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


Friday, October 30, 2009

Vintage Fuller's Vintage Ale

A long time ago--well, nine years--I gave a friend a bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale. That friend is taking his leave of Portland to go work in a brewery in either Texas or California and last night we toasted his journey with that old Fuller's. (It was a night of vintage sampling. We also tried 2008 Jubelales, Dissident, and Raven Mad and a 2006 Old Crustacean. The pick of the litter, clearly, was the old Fuller's.)

Vintage Ale was first brewed back in 1997, which makes it a newbie in the venerable brewery's line. A bottle-conditioned ale of 8.5% strength, it is designed to be laid down. The brewery tweaks the recipe each year, perfect for vertical tastings. Although Fuller's recommends 3-4 years aging, I can confirm that, stored properly, it will make it to nine years in superb condition. Apparently the 2000 vintage used organic malt and hops--I wonder if that helps a beer last?

It was great to find a description of what the beer tasted like nine years ago, because it was very clearly in possession of many of these same characteristics: "A fresh hop aroma with notes of honey and toffee, leads to a slightly sweeter taste and burnt, bitter aftertaste." It was a tad oxidized, but minimally so. The stronger flavor was the burned toffee--burned in the sense that toffee involves browned sugar. As we were discussing it, another friend even pulled out the honey note, which was still intact. Luscious and creamy, it managed a nice, sustained head.

BeerAdvocate describes it as an old ale, and I think that's right. Old ale is a comforting balm to cold weather, sporting burnished mellow notes. They aren't aggressive or flashy, but rather evoke that sense of agreeable mustiness. This stormy weather has been putting me in a wintry mood, and the old Vintage Ale was the perfect beer to address it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Skamania Lodge Beer Fest

Over the weekend, I attended the first ever beer fest hosted at Skamania Lodge. Before we delve into the details of the fest--the beers and so on--I'd like to step back and consider the evolution of the modern beer festival.

Back in the distant days of the 1990s, beer fests were few, and they were convened to expose drinkers to beer. The assumption being that drinkers were either 1) too green to have experience much beer on their own, or 2) too remote from certain breweries to have tried their beers. The Oregon Brewers Fest offered Beervanians a taste of the wider American scene, while the Spring Beer Fest gave us a chance to try those wee breweries from the hinterland that weren't getting distribution in Portland. The fest concept has grown so that we now have specialty fests highlighting specific beery elements--Belgian beer, cask beer, fresh hop beer.

With the Skamania Lodge fest, I wonder if we aren't seeing the emergence of a new function--a fest to highlight a location. As you can see from that photo above, the back lawn at Skamania fairly begs for events. I have been at fests all over the Northwest, but none have had as pretty a location as you see there. Although there weren't a huge number of breweries, it was a respectable showing--10 breweries, a couple dozen beers. Better still, the crowd was tiny. You walked up, got a pour, and leisurely proceeded back to your table to savor the conversation, ale, and view. You go to different fests for different reasons; being able to enjoy yourself, to go for the experience--this is rare enough to be precious. Skamania Lodge should tweak a few things for their second annual fest (which I'm told, there will be), but even untweaked it was one of the more enjoyable events I've attended.

Fest Description
Skamania Lodge invited, by my count, 10 breweries: Amnesia, Dick's, Double Mountain, Fish/Leavenworth, Full Sail, Laht Neppur, Lazy Boy, Salmon Creek, Walking Man, and Yakima Craft Brewing. The brewery selection focused heavily on locals: Walking Man was brewed a couple miles away, Double Mountain and Full Sail just upriver. Laht Neppur is from Waitsburg, north of Walla Walla, while Yakima is from ... Yakima. There was only one Portland and no Seattle breweries. A nice mixture of small and local.

Each brewery brought a couple of their standard beers, and these poured at 1pm. At four, they tapped special beers--seasonals, mostly, some of them making their debut. (That's a tweak I'd make: start phasing those in earlier so serious beer geeks, familiar with standard offerings, have a larger variety earlier.) As a bonus, a number of brewers attended. I caught up with Jamie Emmerson, whom I haven't seen in years. Over the course of the 4-5 hours of the fest, attendees cycled in and out, and there were probably 150 there at any given time. The mug/token thing was standard, except that the taster pour was generally half a mug. And the mugs? Very cool embossed glass jobs. (If you look closely in this picture of people huddling around the fire pit, you can see them.)

Beers
The beer selection wasn't the long suit for the fest--brewers, left to their own devices, brought lots of IPAs. (Tip for future events: talk to the breweries and make sure you have a variety of different styles.) Even with that, there were a number of beers I hadn't tried. Leavenworth, which merged with Fish some time back, brought Eightmile Alt, a wonderful example of subtlety and skill. Laht Neppur took a flyer on local wild, fresh hops. The result was a strangely funky beer--a bit worty (this year's crop was apparently quite low-alpha), but candyish and herbal.

I confess to having missed Lazy Boy's beers so far. Their IPA didn't thrill me--a big grinding and aggressively hopped, with a malt base that bottomed out and left the alphas beating you about the head--but their Redhead was a treat: a gentle, eminently quaffable beer with lovely fresh, spicy hops. Purportedly an imperial, but I couldn't tell. Yakima had a syrupy Scottish ale that might have done with a hop or two more. That brewery also had an amber called 1982 which must surely be a reference to Bert Grant's famous Scottish Ale--the first craft beer brewed in Washington. I admire the reference, but I didn't get a chance to try the beer.

I had another pour of Double Mountain's Dapper Dan (tasty!) and finished with the local specialty--Walking Man IPA. I wanted to go out on a winner, and I knew WM would deliver.

All in all, a wonderful day. Afterward, we warmed up in the hot tub and then feasted on a menu designed to incorporate all the beers that were at the fest. In my earlier post I described Skamania Lodge. I'll alert you when they do this next year. Consider going in for the package deal. It's spendy, but for a relaxing time with lots of good beer, you can't beat it.

Full Disclosure: Skamania Lodge comped Sally and me--and a few other members of the media--for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

File Under "Things Have Changed"

I spent a couple hours with founding BridgePort brewer Karl Ockert yesterday afternoon talking about his first 25 years in the business. Although BridgePort already celebrated its 25th Anniversary, it is really just coming up--they sold their first beer in Novermber 1984. That anniversary is significant not only for BridgePort, but also for Oregon craft brewing. We have come to the top of a mountain, and it's a nice opportunity to look back and see how high we've come.

In service of this theme, here's a teaser from the interview. It goes to show how things have changed. Karl has just returned from a trip to Europe, and when we were talking about America's status, he offered this insight.
"[T]he brewing world used to completely dismiss American hops—and now those American aromatic hops are highly sought after by brewers from all over the UK. The ones in Europe are a little bit stuck because they’ve really painted themselves into a corner—this is what pilsner tastes like. This is the problem with lager beers; they’re so well-defined. When you make a pilsner, everyone knows exactly what it should taste like. When you start putting Cascades and Amarillos and Simcoes in there, it’s not a pilsner anymore—it’s something weird. You better call it an ale at that point, because nobody’s going to know what it is.

"I went to Schneider Brewery a couple weeks ago and the lab guy was showing us through, and he absolutely loves this kind of stuff. I sent him a case of our IPA, our Hop Harvest, and our Hop Czar. I just got an email back from him and he said, “Oh my God, this stuff is just great—it’s like nectar. Right now we’re all sipping your Hop Czar, and it’s like nectar.” They can’t get that [kind of beer].

"[In 1984] we were copying their beers. I think the future of craft brewing in America is that we’re in the driver’s seat. We’re not in the back seat trying to copy someone else. It’s fun to see."
It's a little mind-boggling to think of the men at Scheider tippling a Northwest beer. I have had a similar reaction to Schneider Weisse, but I never expected the reverse to be true. Goes to show the importance of local culture in producing beer. Twenty five years and they're enjoying BridgePort in Bavaria!

