Blogs will save us.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Flick: Cascade Apricot

I am slightly reluctant to post this, because a more shameless pitch for a brewery I have rarely seen.  And it's not like Gansberg and Cascade need any more press.  On the other hand, the beer in question is Satori-award-winning Apricot Ale, a beer that deserves its accolades.  And, for those of you who have never had the chance to hang with Ron, this gives you a taste of his sense of humor.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Alternate View: The Downsides of Returnable Bottles

Alan Taylor, a talented, German-trained Oregon brewer now in the process of founding his own joint, had a fascinating comment I wanted to highlight.  It came in response to my post about Double Mountain's new bottling line and their effort use returnable bottles.  I said:

In Belgium, they all used returnable bottles.  Everyone.  Remarkably, they get over 90% return rates, and the bottles survive many, many refillings.  (Look at your next bottle of Orval and see if it isn't worn at the wide spot.)...  When I asked them about returnable bottles, Belgians were never convinced it was enormously more green than our system--using a bottle once, grinding it up, melting it back into a bottle, and sending it back out--but I have a hard time seeing how.
Alan sees how.  Here's his comment:
First off, Matt is a great guy, makes great beers, and I trust his call on his system. I can’t wait to see the bottling line.

My comment is a bit long, but some readers might be interested to know why most craft brewers aren't working with used bottles. For some perspective: I worked in a smaller Bavarian brewery in 1998 (20,000 bbl/year sold in a radius of about 20 miles) where they did clean their bottles in a massive bottle washer, which sucked down tons of energy and used lots of water and chemicals. The brewery had to store new glass in addition to the used glass due to lost or broken bottles, so they dedicated a lot of space to holding the bottles on site.
When I was there, the Germans were using the NRW bottle almost exclusively. That helped things a bit. The consumer would buy a reusable plastic case holding twenty 0.5 L bottles, schlepp that home, drink the beer, then schlepp the empty case back. If the retailer returned the cases properly, the brewer would have 20 of his own bottles in his own plastic case (I never worked with a female brewer there, so forgive the use of the masculine pronoun). With one bottle type, you could live with having a retailer send you the wrong case, but you still had to pay shipping to return it to the other brewery. Mark H pointed out the problem with branded glass. That was taking hold in Germany in 1998 and has become even more prevalent, which makes it harder for them as well. So I totally understand the lack of enthusiasm from Jeff’s Belgian brewing friends.

Turning to our craft brewers, we are lacking the infrastructure of selling bottles in a reusable case, using a single bottle type (22s are the closest for this, where almost all of the them are the same bottle type) for 12 oz bottles, having space in the retailer’s storage area to hold all of the cases and bottles returning each day (Germany doesn’t have 50 to 100 brands in their equivalent of an Albertson’s, Safeway, or Fred Meyer, let alone the number of offerings from a Belmont Station), holding the distributors accountable for picking up the retailer’s empties, storing them in their warehouses, then returning them to the brewery.

And…we brewers aren’t sitting on tons of real estate where we can store smelly, nasty bottles and cases, nor can most of us afford a bottle washer (either for capital investment, labor, or energy/water/chemical inputs). For a production brewery of Deschutes/Full Sail/Widmer's size, you are looking at a multi-million dollar investment for the machinery alone. Think of your local, very small brewer who has a mobile bottler come in once a month or so. She probably only has enough space for the bottles that are there that day (I have worked with women brewers here in the States!) and is happy to see the pallets leave as soon as possible.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

POTUS Beer

Goes to show: this is something Americans really want to know about. From a Reddit Q&A:
QUESTION: What's the recipe for the White House's beer? 
OBAMA: It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.
I'm taking bets. Will it be: a) a surprisingly beer geeky recipe, b) probably fine but nothing spectacular, or c) amateur hour? Put me down for B. 


Update.  In comments, we have a perfect (albeit in reverse order) question and answer that are worth highlighting.   First from an anonymous commenter, writing what I'm sure is a common sentiment even among beer geeks:
who really cares? I can't believe or understand the amount of discussion/buzz/debate this has caused. I mean petitions, endless blog/twitter/facebook posts, and freedom of information act requests? All to find out what is likely a bad to mediocre "honey ale" recipe. wow. 
Alan, presciently, had pre-answered these objections:
Maybe it will be normal. That your supreme leader, the leader of the western world, advocates for "tasty" beer is a massive victory for me. 
Being the president gives you a huge spotlight, and one of the virtues of the office is bringing a few causes you like into the light with you.  It costs nothing, is not politically costly, unites rather than divides, and generally makes everyone happy.  I'm with Alan. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Can America Return to Returnable Bottles?

For some reason, breweries love love love to show you their bottle lines.  When I traveled through Europe last year, brewers would often fairly yawn as they gestured to 19th century mash tuns or coolships--but put them in the bottling room, and they got school-girl giddy.  The mystery of why I never solved.  However, to bring this wandering intro to its point--in Belgium, they all used returnable bottles.  Everyone.  Remarkably, they get over 90% return rates, and the bottles survive many, many refillings.  (Look at your next bottle of Orval and see if it isn't worn at the wide spot.) 

I stowed all that in the back of my mind as one of those funny quirks that I would likely never have a chance to write about, until this, from Double Mountain:
About our bottles: in addition to being a great size and shape, our unique half-liter (16.9 oz) bottles are uniquely strong. Extra glass in the mold makes the bottles more durable and thus perfectly suited for reusing, unlike nearly all American glass on the market today. (But it’s otherwise common in Canada, Europe and pretty much every other part of the globe.) It is much, much more energy-efficient to clean and refill a returnable bottle a dozen times than it is to make (and then destroy) a dozen “one-way” bottles. We’re doing it this way because we can.

