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


Thursday, June 30, 2011

!$#&% Blogger

Right now you should be reading the first in my series of pub crawl recommendations, but last night, Google's Blogger, always a buggy system, ate it. All of it. Gone, vanished into the ether. I spent OVER AN HOUR on it last night (quite long for a blog post) and so it will take some time to reconstruct. As we are nearing the holiday weekend, I'll probably delay it. But if you would be so kind as to curse Blogger for me in one of your free moments, I would be obliged.

Craft Beer Consumption Hits 15% in Oregon

The estimable Brian Butenschoen, Director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, may produce the best state-level craft beer data in the US. For an old researcher like me, getting his annual state of the state report is always catnip. Lately, it's all great news--but there's one eye-popper in the numbers that has my chin dragging the ground. First, the set up:
The Oregon Brewers Guild announced today that Oregon’s breweries crafted 1,085,000 barrels (or roughly 270 million pints) of beer during 2010, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous year. Retail sales of Oregon-made beer sold in the state totaled approximately $235 million in 2010. In total, the brewing industry contributes $2.44 billion to the state’s economy. Despite overall weak employment figures for the year in Oregon, the state’s brewing companies added 200 jobs in 2010 and directly employed more than 4,900 people.

Portland, Oregon currently has 40 breweries within its city limits, more than any other city in the world. The state of Oregon has 91 brewing companies operating 121 brewing facilities in 50 cities.
Mmmm, sweet, sweet stats. But then there's the pièce de résistance:
Roughly 14.4 percent of the 2.7 million barrels of all beer - both bottled and draft - consumed in the state were made in Oregon. This is the highest for any state in the United States and was a 16 percent increase from 2009.
Brian is interested in how much Oregon beer Oregonians drink, not how much craft beer. But of course, the Oregon craft market includes beer from the rest of the United States, which means it's somewhere north of 15%. This is three times the national average. Moreover, Oregon now produces about a tenth of all the craft beer brewed in the US (over a million barrels of roughly ten million sold in the US in 2010).

These are pretty remarkable numbers. I've always felt that a five percent market share is a tenuous position. It's not enough to ensure anything more than a niche position, and with a shift in trends, could easily head the other direction. At 15-20%, you begin to hit a tipping point where craft beer is no longer a niche and where it's difficult to imagine it evaporating anytime soon. Congrats to the Guild, its members, and all the people who deliver and serve good beer in Oregon. You are way, way out in front.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Brief Meta Interlude

Oregon Craft Beer Month starts in a couple days, and since a lot of people will be visiting the state and looking for a good pint, I plan to do a series of pub crawl posts. This idea didn't entirely originate from me, and herein lies the meta part of our post. As you are no doubt unaware, Portland is host to the second annual beer blogger's conference in August. While this will be of only passing--very passing--interest to you (and rightly so), it has had a small effect on the ever-growing corps of beer bloggers in this fair city. We have hatched a plan to unite in a more formal version of my jokey United Brotherhood of Beer Bloggers, Local 503--we're calling it the more prosaic "Portland Beer Bloggers"--in part to help make the conference fun for all. Unsurprisingly, the subject of beer crawls came up, and following that, my scheme to do some posting on it myself.

Anyway, we're not off the ground yet, but we do have a twitter feed. You'll know when we do get off the ground because, like and earthquake rumbling down the Cascadia Fault, we will shake the world.*

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*Hyperbole, in case anyone missed it.

That (Really) Old-Timey Beer

Forget about those Burton ales--those are trendy newcomers compared to this:

Dr. Pat[rick McGovern] ... is the world’s foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages, and he cracks long-forgotten recipes with chemistry, scouring ancient kegs and bottles for residue samples to scrutinize in the lab. He has identified the world’s oldest known barley beer (from Iran’s Zagros Mountains, dating to 3400 B.C.), the oldest grape wine (also from the Zagros, circa 5400 B.C.) and the earliest known booze of any kind, a Neolithic grog from China’s Yellow River Valley brewed some 9,000 years ago. Widely published in academic journals and books, McGovern’s research has shed light on agriculture, medicine and trade routes during the pre-biblical era.
That comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine. It's pretty much a must-read for anyone interested in the roots of brewing.

Now, speaking of Burtons, is that what divers retrieved off a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea? Finnish researchers cracked a bottle and found:

The bottle contained a liquid that was a beautiful pale golden colour, identified as beer because of the presence of malt sugars, aromatic compounds and hops typical of the beverage. The beer in the bottle examined has not stood the test of time well, and it was contaminated by salt from sea water. Dead yeast cells were discovered in the beer, indicating fermentation that took place long ago. Live lactic acid bacteria were found in the beer. Especially in earlier times, lactic acid bacteria were often present in beer fermentation alongside brewing yeast.

The date of the shipwreck matters. Long before porters were shipped to Russia, Burton ales were the beer of choice. However, in 1822 (189 years ago), Russia enacted a massive tariff on most British imports, including Burton ales. (The Russians loved their porter, however, and since they believed they couldn't make it anywhere near as well as the London breweries it was granted an exception to the tariff.) Up until the tariff, Burtons were mostly brown; after it, the Burton breweries retooled the beer for domestic markets and got paler. I'm not enough of a scholar to know what that beer might have been. An example of IPA from the golden age of its export? Perhaps the real scholars will comment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Buttery Beers of New England

Tuesday last, Sally and I caught a six am flight from Portland to Portland. I recommend it to anyone interested in novelty. We were traveling unexpectedly and it wasn't a trip for pleasure. Nevertheless, I did manage to track down a beer here and there, and this is the piece of the trip I wanted to share.

When you breathe the air of beer geekdom, you necessarily end up with a skewed view of the larger world of craft beer appreciation. As craft brewing got started, there were distinctive regional preferences in the places I knew about--the Midwest, the Northwest, and a little later, New England. But reading the blogs and talking to beer geeks has given me an impression of a nationalization of tastes. You hear a lot about imperial beers, hop bombs, sours, and farmhouse ales. But these styles are, of course, not the norm. My trip to Maine confirmed that regional tastes do still exist.

New England has a lot in common with old England--or has had, anyway. You find lots of the traditional styles, including lots of sessionable bitters. (Try to find those in Oregon.) They are minor-key beers made with muted hopping--and very often, with English hops. (They love their Fuggles--or Willamettes in a pinch.) And what was really surprising: they like a dollop of diacetyl. Somewhat early in the trip, I had a Gritty's Pub Style, a 4.5%, 20 IBU bitter. Now, Gritty's has a variable reputation, so when I found the diacetyl in Pub Style, I figured it was unintentional. But then I had two more classic bitters and they both had diacetyl, too.

In each case, the levels were modest. By the time I sampled a Shipyard Export--a strong bitter--I was certain this was intentional. The levels are low enough that the vast majority of people don't notice it (even on BeerAdvocate, only one person among recent reviewers remarked upon it, and favorably at that). Generally speaking, diacetyl, a buttery compound produced during fermentation, is a no-no. On the West Coast, it's always considered bad. I suspect this harkens back to the old days of rapid growth in craft brewing, when it was common to find butter-bomb beers. It's easy enough to eliminate the problem; yeast reabsorbs diacetyl, so as long as you're not trying to rush beer out to the market, it's self-regulating. Historically, though, it's not always frowned upon, and in caramelly bitters, it's far from objectionable.

