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Monday, July 31, 2006

OBF Wrap-up

Of the 73 beers pouring at this year's fest, I had already tried 17. Another handful are easy enough to track down in town. That left a pool of roughly 50 I hadn't or won't easily be able to try, and of these, I managed to sample my way through 16--or almost a third.

This year's fest happened to land on a delightfully cool weekend, with a high on Friday of just 72. The crowds were fairly typical, and we actually had until four before things started to get hairy. All in all, a fine time.

As to the beers--here are my findings. I'll get to the good and bad tomorrow.

[Update, 11:46 am: The Bad just posted below.]

[Update, 4:23 pm. The Good, and the last of the review, posted below.]

OBF - The Good

It is a testament to the brewers and the OBF that my list of good beers is longer than my list of Bad and Ugly beers combined (and the Uglies were also pretty good). However, there are good beers and then there are good beers. We'll save the best for last.

I recommended starting out with the Sweaty Betty from Boulder, and sort of failed to take my own advice. Blame the vastness of space and my late arrival at the right truck. Nevertheless, it delivered just what I hoped (and through a hazy scrim of previous beers)--a dry, tart, satisfying beer with classic notes of clove and banana. Just like they make in old Bavaria for breakfast. [Bavarian Weizen, 5.9% abv, 15 IBUs]

The first beer I tried was Full Sail's Vesuvius, so my tongue was completely unsullied as it splashed around John Harris's rich, Belgian brew. The classic brand in this style is Duvel, Flemish for Devil, so named because the beer is extremely approachable, quaffable, and tasty, concealing its substantial alcohol. Vesuvius was too, with nice fruitiness, a very slight Belgian tart, and a long, dry finish. Very tasty and very dangerous. [Belgian golden, 8.5% abv, 20 IBUs]

A slightly controversial beer that I loved was Bell's Hell Hath No Fury, a Belgian dubbel. I confess that I had this late in the game, and while I was happily lapping it up, others in my party were giving the "eh" sign. I found the malt amazingly creamy and rich, but not overly sweet. My somewhat damaged taste buds were telling me the malts were providing some of the balance while the yeast added some interesting dark fruit notes, but even I'm suspicious of my judgment. Still, you gotta go with your experience, and amid the uberhoppies, this was a great change of pace. [Dubbel abbey-style ale, 8% abv, 20 IBUs]

Three others deserve a nod, if not a rave: the McBrothers' White Lightning Whisky Stout was a few pounds of hops from perfection. It was very rich and subtley inflected by the whisky, but, sadly, was overly sweet (I didn't realize until looking just now--it had only ten IBUs!). New Belgium, which tends to under-engineer every beer they brew, got their entry right with 1554 Enlightened Black Ale. It is called a Brussels black ale, purportedly based on an ancient recipe, but it tasted like a German black lager (schwarzbier)--malty rich, but not fruity. Boundary Bay brought a Double Dry Hopped Pale that wowed the nose as much as the tongue. Brewed especially for the Fest, I hope it's one of those beers that received a warm enough welcome to encourage the brewery to put it in its regular rotation.

Okay, to the cream of the cream. Early in the afternoon, a friend went for the Elysian Bifrost, and raved. I suspected it was a palate-destroyer, and waited, only to find, to my surprise, that it was a fantastically balanced, wonderfully aged winter ale. It's hard to make a big beer that offers pretty pronounced flavors of malt, hop, and alcohol but is simultaneously gentle--but that's what Elysian has done (note the rather modest 50 IBSs--modest because they're balancing a lot of malt). It's a big beer that drinks like a porter or brown. (I feel all the more brilliant for having put three 22 ounce bottles down in the cellar to age.) [Winter warmer, 7.7% abv, 50 IBUs]

And finally we come to the beer I came to at the end of the fest--and kept coming back to, at least twice more: Pliny the Elder. At about 7 Friday night, the line was the longest I've ever seen at the fest, stretching all the way past the middle of the tent. I went back the next day to shoot some video (I'll get to that eventually) and at two the next day, the line was already 15 deep--while nearby lines were literally empty. What to say about the beer? Imagine brewing the perfect Northwest pale ale, with that kind of delicious citrus hopping and fruity backbone, and then distilling it. That's Pliny. It has 100 IBUs, and yet I could drink it all night. Apparently I was not alone. [Imperial IPA, 8% abv, 100 IBUs]

OBF - The Bad

Once upon a time, bad beers were common enough at the OBF--and throughout the microbrew world. (Old timers will recall when RedHook's signature characteristic was its butterscotch note, which homebrewers recognized as high levels of diacetyl.) But in the modern era, you don't go to the fest expecting to stumble across bungled or infected beers. That mostly held true for 2006 (exception below), and in this case "bad" refers to beers I personally found problematic. And even with that, there were only three.

I'll start with one of the fest's most popular beers: Watermelon Wheat from 21st Amendment Brewery (CA). Every time I walked past that damn line, it was bristling with people. Inevitably, I had to try it, just on the off chance it was one of those extremely rare, subtle fruit wheats with some complexity and a fidelity to the beery taste we all love. It wasn't. Overly sweet and fruit-punchy, it was the beer for the non-beer folks who were dragged by their beergeek friends (and, probably, husbands). It was perfectly well-made, but it tasted like a new product from Mike's Lemonade. [fruit wheat, 5% abv, 15 IBUs]

With all the over-the-top superhopped ales at the fest (a dozen had more than 80 IBUs), you'd figure a handful would be nastily unbalanced. I located only one: Skagit River's (WA) Scullers. The numbers pretty much tell the story--a beer with an original gravity of 1.066 and 110 IBUs. Hey guys, there's more to making a kick-ass beer than dumping a field of hops in. The beer's available in bottles, but I'd avoid it. [IPA, 7.2% abv, 110 IBUs]

Last we have the big loser, Jack Russell's (CA) Farmhouse Ale--a beer I regret having recommended. It's always a little difficult to identify off-flavors in a plastic mug (and after a couplesix pours), but this beer had 'em. The nose was sharply cabbagy and fetid (the usual suspect is DMS from wort bacteria). The palate wasn't quite as noticeably off, but I picked up a sharp, burning quality that may have come from ethyl acetate (from wild yeast) or fusel alcohols. The recipe itself had some promise, but I couldn't get past the off-notes. (It's worth noting that Ghost Dog identified Farmhouse Ale as one of his faves, and he tried the beer on Saturday. I wonder if he got a keg from a different batch?) [Saison, 6.7% abv, 20 IBSs]

Sunday, July 30, 2006

OBF - The Ugly

Taking my cue from Sergio, I characterize as ugly three beers that I actually liked quite a lot--call em' the Tuco beers.

