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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Grandaddy Ale for the New Year

This is cool. I should try to score some before the Ducks thump the Buckeyes.
In honor of the University of Oregon Ducks going to the Rose Bowl, Nate Sampson, our Head Brewer here at Eugene City Brewery has brewed a beer with 2 lbs of red rose petals.

Since the Rose Bowl is referred to as the “Granddaddy of Them All,” we’ve named this one-time beer Granddaddy Ale. It’s a lightly-hopped golden ale with a floral aroma provided by the 2 lbs. of red rose petals that are added to the brew at the end of the boil.

Only 11 kegs of Granddaddy Ale were brewed and they will debut on tap at Eugene City Brewery, Green Dragon and Rogue embassies in Newport, Portland and Astoria starting December 28th.
Craig Nicholls used to brew a beer called Spring Rose Doppelbock for that period around Rose Festival. I believe I would prefer a doppel to a lightly-hopped golden, but hey, I need a time travel machine to get a rose doppel, and the car will get me to Rogue's rose.

Rogue just tweeted that it's on tap now ... but only in Oregon.

The Year in Beer

I understand why the year 2000 had such a pull on us and why, despite the math, we decided to celebrate the new millennium then. But I refuse to submit to the tyranny of the the masses and do a review of the decade in beer until next year--when it properly ends. However, it does appear we've come near the end of 2009, so here's a few observations.

The Crisis That Wasn't
Back at the start of the year, it looked like a sure bet that breweries and pubs were going to be in big trouble. I even ran a couple of polls (here and here) to see how purchasing habits were changing with the intention of tracking the trend by quarters. But at mid-year, the numbers started coming out and surprise of surprises--the industry was still growing. I don't doubt that some breweries--and definitely some pubs--saw business decline. But the category five hurricane turned out to be just a little rain.

Saison Season
Every year there's a mini-boom (a boomlet?, a pop?) in some style. Last year it was Belgian golden ales. This year, saisons. Locally, we had Upright doing a wave of them, plus a couple nice examples by Full Sail and Standing Stone. I saw lots of national versions too, from The Bruery's to Boulevard and Goose Island.

The Gose revival was constrained to just two breweries, but let's hope that's a preview of coming attractions.

Barrel Madness
It hardly bears mentioning the trend in barreling beers, save to note that it now looks like a standard practice, not a trend. I haven't run any numbers, but surely well over half the bottling breweries and a large percentage of brewpubs have barrel-aging programs underway (at least locally). One nice element of this trend is that it's expanding beyond bourbon barrels. In the last year, wine barrels were on the move, as were previously unused barrels (what do you call those, "fresh?"). Bourbon adds a wonderful note to some beers, but by no means all. Yet barreling a beer can add wonderful character, whether or not you're trying to leach residual alcohol into the beer.

Looking Forward
I mentioned in my Satori Award post that 2009 was in some ways a year of rest for the industry. A wise year of rest, given the uncertainty. But given beer's surprising resilience this year, I see signs of enthusiasm about new projects going forward. Right off the bat, we have something on the order of 8-10 breweries scheduled to open in 2010. One of them is focusing on gluten-free beers, evidence of some of the potential micro-markets within craft brewing. Look for a rock and roll year.

Finally, I'll leave you all with a prediction, one that is more advocacy than actual prophesy: 2010 will be the year of small beer. We've done big beer, we've done hoppy beer, we've done sour beer. Of all the extremes left to explore, small beer may be the final frontier. Let it be so!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

People's Choice Winner (*)

Over the holiday weekend, I ran my annual people's choice award, somehow oblivious to the fact that we live in a fully Facebook age. (And Twitter.) Last year, no breweries were able to funnel their fans to my site, and so it pretty accurately reflected the views of my regular readers. Because I sprang it over Christmas, that almost happened again. Almost!

As it turns out, both Upright and Ninkasi got announcements out before last night's deadline. As a result, Spring Reign squeaked out a win. What's interesting to me is that before Ninkasi discovered the poll, they were getting absolutely killed. Before Upright rang in, I had about 200 votes. Deschutes Fresh Hopped Mirror Pond was out in front, followed by Widmer Drifter and Upright (which had tied itself for third place). In the end, Deschutes only finished five votes out of the lead. So, while this poll was never scientific, I think it's safe to say that without lobbying, it would have been the clear fave. Still, we can't reward counterfactuals, so Ninkasi Spring Reign takes the gold cup.

A few interesting lessons did emerge. First, if Deschutes was thinking of not repeating the fresh hopped Mirror Pond experiment in 2010, I'd like to to offer this poll as an argument for its popularity. I was nonplussed by it, but clearly, a lot of you were mighty impressed. Similar note to Hair of the Dog regarding Michael. Despite a very, very limited run, it managed to get a solid 20 votes. Finally, my choice, Upright Four, got a respectable 24 votes. Twenty three of you out there are pretty smart! :-)

Lesson two is that the bigs are doing a good job making beers that appeal to the serious beer geeks. Widmer Drifter got an unaided 40 votes. Mac's Grifter got 18 votes as did Session Black. Given that these beers were pitched at a broader market, I'd say they hit the mark.

Lesson three? Somehow I'll have to figure out how to foil brewery promotion if I do this again. Meantime, congrats Ninkasi--they loves you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Satori Award 2009: Upright Four

The Satori Award
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award, now in its fourth year, honors the beer that in a single instant allows the drinker to realize brewing magnificence. It is that moment when the sheer force of tastiness produces a flash of insight into the nature of beer. I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer. The inaugural winner was Ninkasi Believer followed by Full Sail Lupulin in 2007 and Cascade Apricot Ale in 2008.


In the past few years Oregon witnessed a furious storm of novelty--new lines, new styles, new releases, and new breweries. Correspondingly, my job in trying to select a single winner has been agonizing. Last year I had the horrible task of choosing among Cascade's Apricot Ale, Deschutes' Dissident, and Double Mountain's Kriek (amazing, if little tasted).

Fortunately, it seemed like the industry stopped to catch its breath a little in 2009. The number of things new was almost manageable. And although there were again a number of impressive new beers (list here) this year, the decision was relatively easy. The debut of Upright Brewing was made with such confidence and brio that I have known since May its beers were the one to beat. So while there were some very good beers this year, none were as fascinating or important as those brewed by Alex Ganum.

It is rare that breweries enter the market with fully conceived visions. Generally they aim for good beer and worry about their brewing vision later. Not Upright. Nearly a year before it opened, Alex already knew what he intended to brew:
Imagine combining the spirit and methods of rustic French and Belgian style farmhouse brewing with the positive energy and downright beautiful ingredients the Pacific Northwest offers us. These are beers inspired by historical records and the dedicated few who have kept traditions alive, drawing from our city and region for resources and raw materials. In addition to the year-round brands expect to see several unusual special releases including barrel-aged beers, sour beers, fruit beers, smoked beers, and many other distinct brews.
It is a testament to this vision that, with the brewery now open only since May, it has already become a fixture in Portland's landscape. We think of Portland as a town in love with hoppy beer, but this is only part of the picture. For a long time breweries have been shifting palates toward Brussels, and with his open fermenters, French saison yeast, and locavore mentality, Ganum has thrust Upright into the center of the this movement (full brewery review here).