We encourage you to bring your bottles back to us so that we can put them back into service again. We’ll even pay you an extra five cents on your deposit, just for being good. Our plan is to have retailers in local markets return empties to us to keep them out of the evil glass crushers.
In Belgium, brewing lines have little laser eyes that scan every bottle before it goes into the queue and snatches out damaged or dirty ones, which I mention because, obviously, it's groovy.  I assume Double Mountain's new system has the same tech (though they don't wander into those particular weeds in explaining it.)


In any case, here's the issue.  When I asked them about returnable bottles, Belgians were never convinced it was enormously more green than our system--using a bottle once, grinding it up, melting it back into a bottle, and sending it back out--but I have a hard time seeing how.  Reusing bottles means a fair amount of water use to clean dirty bottles--but so does recycling.  And, in Double Mountain's scheme, most of the returned bottles will come from retailers in the Hood River area--perhaps eventually as far away as Portland.  Still, that's only 60 miles, which means the transportation footprint is quite small.  It seems inconceivable to me that reusing bottles isn't a greener solution than constantly buying new ones.

So let's assume this is right.  Can breweries lead the way back to reusable bottles?  It would be yet one more way in which breweries lead the way in embracing greener operations.

And kudos to Double Mountain. 


Update: In comments, Double Mountain's Matt Swihart confirms my hypothesis:

You are spot on regarding the carbon footprint. At smaller shipping distances, returnable/reusable glass is the most green packaging option (less drinking draft beer out of keg... clearly the best), recycled glass as next in line for short hauls, then when you start talking thousands of miles, cans due to the lighter weight of the package.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lucky Lab Hop Harvest

It's that time of year again... (Reprinted from last year, but with the accurate date--tomorrow!  I plan to get my hands resiny, so I'll see you all there.)

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 six, 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 at6 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 28, 6 pm
Lucky Labrador Brewpub, 915 SE Hawthorne
Bring your bines!
_______________
PHOTO: BEN FLERCHINGER BY ANGELO DE IESO

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Flick: Nick Symmonds Sets US Record in Beer Mile

Nick Symmonds was born in Boise, but he went to school in Salem and now trains in Eugene.  He was, earlier in the month, screwing around in London for some shindig they had there.  But his real achievement came Tuesday, when he set a US record in the beer mile (one beer before each of four quarter-mile laps).  The world record is 5:09, and Nick managed a 5:19; he was shooting for sub-five.  I'll tell you, looking at the tape the problem is clear: Nick's beer-drinking form sucks.  For one, he should be shotgunning those suckers, and for two, he should probably be drinking something other than Coors (though that's more an aesthetic, rather than athletic, judgment).

Nick selected the Linfield track in McMinnville for the feat.  Hayward Field wasn't available?  Anyway, here's the vid, which for some reason wasn't recorded by ESPN.

Gallup on Beer Consumption Patterns

Every year, Gallup does a survey about the consumption pattern of American drinkers.  Since I've been discussing them for three years now (2009, 2010, 2011), I figure it's too late to stop.  The piece that most interests me is women.  Gallup has consistently found that they prefer wine over beer and liquor, but in 2010, it looked like there was a major shift among women toward beer--especially younger women.  But then last year the numbers looked more like 2009 numbers.  Were the findings in 2010 an outlier?  It's starting to look like it.

Women Citing Beer as Preferred Beverage

_____________________2009____2010___2011___2012
All__________________21%_____27% ___22% ___23%
Under 49 years old
___25%_____35% ___28% ___27%
Over 50 years old____15%_____18% ___17% ___17%

So there you have it.  Women may be very slowly switching allegiance to beer, but it's very slowly.  Ah, well.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oregon: the Most-Breweried State?

Note: Post has been updated.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has been reporting this interesting tidbit the last couple days:

Oregon may have surpassed Vermont last year as the state with the most breweries per capita.  That's one conclusion of a new report from Oregon's employment department.
I can't find the report, and after enticing us with that lede, OPB offers no support for the finding at all.  With brewery openings happening as fast as they are, it would be hard to nail down this number--and that's if you could agree on what qualifies as a "brewery."  (The Lucky Lab has two brewing locations and four pubs--do you count it as one, two, or four?)  If some official body did award Oregon the laurel, bully for us.  It would be another talking point for Beervana.

A word of caution, though.  The only reason to cite per capita numbers is to use them as a metric for something.  Something we might call a "beeriness index," I presume.  If you have a lot of breweries per capita, it follows, you must have great beeriness.  This is partly a statistical illusion.  Which is a more beery state, Idaho or California?  Intuition tells you that the home of Firestone Walker, Sierra Nevada, Anchor, and Russian River probably bests the home of ... er, whatever.  Idaho, it turns out, has about double the density of breweries per capita.

Looking at the lists of these things, what you find is that measuring breweries per capita makes states with small populations look especially grand.  The seven most breweried states: Vermont, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Maine, Wyoming, and Alaska--the 49th, 27th, 44th, 22nd, 41st, 50th, and 47th largest states.  Or, put another way, for California to have the same density of breweries as Vermont, it would have to have 1,267 of them.

A beeriness index should include per capita numbers, but it those numbers don't begin to tell the whole story on their own.

