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Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Other Portland (And Its Beers)

[Updated: Geary's Autumn Ale and Shipyard Bluefin Stout added Saturday, Sept 30.]

This may come as a shocker to Stumptowners, but there is actually another Portland in the US. Originally known as Machigonne, it was settled in 1632 by the English as a fishing settlement. Some years later, it became "Casco" (for the city's bay) and then "Falmouth" before landing on Portland. Had New Englanders managed to get out to Oregon a couple hundred years earlier, who knows--we might be proud Falmouthers, with none of the subsequent (and now mostly vanished) confusion the two Portlands caused each other.

There are a number of similarity in the cities--but, since this is a specialized blog, I'll confine myself to beer. Much as in Oregon, there is a thriving market for micros in Maine. The state, with a population of just 1.2 million, has 25 breweries. Portland, with just 63,000 people, has eight. When you go to a pub (which look a lot like English-influenced Oregon pubs), you'll find a number of local taps. When I went into the supermarket to buy beers for review, there were perhaps a dozen local offerings (making my decision difficult). And when you go to the airport, there's a local brewpub--Shipyard--offering fresh pints. The beers are mostly British-influenced ales, and are tastier, more robust, and hoppier than any region outside West Coast.

Enough preamble--to the beers!

Geary's Autumn Ale
DL Geary is Maine's oldest brewery, and one of its best. (In fact, it's the oldest micro east of the Mississippi.) In my visits to Maine, I've had most of their beer, and was impressed especially by the pale ale. Thus did I look forward to their interpretation of a nut brown. It's not a bad effort, but it unfortunately lacks transcendence. It looks great--tawny brown, bright, with a nice roasty aroma. It's meaty, too, like too few browns, but the flavor misses the mark. It's slightly too bitter and not malty or sweet enough. Fine, but the wrong balance, neither sprightly and aggressive nor comforting. If you're in Maine, try the Pale Ale. (Two row English malt, clarity, crystal, chocolate and wheat; Cascade, Golding & Fuggle hops 5.8% abv)
Rating: Average.

D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: David Geary
Founded: 1986
Beers: Pale, London Porter, Autumn Ale (nut brown), Hampshire Ale (winter warmer), Winter Ale (IPA), Summer Ale (kolsh).
Available: New England and the Northeast

Shipyard - Blue Fin Stout

Pours black with dramatic effervescence--and a fluffy brown head. The aroma, of rich chocolate, is delightful but misleading--as you discover with the first sip, which has not the hint of sweetness. It's a bit like smelling baker's chocolate. It is a wonderful beer, thick and dense, highlighted by the strongest roasted barley I've tasted in a stout. It produces a earthy, rooty darkness on the palate that is intense like coffee, though more akin to chicory or even beets. (Hard to claim that beets taste good in beer, but here the note is delightful.) It was a beer brewed to cut through the harshest North Atlantic winds (and they are harsh). I've never had a stout like it, and I regret I have to travel 3,000 miles to get more.
Rating: A Classic.

Shipyard - IPA
Classic cloudy golden hue, with a rather weak head. Spicy aroma with a slightly bicarbinate note. Hopped solely with the classic English hop Fuggle. The flavor is a little weak for an IPA--as is the strength. It's a nice beer, with the Fuggles imparting a spicy, soapy quality. (Interestingly, though I found it to be only mildly bitter, Sally thought it was harshly so--more evidence of how bitter perception is variable.) There is little malt quality except for a pleasant, residual sweetness. Worth trying for the Fuggles, but not an exceptional beer. 5.8% abv
Rating: Average.

Shipyard Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: Alan Pugsley
Founded: 1992
Beers: Fourteen, including flagship Export and a range of mostly English ales.
Available: Throughout Southern Maine (sorry, Webfeet!)

Allagash White
Cloudy, classic white head. One of the whitish whites I've seen--like unfiltered pear juice. Nice crisp aroma with the suggestion of coriander without cloying. Palate tends toward the light and dry. The spicing is modest, producing a more vinous interpretation of the style. A great choice for a brewery's first beer (as this was)--I expect it has found its way into the coolers of many of the vacationers across "Vacationland." 5% abv
Rating: Good.

Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: Rob Tod
Founded: 1995
Beers: White, Dubbel, Tripel, Grand Cru, Four, specialty and barrel-aged beers.
Available: Belmont Station

Casco Bay Oktoberfest
Honey-amber with a brief, light head. Oktoberfests usually have understated aromas, and so does Casco Bay--just a bit of Munich malt and a hint of floral hops. The palate is delightful--rounded and creamy, subtley sweet, and a long, spicy finish. The brewery uses a special Munich yeast for the beer, and it pays dividends--a great beer.
Rating: Excellent.

Casco Bay Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Brewer: Bryan Smith
Founded: 1994
Beers: Casco Bay: Red, Pale, Summer, Winter, Oktoberfest; Carrabassett: Pale, Brown, Winter, Summer
Available: Five states outside Maine--none closer than Ohio.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beers of Maine (1)

Famously, Asa Lovejoy and William Pettygrove tossed a coin for the right to name a 640-acre plot they obtained from William Overton on the bank of the Willamette River. Exactly 151 years later (a sesquicentennial and one), I lured another Portlander west, and ultimately married into her New England family. Thus do I get to return to the founding land once every year or two and sample the other Portland's beer. (You don't get to select your spouse's hometown, and often do I thank lady luck that mine's isn't in Indiana.)

Anyway, I will report back on a brewpub and five bottles I managed to safely transport home. (The brewpub was a dud, but as evidence of the maturity of the Maine industry, I have a stout, and IPA, an Oktoberfest, a fall seasonal (nut brown), and a Belgian wit yet to sample--in only a handful of states could you find that diversity on your local grocery store shelf.)

Give me a couplethree days and I'll do mini-reviews of those and talk a bit about the trip.

Industry News - Oregon Beer Up

The GABF begins in two days, which is always a slightly melancholy event for me. Colorado and Cali brewers end up taking home the lions' share of the awards, while a select few Oregon breweries burnish their already shiny cred. It is disappointing because, while I recognize the sincerity and quality of the GABF, I also know it's akin to a European beer awards held in Berlin--with Oregon standing in as Belgium. We make far and away the best beer top to bottom, but its bold, funky, non-Coloradan verve earns us meager rewards in Denver.

It is therefore with relish that I point out the following news from the Oregon Brewers Guild:
Oregon Brewers Guild members beer production grew at a rate of nearly 24 percent in the first half of 2006 compared to the same period in 2005.

This will be the third consecutive year that Oregon’s brewers have shown production growth in the double digits. Oregon’s craft brewers production grew 16 percent in 2005 and 11 percent in 2004. In 2005, craft beer production in the United States (U.S.) grew 9 percent and in 2004 it rose by 7 percent.

The volume of beer sold in Oregon was up 3% the first half of 2006. In 2005, the volume of beer sold increased less than one percent. In 2004, the volume of beer sold increased 3%.
My reading of that is that while Oregon beer continues to sell ever better in Oregon, it's flying off the shelves elsewhere. We may fail to win our requisite medals in Denver, but this is perhaps better evidence of how good Oregon beers are.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stone Arrogant Bastard

There's something very attractive about a beer with the motto "You're not worthy" and a demon on the label. It announces itself with verve. In Beervana, this attitude is rewarded, as has been Arrogant Bastard, with devotion and sales. I have tippled a few myself, but oddly, the beer doesn't stay in my memory. I received a gift bottle recently (thanks Iggi!), and decided to pull out the critical apparatus and have a look. Here are my findings.

Tasting Notes
I was surprised at how dark the Bastard pours. In my memory, I recalled it being a lighter amber. Despite the agression of the name, it's a rather beautiful walnut. There's also an attractive latte-colored head to the beer--surprisingly frothy for a beer of this strength. The indignities continue: the aroma is rich and nutty with delicious citrus notes and promising alcohol volatility. It may be a Bastard, but it's purty and smells nice.

Unfortunately, I find the beer a little less interesting on the palate. If I give you a laundry list of the flavors, it'll sound like a great beer--I get a deep nutty maltiness and creamy mouthfeel and hops throughout. There are strong flavors suggestive of barleywines and old ales, the kind of hopping (bitterness and flavor) that Beervanians love.

