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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Preparing the Mutt

A few shots from last night as Lucky Lab's "the Mutt" came together. Two things these photos don't show: (1) Oregon Governor Kitzhaber stopped by (randomly)--Bill Night apparently larned him up on the nature of fresh hops; and (2) there were a bunch of dogs running around (naturally), and one was wreathed in hops.

Anyway, enjoy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Which Steve Duin Praises JV Northwest

Steve Duin is a longtime political columnist for the Oregonian, and for some reason he went off script today to write about JV Northwest, a metal fabricator that made the switch from saw-blade manufacturers to brewery builders. The thrust of the story is one of those 'local company does good in a bad economy' pieces, but it's generally just a nice recap of one of the country's premier manufacturers of brewing equipment.
Microbrews continue to surge. As Jones said, "Once you're hooked on microbrew beers, no matter how bad the economy gets, you're not going back to Coors Light."

And JVNW continues to develop enough proprietary designs that Jones is sometimes forced to turn business away. When annual sales hit $25 million five years ago, the pace at the plant was a bit too intense, so JVNW scaled back to the $18 million range.

In this whirlpool of industrial noise, the whispers that Oregon is bad for business never break the surface.
Worth a look.

Devonshire White Ale; a Taste of the Past

Sometime nearly 500 years ago, a man named Andrew Boorde visited Cornwall and wrote about the local beer he found there: "Their ale ... looking white and thick, as if pigs has wrestled in it."* Sounds tempting, yes? What if I add that the beer was made with eggs, salt, and some flour thrown in after the mash? Irresistible. Ben Edmunds thought so; last week he served some--the first time in decades?--at Breakside.

Ben didn't make it exactly as the old accounts describe. (Thank god.) There are certain modernities professional brewers must observe. The flour and eggs, though, those he tossed in. The original Cornish ale was made in the manner of sourdough, with a pinch of the last batch kept in reserve for pitching into the next (it was known, poetically, as "the ripening"). It produced sour beer that needed to be drunk speedily lest it become an unhealthy science experiment. Ben achieved the tang with a bit of sour wort added into conditioning.

The resulting beer? Surprisingly tasty. It was thick, cloudy, and white--not foul enough to suggest the involvement of pigs, but certainly rustic-looking, like river water frothed by rapids. The pint I got came with a small skiff of beautiful foam, not wholly dissimilar to clotted--or Devonshire--cream. It didn't stick around long, though, and underneath was that whitish liquid. Amazingly, it was quite palatable. It was mildly tart and very thick, sort of like liquid sourdough bread. It was enjoyable enough that I had a second pint. And, should Ben ever get around to making another batch, I'd happily have a third and fourth pint to boot.

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*In the English of the day, it was actually rendered thus: "Their ale ... lokinge whyte and thycke, as pygges had wrastled in it.” More, much more, on the style here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Things That Make Beervana Beervana: #9, Lucky Lab The Mutt

There are a number of elements that give Beervana it's particular flavor, and a somewhat unemphasized one is the sense of community and collaboration. This happens at the brewery level, where brewers share information and tips about recipes and methods (when I was at Breakside a while back, Ben was looking over notes he'd received from Ben Dobler and Alex Ganum on their goses--just one example). But it also connects beer drinkers directly with breweries through collaborative projects and events. In Portland, the line between brewer and drinker is murky.

The Lucky Lab's annual "The Mutt" fresh-hop ale is the quintessential metaphor for this sense of community and collaboration. The brewery picks their own hops and solicits donations from gardeners around the Rose City. Beginning at five, volunteers wade into the pile of bines and began shucking. When they're done, the baskets go into a beer called "The Mutt"--for the hoppy parentage of the beer is always a vast, mutable tapestry of hop strains.

If you have extra hops, drop them off any time tomorrow (last year they had 170 lbs of hops and this year they're shooting for 200). And if you want to help harvest--the zymurgical equivalent of a community barn-raising--be there at 5:30 pm to start plucking. It's happening at the patio of the Hawthorne Lab (915 SE Hawthorne), and I can absolutely guarantee a good time.
Hop Harvest for "The Mutt"
August 30, 5:30 pm
Lucky Labrador Brewpub, 915 SE Hawthorne
Bring your bines!
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PHOTO: BEN FLERCHINGER BY ANGELO DE IESO

Saturday, August 27, 2011

America the Best, Ctd.

On Thursday, I wrote a post arguing that the US has the world's best beer ("hands down"). It was a post in which I tried to bring together two threads: the lighthearted case made by Chris Bertram against the US, and the arrival of Breakside's Devon White Ale--perhaps the first time that style has been brewed in over a hundred years (or, of course, perhaps not). In the process, I offended people like the estimable Canadian Stephen Beaumont and Czech-residing Argentine Pivní Filosof--which was not the goal.

I have argued many times against bests on this blog. They're great talking points, but the only way to arrive at them is to either rely wholly on subjectivity or to define terms narrowly. When Chris made his case against the US, he used idiosyncratic definitions--many favorable to the beer-drinking habits of his home country (though, flouting chauvinism, he gives Belgium the nod for overall best beer). To arrive at "best beer country," you have to define your terms. Cases can be made for countries depending on which definitions you emphasize. Britain or Ireland (pub culture), diversity of extant indigenous styles (Belgium), continuity of tradition (Germany), centrality in culture (Czech Republic). I wondered on what basis Canada would stake their claim on Beaumont's blog, but I'm still coming up blank.

America has a right to stake a claim, and one based on more than naive chauvinism. Since 90% of the beer sold here is sold in cans and bottles, it's not based on pub culture. Since our tradition is fractured and mostly recent, it certainly can't be based on continuity. Since we have only a couple indigenous styles (if you're being generous), it's not on native diversity, and since we only drink half as much beer as Czechs--and by some accounts are on target to be come a wine-majority country--we can't claim centrality to culture. And on those dimensions we look up at a not just a few countries who do it better.

But the US does have one thing going for it, a cute little baby I'd prefer not go out with the bathwater. The US, as an immigrant country, cares little about tradition. Because of Prohibition and the consolidation of the 50s-70s, the country lost all memory of beer styles and started over from scratch in 1980. We effectively had no brewing tradition at all then. So when craft brewers came along, they didn't have any tradition to protect. They were happy to steal profligately from Europe--and did. In my Thursday post, I wrote:
Breweries in the United States not only produce every commercial beer style produced everywhere else, but for every commercial beer style produced, a domestic US brewery makes at least a credible example. This includes not just standard British, German, and Belgian styles, but rare specialties like lambics (Allagash). Can any other country make this claim of producing credible examples of all the world's styles? No.
We have breweries like Geary's that have a traditional Yorkshire system, use traditional Yorkshire yeast and ingredients. We have breweries like Victory doing decoction mashing. Rogue has embarked on growing their own barley and floor malting it. Allagash uses a turbid mash and cool ship to produce spontaneously-fermented beer. Sierra Nevada is working with a monastery for the Ovila line. These breweries produce beer that is "credible"--that is, it's as well-made as the European standards. (Let's not get into "best.")

American culture is absorptive and mutable. So far, that defines the expression of American brewing. It means that when a brewery reads about an 18th century style, he's likely to try to make it. It means that somewhere in the country, someone's trying to brew something that's being brewed somewhere else. I readily accept that this may not be purely praiseworthy. But it is distinctive, much in the way beer cultures across the world are distinctive.

