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


Saturday, February 27, 2010

NYT, One More Time

Yesterday, I used an article from the New York Times as a jumping-off point to discuss how I wished more Oregon beer were available on the East Coast. The writer of that article, John Holl, commented on my thoughts, and rather than let them languish deep in a day-old thread, I thought I'd pull them up to a full post so you could have a look. John wrote:
Thanks for mentioning the NYT piece.

I didn't mention Rogue simply because it's all we folks from the New York Area know, but because they have a hops farm and let people stay there. This wasn't a review of beer or even beer styles this article was a way to let people know that they can get more from beer than simply a taste.

This is a trend that brewers are embracing and if I can help spread the word to the millions of people who wouldn't otherwise make breweries a part of their vacation plans than I feel like this article helps.

I'm sure there are places that I missed where people can get a deeper experience with their beer. Such is the world of newspapers.

The article was about tourism, not Cascade Apricot Ale. When it comes to travel, Rogue stands out. That's why I mentioned them. Plus, the beer is pretty good too.
Periodically, I try to get Sally to read a blog post (generally a post from a political blog). She almost invariably complains that it feels like being dropped into the middle of a conversation you're not a part of. This is one of the major downsides of blogs. In my post, I used John's article as an example of a larger corpus of beer-related reporting from the east coast, and it was really the whole I wanted to discuss. John's article was just a convenient entry point. As a consequence, my speculation about his intentions appear to have been wide of the mark.

I do appreciate any light that gets shined on Oregon as a destination, and I should note that the Times has been especially good about this--last fall, they published that very nice piece by Lucy Burningham about fresh-hop ales. So even where my larger point may be true in general, it's probably not an accurate criticism of the Times.

Thanks, John, for stopping by and setting the record straight.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Couple of New Blogs

I get regular requests to add new blogs to my blogroll, which I'm happy to do. However, since a lot of blogs peter out pretty quickly, I like to see them survive a few months before I add them. A couple of folks contacted me this week who fit into that category. I recognize that one of the main causes of petering out is the lack of traffic, so it's a bit of a catch-22. So, while I wait to see if these make it, I'd like you to go visit and encourage them:
Give 'em a little love--

Way Back When - Old Lompoc

That may be Bud Clark, and he may be pulling the first pint at the newly rechristened New Old Lompoc (formerly Old Lompoc), but this damned brain has a hard time drawing out details. It was in the bottom of my box of pictures. Or it could just be a bartender who looks like Bud.


Anyone confirm?

(Oh, in case you happen not to be from Portland, Bud Clark was a barman who got his dander up in the 80s and decided to run for Mayor. And won. But he was probably more famous for the poster below.)

An Oregon Trail Back East

The New York Times will publish a fluffy piece in it Sunday edition--already available online--that celebrates the experience of traveling to a brerwery. (Yes, one has the sense that New York is a good two decades behind the west coast in beer appreciation, but that's a different post.) In it, writer John Holl surveys some breweries, and does his best to make it a national article. He mentions a little brewery from New Hampshire and then throws in three others a national readership may have heard of: Boston Beer, Dogfish Head, and Rogue. If you spend much time reading national stories about craft beer, the one Oregon name that pops up again and again is Rogue. Why? Because you can buy Rogue everywhere.

Craft brewing remains a mostly local--or at most, regional--phenomenon. This is its great virtue. Almost without exception, the best beer is fresh and untraveled. The more one loads a keg or case in and out of trucks, the longer it spends sitting on shelves or under a pub's bar, the more it degrades. Oregon brewers have always had the luxury of having a vast customer base right here in its back yard. Why worry about setting up relationships with distributors in the Midwest and East when you can sell all you brew right here? Local brewers know the market, know what Northwesterners like, and know how to sell beer here. So, I get that as a business decision, a local brewery probably won't see the upside in shipping to far-flung locations.

But as a shameless fan of Oregon beer, it's frustrating. We sit in the richest vein of craft brewing in the world, and almost no one outside of the West realizes it. Our breweries produce some of the finest beers in the world, yet these beers, because they are distributed only locally, are never mentioned outside the region. Why would they be? Why would a New Yorker care that Cascade Apricot Ale--to select just one example--is one of the best beers in the world when they have no chance of ever tasting it? For newspapers, there's no editorial reason to mention obscure little beers brewed 3,000 miles away--they want to discuss products available to their readers.

I have no idea what can be done to remedy the situation, except to hope that eventually some of our beers begin a trek to other parts of the country. Everyone knows that Oregon pinots are among the best. New Yorkers can buy them at their local wine stores. I wish they could buy a sampling of Oregon beers, too. Then they'd realize there's more here than just Rogue. I can dream.
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

La Folie is Really Good

On my way to a social gathering last night, I stopped off at Belmont Station to pick up a range of Baltic porters (from Poland, Russia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania). (Report on that at some point--it was fascinating.) As I charged in, I was brought up short by a crowd just inside the door. A New Belgium tasting--bonus! Some comments:

1. NB was pouring the beer in a strictly prescribed fashion: Fat Tire from a can, Ranger, and then either La Folie or Kriek. The guy who was pouring the beer seemed to be centrally interested in talking Fat Tire. I accepted the pour to get along to the good stuff.

2. I managed to skip the Ranger, thinking that a sharply hoppy beer is a poor lead-in to a kriek. Interesting decision by the brewery.

3. La Folie is an exceptional beer. So much complexity (full review here). They were also pouring a Lips of Faith-series kriek, which was a collaborative brew with Frank Boon. Boon spontaneously fermented a kriek, sent it to Fort Collins, where it was blended with a beer from NB (I missed what their contribution was). Interestingly, I found it to be far less complex and interesting than La Folie. Interesting, because Frank Boon's lambics are my favorite, and are to my mind the most complex, with layered sourness that never gets too dry or funky.

4. The guy pouring the beer seemed actively irritated by my questions, when I could get his attention. He was far more interested in promoting canned Fat Tire. Maybe just an off day, but I gotta say, if someone's interested in talking to you about your beer, talk to him. A bit off-putting, but essentially beside the point. He was offering me free beer and I was happy to accept.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NYT on Belgian Goldens

Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, periodically takes on beer. Generally to my dissatisfaction. (A friend kidded me for my "Asimov envy," which is half-true. What a huge megaphone he has! What I wouldn't do to write just one column for the Times.) Yesterday he took on Belgian golden ales, illuminating things not a great deal. Read it and make your own judgments. I will, however, make a comment or two on this passage:

One surprise in our tasting was that Duvel, the classic example of a strong golden ale, did not make our top 10. This especially surprised me as I loved its spicy, flowery flavors, which lingered in the mouth, but my colleagues felt the example we tasted was not as fresh as it ought to be, so they voted it out. Freshness is always an issue when dealing with imported beers, which have to travel a long way in not-always-ideal conditions.
I have two problems with this. The first is amazement that the NYT couldn't manage to find a fresh bottle of Duvel, one of the most widely-available Belgians in America. This is a paper that lets reporters go for months or years on a single story, has bureaus around the world, and regularly wins a majority of the pulitzers. But they couldn't find a decent Duvel?

