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Monday, August 31, 2009

Why Bud Has Many Plants

Back in April, I reviewed Dogfish Head Festina Peche. I had purchased a bottle, intent on identifying a Dogfish product I could unconflictedly praise. The beer that poured out of that bottle was not good. My description:
The trouble began right away--it was nearly flat, even when I tried to rouse it with a tall pour. A stray bubble or two--to call them a proper bead would be overstating the point--rose languidly to the surface. The nose was faintly sour, but tinny and hollow like canned fruit, which more or less describes the beer.... [T]he final sentence of my notes: "Like a flat soda that has been sitting out in the sun for a few hours."
Over the weekend I had this same beer on tap at the Green Dragon and it was a revelation. An excellent rendition of style, light-bodied, sprightly, and more that a tad tart. Putting peach in a Berliner Weisse is an inspired move: the fruit's sugars had mostly been gobbled by yeasts; what remained was a gentle essence joined perfectly with the beer's sour. The style can be a little aggressive naked; that's why it is often dressed with a bit of sugary syrup. The peach is a better solution; it keeps the nature of the tart beer intact, but adds a summery, fresh note that softens it just enough. Dogfish Head can definitely take a bow--this is a hell of a beer.

But what then explains the difference between the bottle and the keg?

This is one of the problems with shipping your beer--once it leaves your brewery, you have no idea what happens to it. A distributor may leave it on a pallette in the sun or it may languish on the shelf of a store that rarely sells anything but Hamm's. From time to time I'll read a harshly critical description of a Rogue beer I like on BeerAdvocate--inevitably, the sampler picked up the bottle far from Oregon. Like my Festina Peche bottle, they were tasting the death of a beer, not a beer.

(This can be the brewery's fault, of course. A poor batch or poor packaging can ruin an otherwise tasty beer.)

I don't know whether Dogfish is culpable for the condition of the bottle I tried, but I sympathize with them in any case. Getting beer to Oregon (2850 miles, according to Google Maps) is no easy task. This is why Redhook opened a brewery in New Hampshire back in the 90s, and it's why Bud has them scattered all over the country. The closer a brewery is to the point of sale, the more likely it is that the beer will arrive like it left the bottling line.

I suspect there's a beeronomics post in there somewhere, but for the beer enthusiast, it's a good reminder. And I will be more charitable to Dogfish henceforth.

Friday, August 28, 2009

MacTarnahan's Future

The release of Lip Stinger prompted much speculation about the future of MacTarnahan's. John Foyston throws a tidbit out for speculators to digest:
Mac's brand manager Mark Carver said that more special beers are on the way from Bleigh and crew (which now also includes the talented brewer Vasili Gletsos) including a new porter and an oatmeal stout as the year wanes...
Bleigh is Tom Bleigh, Pyramid head brewer. I read this to mean that he's getting credit for the Lip Stinger--whether or not he designed it. Porter and stout? Not revolutionary, but welcome.

Even the Professor Can't Argue With This

I see no flaws in this logic:
WASHINGTON—Despite ongoing economic woes and a jobless rate that has been approaching 10 percent, U.S. unemployment projections drastically improved Monday after the consumption of five beers.

"It's going up," leading economist David Singleton said confidently, indicating the predicted growth in jobs with an upward wave of a Bud Light bottle. "All the way up. By the end of the month. No problem."

According to analysts, both long- and short-term forecasts showed signs of recovery between the third and fourth beer, but the fifth alcoholic beverage was the point at which the employment rate began to close in on 100 percent.

Joblessness was not the only domestic problem that began to appear eminently solvable after the rapid downing of five beers. Also substantially improved were projections for the housing crisis, the affordability of health care, getting hot wings later, and being able to drive home just fine.

Though most on their fifth beer showed unbridled optimism—and in some cases outright cockiness—in terms of the employment landscape, those who greatly exceeded that number said they saw the current job market as hopelessly bleak. Contrary to the rosy prospects he had described earlier in the evening, economist David Singleton, after imbibing nine beers and an unknown quantity of Wild Turkey, lamented that there would have to be a comprehensive shift in the nation's entire economic structure before any lasting improvement could be realized.

As Homer Simpson said, alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, most of life's problems.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Start of the Hop Trip

Deschutes just posted photos of their trip out to Groschie Farms to pick up the hops for their annual fresh hop ale, Hop Trip.

Lots more photos here. Go have a look.

(Is it me, or is this an early harvest? Seems like it was September in past years.)

Trust-Busting the Macros?

What happens when two corporations that control 80% of a given market decide to raise prices at the same time, by the same amount? The feds get interested. It looks like collusion and price-fixing:
Anheuser-Busch InBev — purveyor of the president’s preferred brew, Bud Light — and MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors, are raising prices at the same time, during a recession and while beer demand is slumping. With 80 percent of the market between them, the move almost begs for an antitrust review.
The problem, of course, is that consolidation has left us with just two owners. When there are three or more, the companies have to compete on prices for market share. When there are only two? Well, all that competition gets in the way of profit margins.
After South African Breweries bought Miller in 2002, it set out to take market share from Bud. Its bigger rival responded by slashing prices. The others were then forced to match. This competition fostered a better outcome for consumers — indeed, the summer of 2005 was a beer drinkers’ dream.

That’s all changed. SABMiller and Molson Coors kicked off a joint venture last year that combines the market powers of the second- and third-largest players. InBev, meantime, has no stomach for a price war after its $52 billion debt-financed splurge on Anheuser.
By historical standards, this is pretty outrageous. In 1966, the Supreme Court prevented the 10th and 18th largest breweries--Pabst and Blatz--from merging. All of which has inclined Obama to have a look, and the Justice Department may review these Bush-era mergers.

As an editorial aside, the idea to raise beer prices seems totally boneheaded. While it's true that they control 80% of the market, that share isn't growing, thanks to micros. Sales are way down this year for tin-can beer, and further alienating off your already-wavering customer base seems like a bad long-term strategy. And all of that is before the question of price-fixing arose. We are often lectured by certain segments of the political spectrum about the genius of business, but there are moments when you have to wonder.

Patrick Emerson riffs on my post, rebutting my suggestion that the macros are behaving stupidly. Rather than have a two-blog debate, you can read his post there, and my response in comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Riddle of Lip Stinger

[Note: A sharp-eyed reader noticed a repetitive use of the word "weed," which I've adjusted somewhat. Also, my latest copy editor has been beaten and fired.]

MacTarnahan's, the forgotten brewery.

Really, when was the last time you had a pint of an erstwhile Portland Brewing beer? With a reputation of safe, pedestrian beer and a flagship that now looks like a daisy in a field of craft brewing's exotic orchids, MacTarnahan teeters. Recent seasonals have done nothing to stem this impression (Grifter, Slingshot Pale) ... until now. Of all the major breweries most likely to release a saison, MacTarnahan's had to be the least. Yet here it is, Lip Stinger. The whole thing is mystifying. Including, it turns out, the beer itself.