My point in overstating the case against Chris was to point out that while America may be very far from being able to claim "best," it doesn't mean the breweries here should be dismissed out of hand. All beer culture--particularly distinctive beer culture--is praiseworthy. And America finally has something distinctive.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Making of a Mighty Mite

This is a guest post from Oakshire brewer Matt Van Wyk, who graciously agreed to tell the story behind Lil Smokey, his contribution to the Mighty Mites fest. Although I like to think you can tell a brewer's personality by his beers, this post gives you an even better sense of Matt's. If you've found a little insouciance in his beer, now you can see why. Thanks, Matt, for taking the time--


A few months ago, Jeff asked me if I could design a beer for his upcoming session ale fest, Mighty Mite. Of course, I am always honored when people think enough of the beers we make to personally request it. Last winter, on a visit to Eugene with Beeronomics' Patrick Emerson, Jeff got a chance to sample Well-Mannered Gnome, our small beer made from the second runnings of Very Ill Tempered Gnome; I know that Jeff is not one to chase down the latest Quadruple IPA just to be the first to experience it and share it with the world. So I shouldn't have been surprised that they were such a big fan of this little 3% hoppy mild ale. But what I didn't know is that I would be asked to make a beer for one of the events at the first ever Portland Beer Week.

So, I began the arduous task of writing a recipe. But first, the style. It often goes like this: Drink, think. drink, think. Don't you get your best thinking done when you are drinking? Luckily, I get to call that R&D. I figured I would just make a pale ale type beer. Something I knew people would like, even if the alcohol was lower than normal. I started scratching out a recipe. Malt? Easy. Hop?. Don't forget balance. Not to much, not to little. It's pretty difficult to make an exceptional sub 4% abv beer. Usually, there is a lack of body and mouthfeel to help with balance. Flaws could stick out more. Good thing we don't make flaws! You know, maybe I should consult my malt inventory. I don't need much for this beer. And if there is any partial bags that need to be used up, perhaps I can incorporate that? Once I started looking in the malt room I had a change of directions. 5 lbs. of cherrywood smoked malt in that bag, 13 lbs. of smoked malt in that bag. Hey! a full 55 lbs. of unopened smoked malt. Maybe. There's some chocolate malt, some caramel malts. Smoked Porter! Petite smoked porter that is! I decided I'd make a dark beer in the hottest of Oregon months. Perfect.

On brew day, as I was milling the malt, I started tasting the specialty malt. This is something I always do when I am using new or unusual ingredients. I knew the cherrywood smoked malt was old, but only had 5 lbs. Use it up, it smells nice. The other opened bag had less smokey aroma, and sadly, the unopened bag had the least amount of smoke impact. Hmmm... is there enough to call it a smoked porter? I raced to our secondary storage area to see if we had any more smoked malt in house. Nope, I came up empty. Well, I just hoped the lighter body, alcohol, and roast flavors would let the smoke shine through. Brew away, nervously.

At Oakshire, beers like this are part of our single batch series. We make them for draft only and in small (22-24 kegs) batches. Often these beers are never seen again. We have made nearly 30 unique beers in this program so far this year. When then come out, we make unique tap handle stickers (Bryan Taylor of Treeman Design) for each of the single batch beers. I had decided on Lil' Smokey as the name of this beer so had Bryan, our graphics designer, start on the sticker, all the while hoping it was actually smokey. The beer finished fermenting at 3.2%. Hmmm... I'm not sure if this will do it. Of course, I am a huge fan of rauch beers. My threshold might be a little higher than others. Let's get some other feedback. I took an uncarbonated sample to the sales team and to my team of brewers. Is it smokey, I asked? Enough to keep the name? The consensus was that it was mildly smokey, balanced with the rest of the elements. The vote was to keep the name and the already designed logo. (As a side note, round one on the graphic was a factory with smoke, and as I thought that was a little more NW Indiana feeling rather than NW United States, we changed to a campfire).

The result of all this will be served Saturday in Portland at the first Mighty Mite fest. It is a lighter bodied porter of 3.2% with hints of chocolate, roast, and a faint smokey aroma and flavor. It is super easy drinking, even in the 90 degree weather we have been experiencing. So much so that the beer is totally sold out in both Eugene and Portland warehouses, so check with your favorite publican to see if they snatched a keg. If not, what better reason to get over the the festival and try a little sample of this little guy. Cheers!
~Matt Van Wyk

Events of Note

I feel like we're at the end of a marathon here--mile 24, the end is near, but there's still some runnin' left to do. (I'm part of the problem, I know.) But before you can rest, you must finish the race. There are scads of events around Portland Beer Week, and I've been lame in promoting them--fortunately, the Number One Beer Blogger in America has been on the case. Here are two more to be apprised of:

1. Hop Madness
Homebrewers tend to fly under the radar, and yet approximately 97% of Portland's beer geeks are also homebrewers. I therefore commend you to Hop Madness, the "largest gathering of home brewers and home brewing clubs in the Pacific Northwest." It's more like Homebrew-a-palooza:
  • Hop harvest brewing: Fresh hops and water provided, bring your own brewing equipment.
  • Hop tour: A tour of the active hop harvest (2pm on Sat)
  • Best Damn Hoppy Beer Contest: Bring your hoppiest damn beer and enter it into the contest.
  • Overnight camping
  • Hop Olympics: Organize a team of your fellow club members to compete for homebrewer bragging rights.
It's September 3-4, 2011 from noon to noon at the Rogue Farms Micro Hopyard in Independence, Oregon--and it's dirt cheap. If I weren't going to be out of town, I'd be there myself. Here's their website with all the deets.


2. Brewvana Bend Tour
For those (like me) who have been woefully bad about getting over to Bend, here's a great opportunity. Brewvana Tours are embarking on their first overnighter. You leave Saturday morning, Sept 10, land in Bend for a tour at Deschutes. Lunch is at 10 Barrel, and the evening is yours to roam (Bend Brewing, Silver Moon, Cascade Lakes, etc.). Brewvana puts you up at the Phoenix Inn Suites and in the morning, you're off to Boneyard. The tour price includes transportation, overnight accommodations, beer samples at 2 different breweries, lunch on Saturday afternoon, and breakfast Sunday morning. The cost is just $165 for a four-person room, $195 for a two-person.


3. Occidental Debuts
St. Johns' only brewery has actually had beer available for awhile, but they've never been to Southeast Portland. They will tonight at 5-8pm at Beermongers (12th and SE Division). On hand are owners and brewers Dan and Ben Engler and a lineup of their all-German beers: Cloudy Summer Kolsch, Hefeweizen, Altbier and Dunkel.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mighty Mites Taplist

As promised, I wanted to post a list of the beers and breweries that will be at Mighty Mites on Saturday (noon at Coaltion, 28th and Ankeny, bring an old mug or glass from another fest). I'm told there may also be a Cascade entry, but I haven't gotten the details on that yet. [Correction: description arrived, and I've updated it below.] This is pretty close to final.

As you can see, we have a couple of cheater sessions that are a nip over 5%. But we also have nine beers under 4%. Poor Ted Sobel will be confused to find that his beer isn't the smallest of the fest (though it will be the only cask pour). We got sours and smoked ales and saisons and lagers and wheats, a fully-organic ale, and two traditional small beers. It should be a very good time. Come out and join us, will you?