The second point is related to the first. As a matter of journalism, I don't see what the point is in writing an article that explores a product when you ignore the giant within that product segment. It's as if a tech writer were doing a review of smart phones but ignored the iPhone. Never mind that the iPhone you brought to the testing lab was dead, you don't just chuck it aside and pretend you're telling people anything when you laud the Droid instead.

Generally when I grouse about Asimov, I am taken to task by readers more generous than I. Truth is, I had other quibbles, but they seemed to trifling to mention. But perhaps this will seem enough of a trifle to spur comment.
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Way Back When - Henry Weinhard

Over the holidays, Sally and I picked up a new printer to replace our obsolete 1990s tech. The new-fangled machine we got is a printer/copier/scanner, which gave me the opportunity to dig around through the box of photos for digitization. Amid those thousands of snaps are a few cool beer pics, and I'll be posting them from time to time as I come across them. First up, a shot I took of the Henry Weinhard brewery sometime between about 1995 and when it closed in 1999.

Henry Weinhard founded his brewery in downtown Portland when there really wasn't much of a town to speak of. He located it on the western outskirts, several blocks away from the river. For the next 140 years, it scented the Rose City. Going downtown meant encountering that particular aroma--bready, yeasty, wet, spicy. The city has transformed itself so radically that it's difficult to recall the era when a million-barrel industrial brewery anchored downtown--or perhaps more accurately, stunted it. Until just before Henry's closed down, Burnside was a very rough street; prostitution, drug sales, and homelessness marked it as a kind of dangerous DMZ. On one side, office workers and respectable downtown; on the other, old town and long unihabited tracts of quiet warehouses.

There was a functional aspect to the brewery's location: it was right on the rail line, critical for delivery of those tons of ingredients Weinhard consumed. Periodically you'd see the scene I captured in this photo--a rail car of corn syrup (more visible in the detail). Now, I'm not sure what they used corn syrup for--quite possible it all went into their root beer--but as meta-narrative, the image was stark. By the time Henry's died, Portland had already become Beervana. Jackson had feted us as the country's best beer town, and we were already bragging about having the most breweries. There was something so anachronistic about a creaky old brewery that had corn syrup delivered by the rail car.

When Miller finally shuttered the doors in '99, it was a sad time. Henry's had been a part of the city since pretty much there was a city. (It was founded in 1856, five years after the city had been incorporated with just 800 souls.) Fortunately, you can still get that lovely aroma at points throughout the city. I wouldn't be surprised if Widmer one day brews more beer than Henry's did. Certainly the time when the city produces more beer in aggregate is not far away (or maybe has already arrived). And of course, most of that beer is far tastier. Still, Henry's was an institution. It was a little bittersweet to find these photos--but also amusing. Times have changed, haven't they? I don't think we'll be seeing corn syrup being delivered to breweries anytime soon.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Drinking for the Buzz

Last week I made an argument that craft brewing has encouraged a competing culture of drinking that focused on the flavor, not the buzz. This guy didn't get the memo:
The lawsuit claims that Deschutes Brewery allowed Joseph Umphery unlimited access to beer in a keg room at the back of its bottling plant and at its brew pub in Bend....

According to the suit, on Feb. 22, 2008, Umphery drank 10 to 13 beers at the keg room and brew pub, then five to seven more beers at a strip club called "The Fan" in Redmond even though he was visibly drunk, the lawsuit alleges. A bouncer told him to leave for arguing with another customer, then helped him to his 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass, according to the suit.

As he drove home along U.S. 20, Umphery slammed into the rear-end of a 2003 Toyota 4-Runner, driven by Brian Vajda. Vajda and three passengers were injured when the SUV rolled several times, crashed through a "guard fence," and hit a pine tree, according to the suit.
Afterward, police measured Umphery's blood alcohol level at .29%--almost four times the legal limit. I have no idea what the facts are around Deschutes' culpability here (Gary Fish disputes the claim.) I guess that's a question the courts will answer. (Though I'm betting Deschutes' employee policy is about to get a lot more strict.) Yet a few amazing details spring from the article.
  • Deschutes is being held responsible for Umphery's drunkenness, despite the fact that after he left the brewery he went to a strip club and continued to drink. (The strip club is also named in the lawsuit.) Fascinating.
  • He was sentenced to six years in prison for the crime.
  • In addition to the time, Umphery will have to pay $384,000 in restitution. Given that the current personal median income for males is about $39,000, he could lose half his pre-tax income, earn the median salary, and not pay this off for 20 years.
When I was doing my research into consumption levels and the effect of craft beer, I discovered that the one clear, measurable outcome has been the precipitous drop of alcohol-related deaths in America. With consequences this dire (and I'm agnostic about whether they've struck the right balance), it's no wonder. Amazing.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

From the Larder

Apropos of this review of Jubel 2010 over at the New School, I was reminded that I had a couple bottles of Jubel 2000 in the basement (authenticated with their patina of dust). But I wonder, reading both those reviews and the brewery's "try after" date--should I wait a year or two to do a side-by-side tasting? Probably.


This post was, of course, really just an excuse to show off my cool treasures. Not that I was fooling anyone...
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Monday Morning Review: BridgePort Highland Ambush

Long ago I drank a bottle of BridgePort Highland Ambush and have been long remiss in reviewing it. This is not entirely due to circumstances. Highland Ambush, as its name suggests, is a Scottish ale, in this case a bourbon-barrel-aged wee heavy. Here's the thing about wee heavies; I've found they come in three general categories. The first are failures, brewed too warm or with the wrong malt and are heavy, treacly, and worty. The second are warming and malty, a fine tipple but nothing much to get you dancing around the room. The final are sublime--dense, rich, and creamy, with complexities that draw out smoke and nut, dark fruit and caramel. In this latter camp are very few--most are in the middle camp.

Highland Ambush was first brewed in the 1980s, an homage to the heritage of then pub manager (and now famous whiskey guide) Stuart Ramsay--who, I can use this opportunity to mention, just started a blog. This year's reprise was a blend of two batches, the second aged in Maker's Mark barrels. (The label says 2/3s to 1/3, but on this Brewpublic video Jeff Edgerton says it was really 50/50.) The result is, I'm afraid to report, a second-camp wee heavy, albeit one with more character than most.

Aging a Scottish ale in bourbon barrels poses an additional challenge--you combine a sweet beer with a sweet whiskey. I won't call Highland Ambush cloying--actually, it's pretty impressive how dry it is, considering--but it's a sweet beer. There is a bit of peaty smokiness to add dimension, but you also get a pronounced vanilla note. It's interesting, that note actually has a bit of banana in it, and I'd love someone to tell me where it comes from (is it the same isoamyl acetate ester you find in hefeweizens?).

The line that separates the good from the great wee heavy may be past the ken of adjectives. It's more one of those "know-it-when-you-taste-it" things. There's something in the balance and complexity that makes a great one pop. Although Oregonians should like Scottish ales, given our somewhat similar climate, we don't. They resist our hop lust. When I try to foist a Scottish on an unsuspecting Beervanian, I am usually greeted with impatience. Life is too short to drink underhopped ale. I have had luck with Skull Splitter (though it may have been the name) and Traquair House, but few others. I fear Highland Ambush would leave them similarly unimpressed.

