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


Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday Ale Fest Vid

A reminder:


A Late, Mid-Fest "Preview"

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
--R. Burns, 1875
I promised you joy--or at least reports of the joy in which I delighted on Wednesday night, when offered the chance to sample ten of the Holiday Ale Fest's finest beers. A day late and a dollar short; well, sometimes you get what you pay for.

In any case, I herewith offer my findings--along with thanks to Preston Weesner, host of the sampling as well as the fest, who busted out the good stuff for our pleasure. I will report these in the order they were offered, just for the sake of fairness. (I encourage you not to save Jim for last, however--get it early and get it often, for another chance you will not have.) One note: the beers came out of the keg icy cold, and the tent had not yet been fully appointed with those nice heaters, so it stayed cold. This affected many of the samples, concealing what I could intuit were layers of complexity.

Hallucinator, Collaborator Project (Widmer)
The aroma was strangely similar to malt liquor, a smell that transported me back to 1987. Fortunately, the beer was far nicer. An old ale that draws inspiration from the muscular doppelbock style, it has the nice fruitness of an ale, but a woody maltiness of doppel. In very nice balance, and easy to drink, but it could use another month to mature. (A year it would make it exquisite.) 7.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you're looking for a smooth, warming beer. Not a hop-lover's delight, but a good beer to start with; it'll loosen your joints without wrecking your palate.

O'Holy Hops, Max's Fanno Creek
How do you make an Imperial IPA wintry? Deploy hops that impart a piney, green quality. The nose of this beer, even ice cold, tells you something tasty's coming. But what it can't tell you is that the hops seem almost mentholated. Chris, from Belmont Station, called them "minty." Despite the strength, it is not an overly intense beer. Will be wildly popular. 8.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you love hops. Of the ten we tried, this was the pinnacle of hop expression--with aroma, flavor, and bitterness that will leave hop-heads smacking their lips for more.

Smoked Porter, Alaskan
This is really a world classic. Even if you enjoy it every year, it's hard to pass up--and if you've never had it, put this porter at the top of your list. Malts are hand-smoked over an alder fire, and you'll be amazed how "salmony" it tastes. It's not the fish that makes it salmony, but the alder. The porter is thick and rich--a perfect winter ale. 6.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you like dark beers. The smoking is intense, and I imagine that some people will find it difficult to reconcile this note with what they think of as "beer." But this is beer practiced old-school, like they did in the days before commercial malting.

Oak-aged Jubelale, Deschutes
You know I love me the Deschutes. I praise each offering shamelessly. But even as Brett Favre can get injured, so Deschutes can offer an indifferent beer. I can't understand why, either--it was aged in wine barrels for two months, then blended with Bachelor Bitter, one of the brewery's best beers (5 parts to one), and then dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings, my favorite hops. I found it too sweet on the front end, with a bright candy note, and too sharp at the back end. Could be it just needs some more aging. 6.7% ABV
Drink it if...
you are one of the legion who adore Deschutes. They did so much to make this beer special that you almost half to ignore my comments and give it a try. Plus, the only other place to get it is Bend.

Oak-aged Tannen Bomb, Golden Valley
The regular Tannen Bomb recipe was aged in a pinot barrel for 30 days. Always gentle (it's a stealth beer upon which the uncareful drinker can get bombed), this is, if anything, gentler. The grape notes are clear and sweet, and it seems to thin out the palate. It may take some color from the grapes, too. (Chris called it "polished mahogany.") Warm it up and let the flavors come out. 8.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you like sweeter, gentler ales. This one has plenty of alcohol heft, but it is silky smooth--the hot toddy of winter ales.

Backdraft IPA, Wildfire Brewing (Bend)
Backdraft is a pretty standard interpretation of the IPA style--hops out front, with a nice aroma, fairly complex flavor, and sharp bitterness. It's a bit out of balance, but in exactly the way Oregon hop-heads appreciate. 6.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you want to try a beer from this new Bend brewery. If you like standard IPAs, you'll like it. But with 41 taps pouring, you might find it hard to justify squeezing into your rotation.

Scaldis Noel, Brasserie Dubuisson (Belgium)
After 237 years, a brewery start to work the kinks out. This is one of two or three beers that's regarded as de rigueur for a beer geek Christmas. Extraordinary--a smoky, layered, rich, and mature beer that seems to have those 2+ centuries of wisdom blended in. It's very strong, but you hardly notice it--this is like mother's milk. 12% ABV
Drink it if...
you want to see how Oregon brewing fares alongside world standards. It sells for $5 an 8-ounce bottle, if you can even get it (the shipment sent to the fest is larger than the entire annual allocation for distribution in Portland), so consider it a great opportunity even if (as I suspect) you have to pay extra.

Baltic Porter, Cascade Brewing/Raccoon Lodge
I posted a description of this beer yesterday--and it's worth reviewing just to see what all went into this beer. Let's start at the top: forget Baltic Porter. I don't blame the brewery for picking a name at random to assign to this unique beer, but if you go looking for Black Boss, you'll think they poured from the wrong tap. It has a cherry nose, and is predominantly sweet, cherry-chocolate on the palate. There is a sour note, darker malt notes, notes I don't even know how to describe. Quite a thing. 9% ABV
Drink it if...
you like your beers funky and style-bending. They wouldn't let this beer into Germany, but they might throw a festival for it in Belgium.

Red Wheatwine, Fort George Brewery (Astoria)
As wheatwines are wont, this is a subtle, warming beer that should be tasted early. We did not and I couldn't appreciate it. I mention it only for historical purposes. 8.8% ABV
Drink it if...
you'd like to tell me what it actually tastes like.

Jim II, Hair of the Dog
Preston reminisced about Jim Kennedy as he introduced this beer, which includes some of Jim's favorites mixed in (brewer Alan Sprints describes it here). Sprints is the Merlin of American brewing--his beers seem more like potions than potables. Jim II is to beer like white dwarfs are to stars; matter condensed. There's a little-known Indian epic called the Kathasaritsagara, which means the "Ocean of the Sea of Stories." In this way, Jim II is the Ocean of the Sea of Beers--if you pay close enough attention, you'll taste every note known to humans: sweet, smoky, dry, alcoholic, apricot, orange, chocolate, leather ... after that I quit writing. 8% ABV
Drink it if...
you live and breathe. Fortunately, it should be a little easier to get this year--Alan made four times as much. Still, don't take any chances. Get a taster immediately.
Yesterday, I mentioned that there were two sublime, absolutely-can't-miss-these-beers of the ones we were offered in this tasting. In case it wasn't clear in the description, I was referring to Jim II and the Baltic Porter. Add Alaskan Smoked Porter and Scaldis Noel to the list if you've never tried them. And once more, here are the details--
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Thurs-Sat: 11a to 10:00p
Sunday: 11a to 6p
The traditional plastic fest mug is $5; a taster is $1 and a full pour $4.
Feel encouraged to use the coments to report back any amazing must-try beers you discovered--we must pool our knowledge so as to not miss the jewels.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Brewers Speak - Caldera and Raccoon Lodge

Here are the last two missives from brewers about the beers they've sent to the Holiday Ale Fest--which starts today. I was able to sample ten (!) of the 41 taps last night, and will post a review later today (tonight, actually--I left my notes at home). One of the beers we tried, however, is the Raccoon Lodge's Baltic Porter, which brewer Ron Gansberg describes below. I am now officially psyched. Based on the samples I had last night--and there were two sublime, absolutely-can't-miss-these-beers in the bunch--this has the makings of one king-hell of an event.

