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Friday, February 29, 2008

Corvallis Adds a Brewery: Block 15

I have long been surprised that a metropolis the size of Corvallis has had so little in the way of local breweries. Things are looking up. The long-awaited Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery had a "soft open" last night and are up and running now. There's some info at the website, and John has some additional details from the brewery about their beer. (As we have seen among newly-opened breweries--Max's Fanno Creek, Double Mountain--B15 follow the trend into yeast experimentation. A very good sign.)
  • Glo: a light golden ale brewed with organic grains and noble hops. Very easy drinking, beautiful gold color and wonderfully tasty.
  • Ridgeback Red: This beer is a great example of balance. A good malt profile provided by Munich and Vienna malts, perfectly complemented by both Noble and High Alpha hops. Also we lightly dry hopped the red with Fuggles (a type of hop) creating just a hint of fresh hop in the nose
  • Fat Monk: Belgian Style Dubbel. We couldn't wait to tackle a Belgian Brew! Fat Monk was crafted with Pilsner malts from Belgium, a true Trappist yeast, Amber Candi sugar, and fine Noble hops. The beer is still fermenting and taste tests thus far keep us anxiously awaiting a finished pint.
  • Aboriginale: Free-style Ale. This is what Block 15 is all about, truly unique unclassified beers in addtion to our standard taps. We used seven different malts, and three different hops when brewing this beer. Currently we are dry-hopping in a conditioning tanks with two more types of hops.
  • Print Masters Pale: NW Pale ale. This beer pays homage to the working men and women who use to print the Gazzette-Times in our building years ago. A classic North West brew, medium bodied,crisp, and balanced with a good shot of Amarillo hops.
  • Alpha IPA. 6.5% alc/volume, 4 variety of hops weighing in at over 17 pounds. From First wort hopping to dry hopping, this beer is all about the hops.
  • Nebula: Oatmeal Stout. A deep dark contemplative stout brewed with roast barley, chocolate malts, oatmeal and caramel malts. And we have just begun!! Coming soon with be our Gateway Wheat, Fruit Ale, Spring Ale, a Cask conditioned ale and whatever else we dream up. Cheers and see you soon!
Perhaps our Corvallis correspondant can do a little recon and report back. Incidentally, Steve van Rossem, who's been brewing in Eugene for over a decade (McMenamins High Street, West Brothers), is the brains behind the beers. Further evidence that it will be a strong debut.
Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery
300 SW Jefferson Ave
Corvallis, OR 97333
(541) 758-2077

[Update: The reviews are coming in. From our Corvallis correspondent, and a review from the MSM (and here's one from an MSM blog for good measure). Both are positive. Our correspondent tried the Aboriginale and noted:

It was very, very good - wonderful fruity hops aroma, rich head and a beautiful straw to amber color, hop-forward but nicely balanced. It sure had the strong aroma and the surface tang characteristic of dry hopping, but interestingly the dry hop language above was not on the menu and the server did not think it was dry-hopped. So it remains a mystery. I was served in a shaker pint, but was unable determine if it was honest.]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hop Supply Driving Barley Prices ... Down?

Okay, this is counterintuitive. Economist Patrick Emerson (and my friend) forwards an argument that the steep price of hops may actually be keeping the price of malt barley from rising. It is a lesson in market interdependence and (perhaps) unanticipated consequences.
Apparently barley can be sold as malting barley and feed barley and usually malting barley (which is a bit more selective) fetches a much higher price than feed barley. But these days the prices are as close together as he can remember. What gives? One reason is that barley malters are constrained somewhat by the supply of hops, if there are no hops there is little demand for malted barley. Thus the price of malting barley has not risen as fast. On the other side, as corn has displaced a lot of wheat and barley, feed barley prices have risen in response (also, apparently you can write longer forward contracts on malt than you can on feed barley because they are traded in different commodity markets).

So the point is that the hops shortage might actually be helping to keep the barley price from rising as much as it otherwise would because the two are such strong complements in the production of beer.
He posts and update that malt and feed barley prices are starting to diverge again, but are still close by historical measures. A silver lining, perhaps, for hard-hit brewers.

Travels with Dave

Dave Selden is in Belgium, and he's blogging up a storm. He has secured a twelver of Westvleteren, which he's attempting to bring back stateside. Perhaps he's susceptible to bribes. Sample post:
After Westvleteren yesterday, Sarah and I attempted to visit several other beer sites near Poperinge, all of which were closed on Wednesday. The closures continued when we returned to Bruges in the evening, but we managed to find the excellent, and highly-recommended Cambrinus, whose beer menu was several inches thick and included more than 400 beers. Mine was the amazing Vin de Cereale from Rodenbach, vintage 2004. Sarah had Bourgogne de Flandres, which was sweeter and not quite as good as La Duchesse from the same style. Tour of De Halve Maan brewery this afternoon …
Pictures, too, which just makes me all the greener with envy. There's one with Sarah, Dave's wife, with three gorgeous Belgians in front of her (there it's just called "beer," I guess--or "biere"). Go have a look if you want to make yourself crazy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Raccoon Lodge: Brussels on the West Side?

Raccoon Lodge
7424 S.W. Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy

Yeast: the final frontier.

Oregon has long been on the cutting edge of brewing innovation, turning hops into something almost alchemical, pushing the boundary with adjuncts, and leading the way on organics. But only recently have breweries really started to mess around with yeast, and it's that dimension I believe the next great wave of improvisation will follow. We have seen the first signs from breweries like Double Mountain and Roots, but a series of experiments being overseen by brewer Ron Gansberg at the Raccoon Lodge are by far the most extensive in the state (and country?).