The Hop Shortage is Officially Over

You know you live in Beervana when the status of the local hop crop is front-page news. (As it should be.) In today's Oregonian, John Foyston reports on the status of the hop industry. Good news for beer drinkers, maybe not so good news for growers. Following the great hop shortage of 2007, hop growers put in a remarkable 10,000 new acres--a one-third increase over those low years. Now at 41,000 acres, it looks like the growers have over-reacted:
The hops shortage of 2007 is over, buried in a glut of unsold hops.... "The only time I've heard of hops left hanging was back when powdery mildew hit so hard that some yards weren't worth picking," says John Annen of Annen Brothers Farms and chairman of the Oregon Hop Commission. "But never industrywide -- these are perfectly good hops unpicked because there's no warehouse space and no spot market for uncontracted hops."
I hope this doesn't lead to an oscillating cycle of boom and bust, with hop growers ripping out too many acres and returning us to future hop shortages. Of course, even with over-supply, Foyston reports that no one expects beer prices to come down. Hops were only one of several difficulties that hit brewers recently, and that means high prices for the foreseeable future.

As to the crisis of the hop growers: maybe we homebrewers can pick up the slack. I'm in for a couple pounds. Anything to save those precious hops from a mulchy future.


Update: The Don't-Call-Me-A-Beeronomist offers an economist's take on the hop glut. He also gives an economist's take on the evanescent nature of fresh hops, though why you care what an economist thinks about that is another matter. (His econ stuff is solid.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No Sin in the Lottery Dollars

Last year, amid fireworks over the beer tax, the pro-hike camp liked to make a lot of hay about the evils of drink. If you'll recall, they attributed to beer enormous human wreckage: teenage drunken driving, addiction, even the scourge of meth and child abuse. Why do you suppose it is, then, that the state is now encouraging bars to keep their share of lottery profits?
Director Dale Penn said cutting gambling commissions would be "too risky" for the Lottery and the bars and taverns that offer video gambling. He said Oregon's ailing economy and loss of business to bars by the state's smoking ban have taken a toll on gambling sales.

If too many bars and taverns go out of business, he said, the lottery would have fewer places for people to gamble.

"Increasing overall sales is the method to maximize revenue for state programs," Penn wrote. "To do so requires a strong retailer network, not a reduced fragmented group."
And if they can't gamble, the state loses lottery revenues--a significant source of revenue for a state with a patchwork Frankenstein's monster of a funding system. I'm not opposed to lottery revenues--it's a voluntary expense and means we don't have to raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere. But there's no way to argue that this doesn't encourage all the evils the beer tax was puportedly designed to reduce.

So which is it, Oregon: is beer so sinful and harmful it should be taxed heavily, or is it an important part of the state's wholesome revenue streams? You can't have it both ways: either you're mucking around the sinful swamp with the beer drinkers, or you're standing on dry, high moral ground eschewing all that dirty money.

Grisette!

If you can't make a great small saison (aka "grisette"), you can at least make it look great. I bottled this a couple weeks ago and forgot the picture. It cheers me, so I'm sharing it--

Monday, October 26, 2009

News--including a sad item

Both Brewpublic and the Washington Beer Blog are reporting on the death of Dick Young, the namesake of venerable Dick's Brewing in Washington. Here's the WBB:

It is with a very, very heavy heart that we report that Dick Young, the man behind Centralia’s Dick’s Brewing Company, has passed away. Complete details are not yet confirmed, but we thought we should report what we know. Dick apparently died of a heart attack suffered while working at his cabin in Lewis County. It happened over the weekend, perhaps as recently as last night.

This is a tremendous loss for the Washington brewing community. Dick Young was an icon. He represented the very best that the Washington beer community has ever offered the world — a vibrant personality, sincere passion for beer, and a genuine kindness that was recognized by everyone he met.

Sounds like the Washington Beer Blog will be following this, so check back there.

California Cup
Since I'm repeating info from other blogs, here's two other small items from John Foyston. First, the Concordia Cup, California edition has crowned (what else) Pliny the Elder as California Cup winner. Other finishers: 2) Firestone Walker Double Jack IPA, 3) Bear Republic Racer X, and 4) Mad River Steelhead Double IPA. But we already knew Pliny was king.

Abyss
Finally, Deschutes is rolling out Abyss next Tuesday (11/3) at both Portland and Bend pubs. It should be in stores thereafter. He adds this detail, which may or may not apply to Bend: "You can actually buy bottles at the pub starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday -- up to six to a customer -- and the first 48 customer get bottles signed by Brewmaster Larry Sidor." (That ought to make it even more of a rarity on eBay!)

Jon adds this, which may or may not apply to the Portland Pub: "The Abyss 2009 release party at the Bend pub will be on Tuesday, November 3rd, at 5:30 PM. This will be your chance to purchase the first bottle of the season, try a three year vertical tasting and purchase the new t-shirt."

I guess the lesson is: show up at the pub and good things will greet you.

Skamania Lodge

This weekend I had the good fortune to be the guest of the Skamania Lodge as they kicked off their first in-house beer fest. (I say "first," but it was actually an experiment; I hope it was successful enough to try again.) I'll write about the beer in a subsequent post, but first, a little bit about the Lodge itself--you may be as unfamiliar with it as I was before going out there.

The Lodge
Skamania Lodge is located just east of Stevenson, Washington, 45 miles down the Columbia River, which beer geeks will recognize as the home of Walking Man Brewing. You can get there on either side of the river, but be sure to cross over the Bridge of the Gods in at least one direction (toll bridge, $1) for one of the best views of the Gorge.

That stretch of the river is marked by striking mountains on either side that drop down sharply to the river. The Lodge overlooks a wide area in the Columbia, accentuating the mountains and creating a visual illusion of a vast, wide body of water, almost like a bay. The Lodge was situated to take advantage of this vista, and the two restaurants, outdoor amphitheater, and half the rooms all look out onto it.

A Resort
It is here where I would normally transition into the superlatives about the place's beauty and its great facilities--and I will--but let's characterize it first. Skamania Lodge is a Destination Resort, one of these modern inventions that has something in common with city states of ancient Greece. You have at your disposal all amenities necessary for a full life, set in an environment of raw natural beauty and impressive architecture. You would not be surprised to learn that 70% of the Lodge's business comes from corporate clients who use the many impressive business accoutrements--and then go off to shoot 18 holes on the championship golf course. So it is one of those kinds of places.

That said, it is a resort that downplays a generic corporate ethos and quite successfully invokes a Northwesty, woodsy look and feel. This is probably because it was originally a partnership of four groups, including the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the US Forest Service. Although it was only built in 1993, it feels older and strongly evokes those forest service lodges of the early 20th century (like Timberline Lodge). The interior features heavy use of native fir, locally quarried stone, and even old-growth timbers reclaimed from an Astoria cannery. The central great room is anchored by an 85-foot tall, half million pound stone fireplace, visible from two sides. Perhaps this central hearth, more than anything else, communicates the sense of a lodge. The furniture is mission-style, and the lamps and details evoke that earlier craftsman period. Finally, the art is well-chosen--I particularly liked the petroglyph rubbings and historic photographs. As a nice finishing touch, there's an active Forest Service office in the lobby.

The various amenities include an indoor pool and a very cool outdoor hot tub, a spa, three plus miles of hiking trails (at one of the properties two lakes, Sally and I saw a blue heron), and all the usuals like wi-fi, flat screens, etc. For full details, check the website.