Raccoon Lodge (aka Cascade Brewing) Baltic Porter
"Thanx for the interest in the Baltic Porter. This beer is a blend of select stocks of Baltics and a 10% Belgian Quad. We based the selections around some '06 Baltic that had aged 8 months in a "Jack Daniels" whiskey barrel on Goldings and Centennial whole hops. We added a barrel of '07 Baltic from a French oak Pinot Noir barrel. This barrel was wine-neutral but with only one run of wine through it, the beer picked up some fresh oak flavor and vanillin aromas. We also selected some '07 Baltic from a first beer run Pinot Noir barrel which had a crisp angular hop presence from the barrel whole hops. We fleshed this blend out with some Belgian Style Blond Quad (SG 25º P) [editor's note--he means here that the recipe was for a gigantic beer] to add some body, sweetness and a little twist.
"Cheers! Ron

"PS We are releasing our "Belgian Flanders Style" Kriek and Blackberry Ales in 750ml champagne bottles for sales and tasting 12:00 to 4:00 pm on Dec. 8th and Dec. 15th. Come on by and check them out!"
I will show my hand to a small extent here by saying that 1) this beer was nothing like a traditional Baltic Porter (more Bruges that Baltic), and 2) it was one of the sublime, absolutely-can't-miss-these-beers.

Caldera Cauldron Brew 2007
Caldera was the first place I contacted, and I focused more on the stats in my question. Perhaps that's why I got stats from President Jim Mills in the reply. Still, there's enough info here to make a pretty informed judgment:
"1.064 original gravity
6.5% alcohol by volume
Deep garnet in color
Hops: Galena, Cascade, Simcoe
Dry hopped in the brite tank with Simcoe and Cascade hops
Malts: Rahr 2 row, Crisp crystal 60 and 120, Special B, Great Western Munich, Gambrinus Dark Munich, Crisp Chocolate"
Incidentally, we didn't try the Caldera last night, so these are all the facts I'll be able to impart. More tonight on the other beers I tried. In the meantime, if you plan to head down to the Fest, these are the details you'll need:
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Thurs-Sat: 11a to 10:00p
Sunday: 11a to 6p
The traditional plastic fest mug is $5; a taster is $1 and a full pour $4.
Also, today only they'll be pouring a series of super rare beers at specified times. I'm slow in getting this posted, so you've already missed the first flight. Not to worry, there are seven more:
  • Anchor Brewing, Anchor Christmas (11am)
  • Dupont, Avec les Bon Voeux (11am)
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing, Wood aged Scotch beer (Thursday)
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing, 20th Street Ale (Thursday)
  • Brasserie St. Feuillien, St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (Thursday)
  • Eggenberg Brauerei, 2005 Samichlaus Bier (5 pm)
  • Deschutes Brewing, 2005 Mirror Mirror (5 pm)
  • BridgePort Brewing, 2005 Old Knucklehead, Batch #11 (after 5 pm)
  • Hitachino Nest beer, 2006 Celebration Ale (after 5 pm)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Brewers Speak - Jim II and Bad Santa

Continuing on with my brewers reports, we go next to Jim II from Hair of the Dog and Bad Santa from Pelican.

"Jim," Hair of the Dog
Jim, last year's must-have beer, was brewed by Alan Sprints in honor of the life of Jim Kennedy. This year's version is a little different, as Alan describes:
This year's Jim is a blend of Adam, Fred and Doggie Claws, all barrel aged for 6 weeks. Along with the base Beers I have added about 10% of a German Pilsner, a 9 liter bottle of Val Du Trippel, 1989 Thomas Hardy's--the year I met Jim--a 1991 Rodenbach Alexander that I bought from Jim, and a 1994 Maredsous 10 that Jim enjoyed drinking. I am drinking a glass now, I smell Plums, Almonds and Oak, the Beer is a deep copper color and the lace sticks to the sides of my glass. The beer has a strong hop backbone with notes of chocolate, wood and crusty bread, a firm mouth feel and a complex finish that continues to evolve after the Beer is gone. I am guessing it is 8% abv. I made 16 kegs for the festival this year, only four last year.
For anyone who was at the fest, you recall what happens when you mix the limited supply of just four kegs of a beer with the demand of an entire tent-full of people who have all turned up to taste that beer. Madness. Will four times the quantity match the demand? Time will tell (though I wouldn't bet on it).

Pelican Bad Santa
This is a hybrid beer the Fest describes as a "black IPA." Brewer Jason Schoneman gives more detail:
"[Head brewer] Darron [Welch] asked me to come up with a fall/winter seasonal beer so while designing the recipe I wanted to incorporate some elements of the Holiday season. The rich flavors and wonderful aromas that the foods of the holidays have were my inspiration for this beer. One of my favorite events of the fall season is the hop harvest so I wanted to make sure the beer incorporated plenty of hops. We used 100 pounds of whole leaf Ahtanum hops, 44 in the boil and 56 lbs in our mash-tun that we converted into a hop back. I also wanted the beer to have a complex malt character so we used melanoidin and dark malts to bring out the richness of the beer. When people ask me to describe this beer I call it a cross between an IPA and a Porter. It is dark and rich but with a pronounced bitterness and hop character. "
Stats on Bad Santa:
Malts: Pale, melanoidin, de-husked black malt
Hops: Magnum, Ahtanum
Original Gravity: 17.3º Plato
ABV: 6.8%
IBU: 80
The last installment comes from Raccoon Lodge and Caldera. But first, I'm off to a tasting they're offering tonight (for us special "media" types), so I'll have some actual impressions to share, too.

The Brewers Speak - Hallucinator and Decorator

Brewers, bless their alpha-saturated, bitter little hearts, are incredibly responsive. I sent out a bunch of emails yesterday about the Holiday Ale Fest beers that intrigued me, and my inbox this morning was stuffed, like a Christmas stocking, with oodles of goodies. Since they would make a hugely long single post, I'll break 'em up. This first one includes info about Widmer-related beers, Hallucinator and Decorator.

Hallucinator (Collaborator Project)
The Collaborator project teams up members of the Oregon Brew Crew and Widmer. The homebrewers come up with an obscure style of beer, hold a competition, and the winner becomes the Collaborator beer that Widmer then brews commercially. But you want to know about the beer. Fair enough; on to Gary Corbin, homebrew and co-author of the recipe:
"Hallucinator is one of the very earliest Collaborator beers. Michael Rasmussen and I were the homebrewers. It's an English Old Ale (Strong Ale), light amber in color, malty, with moderate to low hop bitterness. Despite its sweet flavor and smooth finish, it's deceptively strong: it weighs in at 7.7% ABV. It was People's Choice in the 2002 Winter Ale Fest. Credit Noel Blake for coming up with the intriguing name."
And here's Michael Rasmussen, the other co-author:
"We both liked the English Old Ale style. I like things that stand the oft stated complaint "it's so dark and heavy" on its head. (Whiners, how heavy can Guinness be when it floats on the ale in a Black and Tan? geez, they don't even know they're own taste buds. OK, rant off) Hallucinator ain't dark, but it is a hefty beer.

"We gathered in Gary's garage one misty fall day and worked out the now-revered Hallucinator recipe. Its inspriation came in large part from what we hoped to drink on another overcast, cool typical Portland fall day.

"As to the name, 'You think the BATF will approve it? I dunno they're pretty down on anything that can be construed as a drug reference. Great! We've gotta try it!'

"At its debut Holiday Ale Fest Hallucinator was a run away People's Choice. We're hopeful the public will once again honor Hallucinator with their votes. We're confident Ale Fest goers who sample Hallucinator will be have happy, happy, happy tastebuds."
Widmer Decorator
Widmer is famous for sending experimental brews to beer fests, and some of their past offerings to the OBF have become legendary. The main brain behind this year's offering to the fest is Alan Taylor who wrote to describe not just the beer, but the process.
"The story behind it is typical of what we do here for special events and the yearly W series. The 7 brewers sit down together and throw around ideas. Someone mentioned a Weizenbock, which we all thought would be fun to brew. I put together the general parameters for it—malts, hops, yeast strain, mash profile and fermentation schedule—since I have brewed these beers in Germany before. The fine tuning of the recipe and fermentation schedule was a collaborative effort within the brew team. As you will see from the product profile, we brewed with the malts, hops and yeasts commonly used to make a German-style Weizendoppelbock.

