a retired sociologist from the University of California, San Francisco, who has criticized the research. “It’s very hard to disentangle all of that, and that’s a real problem.”

      The article cleverly turns the question around, looking not at the drinkers, but the non-drinkers.

      Some researchers suspect the abstainer group may include “sick quitters,” people who stopped drinking because they already had heart disease. People also tend to cut down on drinking as they age, which would make the average abstainer older — and presumably more susceptible to disease — than the average light drinker....

      Dr. Naimi of the C.D.C., who did a study looking at the characteristics of moderate drinkers and abstainers, says the two groups are so different that they simply cannot be compared. Moderate drinkers are healthier, wealthier and more educated, and they get better health care, even though they are more likely to smoke. They are even more likely to have all of their teeth, a marker of well-being.

      “Moderate drinkers tend to be socially advantaged in ways that have nothing to do with their drinking,” Dr. Naimi said. “These two groups are apples and oranges.” And simply advising the nondrinkers to drink won’t change that, he said.

      I have no horse in this race. It's good enough for me to know that moderate drinking--a beer or two--does not jeopardize my health. If it turns out it doesn't help it, either, c'est la vie.

      I still plan to be a moderate consumer of ice cream, too.

      New Belgium La Folie: New World Rodenbach?

      Sometimes I approach reviews with trepidation--generally when I'm less familiar with a style than I should be. In the case of La Folie, I am quite familiar with the style--it's perhaps my very favorite, the red beers of Belgium (called variously "Flemish" or "Flanders" or sometimes just "Belgian" reds). The classic beer of the style is Rodenbach, but in Portland, you may be more familiar with Verhaeghe's magnificent Duchesse de Bourgogne or perhaps Roots' or Cascade's Mouton Rouge. But the classic--by a country mile--is Rodenbach. The only other analogue for a beer being so singularly associated with a style is Guinness.

      So why would I worry about reviewing La Folie, New Belgium's version of a Flemish red? Because it was brewed by Peter Bouckaert, the man who, until he left Belgium in 1998, used to be the brewmaster at ... Rodenbach. If I weren't a halfwit, I'd call it a new-world classic, a Pierre Celis-like recreation, a sublime beer that all you Rodenbach fiends should go suck down (it was until recently--and may still be--at the Green Dragon). But, as my sticke gaffe ably shows, I am a halfwit. Or better yet, a blogger stricken with "the madness." (Another translation of "folie" is folly, so prepare your barbs.)

      La Folie is not Rodenbach. It's just not. Rodenbach has three main beers, and La Folie takes after Grand Cru. It is dry and unsweetened and just about the same strength as the original. It has that same color Rodenbach has, not exactly red but not exactly brown, either. The aroma is sharply sour, and the palate is, too. In fact, this is the problem; it's too sour. Most of the character of the beer derives from this single note, and the lack of complexity was where it fell down for me.

      Rodenbach, which is the sourest of the Flemish Reds I've tried, is not solely sour. It has a rich complexity that includes sweet fruit notes, dry tannins, and a very severe, tart-dry finish. Both beers are way beyond the pale for most Americans, even those who like a nice weisse or even a sweetish fruit lambic. But for those who delight in the funk, like cheeseheads and their limburger, Rodenbach is wonderfully complex. Compared to it, New Belgium is atonal. (To really go out on a limb, I'll add that I find New Belgium's beer more acetic and less lactic than Rodenbach, and I think this is the issue. Perhaps all the qualities are there somewhere, but they were, at least in the pint I tried, overwhelmed by the sharp acetic souring. As a result, I give it a 4.5 on the Sour-o-meter.)

      Obviously Bouckaert knows how to brew a Flemish red. How then does his fall shy of Rodenbach's? I won't guess except to add this observation. A key feature of the Rodenbach method involves its famous wooden tuns. These ancient vessels (the oldest is 150 years) are alive with wild buggies. It is they that define Rodenbach, a beer that starts out rather mundanely, with regular saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale) yeast. It picks up the funk from the barrels, some of which date back to the period, in the 19th century, when Rodenbach was spontaneously fermented. Those wild yeasts came from a different Belgium--a pre-industrial country far richer in fruit trees (on which reside brettanomyces) and far lower in industrial gunk.