Feasts
If you know about Skamania Lodge, you may well know it for its feasts--Friday night and Sunday bruch buffets of such surpassing plenty that they inspired two separate philosophical conversations about the nature of hunger and satiety. My sense is that people drive down to the Lodge solely for these spreads, and it's not hard to see why. The Friday night buffet includes a seafood station (crab, shirp, lox, mussels, clams, smoked seafood), ceaser salad station, carving station (salmon, pork loin, prime rib), and a pasta and bread selection. Oh, and of course, the stunning desert station. For our feast, repeated on Saturday, the chefs had prepared the food with recipes using the beer served at the fest. My food palate is not as educated as my beer palate, but I will say that the seafood was especially nice, and the chilled dungeness crab I had on Sunday morning was as fresh as any I've had. (The dinner buffet is $33 and the brunch $29.)

Events
Skamania Lodge is putting together different events--like the beer fest--to draw folks out during the off-peak times. If you want to spend a weekend out there, these are pretty good bets. The beer weekend would have set you back $237, but you got a night's lodging, tickets to the beer fest, and both the dinner buffet and Sunday brunch feasts included in the price. You can check the Skamania Lodge packages list for similar deals. (And, if they do another of the beer events, I'll alert you here.)

Full Disclosure: Skamania Lodge put me and Sally up for the night, fed us two massive meals, and poured our beers all for free. I was not the only member of the media there (Lisa Morrison and her husband were, too), so you may see some press elsewhere, too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

At Skamania Lodge

And so my junket to Skamania Lodge begins. The day is brilliantly sunny, shreds of fog rising in wisps off damp ground. When we checked in, the folks here said they'd received 38 kegs of beer (!)--about which I still have no info. The Lodge, however, is an impressive facility. This bend of the Columbia (just a mile east of the Bridge of the Gods) is particularly attractive; the hills cluster beautifully, in successively lighter shades, as they stretch out down the Gorge. The Columbia curls South around one of those hills as we view it from the Lodge, giving it the appearance of a fair-sized lake.

Not a bad place to start a crisp autumn day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sad State of Affairs

The US has many cool pubs, but they are mostly housed in buildings with less historical strata than many of Europe's grand old drinkeries. That is why this collection of photos fills me with such awe and disappointment. The photographer, Dick Bulch, has assembled pictures of 148 closed pubs--and a lot of them are real gems. Here's a few--but for the full force, go to his Flickr page and behold the apocalypse in its fullness.



The George & Dragon, Hackney Road


The Angel (no more info)



The Conquerer, Boundary Street



Bull & Mouth, New Oxford St

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Few Notes from Gary Fish

As I continue to work on my (probably doomed) book proposal, I'm starting to speak with some interesting people. Today I interviewed Deschutes' Gary Fish for about 45 minutes. I will see about transcribing it for a few nice excerpts, but a few tantalizing details about future releases.

The brewery plans to continue to do more special releases, but they may have to rotate their many special beers. On the other hand, some may get more regular distribution. So:
  • Red Chair IPA will be released in sixers as a seasonal in 2010 (early, I think).
  • Mirror Mirror may not be back next year. (Which means you should lay a few extra bottles away in the meantime.)
  • A beer called Jubel 2010 is on the agenda--a nod back to Jubel 2000, for those who remember it.
Also, before I cause a panic, my sense is that Mirror Mirror is not being discontinued (and may even be produced), just that Deschutes now has so many specialty beers that they can't all be brewed every year.

Also, strange fact: after entering the Dallas and Arizona markets, Black Butte Porter is outselling Mirror Pond. Riddle me why that might be (which is more or less what Gary said, happy but mystified).

Blogging, Transparency, and Skamania Lodge

You boot up your friendly, neighborhood beer blog to read a review of the newest Widmer product. The blogger raves about it. Question: would you trust the blogger's opinion if you knew Widmer had given the blogger the beer?

The Federal Trade Commission believes you would not, and therefore is preparing to make bloggers confess if they've received free swag:
Beginning Dec. 1, bloggers, Twitterers and many others who write online product reviews must disclose the receipt of free merchandise or payment for the items they write about.

The guidelines, an update of the F.T.C.’s 1980 guide concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising, will affect many in the beauty and fashion blogging community, where freebies ($40 eye-shadow palates, $250 clutch purses and, yes, $69 jeans) are rampant. The rules reflect the commission’s concern about how advertisers are using bloggers and social networking sites to pitch their products.
I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I think transparency is a good thing, and I don't really see any harm in this regulation. On the other hand, it ghettoizes blogs--who must make this disclosure--but leaves the mainstream press alone. So, if the brothers offer me a bottle of their new cherry doppel and I blog about it, I have to disclose the freebie. If Willamette Week publishes the same article, I don't have to. That seems a bit ... off.

To complicate matters, not all products are created equally. While I might feel more beholden to a company if they gave me a $26 bottle of beer, it hardly seems worth it to sell my credibility for a lousy $1.50 bottle.

And that brings me to a subject where I think absolute transparency is required--junkets. A few months back, the Astoria Chamber of Commerce paid for a bunch of beer writers to go to their fair city and sample beer and stay in a hotel for free. If I didn't disclose that fact, I would expect you never to trust me again. The reader has some responsibility to make judgments--but that depends on having all the facts.

All of this is a good segue into a junket I'll be attending this weekend--to Skamania Lodge for their "Celebration of Beer" weekend. The Lodge is putting me up for free, and even letting me bring Sally. They're feeding me and giving me free beer. I don't actually have a huge amount of information about the event, but I suspect they are looking for a little press, particularly during this dismal economy. When I write about it--and I will write about it, lots!--you need to understand that my opinions of the place is colored by the fact that I'm enjoying it for free. (My opinion on the beer will be less suspect: after all, there's no quid pro quo there; it's Skamania Lodge who's footing the bill.)

I think it's a great opportunity to explore the whole question further--and as I write about this, I would love your feedback. All bloggers have is their credibility, so freebies are an issue with which to contend. The FTC aside, I will try to be transparent when I receive freebies, and you all should feel invited to charge me with corruption if see evidence that I'm too easily bought off. Seem fair?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Upright Brewing's New Blog

The track record for brewery blogs is mixed. If you look to my left-hand column, you'll see a drop-down menu for seven--now eight--blogging breweries. When a post goes up on one of these blogs, it's generally fascinating. Brewers are interesting, and what they brew and how they decided to brew it make for good reading. Trouble is, brewing is itself a full-time job and so blogging is intermittent at best. Now Alex Ganum from Upright Brewing has joined the club--and as you would expect, his recent posts are interesting. It doesn't hurt that Alex is a pretty good writer:
Flora Rustica is a Northwest-style saison inspired by the small and adventurous brewers of Belgium like Brasserie à Vapeur. The name comes from the Roman goddess of flowers and also the fact that this beer has roots in the past. It uses yarrow, calendula and hops which all play into the profile differently. The yarrow shows bright lime and herbaceous notes in the aroma while the hops provide a spicy and grassy character. As it warms the calendula comes through more strongly as a tea-like flavor while the beer finishes appetizingly dry, bitter and invigorating.
I'll add Upright to the blogroll. In the meantime, I thought a full post here welcoming Alex would encourage him to believe that we will read along if he keeps the blog current. On the other hand, don't kill yourself, Alex--do get some sleep from time to time.

Fresh Hops in the New York Times

What a delightful surprise it is to see Oregon breweries getting a little attention for fresh hop ales. Writing in yesterday's Times, Portland-based food writer Lucy Burningham gave New Yorkers (and the world) a straight dose of lupulin:
Tiny emerald cones on 18-foot-tall hops plants trembled as workers whipped the freshly cut stalks into roaring machines here at Sodbuster Farms. Gnashing metal fingers then stripped off the sticky cones — female flowers of the Humulus lupulus — and poured them onto conveyor belts, setting afloat bits of hops, like ash from a fire.

The debris, flecked with a resinous, yellow powder called lupulin, stuck in workers’ hair and eyelashes. Even more persistent was the aroma: a lemony, leafy, earthy scent that is precisely what brewers try to harness when brewing fresh-hop beers in autumn...

