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Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Ale Fest Preview

Holiday Ale Festival, Dec 2-6
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Wed, 2 pm - 10pm
Thurs-Sat, 11am - 10pm
Sun, 11am - 7pm
Website | Twitter feed

Portland now has three or four festivals that beer geeks consider must-see events, but putting one atop the list would be hard work. With one very major caveat, the Holiday Ale Fest may now be in the driver's seat. At no other fest do breweries send such rare, limited-release beers. Barrel aging is now the norm, and some of these have been treated to months of care. Beers come mainly from the West Coast, but the Fest manages a few international classics, as well. Add to that the special tastings that include vintage beers and you have Beervana's most concentrated collection of fine beer of the year.

The caveat: until organizers figure out how to fold space into inter-dimensional pockets, the size of the venue (Pioneer Courthouse Square) is not adequate to manage the size of the crowd. Last year they eked out a bit more space by adding an upper level, but it was still insanely busy. That upper tier returns this year, along with the expanded days, so you might find a time and place to enjoy a relatively peaceful pour. Friday and Saturday nights? Not so much.

Trends
While barleywines and winter warmers are a regular feature, we have a couple of interesting trends this year. Porters and stouts are making a serious showing. This is excellent news, for they are ideally suited for the Portland winter months. In particular, there are three Baltic porters, four imperial stouts, and four flavored stouts (plus a flavored porter). I don't know if this counts as a trend or not, but there are four abbey ales. Experimentation with Belgian-inspired beers, mainly in the form of Upright and Cascade, continues apace.

Interesting Beers
You know what you like. You don't need a blogger to tell you what to drink. But if you're looking for something to fill in your hand, these are the ones I'll be looking at:
  • Stouts. Perhaps my fave style, and I may not drink anything else. (Not true.) In order, these are the ones that call to me: Bear Republic Baba Yaga, an imperial stout aged in cabernet barrels, MacTarnahan's Chocolate Imperial, not exactly imperial strength, but featuring chocolate nibs and oats, Ninkasi Unconventionale, a tarragon, lavender, and heather-spiced imperial.
  • Cascade Sang Noir. An absurd mixture of vintages, mixtures, and barrels, with a few bing cherries for good measure. Only available at the fest.
  • Baltic Porters. Perhaps my fave style. Wait... Anyway, three here, but depending on which booth I arrive at first, I'll be trying either Laurelwood's Polska Porter (10%!) or Hopworks' Kronan the Barbarian.
  • Block 15 Oaked Saint Nick. An old ale aged in toasted American oak and dry-hopped with Mt. Hoods.
  • Hair of the Dog JIM, 2009 vintage. A blended ale brewed only for the fest.
  • Fort George North III. I am drawn to the diced sugar plums added to this trippel, but I fear it might be overhopped (99 IBUs). Still.
No doubt this will not form a complete list, but it's my target starting beers. Also of note, I've had the Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux in the past, and it's amazing. Spend the two tokens if you've never had it.

Special Tastings
Again, you know what you like. Still, I should draw your attention to a couple of stand-outs. 2007 was the year Hair of the Dog first released JIM, and it was an exceptional beer. Just one keg of this vintage remains, and it will be tapped at 2pm on Wednesday. Also in that time slot, the Fest's oldest beer, a 2003 Old Knucklehead (BridgePort) and a 2005 Samichlaus. At 5:30, they'll tap a 2007 Scaldis Noel. I don't know what this beer tastes like aged, but it's sublime when they release it. Probably worth a couple tickets to find out.

If you're around at 11 the next morning, you might watch Bayern tap its wooden cask of Face Plant with a wood hammer and spigot. But for beer (not to say that Face Plant, a weizenbock, won't be delicious), I'd try the Kona Da Grind Kona Coffee Imperial Stout. At 5:30, they'll tap Lompoc's Bourbon-barrel Aged Pagen Porter, which looks tasty.

They'll do special tastings Friday and Saturday, too, but they haven't yet released the line-up. Check in on their Twitter feed or Facebook page for updates.

I will be at the Fest on Wednesday for a blogger tasting, and I'll report back my findings. I'll go one other time with friends, too--probably Saturday. Reports as I have them, plus I'll guide you to other news/reviews as I see them. Cheers!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

64 Proof Beer

And to think that BrewDog's Atlantic IPA looks inexpensive by comparison:
A controversial Scottish brewery has launched what it described as the world's strongest beer - with a 32% alcohol content. Tactical Nuclear Penguin has been unveiled by BrewDog of Fraserburgh. BrewDog was previously branded irresponsible for an 18.2% beer called Tokyo, which it then followed with a low alcohol beer called Nanny State. Managing director James Watt said a limited supply of Tactical Nuclear Penguin would be sold for £30 each.
It provoked a predictable reaction that will no doubt encourage the BrewLads to aim even higher:
However Jack Law, of Alcohol Focus Scotland, described it was a "cynical marketing ploy" and said: "We want to know why a brewer would produce a beer almost as strong as whisky."
Yes, why indeed?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Leftovers

The New York Times has a business piece about brewery start-ups, contrasting the local versus national models:
Patrick Rue, who operates the Bruery out of a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Placentia, Calif., is pursuing a different strategy.... “We need to sell a little bit of beer in a lot of places,” Mr. Rue said. “That’s our bridge to survival.”

On the other hand, the Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, which is based in Cincinnati, is focusing on its local market, where demand has outstripped the supply this tiny brewery can produce.
I have long wondered about these models, and this may bear some closer scrutiny--is one model better than the other, and does it matter where the brewery is located?

Also of note, Samurai Artist tweeted about yet another new brewery--Alchemy, helmed by a famliar name, Jason McAdam, formerly with Roots. From the website:

Alchemy is brewing up a sensational lineup of old and new world beers and artisan meats that will be crafted and served at our SE Portland location. Our unfiltered beers will be brewed with organic ingredients and expertly aged by veteran local brewers. Alchemy beer will be available in-house, to-go, and off-premise at fine local establishments.

Yet another brewery to be thankful for!

TV Segment

At long last, here's the segment on winter ales from KOIN's "Keep it Local." My gaffes were limited to staring at my shoes at the start (my, isn't Jeff bald!) and totally blanking out on what an alt was. KOIN, unfortunately, has gaffed by cutting this clip short--and leaving off most of the Oakshire tasting. Sorry Matt!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Favorite Things

Those of which I am particularly thankful.
1. Twenty-one breweries within 6 miles of my house

2. Theater pubs

3. Aroma hops

4. Two breweries and a gastropub slated to open within one mile of my house

5. Rainy skies and imperial stouts

6. Open fermenters

7. Festivals under Christmas trees

8. Fred Eckhardt

9. Bittering Hops

10. Brewing women and bearded brewers

11. Sour beers

12. Great views

13. Beer bloggers

14. Fresh hops
Have a great Thanksgiving, folks--

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What if ...

...I went on teevee and no one saw it? As of this morning, much of yesterday's "Keep It Local" had been posted to the website. But not my winter beer tasting. I was there, though--honest! I even took some cell-phone pics as I waited for my segment.





If and when the clip gets posted, I'll let you know.

Local Wine at the White House--Cool, but...

An Oregon winery made a bit of a splash yesterday when its riesling was featured at the huge White House gala with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.* (Not only because it was a local wine, but because the official menu misspelled "Willamette." D'oh!) Cool beans for the Brooks Winery, yet another in a fairly long list of local wines to be served at the White House. But we voted for change! Wine is so passe--hasn't the President (noted beer drinker) gotten the message that ales are the new pinot?