 _____________________


Update.  In comments, Greg points to the actual findings of the study, which are beyond dubious:
"In 2010, Oregon was ranked second by the Brewers Association for states' brewery per capita with 31,660 people for each brew pub. At that time, they counted 110 breweries. Using the 184 brewery and brew pub units from this analysis (units with or without employment) and the Population Research Center's 2011 Oregon population estimate, in 2011 there were just 20,965 Oregonians per brewery. That puts Oregon well above Vermont, the 2010 number one ranked state. In 2010, Vermont had 27,800 people per brewery. The Brewers Association has not published a 2011 ranking."
It's bad enough that they compare Oregon's 2011 numbers with Vermont's from the year previous, but egregious over a period when the number of brewery openings exploded by 20-30%.  Not only that, but they have used a statistic ("brewery and brew pub units") that is inconsistent with the way everyone else counts breweries.  The Oregon Brewers Guild--the gold standard in these matters--says, "There are currently 120 brewing companies, operating 153 brewing facilities in 59 cities in Oregon."

I have no idea which state has the most breweries per capita.  Neither does the Oregon Department of Employment.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Failures in Mulling Beer

Last night, I cracked open a bottle of the Kill Devil, one of the beers in the Widmers' Brothers Reserve series.  It came out weeks and weeks ago, but such is my life that I only just got around to drinking it.  Kill Devil is a high-concept beer that I guess you could place roughly in the abbey tradition.  It's dark and brewed with all kinds of sugar--molasses, palm sugar, and toffee, and aged in rum barrels (sugar liquor) for good measure.  The result is ... sweet.  This is perhaps the sweetest beer I've ever tasted.

About halfway through my glass--and also halfway through the first episode of Grimm, filmed in Portland, I had to check it out--I had an idea.  I was reminded of my conversation with Carlo Grootaert of De Struise Brouwers, when he described the origin of Pannepot.  Here's what he told me:
Photo credit: Drew
I heard that in my family, there were homebrewers at the time—100 years ago. The women were the brewers because the men were at sea to catch herrings. The women made beer in the wintertime on the stove. [Carlo comes from the village of De Panne, and from the village they fish in flat-bottomed boats called pannepots] The label is actually my great-granddad’s boat, the B-50.

Anyway, the women made beer on the stove and they didn’t like cold beer at the time. It was so strong and sweet and very alcoholic so they kept in a little cask in the cellar. If they wanted some beer, they went down with the jug and tapped off some beer—it was flat. But they didn’t like cold beer. So they had to heat it up. So they put the metal poker in the fire and it was glowing red, and when they put it in the thick beer (it didn’t have a name, it was called “thick beer”) with lots of sugars in it and the sugars instantly caramelized. It gave it a roasted, caramelized flavor.
No doubt you see where this is headed.  "So strong and sweet and very alcoholic."  I didn't build a fire in order to heat up a poker, but I did heat up the beer, thinking at the time--"this is going to be genius."  I imagined sparking a minor fad in mulled Kill Devil.  I foresaw our annual holiday party, me presiding over a bubbling cauldron of Kill Devil as the clamoring hordes thrust mugs toward my ladle.  And then I tasted it.

Let's just say that modern beers are probably not the best source for warmed beers.  Through my heated alchemy, I simultaneously thinned out Kill Devil and brought the heretofore invisible hops out in a medicinal, clashing rush.  The alcohol volatilized and created a toxic miasma where the aroma should have been--sharp and stinging like wasabi.  Not good.

Incidentally, I asked Carlo if he would recommend mulling De Struise's Pannepot.  No, he said, absolutely not.  It was only later that I remembered that part.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

We the People Have the Power

... to get the White House to release the recipe for its home-brewed honey ale.  But petitioners still need over 23,000.  Go register your interest in this important state secret.

Petition to release the recipe for the Honey Ale home brewed at the White House

(You do have to register first.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

How Restaurants and Breweries Differ

My Mom visited over the weekend, and as is typical, Sally and I began bookmarking a few restaurants in advance of her arrival.  High on the list was Luce, four blocks from our house, which we'd heretofore (and inexcusably) failed to check out.  Then over the weekend Bon Appétit did this to us:


We persevered and visited on Saturday anyway, finding the madhouse we expected.  There's more to that tale, but this isn't actually a post about Luce* (you might read this if you're hungering for more).  Rather, the whole experience got me thinking about the ways breweries are and are not like restaurants.  At least, not at the high end.  There, restaurants are anchored by a chef and his/her personality, and they ride waves of novelty and trends.  A chef like Luce's John Taboada has a certain vision which manifests itself in a place like Navarre, his first award-winning restaurant.  After awhile, he gets an idea for another kind of culinary expression and creates a place like Luce.

Restaurants have a limited shelf life.  Eventually, the creative vein taps out and the chef tries something new.  Cuisine is more like fashion in how trend-sensitive it is, and over the course of a decade, the type of restaurants that open will shift three or four times.  (Of course, there are always exceptions.  Greg Higgins has created a beachhead on Broadway that has been running for nearly two decades.)

Breweries, on the other hand, are anchored by brands and attempt to establish continuity.  After toiling for years to build up a loyal following, they can't very well dump their line and start from scratch.  Brewers may be mobile, but breweries don't wink in and out of existence at their whim.  I guess it's both the lead-time--it takes years to reach full capacity--and sunk costs (breweries are expensive).  But there's also something essential about beer brands that differs from restaurant menus.