First we have Ned (Flanders Red) from Rock Bottom. Typically, this style of beer will be characterized by a tart, sweetish (fruity) sour palate. It's wholly approachable, yet novel. I was delighted, poking my nose in the glass, to detect all the right aromas. The first note was spot-on, but then, to my surprise, there was a rather bitter note of fairly pronounced hopping. I really admired the beer, even with this note, but I found it a little less beguiling than a more traditional version. Not all beers need agressive hopping. (For those of you who, like me, dismiss Rock Bottom out-of-hand, it might be time to reconsider. Not only was Ned an impressive experiment, but apparently Rock Bottom's pale won the taste off.) [Flanders red, 8.5% abv, 30 IBUs]

Next up we have Roots Organic Wit, and deja vu all over again. The nose on this beer, as with Ned, was perfecto: orangey with coriander, and fresh with wheaty malts. And again, the palate offered a first, almost phantom-like note of classic Belgian white, followed by ... extensive hop bitterness. I think both breweries were aiming for classic styles souped-up for NW palates. The hops in this example were actually quite nicely married to very soft, fruity wit, but they overwhelmed them. [Belgian wit, 5.3% abv, 35 IBUs]

In the Widmer Hooligan, we have one of the stranger beers I've ever tried. Much as some Belgian beers demonstrate the varieties of yeast, and some--okay all--Oregon beers highlight hops, Hooligan highlights malt. In reverse: it's made entirely without barley using sorghum and tapioca. It has no head and an odd clarity, but a wonderful nose of Summit hops. The flavor was similar to beer, but the mouthfeel was somehow slick and the hop flavor was conducted differently. I only had four ounces, and so didn't get to delve into the beer much. I suspect it's at the brewery, and it's worth dropping by for a sample. [pale ale, 5.8% abv, 30 IBUs]

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Oregon Brewers Fest Preview

Oregon Brewers Festival
Waterfront Park
Thursday, July 27: 4pm - 9pm
Friday and Saturday: Noon - 9pm
Sunday - Noon - 7pm
  • Minors are permitted when accompanied by a parent, but no pets.
  • Entry is free. Tasting mug costs $4 and is required for consuming beer. Tokens cost $1 apiece. Patrons pay four tokens for a full mug, or 1 token for a taste.
  • Free bicycle parking is offered each day, courtesy of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
General Orientation

Last year, fest organizers experimented by adding an extra day; it must have been successful, for the first pours begin today at four. My guess is that this isn't a bad time to attend--though generally, evenings are when the crowds get thick and the beer selection gets thin. You might gamble on a first night visit, or you could more reliably show up at noon on Friday: you'll have around three hours of blissful quiet with just a handful of the most avid drinkers. If you're lucky, you'll be in a merry mood by the time the fest turns frattish and you won't care.

A couple tips: If you actually want to appreciate the beers, start with lighter, less-hoppy varieties and save the intensely-flavored, darker, and hoppy ones for later. This year's crop is especially rich in high-alcohol, super-hopped beer, and even one of these will ruin subsequent attempts to find subtlety in a modest wheat ale or lager.

Even though the weathermen have forecast moderate temperatures, it's wise to drink lots of water as you go along. You'll thank yourself the next morning. Finally, a belly full of protein (beast or bean) tends to moderate absorption rates, so eat before you go.

To the Beers!
A glance down the list of beers reveals a growing trend: huge is in. There are a dozen beers with modifiers like "imperial," "double," "strong," "nuclear" (okay, I made that last one up), not to mention another dozen IPAs. Those are deep waters to swim, so take a life preserver if you go. For my part, I like the looks of Standing Stone Double IPA and Walking Man Knuckle Dragger. These are a couple of fantastic draft-only breweries whose beers aren't always easy to track down. Both are over-the-top hoppy (95 and 100 IBUs respectively), but I trust the breweries to have created balanced, drinkable ales.

Wait, didn't I just say don't start with big beers? Put those down. Let me direct your attention instead to a nice starter beer or three. Perhaps no beer was more suited to a sunny day than a Belgian Wit (white), and there are two at the fest. The style is crisp, sweetish, and orangey. Even though one comes from the center of the country, and the other is close enough to hit with a rock thrown from the fest, I'm taking the local: Roots Wit. A close second in terms of tasty summer styles is kolsch, a dry, tart German ale, and Ballast Point from San Diego has sent a version. Finally, Lucky Lab brewed a steam beer--a lager fermented like an ale (think Anchor Steam)--which is just deviant enough for them to turn my head.

I will move from there toward one of America's most famous breweries and its unexpected offering: Bell's Hell Hath No Fury (MI), a Belgian dubbel. Bell's is known for their hearty, NW-style ales, so it will be interesting to see what they make of this abbey-style ale. From Colorado and one of America's oldest breweries comes Boulder Brewing's Sweaty Betty, a Bavarian hefeweizen. This style is brewed at high temperatures and has a banana-y, clovey quality that is contrasted with a tart, puckery finish. It's one of the most under-appreciated styles in the NW. To sweeten the pot, let me add that brewer David Zuckerman got his start in Portland at BridgePort.