The next time the White House throws a chichi fete--say when Angela Merkel visits--Obama ought to take bold leadership and serve beer. As a way of showing the way, let's have a look at last night's menu and see how we might have paired the courses with food.

Course: Potato and eggplant salad, White House arugala with onion vinaigrette.
Pairing: I'd choose something with a bit of sweet malt to contrast the tartness of the vinaigrette and the bitter/spiciness of the arugala. You want something light, though, so it will draw out the flavors and not overwhelm them. How about a nice pale ale. Since Obama likes to play the high/low card, let's go with Caldera Pale Ale, in the can.

Course: Red lentil soup with fresh cheese
Pairing: "Fresh cheese" doesn't give us much to go on, but let's guess that this is a slightly heartier course. When I hear "cheese," I think Belgian, so we could suggest something like Upright Four or--since we're highlighting the nation, not just Beervana--New Belgium Dandelion Ale.

Course: Roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chick peas, and okra or green curry prawns, caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens, and coconut aged basmati.
Pairing: In honor of India, the White House has made a variation on traditional Indian food. The pairing here is obvious--it needs to be a light lager, typical of the Subcontinent. I've recently had US-brewed Kingfisher, a classic Indian brand, and it's a great beer. Unlike its Indian version, the US recipe is quite nicely hopped, sharp, clean, and dry. It would go perfectly with the meal and be a nice show of international cooperation.

Course: Pumpkin pie tart, pear tatin, whipped cream and caramel sauce
Pairing: This seasonally-appropriate dessert calls for a seasonally-appropriate beer. To draw out the darker, earthier notes from the pumpkin pie, and to help cut the sweet, I would choose a dark dry beer here. One of America's finest is Anchor porter--a fine note on which to end a meal.

Someone alert the President about this, will you?

_________________
*Errata to file under "small world." The Beeronomist--he doesn't want us to call him that, but some titles stick, and in Beervana it's an honorific, anyway--once met the Prime Minister, back when he was just a technocrat in the Rao government during the Clinton days. Singh is, you see, an economist by training, and so they have a professional connection. Beer and politics? Sidelights.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ninkasi Sleigh'r

I suppose we should get this out of the way first: I am not comfortable with the allusion by Ninkasi's Sleigh'r to the thrash metal band Slayer. Afficianados of heavy metal will assure you that Slayer is full of more thrashy goodness than the competition (Metallica partisans notwithstanding). I am not an afficianado. (I'm more of a Ponytail, Eels, Tom Waits, Miles Davis kind of man.)

But I can forgive Ninkasi their musical tastes. Beer, they say, unites all. Sleigh'r is, unexpectedly, a double alt. Ninkasi, like--well, like a heavy metal band--tends to stick to a narrow range of beers. The Ninkasi standard is an ale, large, loud, and muscular. They have dabbled in variants before--Schwag, for example. Sleigh'r is in this mode, a fun one-off.

I have to confess, I judged this beer by its label. I didn't expect much, yet it was absolutely gorgeous pouring out. You think it's chestnut brown until you hold it up to the light and see the Christmas cranberry. It produces a lush, rich head and gives off a wonderful malty nose. In the end, it's a pretty straightforward interpretation of style (which also caught me off guard). The malt body is rich and clean, and there are nicely insistent hops. They're not showy or funky, just assertive, as you'd hope for in an alt.

Overall, very nicely done. I'd give this a B+.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Through the Eyes of Others

Portland beer drinkers spend so much time talking about ourselves (I'm allowed--I have a blog) that it's interesting to get the perspective of visitors. Today's report comes from John Dodge, writing for The Olympian.
On Friday night we crossed the Willamette River to the Hawthorne neighborhood in southeast Portland for some more pub crawling. This neighborhood has a weathered, counterculture feel to it, typified by the Lucky Labrador brew pub housed in an old roofing and sheet metal warehouse. The pub fare – spicy peanut curry over chicken, rice and vegetables – was savory, and the Dog Day IPA was hoppy enough for my taste.
He got some bad service at Roots, which led to a scathing dismissal--proof that even one bad evening can affect a pub.

Beer Tasting With Jeff

Tomorrow I will be filming a shot segment for the show "Keep It Local," which airs daily at 4pm on KOIN TV. We will be tasting winter beers, four or five, of which I have three identified. Don't know if it will air on Tuesday, but it conceivably could. For those of you with the fortune to be near a TV set at four, tune in--if only to see how many gaffes I commit. I'll do my best to track down the video for those who can't watch at that hour.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Rock n Roll Tastes Better Than Yours

Example 287 demonstrating that Portland is Beervana: when your coolest high-concept indie rock band homebrews. I give you the Decemberists:



And on that note--have a fine weekend!

Three Winter Ales, Tasted Blindly

In prep for my media appearance next week (you like how I'm trying to pique interest here?), I blind-tasted three winter warmers last night. I figure we need to do one pretty traditional NW winter warmer. This was really one of the first sophisticated beer styles to achieve fruition, and I have always loved the season's beers as a result.

For my tasting, I chose three I know I like and which are available in the bottle: Deschutes Jubelale, Full Sail Wassail, and Laurelwood's Vinter Varmer. I figure rather than just pick one at random, I should taste them and let the winner emerge. I had Sally pour them out and I tasted them blind. Below are my notes:
All beers are roughly the same color—dark, amber highlights, off-white heads. Of the three, beer one is more straight brown, beer two redder but lighter, beer three red but darker.

Beer one
Mild aroma, tiny yeast quality, tiny hops. Flavor—extremely creamy and rich. Lovely. On the sweet side, but the hops keep it in balance, perhaps fading just a touch green and sharp at the end. Could use a bit more age. Frothy. Malt is candyish. Quaffable, comforting.

Beer two
Frothy head with batter-like head of mixed size bubbles. Sweet, cola-like aroma with just a bit of orange zest. Another very creamy beer, but with a lush hop character--though without bitterness. Earthy, and the cola in the aroma comes across in the palate as a beguiling rooty note. As the beer warms, it strengthens as the hops open up.

Beer three
Tight head of slightly darker color. Again, sweet malt in the nose, but roasty. Palate is likewise roasty. A malty beer with character nodding in the direction of a dry stout. Has a more substantial body. Very nicely balanced; the roast doesn’t overwhelm. At the end you arrive at a tripartite malty sweet, hop bitter, and roastyharmony.
All three beers were great. I was able to guess pretty easily that beer three was Vinter Varmer, a beer characterized by its roastiness. Jubelale and Wassail have always been brothers from another mother--so close, so lovely, two of my very favorite beers of all time. I guessed that beer two, with its lush hop character and sweet body was Deschutes, while the more assertively hopped, sharper beer one was Wassail, from hop-loving Full Sail. Turns out I was correct.

Although I like all three, as they warmed up, the Jubel really began to sing. It has always been a crowd-pleaser, and it's because the profile is so approachable. There's nary a hard edge here--it's like a hot chocolate on a cold day. But for the beer geeks, the layered quality of malt and hop, especially later-boil hops, give it quite a high "beer IQ." So for Tuesday, Jubel it is.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Advice

I may be making a media appearance to talk about winter beers next week. (And by "may" I mean "will"--more next week.) I am thinking of a diverse line-up--that is, not all just winter warmers. I have a few ideas, but I wouldn't want to overlook anything. I think bottled beers will be the preference.