I spent an evening touring the brewery last week, and I have almost too much to report back on. He's brewing tripels, quadrupels, and sour beers ranging from lambic-style fruit beers to red ales (though none use brettanomyces, which Gansberg seems a little spooked about--based on my own experimentations, probably wisely so). Almost all of them are aged in oak for months to over a year, and many are double- or triple-fermented. It's an amazing range for a brewery that produces fewer than 1,500 barrels a year.

We started out with his newest releases--blackberry, cherry, and apricot ales. The process for the blackberry and cherry is similar. He begins with a base beer that starts with an abbey-style yeast (the house variant he's cultivating he calls "Abbey N'Ormal"). It's a relatively low-gravity beer. Those finish in stainless in about three weeks before being transferred to oak, where they are inoculated with the lactobacillus. They rest there for 6-8 months (in the video below, you can see them bubbling away) before Gansberg adds the fruit. The beer sits on the fruit for another three months before racking, and then sits a period of weeks to clear before bottling.

The first beer we tried was the blackberry, which was surprisingly astringent and dry. Turns out it was a bad year for blackberries, and they had substantially less sugar than usual. I would describe the beer as aggressively sour, with very little sweetness. I suspect it will age nicely and the acidity will become more sherry-like, but for now, only the hearty sour-lovers need apply (I, of course, enjoyed it a great deal).

Next was the Kriek, which in '07 was made with Bing, sour pie, and Sweetheart cherries--though Gansberg will probably fiddle with the recipe this year. It was a more nuanced beer, and as it warmed, opened up delightfully. The cherries were far sweeter and contributed enough to make the finished version more than a percentage point higher in alcohol than the blackberry. It is, at this stage, more balanced, too. The cherry flavor is richer, and the sweet and sour qualities commingle beautifully. As it warmed, I got a deep chocolate note along with the roastiness of the malt.

Based on these two beers, I was completely unprepared for the apricot ale, which was not made with the lower-gravity base beer of the other two, but Gansberg's tripel. It has the aroma not only of fresh apricots, but that intense scent fresh fruit, warmed by the summer sun, vents off. The palate is also infused with this fresh apricot. It is warmly sweet, sensual. The body is deceptively delicate and I was shocked to learn it was a tripel. An amazing beer, both approachable yet complex.

We went there into a phantasmagoria of beers, and my perception began to dull: Gansberg brews a dry, very tart Flanders red, an approachable tripel and a complex, rich, dry quad. His "Baltic porter" is also very tart, and in one batch he uses star anise, which produces a medicinal, minty flavor that almost seems to anesthetize the tongue. For the Cheers to Belgian Beers showdown, he's brewing a batch that includes sweet orange and cardamom. And if that's not enough, he's got a Cuvee that includes mixtures of many of these beers (plus who knows what else).

This review could go on for paragraphs, and I know that will produce diminishing returns--a person can only take in so much. There are a couple things I'd like to highlight, though. First is the sheer audacity of this experiment. Brewers feel increasingly less comfortable the more variables are thrown into the mix. Gansberg is so far out there he should be a wreck--he's got multiple yeast strains in wooden vessels (which harbor funk), he's got fruit, which behaves idiosyncratically year to year, and he's got months and months invested in each batch. As a homebrewer, if I have to wait three months, I'm dying by the end. The one lambic I've brewed I thought would never be done. So imagine what it's like to have 30 casks bubbling away, possibly all going sideways on you. Gansberg mitigates the variability by blending batches, but this is still a huge gamble.

The second thing is that he's out there in Raleigh Hills where gastronomy isn't quite as ... adventuresome as it is on the Eastside (would Le Pigeon be able to sell pigs feet for $11 as an appetiser on the Beaverton Hillsdale Highway?). In order to make this huge gamble pay off, Gansberg is depending on people to drive out there and drop $15 on a bottle of crazy-ass sour beer. (You can also get it at Belmont Station, eastsiders, as well as John's Market.) But those are the realities of brewing this kind of beer--it's just not possible to spend a year handcrafting this kind of product and sell it for less. I wish him well and I hope everyone who reads this goes out and supports his cause--if for no other reason than to support his further experimentations, which are unique in the state.

He offered me some beer as I was leaving, and as a blogger, I have no morals about that kind of thing (the pay being so bad). But I didn't take the Apricot Ale. It was literally one of the best beers I've ever tasted. I was reminded of my experience drinking John Harris's Lupulin last year--it was such a shock to the senses. Sadly, the apricots were hard to filter out, and he lost a fair amount of that batch. I felt it was just too good to give away. That's one more bottle one of you can enjoy, and fifteen bucks is a steal. So act quick and you may still find that bottle.

Pick up some of his other beers while you're at it--

[Update: Just got this from Ron: "Could you include info on a tasting? We are doing a free tasting of the Blackberry, Kriek and Apricot, including previewing the Cuvee du Jongleur on Saturday, March 8th in the Den at Raccoon Lodge from 12:00 to 4:00 pm." Yes, I think I could do that.]

Monday, February 25, 2008

Deschutes Green Lake Organic Amber

Sally and I cracked open a 22 of Deschutes' inagural organic ale during the Oscars last night, and I have to say it was underwhelming. (The usual caveats apply: I love Deschutes, and their recent record--including the recently re-released Spring seasonal Buzzsaw Brown--has been amazing.) It is thick and viscous, but not richly or creamily so. The brewery claims 45 IBUs, but I found the hop character subdued--and wholly unprepared to meet the force of the cloying malt.