Fresh hops must be harvested within a few hours’ drive of where they will be used in a brew, as they’re delicate and don’t freeze or ship well.

In Oregon and Washington, hop farmers call brewers hours before a harvest, when plants (called bines — vines without tendrils) have reached perfect ripeness. Brewers will drop everything when they get the call. Newborn baby at home? Too bad. Fresh hops require even more coddling.

As an added bonus, there's a slideshow featuring a certain Hood River brewery.

I know I've mentioned harped on it before, but this fresh hop thing could be a very big deal for Northwest breweries. Although the region is well-known among beer geeks, it remains a fairly well-kept secret to most of the rest of the country, where Bud is still king. So far, American breweries all make roughly the same kind of beers, and so media attention tends to be directed at whichever brewery is close at hand. (And for the New York Times and its very occasional beer writer Eric Asimov, this means those around the Big Apple.)

Fresh-hopped ales, though--that's something new under the sun. Breweries from other regions will plant hop fields and produce their own, but this will be an ad-hoc system (and an inflexible one: once the fields are planted with, say, Cascades, that brewery's fresh hop ales will always be fresh Cascade hopped ales). The Northwest will remain the motherland for hops, and local breweries will have the home fields advantage, able to produce a dazzling array of beers every fall. It may well be the development that propels the region into the consciousness of the rest of the nation.

Stories like this one are a promising start.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Doc Wort Experiment

Gadfly (n) - 1) Any of various flies (as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock. 2) A person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism.
Over the weekend, Doc Wort's blog ceased to be. Portland, Oregon is so blessed with things beery that we not only have the most breweries--and probably beer festivals, pubs, and new-beer releases--but the most beer bloggers of any city in the world. You'd think that the 29th-largest city in the US wouldn't field interest in even one blog devoted to local beer. Yet we have a half-dozen or more healthy examples, established enough that we are regarded as regular media by the beer industry. Each of us has a certain orientation, a half-step different than the others, and together we cover a vast scope of topics that individually we could never do. The 29th largest city, sure, but in terms of beer geekery, we're Tokyo.

Doc Wort was the creation of a guy named Mike. His niche in the ecosystem was to be the broker of truth, the devil's advocate, the last honest man in Portland. Doc Wort was to be Portland's gadfly. Mike thought that there was too much groupspeak, too much self-aggrandizement, too much uncritical local boosterism. The pseudonymous Doc Wort, freed from the constraints of social pressures, could combat this tendency.

I think Mike had identified a real problem. In our small city, we do tend toward uncritical boosterism. In terms of our beer industry, this is heightened; the belief that we are one of the world's great beer cities (true) runs up against the reality that the rest of the world often takes little notice of our backwoods village, Beervana or no. We tend toward hyperbole to attract attention. A bit of bubble-bursting from time to time isn't a bad thing.

But somewhere along the line, the Doc Wort experiment ran off the rails. The currency of the gadfly is truth--uncomfortable or not. To the extent that gadflies are useful, it's when they have the credibility to stand apart from the fray and point out where the truth gets bent. Journalistic gadflies love to take on the powerful and show what secret agendas they hide. Mike wanted to show how spin and marketing covered up the sins of bad beer. He wanted to dull the winds of uncritical cheerleading for bad beers. Unfortunately, he decided to create Doc Wort as the instrument of his criticism.

Anonymous blogging has undeniable virtues. When I started political blogging in early 2003, I did so anonymously. It felt safer to criticize the powerful when I could do so from behind a veil. Unfortunately, as it evolved, the Doc Wort character started to become more extreme and more personal. The Portland beer scene is totally transparent. All the bloggers are known, the brewers make regular public appearances, and the breweries are forthcoming about their products. For the Doc Wort character to do his honest truth-telling, he needed to be even more above-board than the known bloggers. If he wanted to expose personal agendas, he needed to harbor none of his own--that's the virtue of the gadfly. Truth-telling, yes--name-calling, no. Toward the end, the Doc Wort experiment seemed one long, personal attack against enemies real and perceived.

I am glad the Doc Wort experiment is done. Portland could use a real gadfly, but Doc Wort long ago ceased to be one. Still, I know I will soon miss the niche Doc Wort occupied and I hope that Mike, refreshed from a break, will come back to blogging--adversarial, opinionated, cranky, and out in the open. We need no more Doc Worts, but a Mike or two would do Beervana good.

[Note: text edited slightly for clarity after initial posting.]

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rivergate Brewing - New North Portland Brewpub?

An emailar (whom I'm happy to credit if he wishes) just sent this in:
I live up in North Portland and came across a new sign over the weekend in a part of town sorely in need of a good beer bar or brewpub. It looks like the place is going to be called the North End Pub by Rivergate Brewing. A quick internet search turned up nothing, but maybe you can provide better insight from your contacts. The sign appeared above the space formerly occupied by Pietro's Pizza, then Big Daddy's BBQ and most recently by Sliders Bar and Grill (a lot of turn over - let's hope a brewpub has more staying power). It is located at 3011 N. Lombard (the corner of N. Lombard and N. Peninsular) across from a Walgreen's, King Burrito and a pawn shop - like I said, an area in need of a brewpub. It's a large space that should work well for a brewpub, but definitely needs some work as it has been empty for a year or so.
Anyone know anything about it?

Review - World's Best Beers by Ben McFarland

There's something a little cheeky about writing a world guide to beer. The act suggests hubris: that a person of modest age might really have attained the experience to put himself forth as an expert of the caliber to comment on all the world's beers. That is the purview of another Brit, right? And herein is the second layer of hubris; in the post-Jackson age, who really has the cojones to step in and take his place? Well, apparently Ben McFarland has the cheek, because he's put out a book called World's Best Beers: One Thousand Craft Brews from Cask to Glass.

(I will confess to some pique on the matter of Ben and his beer reviews; this is just his second book, and his first passed uncomfotably close to my turf: Good Beer Guide West Coast USA, which came out all of a year ago.)

Well, never mind the cheek and the pique--how did he do?

Not badly, it turns out. The book will be familiar to those who know Michael Jackson's oeuvre: it has the requisite front matter (intro about ingredients, how to appreciate beer, a description of beer styles) and then a survey of beers from around the world. Although it has the appearance of being comprehensive, he didn't create a beer-opedia. Even with 1000 beers, he's trying to be exclusive.

For example, in the USA section, he breaks the country down into West, Central, and East. In the Western section are just 33 breweries (out of hundreds in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska). And of these breweries, he only lists the brewery's canonical products. So Deschutes gets Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond, Full Sail gets Amber and Session. Sometimes, if he really admires a brewery, it will get three nods. Hair of the Dog gets Adam, Fred, and Rose. Sometimes a brewery only gets one. Ninkasi gets a mention (impressive!), but only Total Domination is listed. There's no info about a brewery, just the beer.

The descriptions, meanwhile, are less precise and evocative, and rather more punky and forceful. Here's Pliny the Elder:
This is the beer all Double IPAs want to be when they grow up. Intoxicating hop oils on the nose, a cacophony of citrus fruit on the palate and a peppery, tang finish that stays longer than the mother-in-law. A lupulin-lover's delight.
But while I find his descriptions of beer generally unenlightening, his selections are good. Here are the Oregon breweries he chooses (he does not include brewpubs, only bottling-breweries): BridgePort, Deschutes, Full Sail, Hair of the Dog, Ninkasi, Rogue, and Terminal Gravity. While the Widmers have a right to feel slighted, in general, this is a totally solid list. I would be happy if anyone who came to Oregon tried only the beers he suggested: they would walk away with a very good sense of the kind of beer we brew.

