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Friday, July 31, 2009

Ogle's Fresh Take

Despite wishing to avoid the whole Beer Summit thing, I can't help but point to this wonderful article by Maureen Ogle in Sunday's Washington Post (the internets are so fast they now carry future publications). It's the first really novel take on the whole thing. In it, she traces the history of beer and race in America.
Despite the fact that blacks drink about as much beer as whites, to this day the only black-owned brewery in U.S. history was a short-lived enterprise in Wisconsin, launched in 1971 by a former Blatz executive. Otherwise, American brewing, the creation of German immigrants in the 19th century, was and largely remains a white man's world.

Even beer advertising, historically white, white and more white, learned to think black. When Miller Brewing launched Miller Lite in the 1970s, it wanted to convey a manly image (subtext: "lite" beer is not a diet drink). The company created a memorable, and successful, string of TV ads that featured retired professional athletes, many of them black. (Picture NFL star Bubba Smith tearing the top off a can of Lite.)
Whole thing's definitely worth a read. Oh, and here's that ad she references:

Beer Summit

I feel compelled to at least acknowledge the hugely overblown "Beer Summit" yesterday. And now I have.

(As I and a million others quipped on Twitter: at least Obama drank a Belgian beer.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Events Calender

Craft Beer Month finishes with a flourish this weekend (which is actually next month, but who's counting?), with quite a line-up:
  • Concordia Cup, Today through August 2 at the Concordia Ale House. Twelve Double IPAs vie to be Oregon's entry in Beer Brawl III. Taster trays are $12. Full details here.
  • Roots Christmas in July, Friday 6pm. They'll be pouring a 2006 Flemish Red aged for two years in a Pinot Grigio oak barrel, the 2007 Epic Ale and 2008 Festivus. Bring a new toy (for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital) and you’ll be entered into a raffle for a bottle of Roots 08 Epic Ale
  • 15th Annunal Rogue Bones and Brew, Saturday and Sunday, 14th and Flanders. Live music, barbeque, 20+ craft breweries, all to benefit the Oregon Zoo. Full details here.
  • Bailey's 2nd Anniversary Celebration, Saturday noon - 10pm. It's a mini-fest with an amazing line-up of beer (Derek has the list here). Ten bucks gets you a glass and three pours. Full details here.
  • Double Mountain Cookout and Street Party, Saturday noon - 10pm in Hood River. Live music, barbeque, and a full slate of DM beers, including two I am keen to try, Pilsner and Little Red Pils. Full details here.
Surely you can find something amid these lush offerings with which to amuse yourself.

Honest Pints in El Cajon, CA

Barbara Harnish of the Main Tap Tavern in El Cajon, California sent in a photo of the honest pints they're pouring there. El Cajon is east of San Diego a region quietly vying for the title "Beervana South". The Main Tap is just a little over a year old and has forged relationships with Coronado Brewing, Lightning Brewery, Firestone Walker and Ballast Point. They offer two dozen taps of great micro (including a current pour of Maine's Shipyard) and also have quite a bottle list. Their menu looks pretty tasty, too. So if you're in the area, stop by and have a pint.

Main Tap Tavern
518 E Main
El Cajon, CA 92020

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hot Weather Beers

It doesn't look like this heat is going to let up any time soon. Forecasts for Portland project weather in the triple digits for the next couple days, and heat in the 90s through the weekend. That means that if you want a beer, you're going to be wanting something other than a double IPA. Angelo has a good list at Brewpublic, and in response to Geoff's query, I'll add a few more.

General Principles
The first thing to acknowledge is that alcohol and high temperatures are a bad combo.

Alcohol lowers the body’s tolerance for heat and acts as a diuretic—meaning it speeds up dehydration—and affects the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The body loses needed fluids through the urination alcohol induces....

Alcohol also raises the body’s blood pressure, increasing the risk of a heat-related illness like hyperthermia over heating and heat stroke especially for people with high blood pressure.

If you're not in an air-conditioned environment, it's probably best not to drink any alcohol while it's this hot. However, if you can moderate your environment a bit, a beer can definitely taste refreshing. You want to look for specific characteristics in a hot-weather beer, though. Heavy or sweet beers are out--they'll make you feel gross. High-alcohol beers will exacerbate the effects of heat and while some of them taste good, it's best to stick to something around 5% or lower. And among those beers, the best are those that are tart or dry (low in residual sugars and not sweet to the palate).

The good news is that a variety of styles have been developed specifically to beat the heat. The bad news?--Oregon's brewers, inhabiting a region where summers are temperate and winters are protracted and dark, aren't known for brewing a lot of them. Here's my best bet of for classic styles and the examples you can find around the Northwest:

Bavarian Hefeweizen
In my humble estimation, the very best style for summer heat are the wheat beers from Southern Germany, where they're variously called hefeweizen or weisse. Although they are a typically low-alcohol beer (5% on average), they're brewed with lots of wheat, imparting a fluffy, creamy texture. They are characterized by a spicy palate that emerges from the fermentation (no real spices are added), with notes of clove, banana, vanilla, and citrus. They finish, as all hot-weather beers must, crisply; whatever sweetness you detect in the palate does not cloy. American versions of this beer tend to lack the spice (Widmer's is a case in point), though the recently-introduced Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is good. If you're in a grocery store with any kind of beer selection, you should see a German import from one of the major producers: Weihenstephaner, Schneider, Paulaner, Ayinger, Franziskaner, or Erdinger.

Belgian Wit
Across the border, Belgium produces a classic summer wheat beer much in keeping with German weisses. The word wit means "white" and indicates the cloudy, whitish color of the beer and its snowy head. Unlike their German kin, however, the Belgian variants do get their zesty, crisp character from spices. These harken back to the Dutch colonial period, when traders brought back exotic spices. Typically a Belgian wit has orange peel from the bitter Curaçao and coriander. Other spices are often added, as well (chamomile, lavender, black pepper, etc). In the US, Coor-owned Blue Moon has popularized the style, but it's a lackluster version. The original, which you can sometimes find around town is Hoegaarden. Other nice versions available in bottle are Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, Allagash. Alaskan recently introduced a year-round version that will do in a pinch.

Ah, the king of beer (styles). Considered by many to be the quintessential summer beer, and it's hard to argue strongly against them. I've written about the two main varieties of the pilsner style before (the Bohemian/Czech original and its lighter, less hoppy German brother). Pilsners are simultaneously paragons of both lagers and hoppy beers, and for some reason the former has prevented the latter from propelling this style to mass popularity among hop-loving (but ale-swilling) Northwesterners. The best examples are widely available at grocery stores--Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar on the bohemian side, Trumer Pils and Full Sail LTD 03 on the German side. Check local brewpubs, who now regularly brew a version.