For decades, you have been able to find more good beer in Portland than other cities (local and otherwise), and for the past few years you could find some of the best and most innovative food, too. But in an agonizing missed opportunity, mostly these two never got together at the restaurant table. If this changes--and there are finally some indications that it might--Upright will be part of the reason. With a range of styles that seem designed to complement different courses, Upright may finally help muscle pinots out of the way.

The Satori Award, however, is given for a single beer, not a brewery, and my favorite of the regular Upright offerings is the estimable Four, a modestly-strengthed tart ale that blew me away when I first tried it at Cheers to Belgian Beers. Here's what I wrote about Four in May:
A cloudy wheat beer (50% of the grist) Four is made with a sour mash, which gives it a lip-smacking tartness. I'd put this halfway between a weissebier and a Berliner weisse. It lacks the banana/clove quality of a weisse, but isn't as sharp as a Berliner. Rather, it's cleanly tart and acidic and very quaffable. The wheat is evident, as are the Hallertauers. It's a very classic-tasting, accomplished beer. We didn't have any cheese or a salad to pair with Four, but I bet they would have gone wonderfully together.
Four is a truly original beer, though its lineage is long. I suspect that a time-traveler could take this beer to Southern Belgium in the 1880s and, with its wheat and lactic zing, it would be recognizable to the locals who loved tart, rustic beers. Nothing like it is regularly available in Oregon, and it is a great addition to our slate of regular beers. I'm pleased to call it my Satori Award winner for 2009--and I hope it will continue to be brewed here for a good, long time.

Congratulations to Alex and all the folks at Upright.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

People's Choice Poll

As we start winding back up post-Christmas (hope everyone had a great time), I leave you with the people's choice award, which I'll close down at the end of the weekend. Cheers--

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Three Fine Beers

So for this Christmas eve, I offer you shorty reviews of three nice beers I've recently tried. All recommended as appropriate partners for your roast beast on Christmas day.

MacTarnahan's Goose Bump
"Wow. That's a little over the top for me."

Sally got to her half of our 22-ounce Goose Bump before I did, and when she offered her first reaction, I considered it a very good sign. When was the last time you heard someone describe a Mac's as "over the top?"

Goose Bump is an imperal stout saturated with a mighty infusion of coffee. When I saw brewer Vasilios Gletsos at the Holiday Ale Fest, he mentioned that it had been made with cold-brewed Stumptown coffee. The idea there is to extract the purer, tastier essences of the coffee been, leaving behind some of the harsher, more bitter compounds. Still, use enough coffee, and you get a mouthful of java, and that's apparently what Mac's did. This is absolutely not a beer for those who don't like coffee. Even for those who do, it's pretty aggressive. The most impressive element of this beer is its mousse-like structure, an amazing creaminess in the mouth. The beer employs oats to this end, but I wonder if the coffee didn't add something, too. A beer that won't be for everyone, which is a great credit to the brewery. For those who do like it, they'll really like it. I'll go a B+ on the ratings scale, partly just because the coffee flavor is so intense it will eliminate a fair number of drinkers from the picture. (Bonus: video of Vasilios talking about Goose Bump.)

Hopworks Kronan the Barbarian and Abominable Winter Ale
I finally made it down to Hopworks for a pour of Kronan the Barbarian, a Baltic Porter. This no-longer-so-obscure style is one of my faves, and I hadn't had a chance to try Kronan at the Holiday Ale Fest. It's a pretty nice version, too. A burly beer with lots roastiness and all the flavor you want out of a Baltic. If I were to ding the beer, it would be on the grounds that it's pretty ale-y. The Baltics I've tried distinguish themselves from porters and stouts by a smooth lager character. Some are so bitter they tend toward sourness, and there's little in the way of ale fruitiness to rescue the beer from this tendency. In a blind tasting, I'm not sure I would have identified this as a Baltic. A very tasty beer on its own merits, however, leaving aside style considerations. Also a B+.

The Abominable, though, was the real winner. Put it squarely in the Fa La La La La camp of exquisite extreme hopping. From the first whiff (evident at 12 inches) to the first sip, this thing is all hops. I scoured the intertubes, but found no mention of the varieties of hops used (Hopworks is in danger of joining Roots for most out-of-date website)--a pity, because I'd like to know how they achieved the almost lemon-intense citrus tang. For a beer of this heft, the hops are remarkably clean and articulated. Not for nothing, but it's also a damn pretty beer, too. Maybe the best beer I've ever had from Hopworks. I'll go an A- here, though that's a little Grinchly of me. If it's this good next year, Abominable will earn top marks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

People's Choice Poll

Okay, folks, here's the people's choice poll. Same criteria as for the Satori Award--an Oregon beer released in 2009 that will be a regular or regular seasonal beer. Also, note that for Upright, I selected the two most widely-available beers, Four and Five. I know some of you will like some of their other beers better, but it seems unfair to penalize a debut brewery by splitting the vote among several beers. My sense is that Four and Five have the biggest followings, so I hope this is a good compromise.

Happy voting--

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Defining "World Class" Beers

This is the time of year when we think of superlatives, chained as we are in uncreative servitude to the theoretical finality of the calendar. (No one thinks of top ten lists in June.) Okay, fair enough. Sunday is the time we think of God. In some ways, it's easier to think of things when we're all thinking of them together. In this vein, I like Stan Hieronymus' methodical consideration of what constitutes a "world class" beer, taking his cue from Michael Jackson. (To follow the thread, start with this post, then read this one and this one.)

Stan's concern is epistemological: is the term even valid--can we know what it means to be world class; what are the qualities that describe world class; which beer can legitimately be described as world class. To this end, he quotes Jackson's definition:
“. . . no one can deny that a Premier Cru Bourdeaux is likely to have more complexity and distinction than a jug wine (Or, in the British phrase, “plonk”). A beer rated ***** [five stars] is a world classic either because it has outstanding complexity and distinction or because it is the definitive example of the style, and no matter whether everyone is capable of appreciating it; some people probably don’t like first-growth Bordeaux, either.”
In these formulations, there's some benefit to chronology. So long as a beer has stood as the exemplar of style long enough, it doesn't actually have to win every single blind-tasting competition. Never mind how good Allagash's lambics become, they will not displace Cantillon's as the exemplar of style any time soon. We credit history.

My interest is slightly different, but related to this. I wonder about the mobility of world classics--how does a beer move on or off the list? One of Jackson's world classics is Anchor Steam. My guess is that this is a bit of bone-throwing. America had become a real hotbed of brewing, but he wasn't about to displace Paulaner Salvator, say, with a new-world doppel. So he gave us the signature example of an indigenous style.

Generally speaking, that's a good way to go. Let a beer wear for a while, see what the brewery does with it. If, after two or three decades, it remains one of the regular islands in an archipelego of regularly-changing examples of the style, that's worth a lot. Yet I wonder, is it possible for the gears of history to turn enough--however slowly--so that an immigrant brewery, the decendant of a venerable classic, may one day supplant the old country's hold on the style? Is it possible for a New Jersey pilsner to take the mantle from Pilsner Urquell? (We know how that old-world standard has declined.) This is not a question for judges, of course. These designations are much more anthropological. We commend classic status by slow cultural agreement.