There is a style of beer brewed in the Belgian city of Flanders that is equal parts sweet and sour, and which most people find irresistible. It's called red, but oftentimes modified Flanders Red to distinguish the style. The Portland outpost of Rock Bottom has tried a batch, and the style is just tasty enough to induce me to try it. Oh, that and the name: Ned. (Get it?)

My favorite style, and one of the more difficult to brew, is saison. It is something like a Belgian IPA--generally very dry and hoppy, made interesting by slightly funky yeasts and a cellary, aged quality. It is an ancient style, and the two breweries that sent versions allude to them in their names: Flying Fish 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Summer Ale (NJ), and Jack Russell Farmhouse Ale (CA).

Pale Ales are another summer standard, and I recommend three: Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Pale, Ninkasi Quantum Pale, and Widmer Hooligan. The Boundary Bay because dry hopping makes beers wonderfully aromatic; the Ninkasi because it's a Eugene Brewery I've never heard of (new?), and Widmer because the Brothers always use the OBF as an occasion to brew up something special.

Okay, now we're ready to revisit the big boys--I have three more and then I'll desist. Full Sail, apparently also availing themselves of the chance to brew something special, is sending Vesuvius, a Belgian golden. If it is akin to the landmark version, Duvel, we're in for a treat. (In this case, golden is not a euphemism for "weak"--Vesuvius is 8.5% abv.) The McMenamin Brothers rarely catch my eye with their beer. Their architecture, definitely--not their beer. But White Lightning Imperial Whisky Stout? I'm paying very close attention. (

Years ago, Eugene's now-defunct Wild Duck Brewery made a strong ale called Sasquatch. It was perhaps my favorite big beer, a fantastic way to end a brewfest once my tongue could no longer distinguish subtle flavors. Each year, at the end of the OBF, I greatly missed its passing (as well as the man who brewed it, Glen Falconer, who died in 2002). While I will always miss Glen, I finally found a beer to rival Sasquatch: Pliny the Elder from Russian River. Named for the Roman who gave the name to hops ("lupus Salictarius," or "wolf among scrubs"), he was also ironically killed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius--a fact about which Full Sail may or may not care. It fills a long-vacant need. Whatever you do, save a token for Pliny. You might even offer a toast for the Sasquatch of your choice.

That's sixteen beers, which ought to at least get you started. Report back and let us know what you found. Cheers!

[This is a slightly altered version of a post from BlueOregon. Read the longer version there.]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

OBF - The Good Pours Are Back

I know it's hard, but try to recall: last year, in a slap to the face of servers and festgoers everywhere, the OBF implemented a policy of pouring into a little cup before dumping the beer into your taster mug (the pic at right may help jar your memory). It eliminated the joyous overfill and gave the whole fest a rather regimented (I recall the word "fascist" bandied about) quality.

Ah, but a little bird tells me that the little cups are gone! Back to human-powered pours! Now the only thing that separates you from a precious quarter ounce of extra hooch is a winning smile.

Good luck and godspeed.

_________________
PHOTO: Andy Orenstein.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

OBF Buzz Beers

Breweries adopt one of three or four strategies when they send a beer to the Oregon Brewers Fest. Sometimes they send their flagship, hoping it will convert some of the masses. Sometimes they send a new beer they're launching, hoping to convert the masses. Or sometimes, they send something unexpected, hoping to delight the masses. Uniformly, it is from this last category that the "buzz beers" come from--those beers that get the chatter going at the Fest. No one goes for Pike IPA or Redhook Rye: serious drinkers want to see something new and funky.

Fortunately, it looks as if breweries are finally starting to get with the program. This year looks to have more potential buzz beers than any previous year. Here are ten possibilities that I'll be looking to try ASAP. My money's on the White Lightning.
  1. Bell's Hell Hath No Fury...Ale (dubbel) - Bell's Brewery (Michigan)
  2. Double Dry Hopped Pale Ale - Boundary Bay (Bellingham, WA)
  3. Elysian Bifrost (winter ale) - Elysian (Seattle)
  4. 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Summer Ale - Flying Fish (NJ)
  5. Vesuvius (Belgian golden) - Full Sail
  6. White Lightning Whisky Stout - McMenamins
  7. Ned (Flanders Red) - Rock Bottom (Portland)
  8. Pliny the Elder - Russian River (CA)
  9. Standing Stone Double IPA - Standing Stone (Ashland)
  10. Hooligan (pale) - Widmer
It's a bit hard to guess which monstrous IPA is going to capture the attention of drinkers, but Pliny the Elder's my guess--it is a faithful heir to the Sasquatch throne, a hoary blast of lupulin fury, apt for palates shattered late in the day. I also gave Widmer the nod because they have long been champions of the "special beer" strategy, and had a run of four or five years where they were one of the two or three most talked-about beers. I'll keep grandfathering them in until they send over kegs of Hefeweizen.

Your best bets?

Monday, July 24, 2006

All the Beer News That's Fit to Print

The center of gravity on the annual beer calendar revolves around the last full weekend in July, when the Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) lures tens of thousands of beer drinkers to Waterfront Park. It's become such a large celebration that it has expanded into a full week--the first day of which as now arrived. So, without further ado, and with thanks to the stinkin' Devil Sun, who has stifled his fury long enough for me to blog, here we go...

Tonight, July 24
Beer and cheese tasting with Fred Eckhardt
No one who reads this blog is unfamiliar with Fred, right? Well, just in case: Fred is the poet laureate of Oregon beer, having documented professional and homebrewers and homebrewing for 30 years. There is at least one portrait homage in the McMenamin's kingdom (Grand Lodge); another homage by BridgePort as an Old Knucklehead; and more famously, he is the namesake of Hair of the Dog Fred. He is also the James Beard of beer, having turned Oregonians on to beer tastings as paired with chocolate and cheese. He just celebrated his eightieth birthday, so you know he's got some experience with these things. Thirty bucks advance, $35 at the door. Rogue Public House 1339 NW Flanders, doors open at 5pm. 503-222-5910.


