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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beer Tax in Today's O

I've been watching the news from Salem for hints that the beer tax was picking up strength. So far, nothing--despite proposals to raise a portfolio of other taxes. However, in today's Oregonian, Mark Kirchmeier tries to give it a little life. Kirchmeier owns a pub, but was formerly involved in politics. He sings a song we've heard a million times--a mixture of false assumptions, mis-statements, and disingenuous logic. It can be summarized thus:
  1. Beer wreaks economic havoc on the state and the taxes don't cover the damage.
  2. The per-glass cost (he cites a 12-ounce glass, just to make it even more absurd) is low! The per ounce cost is negligible! (Okay, he didn't argue that.)
  3. Brewers are nothin' special, not the "icons" (his word) they claim to be, and we shouldn't be protecting them.
He does admit that Cannon's bill is excessive, and suggests a price hike of 5-7 cents a pint.

I've argued against phony arguments like this enough times that it doesn't bear doing so again (see here for a previous rebuttal, a general discussion, and here for a philosophical discussion; here are stats relevant to the issue, and here's a list of comparative state beer taxes). I will point out that nowhere does Kirchmeier mention that this tax affects only breweries--he couches it as a tax on bars. He refuses to mention the cost to brewers, using that BS per-glass formulation over which he has only part control. And finally, his derisive dismissal of local breweries (whom he lacks the courage to actually identify) is further spin.

There's nothing moral about taxes--they are a feature of public policy. But what enrages me is that the pro-beer tax camp won't argue the issue on it's face. They use dishonest arguments. When you're forced to do that, you know something's fishy. Kirchmeier's article stinks like a two-day-old carp.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Weekend Best Bets

We have apparently entered summer early. However, since today is the official kick-off of Rose Festival, I expect the rain to return shortly. For the time being, this week's selections reflect the weather--hot and summery. Enjoy--
  • Start your weekend at Belmont Station, where at 6pm tonight Upright Brewing's Alex Ganum will be on hand along with Upright's four regular beers (4-7). You will rarely have an opportunity to try them all together--and I do believe this marks Seven's debut. (Holler if I'm wrong on that.)
  • The lush, tropical Caldera Dry Hopped Orange is at Eastburn. A great beer. As an FYI, Eastburn is also hosting the world premiere of Double Mountain Vaporizor Golden IPA on June 3. Charlie Devereaux will be on hand to introduce it.
  • At the Horse Brass, the Duchesse de Bourgogne. On tap. (!)
  • The Concordia Ale House has beers from the Washington Beer Cup on tap--and they're huge, non-summery monsters. Still, since I know some of you will inappropriately be attracted to these, I will mention that two stouts (especially inappropriate): Fish Poseidon and Elysian Dragonstooth. Hale's Aftermath IPA won the event, so there's that, too.
  • Update, Green Dragon. Now that the taplist has been updated, I'd say you could do worse than the Oud Beersel Framboise. Especially on a day like today.

Disclaimer: Until Taplister comes on line, I can't speak for the currency of these listings. If you know of an inaccuracy, please note it in comments.

A Saison, a Pilsner, and a Fine Evening

Last night, Sally and I were sitting in the still warmth of the house after dinner. She recognized a certain hangdog look on my face (thanks Senate subcommittee on Business and Transportation!) and suggested we go catch a pint.

Of course, we had to go to a place with honest pints, though this didn't particularly limit our choices. We settled on Bailey's, to which I have (borderline criminally) never taken her. It was just what I needed. There's nothing like sitting out on the sidewalk sipping a couple fine beers while the spring breeze cools the pavement. We selected a couple beers to lighten the mood and complement the weather--Sally the Wild River Bohemian Pilsner and me the Standing Stone Saison, coincidentally, a pair from Southern Oregon.

Before I mention the saison, let me note a fairly recent trend. Portland long ago became the capital of Beervana, but it wasn't until relatively recently that you could reliably expect to find beer from Greater Beervana at a local pub. The Horse Brass usually had a couple handles from further-flung Oregon breweries, but that was about it. Within the past five years, though, the regional taphouse has become a Portland mainstay--in addition to Bailey's and the Horse Brass there's the Green Dragon, Eastburn, Concordia Ale House, and Belmont Station Bier Cafe. Now most of Oregon's breweries will rotate taps through at least one of these pubs in the course of a year. A most welcome phenomenon.

Okay, a brief mention of the beer. The Wild River Pilsner is an old fave of mine. It's been around forever, and those beers often get overlooked--"yeah, yeah, been there, done that." Given the absence of local pilsners, though, this always attracts my attention. It's not flashy or tricked out--just a classic Czech-style pils, full of wonderful Saaz-y goodness. There is no substitute for a good pilsner, and this one is good.

In some ways, the other beer we had is the opposite of a pilsner. It's an obscure style that perversely is having a bit of a heyday right now. I've seen quite a few more local saisons of late than pilsners. Unlike pilsners, saisons don't have a clear-cut style with rigid parameters. Pilsners are precise and specific. Saisons are handmade and vague. They occupy a class more than a style, and you can call a beer of less than 5% or more than 7% a saison.

I don't know what I expect in a saison, but I usually walk away wishing for a bit more. Lately I've encountered versions that are bigger, sweeter, and murkier than I'd like. Not necessarily bad beers, but lacking the wow factor. Standing Stone's saison wowed me. I don't have a single stat to offer, just my experience. (I'll try to get some stats from the brewery.) As you can see in that picture, it's a hazy beer. The head was creamy and sustained and lacing decorated my glass as I drew, with regret, to the end. The aroma hints at the flavor--phenols and spice, and an interesting yeast character.

The flavor was quite complex. It's a dense beer and not particularly effervescent, yet though it's heavy, it doesn't cloy. The first sweet note gives way to phenols, an almost minty note, and pepper. Given the heavy body, you think it can't finish dryly--with my first sip I feared the Ardennes effect--but it does. There are hops enough to clip any sweetness in the aftertaste, and you're left with a crisp finish.

Standing Stone has the reputation of a brewery that makes clean if uninspired beer. The last time I was in Ashland--years ago, now--I enjoyed my visit and was happy to be able to get fresh, local beer. But I wasn't knocked out by the beer. This saison may suggest that things are changing. A very accomplished beer, and one you should definitely seek out. (Rating on the patented scale: B+)

This just in from Adam Benson, brewer down at Standing Stone.

The grist included organic pilsner malt, Munich, and a kiss of wheat. He used turbinado sugar--sort of a candi sugar substitute I gather--as well as "a little" bitter orange peel, coriander, and grains of paradise. Hopped with East Kent Goldings and Saaz (two of my faves--and I think the types used in Dupont--so that's probably another reason I liked it), and fermented warm. Finally, he used a commercial saison yeast. 15 P, 6% ABV.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blogger Madness

So I don't know what's going on, but blogger is weirdly scrambling text. In my Burgerville post, segments of sentences are jumping up and running to different parts of the paragraph. I've now had two people note this, and I've corrected both. But I didn't create them in the first place, so there's no way of knowing whether they'll rest easy. I'm going to hell and my brain misfires constantly, but honestly, this ain't me. Stay tuned.

Honest Pint Act ... Dead

I am going to do my best not to take this personally, but less than an hour after my eloquent support of the Honest Pint Act down in Salem, the committee voted not to send it to the Senate. So it's dead now for this session. (I finally get involved in the politics of the thing and it dies. Hmmm.)