Be that as it may, Karl Ockert tells me it's selling well, which is good. I'm always pleased to hear a beer is selling well. Maybe it's sample bias--I know too damn many hopheads. That would explain a lot, actually.

Stats
Malts: Pale and Carmel Malts
Hops: (Few, but...) Kent Goldings
ABV: 6.8%
IBU: 40
Availability: Through the spring
Rating: B-

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pub Three to Serve Honest Pints in Michigan

My man-on-the-scene in Michigan, BB, continues to do yeoman's work in certifying honest pints. Today's Sunday edition features Original Gravity Brewing. (I wonder if Oregon's Terminal Gravity Brewing knows about OG--or vice versa. I'd like to try versions of both breweries' IPA side by side.) Located in Milan, which looks to be about equidistant from Detroit (to the east) and Toledo (to the south)--or, for locals, just nine miles south of Ypsilanti. Founded in 2008, they are already receiving good reviews (4 1/2 stars from Yelp, A- from BeerAdvocate) and serve a range of mostly British-style ales (plus a couple of experimental brews.) If you're nearby, stop in and have an honest pint!

Original Gravity Brewing
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
440 County St.
Milan, MI 48160
(734) 439-7490
Facebook page

Michiganders, I think it's time to consider an Honest Pint pub crawl--

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Friday, February 19, 2010

More Honest Pints in Michigan

Well this is MIGHTY cool: a good beer guy in Michigan has taken it upon himself to start certifying places who serve honest pints--thanks, BB! Today's entry is Arbor Brewing from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aside from the fact that it hails from occupied territory (hometown of the dreaded Michigan Wolverines--arch enemy of my alma mater Wisconsin Badgers, but leave that aside), I know only what the internets tell me. And once again, Yelp and BeerAdvocate tell me that they're great. (Hypothesis: those places that care enough to proudly serve their beers in honest pints tend to be highly correlated with good beer.)

Arbor Brewing Company
Certified Purveyors of an Honest Pint
114 E. Washington St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Midwesterners, go give them your business--
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From the Woodshed (In Which I Attempt to Walk It Back)

Well, that was bracing. Yesterday, in response to a Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker, I hypothesized that the arrival of good beer had changed beer drinking habits for the better. A hypothesis rejected, based on my reading of the dozens of comments, by about two to one. The problem with the post--the meta problem which was the source of all the the baby problemettes--was that I bundled a bunch of points together to come up with a final thesis. Let's pull some of them apart and see where we stand.

Let's start with Gladwell's article, which I used as a jumping-off point to make my own argument. In comments, Mark observed:
However, the Gladwell article points out that drunkenness itself is not moderated by culture, but the deleterious affects may be. His citation of the Camba society drinking behavior shows them to typically get quite drunk, pass out and awake to more drinking. It is their rules and cultural practices that seem to prevent some of the problems associated with over imbibing.
Mark's exactly right. Gladwell's article talks a lot about how culture is what dictates drinking habits, not laws. In some cases, these cultures produce drinking habits with substantial downsides, even if alcoholism and revelry are not among them. Point taken.

One of my data points for demonstrating the rise of a "culture of connoisseurship" was to mention that while craft beer consumption is on the rise, per-capita consumption is falling. Hugh Johnson, seeding his impassioned rebuttal with exclamation points, rejects my statistics.
No one could be that inept! The number of servings are down, but the % of alcohol per serving is up! Beer today are routinely 5% and up. Compared to the previous average of 4% or so. Look around any local pub. You won't find people socially drink 1-2 servings of beer. They are drinking 2-3 pints of beer that is 5-7% or higher. That would equal 4-5 regular servings. Less beer in numbers, but more alcohol is being consumed.
Well, Hugh, I got you there: apparently I can be that inept. On the surface, I thought I might be able to find stats to confirm or deny the point, but it's not that easy. And worse, when I started poking around, what I found contradicted the Brewers Guild stats. In the last 15 years, Oregonians increased their consumption by about a gallon per capita, from 22 to 23 gallons a year according to the Brewer's Association. I found no stats on consumption habits, however, so it's harder to resolve the central question.

Since Hugh was so adamant in his point, I'd like to refute some of what is just as anecdotal an argument as mine. Hugh may see a lot of people drinking high-octane beers pint after pint in his local, but many of the state's most popular beers are relatively low-alcohol: Widmer Hef (4.9%), Deschutes Mirror Pond (5.0%) and Black Butte (5.2%), Session (5.1%), BridgePort IPA (5.5%). These are not extravagantly higher in alcohol than tin-can beer.

Next we get to a point made by Mr. Murphy, which starts to get to the heart of the matter:
The only people that are drinking fewer beers are doing it because the beer is stronger now (me included) or they are just getting older. I personally think it is a solid fact that the majority of people drink to get buzzed.
(A minor theme in the comments involved people pointing out that my incipient geezerdom was responsible for me thinking everyone else drinks less--you know, just because oldsters like me drink less. Thank god a few whippersnappers raced to my defense!) Murphy raises the key question: has craft brewing been responsible for creating a competing culture of consumption that is focused on tasting the beer? Or do people really still just drink beer to get drunk--albeit more fashionably and with tastier beverages, thanks to craft beer?

Conclusions
I first want to acknowledge that my thoughts on this matter are not informed by hard data. Reading through the comments, I saw that people's own individual experiences differed, so they had different opinions about patterns of consumption. College town Eugene, in particular, appears to be much more oriented around the buzz--to no great surprise.

That said, I still just can't buy the argument that nothing's changed. It is true that alcohol is always going to be popular because of its effects on human perception. Humans like to alter their consciousness--this appears to be one of the few consistents across the globe. Yet Gladwell's article ably illustrates that "culture determines how we drink" (as Patrick summarized it). What I see when I go to brewpubs or alehouses--and here is my sample bias; I don't spend much time in either upscale or dive bars--is an amazing diversity of people drinking beer together. I see families, seniors, women--I once saw a children's birthday party at the Lucky Lab! A great many of them are not drinking to drunkenness. To me, that represents a massive sea change.

Before craft beer, there really wasn't much point in drinking beer except to get buzzed. Schaefer famously made this truth the center of their ad campaign: "Schaefer, the one beer to have when you're having more than one." Nobody was spending a lot of time writing about, reading about, and rating all the different varieties of tin-can beer. It was all the same; a passably pleasant beverage that got you drunk.

With craft beer, what has emerged in certain parts of the country is a different culture of drinking, where an appreciation of the brewer's craft is front and center. This brings people together in a pleasant, relaxed environment that is far different from the way people drank beer 30 years ago. Whether this has resulted in lower consumption or more healthy patterns of consumption I can't say. But that new culture is in itself to be celebrated. Which is I guess what I should have said in the first place.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Different Branding, Different Video

Just as a contrast to the New Belgium video I posted a couple days ago, here's one from Sierra Nevada (featuring our own Fred Eckhardt). Compare and contrast:



(I like this one better.)