The Knoll, Beetje
A simple American pale ale made with 2-row pale and a host of specialty malts to help develop malt character that’s backed up by a healthy dose of hopping. This clean and refreshing ale is well suited for afternoon with friends.
3.8% ABV | 37 IBU | OG 1.040

Berliner Weisse, Block 15
This ale is light, refreshing, and deliciously sour. The main focus of this beer is thirst quenching acidity from lactobacillus, low alcohol, low hops, with a crisp wheat note and a touch of Brettanomyces. With a PH of 3.2 the beer is cleanly sour, crisp, and refreshing.
3.2% ABV

Farmhouse Grisette, Breakside
A farmhouse-style biere de table--a beer that might traditionally have been consumed by Belgian children. It is made with two types of wheat, a saison yeast, and German hops; it gains additional complexity from the use of sour wort. Our lightest beer ever is equally easy drinking and layered.
3.8% ABV | 12 IBU | OG 1.037

Little Sir John, Brewers Union Local 180 (cask)
An Ordinary (or Session) Bitter. Cask-conditioned in the true British tradition and served "Northern-Style" through a beer engine and sparkler. Bittered and flavored with a mix of English and West Coast aromatic hops: Willamette, Citra, Summit, East Kent Goldings and Simcoe. Designed for the three imperial pints per hour crowd. No sipping allowed.
3.4% ABV

Gratzer, Burnside Brewing
In the Gratzer, 600 pounds of white wheat is hand smoked over a blend of Apple and Mesquite wood, achieving a light toasted, nutty flavor with a finish that carries just a hint of smoke.
5.4% ABV | 9 IBU | OG

Spruced up Blond, Cascade
This one-off from the brewers is a spiced blond with spruce tips.Light crisp notes of grain and spice greet you in the nose. Refreshing hints of spruce combine with Vienna and Pilsner malts on the palate, while hints of spice and soft resin from the spruce tips linger in the finish. Servus!
5.01% ABV | 21 IBU

Wheat the People, Coalition
Wheat the people is an American Style wheat beer designed to satisfy a thirsty palate on a hot summer day. A ase of American 2 row and white wheat instill this beer with a crisp and refreshing taste while still maintaining the traditional body wheat beer is known for. Single hopped with a light touch of Northern Brewer, wheat the people is the ultimate easy drinking craft beer.
4.4% ABV | 13 IBU

Wu Cream Ale, Coalition
The Wu Cream ale is a light, malt forward beer with low bitterness. We added flaked barley to give the beer a soft mouthfeel to complement the sweetness of Munich and honey malt.
4.8% ABV | 29 IBU

Dapper Dan, Double Mountain
Dapper Dan is a true session ale in the British tradition, robust in flavor yet quite low in alcohol. Four different roasted malts add complexity, while our Kolsch yeast delivers its classic roundness and a restrained fruitiness. Brewed with Gambrinus Organic Pilsner and Dark Munich malt, imported brown, crystal and roasted malts, Warrior and Sterling hops.
3.5% ABV | 31 IBU

Working Girl Porter, Fort George
Our Panamax Porter is reborn with this new coffee porter named The Working Girl—brewed with the addition of over 5 lbs. of Working Girl coffee beans. The beans were put into both the mash tun and the kettle to create a light coffee aroma and coffee aftertaste in this diverse porter. With additional hints of chocolate and rye malt, this porter is well balanced and fantastic at any point in the day.
4.6% ABV

Little Dogs, Hair of the Dog
One of the oldest traditions in brewing is known as “small beer.” These are made when the grains from a high-gravity beer are reused, pulling out the remaining sugars in the mash. Hair of the Dog makes small beers from both Adam and Fred. Little Dog Fred is made with organic pilsner and rye malts; Little Dog Adam of organic pilsner, chocolate, black, and crystal malts.
3.2% ABV

Voodoo Mild, New Old Lompoc
This take on a traditional British Mild features pale, brown, chocolate and peat smoked malts and toasted barley flakes, UK challenger and US Willamette hops along with Nottingham English Ale yeast. Medium bodied with notes of chocolate and a hint of peat with a subdued hop bitterness.
3.4% ABV | 12 IBU | OG 1.036

“Oxymoronic” Organic IPA, Natian
This experimental beer is a fully organic beer. It uses 100% organic Palisade hops (most organic beers use conventional hops)—a new, unusual hop variety noted for its fruity character. The hopping rates are consistent with an IPA, but the beer is brewed at session strength. A little IPA? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Helles Belles, Ninkasi
Helles Belles is a crisp German lager with a lightly toasted clean malt flavor and body balanced by the addition of Spalt and Hallertau hops. These impart flavors and aromas that are grassy and subtly earthy in nature. This style is Bavaria’s national beer and defines drinkability to the people of Munich.
5.1% ABV | 22 IBU | OG 1.051

Lil' Smokey, Oakshire
This session porter has been made with a touch of smoked malt. Light bodied with hints of smoke, roast, and chocolate, Lil’ Smokey is just right for the dark beer lover in summertime.
3.2% ABV

Pure Wit, Upright
Upright’s take on a Belgian-style wit using coriander and a special bitter orange peel for aromatics along with a good portion of oats and both raw and malted wheat. Creamy, tart, and refreshing.
4.5% ABV

Best Beer? America, Hands Down

Since I'm in a bomb-throwing mood, let's pick up the pace. The political bloggers have enjoyed a strange little explosion of beery blogging lately (I've been meaning to get to it, but...). The thrust had to do with neoliberal economics, which I won't subject you to--at least not yet--though here are a few of the key posts: Yglesias, Philpott, Konczal. I then tuned out and missed the piece at Crooked Timber Stan linked to yesterday. Written by Brit Chris Bertram and titled "Beer Chauvinism," it was a bomb itself:
Some people think that the United States now brews the best beer, but even they are forced to concede that should you wish to actually drink the stuff, you are better placed (for example) in England where a ten-minute stroll from your front door (in any major or minor city) will likely get you to a pub with a decent selection. However, the partisans of nouveau American beer chauvinism have asserted that whilst England may score highly on that dimension, the typical US supermarket has a world-beating selection of brews.
Chris then embarks on a well-written, amusingly chauvinistic post designed to put impertinent Yanks in their place (was it ever not thus?). And indeed, Chris's argument holds sway because he's able to dictate the terms. He is indeed correct that there remain many places in America where you can't find good beer. He is furthermore correct that in most towns, the corner bar doesn't have a best bitter or mild on tap.

Where Chris does not go, where he can't go, is the question of diversity. On this score we crush all comers. Is there a style brewed on the earth that's not brewed in America? Doubtful. Is there a style once brewed in the world that's not brewed in America? Arguable. Chris might toss out a few likelies: gratzer (we brew it), gose (brew it) adambier (yup--sort of). He might dig into his bag of tricks. What about a Devon White Ale, the ghastly-sounding egg-beer once made in the toe of England in the sixteenth century? Sorry, we make that, too.
It’s the fermentation process that makes this beer unique, however. First, the beer was fermented with a portion of unfermented wort reserved from the previous batch called ‘The Ripening.’ The reserve was kept warm until it was time to brew the next batch, when it was added before fermentation. Presumably, this smelled or tasted like modern sour wort. For this part of the brewing, we pulled about two liters of first runnings from an upcoming beer, put it into a conditioning vessel with some ground malt and an ounce of hops.
And I'm willing to bet $100 Chris has never been to Oregon, or he'd be a lot less certain of himself.


Update: In comments, Dan writes: " America probably brews greatest diversity of stuff, but you'd have to make a more sophisticated argument for outright 'best.'"

Fair enough. Here it is. Breweries in the United States not only produce every commercial beer style produced everywhere else, but for every commercial beer style produced, a domestic US brewery makes at least a credible example. This includes not just standard British, German, and Belgian styles, but rare specialties like lambics (Allagash). Can any other country make this claim of producing credible examples of all the world's styles? No.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reviews: Red Rising, Westvleteren 12

One thing you have to say about the beer bloggers conference: insanely good beer. At every moment, in and out of sessions, someone was handing you a beer. Things got rolling in the first half hour, when Angelo started waving a bottle around in the universal, "what some?" gesture. We were at the back of the room in a scene that recalled my school days, sniggering and whispering and generally goofing off. He might have been proffering a Budweiser, but I was happy to thrust my glass forward. By way of communicating what the chestnut beer in my glass was, he handed over the cap: Westvleteren 12. And we're off.