      Bouckaert has no access to 150-year-old barrels. He has to try to mimic the character of Rodenbach by other means. Of all the New Belgium beers I've tried, La Folie is the one that most impresses me--it's not a slightly safer version of the original, as are so many of New Belgium's Flemish re-interpretations. Bouckaert has gone for it. It is well-appreciated by beer geeks, who appreciate the effort. But to me, La Folie is too sharp and too young--by maybe a hundred years.

      Have you tried La Folie? Your thoughts?



      _________________
      PHOTO: EMERALD CITY SUPERTASTERS / link

      Monday, June 15, 2009

      More Tech

      I seem to be running a mini-theme week on technology here--Beer Signal, beer bikes, and now beer pouches. However, while I endorse the first two, this just seems lame:
      Using what is called “organoleptic film structure”, the CarboPouch by the Beverage Pouch Group boasts that the taste of the beer will be unchanged, and that it will retain all the properties it needs to remain fresh. Designed primarily for “artisan” (love that word) beer makers, it would allow them to quickly sell beer to go. Living in one of the MicroBrew capitals of the US, I wonder when I’ll see these pop up in Portland. The shape alone could provide for some entertaining scenarios. Have them up your sleeve or dangling outta your pants, it would be easy to sneak these into venues and such.
      I believe that old-school "bottle" tech is doing us just fine. If you really want to go light-weight and high-tech, pick up a sixer of Caldera in cans. But the pouches ... no.

      ____________
      PHOTO: GADGET REVIEW / link

      Sunday, June 14, 2009

      Widmer 84/09 Double Alt

      Although it was released weeks ago, I only just got around to sampling Widmer's 25th Anniversary celebratory beer, a "double alt," last week. (Not a traditional style, but hey, you can double anything, right?) Before I get into the review, I should make note of how much this beer contrasts Guinness's recent 250-year anniversary beer--an opportunity squandered with a dud of a beer. Maybe when your company is owned by an international conglomerate and the oldest surviving employee was born 185 years after the brewery was founded it just doesn't inspire romantic recipes. Maybe that explains Guinness's lame beer.

      Widmer, on the other hand, offers true romance. Although their milestone is somewhat more modest--a tenth the time--that also means it's more personal. The brewery doesn't have to guess what the founders would brew to mark the anniversary, they just have to ask. And so that brings us to 84/09.

      I could be wrong, but I think that if the Widmer Brothers Brewery were a novel,Kurt and Rob wouldn't have written a hero of the shy, retiring Hefeweizen variety, but rather the burly, can-do mensch like the alt they first brewed. Thus we don't get an Imperial Hefeweizen (or, in the Guinness mode, another variation on that them designed purely to drive sales), but a double alt. It celebrates the heart and soul of the brewery, not its commercial base.

      Tasting Notes
      Alts have missed out on the current (now years-long) trend of imperialization, but this isn't surprising--alts are mostly missed by breweries in the first place. Yet alt isn't a bad style to beef up. Alts exhibit the characteristics of lagers--clean, crisp beers with no fruity esters typical of ales--and yet they are ales. The style predates true lagering, but indicates the German predisposition toward this type of beer. Yet they differ from many other German lagers, too--though they're malty, they are marked by an often assertive hoppiness. The Widmers' original alt was vividly hopped (and too aggressively so for the mid-80s palates of Oregon drinkers). 84/09, though different in character, captures that original energy.

      This beer has a lot of heft to it. It comes out of the bottle like oil, very thick and surprisingly opaque (though about the expected hue of brown). It's not that the beer is murky, just that the malt parts per million are a lot higher than in an average beer. The head is dense and creamy, and managed to stick around despite the nearly 10% of alcohol trying to burn it off from below. The nose is roasty and warm.

      The flavor is equally impressive. Lots of roast in the malty first note, but the hops are there, too. It has much the quality of a doppelbock, but the hops suggest something else. There's a pronounced caramelized note that comes through like brown sugar. What really lept out to me (though not so much to other drinkers, apparently) were the hops. No doppelbock has ever sported this kind of bitterness. It's by no means overwhelming (70 BUs in a beer this dark and strong isn't aggressive), but they are present and persistent.

      To be honest, the beer could use six months for the flavors to come together. When you have high-hop, high-alcohol, and richly-malty beers, that's usually the case. These flavors could do with a bit of time to get to know each other. Put a few bottles away for winter and break them out with the roast beast. It'll be perfect then. If I was forced to rate the beer now, I'd give it a B+, but my guess is this will be an A by November.