Guinness is definitely not the tastiest draft Irish stout, but it is of course the world classic. A New Jersey pilsner? Maybe. I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, December 21, 2009

News: Gosefest 2009 and Q4 Beer Price Index Numbers

Victory Bar and Brewpublic are hosting a rare event tonight: Gosefest 2009. Gose was a lost style as recently as 20 years ago. An ancient German product, goses (possibly pronounce Goh-suh) were made with an addition of lactobacillus and finishes off with salt. For those of you who have had the Indian salted yogurt drink lassi, this is something like the German versions. In my visit with Ron Gansberg recently, he said that the description of the lacto being added during the boil was probably wrong (which I intuit to mean he added his later).

There are only two extant versions currently being brewed in Germany, and they're both revivals. Now we have two more breweries making them here: Cascade and Upright. Ron has three versions, a light summer edition that is a take on the original, and then two more for autumn and winter. Upright's I know nothing about save the beautiful label. At this event tonight, you can try one of those, plus all four Oregon versions. I hope to be able to make it (though this is bad timing--come on folks, what are you doing scheduling these things right before Christmas!?!), but since I've had all but Alex's, I may miss it. YOU SHOULD NOT. Seriously, this is an extremely rare and cool thing that no other place on the planet has the good fortune to witness.
Gose Tasting
Victory Bar, 6-9pm
SE Division at 37th
The second bit of news comes from Bill at It's Pub Night. (I may start calling him Bill Night for short.) As you recall, he has taken it upon himself to create a "Beer Price Index" that charts the rise and fall of beer prices in Portland. (The complex methodology is described at the post for those who are concerned about fidelity.) The upshot though? Prices actually fell marginally over the past three months on two of three types of package, and was unchanged on the third. Huh. Whooda thunk?

A Few Words About Roots

On Friday, I had the pleasure not only of sampling a five-year vertical flight of Roots Epic Ale, but speaking at length with Craig Nicholls. It's been a long time since I've checked in with Craig, and in the meantime, I've been hearing lots of reports of troubles at the brewery (poor service at the pub, drastically declining tap handles around town, a management change). It was good to finally hear a horse's-mouth report.

Roots was originally founded by Craig and fellow brewer Jason McAdam. They are both great brewers, and my sense of things is that their partnership followed the lines of a rock band. At a certain point, they were pulling in different directions. Craig went into great detail about this period, but since I haven't spoken to Jason, I think it's best to say that the partnership dissolved and leave it at that. Jason moved on (he plans to open up a new brewery called Alchemy) and Roots is all Craig's.

The past two years have been rough financially. The conflict between Jason and Craig happened just as Roots expanded--and just before the economic downturn. The brewery came close to insolvency, it sounds like more once. Fortunately, things have stabilized now. Roots has shifted strategies, focusing more on 22s now, instead of draft sales. Heather and Pale will soon be added to the bottled line-up. Along with increased business at the pub, Roots has apparently weathered the rough times (knock on wood).

So, whew. I didn't realize it had gotten so tight. I'll be heading down more often for a pint, just to make sure the calm weather continues. (Blazer fans take note: as soon as the NFL's regular season ends, Roots will be showing games, and possibly offering that burger and a pint for $10 deal.)

Epic Vertical
Now, the main event. I credit Craig with having the foresight to save some kegs of Epic so we can do these vertical tastings. I'm not sure why other breweries don't do this, too? Wouldn't it be wonderful to do a vertical tasting of 20 years of Old Knucklehead or Old Boardhead? (Yes, that was a hint.) Aged beer is fascinating because not only does it change over time--it becomes more oxidized, the flavors meld and mellow--but it changes unpredictably and unstably. In a single batch, hops may fade away and then come back; flavors and aromas shift and change, vanish and reappear. The character of aged beer is not fixed, and only in vertical tastings do you get a sense of just how mutable things are.

Epic Ale is a truly hand-made beer. The long process begins when Craig smokes a small proportion of Munich malt (small by percentage, but 55 pounds in total) over cherry wood that has been soaked in Glenlivet, cognac, and cherries. The final beer finishes out somewhere around 14%. The beers were so different in the vertical tasting that I wondered if he had changed the recipe. No. (Though of course, barley and hops do change from year to year, so to keep the recipe consistent, he did have to adjust things--all breweries do this, though.) Yet because that smoking process is done by hand, there's definitely going to be variability.

Here are the notes I took on the various vintages, but don't take them too seriously: the next time you taste these beers, they'll taste different.
  • 2005 vintage. This was my fave. The most oxidized of the aged beers (two--half--of which exhibited very little at all), it had a rich, plummy nose. The palate is deep and resonant with dark fruit and alcohol, and the finish is wonderfully smooth, almost gentle. Not a sharp edge anywhere.
  • 2006 vintage. Only barely oxidized. The nose is roasty and a touch smoky, but the palate has more obvious candied sweetness. There's also the roastiness, which doesn't exactly pair well with the brandy-like sweetness of the malt. The alcohol is sharper and more obvious in this vintage, which warms appreciably going down.
  • 2007 vintage. Epic is brewed at 80 IBUs, which isn't actually overmuch for a beer of this heft and sweetness. Somehow, though, the hops come through on the '07, to wonderful effect. Also oxidized a bit, but the hops are evident on the nose. They're really obvious on the tongue, and are strangely fresh and green. I don't know why they pair nicely with the sweeter notes of the malt, but perhaps it's because the oxidation creates enough of a bridge. The aftertaste is all sticky resin. No surprise that this was the crowd fave.
  • 2008 vintage. The sweetest of all the vintages, but less a fruit than malt sweetness. It had the characteristic barleywine aroma, though doesn't taste like a barleywine. I was getting an insistent cherry flavor along with some pepper. Sally found it too sweet, but I was enjoying it. Give it a few years.
  • 2009 vintage. This year's batch was surprisingly mellow. For me, the '09 was the sweetest. It had a melon aroma and flavor that I wasn't so hot on. (Honeydew maybe?) It's hard to know how I would react to this beer straight up, and I'd like to go back and have another pour. These beers are meant to be aged, and compared to the older vintages, this green edition just couldn't stand up.
I'll leave you with a couple of comments from Craig. I asked how long I should let my bottles age, and he suggested 5 years. Not that it won't be good before then, but he'll be aging his for five years. Patience!

Also, as he sat down with a pour of the '09, he admitted he hadn't tasted it before it went on tap that day. "I'm superstitious," he confessed. This is one of the reasons I love Craig. I don't know any brewer who would host a major release for one of the brewery's most important products without trying it first. Craig operates by feel. It's why some people disparage the beers, but it's why others, like me, love them. There are 100 other breweries in the state, and a lot of them do chemical analyses in preparation for their beers' releases. Leave me one guy who still brews like it's 1647.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Roots Epic Release in Pictures

Had a great time last night at the Roots Epic release party. I had the chance to chat with Craig Nicholls for a long time, and I have some news on the brewery, in addition to reflections on vertical tasting. But for now, busy as you all probably are this weekend, all I have time to do is post pics. (Though I should also mention that you might hustle down to the pub and see if there's any of the vintage Epic still on tap. My recommendation: the '05, which is plummy and smooth from age and oxidation, and the '07, which still has a robust layer of green, strangely fresh, sticky hopping. And you can pick up a bottle for the cellar, too.)

That's the '08, '07, and '06, left to right.

The '05 and my bottle (#94).

Craig Nicholls, treated to my characteristically
poor photography

Sally took this one, evidence of why I try
to avoid the buisness end of cameras.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Roots Epic Release Tonight

Man, crappy timing. But for those of you who can make it, go check out the latest vintage. Ezra did a great job with the labels.