Tart Beers
The maze of tart beers is a tangled affair. They range from the merely tart to the eye-wateringly sour. Their summer-month virtues are several: a crisp acidity, lots of flavor with little alcohol, refreshing fruit without cloying sweetness. For hot-weather drinking, the best are those that aren't too tart--forget the straight lambics or Flemish reds. What you want is a light body and just a bit of zip. Full Sail still has their Berliner Weisse on tap at the Pilsner Room, and that's a perfect choice--even if you're only looking at the heat through the windows. You can try it with a little bit of syrup or straight. Upright Four, with a mild lactic zing, is perfect warm-weather beer (and word is it will be available in bottles soon). If you're feeling really adventuresome, go to a beer store and try a fruit lambic (but skip Lindemans).

Kolsch, the native beer of Cologne, can seem insipid in cool weather. In the heat they open up and refresh, with a crisp dry palate, just a touch of hopping. Hard to find good examples locally, but a delicious version inspired by the style is Double Mountain's. I love a tasty mild or bitter ale from England, and these are also very hard to find. One you sometimes see--the Horse Brass often has it on tap--is Coniston's Bluebird Bitter, a small beer nevertheless lushly hopped. Full Sail Session is tasty, but beware, at 5.1%, it's stronger than it looks. Finally, and a tip of the hat back to Angelo, the Mainer, who remembered that Sam Adams Boston Lager is flat-out one of the best hot-weather beers made in America.

Cheaper Cheap Beer Roughing Up Cheap Beer

"Brand loyalty" is all well and good ... until the cost of supporting your cheap brand runs into the realities of a collapsing economy. Then it's off to the next, cheaper cheap beer:
Heineken sales sank 18% from the previous year in grocery, convenience and drug stores during the two-week period ended July 5, followed by Budweiser at 14%. Corona Extra sales dropped 11%, while Miller Lite declined 9% and Bud Light fell 7%. Coors Light sales held up better, falling less than 1% from a year ago.

Meanwhile, sales of “subpremium” beers including Busch, Natural Light and Keystone posted “substantial gains”, according to Ad Age, which didn’t provide the specifics.
Ad Age adds (amusingly):
But while the economy is clearly dragging on the biggest beer brands, the severity of the declines also raises questions about the effectiveness of some of the category's biggest ad budgets. The decline at Bud Light comes as the brand is nine months into its "Drinkability" effort, designed to give the beer a more product-attribute-fueled push than its former frat-humor efforts did.

Miller Lite has tried to pound its "Great Taste" to sales gains in the same manner its new stable mate Coors Light succeeded with a single-minded focus on "Rocky Mountain cold refreshment." But that effort, too, has yet to gain traction.
Gee, I wonder why those ad campaigns have failed to sway drinkers. It couldn't be because, you know, since all tin-can beer tastes the same, customers are buying the cheapest stuff. Nah, couldn't be that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Devil Sun

Okay, this is bad. Average high for July 28: 81°
Temperature: 8:53 am: 79°
_9:53 am: 83°
10:53 am: 88°
11:53 am: 92°
12:53 pm: 96°
-1:53 pm: 100°
-2:53 pm: 102°
-3:53 pm: 104°
-4:53 pm: 105°

Key quote to put things in perspective comes via Twitter from Oakshire's Matt Van Wyk:
103 degrees today. Even the 6am brew shift of a double brew won't be enjoyable. Which breweries have an air conitioned brewhouses???
And apropos of nothing, I offer you a phone pic I snapped outside my Boeing en route to Minneapolis. Even with just two megapixels, one has a sense of the grandeur. Lucky people will be driving up that mountain sometime this morning and not coming down until Thursday.

Widmer weighs in on Twitter: "Currently, the brewhouse is 115°, the boiler room is 135°, and the cooler is 46°. We'll hang out in the cooler, thanks very much."

Compare and Contrast: Minnesota and Oregon

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that my recent sojourn to Minnesota was somewhat fraught with failure in an attempt to find indigenous beer. In four days I managed just two: a bottle of Schell's Dark and draft Summit Extra Pale. I found this very strange. The Upper Midwest is beer country and Minnesota has been home to a host of famous brands: Hamm's, Schmidt, Grain Belt, and Schell (still independent after 149 years).

At the various restaurants I visited, the slate of draft beers was almost identical: Corona, a national brand and its "lite" variant, Summit Extra Pale, and one import (variously Guinness, Beck's, and Smithwick's). Yet it is consistent with a surprising finding I stumbled across when I was doing research on highly-concentrated brewing regions: Minnesota, with just 22, a per-capita rate similar to Kansas'. Why would a place with a rich brewing history and towns as funky and beer-ready as the Twin Cities have so little local craft-brewing ferment?

One component is definitely local liquor laws. I discovered this as I wandered out the first night on a post-sunset amble. As is my habit, I made for the first grocery store I could find, in this case a Whole Foods near MacAlester College. I spent a good ten minutes trawling the aisles for the beer cooler before it occurred to me to check the iPhone: sure enough, beer and wine can only be purchased in liquor stores. I have no idea how much this dampens sales or blunts local beer culture, but since that's the intention of such a law, and since both beer availability and local beer culture are so constrained, one has to conclude it's working.

Another measure: according to the BeerAdvocate listing, Minnesota has only 15 brewpubs; compare that to the 71 in Oregon.

Admittedly, I didn't go to real pubs or even restaurants where one would expect many beers. But all had several taps, yet only one devoted to local craft. In Oregon--or at least in Portland--it would be nearly impossible to find a restaurant with four taps that had only a single local craft beer.

I don't doubt that the beer geeks of Minnesota are just as geeky as Beervana's, nor even that there are a lot fewer of them. Yet the experience for the casual visitor is that local beer just isn't getting made or consumed there. I welcome insight and conversation. As always, I return to Portland with renewed appreciation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

OBF From 1,400 Miles

If I was going to miss an OBF, this was the one to miss: never in the history of beer fests has any been covered so widely in so many media. (Last year's GABF may be an exception, but don't get in the way of the HMS Hyperbole, please.) I was seeing updates on email, blogs, and Twitter, and starting to get a good sense of which beers were good and bad. Admittedly, this is a highly-specialized view, offered by those very into beer and at least partly into technology. Still, based on these beer geeks, here's what I think I know:

Boundary Bay Single-Hop Amarillo was the most impressive beer. Boundary Bay has a regular, ongoing series with single-hopped beers, and this was the 15th edition. (Beer savants may recall that last year they brought their crystal-hopped version.) Those who know and love Amarillo will not be surprised by this--such a nice hop. Now the real question arises: will this beer be available in pubs? Please let me know if you see it pouring somewhere; I really want to have a pint.

Sad to say that Green Flash Imperial IPA was roundly hailed the big dud. Something wrong with the batch, apparently, because past Green Flash entries have impressed. But with descriptions like "rotting vegetation," it's hard to argue.

I got a link on my open thread from the mayor's office with this 75-second clip: there are images of the parade and Sam tapping the old wooden keg to kick-off the fest. Have a look: you'll see a lot of familiar faces. (How is it that Abe is always on video? He's quickly becoming the face of Oregon beer. And better his than mine!)