It is a light saison, just 4.8%, but with a pretty pointed 32 BUs. Although the early buzz is positive, I found it an odd beer. Not timid, but strangely incoherent. The aroma is funky and phenolic. If the brewery didn't use a saison yeast, they did a good job of disguising the fact. Yet the beer is as clear and golden as a pilsner, which creates a kind of cognitive dissonance. Sniff: Belgiany, funky, saison. Look: gently effervescent, clear, bright, and filtered. Well, no matter: try a sip to resolve things. Except it doesn't. The palate is all tang and medicine. The Saaz hops are strong enough that it adds to the pilsnery aphasia, yet the yeast is estery, fruity (apricots?), and effervescent. Then there's the peppercorn addition, which comes across as a grating bitterness, almost like menthol. In the end, the needle was pointing in a positive direction, if provisionally. I would recommend this beer selectively, and only to the the experimental.

The riddle does not stop at the glass, however.

1. Why "Lip Stinger?"
Let's start with the name, which is terrible. The brewery used four kinds of peppercorn (a traditional saison spice), but there's nothing stinging about the beer. Which is good, because who wants stung lips? The pepper isn't peppery, though; I find it weedy and medicinal. It's not necessarily terrible, but "weedy and medicinal" will appeal to only a niche audience. It's subtitled a "farmhouse" ale, which is better. People relate to the word "farmhouse" positively. The word is vague, though, and only by tasting this dry, effervescent, spicy beer do you know that it's properly a saison. I get why the brewery would choose the more consumer-friendly "farmhouse" than saison; why then did they choose the consumersbane "Lip Stinger" as the topline name?

(There is a French wine grape known as picpoul--"Lip Stinger." It produces a very crisp, tart, food-friendly wine, and so the sense in French, apparently, is "lip-smacking." Whether this is an allusion to that grape, or a direct translation of the French, I can only imagine. Still, if this is the case, we're into the very deep grass in terms of naming arcana.)

2. Why is Lip Stinger Filtered?
This is a minor quibble alluded to in my description, but come on. Farmhouse ales are supposed to be "rustic." Rusticity is not a quality easily described, but we can infer from it a certain lack of polish. It comes from the Latin rusticus, for "open land"--it suggests "country" and "handmade." Filtering, an invention of industrialization, is definitely not rustic. The passion for clarity is a modern one. For once, couldn't MacTarnahan's have resisted filtering a beer?

3. Why Saison, of All Styles?
MacTarnahan's has, over the years, dabbled in a variety of styles. One of my faves was a traditional hefeweizen they made back in the mid-90s. They had a widely-lauded pilsner called Zig Zag. But except for a quasi-Belgian beer they made for the millennium, I don't recall any Belgian styles. Lately they have specialized in even more anodyne beers than usual, suggesting a slow fade into the kind of beers corporate brand-managers concoct. (Not to say that's what was actually driving things.) So to go for a Belgian beer, and even more a saison (quite a jump into the deep end of the Wallonian pool)--how did they get from there to here?

4. Why Only 3,000 Cases?
This is not actually a riddle: the answer is pretty self-evident. You don't bet the farm on a beer so radically different from the rest of your line. I ask it rhetorically: why not really try to make a splash. Putting these out in sixers for a month would have at least been a nice advertisement that MacTarnahan's is stepping up. Casual drinkers might have been persuaded to buy a bottle (or maybe not; see #1) and even if they found it shocking and gross, they would remember it. Sometimes that's a good thing. But putting it out in such a small batch and in 22s means that only the beer geeks will discover it. Ah well, baby steps.

You should go buy a bottle for the novelty and see what you think. MacTarnahan's effort is worth at least a bottle.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First, a Quiz

Have a look at the beer at right. The photo isn't the greatest; I took it with my cell phone. Nevertheless, it should be functional for our purposes. Now, upon visual inspection alone, identify the style of beer. (That blurry quality on the bottom half of the glass is condensation, not haze.)
1. German pils
2. Saison
3. Kolsch
4. Abbey ale
5. Pale ale
6. Imperial stout
I'll give you a hint: it's not six.

Click for the answer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rediscovering Sheaf Stout

Although I don't welcome my incipient obsolescence, accompanied as it is by more frequent failures of this jalopy I call a body, it does afford me a benefit or two. One is a memory of standing in front of a beer case that did not contain microbrewed beers. (Or very few. My 21st birthday was in 1989, but this post-dated the event I describe. In the mid-80s, it is likely Oregon grocery shelves contained the first vanguard of the micros--Redhook, Sierra Nevada, and certainly Anchor--but I don't recall them specifically. The first locally-brewed micro appeared on Oregon's shelves in 1987. Whether my standing in front of these shelves pre-dated that, well, some facts are more interesting when presented as mysteries.)

Instead, Oregonians encountered most of their early micro on tap, so when they visited grocery stores, their taste buds enlivened by Widmer, McMenamin's, and BridgePort, they had only strange-looking imported beers to entice them. The Mexican beers did not count, but beyond that, we had little to sample. One of the most exotic I bought--though admittedly we're getting off into the weeds here--was Russkoye, a Kiev-made beer from the Soviet Union. I was shocked by this discovery, a Ukrainian beer just short months (years?) after Chernobyl. A terrible beer, but one of the crown jewels of my bottle collection.

One of the beers readily available was Sheaf Stout, a beer originally brewed by Tooth and Company (original name: "Tooth's Sheaf Stout"--even more peculiar). In those early days, I was a huge fan of Terminator Stout, which seemed as close to being the opposite of Hamm's I could find. My life-long love affair with stouts was in the infatuation stage, but I might have forsaken the style were it not for Sheaf. I recall it as being a hell of a beer. Even burlier than Terminator, not a bit sweet--casual drinkers thought it punishing and beyond the pale. I was also a big fan of industrial music, and one wouldn't have been out of line in accusing me of just trying to be cool.

And yet I did love it. I loved it enough that on Saturday night, when I saw a bottle in a grocery store in Manzanita, I paused every so briefly before buying it. (Sally and I made an impromptu trip to the coast over the weekend, and perhaps I was in an adventuresome mood.) The trouble with beers one discovered in the 80s and loved is that, twenty years on, they almost always disappoint. Our palates change and our memories lie and we end up feeling wistful, like we'd lost something valuable from our youth.

The story has a happy ending, though. Even as we drove back to our hotel room, I began ratcheting down my expectations. By the time I took my first sip, I expected something like a fizzy lager with a dash of caramel coloring. Of course, it wasn't. It was as intense as I recalled, if different. I remembered it as huge and malty, whereas it's actually a sharp dry stout (5.7%). It's got a luxurious bitter, equal parts tar and tobacco and a touch of sourness. I suspected that it was brewed with a lager yeast--it finishes out very dryly and there's not a hint of ester. Jackson says no, or did, a decade ago. The intensity is such that each mouthful pulls your attention back, but not so much that you don't almost immediately want another pull. It's not exactly a session stout, but it's in the ballpark. Two pints and you wouldn't suffer in the morning.