      Stats
      Malts: 2-Row Pale, Munich Malt, Caramel 40 L, Dark Chocolate malt, Roasted Barley
      Hops: Alchemy for bittering, Willamette’s for aroma
      ABV: 9.8%
      BUs: 70
      OG: 21.0 Plato

      With This, Life in Beervana Will Be Complete

      Two words: beer bike. Actually, "bike" isn't quite right--it's a mobile, pedal-powered bar that drinkers guide through the streets of Amsterdam. Have a look:



      Outside of Amsterdam, what other city do you know off-hand so closely associated with bikes and beer? Portland is a no-brainer for this technology! Would not a tour of the city be much more entertaining with a pint? How about a mobile beer fest, with a flotilla of roving beer bikes? Heck, even Trimet might be able to hold off on the next round of fare hikes if they ran a few of these along key routes (every third 14 bus, down Hawthorne, say). The opportunities are limitless.

      I sense a business opportunity...

      (Though I got wind of this contraption thanks to recent news that a couple of recent accidents have jeopardized these even in the Amsterdam, so maybe it's not the safest business model.)

      Friday, June 12, 2009

      Beer Signal App is Live

      Rewind six months. It's December, and we we're in the midst of that amazing snowstorm. Despite the city's paralysis, we manage to find a bus downtwon downtown so Sally and I can pick up twin iPhones--our gifts to each other for the holiday. Even before we were back home, I was looking for apps. It didn't occur to me until a few days later--wouldn't it be cool if there were an app that updated me on which beers were currently pouring at area pubs? I reported on an early version of this called Draftlist, but yesterday a far more sophisticate app came on line: Beer Signal.

      Kerry Finsand and the guys who launched Taplister are behind the app, and it works more or less the same as that site. I just downloaded it yesterday and I haven't screwed around with it much, but the functionality looks fantastic. Here's how Finsand and Co. describe it:
      Beer Signal is an iPhone app that helps you bring your friends together to enjoy some good beer at your favorite establishments around town. Powered by Taplister.com, the app leverages the power of social networks like Twitter and Shizzow, and it simplifies the task of inviting the friends of your choice to join you at your current location, or to plan to meet somewhere in the future. By using the dynamic database of local pubs and watering holes, you can find who serves your favorite craft beers, or who has the latest seasonal brews on tap. You can also post a tweet telling your friends what you are drinking, or informing the database that a beer is no longer on tap at a particular location.
      It's free, so you should definitely download it if you have an iPhone. (To those of you who don't live in Portland: sorry. This version is only available for our fair city, though I assume they plan to expand in the future.) Let the informed tippling begin!


      Update. In comments below, Patrick observes, "I tried Bailey's, which keeps an updated tap lists on their website, and the results did not correspond well at all."

      I should have mentioned more about the function when I posted this item. It's truly an experiment in 21st Century connectivity and neural-networking. No one person keeps this updated (a task that would be nearly impossible). Rather, it depends on inputs from two main sources--Twitter and users. The designers have created a bot that updates the site when people or pubs use Twitter. (You have to use a specific nomenclature so the bot can find the updates: "drinking Pilsner Urquell at Green Dragon #ontappdx.") And now, with the app, you can instantly update taplists while you're drinking in a pub. The more people who use it and participate in keeping it updated, the more it will function properly. I've no doubt that the early weeks will be rocky, but I'm prepared to do my bit and keep it updated when I hit the pubs.

      Thursday, June 11, 2009

      Best Brewery?

      The Full Pint is running a poll of the "best Pacific NW brewery." As I find polls irresistible, I helplessly clicked through. And then I was confronted with an impossible decision. Best brewery? How would you even begin to assess such a thing? It's far worse than trying to identify a favorite beer (also an impossibility), because you don't even have a standard for measure. Best beer? Best pub? Best location? Best brewer?

      Deschutes, which has long had the savviest online presence, tweeted the poll a couple hours ago and are crushing the competition (they've garnered 58% of the vote, out of 32 breweries).

      Although I did click a box, I did so out of advocacy--I selected a smaller, non-urban brewery that fewer people know about. Given the impossibility of the task, that seemed as good as any criteria I could imagine.


      Cost Calculator
      In other news, resident techie Bill has a post up at It's Pub Night that will convert any volume of beer into a six-pack equivalent. That four dollar 22-ouncer look like a deal? Well, plug it into the SPE calc and you realize--yipes, $13.09, that's a bit spendy. So go and play around. (It reminds me of the old days, when I stood in front of the beer cooler and regarded 16-ounce Rainier pounders, 11-ounce Heidelbergs, and the usual assortment of 12-ouncers and tried to figure which was the best deal. Of course, that was way, way before the internets.)

