Blogs will save us.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Boo!

I will not be attending tonight's grand tour of 28th Ave (aka "Night of the Living Ales"), despite the fact (or because of?) that it's four blocks away. However, because I have been keenly interested in Ezra's peanut butter stout, brewed up special through the Coalator program at Coalition, I managed to score an early preview.

I first heard about this stout weeks ago, with Ezra cavalierly dismissing concerns about what the peanut oil would do to the yeast. I was impressed enough by his moxie to note it, but didn't think I'd get a chance to try it this quickly. If you are on the fence, definitely join the fun tonight and try it; you won't soon have the chance to try a similar experiment. (His full description of the process is here.) The beer is distinctly peanut-buttery, both in the flavor and thick body. You can even see, holding the beer up to light, its murky, river-water appearance (largely obscured by the dark malts, of course). It also affects the viscosity somehow. I'd like to sip a couple beers over the course of an hour to see how it affects the tongue; I couldn't tell if it was stickier or slicker, but it was somehow different. The nut flavor is more a minor note, and complements the stout's roastiness nicely. All in all, a strange and fascinating experiment.

Happy halloween--

Thumbs Up For Ducks, Down for McMenamins

Yesterday evening, I went to the Mission to watch the Ducks gut out a nice win in LA. The game was a big winner: the Ducks running their usual insanely fast offense, getting down in the second half, and then roaring back for a three-touchdown win. The USC defense came into the game with the sole goal of stopping LaMichael James, who ended up with 238 yards. A remarkable performance.

The McMenamins' game, however, was nowhere near as sharp. I ordered a porter to start things off, and it was treacly sweet. Next up, a Hammerhead so soaked in diacetyl I had to send it back (to a surly, disbelieving barkeep). The replacement IPA was actually better than the McMenamins' usual standard--typically a very average version. Sally had the seasonal nut brown (fine) and a Terminator even more worty than my porter. She finished half of it.

The McBrothers have never offered the city's finest beers, but it's been years since I've had noticeably bad ones. Inexcusable. I will consider more carefully whether I want to spend three hours watching a football game (on, albeit, a beautiful movie screen) in the company of those beers.

Oh, and while we're talking about bad beer, the Beeronomist has some harsh words for Migration. Deserved, I'm sad to say. Since I was there with him, I feel duty bound to confirm his reports. I had hoped Migration was on the mend, but it looks like they still have work to do.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Strange Little Revolution Has Died

This is a strange one: ten beer-drinkers filed suit two years ago to block the In-Bev/Anheuser-Busch merger, and amazingly, it made it all the way to the 8th Circuit Court:

The suit cast the deal as a "plain violation" of federal antitrust law, among other things. If the deal went through, the lawsuit insisted, "the beer market in the United States would be controlled by absentee foreign owners (while) consumer welfare and choice and the benefits of competition would be substantially lessened and tend toward the creation of a monopoly."

The suit also claimed that "the constant threat of InBev, the largest brewer in the world, to enter the market" substantially affects the market behavior of Anheuser-Busch and other U.S. brewers.

However, somewhat less amazingly, the 8th Circuit today dismissed it:

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's decision to throw out the lawsuit last year... The panel suggested that allowing the lawsuit to go forward now could be counterproductive and fruitless.

What a strange coda the whole affair. If those ten beer drinkers asked me, I'd tell them to switch their loyalties over to Boulevard Schlafly*, still proudly brewed and owned in St. Louis.

______________
*Confused my cities there. In fact, St. Louis is rich in breweries and good beer, so locals don't have to rely on Belgians for a good pint.

Your Book-Reading Habits

Last week I posted a three-question survey to learn about your book-buying habits. This wasn't idle curiosity--based on the raft of books coming out and my desire to add to their numbers, I have long wondered just how big the market is. Surveying readers of this blog has some utility--you all are the most avid consumers of all things zymurgical. I figured it would be a very bad thing if you didn't buy books, but we have to test these fears. The results are encouraging.


1. How many beer books do you own?
In 1977, there was exactly one way to learn about beer: buy Michael Jackson's book on the subject. In 2010, there are thousands. This question was designed to test whether or not books had become obsolete; if avid fans had abandoned them, hope is lost. I wanted to test intensity, too, so I broke it out into categories. Of the 163 respondents, only 11% didn't own any books (yay!). A third of you own more than seven (yah!), and two t The breakdown:

11% - None
28% - 1-3
26% - 4-6
35% - 7 or more


2. Which topics interest you enough to buy a book?
Avid beer fans appear to be generally interested in the world of beer. None of the six topics fared poorly, but three were more popular. I take this also to be very good news. Here are the results, and since you could answer more than one, totals exceed 100% (the percentage indicates the proportion of respondents endorsing the item):

65% - Homebrewing
60% - Beer guides
59% - History and culture
38% - Technical info
33% - General beer info
33% - Business of beer


3. Do you subscribe to beer magazines?
This final question was designed to test a theory of mine. Beer mags are quite popular. Draft Magazine has about 250,000 subscribers, All About Beer 100,000. I wondered if that was a good proxy for beer fan intensity, or rather represented a different, overlapping demographic. Blog readers like their news fast and local, whereas mag readers seem to have a more national view. And sure enough, two-thirds of you don't subscribe to any magazines. So, from a book-selling perspective, that's probably a slightly different group and probably have slightly different interests.

Dunno if this was useful to you, but I found it most interesting. Thanks all who took the time to fill out the survey.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Nebraska Brewing

A month ago, I got an email from a guy named Paul Kavulak, co-founder and brewer at Nebraska Brewing. He wanted to know if he could send some beer. (Answer: hell yes.) I forgot about the exchange until I received a sort of crude box, hand-lettered in Sharpie, a couple weeks later. Inside were two 750 ml bottles, wrapped in paper grain sacks. There was no information whatsoever about the beer--no press release, no stats sheet, just the beer. In an ever-more-sophisticated market for fine ales, I am used to all kinds of clever packages and pitches. So: no press release? Grain sacks?

I immediately liked Paul.

Nebraska Brewing is located in Papillion, a suburb of Omaha, spitting distance from neighboring Iowa. (This is relevant to me mainly because I map the Midwest according to conference boundaries, and that's right on the Big 10/Big 12 line.) Nebraska, you might think, is no one's idea of a brewing mecca--but you'd be wrong. According to not-too-recent stats, its 16 breweries made it the 13th most breweried state per capita, ahead of Pennsylvania, California, and Massachusetts. We have now reached the extent of my knowledge of the Cornhusker State.

The brewery produces a pretty standard line-up of regular ales, but they also have a barrel-aging program. They sent me two beers from this series, which Paul says should be available in Oregon.

Chardonnay French Oak Melange a Trois
A melange of three? Three what? I thought for awhile that "trois" was an allusion to the style of beer--a tripel--but the brewery calls this a "strong Belgian-style blonde ale." The riddle is yours to solve. As for the beer, a chard-aged tripel is a tall order. Wine barrels are tough to work with. They contribute substantial sweetness to any beer--though I'm not sure if this is actual sweetness or a trick of esters. In any case, wine barreling a beer has its risks. French chardonnays may be subtle or bold--and one imagines that delicate versions, like delicate pinots (the other famous Bergundian grape), would work well.

