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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fresh Hops Around the State

In preparation for this weekend's fresh hop fest in Hood River, I am busily assembling a list of the hops that will be in the beers there. (It turns out that not every beer at the fest was made with wet hops. There will be 31 fresh hopped beers from 24 breweries.)

However, Brian Butenschoen of the Brewer's Guild just put out an updated list of all the Oregon fresh hop beers he knows of and the hops used. You can download the pdf here. I'll have a list of the beers and their hops available at the Hood River Fresh Hop Fest tomorrow or Friday.

PHOTO: Double Mountain's Matt Swihart, Oregon Brewers Guild

Portland Beer Price Index

Bill from It's Pub Night has provided an invaluable service to Beervana: he's created the Beer Price Index. Like other indices, the BPI is a collection of prices averaged together. In this case, Bill is tracking prices on six-packs, 22-ounce bottles ("bombers"), and pub pints. The function of such indices is to track prices over time. The structure is similar to the Dow Jones. It's not designed to be comprehensive--it won't tell you the average price of all stores and pubs in the city or state. What it will do is allow us to see how prices change over time for the beer he included in the index. So here we go--the Autumn '09 BPI is:
  • $8.85 - six pack (average of six brands)
  • $4.90 - 22-ounce bottle (average of seven bombers)
  • $4.27 - pub pint (average pint in nine establishments)
I will avoid summarizing his entire post--you should go read his methodology and definitions there. He has more fine-grained detail and analysis (all useful), including six-pack equivalent prices on bombers and pints.

This is very cool. A hearty cheers to Bill for putting it together.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BrewDog's Atlantic IPA

[For an introduction to Scotland's BrewDog Brewery, start with this post.]

When BrewDog announced plans for Atlantic IPA, the detail that captured people's attention was the process: the brewery planned to send out a few casks on the family mackerel trawler in an effort to re-create the beers sent to India in the 18th Century. The fact that has captured our attention now is the price tag: $26 per 330 ml. (Or, as Bill amusingly calculated, a six-pack equivalent of $167.76.)

I was no different. When BrewDog sent out the press release announcing the beer (and offering to send me a bottle--which, needless to say, I accepted), I was so shocked that I requested confirmation. Yup, twenty-six bucks.

Can any beer be worth the price of a nice bottle of single malt Scotch?

As with so many things in life, this turns out to be the wrong question. The beer is compelling, strange, unexpected, unique. We'll get to the tasting notes in a minute, but very briefly, it is a fascinating beer. Of course, lots of beers are fantastic and at a fraction the cost. The mind immediately formulates the question like a math equation. My favorite beer is X. X is $9 a bottle. Is Atlantic IPA three times as good as X?

The better question is, knowing what the brewery went through to make this beer, what would you pay? Only seven casks were made, and of this, only 960 bottles made it to America. (Whether that's 959 after my bottle, I can't say.) But even that doesn't capture the the scope of things. Fortunately, there's a video that does. Have a look:

Ah, now it's clear. This was a crazy scheme of the kind that brewers are prone to conduct. It was far harder than they predicted and not apparently the process a brewery can implement on a commercial basis. It's a nutty, charming, crazy experiment, and seeing it on video, one I approve of. I am left with surprise they allowed any of this beer out of the country or, for that matter, out of the brewery.

Tasting Notes
To complete the sea-aging experiment, BrewDog found an old recipe--either 150 or 200 years old; their material quotes both ages. Given that agriculture has changed so much in that time (not to mention the earth's climate), I don't imagine that the beer they brewed tastes like the ancient inspiration. The brewery used ancient English hops, but probably only Goldings (born in the 1780s) date back 200 years. Fuggles, the other hop in the recipe, is also an old strain, but is about a century younger. Maris Otter is typically used to approximate historic malts--as BrewDog has done with Atlantic IPA--but I have no idea how similar it is to the malts of the early-to-mid 19th Century. Still, the recipe seems a worthy effort to replicate an old recipe given ingredients available in the 21st Century.

(Discussion point for homebrew masters and brewing historians. This recipe produced a beer of 8.5% alcohol and 80 IBUs. Do you suppose that a recipe translated directly across the board today would produce a beer of both lower alcohol and bitterness? I'm wondering if modern malt is more easily converted and if IBUs have crept up over the decades. It's possible that BrewDog adjusted for these changes, but I toss it out as a hypothetical, anyway.)

