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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dogfish Redux

Stan Hieronymus praises and castigates me for my critique of Burkhard Bilger's New Yorker piece below. He gives me props for pointing out the weakness of drawing conclusions about a beer movement when you only consult a single, East Coast brewer (Stan's in New Mexico). But he thinks I'm off-point on Sam Calagione:
In the second case he totally overlooks innovative and terrifically drinkable beers. Later he implies that Dogfish Head’s brewing style is less than disciplined — despite the fact the story documents Dogfish Head’s growing level of sophistication when it comes to quality control.
I didn't really want this to be a critique of Dogfish Head, a brewery about which I know little. I've had four or five of their beers, and every time, I find the flavors muddy and indistinct. Given the large, extremely enthusiastic following, I always expect more. My real critique of the brewery is Sam's apparent lack of disciple, all of which I take directly from the article. Bilger consistently portrays him as a guy disinterested in learning theory or craft, but delighted by experimentation. The article begins with a story about how he recently ordered $150,000 of tropical wood to build a cask based on the advice of a customer. If this isn't seat-of-your-pants brewing, what is? Calagione's own head brewer is the one who characterizes him as undisciplined, not me.

But the other thing here is that Dogfish Head seems to be credited with innovating things that have been around a long time. Their "continuous hopping" schtick is an example. Bilger describes how Calagione learned on a cooking show that some dishes are infused with spices while they simmer. So he invented a machine that sprinkles hops into his beer throughout the boil. But this is hardly innovation. For centuries brewers have hopped their beer throughout the boil. They may not have jury-rigged a machine to sprinkle them like rain, but then again, they weren't so inexperienced that they had to get the idea from a cooking show, either.

The point is, there are a lot of breweries in this country doing exceptional brewing, and many that have been doing it for decades. Innovation may mark Dogfish Head's approach, but Dogfish Head isn't, in my view, the brewery that embodies the spirit of innovation in American brewing. And I don't think Burkhard Bilger realizes that.

[Update: Stan also points to a discussion thread on Beer Advocate about the article. Bilger, Calagione, and Garrett Oliver (quoted in the article) all join in. You have to sign up to read it, but it's interesting--and Beer Advocate's a pretty good site.]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beer Dictionary

Friend (n) - One who agrees to buy you Abyss while you're out of town, traveling to several stores to track it down as supplies dwindle, and who does not lie to you about his success finding it deep in some suburb. Use: Deschutes released Abyss while I was in New England, but fortunately, my friend bought a couple bottles for me.

Thanks, Iggi!


In a now somewhat-outdated New Yorker article I read on the plane home from Boston last night, Burkhard Bilger uses the patented New Yorker template--1) interesting character who allows entry into a world unknown to the general reader, 2) history of the world, 3) current activities of the individual, 4) broader discussion of the world, and 5) final anecdotal outro--to discuss “extreme beer.” But really, he’s just talking craft beer. And to the great detriment of the piece, he uses Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head as his interesting character. The beer world, of course, is inhabited almost exclusively by interesting characters, so Bilger had his choice. But now that I’ve read the article, I see that he’s done a great injustice to the world of craft brewing. Take, as one of several examples, the following passage, noting, if you will, the date in the first paragraph:

The turning point came in 1999, when Calagione was watching a cooking show on television. The chef, who was making a soup, was saying that several grindings of pepper, added to the pot at different points, would give the dish more flavor than a single dose added at the beginning.... Later, when his kettle was boiling, he put hops in the bucket, perched his contraption at a slant above the kettle, and set the game vibrating. Soon, a steady stream of hops was falling through the bucket onto the playing field and sliding into the kettle.

The beer born of that experiment, known as 60 Minute I.P.A., is still Calagione’s biggest seller. He calls it a beer geek’s idea of a “session beer”—mild enough to be consumed in quantity, but with an unexpected kick. It has the bright, citrusy bouquet of a much hoppier brew, without the bitterness. Wine Enthusiast tasted hints of rose petal, tangerine, orange zest, and nutmeg in it, and rated it a “classic.”

The extreme-beer era was under way.

Well, as everyone in Oregon knows, the "extreme-beer experiment" was already well, well underway. Dogfish Head came to the party 20 years after it started.

In the North Atlantic states, there are few breweries, even now. Calagione founded his in 1995, more than a decade after craft beer had heated up on the West Coast, and it was Delaware’s first brewery. In the absence of any competition, he learned his craft without market judgment. Were there three or four or fifty other competitors nearby, he wouldn’t have been so undisciplined. Bilger describes how he started brewing, which is a story we all know--cobbled-together equipment, everything done by hand, bankruptcy always at hand. The irritating thing is that Calagione's model for brewing seems to be: pull something out of your ass, think it through incompletely, run with it, and sneer "neener neener" at the naysayers along the way. Here's how he started brewing, and it looks a lot like how he still does things:
The tavern was a success from the day it opened. The beer took a little longer. Calagione had brewed fewer than ten batches before coming to Delaware, and he rarely used the same recipe twice. “I’d just grab herbs and spices and fruits from the kitchen and throw them in,” he says. “I used to think, Oh, it’s cool that every batch tastes different. It’s like snowflakes!”

... He made a medieval gruit with yarrow root and grains of paradise. He made an African tej with bitter gesho bark and raw honey. He made a stout with roasted chicory and St.-John’s-wort (“The world’s only antidepressant depressant,” he called it). While other brewers were dyeing their beer green for St. Patrick’s Day, Calagione brewed his with blue-green algae. “It tasted like appetizing pond scum,” he says. “The first sip, you were like, ‘Wow, that tasted like pond scum. But you know what? I kind of want a second sip.’ ”
I have no particular beef with Dogfish Head, though I have yet to find a beer from the brewery I genuinely like or admire. But to suggest that this is the state of craft brewing is flatly wrong. Calagione has a cheerful pirate-like attitude about industrial breweries, and Bilger casts this as the posture of all craft brewers. One wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that his lack of discipline also characterizes the industry. But of course, in heavily-breweried regions, it’s the opposite.

No breweries are founded in the Dogfish Head model now--at least not in regions of the country were there is any brewing presence. Like restaurants in big cities, when breweries open now, patrons expect excellence instantly. Drinkers won’t tolerate off-flavors, and they won’t reward pedestrian brewing. The days are gone when a guy who knows little about beer and less about brewing can found a successful brewery. No one is willing to endure years of bad beer while he learns his craft. New breweries now feature brewers who have apprenticed elsewhere and have years or decades of experience. A mention of this reality would have made the industry seem less half-assed.