Suggestions?

Flag on the Play: Unnecessary Shortage of Beer

I make it to a pub about twice a month. Odd for a beer blogger, I know, but there it is. So generally I try to make the trip count. Last night, I made it down to the Widmer Gasthaus to try the new Collaborator beer--CXI, made with loaves of pumpernickel. I live a lot closer to It's a Beautiful Pizza, where this beer is purportedly also pouring, but I wasn't taking any chances. Go to the source: go to the brewery.

The very nice waitress took my order and I settled in with the Blazers game playing overhead. A few minutes later, she returned. CXI was not available, nor would it be all evening. (?) Chagrined and mystified, I ordered an alt. Nice beer, but I've had it dozens of times. So what gives? Why is a beer, barely out a week, not available at the brewery that produced it? And I was even considering a growler!

Already cultivating an old man's propensity toward crankiness, this kind of thing is no benefit.


The universal symbol of a dead tap.


Update. Widmer just tweeted that Collaborator is back on tap. (Fat lot of good it does me.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Good Ten-Dollar Beer Versus Bad Ten-Dollar Beer

As I read the comments to yesterday's post, a certain ambiguity started to emerge. Then Joe posted this comment and it became clear:
This is to me is the key point and was illustrated last night with my Pike Entire Stout. Not worth $10 bucks to me, not by a long shot. I think high price used to be a better signal for high quality. I think that link is broken and its buyer beware now.
Leaving aside the question of Pike's beer (for the record, Joe seems to be an outlier in his opinion), this is an interesting point. Does price signal quality? Did it ever? And, if it doesn't, how does the buyer make an informed decision?

My guess is that prices have only ever been a mediocre indication of quality. As some commenters have noted, you can find exceptional, inexpensive beers. (That's one of the reasons some people feel no beer is worth $10 or more.) On the other hand, you can spend a lot of money on a dud. To complicate matters, there's the question of taste. My A+ may be your B-.

I don't think pricing has ever been much guide at signaling quality--in beer or anything else. Some cars are fantastically expensive and break down all the time; others are cheap and reliable. Coffee at Starbucks is expensive and not particularly good. Budweiser is more expensive than Pabst, and only a tiny fraction of people could ever tell the difference.

At the base of it, I think people really trust and like breweries. Since craft brewing started, it has seemed like a communal effort. We connect so closely with the breweries we like that we feel like they are more friend than business. As if there's a social contract between breweries and customers. (I actually share this view.) So, when breweries charge a lot--even if the beer is good--it seems like a slight breach in the contract. As Jared said in comments, "It's all about the hype and money." (I don't share this view.)

There is a great equalizer in the age of the internet, however: information. We no longer have to buy a pig in a poke (or a beer in a dark bottle). We can look at what others are saying first. I've seen a little scorn directed at BeerAdvocate, but I find it pretty reliable. If a beer is getting mixed reviews and it's really expensive, I tend to skip it. Unless Bill or Derek or Angelo says it's tasty, in which case I might try it. I think breweries know this. They can move some product before the word gets out, but not enough to make it worthwhile to release an expensive dud. And information may be exactly the reason some beers are getting so expensive. Because we know certain beers are so well-regarded, they're almost a sure bet to be worth the money.

I've definitely been burned by lackluster beer, but not often. The word on bad ten-dollar beer gets out. Breweries learn this lesson and they don't burn their customers--or they don't and we don't buy their beer. Either way, we have better ways of identifying good beer than price tags.

I Got Nuthin

Some days I have no posts planned but hope that by trawling the web I will find something interesting. This is not one of those days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Are Specialty Beers Underpriced?

There must be something in the air. A debate raged last week on the Brew Crew listserve about how expensive beer ought to be. (General sense: less.) Earlier, Alan voiced similar concerns on his Good Beer Blog. Now Stan alerts us to a similar debate that broke out on his blog.

I guess it's not surprising--mix a spike in beer prices overall with the worst recession in seven decades, and people are likely to grumble. With regard to regular beer prices--I feel your pain. This is a tough time to have to spend more for a sixer. But when the discussion turns to the price of specialty beers, those limited-edition 22-ounce releases, I have to dissent. Matter of fact, I think there's a lot of evidence that at even $20, these bottles may be underpriced.

Markets
I am not an economist, but I think I understand the basics of markets. When supply and demand are in equilibrium, prices stay flat. When supply exceeds demand, prices drop as retailers try to sweeten the deal. This brings equilibrium back to markets, getting surplus product off shelves. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise as a way of moderating demand. This is the healthy function of markets.

Last week, I reviewed Pelican's Perfect Storm, a beer now ranked by BeerAdvocate beer geeks as among the best in the world. It sold for $20 a bottle. Some beer drinkers who wanted a sip of that delicious potion found the price off-putting. By this reckoning, the brewery shouldn't be trying to gouge its customers. The Abyss, ranked even higher than Pelican but nine dollars cheaper, also fanned the flames of discontent. Why look, Pliny is right there in between them, and it's a bargain.

Cost and Retail Margin
Let's unpack this. There are several moving parts: cost, retail margin, and supply/demand. Most beer drinkers consider only the first one. If a beer costs a brewery two bucks to make and it sells for twenty, they're gouging the customer. But even here, you have to consider much more than what the final product cost. There's the development of the beer, test batches, marketing and printing costs. When I spoke to Gary Fish recently, he mentioned that Deschutes spent four years developing Green Lakes, their organic beer. By the time they get a gluten-free beer to market, it will have taken about the same amount of time.

Next, there's the issue of retail margin. Stan captures this nicely:
Distributors will mark up the beer 28 to 32 percent before selling it to retailers, and retailers will mark that up another 30 to 35 percent. Special beers, like Old Rasputin XII tend to get marked up more. Take the middle of both those ranges and you’ll see a bottle of beer delivered to a distributor (which isn’t cheap when the bottle starts in Fort Bragg) for $10 would cost you $17.29 (more likely $16.99 or $17.99). Who’s making the real profit along the way?
Compare beers a brewery produces at $5, $10, and $15. Adding a 30% markup at distributor and retail levels brings that $5 beer to $8.45. At $10 it balloons to $16.90. And at $15, it shoots up to $25.35. If the brewery raises the price per bottle from five to fifteen dollars, it makes ten bucks, but it costs the consumer more than ten more.

Demand
Now let's consider the supply and demand issue. A brewery like Pelican simply can't produce very much Perfect Storm. They have limited production and storage capacity. This year they made about eight barrels of it. The demand for this beer was such that fully half was committed by pre-orders and the rest sold in days. Confronted with a situation like this, a brewery should raise its prices. Markets adapt to price points. Looking at the rapid sales, I'd make the argument that the beer was under-priced. Would Pelican have sold the beer at $25? $30? Pelican would know that the price point was right when the beer sold well, neither leaving product on shelves nor causing riots.

There is a virtue to this system beyond just maximizing profits (which is what breweries should be trying to do--they're businesses, not social service agencies). For the customer, pricing beer at the top end means slowing down sales. I suspect there were a lot of people out there who regret not getting a chance to buy a $20 bottle of Perfect Storm. Pricing things at their value means customers have a chance to buy them. It's a bit Darwinian, admittedly, but that's the nature of markets. It's still the best system--by a long shot--humans have devised. When breweries over-price beers, they pay the price, which is how Darwinism runs backward, too. Recently I was in Belmont and noticed that they still had a half-dozen or more BrewDog Atlantic IPAs. Apparently $26 is too expensive for an 11-ounce bottle.