But the parts add up to something less as a whole. As is more common than not with strong ales, it's out of balance. The distinctive quality is a sharpness wrought of clashing bites--hop, alcohol, barley. Beers of great intensity and strength don't have to punish you, but this Bastard does. (And maybe I'm starting to see from whence the name came.)

I compare beers like Arrogant Bastard with two titans of the genre--the now sadly defunct Sasquatch Strong and Russian River's Pliny the Elder, both of which found the sweet spot where the intensity of flavors melded into transcendent beers. Arrogant Bastard has the style; it just misses on flavor. Probably that's why I have a murky memory of it--I love the packaging and style, and I can't reconcile it with the flavor.

Results vary, of course, so maybe you'll like it. Many have.

ABV: 7.2
Availability: 19 states and DC; Stone has a list here.
No other stats are available for the beer, which is odd for a company with such verve.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Beer Pong

In lieu of actual content, I offer you another silly beer video:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Widmer double alt* on tap now at the Gasthaus, pass it on.

*Twice hops and twice the fun.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Autumn Beers - Sam Adams Oktoberfest

The next autumn beer to appear on the shelves is one that commenter DF recommended in last week's review of Widmer Okto: Sam Adams. Since I rattled on about the style and history in that review, I'll commence directly to the tasting notes of Boston's finest.

Tasting Notes
The beer looks great--a rich amber with a dense tan head that dissipated a mite quicker than I'd have liked. Not quite as deep red/orange as the Widmer, but attractive. The nose is limited to a spice and a very slight candied orange scent.

Sam Adams has gone for a lighter interpretation--the body is thinner and the mouthfeel less creamy. There's is a drier version. It is, if anything, more peppery than the Widmer--suggestive of autumnal spices like clove and nutmeg, and perhaps a little ginger. There's not a lot of residual sugars in this beer, so the sweetness is just suggested, again with a candied fruit essence. The finish is very dry and crisp. I expect it would complement somewhat lighter foods or serve as a nice apperitif.

It would be interesting to try Widmer Okto and Sam Adams side by side to see how they compared and contrasted. I suspect selecting the "better" of the two would be a fool's errand, but fool that I am, I'd choose Widmer. (On purely personal, subjective ground, admittedly.)

Malts: Pale, Munich 10, caramel 60, Moravian
Hops: Tettnanger, Hallertau-Mittelfruh
Alcohol by volume: 5.4%
Original Gravity: 13.6° Plato, 1.048
Bitterness Units: N/A
Other: Brewery uses a decoction mash and secondary fermentation.
Available: Throughout the Northwest; in stores now (Sept 14, '06).

Good, tending toward excellent.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Beer Cannon

This is definitely irresponsible, but I can't resist. Old Milwaukee Light drinkers in Wisconsin construct a cannon from which they fire beer cans. There are actually two cool clips, and I guess I'll go with the montage--for it's elegiac celebration of destruction. You might also enjoy the set-up vid, wherein the beer cannon is introduced and explained.

And now to how it is used--

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Extreme Brewing

While I'm pointing you to other fascinating corners of the blogosphere, you might skate over to the best-named blog on beerosphere ("Champagne of Blogs") and read about a brewing experiment at the headwaters of the Metolius River in Central Oregon. The experiment began with the river:
We drew all the water for the brew directly from the icy waters. It was crystal clear, having just emerged from its underground source, but we boiled it anyway, lest we end up brewing Giardia Pale Ale. As river-brewer Tom Petty once said, “the wading is the hardest part.” Not only was it extremely cold, but the bottom of the river was covered in sharp rocks whose pain required a significant quantity of alcohol to ease.
It's quite a tale, replete with pictures. I have to say I'm unlikely to replicate the process, but I admire it. Go read the full story--

Picture: beer on the way back to Portland.

Hop Dive

A very cool 21-second vid clip of hop heads diving in and swimming around a massive pile of hops over at the Belmont Station blog. And I thought beer might be too static a subject for video!