Because he did well on the beer I know, it gives me confidence that he did well selecting the beer I don't know. One day I will make it to the Czech Republic. I may take his advice and try U Medvidku, a 13% wood-aged beer, when I get there.

I do have a few quibbles. He calls Cascade hops "high-alpha" and says Willamettes are "new." In the style section, he calls "wood-aged beer" a style (when I would prefer it be thought of as a method). At the back of the book is a longish section on food and beer pairings--adequate, perhaps even enlightening to the person new to the concept, but the section feels a bit facile to me.

In general, though, he seems to get the larger points right. I wouldn't have minded if he'd spent some more time on research before sending it to press--$30 is a lot, and you're investing in a full-color, coffee-table book. I expect future editions or variants of this book to emerge that will be a little tighter. Still, the beer world is impressively mutable, and Jackson's research will become obsolete pretty soon. Inevitably, someone was going to write this book. McFarland did all right.
World's Best Beers: One Thousand Craft Brews from Cask to Glass
Sterling Innovation, New York, 2009
288 pages, $30

[Oh, incidentally, since a federal law may mandate that bloggers advise readers about freebies: this was indeed a review copy shipped from the publisher, Sterling.]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Saraveza One-Year Anniversary

I will be out of town this weekend, but for those sticking around, consider this event:
Saraveza One-Year Anniversary Celebration
1004 N Killingsworth St
503.206.4252

On Sat, Oct 17th, Saraveza will turn one year old and we couldn’t have made it through the year without you!! Be there to help celebrate and join in on our festivities!

All Day: Baby Brewer Contest! S.N.O.B. discounts (wear your t-shirt or bring your ID)! Employee draft favorites!
Noon-5pm: FREE housemade brats
10pm: FREE Consecration Toast & Sugar Pimp Bday cake
I am especially sad to miss the brats--authentic Badger-state brats are not to be missed!

Ten Best Beers?

[Importante! Whoops, boneheaded error. As Stan notes, the section I describe is called "Top Ten Designer Beers, which McFarland describes thus: "Greater than the sum of their parts, these key global beers are design classics, amalgamating delicious beer, iconic bottle design, distinctive packaging, unmistakable labels, and devilish good looks." So that explains the Grolsch!]

I was reading through Ben McFarland's World's Best Beers--which I promise to review next week. One bit I missed earlier is his list of the world's ten best beers. I understand what a seductive opportunity listing your fave beers is: with an internationally-released survey of the world's beers, McFarland had the chance to influence thousands. Personally, I wouldn't have done it. Give me fifty--maybe. You'll see when I reproduce thelist the dangers: McFarland selected some unworthy beers and omitted many classics. But credit him with this--he's given us something to discuss.

1. Deus Brut des Flanders
2. Grolsch
3. Adnams Explorer
4. Kwak
5. Liefmans Kriek
6. St. Peter's Honey Porter
7. Orval
8. Delerium Tremens
9. Rogue Old Crustacean
10. Boston Brewing Utopias

Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Notes on Newcastle

Seeing Stan's post about Newcastle jogged my memory about another item I forgot to post. First, Stan's news:
Heineken, which owns Scottish & Newcastle, announced it is closing the brewery that currently brews Newcastle Brown Ale and moving production to Tadcaster, North Yorkshire.
(He has more texture, if you are interested in lost, historically-significant breweries.

The item I forgot to post involves a mini-keg of Newcastle the brewery sent me some weeks ago. As you now know, Newcastle is owned by Heineken, and they've been touting the mini-keg ("Draughtkeg" in their parlance) extensively. This is the same tech, and the first minikeg I've used. All in all, I ended up impressed.

The virtues include ease of use and novelty. It comes with a little nozzle that you easily attach; a dispenser tab allows you to pull the pint just by lifting--easy peasy. I received it during the summer, and one day when I had friends over, we put it in the middle of the table and enjoyed the sun. Periodically, someone would reach over and pour a pint, and everyone else seemed to enjoy the spectacle. I also bought a bottle of Newcastle for comparison purposes, and although the bottle was ever so slightly skunked, otherwise the beer was identical. It doesn't really emerge from the keg a superior product--though you get a rich head and a clean, unskunked beer.

Other minor discoveries. 1. The instructions say to refrigerate 12 hours before dispensing, and they're not kidding around. I went about 9 and it poured a tad warm. Not a problem (a preference, really), except that the beer tended to foam as a result. 2. The state of Oregon offers a 5-cent deposit on the keg. This shows remarkable fidelity to the concept of equity: Oregon doesn't care how big a can is, it's all five cents to them. The average person might feel a bit silly trying to return the thing for a nickel, though.

Finally, it's not a bad value at $23 bucks. The keg is 1.33 gallons, or roughly 170 ounces--14.2 bottles of beer. Doing my own six-pack equivalent calculation, I come up with $9.72. Given the enjoyment you get from the container, it's not a bad premium to pay. Apparently, the beer will last 30 days after the first tapping, too, so you don't have to tear through it.

Now, I know a lot of you are not great admirers of Newcastle Brown. Nor am I. It's a sweet and insipid. But the technology is cool, and I know there are other variants out there. Widmer offers Hefeweizen in a similar keg, and I recently saw a spread at Belmont Station of imported German beer--good stuff, I recall. Assuming those are as well-designed as the Draughtkeg, I think we may be onto something here.

Fun Facts

Doing a little deep research, and I came across a listing of beer sales in Oregon from 1988-2002. (Apparently, the OLCC no longer puts out the same kind of report, and I'm trying to figure out how to find more recent data.) Although 2002 isn't super-recent, this span does take us from the very early microbrew era past the late-90s shakeout and into the modern era.

Below is the percentage share of the market the "macro" breweries sold in each of three years. In 1988, there were seven of these, seven still in 1995, but only four in 2002. The remainder would be imports, micros, and insignificant regional macros (Rolling Rock, for example). Have a look.


Market Share of Macro Beer Producers in Oregon
1988 - 96.8%
1995 - 86.6%
2002 - 77.1%


Paradox
An interesting paradox emerges from the numbers. Even while macro's share of the market declined, the collapse of Weinhard's and other local macros allowed the big three to increase their percentage of the market by wide margins. All of the big three sold about 300,000 more barrels in 2002 than 1988, and their market shares widened: Anheuser-Busch from 28% to 34%, Coors from 9.2% to 18.7%, and even Miller, which got killed over that same period nationally, went from 8.3% to 19.9%.

Yet that conceals larger truths. The three bigs appear to have plateaued in 2000--Bud had its 34%, Miller had 22%, and Coors had 19.5%. According to the Brewers Guild, total beer consumption in Oregon has declined, yet growth of craft breweries has been impressive. I'll try to track down more recent numbers. Still, these tell quite a tale.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oakshire at the Horse Brass

The day has unexpectedly turned into Oakshire Day here on the blog. (Beats National Corndog Day by 12,934 miles.) Turns out Matt Van Wyk and co-founder Jeff Althouse will be at the Horse Brass tonight with three fresh hop beers.
Oakshire at the Horse Brass
5:30-8:30, 4534 SE Belmont

Come on down to the Horse Brass and taste all three of the beers- Cascade Conundrum Black Pale, Harvest Ale and Red Nugget American Red Ale. Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk and Co-Founder Jeff Althouse will be on hand to talk shop about these beers made with fresh, wet, local hops.

Oakshire Overcast Stout and Watershed IPA

Inspired by the video of Matt Van Wyk at the GABF, I decided to go buy a couple of bottles of Oakshire's beer and do a proper review. I had--and was impressed by--the Overcast Espresso Stout at the Organic fest, but I've never done more than nod at it in passing. Time to rectify old oversights.