And let's be honest: most people can still afford $20. That's a cheap bottle of pinot. In absolute dollars, it remains affordable--all the more so when you consider that almost no one else on this blue planet had a chance to buy The Perfect Storm at all. If breweries were social service agencies, I would expect them to hold prices down. But then, if we demanded that they just keep prices down, would they really try to shoot the moon and make a beer worth $20 in the marketplace? Making a world-class beer is its own reward, sure, but it also means you get to reap the benefits. Those pretty, green, presidential benefits.

As long as the Perfect Storm and The Abyss continue to sell so well, they will and should stay expensive. And that's a good thing.

Honest Pints in Houston, Texas

Okay, now we're getting somewhere: the first certified purveyor off the West Coast, and its in an unlikely state: Texas. Even better, the certification photo was sent in by what appears to be just an inspired bystander and beer fan named Hank. Any pub that can inspire customers is a pub I'd like to visit. But enough of the side talk. Drumroll please ... the latest Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint is:


McGonigel's Mucky Duck

2425 Norfolk
Houston, TX 77098
website




McGonigel's is an Irish-Texas pub that serves good beer and Irish food, but features lots of live, Lone Star music. I couldn't be happier to send out the certification letter and placard to a Houston zip code--and I will, today.

If you're down in Texas, you know where to go--

Monday, November 16, 2009

Collaborator CXI, a Pumpernickel Ale

Folks, I wanted to mention that the 11th-Anniversary Collaborator beer is now on tap at It's a Beautiful Pizza (3342 SE Belmont) and at the Widmer Gasthaus. This is a very special beer, sort of the tenth anniversary, but brewed a tad late. I've been waiting on it for months, but haven't yet had a pint. With luck, it will start appearing elsewhere soon.

To whet your interest, here is a brief description from a member of the Brew Crew. The beer was made not just with rye, but actual pumpernickel bread. (According to Wikipedia, pumpernickel is a mixture of rye flour and whole rye berries. So, they added bread straight to the mash:
"Twenty 3lb loaves of pumpernickel rye bread were hand-split and added to the mash. True pumpernickel flour (not just standard rye flour) is pretty difficult to find, and Ike had to do some work to find a bakery that could fill the order."
It's a big boy, perfect for the weather--8.3%, 19.5° Plato. Homebrew architect Michel Brown says of it " The finished beer tastes malty, yet hoppy, with nice nutty coffee/chocolatey/herbal flavors and aromas from the bread. The alcohol is hidden nicely without any harshness or warming being detected."

The Collaborator Project is a joint effort between the Oregon Brew Crew Homebrew Club and the Widmer Brothers. The homebrewers come up with the recipe, and the Widmers step it up to a commercial 10-barrel recipe. And then you can find it on tap around town. Encourage them and go have a pint--

Review - Żywiec Baltic Porter

Last week I stopped by Belmont Station to pick up a couple hearty ales. The dark and the winter have put me in stout mood, but I found myself in front of the Baltic porters. Belmont has a nice selection. I chose, for reasons obscure to me even at the time, a version from Poland--Żywiec. I knew nothing about Żywiec, and yet a bottle seemed to just find its way into my hand.

(I do this with movies sometimes, going in with absolutely no information except for the title. One of the first times was with the Irish movie "The Snapper," an adaptation of Roddy Doyle's novel about an unexpected baby. The title was obscure but vaguely misleading; the movie was delightful. Thereafter I attempted to repeat it as often as possible. Not so easy with beer, but still I try.)

The label gives some info--the date of the recipe, and the alcohol percentage, which I missed. It also features a crown on the neck ring, which I learned later alludes to the brewery's founding by Hapsburg royalty back in 1856. But even then it was not the king of beers--rather, the archduke. (According to Wikipedia, it was actually called Żywiec Archducal Brewery--perhaps the only one that ever existed.)

I am used to understated European lagers. Europe's ancient breweries haven't lost flavor in the way American breweries did--still, decades tend to leave brands faded, as if they were sitting too long in the sun. Yet Żywiec poured out impressively--thick but quite effervescent, with a dense mocha head. The aroma coming off it was anything but understated--earthy and slightly sour, malty, molasses-y. The flavor followed vibrant suit, with a cascade of bitter, roasted malts that had the quality of coffee and very dark chocolate. Some beers are so bitter that they start to come back around toward sour. In this way it had the molasses of the nose. It is an amazingly pronounced, aggressive beer, and I loved it. About half-way through my half liter, I started to feel a bit loose. The alcohol doesn't come through--the body's too thick, the malts too black--until you feel it at the base of your skull. Then I checked the label: 9.5%. Hoy!

It's a strange beer, with flavors I'm unused to, and yet I really enjoyed it. Sometimes imports take you on a mini-vacation. I could imagine a cold place with lots of root vegetables and dark bread and this beer on the table, maybe with a fire burning cozily off to the side.

I know none of you are too coarse to concern yourselves with pricing, but the bottle was between two and three dollars, after having been shipped all the way from Krakow. Given its huge gravity and wondrous, rich flavor, this makes it one of the best deals in beer. You could do far worse and spend far more than picking up a bottle of Żywiec.

____________
PHOTO: Flickr user bogomi_r

Friday, November 13, 2009

Well, It Worked for the Packers

I may have forgotten to mention that the Pabst Brewing Company is ailing, doomed, and for sale. Despite an effective appeal to 20-somethings on its flagship brand, most of the company's portfolio (Schlitz, Rainier, Old Milwaukee, Olympia) are in swift decline. Sadly, Pabst isn't really even a brewery anymore--they sold off the old Milwaukee property in '96 and now contract with MillerCoors to brew their beer. Still, it's the largest independent, American-owned beer company in the US, and many have a soft spot for it. A crowd, you might say.

The solution is obvious, right? Crowd-source a purchase! Two ad companies are trying to get enough people to pledge to pool their money (in increments as small as five bucks) to buy the $300 million company. For just pennies, you can own Pabst. Call it the Green Bay Packers model of business.

Personally, I wouldn't want the thing. Pabst is in a terrible position, and if the brand survives, it will be as a minor subsidiary of one of those massive beer companies that are now desperately eating their own. Aside from a history, a "brand identity," and a recognizable label, there's not a thing about Pabst that distinguishes it from the 97 other tin-can beer brands out there. With no brewery, no local audience, and no commitment from an owner, the writing's on the wall. Pabst is a sucker's bet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reviews Elsewhere

The wave of beers has elicited a wave of reviews. Here's a couple. Jon takes a look at the 2009 vintage of The Abyss so you don't have to (put them in the cellar!):
One of my points last year was I thought the 2008 vintage was too hot and young on its release; the first thing I noticed with 2009 is that, while there is the heat of a young high-alcohol beer, it’s not nearly as strong right out of the bottle as the 2008. There’s lots of charred wood and bitter dark chocolate and some vanilla in the bourbon notes—yes, the bourbon is there in the heat, and it’s sticky and thick and wafts up into the nose as you drink. But there’s not a hint of the astringency even though it’s super roasty.
This is actually from last week, when it first caught my attention, but Kevin, our Eugene correspondent, reviewed at locally brewed Oakshire Ill-Tempered Gnome:
The Gnome started off with the citrus taste from the hops. That gave way to the malts; where a sweet toasted caramel flavor developed. As the sweetness faded, the ale finished slightly bitter with a tiny amount of alcohol warmth. The head that remained after the initial burn off left a chunky lacing on the glass.
And Geoff is catching up on an earlier release, Lagunitas Imperial Red:
This red ale offers the best of both worlds. A medium bodied malt base has some toasty sweet caramel tastes and a little brown sugar. Balanced by a big hop bitterness. Pine and citrus hop flavors mix perfectly with the malt. Balanced and very drinkable. The 7.5% ABV allows this to be intense, but not over the top.
Please follow the links and read the whole reviews. I've just snagged a piece of each.