I'm not going to review every beer I tried over the weekend (and maybe I shouldn't be reviewing beers at all--the general consensus among bloggers held that reviews are mostly boring) but a few can't be missed. Here they are.

Westvleteren 12
This is easily the most coveted beer in the geek-o-sphere. In order to secure a bottle you must travel to the abbey of Sint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium (or get one from someone who did). The brothers don't distribute. So perhaps it's the rarity or maybe the beatific setting, but Westy 12 has this reputation: ambrosia on earth, god's tears, holy water. (Behold the love.) Styled a quad in the literature, I was shocked to see that it was brown. This was not the only surprise. Angelo said he thought the bottle (secured via eBay) was three years old, and it definitely exhibited the qualities of age. But beyond that, it was very much like an English barleywine. It has a bread pudding aroma with caramel and alcohol. The palate is deep and figgy, with notes of caramel and cola, boozy in the fashion of Thai Mekong whiskey. I wouldn't call it especially complex, though. There was little in the way of yeast-contributed complexity. Perhaps as a Westy unbeliever I am not a reliable witness; for me the beer was not made blood. I wouldn't turn down another pour, though, don't get me wrong. Call it a solid B.
Link
Deschutes The Stoic
Speaking of quads, we've got a new one in town. Last week, Deschutes released a beer that's been in the works awhile, an 11% quad aged in rye and pinot barrels, spiked with sugar and pomegranate molasses, and aged and refermented four times. ("Stoic" is an interesting choice. A Greek philosophy holding that man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief. As one observer said, 'pomegranate molasses--what's stoic about that?") My main reaction is that it seems a bit green. It's still sweet and a bit rummy. There's a mild phenolic note. It is exceedingly smooth, though, and there are no higher alcohols to make it sharp or prickly--which does make it an easy-sippin' 11% beer. I would love to see it grow past this youthful stage and into a more mature...stoic one. I'll get back to you in a year.

Hopworks Galactic Red
It may be that Hopworks will transition slowly into the Imperial brewery. They seem to really hit their stride at about 9% alcohol. I missed Galactic Red when it orbited earth last year, so this was my first opportunity. With big beers, the key is to create clean, clear flavors that don't fuzz out like sounds on an overmatched speaker. It's easy to add intensity; hard to produce clean, bell-like notes. Galactic Red nails it. It's got a candy-like malt base that offers just enough of a foundation for the hop assault, which is vivid, varied, and violent. In a kaleidoscope of hop flavors, you pass from earthy to spicy to piney to citrusy. Like a mushroom trip for hop flavors. They are distinct, though, and a joy to behold--in that eyelids-pasted-back kind of way. An A- any day of the week, and possibly an A if I'm feeling good.

Cigar City Tocobaga Red Ale
One of the hottest breweries in the country is Cigar City, from Tampa, Florida. They are brewing in the classic "International extreme" mode--a sure way to attract geek attention. (Though their list of beers is longer than your arm, so who knows what lies at the heart of their vision.) I approached the beer with a hearty skepticism. Sure, Floridians think it's good beer, but what do Floridians know? Turns out: something. This was a very nice beer, and more to the point, something fresh and new (Alan might take note). The red was, like Hopworks', based on a candyish base, maybe just a touch of caramel. The hopping though, was unique. It was very long and woody, resinous, and cedary. "Woody" doesn't always mean spicy, but here it does. Spicy-oily. And for those who think things must be tame in the South, this beer is a nice refutation. It was very big and very bold. Perhaps just a notch behind Hopworks, but what the hell, call it an A-.

Double Mountain Black Blood
Just a word or two on the robust porter produced from the cherries we picked on Kriek Kamp. Charlie Devereux brought up a growler for the conference, and I got to sample a splash. The main thing is that it was an intense, slightly disturbing color. "Black blood" was right on the money. My palate was a bit shattered when I tried it, but I recall thinking of desert--chocolate, cherry, and a twist of tart. You probably won't have a chance to try it unless you're passing through Hood River in the near future. Still, it was a cool beer.

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Apologies again to Matt Wiater, whose photo I've stolen. Matt was sitting next to me when we tried the Westvleteren, and his photography is always sumptuous (whereas mine is blurry and poorly-composed).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Listen to Your Beer

Karl Ockert wants to change the way we think about beer. Ultimately, he wants to change the way we talk about it, too, but first he wants us to abandon our old mental models. There's a pernicious habit among the beery folk to treat beer like a lab experiment and find the flaws. Beer judging is almost a perverse process of totting up a beer's flaws; as in golf, the least strokes--or black marks--wins. When we do approach beer from the perspective of appreciation, our language is often imprecise and overly broad: "malty," "hoppy" and so on.

Karl, now the technical director for the Master Brewers Association of America, is putting together a program that will teach people to be better appreciators. It's in the vein of the cicerone program, but focused more narrowly on the sensory experience of beer. The idea is to use all one's senses to explore beer, then use a consistent set of terms to describe them. To put a bit of mustard on the process, Karl asked us to think about listening to our beer. (Turned out the point had more to do with the way sounds trigger impressions, memory, and expectations--a nice way of illustrating how the brain, the sixth sense, intrudes on the process.) The sound of beer being poured into a glass and the visual presentation--that's where the process starts, and it goes through the final swallow.

More interesting for our purposes, Karl has completely reimagined the taxonomy of beer. Gone are the classic divisions of ales and lagers, of clusters of styles based on region. Instead, beers are grouped into four groups based on their dominant flavor:
  • Malt-driven beers (Examples: Munich helles, brown ale, bock, barleywine, porter)
  • Hop-driven beers (Examples: pilsner, pale ale, IPA)
  • Fermentation-driven beers (Examples: lambics, Bavarian hefeweizen, abbey ales)
  • Flavored beer (Examples: wit, rauchbier, fruit beers, bourbon barrel-aged)
I'm not actually sure these are the best ways to break down beers by category. Saint Angelo De Ieso brought a Westvleteren 12 to the conference (bless him!), and I was struck at how much it reminded me of a barleywine. There was very little fermentation character in it. Speaking of barleywines, some are malt-driven but some, like Ockert's own Old Knucklehead, are damned hoppy.

But that misses the point. Karl's goal is to make us think differently about beer. If we're focused on the dominant flavor, we're looking for the beer's character, its positive attributes. Conceptually, beginning at the place of the dominant flavor and then exploring from there makes perfect sense. Along the way, we might well find a dreaded off-flavor. But finding it doesn't dominate the process; it's just one of the many qualities we find in the beer. It orients the taster toward appreciation, not judgment. (Once you've located the beer's central character, the specifics follow in a more familiar way; the descriptors Karl suggests are standard adjectives that relate to specific elements in a beer, like "clove" or "citrus" or "toffee.")

Whether the Beer Steward Program's model becomes the standard or not, I very much hope the idea Karl's promoting gains currency. We need a new way of thinking about beer; one based on understanding and appreciation rather than judgment.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Volunteer for Mighty Mites and Achieve Beervana

One reason I don't want to get into the event business like my betters is because it's hard and stressful. We have, for example, a bit of a volunteer crisis on the Mighty Mites front: we need more! So if you have even the most passing interest and you don't want to see posts like this again, consider donating a few hours to the cause, wouldja? You need an OLCC server card, and you will be rewarded with tasty beer for your labors. Plus I'll owe you, which can't be a bad thing. Email me at: the_beerax (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Thanks thanks thanks--

Communicating Beer and Social Media

Over the weekend, Portland hosted what I assumed was going to be a fairly dull conference (or is that redundant?) on beer blogging. The issue here is that we're talking about beer blogging--not exactly a topic that requires a lot of training or expertise. As the panels rolled by, what emerged was something entirely different. Turns out it wasn't a bloggers conference after all: it was an exploration of how to communicate craft beer.