"On a side note: right before brewing the beer, we started to look for a name for it (oddly enough, that can take as long as any other part of the process). Once we came to naming the creation, we found one that works with the winter & holiday seasons: Decorator. So with the –ator suffix, we had to crank up the formulation a bit to get to Doppelbock strength. We brewed two batches of it down at the Rose Garden for the Holiday Ale Fest and the Gasthaus here on Russell."
He included the stats on the beer, too:
Malts: Light Wheat, Munich, Pilsner malt, Caramel (10L)
Hops: Hallertauer
Original Gravity: 18.4º Plato
ABV: 7.2%
IBU: 24
Getting excited yet? Next up: Hair of the Dog, Double Mountain, Pelican, Caldera, and the Raccoon Lodge.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Ale Fest - An Amazing Bounty

The annual Holiday Ale Fest is arriving imminently (Thursday through Sunday, 11/29 - 12/2), and the beer list is out. It is amazing. More in a moment, but feast your eyes on this:
  • Hair of the Dog, Jim II
  • Collaborator, Hallucinator
  • Pelican, Bad Santa (Black IPA)
Used to be that this fest offered regular seasonal offerings from breweries. It was fine, but mostly there weren't any unique beers to draw you down on a wet, cold December day. Well, looking through the list of 41 beers, I see exactly four that are regular seasonals. There are a lot of brewpub offerings (where you often find the gems), and the bigger breweries are mostly sending interesting things, too. But what really intrigues is the variety of styles; no longer is it just winter warmers and barleywines. We've got old ales, a baltic porter, Scotch ales, an imperial stout, a few Belgians, a spiced beer, an oatmeal stout, a couple bocks, and more. Of course, there are lots of winter ales and barleywines, too--so no need to panic.

I'll have a chance to taste some of these Wednesday night, and I'm trying to track down more info on some of the beers now, but here's a short list of the most intriguing options (in addition to the three must-tries listed above):
  • Caldera, Cauldron Brew (dry-hopped strong ale)
  • Raccoon Lodge, Baltic Porter
  • Golden Valley, Oak-aged Tannen Bomb
  • Ninkasi, Otis (oatmeal stout)
  • Widmer, Decorator (weizenbock)
There are also three breweries I've never heard of: Wildfire (Bend), Silver City (Silverdale, WA), Off the Rail (Forest Grove). More as I learn it, but that's a teaser to get things rolling in the lead-up to the fest.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Buy This Book

Pardon me while I interrupt our regularly-scheduled blogging with this commercial announcement.

I have written a novel.

It has been long in coming--six years since I started it, though I actually finished the first draft by 2003. The next year or so was editing, and then the rest of the time I have been trying to get it published. My final bid was the major independent publisher Milkweed Editions, who decided to pass after subjecting it to a thorough editorial review (not just the slush pile reader, who as in many other cases, rejected it outright). Cue the sad strings.

But wait! I have, undaunted, decided that it's worth putting out there, damn the embarrassment and shame that comes with self-publishing. Art is, after all, a communication, not a product. There's something deeply depressing about the prospect of this thing moldering in the basement. I don't know if readers of beer blogs are readers of novels, but consider this an active pitch: buy the book, you'll like it! An additional hook: it's set in early microbrew-era Portland; see the birth of Beervana!

I'll include a couple of the beer-related excerpts below to give you a sense of the writing. But first, here's the description from the back cover:

The Puddle Variations
Walking Man Press, 2007, 260 pages.
ISBN: 978-0-6151-7184-5

What portion of a 16mm movie can be made for $1,000? Or, put another way, how does one turn a thousand dollars into a 30-minute short? This is the question confronting Charlie di Paulo, who has just received a seed grant from the Portland Film Institute to shoot his 16mm film. For a 26-year-old cab driver, a thousand dollars is a lot of cash, yet it won’t even cover the cost of his film stock.

Money isn’t Charlie’s only problem. His new girlfriend and his stepfather, Vic, are both convinced he should be pursuing his dream through more conventional means, and Vic has offered to pay for film school. For Charlie, whose 8mm short was good enough to win him the grant, education isn’t necessary—money is. As the book unfolds, he sets about trying to raise the money and mount the production, and along the way he receives support in various forms from the local doyenne of independent film, a cobbler, a philosophy student, and a bookie.


Excerpts
In the first one, the main character, Charlie, attempts to woo Janie with alcohol. Of course, he is a man with certain tastes. In the second one, Charlie describes the city to his step-father, visiting from Phoenix.

____

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked.

“Whatcha got?”

“Alcoholic or non?”

“Alcoholic.”

“Beer. Two varieties: stout or India pale ale.”

“You don’t have any wine?”

“You’re in Portland now; you’ve got to kick that wine habit. This is a beer town.”

“Beer’s icky.”

He went to the table where he had left a paper sack next to the fruit bowl. He selected two bottles of beer, went to the kitchen and poured them into glasses. Thick and black as oil. “You just haven’t been drinking the right beer.”

“Ewww. This is going to be so icky. Look at it.” But she took the glass. “So when do we eat, mister?”

“Food will take a half hour to cook, roundabout. When do you want to eat?”

“Now.”

“Hmm, well. I’ll see what I can do.” From the kitchen, “Put some music on.”

He set the oven to preheat, pulled out the food, and put the rest of the beer in the fridge. While he puttered, he heard her testing music in the living room. A few notes of the Clash, silence. He put in the veggies, pulled out the salad, and tossed it. He came out of the kitchen to the sound of jazz, but then saw her stop the music. Eject. She picked up a handful of CDs and thumbed through them, stopping from time to time to read the back cover of one. Charlie, watching, noticing that she took sizeable swallows of her beer.

She finally settled on a 70s funk compilation. Decisively dropping the CD in the player, she pressed play and spun away from the stereo.

“Hey. How long have you been standing there?”

“Just came out.”

She turned back for her beer, sitting next to the stereo. “I don’t believe you. You were spying on me.” He didn’t say anything; didn’t move. She walked up to him, too close, looked down her nose at him. “You little spier.” Her assessment punctuated with another swallow of beer.

“See, stout. Tasty.”

She looked at the remaining inch of liquid in her glass, then back at him. Leaned back. “Do you like my music selection?” They listened to a fat bass line roll out of the speakers and let smiles bloom.

“I do.”

____


On the way through downtown, Charlie pointed out the sights. “The freeway used to be on this side of the river.” He indicated the green ribbon between the river and buildings of the city. “But they ripped it out in the 70s and put in Waterfront Park.”

“Nice.”

A few blocks later: “If you look up a couple streets on your left, you can see Pioneer Courthouse Square. It’s an open block we call our ‘living room.’”

“It’s a nice downtown. Clean.” He looked out his window and up. “And compact. The blocks are really small, aren’t they?”

Jake’s was still buzzing when they got there at nine. Vic stopped before they went in and sampled the air. “I remember this smell. What is it?”

Charlie pointed to an industrial orange-brick building two blocks north. The Blitz-Weinhard brewery. “Boiling beer.”

“Oh right. They brew beer often?”

“All the time. It’s the smell of the city.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hop Prices Continue Skyward

You know things are bad when an article about the price of hops (and likely rise in beer prices) becomes front-page stuff. (You also know you're in Beervana--where stories about beer prices can help move papers.) So it was in today's Sunday Oregonian, where our trusty beer scribe John Foyston laid out the bad news:
Malted barley and hops are the two most expensive ingredients in Northwest craft beers, and they're becoming more expensive: Oregon- and Washington-grown hops that sold for $2 a pound last year now fetch as much as $18 a pound on the spot market -- if they can be had at all -- and barley is up about 75 percent....

Call it a quadruple whammy: Hops and barley acreage has been declining -- hops because of a 10-year glut and barley because many farmers are planting corn for ethanol instead. Ethanol has also diverted corn from the feed market, often making it more lucrative to sell barley for feed instead of to the malting houses that supply brewers.

But wait, there's more: Two years of failed hop crops in Europe, a 2006 warehouse fire in Yakima that destroyed 4 percent of the U.S. crop and two years of disastrous barley harvests in Europe, Australia and Ukraine. Factor in a weak dollar that has the world clamoring for our hops and barley and you have the makings of a uniquely bad patch for brewers and consumers.

