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Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Year in Review - 2007

Although there's a certain artificiality to it, looking back over a year does provide a certain kind of perspective. I recall 2006 as the year of new beers. This year, by contrast, saw breweries release very few new beers beyond seasonals. So trends can be charted. One may also stop to ponder the changes a year witnesses--the new arrivals as well as the departures. Artificial it may be, but year-end reviews aren't mere fluff.

So, with no further ado, here's one blogger's thoughts on 2007.

Good Trend
The use of Belgian yeasts in general and the emergence of Duvel-type strong golden ales in particular represented a minor yet welcome trend in brewing. Going back to '06, when Full Sail debuted Vesuvius, and then this year with Deschutes' 20th Anniversary ale, Max's Farmer's Daughter, and Double Mountain's Devil's Kitchen, we have four examples (which you might argue does not represent a trend, but then again, you're not writing this blog). Double Mountain led the way in Belgian yeast experimentation, but the trend is growing. Max Teiger also experiments with it, as does, increasingly, Ron Gansberg at Raccoon Lodge. What I find most interesting is that the yeasts aren't just being used to create traditional Belgians, but often as a way of adding a little extra zing to a style that would otherwise be considered pedestrian.

Bad Trend
As we brace for the effect the hop and barley shortages are bound to wreak on good beer in 2008, it's worth noting that once again, craft beer had a very good year in '07. Sales were up again by double digits for craft beer, and this contrasted sharply with the flat sales industrial brewers experienced yet again. The result, predictably, was faux craft--beers either brewed in macrobreweries that disguise their origin, or small breweries snapped up and operated by the bigs. In Oregon, we saw the release of Henry Weinhard's Organic Amber as a local example.

Good Trend
Fresh hop ales. By the boatload. Also, the increasing use of organic ingredients. What began as niche products may be the norm in ten years. 2007 saw both of these trends turn almost-mainstream.

So maybe there weren't a lot of new beers released by old breweries. There were, fortunately, a great deal released by new breweries. And, in what amounts to a fairly major trend, four of the new openings were second places by already-established brewers.

Breweries and brewpubs
  • Max's Fanno Creek - Max Tieger's second brewpub, this labor of love opened in Tigard in May.
  • Heater | Allen - McMinnville's second brewery, and Oregon's only all-lager brewery. Super tiny now, but planning to expand.
  • HUB (sorta) - Hopworks Urban Brewery, Christian Ettinger's second brewpub, didn't open in 2007--it's slated for early '08--but it did release a lot of beer.
  • Double Mountain - Charlie Devereux and Matt Swihart took their show on the road--or down the road, about four blocks from Full Sail to open this wonderful new brewpub in downtown Hood River. It was the best debut by a brewery since Roots.
  • Southern Oregon Brewing Company - Medford's first brewery, a fairly substantial 20-barrel operation, released its first beers in November.
  • Beer Valley - Ontario, Oregon's first brewery, which has an impressive slate of burly, interesting ales, including an imperial stout and barleywine.
  • Wildfire - a project of a local Bend pub--JC's Bar and Grill.
  • Bailey's Taproom - a sleek, open new taproom in downtown Portland just across the street from the Tugboat, and it may well boast the best selection in the city.
  • Green Dragon - while it may get bumped up to brewpub status eventually, the Green Dragon has been, for the past few months, just one of the nicest new pubs in town--featuring wonderful beers alongside excellent food.
  • Belgian Embassy - in the old house formerly occupied by Lovely Hula Hands in North Portland (just up the hill from the Gasthaus) is a restaurant featuring Belgian cuisine and an impressive list of Belgian beer--in the bottle and on tap.
  • Belmont Station Biercafe - one of the coziest corner spots in Southeast Portland. A smallish selection of beers on tap, but easily the largest in the bottle (800+).
Michael Jackson (1942 - 2007) - Even after four months, I am still left with the feeling of absence after the death of the wonderful British beer writer Michael Jackson. Even the act of looking back through this year's news, one sees the churn and change. What a shame we have lost the world's greatest interpreter of beer and brewing. Feels like we're flying without a net. We will miss your wit and your words, Michael.

How could I conclude a year-end wrap-up without mentioning the Honest Beer Project? I couldn't, and haven't, but there's no reason to belabor the point. Enough.

We already know that 2008 will be interesting: brewers are scrambling to brew without certain hop varieties; they're trying to stay afloat even as prices spike, and they don't want to cool the huge growth in interest in their product by pricing it too high. The best breweries will likely turn lemons into lemonade and come up with wonderfully innovative ways around these problems.

Every year is an adventure, and I'm looking forward to seeing what 2008 brings. I'll be here--same beer time, same beer channel.

See you around the pubs . . .

1 comment:

  1. good wrap-up...a great year for beer all-around.