How We Drink

In the current issue of the New Yorker (Feb 15 & 22, 2010), Malcolm Gladwell turns his attention to drinking habits. As is usual with Gladwell, the upshot is somewhat obvious, but it's padded with such nice stories that you don't mind. (As a serial padder of often trivial observations, I am in no position to judge.) Drawing on the research of Bolivian-traveling ethnographers from the 1950s, Yale alcohol researchers, and assorted other anthropologists working in Mexico and Kenya, Gladwell comes to this (sorry, it's not available online):
"There is something about the cultural dimension of social problesm that eludes us. When confronted with the rowdy youth in the bar, we are happy to raise his drinking age, to tax his beer, to punish him if he drives under the influence, and to push him into treatment if his habit becomes an addiction. But we are reluctant to provide him with a positive and constructive example of how to drink. The consequences of that failure are considerable, because, in the end, culture is a more powerful tool in dealing with drinking than medicine, economics, or the law.... Nowhere in the multitude of messages and signals sent by popular culture and socail institutions about drinking is there any consensu about what drinking is supposed to mean."
Gladwell could have saved himself some trouble by turning to Oregon, where we've known about this phenomenon for years. The Oregon Brewers Guild proudly touts the fact that while consumption of Oregon-brewed beer is up, way up, over the past decade, the total consumption of beer is down. This paradox is solved by recognizing that what the craft brewing renaissance has provided Oregon (and probably many other less-statistically-oriented states) is a culture shift.

The act of drinking has changed. Formerly, the buzz was the point. At the dawn of my drinking life (for legal purposes, we'll say that was 1989), brewpubs and alehouses were not yet well-established. Instead, the standard place to drink was a box with no windows, a pool table, and a haze of smoke. Women were a distinct (if highly visible) minority. Outside pubs, we took home "suitcases" of Hamms (18 or 24 beers--the details elude me), purchased and drunk in bulk. Part of this was my age, but a big part of it was that that's the only beer culture that existed.

Now we drink less, but we drink because the beer is tasty. As a result, we drink it together, as whole families, in pubs and in our homes. One of my neighbors, a minister, and I share a relationship based on the appreciation of craft beer. He has a lovely family who presumably do not regard this as a transgressive act. The smoky bars are not all gone (though they're not smoky anymore!), but they are now the niche. Mostly we drink our beer in well-lighted places where we can see and smell and enjoy it--and each other.

The result is that we are abandoning the larger quantities of cheap beer for the smaller quantities of good beer. While getting drunk will always be a motivation of some folks, we have a competing cultural model for alcohol consumption that encourages healthy behavior.

So the answer to the problem of alcohol, obviously, is more breweries.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Assorted Thoughts Provoked by Ranger IPA

"I was a bit surprised by how hazy the beers were overall, even taking into consideration the dry hopping. In fact, we’ve seen plenty of hazy beers in Oregon (not just the ones made with wheat). I guess there is a pun in there about 'partly cloudy...'"
I was reminded of this observation by Stan Hieronymus--made after he passed through Portland last year--when I poured out a bottle of the new Ranger IPA from New Belgium. Because, man, is it clear. Light lager clear. Hawaiian water clear. Cascade Mountain--well, just look:


This contrasts the partly-cloudy pours of our own IPAs, as Stan noted. But I was trying to think--isn't this at the very least a West Coast proclivity? I don't recall being suprised at the clarity of California IPAs. I did a bit of looking about to see if there were regional differences, but photographs are never conclusive. One thing I did notice was how much less interest in IPAs Coloradans seem to evince. In the NW, it's almost a sure bet that a brewery has one IPA (unless they're quirky and offbeat), and many have two, three, or more.

Not so in Colorado. Ranger is New Belgium's debut (not surprising for a brewery devoted to Belgian-style ales). But Breckenridge also recently introduced their first. Oskar Blues has none. Wynkoop, nada. The one really high-profile IPA from Colorado I can think of is Great Divide's Titan. I'm not exactly an expert on Colorado, but my sense is that folks there prefer cleaner, smaller, and less-hoppy beers. They like a good lager, and they like balance. As a consequence, IPAs just aren't that big a deal.

So when we consider Ranger, even though it will be a nationally-distributed beer, we must recognize that it's a Colorado IPA. They're not getting into any arms races over IBUs, funk, or haziness. It is a very clean, crisp beer, with less body and resinous stickiness than we've come to expect. Some of the cues are missing, so NW beer drinkers may not recognize that it tops out at 6.5% and 70 IBUs--but it does. Ranger's different in other ways, too. Even though New Belgium has employed three very common, NW hops--Simcoe, Cascase, and Chinook--they seem to rely on the spicy woodiness of the Chinooks to distinguish the beer. It doesn't have that deeply tangy citrus many local IPAs have. Rather, it's so spicy I got a kind of mustard greens crackle.

It's not going to be for everyone, but I predict Coloradans will love it. It probably won't make a major dent in IPA sales in Beervana, though. We likes our skies and our beer cloudy.
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PHOTOS: BRIDGEPORT IPA BY RELZ, RANGER BY LIFE IS GOOD (PETE)
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Random Thoughts

These are the kinds of things one could tweet, I suppose, but I'm old school:

1. Last night I strolled past blossoming plants to on my way EastBurn for a pint of $2 beer. (Ah, Tuesdays!) While I enjoyed the February spring, I was alarmed by its early arrival (folks at the Japanese Garden say the cherries there are blooming 2-4 weeks early), and so was comforted to later find myself at the bar with a pint, the Blazers playing on the wall to my left. I haven't sat at the bar before, so I wasn't really clued into the idea that all beers are $2--including canned Pabst tallboys. Three or four times during the two pints I sat there, a 20-something sidled up and plopped down a Tommy J in exchange for a Blue Ribbon. I looked down at the oak-aged Arrogant Bastard I was drinking and was no less confused than earlier, when I beheld the new blossoms. Is it possible that people actually prefer Pabst? Can't be.

2. I believe someone circulated the good news about Liberty Street's honest pint certification below, because I got a raft of traffic this morning, along with some comments. Among those comments were a couple that criticized the brewery for serving beer not to their liking. Such as:
The beer really is bad. Generally flat and warmer than it should be. I know this is the way of the UK but we're not there. I'm a big fan of microbrews throughout this state. By far Liberty is the most dissapointing. I had high hopes too.
Hopes are variable. Reading this, I hope to someday find a reason to get to Detroit.
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Speaking of Branding...

I have a lot of respect for New Belgium Brewing. I respect their green ethos, the love they inspire, and I especially respect their forays into the Belgian wild lands. (Fat Tire?--not so much.) But they have always been a little brand-forward for my tastes, and here is prosecution evidence #312: the video for their new Ranger IPA. I discovered it as I was doing research for a review of the beer--ultimately recoiling from the computer screen. Behold the spectacle:



Playing the rap card for comedy/irony/camp--gotta leave it alone. Just walk away.
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Reports From Zwickelmania

Based on the various posts popping up, I missed a great time this weekend. Fortunately, members of Beer Bloggers United, Local 503 were out in force.
Next year, next year...