      Brewers Summer Games in Pacific City

      Due to a packed schedule and an already loaded Portland beer calendar, I often skip very cool events in other regions of Greater Beervana. One that has hovered at the periphery of my imagination is the annual Brewers Summer Games, an event lauded by those who have visited one of the five previous iterations. Here's Tom Dalldorf, writing in the Celebrator in '06:
      The Summer Games were conceived by brewer Jon Graber, then of Mt. Hood Brewery, to be a test of brewers’ athletic skills — and mainly to be an excuse to consume each other's beer. The event originally was planned to alternate between winter games on Mt. Hood and summer games at the beach....

      The Games consist of several beer-themed events, including Building a Jockey Box (so the event organizers didn't have to), Slalom Course Beer Service with a Smile, Hand Truck Keg Wrestling, Keg Sled Drag Race, Keg Toss, Mash Transfer Relay, Yeast Slurry Balloon Toss, Crappy Industrial Beer Can Toss, the challenging Keg Relay Race to the Ocean and other feats of skill and cunning.
      (Incidentally, the winter games were abandoned, and now the tradition is set in Pacific City, by host Pelican Brewery.)

      This year's Games are scheduled to begin at noon on Saturday, June 20, and for the first time, I will get to see what they're all about. As it happens, Pelican has invited me to MC the event, no doubt a serious blunder on their part. (When they invited me, I asked, "You do realize that you're a world-famous and decorated brewery and I'm a blogger, don't you?" They claimed to understand the situation.) Former MCs include the illustrious Lisa Morrison, who will be there judging. If I start to tank too badly, maybe she can save the day.

      Here's the details. It looks like a fun time, so if you can pull yourself out of the gravity your metro area, head on down.
      Brewers Summer Games
      Pelican Brewery, Pacific City, OR [directions]
      Noon to 8pm

      Admission is free, and all proceeds go to the Nestucca’s Booster Club and the Caring Cabin. Nestucca’s Boosters supports athletics and other extracurricular activities in local schools. Supported by the Children’s Cancer Association, Caring Cabin is a lakeside retreat near the Oregon Coast for families of critically ill children and those diagnosed with cancer.

      Participating Breweries and Distributors (who'll bring beer!)
      Bridgeport, Calapooia, Deschutes, Ft. George, Golden Valley, Gorge Brewers, Hopworks, Laurelwood, Lucky Lab, Lompoc, Maletis, Ninkasi, Pelican, Point Blank, Ram, Rogue, Silver City, Silver Moon, Upright

      ______________
      PHOTO: Celebrator Beer News / source

      Wednesday, June 10, 2009

      To Receive Free Samples or Not?

      In the past week, I've been offered free beer samples by two international breweries. The first I didn't bother to capitalize on--Newcastle Brown. (They were offering half-racks, which tells you something about the beer.) But today I got an email from Warsteiner. Now, I don't have a moral problem with taking samples--it's understood that such a small transaction doesn't constitute anything more than an opportunity to be reviewed.

      But the bigger question is whether you care about random foreign breweries. I want to keep the focus of the blog on local beer, and I assume that's where your interest is, as well. On the other hand, you know what they say about assuming...

      So should I make it a habit of turning these down? That's where I'm leaning.

      Two Super-Short Reviews

      1. Heater Allen IsarWeizen
      Background: "Sarah Billick, a friend of my [Rick Allen's] daughter's, spent a year taking classes and interning at the IsarBrau Brew Pub in Munich. She brought back the recipe for their Wheat Beer, and we made it here at the brewery." I have no idea how difficult it is to brew a traditional German weizen, but Heater Allen falls just short in this effort. It has the elements in the right place, but not the oomph. The wheat isn't pronounced, the fun phenols are subdued, and it finishes more wetly and less crisply than I'd like. If you'd never had a Weihenstephaner, say, you might find this one quite nice. But for the rest of us, it's about a B-.

      2. Double Mountain Vaporizer
      Double Mountain specializes in taking standard styles and putting a little mustard on them. Vaporizer, styled a "golden IPA," is a beer brewed exclusively with pilsner malt and hopped with mostly Challenger hops. A more characteristic IPA has some crystal malts to create some body and sweetness to balance the hopping. These, or similar malts, will also deepen the color. Challenger hops are a traditonal English bittering hop--generally a clean hop without a huge amount of character. Double Mountain used a domestic strain, however, and it is more citrusy and fruity. The final result is an extremely quaffable beer, hops aggressive but not savage. I would love to tell you that it's a comely, straw-colored beer, but at the release party they served the beer in opaque plastic cups. What struck me more than anything was a desire to try this beer on cask. Call it a solid B+.