Unfortunately, in the case of Melange a Trois, it's too much of a good thing. The base beer is excellent. Extremely lively, producing a mousse-like head, and full of interesting spicy esters. It is a sweet beer, though, and here comes the trouble. The oak and wine add harmonious notes on the front end--the esters are having a fruity party--but it ends with a heavy, sweet note. The beer comes in at 10%, and I wonder if it wouldn't benefit being a little more slender and austere before hitting the wood. I'd call it a B- on the patented ratings scale--a near miss--though it's worth point out that the five reviewers on BeerAdvocate were all in deep love.

Black Betty Imperial Stout
The next beer was an imperial stout. I waited until a couple nights ago to have it, as a storm hammered rain down outside. Nothing is quite as delicious as stout in a storm--even if it's a pre-winter, 48-degree storm.

Although bourbon barrels are used too often in my view, imperial stouts age beautifully in them. The roasted malts balance the sweet whiskey, and the alcohol from each do a seductive little tango. I had high hopes for Black Betty, and she delivered. Betty pours out creamily, and rouses another mousse-like head (a potential vulgar motto springs to mind, but we'll leave it unsaid). The nose, even fresh out of the fridge, is dense with bourbon and roasty malts. It begins sweetly, a bit of cola, a bit of plum, and there's a vanilla note that runs throughout. The blance comes with fairly insistent roast malt and hop bitterness; they work with the sweetness to produce a dark chocolate treat. It is a hair sharp with alcohol and could use a few months longer to soften. I'd give Black Betty an A-, and imagine that after a year or two in the bottle, it would be a solid A. Interestingly, the BAers give Black Betty a yawn.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Four Loko Update

The Four Loko story has metastasized not just in comments here, but across the country. Stores have started pulling it off shelves:
Citing safety concerns, Haggen Food & Pharmacy announced Tuesday that it had pulled two lines of alcoholic energy drinks from its 32 stores in Washington and Oregon, including four in the Portland area.... Competitor Fred Meyer ditched the cans – 12 percent alcohol by volume, or two times a typical beer – earlier this year as controversies began to arise. Known as "alcopops," the drinks have been criticized for marketing and design campaigns aimed at younger customers.
On a separate track, various wings of the state and federal government are considering action as well:
At the urging of 18 attorneys general, the Food and Drug Administration, which has never approved adding caffeine to alcohol, is reviewing whether the drinks are safe. And in July, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the drinks, with colorful packaging and flavors like watermelon, blue raspberry and lemon-lime, are “explicitly designed to attract under-age drinkers.”

Lawmakers in several states, including New York, have sought to ban the drinks, though no legislation has passed yet.
Although I support modifying these beverages and/or making them less accessible, this is a development worth watching. When issues like this flare up and become massive media phenomena, the moment for sober, careful lawmaking may have passed. There are a lot of ways to handle the issue that wouldn't affect craft brewing, but there are laws that could, too. Ill-conceived blanket bans usually have unintended consequences--and they could easily tread on the toes of good beer.

So, while these products are dangerous and unnecessary, here's hoping the effort to address them is rational and thoughtful.

(In case you missed our lively discussion yesterday, go have a look.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How is this Legal?

The product is called Four Loko, a 12% sugar and alcohol solution laced with caffeine that arrives in a 23.5-ounce can and retails for $2.50. The genius is that it's stronger than a barleywine and has caffeine! And it's cheap! And it, oh, ooops, it does have this downside:
An investigation has determined that Four Loko, a high-alcohol caffeinated drink, sickened Central Washington University students at an off-campus party this month, resulting in nine hospitalizations. Partygoers had blood-alcohol levels that ranged from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent after consuming Four Loko, university President James L. Gaudino said Monday. A message left with Phusion Projects of Chicago, which makes the drink, was not returned. Last month, 23 students were hospitalized at Ramapo College in New Jersey after drinking Four Loko.
But, I mean, how could Four Loko have known that kids would drink this stuff? Not Phusion Projects, the makers Four Loko:
No one is more upset than we are when our products are abused or consumed illegally by underage drinkers – and it appears that both happened in this instance. This is unacceptable.
In what is one of the most cynical press releases I have ever seen, Phusion argues:
People have safely enjoyed mixing alcohol and caffeine products for years in their homes, and in restaurants and bars. Having coffee after a meal with wine, or consuming rum and cola, an Irish coffee or a Red Bull and vodka are all popular practices. Our products contain less alcohol than an average rum and cola, less alcohol and caffeine than an average Red Bull and vodka, and is comparable to having coffee after a meal with a couple glasses of wine.
Obviously, unless your "couple glasses of wine" are 12 ounces, it's not comparable at all. It's like drinking a bottle of wine. But it's not actually Phusion's fault. They might well have said, "hey, you're the idiots who allow us to peddle this legally to college students, what'd you expect?" And they'd be right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Portland Style, Late Aughts

[Updated!]

When you look at pictures of people in Portland, Oregon in the 1970s, you see fashion half way between logger and hippie. You might also see Volkswagens or pick-ups. Thirty-five years from now, when people look for iconic pictures of our era, they could do worse than the one I snapped this afternoon, annotated for posterity (click to enlarge):



  1. Rainy pavement (some things never change).
  2. Horse hitching rings, suggestive of transportation circa 1900.
  3. Bicycle, suggestive of transportation 2010.
  4. Prius, the VW bug of 2010.
  5. Fashionable cyclist, with accoutrement (keys on carabiner, shoulder bag, pocket lock, shorts in late October, tattoo).
  6. [Per insightful comments, blended] "Telephone pole with 11 million staples and the fragments of every local band flyer for the last 25 years of hardcore bands playing shows for no money at Satyricon."
Unfortunately, this cyclist has chosen a Pabst Blue Ribbon tattoo, which may ignite a debate among future scholars about the actual popularity of local microbrews.

Fresh Hops at Roscoe's

If Beervana has faults--and mind, I'm not admitting any--one may have to do with good beer concentrations outside the core neighborhoods. You drive to Gresham or Milwaukie, and your pub choices plummet.

I have been meaning to do a bit more to promote those who buck the trend, like Roscoe's, in Montavilla. So allow me to direct your attention their way as they host a Fresh Hop Summit this Friday:
Fresh Hop Summit
Friday, October 29, 5pm to close (2:30 am)
Roscoe's, 8105 SE Stark St.

The Roscoe's Fresh Hop Summit is coming up. We will have 14 great fresh hop beers all on tap. Trays of 5 ounce tasters will be available. Some of the breweries and beers featured will be: Ft. George (Cohoperative), Double Mountain (Killer Green), Oakshire (locavore), Deschutes (fresh-hopped Mirror Pond), Sierra Nevada (Estate), Amnesia, Lompoc, Cascade, Silver Moon, Hopworks, Coalition, and more. There will be many beer styles represented (from Pilsner to Porter)
Make a note of it.

Considering Roggenbiers - And Alameda's Rye Not

If I owned a brewery, I'd have a series called "Historical Revivals" that featured obscure, mostly obsolete beers that have almost no commercial presence. (Readers of this blog who do have commercial breweries, feel free to run with the idea.) The gose explosion has been satisfying, but inadequate. What about roggenbier--which I urged Karl Ockert to brew--what about gratzer? Well, thank god this is Beervana. First up, we have Alameda to the rescue with a traditional roggenbier, and next month, Breakside steps into the breach with a gratzer. All we need is someone to do some deep research on the lost adambier style and we can consider ourselves sated.