I poured out the beer, as usual, in the evening, when the light was crappy. My photos are not worth reproducing, so we'll have to rely on description. It pours thickly, but rouses a nice off-white head. The color is amber, as in the gem, with rich orange highlights. (At least, it does when you hold it in front of a light.) The nose is spicy and alcoholic, quite a bit like an English barleywine.

The flavor is unique. A triumverate of notes compete for dominance. Caramel from the malt, and the spicy, resinous hops--these are familiar and unsurprising. But then there's the salt, unmistakeable and insistent, like the brine in shellfish. As the beer opened up, the hops emerge in a fizzy citrus note (orange). The brewery's tasting notes offer "pine," but I think spruce, which has this citrusy quality, is closer to the mark. Perhaps due to the saline, there's a mild metalic note, like blood. I got a touch of vanilla as well, perhaps from the oak. I also got just a touch of char or smoke--probably the note BrewDog calls "tobacco." It finishes surprisingly dryly. For all the alcohol in the nose, the thick body, and the caramel palate, it's not a bit sweet.

I couldn't easily rate the beer, but if it were on tap in a pub, it would be the first beer I'd recommend. There's really nothing like it on the market.

Malts: Maris Otter (98%), amber malt
Hops: Goldings, East Kent Goldings, Fuggles
ABV: 8.5%
IBU: 80
OG 1.074 (18 P)
Availability: extremely rare (960 bottles), $26

"Worth" is not something we're used to assessing. In this case, if you judge the beer solely by what's in the glass, stripped of all other concerns, you'd conclude that, while interesting, it's hardly four or five times as good as world standards. On the other hand, these may be the last 960 (or 959) bottles of sea-aged IPA available for years or decades. Is it worth $26 to taste this salty, unique experiment? That's an altogether harder question to answer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Honest Pints in Oakridge: Brewer's Union Local 180

Brewer's Union Local 180

Purveyor of an Honest Pint
48329 E. 1st Street
Oakridge, OR 97463

As a good many of you have pointed out in emails and comments, the good folks down in Oakridge serve honest pints. They serve very, very honest pints. Not only do they substantially exceed the volume standard, but they meet the gold standard of having a clear line marking the 20 ounce liquid line. As a super extra bonus, the glasses are marked with a 10-ounce half-pint mark.

Brewer's Union serves their beer only one way--in what owner/brewer Ted Sobel no doubt things is the proper and only way--on cask. It is a terrible oversight on my part that I haven't been down to visit the brewery, but I hope to rectify that before the end of the year. An all-cask brewery is smack-dab in the center of my wheelhouse.

I am at least pleased to officially certify Brewer's Union Local 180 as a purveyor of an honest pint. Do better than I have and go have a nice pint of cask ale there.

Sons of the American Revolution: Scotland's BrewDog Brewery

This part of the story will be familiar to American craft beer lovers. Two young guys get together and decide to open a brewery. They are young (24) and find the beer available in their local market to be overly commercial and bland. The beer they seek to make highlights aggressive, hop-focused ales--particularly ales fizzing with the wilder, citrusy hops of the NW. They inject a sense of insouciance into their approach to brewing, their image, and their marketing. Their flagship is an IPA. They work the word "dog" into the title.

This part of the story is less routine: the brewery in question, BrewDog, was founded two years ago in Fraserburgh, Scotland.

BrewDog is actually the project of an entrepreneurial wunderkind named James Watt. It is clearly very well-funded and in this way deviates from the story of many American start-ups. Actually, the more you delve into the story of the brewery, the less it looks like a typical craft start-up. Neither Watt nor Martin Dickie, his partner, had any background in brewing. Watt has a background in law and shipping (the family business), not beer. I can find no information about how the founders learned to brew (though apparently Dickie's the brewer). And, whether due to the quality of the beer or the impressive brand identity and marketing, in less than three years, BrewDog has managed to become the largest independent Scottish brewery and also to penetrate the beer geek market in the US.

The Beer
It is difficult to look at the list of BrewDog beers and not feel like they aren't some kind of wayward cousins. There's the Hardcore IPA--an imperial made with Chinook, Simcoe, Warrior, and Amarillo hops. ("Hopped to hell, then dry-hopped, too.") All of those, incidentally are locals, and three were developed in Yakima. The flagship, Punk IPA, is also made with Yakima-bred Ahtanum as well as NW Chinook and Nelson Sauvin, the sole non-NW hop. (It's non-English, too.) Trashy Blond is made exclusively with Amarillos.