      Tuesday, June 09, 2009

      Ben Cannon Speaks (About the Beer Tax)

      Second-term Representative Ben Cannon has a fascinating post on BlueOregon this morning. He is, as many of you will recall, the sponsor of the latest version of Oregon's perennial (and perennially-defeated) beer tax. In the post, he describes the lessons he's learned trying to push this through. I'd say the whole post deserves a read, but I'll distill the post here, in case you'd like to continue a discussion we've had for lo these many months.

      1. "Whereas" clauses matter.
      Like many bills, House Bill 2461 includes a preamble consisting of a series of "whereas" statements (e.g. "Whereas addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is both preventable and treatable")... The tone left some brewers and beer enthusiasts, the vast majority of whom consume beer safely and responsibly, feeling defensive about their product -- before they even got to the legal meat of the bill.

      2. I get to set my legislative priorities, but not the level of attention those priorities receive.
      As my legislative priorities go, raising the beer tax has not been at the top of the list. I ran for the Legislature with an interest in education policy, health care reform, and reforming our unstable and inadequate system of public finance.... Yet the beer tax has drawn far more public attention than any other issue I've worked on in three years. In retrospect, I should not have been surprised. The media loves tax proposals and finds this one, with its everyman impact and moral innuendo, particularly irresistible.... When we introduced the bill, I wasn't sure it would even get a committee hearing. Six months later, I have had to spend more time defending this proposal than any other.

      3. Fifteen cents was too high.
      This is a tough one to acknowledge, but it's true. If beer taxes were applied at point of sale, I have little doubt that beer producers and drinkers could easily withstand a fifteen cent increase in Oregon's less-than-a-penny beer tax. But beer excise taxes are paid by breweries (for beer brewed in Oregon) and distributors (for beer imported from out-of-state).

      4. Beer taxes are marked up to the consumer, by about twofold.
      Research about the impact of beer tax increases in Alaska and other states, published by the National Tax Journal and the National Bureau of Economic Research, concludes that beer taxes are marked-up, on average, by a factor of about two. In other words, raising the excise tax by 15 cents increases the price of a bottle to the consumer by about 30 cents -- after middlemen have taken their cut.

      5. Beer is an important part of the cultural and economic fabric of Oregon.
      Well, duh.... They're a major source of civic pride. But to be honest, until this experience, I did not have a full appreciation for the passion that many Oregonians have for their beer, not to mention the number of people who work in the industry.... In drafting the legislation, I focused on the fact that 80-90 percent of Oregon's beer tax revenues are generated on large, corporate, out-of-state beers. The remainder is a small percentage of the total, but it is still a huge industry for this state.

      So have I changed my mind about raising the beer tax?
      Absolutely not. The facts remain: Oregon hasn't raised its beer tax in more than 30 years. Ours is among the very lowest beer taxes in the country.... But I have tried to apply the above lessons to a new version of the tax. My colleagues and I have worked on an amendment that would raise the tax to 1.5 cents on beer from "small" breweries (ones that meet the federal definition of under 2,000,000 barrels per year, including every brewery in Oregon). For beer from large, out-of-state breweries, it would go higher; say, 5 or 7 cents. We would dedicate the revenue (somewhere in the range of $80 million per biennium) to public safety and addiction treatment. (And we strike the "whereas" clauses!)

      As you can see, Cannon has made two major concessions here: he's admitted that the tax was way too high and that the per-glass figure he used to sell the bill was based on a faulty calculation. It's admirable for a legislator to offer a "lessons learned" post on a bill that didn't make it. Again, you should read the whole thing if you're interested.

      A Little Help

      This is a longshot, but what the hay. The Oregon Brewers Guild maintains a wonderful collection of statistics about Oregon beer, like:
      • Oregon is the second largest producer of craft beer in the US.

      • Oregon is the 4th largest craft beer market in the US in supermarket sales.

      • 37% Percent of all draft beer consumed in Oregon is brewed in Oregon.

      • Oregon has the 4th highest percentage of beer draft sales in the US.