It was a fairly interesting experience, though. The committee has to run through a batch of bills, and they want you to do your advocacy and move on. Just before our bill came up, Paul Romaine, mighty big-beer lobbyist, was giving testimony on another. As he introduced the Honest Pint Act, Senator Metsger, the committee's chair, produced a glass from Ukraine or someplace--anyway, it had been marked by the state. There followed jokes about how it was a shame the glass wasn't filled.

You've all heard me talk ad nauseum about this, so I'll spare you the blow-by-blow of my comments. You know my schtick.

I have sort of been waiting to see what would happen with this before I went on a dog and pony show to get pubs certified by my project. I guess now I have some work in front of me. Too bad--I was looking forward to an assist from the state. Ah well, that's politics.

Reward Good Behavior

[Post edited for clarity. Man, I gotta start proof-reading these things before hitting "publish post."]

I have been meaning to mention Burgerville's bold experiment for some weeks now. As beery types, you have probably already heard and digested the news. In a pilot program, a Vancouver store is now serving beer and wine.

In some ways, this seems like a no-brainer. Adding locally-made beer and wine is perfectly consonant with Burgerville's commitment to our local bounty. The hard par, I'd imagine, was making the selections. For beer, they went with Full Sail Amber, Widmer Hefeweizen, and Terminal Gravity IPA. Amber is an obvious choice--it is versatile and goes well with food. Hef isn't a bad choice, either, for the same reasons--not to mention its popularity. TG IPA, though--that's bold. I suspect they have it there to match strength with their Anasazi bean burger--as a veggie, I have relied on it when I go. A burly IPA would be a tasty combo. And in any case, the idea of TG IPA at a burger joint is beautifully subversive.

Wines are harder, because they vary year to year. (Parenthetical diversion. A few years ago, Sally and I were introduced to La Bete's Aligote on our anniversary. It was sublime. A year or two later, we bought a bottle at the grocery store, and it was really an inferior vintage. This is the scourge of vinting--Ma Nature has final say. Sidebar to the parenthetical--Alex Ganum scored barrels in which to age his beers from ... La Bete.) The current selection: Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir, O'Reilly Pinot Gris and the Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay. Given the difficulty of finding a bottle of local pinot for under $20, it's not surprising that a glass of wine at Burgerville runs you $6.50-$9.

Fantastic, right? Well, oddly enough, Burgerville's gambit has come in for some criticism.
The group Oregon Partnership worried it could lead to trouble, since the restaurants employ underage workers.

“Fast food restaurants are filled with young customers and young employees,” Pete Schulberg, Oregon Partnership’s Communication Director said. “That’s a mix you don’t want when you are considering the sale of alcohol.”
This is mystifying to me. The presence of beer and wine cannot, by their presence, corrupt young minds. (One could more plausibly argue the opposite.)

Resist this controversy and support the local chain. It's a cool idea by an innovative and purely Northwest institution. I regret that it's up in the 'Couv, for I rarely find myself north of the Columbia. I encourage anyone who is to stop in and have a burger and a beer and try to encourage the pilot program. Because there is a Burgerville right over on Hawthorne, and I would love to see that branch follow suit.

Salmon Creek Burgerville
13309 NE Hwy 99
Vancouver, WA 98686
(360) 573-8223

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Honest Pint Hearing Tomorrow

I meant to post about this earlier in the week but I have ... what was I saying? Oh right, bad memory. Anyhoo, here's the skinny. Tomorrow at 1 pm, Jules Bailey's Honest Pint Act is getting a hearing in Salem. It's currently in a Senate committee, and if it's going to become law, it needs to get to the full Senate. I plan to go down and testify tomorrow, and if you're in spitting distance of the Capitol, maybe you'd like to poke your head in.
Honest Pint Act Hearing and Work Meeting
Senate Business and Transportation Committee
1 pm, State Capitol, Salem
I will, of course, regale you with tales of the experience afterward. Unless I forget.

Guinness Anniversary Stout, Reviewed

The year is 1759, the number of democracies in the world, zero. The poet Robert Burns is born. America is yet 17 years of turmoil from birth. The world is near the peak of the Little Ice Age, which means the vast, fir-covered reaches of what will become Oregon are probably well-blanketed in deep drifts of snow, all the way to the coast. Frederick the Great rules the powerful Kingdom of Prussia.

And young Arthur Guinness has just taken out a 9,000-year lease on a dilapidated brewery (try to get one of those in Portland) at St. James Gate.

Two-hundred and fifty years is a long time, in other words. Most modern countries didn't exist then; for a company to have survived this length is absolutely remarkable. Sure, the company has been sold to a corporate empire (Diageo), but still. They're making beer now 250 years on. And so, to celebrate this grand event, Guinness decided to release an anniversary beer. It is on shelves now.

Tasting Notes
Let me admit from the outset that I expected something special. You must come out of the gates strong and offer your adoring public a pint as legendary as your reputation. It is the opportunity to remind people just how astonishing the milestone is, and just what an important part of history your beer has been. You must wow people. You just must.

Guinness didn't.

Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout ("250" henceforth) is a variation on at theme. It's slightly more alcoholic (fiver percent versus 4.2), slightly fuller of body, and slightly "fizzier." From the brewer's mouth:

Designed primarily for the U.S. market's celebration of the Guinness anniversary, Fergal Murray says "I've made a beer that works well through the summer months. It's a one-shot pour, you don't have to do the six steps (though there are still Guinness Stout rituals involved in the perfect pour)." The brew is carbonated, rather than nitrogenated for a more bubbly, "beer-like" effect rather than the traditional soapy head that builds on a stout, and involves two malts in its production. "You get a little different flavor palate, a bit aromatic, perhaps sweeter taste," says Murray, who is clearly excited about the day and life in general. "It still has all the fundamentals of a good stout--the extra barley, the extra hops, but it's a little different on the flavor profile."

My impressions do not deviate much from Fergal's. The pour is disorienting--the head gushes out like one of my homebrews and if you're not careful, you end up with half a glass of what appears to be dish detergent. As it settles, you get a Guinness-y aroma: the characteristic sour/burnt note, the roast. It smells like a Guinness.

If the fizzy head was disorienting, the fizzy palate, carbonated rather than nitrogenated, is as well. The taste isn't a huge departure from regular draft Guinness. It's got a slightly more chalky quality, but then at the end turns quite metalic. Unpleasantly. It's think and tinny. The more I went back for a swallow, the more it resisted me. Perhaps it's not a beer that you want to introduce to a warm room for any length of time.

I'm not actually a huge fan of draft Guinness. It's too thin to support what would otherwise be a rich spectrum of flavors. The Extra Stout is perpetually on my short list of world's best, but it's a very dense, thick beer. The head is brown and the body silky from the heft of all that malt. I was really hoping to see something along these lines, not a product designed, if the masterbrewer is any guide, to appeal to the summer palates of American drinkers. Call it a gentleman's C- on the patented ratings scale. A great shame.

I leave you with one of the more amusing reviews I found of the beer, from a British blogger (salty language ahead):
How to describe it? A bit more flavour than standard draught Guinness. But that's no great challenge. Vaguely milky aroma. A little bit of generic maltiness, too. No roast to speak of. What's the point of it?A slightly different, but equally toothless, Stout. No fucking clue. Diageo have no fucking clue.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is This a Pilsner?