Review - Pelican Perfect Storm

Ah, the barleywine. The Mount Everest of beer styles, one often feels satisfaction more at having polished one off than in the flavor. American barleywines can be so intensely hoppy that they need years to mellow in the bottle; English barleywines often go the other direction--syrupy sweet (or would that be treacly, in the idiom?). Unlike imperial stouts, which seem to all tend toward a drinkable mean, barleywines separate to the extremes. I've had dozens over the years and only a few that really sang to me--though the ones that did sang like angels.

Bourbon-barrel aging is similarly tricky. Bourbon is a strong flavor and a sweet liquor. It's characteristic flavor can dominate a beer or fail to marry with the malt notes, giving it the quality of a boilermaker. The sweetness, too, is problematic--add too many hops and you end up with clashing tastes, but put it in a sweet, heavy beer style and you end up with an even sweeter, heavier, boozier beer.

Enter Pelican's Perfect Storm, a massive English barleywine aged for months in Evan Williams bourbon barrels. Does it avoid the pitfalls of bourbon-barrels and barleywine? Yes it does, and the result is a brilliant ale.

The Beer
Perfect Storm is based on Pelican's Stormwatcher barleywine, an immense beer of--I didn't know the scale went this hight--32.1 degrees Plato and 13% alcohol. The Perfect Storm recipe has been jiggered a bit to accommodate barrel-aging--it has some Munich malt and two more varieties of hops than Stormwatcher. It starts with a marginally lower original gravity but, thanks to the whiskey, finishes a tad stronger (13.5%). I asked brewer Darron Welch to describe the process of brewing it--particularly how he handled the tricky issue of bourbon-barrel aging. Although the label says the beer spent four months in bourbon barrels, that's not the whole picture. Rather,
"four months is the minimum aging in the barrels. This batch ranged from 5-7 months in the wood. 80% of the beer was brewed specifically for barrel aging; the other 20% was comprised of older vintages of Stormwatcher’s Winterfest that were married and barrel-aged.

"Getting the balance of beer character, bourbon character, and wood character is indeed tricky. It helps a lot to start with a truly massive beer in the first place, such as Stormwatcher’s Winterfest. I personally think that a malt-balanced beer works best with the caramel, bourbon and vanilla flavors that you get from aging in bourbon barrels. With Stormwatcher’s as the starting point, it would take a lot of wood and bourbon influence to overpower the base beer. I suppose it could happen, but I have had the benefit of a lot of good help and advice from many of my colleagues, especially Gabe Fletcher of Midnight Sun."
Tasting Notes
In my experience, truly wondrous beers don't take their time revealing themselves: you know as the first sip rushes into your mouth. (Thereafter they typically reveal further layers of complexity.) I have had experiences with a few that are instantly revelatory: Saison Dupont, BridgePort IPA, Fuller's ESB. Add the Perfect Storm.

It starts out innocuously--a dense, viscous beer that rouses only a modest head that dissipates like dishsoap. The brewery calls it "deep amber," but I'd say brown (or "mahogany" if we're being showy). It smells mainly of bourbon, with possibly a bit of malt alcohol venting, too. After the skiff of head evaporates, the beer is still, like port wine. At this moment, one is not sure what to expect.

The good times start in the mouth. Barleywines typcially contain heavy, fruity notes, and the English versions are heavy on the caramel and toffee. In the Perfect Storm, this character is present, but so is the bourbon note, and the two form polarities. In between are caramel, vanilla, maple, toffee. At each pole, you can identify the source, but the two meld wonderfully, and trying to assign some of the flavors--that maple, for instance--to one of the other is impossible. The marriage is complete.

It is of course a huge beer and has the consistency of motor oil. With only 40 IBUs, the flavors are mostly on the sweet side; balance comes mainly from alcohol, which warms the mouth and belly upon contact. Like a very rich, liquid dessert, you can't drink a great deal of this beer--8 ounces is probably my outer limit. It's a potion to be sipped slowly, attentively. (Why do breweries always sell these things in 22s? Without friends, you're doomed.)

Pelican didn't make much of The Perfect Storm--just 119 cases (1428 bottles). With such a small run, the brewery didn't bother to ship it--you have to go to Pacific City to pick up a bottle. But hurry: as of 3:55 pm last night, there were just 7 cases left. It sells for $20 for a 22-ounce bottle, but this is one beer I would say is intrinsically worth it. You won't find a better English barleywine for any price. Generally I would encourage you to put a beer like this down for a year or more to let it ripen. I wouldn't do that if you do manage to score this year's vintage--the Perfect Storm will no doubt age well, but Pelican released it at this age for a reason. It will change and perhaps remain a delightful beer, but this is how Pelican wanted it to taste.

I almost never give out a straight A rating, but this is a no brainer. A wonderful beer.

Stats
Malts: Golden Promise, Munich, melanoidin, caramel, and flaked wheat
Hops: Magnum, Glacier, Mt. Hood
OG: 31.7 °Plato
ABV: 13.5%
IBU: 40
Other: Aged in 1998 Evan Williams bourbon barrels
Rating: A

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review - Elysian Night Owl

Long, long ago, in a land--well, in this land--it was the case that summer was the primo beer season. Mystifyingly. (As I now know--and probably you do, too--that's when the bulk of beer is sold.) But for beer geeks, the most interesting beers are those that go best with a cold day. For us, extra-pale ales are fine and good, but they can't hold a candle to the meatier, burlier beers that start appearing around Halloween. Fortunately, brewers seem to share this view, and they release scads and scads of specialty beers around this time of year. I have been working my way through some of them, and I'll try to do better about getting up respectable reviews.

Today's beer, Elysian Night Owl, a spiced pumpkin ale. Pumpkin ales occupy a class of Rodney-Dangerfield beers along with light fruit ales and chili beers--they don't get no respect. Yet they are popular, and people enjoy seeing them come around each year if for no other reason that to celebrate the change of season.

There's nothing about pumpkin that mandates a beer must taste like pumpkin pie, and yet this seems to be the near-universal interpetation of style. A light-bodied beer, usually malted with some Munich or Vienna malts to give it an orangey hue, and a handful of the usual spices--nutmeg, cinnamon, clove. Personally, the style is not for me. I wouldn't mind having an Oktoberfest along with my pumpkin pie, but combining the two seems unnecessary.

I took a flyer on Night Owl because 1) the brewery is one of the most trustworthy in the country, 2) it's been getting strong reviews this year, and 3) I haven't had a pumpkin beer in a few years and began to wonder if I'd unfairly maligned the style in my memory.

On the positive side, Night Owl is one of the best pumpkin ales I've ever tried. Lesser breweries will suffuse an uninspired beer with spices and call it good. Elysian played down the spice a bit and allowed the malt and squash to come out in the open. As an ingredient, pumpkin is nice--it adds a character not unlike malt, but a bit more bready; I imagine it contributes body as well, but this may just be my mind over-interpreting. The base beer is clean and well-made, if just a touch too light for my taste (though exactly like the other pumpkin ales I've tried). The spices are strong in the nose, but less so on the tongue--they suggest pumpkin pie without feeling the need to get mean about it.