Honest Pints in Michigan

Liberty Street Brewing
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
149 W. Liberty Street
Plymouth, MI 48170

It is a fine day when I wake up to a new certification photo in my inbox. It is even finer when that photo depicts a pub in a heretofore uncertified state. Today is a very fine day.

Liberty Street Brewing was founded just 18 months ago in Plymouth, Michigan, just west of Detroit. In that short time, they've served notice that they want to purvey not only honest pints, but exceptional ones. The raters on Yelp (four and a half stars) and BeerAdvocate (A rating) rave about the place. Here's head brewery and owner Joe Walters talking about his orientation to honest pints:
We are firm believers in a "pint being a pound - the world around", I did not want to serve a 16 ounce pint glass that would only hold a pint if there was surface tension and no head. I have recieved comments from colleagues telling me to reduce my pour, but even when changing glassware this past month, I chose to keep with the Honest Pint pour, using a 20 ounce pub glass. By the way, our half pints are 10 ounces.
That's effectively a verbatim rationale for our criteria for an honest pint. Thanks and congrats, Joe!
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Brand Dissection: Hopworks Urban Brewery

This is the second part of what I hope will be an ongoing series of brand dissections. For an introduction to the idea behind the series, have a look at this post. Last time, I looked at Rogue Ales, and one of the consistent comments was "I hope you look at smaller breweries, too." So this time I thought I'd look at one of the most distinctively branded brewpubs in Portland, Hopworks Urban Brewery.

Background
Christian Ettinger founded Hopworks just about two years ago. He had already logged over a decade in the brewing business, though, and so he'd put a lot of thought into what the new place would look like.
"Being the son of an architect, a German architect at that, who was very image-oriented in terms of quality and design and the function that follows—so it was never good or better, it was always 'best.' I spent my childhood touring architectural wonders around the country. That was our vacations, going to see the Guggenheim and Taliesin. So a heavy design influence early on. And also the German, anal-retentiveness, where you always seek for that perfection; knowing you never quite get there, but knowing that there is something better than what everyone else is doing, you just gotta find it."
There's a big difference between a production brewery and a brewpub. Brewpubs have a physical presence that anchors the brand. When you walk into hopworks, the sense of an architecturally intentional identity is obvious instantly. For me, structural design underscores everything Hopworks does. (It's instructive that the beer was ready long before the building. Brewpubs often emphasize the dining space, focusing on the diners' experience. Hopworks reverses that; diners are put in the brewery's space--you feel the sense of the whole no matter where you are in the building.)

Other elements of the physical space jump out, too: the bicycle frames that extend like ribwork (or buttresses) above the bar; a large round window in a corner of the pub; pony kegs sliced in half to create planters. The pub boasts of a green, organic ethos and yet is in an entirely industrial context.

Elements of the Brand
These disparate elements are not random. Ettinger had a series of influences he was trying to incorporate into the design. Working with a graphic artist, they decided that the three elements of the brand would be colors, font, and a logo. They should all be distinctive so that if you used one in isolation, it would still instantly communicate the Hopworks brand.

Logo
The element Ettinger calls the logo is the sun/target circle image behind the name. Although it's the least distinctive of the three elements, in many ways, it is the thing that for Ettinger most represents the brewery. What you see in the physical pub Ettinger sees in the circles:
"You have all these circular things which are very literally translated into: the cycle of life, oxygen-nitrogen cycle, all these different things that are responsible for life and the health of those different systems we all rely on. Agriculture. So the circle just kept popping up—the bicycle wheel, the cog, all these industrial things, a keg of beer on its side. You’re always returning to the same point, but it’s the journey.
Font
For me, most memorable element is the font. I always related to it as an echo of the architectural themes. It's blocky, like wood or buildings. The lines are square rather than round, which suggested the German influence. But in fact, the font is--like Rogue's symbolism--from the iconic socialist era.
"We were looking at these Russian Constructivist design books. I like the working-class elements that are present, and the bold use of colors and the very angular and industrial [lines]. Living in Germany in ’93 just after the wall came down and being able to walk through East Berlin and seeing just what it looked like. That drab, post-communist look. I guess it spoke to me."
Hopworks has a brand that works in contrasts--a reflection of Ettinger's style. You see it through the brewery, and you see it in the circle logo and the square font. Small breweries have an advantage over large ones: they are free to communicate specific identities that will appeal to some people and leave others cold. Hopworks' font is a great example. It's bold and memorable. It's not the kind of font that appeals to me, but it's effective at communicating brand and sticking in my memory. I can see a row of 22s and spot Hopworks from 20 feet--just because I can see that font.

Colors
Another element of the Hopworks brand is the 1970s. That large circular window, the banana bicycle seats in the men's bathroom (I can't speak for the women's!), and the colors. I find all of these suggestive of the colors and shapes that surrounded me growing up. I think Ettinger is roughly my same age, and I wonder if this isn't a bit of Gen X influence. Here's Christian describing the color palette:
"The colors are very warm and sunny, you’ve got orange and red—or how you look at it, kind of marigold, kind of yellow-orange and reddish orange as well. And also high-contrast; you’ve got that black to anchor you. I love high contrast"
Name
I forgot to ask Christian about the name, but at this point it seems self-evident. "Hopworks" was almost an inevitable name--it's so good that eventually some brewery was going to run with it. But Ettinger added the "Urban Brewery" which stand as useful qualifiers, but also--and this is ultimately the point--allow him to use the acronym "HUB." The idea of the hub is perfectly in keeping with the idea of circularity, of integration, and of community that Ettinger mentioned as we started. HUB is mainly used in visual representation. Verbally, "HUB" pitches you into confusion; Hopworks is far better as a communication of location.

Brand Success
Brewpubs don't always have the same level of attention to brand that production breweries necessarily must. I started with Hopworks because I find it to be such a strange and potent cocktail of brand elements. With a strong brand, you are actually influenced in the way your relate to not only the pub, but the beer. "Brand" has a negative connotation with some folks, but if you think of it as "personality" instead, you get a sense of its effect. Hopworks communicates its personality on a number of levels, some subtle, some obvious, and I was pleased to learn that the intention behind the brand is consonant with how I relate to the brewery. That seems like the final mark of success: does the brand communicate what you want it to? (It's slightly different from "does the brand make you like the product?"--which is almost impossible to engineer.) By this definition, Hopworks nailed it.

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PHOTO: HUB cap by Drinks with Nathan. | Share

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Four-Pack

One other interesting thing about Widmer's Deadlift is how it's being sold: in a four-pack. They aren't pioneering that system--Boston Beer, North Coast, and others have been doing it for awhile--but they're the first Oregon brewery I know who's giving it a whirl. When I certified Widmer's honest pints last week, I spoke to Rob about it, and I think Widmer as interested as anyone to see if four-packs are a viable way to sell expensive-to-produce beer.

The idea is to sell a four-pack at a six-pack price. I saw Deadlift at Freddy's yesterday and it was selling for $8.50. To use Bill's excellent six-pack equivalent system, that puts the price at $12.75. Spendy for a sixer, but quite competitive when compared with 22s. The cheapest 22s retail for about four dollars, a six-pack equivalent of $13.09. Five-dollar 22s--also quite common--have a SPE of $16.36.