Allow me to hypothesize. Couple of young guys want to start a new brewery, and they look around the world to see who's making the most interesting beers. Do they look South to London? Or further South to Brussels or Munich? No. They looked to the US West Coast. There's no other way to read their inspiration than but to look around. Everything about his brewery--except its location--looks like a typical Portland brewery. We may have it in our head that the US is the ingenue in the brewing world, but that's really no longer the case. Our beers are now inspiring brewers around the world.

BrewDog produces a series of specialty beers, including barrel-aged beers. (Sounds familiar, yes?) Their most promising endeavor is Paradox, an imperial stout they age in different malt whisky barrels. Use what's locally available, right?--especially if it's barrels from producers of the world's finest whiskies. Early reviews have been positive if slightly mixed, but this seems like a match made in heaven--and an experiment that could evolve into a venerated style in the years ahead.

But their highest-profile exeriment is Atlantic IPA, "made from a 150-year-old recipe" and "the first commercially available, genuine sea-aged IPA in over two centuries." It was aged on the deck of Watt's father's own Mackerel trawler in the North Atlantic for two months. (Again, use what's available....) The journey is well-documented on the BrewDog blog--including some very charming video--and while the idea may have been a high-concept way to get some press (check), it was also clearly a labor of love, and a project that has now captivated the brewery. I will confess, having seen the video, to also being captivated.

Just 960 bottles are making it to the US, and the brewery sent me one. They'll be retailing for $26 a bottle (an 11 ounce, 330 ml bottle at that), and so everyone is wondering: is it worth $2.33 an ounce? I will post my review tomorrow.

Update: Here's the review.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

GABF Winners Announced

The Great American Brewers Festival announced winners of 237 medals yesterday. As usual, host state Colorado won the most (45). California, the most-breweried state, finished second with 39. [Correction: California, by dint of its huge brewery advantage, has edged Colorado the last ten years.] Oregon came in third with 22. Washington (13) and Pennsylvania (12) rounded out the top five.

There were a mind-boggling 3300 entries this year. In the next few days, I'll repeat last year's exercise of doing a tally of how states did relative to the number of breweries participated. For now, here are Oregon's winners:

10 Barrel
S1NIST0R Black Ale
Bronze Out of Category
Barley Brown's
Shredders Wheat
Silver AmericanWheat Beer
Barley Brown's
Tumble Off Pale Ale
Bronze American Pale Ale
Bend Brewing
Outback X
Silver Old/Strong Ale
Cascade BreweryBourbonic Plague
Gold Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Cascade Brewery
Vlad the Imp Aler
Silver Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Deschutes BreweryMirror Pond Pale Ale
Silver English Style Pale Ale
Deschutes BreweryBlack Butte Porter
Bronze Brown Porter
Deschutes BreweryDeschutes Brewery Quad
Bronze Abbey Ale
Full Sail
Session Black

Gold American-Style Dark Lager
Organic Ace of Spades

Gold Imperial IPA
Organic Rise Up Red
Gold American Amber
Laurelwood .Space Stout
Gold Foreign Style Stout
Organic Deranger Imperial Red
Bronze Imperial Red Ale
OakshireOvercast Espresso Stout
Silver Coffee Flavored Beer
Kiwanda Cream Ale
Silver Golden Ale
Surfer's Summer Ale
Silver English Summer Ale
PelicanMacPelican's Wee Heavy Ale
Bronze Scotch Ale
Rogue AlesImperial Chocolate Stout
Silver Herb/Spice/Chocolate Beer
Rogue AlesMocha Porter
Silver Robust Porter
W '10
Gold Out of Category
Silver American Wheat Beer

The whole list of winners is here.

Update. Widmer and 10 Barrel both won medals in a category labeled, mysteriously, "Out of Category - Traditionally Brewed Beer." If you share my interest in that style, I'll reproduce the guideline here. Full descriptions of every style can be found here.
"There are many excellent and popular ales and lagers that are brewed with mostly traditional ingredients and processes, yet their character may vary from styles currently defined or included in these competition guidelines. For example a brewer may formulate a dark stout but may use lager yeast rather than ale yeast, and/or may dry hop with hops more typically used for German-style pilsener. Or perhaps a beer falls out of the color, alcohol or bitterness range of defined styles. This category recognizes undefined beers. They may be light or dark, strong or weak, hoppy or not hoppy. For purposes of this competition, judges recognize that these beers may or may not be highly experimental, but rather may differ subtly from other established guidelines. To allow for accurate judging the brewer must identify the classic or traditional style being elaborated on by name or category number, and the ingredient(s) and/or process(es) by which the entry differs from the classic style. Beer entries not accompanied by this information will be at a disadvantage during judging."