(Hey, wasn't Belmont Station supposed to be moving?)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Commercials: Olympia and Rainier

A couple more from the vault. First up, a groovy sixties ad for Oly put to folk music:

And next, a sublime offering from the dadaist series of Rainier ads:

Ummm, mountain fresh!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Autumn Beers - Widmer "Okto" (Oktoberfest)

You know when Oktoberfest starts, right? September, natch. And you know when Oktoberfests are brewed, yeah? March--giving them the confusingly dually temporal name Oktoberfest/Marzen. So it is perhaps no surprise that the first autumn beer on shelves is Widmer's tasty "Okto" Oktoberfestbier, which, apparently, could be released anytime.

(I would love to report that Okto is the name of a funny character in Lederhosen, poised to fill the void left by the Hamms beer bear, but alas, it's not so. Just a silly name.)

The Oktoberfest style is one of the tastier lagers (I hereby demonstrate my biases against lagers), spicy and malty, the color of a Halloween maple leaf. It is one of the most universal accompaniments to food, going well with everything from pasta to salmon (and of course, sausage), and also one of the most well-liked styles. Oregon, being an ale state, tends not to produce many Oktoberfests, so the Widmers have the shelf (and taps) mostly to themselves. This turns out to be just fine.

Tasting Notes
As the style demands, Widmer Okto has a rich autumnal hue--in this case, a deep red/orange (the picture I've included does not do the beer justice). The brewery describes the aroma as "floral," but it is mostly absent olfactory interest--I do get a very mild candy sweetness.

The flavor is just about perfect to style--malt forward, but with a classic peppery spiciness that I wouldn't begin to know how to brew. (I'd assume it were a yeast characteristic in anything but a lager.) The Widmers' play this note up, which will appease ale-drinking hopheads, but not dissuade classic lager drinkers. Despite its absolute clarity, it has a rich, hearty mouthfeel, suitable for crisp evenings.

(If you'll allow me to wax poetic--not that you have any choice--a good Oktoberfest should have the quality of fall infused into its essence. The warmth summer's last sun and the sweetness of late fall's harvest--pumpkin pie and cider. It's a beer for a particular time, and, like the start of school, somehow actually seems to coax that season into being.)

Not only is this one of the two best Oktoberfests I've ever tasted (along with New Glarus's interpretation), but it's quite reasonably priced. Forget the airfare to Munich--one liter of the festbier (two pints) is over eight bucks! Go to the Gasthaus instead and have a fine German meal--spaetzle, anyone?

Malts: Pale, caramelmunich 60L, extra special, carapils
Hops: Alchemy (bittering), Mt. Hood, Tettnanger(finishing)
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
Original Gravity: 13° Plato
Bitterness Units: 25
Available: Throughout the Northwest; in stores now (Sept 11).


Thursday, September 07, 2006


Guest on Tap has a story cum (brief) interview with Craig Nicholls of Roots Brewing. Somehow, Craig managed to win a trip to Munich for Oktoberfest, and it looks like he's gonna make the most of it, brewing at a German brewery and later making a trip to Belgium. I presume this means we'll end up reaping the rewards--which I look forward to with relish.

Rainier Commercial

Rainier was doing stuff in the 70s and 80s that was essentially abstract video art. It was dada. It was magnificent. A couple of guys have been posting these ads on Youtube lately, and they're really extraordinary. In our hyper-macho world of the new millenium, it's hard to imagine some of these ever crossing the mind of a beer company, let alone making it to air. Anyway, here's a couple for your viewing enjoyment.

Beerish on America

All Abeer!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oregon Classics - Black Butte Porter

Deschutes first released Black Butte Porter in 1988, and although it is one of the rare breweries to have actually achieved brand recognition beyond a single product, this tasty porter could be considered the flagship.

Legend already surrounds it. In the late 80s, after identifying Bend, restauranteur Gary Fish decided he would open a brewpub. His search for a brewer led him to John Harris, who had helped the McMenamins begin their journey (and is the father of, I believe, Hammerhead). Fish made an early decision he has stuck with throughout the past 18 years to give his carte blanche in the brewhouse. This might have backfired with a different brewer, but Harris was allowed to craft a batch of beers that have become standards of their styles: Obsidian Stout, Mirror Pond Pale, and Bachelor Bitter.

