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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Max's Fanno Creek (Briefly)

Max's Fanno Creek
12562 SW Main St
Tigard, Oregon 97223

The West Side and I ... we don't mingle. I do occasionally pass through the West Side, but rarely is it my final destination. As a result, oversights will happen. Max's Fanno Creek, one of a tiny handful of brewpubs scattered among the hills (excepting McMenamins' outposts, you got your Raccoon Lodge, your Old Market Pub, and Max's) opened 20 months ago, but I just made it out on Friday.

I arrived there at 7 pm, expecting a madhouse like you'd find on the East Side at the busiest hour of the weekend. Instead, it was only a half to two-thirds full and I was guided to a primo booth by a rather excitable waiter. Odd. Still, I ordered a taster tray of the beer and a pile of fries and waited for my West Side friend to arrive.

[I'll get to the beer in a moment, but first let me remark on how strange it is for the East-side tourist to visit Tigard. The little stretch of downtown there is quite pleasant, with a wee creek--Fanno, brewery namesake--running just by the brewery (one can imagine how in centuries past, that's exactly the kind of place you'd find a brewery--right next to a ready water supply). Yet the decor of the place is stripped-down. You walk through a no-man's land out at the front of the pub, and the inside is spread out and lacks an inviting feng shui. I don't know how to describe it. And then the topper: last call at 8:45. Maybe there was a private party afterward or something, but it was astonishing to visit a pub and have last call that early. I felt as if I had visited a foreign city--Bucharest 1983, say. Could this have been Beervana?]

Fortunately, the waiter screamed right over with several vessels my nostrils and tongue recognized. I had found familiar ground. The beer range is idiosyncratic--a couple of Belgians, some standard ales, and an experimental beer or two. I was served a more traditional line-up of six beers which ranged for the most part on the good to excellent side of the scale--with one notable exception. Notes below, in the order I tasted them.
  • Golden. Many brewpubs offer a "golden," which is code for "micro beer for macro drinkers." This version a little less characterful than Full Sail Session, but similar. Fine, but not designed to wow.
  • Nit Wit. Belgian whites are becoming, thanks to their approachable tastiness, almost ubiquitous. The downside is that you therefore find many ordinary examples. Max's is one of the finer versions I've had recently. Richly wheaty, modestly but appropriately spiced, crisp, very refreshing. Great beer.
  • Reverend's Daughter. I have had this beer--a Belgian golden--before, and it had an unavoidable off-flavor then. I had hoped that was due to extenuating circumstances, but alas, here it was, brewery fresh, and here was the off-flavor. I don't mean to diagnose DMS, but the character is very much of over-boiled vegetables. Both in the nose and on the palate. If it's intentional, I'd like to know what the intention is.
  • Scottish. Great example of style, with a nice nutty, slightly roasted malt character and silky mouthfeel.
  • Pacific Red. I anticipated a burly, hoppy beer, but this was a lighter, chalkier brew. For malt fans, the Scottish is the better choice. I found it wanting hops.
  • O Holy Hops. The brewery's big winter ale, this is more strong ale than Imperial IPA (though distinguishing the taxonomic differences between the two might provoke a spirited discussion), so intense that you get a bit of kickback on your first sip. Power through and keep sipping, however, and you'll be rewarded with a piney residue on your tongue, a warmth in your belly, and a smile on your face. Hopheads will rejoice.
I would like to offer a bit more insight into the pub, but perhaps West Siders can round out the portrait in the comments. This confirmed East-Sider welcomes input--


  1. Jeff,

    Like your visit, the couple of times I've been there since it opened it has been rather quiet (empty). Also, the yeast they use (or at least the yeast that Max used to use) on the Belgians was the La Chouffe Ardense (sorry for butchering that spelling). I'm not going to pretend to know much about the La Chouffe yeast, but I've had a heck of a lot of beers made with it that taste like artichokes. For example, last years Cheers to Belgian beers. Hope you got to take a look at the main bar counter, pretty nice reclaimed wood salvaged from the bottom of the river.

    I had a pretty nice Baltic Porter there a few months back.

  2. DA,

    According to Wyeast's Adrennes Yeast profile:

    "One of many great beer yeast to produce classic Belgian ales. Phenolics develop with increased fermentation temperatures, mild fruitiness and complex spicy character. "

    "Flocculation: high
    Attenuation: 72-76%
    Temperature Range: 65-85° F (18-29° C)
    Alcohol Tolerance: approximately 12% ABV"

    Low temperature fermentation could be giving these off flavors. DMS can be attributed to quite few things from mashing process to temperature to conditioning. DMS is usually found in lagers, but can be found in other beers too.