Tuesday, July 25
Oregon Brewers Guild Dinner
Sold out! (As the popularity suggests, this is a great event, and one to put on the calendar for next year. It's a cool, insidery event with lots of brewers and brewing mucky-mucks, along with some of the bigger beer fans in the city. And they pour rare beers you can't get at the regular OBF.


Wednesday, July 26
Pale and IPA blind tasting
Ripped straight from the pages of Beervana, we have what may be the first of its kind (but I'm relying on a very faulty memory here, so correct me if I'm wrong). Much as with our own blind tasting, there are two phases--identification and rating. Participants will get twelve (!) pales and IPAs, after which they will be stacked like cordwood until Thurday afternoon, when they should be sobered up and ready for the fest.


Thursday, July 28
Over the Edge Tour
There have been alternafests in the past, usually involving the word "edge" for its multiple entendres, to feature beers who didn't make the cut into the OBF. This may or may not be one. The link the Brewers Guild supplies is dead. Supposedly at a number of local pubs, and probably one will be the Rose and Raindrop, so maybe I'll go scope that out and see. Holler if you have info.

Oregon Brewers Fest
Repeating a recent experiment, the Brewfest kicks off at 4pm on Thursday. But the real fun begins Friday at noon, when I arrive. (Not that I have a limited perspective, or anything.) Seventy-two beers, seventeen million people, and predicted moderate temperatures. What more can you say? Waterfront Park.


Friday, July 24
Sasquatch BrewAm Golf Tournament
This looks like a pretty cool thing. Held at the Edgefield's pitch-and-put course, twenty-one brewers have agreed to participate in this event, which is a fundraiser for the Glen Hay Falconer brewing scholarship program. The brewers feature some pretty bright lights, too: John Harris (Full Sail), Alan Sprints (Hair of the Dog), Dick Cantwell (Elysian), David Zuckerman (Boulder, a brewer who got his start at BridgePort), Jamie Floyd (Steelhead), Darron Welch (Pelican) among many others. Cost: $75. 9am tee time. Email here to sign up.

If I've missed anything, let me know.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Devil Sun

I've been hiding under a cool rock, waiting for the fury of the burning sky to dim. There is no internet connection here. More when I can stand it--

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Deschutes Anniversary Pils and Elysian Jasmine IPA

Pardon me for grouping, but I've got a pile of reviews cluttering my inbox, so here's a twofer on a couple of second-tier beers from first-tier breweries.


Anniversary Pilsner - Deschutes
Deschutes celebrates its 18th with a summer special in their Bond Street series. You may know this beer under its previous (and future?) name--Pine Mountain Pils. It took gold in last year's GABF in the European-style pilsner category, sort of the European Bud category--but with predictably more character (akin to Bitburger, for example).

Deschutes' version certainly looks the part. It is certainly one of the palest beers I've poured out of a bottle of Oregon craft brew--misleadingly of an industrial lager hue. As with an industrial lager, it has a nice head and effervescence. Actually, if you don't have the same visceral reaction I do to extremely pale lagers, it's quite attractive.

But somewhere in the transparent depths resides a true Northwest beer--hoppy, hoppier, hoppiest. It's a pilsner for beer drinkers who like IPAs and wish they had a tin-can beer they could tolerate. It is in fact a mildly-alcoholic beer, but it packs a lot of spicy Saaz bitterness. I'm shocked it won anything at the GABF--it's the kind of beer the folks in Colorado usually scorn with a dismissive "way out of balance." It is, and that's good.

(And thanks to Stumptown Girl, who offered the beer as a housewarming gift.)

Stats
Hops: "mostly" Saaz; malt: 100% pilsner malt.

Rating: good.


Jasmine IPA - Elysian
A lesser brewery, experimenting with dried jasmine petals, might simply dump them into a regular beer. Not Elysian, which leaves Immortal IPA alone and creates a wholly new recipe for its Jasmine variety. That's a good start, because Immortal's a bit rugged for the delicate essence of jasmine. But perhaps even the toned down recipe Elysian uses here is too brawny.

It's a straightforward-looking beer--a typical golden with a relatively quickly-dissipating head of fluffy white. The nose is floral, as you would predict, but rather mildly so. It's readily detectable (someone would identify it who didn't know it was the Jasmine IPA), but it's mild enough that it comes across as generically floral.

The flavors are even subtler. Malt notes come forward and, appropriately, hops take a backseat so as not to overwhelm the delicate floral essence. Still, the jasmine merely accentuates the malt, commingling in the palate, to seem like a flavor by-product of malts. A nice beer, but something of a novelty. I would love to see how jasmine would compliment a lighter beer, likesay a kolsh or helles bock.

Stats
Hops: Chinook, finished with Glacier and Amarillo; Malt: English Pale, German Munich, plus small amounts of German Carahell and English Crystal; Original Gravity: 1.062; Alcohol: 5.6% abv; Other: jasmine flowers added to the boil and hopback.

Rating: average.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PIB Wrap-up

Ah, PIB, already I miss ye. Can it be that I have to wait 364 days for your bounty to return? Thank heavens we live in Beervana--my pain can be assuaged somewhat in the interim.

A couple of themes emerged from this year's fest. First, the emphasis on local brews. American beers represented the second-largest share of real estate at PIB, causing some in my crowd whinge. Why, after all, should we devote attention to beer we can get year-round when there are so many we can't get? A fair point. But the local beers stood out all the more by being surrounded by world classics. If we fail to recognize some of our best locals as world class, it's perhaps a failure of proximity--you always imagine that the ancient, distant breweries have the secrets of the beeriverse we have decades to master. Seeing our beers there was a reminder that Oregon brewers are among the finest on the planet.