I will put it on my short list for satisfying stouts. After twenty years, it's back in the rotation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

More Texture in the Beer Sales Numbers

Coupla days ago I mentioned that the craft beer segment managed to grow over the past six months, even while the economy jumped off the cliff. Today there's news that the macro market, on the other hand, has joined the economy in freefall:
  • Overall beer volumes are down 4.1%.
  • Bud Light volumes down 8.6%, losing an entire share point. Pricing up 67 cents per case.
  • Budweiser down 13.8%, losing an entire share point. Pricing up 78 cents a case.
  • Miller Lite down 11.5%, losing 0.6 share, with pricing up 79 cents per case.
  • Corona Extra down 4%, flat share, but with pricing down 74 cents a case.
  • Heineken down 12.8%, share 0.2, with pricing up 34 cents a case.
The trend is described a "more ghastly" than anything "since the doubling of the federal excise tax in 1991." But not every company is getting killed:
Maybe the third leg that holds the stool up is the two in-between brands that defy categorization, the brands that are neither premium nor craft nor sub-premium nor import. I'm talking about Yuengling and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and both are doing great. Yuengling and PBR are both up 31% in July on similar off-premise bases, with Yuengling up 85 cents a case and PBR up 90 cents a case.
As a discussion point, let's hear theories about why Pabst and craft beer are doing well while Bud and Corona are tanking. Don't get too cocky, either: for added points, you must explain why Coors Light has avoided Bud's fate and managed to eke out a 1.1% gain. Good luck!

(Hat tip: Lisa Morrison)

OLCC and Happy Hours

Portland takes its happy hours seriously. We are a city that does sleep, so a post-work pint is ideal for our schedules--not to mention wallets. The Oregonian, sensing the seriousness of the topic, put a story about happy hour advertising on the front page of today's paper.

Happy hours are booming in Oregon restaurants and bars in tough economic times, but no one is very happy with the way the state regulates them -- including state officials.

That's why the Oregon Liquor Control Commission today will consider revamping or tossing a rule adopted 24 years ago that bans the advertising of discounted alcoholic drinks.

I'm all for it. I wasn't actually even aware that such a law existed and further, I'm so insensitive to advertisements that I would never have noticed this was illegal. I did learn about it a month or so ago, thanks to Twitter. A friend pointed out that certain establishments were tweeting happy hour deals there, and he wondered if this ran afoul of the OLCC's rule. Turns out the loopholes are pretty substantial. So long as you're not advertising the price of drinks, you can use the word "happy hour." You can also promote other events not called happy hour, too, like ladies nights.

But now the problem that that pre-brewpub law was supposed to address is suspect:
The law was adopted to prevent happy hours from promoting binge drinking, but Linda Ignowski, OLCC regulatory director, said in her 14 years, she has seen no connection between happy hours, which are usually earlier in the evening, and excessive drinking. Intoxication usually comes later at night, she said.
The OLCC has no particular info on this meeting, though it's possible that this is it (.pdf agenda). Needless to say, I'm all for scrapping this law. The OLCC should be regulating alcohol, not advertising. It's a stupid law and they're right to consider scrapping it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Again, the blog grind and the no time means inadequate (and probably inadequately-worded) posting. However, inadequate is better than nothing.

Item 1: Lip Stinger Saison
Thanks to Bulls and Brew, I was alerted to a recently-released MacTarnahan saison. Yes, shocking as that sounds, a MacTarnahan saison. (Foyston mentioned it, too, but I missed that. I've been missing a lot lately. Inadequate, didn't I tell you?) You have to go back to the era when Brett Porter was manning the kettle to find a bold release from the then-Portland Brewing. (It was just Portland/Norwester/Saxer, the uncomplicated days before Pyramid/McTarnahan's.) Says Cidermaster of Bulls and Brew:
It is a farmhouse style ale brewed with peppercorns. The taste, and interest, was far beyond the 4.8% ABV that the label suggests. It is funky enough to stand proudly in line with other farmhouse style ales, even (gasp) the most excellent Upright Brewing.
Says MacTarnahan's, which styles the beer a "farmhouse ale"( the one thing it's not):
Malts: 2 Row, Pilsen, Wheat
Hops: Mt. Hood, Saaz
Spice: Malaysian and Indian 4 pepper blend
Bitterness: 32 IBU
Alcohol By Volume: 4.8%
This is a brewery famous for filtering every beer to within a molecule of pure water, so the idea that it's now producing "farmhouse ales" is a bit rich. But at 4.8% and 32 IBU, I will buy "saison," and one not wholly dissimilar from the one I am in the process of brewing. Says I: intriguing.

Item Two, World Beer Awards
Via Stan, results from the World Beer Awards. The World Beer Awards, you say? Yes, and Stan explains:
This is the competition organized by Beers of The World, the UK publication that recently ceased its print edition. Obviously a well conceived way to judge the beers with excellent judges (Roger Protz headed it up), but of course the winners are really “World’s Best [Fill In The Category] That Paid To Enter Our Contest.”
The judging took place over five months and three separate tasting rounds, and the organizers were not slavish to style. ("No letters, please, about ale yeasts being used in cold fermentation, or about why this standard pale ale is stronger than this strong pale ale.") They just wanted to identify this year's best beers ("they're constantly changing" and "it's like trying to catch smoke in a net.") And the results? Well, have a look for yourself. Mostly this British-held competition admired British-brewed beers. But not always.

The "World's Best Pale" is Rogue Dry-Hopped Red. (I've never had it fresh, but I've heard it spoken of in hushed tones from visitors returning from Newport.) It's also the world's best red. The Dissident (Deschutes) is the world's best Oud Bruin. Rogue Smoke is the best smoked ale. It appears that only Rogue and Deschutes entered beers, but they were cited a number of times for beers that were "highly recommended" (and beat out some amazing world standards).

There are some who yawn at our old standards, hyperactively hoping for something novel. Not, apparently, these judges. It's a good reminder; we should periodically loop back and remind ourselves of just how good some of our standards are.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Craft Beer Sales Continue to Rise

Very good news.

The Brewers Association, the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, reports America's small and independent craft brewers¹ are still growing despite many challenges and are continuing to provide jobs to the U.S. economy. Dollar growth from craft brewers during the first half of 2009 increased 9%, down from 11% growth during the same period in 2008. Volume of craft brewed beer sold grew 5% for the first six months in 2009, compared to 6.5% growth in the first half of 2008. Barrels sold by craft brewers for the first half of the year is an estimated 4.2 million, compared to 4 million barrels sold in the first half of 2008.

I've been waiting for this news, hoping that things hadn't gotten too grim. And not only haven't they gotten grim, they're good. If craft beer can continue to grow even during this economy, things look bright for the future. Worth noting: overall, beer sales are down 1.3% and imports are down 9.5%. I take this to mean that while people may cut back on beer, and expensive beer, they're not cutting back on (relatively) expensive local beer.

I'll drink to that.

A Prost to Philanthropy

Last week I spent a post bashing the cunning of the Molson Coors corporation, who use a philanthropic veil to hawk product. Last week I also received an email from Pelican Brewery mentioning that they had officially made their donation of proceeds from the Brewers Games to two local charities, Nestucca’s Booster Club and Caring Cabin. It reminded me that while business is innately amoral--the goal is to make money, not benefit a particular cause--that doesn't mean it has to be immoral. In the case of our local breweries, they are far from it.