While I was sitting in Luce, I wondered briefly why we don't see more brewpubs adopting the restaurant model.  Beer has superficial similarities: beer styles are many and fluid, brewpubs are eateries, with all the attendant virtues of ambiance and vibe--not to mention food--that restaurants have.  Maybe it's even possible.  But it is unorthodox, and it would be a leap from one cultural model to another.  If such a thing could work anywhere, it would be Portland--but I'm not sure it could work anywhere.

Perhaps one day we'll see someone try the experiment.

_______________
*I'm not qualified to comment on the food because of twin layers of ignorance--food in general is beyond my ken, and Italian food in particular.  I started with a fantastic fresh-greens salad enlivened by mint and large sea-salt crystals, and followed it up by mussels in broth, the way the Belgians make them.  Because we visited the day the Oregonian reported the news that it was Bon Appetit's fourth best new American restaurant, they had nowhere near enough food on hand.  By the time we were seated, most of the pasta dishes were gone, and we could hear the haughty harumphs of neighboring foodies who clearly found this outrageous.  The staff--including owners John Taboada and Giovanna Parolari who waited on us--handled everything with enormous aplomb and grace.  We concluded with an insane desert called Luce cake--sponge cake filled with cream and pistachios.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dog Days Blogging

No one's reading blogs, and bloggers are really mailing it in.  Such is August.  Who am I to buck the trend.  In today's post, I take you to another node in hive mind on the unofficial topic of the week, "politics and beer."  Today's comments from Brian Yaeger.  After reviewing the literature on beer and politics, he concludes
But I’ve no doubt that all these ladies and gentlemen could belly up to a bar and be instant compatriots, unified by their common belief that beer is good, liberating and the American way.
We have a consensus.

Good friday to you all--

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Drinking Beer in the Triple Digits

In Portland, the mercury rises to triple digits in summer about as often as snow falls to the ground in winter.  I feel the same kind of awe in the face of both.  The snow is unmitigated pleasure, while the deathly heat, which settles even into the shadows and persuades all creatures to lie low in silence, is more awe than awesome.  We're getting a little run beginning today of very hot weather.  Maybe not Phoenix hot, certainly not New Delhi hot, but pretty good by any measure.

And the last thing I want is a beer.  It's possible that I'll want something extremely light very late tonight, as I wait for the house to cool enough to sleep.  But if I do, it will be yet another doomed tonic, and I'll enjoy it far less than I would on a drizzly 40-degree night.  Heat and beer are like oil and water to me.  Yet I know that summer is when Americans buy the most beer, so obviously I'm an outlier.

But perhaps there's a ceiling for regular folk, too.  Portlanders (and others experiencing triple digits today)--will you be tippling beer or something soft and cold like iced tea?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Beer and Politics

I tossed up my post about Obama drinking beer yesterday with slight trepidation.  Put anyone else drinking beer on a blog and no one bothers to think of political implications.  But a politician drinking beer?  Could have a Chik-Fil-A culture war on your hands.  Apropos of this, I would like to direct your attention to this post by Lew Bryson, which I happily endorse:
When it comes down to drinking it, and the beer's good, beer isn't partisan. If you can tell if a beer's liberal or conservative just by tasting it, you're -- well, I was about to say you're better than I am, but to be honest? You're crazy.

Let's keep politics out of beer, because as I've learned in 30 years of drinking non-mainstream beer, you can't tell anything about a brewer's politics from their hopping rates. Let's leave that to the pundity types, and keep politics out of beer. Just a suggestion.
It is the nature of electoral politics to divide; hell, it's their design.  You throw competing visions out there, let people speak for them, and then let the voters decide.  It's good and healthy for democracies.  Beer, though, most ably performs the opposite function--it brings people together.  Beer does this not just figuratively--though it does that, too, in our shared passion--but literally, into pubs, festivals, and back yards.  With a pint of tasty beer in hand, you are predisposed to like the guy at the bar next to you.  You are there to make a human connection and you want to avoid discussions about topics like politics that, in the space of that connection, look petty and base.  (They're not: democracies may have their ugly side, but the alternative is worse.) 

Indeed, I'd take it a step further.  Pundits writing in the MSM often confuse two incredibly valuable social functions.  They laud bipartisan comity like it's a Platonic ideal, and direct contempt at partisans.  But we should all be partisans.  We should be high-information voters with opinions strong enough to make us active participants in our democracy.  But the other element is one of unity, the ability to look past our disagreements and see each other as good people despite our disagreements.  Politics is great for the first, beer the second.  Leave politics in the street, I say; everyone's a friend at the bar.

(Incidentally, I don't think that means we have to ignore politicians promoting beer.  We just shouldn't be partisan about it.  As Lew points out, Paul Ryan's a big fan of New Glarus beer, and God bless him for it.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Four More Beers

First shout is Obama's (maximum of ten).




 Iowans rock. (Their beer? Maybe not so much.)


Update.  Reader BB (who may out himself if he wishes) sends this along:
In perhaps the most startling revelation so far in Obama’s three-day bus tour across Iowa, it was revealed this morning that the White House brews its own beer, and that the presidential bus is stocked with bottles of that beer.