Full Sail has just sent out a press release on their new LTD 03 beer, labeled as a pilsner. But is it?
The newly designed bottle labels describe LTD Bottling 03, as crisp, new pilsner-style lager that is pale golden in color, features a spicy floral hop aroma, a malty medium body, and a smooth thirst-quenching finish. LTD 03 registers "Pale" on the "Malt-O-Meter" that is featured on the six packs. Beer aficionados, or the aspiring ones, will enjoy the bottom of the six-pack that features an easy-to-read chart of "Today's Recipe," including Sterling hops, 2 row pale malt, plato (14 degrees), I.B.U. (35), alcohol by volume (5.6) and any special ingredients. LTD 03 will be available in six-packs and draught and will be available June through September.
As you know, I'm no style nazi. But to the lovely style of pilsner so much violence has been directed. When I heard that Full Sail was releasing a pils, my mouth started watering at the taste of those lovely Czech Saaz. I had also comforted myself with the idea of a German pils, perfumed with the noble aroma of a nice Hallertau.

But what's this, Sterling hops? Well, maybe it's not so bad. Sterlings are an American hybrid bred from Saaz about a decade ago. They are purported to contain the quality of Saaz. FS's version is (no surprise) a touch more robust than average, and I wouldn't mind seeing a few more IBUs, but hey, let's try it before we knock it, right? The LTD series was never designed to create standard styles of lagers--they're riffs on more well-known styles. So a Sterling-hopped pilsner-y style beer. Sounds about right.

Update. Full Sail twittered the following, indicating they're going for not only a pilsner, but a very good one. I like a brewery with moxie.
FullSailBrewing LTD 03 is officially here. Best pilsner ever? We think so.

Update: Cascade Apricot Ale

You'll recall that I identified the first vintage of Cascade Apricot Ale as my Satori winner last year. This year's, however, I found slightly less buoyantly fruity:
Every year, Gansberg hand-selects the fruit, basing his selection on the quality available. He chose these apricots because they have a fuller, sweeter flavor, though he admits they're not as aromatic. I noticed this right away--that succulent scent was almost absent. But that's the nature with hand-made, artisanal ale--you are beholden to the offerings of mother nature.... This beer is perhaps one notch less beguiling than last year's, but that means it's still exceptional.
Well, yesterday I cracked open one of the current vintages, and I was pleasantly surprised. Mind, I thought this was a good beer. Whatever criticisms I had were informed by being blown away by last year's. What I discovered was an emergence of the fruit. The aroma is now quite evident, and grows as the beer warms. Again it is that lush, fresh-fruit scent. The beer has soured some since I first had it, but the flavor of the fruit comes through more clearly, too. It's really just an amazing beer. My Mom, who was in town visiting, found it a little intense, but she admired it nevertheless (she's a porter gal, so we had wandered some distance outside her comfort zone).

I would recommend stopping by the brewery and picking up a bottle or two--and definitely get the kriek while you're there. We're in the season when these beers are just magical. Nothing like sitting outside under a fading sun while sipping a little liquid gold. Makes you happy to live in Oregon...

Upright Tasting/Meet the Brewer

I have been a little bad about pointing out all the Meet the Brewer events that happen around the city. I hope you've been adequately informed. That said, this one caught my eye. Alex Ganum will be at Belmont Station on Friday (4500 SE Stark, 6-8pm), and he'll have the full slate of Upright beers. For those of you who haven't tried them all, this is a good chance to do so. (And in fact, it may be the first time Seven has been on tap anywhere--but don't quote me on that.)

For those of you who may have missed it, I recently did a full review of Upright.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mellow Day

My Mom has been in town over the weekend, and we're going to fire up the barbeque this afternoon, grill something tasty and--at Mom's request--crack a bottle of Cascade Apricot Ale. I am online long enough to check email, write this post, and then it's back out into the sunshine.

Hope you are all having a relaxing, pleasant Memorial Day as well.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Visit to Orval

Charlie Papazian recently visited Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval in Belgium--the monastery where the legendary Orval is brewed. His posts are a bit fragmentary, but fascinating nonetheless. Have a look if you love that beer as much as I do.
Drink it in--

Friday, May 22, 2009

Weekend Best Bets

[Update. You should never try to slap together a post when your mind is elsewhere. Stan Hieronymus points out that Citras are not low-alpha. I conflated them with Teamaker in my mind. Citras are of course the hop used in Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA. At least I was right about one thing--they have garned a bunch of love. Well anyway, have a good weekend.]
My dear mother is in town this weekend (first time in two years--a terrible oversight!), and so I'm cutting right to the chase. Here are my picks for the most interesting pours happening around town. Perhaps you'll see me at one of these places having a beer with Mom.

  • Bend Brewing's Rocksy Stein Lager, a stone beer, is was pouring at Bailey's. [Whoops; apparently it blew. Now you must trek to Bend.] It's one of the rarest styles going, and I am seriously hankering to try it. Also at Bailey's, the rarely-seen-on-tap Poseidon Imperial Stout by Fish.
  • The Horse Brass has a nice line-up, including Beer Valley's Leafer Madness, Hacker-Schoor Dunkel Weisse, and pouring this weekend Trip II Citra Hop Belgian Ale, a combo-brewed beer from Elysian and New Belgium. Citras are those new, super-low-alpha hops that have garnered quite a bit of love in recent beers.
  • The Green Dragon's patio is now open, so that's not a bad destination. None of their beers screams must-try, but their's is the most diverse list. You can stop by knowing something will tickle your fancy, whether it's a mead, Belgian, or double IPA.
  • Other great places for outdoor seating: Amnesia, EastBurn, Hedge House and Fifth Quadrant, Hopworks, Laurelwood, the various Lucky Labs, and the Mash Tun.

Have a good one--

Thursday, May 21, 2009

MacTarnahan's Grifter

Has any brewery been in more of an identity crisis than MacTarnahan's? When I was first writing about beer for Willamette Week, I got invited to a tasting panel by members of the brewery and a few key stakeholders. It was intimidating; they were all gathered around a big conference table, and as I took my seat, I was peppered with questions. One of the first was what I thought of when I considered the brewery. It was then called Portland Brewing, and it had the same opaque identity it has now. I said something about the beers being very clean. There were sighs--this was a usual response.

Having clean beers is good, but it's not an identity. As the brewery tried to avoid bankruptcy, it tried a series of different strategies, finally settling on letting the flagship become the identity. And then it slid out of view, as its flagship, an above-average (clean!) amber was swamped by other mid-range ambers. I keep waiting for the brand to be fully supplanted by Pyramid or to try something bold to establish an identity.

Enter Grifter Summer IPA. This is the second in the brewery's new line-up of seasonal offerings, following a beer I completely missed, Sling Shot. In their press release, Mac's writes describes the series as "a growing portfolio of distinct, bold, and original offerings." I have grown to distrust press releases that use vague superlatives like this--usually it means the beer is likely to be bland, indistinct, and unoriginal. But with good packaging!

I hate to say it, but Grifter is, well, clean. It has that characteristic MacTarnahan's clarity, the light fruitiness, and the gentle, unassuming hopping. I could see no evidence that the brewery had spent a lot of time looking for something original to offer. (And it's not like we needed another IPA.) It's fine, but have a bottle and then try to recall the experience 24 hours later.