My ah-ha moment came with that Shipyard. I was at J's Oysters on the waterfront in Portland. (Put that on your list of must-visit restaurants. It's a legendary place that has a slightly gone-to-seed quality but features absolutely perfect, fresh fish at reasonable prices. Plus you can sit outside and soak in the environment.) We ordered the Shipyard and an Allagash White. With our first course of raw oysters, both beers were fantastic, but they did different things. The Allagash played on the briny qualities of the fish, while the Shipyard ensconced it in sweetness. Sally had fish chowder, and here was where the Shipyard sang. It married perfectly with the cream and brought out some of the character of the haddock. The Allagash, by contrast, was too tart and dry--it classed with the cream.

Beer has the versatility to blend in with local culture. It can harmonize with local foods and lifestyles and become a part of regional identity. Although there are some interesting similarities, the two Portlands are really quite different. Stripped of their context, I would have found the three bitters slightly underwhelming. But in Portland, especially when coupled with local food, they were a delight. An example that appreciating a beer may involve more than just the contents of a pint glass.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rogue Workplace Followup

Last week, I mentioned some news about some potential labor strife at Rogue Ales. The original article came from a labor group, and I solicited feedback that would either support or refute it. I especially would have liked to hear from Rogue. I got three emails, and there were a few comments left by anonymous writers on the blogs. Unfortunately, no one from Rogue got back to me. The folks who emailed all did so under their actual names, but asked that I keep their names out of the discussion. Fair enough.

A few things stood out. One is that Rogue's long-time master brewer, John Maier, remains a much-respected figure. He was praised both for his skill as a brewer and for being a great mentor (not surprising when you consider how many brewers have come up through Rogue, having worked with John). In a similar vein, folks were reluctant to paint Rogue with a single brush; they mention having good experiences while working there and felt that the situation is far from clear-cut.

On the other hand, they all also agreed that the work environment is brutal. One mentioned "ridiculous expectations" and a gulf between ownership/management and the production staff. Another witnessed a scene in which a manager was "screaming" at his staff with menace and vitriol. In the story I referenced, there was an anecdote about a brewer getting fired in front of the staff; one of my emailers confirmed this.

An anonymous commenter at A Good Beer Blog (who offered his own unconfirmed tales of mistreatment) made another great point. He looked through the jobs listing at ProBrewer.com and noticed that "they are hiring brewers, a head brewer, director of production, and national sales manager." That may be coincidence, but is more likely an example of staff turnover.

So, again, I don't see anything here to suggest that Rogue's behavior in any way crosses lines. The picture that emerges is of a hard, aggressive environment that leads to lots of job churn. There are ugly incidents, but also opportunities to learn and grow. It would be nice if Rogue commented on the situation, but I can see why they wouldn't. (This has the classic "when did you stop beating your wife" set-up of doomed issues.)

I'm interested in the story because I'm interested in businesses that treat their employees well. There's a huge amount of good beer in the world, and I'm the kind of customer that rewards good labor relations and eco-brewing. As this issue evolved, there were a group of commenters who wanted to defend businesses to treat their workers badly, believing that the logic of markets would compel Rogue to improve its practices if there was a problem. Although I think that's a specious argument (markets work for businesses, not employees), I do agree with one element of the argument: the marketplace can decide to reward or punish a brewery for good or bad behavior. This story is useful in giving consumers the information they need to make their call. The more you know, the more you can make an informed purchase.


Update: Users had posted a couple comment threads discussing this issue at BeerAdvocate (one, two). It appears BA has pulled them down. Interesting.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Leave Town For a Week...

Wow, big doings. First off, the beeronomist caught an important piece in the Toronto Sun describing the bad barley crop in Western Canada. Which, you hardly need me to tell you, isn't a great thing. (The effect on climate change on brewing will inevitably be bad, and may cause more than higher prices.) Speaking of higher prices, Bill has the latest quarterly Portland Beer Price Index out, and for the first time in long while, prices are ticking upward. A regular reader of beer blogs elsewhere, I'll note that people have been complaining a lot lately about a spike in prices. Thanks to the PBPI, I know that we haven't seen that here--which either means that everyone always thinks prices go up, but Bill's the only one doing a survey of prices so we know that's not true in Portland, or prices are more stable here. My guess is the latter, and I attribute it to the amazing bounty of products, which keep prices low.

Next we have the news that Laurelwood's Chad Kennedy, one of my favorite brewers and one of Oregon's most underrated, is decamping to Bend to start a brewery. Angelo has the full details. If it seems that Bend has a king hell lot of breweries for a town the size of the crowd at a Timbers game, there's a very good reason: it does. Jon Abernathy, who has been covering the bend scene for six or more years (since blogs will save us, I attribute the ferment to him), is stunned by the development. His blog's sidebar now lists ten active breweries and six in development. Let us not forget that the city is home to Deschutes, the fifth largest craft brewery and 11th largest American brewery.

Oh, and speaking of the Timbers, the New York Times was sufficiently moved by their coolness to devote an article to them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Flick: Savor Flowers

The Brewers Association is dipping its toe in the waters of video production--and if this is any gauge, they're getting it right. This is FAR more effective as a craft-beer promo than that embarrassing "I am a craft brewer" thing. Showing guys making beer--that's the best promo there is.

Enjoy--

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Brewed Awakening by Joshua Bernstein




Brewed Awakening
Joshua Bernstein
On sale November 2011
Sterling Publications, 304 pages
$24.95




Most beer books are aimed at the very general reader. They assume a person has interest in good beer, but very little experience with them. Brewed Awakening is one of the first books that aims at a slightly more experienced audience--evidence, I assume, that publishers now think there are enough such people to support a decent print run. Beyond that, it features an interesting and innovative structure--which at times pleased and at times infuriated me. More on that in a moment.

The book attempts a few things simultaneously. It aims to be introductory enough for the everyman while at the same time it highlights obscure, advanced styles and themes; it aims to be comprehensive, covering the usual slate of beer-book topics (ingredients, processes, styles, food pairings, enjoying/drinking, homebrewing), yet it also wants to capture cutting-edge trends in craft brewing. Here's where the innovative structure comes in. The sections are structured roughly in the order I listed, but Bernstein spices them up with commercial examples. So, after he describes malt, he offers "Five to Try"--beers made with wheat and rye the reader can buy to get a sense of their qualities. This concept--a selection of beers to try that illuminate the topic at hand--pervades the book.

(This was the part that irritated me, for idiosyncratic reasons. I'm the kind of person that likes to go back and locate a certain beer or category of beer but, because my brain is old and leaky and these are sprinkled throughout, they'll be hard to find. This is especially true if you're looking for a particular style, which will be placed somewhere to highlight something else in the brewing world. Or it may not be in there at all.)

I was pleased to see current developments addressed in the book. Things like gose, gypsy brewing, nanobrewing, collaboration beers, cans, and low-alcohol beers are all in here. It doesn't feel like a rehash of other books, but a serious attempt to capture the full scope of good beer in America. It's like a snapshot--or even a long, extended blog post. It's written in a breezy style and lacks the detailed scholarship you'd find in a Mosher book--but this may be more virtue than defect. Bernstein's not targeting Mosher's turf.

You'll have to wait until November to buy a copy--probably so you can buy two or three and give them away. You could do worse for the average beer geek than putting a copy of Brewed Awakening in a friend's Christmas stocking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Labor and Breweries

Separate from their personal style of managing workers, the Rogue case does raise certain interesting questions, none of which will be resolved here. They may, if we're lucky, at least be fully enumerated. To begin with, breweries of any size start to look a whole lot like factories. Brew 50,000 barrels of beer, and you're working on an industrial scale. For decades, working at a brewing plant meant a union salary, job security, and probably all the work you wanted until retirement. We don't have a overwhelming number of manufacturing jobs left in America (owing mainly to computers and machines--we actually continue to produce more stuff year by year), so breweries have long been great places to work.