The revelation came incidentally, when a man at the Knoxville coffee shop where Obama stopped today somehow got the president onto the subject of beer, and Obama noted that a sample of the White House’s home brew was just outside.
Also, note that in comments proud Iowan Maureen Ogle (one of two people I thought of when writing this--the other's Matt Van Wyk) takes hearty exception to my characterization of the quality of beer in Iowa.  Apparently the Iowa State Fair ghettoizes the crap into its own tent--the one Obama happened along.  (I'd hit him up for a homebrewed honey wheat instead.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Meet the New(ish) Brewery: Occidental

Of all the units of human population, cities are the most interesting.  The size of countries makes them fuzzy examples of personality; states and provinces are often random.  But cities can't help but have their own personality.  Think of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin in Texas or Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.  If you wanted to get a distilled sense of the Rose City, heading to St Johns would be a great place to start.  It is in the upper northwest corner of the city, sealed off on three sides by the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers and the fourth by a deep, wooded rail track ("the cut" to locals).  Much like Oregon itself, if you find yourself in St Johns, it's because you wanted to be there.  It's not on the way to anything, and it's pretty far from everything else.  The feel of St Johns is preserved by these natural features and nurtured by the loyal residents, many of whom go back generations.  Portland has long since ceased to be a working city and "stumptown" now refers to coffee, not logging.  But in St Johns, where heavy equipment bumps and rumbles its way along the main artery of Lombard, you feel the older city.

As such, St Johns runs 20-25 years behind the rest of Portland.  It took until the second decade of the new millennium for St Johns to get its first brewery, but now it has one--Occidental.  I have been very remiss in making it out to see the brewery and even now I can only offer half a report.  I didn't tour the place or speak at length with Ben Engler, the mastermind behind the beers there. (I chatted him, incognito, from the bar.)

In addition to its rare location, Occidental also occupies a rare space in the Portland brewing world: German beers.  At the moment, that mainly means German ales (a kolsch, alt, weizen and a kind of cheater dunkel), but I was super impressed with the kellerbier they served at the Oregon Brewers Festival--the best beer I tasted at the fest.  Eventually, with expanded capacity, I hope to see more lagers.  And I do wonder if a kellerbier might be exactly the crossover IPA fans need.  It's cloudy and a bit rustic but bright with--in this case--tangy Tettnanger hops.  It had the crispness you want in a lager, but there's something familiar in those hazy depths.

It's a production brewery with a taproom, and as with so much in St John's, the place really isn't geared toward tourist traffic.  It's off Willamette, in that stretch beyond the bridge where it's a leafy neighborhood street.  You dive down Baltimore toward the river and find it in a little industrial block.  The interior looks like what it is--a brewery--but it's the homey kind of place regulars haunt.  I enjoyed myself talking to guys who'd just gotten off work.  When you're standing outside the building, you look up and see the graceful lines of the city's prettiest bridge.




The beer is impressive--though Engler's working in a muted palate of styles.  The alt is bready and a bit chewier than some examples, and more balanced.  (For a contrast, try the Widmer's very sharp, light-bodied example.)  The kolsch is delicate and balanced--a traditional take and an excellent one.  I took a growler of it to go.  I can't speak to the weizen or dunkles, but since I have a friend whose recently moved (back) to the Johns, I plan to check those out soon.  Go give them a look.


The pints are honest (.5 L) and the bar is covered with caps

Friday, August 10, 2012

Evolving Biere de Garde

The good folks at Vanberg and DeWulf sent me a couple bottles of ale from Brasserie Castelain.  If you know that name, you probably know them for their unpronouncable Ch'ti beers--it's something like "shtee."  (This is how the French do it; they name their brewery one thing and their line of beers something else.  My favorite is Brasserie St. Germain, but you'll only find them by looking for Page 24.  You know Jenlain, right?  That's Brasserie Duyck.  La Bavaisienne? Theillier.  And so on.)

Ah, but we were talking Castelain.  In my first swing through European beer country, France surprised me a good deal more than Belgium and Britain.  I decided to do a quick jaunt through the countryside to sample a few biere de gardes and call it good.  It turns out there's a lot more than biere de garde in France, and furthermore, it turns out that there's a lot going on with biere de garde, too.  I ended up finding more than I bargained for.

Saisons and biere de garde are usually lumped together--one of the great mistakes in brewing taxonomy.  It is true that a hundred years ago the two styles had much in common, but some history happened and they diverged rather sharply.  The biggie was the First World War, which cut right through the middle of the northern departments Nord and Pas-de-Calais--the heart of traditional French brewing.  Breweries were dismantled, gutted, burned and as a consequence of the war, something like 25% of the population was killed.  Add another World War for good measure, and the post-war period saw a 90% loss of breweries.  Lager brewing, which even by the turn of the 20th century had grown in popularity, largely supplanted ale brewing.

The style we know as biere de garde emerged after the world wars as a rival to these lagers.  Duyck's Jenlain gets credit as the first of these, born just as the wars ended.  Very much unlike rustic saisons, it was a smooth, lagered beer (some are even now made with lager yeasts) high on malt character, very low on hops.  Students around Lille began drinking it in the 70s and it sparked a mini-boom of ale-brewing in this style back in the traditional corridor of the Nord/Pas-de-Calais.  (For what it's worth, saisons almost went extinct, too.  They hung on by a thread at Dupont and Silly, but everyone else had abandoned them.)

All of which brings us back to Ch'ti, one of the early producers of biere de garde.  Theirs, like Jenlain, is very smooth and malt-forward.  Ch'ti's line is lagered (or "garded") a minimum of six weeks and as long as twelve.  They would be considered a "classic" producer.  Of the two new beers, one is pure Castelain--Grand Cru.  A slightly more potent version of the Ch'ti biere de gardes, but very much part of the family.  It was the other one that interested me.  A collaboration with Chicago's Two Brothers Brewing, it's called Diversey and Lille and--shocker--it has noticeable hops.  Although biere de gardes don't typically cloy, they are often heavy and sweetish.  Diversey and Lille is dry (and, it turns out, dry hopped). 