Another theme: hops are hot, yeast is not. The first or second PIB I attended had several funky Belgians--including two or three world-class lambics (Cantillon, I believe). This year, there were no straight lambics and the fruit lambics were all of the large commercial variety--emphasis on sweet. Most of the Belgians tended to emphasize strength over sour--probably a reflection of Portlanders' tastes. On the other hand, there were hops a'poppin. Even in Belgian and German beers.

My notes in a moment, but one more comment. As we walked into the event on Friday, one of my fellow fest-goers looked at me and said, "So, what should I try? I'm following you--you're the beer Sherpa." Very nice (nevermind whether it's true.) You may all now call me the Beer Sherpa.

Okay, the notes (in the order I drank 'em):

Blaugies La Moneuse [saison, Belgium, 8% abv]. Malty; more akin to an abbey than saison. Extremely effervescent--it took the pourer about five minutes to get the head to settle. A bit of grating tinniness that clashes with the nice (if inappropriate) sour note. Rating: average.

L’abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien [abbey ale, Switzerland, 10.5% abv]. Aroma of a Flemish red--sweetly sour. Garnet. Realy layered flavor. Cry and alcoholic, with a spicy note underneath. Slightly thin in body, reminding me of a wine. Vents volatile essence. An authentically original ale. Rating: excellent.

Mahr's Ungespundet [lager, Germany, 4.9% abv]. Looks like a hefeweizen--cloudy golden. Nice, rich beer. Clean, straightforward. Not a lot to say--a good session. Rating: Good.

Caracole Saxo [Belgian Blonde, Belgium, 8% abv]. A wonderfully floral nose--lavender? Strikes me as a saison--very summery, but with the cellary quality I associate with Dupont. Extremely effervescent. Spicy and dry, but with a soft mouthfeel, drawn out by what taste like floral botanicals. The best beer I had a the fest. Rating: a classic.

Full Sail Black Gold Imperial Stout [10.5% abv]. (What I wrote on Sunday was verbatim from my notes.) a beer so tasty it was like a liquid brownie. Alternately, it was compared to an after-dinner coffee drink, spiked with bourbon. Rating: excellent.

Rochefort 10 [strong Trappist ale, Belgium, 11.3% abv]. This beer has a lot of character, but it's so sweet, big, and full of alcohol and candi sugar that it resists me. Time to have some sausage. Subtlety is not this beer's virtue. Rating: incomplete.

[I did, in fact, have a sausage after the Rochefort--a three-quarter pound "big boy" that got me back in the game.]

Hitachino Celebration [eisbock, Japan, 7.6% abv]. Richly peppery. Notable alcohol, but the beer isn't heavy or cloying. (Note in the margins: "Obviously, my adjectives, if not my palate, are failing me.") Rating: good.

Westmalle Tripel [Belgium, 9.5% abv]. Another intense abbey. I note mainly that my palate collapses in the face of this much alcohol and density. This beer bullies me around, taunting me with it's heft. What I devine: the beer shares some of the character of Chimay (the red label?). Some candi sugar fizz on the alcohol. Probably exquisite, but I have a hard time penetrating its depth. Rating: incomplete.

Birrificio Cassissona [Belgian-style specialty ale, Italy, 7% abv]. An effervescent, beguiling ale. The cassis is a minor note, adding some sweetness, but mostly a dark-fruit quality that might otherwise come from malt and yeast. Buckwheat color. The sweet is offset by notes of bitter and tart--those three notes are in perfect harmony. I imagine this would be a delightful complement to hearty foods. Rating: excellent.

Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne [Flemish red, Belgium, 6.2% abv]. Hits the sweet spot. Classic Flemish red, which I find very hard to describe. Predominant flavor is a balance between sweet and sour, neither overwhelming the beer. Rating: excellent.

St Sylvestre Gavroche [supposedly also a Flemish red, France, 8.5%]. "Gavroche = gagroach." (Sorry, it was getting late in the fest.) Rating: not poisonous.

Walking Man Blootvooetse Bruin [hybrid style, US, 5.3%]. A malty brown ale with a touch of sour. Sally claims to be able to taste the Kombucha, but I think she's faking. Mighty quaffable. Rating: good.

Monday, July 17, 2006

PIB - Video

Here's a minute forty-six of muddy, low-res video, this time on Youtube. Last time, my one-minute clip was high-res, and I got a complaint or two. This time, we have easy-to-play low res. See what you think. (I seem to not be able to embed it in the post, so click on the pic:



Cheers--

Sunday, July 16, 2006

International Beerfest First Impressions

This is a preliminary post for anyone who's still planning on heading down to the International Beerfest this afternoon. We have some early must-tries, based on a sampling of about 16 beers. I'll post a fuller round-up later today or tomorrow.

Big Winners
Saxo Blonde (Brasserie La Caracole, Belgium) - has a softly floral nose that suggests actual infusions of flowers--lavender comes to mind, but I can't say. It has a cellary quality, and is effervescent, dry, and spicy in the manner of a saison, yet has that very soft, flowery note.

Black Gold Imperial Stout (Full Sail, Hood River) - a beer so tasty it was like a liquid brownie. Alternately, it was compared to an after-dinner coffee drink, spiked with bourbon.

Duchesse de Bourgogne (Brouwerij Verhaeghe, Belgium) - A classic Flemish red I sampled toward the end of the evening. A perfect mixture of sour, sweet, and dry that got raves from our group. Despite the 3-ticket pricetag, even the cheapskates went in for a pour.

Best to Skip
Oud Beersel Kriek (Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Belgium) - A sugary-sweet confection with almost no sourness or complexity.

Jenlain Biere de Garde (Duyck, France) - Cloyingly sweet. The one real dud I sampled.

More to come--including a video clip of the event.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Preview - Portland International Beerfest

Portland International Beerfest, July 14-16
North Park Blocks
Friday 4-10pm
Saturday Noon-10pm
Sunday Noon-7pm
www.portland-beerfest.com
There isn't a way to do an adequate preview of the Portland International Beerfest short of, I guess, getting Michael Jackson to write it. According the website, there will be 126 beers there, 95 from foreign lands. I'm no novice, but safe to say that I haven't had the chance to try 80% or more of the beers yet. So, disclaimers out of the way, let's get to business.