    The Ardrennes shines at higher fermentation temps.

    "Farmers Daughter" might imply this is supposed to be a Saison?? If so, Ardrennes would probably not be the best choice, per Wyeast. They reccomend using the yeast for:

    Belgian Blond Ale
    Belgian Dark Strong Ale
    Belgian Dubbel
    Belgian Golden Strong Ale
    Belgian Pale Ale
    Belgian Tripel
    Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin

  3. That's a tough yeast to work with. I was uniformly underwhelmed by the Cheers to Belgian beers entries made with that yeast--it doesn't finish out well and leaves beers cloying.

    FWIW, the correct spelling is Ardennes (pr: Ahr DEN).

  4. DW,

    I believe Max's Fanno Creek does make a saison called "Farmer's Daughter", but the one Jeff described was "Reverend's Daughter", a Belgian golden, so the Ardennes yeast wasn't an unappropriate choice.

    The Ardennes yeast does produce a *very* distinct aroma and flavor profile. Some love it, others can't stand it. I personally have found it to be very pleasant in some beers, less so in others.

  5. My spelling sucks... Good thing we we're talking about German beers, I hate spelling Reinheistaboet and Weiheistephan... ;-}

    Correct spelling: Reinheitsgebot, WEIHENSTEPHAN

  6. Anon,

    I think the Reverends Daughter and Farmers Daughter are the same. I think when Max left they changed the name since it sort of came with him from Tuck's brewing. Either way it was more of a Belgian Strong Golden 8-9% I believe, not very saisonish. I could be wrong on this, I've never met the new brewer there.

  7. I'm in the camp with Dr. Wort on this, Farmer's Daughter would be a sly allusion to a Farmhouse ale, a saison-ish style, whereas a Reverend's Daughter would imply an Abbey or other similar trappist ale.

    Not saying they couldn't mix these up or name them with something else in mind but this does seem credible.

  8. DA,

    I've previously seen the Farmer's Daughter described as a saison, and the Reverend's Daughter as a Belgian golden, so given the different styles and names I naturally assumed they were different beers. But I just googled both, and while I found references refering to them as saison and Belgian golden respectively, I also found references to both of them as Belgian Strong ale, with very similar descriptions, so you're likely right. I've never had an opportunity to compare the two.

    The "Farmer" appellation makes *me* think of a farmhouse ale such as saison or bier de garde, whereas "Reverend" evokes an abbey beer, but I suppose the folks at Fanno Creek have the right to use those words however they like. :-)

  9. Reverend's Daughter could credibly be called either an abbey (probably a tripel) or a biere de garde, so variable are the styles. But my issue isn't with the style, it's with the beer itself.

  10. no one is defending the west side here, but i will say that if you're out here, there's not that many good places to go that brew their own beer (McPubs aside).

    you should check out Old Market before you give up completely.

    i think there's a Lucky Lab in Multnomah Village as well (which you failed to mention).

  11. I think Jeff's right. Correct yeast for Beer style can be argued, it basically comes down to taste. I don't really care what yeast is used, as long as it works with that beer.

  12. I stand corrected. I looked back through some of my notes and it looks like I made reference to saison as well. Although, it maybe a bit hard to define. Does coriander in a Belgian golden strong ale with La Chouffe yeast qualify it as a saison? Either way, I think the recipes are probably very close.

    Ok DW, here is where you post the guidelines for Saison. And after reading Farmhouse Ales I know how ridiculous trying to define farmhouse/saison is.

  13. Iggir,

    SW outside PDX area still has more brewpubs then the SE outside PDX area. A couple McMenamins and Philadelphias are the only places I can think of. It's such a pain living over there.

  14. OK.... ;-}

    You're right, trying to create a single definition for Saison is difficult. Belgium doesn't seem to care about style guidelines and thank God for that! Even though I have my BJCP Style Guild on my desktop, the AHA and BJCP has been getting a little flaky on certain beer style profiles over the years. Belgian's seem to be very problematic because they love to tweak they're beers so not to be common or within style. What a beautiful thing! I could easily go for that philosophy here. Instead of 35 different IIPA, which all taste basically the same... wouldn't it be nice (and fun) to just see breweries throw out all the standards and just tweak beers into new directions and taste profiles?