I personally like them because when I buy an 8+ percent beer, I don't want to have to commit to a 22 or find a partner. But my preferences aren't always (read: almost never) reflected in the larger public. Will consumers look at the hefty price, the short box, and instantly think 'rip off?' or will they appreciate the relative value and convenient scale of the four pack? Time will tell.

A Full Weekend

Man, there's a lot going on this weekend. Sadly, I'll be out of town and not enjoying any of it. But for the hundreds of thousands who will be, here is a run-down:

BAM: Beer and Movie Festival
The good folks at Beer Northwest (which I believe means mainly Megan and Katie), along with Jacques Boyreau and Aaron Mesh have put together Portland's 41st movie fest--but the first one with beer! BAM "showcases Cult, "Super Trash," 80's classics, and some brand spankin new premieres, alongside some of the best beers the Northwest has to offer." Breweries have gotten involved and there will be screenings not only in theaters, but in pubs. (I particularly admire the pairing of bike-centric Hopworks and their screening of Breaking Away on Monday the 15th. Brilliant.)

The fest has already started and runs through Feb 27th. The schedule is here.


Zwickelmania
Saturday Feb 13, 11am - 4pm
All Across Oregon

As the Oregon Brewers Guild describes it: "
Dozens of Oregon breweries and brewpubs will open their doors to visitors for the state’s 2nd annual Zwickelmania. Zwickelmania, hosted by the Oregon Brewers Guild (OBG), is a free statewide event that offers visitors a chance to tour Oregon breweries, meet the brewers and sample their favorite beers." Go to the Guild website to find out which breweries in your area are participating.


Portland Internation Film Fest (PIFF)

This is not a beer event, but it's one of my very favorite events of the year, full stop. If you have even a passing interest in movies, you should peruse the listings, select a movie that piques your fancy, and go immerse yourself in a wonderful experience. You only have to begin watching a movie from, say Uruguay or Finland, to know that brains are not all wired the same. Even if you choose unwisely and select a dud, you'll enjoy the strangeness of the experience. Sally and I started going regularly about 8 years ago, and some of the best movies I've seen in that span never screened outside of PIFF in Portland. (Including a Grand Jeffy winner.) So consider it.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reviews: Widmer Deadlift and Double Mountain Porter A Go Go

You might imagine that a 5% porter and a double IPA have precious little in common and normally, I'd agree with you. But there is something surprising that unites these two beers, and so I've grouped them together. (Originally it was going to be Deadlift and Highland Ambush, but plans change.) Through a strange combination of hops, malt, and yeast, both have managed to produce interesting berry flavors in their beer.

Double Mountain Porter A Go Go
Double Mountain released Porter A Go Go a week or two ago, and I tried it at the Horse Brass. I'll give more detailed notes in a moment, but what really intrigued me was a predominant blackberry note. Sometimes we say a beer is fruity or has "raisin" or "plum" notes. These are metaphors to hint at the kind of flavors we detect. But when I say there was blackberry in Porter A Go Go, I don't mean it metaphorically. It was a pure, clear note. (It wasn't, however, sweet or dominant, more like the way blackberry tastes when its baked in a scone.) I shot DM's Matt Swihart an email, and he wrote back at length about the beer.
I’m a giant fan of porters, they don’t get the attention they deserve, and often end up being pretty timid from a large brewer market perspective or way too big into the stout range from the little guys. I found myself seeking a rich, dark beer, ruby black translucent with a noticeable hop nose, yet not zealot-hopped, or accused of being a new beer style with black or India in the title. I wanted the alcohol level to be more moderate than typical beers I produce, as this beer was designed specifically so I could have a couple at the end of the day in our pub in Hood River. The beer had to have some crystal malt sweetness to balance the roast, so I could throw in my hop back desires (also known as large amounts of whole hops). The hops are US challengers, which I find to have a tad of that US citrus, which can be a blessing and a curse, of course. But UK hops can be quite variable in quality, I find, so as a brewer 2 hours from Yakima , I tend to brew with what I can drive to between taco shack breaks.

I think the blackberry note you are getting is likely more from our Abby yeast strain. I underpitched the brew to drive the esters up a tad, but kept the temperature of the ferment lower. I’ve been having some good success with that lately. Could also be a combination with the dark malts, again that I didn’t want a giant roast presence so you can achieve some greater subtlety at lower levels.
I, too, am a giant porter fan. Porter was one of the first beer styles I brewed, and one of the first I consider when I arrive in a new brewpub. Porter is a flexible style, with version ranging from the sweet, gentle and nutty to the smoky, burly, and bitter (which Denver styles "brown" or "robust"). I think the style actually runs more along a continuum, and Porter A Go Go is one of those versions that falls just in the middle.

On the one hand, it's a gentle 5% and has that sweet, light body you like in a nice brown porter. The nature of the sweetness is characterized by that blackberry note, which I think takes something, in addition to the yeast, from the chocolate malts. On the other hand, it's a pretty hoppy beer, and the bitterness plays on the roastiness of the malts and gives it more of the charcoal quality you get in robust porters. Not your average porter by any means, and a beer you should try to track down. On a day like today--low forties, drizzly--it's really hits the spot. I might have hopped it a tad less, so on the ratings scale, I'd go B+ (though of course, that extra hop oomph is exactly what will recommend it to some drinkers.)


Widmer Deadlift
If Widmer hadn't lost a batch of Deadlift to a power outage, I wouldn't have known about it before receiving a four-pack in the mail. (Yes, federales, I was comped.) A strangely stealthy release. What we have in Deadlift is a further evolution of the Widmer style. House character can be achieved in a lot of different ways, but against all expectations, Widmer seems to be doing it through their use of unusual hops--especially Summit, Citra, and Nelson Sauvin. And Nelson Sauvin are leading the charge.

Deadlift utilizes four hops: Cascade, Alchemy, and Willamette--but the signature comes from the Nelsons. This is a hop the brewery started working with in it's "Nelson" trials (Half Nelson, Full Nelson), and which it later used in Drifter. Nelson Sauvin is a very distinctive hop and one for which I have no great love. The brewery describes its character variously as citrusy, or berry-like, and I have heard others call it piney. All true, but my nose finds some chemical that smells and tastes like sweat. Based on the commercial and critical success of Drifter, I'm in the minority, though, so take that for what it's worth.

So how do the Nelsons work in Deadlift? Widmer's approach is interesting. it comes in at only 70 IBUs, which for a Double IPA is pretty low. Instead of bitterness, they've gone for a tea-like infusion of hop flavor. From the moment it splashed into my tulip glass (beautifully, too--a sunny, bright gold), I could smell the Nelsons. They come across as more orange-citrus, but there's that characteristic Nelson-ness. The beer's not super strong, but a lot of volatile alcohol vents from the beer, too, lifting those aroma compounds, almost like wasabi. On the tongue, that Nelson-ness isn't so pronounced. The flavor they describe as berry I might call spruce, too. As the glass warms, the bitterness fades back a bit more and it almost gets too sweet--though the alcohol just keeps it in balance.