Oregon Brewers Festival Parade & Keg Tapping from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

Incidentally, should you prefer first-hand experience to rumor (and I can't imagine why you would), you might have a look at these recaps: Bill at It's Pub Night; Hops and Barley, Beer Around Town.

Feel free to add any closing (and informed) comments you might have.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Open Thread: Oregon Brewers Festival

Well, here I am in muggy Minnesota, far from Waterfront Park. The only taste of the Fest I'll enjoy this year will be vicarious, so I am appealing to those of you who do go to let me know what's happening. If you're at or have been to the Fest, let me know what you see, will you? I'll keep this post at the top of the blog through Sunday--please comment!


Update. Reax coming in: Bill at It's Pub Night; Hops and Barley, Beer Around Town.

Support Your Local Pub

NPR has a grim reminder that a perfect storm of events can turn an erstwhile Beervana into a pub-less ghost town:
This could be the greatest tragedy of the recession for the U.K.: Humble British pubs -- the kind of place Britons can go for a relaxing pint (or five) and chips on the way home from work -- are closing at a rate of 52 a week, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. That's 2,377 pubs closed, and about 24,000 jobs lost in the past year.

The association's report also says that local pubs were the hardest hit, especially due to the economic downturn. Interestingly, the key to survival seems to be selling food: pubs that focus more on selling food are only closing at a rate of one a week.

But it isn't only the recession to blame. Industry representatives said that 20 percent increase in the U.K.'s beer tax (which is set to rise), as well as increased regulation (such as the recent pub smoking ban).

Bud Clark should make some PSAs: "Only you can prevent massive pub extinctions." Indeed, we must do our civic duty.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oregon Brewers Fest Preview

It is surely a force of nature, a sweaty, loud, personal-space-invading juggernaut. The Oregon Brewers Festival, your time is nigh. With so many other fests, a certain number of folks have begun to skip the OBF and leave it to the tourists. Fair enough--the fest is not for everyone. For many of us, though, the last weekend in July arrives like Mardi Gras, not just a party but a sacred rite. In a few hours, the first of the fest-goers will begin to enter Tom McCall Waterfront Park to pay their respects and splash just a bit of holy water down their throats. Christmas has arrived in Beervana.

It is not always the case that the Fest is marked by a surfeit of eye-catching beers, but this year is different. For the first time in years--since they did that thing with the Oregon tent--there will be more than 72 breweries in attendance. More pointedly, however, the beer selection seems a cut above. There are quite a few more offbeat beers and far fewer in the pale/IPA spectrum (in past years it's pushed 50% of taps). I usually only see a dozen or so that really intrigue me, but this year there are 18 (!). Actually, there are even more than that, but I tend to skip local breweries, knowing I can track down their beers later on. We don't go to the Fest to enjoy beers we love, we go there to try the new and exciting. So I will rely on my sometimes spotty wiles, read between the lines of the descriptions, and come up with my best bets for interesting beers to try. Here goes.

Ten to Try

Okay, I cheated. There are actually twelve beers here. The last entry features a cage match between examples of the year's hottest style, saison. For some reason, nearly every beer I've selected comes from the West Coast. One of those years.

Beer Valley Leafer Madness (Ontario, OR)
Description: A monster in all ways--9% alcohol and intensely hoppy. Called an imperial pale, but traditionalists might call it a stong ale.
Why I think it's a winner: The reputation for this beer oscillates between "sublime" and "too much." There will come a time when your palate is shot and you pine for something you can taste: this is your beer.
Stats: 1.076 OG, 9% abv, 100 IBUs

Boulder Flashback Anniversary Ale (Boulder, CO)
Description: Celebrating thirty years, this is one of the elder breweries of good beer. Flashback is a dark copper beer made with five infusions of Cascade hops (65 IBUs of them, which is a monstrous amount of Cascades), and the word on the street is: mmmmm, tasty!
Why I think it's a winner: Brewer David Zuckerman never turns out a bad beer, and I have reason to think he used his decades of experience to make this one special.
Stats: 1.066 OG, 6.8% abv, 65 IBUs.

Caldera Hibiscus Ginger (Ashland, OR)
Description: A light summer ale made with candi sugar, hibiscus flowers, ginger, and dry-flowered with hibiscus. Small amount of Willamette hops used, too.
Why I think it's a winner: Hibiscus flowers are common in tea and are tart--this may be an intriguing quasi-Belgiany beer, and it may be blood red, which would be cool, too.
Stats: 4.3%; no other stats available.

Chuckanut Dortmund Lager (Bellingham, WA)
Description: Dortmund lagers, a variant of the pilsner style, are the perfect summer beers--crisp, refreshing, nicely hopped.
Why I think it's a winner: Chuckanut is a new brewery whose principal, Will Kemper, will be familiar to old-timers who remember his first brewery, Thomas Kemper. This is another mostly-lager effort, and maybe now the time is right. Let's hope so; Beervana needs more lagers.
Stats: 1.054 OG, 5.5% abv, 25IBUs

Elysian Loser (Seattle, WA)
Description: Brewed for Sub Pop's 20th Anniversary, this hybrid IPA/pale features the use of an emerging hop, Sorachi Ace.
Why I think it's a winner: The hop in question is a high-alpha strain originally developed by Sapporo and is characterized as "lemony." Mmm, new hops...
Stats: 1.068 OG, 7.0% abv, 54 IBUs.

Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA (Paso Robles, CA)
Description: A burly IPA brewed with five hops: Warrior, Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo.
Why I think it's a winner: Firestone Walker is finally starting to make it North of the border, and it's one of the most well-regarded breweries in the country (rightly or wrongly). You gotta have at least one IPA in your must-try list, and since Union Jack won gold in last year's GABF, I figure it's a good bet.
Stats: 1.068 OG, 7.5% abv, 70 IBUs

Kona Coco-Loco (Kona, HI)
Description: Kona uses a lot of local Hawaiian ingredients (passion fruit, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee), and this brown includes toasted coconut.
Why I think it's a winner: Kona isn't a gimmick brewery. The passion fruit they use mimics citrusy hops, and the coffee is so fresh you can actually distinguish the Kona flavor, making a great wheat and porter. I expect they will have extracted a nice note from the coconut that will work with the sweeter, nutty notes in this beer.
Stats: 1.052 OG, 5.3% abv, 30 IBUs

Moyland's Pomegranate Wheat (Novato, CA)
Description: A wheat ale with almost no hops. The flavor comes from the pomegranate, a tart fruit selected to balance the sweetness of malt.
Why I think it's a winner: Definitely a wildcard. If the pomegranate is tart enough to balance the beer, it might just be wonderful. I am inspired by the dry final gravity of 1.009.
Stats: 1.048 OG, 4.8% abv, 8 IBUs