A few weeks back, the Oregon chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society had one of their two main fundraisers, a two-day bike event in Stayton. (Sally, my wife, is the director of finance there.) Full Sail was a sponsor of the event, and so far as I know, they didn't even mention this fact publicly. Of course, that's not unusual--companies regularly support philanthropic endeavors. (I'm sure Molson Coors has an entire department devoted to this.) But here's what was unusual. Sally was helping out at registration and happened to notice Jamie Emmerson, Full Sail's brewmaster, in line. He was there to bike the event. Full Sail had done their official part, and there was no need for Jamie to go above and beyond--except that real philanthropy is always about going above and beyond.

I mentioned an anecdote from the Brewers Games about how invested Pelican is in the philanthropic side of things. The Games are fun, but they might not be worth the hassle if there wasn't a greater good. Oregon breweries are a part of the community, and they really give back to the community. I could go on and on, but you get the point. I don't mention it as often as I should, but this is one of the finest things about our local brewing industry. Cheers to all of you.

Update. This just in from Laurelwood brewer Chad Kennedy, who rightly sensed that this was a moment to get a little ink:
"We're very excited about our next bottled beer- Prevale IPA- to be released in 22 oz bottles on September 1st throughout Oregon and Western Washington. We're excited not only because our brewers have created a great Northwest-style IPA, but also because the proceeds from each bottle sold will go towards a great cause.

"In collaboration with The Oregon Team in Training chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society our brewers created a benefit beer. We asked anyone with some inspiration and creativity to name the beer and after hundreds of entries Prevale was chosen as the winning name. A portion of the proceeds from every bottle will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for cancer research."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dupont Yeast: Early Discoveries

Yeasts are funny little buggers. They have radically different preferences and behaviors. Ultimately, they all nosh on sugars and excrete alcohol, but the ways in which they do this is a wonder to behold. Case in point: the yeast of Brasserie Dupont, makers of saisons. Beginning last week, I began cultivating the dregs from a bottle and simultaneously picked up a batch of Wyeast's version (just to be safe). I brewed my wee saison (1.035 OG), aka "petit saison" aka "grisette" yesterday and got a chance to see the yeast in action. Just to be safe (again) I decided to pitch both yeasts, which by 3pm amounted to a substantial quantity. Still, not substantial enough to account for what came next.

Dupont's yeast is famous for a number of reasons. The brewery ferments its beer at between 85 and 95 degrees fahrenheit--a shocking fact, given that most breweries keep their beer cool (at least 20 degrees colder for similar ale strains) so it will be smooth and clean. And then, famously, the yeast craps out on you. It races along in sweaty fury until the beer is mostly ready, and then activity screeches to a near halt. You have to be patient and let it finish out--and it will finish out, with attenuation rates above 90% (another amazing fact). One theory holds that the strain was originally a wine yeast, but this may be an apocryphal story added later by homebrewers who had to come up with a rationalization about why the heat didn't ruin their beer, why it could still be called yeast and not pack off the women and children in the night.

Still, what unfolded was astonishing to behold. Within four hours I had a heaving two-inches of foam. Yes, heaving--the damn thing looked like it was breathing. I had swaddled my 85-degree beer in a flannel shirt and taken it upstairs, where the house is the warmest, but I didn't expect such vigor so early. I was sort of glad it was a smaller beer, but even still, at 5 am I was up examining it, just to make sure it hadn't gone walkabout on me. A yeast like that, you never know.

Hobo Brewing Renamed Coalition Brewing; Other Updates

I ran into Elan Walsky over the weekend. Elan, the sharp-memoried will recall, is one of two principles (Kiley Hoyt is the other) who plan to open a new brewery in the former Noble Rot building on 28th and Ankeny. I was pleased to learn that things are still on track, though quite a lot has changed since my first update. The name, in particular: forget Hobo, the new place will be called Coalition Brewing. How did this come about, and what does it portend? Read on.

Usual and Unusual Setbacks
Every brewery opening is fraught with certain unforeseen setbacks, but you don't expect to get hit with a lawsuit even before you get the mash tun installed. That's what happened when the name "Hobo" provoked some dispute and legal action. I got the fifty-cent version of the story, but since lawyers are involved, I'll leave it at that. They considered going with a similar evocation ("Boxcar," for example), but instead decided to use the name change to re-think the business model. Thus emerged "Coalition" (see below).

They also had the more usual setbacks of space issues and lease wrangles. Originally, the idea as a three- or five-barrel system, but that didn't leave much room to grow. Problem is, the Nobel Rot building is very wee. So the new plan is a ten-barrel system, but to manage it they have to build a shed behind the building. All of this has set back the targeted opening date probably four months--look for the grand opening sometime toward the end of the year.

Coalition of Brewers
The more interesting update involves the name and concept behind it. Perhaps inspired by the Collaborator Project (Elan and Kiley are members of the Brew Crew, the homebrew club that partnered with Widmer to do Collaborator), they plan to invite homebrewers to submit recipes, work with the brewery, and produce their recipes there. Thus, the "coalition." I didn't press too hard for info about the process (let them get a brewery first), but they won't hold a competition as the Collaborator Project does. It will be more informal.

(And I happen to know of a nice grisette recipe they might be interested in trying...)

One final, interesting note. Fred Bowman, the co-founder of Portland Brewing, is advising Elan and Kiley. That's gotta be good: Fred has forgotten more about starting and running a brewery than most of us will ever know. They're in good hands. Let's hope the setbacks are all in the rear-view mirror and it's smooth riding from here on out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Don't Call Them "Boutique" Beers, Please

This is terrible:
Boutique beers are the new cocktail as more money-conscious Americans choose cheaper high quality draft beers made by small local breweries over wine and spirits amid the country's recession, experts say.
Methinks Reuters' Edith Honan should have asked these "experts" whether they think the term "boutique beer" is what this industry produces. In fact, if you want to have some sense of what's wrong with journalism these days, you could do well to read this article, which isn't bad so much as it is just useless and recycled. I particularly like that she relies on the insights of a French bistro owner--who offered this quote:
"I wouldn't say that (beer) has the same complexity (as wine), but it's not supposed to," said Saillard, who is French. "It's unpretentious. You don't need to know the grape."
If Honan writes an article about bicyclists next, I hope she gets the thoughts of someone from the Hummer Club. Oy.

Okay, off to brew the grisette.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

John and His Guitars

For those who live in Portland, the association between the words "beer" and "John Foyston" are nearly absolute. The guy assigned to cover the beer beat for the Oregonian now nearly a decade and a half ago (no word on how much he bribed the editors for that slot), John has been the most prominent beer writer in the state for a long, long time. But--and I mean no disprespect to John when I say this--even back then he wasn't exactly a cub reporter. His body of work predated beer.

That's why it was wonderful to see his personal history/remembrance of Les Paul in Saturday's paper. He talks about the years before beer when his passion was fired by a different art form.

I've owned maybe a dozen since, Goldtops, Les Paul Specials, mustard-yellow TV models, double- and single-cutaway Les Paul Juniors. They're always beautiful, exciting guitars -- even single-cut Juniors, which are kind of this froggy brown-and-yellow sunburst. But they're beautiful in their own honest way, in the way of a tool properly designed and well built: beautiful like a Snap-On wrench. Beautiful.