Brewpublic has the details.

Challenge: Five Beers in Portland

A blogger writes:
A challenge: Say someone (like me, perhaps) will be in Portland for a week around Christmas. What are the top five can't-miss Oregon beers for an out-of-state visitor? I thought this might make for a good blog post for you. I would disregard the beers widely distributed out of state, like Black Butte Porter, for example.
This is the kind of thing beer geeks enjoy--barking out recommendations someone may actually heed. Okay, here goes. If a person comes to Beervana, my recommendations will be based on a belief that no beer tastes as good as when its served on tap (or cask) at a warm, pleasant pub. Therefore, my suggestions involve ferrying yourself around Portland. Hey, you asked.

1. Adam, Hair of the Dog Brewery. If you give Alan Sprints a heads up, you can visit the Hair of the Dog brewery, which is always a treat. I've selected Adam as my choice cut, but if you go, Alan is very likely to offer you something interesting while you're there. Drink that. Permissible substitution: Four, Upright Brewing. Upright has a tasting room, which is actually just the brewery (that's a plus, incidentally). It's only open afternoons on the weekend, but my guess is that you could contact brewer Alex Ganum beforehand for a tour if you couldn't make those times. Same advice as with HotD: you may be offered something interesting while you're there so don't be slavish with this recommendation: try whatever's on offer. In both cases, you can buy a bottle of Adam and Four to go. [UPDATE: Hair of the Dog has moved to a snazzy new place at 61 SE Yamhill Street, and you no longer have to call ahead; it has a tasting room.]

2. Bachelor Bitter, cask, Deschutes Brewery. Bachelor Bitter is a triumph of understatement, and few beers taste as good on cask--and how could you go to a beery locale without trying something local on cask? Permissible substitution: ESB, cask, BridgePort (either NW or Hawthorne). Another beer that sings most purely on cask. These are two pillars of my regular rotation, and my go-to beers when I want a cask tipple.

3. Black Lab Stout, Lucky Lab. This isn't the best stout in the city, but it's the best stout in the most pleasant pub in the city. I think it's just wrong for someone to come to Beervana and miss the Lucky Lab. Permissible substitution: Imperial Stout, Roots. This is actually one of the best beers in the city, never mind the groovy, laid-back warmth of the pub, which is also a draw, and comparable in ways to the neighboring Lab. Yes, I've heard the recent complaints about Roots, but it will be a cold day in hell before I abandon Craig Nicholls. [Update: Roots has gone out of business, so try a Shakespeare Stout at the Rogue on NW Flanders instead.]

4. DOA, Hopworks. Actually, if I were heading there myself, I'd try Kronan the Barbarian Baltic Porter, for I haven't had the luxury yet. But of the regular Hopworks beers, I like this kind of crazy, strong comfort meal of a beer. It's in one of the newer brewpubs, a must for anyone who wants to get a sense of the local ethos. Beer and bikes--a classic Portland combo. Permissible substitution: Workhorse IPA, Laurelwood. Laurelwood was founded by Christian Ettinger, who went on to found Hopworks, so this is all in the family. I select Workhorse IPA because last year it beat 63 other IPAs across the nation in a blind-tasting tournament. And when in Oregon, you should try an IPA--it's easily the state's fave style. In Ettinger's absence, Chad Kennedy has stepped in to produce some of the most reliably good beers in the city.

5. Younger's Special Bitter, cask, Horse Brass Pub. There is no more important shrine to beer than the Horse Brass, which has been serving good beer since before it was brewed here. Rogue made this beer especially for the founder and local beer legend Don Younger, and nothing tastes finer with a scotch egg than a cask pour of the house brew. Permissible substitution: There are so many fine beers bars in this city that you should probably find the time to step into one and order the tastiest local offering you see. Any of these places are guaranteed to have something special on tap: Bailey's Taproom, Belmont Station, Concordia Alehouse, Eastburn, Green Dragon, or Saraveza.

I know I've already cheated and gotten ten recommendations for five slots, but I'm not done cheating. I would have recommended going to Cascade for some sour ales, but they don't have them on tap. You could still head out and buy one of the bottles (this year's Kriek was exceptional; the Apricot Ale is always fantastic), or grab one at Belmont Station (also a bottle shop).

Finally, you didn't mention anything about needing to eat, but if you do, you could try Higgins, a landmark restaurant that pioneered local cuisine and which has 20 taps and 100 bottled beers, the Pilsner Room, a joint project of McCormick and Schmick's and Full Sail, where happy hour will get you a $3 half-pound burger, and the regular menu will get you wonderful local seafood, or the Widmer Gasthaus, where you'll find great beer not available in grocery aisles along with tasty, hearty German food.

Addresses and directions for all of these places can be found at the Beer Mapping Project.

I believe I have failed the challenge, but perhaps visitors will appreciate that. Others feel free to weigh in--what would you recommend?

Gathering Satori Hopefuls

For the past three years, I've been citing just one "best" of the year--the Satori Award. It honors the best beer released that year that is designed to be a regular beer for the brewery (seasonals allowed). It must have been released in Beervana or at least Greater Beervana (I would poach an exceptional Washington beer, possibly). Last year I did a kind of people's choice satori award, too, which was fun. (My pick was Cascade Apricot, yours was The Dissident.)

Anyway, I was looking through the archive to see if I could get a list of eligible beers. Below is a list of releases this year--not all of which qualify. Some were single releases, and I did a poor job of documenting single-release beers for brewpubs. Have a look and see if you can remember what I missed. These are all the releases I could recall; the bolded beers are Satori-eligible.

Hair of the Dog Michael

Humbug'r/Goose Bump/Lipstinger/Grifter

Double Mountain Vaporizer

Full Sail
Saison a Pleine Voile/LTD 03/Chris's Summer D-Lite Berlinner Weisse/Session Black/Keelhauler

Radiant/Spring Reign

Standing Stone
Double IPA/saison (Probably not new last year, but new to me)

Hopworks Secession

Cascade Gose*

Double Alt/Cherry doppel/Drifter/W 09

Four/Five/Six/Seven (plus many one-offs)

Bend Rocksy Stone

Three Creeks Stonefly Rye (2008, but some allowances may be made for breweries outside my usual catchment area)

BridgePort Fallen Friar/Highland Ambush

Roots Flanders Red

*Recurring, I think

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vaguely Depressing

For the last couple weeks, Genesee Brewing has been carpet bombing me with emails about their latest project ... to cover beer tanks with vinyl wraps that look like beer cans. They are very excited about the project:
For the first time ever, three 35,862,784 ounce tanks that stand about three stories high carry the look of The Genesee Brewery’s flagship beers: Genesee, Genny Light and Genesee Cream Ale. Vinyl graphics that stretch 55 feet wide by 43 feet high now cover the tanks, making them look like oversized cans of beer. Located outside of the brewery, the tanks store the equivalent of approximately 124,523 cases of beer. People can clearly view them from the St. Paul Street side of the brewery.
This is a venerable, regional brewery that apparently makes decent enough beer. But when it comes to promotions, they're reduced to stunts like this.

Reason 397 why I'm happy to live in Beervana.

Deep Thought

In the latter part of the 19th century, breweries were often named after their founders (Weinhard, Schlitz, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Pabst, Hamm's, etc.), but that's pretty uncommon now. Instead, the names are often rather abstract: Upright, Breakside, Migration. And few are named for the owner. Interesting how conventions change.