Small breweries, on the other hand, have a different situation altogether. Margins are razor thin, and the same guy who makes the recipes may be the guy who hauls grain and hoses down the brewery. Even decent-sized small breweries that employ a few people don't have the kind of income to offer manufacturing-type union jobs with good pay and benefits. Somewhere between Oakshire and Deschutes, there's a line where scale begins to earn breweries enough that they could conceivably begin paying line workers fairly decent wages. Many people have asked me over the years (mainly BlueOregonian type people) which breweries treat their workers the best. I haven't known--nor have I even known how to assess the question. I keep my ears open, but it's usually apples-and-oranges breweries.

I'm one of those fairly unreasonable pro-labor guys who seem to have mostly vanished in America (to us, the word "socialist" means "good and true"). There's no evidence that free markets are much endangered by fairly-paid workers. Still, not every business in the world can afford to pay the same thing. As with so much, there's lots of gray area.

Rogue of the Week: Rogue Ales

Don McIntosh of the NW Labor Press--a worker's rights publication that's not exactly neutral--has a devastating article about how Rogue Brewery treats its workers. The main issue is an effort to unionize Rogue that the management has aggressively fought. They have deployed tactics familiar to anyone who has followed labor relations in the US over the last 20 years--all legal by today's laws. But worse than that, McIntosh paints the picture of a hostile work environment where management acts capriciously to ensure full compliance. Examples:
  • But what provoked him to call the Teamsters was a January 2011 company meeting at which a brewer was fired in front of everyone else for having made sophomoric comments on a “letter of accountability.” Employees had been made to write the letter after some production mistakes. Alruiz says he remembers the boss’s exact words: “F*** off. You’re fired.”
  • Alruiz had his own complaint: He says when he agreed to serve as crew leader, he was promised a $1-an-hour raise, but didn’t receive it.
  • A week after filing the petition [to request a union election], Rogue Ales suspended Alruiz for two days, ostensibly for arguing with a co-worker. A week after that, it fired two of his friends, also union supporters.
And McIntosh also noted this on the company website: “Rogue is not for everyone,” says the jobs page on Rogue Ales’ web site, which adds the company’s opinion that “job security is a myth,” and “seniority is not fair.”

Rogue is a for-profit company and they can run their business however they wish. Furthermore, we haven't heard Rogue's side of the story, nor from the workers directly. Still, this is a hell of a lot bigger deal than honest pints or expensive beer and food. IAnd it's especially ironic, given Rogue's socialist-revolutionary brand identity.) As a consumer, I can also spend my money however I wish. I'd love to hear from Brett or Jack--they refused to talk to McIntosh--or Rogue workers. Holler if you want to clarify anything (the_beerax (at) yahoo (dot) com). In the meantime, I think my beer dollars will be directed somewhere other than toward Rogue.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Brewing Better Beer



Brewing Better Beer
Gordon Strong
Brewers Publications
315 pages
$17.95





This is a book that lends itself to an elevator pitch: Gordon Strong is the only three-time winner of the national Ninkasi homebrewing award and the highest-ranked BJCP judge in the country; let's let him a book to walk homebrewers through his approach and technique as if they were there in the back yard with him.

That's how the book reads, anyway. Strong is given broad latitude to just offer his opinion and preferences about how to brew. This isn't a comprehensive how-to guide; it's sage wisdom from one of America's best homebrewers. So, you get an extensive preamble on Strong's philosophy of brewing, with nuggets like, "I manage complexity through abstraction to avoid information overload" (emphasis his). In another passage, he encourages you to "think like" and offers five subheads: an engineer, a chef, a judge, a carpenter, and a Jedi Master. This is perhaps the weakest chapter.

In subsequent sections, he just walks through various topics and offers his views--things like processes, equipment, and ingredients. Here's a section on hop selection to give you a sense of the book:
For high-alpha bittering, I like Magnum for a clean bitterness and Tomahawk otherwise. Challenger is my favorite for English beers, but they're somewhat hard to find. For moderate bitterness, I'll use whatever I have; it doesn't much matter. More often than not, I'll just use the same types of hops I'm using for late additions so the character will be compatible....

I don't dry hop much anymore, although I do when I make IPAs and American barleywines. I much prefer hops added at knockout or in the whirlpool.
At first, I was put out by the style: what do I care what your preferences are, Gordon? Everyone has preferences. But later, I began to enjoy it. There's a sense of liberation in reading about one man's opinion--you realize that so much of brewing is personal preference. Many homebrew books make you feel like there's a right and wrong--or at least a pretty serious orthodoxy. (Having interviewed enough professional breweries, I've already encountered one version of this. Pros all have their preferences, they are absolutely adamant that this is the only way--and they all contradict the preferences of other, equally adamant, equally celebrated pro brewers.)

Strong only discusses all-grain brewing, but I wouldn't call it a book for advanced brewers. It's accessible enough that even I could follow everything, and I am by no means advanced. It's handy in exactly the way talking to other brewers about their methods is handy: you discover tips and techniques you haven't tried. Since Strong is so accomplished, it's worth paying attention.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Blogger Note

I had a family emergency arise over the weekend that's going to take me out of town. Everything's fine, but I just need to travel to New England for the week. You shouldn't really notice anything on the blog--I've pre-loaded a week's worth of content. I won't be commenting, tweeting, or emailing regularly, though.

See you next week.

That Old Timey Beere and Ale

What's the new sour? (Since there's always the new something, and since the last couple years everyone's been saying sour is the new hoppy, it must be that we're due for a new new.) Old. Anyway, among certain small brewers and homebrewers here in Beervana.

Hot on the heels of my encounter with Burton, I read about Kevin's flirtation with mumme. Mumme, as you know, is an extinct style of malt porridge tinged very lightly with alcohol. You didn't know?
Mumme being a treacle-like dark beer with a massive starting gravity and very low attenuation. Think 3-6% ABV with a final gravity over 1.200. No, not 1.020, 1.200; we’re talking moderately alcoholic malt syrup here.
This level of attenuation makes Burtons look like ultra-dry saisons. Kevin cites Pattinson (whom we'll deal with soon), who cites a clutch of 19th century writers who peg mumme's attenuation between 8% (!) and 20% (dry mumme). Keep in mind that most modern beers finish out with attenuations in the 70-80% range. I found a German Wikipedia entry on the style that cites older sources, but doesn't seem to contradict Pattinson (seem, because I'm working with the Google translate version of the page). In any case, it sounds like a ghastly style, one the world is surely better off to be rid of. I urge you to remember that during the great mumme epoch, people bathed twice in their lives, lived to be 13, and believed some of the womenfolk of the villages to be witches.

The British Connection
The catastrophe of mumme aside, the interest in authentic recreations is a great trend. The historian/bloggers Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson are major instigators. They would no doubt be surprised to learn how many people in remote Oregon are inspired by their studies of lost styles. Yet I keep encountering late-stage beer geeks who are planning to brew--or have brewed--a beer based on their research. I can't say how much it has influenced the pro ranks, but I think somewhat. Brettanomcyes is slowly creeping into English styles, a trend I imagine goes back to the research of aged British styles--all infected with brett.

I doubt very many of these lost styles are likely to gain broad popularity. Yet gose has shown surprising resiliency, so you never know. Yet brewing things like gratzer, broyhan, koyt, Burton, or brown-malt porter are all extremely useful to understanding the evolution of brewing--not to mention a fun trip down memory lane. (Personally, I'm hoping for an Adambier recreation--that's a style with legs.) The aspect I find most encouraging is that Oregon brewers (home and pro) are among the most activist tinkerers. The future of beer is the past. And we're on the cutting edge.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Overcompensation?