But first to the roggenbier, the rye beers of central Europe ("roggen" is German for "rye"). Back in the day, they were all the rage in what is now Germany. How far back? Far enough that it was already an old standard when the black death was raging through Europe. Roggenbier might still have a proud place in German brewing, but 500 years ago became one of the casualties of Reinheitsgebot. It took until just 20 years ago for revivals to begin. Breweries started crafting neu-roggen (I claim the name!) in 1988, and now Paulaner makes the most famous version.

What did authentic roggenbier of 1142 taste like? As far as I know, no one has a clue. Thanks to the work of certain beer historians, we know that a lot of what we thought about fairly recent styles like IPAs and milds was pure crap. So what dark age ale tasted like? You'd have to have a whole lot more data than I to try to hazard any guess.

But we do have the few German revivals. Currently, roggenbier is a relatively low alcohol beer ( +/- 5%) made with substantial quantities of rye--around fifty percent seems typical. The remainder may be all barley or include some wheat. These current versions are brewed like hefeweizens and have the characteristic clove and banana. The rye, of course, alters things a bit, adding spicy, earthy character, and sometimes, because of the high proportion, even a slightly sour note. This is how the German Beer Institute describes roggenbier, in part:
Rye ales are mildly hopped, which allows the grain flavors to be dominant. Filtration appears to be optional in a rye ale and many, such as the Paulaner are "naturtrüb," meaning naturally turbid. A yeast-turbid Roggenbier is more authentic, considering that the style had been around long before beer filtration was invented in 1878.
I suspect that once roggenbier was a very large category and included a broad range of strengths and styles. There's no reason to think that some versions would have been a lot stronger. Probably the preference for producing the clove (phenol) and banana (isoamyl acetate, an ester) is modern--who knows if these characteristics were even well-developed hundreds of years ago. Given that so many ales of the day were visited by ambient yeasts, they were probably a lot sourer, too.

Alameda Rye Not
Styles change, though, and for the moment, anyway, we have a working definition of roggenbier. Last week, I rode my bike up the Alameda hill on the last sunny day of the year (as I write this, rain hammers the street like Multnomah Falls) and inspected their version. Brewer Eric Rolerkite used 45% rye and the house hefeweizen yeast for a beer weighing in at 4.9%. (Tettnangers, at a strength of 15 BUs, are trying to stay out of the way.) If hefeweizens, with their sprightly light bodies are the perfect summer beer, Alameda suspected that a slightly thicker, heartier, and spicier roggenbier would be the perfect autumnal session.

It is much like a hefeweizen, with mild smoky clove in both aroma and flavor, lots of yeast, and a light, refreshing body. Where it differs is the rye, which starts with a bit of spruce sweetness and fades to a tart slightly sour quality. I expected it to be a dry beer, akin to the way rye bread is sharp and dry, but it's not. Perhaps a brewer could dry it out more if he wanted to serve his roggen in July, but this was a nice, bready beer for the fall. I have almost no basis for reference, so it's hard to rate such a beer--but for authenticity and general tastiness, I'd put it at a B+.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Three More Certified Honest In VA, WA, and OR

I seem to be getting a lovely flow of new submissions of honest pints photos from around the country. As long as this goes on, I think I'll post certifications over the weekend. Anyway, here we go...

Our first certification is also the first in the Old Dominion--Virginia. Pizzeria Orso is obviously a smidge beyond commuting range from Oregon, but the Washington Post gives their pizza a rave: "MacQuaid's Neapolitan crusts are thin, pliant, a tad sour, beautifully charred -- and served unsliced, so the dough can continue to cook after it leaves the fire."

Of course, our principle concern here is beer, and I'm mighty impressed to see that you can get Full Sail Session there (in bottles). To pour into your honest pint are two offerings from Left Hand as well as a Firestone Walker. Sounds like a great place to stop for a slice and a pint, so do it if you're closer than me:




Pizzeria Orso
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
400 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 226-3460





Next we fly to Kent, Washington and Airways Brewing, a newly-opened half-barrel nanobrewery. (Even among nanos, that's small.) What I know about Airways is limited to that Beer Blotter post I linked to, and the fact that the Yelpsters love it (except the one guy who was inexplicably displeased by the decor). Oh, and one more, very important thing: they do cask beer. Apparently it's convenient if you're cruising down I-5, so check it out.


Airways Brewing
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
6644 S 196th T-100
Kent WA 98032
(253) 200-1707



Our final stop is that amazing mecca of good beer, that metropolis of 21,000 with three breweries, the nation's premier yeast producer, and now, a rockin' new bottle shop called Volcanic. Like bottle shops in Portland, they also serve draft beer and host meet-the-brewers events. Based on their Facebook page, it looks like the beers are the usual exceptional line-up you'd expect in a Beervana bottle shop. Stop by:


Volcanic Bottle Shoppe
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
1410 12th St.
Hood River, OR 97031
(541) 436-1226

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Michael Jackson and Beer Styles

The British writer Martyn Cornell has added an important historical note to the big discussion about beer styles. Styles, he points out, didn't really exist as such before Jackson:
The perhaps remarkable thing is that before Michael Jackson wrote The World Guide to Beer in 1977, nobody used the expression “beer style” at all. I searched through books on beer from the 1830s to the mid-1970s, and they talked about “divisions”, “species”, “kinds”, “varieties”, “types”, “classes” and “families” of beer, but never “styles”.
Cornell's post is, as usual, worth a read, but it misses another of Jackson's pretty amazing contributions. Many of the names we now call styles already existed when Jackson started cataloging them: bock, pilsner, stout. But in Belgium, the names and beers lined up only very jaggedly; more problematically, there were far fewer names than there were beers. He was the original taxonomist. Confronted with a shocking diversity of beers, he began trying to classify them, coming up with "Belgian red," "Flemish brown," and "Belgian golden ale." There are dozens of ways we might group Belgian beers, but we now think of them in Jackson's terms.

Of all the things for which I envy Jackson, it was his work on Belgian beers that stands out most. He has created a mental framework the entire world now adopts. We debate whether a beer is a true red or is really a brown, and Jackson must chuckle from the great beyond. We're not debating beer styles so much as debating Jackson's styles. Quite a legacy, isn't it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Beer Styles Matter, and Why They Don't

All this week, there has been a great deal of discussion among the British beer bloggers about beer styles and the extent to which they are a pain in the ass. (It followed a seminar lots of local bloggers attended.) Of course, the conversation migrated to our continent, and Stan has a nice collection of links to the original post. Alan has his own very nice post. As I have talked about beer styles extensively here, I thought I'd take a pass. Yet the damn thing won't die, and so I have to weigh in. However, rather than go on too long about a well-discussed topic, I will pecha kucha things into two easy-reading paragraphs and you can ease into your weekend quickly.


Why Styles Matter
Most people don't know anything about beer. This is especially true in the US, where until the last generation we had rubbed out all memory of 99% of them. Styles matter because they organize beer by type, region, and history, and map out the terrain for folks who wonder why anyone bothers distinguishing between, say, Vienna lager and amber ales. In 1984, Orwell wisely observed that they "who control the past control the future." Beer styles did not emerge from the ether; understanding their history and context is enormously useful in understanding "beer" in the largest sense.


Why Styles Don't Matter
Ultimately, identifying styles just gives us names and a common vocabulary. Styles don't characterize the nature of a beer--they're just shorthand. Styles help collect beers together, but imprecisely--there's always overlap and confusion. Styles identify commercial products, and commerce has no fidelity to tradition. We can complain that the IPA from Brewery X is really just a pale ale, but so what? They can call it a platypus for all beer geeks can do about it. And of course, styles are constantly changing and evolving, so styles, even to the extent they're useful, are provisional.