Update #2. A number of breweries won multiple medals, but those that won three or more medal and multiple golds were few. The beeg winners: Chuckanut (WA), 4 medals/2 gold; Flying Dog (MD), 4 medals/3 gold; and Pizza Port (Carlsbad, CA), 7 medals/4 gold. That Pizza Port total is eye-popping, but there's more. Pizza Port has San Clemente and Solana Beach locations, and they both won a gold apiece. Total Pizza Port take: 9 medals, six of the gold. That's a hell of a year.

In the "failed to meet expectation" camp, I would include Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer, who both won just a single medal each. SN took gold for their Kolsch and Boston Beer a silver for their doppelbock.

Update #3. MacTarnahan's took gold in the English Pale category. As strange as that is, this is even stranger (but in a different way): the flagship brew of erstwhile Portland Brewing was listed under Pyramid's tally, as a Washington brewery. Get used to this kind of cognitive dissonance: as consolidation continues in the craft world, we're going to see a lot of strange stuff like this. In this case, a beer brewed in a state and sold there is credited as a win for another state by virtue of being owned by a larger, out-of-state brewery. At least they let Widmer stand as its own brewery, and credited it as an Oregon concern.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Although Deschutes is currently pouring two fresh hop beers, not to mention a nice spelt ale and a classic weisse, the best reason to stop in is the dry-hopped Mirror Pond on cask. Heaven. The aroma alone is worth five bucks.

Also, I finally laid eyes on the new .5 and .3 liter Rastal glassware Deschutes is lately using. Visually, the half-liter glass shares the classic, Irish-style tulip design of the old ones, but they are a bit smaller. I know there was some grumbling when they shifted down from imperial pints, but the new system boasts several virtues. The glassware includes an etched line marking .5 and .3 liters--the gold standard of transparency and honesty. As a nascent geezer, I don't mind these slightly smaller "pints." (Nowhere does Deschutes use that word, though a half liter is 16.9 ounces.) It means I don't have to start thinking of cutting myself off after just one pint.

Even nicer, the prices encourage use of the .3 liter, which goes for $2.75. That's roughly the same per-ounce cost as the half-liters, which cost $4.75. Although few patrons were ordering the little glasses, I happily divided my pints in half, multiplied my tipples by two, and walked out none the poorer. I was with the econ prof last night, and he calls this "linear pricing"--apparently not as good a deal for a pub as offering volume discounts. (It's cheaper to send waitstaff out half as often, less costly in terms of breakage and hard costs.) So this is a nice gesture to those of us who like variety.

But whatever glass you put it in, go get a pour of that dry-hop cask Mirror Pond. It's amazing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Timing is Everything

I just received a book in the mail: The Search for God and Guinness: a Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield. From the cover:
"Beyond the company's financial success, Guinness has also been a remarkable and inspiring force for social good, whose impact was felt from the company's earliest days down to the present...

Mansfield tells the story of brewery founder Arthur Guinness and traces the family tree to his heirs who built housing for the poor, restored some of the great institutions of faith in Ireland, and who even insured that soldiers had pints of brew on the battlefields of the world's great wars....

In an age of corporate irresponsibility and corruption, the Guinness story is a challenge to our times and an inspiration to our hearts."
If you don't understand why I find this hysterically funny, have a look at this exchange. Whoo-boy: I hope they sent a copy to the Beer Nut.

Fresh Hop Fest Next Saturday

Next Saturday the Fresh Hop Tastivals kick-off their annual three-peat in Hood River. It's the sixth iteration, and for the first time, I plan to go.*

Sixth Annual Fresh Hop Festival
Saturday, October 3, noon-9pm
Columbia and 5th St, Downtown| map

The beer list hasn't been published yet--and even more frustratingly, the hop list. For the past couple years, I've been trying to document the success of various varieties of hops in their wet form (not all are equally tasty), and this has been hampered somewhat by a small sample size. Well, next week I can turn that on its head. Below are the list of breweries; each is bringing 2 beers, so there will be ample new varieties to sample. If I can score a list of the beers and the hops they use, I'll post that before the event.
Participating Breweries
  • Amnesia
  • Big Horse
  • BJ’s
  • Bridgeport
  • Cashmere
  • Deschutes
  • Double Mountain Brewery
  • Elliot Glacier
  • Fearless
  • Fort George
  • Full Sail Brewing
  • Henry’s Karlsson Brewing
  • Main Street
  • McMenimins
  • Highland
  • Mt. Hood Brewing
  • New Old Lompoc
  • Ninkasi
  • Pelican
  • Rogue
  • Roots Brewing
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Terminal Gravity
  • Walking Man
Also note: the Tastivals go on the road, coming to Portland and Eugene on the following weekends.
Portland Fresh Hop Tastival
Saturday, Oct 10, noon- 9pm
7805 SE Oaks Park Way