Serving as further evidence of Sally's Rule*, we have the latest gambit from Belgian-owned Budweiser (via email):
This week marks national flag week; which is a time to pay tribute to the greatest symbol of patriotism in our country. It is a time for all Americans to display the American flag and celebrate our freedom. It is also a time to honor those military heroes that have fought for our freedom with the American flag adorned on their uniforms. To celebrate national flag week and the patriotic season leading up to July 4th, Budweiser has altered its iconic can by creating a red, white and blue Patriot Can.

Let us count the ways in which this is wrong: it demeans the flag to be used to hawk beer; it's slimy to appropriate respect for the military to hawk beer; calling it a Patriot Can is bizarre for a foreign-owned company and strangely jingoistic. Bud, which for two decades had the most subtle, effective branding strategy in America, now uses cheap tricks as it casts about for a post In-Bev identity. Fail.




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*Macros don't sell beer, they sell packaging.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brewer Opening

Seems like a decent gig.
JOBS

Brewmaster. Deschutes Brewery is seeking an amazing Brewmaster. The successful candidate will have a passion for craft beer and share our desire to constantly push the envelope when it comes to quality and creativity. We need a brave soul, willing to experiment while also having the experience and expertise to run a sophisticated and growing brewery. This person will bring outstanding leadership skills, technical & creative expertise and proficiency in brewing operations.
Homebrewers shouldn't get their hopes up, though: "Our ideal candidate will have a degree in Fermentation Sciences, a minimum of 10 years professional, production brewing experience."

Friday Flick: Beamish Documentary

I don't think I'll find videos of this quality very often. But today's a good day for Friday Flick. This is almost a half hour long, so don't press play if you're looking for a short diversion. But do click play--this is fascinating.



Whoops. Apparently no embedding. No worries: you can watch it at Vimeo.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Events, Annotated

The hydrant-flow of events gushes on. With a few comments, a few of note.

1. Kriek Kamp, July 13-15
A huge amount of what goes into a bottle of beer is hidden to the average drinker (and blogger, actually). Double Mountain's Kriek Kamp cracks open the door and lets you see inside a bit. It's a three-day immersion into brewing, using the extraordinary DM Kriek as an access point. On Wednesday, there's a seminar on krieks and a vertical tasting with brewmaster Matt Swihart. I'm guessing this covers the finer points of style and method, and the vertical tasting will be used to illustrate what happens in the glass. Thursday is a sensory training--invaluable for associating flavors and aromas with chemical compounds--a cherry-picking party at Matt's orchard in Odell with bonus tour of nearby Logsdon Farmhouse Ale brewery, and barbecue. Finally, on Friday, you see the annual cherry crush for use in the 2012 vintage Kriek. It's $150, which includes everything but overnight accommodations--a deal, given how much a person stands to learn. Call 541-387-0042 to reserve a space--there's just 20 total.

Comment: I'm planning to attend, though whether this makes you more or less likely to join the party is best left secret.

2. Hopworks BikeBar opens on Williams
Hopworks becomes the fifth Portland brewpub to open at least a second location with the arrival of BikeBar at 3947 N. Williams Ave. Nearby is Lompoc's Fifth Quadrant, the third outpost in that brewpub's mini-chain, and down the road is EAT Oyster Bar, one of my fave places in the city.

Comment: there was a big blowout yesterday, when the place opened. Sorry.

3. Organic Brewers Fest, June 24-26
The once-Roots-sponsored fest, now in its 7th incarnation, snuck up on me. I wasn't even sure it was going to happen, but it will, as usual in Overlook Park. The beers look pretty decent.

Comment: is Craig Nicholls running it? If not, who?

The Far Reaches of Beerdom

When you're an old man like me, the pace of change sometimes takes you by surprise. Last night, I had BridgePort's latest, Summer Squeeze. It has come to the place where if a brewery doesn't throw something exotic into the kettle or conditioning tank, drinkers will wonder: what's the point? Summer Squeeze is a pale with lemongrass added to the hopback and Yuzu fruit juice (an East Asian citrus, though Yuzu is the Japanese word) in the conditioning tank. I mean, if you're not throwing Asian fruit into the tank, you're not really trying. As a bonus, it's hopped with super-obscure Auroras.

A fascinating beer. I was sure there was a wheat base, but the brewery makes no mention of it. The beer is otherwise a pilsner blond with a huge citrus nose. In this case, the word "citrus" is not evocative or metaphoric, but quite literal. Brewer Jeff Edgerton describes it as Mandarin, but I get more a lemon note (but perhaps that's the lemongrass, confusing me). I expected something like a shandy, but actually, it tastes more like a Mexican beer with a huge squirt of lime. The citrus is assertive and resinous enough to stick around long after you've swallowed. I'm not sure what to make of it. Very crisp and refreshing--like a soda with a twist of citrus--and no doubt perfect on a summer day. But I do wonder, at what point will we have transgressed beyond the essential beeriness of a thing and into a different category altogether? I'll be considering that well after the next three trends come and go.

I had another beer last night, too--actually, just a single swallow. It was also an extreme and strange beer, but if Summer Squeeze was a future visitation, this one came from the distant past. The style of beer was Burton Ale, one I've read a great deal about but never had occasion to try.* That's not a surprise: Burtons haven't really been brewed since the Second World War--and even then they had gone through some substantial change. Burton is an old style, and it seems old-timey to our modern sensibilities. They started out as brown in their proto-phase, and then got amberish by the 19th century. They were brewed at massive gravities, but then finished out quite high, too. They were extensively hopped to balance the inevitable sticky sweetness. The result? Here's Martyn Cornell:
But while they had some success with the recipe as brewed for the Baltic in pubs in places such as Liverpool, Manchester and London, "those who admired its flavour and its purity, and who wished to drink more of it," according to the journalist John Stevenson Bushnan, writing in 1853, "found it too heady, too sweet, and too glutinous, if not too strong. Indeed it was so rich and luscious that if a little were spilled on a table the glass would stick to it."
The one I had was a homebrew, and it was made very much in this vein. It was hugely rich and very sweet, though a decent wallop of hops were trying to balance things out. The balance point was well beyond modern palates' preferences for drier beers. It was disorienting. I would have liked a whole glass to savor, to see what the long-term effects were.

Of the two beers, I would say the Burton, a famous style once brewed for centuries and sent on ships to far countries, was the wildest. Yuzu is one thing, but man, Burtons are wild, strange beers.

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*Writers like Cornell insist that certain beers brewed today are roughly in the Burton style, but I am not convinced. The beers they write about from the 18th and 19th century were different beasts than the kind of beers brewed today.

PHOTO: FOXEARTH AND DISTRICT LOCAL HISTORY

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Beer Bible

Ten years ago, the wine educator Karen MacNeil published a book called The Wine Bible (Workman Publishing). I'm not especially clued into the wine world, but by all accounts The Wine Bible was a massive conceptual and commercial hit. Conceptually, it's brilliant: 900 pages, with sections arranged by region, it covers every conceivable topic a layperson might be interested in. Yet it was released in paperback, with black-and-white photos, at the bargain price of $20. Add MacNeil's voice, simultaneously lyrical, accessible, and authoritative, and you have a fantastic book. It has been in print for those ten years--in its first edition--and is still the best-selling wine book at Amazon, and currently ranked 1,600 among all books Amazon sells (though it's usually around 3,000).

I mention this because about 15 months ago, I learned that Workman was considering a companion piece on the topic of beer. The idea for The Beer Bible would be to recreate the elements that made The Wine Bible so successful (though, as an editorial comment, I'll note that it's hard to imagine any beer book selling as well as the best-selling wine book). For over a year, I was one of the authors vying for the chance to write The Beer Bible (proposal, table of contents, chapters), and this spring, Workman decided to give me the shot.