Terminal Gravity Festivale (Enterprise, OR)
Description: An old ale, a variety of English strong ale noted for being creamy, rich, and alcoholic.
Why I think it's a winner: Terminal Gravity is not known for prolific styles, but they are known for great beers. I wouldn't let a TG beer I hadn't try go by--and who knows how often this will make it to Portland. Plus, old ales are cool.
Stats: 1.070 OG, 8.3% abv, 73 IBUs

*Special Saison Cage Match*
Boulevard Tank 7 (Kansas City, MO)
Collaborator Saison Christophe (Portland, OR)
New Holland Golden Cap (Holland, MI)
Description: Farmhouse ales are so different that you can hardly call them a style. These three are all strong beers, but their parts are quite different. The Collaborator uses the notorious Dupont yeast--but has just 17 BUs. Golden Cap is made with Spelt and peppercorn. Boulevard's is hoppy (like Dupont), and made with wheat and corn flakes.
Why I think they're winners: Because saison is my favorite style. Prediction: at least one of these will be a "buzz beer." I cannot predict which, so try them all.
Stats: Tank 7: 1.070 OG, 8% abv, 40 IBUs; Christophe: 1.073 OG, 7.7% abv, 17 IBUs; Golden Cap: 1.064 OG, 7% abv, ? IBUs.

Wild Cards

BridgePort Stumptown Tart (Portland, OR)
I haven't tried the new version of Stumptown, but folks are saying it's quite nice. I suspect it will seduce people by its soft palate, and that they will fail to notice its heft 7.5% alcohol whallop.

Dogfish Head Festina Peche (Milton, DE)
I tried this in a bottle and it was flat, cloying, and gross. But a peach-infused Berliner Weisse seems like an excellent idea. Perhaps it will taste as good as it sounds when delivered from a keg.

New Old Lompoc Flower of the Gods (Portland, OR)
Sometimes a name draws you in: Flower of the Gods just sounds good, doesn't it? The Cluster, Simcoe, and Tettnanger hops, introduced in six infusions, may be the key. With a name like this, you're swingin' for the fences; lets see if they take it deep.

New Belgium/Elysian The Trip (Seattle/Boulder, CO)
This is actually not a wild card--it's been around town for awhile and I've heard very good buzz. It features the rare and apparently very tasty Citra hops. Try it.

Laht Neppur Neddy's Brown comes from a brewery just north of Walla Walla which few--including me--have heard of. It's a traditional brown ale. In that same vein, Riverport Old Man River Oatmeal Stout comes from Clarkston, Washington and will be new to most fest-goers. Three years ago, I brewed an IPA but fermented with a Belgian yeast--not a novel idea, as it turns out. Enter Stone Cali-Belgique. Finally, every year Sprecher sends the same beer, but that doesn't mean Sprecher Maibock is any less tasty. You could do worse than spending a token early in the fest on this subtle masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fest Admission

So I'm just completing my OBF Preview post--an annual behemoth famed around the ... well, around my house, anyway. It is at this moment that I will confess to an uncomfortable fact. I'm off to Minnesota tomorrow to go to a conference that was unfortunately scheduled to exactly obliterate my attendence at the fest. I leave a few hours before it starts and touch down just three hours before it ends.

I'll be watching from afar, and would love to hear how things are going. I may even do a bit of blogging if I find myself in a dull session. Perhaps I'll put an open thread up on Friday so you can report back and give me a vicarious taste. In any case, have fun, be well, and enjoy.

OBF's 36 Other Beers

In addition to expanding their regular taplist by nine beers, the OBF is piloting the Buzz tent. I will confess to being slightly mystified by the intention behind this gambit, wherein 28 breweries were invited to send 1-4 "buzz beers." This would seem to subvert the idea of a "buzz beer"; by convention, such a beer is so good that it creates word-of-mouth buzz as festgoers relay what's tasty. So sequestering the beers you think will be the best in a special tent seems a bit odd.

And it does look like a tasty line-up. To select just a few: Cascade Brewing Night Fall, Deschutes Bourbon Quad, Full Sail 1998 Old Boilermaker (bourbon barrel), Stone 13th Anniversary, and from Wisconsin, Sprecher Brewery Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale. Preston Weesner, the emerging Wizard of Rare Beers (he organizes FredFest and the Winter Ale Fest), put the list together--further evidence that the beers will be good.

It's sort of like a fest-within-a-fest. It has special hours and you have to buy special tickets. There doesn't appear to be a schedule, but it looks like you mostly take what they're pouring at the time. The downside seems to be that it's a bit of a crapshoot, and an expensive one. The upside is that the Fest has finally responded to beer geeks' demands that the beer quality match the OBF's reputation. Perhaps the Buzz Tent will even be a less-hectic, less frat-party-y oasis, too.

Here's the details:
OBF Buzz Tent
Time: Friday and Saturday, noon to 4:30

Admission: $20, good for eight 4-ounce pours. With admission, tasters receive a " ticket that will give you tastes of six different buzz beers, plus two tastings of your choosing."
Availability: 1000 tickets each day.

"Because of the different quantities of product on hand, we can’t guarantee what beers will be pouring at any single time. Look for the chalkboard outside the tent, or follow the Buzz Tent on Twitter: @OBFBuzzTent."
Here are the beers, with a special hat tip to John Foyston, who assembled them into a bullet list. The list at the official website is an unreadable block of text.
• Alameda Horseshoe Hefeweizen
• Alaskan Barley Wine
• Anderson Valley Huge'r Boont
• Ballast Point Sour Wench Tart Blackberry Ale #1
• Beer Valley Black Flag Imperial Stout 2008 Fresh Hop edition
• Blue Frog Barrel Aged Strong Amber Peligroso
• BridgePort 2008 Stumptown Tart in firkin
• BridgePort BBL Ebenezer
• Cascade Brewing Sang Royale
• Cascade Brewing Gold Yeller
• Cascade Brewing Night Fall
• Cascade Brewing Gose
• Cascade Brewing Mouton Rouge
• Deschutes Bourbon Quad
• Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
• Fearless Strong Scotch
• Fifty Fifty Imperial Eclipse Stout (bourbon aged)
• Firestone Walker Double/Imperial Union Jack
• Full Sail 1998 Old Boilermaker (Bourbon Barrel)
• Grand Teton Brewing Howling Wolf Weizenbock
• Laurelwood Organic Deranger Imperial Red
• Laht Neppur Spiced Waitsburg Winter Warmer
• Lazy Boy Pomegranate Belgian Golden Ale
• Lompoc Barrel Fermented LSD
• McMenamins West Linn Largo Laws Treasure Strong Scottish
• McMenamins Obama Nation Domestic Schwarzbier
• McMenamins Old St. Francis Base Camp Coffee Stout
• McMenamins Oak Hills Das Schwertz Maibock (whiskey aged)
• Moylan's Brewing Co. Batch #1000 Double Kilt Lifter
• New Belgium La Folie
• Oakshire Glen's Hop Vice Imperial IPA
• Redhook Raspberry Tripel
• Rock Bottom Rod Flanders
• Stone 13th Anniversary
• Sprecher Brewery Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale
• Widmer X-114 IPA.