It reminds me more of some of the drier, hoppier beers brewed by Daniel Thiriez and St. Germain.  France is a hop-growing region, and many of the newer breweries have taken advantage of the local bounty.  That Castelain, a stalwart of the older biere de garde style, is putting its toes in the hop fields is good evidence of the changes in French brewing.  The market is expanding in France and drinkers are becoming interested in more characterful, hoppy ales.  Even Ch'ti is getting in on the act. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mistrust this Review

Interesting email in the inbox today:
Hi,

My name is Ryan and I am writing from Beerocity.com.  I just came across your website, which I enjoyed very much, and wanted to reach out to you to see if you might be a good fit to partner with us in some form. 

We run several high traffic beer sites with different focuses. Some sell personalized beer & bar products, from Das Boot to beer pong tables to licensed sports team glassware.  We also have some sites with links to great resources for people to find beer related businesses like bars, breweries, homebrewing groups, the best beer bloggers, etc.

We are interested in finding partners for the following
  • Beer experts & bloggers to review our products and give us write ups
  • Link &  banner partners
  • Partners we can run promotions & contests with
  • ....and any other ideas we can conjure up together

Cheers!
Note the section I've bolded.  I didn't reply, so I'm not totally sure what he had in mind.  Still, when partners are in the review business, something's not quite kosher.  Word to the wise--

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Beer News and Where to Get It

At the risk of speeding the obsolescence of my blog, I thought I'd mention a site you should be visiting daily: BeerPulse.  It was founded by Adam Nason as Beer News in 2008 and spent its first years as a feed for press releases.  In the past few months or so, Adam has really stepped up the content.  It still has press releases (useful, actually), but Adam scours Facebook, Twitter, and the news for anything beer related.  He regularly has the latest business news, interesting pieces about collaborations or projects, and even deep-background pieces like this (catnip for me):
German winter barley and rapeseed yields should be about 10 percent higher than last year, based on harvest results, farm lobby Deutscher Bauernverband said.  
In the past couple days, BeerPulse alerted me to these stories:
If it's not on your short list, put it there.

____________


In other news, the Brewers Association released half-yearly numbers, and I am no longer sanguine about the rate of new brewery openings. 
The U.S. now boasts 2,126 breweries—an increase of 350 additional breweries since June 2011. The BA also tracks breweries in planning as an indicator of potential new entrants into the craft category, and lists 1,252 breweries in planning today compared to 725 a year ago. Additionally, the count of craft brewers was at 2,075 as of June 30, 2012 showing that 97 percent of U.S. brewers are craft brewers.
They include this graph, and the near-vertical line on the right-hand side looks a whole lot like the beginnings of a bubble.  (For an unsettling comparison, have a look here.)


It may warrant a bit more blogging once I digest the numbers a bit.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Absolute, Very Last Post on IPAs (Probably)

Okay, one more comment that touches on a topic I've been considering for at least a decade.  It comes from Alan:
Additionally, isn't it most likely that your region is heavily taken by IPAs because it is near the major hops growing region? It may be one of the few examples of a local ingredient influencing a regional palate and maybe even culture. 
I suspect there's something to this.  I want there to be something to this.  And yet, how's that old saw go?--correlation is not causation. Historically, that is, before humans developed the tech to ship ingredients cheaply around the world, the relationship between ingredients and tastes was a mutually-enforcing cycle.  People brewed with what they had access to, and that seems to have inclined them to like what they had brewed.  So they liked beer made with local ingredients.  The pattern is so strong that Alan's thesis has the aroma of truth.

If it is true, the connection must come from brewers, not consumers--many of whom are totally ignorant about where hops come from.  (It's changing, but I'm regularly startled when I'm chatting with someone local who doesn't realize where the hops are grown.)  Of course, brewers do know.  And it is the hard-hearted Northwestern brewer who did not take joy and pride in using Cascade, Willamette, Chinook, and Mt. Hood hops, or promoting beers made with these hops, or brewing beer that took extra advantage of them.

(Random sidebar.  I first started brewing in Wisconsin in the early 90s.  It was a bit bereft there at the time beer-wise, and I wanted me some tasty NW-style ales.  At the homebrew shop on State Street in Madison, the local shop owner helped us--it was the beeronomist--assemble our ingredients.  His standard first-recipe kit utilized Willamettes, which he rendered WILL a mets.  We said, no, it's pronounced wuh LAMB its; we know, we're from Oregon.  [There was a town just south of Madison called Oregon, pronounced bizarrely, but I'll avoid further sidebars to the sidebar.]  To our pleasure, he was really impressed to know we came from the craft brewing motherland.  Oregonians love validation.)

Even in the early days, when the craft bedrock was heavily built on amber ales and hefeweizen, hoppy ales were a substantial vein--one I mined early and often.  The super-hopped ale subculture was already rolling by the late 1980s from San Francisco to Seattle even when there was no commercial impetus.  It took the market more than a decade to catch up to what the brewers were doing.

There's another dimension to the local connection thesis.  IPA's ascent to full dominance in the Pac NW didn't really start until the mid aughts.   That coincided with the rise of fresh hopped ales, which put a spotlight not only on the hops, but their point of origin, just an hour away from most Oregon breweries.  Indeed, Oregon has had an advantage even over Washington on this score--not only are the hops closer to most breweries, but the farms are smaller and were quicker to work with local brewers.  That relationship is unique in the world of brewing.  It's not a definitive argument, but it's another piece of circumstantial evidence.