The Beer Bible will be structured around beer styles in the way The Wine Bible used wine regions, with an exploration of the history, brewing techniques, style characteristics, and current evolution, as well as a handful of examples of each style. I actually started writing it in earnest six weeks ago, and you might have noticed some style-based themes on the blog (the question of foundational pale ales, the surprise success of brown ale in the form of Pete's Wicked, and the malts in porter); guess which chapters I was working on when I wrote those posts? The contract runs for two years, and I'm supposed to produce something on the order of 650-700 pages.

I alluded to all this a couple months ago and speculated that it might affect my frequency of blogging. Turns out, I don't think it will. But it is likely to affect the content of blogging. I'll be spending more time on general themes and less time on the Oregon scene. At some point, I'll travel to Europe to do research--and that should produce blogging of an entirely different variety. Finally, I'll continue to bounce things off you as I do research for this book. Collectively, you know a lot more than I do, and as a resource, you've been invaluable. I hope the blog, while it may change a bit, stays interesting.

Now, back to those porters....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When the Porters Died

Some facts fail to register the first time. Later, you encounter them again and your world tilts on its access. Try this one on for size: porters died out in Britain. Absolutely and utterly. Kaput. Apparently Jackson, writing about them in the 70s, was doing forensic work. Given porter's near-ubiquity in American brewpubs, I would say the style is in no immediate danger of re-extinction. On the other hand, it makes me hopeful for gose.

Battle in the Badger State

I really, really tried to avoid blogging on this. But all the articles, emails, and Facebook comments have worn me down. So, with apologies, we will now talk about an obscure issue in a distant state: my one-time home of Wisconsin. First, let's do our best to outline the issue.It is nested in proposed legislation that's part of the Governor Walker-backed budget (that be famous Governor Walker, the one who precipitated two weeks of vitriolic protests for attempting to end state unions). It would do the following:

Under current state law, a brewer of any size can also obtain wholesale licenses, which are given out by municipalities. The budget provision would change that by combining the brewer’s permit and wholesale and retail licenses into one permit under state control. This new state permit bans brewers from owning a wholesale distribution business.

Proponents of the bill, including MillerCoors, the Wisconsin Beer Distribution Association, the Tavern League of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Grocers Association, are big players in the beer industry. [Ed note: MillerCoors is worried that newly mighty A-B might sweep in and establish a monopoly.]
The Wisconsin craft breweries, led by geek darlings New Glarus, are hopping mad. Deb Carey puts it starkly: “Everything in this bill is designed to make it harder for small craft brewers to grow. It is a slimy piece of legislation.”

Terrible, right? Not that I can see--which is why I've been keeping my head low. From the same article:
Under current law, brewers who sell 50,000 barrels of beer or less annually do not need to use a wholesale distributor to resell their products to a retailer. Because of their size, they can sell directly to retailers, if they so choose. But in an effort to satisfy concerns from members of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, the committee voted to increase the size of craft brewers who are not required to sell through wholesalers from sales of 50,000 to 300,000 barrels a year.
Umm, oh. Furthermore, Carey believes New Glarus should be to distribute other breweries' beer through their wholesale business. (There's a pretty nice but unembeddable local news piece about the issue here.) What she seems really peeved about is losing a wholesale distribution opportunity, not anything as draconian as limits that would affect the brewery.

Now, I may be missing something, but there seems nothing out of the ordinary in this proposal, nor anything that would damage small breweries--and certainly nothing to prevent them from growing. So, let me observe provisionally that this seems like a little bit of the old bait and switch: New Glarus and some of the other small breweries seem to be ginning up outrage against an unpopular Governor so they can keep a sweet carve-out in the business code. Hey, I got no problem with that: politics ain't beanbag, and I'm all for a little of the ol bare knuckles. But I do think innocent bystanders like good beer fans should avoid being dupes in an issue that has very little to do with beer.

I would be happy to eat crow if I'm wrong. Someone more familiar with the issue, holler if I'm out of line.

A final, barely related comment. Earlier this year, Governor Walker and the newly-elected legislature decided to make an assault on the public employees in Wisconsin. This wasn't especially shocking: governors of other states have been doing it right and left. But they weren't Wisconsin, which has that rare combination of being highly pro-union and hair-triggered with their inclination toward public demonstration (and tailgate parties). Governor Walker has won the battle, but he's almost certain to lose the war The Dems are energized and stand to overturn it once they get back into office--the normal state in the normally blue state. Worse, Walker's name is now known enough that obscure battles about beer can become national news. Political scientists will be studying this for decades--and they would do well to look at the craft beer angle as another data point in how things have metastasized.


Update. It occurs to me that I should be guiding you to some commentary by bloggers on the scene. The Madison Beer Review has an exhaustive look a the bill, and Jeff Glazer concludes that it's "a terribly written motion that will likely become a terribly written piece of legislation." That gives me pause.
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PHOTO: ISABELLE DONOVAN

Monday, June 13, 2011

Curated Fests and the Beers They Highlight

This weekend's Fruit Beer Fest got me thinking. Despite reports of a few hitches in the execution, it illustrated a couple of ways in which the good beer world continues to evolve. Let us recall that as recently as just several years back, the typical fest was designed merely to highlight craft beer. Breweries were invited to attend, and they would send one of their standard beers. This was novelty enough.

The fruit beer fest is an example of a more recent incarnation--the "curated" fest, where a single organizer works with breweries to come up with a diverse range of beers that more deeply explore a theme. In the Fruit Beer Fest, Ezra secured soured beers, dark beers, and hoppy beers as a way of showing the myriad ways fruit can be employed. For most people, there was at least one revelation to be had. Give Preston Weesner credit for pioneering this at the Holiday Ale Fest, where he collects a wide range of styles to flesh out the concept of "winter beer." I always hate to pick on the venerable Oregon Brewers Festival, but it's a stark example of an old-school fest that is only very slowly turning toward this model of beer selection.

The second trend was evident in the beers themselves. Once upon a time, a brewer made a batch of beer, put it in steel tanks, waited a period of days, and then packaged it. Nothing wrong with that, but now most breweries have barrel-aging programs, which give them a whole new level of control. I mentioned Block 15's Psidium, which brewer Nick Arzner made by blending an aged sour with a freshly-brewed guava farmhouse ale. Breweries have been aging and blending for hundreds of years, but it takes cellar space and foresight to have the tools in place. I particularly enjoyed the notes of oak and wine added to Coalition's wheat beer and was surprised at how much oak tied together the cherry and roast in Ninkasi's cherry-aged Oatis.

Ten years ago, only a handful of breweries had barrel programs; now most breweries squirrel away a cask or two for special brews. And fest curators are taking advantage of the trend by designing special, one-time beers. These are twin trends illustrative of how good beer continues to evolve. Blessed are we who live in these highly-evolved times.

___________

By the way, here are some great pics of the fest, via Matt Wiater (I recommend the slideshow option).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gang Agley

In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley.
I was locked on for the Cider Summit, but a line-of-scrimmage audible sends me to the Portland Fruit Beer Fest. (Keenan, I owe you.) The tweets for the Fruit Beer Fest (#pfbf) are getting me all excited, so it's not the end of the world. See you there--

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Flick: Ezra Discussing the Fruit Beer Fest

This week's Friday Flick is a no-brainer. One of our own got on KOIN to promote the Fruit Beer Fest this weekend. (Hat tip to Brady, who posted this yesterday.)