Beer styles are like grammar. It's good to know the rules just so you know what you're doing when you break them.

When Beer Blogs Get Political (Ads)

I wouldn't be surprised if many or most of you hadn't noticed, but off to the left of this post are now two political ads. I am delighted by this, since it means some small trickle of cash into the coffers. Yet I have also always felt that politics and the beer world should stay far apart, since the former divides while the latter unites. Anyone can buy a Blogad, and this blog remains agnostic about the content (I haven't known about any ads on this blog until after they were submitted). As far as ads go on this blog, I don't care about blue or red--just green. Though by all means, if the content interests you, click through.

For anyone who has noticed those blogs, and taken offense, hang in there. They will expire after the election in ten days or so.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beer Book Survey

Beer books have been on my mind a lot lately. For one, I've been receiving a lot for review, and the breadth of topics as much as the number make me wonder if we're not seeing a surge in popularity. This interests me on an urgently personal level, too, because I'm in the process of trying to nail down a project or two myself. Which brings us to the following 3-question, 30-second survey below. The people who come to this blog are exactly the target audience for beer books, so I'm interested (keenly interested): do you own or plan to buy books, and which kinds? If you have thirty seconds to spare, I'd most appreciate it.

Thanks--

Review: The Beer Journal by Chris Wright

Autumn, it seems, is not only the time for new releases of beer, but books. Today's offering comes from Chris Wright, and it's a curious one. It's called the Beer Journal, and that's just what it is--essentially a pretty, hardcover, $13 notebook. In other words, the Cadillac version of Dave Selden's 33 Beers. After a short intro, the next 70 pages are reprinted style descriptions from the BJCP. The rest of the book (257 pages) is occupied by blank tasting logs for beers and festivals. They're structured, so you have slots for various types of information. Interspersed throughout the book are beautiful photos and quotes. And that's the book.

The question that I always ask when I get a beer book is: for whom was this written? The Beer Journal is really just a record of the beers you drink, but it's hefty and not likely to fit in the back pocket of the average drinker. The business about the BJCP is sort of useful, but I would have much preferred Chris's take on the styles. In the age of smart phones, when the BJCP is four keystrokes away (and not always a particularly useful a four keystrokes away), this doesn't seem important.

I dunno. It's not for me, but perhaps someone will find it useful.

______________
Federally mandated disclaimer: Skyhorse Publishing sent me a copy of the Beer Journal for review.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hope He Had Time for a Beer

I feel somehow compelled to mention that the leader of the free world visited the Rose City today. There.



_____________
PHOTO: RANDY RASMUSSEN, THE OREGONIAN

In a Smaller World, Fewer Holy Grail Beers

Globalization is largely a fantastic thing for beer fans. It means that we can sample among the classics of Europe without having to actually travel to Europe. When I first came to the world of beer, the offerings were as scant as my knowledge: Canadian Moosehead was regarded as an exotic delicacy. (We especially loved the foreign-smelling skunkiness, which was the mark of authenticity.) If there is a downside, though, it's that there are fewer and fewer of those "holy grail" beers--legends spoken of in hushed tones by intrepid travelers, unavailable to the unwashed masses.

Among them was Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, a beer brewed for unlikely markets in Jamaica and Nigeria--among others. I recognized the quality of discussion that surrounded it from high school one-upsmanship. Oh, you think Guinness Extra Stout is intense? It's nothing compared to FES. (The poor saps who praised regular draft Guinness got mocked like kids on the debate team.) And indeed, it remains a rather elusive and unorthodox beer, brewed at different strengths in different countries--and, in the case of the sorghum-grist version in Nigeria, different ingredients.

Foreign Extra had always been on my list of holy grails--until last night. In a massive roll-out, Diageo is introducing this rare bird to the US. (It's not actually rare, accounting for nearly half the brewery's production.) I'll come back to a review in due course, but I thought I'd reflect on the sense of loss that comes with having tried such a beer. In the abstract, as the beer roams the perfectly-tended terrain of legend, it holds such promise. It suggests that the best beer in the world may still lay in front of you, untried.

The whole concept is flawed, of course--the best beer in the world may well be in a tank here in Portland, untroubled by legend. Still, we humans love our myths, and we service them--sometimes cynically--because we love the idea of hidden transcendence. Well, last night I transgressed and drank a bottle of mythic beer and am feeling regretful this morning. (Without divulging much more, I can admit that it didn't confer grace.)

I will have to console myself with one of those special beers from Bend tonight at Beermongers. Who knows, maybe I'll tell you tomorrow about it in hushed tones and start a new myth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brewpublic's Week-Long Birthday Party

I just want to say right here at the start that Angelo De Ieso's actions do not set any standards for the way the rest of us bloggers have to celebrate our blogoversaries. If I'm lucky, I manage to remember to mention my own. Brewpublic, though, plans a massive party. Below is a run-down of the events. Plan to stop by at least some of them so you can ceremonially raise your glass to Brewpublic's fine two years of publication.

Wednesday, October 20, 5pm
Killer Beers of Bend
Beermongers, 1125 SE Division
Special beers from: 10 Barrel, Bend Brewing, Boneyard Beer, Deschutes, Silver Moon

Thursday, October 21, 4pm
Killer Beers of Washington
By the Bottle
104 W. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver
Special beers from: Anacortes, Airways, Big Al’s, Black Raven, Boundary Bay, Foggy Noggin, Flyers, Fremont, Naked City, Silver City, Snipes Mountain

Friday, October 22, 5pm
Brewpublic Birthday Bash
Saraveza 1004 N Killingsworth

Special Beers from: Barley Brown’s, Bear Republic, Beetje Brewery, Block 15, Mt. Tabor, Ninkasi, Prodigal Son, Oakshire, Pike, Southern Tier, Upright

Saturday, October 23, 4pm
Killer Beer Fest
Bailey's Taproom, 231 SW Broaday

Special Beers from 22 breweries. See the list here.

Sunday, October 24, 11:30am
Beer Geek Brunch
The Hop and Vine, 1419 N. Killingsworth

Reservations: 503-954-3322
In case you didn't follow the link for Killer Beer Fest, let me mention these: Astoria Blueberry Lambic, Breakside Ghost Chile IPA, Fort George Kentucky Coffee Girl Stout, Ninkasi Oak-Aged Total Domination, and Upright Cask Rose Four. And that's just five of the 22 beers that will be pouring. Interested? I am.