I would rate the beer a C if I had to rate it, but for the moment, I don't think I will. I want to verify my findings with a second bottle. The brewery's long history of success has earned that latitude, at least. Anyone else try it? What did you think?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Special Oscars Post

Unless you're in one of Portland's many pub/theaters, it's not so easy to bring film and beer together, but this quote ain't bad. From one of the most enjoyable movies of the year, Hot Fuzz (written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright):
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg): Mr. Porter, what's your wine selection?
Publican Roy Porter (Peter Wight): Oh, we've got red... and, er... white?
Angel: I'll have a pint of lager, please.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Belgian Consolidation

Dunno how many readers care about ownership of Belgian breweries, but this is pretty big news, so. Via Stonch, Moortgat (producer of Duvel) is set to purchase the apparently bankrupt Liefman's. I'm not sure how the brewer of such amazing beers (and the world standard for Flemish brown) could have been in such straights, but this isn't the first buy-out. The Riva group has owned Liefman's since the early 90s.

Liefman's was founded around the time of the US by Jacobus Liefmans. It was sold and moved around periodically, and went bankrupt in 1985 before finding its way to the Riva Group. So maybe Moortgat is a better fit.

Friday, February 22, 2008

News You Can Use

Following up on a story (that may have been) broken here, the Lucky Lab has produced a new beer to commemorate its new solar heater. Via John Foyston, our Lucky Lab special correspondent:

Lucky Labrador's new Solar Flare ale glows as golden as sunbeams in a glass, but a new solar water-heating system makes it Portland's greenest beer.

Solar Flare will be pouring only at the Lucky Lab brewpub on Hawthorne Boulevard where it was brewed. Sixteen solar panels on the roof are the most visible part of a $70,000 system designed and installed by Ra Energy of Portland.

Glycol pumped through the panels and then to a heat exchanger and computer-controlled valves warmed Portland city water from about 55 degrees to more than 100 degrees in cloudy February.

"Come spring and summer, the system should keep a 900-gallon tank of water heated to 180 degrees," said Gary Geist, co-owner of Portland's three Lucky Labrador pubs. Pointing to a big natural gas heater in the brewery, he said, "that boiler should just sit there all summer."

I could excerpt the whole article--it's that interesting. Instead, go traffic the Oregonian's site so the higher ups realize how valuable beer news is to their bottom line.

Also of note--but mainly because there's no more information--Max Tieger has left Max's Fanno Creek. My spidey senses tell me something more is going on than meets the eye. Dave D., who broke this news on the Portland Beer Blog, adds this cryptic comment, "His great beer styles will continue under the watchful eye of owner, Marvin Bowen." He says he will add no more. (Whenever a source refuses to add more, you know there's more to add.) Hmmm.

Finally, this just in from the Cheerful Tortoise, one of Portland's venerable drinking institutions. (And not a bad place to sneak out to for a midday break during March Madness, given its proximity to my office. Shhhh.)
The Cheerful Tortoise is experimenting with a Randall The Enamel Animal from Dogfish Head Brewing. This is a device you fill with fresh hops and force the beer through on the way to the tap.

This Sunday (2/24) all day (opens at 9, runs till the keg is gone) will be Bridgeport Hop Harvest with Bridgeport supplying the same kind of hops used in the beer.

More info about the Randall here.

This will be happening every other Sunday for now and maybe more often in the future. If people attending have suggestions for new beers to try, please let us know.

The Cheerful Tortoise
1939 SW 6th Avenue
(503) 224-3377
Go forth and meet Randall and have a great weekend--

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Honor of Fred: the Beer Float

Many of us who are fortunate enough to live in the same town with Fred Eckhardt know about his beer experimentations, particularly his pairings with chocolate. And among these, we know of the legendary beer float--a decadent mixture of stout and ice cream that highlights his annual Beer and Chocolate Extravaganza. This year's version was the 20th annual, and as usual, the largest response came to the beer float. In honor of this great achievement in the beer sciences, I have put together a little video for those who may not have been exposed to this particular strain of genius.

Beer Float
The variations on this theme are perhaps infinite, given the variety of both the types of ice cream and styles of beer. In Fred's version, it's usually a stout (if memory serves). One might successfully pair chocolate, coffee, or vanilla ice cream with stouts, but if you're going for a high-alpha stout, you want to avoid vanilla. In my recent experimentation, a rule of thumb is that sweeter beers tend to work better than hoppy ones (I found great success with Black Butte Porter). Hops have a very different type of bitterness than coffee or chocolate, and it clashes with ice cream.

This summer I may experiment with lambics and fruit ice cream, or perhaps a dubbel. Your mileage may vary, but regard all efforts as worthy scientific investigations. You may discover something surprising. Oh, and one other important bit of advice. Don't put the ice cream in first. Beer reacts with sugar and you get a glass full of foam.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Firkin Fest Lineup

The first annual Firkin Fest (can we get a few more "f" words in there for alliterative purposes?--the Fantastically Fine Firkin Fest, say) is a mere four days hence. To whet your appetite, here are the entrants

Beer A.B.V. I.B.U.'s Priming Info/Firkin Hopped
BJ's Lasto's Oatmeal Stout 5.4% 45 NA
BridgePort ESB 6.0% 33 Sugar/Styrian Golding
Double Mountain IRA 6.5% 60 Krausened
Full Sail Imperial Stout 8.5% 50 Krausened
HotD Organic Doggie Claws 11.5% 85 Keg Conditioned
HUB Organic Velvet ESB 5.2% 30 Cane Juice/Glacier and Ranier
Laurelwood Magnum P.A. 5.5% 57 Dextrose/Magnum
Pelican India Pelican Ale 7.5% 85 NA
Rock Bottom Org. Amber 5.9% 30 Turbinado Sugar/Simcoe

First Annual Firkin Fest
: Saturday, February 24
: Victory Bar, 3652 SE Division
Times: fist session, 12 - 2:30 pm; second session, 3:30 - 6 pm
Cost: $25, includes commemorative glass, 8 drink tickets and two food tickets
Tickets: available at the Oregon Brewers Guild website
FYI, each session is limited to a mere 60 people, and they're more than half gone, so best not to fool around if you are making plans.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Widmer '08 - Crimson Wheat

Did yesterday's 60-degree, sunny weather put you in mind of something other than a Jubelale? ('Twas actually a bit nippy in the wind, but still.) Right on cue, a number of the spring seasonals are starting to hit the shelves--Deschutes Buzzsaw and BridgePort Beer Town browns and Full Sail's LTD 02. And of course, Widmer's newest "W" series.