Also remember that the Cider Summit is Saturday, so plan your weekend accordingly.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Larry Sidor Leaving Deschutes

This is huge news, and a serious blow to Deschutes brewery. From a press release:
Deschutes Brewery announced today that Larry Sidor, Brewmaster, is leaving the company at the end of the year to pursue a lifelong dream of starting and running his own brewery. Sidor has been at the brewery for eight years, following 23 years at Olympia Brewing Company, in development and production at a Yakima hop dealer and creating a small winery.

With Sidor at the head of the brewing department at Deschutes , the company has added many new brands to the portfolio including Hop in the Dark, Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale, Inversion IPA, The Abyss, The Dissident, and several barrel-aged specialty beers. Sidor will continue on at Deschutes Brewery through the end of 2011 while the company integrates a new brewmaster over the next several months.
This is a pretty big deal. Larry Sidor has done as much consistently good work at Deschutes in his tenure as any brewery in the country. Deschutes has been on a growth spurt powered in no small part by the raft of fantastic beers Larry's put out (which the list only starts to hint at). The brewery will thrive without him, no doubt, but let's not downplay this news: Larry's a massive, massive asset, and he will be missed.

Of course, as beer drinkers, were can be excited by the prospect of what he does next.

Where Hops Don't Belong

Just in time for Father's Day, two seemingly misguided products.

1. Hop Candy
Father’s Day is not gleefully anticipated by chocolatiers, except, perhaps, by a company called Beercandy. The owner, Steve Casselman, a brewer in Santa Clara, Calif., began experimenting with beer-based candy more than 10 years ago with lollipops.... He also makes Hop Drops, flavored with the oil of American Cascade hops for a citric flavor. His latest treat is beer-flavored taffy.

2. Hop Cheese
[C]elebrates the Rogue Creamery’s 75th Anniversary (1935-2010) and will be paired at SAVOR with Rogue Farms Freedom Cheddar cheese, a cow’s milk cheddar cheese hand-mixed with Freedom hops from the Chatoe Rogue Micro Hopyard in Oregon’s Wigrich Appellation. Whole hop leaves are de-stemmed by hand, steeped in hot water, mixed into the curds and eventually pressed into blocks.

(Aren't cheesy hops a bad thing?)

Ninkasi's New 4-Pack Strategy

Here's the great paradox in the beer business. Most breweries achieve stability by selling large proportions of one or two labels to a broad, loyal consumer base. That's good, but it doesn't lend itself to clever hooks for bringing attention to the brand. So what do you do to make noise? Some breweries have a specialty line or a barrel-aging program; others have test breweries to produce experimental beer. Ninkasi, which has neither, has conceived a novel strategy with their summer four-packs.

Inside, you get four different 22-ounce beers: the best-selling label (Total Domination), the summer release (Radiant), the beer geek's delight (Maiden the Shade), and one beer you can only get by buying the four-pack (Nuptiale). In addition, Ninkasi has included info about how to download music they promote, which is not only an added bonus, but alerts people to the fact that Ninkasi is in the music promotion biz. (In a parallel universe, brewer Jamie Floyd is the front man in a hardcore funk band.) Finally, there are blotches on the box that, when scanned with a cell phone, will take you to videos of Jamie discussing the beers. (You can also find these vids the old-fashioned way, by browser. Here's the Nuptiale video, for example.)

This is all clearly a form of gimmickry--but it's a good gimmick! Ninkasi has always sold their 22s at a bargain, and in this form they work out to $3,50 each (a six-pack equivalent of $11.45). You get four solid beers at a very good price--reason enough to buy. But adding in a rare beer is quite clever. I've wanted to try Nuptiale since I first saw it appear on the Ninkasi website. For Ninkasi, it puts more than just Total Dom in the consumer's hand, which may broaden their other beers' appeal. And, while Ninkasi's taste in music does not mirror my own, the free song downloads are pretty cool, too. (That they further the brewery's rock 'n roll brand is also pretty smart.)

Some sales strategies are strange and mystifying, others just silly. Ninkasi's summer four pack is one of the rare birds that is both good business and also a great deal. I hope they do more of this kind of thing.

______________

Oh, one more thing: the Nuptiale. It's called a cream ale, and for the most part, Ninkasi plays it straight. It's a bit robusto (5.7%) and a bit hoppy (26 IBUs) in relative terms--but quite subdued compared to what Ninkasi fans may expect. I think everyone wants to like cream ales more than they actually do. Recognizing this, Ninkasi used an all-malt grist (no corn or other adjuncts) and spiced the brew with a classic, neutral hopping. It's tasty, smooth, and summery. It won't knock anyone back, but on a hot day, you'll enjoy it more than a Total Dom.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Porters and Brown Malt, Continued

I wrote rather breezily last week about brown malt and its use in the old English porters of yore. Ah, but which brown malt? I quoted from Henry Stopes 1885 account. It describes blown malt, wherein the maltster stokes the fire to a mighty blaze at the end of kilning so that the "grains burst like popcorn." In comments, Beer and Coding's Kevin made an obvious point:
I'll go ahead and confirm Jeff's presumption that you cannot make a historic porter using 100% modern brown malt. Modern brown malt has no enzymatic activity, no diastatic power.
Quite true. Since everything I know about historical British brewing I learned from Cornell and Pattinson, I went to them. Ron to the rescue:
Before the hydrometer revealed that pale malt was far more economical, Porter had been brewed from 100% brown malt. That in itself tells us that the brown malt of that time was very different stuff to that of the 19th century onwards. Later brown malt had no diastatic power. It didn't need to, because there were sufficient enzymes in the pale malt base. The purpose of brown malt in a brew had changed. It was just being used for flavour and colour, as Carr wrote.
That earlier brown malts were highly dried, but not flashed with searing fire like the brown malts a century later. Moreover, their quality depended on the source of fuel. Again, via Pattinson, a contemporary observer:
"The brown Malt is the soonest and highest dryed of any, even till it is so hard, that it's difficult to bite some of its Corns asunder, and is often so crusted or burnt, that the farinous part loses a great deal of its essential Salts and vital Property"

and

"Brown Malts are dryed with Straw, Wood and Fern, etc. The straw-dryed is the best, but the wood sort has a most unnatural Taste, that few can bear with, but the necessitous, and those that are accustomed to its strong smoaky tang; yet it is much used in some of the Western Parts of England, and many thousand Quarters of this malt has been formerly used in London for brewing the Butt-keeping-beers with, and that because it sold for two shillings per Quarter cheaper than Straw-dryed Malt."
(London and Country Brewer, 1736)
Hope that clarifies things.

The Lessons of Stumptown

Sunday evening, Willamette Week broke the news that Stumptown Coffee had been sold to a New York investment firm. (Stumptown denies it, but WW's further reporting confirmed the story.) I had what I assume was a pretty standard reaction across the Rose City: that sucks. Yet predictably, we get this kind of reporting on the story:
Many of the Stumptown's fans in Portland fell in love with its indie and irreverent roots as much as its flavor. For them, turning to an investment banker -- one with ties to now collapsed Bear Stearns, notes one local blogger -- flies in the face of its underground underdog image....

"Any kind of growth like that will benefit them on the national level," Milletto said. "A lot of companies grow, I just think that the reaction in Portland will be a little different... Here, everyone loves their local brand."
This story is about a coffee roaster--but it might well be about a brewery. In fact, two months ago, Goose Island sold out to Anheuser-Busch in the first of what I assume will be a steady trickle of similar acquisitions. I think there's a lesson here, but the analysis by Laura Gunderson (a great reporter) is off the mark.