The 126 beers pouring represent 12 countries, but one stands out: Belgium, with 49 beers. (Germany, at number two, has but twenty.) For beer geeks, this is good news indeed. Belgian brewers are the great innovators in the beer world, and they will try brewing anything. Despite having some of the oldest and most traditional breweries in the world (Orval, a brewery run by Trappist monks, is 900 years old), it also features one of the most vigorous batch of new microbrewers outside of Portland. One theme I noticed this year is how many Belgian breweries are taking their cues from Beervana to brew massive, hoppy beers. So don't be shy--take the opportunity to dive into the wild, weird, wonderful world of Belgian brewing.

In addition to the Belgians, you will also have the opportunity to try some of the rarest beers in the world, as PIB gathers together artisnal beers from some tiny breweries in Europe. (Whether they're good or not is another matter--not every microbrewery is a Hair of the Dog; some are obscure for a reason.)

Having looked pretty carefully through the list of beers, I've compiled a list by type that I think are worth highlighting. You will follow your own muse, but here are a few to keep your eyes on.

Stats: Austria (2), Belgium (49), Czech Republic (2), England (10), France (3), Germany (20), Italy (2), Japan(2), Poland (3), Scotland (1), Switzerland (1), US (31). Total: 126

Extremely Rare
  • L’abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien (Switzerland) - Only a thousand bottles of this Swiss abbey ale are making it across the pond in 2006. Before bottling, the beer is aged in wine barrels. [10.5% abv]
  • La Gnomette (Belgium) - A bit more of this beer is coming to the US--40 kegs--but it's far from an abundance. Brasserie d'Achouffe changes the recipe each year. [9% abv]
  • Uerige Doppel-Sticke (Germany) - This is a German alt of the kind that inspired the Widmer Brothers when they brewed up their first batch of Ur-Alt. It weighs in at an astonishing 75 BUs--amazing for a German beer. [8.5% abv]
  • Pierre de Rouge (Oregon) - Brewed by Max Tieger for Tuck's brewery (in Tigard) just before he left to start his own brewery. A Belgian style red which, once its gone, will be gone for good. [7% abv]

Rare
Most beery types have sampled Trappist ale from widely-distributed Chimay and Orval. But have you tried the other monks' ales? You'll have a chance with Rochefort's most robust abbey ale, Rochefort 10 [11.3% abv], as well as Westmalle Tripel [9.5% abv], and the newest of the Trappists (founded in '91) Achel Extra [9.5% abv] (all from Belgium). The former two are among the most famous in the world, and I'm embarrassed to say I've never tried them.

As I'm on a saison kick, I would like to direct your attention to two of four offered: Blaugies La Moneuse [8% abv] and Fantome Saison [8% abv] (again both from Belgium). La Moneuse is a maltier, less hoppy saison than Dupont (it's named for a local bandit), while Fantome features a more layered, spiced palate. I recall that it used to be brewed with peppercorns (and may still), one of the most delightful ingredients I've ever encountered.

Also:
  • Oud Beersel Kriek (Belgium) - Comes from a brewery that closed to much anguish in 2002, only to be reoponed last year. Krieks are sophisticated fruit lambics with a sour-dry note, more akin to wine than American fruit beers. [6.5% abv]
  • Meantime IPA (England) - An IPA from a brewery I've never even heard of. It's in Greenwich, so hence the name. [7.5% abv]
  • Black Gold-Bourbon Barrel (Oregon) - A bourbon-aged imperial stout. What more do you need to say? [10.5% abv]
  • Caracole Saxo (Belgium) - This is a bit of a wild card, catching my eye as a brewery I've never even heard of. Takes its name from the word "snail" in the local Namurois dialect. [8% abv]
Rare Styles
There are a number of traditional beer styles out there that we don't have much of an opportunity to sample in their native form. This is one of the main reasons I go to PIB--to sample some of the styles I've read so much about.
  • Monchshof Schwarzbier (Germany) - A dark lager, something like a porter, but drier and lighter. [4.9% abv]
  • Black Boss Baltic Porter (Poland) - Speaking of lagered porters, that's what a Baltic Porter is. I've tried Black Boss, and it's quite nice. [8.1% abv]
  • Klaster Dark (Czech Republic) - Another dark lager, but a Bohemian variety. [4% abv]
  • Mahr's Ungespundet (Germany) - This is an unfiltered artisnal German beer, harkening back to an earlier, less fussy time in German brewing. [4.9% abv]
  • Duchesse de Bourgogne (Belgium) - A Flemish red ale (the classic style of which is produced by Rodenbach). This style is typically nearly as sharp as a lambic, though the quality of the sourness is unique. [6.2% abv]
  • Val-Dieu Bruin (Belgium) - Oud bruins (brown) are another regional specialty of Flanders, but these are sweeter and less sour than other Belgians. Liefmans is the classic producer. [8% abv]
  • Duyck Jenlain Amber (France) - France's sole native style of beer is the biere de garde, and it is quite hard to find an indiginous example. Duyck is one. [6.5% abv]

Weird
Finally, there are some beers that defy category but look promising. I have the least amount of confidence in these, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of the transcendent beers of the fest is in this batch.
  • Blootvoetse Bruin
  • (Washington) - I wouldn't mention this save that it comes from one of Beervana's finest breweries, Walking Man. Despite the name, which suggests brown, this is a take on a Flanders Red that gets the sourness from--I kid you not--Kombucha tea fungus. [5.3% abv]
  • De Proef Flemish Primative
  • (Belgium) - A Belgian offering with several strains of brettanomyces, the wild yeast strain that give lambics their funk. Several! [9% abv]
  • Cassisona (Italy) - What makes this lambic interesting is where it comes from: Italy. There appears to be some kind of microbrewery movement happening down in the Boot. Worth seeing how they're doing. [7% abv]
  • Kerkom Bink Bloesem (Belgium) - One of those funky Belgian beers with a lot of weird ingredients, including pear syrup. Who knows. [7.1% abv]
  • Melbourn Strawberry (England) - This is a British fruit ale which may or may not be worth trying (I can't tell if it's just a sugary confection or is akin to lambics, as one site implies). [4.1% abv]
  • Hitchino Nest Celebration Ale
  • (Japan) - A Japanese spiced eisbock (a beer made and then frozen, with some of the ice removed to make it more robust). [7.6% abv]
Looking back at the list, I see I've recommended 26 beers from ten countries, which is, I guess, a slight winnowing. That's the nature of this fest--too many beers, too little time. Ah well, there are worse quandries to find yourself in.