That is, after all, one of the central issues that's confronted the industry since 1980. How do you simultaneously educate potential consumers about what beer really is, reconstitute beer culture, and, oh yeah, sell beer? A huge part of this quandary involves communications of various kinds. We've made some progress in three decades, but it's a nice wake-up call to interact with people from around the country in all phases of the industry (the conference is attended by brewers, importers, marketing people, and distributors). I'm reminded that Portland is not the United States and that if you were to run a national poll asking people to guess what an IPA is, only a fraction would have any idea. (Never mind who George Hodgson was).

Social media plays a pretty important role in all of this. The mainstream media never did really cover beer adequately, and now they cover it almost not at all. Information now travels via tweets, through Facebook, indirect vectors like Groupon, and sites like Yelp and BeerAdvocate. Bloggers play their role, too. If you're looking for more in-depth information on breweries or beer, you're likely to find it on a blog. If you search a brand of beer, you'll almost certainly to find blog posts on Google's first page of results.

Much of this is critical stuff. One of the best panels of the fest featured Mississippi blogger Craig Hendry's effort to drag the Magnolia State into the modern era. The issue there is almost entirely one of communication: Mississippi's laws reflect early-20th-century thinking on beer, and Craig's been doing yeoman's work to change views and the laws. Fascinating stuff. (I think we ought to hold next year's conference in Jackson, MS and blow the roof of the joint.)

Karl Ockert, long-time brewer at BridgePort and now technical director of the Master Brewers Association of America, had an absolutely amazing presentation about a new initiative called the Beer Steward Certificate Program. In putting together the materials, the MBAA took the opportunity to entirely re-think the question of beer appreciation, and they came up with a pretty radical conceptual framework. I'll post about that later this week, but the upshot is that MBAA are trying to figure out a better way to communicate beer appreciation.

I talked a bit with Allan Wright, organizer of the conference. He was already thinking about next year's event and wondering how a panel might try to reveal the importance of distribution in the beer industry (surely one of the least-understood aspects of craft brewing). He's also pondering the question of brewery size and beer quality--one that becomes ever more pointed as consolidation picks up speed.

My sense is that communication is a constant. If you read the British blogs, you know that getting the word out about new trends, new research, and providing just basic, accurate information is sometimes an uphill battle. A "bloggers conference" may not address that in a significant way. A beer and media conference like the one we just attended--it could be a great shot in the arm for people trying to get on the same page about the very big task of communicating the manifold issues confronting craft brewing.

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Photo of Ben Love speaking at the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference by Matt Wiater. See more photos from the conference at Matt's Flickr photostream.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Debt to Oregon Breweries Grows

This weekend the city of Portland has been hosting a conference for Beer Bloggers. (Which is, actually, a bit of a misnomer. It's more like a conference of beer and social media.) At about every step along the way, Oregon breweries have been helping out and offering free beer. They do it cheerfully and with pleasure. For the bloggers--who've been treated to things like Deschutes' new Stoic, Widmer's 2010 Braggot, Breakside's Gin-barrel Double Wit, Hopworks' Galactic Imperial Red and many more--it's been a real treat. For those of us who worried these bloggers would be stuck in a Doubletree conference room and missing out on the extraordinary bounty, it was most gratifying. Oregon breweries always step up for things like this--always exceed my high expectations--and it's a pleasure to be associated even distantly to them.

Thanks, folks--

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gallup's Latest Alcohol Preferences Survey: Noisy

The last couple years, Gallup has sent me a link to their annual alcohol preferences survey. This year they didn't and it fell to Alan to alert me to the latest numbers. One of the things that really lept off the page last year were the number of women who were apparently flocking to beer. I illustrated the numbers with this handy graph:


Women Citing Beer as Preferred Beverage

_____________________2009____2010__Change
All
__________________21%_____27% ___+6%
Under 49 years old
___25%_____35% ___+10%
Over 50 years old
____15%_____18% ___+3%

Great, right? Well, this year's numbers show a substantial reversal--still positive over '09's numbers, but only modestly so.

Women Citing Beer as Preferred Beverage

_____________________2009____2010___2011
All
__________________21%_____27% ___22%
Under 49 years old
___25%_____35% ___28%
Over 50 years old
____15%_____18% ___17%
The numbers are worse for beer across the map. Beer was favored by 41% of respondents last year and only 36% this year (wine gained 3% to 35% and liquor 2% to 23%)--tied for the lowest ever measured. And it was down particularly badly among young people, who cited it as their favorite alcohol in just 39% of cases (down from 51%).

Of course, it's pretty clear we're just seeing poll "noise." These surveys have a margin of error of ±4%. When you look at the graphs, you see a lot of zig-zagging year-to-year. It's hard to think that such large populations are swinging in preference one year to the next. Rather, there are trends that become exaggerated by single data points.


If you consider the averages, things appear a little different. Over the past ten years, beer is cited as the favorite by an average of 41% of respondents (high of 46, low of 39). That is off the average from the previous decade's average of 45% (high 47%, low 42%). Wine has picked up some the slack, cited by 33% of people over the past decade, up from 30% the decade before. The remainder goes to liquor.

So if we go back to the number for women, I think we could assume the same phenomenon. (Unfortunately, we don't have numbers going back two decades, so we can't see the trendline.) Probably things are moving in the right direction, but far more modestly than it appeared after last year's survey.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oregon at the GABF

Note the update below, which clarifies the GABF selection process.

Every year the GABF comes and goes and I cast a momentarily longing eye toward Denver--then whinge with indignity that our breweries didn't sweep the medals. Well, for once, my eye won't be longing. I applied for and was miraculously granted a media credential. This means I'll be able to try to sample a vast array of American beers without having to travel a vast array of miles--handy for someone writing a book on beer. It also means I'll be blogging about the fest. To the extent possible, I'll give you a blogger's-eye-view of things, with maybe a dish or two along the way.

For today's post, we have news about the attendees. I was surprised to see the Oregon contingent ringing in at an impressive 27 breweries--or 5.7% of all breweries in attendence. They are:
  • 10 Barrel Brewing Company
  • Barley Brown’s Brew Pub
  • Bend Brewing Co.
  • Breakside Brewery
  • BridgePort Brewing
  • Cascade Lakes
  • The Commons Brewery (Beetje)
  • Deschutes Brewery
  • Full Sail Brewing Company
  • GoodLife Brewing Company (Bend)
  • Hop Valley Brewing Co.
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery
  • Laurelwood
  • MacTarnahan’s Brewing Company
  • Ninkasi Brewing Company
  • Oakshire Brewing Company
  • Pelican Pub & Brewery
  • Ram Restaurant & Brewery – Clackamas
  • Ram Restaurant & Brewery – Salem
  • Rogue Ales
  • Seven Brides Brewing
  • Silver Moon Brewing
  • Standing Stone Brewing Company
  • Steelhead Brewing Company
  • Three Creeks Brewing Company
  • Upright Brewing Company
  • Widmer Brothers Brewing Co
That's nothing compared with California (84,* 18% of all breweries) or Colorado (74,* 16% of all breweries), but pretty good. Washington, incidentally, has 24 breweries in attendance. The full list can be seen here.