Update: In comments below, DA posts this gem:
It's all branding. Alworth brewing would probably confuse most, while Alameda pulls the neighborhood local, Hopworks pulls the IPA drinker, Hair of the Dog the glutton, Lucky Lab the dog lover, Full Sail the sporty outdoorsman, 5th Street the drunk who can't remember where the pub is located, 7 Brides the Salem Mormon population, Mt. Hood the ski bunny, Harvester the crunchy hippie, Fearless the courageous soul who braves Estacada.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Allagash Lambic Debuts

Ah, the moment we've all been waiting for--the debut of Allagash's spontaneously-fermented beer. I wrote about this extensively when I visited the brewery a year ago. Via Beernews, here's the story:
Flash forward two years later to present day and the brewery has debuted the very first batch. Unfortunately for most BN readers, it took place in Belgium at The Day of the Lambic, a festival featuring more than fifteen unblended Lambics from nine breweries....

The City Paper interview with Tod has some other interesting tidbits: there have been eight batches total, each with what appears to be a few to several barrels a batch). The brewery is experimenting with a lot of different fruits like cherries, raspberries, and Maine blueberries.
I'll appeal to the brewery to see if I can somehow get a sample. (Without, you know, buying a plane ticket to Maine. Though that's not out of the question.)

Photo: the Allagash koelschip (cool ship), where hot wort is left to age and frolic with wild yeasts that float in through those open windows.

City of Portland: No Big Beers Downtown

In the annals of poorly-considered public policies, this one should should at least get special mention: the city of Portland wants to eliminate the sales of high-alcohol beer (which in this case means anything north of 5.75%) in the downtown core:
The change would limit what beer customers could buy in convenience stores and would prohibit stores from selling single containers of malt liquor or domestic beer of more than 22 ounces.

It would also prohibit the sale of malt liquor or domestic beer with more than 5.75 percent alcohol, box wine, and multiple alcoholic beverages larger than 12 ounces....

The higher-end microbrews would be eliminated because of their alcohol content.
Hey, it's not like this is Beervana or anything. Oh, wait...

Double Mountain Fa La La La La

[Note: this was written for and published at The Brew Site on Sunday as a part of Jon's Advent Beer Calendar. I'm posting it here because I like people to be able to do review searches.]

By Christmas standards, it’s not a long tradition, but naming your beer after a seasonal song has become, well, habitual, anyway. Double Mountain selected the refrain from Deck the Halls: Fa La La La La. A nice, ecumenical choice, but one has to ask what some of these lyrics really mean. “Troll the ancient yuletide carol”? Can you troll a carol? But I digress.

For those visiting Oregon from lands where they believe we only make extremely hoppy, intense beers, Fa La La La La (”Fa” hereafter) would tend to seem like good evidence. It is a beer characterized first, middle, and last by the copious additions of Centennial hops. But here’s the thing, sometimes crazy hopping makes for lovely beer. A couple weeks ago, I went through Hood River and picked up a growler of Fa. Back in Portland, I poured a bit out into winter goblets for folks. Uniformly, they took one whiff and started smiling. A tipple and they kept smiling. There’s something so fresh about the beer that it’s irresistible—like a freshly cut Doug Fir sitting in front of the roaring fire. Great stuff.

Brief stats: Brewed with organic Pilsner and Munich malt, imported crystal malts, and Centennial hops. 7.6% ABV, 83 BU

Over at Beervana, I rate my beers with a letter grade. One could make the argument that this is a straight A beer, but I tend to grade low to give breweries a chance to tinker and tweak up their score. Call this a very Oregonian A-.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Art of Blending Beer

These are the normal steps of producing beer commercially: mash and boil, ferment, age, package. For brewers creating barrel-aged beers, particularly those who use multiple or wild yeast strains, the process is a lot more involved. The process begins the same way, until a brewery has a "base beer." Instead of proceeding to packaging, however, the brewer transfers the beer into wooden casks, offers a prayer to a higher power, and waits. In those barrels, nature happens. A lactobacillus culture down the road (and maybe a rogue brettanomyces or two) and the goes through strange and wondrous transformations. Eventually, a brewer will begin to sample the beer in these different barrels to assess their nature and characteristics. Finally, he settles on a blend that will produce the ultimate flavor he wants.

Yesterday afternoon, Ron Gansberg invited me to join him in this process. Knowing that I love his apricot ale, we spent the afternoon sampling beer from different barrels, assessing, and ultimately putting together a rough blend that would approximate the final beer. Fascinating stuff.

We started out by trying beer that had been aging with the fruit. There are three batches of this beer, with two varieties of apricots. The base beer that Ron uses for this blend is roughly a strong golden/trippel. It's based on his Tempter Trippel recipe, but with fewer hops. These beers were very sweet and saturated with fruit essence--I was reminded a bit of the heavy syrup you find in tins of canned fruit.

Then Ron started rummaging through the dozens of barrels he has in the brewery, looking for ones he and his assistant Curtis had identified as possible matches for the apricot. What they're looking for are qualities akin to the fruit--light, high notes, delicate sweetness, and some sharper sourness to balance the sugar. He had split one batch of the trippel into several barrels, and we tried these in turn. Although I have understood intellectually that barrel-aging changes beer, it was fascinating to see how the same base beer changed depending on what had happened in each barrel. One was cleanly lactic, lighter and more sharp; another was heavier, sweeter, with a sour bending toward the acetic. Even their colors weren't the same--the sweeter one had darkened some.

In his way, Ron was pulling plugs on various beers as inspiration took him. One barrel produced a deeper, mustier sour. Teri Fahrendorf had stopped by the brewery and joined us at this point, and she speculated that it might be some brettanomyces. It's an older barrel, so a latent colony might have started to express itself. (That won't go into the apricot, but it will find itself into something. Ron will put it in the back of his mind, and when he wants a bit of funk in something down the line, he has a cask to turn to.) One very promising barrel contains a spiced golden beer. It was very sweet, but light and a bit citric--when added to the apricot-aged beers, it made the fruit pop while lightening and brightening the beer itself. That was the kind of alchemy he was shooting for.

Finally, he began doing calculations based on all the batches we had tried. ("Let's see, half a milleliter per gallon is 100 plus half a milleliter multiplied by the three barrels is 300, plus ..." I nodded sagely.) We took it back to the brewery and tried the first cut. Actually, it wasn't quite right. Too much non-fruit blends. Ron will have to go back to the drawing board and rejigger the ratios. So it goes with blending beer--you have to get the proportions just right.

Our plan is to follow an apricot ale through from brew to bottle, and this was the first step (though it was actually toward the end of the process). I shot some video, and I hope to compile it together to show how involved the whole process is. I may cut together something rough from this segment--or not. Stay tuned, though, this is fun stuff.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hillsboro's Ambacht Brewing

Good Lord, another one! Not so much to report on this brewery, except what's at the website.
We have been contemplating our brewing philosophy — over a couple of beers, naturally. We came up with our three pillars of brewing. We will use organic ingredients. We will source these ingredients as close as possible to the brewery. We will ferment all our ales to produce a range of Belgian styles. We aren't cloning Belgian beers, but creating our own interpretation of them — taking insperation from our favorites.
Organic, local, Belgian. Three pitches, three dingers. I am most hopeful.