Each year they brew up something new and different, and offer it for six months or so. Last year was the remarkable Summit-hopped pale, which I had hoped and expected to see make it into regular rotation. But nope, once they're gone, they're gone.* A cool system: it allows the brewers a chance to regularly whip up something new and interesting, and it's on the shelves long enough for everyone to try it--but it's unique and evanescent. A bit brewpub-by that way.

Two years ago it was one of those big NW reds, last year it was that pale, so naturally this year they go for ... an American-style wheat. I'll give 'em this much--I didn't see that coming. But it's not a hefeweizen, and it does come quite highly recommended by the Great American Beer Fest, which gave it a silver in October.

The style of beer has broad latitude and has not typically yielded many interesting beers. The malt bill is made up of a third to three-quarters wheat, but the palate is typical for a light ale, with a touch of fruity esters and not a whole lot else. Notes taken from wheat, yeast, and hop are all minimal or absent.

So what did Widmer come up with? Color, for one thing. The style usually yields a more golden affair, but with caramelized, red, and dark wheat malts, the Widmers managed to come up with a fruit-juice red and a lovely white head. A striking beer. But the palate is limited to what they have to work with. It's a very nice example of the style. The malt produces a candyish sweetness that's drawn out by fairly subtle hopping toward a crisp finish. It's creamy and mild, and the wheat adds to the effect. But despite the good execution, Crimson Wheat remains an American-style wheat. For most in Beervana, that simply won't do.

Malts: Pale, red, caramel, and dark wheat, caramel, malted rye, Black and chocolate malt
Hops: Bittering, Alchemy; finishing, Sterling
Alcohol by volume: 4.1%
Original Gravity: 12.2° Plato
Bitterness Units: 22
Available: Through July '08
Rating: B

*Or maybe not. Rob Widmer, in an email, tells me, "We’re right with you on Summit hops and will definitely be doing a re-brew [of the W '07] at some point." I'm holding you to that, brothers W.

Tuesday at the Green Dragon

Meet the Brewer Tuesday
Green Dragon Pub
938 SE 9th Ave
The Green Dragon pub has a regular feature I've been bad about promoting--every Tuesday, they have a brewer on-site to chat with patrons. In some cases, like when Heater | Allen came, it's a new brewery. In others, it's a familiar brewery, so they bring some special beers to show and tell. Tomorrow it's Deschutes, and the Green Dragon is hinting Abyss may make an appearance. (To quote from their email: "Not to spread rumors, but we might just get a bit more of a certain imperial stout that night...")

Future schedule:
Feb. 26 Laughing Dog Brewery from Sandpoint, Idaho.
March 4 Double Mountain Brewery from Hood River (Charlie and Matt are sure to bring something amazing)
March 11 Block 15 Brewing from Corvallis ("St. Steve" Van Rossum returns to the brewhouse at this new start-up)
March 18 Fish Brewing from Olympia, Wash. (Former Glen Falconer Scholarship winner Jenn Gridley)
March 25 Full Sail Brewing (John Harris always has something fun cooking)
April 1 Cornelius Pass Roadhouse (No fooling: Corey Blodgett will show off his beers outside the McMennanin's empire)
I'll keep you updated.

[Update. From the Green Dragon, in today's email: "Just a reminder that tonight's Meet the Brewer is with Cam O'Connor of Deschutes Brewery. We will be pouring the new Green Lakes Organic Amber, St. Abe Belgian Artisanal Ale, Big Red (a double version of Cinder Cone Red).. oh yeah, and some stout called Abyss, or something like that. Taps open at 6 p.m."

Sounds like an interesting line-up--in addition to the Abyss are two other interesting beers, plus the new Green Lakes.]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

First Annual Firkin Fest

Next Sunday, the Oregon Brewers Guild is hosting a festival celebrating cask ales. It's a one-day only event for which you have to pre-order tickets. The Firkin Fest takes place at the Victory Bar in Portland in two flights--and you buy tickets for one or the other.
Presented by Victory and Steve's Cheese and Produced by the Oregon Brewers Guild. The Firkin Tastival will feature 9 naturally conditioned, gravity poured beers from Oregon Brewers Guild Members.

Victory Bar
3652 SE Division
Session one: 12:00 - 2:30 pm
Session two: 3:30 - 6 pm.

Admission is $25.00, 21 and over only
$25 will get you a commemorative glass, 8 drink tickets and two food tickets.
Tickets available at Oregon Brewers Guild website.

The Crusade

File this one in the shameless self-promotion department. From John Foyston's column in the Oregonian's A&E yesterday:

PINTS 'N' PRICES-- Have you noticed price increases at your local? Two of my favorite places have bumped up their prices: The Basement Pub increased craft-beer prices by a quarter and the Hawthorne Lucky Lab went from $3.95 to $4.25. Both pour generous imperial pints, and a half-barrel yields about 99 impy pints with almost no allowance for spillage, so these guys are just recouping the extra $25 that good kegs now cost. No gouging here.