      • Oregonians consumed ... about 12 percent of the total beer consumed in Oregon - the highest percentage of local craft beer consumption in the country.
      I'm looking for stats like these about Washington. Neither website for the Washington Brewers Guild (which is badly out of date) nor the Washington Beer Commission collect these stats. Anyone have an idea how you might track them down?

      Even better, what I'd really like are stats like Oregon's for both WA and OR--so how much of the two states' beer is consumed by the two states, etc. But that may be pushing it. Holler if you have a clue.

      (Incidentally, Brian Butenschoen of the Oregon Brewers Guild gave me what he had, but obviously, he's not in the business of producing promotional facts about Washington State's breweries.)

      Monday, June 08, 2009

      Mental Health Day

      You wouldn't think a person would need a mental health day from a beer blog. You'd be wrong. Sometimes, I can't think of anything to say, even when the topic's as easy and obvious as beer.

      Saturday, June 06, 2009

      Craft Beer Segment Still Growing

      This item, now over two weeks old, nearly escaped my attention. I can find no other sources reporting it--strange, given what good news it is. The upshot--craft brewing is holding its own in the recession.
      Throughout the U.S. beer industry, overall shipments from brewers have declined 3 percent year-to-date compared with the previous year, said Benj Steinman, president of the trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights. Import shipments have declined 19.3 percent, with domestic shipments down 1.8 percent....

      For the 52 weeks that ended on March 9, craft beer sales rose 12.6 percent from the previous 52-week period, compared with 3 percent for all beer, according to data from market researchers the Nielsen Company.
      The report is a little confusing--craft beer sales are up, but they don't mention craft beer shipments. For other segments, shipments are down marginally. So it's unclear whether increased profits come from increased prices. (And indeed, based on my extremely anecdotal experience, prices are definitely up from a year ago.) Still, it looks like good news.

      We'll have to wait to see more recent numbers to see if the trend is continuing. But we'll take provisionally good news where we can find it.

      Friday, June 05, 2009

      Weekend Best Bet

      And now for something completely different. Usually I try to direct your attention to a variety of beers that interest me on the assumption that you might find yourself in a number of different pubs. Today I'm going to highlight a single beer, and one that won't even be pouring until 4:30 on Sunday. That's when Lauren Salazar will be at the Green Dragon along with four beers from New Belgium. And among the beers that interest me is Dandelion Ale.

      Dandelions are an old-fashioned botanical most closely associated with wine. In this case, New Belgium has augmented a low-hopped beer with fresh dandelion greens and grains of paradise. And it's a hefty beer, too, at 7.8%. Sounds tres Belgique.
      New Belgium Tasting at the Green Dragon
      4:30pm, Sunday
      928 S.E. Ninth Ave.

      Beer Taxes and Industry Vibrancy

      A couple days ago, Jay Brooks posted an interesting graphic from the Tax Foundation showing the exise rates per gallon in each state. Brooks' comment:
      It’s worth noting that all the southern states have high excise taxes on beer, where the idea of drinking being sinful is, I think, more prevalent.
      That's a good point. But something else is worth noting, too. Look at the map. Now look at the high-tax states. Utah, the South, Oklahoma--these are not generally regarded as brewing hot-spots (click to enlarge).



      I don't want to identify the direction of causality here, but it is striking to look at the difference among the categories of taxation and see how many breweries they have per-capita. Within these categories, there's one brewery for every:
      Low tax states: 164,728 people
      Med tax states: 198,331 people
      High tax states: 366,526 people
      National average: 204,906 people
      So medium-tax states are have about as many breweries per-capita as the national average. But low-tax states have 2.2 times more breweries per-capita than high-tax states.

      If Oregon were to pass the current beer tax as written, we'd go from 8 cents a gallon to $1.67 a gallon--60 cents higher than Alaska, the current high. Maybe there's no causality here--maybe Southerners just don't do microbrews. But maybe there is a relationship. This is what gives me the willies--I'm just not willing to take such a massive gamble that there isn't a relationship.

      Thursday, June 04, 2009

      New Smoking Law

      So can anyone shed any light on the new smoking law? A week or so back I went to Oaks Bottom and went out to the patio area and found it thick with smoke. Nothing, however, compared to yesterday's trip to EastBurn. Seemed like everyone there was smoking. Apparently the law doesn't prohibit smoking on patios, even if they're essentially closed in?

      Anyone know what the deal is here?

      (Yes, I was on balance in favor of the ban, but this isn't a complaint--just wondering what the law is.)