Like properly designed tools, the guitars plain worked. Onstage, Les Pauls had a throaty rumble that could impel a song; could urge it along over a whip-crack backbeat, could thunk out a chord like a maul sinking into seasoned oak. And when it was your turn to solo, you could fly with a Les Paul in your hands. The sweetly singing sustain of the pickups transfomed your fingerwork and made the notes somehow bigger and more heroic. Orchestral, you could say. A good Les Paul never let you down.

If you missed it, go have a look.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Coors for the Ladies

Last night, Gillian Edwards left an intriguing comment on my gender preferences post:
I work for an initiative called BitterSweet Partnership in the UK which has been set up to address the fact the UK beer industry has traditionally ignored women (an example being stereotypcial and sexist advertising) Beer shouldn’t be pitched as a masculine drink and it’s great to get other people’s opinions on this.
Sounds good, right? I envisioned a little grassroots effort where women worked to pop the kind of cultural stereotypes I discussed in my post. Pro-beer, pro-women, cool. Sadly, no.

Rather, it's a very highly-produced site owned and operated by the Molson Coors corporation. Using a classic technique, the company is playing to a targeted group with a sympathetic campaign. But while it comes packaged in social-justice wrapping paper, it's just an old-time marketing campaign. Coors has no particular interest in encouraging beer-drinking among women or dispelling long-held stereotypes. They want to encourage women to drink Coors, period.

A couple years ago, Coors launched a Latino-targeted campaign, and with admirable candor, admitted that the goal was to play on emotional sympathies to push product:
"The African American and Hispanic markets together make up nearly one-third of the population in the U.S. and 21 percent of all U.S. males ages 21-34 are Hispanic. While Coors Light's cold refreshment is the same for any consumer, we tailor how we communicate that message to ensure it builds the personality of the brand and connects emotionally with multicultural consumers."
This is no different. It's a company using exactly the same Madison Avenue techniques to appeal to women that it used when it objectified them in ads like the Coors Light twins series. Or the more offensive "Wingman" spots. In politics, this kind of thing is called "astroturf" because it mimics a grassroots campaign. In the commercial sphere, it's just called marketing. Caveat emptor--and for me, no sale.

Coors is not pro-women. It's pro-Coors.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Blogging a grind, my mind tired. Possibly a period of lax posting forthcoming. I plan to brew a low-alcohol saison and try to enjoy the summer. The French are all on vacation now, right?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Underground Beer

I hope to expand on this theme in a print article in the near future, but Derek's most recent post has seduced me into at least mentioning the topic here. For his wedding, he's brewed up three batches of beer--two fruit ales and a saison. I have no idea if he's a good brewer, but the finished product is impressive. And whether he's a good brewer or not, there are many in this city who are. I've been to homes and been served beer that exceeds the quality of all but a few professional breweries. And in fact, I've even brewed a batch or two that met that quality myself.

The upshot: there's a whole lot of exceptional beer out there, and we'll never get to drink any of it. Fascinating to think, isn't it, that the best beer in the city--and this is Beervana, after all--may have a clientele of just a few people? I try not to think too hard about it, though. Best to leave that tantalizing prospect in the lost recesses of your brain, where your mind won't stumble across it too often.

(Incidentally, homebrewing the beer you serve at your wedding is the coolest. I did it back in '97, when I was not the greatest brewer in the world. Three batches: a brown, an IPA, and a wit, and no one complained. My favorite picture from the day shows my wife and I, smiling and finally relaxed, cavorting as we cut the cake. I was holding a bottle of homebrew.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beer, Wine, and Gender Preferences

To revise the old cliche, women are from Vinotopia, men are from Beervana. So say the trends in consumption, where when offered beer, wine, liquor, half of women prefer wine and 58% of men prefer beer (the remainder divided evenly between beer and liquor in both cases). So it is no surprise that wineries are trying to appeal to men, as OPB reported this morning:

Ted Farthing is the executive director of the Oregon Wine Board. He says wine and beer and liquor are all competing against each other, for our limited beverage budgets. Now, winemakers across Oregon, and the country, say one way they have decided to fight is to target the men, especially young men, in bars and breweries....

In order to market to men, Napa Valley winemaker Bennett Lane bought a NASCAR racing team – and just sponsored a minor-league NASCAR race. Other winemakers have crafted labels meant to appeal to men -- like Kung Fu Girl, Red Truck, or Maximus.

In another (less insane) strategy, wineries are trying to appeal to younger men, and turn them into wine drinkers before beer can snare them. But, as the article points out, it's tough for wineries to appeal to young people when a bottle of their pinot regularly sells for $20. Even that expensive bottle of Black Butte XXI looks reasonable by comparison. The biggest problem, of course, is that to get male wine drinkers, you have to vault the barrier of gender norms.

Cultural Signals
This is a fascinating topic because it gets at something far deeper than the liquid in a glass. The social cues these beverages deliver are so ingrained that to appeal across genders, industries are going to have to re-program American culture.

Wine is the drink of the cultural and intellectual elite. Gallery openings are marked by wine and cheese. When you go to a nice restaurant, you're offered a wine list, perhaps with a menu written in French. Beer, on the other hand, is packed in a cooler, drunk on the tailgate. Even the countries of origin say something about these stereotypes. Beer halls and taverns, meeting places of the British Isles and Germany, are rugged, working-class places. Smoky, windowless, elbow-to-elbow. But from Italy and France, those sophisticated, artistic wine countries, we get airy cafes and sidewalk wine bars.

From this, it's easy to sort the genders. Even the glassware seems to divide them--the voluptuous, delicately-stemmed wine glass on the one hand and the blocky pint glass or tin can on the other. They seem calculated to designate sex-appropriate drinking.

Decoupling Gender
Yet these are stereotypes; they are cultural. In France and Italy men do not fear a glass of wine. And here in Oregon, women do not avoid a pint of ale. The gender-specific roles are not innate, they're assigned. The way you begin to break down the associations is to break down the stereotype. Portlanders are fortunate to live in a city with light, attractive pubs and breweries, which send no particular gender cues. We have begun to decouple the beverage and stereotype. And Rome, where real men drink vino, never had the stereotype to begin with.

I'm particularly skeptical of the Nascar gambit because it doesn't transcend stereotypes, it flips them. Are macho gearheads going to switch to wine because it's named "Red Truck?" Unlikely. Seems like it would be far better to dissociate gender from wine altogether. For decades, wine has been sold to women using particular feminine cues. It hardly follows that it can be sold to men just by sending the opposite cues. Rather, the wine industry is going to have to stop sending all gender cues.

I wish the wine industry well. I like wine, and I love our local pinots. And this is the point: it is possible to enjoy both wine and beer. I feel the same way about beer--I want it to quit being pitched as a manly-man drink so women can feel welcome to join the boys at the bar. It is nice to imagine a future when neither beverage sends any cues at all and we all enjoy the local bounty.

Monday, August 10, 2009

McMenamin's Crystal Hotel

Although the following article mentions that the McMenamins' plan to build a hotel downtown amid their current holdings "was announced with great fanfare," I totally missed it. Therefore, it is with due fanfare that I pass along the following news:

McMenamins Hotels, Pubs & Breweries secured a permit from the city of Portland on July 20 to proceed with its Crystal Hotel project at 303 S.W. 12th Ave., a former bath house, hotel and reputed gangster hangout that has been empty for about two years.