Bilger's fuzzy thesis is part "hey, look, someone other than Bud is making beer" and part "craft beer has been around awhile, but it's only now evolving into something interesting." The lines between these theses are not clear. In either case, they're both misplaced. Interesting stuff has been going on a lot longer than Dogfish Head has been around, and Dogfish Head isn't the best example of the interesting things going on. (Reading the article after visiting Allagash makes the point all the more clear.) This is one of the downsides of the New Yorker model, though--pick the wrong interesting character, and your story goes sideways.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you enjoy the day with family and friends ... and maybe a good beer or two. We will likely be enjoying something local. I'll try to track down some Geary's, a fantastic Maine brewery making excellent English-style ales. We also brought a couple of Dissidents for Sally's family to try, and yesterday at Allagash, we picked up Interlude, their brettanomyces-innoculated beer, as well as Four, a beer we didn't try that includes four sugars (including molasses), four malts, four hops, and four yeast strains. (Four Square would have been more accurate?)

I am thankful that you all read the blog, which brings me enormous pleasure. And may we enjoy another year thanking our glorious Oregon breweries for making this Beervana.


More East Coast Beers

I am lodged in the hills of western Maine, not more than a few miles from the New Hampshire border. We have just enough elevation to be above the snow line, and I can see white pines and the ghostly white bark of denuded birch trees out the frosted window. (A palatte of many whites, some of them green.) The cabin is one of Sally's brother's, brand new, smelling of the pine beams that support it. Last night, a different brother arrived from Maryland bearing beers from across the east. I alert you to two.

Hook and Ladder Brown is a beer I wish Oregonians brewed. The humble brown, so tasty, so warming, is so often overlooked. In Rochester, they brew it with Cascade hops, resulting in a comforting but lively beer you'd be happy to drink all night (one of Sally's brothers did, in fact). If you're on the East Coast, consider having a bottle.

A more exotic beer comes from Clay Pipe Brewing--Backfin Pale. I cracked open a bottle and took a sniff--pilsner. I looked at the label, where it clearly says "pale ale." In fact, it's a pale hopped with Saaz, apparently late in the boil, because the aroma is pronounced, the flavor a little less so. Other, unidentifiable hops are used to bitter. I've often wondered why breweries don't use Saaz outside a fairly thin band of beers, and I was fascinated by the experiement. Slight cognitive dissonance, but one I enjoyed.

I also had a Dogfish 60-minute IPA and confirmed, again, that I'm just not a fan. The flavors are overly rich while simultaneously indistinct. Give me an Inversion or Terminal Gravity any day of the week.

(I still plan to do a major post on Allagash. No time to do it justice now, though.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A few sights from New England

I loaded some of the pics I've taken onto the computer. Enjoy.

The "cool ship," or vessel used to spontaneously ferment Maine lambic.

The door into the cool ship room.

Allagash ages much of their beer in barrels, including that huge one at left.

The Eaglebrook Brewpub in Norfolk, MA.

The Eaglebrook.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Allagash Teaser

Okay, I'm down with a cold, and a Nor'Easter's blowing through Maine. I'll be settling down to a nice winter's nap soon enough. However, I just had a delightful tour of the brewery, and over Allagash Tripel, discussed the lambic experiment with founder/owner/brewer Rob Tod and master brewer Jason Perkins. There is much there to tell, and I want to dole it out in lush detail, but just to keep you interested, here's an unexpected little fact: during their barrel-aging process, Allagash discovered a brettanomyces culture in one of their barrels a few years ago. Turns out it's a native culture, a Maine ride-along so to speak, and they had it isolated at Wyeast and it's now banked there. It has become one of their regular strains, used, for example in the exceptional Interlude, which I'll write about later.

Native brett--how's that for house character? Okay, to bed....

Redhook Double Black

One can chart the change in craft brewing by harkening back to 1995, the year that Redhook introduced Double Black Stout, a joint venture with Starbucks resulting in an oily, aggressive, muscular beer. We were only a decade into craft brewing then, and big beers were rare, particularly so in the bottle. By the time Redhook discontinued Double Black in 2000, the big beer movement was well underway, making the decision all the more inexplicable.

Redhook has always mystified me a little bit. Unlike the breweries to the South, which seem to thrive on creativity and the churn of new products, Redhook has steadfastly stuck with a line of beers that has never been bold or distinctive. Their beers are of traditional styles, always brewed about 10% less aggressively (or 10% more blandly, take your pick) than the average for style. In short, they're not beers for the beer geek. Perhaps this is what happens when you go public (Nasdaq: HOOK) . The return of Double Black appears to signal a shift in that strategy; it's the first of the newly-minted "Limited Release" series (one can guess that the line will include big and/or experimental brews, akin to the similar 22-ounce series at Full Sail, Deschutes, and BridgePort). That's the good news. The bad news? Double Black is about 10% more bland than I had hoped for for a burly coffee-infused imperial stout.

Tasting Notes
To be sure, Double Black is a nice beer. I was surprised to see how bright it was pouring out--translucent at about a quarter of an inch, tinged with red. It was less viscous than I expected from an imperial, but sometimes coffee thins out body, so I held off judgment. The head frothed up like a nice skiff of latte foam, and I was somewhat reassured.

What I recall from the previous incarnation was intense, dry bitterness. The coffee was so strong it muscled the beer aside. I loved it, but I've been a coffee addict since I was 16. In terms of pure craft, it was out of balance. Not so with the current Starbucks-less incarnation. The coffee is a more minor note, pulling out the roasty notes of the malt. Unfortunately, the beer itself isn't bold. It's just 7%, and the body is thin. If you're going to undersize a beer, you better make sure it has some depth on the tongue. Some coffees have a delightful residual sweetness, mimicking fruit flavors. This beer has an almost strawberry note, and it's a perfect midpoint between malt and coffee (I'm not sure which element created it--maybe both?).

My final assessment is colored by expectations. The beer's a tasty little number, a sporty V-6 that is sprightly to the touch. Trouble is, I expected a muscle-bound V-8, with a deep roar and rumbling torque. I really wanted to be wowed by a tour-de-force. To switch metaphors, I came looking for the Dark Knight and I got Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It's a good beer, and a hopeful sign of things to come from Redhook. But is it too much to ask for the brewery to really get crazy?

Rating: B

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shaker Pints Everywhere

One of the things I've been keeping my eyes on is the pervasive use of shaker pints. So far, I'm three for three. I'm not measuring them, so I don't know how many ounces they contain--but recall, that's the problem. You just can't tell.

Incidentally, although it's a little crude and non-informative, is live. It's really a placeholder for what will be a fuller site, and I'm calling this the "soft launch" phase. But have a look if you wish.