See you around the events--

If You're Smart, You Drink a Lot

Let's try a little thought experiment here (without looking at that prominent graph just below this paragraph, please). Take humans and divide them into five categories of intelligence, with normal in the middle. Now, imagine these arrayed on a bar chart that measures alcohol consumption per group. Which bars are the tallest? If you subscribe to mid-20th-century psuedo-science, you probably imagined a downward slope, with the dull-witted, criminal minds soaking in the most booze. Actually, just the opposite:

These findings are reported in Psychology Today. Amazingly, you can predict how much adults will drink by measuring how smart they are as children (in the aggregate, anyway):
[M]ore intelligent children, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, grow up to consume alcohol more frequently and in greater quantities than less intelligent children. Controlling for a large number of demographic variables, such as sex, race, ethnicity, religion, marital status, number of children, education, earnings, depression, satisfaction with life, frequency of socialization with friends, number of recent sex partners, childhood social class, mother’s education, and father’s education, more intelligent children grow up to drink more alcohol in the UK and the US.... “Very bright” British children grow up to consume nearly eight-tenths of a standard deviation more alcohol than their “very dull” classmates.
These findings are true even when stress levels are taken into account, factors controlled for in the study:
It means that it is not because more intelligent people occupy higher-paying, more important jobs that require them to socialize and drink with their business associates that they drink more alcohol. It appears to be their intelligence itself, rather than correlates of intelligence, that inclines them to drink more.
The piece also discusses the fascinating implication this behavior has with regard to natural selection. "Evolutionary novelty" describes the emergence of new behavior in a population--the critical step in adaptation. Because alcohol consumption is evolutionarily recent, we would expect humans who adopt it--those engaging in evolutionary novelty--to be the most clever. For it is the clever who tend to innovate, survive, and pass along their genes. And so, evolutionary biologists would have predicted that the humans to adopt drinking would be the most clever. And so it is.

Now, you might take the whole business in a different direction. Y ou might say: "Wow, the fact that I'm a major beerhound apparently confirms my genius." And far be it for me, your humble blogger, to disabuse you of such a notion. You're reading this blog, after all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Widmer Brrrbon

Being old has many downsides, but of the scant virtues is this: a certain longer view. As I opened the package with my review bottle of Widmers' latest Brothers' Reserve, Brrrbon, I was reminded of the first beer I'd ever had aged in barrels--also from Widmer. (Of the downsides of age is faulty memory, so I have no idea when that was--late 90s, probably.) It was a bock, hearty and ripe, and one of the most popular beers at the Oregon Brewers Fest. I don't think the Widmers were first to deploy this tactic, but it's worth nodding to their long history as we look at the current beer, a barrel-aged version of their regular winter warmer, Brrr.

For awhile there, a hot new style was the "NW big red" (had I been able to see into the future, I might have tried to call it "Cascadian Red Ale"), a variation on the IPA. The color added visual interest, but the malt backbone was stripped bare to reveal the true essence of the style, hops hops hops. It was beer for people who loved hops and didn't like the flavor of beer getting in the way. Although most of the early versions are still extant, the trends moved on and they remain the standards: Ninkasi Believer, Laurelwood Free Range Red, the now deceased Roots Island Red, and Brrr, a late entrant. It's interesting that we don't see more of these beers--they're broadly admired (low score on BeerAdvocate is a B+) and of course play right into the wheelhouse of Northwest palates.

The only thing more admired is bourbon-aging. People loves them the corn liquor; put Pabst in a bourbon barrel and the crowd would go wild. So it makes all kinds of sense that Widmer would combine the two, which on paper seem to have a lot going for them as tango partners.

(Caveats, caveats. Before getting too deeply into this, I should admit that the big reds and bourbon ales are, collectively, not my fave. I liked Believer enough to give it a Satori award, and some bourbon-aged beers--including that first Widmer bock--were insanely good. But I also have reservations. Also, the Brothers sent me this bottle, which I am required by federal law to admit.)

Tasting Notes
First off, don't drink this beer. Put it in your cellar and wait at least until Christmas. Although aged four months in barrels, it's still green. Not so green that you won't enjoy it now, but at ten bucks a pop, you will appreciate it more in a couple months. As is typical in the big red style, Brrrbon has a thin body and seems fairly attenuated. Brrr is also spiced with abundant hops, and their pepper is evident here, too. This means there aren't many malt notes to bridge over to the bourbon, which has a tendency to crash into the hops.

When it fails, bourbon-aging using runs on the shoals of treacle. Added to Brrr, it's the opposite; there's not a lot for the boubon to riff on. It's as if you added maple syrup to rainwater.

All of this comes with a very large asterisk, though. I suspect there are sugars in the Brrr that will surface as the hops drop back. I further suspect that the bourbon will soften and dissolve and buoy what now seems like a thin beer. It's quite possible that the the very things I usually dislike about both big reds and bourbons will be balanced by the other. Time will tell, and this beer has earned my interest--I'll put a bottle down in the cellar and we'll see.

The stats on the beer are here. I'd give this a provisional B-, but I expect that to climb substantially as the beer matures.

Organic Hop Growers Win Major Battle

A month ago, I blogged about a national regulatory board's decision to allow non-organic hops in beer labeled "organic." It's a little-known kink in the field of organic food that the feds allow small amounts of non-organic ingredients in food certified organic. A month ago, a sub-committee of this agency ruled that hops meet the exemption. Beer made with conventional hops could be labeled "organic."

After hop growers raised a ruckus, though, last week the sub-committee reversed itself. Beginning in 2013, any beer labeled "organic" will have to be made with organic hops. (The lag time will allow hop farmers to increase acreage to meet demand.) The Oregonian featured a detailed article on the issue on today's front page. It's not over, though. The full committee will vote later this month about whether to adopt the rule--though it seems likely to pass. In the original ruling, the vote was unanimous in favor of the exemption, but last week's vote was unanimous in favor of ending it. So that seems hopeful. (If you want to see the documents from the USDA, they're available here.)

For what it's worth, this is an example of how regulation helps businesses. In this case, the regulatory agency is remaining agnostic about whether organic is good or bad; it's merely saying that if you call something "organic," it must actually meet certain guidelines. Consumers can then make an informed choice. As a consequence, the market for organics is transparent, and consumers can express their will with their dollars. That allows organic growers to enter the market even though their product is more expensive, and organic breweries to make beer because organics are available. In an unregulated market, what we'd see instead is a lot of product marked "organic" that wasn't--and no market for actual organic hops.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Certified Honest: A New Nano and an Old Fave

If Portland has a sister city of beer, it's probably not San Francisco, Seattle, or Boston--it's probably San Diego. Strange but true: no other city seems to take beer so seriously, or so seriously consider itself a beer city. That I keep getting submissions to certify honest pints there seems further evidence. Today's newest certified purveyor is Hess Brewing, a nanobrewery that opened just this July. I can't speak to the quality of their beer, but the Yelpsters love them. I love that they have cool proprietary honest pints. So if you're in "America's Finest City," definitely stop in for a tipple.



Hess Brewing Company
Certified Purveyors of an Honest Pint
7955 Silverton Ave #1201
San Diego, CA 92126
619.887.6453





I'm slowly backfilling the honest pints in Portland, taking them from provisional to certified, and here's one of my favorite places in the city, the County Cork. I used to live just around the block and up from the pub, and I spent many a fine hour there. Since they opened, they've always had Elysian ESB on tap--one of my favorite beers. They have Beamish during those moments it has distribution (not often), and it's the place I learned to pronounce Smithwick's properply. (Smitticks.) I still make it over, as the photo attests, when I can. You should, too.



County Cork Public House
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
1329 NE Fremont
Portland, OR 97212
503.284-4805

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Man Behind Brewpublic

Next week, Brewpublic celebrates its second anniversary. Hard to believe--it's become an institution and feels like it's been around a lot longer. I understood that Brewpublic was a different kind of blog when I found a free bumper sticker for the site at the County Cork. Next week's festivities (which I'll discuss in a separate post) demonstrate the point: events every night featuring rare beers in what Brewpublic dubs Killer Beer Week.

The brainchild behind Brewpublic is Angelo De Ieso (pronunciation below!), but you knew that. Angelo's ubiquitous. I have called him "the beer gypsy" because not an event goes by Angelo-free. But maybe this is a better analogy: Angelo's a modern day Don Younger, and all of Portland's his Horse Brass. He is as much host as blogger.