The hotel, slated to open this winter, will link with two McMenamins facilities in the neighborhood, Ringlers Annex Pub and the Crystal Ballroom. It also promises to connect the neighborhood with the Brewery Blocks to the north.

There doesn't seem to be any info about whether the McBrothers will be brewing on-site, but I hope so. It would return brewing to downtown, where it flourished for 140+ years when the Weinhard Brewery was just across the street. I would love to get a whiff of boiling wort as I toddle into Powell's again. This is what they do mention:
The company will commemorate, through original artwork and historic photographs, the property's evolution from pioneer residence to a tire shop along the city's original Auto Row to a live jazz club to—most recently and significantly—part of Portland's gay triangle.
Whole article's worth a read. (Hat tip to John Foyston.)

More Reasons to Hate Shaker Pints

In Andy Crouch's article in the current print edition of BeerAdvocate (reprinted at his blog), he points out that--never mind the cheating--these glasses just suck:
So tedious is the shaker pint’s design that breweries have taken to slapping all manners of logos across them. The shaker’s uninspired design, combined with the emblem army, discourage brewers from actively considering how their beers look to the customer. If the ubiquitous, poorly treated glass is designed to kill your beer’s head or obscure its appearance, then why bother spending time ensuring sufficient protein formation necessary to well-sustained foam? If the customer cannot see foam lacing and does not expect much in the looks department, why work for improvements? The shaker pint has bred a culture of a disappointing level of apathetic indifference in American brewers to the cause of good looking pints.
No argument here. Personally, my favorite vessel is the Irish imperial pint--the tulip/Guinness style. I know others prefer the English imperial (with the bulge), or various Belgian versions. Can we all agree, though, that the shaker is a blight and an offense to all that is wholesome and good?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Dissident from the Larder

After dinner at a friend's house last night, I found myself enjoying a Dissidents he brought up from the basement. I had a bottle of this not long ago from my own larder, and it was extremely sour--lambic sour, brettanomyces- ate- all-the-sugars- and-part-of-the-bottle sour. Much of the other elements of the beer found themselves shouldered aside by an austere, Sahara dryness.

So imagine my surprise when his bottle produced an entirely different Dissident. The malt and cherry had not been annihilated, but interestingly, had conspired to produce a cinnamony gingerbread quality. The sour wasn't aggressive or even insistent, and it definitely played side man to the sweeter, maltier element.

Fascinating. Wild yeasts are unpredictable, aren't they?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Speaking of Love...

Nine months ago, Rogue bought the Green Dragon, a nice, new little pub with 20 nice taps. The resulting furor was intense, and Rogue came in for a lot of pretty harsh criticism:
"[T]his is quite depressing. I'm still hoping this doesn't come to fruition, but if this holds up the East side just had a major setback."

"T]here’s a reason I haven’t been to the Public House in Portland for years. The food is pretty spendy for the average quality and the beer list certainly lacks diversity."


"This will mean no more eclectic tap offerings outside of Rogue’s own brands and perhaps a limited guest taps at the location. What started out as one of the best beer bars in Portland will simply become another Rogue location."
It wasn't unreasonable speculation--why would Rogue buy a financially-troubled pub and not turn it into a vehicle to sell its own beer? Why wouldn't the brewery re-brand it? Those of us who love tap diversity and will patronize a place with obscure foreign beers are still, even in Beervana, a distinct minority, so from a business perspective, one couldn't reasonably expect Rogue to continue to cater to us. And yet it appears that's exactly what they've done.

In addition to preserving the broad tap selection, Rogue has effectively buried its ownership. You can see evidence of Rogue Nation if you speak the language: the table sets include six-pack containers with beer-bottle salt and pepper shakers. The menu is familiar. But they've done a lot to scrub their involvement--the sixer containers are from regional breweries. The taps are every bit as diverse as they ever were--and I've been there when not a single one was a Rogue beer. (Which, as a fan of Rogue, was actually disappointing. I might have gone for a Brutal Bitter had it been available.)

All of which leads me to the latest news: later this month, Rogue will be hosting a small-brewery beer fest.
"On August 29th from 11:00am to 9:00pm, the city of Portland will close down SE 9th Street between SE Belmont and SE Yamhill for the 1st Annual Oregon Indie Beer Fest. The event will feature 30+ small, independent Oregon-based brewers that brew no-more-than 1000 barrels per year, providing festival goers with exciting, hard-to-find beers. To prepare us for this unique gathering, Green Dragon will be tapping some of these independent brews each day of the week (August 24-28) leading up to the festival."
Even by the high standards Rogue has maintained with the Green Dragon, this is exceptional. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they're hosting a brewers festival to highlight their competition. The press release doesn't say anything about Rogue's participation, but they certainly won't qualify in terms of barrelage restrictions. It would be all the more remarkable if Rogue hosts a beer festival for the competition in which they themselves can't participate.

This looks to be a very cool fest, and I'm looking forward to it. Nice work, Rogue!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Love Letter to Vinnie

This isn't exactly critical journalism, but it's a nice three minutes. My favorite part is the mini bung Cilurzo uses to pour a wee dram of his Supplication from the cask. Does everyone have those? And also, look at how many barrels he has--good lord. I gotta get down to Santa Rosa soon.

Update. Not everyone loved this video.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Things that go boom in the heat

I got an email today from a reader who wanted to pass along this info:
This winter I bought a couple bottles of Roots Epic to cellar. I had one about a month ago and it foamed out of the bottle like it had been in a paint can shaker. I should have known then to get the other in the fridge because last night I found my second bottle had exploded. I keep my beers in my basement, but with this hot weather even that is in the mid-low 70's. I was hoping you might be able to get the word out to anyone else who bought a bottle of this to get it in the fridge. Nothing like seeing sticky shards of glass that used to be a $20 bottle of beer.
Yup, warmth + overcarbonation = Boom! (Roots bashers, now is your moment. Personally, I'm going to protect my bottle with my life.)

Speaking of overcarbonation, I've been meaning to relate something I learned recently about yeast. I have been trying to breathe life into a particular beer involving disparate ingredients that will, until the beer is perfected, remain unidentified. They are not germaine to this particular story.

I wanted to dry this beer out as much as I could without resorting to wild yeasts. Using a standard ale yeast (Whitbread, if memory serves), I had gotten it down to about 1.018. It might have gone as low as 1.012, but I wanted to juice it with something drying, so I used Wyeast's Duvel strain just to finish it off. I didn't want much of the character of this strain, but I figured: there's so little sugar, what could happen? (Whenever you append to a brewing experiment the phrase "what could happen?", you should know things are about to get interesting.)

Well, I ended up with a beer that by all appearances was made exclusively by this yeast. It's got a massive head, lots and lots of effervescence, and that amazing Alka-Seltzer roil. To you long-time brewers, I pose the following question: what's the moral of this story?
  1. Duvel's strain, the Leroy Brown of yeasts, will bludgeon anything that gets in its way.
  2. The second yeast always dominates the profile.
  3. Whoa, 1.018, what were you thinking? If you'd finished it out more, the Duvel wouldn't have gone crazy.
  4. Some of the above.
  5. None of the above.
I await your experience and insight with interest.