Beer notes from the road
This afternoon, en route to the other Portland (Sally, born there, accepts "Original Portland" but rejects "Fake Portland" and "Beta Portland"), we stopped off at the Westford Grille in Westford, MA. Lots of non-micros and then Guinness and a pale ale from local Berkshire Brewing. My sense is that it's the flagship, and it was pretty sub-par. A good pale ought to be sharp, crisp, and bright. Berkshire's by contrast was murky--flavors were muddled and there was a suspicious haze that made me think the pond-water quality wasn't just fun house character.

Headed to Allagash tomorrow, where I should be able to do an interview with someone from the brewery. Central focus: the Allagash spontaneous fermentation project. More when it's available.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Candlepin Bowling, Hamburg, and Bad Coffee

Although six states comprise New England, it's just the size of North Dakota and is mostly about as intact culturally. Anyway, the subtleties that distinguish a Vermonter from a Mainer are fine enough that they're below this Oregonian's radar. The Red Sox are loved as dearly by citizens of Bangor and Burlington as Boston. In the wonderful old town centers that dot the countryside, you will find few McDonald's, fewer Starbucks, and generally none of the strip-mally blight that infect so many small towns in America. But you'll find a Dunkin Donuts in every wide spot in the road. New Englanders are mad for their Dunkin Donuts.

Over the years of my visits here to see in-laws, I have begun to catalogue some of the idiosyncracies of the region. (All of this, incidentally, will lead to beer--doesn't everything?--so bear with me.) When you get something from the basement, for example, you're "going down celllar." Hamburger is "hamburg." The best coffee comes from the very rare Starbucks or the occasional independent coffee shop. But mostly people get coffee from the aforementioned Dunkin Donuts, which has inexplicably made coffee a cornerstone of their business. This goes back decades, apparently, though the coffee is akin to the old Farmers Brothers you used to find in Oregon diners.

But in exchange for the bad coffee, New England offers certain delights--candlepin bowling, for example. According to the occasionally-reliable Wikipedia, it was invented in Worcester, Mass in 1880. Similar to regular bowling, but played with a grapefruit-sized ball and pins that are mostly cylindrical. You get three throws per frame, and the pins are not cleared in-between throws. It's substantially harder than regular bowling, even though the "deadwood" of fallen pins helps you clear out remaining pins (the highest score ever recorded was a 245).

The beer, however, is familiar to the traveling Webfoot. When I arrived in Boston friday night, I was offered a Harpoon IPA--a beer that has to make no apologies to the West Coast for its rich, hoppy flavor. Last night we stopped in at the Eaglebrook Saloon in Norfolk, had a couple of quick pints while we waited for three pizzas to go. I'll do a round-up of pubs soon, but it's worth mentioning that Oregon's pub culture shares the same inspiration as New England's--Old England. New England just does it more convincingly. The Eaglebrook is this fantastic wood-paneled pub that feels like the inside of a ship. It may have been built in 1990, but it feels more like 1790 inside (if you ignore the several flat panels showing NESN--the region's ESPN).

I'm about to head north of Boston to see the next in-law (we're trying to make as big a circuit as possible), and maybe there'll be a pub somewhere nearby. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Economy Must be Bad

At PDX, and I've never seen it this empty. The line to get checked in was literally four long, and the security line was about ten. And this is at seven--presumably the main time for travel. It was so dead that the woman in the security line joked that without my beard, I look nothing like my driver's licence (not true).

I had a Redhook Double Black last night, which I was going to review as I waited for the plane. But it turns out their boarding now ... right on time. So it will be tonight. Mind the fort, will you?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Headed East

Just a note to let you know that I'm headed on the road tomorrow. Going to be visiting Boston and the original Portland--and some other, lesser-known places in Maine. I expect to continue to blog, with a particular emphasis on noting the similarities and differences in beer culture between Beerana and New England. I'm headed to Allagash on Tuesday, and I hope to be able to interview the brewer Rob Tod about his spontaneously-fermented lambic. (I'm actually thinking to do an article--and possibly even a book--on the new American experiments in brewing. More on that down the road.)

Anyway, just a program note. Cheers--

A Rave for BridgePort's Raven Mad

Very good beers share a single quality with very bad beers and with none in-between: you know instantly whether they're winners. It took only the length of time for the taste buds to deliver their message along neural pathways to my brain to make my judgment. One sip of Raven mad and I knew it was a very good beer.

It is now practically mandatory for breweries to release special high-gravity beers. It keeps the (all-powerful) bloggers happy and creates buzz for a brewery which (I presume they hope) reflects back onto the main product line. No brewery has been more agressive at pursuing serious beers than BridgePort, but so far, they have yet to score an Abyss-like home run. It's not for lack of creativity or imagination. Beginning with Supris a couple years back and continuing through this current run of their Big Beers, they've really been experimenting. Stumptown Tart was a total misfire. Hop Czar was respectable, but didn't hit Tricerahops heights. But with Raven Mad, what's the line? Right--three's a charm.

Tasting Notes
It's easy to make a big beer that inspires awe, but a whole lot harder to make one that is instantly pleasurable. I tend to approach high-gravity monsters with caution--too often they bully my taste buds rather than impress them. It was with this caution that I approached BridgePort's latest, an imperial porter aged in both Jack Daniels and pinot barrels. For one thing, bourbon barrels have become a bit of a bane to brewing; they can swamp an otherwise fine beer with either harsh liquor notes or a cloying butterscotch sweetness. Or worse, both. Pinot barrels contribute less overt flavor, but wine is very tricky; in most examples I've tried, it has made the beer taste sweetly underfermented. Since it was these flaming torches BridgePort decided to juggle, I approached with even more caution.

No worries. The first wash of flavor is so purely pleasureable you don't immediately pick up the layers of flavors. It's a creamy chocolate-vanilla rush to start with. You almost don't think to stop and swish it around. The second sip is where you pick up all the notes that contribute to the whole. The base beer is creamy and chocolatey, balanced with dark roasted malts more than hops. The bourbon is a bronzy patina, a note, not a symphony, riding on top of the porter. Behind the chocolate is a fruit note that must be grape but actually inclines more toward cherry. Raven Mad, like a good winter beer, warms in the mouth and keeps warming down into the stomach. I have no doubt that it will age beautifully and unpredictably. Which flavors will come forward and when? Have to put a few bottles in the cellar and see.

Incidentally, the label is clever but slightly misleading. It's a cheesy 50s horror motif, done poorly in 3-D. They hook a pair of 3-D glasses on a bottle so you can see just how poorly the effect comes off. I assume that's intentional, too--fifties 3-D was mostly a gimmick. I cracked it not expecting such a sophisticated beer. It's one of the best barrel aged beers I've had, and an absolute must for porter and stout fiends. I would say it's no less a must-buy than Abyss. Definitely pick up a bottle or six while they're still available.