Eugene Fresh Hop Tastival
Saturday, Oct 17, noon- 9pm
948 Olive St.

*I was on the board of a local nonprofit for the past several years, and we always had a quarterly meeting on that date. They're meeting again, but I'm no longer on the board--whoo hoo!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In Denver

Attendees are lining up for the Great American Beer Festival even as we speak. It starts in an hour. Although I don't always love the way the winners are decided, I will confess to a certain amount of envy right now. Apparently there will be a video feed. Of course, you can watch the tweets go by, too (current theme seems to be how long the lines are).

Holler if you're there and have info to divulge.

A Quarter-Millennium and Still Brewing

Tonight at a minute to six Ireland time (17:59), Guinness will raise a toast to celebrate 250 years of brewing and selling beer. It was on near* this day in 1759 that Arthur Guinness took out his famous 9,000-year lease on the St. James Gate brewery in Dublin. I will acknowledge this date in stout-loving Beervana with a post or two on the milestone, beginning with a consideration of that quarter-millennium Guinness has managed to stay in business.

We are used to looking backward, and in retrospect, vast numbers do not impress us. Thanks to museums and history books, we have grown comfortable with the distant past, and by this measure, 1759 barely rates. Interestingly, when we look into the future, even modest numbers seem impossibly distant. Global warming gets a yawn because, hey, 2100 is so far in the future, who cares whether the seas are lapping at the shores of Beaverton? So imagine the year 2234. That's when BridgePort will celebrate its 250th. A better perspective on longevity, yes?

With that in mind, let's cast our gaze backward with a little more interest. Envision a cosmic mash tun that can take us back to 1759. What would the world look like?

According to the UN, the world's population was just 800 million people, and most of them lived on farms. This was a pre-industrial, pre-electrical era, so people managed the nights with candles and lamps. It was still a mostly organic world. The steam engine wouldn't be invented for another ten years, so bodies did all the work: men lifted and toted; oxes and horses pulled and conveyed. Ships moved by windpower (it was after the glory days of piracy, but boats were still powered by sails). This pre-industrial phase also coincided with the peak of the Little Ice Age, so I expect it was a mite chilly in old Dublin town.

It was an interesting time historically and intellectually. The upheaval of the reformation led to the rise of empire and during Guinness' time, Europe was enjoying the fruit of the enlightenment. As empires rose and grew, revolutions percolated. (It was the year Voltaire published Candide.) America's was 15 years away France's 30. But for all that, it was only relatively enlightened. Colonists were busy importing slaves to the US--where, we sometimes forget, they were common even in the North. There wasn't a single democracy and the idea of rule by the people was inconceivable. Instead, empires with now-strange names were common: Prussia, Qing (Manchu), Ottoman, Persia, and Mughal.

North America was still mostly unexplored, and although decimation of native nations had begun on the East Coast, in the Midwest and West, Native Americans continued their undisturbed ways of life.

The founding of Guinness also came during that age of the rise of private capital and the idea of the modern business. Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a work that would be instructive in forming the ideas he published later in Wealth of Nations. Breweries were timeless, and there remain extant examples that pre-date Guinness. But Guinness was, by Protz's account, a businessman from the start, not an old-world craftsman. He was sharp enough to sign the famous 9,000-year lease, also securing free water and also bought a neighboring flour mill to ensure a regular supply of grain. When the rise of porter's popularity started flooding in from England 30 years later, Guinness started brewing it in Dublin and by 1799 made it his sole product.

Guinness prospered, and the company's early bio reads like a modern corporation: he battled local government over taxes and eventually gained enough influence to become sole supplier to Dublin Castle. He became the first national brewer in Ireland, using barges to distribute his ale. And the brewery continued to innovate, creating a "double porter" by the end of the century and finally, under Arthur's son (also Arthur) created the "dry" style that came to typify Irish stouts. The company's marketing and business success in subsequent decades--centuries--is legend.