Also, brewer Ron Gansberg at Raccoon Lodge said that in response to the Honest Pint Project, blogger Jeff Alworth's crusade for genuine 16-ounce or better pints, they've just bought 20-ounce imperial pint glassware for the Raccoon's Den downstairs and don't plan to increase prices.

Bold mine (obviously). Incidentally, Ron and I are going to try to connect next week to try out some of his super-groovy new experiments.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Good New(ish) Blog

I have been meaning to link to a blog I've been reading lately called "It's Pub Night." It's a Portland blog and unlike many beer blogs, is regularly updated. Bill is the blogger, and I know little more about him--but maybe he'll stop by and tell us. He tends to write about slightly different things than me, which means you get a fuller dose of the beery opinion and news. He has a post up about an empty bottle of Abyss that was selling on eBay, for example.

So, go say hi.

Andelot and the - "-ique" Belgians

No doubt you have seen their iconic labels at the grocery store--primary colors, with a single word in gothic script: Angelique, Euphorique, Diabolique and Mystique. For those of us who are admirers of Belgians, this was a mystery: a newly-distributed old classic, a new producer, or something else? Someone brought a bottle of Mystique to a party once, and it did nothing to solve the mystery. What's an "ABT style Belgian ale?" people kept asking me (that's all it says, by way of description, on the label). To this I offered a helpless shrug as my credibility dwindled. It was a tasty beer, though, and I filed it in my mind to learn more.

Last night, for Valentine's, Sally and I shared Euphorique, with the more clearly descriptive "Abbey style golden ale." (It wasn't but more on that in a moment.) It was also tasty, and finally I have decided to crack the mystery. Here's what I've learned.

Andelot - Belgian Macro?
The brewery listed on the label is Andelot, but this is a slight misdirection. It's the De Proef Brewery (ProefBrouwerij), which makes a number of brands (their own, Beersel, Vlaamische Leeuw, Vicaris, and tons of other, unidentifiable labels). In this way, the brewery reminds me of Rogue--not so hot on impulse control. Andelot is apparently like "St. James Gate"--a specific reference to the facility rather than the company.
Angelique and Diabolique originate from the East Flanders village of Lochcristi, Belgium. Famed brewing engineer and professor, Dirk Naudts, brews this set of stylish ales at his Andelot Proefbrouwerij “Proof Brewery.” Dirk founded the brewery in 1996 after gaining experience as Brewmaster at the Roman Brewery in Oudenaarde, Belgium and most recently at the prestigious St. Lieven brewing program in Gent, Belgium.
The line of beers is designed to appeal to a more mass market, though I think "mass" here is a relative term. The importer, SB Northwest (from which the above quote comes), is trying to build a market around beers of this genre--familiar, but mass market. They are also behind the De Boomgaard "fruit beers," which are produced by Liefmans. They are less-sour imitations of lambics made, I am fairly sure, unspontaneously. Finally, you'll have seen their domestic offerings around Portland--FireStation5, Elk Rock, Metolius, and Fiddler's Green. (The first three are brewed by Pyramid/MacTarnahan's, and the latter by Saranac in New York.)

Here's Ron Seid, the President of SB Northwest: "Much like in the premium wine industry, consumers are wanting premium quality Belgium beer at a good value price point. We have responded to this increased consumer demand by over-delivering on quality for value in this segment."

The "-ique" Beers
But who cares if they're contract brewed for an American market, right? The proof's in the bottle (pun somewhat intended). It was some time ago that I tried Mystique, and I took no notes, so the most I can say is that I liked it. I recall being surprised that such a big beer (8.5%) could be so smooth. Now I see why it was.

The Euphorique was also a crowd-pleaser. It is a cloudy golden with a silky white head and a rousing effervescence (bubbles cascading up like bicarbonate). Brewed in the methode champenoise style, so perhaps this is expected. The aroma and palate were soft, sweet, and gentle. It didn't have the complexity or character of an abbey--instead, it seemed equal parts Belgian strong (like Duvel) and a German Weisse. You begin to notice quite strong phenols, with notes of smokiness and bubblegum. Despite the pronounced sweetness, it finishes drily and tartly. (I'd probably rate it a solid B).

The real issue isn't that it's not a respectable Belgian--it is. It's that it's seven bucks a bottle, which other Belgians also sell for. Confronted with an array of more complex, interesting examples of the country's amazing range, I don't know why I would be motivated to grab a bottle of slightly subdued brew. In fact, I'd much prefer something from Unibroue or Ommegang--they are slightly less expensive than their Belgian counterparts, thanks to proximity, but delightfully richer.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine's Post

I'll see John Foyston's nice beer-related Valentine's Day story (in the paper today) and raise him one. My story lacks the narrative sweep of his, but it has the virtue of being one I know personally.

In 1994, I was a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, trying to study Buddhism at the once-vaunted department there. Its reputation belied the fact that the department had broken into internecine war, and that students of the Tibetan-track professor, Geshe Sopa, had almost no chance of receiving one of the five coveted FLAS scholarships (Geshe-la didn't do politics). So I was on the hunt for a new school. I had struck up a friendship with a bright student from the East Coast, who was also disenchanted with the department (despite being one of the elected five).

So we had applied to other schools, and during a cold snap in January, we decided to go--platonically--down to the University of Chicago and see if it was right for us. Of all the months to visit the Windy City, January is among the rawest. It was a perfectly clear, sub-zero day when we arrived. Our tour of the campus was brief and mostly involved sprinting from key buildings to other key buildings and meeting some folks in the department.