Still, we have only smoke and no fire, correlation and no obvious case for causation.  (There is evidence to the contrary, too.  For one thing, Northwesterners seem to love strong flavors.  That San Francisco to Seattle corridor also happens to be where good coffee started.  Further, it seems likely that other regions will also quickly develop the Northwest's appetite for IPAs even where no hops are grown locally.)  So Alan, I think what you say is true, but I can't quite build an airtight case.

Friday, August 03, 2012

IPAs Have Conquered America, But Why?

In response to yesterday's IPAs in America post, one beeronomist (there are others) noted:

I dunno, seems like false advertising - have you answered your question, 'how'?  I get it that they have [conquered America] but I was expecting your usual bloviating - er - erudite analysis of why IPA is especially right for American palates. What is it about the IPA and the American Experience that makes them so simpatico?  (My bold)

The purpose of this image will become evident in due course.
Well, I'm glad you asked, Patrick, if only because it allows me to stretch the discussion out--bloviate--over two posts.  In fact, I do have a theory, and it's built, like all great blogging theories, on a single anecdote that I garnish with actual data and a bit of fairly accurate history to create my wholesome meal of an answer.

The Anecdote
Way back in the waning days of the last century, I worked on a fantastic research project at Portland State University.   We were attempting a massive effort to interview parents and children and their social workers in the state child welfare system.  We worked like fiends and grew quite close.  At a certain point, our very cool boss started arranging post-work happy hour get-togethers where we could chat about work and blow off steam.  I had just begun writing about beer on the side, and so was regarded as the local expert.  The waitress came, ran through the tap list, and the Very Cool Boss asked which beer to order.  I asked what kind of beer she liked.  She said: "I don't like bitter beer.  I like IPAs." 

The Data
We are all well aware that industrial lager producers have been trying to make their beers as inoffensive as possible for the better part of a century.  Products made for mass audiences must have no sharp edges or challenging dimensions.  Humans crave sweetness and so food companies sweeten foods like pasta sauce that have no business being sweetened.  Over the years, the beer companies have done the same thing by steadily removing hops.  They now fall below the human threshold for flavor.

The History
Craft brewing arose as a reaction to the homogenization and boring-ification of mass market lagers.  It was sparked by people who existed way out in the tail on the beer-styles bell curve, people who loved intense, rich flavors.  For a long time, craft brewers thought they had to create bridges between their beer and Hamm's, so they dabbled in Vienna lagers, wheat beers, and fruit ales.  This buoyed craft brewing through the 80s, but by the 90s, people were losing interest in tame craft beers (and also bad beers, of which there were a growing number).  The market stumbled and took several years to recover.  When it did, it was on the strength of beers like IPAs that were sharply different from mass market lagers.

So here's my theory.  In the age before craft (BC), we had a lot of ideas about beer.  We believed "less filling" was a higher state of beer.  We feared "bitter beer face."  We had never heard of ales, never mind "styles," and considered Heineken impossibly strong and exotic.  Also, beer tasted bad.  There was a hollow tinniness to it, and the aftertaste was slightly unpleasant.  (I have no data to back this claim, but make it I shall: I suspect beer in the 70s was pretty bad, never mind how many hops it had, and that the technical quality and consistency of macro lager is very high today by comparison.)  You muscled your way through a beer to get to the next one and, if you persevered, the fourth one down the line.

We were ignorant.  On the one hand, we were told bitter was bad--seemed logical enough--but on the other, beer companies had essentially made it impossible for us to know what hops tasted like.  We never associated the two.  Now we enter the period after craft (AC) and for the first time taste hoppy flavors like grapefruit, lavender, and marmalade in our beers. They're not bad!  In some very abstract way, we can see how they might be called bitter, but it's not nasty bitter, tin bitter; it's single-estate-Ethiopian-dark-roast-with-notes-of-blueberry-and-black-pepper bitter.

Those who came to craft beer were a self-selected sample of people who didn't like mass market lagers.  Axiomatically, they were looking for something different, and along each dimension, IPAs offered a contrast: they were strong, they were fruity and ale-y, and of course, they were intensely-flavored.  There was a reason even very hoppy pilsners didn't take off--they were too familiar.  It had to be more than just hoppy.  The fullness and fruitiness of ales were a revelation.  But hops were key, and American hops, absolutely unfamiliar and even a little bit bizarre, were a big part of things.  Bolted to the chassis of a nice, full ale, they created flavors that seemed unrelated to beer from the land of sky-blue waters.  We were thrilled.

The rise of IPAs is similar both in pattern and kind to what was happening in artisanal food and beverage segments elsewhere.  When pursuing coffee, cheese, whisk(e)y, and wine, people went for the intense; they offered the best contrast to the bland, mass-market products they had grown up with.  In cuisine, "ethnic" foods (which are of course "foods" to people in different countries) have led a renaissance since the 70s and 80s, and we're forever looking for the next great flavor around the corner.

Looking back, it seems inevitable that a strongly-flavored beer was going to become king.  That it was IPA and not, say, tripels, is a little dicier to explain.  We are left to speculate.  American hops, once derided in other countries, have won the test of time.  Everyone now agrees: they're awesome.  So saturated IPAs are objectively tasty.  I also wouldn't underestimate the value of their being local.  I haven't figured out why this matters, but country after country, region after region, it seems to.  And finally, trends build on themselves.  IPAs may have won out partly because they started to get popular before people were exposed to Belgian styles and sour ales.