It's not actually new info, just further evidence--as if you needed it--that this crisis is real. There were, however, some scattered facts about which you may be ignorant:
  • BridgePort uses 55 tons of hops a year (!); they managed to secure contracts through 2010, so their flagship IPA should still taste the same.
  • Small brewers try to keep a 30% margin on kegs, which means that tap prices are likely to rise $.25-.50.
  • Prices are predicted to hit $9 a sixer, and $5 a pint--in pubs where they're not already that steep.
All of this could be very bad news for small breweries. I plan to keep buying the same amount of good beer I always have--and I hope other drinkers will, too. This crisis shall pass; I just don't want any brewers to pass with it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Burp

Based on the traffic flow today, everyone's trying to work off (sleep off) yesterday's meal. Clear skies and cold here in Beervana, a perfect day for raking. I wil join the great masses and stay offline and enjoy the holiday. An opportunity to let the wind burnish my cheeks to the color of the maple leaves I'll be chasing around the back yard. Then maybe, if I'm in the mood, a bottle of Bayern Doppelbock, one of which remains, like a slice of maple pear pie, as yet unconsumed in the fridge.

The makings of a fine day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brewery Consolidation in the Pre-Prohibition NW

This is the second of a forensic series of posts designed to unearth a few questions about the history of brewing in the Northwest. We know that American brewing was dealt a devastating blow by Prohibition (1916 - 1933 in the NW), killing off hundreds of breweries nationwide. But what about the early 20th Century--was consolidation already underway? Was the market already winnowing out the vast majority of beer styles and headed toward the macro-lager we find today, or was it a result mainly of Prohibition?

Well, in terms of the Northwest, at least part of that answer will be hard to reconstruct. Most of the breweries founded here between 1852 and 1916 were started by immigrant Germans, so we know that the vast majority of beer brewed was lager. But given that so many of the breweries we know about (240 in all) existed for a short time and were such small operations, little record exists. The larger companies did seem to be producing mainly light lagers, and in the wonderful Brewed in the Pacific Northwest, authors Gary and Gloria Meier* do hint at changes already afoot in the lightening of lager beer: "At all of these branch breweries, the same barley, hops, yeast and cereal adjuncts of corn and rice were used." This sounds like the well-documented pre-prohibition lagers that homebrewers have been producing for more than a decade. So, while it looks like pre-prohibition beers in the Northwest were fairly uniform light lagers, this appears to be all that was ever brewed here.

But what about consolidation? Did the big fish snap up the small fish, nevermind that they were all brewing the same beer? The answer is different in Oregon and Washington, but before we delve into the particulars, it's probably good to establish some context. Brewers were among the earliest pioneers to the region. When Henry Weinhard founded his brewery in Portland, Oregon was three years from statehood, and the town had but 1200 residents. In the next few years and in the early decades of the state, other immigrants bet on other tiny little villages. Reading through the list now, you think--why would you try to start a brewery in Merganser? Weinhard looks like a shrewd businessman, but in part, he just got lucky. Poor Paul Breistenstein guessed wrong--his short lived brewery (1884-'86) existed for exactly 20% of the town's lifetime.

Thumbing through the history, breweries look like any other pioneer business--they were started on a shoestring in dubious boom towns, and like most early businesses, failed within a few years. A few guessed right and their clientele grew with the population. In a few cases, they thrived.

In Oregon, Weinhard was the king, but there were a number of local breweries that thrived. In Roseburg, for example, the local brewery survived from 1861 to 1898, when the brewer died. A second brewery opened and flourished, but the county went dry in 1808. An Oregon City brewery managed to survive 36 years and several ownership changes before being closed in 1894. These are typical. Weinhard, rather than buying up local breweries, opened storage facilities up and down the Northwest. The only Oregon brewery on record to merge with a larger concern was in Salem, where the Capital Brewery was snapped up by Leopold Schmidt of Olympia. And herein lies the difference between the two states.

Washington reads much more like a traditional story of consolidation. The first successful brewery was Rainier (then named Bay View Brewery), which survived the great Seattle fire of 1889 and brokered a deal to buy out its two major local rivals (Claussen-Sweeney and Braun) in 1892. Olympia, which didn't start brewing until 1896, expanded quickly, capitalizing in part on sales to the Yukon during the gold rush there. Within ten years, it owned Salem's Capita and Port Townsend Brewery and had established Acme in San Francisco and another plant in Bellingham. Much of the history of Washington is similar to Oregon--small breweries winking in and out of existence, and other regional breweries (Spokane, Tacoma) surviving to Prohibition (and some beyond that). Washington was settled after Oregon, and the breweries were established slightly later. It seems that they were not characterized by as much speculation as brewers arriving in Oregon before 1880.

I am left with the impression that the young Northwest brewing industry really never had a chance to develop. By the time communities had begun to be established in the 1870s and '80s, the temperance movement was already in full swing. Oregon's first effort at Prohibition came in 1887. In 1904, the state passed the "local option" rule, allowing counties to go dry if they wished. Washington's history was similar (.pdf). The anti-saloon league was active as early as the 1860s, and the "local option" was passed in 1909. By 1912, 42% of the state was dry. Both states approved prohibition in 1914, and prohibition started in '16. In the best of cases, breweries had a few decades, amid unpredictable pioneer growth, to get established. In some cases, it was just years or decades before the law shut them down.

What might have developed is unclear. While some of the early breweries were growing and snatching up market share, it's impossible to say what might have happened if not for Prohibition. And that concludes my foray into the past. Sorry to those who aren't as fascinated by this stuff as I. Regular blogging to resume.
________________
*The Meiers are regional historians, not beer historians. However, they relied on source material from the era--local newspapers, principally--as well as beer histories, state historical societies, and the historical record of the United States Brewers' Association. There may be some detail they didn't describe (it's hard to imagine they were must focused on historical beer styles or ingredients), but their sources look fantastic.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Early NW Brewing: The Thai Restaurant Phenomenon

There's a joke in Portland that goes something like this: "Only 50 Thais live in town, but there are 100 Thai restaurants." It's an exaggeration, obviously, but the point is clear--it seems like every immigrant from Thailand is obligated to serve hungry webfeet tasty Panang curry. I mention this because it relates to the early history of brewing in Oregon and Washington. After a casual comment on my micro-macro post ("in the early 1900s, beer was good. Brewing was a regional craft, and the diversity of styles and quality mirrored that of Europe"), Stan Hieronymus objected. Consolidation was already well underway, said he, and the homogenization of beer was already well underway.

In subsequent emails, we've both agreed to do a little research and find out what was going on. I consulted the best guide I know to NW brewing history, Brewed in the Pacific Northwest by Gary and Gloria Meier, and discovered a fascinating historical pattern. Westward expansion occured at the same time of mass German immigration. And, as it happens, the earliest breweries were almost uniformly established by young brewers out to make their mark. Henry Weinhard was a just one of those young brewers, but one about which we know the most. His story is typical (from the Meier account):
Like the majority of early American brewers, Henry Weinhard learned his art in the Old Country. Born in Lindenbronn, Wurttemberg, Germany in 1830, young Weinhard completed his schooling and began an apprenticeship to the brewer's trade....

The reports he heard about America and its opportunities led Henry to believe he might do well for himself in his chose profession on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1852 the adventurous young Braumeister packed his brewing journals, notes, and recipes and emigrated to the United States.

From 1852 until 1856 Weinhard was employed by a large brewry in Cincinnati, Ohio. But he was intrigued by the far West; spurred by the reports of few breweries out there, he left Cincinnati, made his way to Philadelphia, and boarded a vessel bound for the Pacific Coast by way of the Isthmus of Panama.
In the period between 1852 and the early teens, 240 breweries were founded across Oregon and Washington, from Portland and Seattle to towns as tiny as Island City, near La Grande, and Orting, South of Tacoma. It is amazing how story after story follows an identical narrative. Again, from the Meiers:
CANYONVILLE
Leonard Stenger, a brewer from Bavaria, was one of the earliest pioneer settlers in this historic Douglas County community. He farmed on his Donation Land Claim property from 1854 until 1874. With new growth and settlement in the area, he decided to rever to his training and open a brewery.
Not every brewer has a detailed history, but the names tell the story: Mehl, Ott, Miller, Braun, Roesch, Wetterer, and on and on. Even when the brewery was owned by a local, they hired a young German to run the brewery. If you were a German in Pioneer Oregon, you were apparently obligated to serve thirsty loggers tasty lagers (oof-sorry!).

