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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Way Back When - Jackson and Gomes

The following two photos are courtesy of Steve Goebel, the former paper executive who came to Oregon to start a brewery. He had the idea that the brewery should hearken back to the days of old, when German immigrants made traditional lagers. He hired the best brewer he could find, a young German-trained guy named Tony Gomes. As a final touch, he christened the brewery "Saxer" in honor of Henry Saxer, who founded the first brewery in the Oregon territories back in the 1850s. Goebel was equal measures dreamer, promoter, and wheeler-dealer, and he brought in Michael Jackson one year as part of a big homebrew competition and general celebration of beery goodness.

These photos document the day Jackson toured the brewery (I got to tag along). It was quite an experience. I was surprised how interested Jackson was in every aspect of the brewery--I figured, having toured a few thousand, he must have been able to scan it briefly and see what he needed. But Jackson was thorough--a true newspaperman.

When we finally got to the beer, Gomes lined up full pints of each brew, and Jackson worked his way down the line (drinking maybe an ounce of each). He stopped after the first, the flagship bock, commented on the grains and hops he identified and then asked, "You used a decoction mash?" Gomes beamed and shot a look at Goebel. Decoction mashing contributes a subtle quality of malt richness--but is time-consuming and expensive. Gomes and Goebel had an ongoing debate about whether anyone could actually tell the beer was decocted. To his credit, Goebel never got in the way of the brewing process, but he wasn't convinced. With Jackson's question, the matter was settled.

Jackson left the world too soon, Gomes has left craft brewing, and Saxer didn't survive the 90s. (No idea what happened to Steve Goebel.) So this is indeed a moment passed. Enjoy.



  1. By a bizarre coincidence, a couple of hours ago I was telling a co-worker about Saxer, which he'd never heard of (too young). Superb lagers but all the smart people in Portland knew that lagers suck and ales rule. Saxer could never get past that piece of local wisdom, which is a damn shame.

  2. Yeah, it sucks as they'd probably be doing pretty good in today's market.

  3. Actually, they DID survive the 90's: Portland Brewing bought Saxer/Nor'Wester in early 2000.

  4. Saxer was one of my favorites...except for that Lemon Lager.

  5. Trying out the mid-ninety's saxer dopplebock at Fred Fest last year was a real treat. Held up really well!

  6. I met MJ that day at the brewery and got him to autograph one of his books that I brought along. A nice guy who actually stopped and chatted with me for a few minutes, asking me questions about home brewing and such. Sorry he's gone.