First of all, let's identify the transgression. It's not that Stumptown is trying to grow big--if Stumptown maintained its commitment to great coffee and continued to spread across the country, that would be one thing. In the beer world, this is like Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, or Widmer getting big. So long as they give the same attention to the beer, who cares whether they're selling in Arkansas? No, the problem is that the new parent company has a tendency of making companies generic and mall-ready:
Stumptown and TSG also may have partnered in such a way that the New York firm, which has invested in VitaminWater, Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookie Corp., and Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Co., takes on a certain market. For instance, Sorenson could remain in charge of roasting operations and certain locations in Portland, while TSG owns new stores and ventures.
The examples above are akin to Blue Moon, a somewhat distinctive beer made generic so it would appeal (or more accurately, not offend) a broad audience. Selling-out isn't the same as growing; selling out means sacrificing an ethos of serving a particular clientele for one of serving everyone. That's why I find Gunderson's framing a little condescending. She makes it seem like an issue of appearance: hipsters who feel jilted because their cool indie thing is going national. In fact, Gunderson reports on real changes Stumptown has in mind, and it's a lot more than appearance:
Finance experts say it's probably a good thing that Stumptown is able to attract an investor, especially if it has big hopes for the future. Which indeed it does. Lounsbury last week rattled off Sorenson's wish list, which include growing Stumptown's store base in existing markets, blazing new ground in markets such as Chicago and San Francisco, and creating a line of chilled coffee in stubby bottles.
To the extent people feel jilted, they do so not because they're lovelorn, wounded locals who have had the image of their beloved coffeeshop shattered; it's an actual case of how Stumptown will have to change if it wants to become national. It's quite reasonable that locals would lament the lost of a business with products they like for a business with products they don't. (And all of that leaves aside the obvious fact that Stumptown--Stumptown--has branded itself as a hyper-local, hipster coffee shop. Who's changing the rules here?)

All of which is to say what? With Stumptown, my concern is that a NY investment firm isn't going to pay the kind of incredible detail to coffee that the founding Stumptown owners did. This isn't a matter of attitude or "irreverence," it's a matter of coffee. I'd say the same is roughly true for good beer and brewing, too.

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PHOTO: 80s BABY

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Must-Attend Fest of 2011: Fruit Beer Fest

Let's try a little thought experiment. I say "fruit beer" and you think _____________? If you're like me, you think of a light, sweet liquid that straddles the line between beer and alco-pop. I'd like you to put that image out of your mind and consider this weekend's Fruit Beer Fest anew.

Fruit offers to beer many things: a source of fermentable sugars, color, aroma, and flavor. Used ham-handedly, you get a sugary mess. Used skillfully, fruit can add layers of subtle flavors and aromas impossible with grain and hop alone. For the Fruit Beer Fest, Ezra Greenough-Johnson has assembled a collection of specialty beers that demonstrate how versatile fruit can be: small beers, stouts, sours, and, yes, hop bombs all transformed by the additions of fruit. Nearly all of the beers are rare, and many are one-time batches produced specifically for the fest.

You can read about all the beers here, but I wanted to highlight a few just to illustrate how seriously the brewers have embraced this fest, both in concept and execution:
  • Block 15 Psidium. The name of the beer is the name of the fruit you'll find in it--guava. Nick Arzner's idea was to brew a pretty straightforward farmhouse ale. After his initial order of guavas failed to ripen, he found puree instead and produced a beer he felt was too flat and one-dimensional. To liven it up, he added 20-25% soured ale he'd had in a barrel for 21 months. The effect is totally misleading though; Psidium doesn't taste like a sour ale. Rather, the blended beer works with the fruit flavors to create the sense of a fruit skin astringency. When I tasted it, I was certain what I was tasting was skins.
  • Hopworks Chupacabra Chili and Fort George Badda Boom Stout. Stouts are a fantastic substrate on which to project fruit flavors, as these two illustrate. Ben Love put three infusions of two chilies into Seven Grain Stout to create a wonderfully lush beer. You initially taste the chili heat, but it fades into the flavors of the chilies, smoky, sweet, and a tiny bit tart. The heat completely fades in the swallow. Badda Boom is made with cherries and raspberries, and tastes like a dark chocolate truffle. The fruit is an understated note in the center of the beer. Their sweetness melds into the chocolate roast of the stout and harmonize into an intense, long finish. It's liquid decadence.
  • Alameda Huckleberry Hound and Breakside Mango IPA. Hops contribute far more than bitterness; they add flavor and esters, both of which are often likened to fruit. Why not take intensely hoppy beers and accentuate their hop-fruitiness with actual fruit? That's what Alameda and Breakside have done. Huckleberry Hound is an imperial IPA that was sweetened with honey and sugar as well as the hops. It is surprisingly gentle. We didn't have a chance to try the Mango IPA, but tropical fruit should enhance notes in the Citra, Cascade, and Ahtanum hops in the beer.
  • Upright Gin Barrel Strawberry Four. The name tells you a great deal about this beer. What it doesn't tell you is what the beer tastes like. The strawberries express themselves principally in the aroma. They're fermented out so that the resulting beer is bone-dry and heavily influenced by the gin botanticals. It tasted a bit like bitters to me.
These are just a few examples. Fifteen beers will pour throughout the fest, and another 16+ rarities will rotate in and out (some of these are five-gallon kegs). Full event details are here, but here are the highlights:
Fruit Beer Fest, June 11-12
Saturday, 11-9pm, Sunday, 11-6pm
Burnside Brewing, 7th and East Burnside
The event is free, glasses are six bucks, tickets for regular 4-ounce beers $1, special beers cost 2-3 tickets. Kids are welcome. As you would expect with an event hosted at Burnside, the food looks fantastic.

In short, you should really try to stop by if you have the chance. This is one of the new breeds of specialty fests, and everyone involved has worked to make it a special one. If you feel insufficiently convinced, have a look at what Bill and Rachel have to say about it.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Best of the West Coast

This has been zipping around the internets, but I thought I'd throw it out for discussion. In their most recent issue, Beer West has released their "best of" list. They've adopted the idiosyncratic approach of advocacy rating: "We went behind the scenes to look at the history, people, and influence the beer or place has had on the industry as well as their community." I'm reminded of Derek Avent's best breweries of Oregon list a couple years ago--when he selected Block 15. Since any system subjective, highlighting the lesser-known is as valid a criteria as any. (Though that begs the question: why is Vinnie Cilurzo the best brewer? He's about as unknown as the New York Yankees.)

Their Big Five
1. Best Brewery: Prodigal Son
2. Best Brewer: Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River
3. Best City: San Francisco
4. Best Pub: Beveridge Place, Seattle
5. Best Beer: Bridge Creek Pilsner, Silver Moon

There are gobs of other awards, including a nod to the brewery deepest in the boonies, which goes to Ted Sobel's Brewers Union. Go have a look. I have no real complaints, except that in a list of obscure top fives, an underappreciated brewer would have been nice.

Your thoughts?

A Taste of the Past: Cluster Hops

We spend a lot of time thinking about beers of the past, but this almost always means Europe's past. If you want to keep your historical excursions on this continent, one place to start is the venerable Cluster hop, a strain that goes back as far as many of the world's venerated strains. Those of you who went to the Single Hop Fest at Amnesia this weekend were treated to one tour-de-force example, Double Mountain's Clusterf#%k. But we'll come to that in due course.

First, a bit on the history of American hops. The first British settlers, beer-oriented as they were, had hops in the ground by 1629 and there was a commercial market for them by 1646. These were English hops--or possibly English and Dutch--but they were pretty quickly crossed with local natives. (I doubt anyone knows if this was intentional or accidental.) What ultimately emerged from these early crops was Cluster. By the turn of the 20th century nearly every hop grown in the country was Cluster (96%). After Prohibition, Clusters continued to dominate; in 1935, they occupied 90% of the market.