The U of Chicago's a strange place. Folks there revel in their seriousness. They had recently placed dead last in a survey of the 300 funnest campuses (Madison was, as usual, in the top ten), and students were proudly sporting sweatshirts proclaiming the victory. There appeared to be a competitive spirit about who was most overworked and having the harshest experience. And so, as we surveyed the bereft landscape, it began to feel like not exactly the right fit.

But that was nothing. That evening, we decided to go out for a pint. Guess how many pubs there were within walking distance of the hairshirt campus? One--Jimmy's. I don't recall if we actually walked or how we got there, but it's groovy, old-school charm instantly put us at ease. It was the kind of place that served mainly macros, but they did have Guinness, which seemed like a small godsend after our day.

Something happened under the influence of that homey little pub and those Guinnesses. I had just come out of a relationship that hadn't ended well, and I wasn't looking for a girlfriend. Sally says that's crap and that we were being pulled inexorably toward a romantic moment (history bears out her version), but I was ignorant of it. Moments have many causes, of course. We wouldn't have been in Chicago together if we weren't looking for schools, wouldn't have been at the pub if the day had been a little less grim, wouldn't have been pliable under the effects of Guinness had there been no chemistry to begin with. Well, it's now 14 years and one month later to the day, and we are still together, married happily and living far from Chicago.

So, a toast to stouts and pretty redheads and the romance of Chicago. And happy Valentine's Day--

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hop Talk

By the way, last week OPB did a piece on Oregon beer and hop pricing. I have been trying to listen to it before I recommended it, but that may take days to come. So just check it out on your own.
When you tip back a fresh glass of beer and revel in its flavor, chances are you’re not thinking about the worldwide shortage of hops. But beware the perils of the commodities market! The pinecone-shaped grain flower (see PlantDrEMB's comment below) is key to the flavor of craft beers in particular. If a brewer can’t get the hop variety he or she wants, the taste of your brew will change.

That’s already happening in some small Northwest breweries. Where have all the hops gone? Blame drought in New Zealand, hail in Europe, a warehouse fire in Yakima, and years of hops oversupply. Lots of available hops meant low prices for farmers – too low to make any money at it, in some cases. So hops crops in Oregon and Washington, as well as elsewhere in the world, got pulled out of the ground.

This show idea came from a previous guest, OSU economics prof Patrick Emerson, who blogs about beer frequently and asks this: how does a brewmaster yield to market forces and yet maintain the integrity of the beer?

We would add: are there ways local farmers and brewers could work together to buffer the winds of globalization? Oh, and how hoppy do you like your beer?

LISTEN TO "All Hops Up" (48MB MP3)
Maybe you can tell me whether it's worth listening to.

Ah, Oregon

Went out last night for a quick post-work pint, the first one since my sojourns to sunny climes (digging out of the work left behind takes time). We stopped into the Green Dragon before heading home to get the Potomac primary returns.* At the table next to us were seven humans--four women, two men, and an infant. The infant wasn't drinking, but I happened to notice out of the corner of my eye that the beers were varied and impressive--small tumblers containing expensive elixirs, black beers, deep, lovely-looking beers. The women drinking as avidly as the men.

This is beer culture, and it is so, so rare.

(I had the Elysian Bifrost, which was big and beautiful, but a bit green. A value at $4 a pint--a lot of the other big beer were served in smaller glasses. And of course, one might say that Elysian is a value at any price.)

*For those who miss the reference, consider yourself lucky to be free of this mania.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunshine Beer

I have traveled recently to two sunny-weather locales--Arizona and Hawaii. In both cases, I was struck by the local beer styles. In both cases, they were pretty standard-issue American craft beer--essentially English styles put through the West Coast filter (NW hops, assertive flavor). I should note that my references are Oregon and Wisconsin. The Oregon styles you are familiar with, and it's not surprising we take after the Isles, being that we too are gray-weather, green-covered zones. And Wisconsin, settled by a large number of German immigrants, adopted the styles of that country, favoring lagers. Well and good.

So why is it that in sunny climes brewers make the beer invented to slake the thirst of cloud-dwellers? From Arizona, you go South and you find a wonderful array of sun-beer. In Singapore, Fal Allen (erstwhile Northwesterner) has tried to forge a new path with local ingredients. Belgium has wit, Germany has weisse, and the sunbelt has ... pale ale? It's not really the same. English-style pales have a lot more residual sugars so even lighter versions are heavy. When I was in Panama, the light beer was Soberana, the "heavy" beer was Panama. Both were drinkable on a day with temps pushing 95 and high humidity.

Of course, a lot of the hot weather breweries just make light lagers, but it doesn't need to be so. In Belgium, they brew wits; in Germany weisse. Given the variety of yeast strains and the numbers of regional adjuncts available to American craft brewers, why stick with English ales?

My sample size and my knowledge of other regions is limited, so maybe I'm missing something. Does anyone know of regional beers that have experimented to address the heat? Am I missing something? If they are so rare (or nonexistent), why? I don't regularly do open threads, but consider this an invitation to offer your best new sunshine beer in comments. I'll try to think up a winner myself.