Very little information exists about the styles of beer brewed, though there are a couple of references to porter, and one brewery produced weisse beer (but only for five years--after which it died). But it is a safe bet that the Northwest was, stylistically speaking, little Germany in the last decades of the 19th Century. That answers one part of the question--there was never a diversity of styles here beyond what the native Germans brewed. Whether there were multiple styles within this ouvre is not recorded.

However, a second question remains open, and I'll address it subsequently: was consolidation already underway before prohibition in 1916 (the year Oregon and Washington enacted it)? The answer isn't as straightforward as it appears.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Update on the Honest Pint Project

I have been neglectful in returning to my effort to encourage the use of "honest" pints (16 ounces or more). You can read about it in detail here--but essentially, the issue is the widespread use of 14-oz. shaker pint glasses (aka "cheater pints"), those heavy, slightly tapering glasses in ubiquitous use throughout the city.

Below you'll see an update, along with a list of those verified users of the cheater pint. Encourage them (gently) to switch--most probably don't know they're offering 13% less beer than a regular pint. As always, holler if you have an update.

Certified Purveyors of an Honest Pint

Breweries and Brewpubs
BridgePort - 20 oz., $3.75
Clinton Street Brewpub - 16 oz, $4
Laurelwood - 16 oz., $3.75
Lucky Lab - 20 oz., $3.50
Mash Tun - 20 oz., $4
Pilsner Room (Full Sail) 16 oz, $[?]
Rock Bottom - 20 oz., $[?]
Raccoon Lodge - 20 oz., $[?]
Roots Organic - 20 oz., $4.25

Pubs and Taprooms
Bailey's Taproom - 20 oz shakers, $4.50
Belmont Station - 16 oz shakers, variable prices
Concordia Alehouse - 16 oz $[?]
County Cork - 20 oz, $[?]
Goose Hollow Inn - 20 oz, $4.25
Horse Brass - 20 oz, $4.25-$4.75
Moon and Sixpence - 20 oz, $[?]

Restaurants
Higgins - Various, $4.75 and up


Confirmed Peddlars of the Cheater Pint

Brewpubs
McMenamins [See update below]
Old Lompoc
Amnesia

Pubs and Taprooms
The Henry
Produce Row


[Update - The McMenamins have lodged a complaint. They claim no such use of the cheater pint, a fact I cannot square with my research. However, I will investigate ASAP. For the time being, we'll remove them pending appeal. If I am mistaken, effusive apologies will follow, a spectacle regularly seen on this site.]

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Last Beer

You're a world-famous chef and you can prepare yourself your own final meal. What would it be? This is the conceit of the new book My Last Supper, about which the New Yorker's Lauren Collins notes:
It features portraits of fifty chefs, each of whom replied to a questionnaire about his or her fantasy final meal. Truffles are a frequently requested palliative: thirteen respondents wouldn’t go without a fix, whether white, black, shaved, coarsely grated, wrapped in thin slices of salt pork, served with grilled-shirako risotto, or minced on toast. Caviar (ten mentions) and foie gras (seven) are also popular, as are the humbler condiments cracked pepper (three) and sea salt (six), often accompanying bread, which, in its various forms—baguette, rye, Pullman loaf—seems to be the most beloved foodstuff of all. Duck fat is big. So is sea urchin, an aphrodisiac. Whiskey comes up a few times. Blowfish is mentioned just once, by Masa Takayama. He craves clear blowfish soup with temomi-somen noodles, wild-blowfish sashimi with liver, fried blowfish cheeks, and a pudding made with blowfish testicles. Oh, and it would be great if Mozart could perform live.
You see exactly where I'm headed with this (and not because of the title), don't you? The state of Texas is about to send you onto the next stage of existence, and as the orderlies strap you down to the executioner's table, which beer would you like to be lingering in your mouth? (It's possible this was not the scenario put to the chefs, but you never know.) So?

It's a slightly different question than which beer you'd take to a desert island, another diverting thought experiment. Your last beer would not necessarily be the easy-drinker you'd choose to have every day of your life. If you were headed to the gallows, you'd want it to be strong--nothing like a bit of alcohol to take the edge off a grisly execution. You might like it to be sticky with hops, so you could indeed carry it along with you after the final sip. Or perhaps you'd want something rare and elegant; a beer fit for the ritual of the last supper.

The circumstances of the end would certainly affect the choice, but I think I can narrow it to these five:

Pliny the Elder - Not only is this beer on the far edges of strength, hoppiness, and quality, but the name would remind me of the churn of life, of the truth that we all--even those of us who discover hops--become mulch for the malt.

Rodenbach Grand Cru - This beer, despite its intense sourness, has a quality that always buoys my mood. I couldn't go out morose after a tipple of Rodenbach.

Guinness Extra Stout - For me, this is the comfort food of the beer world. It warms and caresses, and delivers a narcotic sense of wellbeing.

Orval - A liquid benediction. What more needs to be said? (My fave of the Trappistes.)

Aged Fred - Of course, in the end I would never go out with a foreign beer on my lips, nor--despite its quality--one from California. It must be Beervana kissing me sweetly as I go. Hair of the Dog's Fred seems to combine all the qualities I'd desire--strength, hops, ritual, locality. But please, bring me one from the cellar, once its had an opportunity to mature and deepen. It's my last beer, after all--only the best will do.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Run on Hops?

Lew Bryson is reporting an unnamed brewer who was quoted $32 a pound for Cascades. This compares to $2 a year ago (probably low, reflecting surpluses carried over from a glut in the early '00s) and $10 a pound in September. I would guess a balance between supply and demand would put them somewhere in the $3-$5 range, so this price is something like 800% above what brewers expect to pay.

That's obviously very bad. But I wonder, with the extraordinary attention the hop situation is getting (even NPR did a story a couple days ago), could this be the result of a run on the market? I know homebrewers (some of whom might even write for this blog) who have bought bulk to lay in a store for the hard times ahead. Surely ours was not an isolated inspiration.

I wonder if this means there are deals on other, less popular hops still to be had. If so, we might see a series of new beers with new hop profiles--not an altogether terrible outcome. I also wonder if it means that we'll see haves and have-not breweries as the year wears on, as those who jumped first and picked up the (relatively) cheap Cascades have a larder, while others look at $32 a pound and say, "gee, how about a nice Scottish ale?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Economist's View of Widhook

At the Oregon Economics Blog, Patrick Emerson suggests a factor I hadn't considered:
The question will be, do consumers love variety enough to shell out $9 for a six pack of Dead Guy versus $5 for a six of Broken Halo? (Psst...go for the Dead Guy) I fear the answer to that question, for it is one thing to have brew-pubs where you can find quality, interesting craft beer, but it is another thing to find it in supermarkets (especially when you have two young kids and pubs are not so easy to frequent).
A question arises: will Broken Halo sell for less, or will it just be more profitable at $9? Looking at the other two bigs in the market, Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer, I don't see the efficiencies of scale getting passed along to the consumer. They seem to sell for about the going rate. Of course, if hops and barley squeeze the market, lowered production costs may make the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

A more likely scenario is that Widhook will roll its savings from production costs into muscle to break into new markets. It is difficult to find shelves in places where breweries have no track record, so they often have to sell to retail at drastic discounts for a period of time while they build a consumer base. This loss-leading strategy necessity means only larger companies have the capital to break into new markets. (The Fat Tire assualt on Portland from a few years back is a case in point--New Belgium didn't enter a market where there was huge demand; they tried to saturate the city with supply in the hope that it would create a market.)