Honest Pint Goes National: San Diego's Blind Lady Certified

What a perfect exclamation point for this beery week: yesterday I received an email from Jenniffer Chase at the Blind Lady Ale House in San Diego. Attached was this lovely photo. Look carefully and you can see that the glasses are inscribed with a half-liter line, making them the extra-special gold standard of honest glassware. We'll have to update the website to include California--Blind Lady Ale House is now a Certified Purveyor of Honest Pints!

There's been a lot of talk of which city is Beer Town USA, and Denver and Portland tend to think it's a two-city choice. San Diegans differ, and if you click around the Blind Lady website, you can see why. Great food and great beer--just the kind of place to cool your heels with a nice honest pint. Folks in So Cal and folks visiting So Cal should take note and drop in for a pint:
Blind Lady Ale House
3416 Adams Ave.
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 255-2491

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

OBF By the Numbers

As has now become traditional, I offer you the Oregon Brewers Guild Festival by the numbers. Compare/contrast to earlier years: 2007, 2008. Also, check out Bill's (more useful) contribution to the genre.
-22 - Years since inception
-81 - Participating breweries
-13 - Participating states
-33 - Oregon Breweries

-20 - IPAs (six imperial/double)
-11 - Belgian-style ales
--8 - Fruit ales
--7 - Organic beers

-4.0 - ABV of smallest beer (Eel River, Cascade Lakes)
10.3 -ABV of largest beer (Redhook Tripel)
---5 - Fewest IBUs in fest (Anderson Valley Summer Solstice)
127 - Most IBUs at the fest (Laughing Dog Alphadog)
---8 - Minimum years in a row 21st Amendment Brewery brought Watermelon Wheat
Much, much more to come of OBF-related posting.

Cool Factoid of the Day

Via Chris Crabb, one of the key figures behind the Oregon Brewers Festival, comes this:
Volunteers working at the OBF this year come 28 states, Canada, England and The Netherlands.
The OBF is a force of nature; now we know it's an international force of nature.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Brief PIB Recap

I had a wonderful time at the Portland International Beerfest, and it once again lived up to my expectations. Some folks voiced concerns that the beer list is getting repetitive and that it's turning into another over-crowded Portland beer fest. Not a bit of it. While there were lots of folks there, we had a place to sit throughout the day and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a beer. That space is cool and breezy and well-shaded. This year they borrowed the Park Avenue streets, where the beer was being poured, leaving more room for lounging under trees. Minor quibbles--no water, increasing prices--could be something the fest looks at, but they didn't badly affect the event for me.

And the beer! Such a tour de force of style variability and virtuosity. Uncharacteristically, I managed to stick pretty close to my list, and had few duds (Oppigårds Well-hopped Lager was murky and indistinct when it should have been clarion and crisp, and Mikkeller USAlive was an interesting effort but not a wildly pleasant beer. It was akin to a soured IPA; two good flavors that don't go well together.) It was too difficult to implement the hefeweizen taste-off, but individual pours proved satisfying. Fantome Pissenlit didn't make it, nor, apparently did the sherry-cask-aged JW Lees (anyway, I could never find it). The others varied from good to great, and I'd especially highlight these:
Fruit beers are something we want to love. Brewers brew lots and we try lots, but mostly we end up disappointed. Birrificio Montegioco Quarta Runa is the kind of beer we hope for. The fruit is subdued and in harmony with the beer, and the yeasties have done their job, leaving it quite dry and tart. Maybe my fave beer at the fest, and surely a world-class beer.

PIB managed to get ahold of a batch of six-year-old Le Coq Imperial Stout, and they only charged three tix apiece. For this modest price, you were offered a lush, plummy stout that was just at its prime. Oxidation was minimal, but the age shone through like a fine port.

It's a little hard to praise Reissdorf Kolsch in the same glowing terms because it is a modest little wallflower among rare orchids. Yet in the manner of Zen brewing--brewing a beer of perfect naturalness--I couldn't help but marvel. Word is that the Germans are dialing back the kolsch style, Budweisering it, but Reissdorf's was clean and crisp and had quite a nice bouquet of hops--and more than a little peppery zip. I don't imagine it would taste anywhere near as fresh in a bottle.

Finally, Dupont Avril was a masterpiece of beer haiku. Just 3.5% to work with, and yet it was so flavorful. Cloudy and effervescent, zesty and well-hopped with earthy, spicy hops (Goldings?), it was like a spring morning. I could live adequately on this beer alone for the rest of my life.
Derek has a rich discussion of PIB at Beer Around Town if you hanker for a bit more discussion.

Lovely Article in the Times

You must go read "Going Back in Time in Old England, Sip by Sip" by Henry Shukman in yesterday's NY Times. He's a novelist and he directs his lush prose at the pubs of Cotswold in such a fetching manner that I regret not being in one at this moment:
JUST up the hill from the main square is the Red Lion. It’s a real old market-town pub: just one small main room, and one old geezer on a bench (the night I visited) sipping slowly on pint after pint, a fire gently hissing away, and a lively and lissome barmaid joking with a couple of young men at the bar. And nothing on offer but drink. (At lunchtime you might be lucky enough to get a cheese roll.) This is a pub that has made no compromise with the times. The brown linoleum floor, the mix of tables, the darts board, the Aunt Sally at the back (a peculiarly delightful game played only in Oxfordshire and three neighboring shires, involving wooden battens, a clay pot and a lot of tipsy near-misses) — this place can hardly have changed since the ’70s, or even the ’50s. The creed might be: If the beer’s kept well, the pub is delivering itself of its chief charge.
It's easily the best piece of beer writing I've encountered since Michael Jackson's death. Don't cheat yourself: go read the whole thing. Photo essay here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

PIB Live

[Note: iPhone and errors of ... other origins cleaned up.]

I am abandoning the live tweeting for old-school live blogging. At Beervana HQ, we constantly strive to improve the reader's experience. So here goes.

Departing Bijou with an extemely full belly. Ready for a nap.

Whoa, the line's a mile long. (Okay, two blocks.)

The eagle has landed. They're playing the Eels, and I've got a Cantillon Iris. Perfect!

Dupont Avril--exquisite! Lots of yeast character, cloudy. Wonderful peppery, dry finish.

Granitbock. No Helles. Big, burly, caramely, sweet, beguiling.

Missed some, but here're two: the Well-Hopped Lager is Swedish, not Czech, and is slightly murky and indistinct. However, Quarta Runa is exceptional. Subtly peachy, gentle, tart, and dry. Best of the day so far.

Note on value. Deschutes XXI is just a token, on draft. Not exactly the day for it, but it's a helluva deal.

A friend just went for Troll Geisha, a 7-token beer. Highest cost here, a barleywine. Pretty much worth it.

Le Coq 6-year-old imperial stout. Wow! Like port. 3 tix--good value.