And then there's this Grifter business. Why Grifter? It sounds sort of cool, and there's always something magnetizing about an anti-hero. It allowed the MacTarnahan's marketers to go crazy with puns and allusions, perhaps not to their benefit:
MacTarnahan's Summer Grifter™ is a limited edition IPA for the summer whose cunning malt taste and hefty hop aroma will steal your attention and disappear in a wink! It's unique and thought provoking packaging depicts a mysterious character known by our brewers simply as "Clem", and who's haunting stare is just intriguing enough to make you want to know a little more. Summer Grifter IPA, is a deliciously wayward ale, lurking wherever thirsts gather!
A grifter is a confidence man--someone who lures you in with the promise of riches. First, you have to pony up some cash, and then of course he's gone. It's a terrible name for a beer, leading one to think that he's a sucker for putting his $8 on the line for a sixer. Of course, it's not a sucker's bet. It's fine. Just clean, forgettable beer.

MacTarnahan's is a brewery still in search of an identity.


Some of you may have noticed that I've added Google ads. I suspect this is a futile effort to offset my beer expenses, but you never know. With Google ads, I have no control over what gets displayed, so you can be assured that my independence remains intact. Feel free to click through if you cotton to one of the ads--it's like a tip jar that doesn't cost you anything.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Massive Federal Beer Tax?

If I'm reading this right, we may have very serious trouble ahead. USA Today is reporting that Congress is looking to raise taxes on alcohol, including what looks like a massive hike on beer:

Details of the proposed beer tax are described in a Senate Finance Committee document that will be used to brief lawmakers Wednesday at a closed-door meeting.

Taxes on wine and hard liquor would also go up. And there might be a new tax on soda and other sugary drinks blamed for contributing to obesity. No taxes on diet drinks, however.

Beer taxes would go up by 48 cents a six-pack, wine taxes would rise by 49 cents per bottle, and the tax on hard liquor would increase by 40 cents per fifth. Proceeds from the new taxes would help cover an estimated 50 million uninsured Americans.

I'm not always the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to numbers, but my back-of-the-envelope calculation puts this at $26.45 per barrel. That's a very scary number.

Redhook Slim Chance

The history of light beer is brief relative to other styles, and certainly less august. After a few fits and starts in the 1960s, Lite Beer from Miller struck the right chord in the 1970s and we have been burdened with this phenomenon since. Light beers are effectively a PR trick, not a beer; Miller, the first to actually sell the beer, did it through clever advertising ("Tastes great!" "Less filling!") Our sports events have been clogged with blights like Spuds MacKenzie and silver bullets ever since.

Of course, we've always had light-bodied, low-alcohol, low-calorie beer. In fact, the regular macros are pretty damned low-cal. A standard Bud or Coors clocks in at 150 calories, while their light version runs about 100. But draft Guinness has just 125 calories. Deschutes Cascade is 140. Widmer Hef is 159. (Buy low alcohol, light-colored beer, and you can be assured it's relatively low-cal.) The average man eats 2,500 calories a day--if he's putting away so many beers that he has to watch the difference between 125 and 150 calories, he's got a bigger problem than a beer gut.

And now we have Slim Chance, Redhook's entry into the low-cal sweepstakes. It's not the first craft-brewed light beer, nor even the first light ale. Hell, it's not even the first low-cal Redhook ale (Sunrye tips the scale at just six more calories than Slim Chance). It is, transparently, a market-driven lunge toward sales.

(We've recently been discussing what a "craft" beer is. I would argue this is a perfect example of what it's not. This beer's raison d'etre is commercial; nothing about it was "crafted," unless you mean by the marketers. That it comes from a craft brewery gives it no sufficient fig leafage, so far as I'm concerned.)

So how's the beer? Fine. It's professionally-made, reasonably drinkable, and actually pleasant. It's got just 3.9% alcohol but a noticeable 18 IBUs. There's a smattering of wheat, providing interest. It's lively on the tongue and easy to swallow. I'd certainly choose it over anything the macros are peddling. But it's not a high point of the brewers art, nor was it intended to be. It's a commercial product, period.

[Post slightly edited for clarity.]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Full Sail LTD 03 ... a Pilsner

This just in, via Twitter:
FullSailBrewing We bottled LTD 03 today and it is AMAZING! Prepare for a killer pilsner coming your way soon.
I am preparing.

Cool Article

It's one of those weeks. Blogging likely to be spotty in terms of both quality (I know, I know--how could you tell?) and quantity. So instead I direct you to this nice article in Imbibe. It surveys new trends in brewing, which look a whole lot like very old trends to writer Joshua Bernstein. Here's a tasty passage:
Despite the challenges, more and more U.S. hops and wheat growers are going pesticide-free. More than 150 organic beers (and growing) are sold domestically, with sales ballooning from $9 million in 2003 to $19 million in 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association. Goschie Farms in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has started growing small batches of pesticide-free organic hops, and fifth-generation hops farmer Steve Carpenter in Washington state supplies organic hops to Olympia.’s Fish Brewing Co. for its certified-organic pale ale. In Berkeley, Calif., Bison Brewing crafts a certified-organic, plum-sweet Belgian ale with ingredients sourced from the Midwest and, north of California’s Bay Area, Eel River Brewing Co. makes a line of certified-organic beers, including a smooth, citrusy India Pale Ale.

“We just try to reinvent the wheel,” says Craig Nicholls, a 38-year-old father of three with a shaved head and a fist-size brown goatee, who launched the first Northwest Organic Brewers festival in 2003 (it now attracts brewers from England and Germany) and co-founded Roots Organic Brewing, Oregon’s first all-organic brewery, in 2005. “We’re not a bunch of tree-huggers, but we do our part.” Roots’ beers are oddballs. Burghead Heather Ale eschews hops for 100 percent heather tips, while the toasted-coconut porter is a tropical transplant, fashioned from hand-toasted organic coconuts.

This level of commitment is not always easy. “It took us months to get our beers certified organic,” Nicholls recalls. Plus, every time he conceives a bizarre new brew (like Epic Ale, which features malt smoked over cherry wood that’s been soaked in cognac and cherry juice), he files reams of paperwork proving the ingredients’ organic provenance. Tack on costly ingredients, and “it’s a lot of work for not a lot of bucks,” Nicholls says, adding that brewing organics is not about cashing in—it’s about the tradition of richer, sweeter, fuller-flavored beers. “We’re returning to the roots of brewing, the way beer is supposed to be made.”
There's more, including a section on barrel aging featuring Vinnie Cilurzo. Go read the whole article.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Toward Consensus? Impossible.

Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine you assembled a list of a city's best beers. Then you polled a bunch of people to find the consensus of which of these they would recommend. Here's the experiment part: how many of those beers would have high levels of agreement--say 75% or more?

I would have guessed you could get at least a couple beers in every style--essentially broad agreement on the "best beers." Well, Matt Wiater at actually did this, and guess what: not much agreement. Of the top 15 beers, only two met my hypothetical standard. Mostwere recommended by only a bare majority of people. Mirror Pond, for example, surely one of the more famous, beloved, and best-selling beers in all of Greater Beervana, managed a recommendation from only 50% of the people.

So who were these half-wits? Bloggers, mainly (including me).

The lesson is clear to me: there is no "best" of anything. "Bests" are reserved for track meets, where you can actually measure performance. In beer, the master is the taster. What's best is what your tongue likes. I tend to think we can talk about some general standards of quality, but specific beers?--clearly this isn't so easy to figure out.

So the next time (and there will be a next time) we get in a spat about a specific beer, we should recall this lesson. Different strokes, folks. And ain't it nice we have so many breweries to serve these different tongues?

Go have a look at the recommendations. You'll probably be surprised.

Strange Press Release

I attract a lot of press releases. About half relate to beer, and the balance come from random alcohol producers, food-related products, and some just random stuff. The hallmark of these latter, non-beer pitches (and some of the beer pitches, too) is that they've clearly never read my blog.