I had it with a friend who loves pumpkin beers and he gave it very high marks. This, I think, is the key point: if you like pumpkin ales, you won't find a better example. If you wish you liked them and buy a bottle of Night Owl hoping to be convinced, good luck to you. No matter how good Elysian is, this is still a pumpkin beer. I'd rate it a B+ for style (and declare the style a dud).

Stats
Malts: Pale, Munich and Crystal
Hops: Horizon
ABV: 5.1%
OG: 14.9°Plato
Other Ingredients: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice; green and roasted pumpkin seeds, as well as pumpkin in the mash, boil and fermenter

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wow

Pelican's Darron Welch just tweeted this:
The Perfect Storm has cracked the BeerAdvocate Top 10 of American Beers and is rated #12 on BA's Top Beers on the planet http://ow.ly/B8tY
That's impressive, but if you follow the link, it's even more impressive. There are 37 reviews, and this is the breakdown:
32 - A+
_2 - A
_1 - A-
_1 - B+
_1 - B
For those scoring at home, of 37 people who have tried The Perfect Storm, 86% have given it a perfect score. That's insane. (I received a bottle from the brewery, and I plan to crack it tonight.)

Hair of the Dog Michael

A post by Angelo over at Brewpublic reminded me of an important release: Hair of the Dog's Michael. Here's Angelo's backgrounder:
Hair of the Dog brewer and founder Alan Sprints has concocted a special barrel-aged and bottle conditioned Flemish Red Ale simply named “Michael” to pay tribute to the man who Sprints calls “the most influential beer writer and critic who ever lived.” We must admit, those are hard words with which to argue.
I saw the announcement for Michael on Alan's Facebook page, and so I asked him about it.
"I have been brewing this beer once a year since 2007; it is made with organic pilsner, Munich and Vienna malts. It is around 6% abv and fermented with the Wyeast Roselare blend. This bottling is a blend of American oak and sherry-cask aged beer from the 2007 brewing. It will be released every year in November. Next year's bottling will be mostly French oak-aged. I hope people compare it with Rodenbach; it is still to early to tell."
Rodenbach is one of the finest beers on the planet, and if it does compare well, I will be beside myself. This new wave of Flemish reds and browns makes me a happy man. Love me them hops, but still, a little sour here and there is required for balance. (Random question: how long do you think Alan spent thinking about whether it would be appropriate to call it "Mike?")


Hair of the Dog Dock Sale

Saturday, Nov 14, 10 am
Hair of the Dog Brewery | Directions

You can get Michael this Saturday at Hair of the Dog's annual dock sale. Also available: Cherry Adam from the Wood, Fred from the Wood, Doggie Claws, Matt (bourbon and apple brandy barrel-aged sour).

A Final Word on Old Ales

To complete the circle, I wanted to mention that I sent BridgePort brewmaster Karl Ockert the results of the two polls I ran on the blog last week. Karl had okay-ed my proposal to poll readers here to see what style of beer they'd like BridgePort to brew for the open slot in the "Big Brews" line next spring. In the first round I polled you on ten styles, and the faves to emerge were 1) big NW red, 2) Old Ale, and 3) Strong Rye. In a run-off, you favored the old ale with a clear plurality of about 40%. The red just nipped the rye for second place.

I sent the results to Karl, and he will take them under advisement. Apparently some of the brewers there cotton to a strong lager, though Karl said " I am on the fence but the Rye sounds appealing to me."

It was a fun exercise, and I appreciate your votes. I actually think you all are a great cross-section of the target audience for the "Big Brews" line. Those types of specialty beers are aimed squarely at the beer geek, as is this blog. I was surprised to see how poorly some of the original ten fared (Cascadian Dark Ale only got 4% of the vote; wheatwine, which I thought might poll strongly, just 9%). Based on your voting, I'm prepared to predict that any of the top three beers (or the odd-beer out, the imperial stout, which also polled strongly) would sell well.

And, since I can't rely on BridgePort to brew the old ale, I took matters into my own hands and whipped up a batch over the weekend. Old Codger, a beer as cranky as its brewer.

Monday, November 09, 2009

I Approve

This is cool:
Dubbed "Eight Malty Nights," the Chocolate Rye beer will be brewed tomorrow, November 10. Rabbi Bradley Greenstein from the Congregation Neveh Shalom will be present to bless the mash and deliver a toast. The beer will be released on the first day of Hanukkah, Dec. 11.

To witness the blessing of the mash and take part in the toast, please be at Lompoc Brewing, 3901 A N Williams Ave, Portland on Tuesday, at 7:30 am.
By the way, when did the "New Old Lompoc" (aka "Old Lompoc") become "Lompoc Brewing?" Did I miss something?

Good Time to Start a Brewery?

In this widely linked Portland Business Journal article (1, 2), we learn this rather remarkable fact:
Coalition will join an industry that, thanks to Oregon’s brewing pedigree, is sizzling. Coalition is one of 15 breweries or brewpubs — which sell beer made on the premises and food — that will have started operating in Portland between summer 2009 and early 2010.
Derek hasrounded up the various breweries slated to open that he knows about (though I remain confused about the fate of Clinton Street Brewing--see Bill for more).

All of which does begs an obvious constellation of questions. As Stan notes, this is "fifteen new breweries in richest brewery region in the world." Why so many breweries and why now--and critically, is it too many? The Business Journal buries part of the answer three-quarters of the way into the article:
While recession-era launches can be difficult, the climate may have benefited Hoyt and other Oregon brewers. For its new pub, the three-year-old 10 Barrel brewery found lease rates were about 40 percent less than what owners would have paid in 2008. Wales’ contracting costs were also 10 percent to 20 percent less than he’d anticipated.
Portland is lousy with brewers. Homebrewers, assistant brewers, brewers moving to the brewing mecca. And half of them are harboring secret desires (or not so secret) to open their own places. Perversely, the recession has provided them with a surprising opportunity. Loans are harder to get, but for those who can secure them, opening a brewpub is cheaper now than it has been in years--and maybe cheaper than it will ever be again.

That leaves the final question: can even Oregon absorb another 15 breweries? In the abstract, the answer is yes. The market is still growing, and as far as I know, these are all small breweries--their output will be just a fraction of the market. On the other hand, the market has gotten extremely competitive. If a brewery enters the market and their first keg of beer is clean and tasty, they should find an audience. Breweries that come out with bad beer, or even just uninteresting beer, may be dead before they get started.

Good time to open a brewery, but still risky.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Hiding Out

Current location:



Probably won't affect blogging; I was just looking for an excuse to post the pic.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Salt and Pepper

I finally got back to the interview I did with Gary Fish a couple weeks back. I did manage to post some of the "breaking news" tidbits, but none of the interesting historical anecdotes. The most interesting was this following story, where Gary relates how Black Butte Porter became the first beer they distributed in Portland. I had just asked Gary why he thought a dark beer would be a hit--when every other brewery in the state was trying to sell lighter beers.
“Honestly, I give all the credit for Black Butte Porter to Jim Kennedy. He was the one who tried the beers and said, ‘Look, everybody’s coming out with light-colored beers, but this is a beer that’s different, and this is a beer that can capture the consumer. And be different. The dark-beer pie is not as big, but you could own the whole thing. We probably would have tried to go with Cascade Golden Ale or Bachelor Bitter. Full Sail Golden Ale was their lead brand, Portland Ale was their lead brand. Everybody was really on the ultra-light side of the color spectrum.