According to the website, they've done some tastings around town with test batches. I intuit from this that many of you must know about the brewery, so perhaps all this is old news to many. Not me! Anyone tried their beers? Thoughts?

Advent Beer Calendar

Every year, Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site does an Advent Beer Calendar. For the past three (four?) years, he's selected a different holiday beer for each day and reviewed it. As a testament to just how many holiday beers there are, he doesn't re-review anything. This year, he sent out a few invites to bloggers to write a review, and interestingly, most of us selected local beers. Here's Stan Hieronymus (New Mexico), Lew Bryson (Pennsylvania), Jay Brooks (California), and Lisa Morrison, who went against the grain and picked a California beer. My contribution is Double Mountain's Fa La La La La, which you can read here.

The Curious Case of the Doppelbock Ale

Some months ago, the brothers Widmer released the first of a reserve series. This is now de rigeuer for larger breweries, so the Widmers decided to up the ante: theirs would appear in boxes (like Fuller's Vintage) and fifty would be signed. While the cynics (not to mention enviros) might dismiss this as a tad gimmicky, I disagree. Charge customers a ten-spot for a beer, it's nice to add a frill or two. Ultimately, though, the ten bones are buying you 22 ounces of beer, and so it better be good stuff. Widmers'? Well.

When I saw the news of the beer gamboling through the internet tubes, what caught my eye was the top-line story: an oak-aged doppel with added cherries. Definitely heterodox, possibly even blasphemous. Reviewing the terms of Reinheitsgebot--water, malt, hops, yeast--nope, no cherries. But okay, it's a new-world doppel and the new millennium, and we can tolerate a little improvisation. But then this, right on the label--proudly, you'd have to say--"oak aged ale." Ale! Definitely verboten.

That said, wipe your mind clear of these facts and study what appears, viscous as a pint of Valvoline in your glass, and you have to conclude it's a doppel. It is a bit of a throwback style, darker, heavier, and sweeter than most modern (esp. German) examples. Still, it is nevertheless pretty much within style. Even the chocolatey note (which seems to be partly a trick of the blending of dark malt with cherries) is appropriate. The cherries are nicely placed in the background, in the shadows where the caramel and chocolate lurk. Lots of body and alcohol, yet gentle and warm--a very nice winter ale. (I actually considered it in the 'lager' slot on my KOIN appearance, but it presented too much difficulty in explaining.) The Widmers have a very nice alt yeast, which behaves like a lager when they want it to, and I believe this is why their doppel ale tastes like it should.

Still, a curious beer all around. As the lack of chatter and wonder on the internets attest, it isn't an aggressive, in-you-face monster, which makes its selection as the inaugural reserve beer all the more curious. I think it's a promising sign. With these specialty lines, brewers have some latitude--they don't have to brew crowd pleasers that will turn big profits. They can please themselves. On the side of the bottle, it says this is a selection and fave of Kurt's. If the brothers continue to offer personal faves, flouting brewing tradition and even popular trends, I believe I'll like this new line.

Note: there was some phantom problems with the first appearance of this post. I think I have them all cleared up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Spints Alehouse is Open

Somehow I totally missed the opening of Spints Alehouse, mere blocks from my front door. It's actually been open a week, but last night was the grand opening. Anyone checked it out yet? (Early Yelp reviews are cautiously optimistic.) Here are some phone pics from about a half hour ago.

Bloggers Doing Big Things

Some bloggers are merely word jockeys. Some, it appears, have bigger aspirations. Dave Selden, who is a renaissance man and who (too) infrequently blogs at Champagne of Blogs, has recently launched an impressive venture called 33 Beers, which is a very groovy beer journal. Given my own attempts at designing things like the Honest Pint logo, I know that amateurs don't just throw things together that look professional. Dave's book looks professional.

It's a groovy, printed-on-recycled paper affair that is designed for field research. It's big enough to hold, but small enough to fit in a pocket, stiff enough to write on while holding in your hand, and contains enough prompts so that even late in the fest, you'll still gather the salient info. It also includes a "flavor wheel," that is way easier to wrap your brain around than this one, and also visual. Perhaps if we adjust our brains to the way diagrams work here, we could begin to understand beers by rohrshach. They're four bucks each (or three four ten bucks) and would make ideal stocking stuffers. [Full disclosure: Dave gave me two samples, but he's a cool guy and a Red Sox fan and even if they were lame and he hadn't given me any, I would have spoken kindly of them out of blogger brotherhood. But don't let that dissuade you; they're cool.]

Also busting a move are Angelo and Margaret at Brewpublic. I recognized this fact when I was in the County Cork earlier in the year and saw their bumper stickers on the tchotchke table near the door. "Bumper stickers," said I to Sally, "well this just makes me look bad."

But that was just a preview of coming attractions. Now they have branched out into video and events. For example, on Monday, December 21st, they are cohosting Gosefest 2009 at the Victory Bar. ("Gosefest" was my contribution--I thought "gose tasting" could use a little punching up.) This is a harmonic convergence of reasons why Portland is Beervana: 1) blogger-hosted beer tastings; 2) cool beer bars hosting beer tastings, 3) gose tastings. I tasted my first gose back in March (long write-up and treatment of the style here), and now there are enough breweries making them locally to support a gose tasting. Extremely cool. Good job, Brewpublic.
Gose Tasting (aka Gosefest 2009)
Victory Bar, 3652 SE Division St.
Monday, December 21, 6-9pm
Three goses from Cascade and one from Upright
Bloggers of the world, unite!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Steve Duin Hearts Ninkasi

Every newspaper worth its salt features a flinty columnist who is equal parts cynic and romantic. The Oregonian's is Steve Duin, who today showed his romantic side by writing an ode to Ninkasi.
Just when crafting a product seems to be a lost art in Oregon, [Jamie] Floyd and [Nikos] Ridge are successfully making great beers and energizing the community of beer drinkers....

Everyone in Eugene buys in. "Ninkasi has taps in 95 percent of the bars in Eugene," said Chris Ormand at Portland's Belmont Station, which stocks 1,200 beers. "That level of saturation has an impact up here when Oregon students come home from college...."

They're proud the brews are local and glad the beers are rich. They want to believe there are profits, as well as rewards, in doing everything the right way.
Oh, Steve, Ninkasi is so yesterday. Don't you know all the Eugenies are now insane for Oakshire?

Kidding. Still, a strange piece. Ninkasi is a phenom right now, but surely Steve knows that crafting beer is not exactly a lost art in Oregon. Surely he had heard that there were a few breweries doing this before Jamie and Nikos. (Like, umm, 90.) If there is anything unique about Ninkasi, it's their phenomenal growth.
But it took only 24 months for Ninkasi to outgrow the building in Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood that was meant to last 10 years. Its expansion has been fueled by great instincts, memorable graphics, unrivaled marketing and undeniable karma.
When I spoke to Jamie earlier this year, he said they'd probably hit 20,000 barrels this year, though according to Duin, it looks like it will be more like 17,000. What's interesting is that Ninkasi has done it solely with keg and 22-ounce bomber sales. As a business model, I wouldn't have expected that kind of growth was possible without six-pack sales. According to Jamie, 80% of Ninkasi's beer is sold in Oregon--which is roughly 13,500 barrels. That means the growth is coming in one of the most competitive, active markets in the country. That is newsworthy.