Will that affect small breweries elsewhere? Could be. But there's another possibility, too. In places where there is effectively no market for craft beer, the arrival of two more national brands--along with Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, maybe Anchor and a couple of faux micros from A-B--it might actually help create one.

Patrick's hypothesis isn't one I'll dismiss. Widhook could spend its capital consolidating existing markets. But it could also use it to create new ones. The former is bad for small breweries, but the latter could be good for them.

They're Already Calling it WidHook

It's not every day that the two biggest breweries in the Northwest join, and the news has kicked off quite a bit of chatter and speculation. Given that these two breweries long ago threw their lot in with the Evil Empire (Anheuser-Busch) for distribution rights, a lot of that chatter is derisive. The nom de moment: WidHook.

So far, there's not a whole lot more news to impart, though John Foyston has a nice recap in the Oregonian today. That leaves us with speculation and rumor, the blogosphere's stock in trade. So with that, I make haste!

Background
RedHook, founded in 1982, and Widmer, founded in 1984, are two of the founding breweries in the craft beer movement. Both were among the first wave of breweries in Seattle and Portland in the early 80s, and their histories are somewhat similar. Both had big designs, and both expanded rapidly in the first decade of craft brewing. Both also over-extended themselves in the mid-90s, looking to become mid-sized regional breweries just at the moment that the market shook out; in addition to a brand-new plant in Woodinville, WA, Redhook opened up a New England plant for East Coast distribution. When the market dried up, breweries had to scramble to avoid bankruptcy (many didn't). To stay competitive, both threw their lots in with Anheuser-Busch, offering a minority partnership for rights to A-B's vast distribution network. (Redhook, a public company, announced their deal--it was a 25% share to A-B. Widmer, which is private, has never disclosed the deal, but it was assumed to be similar.)

It worked; they survived the shake-out and grew into healthy regional breweries. However, neither has become a national brewery like Sierra Nevada or Boston Beer. And so you see how we have arrived at the merger: national distribution, joint marketing muscle, a second wave of double-digit growth in the craft brewing segment.

Local Versus National
It seems like the Northwest would be the ideal place from which to build a craft-brewing empire. The local market is the best in the country: 11% of the beer consumed in Oregon is craft-brewed, compared to 3.5% nationally; Portland is the single biggest consumer of beer in the country while Seattle is third. Widmer and Redhook have strong local constitencies, which gives them firm footing to grow. But here's the interesting thing about that base: to the extent a beer is perceived as non-local, it falls out of favor with Oregonians. Washington drinkers are far less parochial, but in Oregon, the Widmers have been suspect since signing up with A-B. The brewery will have to navigate the next few months and years carefully to avoid being seen as a sell-out to national interests.

The Widmer Brothers know this, and they have spent the last decade as one of the most community-engaged breweries in the city. With Kurt Widmer taking the reigns of the new joint and the brewery and label staying in Portland, local loyalty probably won't falter. An interesting moment, though.

Corporate Beer
With some notable exceptions, it seems that as Northwest craft breweries get larger, the beer gets more corporate. That is, more mainstream and less daring. Consistency is prized over innovation. This strategy must have some numbers behind it, because so many breweries do it. The logic is a little funny though: the beer is tailored for people who aren't avid beer drinkers. Both Redhook, with its so-so ESB and Widmer, with its bland Hefeweizen, have long trawled these waters. However, as a model for growth, the theory seems flawed. Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer both brew outstanding, non-corporate beer. Surely Boston Beer's main success comes from Boston Lager--outstanding if appealing to a mainstream audience--but the brand is enhanced by the huge variety of off-beat, aggressive, and esoteric seasonals. It will be interesting to see what Widhook's first new beers look like--we'll be able to tell, in the short term anyway, which model they've adopted.

Small Breweries
I don't think this will hurt small breweries in the Northwest. For the most part, growth for Widhook will come in new markets nationally. That's not a bad thing--any drinker who's switched to ESB or even Hefeweizen from Bud is a victory. There are larger areas of the country where good beer isn't available. Now Bud trucks will arrive at grocery stores with Widmer. No one who loves Roots Epic or Deschutes Obsidian Stout or even Terminal Gravity IPA need worry that this will affect their faves. There are too many people with developed palates who like these strong, characterful beers. If Widmer and Redhook start brewing beers like that--well, that would be all right, too. But I'm not going to worry about that just yet.

So: yet another merger, but not a symbolic one, I don't think. Widmer and Redhook have been kindred spirits for years. This doesn't immediately look like a Pyramid-MacTarnahan's merger, where two waning breweries clutch at each other to survive the cold market. In other words: meet the new brewery, same as the old breweries.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Breaking: Widmer and Redhook to Merge

Wow, blockbuster news today: Widmer and Redhook are merging, though it doesn't look like it will change much on the ground:

Redhook Ale Brewery of Woodinville has agreed to pay about $50 million in stock for Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland. The new company, called Craft Brewers Alliance, will have management offices in both cities, the companies said in a joint press release this afternoon.

Both companies will keep their existing breweries, including Widmer's breweries in Portland and Redhook's in Woodinville and Portsmouth, N.H. They also plan to continue making their existing beers, including Redhook's ESB and Widmer's Hefeweizen....

Kurt Widmer, who co-founded the Portland brewery with his brother Rob in 1984, will become the new company's chairman. Daily operations will be run by two chief executives: Dave Mickelson, who is currently Redhook's president and chief operating officer; and Terry Michaelson, president of Portland-based Craft Brands Alliance, a sales and marketing partnership between Redhook and Widmer Brothers that will dissolve when they become a single company.
More later, including analysis and implications for Northwest brewing and the effect this may have on other breweries.

The Irish Stout Experiment

Some time ago, I wrote about a forensic study I was doing into the characteristic tang that makes a Guinness Extra Stout so tasty. One theory, as I reported, was that wild brettanomyces yeasts resided in the 100-year-old wooden mash tuns at St. James Gate. My experiment was to reverse-engineer the process by brewing up a classic Irish Stout and then finish it with a culture of brett and see if I could replicate the taste. A month ago, I did that, and about a week ago, I bottled it.

Well, early reviews are in and I can make one statement confidently: brett doesn't make the stout. What I've ended up with is something like a stout lambic. Even though I just added the brettanomyces during secondary fermentation, it has radically soured the beer. This ain't no subtle funk, it's pucker-face sour. When I transfered the beer, it was magnificent, and I grew slightly leery of throwing in the brett. It now appears I should have trusted my first instinct.

On the other hand, I can now offer you the results of my scientific study, so I got that goin' for me. Whatever Guinness uses to sour the stout, it's not our friends, the robust little brettanomyces.

Now, time to go brew that beer again ... without the final ingredient.

Oregon Brewing History

Stan posed a question in comments to my Schwag post that has sent me down a couple dead ends: "Do you know what styles were being produced in Oregon in 1890?" This turns out to be more difficult that it appears. It seems that history doesn't capture beer so much as breweries. This is a bit of a long shot, but does anyone have any idea how you'd go about finding this information? I'd be much obliged if someone had some resources.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Coming Attractions

In case there are some readers here who don't regularly read John Foyston's blog "The Beer Here" (whatsa matter with you?), he has two news items of interest. I will excerpt them very briefly and direct you to his blog, where there are expansive descriptions and photographs.

Update on Deschutes' Portland Brewery
Just the facts, ma'am: opening in April, employing acres of salvaged old-growth, a German-made Kaspar Schulz brewhouse with glittering copper. You want to know (and see) how these facts fit together? Follow this link.

"Belgian Embassy" Opening
It is not a diplomatic installation, but a Belgian-style bistro and taproom. This harder-to-summarize news demands excerpting:
All beers at the Belgian Embassy will be Belgian-brewed or Belgian inspired and the food will come from classic Belgian recipes such as mussels, beef carbonnade and Belgium's famed pomme frites. "We're going to go all out, cutting our own frites and doing the traditional two-stage frying," says Parker. "We're making every effort to make this as authentic a Belgian experience as we can."

