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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Most Interesting Brewer 2011

A post over at the New School jogged my memory about one final year-end post I had in mind. It was written by Breakside's Ben Edmunds, and he was discussing the various exotic ingredients he tossed into beers.
In all, we’ve made 92 different beers at the pub this year, learning lots about the various ingredients we’ve incorporated along the way. Some of that includes the fun of working with different base malts, the challenges of finding substitute hops when our supply of Citra and Amarillo ran dry, and the learning curve with bringing in a new yeast strains. It also includes all the Reinheitsgebot–forbidden ingredients that I love to use in the brewery. Over the last few months, it seems like we’ve been on an especially adjunct-heavy kick using a number of less common fruits, herbs, spices, and so on in some of the beers. (At the same time, we’ve also been making a series of traditional lagers, for what it’s worth.)
Ben has an almost unique situation at Breakside. It's a three-barrel brewery with owners willing to completely cede the brewhouse to their brewer. The small batches allow Ben to experiment endlessly even while keeping the house range on tap. As a consequence, Ben can brew beers that are hugely experimental. Larger breweries can't afford to gamble as much. It creates a virtuous cycle: Ben is now well-known for being able to pull off experimental beers, and that makes people eager to try them.

Beyond making some of the most interesting beers over the past year, Ben has also done more than any other brewery on the education front. He blogs at the New School, regularly brews authentic revival beers (his Devon White Ale this year is one of the all-time highlights of Oregon brewing), and has collaborated with various bloggers, writers, and groups to design and brew their own recipes. (A personal highlight of mine was brewing a grisette--a low-alcohol saison--with Ben.)

Breakside may be a tiny brewery in a remote quadrant of the city, but Ben's made it a destination. I can't think of any brewer who did more interesting work in 2011 than he did. Kudos--

10 comments:

justin said...

Far and away my favorite brewer/brewery of the year as I love the constant experimentation.

laura said...

I LOVE love love Breakside and their experimental brews. Just one quibble with this story -- why does everyone call my neighborhood "remote"? I find it rather accessible and convenient. Just sayin'.

tom said...

Adding to the flak for your designation of Woodlawn as 'remote'. It may be triangular, but it's not far from anywhere. Indeed, Breakside is about the same distance from downtown as Laurelwood and takes no more time to get to than Widmer, Amnesia or Hopworks.

Jason C said...

Cascade was my favorite brewery, but now it's a tie between breakside and Cascade. I love the constant creativity, and wished I lived within walking distance of breakside. (My liver is thankful that I don't.)

Jeff Alworth said...

Laura, I don't mean any disrespect to Woodlawn, especially that strange off-grid section around Dekum. I mean it mainly from Breakside's POV. The further out you are, the fewer people come check you out. Breakside is largely a neighborhood pub, and I think fewer people make it out than would if it were in, say, the inner SE.

Brewvana said...

Brewvana is so lucky to have had Ben lead our Connoisseur Tour in November, and to visit Breakside weekly to taste his newest brews. Keep up the good work Ben!!!

Vasili said...

Here, here! Ben has been doing great things! It's been a pleasure to get to know him and sample his talents. A most welcome addition to our brewing culture.

Pete Dunlop said...

You (Jeff) are absolutely correct about the remoteness of Breakside. I've been there exactly once...and I live in NE. If it were closer in, I would stop by often just to see what they're brewing.

derrickvee said...

I'd say Dekum is more isolated than remote. Easy enough to get to, there's just as much up here as in other pockets of the city. Firehouse, Woodlawn Coffee, Good Neighbor, etc., are all fine places. There's just not the same density of establishments, thus fewer reasons to make it to this part of town.

That being said, the real focus here is that Ben's a terrific brewer and valuable overall contributor to the beery life here in Portland. The Cranberry bier de Table was one of my favorite things I had this holiday season.

Brewmance said...

Love the stuff, and like I told Ben, I can't say enough about the Gin-barrel Double Wit, and other soured ventures... I wish that stuff poured from my kitchen faucet. I look forward to trying many others.. and it's an easy get-to place for me being in the 'couve near I-5.

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