    Sorry, but the guild line is rather lengthy! Here's the BJCP guildines for Saison:

    16C. Saison

    Aroma: High fruitiness with low to moderate hop aroma and moderate to no herb, spice and alcohol aroma. Fruity esters dominate the aroma and are often reminiscent of citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons. A low to medium-high spicy or floral hop aroma is usually present. A moderate spice aroma (from actual spice additions and/or yeast-derived phenols) complements the other aromatics. When phenolics are present they tend to be peppery rather than clove-like. A low to moderate sourness or acidity may be present, but should not overwhelm other characteristics. Spice, hop and sour aromatics typically increase with the strength of the beer. Alcohols are soft, spicy and low in intensity, and should not be hot or solventy. The malt character is light. No diacetyl.

    Appearance: Often a distinctive pale orange but may be golden or amber in color. There is no correlation between strength and color. Long-lasting, dense, rocky white to ivory head resulting in characteristic “Belgian lace” on the glass as it fades. Clarity is poor to good though haze is not unexpected in this type of unfiltered farmhouse beer.


    Flavor: Combination of fruity and spicy flavors supported by a soft malt character, a low to moderate alcohol presence and tart sourness. Extremely high attenuation gives a characteristic dry finish. The fruitiness is frequently citrusy (orange- or lemon-like). The addition of one of more spices serve to add complexity, but shouldn’t dominate in the balance. Low peppery yeast-derived phenols may be present instead of or in addition to spice additions; phenols tend to be lower than in many other Belgian beers, and complement the bitterness. Hop flavor is low to moderate, and is generally spicy or earthy in character. Hop bitterness may be moderate to high, but should not overwhelm fruity esters, spices, and malt. Malt character is light but provides a sufficient background for the other flavors. A low to moderate tart sourness may be present, but should not overwhelm other flavors. Spices, hop bitterness and flavor, and sourness commonly increase with the strength of the beer while sweetness decreases. No hot alcohol or solventy character. High carbonation, moderately sulfate water, and high attenuation give a very dry finish with a long, bitter, sometimes spicy aftertaste. The perceived bitterness is often higher than the IBU level would suggest. No diacetyl.

    Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Alcohol level can be medium to medium-high, though the warming character is low to medium. No hot alcohol or solventy character. Very high carbonation with an effervescent quality. There is enough prickly acidity on the tongue to balance the very dry finish. A low to moderate tart character may be present but should be refreshing and not to the point of puckering.

    Overall Impression: A refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity.

    History: A seasonal summer style produced in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Originally brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months before refrigeration was common. It had to be sturdy enough to last for months but not too strong to be quenching and refreshing in the summer. It is now brewed year-round in tiny, artisanal breweries whose buildings reflect their origins as farmhouses.

    Comments: Varying strength examples exist (table beers of about 5% strength, typical export beers of about 6.5%, and stronger versions of 8%+). Strong versions (6.5%-9.5%) and darker versions (copper to dark brown/black) should be entered as Belgian Specialty Ales (16E). Sweetness decreases and spice, hop and sour character increases with strength. Herb and spice additions often reflect the indigenous varieties available at the brewery. High carbonation and extreme attenuation (85-95%) helps bring out the many flavors and to increase the perception of a dry finish. All of these beers share somewhat higher levels of acidity than other Belgian styles while the optional sour flavor is often a variable house character of a particular brewery.

    Ingredients: Pilsner malt dominates the grist though a portion of Vienna and/or Munich malt contributes color and complexity. Sometimes contains other grains such as wheat and spelt. Adjuncts such as sugar and honey can also serve to add complexity and thin the body. Hop bitterness and flavor may be more noticeable than in many other Belgian styles. A saison is sometimes dry-hopped. Noble hops, Styrian or East Kent Goldings are commonly used. A wide variety of herbs and spices are often used to add complexity and uniqueness in the stronger versions, but should always meld well with the yeast and hop character. Varying degrees of acidity and/or sourness can be created by the use of gypsum, acidulated malt, a sour mash or Lactobacillus. Hard water, common to most of Wallonia, can accentuate the bitterness and dry finish.

    Vital Statistics:
    OG: 1.048 – 1.065
    IBUs: 20 – 35
    FG: 1.002 – 1.012
    SRM: 5 – 14
    ABV: 5 – 7%

    Commercial Examples: Saison Dupont Vieille Provision; Fantôme Saison D’Erezée - Printemps; Saison de Pipaix; Saison Regal; Saison Voisin; Lefebvre Saison 1900; Ellezelloise Saison 2000; Saison Silly; Southampton Saison; New Belgium Saison; Pizza Port SPF 45; Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale; Ommegang Hennepin

  15. DA,

    I have "Farmhouse Ales," "Brew like a Monk" and few other Belgian Home brewing guides in my library too... All very interesting and informative.

    I wish I had access to these books back in 1994, when I brewed my first Belgian Dubbel. Yea, I know, I'm an old fart!