Update. Thanks to a comment below, I realize it may not be obvious by this post how the GABF selects breweries. Answer: it doesn't. It's not like Sundance, where even getting into the fest is a big deal. Pay your shekels and you're in. You don't even have to be a craft brewery. So the numbers I cited for participation are purely based on the interest of the breweries in the states themselves.
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*It's actually a little hard to calculate numbers because contract brewing and mergers screw things up. For example, Genessee, Pyramid, and Magic Hat are listed as "Oregon" breweries. Miller is listed as a Colorado brewery. I trimmed the Oregon list and did what I could with CA and CO, but I wouldn't consider these bulletproof counts.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A "Revealing" Promotion?

Just yesterday, I was arguing vigorously that craft brewing promotes an atmosphere of family-friendly conviviality and enjoyment. But today I get an email touting a secretive after-hours pub crawl of establishments where children definitely aren't allowed:
I hear that you are attending the Beer Blogger Conference this weekend in Portland. As you are aware Portland is known for making some World Class Ales and Lagers…. and also for its wide selection of Gentleman Clubs with good beer. How convenient! With that said an “Unsanctioned” group of us from [redacted brewery] would like to load you up on a bus (no pun intended) and take a tour to the following Portland Iconic locations; Acrop, Sassy’s, Mary’s, Union Jacks, or Cabaret. [Redacted brewery] has been known to throw down and the bar tab will be taken care of, but sorry, not the lap dances!
I don't disapprove of this, and I don't want to get anyone in trouble or scotch the event--thus the redacted names. I found it so remarkable, though, that I thought I'd pass it along. To the [redacted brewery]'s credit, lady bloggers were also apparently invited.

For all those visiting bloggers, this is actually a perfect example of the strange city that is the People's Republic of Portland. We have, on the one hand, an ethos so crunchy and socialistic that we have a TV show to mock us, but on the other a classic pioneer libertarian streak that has led to the greatest number of strip clubs per capita in the US. Those strip clubs are also the most flamboyant; the Oregon supreme court has ruled that stripping is expression, and the Oregon constitution has an even more expansive definition of speech than the US constitution. All I'm sayin' is, if you go on the tour, don't expect thongs or pasties.

Go See "The Love of Beer" This Saturday

The Bagdad Theater is the site of the world premier of The Love of Beer, a documentary about women in the craft brewing industry. Alison Grayson filmed it mostly in Portland, and there are a lot of familiar faces. The thrust is that women are slowly making their way into a male-dominated world and being accepted on their own terms. It's not a feminist document (or if it is, it's only in the most mild, third-wave feminist mode), but it does expose some of the challenges women face. Grayson's point of entry was Sarah Pederson of Saraveza and Tanya Cornett at Bend Brewing. The movie follows them along over the course of about a year.

The film isn't a perfect documentary. It has a bit of a shaggy dog feel, and I think it would have been stronger if it had followed Cornett's story and used other women in the movie--Lisa Morrison, Teri Fahrendorf, and Pederson--as examples of other women doing other things. (I shot a documentary about the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake, and I recognize the challenge Grayson faced of reconstructing a narrative out of a potpourri of interesting footage.) Some of the music cues are strange and the chronology isn't always obvious. But never mind that. It's a very heartfelt movie and an honest one. You get a revealing look into the lives of women, see their challenges and supports. As a bonus, there's some really nice footage about the GABF, which will be new to anyone (like me) who hasn't attended. For Portland craft beer fans, it's a must-see. The feel-good movie of the year!

Saturday August 20th 730pm
Bagdad Theater, $6
3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR 97214
Advance ticketing at Cascade Tickets

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Strange Nature of Culture and Beer

See the update below with numbers from the Oregon Brewers Guild.

The city of Portland, Oregon is widely regarded to have the best beer culture in the US. (Ashevillians, sit down and listen.) It is abutted:
  • on the west by Beaverton, population 90,267,
  • on the southeast by Milwaukie (not Milwaukee), population 20,291,
  • on the east by Gresham, population 105, 594,
  • on the south by Lake Oswego, population 36,713,
  • on the southwest by Tigard, population 47,460.
Portland has 53 breweries, and the residents consume an absurd percentage of craft beer. Beaverton, Milwaukie, and Lake Oswego, combined, have zero breweries (there are a couple McMenamins pubs scattered around, but none have attached breweries). Tigard has one brewery, and Gresham has one. Doing a little back-of-the-iPhone math here, I see that the 583,776 residents of Portland enjoy one mash tun for every 11,000 citizens. The 300,325 residents of the suburbs ringing Portland, by contrast, have one brewery for every 150,000 citizens.

You could probably calculate this in ways to make this disparity appear smaller--adding the McMenamins into the mix, for example--but the result is not going to much change. The fact is that the city of Portland has scads of breweries and the cities immediately adjacent to Portland have next to none.

All of this came into my head yesterday as I read a story that Milwaukie is looking to attract a minor league baseball team. The teaser mentioned that a brewpub would be a part of the deal. A brewpub--in Milwaukie--huge news! Well, sort of. It turns out the McMenamins are the suitor, so it's not clear if there will even be a brewery attached.

One of the things that most fascinates me about good beer is the culture that surrounds it. It may be that Portland suburbanites drink a fair amount of good beer. Those cities have a far less developed sense of pub-going, and only 10% of the beer sold in America is sold in pubs. So possibly fridges are stocked with Hopworks, Upright, and Deschutes beer. Portland suburbs benefit from the richness of Portland's beer culture, whether they support it directly or not. If we had depended on Lake Oswego to create the craft brewing renaissance in Oregon, though, we'd still be waiting.

Why don't breweries flourish in the suburbs? Why doesn't the market demand a corner brewery in every neighborhood? Why do people living within five miles of each other have such different attitudes about pub-going? I haven't the vaguest clue. I do know that it has nothing to do with the beer and everything to do with the people. But what?

Theories?

Update. Brian Butenschoen, Director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, sent me a note with these numbers which you can take to be the gospel truth. It doesn't change the thrust of the post, but it does resolve some of the issues with exact counts. (Vancouver, WA isn't included.)
I did want to clarify for your records Portland has 40 breweries in the city limits, 53 in the metro area. Gresham has two breweries, 4th Street and McMenamins Highland. Tigard has two as well John Barleycorns and Max's Fanno Creek. Beaverton has none, Oregon City has none. Sherwood now has one, Wilsonville now has one and West Linn has had one for a while.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beervana's Best Pub Crawls: The Northern Expedition

Best pub crawls: Downtown | Southeast | Division St. | North

I had really planned to get all of these pub crawls completed by the OBF, but.... In the interest of completeness, however, I'll forge on and finish up with the last great trove of breweries. This one isn't quite as convenient as some of the others, and it requires a bit more walking. Still, you've come to Oregon, a place to which Meriwether Lewis and William Clark once hiked from Missouri. This requires hiking on the order of a couple miles round trip. In pioneer country, sometimes you have to adopt a pioneer spirit.

Getting There and Back
The cool thing about this crawl is that it employs the light rail. Starting out downtown, you want to take the MAX Yellow Line. It will take you across the Steel Bridge and into the Rose Quarter (that's where the Blazers play). Disembark at the Rose Quarter station (stop 11508). From there you're going to hike north around the Rose Garden and travel until you get to Broadway. In the fork where Broadway and Weidler divide, you'll find the Left Bank Project; Upright is located in the basement. You want to retrace your steps and get back on the Max. Continue north to Stop 11509, Mississippi/Albina. Walk north one block and west one block and you'll be at the Widmer Gasthaus. Retrace your steps and continue north again to stop 11510, Overlook. You'll continue north along Interstate Ave (where the light rail runs) until you come to Failing St. Trying to ignore the inauspicious name, you turn east and follow Failing until you arrive at the Lompoc Fifth Quandrant. Don't stop there, but turn the corner at Williams, walk 20 feet, and enter the Sidebar. Hopworks is another half block north.