So there you have it, 250 years. Quite a thing, and certainly makes it a lovely day for a Guinness.

*Text corrected. See long, interesting debate in comments below.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Brewer Changes

Just saw this at John Foyston's blog:
Here's what Chris Crabb just e-mailed...

Dave Fleming has left Three Creeks Brewing and has been named Head Brewer for Lompoc Brewing. He will likely be at next Wednesday's Fresh Hop tasting, (4 - 9 p.m.Sept. 30, New Old Lompoc, 1616 NW 23rd Ave.)
This raises two pertinent questions:

1. Who will be manning the mash tun at Three Creeks?
2. Has someone left Lompoc?

I will attempt to track down answers post haste.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunset Plug

Sunset Magazine has lately shown an admirable interest in beer. Last month they asked me to put together a group of beers I thought would go well with food and suggest pairings. I will encourage you to pick up a copy to see the pairings suggestion (not to mention the photo, which is beautiful), but as a teaser, here are the beers I chose:
  • Cascade Kriek
  • Deschutes Black Butte Porter
  • Elysian "The Wise" ESB
  • Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
  • Upright Four
I was going for a mixture of styles, a mixture of beers that would be readily available, and beers that would match different courses of a meal. I was pretty pleased with the final line-up. And, of course, the research was a blast.

Your Fave IPAs

From yesterday's polling exercise, we learned three things:
  1. Tweeting news of a poll tends to pervert the outcome.
  2. The little guys are making big noise.
  3. There is no consensus on "best" IPA.
Let's begin with point #1. Yesterday at about 1pm, I tweeted news of this post. At that time, Pelican was out in front, trailed closely by Double Mountain, Ninkasi, and Terminal Gravity. Within an hour, Ninkasi had retweeted the link, urging followers to vote. Within another hour, Ninkasi had 40% of the vote. While this demonstrates impressive social media organizing skills, it doesn't resolve the question of which beer is most favored by Oregon beer geeks. Oakshire, which was already doing well, boosted its own numbers by retweeting as well.

More surprising was the broad support small breweries received. Let's assume Ninkasi would have finished strong even without the tweeting. The were joined by four other breweries all receiving 7% of the vote: Oakshire (27 votes), Double Mountain (27), Laurelwood (26), and Terminal Gravity (24). All of the these breweries beat the two bigs on the list, Full Sail (which received 23 votes) and Deschutes (18). Since these breweries sell tiny fractions of the volume of the big breweries (and are therefore not known to as many drinkers), their tallies are quite impressive. Pelican, it should be noted, slid to 5% with 20 votes, but keep in mind that this is a brewery producing fewer than 5,000 barrels.

Okay, last point: there is no favorite. This is very good news. These beers are not all brewed alike, and drinkers appreciate the differences. I wouldn't be surprised if many of you, like me, don't really feel comfortable trying to select a favorite. It depends on one's mood. Terminal Gravity, which I've called the king of Oregon IPAs, is a muscular, punk-rock beer. Pelican's is a subtle tour de force, like a John Coltrane set. Hop Lava is like a screaming wall of metal. You may love punk, but sometimes you're in the mood for jazz. The best IPAs have found a mood and they serve us in different situations.

Thanks to all who voted, and congrats to those who came out on top. I'll leave the poll open for a few more days, so keep voting if you wish.

Update. I forgot to include the "other" write-in votes. They are listed in comments. Also, I should have included Caldera IPA in the list--it's another fantastic beer. An oversight.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beervana's Best IPA?

Last night presented a delicious conundrum: after an eight-day hiatus, which beer to welcome me back? I considered but quickly rejected an import. I wanted to reacquaint my mouth with beer of a regional nature. From there, it seemed only a short step to choosing an IPA, which has undoubtedly become the king of local craft styles. But which IPA? By my reckoning, a good half-dozen have claim to be the best and, depending on my mood, I might go for any of them. Eventually, I went for Ninkasi Total Domination, which is lively but not punishing.

Thinking further, I wondered if this may be a bit of a Rorschach style. Although I can limit my list of faves to a top seven, looking through the list of breweries I see at least twice that number of credible candidates. So, in the spirit of democracy, I throw it to you. Below are 14 IPAs I selected based on my own preferences. Breweries get only one slot (though many brew more than one IPA), and I left out imperials as well as BridgePort's, which is actually a pale. However, if you think my list is insufficient, there's the requisite "other." I'll leave the poll open until I get at least 200 votes.