I have lately become fascinated in the different models breweries identify for growth. Rogue, for example, went for a national strategy, while Deschutes eschewed distant markets until they had grown into them. Ninkasi is going for the local strategy. Jamie told me:
It is absolutely our philosophy to be as deep as possible right here at home. We source ingredients locally and we always will stay focused locally as we grow. t is not at all important to me how far my beer gets or how many markets. It is totally not sustainable as a long term business model.
I will confess to a little anxiety about Ninkasi's growth curve. I was around in the early 90s when craft brewing was a fad, and we saw many examples of unsustainable growth. I've heard some grousing about diacetyl in beer, a buttery chemical that comes from not letting a beer age long enough, and some folks have suggested that this is due to quick growth. On the other hand, Jamie has been around since the 90s and he has a lot more experience than those early breweries did. Ninkasi seems to have tended very closely to its identity as a local brewery, and that's paying off in loyalty.

And with love like Ninkasi gets from Steve Duin, they should be fine.

More Honest Pints in Salem

I love waking up to an email with a new Honest Pint certification, but it gives me special pleasure when it appears to have been sent in by a patron. I believe that's the case with the newest Certified Purveyor--which also appears to be a new pub. To Scott, who sent in the photo below--thanks!

f/stop Fitzgerald's Public House
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
335 Grove St. NE
Salem, OR, 97301
Facebook Page

You'll notice that the glassware at the f/stop is a cool variant of the dimpled Scottish mug and delivers well over 16 fluid ounces. I don't know so much about this pub, but Scott says they have three taps and that owner Kirk Kindle makes sure there are always locals on tap. As always, stop by and have a pint if you have the chance. And if you've been there, let us know what it's like.


Update: Oh, by the way, the web half of the Honest Pint Project is home tending to a one-week old baby, and so the official list of Certified Purveyors may not get updated for a little while.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Are Flavorings the Future? (Probably.)

A thought experiment. Imagine that you sat down at a pub to try the new, say, Ninkasi Hopposaurus and were stunned by the aroma--a piquant blend of passion fruit, black pepper, and sea breeze. The flavor is even more amazing: the hops have a quality you've never encountered before--lavender, white tea?--and the body is rich, lustrous, like creme brulee. You wonder how they did this. A new variety of hop, oats in the grist, maybe something more exotic? And then you learn the truth: it's actually a combination of chemical compounds, labda8(17) and gamma-decalatone, added by a flavorist from Cincinnati.

This is what ran through my mind as I read a fascinating article in the New Yorker a couple weeks ago, "The Taste Makers" by Raffi Katchadourian.
"More than half of Givaudan's business--which generates nearly four billion dollars in revenue a year--is built on deceiving our senses when we eat. The consumption of food flavorings may stand as one of the modern era's most profound collective acts of submission to illusion. When you watch a movie of look at photographs or listen to an iPod, you tend not to forget that what you are taking in has been recorded and re-created for you in some fashion....

"Placed in the context of art history, the flavor industry today would be in its modernist phase, somewhere in the waning days of Cubism, for even the most outlandish flavor concoctions take direct inspiration from the real world. Whereas a perfumer can invent commercially successful aromas that are totally nonrepresentational--a Pollock in a crystal bottle--the flavorist must still respect the deeply held conservatism that people tend to hold when it comes to putting food in their mouths. Snapple's use of kiwi-strawberry flavoring in a juice drink may seem unusual ... but we can imagine that the flavor is authentic--that it captures some platonic gastronomic truth."
Apostasy, surely. Treating beer like the latest energy drink is unthinkable, even if it is just to draw out the flavor of hops--even if it just uses some synthetic molecules discovered to be resident in hops. This would take us back to the bad old days of additive-rich, taste-poor macrolager from the 1970s.

Actually, I doubt it. As the article later points out, citrus flavor has already been added to beer (presumably Miller Chill or Bud Light Lime) chemically. Is it really such a long step before Sam Adams or Dogfish or Widmer give it a whirl? And really, if they did, so what--isn't that more or less the history of beer, anyway?

Beer and Additives
You can get alcohol by fermenting malted grain in water, full stop. You don't need gruit infusions or hops. But unspiced beer is undrinkable. So to balance things out, brewers started dumping stuff in. We know that the original debate about additives is at least 500 years old--when Bavarians decided that any spice more exotic than hops (water and malt okay; the later inclusion of yeast came only after brewers discovered its existence) was verboten.

But okay, in the modern era, we're not so Reinhetsgebot. Organic additions are kosher: coriander, cherries, even chocolate. We're still on all-natural footing. What then to make of hop pellets and hop oil?--they're not exactly a natural product. You don't just find hop oil pooling out there in the fields. Still, it's naturalish--no petrochemical juicing or anything unseemly like that.

But what about synthetic hop oil, made to be identical, molecule by molecule, to regular hop oil. Or just synthetic alpha acid, again, molecularly identical to organic alphas. Would that be all right? The line becomes quickly unclear.

And anyway, haven't we already strayed pretty far from "natural?" Barley has been genetically trained to be perfectly suited to brewing. It has gone through generations of training, straying pretty far from the original genome that the first Egyptians used. Hops? Is there even a single native strain used in brewing? If it's okay to tinker with the molecular biology of a plant, why not just skip the biology altogether and go straight to the molecule?

Human Perception
In a certain sense, there's no reason we shouldn't tweak flavors to suit our preferences--it's the same process that got us to food in the first place, except in reverse (we don't evolve to enjoy food, we make food evolve for more enjoyment). Here's a delightful passage from the article:
"Flavor is a cognitive figment. The brain fuses into a single experience the results of different stimuli registered by the tongue, nose, eyes, and ears, in addition to the memories of previously consumed meals. For reasons that are not fully understood, we perceive flavor as occurring in our mouths, and that illusion is nearly unshakeable, as is made clear by our difficulty identifying, with any reasonable specificity, the way each of our various senses contributes to the experience....

"Taste receptors are blunt instruments. With taste alone, one cannot distinguish a grape lollipop from a watermelon one; coffee is like hot water with a bitter aftertaste, and Coke a bland sugary solution. The limits of taste are unsurprising when one considers its evolutionary purpose. Our biological progenitors, living in the wilderness, needed to know only what was worth eating and what wasn't....

"Smell is a more supple and primordial sense, and its centrality is evident in the way the human brain is arranged. Our forebrains evolved from tissues that once focussed on processing smells, and there are three hundred or so olfactory receptors in the nose. When we taste or see or hear something, the information must pass through the thalamus, a kind of relay station in the brain that allows us to attend to different aspects of perception.... Smells, for the most part, are fed directly from the nose to the 'presemantic' part of the brain where cognition does not occur and where emotions are processed."
Flavor is not like sound or shapes--things our senses can perceive directly and about which we can find wide agreement. Instead, it is a nested experience that has the capacity to transport us experientially miles and decades away. In Harold and Maude, Maude owns a machine that can emit aromas. But it's purpose is really to recreate experience:
''Snowfall on 42nd Street!'' Harold inhales. ''What do you smell?'' she demands. ''Subway?'' he asks. She nods. ''Perfume. Cigarettes.'' He coughs . . . then there's a pause. With quiet wonder, he says, ''Snow.''
Beer is not separate from other foodstuffs. We hold an almost Hindu-like view of purity and pollution around the nature of "natural" ingredients, but this is cultural, not innate. If a brewery could evoke not just the flavor of 18th Century England with a version of Entire Butt Porter, but the experience of Victorian England?--it would do it in a heartbeat. Maybe that kind of transformation isn't possible, but subtler evocations are. We already do a pretty fair job of summoning an image of "green" with our native, hoppy beers, what if we could just add a bit of the experience of a fern-floored, old-growth fir forest in for added measure?