Watershed IPA
Oakshire, at least in the greater Portland area, is not a well-known brewery, and yet in my little IPA poll a few weeks past, Watershed IPA did surprisingly strongly. (I think pollsters would say it "overperformed.") I see why people liked it. The IPA style is actually a pretty broad one--brewers have fair latitude to interpret it in a personal style. Matt's beer is in what I consider to be the traditional style--a hefty beer that you eye with some respect (weighing in at 7.1%) A deep golden in the glass with amazing head retention, it is a beguiling beer. The malt base is a pure, clean sweetness, with just a bit of biscuit, which allows the hopping to shine through. Matt's interpretation is rich with pine, both in the nose and on the palate. The pine tails off at the end to grapefruit. It's a very clean beer--none of the notes are murky or muted. Although the alcohol is evident, the overall presentation of the beer is not overly aggressive. It's not an IPA that pushes you around. The flavors are clean and saturated, but not punishing. A lovely beer. An A- on the patented ratings scale, with room to ascend after I have a few more.


Overcast Espresso Stout
Coffee and espresso are now becoming pretty common combo--and popular, at least in Beervana, where we like our java only marginally less than we like our ales. (Except for breakfast, where we like the java marginally more.) It's not the easiest combo to manage, though. Coffee can either disappear or overwhelm. Perhaps because of my overactive imagination, I think I can identify the coffee character; Kona's coffee porter, for example, really tastes like Kona coffee to me.

And so it is with Overcast: it tastes like espresso, not just coffee generically. Good espresso should not be bitter. It should be intense, but the final note shouldn't grind or strafe--it should end with an almost berry-like sweetness. Oakshire's gets this part right. The espresso is a major note--like John Philip Sousa major. You get it in the nose and it suffuses the palate. Matt's gone for a relatively light beer (5.8%), so the espresso has room to to toot its horn. (Getting tired of that metaphor yet?) The effect is more like a mocha than a beer. I personally love it, and as a mid-afternoon tipple on a nasty Oregon day, I would find it perfect. Whether you'll like it or not will depend heavily on your relationship to espresso. I'm rating it a B+ (a bit more heft in the body would raise the score), but if you hate coffee, don't go near.

Matt Van Wyk

Nice local color--Matt Van Wyk, brewer at Eugene's Oakshire Brewery.



Cool that, with 12,934 breweries at the GABF, they chose Matt.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dapper Dan

I have been meaning to make mention of Dapper Dan, Double Mountain's lush brown ale. After the Hood River Fresh Hops Fest, we retired to Double Mountain for some pizza--and chairs. I didn't need any more beer, couldn't really taste beer, but of course, I had a pint. You just can't walk into a pub the caliber of Double Mountain and not have a pint.

Fortunately, I was offered the choice of Dapper Dan, a lovely beer of just 3.5% alcohol. My tongue couldn't really assess the subtleties--but I was surprised to find a very rich body and quite a lot of malt flavor. It was listed at 31 IBUs, but apparently my meter was only going down to about 40 at that point--the low range having been blown out. I love small beers and they are so rare--I didn't want to let the opportunity pass to promote this one. Brewers, keep 'em coming. I'll keep promoting.

Nice work, Matt and Charlie--

Bizarre Press Release of the Week

I'm all for fighting alcoholism, but I just can't see any hook for this book on a beer blog.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

One man’s Incredible Journey from Alcohol Dependency to Astronomical Success

Phoenix, AZ , October 12, 2009 - Alcohol is the #1 health problem in America today. Affecting close to 16 million people, with an annual price tab of $9 billion in liquor sales, it’s a pretty safe bet that everyone’s life has been touched by it one way or another – either as individuals with a drinking problem, or with a friend or family member. Jeffrey Taylor was one such man. He began drinking at age twelve and did not stop until one cold, snowy night in New York when he was found by police in a gutter, stripped of his clothes. When he woke up in a hospital, on life support and suffering from alcohol poisoning, he could not even remember his own name.
Writes Lisa McEntyre of the Ascot Media Group in her comment to me:
Jeffrey Taylor, author and millionaire entrepreneur, found hope and achieved financial success after a near-death experience from alcohol abuse. He excites audiences with stories that show anyone can recover from the devastating effects of alcohol addiction while achieving financial security. He faced his demons and won the battle, ultimately becoming a huge business success story that made him a millionaire in the process! Jeffrey shares meaningful messages to both radio and TV audiences and is often asked back due to listener and viewer feedback. His life experiences lend authenticity to his books, making him a fascinating guest embraced by audiences everywhere.

Please read the following press release and let me know if I may provide additional information for consideration of an interview.
I get a lot of weird press releases, but this is exceptional even among that group. Lisa, what exactly did you expect me to do with this information?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not Sure I'm Convinced

Charlie Papazian, who may be the high priest of American beer classification, takes on an interesting topic: when is a double IPA a barleywine? Through the bulk of his post, he goes through two styles, Double IPAs and Double Red Ales, pointing out that except for slight variations, they look a whole lot like barleywines. His conclusion:
There is overlap with some of the most fundamental characters, notably alcohol levels and hop bitterness. So why are there separate style categories for these two beers that on the surface resemble barley wines?

Neither the barley wine ales nor the double India pale ale and imperial or double red ale descriptions make a point that barley wines are primarily intended to be aged. Double India pale ale and imperial or double red ales are designed to have a bright hop character that is fresh and assertive. These beers are not stylistically intended to be aged. The brewer’s intention is to present a fresh, bright and lively beer to the beer drinker.
So, Double IPA = green barleywine, so sayeth the high priest (I really want to call him the Pope, but I don't want to offend any Catholics out there). I couldn't make a better case that there are too damn many styles.

(My vote: you have a single category for stong ales into which you dump all the double and imperialed beers--stout excepted. You have your IPA, your strong ales, your barleywine. Done.)

Honest Pint in Draft Magazine

The September/October issue of Draft Magazine arrived in my mailbox late last week, and I was pleased to find my editorial promoting the Honest Pint Project inside. "A Pint of Honesty" (good title--the editors, not me, came up with it) appears on the last page, in the "Beer Me" column. Although a fair amount of the issue's content is online, my piece is not. You'll have to go find it on the newsstand (Barnes and Noble for sure, maybe also Borders and Powell's).

I sent the piece in because, while regular readers of this blog are familiar with the effort, it still hasn't gotten major attention nationally. I'll excerpt the final paragraph, so you can get some of the gist:
[B]eer drinkers outside Oregon also deserve honest pints. Whenever I travel around, I study the glassware. It’s no different than it was here; drinkers across the country have no way of telling how large their glasses are, and the problem persists because customers haven’t demanded a change. The most important thing you can do is bring the issue to the attention of your local publican. He’s there to make you happy, and if you demand an honest pint, he’ll serve you one. If you know that your local does serve honest pints, go to the project's web site and find out how you can certify it as an Honest Purveyor. The time has come for America to have glassware standards as good as our beer. Go forth, beer drinkers, and demand an honest pint!

Draft Magazine

Incidentally, Draft Magazine may now be the most interesting beer mag on the market. If you haven't checked it out, you might pick up a copy. This issue has a great story on hop farming in Michigan, a piece on Okinawan sake (nearly lost after WWII, but making a comeback), and a nice piece on innovations in brewing (which really just charts the current state of American brewing). I also appreciate their beer ratings, which do more to place their well-selected beers in context and provide the reader more clarity about what the beer will taste like and why it gets the rating it does.


More Honest Pint News
Speaking of Honest Pints, I got this email from Jim LaPlume:
I am an avid home brewer, craft beer afficionado, and President and Founder of the Northern Rhode Island Home Brewers Guild, and I have never taken the time to ensure I was recieving a proper pint.

So with that being said, I am mobilizing the NRIHBG Army, and the month of November we will be calling the Publicans and Pint Pourers of Rhode Island to task. We are going to be assaulting the local beer bars, sports bars, reasturants and taverns armed with measuring glasses and camera's.

I will notify you when our campaign begins and you will recieve regular updates.