Every now and again, I get a weird release like one I got recently, from Estrella Damm, a Barcelona brewery. Here's the first line of the pitch:
Estrella Damm today announced the launch of Estrella Damm INEDIT, a beer specifically created to accompany food. INEDIT was crafted by world-renowned chef Ferran Adrià, Juli Soler, elBulli sommeliers and Estrella Damm, the leading brewer of Barcelona.
Now, I don't write about the pairing of food and beer very often, but I would hope that anyone who spent a few minutes on my blog would understand that I think it pairs very nicely with food--better, in many cases, than wine. So this line not only misunderstands my blog, but apparently misunderstands beer. Not a good start, and things turn south from there:
“INEDIT was developed from the belief that there was a need for a beer that could complement a dining experience," said Ferran Adrià, elBulli Executive Chef. “INEDIT is the fruit of more than a year and a half and 400 trial iterations between the master brewers of Estrella Damm and the team of sommeliers at elBulli.”
Hmmm. Hard to know what to make of a beer company that has just stumbled onto the idea that food can accompany food, that their product does not, and that it took them four hundred batches to get it right. That doesn't mean it will suck. In fact, it sounds tasty:
INEDIT is a unique coupage of barley malt and wheat with spices which provide an intense and complex aroma. It aims to complement food once thought to be a challenge in terms of culinary pairings, including salads, vinegar-based sauces, bitter notes such as asparagus and artichokes, fatty and oily fish, and citrus.

With its delicate carbonation, INEDIT adapts to acidic, sweet and sour flavors. Its appearance is slightly cloudy, and INEDIT has a yeasty sensation with sweet spices, causing a creamy and fresh texture, delicate carbonic long aftertaste, and pleasant memory. The rich and highly adaptable bouquet offers a unique personality with a smooth, yet complex taste.
The release didn't come along with a bottle, but I requested one. After this incredibly bizarre pitch, I'm not sure I expect one. I'll let you know...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fun With Beer - Berliner Weisse

I spent the waning, sunnny hours of the evening last night at the Pilsner Room enjoying a Berliner Weisse. Chris's Summer D-Lite is assistant brewer Chris Haveman's wonderful entry in the "Brewer's Share" program at Full Sail. I've enjoyed Berliner Weisses in the past, but never as they're served at the Pilsner Room--and in Berlin--with accompanying woodruff and raspberry syrup.

The style, noted for its dry, tart lactic character, is at least 400 years old and may date back to the Huguenot migration into Germany. The Huguenots were Flemish-French protestants, so could the style have passed through, say, the Zenne Valley? A hypothesis I consider with relish. In any case, the style is, for sourheads, a joy. Beers are sour in different ways; a good Berliner Weisse should be sharply tart, like a fresh lemon. They aren't punishingly or funkily sour, just tart, and therefore perfectly thirst-quenching, like a fresh lemon soda.

I have always been intrigued by this passage from Jackson, and have regretted that I'd have to go to Berlin to enjoy the experience:
"I have only ever seen the summer versions, with a dash of the herbal essence of woodruff (Waldmeister) or raspberry syrup. This is now the familiar face of Berliner Weisse.

"The syrup colors the head as well as the beer, the woodruff making for a vivid lime-cordial hue and the raspberry looking more like peach. Everyone knows the flavor of raspberry, but what about the essence of woodruff? Sampled on its own, it is heavily fragrant, with notes of hay, lemon grass, and cough drops. The herb grows in the forests around Berlin, and is also used to make a soft drink and to flavor mineral water. When Berliner Weisse is served in this way, the idea is that the drinker first tastes the sweetness of the syrup, then sense the acidity of the beer.

"Whenever I asked for a Weissbier in Berlin, the server has demanded: "Red or green?" If I have requested it without either, to sample the beer in its native state, I have sometimes been viewed as a madman. The syrups are considered necessary to moderate the intensity of the acid..."
You get something like this experience at Full Sail. Instead of--or in addition to--the query "red or green," you may hear "raspberry or marshmallow?" (Marshmallow? See below.) I wanted to taste all three variants, so I ordered the syrup on the side. My experience with the style isn't vast--there just aren't very many examples available in the US--but this version seemed like a perfect example. Berliner Weisses are not designed to be complex; they depend on the clarity of the tart note. It has to be very fresh and clean and have that citrus-like thirst-quenching quality. These beers are made with some wheat, a flavor evident particularly in the finish, but not a dominant one. All of these things describe Chris's Summer D-Lite. It's spot-on. Germans might find a beer like this too intense, but those of you who like sour beers of Belgium will find it quite approachable.

The syrups surprised me. Added to the beer, they recall some long lost fountain drink, like a phosphate. (For those who don't like to stray too far from sight of a hop, these are a distant wander to foreign land--a word to the wise.) The raspberry wasn't too weird--hold your mouth right and you could imagine a fruit lambic. But the "green" was something else. I didn't get "marshmallow" from it. There's a strong vanilla note, and something herbal behind that. Hay isn't far off, but with a tiny touch of anise. The syrups are heavier than beer, and you need to stir as you go along, or you'll end up with two fingers of weird Fanta. I recommend getting them on the side so you can add to taste. Just a touch and they add some flavor without much sweetness. Go hog wild and dump the whole thing in if you want a wild ride.

It was one of the more entertaining times I've had drinking beer in the past decade or so. Don't miss it--you'll regret it if you do. (Or end up having to go all the way to Germany. Not bad, but inconvenient.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Honest Pint Act - Two Items

This just in from Facebook, where Evan Manvel is trying to get the Honest Pint Act passed:

Here's the scoop from the capitol:

The Honest Pint Bill, HB 3122, is sitting in the Senate Business and Transportation Committee, and may or may not get a hearing. So if you can take 30 seconds and call the chair of that committee and ask for a hearing, that would be very helpful!

Especially if you're a constituent of Senator Rick Metsger. Even if not, it's helpful. Here's Senator Metsger's office phone number: 503-986-1726.

Say that you're an Oregonian in support House Bill 3122, the honest pint bill, and that you'd like it to move forward.

If you want, you can note:
  • It's a voluntary certification program
  • It's a consumer protection measure
  • It's a step forward in highlighting beer, a great Oregon product and part of our national image
  • It doesn't cost the state, as businesses pay for it themselves
But really just say a sentence or two on why the bill matters to you. Be very polite.



p.s. If you want to do something further, it wouldn't hurt to call your own Senator and the other members of the committee as well:

- Sen. Martha Schrader, 503-986-1720
- Sen. Joanne Verger, 503-986-1705
- Sen. Larry George, 503-986-1713
- Sen. Bruce Starr, 503-986-1715
Also, the Freakonomists picked this up on their blog at the NYT:
Oregon’s House recently passed the “Honest Pint Act,” which would allow drinking establishments to display state-issued stickers certifying that their pint glasses actually hold 16 ounces, as opposed to the 13- and 14-ounce glasses that some bars try to pass off as pints. The act is predicted to cost at least $20,000, not including the price of pint “measuring tools.” House Republicans, meanwhile, think full pints should be the least of Oregonians’ concerns.
So there you go.