Konigshoeven Quad, a Trappist for two tickets--you see how my thinking's going?

Sally got the LAST glass of DeuS at the fest. Spiced, sweet, obviously effervescent. Perhaps too much?

Also, the Cantillon St. Lamvinus--not a bit of sugar; I drank it in four swallows. I'm a lambic slut!

Friday, July 17, 2009

PIB Docs

PIB has a spotty record of good documentation about their beers. I took the online list and converted it into an Excel file, which I append here in two versions as .pdfs. The first is the beers sorted by country, the second sorted by style.

PIB Beer List Sorted by Country

PIB Beer List Sorted by Style

Portland International Beerfest Preview

Portland International Beerfest
North Park Blocks between Davis and Everett

Friday: 4pm - 10pm

Saturday: 12pm - 10pm

Sunday: 12pm - 7pm
Attendees pay $20 for 10 beer tickets and official PIB glass; additional tix $1. Cash only. Pours of 4 ounces cost 1-4 tickets (half the beers are just one ticket). Children, no; dogs, yes. Official website.

And so it begins. In just a few short hours, volunteers will begin pouring some 147 beers, presenting you with a painful quandary: how do you choose? (Yes, you must choose: with just 23 hours of fest time, you'd have to move at a lethal 6.4-beer-per-hour pace to try them all. Don't do it!) I have spent a fair amount of time studying the beer list posted one the website, and damned if I know how I'm going to taste my much-attenuated list of two dozen+ "must try's." But perhaps we can at least bring some order to the winnowing process.

For those of you who attend every year, looking for the new trends may be one way to identify likely suspects. Craft brewing is an international phenomenon, and PIB is a great way to see how breweries are influencing one another. You can be sure that if a brewery discovers a cool hop on one continent, brewers will be using it a year later on another continent. (Nelson Sauvin are the lupulin du jour.) So what's hot now? Stouts, for one thing. There are 17 stouts and Baltic Porters at the fest, 13 of them imperial. The leaders here are the Scandinavians, who appear to have been inspired by their dark winters, but this is really a worldwide phenomenon: breweries from ten countries have brought these beers.

Brewery collaboration is suddenly very big, too, and not just for neighboring breweries. Of the half-dozen or so collaboration beers on offer, only one seems to be by countrymen breweries. Will this create a Beatles-like fizz of creativity (sum greater than the parts), or a muddle of compromise?

Finally, barrel-aging is so widespread that it's now hard to call it a trend. I remember way back in the day (2005), you'd be wowed if someone got a hold of a decent bourbon barrel in which to age a beer. In this year's line-up beers have been aged in: Islay malt barrels, 40-year-old cognac barrels, burgundy barrels, and a 100-year-old sherry cask (!). If you're not barrel aging, you're not trying.

Interesting Beers
Get any ten beer geeks to look at this list and collectively they'll advise you that every beer pouring at the fest is interesting. And they'd be right. But we must all use our wiles and judgment to get the list pared, and so I have selected a modest sixteen beers here for your consideration, trying to balance countries (Germany, Denmark, Italy, England, Belgium, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), style, and type (seven are on draft, nine in the bottle). Except for my recommendation on the hefeweizen flight, I've tried none of these beers--that's another of my criteria, novelty--so there are likely some duds. Also, I eschewed all of the Double IPAs because I've grown weary of the style. If you must have one--and most of you will feel you must--try one from Denmark or Norway ;they seem to understand the Zen of hopping. That style aside, here's a list of some fair diversity:
  • Urige Dopple-Sticke Alt, Germany. Purportedly the hoppiest German beer in production, in the lovely altbier stile. (Draft)
  • Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, Belgium. A lambic aged in a burgundy barrel. (Bottle)
  • Mikkeller USAlive, Denmark. A strong Belgian-style ale made with a combination of brettanomyces and Orval yeast. (Bottle)
  • Hofstettner Granitbock, Germany. A hellles bock made in the stone beer method of heating rocks to boil the wort ("granite bock"). (Bottle)
  • Dupont Avril Table Beer, Belgium. I will confess to finding Dupont irresistible, and this wee 3.5% table beer is no exception. They're also pouring Moinette, and I wouldn't be shocked to look down and see that in my glass at some point, either. (Draft)
  • Birrificio Montegioco Quarta Runa, Italy. A beer made with peach, purportedly dry and refined. (Bottle)
  • Hefeweizen Flight, Germany. Here's what you do: you and three friends get a simultaneous pour of the four traditional hefeweizens (Ayinger, Franziskaner, Kapuziner, and Weinhenstephan) and see which is best. What an opportunity! (Draft)
  • Fantome Pissenlit, Belgium. A saison made with dandelions. (Bottle)
  • Slaghmuylder Witkap Singel, Belgium. A beer in the rare singel style, brewed by the only secular brewery ever allowed to use the designation "Trappist"--though not any more. (Draft)
  • De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis, Netherlands. "Hell and Damnation" is a stout made with obscure Czech Premiant hops and aged in a 40-year-old cognac barrel. (Bottle)
  • Le Coq 6-Year-Old Imperial Stout, England. The allure is right there in the title. (Bottle)
  • Reissdorf Kolsch, Germany. An authentic kolsch from Cologne and served on tap, the way delicate beers like this were intended. (Draft)
  • De Ranke Cuvee De Ranke, Belgium. A sour ale made with a mixture of yeasts from Rodenbach and an unnamed lambic brewery. (Bottle)
  • Cantillon Mystery Beer, Belgium. Whatever it is comes in a keg, and depending on how many tix they're asking, I will probably take the plunge. (draft)
  • Oppigårds Well-hopped Lager, Czech Republic. A 5% pilsner with a hearty 50 IBUs. (Bottle)
  • JW Lees Harvest Sherry, England. This is not my fave brewery, and normally I would keep on moving. But in this case, the 100-year-old sherry cask is hard to ignore. Pours at 2pm on Saturday only, in what is sure to be a scrum. (Draft)
There are a few American beers one might keep an eye on, too. Very often these are cheaper, and you have a chance to see how good American brewing stacks up against the world's best. A few that caught my eye:
  • Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout. Eventually I'm going to find a DH I like. It's 22%, so be careful.
  • Bell's De Proef Van Twee. A two-continent collaboration, seasoned with brettanomyces. How can it go wrong?
  • Great Divide Oak Aged Chocolate Yeti. I nurture a prejudice against Colorado beers, but Yeti is the exception. Put it on oak and add chocolate and I bet it's still damn tasty.
  • Mead. There are five here, and if you've never had a mead, check them out. (Try to find the driest you can--maybe the agave?)
  • Rogue John John Hazelnut. Aged in a rum barrel, but only 5%--intriguing.
  • Cascade/Rac Lodge. Ask around and find out what Gansberg sent--if it's the kriek, don't delay!
Ah, the best laid plans. Even trying to winnow, I still mentioned 26 beers. This is the trouble, and it doesn't get any easier once you arrive, in situ, and find yourself with three imperial stouts in your gullet. Godspeed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