All of this, incidentally, is a prelude to a review I'll do on Brew Dog's Atlantic IPA--the beer they sent on a two-month jaunt in the Atlantic for "sea-aging," in the historical manner. The brewery sent me a bottle (retails at $26 for 11 ounces!), and I will crack it tonight. We'll see whether it is indeed superior to the local IPAs--the very kinds of beer that inspired Brew Dog in the first place.

But first, the poll. (Direct link here if it doesn't load properly.)

(For what it's worth, my top six are, alphabetically: Deschutes, Fort George, Full Sail, Mt. Hood, Ninkasi, Pelican, Terminal Gravity.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beer's Golden Age

[I'm out of town until September 18--hey, that's today!--and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

Have you ever noticed that art flourishes in cycles? Pick an art form, and you'll see periods and places where it wells up--movies in the late sixties and early seventies, literature during and immediately following the beats, music in Memphis in the 50s, Detroit in the 60s, New York in the 80s, and Seattle in the 90s. It isn't random.

Art, no matter the form, is always a communication. You have someone making it, and someone appreciating it. The two feed off each other. Art flourishes as the context deepens. The more the appreciators "get" what the artist is doing, the more opportunities the artist has to go on riffs and expand the context.

I bring all of this up because over the weekend, as I was working my way through a sample tray of Double Mountain Brewing's beers (they're that new Hood River brewery founded by Full Sail alums), I realized that the beer I was drinking was only possible because of all the beers that preceded it in the Oregon brewing rennaisance--and because at this moment in time, there are enough people out there drinking good beer to appreciate what the brewers are doing.

I'll do a full review on Double Mountain soon (probably between PIB and the OBF), but here's an example of what I mean. One of their current beers is a kolsch--a fairly standard offering in July. It's the kind of beer you might expect to be in that disposably-drinkable category--tasty after a hot day of windsurfing, but nothing to write home about. No. Double Mountain went all out on it--they used an appropriate yeast strain, giving it that distinctive tart/crisp quality that really defines the style. And then, for good measure, they over-hopped it (I think it was at something like 40 IBUs). Germans would run screaming to the hills with this kind of offense, but the brewers know what they're doing. They have selected a hop schedule that draws out the pre-existing qualities of the style, deepening the crispness and drawing out the dryness of the last note. The hops they chose complement the beer, making it simultaneously both more kolsch-y (though I wouldn't enter it at the GABF) and more appropriate for Oregon drinkers.

I have already talked about their IRA (aka "Ira," as in Glass), which is a Belgian-yeast-based IPA, but it makes an equal case. It doesn't taste radically different from a usual IPA, but there's something going on. The Belgian yeast seems to enclose the bitterness in a gentle pocket. The edges are soft and mature. IPA drinkers would notice that it's a little different, but they would recognize and enjoy it. The brewers at Double Mountain didn't have to add that complexity, but they knew that if they did, some people would appreciate the effort.

It's my guess that the average beer drinkers walking in don't actually have the nomenclature to describe what they're tasting or understand why it tastes that way. But still, they get that it's really good beer (it was five o'clock on a Saturday and there wasn't a free table). Fifteen years ago, there would have been no point to offer the little change-ups Double Mountain includes in their recipes. Who would know the difference? In fact, that contextual vacuity was responsible for the state of beer drinking 25 years ago, when most beer drinkers thought that the variety of beer styles could be expressed in the range at the supermarket--light, dry, or in rare cases, "dark."

Things will change. The market will shift, drinkers will go off to new beverages. Whether that happens in five years or fifty, it's a sure bet. (If it happened in Belgium--and it did--it will surely happen everywhere.) So this is the golden age for beer, the pinnacle of the craft. It's cool, but also a little sad.

Enjoy it while it's here (and hope it lasts fifty years!).

Originally posted July 9, 2007

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The DSM-ing of Beer Styles

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

Every year, as American brewers get more creative with ingredients and methods of brewing, the brain trust in Denver tries to keep up with new style categories. As Stan points out, this year there are 11 more. The metastasizing of beer categories bears some resemblance to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which began with 106 disorders and now contains 297. The unique variances among individuals dictate an infinite range of possibilities, and at a certain point, the DSM will create more confusion than clarity (many people feel we've passed that point). And so it is with beer styles.

The function of categories and styles is to bring some coherence to comparison. There's just too much difference between a doppelbock and an IPA to meaningfully compare them side by side. But what happens when a brewery uses an alt yeast for its doppel and tosses in a few extra new world hops. Is it still meaningful to make a new category, or just compare it with other doppels?