Probably everyone feels they have a special connection to Angelo. Mine comes from a love of Mainers (like Angelo, my wife's from there) and the Red Sox. But probably nobody knows the whole story, so, to get ready for the big week, I sent a few questions his way. Enjoy--


Where are you from?
I was raised in and around Dover-Foxcroft, Maine in Piscataquis County. It's about halfway between Bangor and Moosehead Lake. I was born near Worcester, Mass but moved to Maine as an infant. My family has a strong connection to this area and my mom still lives there along with most of my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

Do you have brothers/sisters? Where's your family now?
I have one awesome brother, Mario. He's two years older. He lives a mile from me with his lovely wife Natalie and my niece Neva.

What brought you to Oregon?
I kind of landed here on a whim. Like the Pilgrims searching for newfound freedom, I left New England after high school and a failed college try. I lived in the Bay Area for a few years in Oakland and San Francisco before heading northbound for Oregon.

How did you become a beer geek?
I give a lot of credit to my friend Shane who is a seasoned pro in the grocery store industry. When I firsted moved to Oregon in 1998, I knew no one here and Shane turned me on to the wonders of craft beers available at the time like Full Sail Amber, Spaten Optimator, BridgePort IPA, and several Deschutes offerings. It also rekindled an interest I had in New England beers like Samuel Adams and Ipswitch Ales as well as California beers like Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada. Shane has remained an avid homebrewer and I am grateful he has instilled an appreciation of some more flavorsome brews than my teenage go-to, Mickey's.

Do you get to have any social life at all that doesn't involve beer?
What is this you speak of? Actually yes. For some time I was deeply entrenched in the local independent music scene here. I still enjoy a smorgasbord of music styles and like going to shows (though I am not nearly as geeked out on it as my friend Carl who owns Belmont Station).

Why did you start Brewpublic?
Well, I began beer scribing after meeting Dave Dronkowski, formerly of Guest of Tap, which ran weekly in the Portland Tribune. Dave gave me a shot at writing to a larger audience. Also, Joy and Chris at Belmont Station encouraged me to contribute to their beer blog. Back then John Foyston of the Oregonian and you were the only beer bloggers I knew of. I'd read Lisa Morrison, Abram Goldman-Armstrong, and Mitch Steele (sic?) of the NW Brewing News and dream of being read like them. I pitched some stuff to publications like Celebrator, NWBN, and Ale Street News, but nothing came to fruition. After a few weak blogspot offerings of my own, my work for Dave really helped me to find a voice and garner some readership. Then in 2008, my best friend from college, Aaron suggested we develop our own site where we could work for ourselves. I've felt encouraged by so many friends and beer geeks to continue and haven't looked back since.

When you started Brewpublic, it was a one-man show. Pretty soon, I started to see Margaret Lut's name under some of the posts.
Margaret has been my right-hand woman and my biggest supporter through every facet of my life (can you hear Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" playing in the background?). She is responsible for many of the photos on the site (most of the better ones) and is a great field reporter. Her day job with the state of Oregon has allowed Brewpublic to travel to all corners of Oregon and even other places nationally. She's my best friend and Brewpublic wouldn't be what it is today without her.

If you could move one brewery from another part of the country to Oregon, which would it be?
I'd move Walking Man into Oregon so they'd be included in the SNOB events more often. Actually, I enjoy the fact that you can travel and discover new beers. It's a part of the adventure and mystique of being a beer hunter. That said, I wouldn't mind having more beer from White Birch brewing in Hooksett, NH. I think they're on to something very special.

What's the most underrated beer in Oregon?
Underrated by who? The geeks like us or the general consumer base? I think Pyramid/MacTarnahans despite a tragic and perpetual identity crisis gets overlooked by both crowds. They're brews are extremely well-built and utterly delicious. I really wish they were still called Portland Brewing.

What are your goals for Brewpublic--both in the next year and long-term?
That's hard to say. I would like to organize more events and expand to more readers. I am interested in watching Web-based "blogs" develop more journalistic credibility. It's seems obvious to me that print media is a dying entity and that the Internets are the future, especially in our region where sustainability is valued. Further, being online allows for more immediacy and up to date information. I realize it might be nice to hold a staple-bound paper product in your hands. It's frustrating to know that fluffy monthly or quarterly print beer publications can pull from what we beer bloggers put forth on a daily/weekly basis and that many potential advertisers still view mass reproduced physical formats with more weight. Those are nice time-passers, and the more support of craft beer the better, but gravely lack the immediacy that hardworking bloggers offer. I think advertisers will continue to realize the legitamacy of some online beer resources as we advance into the information age where social networking is becoming more prolific. I'd like to collaborate with other area beer writers and bloggers to foster a greater resource for diehard beer geeks and help organize a collective of people who write about and care about craft beer for all the right reasons.

Tell us a little known fact about yourself.
I've seen every episode of Cheers, probably at least thrice.

Who's your favorite Red Sox player, current and historical?
Funny, I am in the middle of reading Bill "Sports Guy" Simmons' "Now I Can Die in Peace." I've got so many favorite Sox so I'll mention just five. Pedro Martinez: his 1999 season and the years he was in his prime go unparalleled. His energy and ability to produce in so many big games makes his an obvious top pick. Ted Williams: I've never seen him play obviously, but to any Sox diehard, the Kid was the epitome of greatness--plus he was the last player in baseball to hit .400. David Ortiz: Big Papi's a man who could never do anything again and all is forgiven. His display in the 2004 ALCS makes his the clutchest Red Sox to ever where the uni. Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd: When I was a young boy I'd emulate his peppery windup and fiery persona. It broke my heart that he never got his due during the '86 Series because he was a true Dirt Dog. He wound up playing low level pro for the Bangor Blue Ox in the 90's. He was super cool. Bill Buckner: So much of Red Sox history circulated around tragedy until they broke the curse in '04. Most people only remember Buckner's big gaff in Game 6 of the '86 Series, but I remember going to see him play and being amazing how he could rake. In '87 I got his autograph at a game at Fenway and always felt sad for him that his life was marked by one error. Besides, it was John McNamera's fault for leaving him in that game when Dave Stapleton was the go-to defensive closer. Okay, so maybe I should start a Red Sox blog....(exhale)

How do you pronounce your last name?
/dee AY so/ (oh yeah, it's a capital "i" not a lower case "L")

Thanks, Angelo, and happy birthday to Brewpublic!

Some Days

... you just wake up and think, "by god, I don't want to blog about beer." Guess what today is?

Update. I pulled a Tom Sawyer. Real post in a minute...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Brewers in Their Native Habitat


More here.

Beer, Art, and the Art of Beer

Note: post updated; see links at the end.

Kant described it this way: “a kind of representation that is purposive in itself and, though without an end, nevertheless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable communication.” Kant was wrong about most things, and he gets it wrong here. At least he was trying to move beyond simple aesthetics. Heidegger comes closer to the mark. He abandoned the notion of simple aesthetics, recognizing that context was critical. It is the act of giving “humanity their outlook on themselves.”