Not totally sure what the reaction is going to be to this beer. Because of the Nelsons, I'm having a hard time rating it. The early reviews on BeerAdvocate are positive, though.


Update. More reviews of Deadlift: It's Pub Night, 999 Beers, Portland Beer and Music, Bulls and Brew.

Addendum, 2/12/10. Sally got into the Deadlift last night and drank two (!). I snuck a couple of swallows and while the beer keeps me at arm's length personally, thanks to those Nelson Sauvin hops, I became more and more impressed. If it didn't say "double IPA" on the label, I would have a hard time characterizing it. There are ways in which it bears some resemblance to strong Belgian ales: full effervescence, the volatile alcohol nose, even the deep golden-orange color. It definitely isn't cut from the same cloth as most double IPAs, and this is to its credit.
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Beer Stimulus?

A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives would lower the excise tax on craft breweries. It was introduced by a bipartisan group of eight Reps, including Oregon's DeFazio and Blumenauer. Details:
  • For breweries producing less than 60,000 barrels, the per-barrel tax would drop from $7 to $3.50
  • For larger breweries, the tax on all barrels produced between 60,000 and 2 million would be taxed at $16, rather than the current $18.
  • All barrels over 2 million would be taxed at $18 per barrel.
This is an update on the 1976 small-brewer tax rate, one that has never been adjusted. It targets only the federal excise tax, not state taxes.

For an idea of how this would affect breweries, here are some calculations I made for various sizes of breweries:
5,000 Barrel Brewery
Current law: $35,000
HR 4278: $17,500

30,000 Barrel Brewery
Current law: $210,000
HR 4278: $105,000

75,000 Barrel Brewery
Current law: $690,000
HR 4278: $450,000

150,000 Barrel Brewery
Current law: $2,040,000
HR 4278: $1,650,000
Although it's not embeddable, there's a great news video from Colorado describing the legislation here. A pdf of the legislation is here.

The Brewers Association favors it, and no doubt all breweries do, too. This could add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to a brewery or brewpub. However, the policy wonk in me wonders why we'd be lowering taxes on small breweries now. It's a tiny drop in the bucket to the federal budget (costing the government just a hair over $40 m). But of all the sectors of the economy that could use stimulating, craft brewing seems like the last in a very long line. Some breweries have no doubt suffered in this economy, but as a whole, craft breweries continue to grow and prosper. The idea of federal stimulus is to get stalled industries moving. Any job's a good job, and this will definitely create jobs, but should we be handing out tax breaks to a healthy sector when others are dying on the vine?

But hey, don't let me be the diacetyl in the beer--this would be good for Beervana if it passes.

Hat tip to JG for flagging this down and emailing me the news.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Amazing New Technology

A new nanotechnology has recently been featured in various science pages that could revolutionize whole industries, including brewing. Here's a description from The Independent, which had the most comprehensive article I found:
A non-toxic spray invisible to the human eye that protects almost any surface against dirt and bacteria, whether it is hospital equipment and medical bandages or ancient stone monuments and expensive fabrics....

But true it is. The spray is a form of "liquid glass" and is harmless to living things and the wider environment. It is being touted as one of the most important, environmentally-friendly products to emerge from the field of nanotechnology, which deals in objects at the molecular end of the size scale.

The secret of liquid glass is that it forms an ultra-thin film between 15 and 30 molecules thick – about 500 times thinner than human hair. On this nanoscale – a few millionths of a millimetre thick – liquid glass turns into a highly flexible invisible barrier that repels water, dirt and bacteria, yet is resistant to heat, acids and UV radiation but remains "breathable".
If the technology is as versatile as the articles I've seen suggest, the applications are almost limitless. The article mentions that corks treated with the material would not be subject to fungal contamination, so no more "corking." And when I read this paragraph, I instantly thought of all the mash tuns getting hosed down with hard-core chemicals:
Similar tests by food-processing firms in Germany have shown that sterile surfaces treated with liquid glass are just as clean and free of microbial contamination after being washed in hot water as untreated surfaces washed in the usual way with strong bleach, and the antimicrobial effect continued over many months.
One of the reasons the brewing industry isn't so earth-friendly is because of all the water breweries use. This tech could save a lot of water in cleaning. So much in dealing with beer is making things are clean--beer lines, kegs, breweries themselves. Lots and lots of possibilities. But for the biggie, check out how it might be used in agriculture:
This led to tests on vines showing that treated plants are more resistant to a fungus that attacks the grapes. Seeds coated with liquid glass are less likely to be be attacked by fungal spores and germinate and grow faster than untreated seeds, probably because they do not waste energy fending off the microbes
Would it also work against powdery mildew on hops? Aphids? The mind boggles. Let's hope the reality is as good as the hype.

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Lisa Riffs on Women and Sour Ales

Last week, I posted a sort of random ramble (my forte) about sour ales and noted, off-handedly that "one hopeful sign is that women seem to like sour ales more than men." Lisa Morrison, a beer-loving woman, has taken this up in less-random fashion:
There is a school of thought that women’s palates are more fine-tuned to bitter (not sour) flavors because, as the primary child caregivers, at least historically, women would often taste food first before giving it to their child. In fact, these earlier females probably even chewed the food a bit before giving it to the younger ones – especially in the days before cutlery and CuisineArts....

But sour, now that is the flavor of unripe berries and other fruit still on the vine or tree. Cavewoman might not have had the luxury of letting those fruits ripen a bit more before eating them or feeding them to the kiddos. Women’s brains developed to not give us the “danger” signal with sour flavors like it did with bitter
This seems right. It does, however, raise another, related question: are hops actually bitter? This is a question I've been turning over in my head a lot lately, particularly after having a bottle of Widmer Deadlift and a pint of Double Mountain Porter A Go Go. We call them bitter, but the bitterness isn't exactly like the bitterness you get from, say, dark chocolate.

But I digress. You should go read Lisa's post in full.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Everything But the Squeal

Among thrifty carnivore types, there's an axiom: "everything but the squeal." This applies to a pig and how much of the body to utilize. Apparently that axiom is one Ron Gansberg applies to beer, too, because he has re-harvested his apricots and included the meat from the pits in his latest beer.

When I was out there in December, he showed me the high-tech process they use once they have the discarded pits from their Apricot Ale. As I recall, it involves a hinged lever device and a lot of grunting. And then an explosion of pit shrapnel. In the end, what you have is an almond-tasting nut so small it takes 600-700 to make a pound. These have been used to flavor amaretto liquor and other almondy-tasting things, as well as tonics to ward off cancer. (Studies say it doesn't work.) In any case, the fruit of this laborious process is finally at hand. Over the weekend, Cascade will unveil a blended "white port/raspberry/apricot seed beer" for Zwickelmania.

Which reminds me-- Zwickelmania is this Saturday. It is an annual event wherein members of the Oregon Brewers guild throw open their brewery doors and give tours to the public. It was a smash hit last year--a little unexpectedly, according to the brewers I spoke to--and this year breweries are making an even bigger deal of it. Like, you know, releasing white port/raspberry/apricot seed beers.

For full details, including itineraries, maps, and addresses, go to the Oregon Brewers Guild website.