  16. DW,

    Brew like a Monk was excellent as well. Really made me want to get back to homebrewing.

    Thanks for the Saison info.

  17. DA,

    My homebrewing efforts have dwindled down to maybe two batches a year, usually one easy drinking Best Bitter and one more interesting, which could be Belgian or anything that strikes my fancy. I wish I had more time to brew. I think a Belgian should be the next venture. ;-}

    Currently trying to replace an old 15 gallon fermenter which has seen better days.

    Temptation by Russian River has inspired me to brew a Blonde Belgian ale. I've made my share of Saison, so I can bypass those for awhile.

  18. If I were Lord of Styles, we would recognize only general categories and these would be they:

    UK-Derived Ales
    Mild and Session
    IPA and Hoppy ales
    Strong ales

    Light lagers (Helles, Dortmund, etc; NOT American industrial beer)
    Dark Lager

    German and Other Ales
    Wheat (weizens and weisses, gose)
    Hybrid types (kolsch, steam)

    Belgian Ales
    Sour Flanders (red & brown)

    (I could also go with the styles as M. Jackson lays them out.)

  19. Jeff,

    You would probably have to add a Strong Lager category to capture some doppelbocks and stuff like Samichlaus.

    Also, what about lighter Belgian goldens like Le Effe?

    Also, you would need a fruit/adjunct category, I think.

  20. Jeff you are right...Fanno's need some more of that great East side atmosphere to make it better...maybe they can find a way to make parking worse...dump some used condoms and trash all over the streets and then find a truck load of bums and hypes to wander the street outside the pub panhandling...hire a cast of dreadlocked hippied Trust-fund-a-farians to staff the joint....oh and dont forget the obligatory female tattoo'd bartender with a bone/metal spike or other adornment for her nose...ya the beer would taste better if it had that East side you are so right...those country bumpkins on the West side are such dolts....sorry your East side Je ne sais quois had to be subjected to such a low brow environment. Cheers mate.

  21. JW,

    I don't think you've been to Main Street Tigard yet, they already have the bad parking, condoms in Fanno Creek and the homeless people. Ah, the joys of Portland, consistency at its finest!

    Also, I'm not sure if you can pluralize je ne sais quoi. Although I could be wrong on that. Maybe crème de la crème or noblesse oblige instead?

  22. Now now, JW, no reason to get nasty. We expect better of you West Siders.

  23. I love this "JW" guy!

    I agree with his view of the East side and like his sarcasm, but I kind of enjoy the freak show.

    I don't think we can split hairs when it comes to most of the Portland Metro area... We all seem to fit into Chuck Palahniuk's definition of Fugitives & Refugees. We have everything from PoDunk ass backward Ma and Kettle types to snotty executives to smelly gutter bums. Variety is the spice of life!

    JW seems to just be reflecting his visual environmental diary. Nothing wrong with that. So what if going to my local tavern is like going to a Circus Freak Show? I love looking at the weirdos and wonder how they are going to explain to their grandchildren why their ear lobes look like spaghetti hula hoops and try to give a visual description of what all those blurred and faded tattoos looked like 30 years ago.

    I don't deny anything that JW is describing, but I do enjoy the entertainment factor. It's better than looking at some hairy, disheveled, road hard, 38 year old woman who looks like she's 60 with excessive wrinkling and smells like cow dung. She winks at ya and calls ya "Honey" with her over smoked out Marge Simpson voice.

    Uh, yea... I'll take the Freak Show and the mind numbing "rebel with no cause" Hipsters. The 38 year women is just a pathetic picture, but the others can be observed, discussed and possibly laughed about.

    OTOH, if a man chooses to not look at life's color, he has that choice too... It's a little boring and bleak to me, but....

    Viva la Freedom of Speech and local Freak show entertainment!

  24. Max took his recipes with him when he left MFC. the Reverend's Daughter is a re-interpretation of Farmer's Daughter, and has been through at least two brewers at this point. most of the beers are in that same boat. I think the red was Jaime Rodriguez' (now at hopworks) creation, and I know that there were a few pale-ales created during the tweak-in of the IPA recipe. last time I visited Max', Jay had applied his experience to dial in the celestine pilsner and had a doppelbock on deck.

    MFC is kind of a hole. I like the murals, the bar is gorgeous, but the space is just laid out poorly, and ends up being the opposite of cozy. the food was in a mediocre holding pattern for a while, but seems to be finally headed in the right direction with things like the southwest salad, mac & cheese, and of course the oktoberfest menu.

    strangely enough, I haven't been back to Max' in the last couple months due to weather, since I normally walk there from work...