Cheers!

Post updated July 14, 2006.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Yeast

To arrive at beer, you need a minimum of four ingredients: malt, water, hops, and yeast. The first three contribute various elements to the finished product, but it's the last one that actually makes things swing. Yeast is a living, single-celled creature (a fungus, actually) that rather miraculously gobbles up the sugar in the malt and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide.

We tend to focus quite a bit on the kinds of malt and hops that go into a beer (sometimes even the water), but the more you learn about beer, the more you realize what a profound effect yeast has on the final flavor. It is also the one secret ingredient--as a living culture, yeast strains change and evolve and become part of the signature flavor of a brewery. I've had brewers give me a scandalized look for even asking what kind of yeast they use. Yet it is the yeast, as much as anything, that gives a brewery's beer its character.

The fascinating thing is that, as a homebrewer, you can sometimes just appropriate that ingredient whole cloth. Many breweries bottle-condition their beer, relying on the living yeasts in the beer to produce just enough waste for carbonation. After the fermentation process has ended--yeast has turned all the convertable sugars it can into alcohol--breweries dose the beer with just a dash of sugar or malt before they throw it in the bottle, to give the yeast a little more to work with.

It's actually possible to take that small amount of yeast and culture it up to quantities large enough to pitch in homebrews. After wondering for years how well this would work, I've taken the plunge, and have started to work up the yeast from that bottle of Saison Dupont I reviewed a couple days ago. So far, so good. I started out adding about 2 ounces, and yesterday bumped it up to about ten times that amount. One more stage and it should be adequate to pitch in a standard five-gallon batch.

I also picked up a bottle of bottle of Panil, which is actually an Italian version of a Flanders Red (purpoted to be every bit as good as Rodenbach, which I couldn't track down), and Cantillon Organic Lambic for additional culturing. Reviews of those as I need new yeast.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

July - Oregon's Beer Month

Twenty years ago (okay, nineteen), the first Oregon Brewers Festival graced Waterfront Park. It was a slightly more meager event, but auspicious--attendance far outpaced organizers' predictions. Now, nearly two decades later, the celebration has expanded. Now there's a brewer's dinner, a blind tasting, a parade, and in the past, even a competing fest across the Willamette for all the small Oregon breweries whose beers were spurned by the OBF*.

And there's even a competing fest--the Portland International Beerfest, which kicks off at 4pm this Friday and runs through Sunday in the North Park Blocks. I'll put up a preview for PIB later this week, but I wanted to make a pitch now so the literally millions of readers of Beervana can plan their weekend accordingly.

You know the OBF. You know the heat, the sweat, the screams. You go partly for the beer, but partly because it has the feel of 20,000-person kegger. To PIB, by comparison, you go exclusively for the beer. Where else can you get a taster of Westmalle Tripel, Fantome Saison, Pinkus Ur-Pils, Monchshof Schwarzbier, and Deschutes Mirror Mirror barleywine all in one place. Nowhere! It's a bit more expensive than the regular fest, but with apologies to our friends from Belmont Station, have you seen what saison is selling for by the bottle? Plus, if you're dying for Oregon beer, Full Sail Old Boardhead and Black Gold--Burbon Barrel, Deschutes 18th Anniversary Pilsner, Rogue UberFest, Pelican Bridal Ale and more will be there (none of which, I'll hazard a guess, will be pouring at OBF).

If I could only make one beer event a year, it'd be this one. Don't miss it.
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*Holler if this is happening and you have details.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Beers of Summer - Saison Dupont

It's not really appropriate to call saison an "endangered species," among Belgian styles as Michael Jackson did in Great Beers of Belgium ten years ago. (Actually, his description is probably largely responsible for engendering the international interest that revived it.) There was a rennaissance in Belgium of traditional styles, and a minor one here with mostly less than traditional styles. The exception is Hennepin from New York's Ommegang, the only American I've tasted that comes close to the Belgian originals.

But among all saisons, the classic example is Dupont. Others exist--from Silly, Pipaix, Lefebvre, and Fantome, but these are harder to get. Saison Dupont is available at many supermarkets (though, as always, you're better off to get it at a retailer that takes care of its beer).

As a style, saisons are a collection of typically artisinal ales, typical of an earlier era when it was difficult to brew in the summer (the yeast gets funky at high temperatures). Thus it was brewed in the spring ("la saison de mars"--the season of march) to be laid down for a few months until summer. They ranged from very low alcohol beers (according to Jackson, "children's strength") to robust versions of 8% or more. Their palate is crisp, mildly tart, and hoppy. For people who enjoy IPAs (ie, almost all denizens of Beervana), I think saisons would be a wonderful beer to try.

Tasting Notes
It pours out a hazy, sunny gold--a chill haze that dissipates as the beer warms--with a very vigorous bead. It is so bright in the glass that it makes me want to go into a purple metaphor about capturing sunlight--but I'll desist. It features one of the richest, fluffiest, almost architectural heads of any beer--a head that stays through the final sip.