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A New Astoria Canning Operation: Fort George

John Foyston, sporting the new "special to the Oregonian" tag on his byline, has a fascinating story about Fort George in today's paper. The ten-cent recap: Chris Nemlowill and Jack Harris bought that cool old (namesake) building that houses Fort George and they have very big plans. Most intriguing to me is this:
The deal gives Astoria its own Brewery Block, and Nemlowill and Harris have lots of plans, beginning with a new production brewery and canning line on the ground floor of the Lovell Building....

Brewer Jack Harris and his crew of helpers will trek to Houston, Texas in March to disassemble a used 30-barrel brew system (930 gallons) and three 1,800-gallon fermentation tanks that they're buying from St. Arnold Brewing and load it onto five trucks for the trek to Astoria. The system will increase capacity nearly fourfold from thee current 260 gallon brewhouse, which will remain in operation in the Fort George Building.
The result will be canned pounders of Vortex IPA--a fitting start, given that Vortex was named after the expedition to acquire the first brewery. (Video here of Chris describing it.) Vortex is also one of their best beers and a fantastic IPA, too, which probably factored into the decision.

Anyway, lots more in the story, so go have a look.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Bowl Wrap-up

I didn't expect to have comments about the Super Bowl, but three things really jumped out and compel me to comment.

1. Excessive sexism. It seemed like every other ad had a vicious anti-woman subtext. There seemed to be two variants, the likes of which I haven't seen in 30 years: 1) women are stupid, to be tolerated only for their bodies, or 2) women emasculate men. They seemed especially offensive because now, in 2010, it's really hard to blame this sentiment on culture. Sitting in a theater pub with an audience of at least 40% women really brought the offensiveness home.

2. Anheuser-Busch has released a 55 calorie beer--Budweiser Select. Apparently this isn't breaking news--388 people have rated it on BeerAdvocate (current score: D; sample comments: tastes of "white bread," "corn flavored-water," "metallic corn," "water from a glass that previously had a real beer in it"). Bud long ago abandoned hops; now, under the wise tutelage of the Belgian brain trust, they've abandoned malt, too. Next I envision Bud Pure Bottle Water.

3. Speaking of Bud, man, have they lost track of the brand. Back in the untroubled days of market dominance and regular growth, their marketing was hitting on all cylinders. Depending on the demographic, they had a masterful pitch. Luxury and tradition for the AARP set, hip athleticism for the sports set, rah rah revelry for the frat set. Pick a market segment and they owned it. Watching their woeful ads yesterday, I winced and wondered what had become of the marketing department.

But in the end, it was all lightness and joy: the Saints came marching in (Turbodog, no doubt, in hand).

Update. The New York Times points out another interesting trend: geezer nostalgia.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

On the Super Bowl

There are few days so closely associated with beer as the Super Bowl--though most of America will be tippling tinny "lite" from a can. Here in Oregon, we eschew such indecency. Since allowing our TV to go dead with the transition to digital, Sally an I now end up in front of screens elsewhere when we wish to catch sports. (Preferences: Blazers, Red Sox, Badgers, Packers.) So tomorrow, we have a vast array of choices. We'll probably end up at the Bagdad, where the screen is large enough to make it feel live, and where the seats are aplenty.

(That denizens of other cities toil without a theater-pub seems inconceivable. It has become old hat to me, but I was reminded of what sporting bounty we enjoy when Sally's brother, a fanatic fan from Boston, visited us a couple years ago. The Ducks had their season opener, and he wanted to sample some local culture, so we headed over to the Mission. His eyes were golf-ball wide as we came into to the theater proper and he said, "this is tremendous!" Oh yeah, I thought, I guess it is.)

But I digress. I started this post with the idea of commenting on beers of the competing states. Oon the one hand, Indiana, we have a fairly nice little state for beer--32 breweries in all. Far and away the most famous of these is Three Floyds, which currently has four beers ranked in the top 26 on BeerAdvocate's highest-rated list. On the other hand we have Louisiana, with a more modest nine breweries. Dixie is the most famous, but Abita the most admired. (Unfortunately, Dixie was ravaged by Katrina and is no longer brewing beer; the brands are contract brewed elsewhere.)

By any measure, the edge must go to Indiana (even if Beervanians have a reason to harbor suspicions about the devotion provoked by Three Floyds). Except: I've never had a beer from Three Floyds, but I have had a Turbodog from Abita. I live very near the Screen Door, a southern restaurant on 24th and Burnside, and the first time I went, an aficionado told me, "you must have the Turbodog." I did, and now I pass along the wisdom whenever we return with newbies. It is not the most accomplished beer made, but it somehow beguiles, not unlike a wet lab fresh from a river--wet and aromatic, but infectiously enthusiastic. Tomorrow I will be rooting for the little team from NOLA, whom all the critics say is inferior to the team from Indy. Three Floyds is a better beer too, say the critics, but I'll be thinking of Turbodog.

Plus, Drew Brees is way cooler than Peyton Manning.
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Friday, February 05, 2010

Honest Pint Project Status Update

Let's admit it right at the top: I am a crappy champion. In other hands, the Honest Pint Project would now have far more certified purveyors and perhaps had a greater effect nationally. I have just had enough going on in life that I haven't devoted the time to the project it really warrants.

That said, the HPP is quietly gaining strength and helping change glassware--at least here in Oregon. In the past month, two breweries have taken a major step (Widmer and Full Sail) and introduced new, proprietary honest pints. Even more hearteningly, we're starting to see not only honest pints, but glasses that are marked with a line to show the 16-ounce level. Oregon has always been a leader in things related to craft brewing, and this is evidence of our commitment. Very cool.

Nationally things are a little slower, but still gaining. The Facebook page has 850 fans (join if you haven't!), and we have a few scattered certified pubs outside Oregon. I would love to see more of those, so if you're reading this from outside Oregon, consider certifying your local pub--it would be good for them and great for the project. It's super easy--just follow these instructions.

Finally, the piece I had in Draft Magazine a few months back produced some nice comments from readers. Matthew scanned the letters page, so have a look.



Trying to rectify my lameness somewhat, I hope to institute a new schedule of certifying a new place once a week for the foreseeable future. If you know of places serving honest pints, let me know: the_beerax [at] yahoo [dot] com. Thanks, as always, for your support.

Oh, and don't forget--buy some cool swag and help me defray costs.

Widmer Gasthaus Introduces Honest Pints

I am most pleased to announce the newest addition to our official list of Certified Purveyors of Honest Pints: the Widmer Gasthaus. The brothers have completely changed their glassware and now use an imperial pint with an etched line indicating the 16-ounce level. It's really cool to see breweries using the Honest Pint Project as an opportunity to introduce new proprietary glassware. The Widmer version is the graceful Irish-style glass and of course features their logo. (You can buy the honest pint glass at the pub.)



Widmer Gasthaus
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
955 North Russell Street
(503) 281-3333
Website



Most of the folks around Portland are well aware of the Gasthaus, its nice German-inflected menu, and the specialty beers (including Collaborator brews) only available there on-tap. Now there's another reason to give them your business--honest pints.

Bonus pic: Rob Widmer with the measuring cup.


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