Upright Brewing - Early Impressions

Upright Brewing
240 N Broadway St.
Portland, Oregon, 97227
Tasting Room Hours: Sat-Sun, Noon-5pm

We learned almost a year ago that a new brewery was coming to the Left Bank Project, in the fork where Weidler and Broadway split in two. Founder/brewer Alex Ganum described his vision for Upright Brewing then:
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.
I have been saying that Upright's beers speak with a Flemish accent, but maybe French is more accurate. Having interned at Ommegang and assisted Dan Pederson at BJ's (who was one of the earliest Portland brewers to experiment with Belgian styles), this isn't entirely surprising. Yet he takes great pains to emphasize that his beers aren't brewed to style. He would pour a beer, then describe how it behaved, not what it was. His vision does not include telling beer writers what styles inspired him. This is disorienting--you're always trying to get a bead on the beer and the style the brewer was shooting for. Ganum doesn't want to be pigeonholed, so he gives you very little to work with.

Guess what? This makes him all the more Belgian. What other country cares so little for the dictates of style?

The Brewery
The brewery is a ten barrel system, already outfitted with pinot casks for barrel-aging--with quite a bit of room to grow. Following Ommegang's example, Ganum uses open fermenters in a small, sequestered room, accessible by beautiful fir doors. (The restoration of the Left Bank means lots of beautiful fir.) The day I visited, a batch was near the end of primary fermentation, and seem dangerously exposed. Not to worry, Ganum said cheerfully, "as long as you keep your brewery clean, you shouldn't have any problems. And you should keep your brewery clean anyway."

He uses a French saison yeast (perhaps this one)--not Dupont's. His doesn't require the exotic conditions of Dupont's, although it apparently needs a little heat. The day I visited, he had a heater going in the fermentation room. It's a very nice yeast, finishing out to bone dry gravities but somehow leaving the beer tasting smooth and sweet. It is versatile and distinctive, but not aggressive or overly "Belgiany." Funky flavors are mostly absent, but subtle, earthy ones reward the observant.

The Beer
Let's start with the naming convention. Upright's can be said to be in the Rochefort system, following the specific gravity of the wort. (Not, as you might have surmised--as I did--the batch numbers.) So "Four" comes from a wort of roughly 1.040, "Five" of 1.050, and so on. Ganum prefers this to the baroque names many beers have. (The brewery name comes from the Upright bass--he's a jazz fan.)

Four (4.5%).
We had a discussion just before I left about which of Ganum's beer would emerge as favorites. He thinks it will be Four, which is his most distinctive. (I agree, but assessing mass tastes has never been a great forte of mine. In any case, it's my favorite.) A cloudy wheat beer (50% of the grist) Four is made with a sour mash, which gives it a lip-smacking tartness. I was recording Alex so I didn't have to take copious notes, and he gave a great description of the process:

Ganum may not like to refer to established styles when he describes his beer, but I have no such compunction. 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.

In addition to the regular Four, there's a batch on wood to which he will add cherry puree, lactic, and brettanomyces claussenii (a purportedly gentle brett). Thereafter, the inoculated barrel will continue to add funk to future batches.

Five, (5.5%).
Upright's yeast isn't in-your-face, but I had the opportunity to see just how much it contributes when I tried two batches of Five--one on Upright's usual yeast, one on an English ale yeast. Five is an golden, slightly cloudy ale with a creamy, frothy head. The English version was a fairly pedestrian beer. Slightly nutty but underhopped, it was sweetish and bland. But on the saison yeast it was a totally different bird. It had a rather pungent nose (absent the other Upright beers--odd) and was marked by a strange bitterness--"herbaceous," in Alex's words. The hops come forward, and the malt plays a more supportive role.

Six, (6.7%).
If people don't resonate with the names of Upright's beer, my guess is that they'll refer to six--the only non-golden Ganum brews--as "the brown." But more than brown, it's a rye (15-18% of grist), and also has a touch of black barley. It is also highly attenuated, but has a round, fruity/raisiny character. Malt-forward and creamy, it is the most familiar of Upright's beers.

In addition to the base beer, there are three variants on wood: one with Turkish chiles, one with standard brettanomyces (not the claussenii), and one with chocolate. The plan is to release them simultaneously.

Seven, (8%).
If BeerAdvocate is any guide, all Upright beers are going to be classified as "saisons." Seven seems closest to the mark. It would be considered a strong saison, but the character is right. An orangey, lively beer with a super dense, creamy head, it sports pronounced hopping. (Magnums to bitter--as is the case with all the beers but Four--as well as Mount Rainier, Liberty, and Hallertauer.) It was still a bit green--Alex poured it from the tank--but already finishing out to be a dry, refined beer. I'll have to try it again on tap, but after Four, it was my favorite.

Upright's submission to the Organic Beer Fest is an unhopped Gruit ale made with a bit of spelt, lemongrass, two types of orange peel, hyssop, and sichuan peppercorn. Upright's yeast is especially suited to a gruit because it finishes so cleanly. We sampled a bit from a batch still in the fermenter, and it was already past the cloying stage. A nice combo of herbs, with the peppercorn adding a delicate spicy-herbal note. A Rauchbier may or may not also be on the way. The brewery hand-smoked the malt themselves over redwood. Unfortunately they had some yeast issues. If it's not up to snuff, they'll have to dump it.

Final Notes
You can now find pubs around town pouring Four (EastBurn) and Five (Belmont Station, Bailey's, Concordia Ale House). Tonight Six makes its debut at Seraveza, when Sarah will tap a fresh firkin at 6pm.

Upright will ultimately be bottling their beer. They are currently trapped in that terrible Kafkaesqe process of trying to get their labels approved by the Feds. Samurai Artist is the man behind the label art--variants of the image seen at the webpage and on my little audio clip.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Organic Beer Fest Ho

We are but two weeks six weeks [sorry, month confusion there] from one of the best beerfests in all of Beervana. Earlier today, Abe Goldman-Armstrong sent out the list of beers in this year's lineup--and it looks like a good one. (That's how you know it's a good fest, right?--the beer.) Thanks to a hat tip from Samurai Artist, we also have a cool vid to get us in the mood. Here's Alison Grayson's short doc on last year's fest:

North American Organic Brewers Festival, 2008 from Alison Grayson on Vimeo.

Get out your calendars and mark it down: June 26-28, Overlook Park, Portland.

Cool Bits

I have noticed a few fragments of interesting news of late, and in case you missed any of it, I have collected it here for your reading convenience.

Berliner Weisse
John Foyston alerts us to a rather exotic brew over at the Pilsner Room: a Berliner Weisse. A style not much seen anywhere, but especially not in Beervana, this is a rare, rare sighting. It's one of my fave styles, but I can't recall ever having a domestic interpretation. Consider me much hyped. If you want to know more about the style or this beer, go read John's full post. Here's a key passage, though:
Full Sail Brewer Chris Haveman made the latest of the company's innovative Brewer's Share beers...

"When I found out that my beer was going to be brewed at the beginning of summer," said Haveman, " I immediately thought of the perfect style, a Berliner Weiss. This is an easy drinking unfiltered beer made with 50% wheat malt, a tiny amount of hersbrucker hops and a touch of lactic acid to give it a refreshing tartness."

Stone Beer

If you happen to be in Central Oregon, take the opportunity to hit Bend Brewing, where there are not one but two stone beers on tap. Jon has the story:
[T]hese were collaborative beers co-brewed by Tonya Cornett of BBC and Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey. They brewed the first beer, Hot Rocks Lager, down at the San Marcos location of Lost Abbey, and the other, Rocksy, here in Bend. Since hearing about the collaboration, I’ve been dying to try the beers.