Malt: "Humongous amount of chocolate malt and roasted barley"
Hops: NA
IBU: 45
ABV: 7.3%
Other: Aged in pinot and Jack Daniels casks.
Availability: BridgePort only made 1,300 cases (15,600 bottles), and they released them a week before Halloween, so supplies are probably dwindling.
Rating: A

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Next-Gen Regional Breweries

When I was a kid, my cousin--whom I idolized in the way an eight-year-old inevitably does with a 20-year-old cousin--used to name his dogs after beer. He was a farmer out in Eastern Oregon, and there was something about driving tractors that was irresistible to the young city slicker (from that vast metropolis, Boise). I never stopped to consider why he had a lot of dogs, but maybe the life of a farm dog isn't always a long-lived one. In any case, the reason he thought it was cool to name his dogs after beer companies was because there were a lot of regional beer companies, and they had identities. It wouldn't occur to a young man to name his dog after a brewing company now, but in the era of "I seen 'em" and "Raaaaai-neeeeeeir Beeeeeeeer" and "Blitz Country," it made perfect sense. His St. Bernard "Oly" was my favorite.

I am reminded of all of this as I consider the demise of Bud, the last of the independent American brewing titans. Now all we have left are "brands"--labels on cans all containing the same, indistinguishable pallid product. Breweries are gone, replaced by "plants," just as faceless as the beer they make. I suspect there's still a little pride in Colorado of Coors and in Milwaukee of Miller, but it must be a vestigial, nostalgic pride. There's nothing about Miller that says Milwaukee anymore--the association is purely reflex memory.

On the other hand, a lot of growing craft breweries have become pretty big deals. Boston Beer Company is now the largest independent brewery in the US. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium probably fit the standard of "regional brewery"--something like a million or more barrels. Maybe Widmer does, too. Deschutes and Full Sail are now in the top 20 (.pdf)--certainly not out of spitting distance. (There is a massive drop off from the top 3-4 to the next few, to be sure, but these companies are gaining.)

It's interesting to think of these, rather than the regional breweries ascendent back in the 60s (Ballantine, Hamm's, Blitz-Weinhard, Schaefer), as the next cohort of regional American breweries. We're still in the mode of thinking of them as "micro." But really, if the sale of Budweiser tells us anything, it's that the macros are looking like dinosaurs, while the erstwhile micros are creating broad regional markets that might well carry them into the future as major players. It's hard to imagine that Budweiser's pre-eminence will continue. They've held it for decades, but in business, no one stays on top forever. Ask GM.

Before 1970, there was a lot more parity between the major breweries. In 1950, Schlitz was "king," but just by a nose. They produced only 7% of the nation's beer and the top ten brewers only made 38%. A-B was king a decade later, but they still only produced 10% of the country's beer. And there were a still a lot of regional independents:

1Anheuser-Busch, Inc.8,477,099
2Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co.5,694,000
3Falstaff Brewing Corp.4,915,000
4Carling Brewing Co.4,822,075
5Pabst Brewing Co.4,738,000
6P. Ballantine & Sons4,408,895
7Theo. Hamm Brewing Corp.3,907,040
8F & M Schaefer Brewing Co.3,202,500
9Liebmann Breweries2,950,268
10Miller Brewing Co.2,376,543

Total Barrelage Of All U.S. Brewers in 1960: 87,912,847 barrels.
Top 10 Brewers' Percentage of Total U.S. Barrelage: 52 percent.

I don't have the numbers for Budweiser, but it has long accounted for about half the beer sold in the US. If the brand erodes here, as Coors and Miller's have, Americans will be drinking more of something else. In another 20 years, we may see Boston Beer on top, with Bud relegated to second, Miller and Coors perhaps off the list. It's not inconceivable that eight or nine of the ten largest US breweries in 2025 are what we now call "craft breweries." I mean, it's already beginning:
  1. Anheuser- Busch Inc.
  2. Miller Brewing Co.
  3. Coors Brewing Co.
  4. Pabst Brewing Co.
  5. Boston Beer Co.
  6. D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc.
  7. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
  8. New Belgium Brewing Co. Inc.
  9. High Falls Brewing Co. (Genesee)
  10. Spoetzl Brewery
The brewing world has always been marked by vicissitude, even when things appeared static year-to-year. But now we may be in a very serious moment of change that will require us to rethink what we mean by "micro" and "macro."

Interesting times.

InBud Deal is Final

InBev completed their takeover of Anheuser-Busch yesterday, and the new company will be called Anheuser-Busch InBev. InBev is the contraction of Interbrew and AmBev, the company's last purchase, and the current name lacks none of the poetry of the previous iterations. It is no less lovely than MillerCoors, the spawn begat by SABMiller and MolsonCoors.

The whole thing makes me feel slightly gross. I know a lot of people in the beer industry have certain tender spots for their products, even if they're wholly bland and without character. At the very least, many of the larger plants offer good union jobs. But with the faceless consolidation happening among the mass market brands, it's hard to conclude that the standard tin can American beer is anything more than:


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wet Hop Analysis

You know how I spent a great deal of time investigating the nature of the wet hop earlier this year, surmising that some of the constituents of the hop cone affect flavor in out-sized proportion when added wet to the boil? Well, based on two years of data collection and 15 beers with known hop varieties, I have discovered ... nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. I lined up every hop used in these beers (9 of them) and looked to see which ones with the "decomposition note" had various constituent elements. I had really hopped to see a culprit--cohumulone or one of the oils, probably. But no. It's totally random.

Five hops produced no decomp note--Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, and Nugget. The preponderance of the initial letter is about as close to a correlation as I could find among these. My new theory--it's the way the hops are used in brewing, not the hop itself, that produces the decomp note. Or something.

Anyway, here's my very scientific research on the subject:

Hop Elements
Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Reference

See also:
Anatomy of the Humulus Lupulus, Chemistry of the Wet Hop

What Makes a Successful Pub?

It's not exactly clear what doomed the Green Dragon. Perhaps the complex truth will only be told on barstools, between friends. But it has been open for over a year--enough time for something of an experiment--and I know a great deal of thought and planning went into it before that. Among its several virtues are ambiance (the space is perfect), a fantastic beer list, good food, and a central location. Depending on where you're sitting in the place, it can feel like a speakeasy, a European-style cafe, an English pub, or a music venue about a half-hour before a show. When I first started hearing about the troubles it was facing, I wasn't sure how to process it. I mean, it's pretty close to the exact kind of place I would have designed.