A Mild is the Best British Beer

According to the judges in the Great British Beer Festival, this year's best beer is a mild ale from Yorkshire:
A baritone cheer erupts from the crowd of barrel-chested beer enthusiasts as Rudgate Ruby Mild is named the victor. Roger Protz, editor of the Good Beer Guide, says: “I’ve just come from tasting nine beers. I’m astonished I can actually speak.”

Equally astonished are Craig Lee and Jamie Allen, in charge of the seven-man brewing operation in Tockwith, North Yorkshire, where Ruby Mild is made. They have been brewing the beer to the same recipe for 14 years — to little interest, with the exception of a silver medal in the mild category last year. Suddenly they will face a surge in demand that will stretch their capacity to the limit.

At present they produce 40 barrels a week — the equivalent of 11,520 pints — and have the capacity to produce 20 more. Previous winners such as the Coniston Brewing Company in Cumbria had to get a larger brewery to help to make their Bluebird Bitter, because demand outstripped supply....

The beer, which is described in the Good Beer Guide as a “nutty, rich ruby ale, stronger than usual for a mild”, won by the biggest margin in living memory. One judge remarked that it “stood out a mile” from its nearest competitor.

The US brewing industry has yet to come back around to the joys of small beer. It's impossible to imagine an American competition awarding best in show to a beer of just 4.4% alcohol, no barrel aging, and modest hop levels. (The winning little brewery has a crude website that fails to list information about available beers.)

Update. Full list of winners is here. Also, note that the restrained Brits manage to muscle through with just eight categories--just 28 winning beers overall.

Update 2. CAMRA's promoting a "People's Pint" that would exempt beer from taxes if it's 2.8% or below. 2.8%. That's a small beer.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The New Saisons

"The most endangered species among Belgian beers are the Saisons. "
That was Michael Jackson, writing a bit more than a decade ago. But, like the bald eagle, the rehabilitation has worked--it's time to take saisons off the endangered list. With a number approaching double digits released and available in Portland in the past year, you can't even call them rare anymore. We had three at the Oregon Brewer's Fest. Standing Stone had their version in town a few weeks past. Alex Ganum founded a brewery that was inspired by them. And then with almost no fanfare, Full Sail recently released Saison a Pleine Voile (don't say Full Sail Saison a Pleine Voile, or you'll be repeating yourself). Every time I go into Belmont Station it seems there's another US brewery with a new version. Oh, and for good measure, the venerable ur-saison maker Dupont released their newest product to the US market, Avril. The season of saisons? More like the year.

History of the Style
In a certain sense, none of these nouveau saisons can be considered authentic, because what defined them was a rustic style of production. Thus their commonly used alternative designation, "farmhouse ales." Jackson describes them as part of Europe's "industrial archaeology," dating back to a time when farms were only beginning to mechanize.

This led to idiosyncratic, site-specific characteristics, like Lefebvre, where the fired kettle is subject to winds. "If the fire was high [due to wind], the hot spots on the surface of kettle would caramelize the beer to a greater degree." In other breweries, beer was exposed to wild microorganisms, giving them a funky zing. Pipaix, one of the oldest producers, still uses a steam system (they call it brasserie à vapeur) and equipment dating to mid-century.

You get the picture--these were very small, ramshackle breweries (one has a sense many weren't really commercial concerns) that produced beer as unique and specific as the farm on which they were located.

A wonderfully romantic history, but not so useful in identifying style. With a scattered collection of unique beers, was there a style? Marc Rosier, brewer at Dupont, described saisons this way: "It must be a good, honest beer. It should have character. It is essential that it have soul." Whew--glad we cleared that up.

The lore surrounding the style always starts with the name, which is French for "season." According to legend, these beers were brewed during the cooler months and laid down to get them through summer--hence "season." I find this unpersuasive, for two reasons. First, we know that saisons were brewed at all strengths: "children's" (I kid you not), "family," "double," and "regal." Dupont's new Avril is in the small example, but is clearly related to the family--the baby, I guess you'd call her. It is a beer to be drunk when brewed; at 3.5%, it wouldn't last a month--hardly something to be laid away for the hot months.

But the other reason is the yeast. Those who have brewed with the dreaded Dupont strain know that it is very hard to work with, and that it loves the heat. (I have documented my foibles here.) The yeast loves temperatures over 80 degrees--purportedly even as hot as 90 (!). And yet they didn't brew in the summer? Makes no sense. (Alex Ganum, though he uses a different saison strain, has commented that he's got to keep it pretty warm, too.)

The New Saisons
In any case, there appear to be a few hallmarks to the style. Generally robust, they have the fruity-ester character of ales--often tending toward citrus and specifically lemon--but also a long, dry finish due to incredible attenuation. They are likely to have a bit of lactic zestiness, sometimes even a mild brett quality, but aren't funky. Most are pretty-well hopped and have a spicy quality. Even though they're on the biggish side (6-7%), they aren't heavy. Finally, effervescence is key--they should roil with a vigorous bead and sport a pillowy head.

A lot of the saisons I've tried over the years have seemed more like biere de gardes, their cousin from across the French border. That style is heavier and sweeter, lacking the hop character and that lovely dry finish. One shouldn't be a fanatic about style, but those qualities that make a saison so lovely are so rare as to be cherished and savored. I can't really criticize a sweeter saison, but I do like finding ones closer to the original.

Fortunately, the ones I've tasted lately are far closer to my sense of the style, and far more tasty and interesting. I hope to come back again and again to newer version of the style, but here are four recent examples, just to demonstrate the range.
  • Saison a Pleine Voile. I believe this beer is part of Full Sail's Brewer's Share program, where assistant brewers get to man the kettle and brew whatever their hearts desire. John Harris mentioned it a couple of months ago, but I don't remember the details. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes when I had this last week at the Pilsner Room, so what follows is impressionistic. It followed the style in the key ways--cloudy golden, a thick, creamy head (though not a huge amount of effervescence), and a rich, spicy-yeasty aroma. Based on the bead, it didn't surprise me to find that it was thicker and creamier than I expected, but it was still quite dry. It was nicely hopped, spicy, yet very approachable. I must go back for a second taste--it was wonderful.
  • Boulevard Tank 7. I could find very little information about this beer, which I tried at Belmont Station. Boulevard does a regular saison, and I'm not sure how this one deviated from it. This beer, too hit most of the marks for a "typical" saison. Yeasty nose marked by a fair bit of lemon. An austere, bone dry, alcoholic example. It has insistent hopping, and this combines with that dryness, which seemed the result of brettanomyces--think aged Orval--to produce a rather sharp-elbowed beer. One admires it more than enjoys it. But admire it I did.
  • Upright Seven. Although all the Upright beers are sort of farmhousey, this one is what I'd describe as the most like a typical saison. (And I use that word, again, with all due caution.) Upright's yeast is softer than Dupont's, and although the beers finish out very dryly, the fruity esters still dominate. An orangey, lively beer with a dense, creamy head, it also sports pronounced hopping. (Magnums to bitter--as is the case with all the beers but Four--as well as Mount Rainier, Liberty, and Hallertauer.) Yet it does finish crisply. I haven't had it since visiting the brewery, and need to try it again, too.
  • Standing Stone Saison. To repeat a review from late May: 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. 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.
One other to throw in the mix, though it's not currently available in Oregon, is Goose Island Sofie. Lisa Morrison shared a bottle with me at the Brewers Games. It was vigorously effervescent, light-bodied, and gentle. I recall plenty of hopping and tropical fruit flavors. The specifics have left my mind, but the fondness remains--it was a good one, too, should you find a bottle.