“At the time, Admiralty Beverage represented Widmer as well as us. They had a sales pitch that they would sell Widmer Hefeweizen and Black Butte Porter together. ‘ Every restaurant has salt and pepper on the table; this is your salt and pepper in your beer line-up.’”
Who knows how significant this decision turned out to be. Maybe if Gary had gone with the Golden Deschutes would now be a modest-sized brewery. We only know the history as it was--Deschutes got off to a great start with Black Butte, was partly responsible for popularizing dark beers in Oregon, and launched itself on a trajectory to make it one of America's largest craft breweries by 2009. History is a capricious lady.

By the way, Jim Kennedy played a major role in helping popularize craft beer in Oregon, too. (He's also the namesake for Hair of the Dog's legendary "Jim.") John Foyston re-printed a couple columns about Jim last month, and they're well worth a read if you're unfamiliar with this piece of Oregon's brewing history.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

BridgePort Big Brew Poll - Final Round

Earlier this week, I asked you to vote in a poll about which beer BridgePort should make for its "Big Brews" line this Spring. Karl Ockert and Co. were interested to see what you all thought. From an initial list of ten styles, we have winnowed it down to three: Big NW Red (20% in initial polling), Old Ale (17%), and Strong Rye (14%). For the majority of the period the poll was open, old ales were out in front. A late push gave big reds the edge in the end. But can they hold the edge in a narrowed field? The answer lies with you. I'll include a description of the styles below the poll.



Big NW Red. This is a style that just started appearing--Laurelwood, Roots, Ninkasi, and Widmer have all brewed versions of the style. Those versions all had certain qualities in common beyond the reddish color. Similar to IPAs, but the malt base is a bit sweeter, almost candyish, and not nearly as full bodied. These are beers designed to showcase hops: the malt is there to look pretty, but not much else. They are generally sharply bitter, but many are also dry-hopped or strongly aromatic.

Old Ale. Rich dark amber in color to a very dark brown; near black. Tamed aromatics. Although bittering levels can greatly vary, expect common fruity, vinous, intense malts and sharp alcohol characteristics. The often racy but mellow attitude of the beer may also include acidic notes, raisins and black currants. Vintage varieties may have a low level of oxidation. Stronger versions may have similarities to a port wine. Brewers may also inoculate a portion of the batch with Brettanomyces lambicus and age for an extended period of time to achieve an old-school acidic character. (BeerAdvocate)

Strong Rye. Rye isn't a style (except for roggenbier), it's a grain. As an ingredient, rye contributes a spicy, tannic, sometimes earthy tone. If it occupies too much of the grain bill, you end up with a harsh, unpleasant beer. Hit the mark, though, and it adds wonderful, unique character. Brewers have discovered that rye goes well with hops, so a strong rye beer would probably feature a fair amount of our beloved humulus lupulus. But that would be up to BridgePort.

I'll leave this poll open a couple days and then send off the results to BridgePort on Friday afternoon. Please vote!

Occidental Brewing?

As I am always the last person to hear any news (it's my special talent), I pass this email straight to you.
My wife and I are "beer tourists" and love to visit as many new breweries as we can. Going over locations in Portland, I discovered a new brewery listed as "coming soon." The name of the brewery is Occidental Brewing. Their website states their intention to brew "Old styles from the finest malts and hops," however, the site is sparse beyond their logo. I was wondering if you had any additional info? According to beerme.com, the phone number for Occidental is +1 503-810-7920. I have tried to contact them but maybe someone with a beer blog will be able to get more information.
Anyone know anything about this brewery?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

BridgePort Advice - Please Vote!

In case you missed it, I posted a poll yesterday to find out which beer you'd like to see BridgePort should make for its Spring "Big Beers" series. I'm shooting for 200-250 votes, and the current total is 144. So please vote now if you haven't.

The early returns show three strong contenders (old ale, Big NW red, strong rye) and one more on the outside looking in (imperial stout).


(Thumb-on-the-scale time: go old ale!)

MacTarnahan Humbug'r

The folks over at Pyramid/MacTarnahan's are trying--I'll give them that. They have not let the the Mac's line become just a single product and this year introduced a new line-up of seasonals. All of that is good. They even put out an exotic saison (and exotic not just by MacTarnahan's standards). So definitely an A for effort there.

We come now to the critical portion of our review: the names and packaging for the new family of beers: Slingshot Summer Pale (good), Summer Grifter IPA (not good), and now the latest arrival, Winter Humbug'r (oh dear lord). The art is actually very cool, suggestive of graphic novels and dangerous fun. But a grifter is a guy who hustles you out of money--likesay the $8.29 you spent on the six-pack. Would you call a beer Swindler or Cheater? As for Humbug'r, the sense of the lurid is such that--Bug'r, really? I remember the crazy Bobbydazzler of years past, a bizarre Englishism, but harmless enough. One might hope that Humbug'r is a name of similar provenance, but the label convinces you otherwise: a soused lunatic brandishing a sprig of mistletown and leering. And it's called Humbug'r.

What were they thinking?

The beer? It's pretty good. A light porter with a silky, oaty body. Porters and stouts are great winter beers, and I commend Mac's for eschewing another winter warmer. This beer is actually a bit of amalgam, equal parts dry stout, with a slightly burnt, roasted front note, part brown porter, with a pronounced sweet middle, and part sweet stout, with that silky full body. It is a bit on the mild side (a house character, so perhaps appropriate), and on those really bitter December days people might be reaching for the Obsidian instead. But overall, a fine beer. I'd give it a solid B.

But since we're giving advice to breweries these days, here's mine. It's nearly 2010. Beers that appear to succeed in the marketplace are those that distinguish themselves with bold flavors. I haven't really seen a line that has succeeded by dint of a clever ad campaign or brand identity, and locals tend to be turned off by anything that looks like it spent too long in a room with a wine-drinking design team. MacTarnahan's seasonal lineup now features a pale, an IPA, and a porter. These are fine beers, and they're perfectly well-made. I just think Mac's needs to come out of the gate with a little more under the hood and a little less focus on packaging. You've hired some great brewers--turn them loose and get out of the way.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Soliciting Your Advice

In my interview with Karl Ockert last week, he mentioned that BridgePort is currently ruminating about their Spring "Big Brews" slot. The Big Brews line is the one that has included Hop Czar (which will be moving to six-packs), Fallen Friar, Stumptown Tart, and Raven Mad. Karl asked me--as he probably asks everyone--what I would suggest. I told him I'd do him one better than that; I'd find out what you would suggest.

So below is a poll with a number of styles that I have pre-selected. They include only "big" beers--my rule of thumb was 7% and up. I eliminated styles BridgePort already brews (tripel, double IPA, barleywine), and styles that are pretty broadly brewed or randomly imperialized styles (Imperial Kolsch!). Of course, some of you may have a suggestion that's not here, so please use the write-in category. I'll run this for a few days (until we hit 250 or more) and then we'll winnow it down to 3-4 styles and see if there's a clear fave.

You can click through to learn more about the styles at BeerAdvocate, which handily also has beers brewed in those styles. Kellerbier is totally obscure, but it's a hoppy lager generally brewed at weaker strengths--but it can go up to 7%. Some of you will remember Jamie Floyd's wheatwine from Steelhead, but otherwise examples are rare. It's essentially a barleywine made with a large proportion of wheat.