And that brings us to the end of my tale of Why IPAs Conquered America.  Surely you have your own theories and refutations, and as always, I welcome them in comments--

Thursday, August 02, 2012

How IPAs Conquered America

Type in #IPAday on Twitter and you'll find scads of tweets.  This is the second year Ashley has promoted the idea through social media--though goosing a meme seems to be the end itself.  But nevermind, let's use the occasion to think a little about IPAs.

In the world of craft beer--the world beyond light lagers--IPA is king.  There may be slight regional variation; IPAs have definitely conquered the West Coast and with over 3000 examples listed on BeerAdvocate, it's the most popular style brewed in the world.  Ranger and Torpedo are spreading like wildfire, and tentpole brands like Harpoon and Bell's have been converting locals across the country. 

For long-time watchers of craft beer, styles have come and gone.  Hefeweizens were king for a time, ambers and browns had their moment, and pale ales have had the most enduring popularity of any craft style.  But all of those have waned.  IPAs started getting popular in the mid-1990s and they've only picked up strength.  I have waited and waited to see a plateau, but we're still climbing.  Oregon presents a pretty stark case.  Not only is it commercial suicide to skip the IPA (breweries like Pfriem and Solera, keen on making Belgian-inflected lineups, brew IPAs), many breweries have two or three. 

From time to time you hear someone make an argument that the latest darling of craft brewers is "the new IPA."   Sour ales and saisons leap to mind.  Indeed, for years I was one of the people who wondered what the next great thing would be.  Time to quit thinking like that.  The next great thing will be an IPA.  And the great thing after that.

Americans are in their fourth decade of experimental brewing.  Every extant style of beer in the world is brewed in the United States.  When you're brewing small amounts for customers who are also in experimental modes of drinking (a decent definition of a beer geek), you can roll out kvass and gose.  If you look at the long history of beer, this is totally anomalous--different styles are favored by different people one country or even city to the next.  Styles change, but slowly.

And true to form, as the market matures and regular American drinkers begin to locate joy in robust beers, they are settling on a style.  Although I'm a beer nerd, most of my friends and acquaintances are not.  I spend far more time talking to non-beer people than beer people.  Of those who have come over to good beer, the vast majority like IPA.  They don't really know what it is or which brands they like--to them it's akin to Earl Gray tea, a type.

When you go to London, you have a pint of cask bitter.*  When you go to Koln, a Kolsch.  It used to be that walking into a good beer bar in the US would leave a drinker bewildered by variety.  But no more.  There's always at least one reliable pick on the board--an IPA.  And this cycle will reinforce itself, as more people find IPAs at their local pubs, more people will drink IPAs, and they in turn will look for yet more IPAs.  In the good beer world, at least, IPAs have won the game, set and match.  We are an IPA country now, like it or not.

(I mostly do.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

What Makes a Good Brewpub?

The Street, riffing on RateBeer, has collected together a list of the country's best brewpubs.  It is, as lists inevitably are, fatally flawed.  The biggest problem with RateBeer's rankings is that the raters are all different.  According to RateBeer, the number one brewery in the United States is Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, FL.  There are currently 53 breweries in Florida, roughly the amount we have in Portland.  So whether Peg's is the best or not--and looking at the website, it's possible--the people who rated it have a very different pool of comparisons than those who rated, say, Hopworks (37th).  It's a lot harder to impress someone who lives in a city with dozens of brewpubs than someone who has one to choose from.  Indeed, something just doesn't quite track when you look at the list and see that the first ten brewpubs--including two I hope to visit in Italy--are foreign and the forty that follow are American.

Photo credit: Scottwwwwwww
But how would you construct criteria for "best?"*   It has to have good beer, obviously, but that's not enough.  The "pub" part has at least equal billing, so ambiance and food have to play a role.  I'd add another category I find critical: local character.  Unlike breweries, which can send their beer around the world, brewpubs are fixed in place.  The experience is local, and there should be some sense of place reflected in a brewpub.  I am never interested in going to a generic place that has a Appleby's feel--I want to know where I am when I walk in the doors.  One of my favorite brewpubs in the world is Portsmouth in Portsmouth, NH.  When we're traveling from Boston to Maine to visit Sally's family, I always try to finagle a stop.  It's New England, but not kitschy faux-New England like Gritty's in Portland, ME, which feels totally staged to me.

In our Portland, I have a list of brewpubs for first-timers that relies heavily on this "local" element (crossed with the factors of good beer, food, and ambiance).  Deschutes' in the Pearl, with its crazy chainsaw art, reminds you of pioneer Oregon.  Bikey Hopworks is tres Rose City.  And for that necessary crunch you must have in any full Portland meal, the Lucky Lab.  (If you visit and don't smell ganja, patchouli oil, and dog, you have done something wrong.)  Indeed, even though the food is average and the beer even worse, I often recommend Kennedy School, just because I know the only place people will ever see something like it is Oregon.

To their credit, The Street did place Walking Man in their top ten.  If had to visit a single brewpub from out of state (or country), they would learn a lot about the Pacific Northwest by stopping off in Stevenson.  So there's that.

Your thoughts?

__________________________
* The list-making, statistically-magnetized side of me suggests you could use these four dimensions: beer (6 pts), food (5), ambiance (4), and local color (5), scale them, and score brewpubs.  So Lucky Lab would get a 14 (4, 1, 4, and 5) while Deschutes would get a 16.5 (6, 3.5, 3, 4).  But the part of me that knows lists are futile says, "this warrants only a footnote mention."