Alternatively, you can ride the 44 bus from downtown and get on and off at Russell Street. You'll walk down Russell to the Widmer Gasthaus and then back for the bus the rest of the way to the Sidebar. Here's a Google map with the locations, and you can click on the map to enlarge it.

Stop 1: Upright Brewing (420 N Broadway, Left Bank Project basement)
Have you ever played one of those games where you're shown five objects and asked to identify which one is not like the others? In a lineup of Portland breweries, Upright's the one. Brewer Alex Ganum has created a little farmhouse brewery in one of the most industrial spots in the city. But from his open fermenters issue absolutely lovely farmhouse-style beers. He has an extensive barrel-aging program, and you'll always find something strange and wonderful on tap. Ask if Alex is around; he's a knowledgeable and entertaining guy, and he'll be happy to tell you the story behind his beers. Important Note: the Upright tasting room is only open from 1pm to 6pm on the weekends.

Stop 2: Widmer Brothers Gasthaus (929 N Russell)
The Widmer Brothers have been one of the country's biggest breweries for a couple decades. People know them for their Hefeweizen and feel like they get the whole Widmer thing. Ten to one you don't get them. A stop into the Gasthaus, which regularly has one of the most advernturesome and eclectic taplists in the city, dispels all preconceptions. And for most of the beers there, you have to go to the Gasthaus to find them. They don't pour anywhere else in the city. The Gasthaus also has a great menu of German cuisine, so if you're looking to fortify your stomach, this is a great place.

Stop 3: Hopworks Bike Bar (3947 N Williams Ave)
To get to Hopworks you'll pass two brewpubs, including the fourth stop. It's odd, but trust me, you want to do it in this order. The main Hopworks pub is across town, on Powell Blvd. This recent addition captures all the elements of the original, plus it has a absolutely beautiful patio out in the back. Hopworks is known for hop-forward beers in the quintessential Portland mode--the pale and IPA are classics. Consider the lager, though, which has a big following, too.

Stop 4: Lompoc Sidebar (3901A N Williams Ave)
The New Old Lompoc was founded in 1996 in NW Portland and has created a mini chain since. The Fifth Quadrant was one link in that chain, and it's located just around the corner from the Sidebar. You'll find the usual Lompoc fare there, but do yourself a favor and stop into the Sidebar. it's effectively a barrel house that has been converted into a pub. There's a fire crackling opposite the bar, and the walls are lined with casks of aging beer. As for the beer, the Sidebar is where the aged and rare stuff pours. You'll find big, boozy beers here, and maybe even a sour. It's a perfect way to end a pub crawl.

Other Areas of Interest
You'll be passing through some prime beer real estate, and if you want to go off the beaten path, here are a few possibilities:
  • Amnesia Brewing (832 N. Beech Street). If you want to skip the Sidebar/Hopworks spur, you can stop off halfway and hit Amnesia (turn right off Failing at Mississippi and head south a block). It's another Portland institution, like Hopworks famous for its hoppy beers. Good vibe and good sausages to boot.
  • McMenamins White Eagle Saloon (836 N. Russell St.). Just down from the Widmer Gasthaus is a classic old bar the McMenamin's bought back in the 1990s. The building dates back to frontier days, and you can feel the wild old ghosts knocking the walls.
  • Pix Patisserie (3901 North Williams). In between the two Lompocs, occupying the corner space of Williams and Failing, is one of the best dessert shops in the city. They also have an impressive selection of bottled beers--Belgians, mostly--which are cheaper than anyplace in the city.

Friday, August 12, 2011

News and Events

First, the big news, which Ezra finally broke: Ben Love and Van Havig are going to partner up to form Gigantic Brewing--a rather restrained, understated name for a Havig endeavor. In the music world, when members of a band get together to form a new band, it's known as a "supergroup." Ben and Van are two of the most admired and liked brewers in the city, so this must be a superbrewery. (Fun game: which rock stars are Ben and Van like? I'll go with Jerry Garcia and David Lowery.)

Next, there's a whole lotta events going on about which you should be apprised:

Block 15 La Ferme de la Ville Provision Release
Tonight! -- 5pm
The Beermongers, SE 12th and Division

When I visited the brewery with Patrick last fall, Nick Arzner pulled out a few bottles from his specialty stash. His saison, an evocation of the classic aged farmhouse ales of decades past, absolutely blew me away. I've been waiting anxiously for this year's version. Nick's also brought up kegs of the sublime 2010 Demon's Farm (Cheers to Belgian Beers winner), 2010 Hopnosis barleywine, Alpha IPA, and Wandelpad Belgian blond.

_____

Oakshire Night
Tonight! -- 5pm
Bottles, 5015 NE Fremont

What is this, an invasion from the lower Willamette Valley? Arzner's at Beermongers, and at the same time across town, brewer Matt Van Wyk will be at Bottles with eight of his beers, including some rarities-- Rose Mountain Gruit, Bruine Von Brugge, and Hibernator Doppelbock. It's more good beer than a person knows what to do with.

_____

Deschutes Street Fare
Thursday, August 18, 5-9pm
Portland Pub, 210 NW 11th

This is a fundraiser for Morrison Child and Family Services that may well turn out to be one of the city's best events. Deschutes closes down Davis Street next to the pub and invites in bands and food carts--where, of course, the beer is matched to the cuisine. It's a lot of fun and totally Portland.
_____


Lompoc 15th Anniversary Party
Saturday, August 20th, 11am
New Old Lompoc, 1616 NW 23rd Ave

Inconceivably, the Lompoc is 15. They will be throwing a big bash at the original location--which, apparently, is destined for the backhoe. (The faithful, obviously, can decamp to its other locations.) In celebration, the brewery is digging into the archives and pulling out fifteen very special beers.

_____


Coalition One Year Anniversary Party
Saturday, August 20th, noon
Coalition Brewing, 2724 SE Ankeny

Must have been a good day to start a brewery. Coalition trails Lompoc by a few years, but the small brewery a stone's throw from my house has already become a Portland fixture. Live music, barbecue, and one of my favorite beers in the world--maple porter. Perfecto.


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Beer Blogger's Conference
August 19-20

This is of no real interest to anyone who's not a blogger, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. You may see a pack of awkward beer geeks roaming in packs--that would be us. Wave and smile.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

So Which Ingredient Is the Most Important?

Yesterday's toss-off post, which quoted Daniel Fromson saying "beer’s third-most-important ingredient, after water and barley..." raises the question: which is the most important?

Hops, obviously, are out. Beer was made for millennia before anyone thought to toss hops in. (Along the way, they tossed just about everything else in, too. Everyone who thinks bog myrtle should be in the top five most important, raise your hands.) Beer is so simple to make that the ancient proto-Sumerians were able to shake a few stalks of wild grain into a bowl of water and let stand for a few days. It probably wasn't tasty, and it surely wasn't very alcoholic (though even before civilization dawned, those crafty pre-historical brewers had invented malting), but it was beer. Ish.

So grain and water are in. What about yeast? One could argue, and this one might, that yeast is not an ingredient so much as a helper. A microscopic brewer who finishes the job once all the conditions have been met. This is nevertheless a controversial position. When yeast does its thing, it creates all kinds of chemical compounds that remain in the beer. These become ingredients--and essential ones in many styles--so I guess we have to keep yeast in, too.

To make good beer, tasty beer, though--that's another matter. Water is wholly beside the point. As long as you have it, you have beer. Brewers can adjust water's chemistry to look like classic profiles or to compensate for hardness, pH, etc. Even homebrewers can amend water to meet their needs--its effect on the final product is easily the smallest.