I have no idea how much pull your suggestions will have, but Karl ran it past some folks at BridgePort and they're interested in what you think. So please vote!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Abyss Release Tomorrow

I suspect most of you already have this on your calendar, but in case you don't: Deschutes is releasing The Abyss tomorrow:
The first wax-dipped bottles of The Abyss will be available for sale in the Portland and Bend Brew Pubs on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd. These early sales are limited to six bottles per person. The first 48 bottle customers will get bottles signed by Deschutes Brewmaster Larry Sidor. The party starts in Portland at 2 pm and in Bend at 5:30 pm.
Two is sort of an awkward time, but I guess that will make it easier for the truly avid to be in line to get a signed bottle. (Which, by the way, is cool. I have a couple signed bottles and I think they're pretty groovy. Of course, with the ready availability of brewers in this state, you could also just pack a sharpie and get your bottle signed on the fly.)

Also of note to you smaller folks. I got a black, long-sleeve t-shirt in the mail from Deschutes. (As always, I'm high on swag.) It's got a line drawing of a bottle of the Abyss on it, but it is sadly a medium. (And, truth be told, I don't wear t-shirts all that much anymore.) The first person to email me with their home address gets it.

I appear to be getting more swag these days, so I may have more to distribute. Have to figure out how to make it competitive. Of course, you could just check this site ten times a day on the off chance. And while you're at it, click on the damn Google ads--you're all like me, never clicking on ads....

The Novelty Curve

One of the best things about living in Oregon is the variety. Yesterday I posted a piece talking about four new brewery/pub openings slated for this year--make that five if you include Coalition. Nearly every week a new beer is released, and if you include brewpub-only beers, it's more like a dozens every week. I constantly have a backlog of beers I mean to try, and let's not even get into the question of national and international offerings.

There is a downside, however.

Another of the many interesting things to emerge from that conversation with Karl Ockert was a comment he made about the "novelty curve." It arose when we were talking about the question of selling BridgePort IPA, an ancient beer by craft brewing's standards, one released way back in 1996. It is truly one of the best beers brewed anywhere in America, and one of my all-time favorites. But how often do I buy a sixer? Once a year, twice? (I have it in restaurants more often because it's often the pick of a small litter.) The beer hasn't lost any of its interest to me, and yet, because it's a familiar old standby, I usually opt for something I haven't tried--and there's almost always something I haven't tried.

If you look around at all the premier brewing regions, they are known in part for a stable of landmark beers that have been around for decades. In forty years, when I'm a doddering old man, I want to be able to get a bottle of BridgePort. The thought of it vanishing is something I'm not prepared to entertain. But the market thrives on novelty. Here's Karl:
“Every beer that comes along goes through a novelty curve, and ours is no different. [Brewery X] is the current big one on the streets. They’re going through a novelty phase where people are out there trying and sampling. All breweries go through that. If I left BridgePort now and went out and started a new brewery, I could do the same thing. I could take tap handles right and left and get a lot of sampling. But it’s that “stayability”—being able to develop loyalty. That’s the tough part.”
Certainly, BridgePort IPA has earned some loyalty--according to Karl, it's still the best-selling IPA in Oregon (though no doubt their slice of the total pie has declined since '96). When you are an established brewery, there's always a wave of novelty coming at you. Since BridgePort IPA was released, great breweries like Laurelwood, Ninkasi, Roots, Double Mountain, Hopworks have entered the Portland market, all bringing their own IPAs along. With each one, BridgePort still had their same-old, same-old, never mind that it continued to be one of the best on the market. Looking forward, there will be scores more breweries opening in the next fifty years. And with each one, BridgePort will have to continue to coax consumers and retailers back to theirs.

As markets mature, this novelty curve will come with a sharp edge. I don't expect BridgePort IPA to go away anytime soon, but it's a good example because it is so beloved. As consumers, we love new beers, but in the long run, we love some of the old ones even more. As the market gets more crowded, we'll have to watch out that benign neglect doesn't nip some of our old faves.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Openings - Rivergate Brewing, Spints Alehouse, Migration Brewing, and Prost

Recession, what recession? Apparently someone's getting loans. We have news of three separate openings.

Rivergate Brewing
This first piece comes straight from the horse's mouth, via comments, from Brian, a co-owner. Since it refers to comments in a thread from which I've removed it, some of the comments appear to be non sequiturs (go here to read the full conversation):
"Ok, so here’s the details on Rivergate Brewing: North End Pub. I am one of the owners of the new North End Pub on Lombard. Yes, we are going to be as family friendly as OLCC will let us be. We hope to be open by about November the 10th; we may have to open without beer or alcohol--we will have to see when the OLCC gets the permit issued, Just waiting on them.

We are currently trying to get the dining room repainted. Yes it has been a HERCULEAN task getting things cleaned up; the building has been vacant for about 2 years. We hauled 14 yards of debris out of the parking lot alone. I will be planning on brewing some of our own beers in the future, just not happening at the start. I am NOT a hop head, don’t expect big IPA’s from me. I am an ale and Kolsch fan and have been known to dabble in some darker beers just for fun. We are looking forward to seeing as many people as we can when were open. Sorry no more information has leaked out--lots of people have been stopping by and talking to us, so many in fact we have started locking ourselves in so we can get some work done. [editor's note: sorry!]I have hired several excellent cooks to run the kitchen and are working on a great menu, trying to keep it local fresh and flavorful. Hope this helps. Thanks for all the kind words, and we hope to live up to the expectations.

Spints Alehouse
Yesterday, cruising north on 28th Avenue, I happened to see what I thought would become breaking news: a new alehouse. It's walking distance from my house, and I was thinking--what good fortune I have that 1) these places are opening so near to me, and 2) I get to break the news. Umm, no. Apparently everyone in the city knows about Spints but me. (Sample from a cursory Google search: Portland Food and Drink (1), Portland Food and Drink (2), Willamette Week, and It's Pub Night. Oh, and they have a website and Facebook page, too.) Looks like it is going to follow Seattle's lead and become (at last!) a high-end restaurant with cuisine designed to be paired with food beer. A real McCoy gastropub.

Prost
It would be hard to miss the coming of Prost, which is the newest link in the Seattle-based chain, not to mention the newest member of North Mississippi's food scene. The owners completely remodeled an indistinct, tumble-down building on the corner at Skidmore, producing a Victorian gem. The focus is German beer, and all the taps are German imports. From the chatter I've seen on the Brew Crew's listserve, the taps are rather generic. Prost's real virtue lies in the formerly vacant lot just adjacent to the pub. It is now filled with food carts, and Prost is acting as the indoor dining room. Grab a plate of Pad Thai, head inside with it and get a pint of Bitburger. You could definitely find a worse pairing.

Migration Brewing
Bill gets the credit here, breaking the news yesterday, that yet another brewery is opening up in my neighborhood. (No doubt we can credit their siting to the gravity of my intense beer geekyness, which is drawing the breweries like planets to a black hole.) Anyway, here's Bill:
My eagle-eyed neighbor Lindsey spotted signage for a new brewpub near NE 28th and Glisan: Migration Brewing. Pretty soon you'll be able to do an alphabetical pub crawl up 28th. Coalition at Ankeny, Holman's at Burnside, Beulahland at Couch, we need stuff at Davis and Everett, then there's Spints at Flanders and Migration at Glisan.
Neighbor? No wonder we're pulling them in. Apparently Bill's a Buckmanite, too.

Good stuff to keep us warm and happy this winter.