Constrast that with the Double Mountain, which I visited on Friday on my way down the Gorge. We arrived at 4:37, and there was one table available. By the time we left at six, tables were a distant memory and bodies were three deep to get to the bar. I understand why people clamor for Double Mountain's beer--I'm a fellow-clamorer. I even get why locals might clamor for the pizza there; it is a near-perfect facsimile of the amazingly popular pizza at Ken's Artisan just around the corner from my house. But the little cafe the brewery runs is a nondescript, bare-bones affair. It looks a lot more like an espresso shop than a pub.

Is it just the food and beer that draws people?

These two examples by no means offer any kind of counterpoint. One's in a densely-pubbed region of an urban area, the other in a small town with few beer choices. As we sat and ate our fine pizza and drank our fine beer, I watched as the people poured in. They seemed almost exclusively to be locals--guys coming in after work, young families with babies, retirees. It had that lovely feel of a neighborhood pub where people know each other and call them by name. When Sally was ordering, a small child let out a wail from across the room and she commented, "he's not a happy boy!" The bartender said, "he's my nephew." Since the Dragon is bounded by an industrial zone on two sides, it's not in walking distance from too many people's homes. So there are definitely differences.

Still, it's an odd thing. Pubs are by design unique; sometimes the vibe works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm not really going anywhere here, just noting that it's not always so obvious which pubs are going to succeed or not when they open. Maybe some of you have seen a pattern?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Final Comments on the Green Dragon

In comments below, Green Dragon owner Ed Schwartz gives a thorough debrief of the final days of the pre-Rogue era.
Yes it is true that I will no longer be the owner of the Green Dragon. While I am bummed out it didn’t work out with me as owner –I am grateful to Rogue for stepping in and doing the things that we could not. The city is requiring the building to be sprinkled, doors to be inset, walls to be built separating the brewery. They have additionally tacked on over 51k in CBC fees. Completing the brewery should take another 50k or so. The building has to be sprinkled by February in order to stay open. Lolo and I don’t have the resources to do this—the consequences being that everyone would lose their favorite watering hole, and several employees would lose their jobs…..which is why I began talking to Rogue. Viewing them as the enemy is silly—they are doing Portland and Green Dragon customers a favor by keeping this institution alive. I’d give them a break and see how things develop –their reasons for stepping in, as I understand it, are that they too fell in love with the Dragon and want to take what we started (19 rotating taps etc., meet the brewers nights, etc) and run with it.

I think emotions run high due to our feelings for the Green Dragon. Mine certainly are as well. In my dealings with Rogue I have gotten a sense that their heart is in the right place on wanting to take care of the customers, employees (providing them with health insurance and matching 401k which I could not) and Founders Club – If anybody has questions about anything—I’ll be in this Tuesday for Meet the Brewer and would be glad to answer any specific questions then.

Best to you,

Ed Schwartz
Green Dragon Brewpub
Thanks for the info, Ed. And best to you, too--


A couple of Honest Pint Project updates.

1. The url should be live in the next week or two. It will be rudimentary to begin with, but hey, rudimentary is my style, right?

2. Tee-shirts will be available when the site launches.

3. Although I have to make a few confirmations, I believe that very soon a glass company will begin to produce a series of glasses etched with an "Honest Pint Project" seal and a line at 16 ounces.* I have been working with the company but am not in any way associated with the business side of things. Details and information for retailers when that becomes available. They just emailed out of the blue and said, "what do you think?" Um ... how does super-fantastic sound?

That's the skinny.

*In December 2007, I established the Honest Pint Project. The intention of the project is to encourage public establishments to serve beer in glassware conspicuously marked or recognizably large enough to hold a full fluid pint (16 fluid ounces). I am the originator of the idea as well as the name “Honest Pint Project.” I am furthermore the originator of the concept of “honest pint” in connection to the concept of a glass containing a full 16 fluid ounces.

Therefore, as the originator of the Honest Pint Project, I hereby establish my right of ownership of this mark. I assert ownership of the Honest Pint Project and its derivatives: the logo for the project, and the phrase “honest pint” as it pertains to this project.

While I assert exclusive right to the use of “Honest Pint Project,” “Honest Pint,” and the logo, it is not my intention to restrict the use of these ideas when promoting products or services in accord with the intention of the project. However, I do assert my right to prevent restriction of the use of these ideas, names, and logos by other entities, partnerships, corporations, or people.

This mark is available for free use by anyone using it to designate glassware conspicuously marked as containing 16 fluid ounces, or to promote establishments serving beer in conspicuously marked or recognizable glassware in accordance with the intentions of the Honest Pint Project.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Amazing Scene

Angelo went to the Hair of the Dog dock sale and came away with fantastic pictures (including the requisite shot of a beer blogger in a Boston cap) and stories. One of those, "what if they held a beer sale and an improptu beer tasting of cellared beer from all over the world broke out?" deals.
The sun was a bit warmer and the life of the crowd was elevated to a higher level. A Surley Darkness made its way up the line from a guy named Theo. The generousity of the people was amazing. A table surfaced and was placed next to the Hip Chicks Do Wine building across the street. Several rare and interesting bottles appeared. Some notables included Upland Blackberry Lambic, Alpine Ichabod, Midnight Sun Berzerker, Terrapin Roggin Rye, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Fred From the Wood, Heavy Weight Wee Whale (now defunct), 2005 Deschutes Mirror Mirror, Firestone Batch 1000, and even a Three Floyds Dark Lord. The generousity was uncanny to say the least. Before the doors opened to sell the Hair of the Dog brews, a beer fest had errupted outside
Looks like I missed a helluva time.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Green Dragon Reax

[Note: the post has been updated.]

Is there any doubt this is really a beer paradise? A brewery taking over a local bar might not make news in most towns, but in Portland, it's a Very Big Deal. Below are some early reactions. Keep reading, though, because Champagne of Blogs has a call for direct action--I'll note that at the end of the post.
DA Beers
As a mug club member and big fan of the Green Dragon, this is quite depressing. I'm still hoping this doesn't come to fruition, but if this holds up the East side just had a major setback.

I'll be honest, I don't like Rogue very much. Their beer is decent, a few are really good, but overall overpriced. They don't treat their employees very well, and the ones they do have often couldn't care less about knowing their product. Everything is overpriced in their pubs, so I'll stick to the bottles and maybe forking over the big chips to try something special if it is only on tap.

Champagne of Blogs
I don’t have a particular beef against Rogue, I drink their beer, but there’s a reason I haven’t been to the Public House in Portland for years. The food is pretty spendy for the average quality and the beer list certainly lacks diversity.

Doc Wort
Lets' hope for little change in the Green Dragon's beer selections...

This falls on the heels of our past loss of Rose and Raindrop Pub which was another beer bar icon to the city. That was sold to banking company.