Good Hop News

In a post about the ongoing difficulties with hops over on Appellation Beer, there appeared a ray of sunlight in the comments. Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin reported this:
At the annual hop conference in late January, it was announced that between 5-7,000 new acres will be planted in the Pacific NW this year, around 6,000 in and around Yakima, and the rest split between Oregon and Idaho. That’s the good news, obviously
He notes that it's almost all high-alpha (the kind the macros use), but that's not bad. An extra 6,000 acres is a good thing no matter how you slice it. Now, we just have to wait 'til 2010 for it to hit the market...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

From South of the Border

Further updates on my foray south. Went to Mexico yesterday, to the border town of Algodones, Mexico. I don't know the history of the town, but like other border towns, international commerce is a big feature of the location. In this case, that meant pharmacies, liquor stores, and dentists lining the roads into town. Lunch was at a wonderful little place that served a trancendent chicken mole (though for this vegetarian, heavenward is perhaps not the direction I'm headed). And the beer list? Pacifico, Modelo Especial, Negra Modelo, and Corona (The Grupo Modelo brands). Why is it that, with the exception of Corona, Mexico's national brands are so far superior to our own? Pacifico is one of my favorite light lagers, but since it was a bit nippy, I went for the Negra, another fave.

Tried the Four Peaks 8th Street Ale last night. It is a traditional English best bitter, with Fuggle and Golding hops. A bit watery in the middle, but crisp and authentic. A fine beer that I wasn't surprised to see earn some GABF hardware. At some point, I'm going to ruminate on the kind of beer you find in the sunbelts--and why I'm surprised that they haven't evolved beyond traditional examples of English and German ales. (Maybe Stan knows something.) But no time today.

Headed back to Beervana tomorrow, and out of the desert. Not a minute too soon.

Friday, February 08, 2008

In the Desert

I am in Yuma, Arizona, visiting my parents. This is certainly no one's idea of a beer haven, but when we went out to eat last night, I was rudely reminded of what a lot of America looks like beer-wise. We were celebrating Sally's birthday, so we went to the nicest restaurant in town. Three pages of wines, a full bar, and about a dozen beers available (none on tap). When we asked which ones, the list started out "Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, MGD," and continued in that vein until finally they came to Sierra Nevada Pale and Guinness. Those thrown in, obviously, for the out-town-freaks who like that "heavy" beer.

On the positive side, I tracked down a micro from Tempe. The only one in the local store (though they did have BridgePort IPA, Pyramid and Widmer Hef, and Mirror Pond), but I snatched it up.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Raccoon Lodge Rocks

This kind of thing makes me all warm inside. From Ron Gansberg, Raccoon Lodge/Cascade Brewing head brewer:
Hi Jeff,
Sounds like a great time on the Islands. We wanted to make good on our pledge to pour an "honest pint" and decided to take the high road. We have brought in 20 oz. Imperial pint glasses and we'll hold to our pint change. We do sell our "Temptor Belgian Style Tripple" and some specialty beers in a 14.75 oz teardrop glass. All other beers are now on Tap in a 20 oz. Imperial Pints. Keep up the good work!
That's a trifecta by my reading: new glassware, no increase in price (ie--a decrease in per-ounce price), and a full 20-ounce imperial. Raccoon Lodge gets a gold star and a new listing on the Honest Pint list. Oh yeah, they also brew beer:
We are bottling a Belgian Style Cuvee. It is a blend of barrel aged and lactic fermented Quad, Tripple and Flemish Reds. The beer is going into champagne bottle, corked and basketed and will be laid down in ricks to finish lactic fermentation for bottle conditioning.
Also, reviews of their kriek and blackberry lambic (I think it's a lambic) are about to appear in the Beer Advocate. You can find their beers in big glasses at the brewery. I'll try to make it out there next week and report back on the beers.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Neener Neener - Notes on Two Bourbon Ales

I score little swag. When I was writing for Willamette Week, it was like a glorious faucet of free beer. Somehow, though, breweries regard this blog as a less valuable organ of promotion. (Jon is constantly getting freebies, but I'm not sure how.) Anyway, I bring this up because I have scored a rare coup--over the weekend, I had a chance to sample BridgePort's bourbon-cask-aged Old Knucklehead, not available to the public until tomorrow.

The context of my tasting was a party, so I took no notes. Credit the beer with leaving a strong enough mental impression to do a review from memory. Bourbon casks are a little tricky to work with--sometimes they impart too much bourbon flavor, and (more rarely) not enough. The trickiness is enhanced when you introduce barleywines, because they border on being too heavy, too alcoholic, or too sweet (or some combination) in the first place. Age one in a bourbon barrel and you just increase the likelihood of exacerbating the problem.

Old Knucklehead manages to adroitly dodge all these potential pitfalls. It is quite dry for a barleywine, and relatively light on the tongue (no barleywine is light in absolute terms). It doesn't have any of the stickiness of some barleywines. The bourbon contributes some flavor, but little sweetness--the effect is almost like caramelized sugar. Finally, it finishes with a peppery note that helps draw out the dryness, so that it finishes cleanly. The bourbon is present as a flavor note, but it's subtle. I'm not a huge fan of barleywines, but I like this one quite a lot.

Now, having warned of the dangers of over-heavy, sweet, and intense bourbon-aged beers, allow me to contradict it all and tell you about a beer I had yesterday, during the Superbowl-- Full Sail's bourbon-aged Top Sail (again, no notes). This is one seriously intense beer. Topsail begins with a lot of oomph--it's a thick, rich, roasty beer. (Trivia quiz: what's the difference between an imperial porter and a stout? No really, I'd like to know.) I have described the regular Top Sail thus:
It is an absolutely gorgeous beer, pouring out with velvety viscosity, a dense chocolate shake head piling up (and lasting pretty well, despite the high alcohol content). It has a mild, Tootsie Roll aroma; I could detect no hops. The flavor is a wonderful blending of intense, dark-chocolate bitterness, with notes of roasted coffee, and fruit-sweet notes that fall halfway between plum and blackberry. The sweet notes are unusually fruity, but you have to turn your attention to them; otherwise, the creamy, slightly chalky bitterness carries you away.
The bourbon both accentuates the chocolate note and contrasts it; the result is like a toddy. I would have liked just a bit less bourbon up-front, but I wonder what this beer might have turned into in a year. It's definitely an after-dinner beer, and it would certainly accompany a desert nicely.