American hops weren't prized; they had high alphas, high cohumulone, and were regarded as pungent and harsh. Brewers used American hops for bitter charges and then scented and flavored their beers with the sweet nectar of low-alpha, low-cohumulone hops from Europe. For 350 years, American brewers bought in to the notion that their local hops, which definitely differed from European hops, were inferior. As that all changed, mainly when American craft brewers began to discover that local hops were indeed tasty and aromatic, and the Cluster hop--the original "C" hop--faded from sight.

I was dimly aware of all this history and assumed that one of the reasons no one knew US hops were so good was because Clusters lacked their cousins' virtues. Fast forward to Saturday, when I tried Double Mountain's Clusterf#%k, an IPA that uses the old hop in a way Henry Weinhard never dreamed of. With 75 IBUs of lip-smacking hoppiness, CF didn't nestle the hops in a subtle admixture of malt and yeast. No, this beer is all Clusters--and what a wonderful opportunity to see the old hop shine. It has all the American character you would expect, with intense citrus that was a dead ringer for passionfruit. It kicks off a lot of tropical fruit essence as well, suggesting mango or guava. It is every bit as sticky and vivid as you expect from US hops--and distinctive, too.

The Cascade will probably be the American hop for the next 350 years; Cascade Brewing sent a pale saturated in their namesake hop that was a perfect demonstration of why it's so beloved. It's got a pure, clean character full of floral, citrus life. Few hops anywhere can match if for elegance and versatility. Yet the Cluster shows that America has long produced great hops--if only we'd known to make beer in which you could actually taste them.

Obviously, you should try to make it out to Hood River for a pint of the Clusterf#%k. I doubt seriously Double Mountain wants a fourth IPA regular in their lineup.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Friday Flick: Westmalle

Okay, I promise this isn't going to turn into Friday Blog at the Monastery, but I couldn't resist one more. A bit over-produced, but the visuals are pretty sweet.

Bragging Points Event

Boston is, sadly, a pretty crap town for breweries (though it's not a bad beer city). Nevertheless, this Red Sox fan is red with envy to be 3,000 miles from an extremely cool event:

Kevin Youkilis is hosting a Night at the Harpoon Brewery on Sunday to benefit his charity, Youk’s Kids. In addition to tours of the brewer, food from Davios and the silent auction, there will be the opportunity for an exclusive tasting of Youkilis’ own special brew. [Itals mine.]
Of course, it's $200, so there's that. Still, Youk beer!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Portland Calendar is Heating Up

I am no good at tracking the myriad events happening around Beervana. For that you should always visit Brewpublic. At the same time, it would be remiss of me not to highlight a few that have really caught my eye--and in the next couple weeks, there are lots and lots.


Saturday, June 4

Single Hop Fest, Amnesia Brewing, noon-8pm. As you know, hops have distinctive aromas and flavors. But do you know which hops contribute which aromas and flavors? The way to learn is by sampling single-hopped beer, and Amnesia has ten examples that all use different hops. It's not just a beer fest, it's an education.

Collaboration Fest, Breakside Brewing, noon. Brewer Ben Edmunds invited a few non-brewers into his brewery to create the beer of their dreams. Lisa Morrison, John Foyston, the staff from Saraveza, and Ladies of Lagers and Ales founder Margaret Lut. They came up with a beet ale, a steam, a Meyer lemon kolsch, and an American amber--but you have to guess who brewed which.


Sunday, June 5

Coalator release and new nano sneak preview, Coalition Brewing, 3pm. There's a new nano in the works--Humble Brewing. Brewer Chad Freitag worked with Coalition and their system to make his Dusseldorf Alt, a sort of sneak preview.


Friday & Saturday, June 10-11
Fruit Beer Fest
, Burnside Brewing, starts 11am both days. I am always leery about fruit beers, many of which taste like spiked fruit punch, but Ezra has curated a fantastic line-up for this fest. There's a media tasting tomorrow, and I'll have a fuller preview next week. But put it on your calendar--there will be some special beers there.

Cider Summit, Saturday only, Elizabeth Caruthers Park (South Waterfront), 11am-7pm. Wo/man cannot live by beer alone. This fest features two dozen ciders from five apple-producing states, England, and France. Producers will be on hand to discuss their products. Tix are $20 advance, or $25 at the door.

And all of that is happening in just the next ten days. Imagine what the summer holds!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

19th Century Porters

One nice thing about doing research for a book: it forces you to absorb information that would otherwise just wash through your brain. For example, although I have read Martyn Cornell's great history of porters, it didn't sink in until this morning what he was actually saying. Porters have been around for nearly 300 years, but the ones we drink now don't taste the same as ones brewed in London in 1800. Why? It's the malt.
"It also used highly dried brown malt, which gave a roast flavor to the beer. Henry Stopes, a nineteenth-century malting expert wrote in Malt and Malting, of the making of 'brown, blown, snap, or porter malt,' talking about how the porter malthouses .... burnt faggots of beech-wood or oak under the wet malt to dry it, going slowly at first until almost all the moisture has been driven from the malt, then building up the firs so that the sudden violent heat makes the malt grains burst like popcorn."
Porters throughout most of the 1700s were brewed entirely from brown malt. From about 1790 on, the recipes called for a declining percentage of brown malt, but it was still a key to the character of porter. In 1817, Daniel Wheeler invented a method of roasting malt at 400 degrees to make a black malt; he took a patent out on the process, and that's where we get "black patent" malt. This made it possible to stain a beer black with only a tiny amount of dark malt--the balance could be made up in brown and pale malts. The percentage of brown malt used in the grist continued to decline over the 19th century as mild ale began to supplant porter.

So, forget that silly recent news about Washington's porter. If you wanted to brew an actual Victorian porter, you'd need to track down some of that funny old brown malt (different, I assume than this brown malt). Or make it. And you'd also need to find a cask somewhere and put the beer in there with some brett* for about a year (or more) if you wanted the really authentic stuff.

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*As Osh points out in comments, this is an unnecessarily oblique reference. I've been swimming in this stuff lately, and I forget not everyone is looking over my shoulder and absorbing the same things. This refers to the wild yeast brettanomyces, which was resident in wooden vats of British beer until sometime in the 20th century. It actually takes the name from Britain ("brett"), where scientists first isolated it. It takes awhile to kick in, so beer aged briefly or not at all ("mild" or "running") would have been unaffected.

Law and Beer

I was recently working on an article about new breweries for Draft Magazine, and it took me to Alabama, where a couple of guys are trying to open Avondale Brewing in Birmingham. Alabama, population 4.7 million, currently has six breweries. In general, the South has trailed the rest of the country in good beer production, and I've always assumed there was a cultural explanation for this. But in talking with Coby Lake at Avondale, I learned that state law plays a huge role.

For example, until last night, it was both illegal for a production brewery to have a tasting room and for a brewpub to sell its beer off-site. Seriously. An organization called Free the Hops led a charge to change this, and it managed to get through the Alabama legislature yesterday. (Good thing for Avondale, too--they were building a bar in the brewery on the hope that the law would pass.)

That's not all. Until 2009, it was illegal to brew beer stronger than 6%, and it's still illegal to sell beer in bottles larger than 16 ounces. And last but certainly not least, it's illegal to homebrew in Alabama, one of only two states where that's the case (Mississippi's the other).

Imagine where California, Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania would be if they still had laws like this. Laws have a huge effect in shaping how business evolves, and in turn shape how craft brewing evolves. Now, as the Yellowhammer State starts to loosen these 19th century laws, what do you think the effect will be? How a burst of new breweries? In addition to Avondale, seven more are planned--which would more than double the current total.