The remaining three ingredients play different roles in different styles of beer. Hops play next to no role in lambics, but they're the whole ball game in IPAs. The same is true of malt and yeast, depending on the style. That is, in fact, the wonder of beer as opposed to, say, wine. Beer is constructed of ingredients. Depending on the recipe, you may emphasize one or another element.

The answer to the question: none. Or all--take your pick.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Water?

I have no time to blog today, so instead I'll offer you the introductory paragraph from a Washington Post article and let you do the rest--sort of in the vein of Ron Pattinson's Protz Shield/Papazian Cup awards (which, god willing, I shall never win):
Beer’s third-most-important ingredient, after water and barley, is almost as mystifying to most beer drinkers as Prohibition. But a new kind of beer has recently emerged that gives consumers an unprecedented ability to learn: the single-hop India pale ale.
Poor yeast.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Champion Beer of Britain ... Another Mild

I'm a bit slow getting to this, but apropos of Mighty Mites, I should point out that once again a mild was crowned the Champion Beer of Britain.
After a year of local tasting panels and regional heats leading up to the finals, CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is today proud to announce that Mighty Oak brewery's Oscar Wilde has been crowned the 'Best Beer' in Britain at the Great British Beer Festival, Earls Court, London.

Oscar Wilde, which has an ABV of 3.7%, is described in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide 2011 as a 'roasty dark mild with suggestions of forest fruits and dark chocolate. A sweet taste yields to a more bitter finish'.
That makes three of the past five years. The intervening years were won by bitters. None of the past five winners was north of 4% and in fact, you have to go back to 2004 to find a beer that exceeded 5%.

I'm not going to make the argument that American hopheads are about to start falling down for three-and-a-half percent 15 IBU milds. But it goes to show that serious beer fans can be serious about something other than double IPAs. Bully for them.

________________
IMAGE: THE INDEPENDENT

Craft Beer Grows at 15%; 725 New Breweries Planned

The Brewers Association has new numbers out that at this point won't surprise anyone:
Dollar sales were up 15 percent in the first half of 2011, excluding brewers who left the craft segment in 2010². Volume of craft brewed beer sold grew 14 percent for the first six months in 2011, compared to 9 percent growth in the first half of 2010.
(That little footnote points to BA's rules about who can be called a "craft brewer," and it excludes Craft Brewers Alliance, Goose Island, and others. So who knows how much more good beer people are actually buying.) Perhaps more shocking is bit of news:
The U.S. now boasts 1,790 breweries—an increase of 165 additional breweries since June 2010. The Brewers Association also tracks breweries in planning as an indicator of potential new entrants into the craft category, and lists 725 breweries in planning today compared to 389 a year ago.
I stick with analysis I did at the beginning of the year, wherein I argued that the new brewery explosion is a rational market response to sales growth--but yikes, that graph gives me a visceral shock. When you look at the beginning stages of bubbles, that's exactly what they look like. The growth better flatten out soon, or I will become less bullish on the future. I'd hate to see another late-90s style recalibration.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Get Ready for Some Big Little Beers: Mighty Mites

mighty (adj): possessing might; powerful.
mite (n): a very small object or creature.
I am a fan of small beers. However, unlike many of my fraternity, the reason isn't because I particularly care about long sessions in a pub. For me, the reason is purely aesthetic: small beers taste great. Aesthetics is something we don't often apply to beer, but we should. We should approach each beer with an eye toward a kind of artistic mark of perfection and say: how does this beer perform against an ideal? In this way, best bitters are not judged ill because they lack the roasty heft of an Imperial stout.

Beer geeks are generally pretty good about this, except when it comes to beers that ring in at under 5%. They are then dismissed as lesser substances, like diet soda, skim milk, or frozen yogurt. (And indeed, in America the small beer has been roughly treated--it's often a throwaway beer aimed to appeal to Bud drinkers.) Yet a small beer by its nature is not a compromise. It exists as a fully-formed beer, ready to be judged on its own merit.

Many small beers are vivid with flavor. The virtue of small beers is that they have less molecular density; the flavors have room to unfurl and blossom in the mouth. Certain styles have taken full advantage of this: Bavarian weizens have remarkable complexity (and are just psychedelic, period); Irish stouts can be sharp and intense with roast and hop bitterness; Berliner Weisses are so sour that Berliners developed the practice of cutting them with sugar syrups. And on cask, British ales reveal flavors you can never find on regular taps, sometimes with such bell-like clarity you feel you've found a fourth dimension of beer. Unlike heftier beers, the flavors in these little ones are distinct, particular, and knowable.

With this in mind, I have helped nudge along a wee fest of wee beers. The idea was to find examples that showcased how much flavor a brewery can pack into a low-alcohol beer. I will reveal the full, final list later, but breweries include Hair of the Dog, Block 15, Coalition, Oakshire, Upright, Double Mountain, Breakside and several others. (Also, full disclosure, although I solicited beers for the event, I am not involved on the business end of it at all. No dollars spent or earned on the event will come near me.) This year we're starting out small, but I hope we see a recurrence of the fest in the future as the inevitable groundswell for small beer builds. I'm also very excited that it will be happening as a part of this year's inaugural Portland Beer Week, August 19-28th.

Details
Saturday, August 27, noon - late
Coalition Brewing, 28th and Ankeny (in the parking lot behind the pub with the Grilled Cheese Grill)
Bring a mug or glass from a past fest (or buy one at the door), tix $1 a pour.
Also bring: an open mind about how tasty small beers might actually be.

Finally, we need a few volunteers who are OLCC-certified as servers and alcohol monitors. Would you please email me [the_beerax @ yahoo (dot) com] and I'll put you in touch with Elan Walsky at Coalition. As usual, the brewery will ply you with free beer for your labor.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Bailey's Fourth

Last night was the fourth anniversary of Bailey's Taproom, and as usual, I was remiss by not letting you know beforehand about the party, which featured rare, barrel-aged beers. The event caused a few sparks to arise from the dying embers of my brain, which is about all you can expect. Here they are:
  1. Bailey's is only four years old, but it has already achieved watershed status. Geoff Phillips didn't invent the alehouse idea, but he tweaked it in a way that has now been emulated a number of times across the city. Rather than focusing on a standard range of beers with a few rotator handles, Geoff decided to rotate his whole line of 20 taps. He has focused on Oregon beers and was a huge friend to small breweries and breweries in obscure places. If you founded a pub in Nowhere, Oregon and wanted to place a keg in Portland, Geoff was the guy to talk to. If it was good, he'd put it on. The effect is like a constantly evolving beer fest. He solicits great beer, so if you're looking for a rarity, Bailey's is a place to start. There are now enough other pubs that have followed his lead (many worthy of high praise) that it seems like this is a standard feature of Beervana. It is, but it's only four years old. Four years and a day.
  2. There were scads of good beers available at the celebration. One that really knocked me back was Double Diesel Stout by Cascade. It was a dense, leather-and-tobacco beer that took only enough oak, oxygen, and foreign booze (from bourbon and pinot barrels) to burnish and smooth its burly edges. Proof that Cascade can work outside the sour oeuvre if they put their minds to it. I don't know if any is still available, but Flat Tail's one-year anniversary beer is really special. It's a hard beer to describe because the facts (soured, 8%) obscure the reality. It has a massively fruity nose that some people called grapefruit and others oranges. I couldn't identify it, but I was reminded of Hawaii, and some fruit I had there. These notes don't come from hops, though, but rather fermentation and the strange fission that occurs when flavors start dancing together. It is very light-bodied and wholly absent booziness. The acid is delicate and tart, and the beer finishes crisply. It drinks like a summer quencher--right up until you figure out how strong it is and are forced to lie down.
  3. A sort of impressionistic photo, the only one I took.