It's Pub Night
Personally, I think it could be a positive thing. Ed was new to the pub business, and he wasn't particularly interested in beer. In my opinion, getting beer people in at the top is not a bad thing -- Ed's a nice guy, but just a few months ago everyone was wringing their hands about the loss of control by Jim Parker and Lolo.

Most people know that Ed had chosen another local brewer to take over the slowly-gestating brewing operation -- a friend of mine, as it happens. He hasn't been officially hired yet, so I'll be upset if the sale puts a stop to that. On the other hand, if he gets to become a Rogue brewer, that's a huge feather in his cap, not to mention an excellent catch by Rogue. So I'm looking on the bright side.
Champagne of Blogs isn't taking this lying down:
So, like good beer drinking activists, we’re taking it to the Web. BS Brewing developed a simple petition for Rogue should this sale go through. Here’s the petition:

Rogue’s buying the Green Dragon. Our demands are very simple. We want them to agree to:

  1. Not put their crappy food on the menu.
  2. Maintain the EXCELLENT tap list, and not just fill the keg cooler with sub-par Rogue brews.
  3. Keep the amazingly knowledgeable wait staff.

So, how can YOU join the movement that’s sweeping across Portland? Simple, join us on Facebook or leave a comment here. We’ll be sure to forward everything to Rogue.

I would probably tweak that petition if it were me. I doubt Rogue regards it's menu as "crappy," so this may not be wholly persuasive. Nor do they regard their beers as "sub-par." Political action requires a bit of finesse. Twere I to have composed it, I might have said, "skip the usual pub fare and maintain a menu of eclectic, excellent food," and on point two just go with "maintain the excellent tap list by continuing to have a broad selection of beers from around the region and world." But it's not my petition, so you can sign that one as you like.

To add my own two cents. As with everyone, I love the diversity and eclecticity of the Green Dragon. In a perfect world, I wouldn't change a thing. Good pubs are hard to come by. On the other hand, it's possible people are missing the proper mental frame here. I don't know that the choice is between Rogue Green Dragon and Green Dragon. It may well be between Rogue Green Dragon and nothing. No doubt the owners wouldn't be making the deal if they had the cash to keep it as is. So while I will miss the current incarnation, and while I strongly support the effort to keep it as diverse as possible, I also appreciate the possibility that the pub doesn't go away completely.

[Update. I added Bill's comment from It's Pub Night in the reactions section.]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rogue Buying the Green Dragon?

So sayeth Angelo:
According to reliable and undisclosed sources, Rogue will purchase what is currently the Green Dragon Pub and Bistro. One source says “Apparently papers are to be signed Friday (November 14). Officially no one has been fired but no one is expecting to have a job and they already have new people lined up. They are going to close down the Dragon on Monday for three days which is some kind of legal thing to change over ownership of the business. No employee is promised a job after this week.” Another source reported that Loren “Lolo” Lancaster still remains a 1/3 owner of the establishment, and the brewer and publican is trying to find a means to stop the changeover. It is also unclear whether the switch will even be totally legal. This will mean no more eclectic tap offerings outside of Rogue’s own brands and perhaps a limited guest taps at the location. What started out as one of the best beer bars in Portland will simply become another Rogue location.
Methinks Angelo is going to get his Rogue Nation membership terminated:
Rogue was founded by University of Oregon frat brother Jack Joyce and Bob Woodell and another friend Rob Strasser in 1988. Joyce, a former CEO, and supposed Coors drinker, and his comrades currently offer no happy hour at any of their ten locations.
Rogue responded, criticizing a few of the details in the post, but not its substance. Consider it a go.

[Update: Foyston confirms. Joyce downplays how much it will change, but make no mistake, it's going to change markedly.]

Do Try This at Home

Our Northern correspondent Geoff Kaiser had an article in yesterday's Post-Intelligencer wherein he matched faux craft macros against well-known micros of the same style. It's a fascinating read, and I will go ahead and quote liberally from it. First, the set-up.
We recently held a blind tasting of craft-style beers and included several beers from the large brewers, as well as beers from more traditional craft brewers. The participants included casual beers drinkers who usually reach for a light lager, as well as typical craft-beer drinkers who enjoy a variety of styles from various brewers. The beers were judged on a 10-point scale.
He conducted three flights: Bud's American Ale v. Alaskan Amber; Michelob Pale v. Full Sail Pale; and three wits, Michelob Shock Top, Blue Moon, and New Belgium Mothership Wit. The good news? Micros won. But there's some concern here--except for the Michelob Wit, the macros held their own.

Amber Ale
Looking at both of these beers in their glasses, it's impossible to tell which is the macro and which is the craft. Overall, the Alaskan Amber came out ahead in the tasting, but not by much [raters scored it a 7/10]. The American Ale held its own with a lightly sweet malt backing and a definite taste of citrus from the dry-hopping process [6/10]. But several tasters thought the sample was "watery" and just too thin for the style.
Comment: It's a little surprising they went with Alaskan, which is actually an alt. The Bud is a pretty straightforward American amber, so I would have matched it up against Full Sail Amber or MacTarnahan's.

Pale Ale
Michelob Pale Ale was released in September, but it was tough to find in the Seattle market. Once again, the A-B product held its own and surprised with an ample hop aroma [5/10]. But there was an overbearing bitter astringency in the taste that several of us noticed. In contrast, the Full Sail Pale Ale [7/10] was more balanced, offering some caramel malts and mild hop flavor without the bitter astringency.
Comment: Geoff concludes with this observation: "With so many great pale ales in the Northwest, the Michelob could be a tough sell." Actually, I imagine it's not intended for the Northwest, which is why it was hard to find in Seattle. What's odd is that it was more aggressive than the gentle Full Sail, which I found in a blind tasting to be very similar to other pales (Mirror Pond, Caldera). Maybe the macros should take a page from the Beervana playbook--saleable pales are gentle and Cascade-citrusy.

Belgian Wit
Molson Coors has been brewing Blue Moon Belgian White since 1995 and has been successful in marketing the beer across the U.S. A-B followed suit with Shock Top in 2006 and has a lot of ground to make up. We all agreed the Blue Moon was pleasant and refreshing, but it also was a little bland [6/10]. The Shock Top was disappointing and offered very little character from the wheat [4/10]. One taster noted it was "as bad as Husky football," and another stated, "It tastes closer to lemonade than it does beer." Ouch. Neither of these macro-craft beers lived up to the full, yet still refreshing, taste of the Mothership Wit from well-known craft brewer New Belgium Brewing in Colorado [9/10].
Comment: I'm surprised that Belgian wits have become so popular. Back in the early 90s, I would have considered that a pretty big long-shot. I have always regarded Blue Moon as an adequate version of the style, particularly from a macro. It would have been nice if they had used Hoegaarden instead of Mothership Wit--it's both the standard and easier to find up in these parts.