We're talking about art, of course, that ineffable, indefinable act. Certain pieces we recognize and agree immediately: this is art. Van Gogh's Starry Night, Beckett's Waiting for Godot. But what about Cage's 4'33" or Malevich's White on White? In a recent New Yorker, Alex Ross argues that although Cage's 4'33" was dismissed as an absurd stunt, it revolutionized the way we understood music and the possibility of music--and ultimately paved the way to ambient music, sampling, and sound art. Even if we carefully construct a definition that captures the scope and breadth of artistic achievement, we will have to deal with those pieces that inevitably stand as pointed rebuttals, puncturing our clarity.

Okay, Cage is in. But what about industrial design? What furniture-making? What about beer? To which point do we stretch the definitions of what qualifies as creative endeavor and what is just merely skilled craftsmanship? I know writers who won't tolerate the inclusion of beer in art: it's cool, but it's just a craft. Include beer and you have to include it all--computer coding, masonry, pie-baking. These are fine things, they're just not art.

But one could also suggest that, just like any form, most examples are dreck, but a few can be consider masterpieces. The beer world certainly functions like the art world: brewers constantly strive for reinvention. Innovations spread and as soon as they become imitative, breweries are on to the next thing. Beer fans, like art fans, watch the developments with evident pleasure. And brewing even has its stunts. Recall BrewDog's stoat-coated bottles? A stunt worthy of a performance artist.

Is beer art? Tomorrow, the Portland Art Museum has an installation that will, if not answer the question, at least add a little gasoline to the fire:

Art and Beer
Portland Art Museum
October 15, 6pm - midnight, $12 (beer's free)

Art & Beer (2010) is the second event of it’s kind, brought to you by Eric Steen and the Portland Art Museum. Art & Beer combines beer, one of Portland’s most well known crafts, with experiencing art. For one night only, you can sample three new beers from Coaltion Brewing, Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Rock Bottom Brewery at the Portland Art Museum. Each brewery received a tour of the museum’s collection, selected an artwork and will make a beer inspired by that artwork. The selected artwork and the beer style will remain a surprise until the night of the event.

The Brewers:
Coalition Brewing: Bruce MacPhee and Elan Walksy
Hopworks Urban Brewery: Christian Ettinger and Ben Love
Rock Bottom Brewery: Van Havig
I have no special insight into the beers or art--it really does appear to be a well-kept secret. I am entertaining high expectations--especially for Van Havig. For those of you who may have missed it, Van is Oregon's resident performance artist. At the Oregon Brewers Fest, he followed up the bogus info he'd given to organizers (he labeled the style of beer as "Flemish Brabant"), by handing out homemade "brochures" at the Fest. Purportedly from the tourism department of the city of Oud Heverlee, they were incredibly crude, photocopied jobbies that, like the best Onion articles, wore the barest veneer of possibility. At the Fresh Hops fest, he listed his beer's style as "Integrity Style." (It was, for the record, the year's best fresh hop beer.) Like any good performance artist, he commits to his work--I wasn't sure whether the good people in Oud Heverlee were seriously misguided (and cheap) or if Van was pulling my leg.

In any case, pack your deep thoughts, your Heidegger (but leave that hack Kant at home), and go have a look.


Update. Whoops! I missed Angelo's post from last week, wherein he not only discusses the beer but shows the artwork. That was supposed to be illegal, but it goes to show who has the real juice in this city. In any case, it confirms my sense that Van Havig is going to have fun with this:
Rock Bottom’s acclaimed brewmaster Van Havig veered toward Abstract Expressionism for with which he states that “beer shares a strange commonality.” Havig explains that “both are easy to describe verbally on a superficial level but a true description of the creator’s intention is much more difficult to put into language.” The brewer recognizes the struggle in using language as a shared means of understanding and determining relativity. There’s an acute yet subtle ironic connection that provokes deeper cognition from the brewer’s statement. Havig’s inspiration was conjured from William Ivey’s 1959 untitled painting for which Havig paralleled “a struggle between British and new American brewing.” The result is a sharply hopped pale ale filled with fruity esters. Well, its more than that, but we’re just using words and language here.
(h/t to Jason.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Whiff of Hypocrisy

The Brewers Association was founded to represent small breweries. That's their whole deal. You can make bad beer, but as long as your brewery is small (which it would be) and independent (according to a slightly odd, gerrymandered definition), you're good to go. Fair enough--it's their organization so they get to make the rules. But Jonathan Shikes wants to know why their showcase event, the GABF, then doles out buckets of medals for beer from their avowed enemies, the faceless multinational macros. For a Coloradan, the point is a bit sharper: of the 41 medals the state won, 8 went to Coors.

By jove, I think he has a point.

(I'll add: why do multinationals even get to enter their beers there in the first place?)

The Alchemy of Food and Beer

Wildwood/Cascade Brewers Dinner
7pm Friday, Oct. 15
$60 (gratuity included)
Wildwood, 1221 N.W. 21st Ave.
Reservations: 503-225-0130
Beer is tasty; food is tasty. Combine the two, and unless you've done something horribly wrong, they'll be tasty. It is possible, however, to put plate and glass together so that the ingredients in the two perform an act of alchemy in the mouth and become a third thing entirely. This is harder to do, but when done properly, it allows a person to find depths in both the food and beer she might never have located alone.

A few months back, the Paul Kasten, the sous chef at Wildwood, put on a brewer's dinner with the beers of Pelican. In I think five courses, he managed to thread that needle amazingly well, creating the best brewer's dinner I've attended. On Friday, he's working with Cascade's sour ales and putting together a tour de force of seven courses. I can't speak to how well he'll manage the alchemical transformation this time, but yesterday John Foyston reported that he is pulling out all the stops. Here's the description of course six, paired with Bourbonic Plague:
"It's a huge beer," he said, "and neither of us were sure we could find its match, but then I remembered a Black Forest ham that I've been dry-curing since 2008."

He'll cold-smoke the dense ham over pine needles for two days, slice it prosciutto-thin and serve it with house-made semolina crackers, roasted beets in zinfandel vinaigrette and truffled chèvre.
In absolute terms, sixty bucks a plate is a lot of cash. But given how much time Paul and Ron have put into the food and beverages, I have no doubt but that it's a bargain. And, if you can't make this one, make a mental note. Paul would like to do these every few months, so you'll have another opportunity. If you're interested, I'll include the menu below the jump.
Click for menu

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Number One Beer Blog in America

Yesterday morning, as I was making my first pass through the Twitterverse, I espied this missive from Brady "Running Man" Walen:

thedailypull
Good to see fellow beer bloggers @ @ & @ on 's Top Beer Blogs this month


Top beer blogs--what's this? Well, if you follow the bitly link (through Libya!), you arrive at a site called Wikio, which collects lists of the "top blogs" in various categories. Important stuff like "paper crafts," "plush art," "shoes," and of course, "beer." Now, if you think I'm trying to belittle the rankings, wait'll you get a load of what they have at the top of the list:


Really, me?--I'm just so shocked. First of all, I'd like to thank my wife and my mom and my bartender and...

Seriously, it's really cool, and I was really shocked. Who knew? Moreover, Oregon bloggers are really rockin' it: #5 Brewpublic, #9 The New School, #15 The Brew Site, and #24 It's Pub Night. Fully 20% of the top 25--not bad. Add a couple from Washington, and the NW was definitely pulling its weight. (In fact, it looks like half are from the West Coast.)

But let's add a few caveats. Wikio doesn't base it on traffic--a fact I figured instantly, knowing my own traffic. They say:
The Wikio rankings do not take into account either the Google PageRank or traffic of your blog. We use our own algorithm....