The gist of a “steinbier” is the brewing method: instead of bringing the wort (unfermented beer) to a boil by placing the kettle over a heat source (such as a flame), it is instead boiled by placing glowing-hot rocks directly into the wort. The super-heated rocks bring the wort to boil in a great sputtering, roiling, smoky spectacle that caramelizes the sugars and lends a unique smoky-like character to the finished beer.

The Great Midwest
Also, Angelo De Ieso is touring the Midwest, and has some great posts up. He was just in New Glarus, WI--just outside of Madison, and home of New Glarus Brewing. Watch Brewpublic for a future write-up of that stellar brewery.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My "Craft Brewing" Manifesto

Buy local, buy good, drink on tap.

Back in the 1970s, Charlie Papazian founded the Association of Brewers--and the more well-known American Homebrewers Association--as advocacy groups for fledgling brewers. The mission grew out of the particular circumstances of that time and place, and was, for at least a decade, clear, accurate, and important. There were two categories of beer: insipid, tin-can beer and handcrafted, artisanal beer. The former had eaten its own, stamped out diversity and quality, and was busily consolidating itself into a single, monolithic product where the only distinction could be found in the color on the label. The latter cared about beer, brewing history, and beer styles, not money. The Association of Brewers therefore had an easy task: support the little guy, support good beer, support independence. It was a moral as much as business crusade.

Unfortunately, the Brewers Association (as it it now styled) still holds to these values, and they no longer have clear, obvious referents. Breweries can't easily be divided into good beer/bad beer, big/little, and independent/multinational. The brewing industry is a market, and markets grow like amoebas. Trying to contain them in boxes is of no use. And markets are by nature amoral.

I have not particular interest in how American breweries organize themselves politically. Presumably, those that are small and local have more in common with each other than they have with Anheuser-Busch. But does Hair of the Dog have more in common with Widmer/Redhook than it does with Maine's Gritty McDuff's? Probably.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
American Craft Beer Week
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

We are midway through Craft Beer Week, a promotional event of the Brewers Association. The Charlie Papazian multiverse dominates everything in American craft brewing, and so we must dutifully turn toward Denver this week. But while we do so, I'd like to offer my counter-manifesto to his outdated one. His has become a political organization. The following manifesto is designed to create the conditions for the production of good beer and a sustainable market. It could also be said to be a blueprint for how Beervana became Beervana. These things, rather than a series of ever less explicable categories of being, are what we want to nurture.

Buy Local
Show me a town where the beer drinkers are avid fans of good beer, and I'll show you a town with local breweries. It makes sense, right? If locals are buying your beer, you're inclined to make them happy. But it's not just small breweries that have this effect: look at the great brewing regions, the areas around Portland, Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia--have or had large, regional breweries located nearby. Beer is local. If you have a beer city, it means you have beer people. If those beer people buy locally, they'll have access to good beer.

Charlie has focused on the independence, but this misses the point. Markets require masses. Towns with breweries have those masses. The problem with consolidation in the 60s and 70s was that local brewing culture died out--vast swaths of the country, lacking any local beer, drank whatever was cheapest, further fueling consolidation. It's counterintuitive, but even bigger regional breweries help smaller ones flourish because they make the market even that much bigger. You don't have to be xenophobic about it, but spare a copper or two for the local guy(s).

Buy Good
Of course, it's not enough to only buy local--consumers have to demand good beer. Rather than descending into a long philosophical dispute about good, let's use the Judge Stewart rationale: we know it when we see it. Minimally, it's a beer brewed with quality ingredients and attention to style. The reason we should support good beer--whether or not it comes from a small brewery--is that this creates the market for good beer. If consumers always eschew the good for the cheap, they'll get the cheap. If they spend a bit more and buy the good, they'll make it possible for breweries to continue to brew the good. And round it goes.

Drink on Tap
You can buy many of the world's greatest beers in bottles. You can buy brewery-fresh local beer in bottles. But from time to time, you should go to your neighborhood pub and plunk down a five spot on a pint (an honest pint, naturally). The brewing ecosystem is large and diverse. If we don't support pubs, we fail to support the incubators of beer culture. Seeing others in a public space, sampling different kinds of beers, talking with your local publican (who may be the brewer), these things are the fertilizer for healthy markets. When people go to pubs, they support local beer and local business. By creating an additional market for beer, they allow non-bottling breweries to flourish--all of which makes the brewing ecosystem as a whole more sustainable.

Buy local, buy good, drink on tap. Do these things, and good beer will continue to be brewed in your neighborhood. After all, isn't that's what Charlie Papazian is really after?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What's Going on Here?

In the manner of Stan's ongoing series, here's one for you. Care to hazard a guess why these little lovelies are meaningful? Hint: they reside in Upright Brewing, Portland's newest brewery.

FredFest Online Auction

I totally forgot about the FredFest online auction...which is still ongoing. All the beers were donated and 100% of the proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America. If this recession has left you with a spare c-note rattling around your pocket, go put in a bid. There are some pretty notable beers, including:

  • Hair of the Dog Matt. A commemorative beer celebrating Bottleworks' 10th anniversary, it's an extra special Adam, "aged in bourbon and 33-year old Apple Eau de Vie barrels for approximately one year by the time it was released."
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration, 1982. I doubt this beer would be much tasty now, but it is a piece of history. Four are going for just $25 bucks now.
  • Midnight Sun Venus (a quad), Anchor (brett wit), The Viking (strong ale), M (Tenth Anniversary barleywine, 2005)
  • HotD Dave, '94(?), an eisbock, if memory serves, of something like 30% alcohol. I actually had about a half bottle of this for a time, and it is definitely unique.
  • Verticals: Thomas Hardy ('86, '87, '89). HotD Doggie Claws ('01-'08). Alaskan Smoked Porter ('97-'08). Full Sail Old Boardhead ('98-'08). Rogue Old Crusty ('93-'00). Stone Epic ('02-'08). Samichlaus ('03-'07).
The current big value is a 2002 bottle of Fish Old Woody. 750 ml, seven years old, and currently going for a measly $22. The moral of our story: there are rare beer to be had, a few rare deals, and all of it goes to charity. You have two days left to bid, so go have a look.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hipsters With Beer

The New York Times discovers Portland (again):

One accessory, however, was ubiquitous: as breakdance crews windmilled and as the Portland legend Fogatron did his human beatbox routine, every hipster — male, female or otherwise — carried a plastic cup full of beer. Free beer.

And not just free beer but pretty good free beer. Next to the cash registers, barmen pumped kegs of hefeweizen and amber ale, both made by Widmer Brothers, one of the two oldest breweries in what has become the microbrew capital of America. (There are better beers in Portland, but compared with your usual party beer, Widmer’s is premier cru.)
Hipsters? Great, another trigger for Doc Wort's inner curmudgeon. But actually, the article is a pretty spot-on. Writer Matt Gross captures happy hour and brewpubs:

All that exertion justified the other indulgences, which would resume around 4 p.m. with happy hour. Portland requires that its restaurants serve a certain amount of food with their booze, so even the fanciest places offer high-end treats at a big discount. My friends and I ate briny-sweet Willapa Bay oysters ($1 apiece) and short-rib macaroni and cheese ($5) at Ten01, one of the city’s top restaurants, and at the pan-Asian Ping, in Portland’s dilapidated Chinatown, we had Thai-style dried cuttlefish (paradoxically juicy) and Macanese pork-chop sandwiches.