It's a cool experiment, and worth repeating. Report back if you do, will you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Purple Yam Porter

I stumbled across an interesting resource today, leading me to stumble upon an interesting Seattle brewery. The resource is a listing of current seasonal beers, offered by the Beertown folk. It's designed with the consumer in mind so that you can search by season, and filter it by what's available in your state. Looking through the list of winter seasonals purportedly available in Oregon, I'm not so sure. Apparently breweries enter the info themselves, and there are a few listed I've never heard of--but maybe they're prepped to debut. Either way, it's still cool.

As I was scrolling through the list, I came across a new brewery in Seattle called Laughing Buddha, which offers the intriguing Purple Yam Porter for winter. Clicking around, I discovered some ink on brewery, which apparently opened last summer:

What makes Laughing Buddha stand out is Chris and Joe's mission to focus on modern Asian-style beers, a wide range of styles incorporating Asian ingredients. After weather destroyed much of the hop crops in Slovenia and the Czech Republic and drought severely affected Australia's hop supply, a worldwide hop crisis hit in December 2007. Many small breweries had their supplies limited or were out-and-out denied. But since Laughing Buddha was brand-new, it wasn't beholden to hop-heavy styles.

Asian beer is synonymous with crisp, light lagers and pilsners, and Laughing Buddha pays homage to them with its Dragon King Lager. Brewed with rice amid the hops and malt, the beer has more flavor than a Japanese rice lager and more character than macro-brewed varieties. Like any lager, the Dragon King goes with everything as well as with nothing at all. The simplicity of this beer shows some talent, and the brewery's other beers show creativity and a food-friendly flavor profile that will soon have restaurants knocking in droves....

The mango purée added to Laughing Buddha's wheat beer, Mango Weizen, "is just enough to bring out the subtle mango and fruit notes that already come from the wheat after fermentation," Joe says. Brewed in the American wheat-beer style, their Mango Weizen is a rich gold with lively carbonation, bolder than German hefeweizens; it contains enough hops to keep it from finishing too sweet, achieving a Zen-like state between fruit and grain....

Made with ginger, galangal, and mandarin orange peel, Laughing Buddha's Ginger Pale Ale throws off the sweet scent of ginger immediately, but not the sharp scent you get from ginger ale or freshly grated ginger; it's subtle, more like the steam snaking off of a bowl of tom kha gai.

The Purple Yam Porter is made with Asian purple yams and vanilla beans. They also do a brown ale made with pandan leaves and palm sugar.

Anyone heard of this beer? Sounds interesting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weekend Planning

Just a couple reminders of events you might want to put on your calendar. I may make the first one, but it turns out I'll be making an excursion to Goldendale, WA during the second. You'll have to buy some of that cherry Adam for me.

Abyss Launch Party
Deschutes Brewery, 210 NW 11th Avenue
Friday, Nov 14, 10:00 pm to Midnight

During this brief bloc of time, you can score some of the new vintage before it's available elsewhere. In addition:
  • Attendees will have access to a rare vertical tasting featuring the 2007 and 2008 batches of The Abyss;
  • A limited number of Abyss gift boxes will be available for purchase, which include both the 2007 and 2008 versions and a collectible Abyss t-shirt.
  • You can buy up to six bottles at the event.

15th Anniversary Hair of the Dog Dock Sale

4509 SE 23rd Avenue
Saturday, Nov 15, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

John Foyston wrote about this rather expansively:
Cherry Adam From the Wood is the star of this year's anniversary sale, and [brewer Alan] Sprints bought twice as many fresh cherries --- 750 lb. --- for this year's batch, which aged on fresh cherries in bourbon barrels and sherry casks, and was then blended and bottled.

And what a beer it is! Dark, aromatic with port and sherry notes and some cherry in the aroma, it's amazingly smooth and round and cherry sweetness is most pronounced in a long, rich finish.... Sprints bottled 120 cases of '08 Cherry Adam From the Wood, and plans to sell 100 of 'em at the dock sale (one case to a customer, please).
In addition to the cherry Adam, Sprints will have Fred from the Wood, the 2008 vintage of Doggie Claws, as well as shirts, hats, and some vintage beers. For those who love HotD, this is THE event of the year. The line is forming now...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Advice to the Widmer Brothers

As I mentioned below, I made a trip to the Widmer Gasthaus yesterday. About half-way through my second sip of their delightful Dortmunder, I had a a moment of clarity. It has evolved from this hope that they were starting a slow mosey back toward lagers. So imagining that they hired me as a consultant to help position them in the post-Redhook alliance era, here's what I'd say. Go lagers. Create a subsidiary line of four biers that bear their own branding. The "Widmer Family Line," say, with a nod to the Widmer's lineage. You could create a nice label that ties the beers together and also recalls an earlier era in American brewing. But the key is to select four types of lagers that are slightly unusual but geared toward the American craft market. A few suggestions:
  • Dortmunder. This is really just a variant of a pilsner, but so what? Real pilsners are in short supply. Widmer's version was exceptional--crisp but slightly sweet and vivid with Saaz hops. It is half-way between a retro lager like Session and an American pale ale, with the strength and hop vibrancy Americans like. Put this bad boy out in the summer, and I'd buy it by the case.
  • Schwarzbier (aka "blackbier") . This is the second bier the Widmer's already make. In some ways, it fills the same niche of a porter, but it's drier and lighter than most. People have already developed a tasted for dark beers, but few commerical options, and fewer styles, exist. A great Spring beer.
  • Rauchbier (aka "smoked lager"). Thanks to Rogue and Alaskan, we think of smoke beers as strong, in-your-face beers. But not all the beers of Bamburg (where the style originated) are so aggressive. Some are milder both of body and smoke. I'd suggest something like this, perhaps in the mode of a slightly smoky Oktoberfest, for fall.
  • Kellerbier. This is really an obscure style, but perhaps would appear the most familiar to American craft beer drinkers. Keller (German for "cellar") is a style of aged bier, usually matured in casks, that is often a higher gravity and IBU than most German beers. A big, burly, tasty beer that would go perfectly with your winter roast beast.
There are other options--a good pilsner hasn't been put in the bottle in these parts since Saxer's. Or, for that matter, a good doppel. There may be legal issues in producing an eisbock, but that's another possibility, too. The point is that there are a lot of lager styles I believe Americans would be ready to receive. (Or mine the German ales--roggenbier (rye), weisse, or gose, say.)