...The Belgian Embassy will feature nightly prix fixe three- and five-course meals, pairing each curse with a different Belgian beer. Or, patrons can order from an ala carte menu and choose their own pairings. The bistro/bar will start with four beers on tap and those selections will always be rotating, taking advantage of the growing number of Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers available in the market. The upstairs bar will also feature daily flights of up to four beers, each paired with an appropriate cheese or chocolate and daily happy hours featuring Belgian beer and food specials.
It is located in what was formerly Lovely Hula Hands (938 N Cook) on the coccyx of the Mississippi Ave groovester scene. The old house is very cool, and seems like a perfect choice for establishing a Flemish vibe. Opens this Thursday at 5 pm. More from John here.

[Update from publican Jim Parker: "The opening has been pushed back a couple of days because we have hired a Belgian ex-pat to run the kitchen, which is very exciting news for us and will help us deliver more of an authentic Belgian experience. We will open Sunday the 18th at 5 p.m."]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Another Big Red and Coconut Porter

I have done less reviewing lately (to the criticism of some), but a couple of recent beers call for special attention: Roots Coconut Porter and Caldera Dry Hop Red.

Caldera Dry Hop Red
Let's start with the Caldera. This beer is now at least the fourth in a growing class of beers I'm prepared to name something like "Northwest Red." Siblings include Roots Red, Laurelwood Free Range Red, and Ninkasi Believer. Since I've described the style before, and since it fits perfectly with that description, I'll just excerpt it here:
They are bitter but not overly strong, sharing qualities of IPAs, ESBs, and the Northwest fascination with vivid hopping.... But while these beers have a lot in common with each other, they can't easily be shoehorned into other styles. They're a little stronger than a pale ale, but lighter than an IPA. The lighter body creates a platform for the hops, which though robust, aren't overwhelming. Brewers in Oregon have discovered that the sweet spot for hop lovers is a beer where the flavor, aroma, and bitterness are all aspects of hops; these large reds seem to have been designed to highlight hops at all turns.
My favorite new beer of 2007 was Ninkasi Believer, and Caldera's is every bit its measure. I had a taster at the Laurelhurst before a showing of 3:10 to Yuma, and I didn't need to use my tongue to know I wanted a pint: the hop-field aroma coming off those two ounces was startling in its sticky greenness. I didn't realize at the time it was dry-hopped, but I should have. This kind of scent is hard to produce without it.

But even more interesting than the smell were the flavors the hops produced. On its surface, there were intense Chinook-spicy notes and citrus. But after a moment's reconnoiter, other subtle notes start appearing--rose hips and something that's halfway between pomegranate and peach. As the beer warmed, these notes opened up and really started to express themselves. Clearly a product of the hops, they were nonetheless nothing I've experienced before.

When I wrote the paragraph above describing the style, it was during a rumination about the potential of indigenous styles developing in Oregon. I have dismissed the mere presence of hops as being characteristic of indigenous style, but this beer makes me wonder. Nowhere on the planet can you find beers that exploit hops like Northwest beers (green hops, dry hops, flavor hops, aroma hops, in permutations and combinations too many to count). And none more so than this style. Pomegranate--okay, maybe it's time to reconsider what a style means.

Malt: Two Row, Crystal, Munich
Hops: Cascade, Chinook, Centennial
Original gravity:
1.055
IBU: NA
ABV: 5.7%.
Rating: A


Roots Coconut Porter

I don't think coconut porters are ever going to become an indigenous style, but hey, you never know. This already has gained cult status among dark-ale-loving Portlanders, so maybe it's got legs. Roots is known for doing three things exceptionally well: dark beers, botanicals, and hops. Coconut Porter demonstrates why their use of botanicals hasn't given them the reputation of being merely gimmicky. Craig Nicholls has an instinctive sense of how to use non-traditional additives to accentuate beery characteristics. He doesn't mask the flavors of his beers, he draws them out.

Porter and stouts have a naturally chocolatey note (or can have, in their sweeter versions). And what goes better with chocolate than coconut? To their porter, Roots adds hand-toasted coconut flakes. The resulting flavor is clearly coconutty, but quite mildly so. It piggy-backs the sweet malt, adding a deeper creaminess. If you handed this to ten people and didn't tell them it was brewed with coconut, only half would ask about it--that's how beery this porter tastes.

In one pint I tried recently, there was a slightly sour note. I wondered if it was possibly a result of using actual coconut--with its oiliness and complex compounds--or if the coconut itself sours during fermentation. I liked this quality (I never found a sour beer I didn't like, including the infected stout I had at Tugboat a couple years back), but I could imagine most folks would like the more cleanly sweet batches. But thems the verities of an artisinal craft.

Roots has always encouraged the Island vibe, and Coconut Porter is their version of liquid sunshine to get you through those dark Portland nights. I have found it an effective tonic.

IBU: 25
ABV: 5.0%.
Rating: B+

Friday, November 09, 2007

Green Winter

I stopped in to Roots last night for a pint of Festivus. It is a member of one of my favorite styles of beer--the Northwest winter warmer. While winter warmer isn't itself a category--more a state of mind--in the NW, we're starting to develop something that looks like a more coherent style. It is a red-to-brown strong ale (just north or south of 6.5% alcohol) fairly hoppy, but with a nutty malt base. Enough alcohol to warm you up, enough body to chew on and enough bitterness to keep you interested.

But here's the problem: the hops and alcohol have sharp edges when the beer is green. They need a chance to mellow and combine--to stew like a winter soup. Inevitably, the beers are released before they've had a chance to go through this alchemical process, and the result is a prickly, cold, occasionally harsh beer. I've been told by people I know would love this style that they don't, and I think it's the aging issue.

Last night, I sipped the deep orange, luciously-scented Festivus, about to proclaim it a beer for the rest of us, when it caught in my throat like a frozen burr. Dammit: too green. It will be delightful, this I can divine from the components. In a month.

Ah well, I should know better--it's too early for winter warmers anyway. Now it's still ESB weather.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Schwag and the Rise of the Micro Macros

At my Bailey's stop, I eschewed all the beers I would normally try--hoppy, rare, exotic, etc.--for Ninkasi Schwag, the latest experiment in a craft-brewed light lager. It follows the now roaringly-successful Full Sail Session and a spate of summertime brewpub offerings; it's not exactly Busch Lite, but at 10 IBUs, it ain't exactly Total Domination, either.

A number of questions arise: why are breweries bothering?; who's drinking this stuff?; is it any good?; does this signal the end of civilization? All worthy of response, and I shall come to them in due time. But first, let's review why these damnable beers exist in the first place.

The narrative, bits of which are probably apocryphal, goes like this: in the early 1900s, beer was good. Brewing was a regional craft, and the diversity of styles and quality mirrored that of Europe. In 1910, there were 1,568 breweries in the US. Then came prohibition, which landed a sucker-punch to the industry's breadbasket. When brewing was back again in 1934, only 756 breweries remained. Thus did consolidation and the loss of styles really begin to change American beer.

With canning (1935), refrigerated trucking, the loss of male drinkers (1941-'45), and the industrialization of brewing, beer became a commodity, not a craft. Consolidation followed precipitously: in 1950 there were just 407 breweries; in 1961, just 230 (140 independent). By the end of the 70s, there were 51 companies operating 80 breweries. Throughout this entire period, the number of styles decreased, and the remaining dominant style became weaker and less flavorful. There is now so little hop bitterness in a can of Bud that it is imperceptable.

But joy--the market works! Into this void stepped people of vision who foresaw a world of flavorful beer. You know the rest of the story--the craft beer revolution has produced a rennassiance in brewing and resulted in a number of breweries rivaling pre-prohibition numbers (1400, giver or take).

Which brings us back to the question: why on earth are breweries backsliding into this tasteless muck? Well, turns out a lot of people enjoy a mild, fizzy beer from time to time. Some of them like decent beer but don't like ales and find most micros too strong; some of them recall their misspent youths--shotgunning Hamm's, say, not that I'd know anything about that--and have a nostalgic feeling for the flavor of liquid tin. Not to mention the cultural resonance of some of the old advertising. And some, while they dislike Bud, don't like ponying up $5 a pint or $14 a half-rack. So there's a funky niche market there.

