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


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Indiginous American Brewing: the Double Mountain Example

Everyone needs to write a report about what they did over the summer, right? I went to Kriek Kamp. (No sing-a-longs or s'mores, but we did have the rough equivalent of the sixer of beer stashed in the creek.) The event was aimed at regular folk, not media (necessarily), and it revolved around making the annual Double Mountain Kriek. After a brewers dinner where we tried a vertical tasting of three commercial Belgian examples and the Double Mountain vintages--including the last three gallons of the '08--we went cherry picking and helped with the crush. In fact, mother nature was fickle this year, and brewer Matt Swihart's cherries weren't ready. So he brewed up a batch of porter, and the cherries we picked--at a nearby field--went toward sweetening it. The process was identical to the one they'll repeat in a week with the Kriek, though.

I wish every brewery did something like this. You get a very good sense of how a brewery runs, how the owners think about business, and how the brewer brews. From the outside, Double Mountain looks incredibly methodical. When they opened their doors, the menu was in place, they had a stellar line of beers ready, and Charlie Devereux almost instantly secured handles in Portland. They had really done their work, and they debuted like a five-year-old brewery. It was therefore really interesting to see that brewer Matt Swihart is more of an instinctive brewer. Some are improvisational, some methodical, some technical--Matt's instinctive. Charlie, meanwhile, was flexible and relaxed, despite having to orchestrate a new event with lots of changing, moving parts. It was like they invited us into their house, and it was a total blast.

Beyond the fun, though, Double Mountain is doing something rare and possibly unique in America, and Kriek Kamp brought it home. In the age of industrialization and globalization, every region is a good region to brew. That's actually a good thing--it means breweries have ready access to perfectly fresh, clean ingredients, and don't have to wait for the season to change before they can brew. But it also means most breweries are divorced from their own weather, their terroir.

Double Mountain is sited between Mounts Hood and Adams (hence the brewery's name), and in between them is one of America's premier fruit-producing regions. About ten minutes outside of Hood River, Matt owns forty acres cultivated largely in orchards. When he bought the land, it was planted with red delicious apples, but he replaced those with cherries, pears, and peaches--the former and latter with an eye to beer. (The orchard business surprised me on two counts: you can have a tree up and producing in 4-5 years, and fruit farmers regularly pull out trees and replace them with different ones.)

The idea of harvesting the cherries to go in the beer is both a throwback to a distant past in brewing, but maybe also forward-looking. One of the great contributions of craft brewing to the beer world--at least in the US--is the element of localness. The Northwest has a big advantage in this, since we have the hop fields so close. But breweries across the country have incorporated local ingredients into their beers (blueberries in Maine, maple syrup in Vermont, Door County cherries in Wisconsin). Even our practice of aging beers in bourbon barrels is purely American. I have long been fascinated by what it means to produce "indigenous" beer, and a central element is harnessing what's around you. Eventually, Matt hopes to use his peaches in a sour beer, and he is toying--not very seriously--with the idea of a perry.

I look forward to the day when there's a Peche Party to accompany Kriek Kamp. August, perhaps?

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