Now it is just the macros using the latest flavor du jour to hawk cheap beer. But flavorings could be used to a higher purpose. When the Belgians began dumping weird adjuncts into their beers, the Germans rejected it as a corruption, but the Belgians were just following the flavor. Now we revere their concoctions. Synthetic flavorings are now considered a pollution. But one day? They will probably define what we think of as world class; and from that distant vantage, they'll look back on our crude "natural" beers the way we look back on those infected, burnt beers people made in Medieval Europe.

Photo: Vanier College

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

One More

Okay, this is something else. Seattle's Brouwer's Cafe had a groovy barrel-aged festival called "Big Wood," wherein all the beers had been aged in wood. (Hey, what did you think?) It was a pretty incredible list, including six from Cantillon, Allagash, Firestone Walker, plus lots from the locals (list here). They hold an audience award, and the winners were announced today. Behold:
1. Hair of the Dog, Bourbon Fred from the Wood
2. (Tie) Hair of the Dog Matt & Port Brewing Older Viscosity
3. Hair of the Dog Bob
This, incidentally, is Bob:
This Beer is named in memory of Robert Farrell Jr. November 1946 - July 2008, gone but not forgotten. It was aged for over three years in an old American oak barrel, originally use for Fred from the Wood. He has matured with Apricots, Cherries and Raspberries for 15 months.
Nice job, Mr. Sprints!

Newsy Bits

This cold weather has provoked some interesting tweets (for those of you in real winter climes, our teens/low twenties weather is silly, I know, but it's like that recent snow in Houston for us):
OakshireMatt Bottling 6480 bottles of beer today.The below freezing brewery means the bottles are frozen meaning the carbonated beverage goes in better!

RogueAles Brrrr. It's officially colder in the brewery than inside our coolers!

Roots Epic
is imminent.

BridgePort's latest Big Brew is a bourbon-aged Scottish ale, which is just a little bit strange. Whiskey confusion, or the difficulty of finding a decent Scotch cask in the US? Of course, the Scotch-Irish settled the South, whereupon they started distilling, so maybe there's a logic to this thing after all. There's a historical connection, too. Locally famous Stuart Ramsey was the pub manager at BridgePort when Scottish Ambush was first brewed more than twenty years ago, and this is its reprise.

Seattle sees Portland's many new breweries and antes up as Naked City Brewing opens tonight.

Speaking of new breweries, in that scrum of news last week, I almost missed the tip about a new brewpub in The Dalles called Clocktower Ales. The Dalles! (I wonder which is the largest city in Oregon still without a brewery. Hmmm....)


The Village Voice has a "best of" list, but it's not bad. I sort of like the way they broke things down. Interestingly, Dogfish Head is the highest-profile diss. Overexposed?


Finally, Chow Magazine has a slight piece on Sierra Nevada (not bad if you are unfamiliar with the brewery) that inexplicably circles around this theme: "Sierra Nevada tries to reclaim its cred." Reclaim? Really? Someone should really have let me know they'd lost it. Here I was admiring them all these years.

Update. Okay, one more thing. In the dim recesses of my brain, I had heard of a brewery called Pale Horse in Salem, but what with the extreme distance and all--40 miles--I let it float out of my mind. I don't usually mention meet-the-brewer events, but for new breweries trying to get their name out, it makes some sense. They'll be at Bailey's tomorrow from 6-8 with their three beers, a blond, an Irish stout, and an IPA.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Deep Thought

Nice Maine weather we're having here, isn't it? Wind howling around the corner of the house, temperature still in the twenties (all right, 29 according to the iPhone--still), pallid little sun, weak as a warm Budweiser, skimming across the Southern sky. At some point, I'm going to have to give up on the idea that summer will give me another dog day, aren't I?

Holiday Ale Fest Final Roundup

Since I've already spent a number of posts talking about the Holiday Ale Fest, I'll try to keep the final roundup short.

The Event, Generally
I had the good fortune to look behind the curtain on Saturday and see some of the machinery that makes this event what it is. While we were off on separate expeditions, Sally ran into Peter Kruger, the head brewer at Bear Republic. (He's a graduate of my alma mater, Lewis and Clark--go Pios! Brewpublic as a nice piece on him, including a video, if you want to see more.) The following discussion was fascinating, as is nearly every discussion I have with a brewer. For example, Peter described how he came by the 100-year-old cognac barrel (the twinkling smile of lady luck, mostly) and how he defeated a knothole to make it usable. Later on, Fest organizer Preston Weesner joined us, and I got to ask a question I was even more interested in: why would Kruger send one of these precious kegs to Oregon?

I learned two parts of the answer. One is the relationship Weesner cultivated with Kruger (which he cultivates with other breweries, too). It is typical for festivals to just put out a call for entries and accept what breweries offer. Weesner actively engages breweries, discusses their beer with them, and, in cases where beer is aged in 100-year-old barrels, lobbies and cajoles. Kruger was clear: that beer wouldn't have gone to another fest. But it's not just Weesner; Kruger was also really impressed with the overall level of beer and the appreciation it received by Portlanders. There are precious few fests like this, and for breweries, they're a lot of fun. That cognac-aged trippel of Bear Republic's spent 14 months aging. It was a special, one-time batch that will never be replicated. When a brewer makes a beer like that, he wants to see it released somewhere it will be appreciated. So in a certain sense, we can thank ourselves, too.

The Beer
As it turned out, I had already had some of the Fest's best beers when I returned on Saturday (reviews here). The one beer that really lept out at me in the second round was Block 15 Oaked St. Nick. This fest featured scads of barrel-aged beers, but mostly they had been aged in casks previously inhabited by wine or liquor. They therefore take on the character of those other potables, and less of the oak. St. Nick is pure beer, though. A lucious, creamy beer with a spicy backbone of hops that were brightened by dry-hopping, it drew vanilla from the oak. In fact, too much vanilla--it got a bit cloying at the end. Still, all the pieces were there to make a spectactular beer. A real head-turner and a wonderful introduction to a brewery about which I am still mostly ignorant.

Others I enjoyed were Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin (a nicely-balanced oatmeal stout), MacTarnahan's Chocolate Imperial Stout (creamy and rich, but not heavy--perhaps better than the much-lauded Firestone Walker), and Oakshire Very Ill Tempered Gnome (a straightforward American barleywine with 47 bales of hops).

When breweries brew one-off, single-batch beers, they don't always hit homers. That was the case in my view with Full Sail Wassail blend (a blend of Wassail and imperial porter that failed to blend), Laughing Dog Chocolate Huckleberry Stout (Sally's analysis: Idaho's where Oregon was when Saxer Lemon Lager was popular; in other words, berry soda), Ninkasi Unconventionale (a bit charred and tannic and with little evidence of the herbal infusions), Upright Holy Herb (a well-made beer that was nevertheless a bit too herbal and sweet for me).

Further Reading
Lots of commentary out there if you want more. The O published a nice piece by John Foyston yesterday. Derek has reviews and pictures. Nate offers reviews at Champagne of Blogs, as does Jared at the Weekly Brew. Oh, and look who came out of a very short retirement to do a run-down (double entendre intended) of the beers.