PIB 2009 By the Numbers

Total Beers: 147
76 - Bottled
71 - Draft

Beers by Country (17 total)
1 - Austria
1 - Brazil
1 - Finland
1 - France
1 - Sweden
2 - Japan
2 - Netherlands
3 - Canada
3 - Czech Republic
3 - Scotland
4 - Italy
5 - Norway
8 - Denmark
11 - England
22 - Germany
36 - Belgium
43 - US

Beers by Type
2 - Cider
5 - Mead
21 - Lager
119 - Ale

Lightest beer: 3.5% (Dupont Avril)
Strongest beer: 22% (Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout)
Beers of 10% alcohol or more: 33
Beers of 5% alcohol or less: 25
Number of "double" or "imperial" beers: 26
Beers with 70 IBUs or more: 25
Oldest Brewery: 969 years (Weinhenstephaner, 1040)

PIB Diversity

The Portland International Beerfest starts tomorrow, and it looks to be the best one in years. Organizers have done a great job of finding new and obscure beers--or obscure beers from famous breweries. Many of the classics are there, which is good: every year newbies should be able to find the standards for style. But there are also beers like Dupont's Avril, a low-alcohol table beer. It's going to take me a while to get through these, but I'll have a post up later today or tomorrow with a list of the beers that interest me. Meanwhile, go have a look at the beer list and see what grabs you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What Sours a Beer?

In yesterday's post about Devil's Kriek, Samurai Artist sparked a conversation about the souring properties of brettanomyces. Since sour beers are becoming more common, it's a timely discussion. Sourness may be tart and clean as in a Berliner Weisse, dry and austere as in some lambics, our face-puckeringly intense, as in some Flemish reds. These different qualities come from different microorganisms, and it's worth spending a post mentioning a few of the biggies.

My source material here is Jeff Sparrow's Wild Brews, which I recommend highly for anyone interested in a deep understanding of sour beers. Let's start with a pithy opening from the start of his fourth chapter, "Beer-Souring Microorganisms." Here, he describes the actors that create the funk:
"Four dominant types of microorganisms commonly ferment and acidify wild beers: brettanomyces, lactobacillus, pediococcus, and saccharomyces. Sever other important players also merit a mention, including acetobacter, enterobacter, and various oxidative yeasts."
Now, in this next pithy passage, he describes the particular nature of the funk those actors produce:
"The acids most important to wild beers include lactic and acetic acid. Acetic acid, present in copious amounts in vinegar, is sharp, pungent, and greatly increases the perception of sourness. Lactic acid, found in spoiled milk, is less objectionable and contributes a 'tangy' character, sometime perceived as 'sweet' by brewers in contrast to other acids."
(There are actually a host of other acids that contribute flavor like caproic acid, which Sparrow says gives a "goaty," "sweaty," or "zoolike" character. But you can read his book if you want the full monty.)

This wild yeast inspires the most awe and fear among brewers. It will eat anything, including dextrins and sugars that other yeasts find unpalatable, achieving nearly 100% attenuation. (Brewers joke that it will start eating the glass in a bottle if you leave it long enough.) Attenuation is the percentage of available sugars a yeast will eat. Wyeast's Northwest ale yeast, a non-brettanomyces yeast, attenuates at about 70%, for example. Brett will produce both acetic and lactic acids, but the former only under certain circumstances. There are at least five species of brettanomyces and many strains within each. The most common is brettanomyces bruxellensis, named for a strain from Brussels.

Lactobacillus is a type of wild yeast bacteria that gives Flanders beers (red and brown) their character, as it does to some German ales like Gose and Berliner Weisse. It is not a major player in lambics, however--the lactic there comes from pediococcus (see below). As the name suggests, lactobacillus produces lactic acid. Lactobacillus is far more finicky than brettanomyces, preferring warm temperatures, a low-oxygen environment, and low levels of hop acids.

As alluded to above, pediococcus is the beastie that gives lambics their lactic, not lactobacillus. This is mainly a function of the life cycle of a lambic. Pediococcus ferments in beer with little or no oxygen; likewise, it gives off no carbon dioxide. In a lambic, the pediococcus kicks in after 3-4 months when, fascinatingly, the wort is exceptionally sour as a result of early enterobacter production. The pediococcus begins when the lambic warms up, creating "long strands of slime" on top of the wort. You can drink the beer at this stage, but it's oily and known as the "sick" stage. But from the sickness comes the lactic, and eventually, the slime is reabsorbed as the brettanomyces begin gobbling up everything that's left.

The upshot? "Sour" isn't a fixed flavor. Different beers have different compounds and acids that contribute characteristics that define style. Brewers have very different attitudes to the kinds of sour beers produce. When I was at Allagash last year, Jason Perkins and Rob Tod described their efforts to cultivate native brettanomyces. On the other hand, Ron Gansberg doesn't want brett in his brewery; he's a lactobacillus man. Matt Swihart is a brett man, but is he only a brett man, or will future batches exhibit the character of other funky bacteria? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

PHOTO: Cantillon casks, Thom's Beer Blog / link

By the way, Sparrow reproduces a lot of very cool graphs he got from Raj Apte, and you can find those at his site. One I particularly enjoyed is a graph showing the waves of activity in lambic fermentation, particularly in the first year. Click on it to see an enlarged version. You'll find more cool stuff if you follow the link to his site, too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Special Honest Pint Project Commendation to Belmont Station

Since the Honest Pint Project's launch, there have always been problems it could never solve. Short of mandating that pubs serve all beer in government-certified glasses that feature a prominent line demarcating a specific volume, there will always be gray areas. (And let's not kid ourselves--such a system comes with its own baggage. Someone has to pay for the government to oversee and regulate such a system, which means additional taxes. Guess where they are levied? Right, your pint of beer. So careful what you wish for.) Those gray areas were explored in depth in comments on yesterday's post.

In light of that, I'd like to offer a special commendation to Belmont Station for their glassware, which exhibits the kind of precision and transparency I wish every bar had. As you can see, there's a clear line indicating 16 ounces. When I dumped the beer into my measuring cup, it showed the same volume as the glass had--just a bit over 16 ounces. (See photo here.)

So cheers to you, Belmont Station, for exceeding even the high standards of the Honest Pint Project.

Double Mountain Devil's Kriek

Beer is local. Or was, anyway, before industrialization. Styles emerged from available ingredients, local culture, weather, water--a host of circumstances. The Zenne Valley is reputed to be so hospitible to spontaneous fermentation because local fruit trees (now mostly gone) housed tasty wild yeasts. The monks of Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint Remy brewed beer in the sixteenth century from barley and hops grown on abbey grounds. Bohemian pilsners and West Coast pale ales wouldn't be recognizeable without native hops. But then the industrial revolution made it possible for breweries to receive ingredients from thousands of miles away; its arrival meant the loss of indigenous styles and the homogenization of national brewing.