We Shall Overcome, Amen, Halleluah, Pour Another Pint.
Kind of makes you patriotically misty when a New Englander gets his dander up, doesn't it? I look foward to posting the results of Jim's assault next month.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Coalition Brewing, Visual Update

Wheeling around the corner of 26th and Ankeny yesterday, I beheld this:




Here's the brewery's logo, which I have to say perfectly captures the spirit of the neighborhood--one that political operatives call "the Kremlin" because it's the most liberal in Oregon.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cheers to Brewpublic

Brewpublic is only a year old. That doesn't seem possible, does it? Angelo and Margaret are throwing a bash at Saraveza's to celebrate. (But I bet Angelo will have divided attentions: our Red Sox are now trailing in the playoffs. This is no time to celebrate!)

Seriously, it's nice to have company in the blogosphere--congrats!

Update: I hope Angelo enjoyed his party and skipped the Sox. Oy.

English Hops

For those serious beer geeks out there, here's an interesting 26 minutes on English hops, produced by the BBC. Interesting fact: Cascades and Willamettes are now grown in England. Who knew?

Apparently they only keep these programs live for a couple weeks, so go listen to it if you're interested.

Another List

I just received a book in the mail--Ben McFarland's World's Best Beers. McFarland is the prolific UK writer who seems to have be eying Michael Jackson's now-vacant seat as dean of beer writers. This book is sort of his master's thesis, wherein he surveys beers from across the globe. (I'll do a review next week.) In any case, he offers his list of the top ten beer cities in the world, which is interesting ballast to the Men's Journal thought-free list I posted on Tuesday. As an interesting addition, he includes one beer as the city's icon.
1. Bamberg (Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier)
2. Bruges (Anything)
3. Munich (Forschungsbrauerei Pilsissimus)
4. London (Fuller's London Pride)
5. Boston (Harpoon Ale)
6. Portland (BridgePort IPA)
7. Prague (Plenz z tanku)
8. San Francisco (Anchor Steam)
9. Brussels (Cantillon Gueuze)
10. Cologne (Muhlen Kolsch)
While I generally find these lists uninteresting, this one sort of caught my eye. Bamberg? Bruges over Belgium Brussels? Prague seventh? (The cop-out on Bruge's beer excepted.) Owing to strange life circumstances, I've spent a lot of time in Asia and none in Europe. So this intrigues me. It subverts some of the reputations of the more famous cities. On the other hand, Boston, while one of the great cities of the world, rich in culture, heritage, and the arts, is a bad beer city. It's not even the best beer city in New Enland (the other Portland is better, and Burlington's at least as good).

European travelers--does this square with your experience?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Notes on the Fresh Hop Fest

I am slow at getting to my notes from the fest, but at long last, here they are. They're slightly idiosyncratic: I was so focused on the hops that I didn't take notes on the whole presentation of each beer. Essentially, I had six or seven very tasty beers, a couple head-turners (good) and one misfire. Except for the misfire, all were interesting and good (all B's or better on the patented rating scale). Instead, I took notes on the hops. And not, it turned out, very expansive notes. Still, here goes.
  • Liberty (Upright Fresh Hop of Bel Air). Surprisingly sharp hopping. The saison style can tolerate a little bitterness, and it worked well here. A fairly clean bitter note without a lot of ornamentation--sort of like dried Crystal hops.
  • Amarillo (Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale). One of the two best beers I tried. The Amarillo had much of the quality as the '07 Amarillo Lupulin--tropical fruit notes, lush and exotic. Shiny, citrusy, radiant. A bit more bitter than I recall Full Sail's being, but this was nice, too.
  • Santiam (Cascade Lakes Harvest). A sweet hop--a honey note and also a grassy quality.
  • Brewer's Gold (Double Mountain Killer Green). Fresh hop beers are generally soft and herbal--not this one. It lived up to its name with an aggressively bitter character. Sharp, clear, slightly tangy. (Worth noting that the DM boys threw in a few other hops--Simcoe, Warrior, Summit--to round the character out. Cheating? Your call.)
  • Hallertauer (Rock Bottom Octoberfist). The misfire. It both smelled and tasted "meaty," like the beer had been made with beef bullion. It tended just a bit to sour, and Sally described the note as "sauerbraten." I've noticed that fresh hopped lagers rarely work, so I don't know if that's at issue here, but it was decidedly not a good hop note.
  • Nugget (Ninkasi Nugg E Fresh). A surprisingly lightly-hopped beer from Ninkasi (intentional?). It was soft, gentle, and herbal. The hop showed lots of promise, but I'd like to see a few more the next time.
  • Chinook (Walking Man Hopalong IPA). The other contender for tastiest hop. Dried Chinooks are impressive--gritty, sharp, peppery, and sometimes grinding in their bitterness. Wet, they were also sharp, but the sharp edges were gone. They were fuller and greener. Of all the hops, it seemed the most saturated with green hoppiness.
  • Summit (Widmer Hopturnal Emission). The Summits were fruity and sweet, a bit like Juicy Fruit gum, with very little of their strongly characteristic orange/tangerine note.
After these, I tried the Rock Bottom Hoodwinked with Mt Hoods and the Big Horse Vernon the Rabbit Slayer with Simcoe. They were both fine, but I failed to take notes.

To reiterate one point, it's worth noting that every beer I tried (save Octoberfist) had very clear, clean hop notes. In past years, the hops often expressed a muddy lack of clarity. This year they were distinct presences. If you missed the Hood River edition, you have two more chances:
Portland, 10/10/2009
Oaks Park Amusement Park
7805 SE Oaks Park Way
and
Eugene, 10/17/2009
948 Olive St.
Go forth and taste!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Food and Beer Pairings: the Full Sunset Article

Sunset Magazine published a small piece of mine in their October issue. Smaller, it turns out, than they requested or than I submitted. It seems that the photo beguiled the editors so much that they didn't want my words junking things up. I've been getting compliments from folks who have seen it (and there are a lot of you--apparently everyone subscribes to the magazine), but I can barely take credit, so stripped down did the resulting piece become. (Has Gordon Lish become a verb yet? I was Lished!)

Anyway, here's the text I actually sent in.

________


Introduction
When pairing beer with food, let the “three C’s” be your guide--beers that cut, contrast, or compliment each course. Drier Belgian-style ales, increasingly brewed locally, are especially versatile. And remember, you don’t have to drink a whole bottle with each course--try splitting one with a companion.


Upright Four, 4.5% (ABV), Belgian-style farmhouse ale
Available only in Portland

Description. A rustic style, but a subtle beer. French yeast and sour-mash fermentation create a tart refresher with notes of lavender, pepper, and citrus.

Pairing. Starters. The beer’s mild acid cuts through the richness of soft cheese or contrasts an apple’s sugar.


Elysian “The Wise” ESB, 5.9%, English-style Extra Special Bitter
Available in Washington and Oregon

Description. Starts out English--lush, creamy, and toasty--but ends with bright Northwestern hopping that tends toward fresh orange.

Pairing. Skip the traditional fish and pair with balsamic-dressed salad; the vinegar draws out a honey note and brightens the citrusy hops.


Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, 4.8%, Bavarian-style weisse
Available nationwide

Description. Brewed with a Bavarian yeast, this weisse features classic banana and clove notes, but also lemon and almond in the dry finish.

Pairing. Comfort food, especially barbecued or cured meats; with smoked bratwurst, the sausage’s spice complements the beer’s clove.


Deschutes Black Butte Porter, 5.2%, English-style porter
Available throughout the West

Description. A harmony of flavors: a mouthful of this silky black brew delivers equal parts chocolate and roast malt.

Pairing. Simple shellfish dishes, especially steamed mussels. The fish’s brine finds a contrasting tangy sweetness in the gentle porter.