I know the Widmers have smarter people than I on their payroll, so perhaps the data don't back this idea up. But sometimes you have to anticipate the market, and I do think this would be a perfect time to try something like this. One man's opinion--

Brief Reviews
So in addition to the Dortmunder, I had the Teaser and an IPA made with an experimental hop known (not quite poetically) as X-114. The Teaser I enjoyed a lot. Since it's made with these new, greenTeamaker hops, I have no previous point of comparison. It would be nice to try a beer with Teamakers in their dried version. It was mellow and gentle--unsurprising for hops with no alpha acids. A bit cookie-like, with a salad-greens freshness.

The IPA was all hop, and X-114 is no fading violet. It is boldly citrusy in the lemon/orange continuum. Has cattiness in both the nose and palate, as well asa grassy, herbal quality. Fades to pepper. It is so aggressive that if I were to brew with it, I'd use it with other hops, and perhaps add it to the boil a little later, so it extracted the nice citrus and spice but left some of the grinding behind.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Clouds of Mist

I hastened to Widmer today after hearing about the draft-only bounty, and was greated by cascading clouds of steam, scented magnificently with malt and hops. (I think it was hef, for it smelled wheaty and wholesome.) Man, do I miss that smell wafting over downtown. It was a cloudy day, so the mists sort of comingled beguilingly.

Anyhoo, here's a pic. More commentary on Teaser, Dortmunder, and an experimental-hop IPA tomorrow.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Widmers Going German

Back when I was writing about beer for Willamette Week, the Widmer Brothers were demons about calling their product "bier" no matter if it was an alt or an IPA. The intention was to brand themselves as a German brewery, which I think was the goal all along. Events and market realities intervened, and the alt for which they wanted to be famous never sold well (as an early micro, it was too agressive for Weinhard-attuned palates).

But times change. DA Beers reports that of the beers currently available at the Gasthaus, four are Teutonic: the Alt (naturally), a Dortmunder, a schwarzbier, and a doppelweizen. It may be coincidence. But for any stray Widmers who may be reading this, consider it a request, too. It's not 1989 anymore, and beer drinkers have come full circle. So many of us blew past the German beers, with their malty subtlety, right to the hop monsters and gravity bombs. But now we're old and calmer and we're finding our ways back. The alt, for example, seems like a sprightly little number that could tastily whet our whistle for a night's session. Schwarzbiers are gaining quick popularity among dark-beer fans who lament the paucity of dark beer styles. And I have yet to meet a single person who does not like doppelbock. Doppelweizens surely are not an apple fallen far from that tree.

If you brew it, we will come. This time, anyway. Promise.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Two Cities

Or Why Aren't There Any Brewpubs on the West Side?

When I got out of grad school in 1995 (and by "got out" I mean "bailed from my Ph.D. program and retreated to the comfy environs of Beervana"), I drove a cab for a year. This was both one of the more entertaining jobs I've had, and also instructive. I learned a huge amount about the history, demographics, and regional mores of the city. One of the key discoveries: Portland is two cities divided by a river. (It's actually more like a Venn Diagram with downtown and the urban Northwest as the area of overlap.) In that year, thousands of fares, I never had someone ask to go to the west side. Cabbies who worked the west side said the same thing--no one ever goes past downtown.

I had ocassion to ponder this truth yesterday as I cruised Scholls Ferry Road toward the border of Yamhill County. As is my habit, I scrutinize buildings for their potential as brewpubs (not that I'll ever actually start one) and this led to a consideration of why there are so few brewpubs on the west side. It's not just brewpubs, of course--small, funky businesses flourish on the east side, whereas the west side seems to welcome bland national chains.* Well-regarded restaurants populate the east side but are harder to find in the hills. Even good pubs with lots of taps are rarer there. And I saw but one non-drive-thru coffee hut coffee shop, a Starbucks.

Cities occupy not only geography, but psychic terrain. When I'm on the east side, my attention naturally drifts to areas of my interest--small copses of shops along a former streetcar line. On residential streets, I notice not only the architecture (cottages in Sabin, blending to foursquares in Irvington blending to tudors in Grant Park), but the yards. Are they well-manicured grass or dense thickets of perennials? On the west side, few sights draw me in. Junky late-century buildings cluster along wide, clotted streets. From time to time, massive apartment complexes gape down a cul-de-sac. No doubt west siders have the opposite reaction--for them these places are homey and welcoming, the streets a concourse of pleasure waiting to be driven.

There's something about the west side that resists funk. Is it just the buildings? Could be. I tried to spy a likely place to locate a brewpub, but there's precious few (the Scholls Grange, though too far out, would be fantastic). West siders must spend a lot of time at home--there are so few places to go and hang out. But they also appear drawn to the bland and homogenous; you can't imagine a Roots Organic along the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. And maybe it's those roads, too--in the inner east side, you're almost never out of walking distance from a great watering hole.

Leaving aside the McMenamins, there are a grand total of five brewpubs on the west side (Raccoon Lodge, Max's Fanno Creek, Old Market, Lucky Lab, and Philadelphia's)--and two of these are west-side outlets of east side pubs. Contrast that with the east side, where there are 18 stand-alone brepubs, excluding multiple locations. Throw in all the Lompocs and Laurelwoods and you get 23.

(But why exclude the McMenamins? In fact, the west side has an advantage here, 13-11. It's also worth noting that the first brewpub in Portland--and Oregon--was the Hillsdale, on the west side. But I think this actually confirms rather than refutes the point. The west side likes the familiarity of chains, and the McPubs are known quantities. But it is a mitigating factor, and if I ever find some imperative to live across the river, I'll be looking for a place next to a McPub.)

So an open question to the west siders: why so few brewpubs and good pubs out there in the hills? Explain it to an interested east-sider, willya?
*As an east-sider, my view is not only biased, but uninformed.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Upright Brewing Update

Well, while I've been a beery laggard, Angelo's been interviewing Upright Brewing's Alex Ganum. I actually got an email recently asking if Upright was still on track, and thanks to Angelo, we have an answer.
Ganum and Upright Brewing have gone to great lengths already to close in on an opening date some time in early 2009. The brewery-a production-only endeavor-is situated in the dynamic Left Bank Building on 240 NE Broadway close to the Rose Quarter. Ganum, a 28-year-old Argentinian Michigander...
It's a pretty brief interview, but worth a look. And the coolest thing is the picture of Alex in a Smeirlap t-shirt. Smeirlap!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Celebrating with Abyss

Watching the returns and things are looking good enough that we've gotten into the 2007 Abyss. I found it too green when it was released, and this is the first bottle I've pulled out that was aged. Wow! The flavors have really come together and it is dense and chocolatey. Holy moly...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Slow Blogging Ahead

In my other life, a certain imminent event is regarded as something of a deal. As a consequence, blogging here is likely to suffer. The flow will likely resume normally sometime around midweek. (Depending on how that event turns out.) For those of you with a political bent, good luck. Democracy is a fine thing to celebrate.