But now we are following our tracks backward, and that's what makes Double Mountain's Devil's Kriek experiment especially exciting. Made with cherries grown in brewer Matt Swihart's orchards, they return us to that time of specific locality. A kriek with Rainier cherries?--must be from the American Northwest. Ah, but the experiment also shows the drawbacks of depending on specific crops. Limiting yourself to a single orchard means living and dying by the vagaries of your fruit. Forget consistency; like wine, each year's kriek will exhibit the qualities of the cherries. Some will be better than others, and people who admire the product will admire this variability.

About seven thousand people showed up at Belmont Station on Friday to get a glass of the '09 vintage (made of '08 cherries), and I was among them. (The line was seriously insane, stretching out the door and down the sidewalk to the corner. Fortunately, we got there by 5:50 and beat the worst of the crowd.) Here's what I thought.

Devil's Kriek
Although I got the lowdown on the beer from Matt Swihart at Belmont Station--he was there handing out cherries from his orchard--he actually blogged about the brewing process on Friday.

"The base for our Krieks is a blend of three batches of a strong golden-colored beer, each fermented with a different yeast: our house ale yeast, which is of Belgian origin; our house Kölsch yeast; and the notorious wild yeast Brettanomyces. We’ve used Brettanomyces before, in the Red Devil, the IRB and in last year’s Devil’s Kriek. “Brett” contribues subtle fruitiness and barnyard character (think of smells in an old barn on a cold day) at low-level intensity and a horse blanket character (think of smells in a horse barn on a very hot day) at high intensity. Brett is also a component of many spontaneously-fermented French wines, as has legions of both fans and detractors in the winemaking world.

"Devil’s Kriek was held on the cherries for 9 months, then transferred and stored cool at 34F for the remaining 3 months. The Rainier Kriek sat on cherries for the entire 12 month process at cellar temperatures ranging from 50F to 75F. The warmer ferment on the fruit allowed the Brett to assert itself more fully, driving the acidity lower and kicking out a stronger wild-yeast character. We brewed 20 barrels of Devil’s Kriek in a regular fermenter, along with 3 barrels of Rainier Kriek in a mobile mini-fermenter that was originally in service as a yeast propagation tank at Widmer."

The beer is a massive 9%, similar to the sours Ron Gansberg brews--a decision I don't fully understand. Most of the Belgian sours, and particularly the fruit lambics, run about 5%. In my experience, this allows the more subtle and volatile essences of the fruit to express themselves. The force of flavor is in no way diminished in beers of even 4% or less; and unlike other elements of beer, sour doesn't depend on alcohol or malt. Of course, Gansberg's 2008 Apricot Ale had one of the most lush aromas I've ever encountered, and he uses a tripel as his base, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. (And wouldn't that be shocking?)

As you can see in the photo, Rainier Kriek drew very little color from the fruit; it's also a lot cloudier than the Devil's, which had a pinot-like clarity and depth of hue (though the color's all bing). Mostly the Rainier Kriek was characterized by sourness--if the cherries contributed anything, it was just at the threshold of identification. (This isn't too surprising--Rainier cherries are in no way assertive. They have a gentle cherry flavor but mostly a neutral sweetness. Cherries for people who don't like cherries.) The sour was lovely, though. I asked Matt what strain of brettanomyces he used and whether it was some kind of mild strain. (No.) Brett can get pretty funky, but not here. I found it gently sour and almost a little salty. Somehow it retained some residual sweetness, too, and the body was thicker than I expected from a brett-soured ale. A nice, quaffable beer, if such a thing can be said about a 9% sour ale. Call it a B+ on the patented rating scale.

The Devil's Kriek has a candy nose with an undercurrent of chocolate and almost no sour. The flavor is surprising; as in the nose there's almost no sourness. Instead the fruit contributes the beer's two main notes, a subdued cherry and a bitter, tannic note that I assume came from the pits. As it warms, the bitter note diminishes and a bit more of the cherry comes out. Appropriately, it's fairly dry and not at all cloying--the brettanomyces have taken care of any stray sugars that might have been floating around. I suppose you can intuit the size of the beer by the mouthfeel, but the alcohol isn't especially obvious.

"Not especially obvious" could be the three-word bullet for Devil's Kriek. It's a subtle, refined beer, and toward the end of the glass I was appreciating its wine-like character. But since I had the 2008 version in my head--I recall a tour-de-force of both sour and cherry intensity--I found it a bit underwhelming. Call it a B-.

Based on my discussions with Ron Gansberg, fruit is hard to work with. If you're not a tinkerer, forget it. My guess is that Matt is already adapting. He said he'll leave this year's fruit on the tree for a couple weeks longer so it ripens more. This should give the beer a more intense cherry flavor and allow him to take the fruit off sooner so it doesn't extract as much from the pits. But of course, that's if the fruit cooperates.

Still, I encourage everyone to track this beer down and have a glass. There aren't very many products like it in the world, and it's a rare treat to have a local brewer willing to put this much time and effort into any beer. Give it time--in a few years it could emerge as an Oregon classic. Plus, you need to fix it in your mind so that next year you have a basis for comparison.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Aspiring Brewers Take Note

Yesterday afternoon, Lisa Morrison held a fundraiser-cum-birthday party at the Horse Brass, and the result is very cool:
In co-sponsorship with the American Brewers Guild, the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation is offering a full-tuition scholarship to the Intensive Brewing Science & Engineering course that begins on January 18, 2010 and runs through June 25, 2010.

The Intensive Brewing Science & Engineering (“IBS&E”) course is a 22-week distance education program with a final week of residential instruction in Sacramento, California. The IBS&E course is specifically designed for professional and aspiring craft brewers seeking formal training in brewing science. The program provides a comprehensive learning experience that focuses on the technical, scientific, and operational matters and issues that brewers face in a craft brewing environment.

The scholarship is open to professional brewers and homebrewers from the states of Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and California’s northern geographic region (San Francisco Bay/Monterey Bay areas and north). The scholarship includes a $500 stipend to help offset travel and lodging expenses for the final onsite week in Sacramento, California.
If I were a younger man....

Five Officially Certified

At long last, I've gotten off my keister and have actually started to officially certify pubs as Purveyors of Honest Pints. Certification Saturday was a good launch, and here are the five we managed to visit (in order of certification). Keep in mind that we already had one official certification--Hot Lips Pizza, who sent in their own certifying photo. (You can do it, too: here's how.) Here are the next five--be sure to patronize them!

Roots Organic Brewing

1520 SE 7th, Portland
Honest pints $4.50

Lucky Lab

915 SE Hawthorne
1945 NW Quimby
7675 SW Capitol Hwy
Honest Pints $4.50

BridgePort Brewing

1313 NW Marshall
3632 SE Hawthorne
Honest Pints $5.00

Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont St
Honest Pints $5.25
website (currently down)

Belmont Station

4500 SE Stark
Honest Pints $3.00 (and up)