We'll trot through the highlights in a moment, but since I'm an elderly gentleman with actual memory of these times (I actually started sneaking into McMenamins the same year Full Sail was founded), I thought I'd pull up the wayback machine. It is difficult in a time when people know specific hop varietals to imagine a time when people didn't know the difference between lagers and ales. That time was 1987. Breweries had the unenviable task of selling people a product they were unfamiliar with. Even the idea of "ale" required a moment of song and dance.
In my little world, Full Sail was the first brewery to embrace the hop. It is difficult to imagine it now, but Amber seemed like rocket fuel. One of the theories about craft beer was that it couldn't be too aggressive or too weird. Ambers had the virtue of a sweetish caramel backbone to soothe the fears of the uninitiated, and they were a big deal. Full Sail's, though, was not a sweet bomb--it had quite vivid hopping. That alone illustrates how different things were. I recall sitting in the back yard of a friend drinking Full Sails, one after another, marveling at how good our fortune was. A little later on, the brewery started making a beer called Equinox ESB, which was almost iridescent green in its hoppiness. (In my early days as a beer writer, I called it Oregon's best hoppy ale.)
Here's another odd fact: in 1987, none of the Oregon breweries were bottling their beer. Full Sail had the distinction of being the first--not with Amber, but a beer called Golden Ale. (Breweriana geeks take note.) Full Sail took occupancy of the old Diamond Fruit cannery (abandoned 15 years earlier) and installed their brewery, including a wicked little bottling line. That little speedster did six bottles a minute--but it was the second fastest line in the state. The brewery was a rather optimistic 15-barrel set-up, though, and this positioned the brewery to grow.
(The story of American amber ale is worthy of its own post, but for now, let this thumbnail suffice. In a geography marked out by colors--golden, pale, brown, black--amber was an obvious invention. The beer itself is really just a pale ale, but in the US, the two styles forked. Pales are lighter bodied and hoppier, ambers thicker and sweeter. Pales highlight hops, ambers find a balance point closer to the malt, but always with characteristic American hopping. You could say American amber is really just a strong bitter, but because of its density and those hops, the two styles don't taste all that much alike.)
|James Emmerson and Irene Firmat (courtesy Full Sail)|
- In 1998, following a visit by Macallan's master distiller, Full Sail began their barrel-aging program. For those of foggy memory, that was quite early.
- In 1999, Full Sail brewed their first fresh hop ale (also very early).
- In 2005, the brewery released Session Lager, a pretty radical move for a craft brewery--but a prescient anticipation of where the market was headed. They added Session Black in 2009.
- In 2006, Full Sail continued its lager experimentation with the LTD series. (For old timers like me who remember the brewery's early days, the lager development was really unexpected.)
- Began the Brewer's Share program in 2008, again anticipating the interest in seasonals and offbeat beers.
- Installed a mash filter in 2010. This may be insider baseball to some, but for brewing nerds, it's pretty amazing. Read about it here.
|The mash filter.|
I've been rattling on for quite awhile here, so I'll stop. Feel free to add your own memories, additions, and thoughts in the comments. And if you're near the Horse Brass or in Hood River tonight, consider joining one of the celebrations. They'll be kicking things off at 5pm in the Tasting Room in Hood River, and have a big line-up of beers, including the new anniversary doppelbock, at the Brass starting at 6pm.
|John Harris joined Full Sail in '92 and left this year.|