Happy hour didn’t always mean food. On Mondays, it meant $2.50 pints of the wonderful smoked-malt Lompoc Strong Draft, at the New Old Lompoc tavern, and on Tuesdays, it meant $3.50 IPAs at Hopworks Urban Brewery, an energy-efficient brewpub that’s a stop for cyclists on their way home from work.
As well as our other (mostly unmentioned, saltier) drinking establishment:
Finally, and because, as my friend Becky said, a visit to a Portland strip club is inevitable, I wound up one night at the Acropolis Steakhouse Plus, a Vegas-y joint with a $3 cover charge that had been recommended by — of all people — my little sister. She liked it, however, not for the performers (who earned it its nickname, the A Crop) but for the ludicrously cheap steaks. My eight-ounce sirloin cost $5.50 and came deliciously medium-rare. This being Portland, the meat was locally sourced, too, from cattle on the owner’s ranch.
The title tells you the orientation of the writer: to a New Yorker, we practically give stuff away here. (He raved about Thai food at Pok Pok that was $25.) Just no one tell him that salaries in town are also rock-bottom. Maybe we can lure some of those New Yorkers for a visit.

FredFest 2009

This is where I would normally write up a review of FredFest. I will make a comment about a couple of the beers--especially that 1994 Saxer doppelbock--but actually, this event calls for a slightly different kind of treatment.

Although it has some of the appearance of a beer fest, FredFest is actually a birthday party. The space and "guest list" are both small enough that within a couple of laps, you've laid eyes on everyone in the place. Mostly people spend time talking and enjoying each other's company rather than focusing overmuch on the beer. For me, it was sort of a harmonic convergence of bloggers/beer writers and blog readers.

Let's see if I can do this justice: Bill, Dave, Lisa, Abe, Derek, John, Chris, Kerry, plus Josh (who suggested Doc Wort and I are one--and who remains in my doghouse) and Nate, regular commenters it was nice to finally put a face to. Of course, the event was for the ur-writer, a fact not lost on any of us. We managed, through Bill's organization, to get a picture with Fred. It should appear on various blogs, from which I plan to steal it as a treasured memento. (Unfortunately, we missed Angelo, Matt, and one Doc Wort, who did not make himself known if he was there.) Very cool to see you all, and all in one place--

Okay, that doppel. It held up very nicely--good thing Bob had kept it in a cooler all those years. The structure was intact, and it was still lively after all these years. A wee bit of oxidation, but fairly minimal. Some fruity notes emerged, and it was silky smooth. Everyone raved, but no one I talked to remembered the original particularly clearly. I do. Despite decoction and several weeks in the tank, it still came out like a Hell's Angel. A very big, burly beer--smooth and supple, but still big. In the current gigantism of brewing, 8% seems trifling, but this was no lightweight. It came out in the dead of winter, and I drank it to chase away the chill. So, while the aged beer was a beauty, I have to confess missing the force of the original. I had somehow hoped to visit the past--but of course things change.

The other beer of note, and one you may actually encounter, was Firestone Walker Abacus, which was deep, dark, and mysterious. I had it late, so my palate wasn't its freshest, but I'm still prepared to declare it damned impressive. (Actually, there were plenty of beers to note: Double Mountain Ingelmonster, Cascade Bain de Brugge, Fred on the Wood. I didn't take notes, though--I was at a party, and I was just enjoying things. Even a beer blogger gets a day off every now and again.)

Got a few pictures here, and if others write about it, I'll link to them.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Live-tweeting FredFest

FredFest and Me

In a most delightful turnabout, it appears I have scored a ticket to FredFest after all. I will take along the phone and live-tweet the event as I did with Cheers to Belgian beers. Sweet!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Weekend Best Bets

Since there are only 250 tickets available for FredFest, I therefore conclude that some of you might be tippling elsewhere. Here are my recommendations.

  • Go sit out on the sidewalk at Bailey's and have a Stonefly Rye from Three Creeks. I was down in Sisters just a couple of weeks ago, and this is the beer that most impressed me. Perfect sidewalk-on-a-sunny day beer.
  • Two of Upright's beers are pouring at Belmont Station, and Four is also ideal for sunshine. Five? Go, try it, and tell me. Or wait until after I visit the brewery on Monday. There's also a cask BridgePort Hop Harvest pouring, which might serve to answer the question: how long do fresh hop ales reside tastily within a cask?
  • The Horse Brass is pouring Fort George's Vortex IPA. It's one of the better IPAs brewed in Oregon, which is saying a lot. And it doesn't often make it up and over the Coast Range to our fair city.
  • At Eastburn (and also the Horse Brass) you'll find Double Mountain's Kolsch, a beer over-hopped by German standards, but perfecto by our own.
Of course, you might also find yourself wishing to boldly go to a movie. In this case, I recommend the St. Johns Cinema and Pub, where for ten bucks you get both a ticket and a glass of beer and no assaultive ads. Eschew Regal; go indie.

A Round of News

A Friday morning omnibus post of news from around the beer-o-sphere...

Let us start with the important news first. Tomorrow is FredFest, an event that promises to collect together more good beer in one place than anyplace since ... well, the last FredFest. There are a limited number of tickets, and apparently there are still a few left. Enticements: FredFest is hosted by Hair of the Dog, a place with the finest beer vibes in the city; the regular beer list is amazing (an old keg of Tony Gomes' legendary Doppelbock--likely the last one left on the planet--is going to be tapped after fifteen or so years, there's a '98 Full Sail beer, Double Mountain's barrel Ingelmonster, etc.), as is the list of rare and specialty beers up for silent auction is astonishing; all the proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America. I have decided the event is not in my budget, so you should also go and report back so I'll know what happened. Take good notes on that Saxer Doppel!

Tomorrow, 2pm-6pm, Hair of the Dog brewery. Tix here.

Beer Cit(ies) USA
Charlie copped out: he has unsatisfyingly declared both Asheville and Portland Beer City USA. Man, was that a waste of a lot of time and energy. I'm not even sure what he's talking about in the announcement:

This was the first Beer City USA poll. Ballots were cast during a time when the emergence of local beer communities began to be relevant. For the future, beer communities and networks will need to exist and find common cause to preserve choices.

Seller beware! Offer choice and offer quality or beer drinkers just may go elsewhere.

On more of a big picture view, many Americans feel that the quality of life in the USA has been seriously eroded over the past decade. What happened with Beer City USA polling is the kind of local, regional and community support many are seeking to foster to bring back quality, value and purpose. Local food and beverage producers seek this kind of grassroots enthusiasm. Small, local and independent businesses will strive to connect with the qualities that matter....

Who gets top honors? I’m honoring both Portland, Oregon and Asheville, North Carolina this year. They are number one in the east and number one in the west with about 6,000 votes apiece. What, no definitive Number 1 and Number 2? Correct. Is that a cop out? I don't think so, but of course beer drinkers are an opinionated group of individuals and may beg to differ.

I don't fault Charlie for trying to do a cool thing here, but he should have talked to someone who's been involved with the internets for a few years: online polls are wildly inaccurate, hugely unscientific, and easily prone to mischief.* Good intentions, but...

Seattle Beer Week
First it was Philly Beer Week, then SF Beer Week, and yesterday was the first day of Seattle Beer Week. (Resist, Portland, resist!) If you happen to be up in the Emerald City, you may have a gander at the schedule of events and check something out. A couple local bloggers (1, 2) are busy covering events)

*Counting IPs doesn't work, expecially as we enter the age of wi-fi and iPhones. Measuring traffic has constantly been a pain in the ass for websites, and it's no different with online polling.