When I poke my nose into a beer, I conduct a forensic sweep, beginning with the yeast. I was initially struck by a cellary quality of Saison Dupont; in this case, it's not musty, but more of a mineral quality. As a minor note, there are a bit of hops, but Dupont has an alchemical depth in its aroma that comes from the yeast.

Crispness and a dryness are the hallmarks of the saison style, making it closer to a chardonnay than bock. It has a tartness characteristic of Belgian beers, but in a minor key; it's balanced by a mineral dry (partly, perhaps, from hard water) accentuated by Kent Goldings hops--lots of 'em. (The Belgians make classic regional beers, but they are far from parochial: borrowing a classic English hop to produce this classic Belgian ale is in keeping with Belgian virtuosity, and, I like to think, a tip of the hat to the kinds of beers like IPAs that may have helped inspire Dupont.) This is one of the hoppiest Beligian styles, and to my mind why it is tailor made for the Northwest palate. Finally, sometime after the initial, alcoholic first note and subsequent notes of tart and dry, but before the long, hoppy finish, the malts have their moment, offering a surprising amount of sweet fruit.

I will confess that if I were confined to a desert island with only five beers to drink the rest of my life, Saison Dupont would be one. So for that reason, you'll have to forgive me for the effusive review.

Stats
Malts: Pale malts.
Hops: Kent Goldings (maybe also Styrian and Hallertau)
Alcohol by volume: 6.5%
Original Gravity: 1.054.
Bitterness Units: Unavailable.
Available: Grocery stores with decent beer selections, Belmont Station.

Rating
A classic.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beers of Summer - Sam Adams Boston Lager

For Independence Day, I can think of no better beer to review than Sam Adams Boston Lager*. What says independence more than a beer with a brewer, patriot on the label?

To begin, let's clarify something: there is no such style as a "Boston lager," This is part of Sam Adams' genius. By minting their own style, Boston Lager has now become its own thing. Perhaps this is how Newcastle Brown started. In any case, I guess you could call it accurate: the beer in question is brewed in Boston (or was, originally) and it's a lager. Perhaps due to its enigmatic designation, it has grown to be one of the best-selling craft beers on the market, and deservedly so.

Tasting Notes
In the glass, Boston Lager looks quite a lot like a scotch. Not so much when you pour it out--then it's a rich amber with a vigorous bead. But if you, as I did, accidentally leave an inch in your glass until the head and fizz have passed and the beer has become still, you could easily mistake it for Cragganmore. (Or is it Oban I'm thinking of? Nevermind.)

The beer is crisp and dry to my palate. The hops--classic German noble varieties--are present but not forward, as in a pilsner. But, neither do they hang back as in a helles. The malting is clean and smooth, with just a hint of biscuit. Throughout a single sip, I find the beer dry--from the first notes, through the clean malt middle, and to the aromatic hoppy finish. It is the rare beer that pleases on a hot summer day as well as a cool autumn day (in fact, I think the style in which it has the most in common is Octoberfest), but Boston Lager does.

I rarely choose to buy a lager when any kind of ale is available, but Sam is an exception.

Statistics
Hops: Mittelfruh and Tettnang.
Malts: Two-row pale and caramel
Alcohol by Volume: 4.9%
Original Gravity: 13 degrees Plato
Bitterness Units: unkown.
Available: Everywhere.

Rating
A classic.
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*Yes, it is true that I write this on the 6th of July, but I intended to write it on the fourth.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Wisdom of Beer Video

I have begun to experiment with beer videos, an exploration into whether beer can be made interesting enough to merit its capture on film. You may be the judge by viewing the first installment here (or clicking the photo).

A subsidiary exploration involves looking at the two online sites (Youtube, Google) for form and function. Youtube allows you to paste the clip directly into the post; Google apparently not. However, Youtube only allows you to load 100 MB vids, which is bupkis (my 62-second short went 225).

Anyway, your thoughts are appreciated.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Beers of Summer - Eugene City Honey Orange

Before beginning this review, several disclaimers:

1. The actual, full name of this review is Eugene City Brewery Honey Orange Wheat Ale, which for the purposes of titling has been cut down to size.

2. Eugene City is actually Rogue, which bought the brewery in 2004, and was formerly West Brothers, but was not actually formerly the brewery established in 1866, as the label claims.

3. This is not the same beer brewed under previous ownership, which was a wild, thick, cakey ride that actually had orange in it. It was totally unique and unprecedented in the annals of brewing (or anyway, those with which I was acquainted).

4. Honey Orange Wheat Ale is actually a modified Wit.

Tasting Notes
What is the quintessential summer beer? Belgian White Beers have a reasonable claim. Their name derives from the very pale, cloudy color (white is stretching it), but they might more properly be called orange, after the predominant flavor element. Traditionally, whites are made with coriander and orange peels from curacao oranges, as well as unmalted wheat (which contributes the cloudiness). Ironically, the orange flavor comes from the coriander and tart punch of the yeast; in the absence of hop flavor, the orange peels provide some balance.

Rogue's variant is sweet--overly so. Whites balance the innate sweetness of wheat malt and coriander with a tartness derived from the yeast and a bitterness from the orange rind. The balance is key, and Rogue's version doesn't get the bitter or tart right. It's almost like an alcopop, and I imagine few 17-year-old girls would turn one down. The coriander provides most of the character, but unbalanced coriander tends to turn syrupy--anyway it does here.

The style is hard to mess up, and I enjoyed this beer as far as it went, but compared to some of the world standards--Hoegaarden, Celis--Eugene City falls short. I'd love to see Rogue go back to the original.

Stats
Hops: Unknown
Malts: Unknown
Alcohol By Volume: Unknown
Original Gravity: Unknown
BUs: Unknown
Available: The pub is located at 844 Olive Street, in Eugene. Bottles (22 oz.) are available at the Rogue Brewery in Newport. Via Rick: it's also available at the Rogue Public House (formerly Portland Brewing Flanders Brewery) on NW 14th and Flanders in Portland.

Rating
Average.

Post updated July 2, 2006.