(I created a firestorm the last time I condemned 22-ounce bottles, but at the risk of opening old wounds, this is a crazy lot of beer. It took three people and two days to get through our bottle, so don't open it blithely--plan ahead.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Beer

If predictions hold, this afternoon's Super Bowl will draw one of the largest audiences in history. (Had the Packers won, it would have been not only the most-watched in history, but a cultural event as well. Alas.) But since the game is often the least-interesting aspect of the spectacle, it's wise to ensure you've got good beer on hand. For Patriots fans, that's a short order. My lovely and talented spouse, Sally, hails from New England, and I make biennial trips East to visit her fam. Over the years, I've managed to sample a pretty wide selection. Unfortunately, we don't get distribution out here, but you can use the following list as a handy tip-sheet in case you're headed to the region.

First things first. It's the New England Patriots. Fans in Maine and Vermont follow Boston teams as avidly as if they were home-staters, especially the Red Sox. Foxboro Stadium, where the Pats play, is actually far enough out of Boston that it's on the way to Rhode Island. So when you think of appropriate beers, you can look beyond Massachussets. So without further yammering, here's what I'd have in the fridge today if I were watching from Beantown.

Harpoon IPA
Forget Sam Adams, this is the signature beer of Boston. It's on tap everywhere, and locals seem to have a sentimental, emotional connection to it. Sam Adams is, to locals, a national brand trading on the Boston cachet, not a Boston brewery--or so it has seemed from my observation. Harpoon IPA is akin to BridgePort's--it's a lowish-alcohol brew (5.9%) that sings with hoppy goodness. Only 42 IBUs, but it's a saturated hoppiness that offers a whole lot of flavor along with the modest bitterness. It's an extremely likeable beer, and possibly my fave from New England.

Geary's Pale
DL Geary Brewing is the Deschutes of New England--they make traditional English-style ales that are exceptional from top to bottom. The pale is their flagship, and it would fly of the shelves in Beervana. It combines some new world hopping (Cascade) with the classic English hop fuggle to make a mostly-English pint, with a bit of NW character. The London Porter is also exceptional, and if the snow were flying, I might opt for it instead.

Shipyard Blue Fin Stout
Shipyard is another Portland, Maine brewery. While their lineup isn't quite as uniform as Geary's the Blue Fin Stout is amazing. I earlier wrote about it: "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)."

Sam Adams Black Dark Lager
Okay, maybe most Bostonians wouldn't have this in their fridge, but I would. A classic schwarzbier, creamy and light-bodied but full of roasty flavor, it would be a perfect session for a long, potentially boring game.

You may note that I have spurned New York beers, of which there are some good ones. This is intentional. The Giants beat my Packers, so screw 'em. Go Pats!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Other Releases

All this diving into Abyssomania shouldn't conceal the fact that other great beers are debuting now, too. Our man Foyston is on it:
Full Sail Bourbon-aged Topsail
John Harris starts getting calls about his bourbon-barrel-aged Topsail Imperial Porter weeks before Full Sail releases the beer -- which up to now was only every other year. Expect to see barrel-aged porters or stouts to be released annually from here on, and sample the first three examples at Thursday's Three Years of Bourbon Beers, where they'll be pouring bourbon-barrel-aged 2004 Imperial Porter, 2006 Black Gold Imperial Stout and this year's edition of Topsail Imperial Porter. 5 p.m. Thursday: McCormick & Schmick's Harborside Pilsner Room, 0309 S.W. Montgomery St., and Full Sail Tasting Room & Pub, 506 Columbia St., Hood River.

Bourbon-Aged Old Knucklehead
BridgePort is bringing out 22-ounce bottles of its barrel-aged beer, too -- the excellent Old Knucklehead barleywine. It's the 12th such bottling and part of the beer was aged in Jack Daniels bourbon barrels for three months, said brewmaster Karl Ockert. The beer is 10 percent alcohol and the brewery plans to celebrate by tapping a cask-conditioned Old Knucklehead firkin and holding the Knuckling-In ceremony.... 6 p.m. Tuesday BridgePort Brewpub & Bakery, 1313 N.W. Marshall St.
This year's Knucklehead, which for some reason wasn't in John's piece, is John DeBenedetti owner of the homebrew store FH Steinbart's (and spiritual hub of the Portland brewing scene). The Topsail is already out. I'll put something up when I hear about Old Knucklehead.

Abyss Available Now!

So here's the skinny. Belmont Station got in 25 cases of Abyss this morning, but are already down five or so (12:41 pm). So there are 240 bottles left as I write this, and I wouldn't expect them to last through the weekend, or, honestly, through closing tomorrow. I'll call around and see where else they may have landed.

Go forth, and secure your three bottles!

[Update (12:45 pm): John's Market got some in as well, though they refused to divulge how much. The guy I spoke to speculated that it was enough to last until I got off work, if that tells you anything. They're at: 3535 Multinomah Blvd., Portland. (503) 244-2617.

Woodstock Wine and Deli (12:48 pm): no dice. They got some in, but it was instantly snapped up/spoken for.

New Seasons (1:53 pm): I have been in email contact with New Season's beer person--yes, such a person does indeed exist, and yes, she's a woman--who was promised delivery at their nine Portland stores. She's checking to see if the deliveries are in.

Later (3:27 pm). This just in from New Seasons: "It sounds as though all of our stores got their Abyss except our Concordia location. Some stores have some set aside for their loyal customers who’ve called in. We’re expecting it to be all gone by gametime Sunday."]