When Deschutes entered the bottled beer market five years later, a curious phenomenon gripped breweries. While the market was exploding with myriad beers of myriad styles, the best sellers were "crossover" beers that sold well with newbies: Widmer Hefeweizen, Saxer Lemon Lager, Portland Brewing's Honey Ale. For the period of time between Black Butte's entry into the bottle market until about 1998, most breweries invested heavily in light, unagressive beers. But not Deschutes. They boldly continued along with their line of uncompromising ales.

As the market began to shake out, the crossover beers lost market share to the more characterful ales produced by other breweries, and many companies didn't survive. Deschutes, which has never put out a beer that was a PR concoction (you'd be surprised how rare that is), has been the only brewery in the state to see steady growth as the market fluctuated. They did it, in no small measure, because Black Butte is a great beer.

Tasting Notes
Porters came to be in 1722 (or'30--sources vary) when London brewer Ralph Harwood introduced a mixture of three beers common at the time. He called the resulting brew "entire" or "entire butt" (butt being an olden days word for "barrel"). Porters from the nearby produce market are purported to have liked it, hence the name. (Jackson disputes this.) As for names, I wonder if Deschutes' decision to name their porter after Central Oregon's Black Butte wasn't a nod to Harwood's "entire butt." Someday I'll ask someone.

The beer appears black in the glass, with a fluffy tan head. However, if you hold it to a light, you can see that it's a very dark amber--and quite bright, with not a hint of cloudiness. The aroma has parts chocolate and parts London pub--don't ask me what that means, I just know it when I stick my nose in a Fuller's or Young's.

It's not surprising that Black Butte emerged from the "crossover beer" days. It is in many ways the perfect crossover itself. The first note is a chocolatey sweetness, supported by a creamy mouthfeel. It isn't a heavy beer, but substantial enough to sate hearty-beer fans. There's a bit of coffee in the final note which, despite the sweetness, makes for a dry finish.

It is as near a universal beer as I know and I have yet to encounter a beer drinker who doesn't like it. And even a few who "don't like beer" like Black Butte.

Malts: Pale, crystal, chocolate
Hops: NA
Alcohol by volume: 5.2%
Original Gravity: 1.056
Bitterness Units: 30
Available: Throughout the Northwest

A Northwest classic.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hamm's Beer Commercial

So, this isn't one of the classics from my youth--it's even earlier. But you still get the beer bear and the classic tune. Plus BONUS lyrics. Behold:

From the land of lakes and sunset breezes
-- Hamm's beer --
Dance and sparkle in each glassful [?]
-- Hamm's beer --
Hamm's, the beer refreshing
Hamm's, the beer refreshing

The Great Saison Disaster

I suspect few of you care about my homebrewing foibles, but drama compels me to relate a story. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I successfully cultured yeast from a bottle of Saison Dupont recently and made a batch of my own saison with it. For those of you familiar with the style, you know it's marked by its effervescence--great rocky bubbles roil as it cascades into a glass.

Turns out that comes from a rather slow-developing yeast. As usual, I left the beer in the carboy for two weeks and then bottled, never bothering to consider whether the yeast had finished gobbling malt sugar. Two weeks has been perfectly adequate for every beer I've brewed, no matter how strong. All is well and good. I taste the beer going in, and although I went heavy on the botanical additives, the cultured yeast remained unpolluted and it tastes clean and fresh. All good.

Except that the yeast wasn't done. My lovely wife approached me yesterday with the information that she suspected a little creature was trapped in the basement--she found a pool of yellow liquid on the floor. When I descended the stairs, the aroma that greated me wasn't acrid, but nice and beery. I nostalgically recalled the smell of the dorm on a Saturday morning. And sure enough, there was the first exploded beer, pooled on the floor. I tried to pop a couple of the beers and dump the batch, but they were so explosive I feared that even rousing them would cause them to blow like grenades in my hand. Instead, I hustled them outdoors, wrapped in towels, and will wait for nature to take its course.

It's supposed to be 85 today. Boom!