Cascade Kriek, 8.1%, Belgian-style fruit lambic
Available only in Portland

Description. In sour lambic-style ales, the fruit’s sugars are consumed by wild yeasts, leaving just the intoxicating cherry essence.

Pairing. Dark chocolate. Trust the Belgians to perfect this pairing--the intense flavors harmonize as pure decadence.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Not This Again

I give this three and a half yawns. Yet another rating of best beer cities, yet another selection of someplace other than Portland as best. For sheer chutzpah, the list (from Men's Journal--you're a reader, right?) includes Chicago and New York but not Denver, SF, or Seattle. Nicely done!
Men's Journal's Best Beer Cities
1. San Diego
2. New York
3. Portland
4. Philadelphia
5. Chicago
We have had this debate many times in the past, and we'll have it in the future. It's always a stupid exercise designed to sell magazines, and it usually works (which is why I won't link to it). The criteria is never clear, and the writers almost never know their ass from a hole in the ground. For what it's worth, I've already written about the criteria on which I'd judge a "beer city."

Hat tip to Seattle Beer News--and if you follow the link, it will take you to the Men's Journal article.

Hops Fest Pictures

It's not a beer fest if there aren't any pics.


The day started sunnily enough.



But then came the rain.



Forcing the people to crowd under tents.



Requisite taps pic.


Gratuitous, requisite taps pic.



Snazzy fest pantaloons.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Deschutes Backlash?

It is axiomatic that the bigger you are, the bigger target you are. Small breweries struggle to get attention and press--and of course, consumers. Yet they don't have to put up with familiar charges that they've gone downhill or sold out. (Which is not to say that breweries of a certain size don't, in fact, sell out.)

The latest grumbling targets Deschutes. Reviewing Hop Trip, Lew Bryson walked away disappointed:
Hop Trip is okay, competent, but it falls far short of two beers from Deschutes I enjoyed tremendously in recent months: Twilight and Red Chair. Fresh, clean, competent, but ultimately disappointing. I really expected more from this one.
It sparked a couple rather sharp comments (from at least one Oregonian) about the lauded Bend institution:

"Deschutes is a shadow of its former greatness. Every once in awhile I try one just to check, and I'm always disappointed."
______

"The fact that Deschutes beers still get even obligatory lip service from anyone who considers themselves beer savvy is utterly confounding to me. Fact: They're boring, and when something like beer that, last I checked, is supposed to be fun is boring, well, it sucks.

"It says a lot about the current state of craft brewing and its acolytes that anyone still gives [Deschutes] more than a passing thought. You want good beer to be the standard? Demand passion and vision from your breweries. Don't settle for this horseshit."
______

"There's nothing wrong with competent. The world frankly needs more competent, including the craft brew industry (which, while not plagued with the technical problems of a decade ago, still has a lot of poorly conceived and uninteresting beer out there). But competent's a step back for a brewery that was once great. Some of the transition may undoubtedly be my palate drift, but I don't think you can chalk it up wholly to that. It's not like I run around saying Sierra is a shadow of its former self, after all."
It's interesting that I noticed this post today, just minutes after seeing Deschutes boast about how much press it got in October. (I am partly to blame.) These two facts are no doubt connected.

It is easy to relate to little breweries. You visit them regularly, get to know the staff, feel like they're part of the community. Maybe you know the brewer and take a special pride in his beer. We related to little breweries--good ones, anyway--as "us." We identify with them. When little breweries grow, however, they become less personal. The staff changes and they become more like faceless businesses, less personal, less members of the community. Slowly they become "them."

Oregon breweries have done a great job of trying to stay connected to people as they grow. Widmer eschewed this connection early on and has spent 15 years trying to re-establish it. Full Sail and Deschutes have self-consciously tried to remain local breweries down the block, acccessible, personable. Rogue has a quirky approach, asking you to join their community, rather than vice versa--but still with the recognition that personal connection is important.

Have we reached the moment where Deschutes no longer feels local and part of "us?" These comments are quite agressively harsh. Sort of like a spurned friend. They seem to have less to do with the actual products Deschutes has put out in the past couple years--surely one of the most innovative and aggressive line-ups in the country--than some kind of other violation. So what's up?

Do these comments represent your views? Anyone else care to take a crack at what's going on here?


Update: Bill posts his thoughts, too. Looks like there's a backlash to the backlash. Deschutes supporters are rallying! (Isn't it a delight to live in a state where people are so passionate about their beer. You could even call it ... Beervana.)

2009: When Fresh Hop Ales Were First Perfected

Fresh hopped beers have been brewed in the Northwest for well over a decade (I had the good fortune to see Bert Grant brew one back in the 90s), but they didn't really explode until three years ago. The rapid adoption of the style has become a signature feature of the Northwest--and also one more or less unique to the region. Breweries in other states make these beers--some on their own hop fields--but since 90% of the commercial hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest, we have the home-court advantage.

The idea is perfectly consonant with the NW ethos. We have one of the richest natural environments in the country, and much of our culture has evolved around this bounty. We have been a leading state on environmental protection and organic farming. For Oregonians (and Washingtonians), fresh means wholesome and good. So the idea of getting hops of the vine and into the kettle within minutes, while they're at the peak of freshness, was an obvious one. Inevitable, really.

Just one problem: fresh hop ales are hard to brew and we've seen wide variability in the last two years.

The thing is, un-dried hops are not just fresher, more vibrant versions of their dried selves; somehow, the acids and oils exhibit their character differently. In a batch of beer, they smell, taste, and behave differently. Often, the character a hop was famous for (citrus, pepper, bitterness, aroma) was changed in subtle or obvious ways. In some cases, breweries failed to get the expected bitterness from the hops. And in some cases, more disturbingly, some hops seem to contribute unpalatable qualities--gassy, herbal, sometimes even vaguely decomposing notes. Of course, in some cases, everything came together and the resulting beer was a new beast--fresh, green, light, radiant. (In 2007, I named Full Sail Lupulin my Satori Award winner for best debut beer.)

As a consequence, over the past three years, breweries have been running real-time experiments with fresh hop beers. (You only get to make the style once a year.) Turns out some hops work really well (Crystal, Cascade, Amarillo) and some not so much (Perle, Willamette). Initially, breweries tried a variety of different beer styles, but ales seem to work best. A couple yeayears ago, breweries were apt to use multiple hop varieties (typical for American ales), but this year, the vast majority used a single hop.

Well, note it down: 2009 is the year it all came together. With only one exception, the beers I tried at this year's Fresh Hop Fest all managed to isolate the good qualities of the fresh hop-- greener, softer, more herbal--and leave aside the bad (review to come). I tried to sample beers with different hops, ultimately tasting beers with these varieties: Amarillo, Brewer's Gold, Chinook, Hallertauer, Liberty, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Santiam, and Summit. All had very clean hop notes, green, but not gassy or composty. Even in good beers, the character of the fresh hop is different than its dry hop variant--the Summits, so distinctly orange-y and intense when dried, for example, were more like Juicy Fruit gum in the Widmer's entry this year. (Okay, not all--the Hallertauers were bizarre. More on that to come.)

I was fascinated by fresh hop ales in years past, but not in love with them. Given the amazing experimentation by US breweries, was inevitable that the country would begin to develop new styles of beer. This fresh hop thing has had real possibility--it was poised to become the Beaujolais nouveau of the beer world (with the Northwest standing in as Beaujolais). But it could have as easily become a fad that died out soon: weird, unpredictable beer is not the kind of thing of which venerable old styles are made. This year, I think we have passed an important milestone. I've tried a dozen or so fresh-hop beers and almost all were interesting, above-average (and sometimes excellent) beers. I don't know whether it was the hop variety, brewing method, beer style, or what, but breweries have figured it out.

My fascination has turned to something less clinical this year. I'm smitten. Fresh hopped beer has come of age.