While I think Full Sail probably ran the numbers and saw some profit in Session, I think a lot of brewers like retro, and the idea of brewing a light lager is a challenge. So few ingredients--is it possible to make something that's actually tasty? I actually think it's less the end of civilization than evidence of the diversity of beer in Oregon. So robust is the market that there's room for even a light lager. I would place long odds on this becoming a trend among micros.

And that leads us inevitably to this: is it any good? Well. One hesitates at such a question, and a certain appreciation for Bill Clinton dawns as the thought arises, "what's 'good' mean?" Schwag is what it is: a light lager with 10 IBUs. Brewer Jamie Floyd employs the same strategy Jamie Emmerson did at Full Sail--squeeze some aroma and flavor out of your hops without boosting the bitterness. The malt bill is all-barley, evident in the richly golden color, and it has a semi-sweet, biscuit quality. The hops are fruity if somewhat indistinct (being so few). My pint wasn't quite as effervescent as I would have liked, but that's a quibble. It was a well-made beer with a little less character than Session but far more character than anything you'll find in a macro. I appreciate it far more than I actually enjoy it. And I will never, ever have another pint when confronted with the bounty of Bailey's.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bailey's Taproom

213 SW Broadway
Hours: Mon-Sat, 4 pm - Midnight


Here is the dilemma: you have friends coming in from out of town, and they want to sample from the feast that is Beervana. They instinctively want to go to a brewpub, but you know that this will limit the feast--no matter how good Roots Coconut Porter may be, you can't get a Ninkasi Believer or Hair of the Dog Blue Dot there.

Options have heretofore included 80% solutions, workable, but provisional: The Henry, with an amazing selection but cheater pints and yuppie atmosphere; the Horse Brass, good selection but a haze of cigarette smoke; Higgins, with a great selection of international beers, but modest locals. And so on.

Fortunately, Portland now has a 100% solution with the newly-opened Bailey's Taproom, just across Ankeny from the Tugboat downtown. It is smoke-free, centrally-located, has a great list of taps, and serves beer in 20-ounce imperial glasses. That's the superfecta of taprooms!

But the accolades don't stop there. This is a place that's all about beer, and it has the best selection in the city--period. The website is updated regularly, so check back to see what's pouring. As an example, here are some of the beers pouring today--many rare enough that you'll find them at only a handful of places, if at all:
  • Deschutes Green Lakes
  • Raccoon Lodge Tempter Tripel
  • Hair of the Dog Greg
  • Full Sail Vesuvious
  • Ninkasi Ceridwen Harvest Lager
  • Double Mountain Pale Ale
The bottle list features mainly out-of-staters, but includes some beers that have garnered national attention, like Ommegang Three Philosophers (NY), North Coast Brother Thelonius (CA), and Allagash Grand Cru (ME). They also have a well-selected, if small offering of Oregon wine, so you can take non-beery types. Food is limited, cafe-style, to cheese and chocolate, but these both go beautifully with wine and beer. Tres continental.

But don't be put off--it's not as upscale in feel as the menu suggests. There is a living-room area for lounging, and cafe tables for discussion and food. It actually has a bit of a coffeehouse feel, and with the free wi-fi, you can end your day in front of a computer with a more suitable beverage. When I was there, just after work last Friday, the four groups of people who came in were serious beer folk, downscale in jeans and flannel.

I see why--this is mecca for a beer geek.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Beervana Documentary Tonight

Reminder, a screening of Oregon Public Broadcasting's 30-minute documentary "Beervana" screens tonight a 6:30 at the Bagdad (3702 SE Hawthorne). Doors open at six, and there will be a Q&A at 7.

Here's a trailer that gives you the teensiest of tastes of what to expect:
[Update: Since this clip always plays when you load the site, I've removed it. To see the clip, follow this link.]
If you miss the screening, it will air tonight on OPB television at nine. You can buy a DVD here--or buy two and send one to me!

See you tonight--

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Reason 2,347 Why Beervana Rocks

Yesterday afternoon, millions of Americans made for sports bars so they could cheer their local teams amid an atmosphere of comradarie. Unfortunately for most of them, the atmosphere was also thick with smoke and leavened dubiously by weak, industrial beer. So through a blue haze, they watched 30-inch screens flicker, bouying their mood--if not their palates--with Bud Light and onion rings.

Poor suckers.

Yesterday I lounged at the St. Johns Pub in digs nicer than any luxury box in the land. The McMenamins pioneered showing TV broadcasts of sports teams at the Mission Theater maybe five years ago. When my brother-in-law, a sports fanatic from Boston, visited two Labor Days ago, we saw the Oregon home-opener. As he came into the theater and saw the screen--15 feet tall, Ducks like ghostly giants in electric yellow and green--his eyes bugged out: "This is tremendous!"

The St Johns Pub is even better.
The McBrothers have put in a series of love seats (sports fans might prefer "small couches"), you can lounge on, comfortable as if you were in your own living room. Of course, you have access to a dozen taps of craft beer, a full kitchen, and the comraderie of sixty Duck fans. (Doesn't hurt when they win, either.) At the picture to right, which is a grainy cell-phone photo, you'll see fans celebrating Oregon's first touchdown.

Further proof that we have an embarrassment of riches in Beervana.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sam Adams Domain Transfer Party and Other Notes

As a denoument to the great Sam Adams Incident of 2007, KEX will be hosting a "domain transfer party" at the Pilsner Room on Tuesday, from 6:30 to 8. Something called "special Mark and Dave ale" will be served.

In addition, KEX writes:
  • The infamous "LETTER" sold on E-Bay for $1475.90! (Jim Hopkins of Accent Verticals bought the now historic letter, and lunch with Commissioner Adams and Mark & Dave.) That's not all: Then the KEX General Manager Robert Dove matched it! Total: $2951.80! Wow! Every penny going to the KEX Kids Fund to buy hearing aids and glasses for needy children. Thank you for your support!
  • Sam Adams will accept the new domains. Special Mark & Dave Ale will be served (proceeds to the Kid's Fund). Harborside serves Sam Adams Beer...Mmmm, should we pour it? You tell us, answer the poll below.
Finally, that poll mentioned in the second bullet about whether the Pilsner Room should be pouring Sam Adams beer: in a show of how good-hearted Portlanders are, 43% think it should.

By This Measure, Hops Aren't So Expensive

I would like to draw your attention not so much to this post as the accompanying picture--a jpeg of an 1892 New York Times article. It reads in part:
Hops varied in price in 1882 from 20 cents per pound to $1.25 per pound. Since then, there have been variations within a single year from 50 cents to 10 cents, from 40 cents to 9 cents, and from 35 cents to 8 cents.

The hop year begins in September. In August last the price was 12 cents. The year started with the price at 13 cents, since which time it has steadily advanced.
A buck and a quarter in 1882? That's a lotta Mittelfrüh! Adjusting for inflation, that would work out to over $25 a pound in 2006 dollars. On the other hand, 9 cents was pretty good--just $1.81. Still, if you figure the average price was around a quarter in the 1880s, that would work out to $5.41 in today's dollar--roughly the place the price will probably end up stabilizing in the next five years.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

4,000 Visitors

I rarely get into traffic or other Beervana-specific issues, because I know it's frankly boring to everyone but me. However, we crossed a milestone that bears a quick mention. Since July, when the OBF excited a lot of interest in bloggy coverage, I have been approaching the 3,000-hit-per-month mark. This may not sound like a lot, but averaging 100 readers a day for a local beer blog strikes me as healthy. Well, thanks in part to the Sam Adams traffic, I shot way past 3,000 and then past 4,000--officially 4,193. (Looking at traffic patterns before that spike, I'd estimate the site was headed for about 3,700.)

To all of you who visited--thanks! It is gratifying to know a sizeable group share an interest in Oregon's fantastic beer.