The upshot? The 2009 crop of saisons has been amazing. And I hope we don't stop seeing them anytime soon.

Great Beers of Belgium, 3rd Ed. He may actually have written the words when the first edition of the book came out in '91, but I don't have a copy. Anyway, you get the picture.

Allow Me to Direct Your Attention ...

To Beer Around Town, where Derek has posted an opus on the beers at Bailey's 2nd Anniversary, an event he calls (twice!) the "best beer event of the year." Definitely worth reading. (Angelo was there, too; he reviews the experience plus a few other weekend stops. And so was Doc Wort! Did someone get a picture?)

To The Beer Here, where John Foyston has the results of the Concordia Cup.

And to the Beer Nut, where an Irish blogger reviews Anchor beer. Always entertaining to see how American beers are regarded overseas.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Is (Beer) Blogging Killing (Beer) Writing?

Over the weekend, Stan Hieronymus meditated on the state of writing in the era of blogs, inspired by the demise of yet another print publication, Britain's Beers of the World. I know most readers care about beer, not beer writing, but perhaps you'll indulge me and allow this one meta-post. (And indulge me further by reading it.)

The issue has been around for decades, as the audiences for print newspapers and magazines steadily shrink. Reasons abound, and only lately have blogs been added to the mix (inconveniently, the decline started long before blogging). As this is an issue dear to the heart of every editor, it has been one of the most well-documented phenomena in American media.

Stan locates a typical blog-bashing quote from wine writer Alice Feiring, the kind bloggers find irresistible:

Oh, to once again be paid to fret and angst over the specific word and nuance. To work with an editor, to banter back and forth and develop and like a dancer stretch for that point on the stage with utter conviction.

I long for the days when there was craft, there was grammar and there was poetry...

And so bloggers who have jobs that pay the bills other than writing, please take no offense. No offense is meant. But this is a lament, from those of us who have bet our lives on the written word, for those of us who have no fall back plan (actually, journalism is my fall back for fiction) whether the subject is art, music, politics, literature or wine, our lives are changing. No one goes into writing to make pots of dough.

For bittersweet irony, follow the link: it comes from Feiring's blog.


This narrative is almost always told from the publisher's viewpoint. Nothing wrong with that; if your business is slowly dying, using the bully pulpit your magazine offers is obvious recourse. But for the writer, the lament's tune is different. When I started getting paid to write, the money involved was so low--ten cents a word was standard--that I joked it barely paid for the beer. That lovely writer-editor relationship Feiring describes is not offered to freelancers. If you're lucky, a copy editor will call you back to clarify the changes she's making. If you're unlucky (which is to say, if things are humming along normally), the piece is treated like a rough draft and what emerges afterward ay not be recognizeable.

Writing for Willamette Week was useful for a green writer--it taught me how to do actual reportage, keep my facts straight, spell people's names correctly (rule #1). But I braced every time I opened the paper. It would have been retrofitted into that WW "voice" (the one mocked by the Mercury), subjected to other nips and tucks and verbal photoshopping. In one memorable instance, an editor changed a quote from Art larrance, subverting the meaning, and justifiably enraging Art. I sent him my original copy, apologized, and WW ran a correction, but it was still terrible for my credibility.

(Tom Dalldorf, the editor and publisher of Celebrator Beer News never changed a word when I wrote "Oregon Trail" for him, bless his heart.)

The upshot is this: however bad publishers have it, writers have it worse. Newspapers still make a healthy profit. That profits are down reflects only the obscene profitability of earlier decades. Yet beat reporters get the ax, along with benefits and job security. Freelancers, paid a pittance, increasingly take up more and more of the writing responsibility. Pick up an Oregonian sometime and look at the bylines. If you see this tag underneath the byline: "Special to the Oregonian" you know the writer was a freelancer. She may have developed an article over days or weeks, done lots of legwork and put in hours and hours of time, but she was only paid for the final copy, by the word.

In the period I've been writing, the main payment has been seeing my name on the page. Editors and publishers know writers are hungry and will do nearly anything to find an outlet for their work. Throw a few shekels our way and call it good. After three or four years writing about beer for the print pubs, the effort didn't seem quite commensurate with this lavish compensation, though, and that's why I bagged it.

The reason writers blog isn't because we love not getting paid. It's because we like to write and, thanks to the dismal state of our opportunities, the deal isn't comparatively bad. We sacrifice our few shekels and a lot of readers (say what you like about Willamette Week--vastly more people read it than will ever read this blog). In exchange we get a chance to write what we wish. Fringe benefits include sharing discussions--and sometimes even a beer--with our readers.

I don't know why the print publishers are dying off, and I don't like it any better than they do. But the wreckage of this collapse tends to fall more heavily on writers, forcing them ever more quickly into blogging--which I guess is what fuels speculation that the blogs are killing magazines. But eventually we'll hit an equalibrium where the number of print publications matches the number of readers that can support them. Magazines and papers won't go away; there will just be fewer of them and they'll have smaller readerships.

When publishers look at this future, they get depressed because they imagine the people will be cheated out of the rich writing and reportage they provide. Yet this is why the publishers' lament sounds off-key to my ear: it's not true. The content will still be there, provided by the remaining print publications and augmented by a host of niche blogs. (Does anyone really feel less informed about the beer scene in Oregon in 2009 than they did in 1999?) The golden age of newspapers isn't gone, but the golden age in which a substantial corps of writers earned living wages is. We know what the future looks like-writing for free-- because we've been living in it for years.

And that's my lament.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

More Research on Beer's Health Benefits

Yet more studies suggest that beer may be good for your health.* In particular:
  • [T]he Nurses Health study... found that those who drank moderate amounts of beer (one beer) had less hypertension than nurses who drank either wine or spirits.
  • A large Kaiser Permanente survey of almost 130,000 adults showed that male beer drinkers in the group were at a statistically significantly lower risk of coronary artery disease than men who drank red wine, white wine or spirits
  • A study from Tufts School of Nutrition showed beer, either dark or light, protects bone mineral density.... People with diets high in silicon, a mineral found in dark beer, had higher bone densities and therefore a lower chance of developing osteoporosis.
In other words, "a stout a day ..."

More seriously, this is exactly the kind of research that needs to be factored into beer taxes. While drunk driving and alcohol abuse create substantial costs to society and the state, moderate drinking has consistently been associated with healthier people--who therefore lower the costs to society. If the purpose of the beer tax is to compensate for negative externalities (a pigouvian tax), then we must also consider positive externalities.

*Correlation does not equal causation. It could be that drinking moderately is a habit of already healthy people.