The position of a blog in the Wikio ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. These links are dynamic, which means that they are backlinks or links found within articles.... [T]he weight of any given link increases according to how recently it was published. We thus hope to provide a classification that is more representative of the current influence levels of the blogs therein.

With our algorithm, the weight of a link from a blog that is more highly ranked is greater than that of a link from a blog that is less well ranked.
In other words, Wikio tries to judge influence, not popularity--and the fact that all the Portland bloggers interlink means we inflate each other's numbers (just as I did in the earlier paragraph--welcome, guys!). So thanks to our inadvertent little cartel, we probably managed to goose our own numbers.

The final caveat, and it's really important: no one reads beer blogs. Okay, maybe we do better than bloggers of plush art, but compared to real traffic, we're just screwing around. Talking Points Memo, the 29th most influential political blog, is ranked as the 1004th most trafficked website in America. Beervana? 428,610. Gizmodo, first on the tech list, is the 149th most popular American website. This is not to denigrate the work of the great bloggers writing about beer--we do rock, and don't let no one tell you different. But there's just not the vast readership for craft beer-related content as there is within certain other categories of interest.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Australian For Beer? Corona.

This is enough to give even a Foster's-snubbing yank the willies: Aussies are abandoning beer in shocking numbers:
In August Foster's flagship beer, VB, fell by 15.4 per cent in volume, while its Pure Blonde brand fell by almost 20 per cent. Its Mexican import, Corona, bucked the trend and was up 20.2 per cent. It was a similar story for Lion Nathan, with XXXX down 4.2 per cent, Tooheys down 16.2 per cent and Boags down 8.1 per cent.
This may be similar to the trend in the US, where domestics are down, though the Corona data point confuses matter. As to the performance of Australian craft breweries, the Morning Herald says only this: "Mr Bowley said these drivers included consumers dumping beers such as VB or Tooheys for imports and boutique beers." Good, I guess, but I'd like to see some numbers.

Here's a question I wonder about: has consolidation and homogenization of international light lagers led to some kind of tipping point where consumers are actually turning away from them? Or, is this a case of a trend that's just having its moment? Put another way, which is the better analogue to what we're seeing: the displacement of crappy coffee by much higher-quality blends, or the momentary success of a fad like wine coolers? No doubt it's somewhere in-between, but which is closer to the mark?

Interview

Over the last nearly five years, you've heard me blather on at adequate length--or so you thought. Now I blather on even longer in an interview at Drink With the Wench. Samples include:
1. If you were a style of beer, what style would be an why?
I am mild and subtle, so I’d be an Imperial Flemish red.
And
6. What are your thoughts on bacon?
Overexposed. Corned beef is the new bacon; I’m telling you, get on the bandwagon while it’s still cool.
Actually, there are a few more pertinent bits, if you're interested.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Ten Ten

Only once a century is there a 10/10/10, and that day is today. (Of course, the same could be said about any day, yet for some reason we celebrate alignment, not randomness.) In celebration, I suggest:

  • Adam or Fred, Hair of the Dog.
  • 12, Westvleteren
  • Bourbon Imperial Porter, Full Sail
  • Consecration, Russian River
  • Avec Les Bons Voeux, Brasserie Dupont
...or any other beer at or around 10% ABV. You might also consider raising your toast at ten after ten, striking glasses at ten seconds after the minute. Thus will you have acknowledged the ten ten ten double feature.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Doldrums No More

I have received four bottles of beer in the last two days and in a couple of hours I'll be off to the Fresh Hop "Preview" to try one of 913 new fresh hop beers. Those end-of-summer doldrums seem to be over. It's sort of like the movie cycle--with fall comes all the really good stuff. Color me pleased.

When "Beervana" Got Trademarked

An email this morning reminded me that Rogue had trademarked the words "dare" and "risk" as they apply to barley malts. I see nothing particularly ominous in this--I can't imagine anyone else thinking this would be a good marketing opportunity. Rogue clearly can't trademark the words in their traditional use, so really, it's another stunt to underscore the "Rogue" brand.

But it reminded me of a potentially darker mark that debuted earlier this year--one which may amount to nothing. Have a look:

Word Mark BEERVANA
Goods and Services IC 032. US 045 046 048. G & S: Ale; Beer. FIRST USE: 20080901. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20080901
Standard Characters Claimed
Mark Drawing Code (4) STANDARD CHARACTER MARK
Serial Number 77002599
Filing Date September 19, 2006
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1B
Published for Opposition May 8, 2007
Registration Number 3793428
Registration Date May 25, 2010
Owner (REGISTRANT) Comeback Brewing, Inc. CORPORATION TEXAS 141800 San Pedro, Suite 310 San Antonio TEXAS 78232
Attorney of Record Christopher D. Erickson
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

You may not recognize "Comeback Brewing," but that refers to Gambrinus-owned BridgePort, who rolled out their "Beervana" ads earlier this year. Texas-based Gambrinus.



Now, a Texas corporation owning the trademark to "Beervana" might raise a few hackles. But of course, it almost HAD to be a non-Oregon company that registered it; no locals would dare (not Dare ™) seize such a sacred and communal appellation. John Harris mentioned it to me earlier this year, with rightful pique--the Texas thing seemed to bother him especially.

Since I've been associated with the word for over a decade, I have a few thoughts, too. Of course, I've had this blog for four years. I also held the domain name a decade ago. Throughout this association, I've been very careful to recognize that the name is firmly in the public domain. When applied to the place of Portland or Oregon, it might as well be the words Portland or Oregon. Beyond using it as a tag in their advertisements, I have no idea what Gambrinus' interest in the word "Beervana" is.

Honestly though? I'm not too worried. BridgePort is mainly sold in the Northwest. The idea of using the word "Beervana" stems from the urge to sell beer. Getting in a huge war with people by trying to limit their fair use of the word "Beervana" will not result in greater sales. And there would be a huge war--one I'd be happy to lead. So I figure, it's interesting but not particularly threatening.

As micros get more and more macro, we're going to run up against these kinds of seizures of the psychic landscape of brewing. It's not a tiny brotherhood anymore; it's big business. Real dollars are at stake. I'm pretty cool with it, but I wonder--will it damage or dull the enthusiasm beer geeks have to the erstwhile mom 'n pop breweries? Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Price of a Pint and its Implications

I think the beeronomist* might have something to add to this:
The Great Britain-wide average [for a pint of real ale bitter] was £2.80, a 4% rise on 2009. But this covers broad regional disparities, with the cheapest part of the country, the West Midlands, falling well short at £2.45 below the most expensive, Surrey, at £3.08.

According to the Guide's co-editor Fiona Stapley, the wide variation in prices reflects not just the socio-economic make-up of each area but also the levels of competition, the nature of their bars and the type of beer on offer.

"In areas where you have heavy concentrations of the big chains, the prices tend to be higher," she says. "In pubs which brew their own beer, prices are on average a third lower.

My sense is that pubs brewing their own beer in Oregon are no cheaper than regular pubs--though there is a wide variety of prices among both. The range seems to be $3.50-$5.50, and it doesn't matter if the vessel in question is a cheater pint or imperial. Five bucks does seem to be a bit of an important price point, though. If you are charging more than that, the beer either be very good (like Cascade's, at the Barrel House, or specialty beers at brewpubs) or super haute. I feel good when I'm paying less than four.

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The Beeronomist is, coincidentally, stepping up his game. No longer will these posts be a focused subset from the Oregon Economics Blog; Beeronomics will now be a stand-alone blog with unique content. So go have a look.