Reasonable people can disagree, but I want to lodge my own personal, perhaps futile, protest right now. Looking through the current list (.pdf), I can see absolutely no justification for these kinds of distinctions:
Light American Wheat Ale or Lager with Yeast
Light American Wheat Ale or Lager without Yeast
Or the inclusion of these unnecessary categories:
Fresh Hop Ale (new)
Ales which are hopped exclusively with fresh and un-dried (”wet”) hops.

American-Belgo Styles Ales (new)
These beers portray the unique characters imparted by yeasts typically used in fruity and big Belgian-style ales.

Gluten-Free beer

Pumpkin Beer

Garden Beer (Garden beer? Because you have to distinguish between "pumpkin" and "garden"--someone might use zucchini!)

American Style- (pick one, they're all unnecessary: strong pale, IPA, imperial IPA, red/amber, etc.)
Here's the thing, a fresh hop ale, to take one example, is brewed in a recognizeable style--usually pale ale. It doesn't need its own category. American styles are distinguished from their British counterparts by their hop character solely. Every time we get a new hop, we have to come up with a new style? Absurd. And imperializing something (there are now 47 categories for "imperial" styles) means you've just made a strong ale, not an Imperial or Double India Pale Ale. For the love of Pete, just collapse these damn things. Gluten-free beer? Really?

I know that this creates a way for more breweries to win more medals, but that's actually a problem. I need six beers to win in the Light American Wheat Ale or Lager with (or Without) Yeast categories? No! It adds nothing to clarity and creates a huge headache for everyone involved as people try to figure out in which precise category a beer should be placed.

If I ruled the world, there'd be a lot more good beer available, but you'd know it by a lot fewer names.

[Note: post cleaned up for clarity of prose and bitterness of spleen.]

Originally posted March 6, 2008

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bud American Ale: the Triumph or Demise of Craft Beer?

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

I finally got my hands on Bud's American Ale, which seems simultaneously to be: 1) over-compensation for a company that's no longer American, 2) an acknowledgement that new products, not just new ads, are the only way to grow in the US market, and 3) a legitimate beer.

Let's start with the third point first. This is a real craft beer, not just a marketing gimmick. Bud has made a beautiful amber ale with a nice caramel malt note and a lightly citrusy hopping. They have dry-hopped it with Cascade hops (whole hops, apparently). I wouldn't call it a transcendent beer, but if you did a blind taste-test with this beer and several other craft ambers, I suspect it would finish in the middle of the pack. It is, for example, Fat Tire's superior--by quite a margin. I'm not a huge fan of ambers, but if I went to a party and this was in the fridge along with Corona, Widmer Hef, and Fat Tire, I'd be happy to grab the Bud Ale. And I'd enjoy it, too.

It's not surprising that Bud has made a good beer. I don't doubt that if Bud wished, its brewers could instantly produce a dozen excellent beers, and probably a world-class lager or six. The best, most well-trained brewers in the world work for Bud. They don't brew world-class beers because they don't wish to, not because they can't.

Three questions spring to mind: why a craft beer, why an amber, and what does it spell doom for craft breweries?

The answer to the first question seems obvious. While the macro market is flat or in decline, the micro market continues to grow and grow. The US beer market continues to grow slowly, but all the growth is in the craft segment. Bud can continue to buy up smaller breweries piecemeal to get a part of that growth, or take the plunge with their own brand and try to bring the market under the Bud name.

Okay, so why an amber? No doubt there's an easy, flip answer--the focus groups liked it best. (And actually, I bet they did. I bet Bud tried a bunch of ales and came up with this one. I would have loved loved loved to have been among the focus groups so I could see what was in the mind of the giant.) But it also makes sense. If you want to build a market for ales, you want to actually brew an ale. The craft market has proven the enduring popularity of the style, particularly as an introductory beer for new ale drinkers. It's nothing like Bud. Amber ales are especially fruity and ale-y. They exhibit a sweetness totally unlike light lagers--and which totally beguiled an early generation of Oregonians. Add a little dry-hopped Cascade citrus, and you introduce drinkers to the flavor of hops without risking turning people off with bitterness. If you want to create a market by priming the palates of for ales, this is a great way to go.

All well and good, but does it spell doom for craft breweries? If Bud makes a great (and cheaper) amber, will people quit drinking Full Sail's? I would love to hear the beer-economist reflect on this question, but my sense is that it's just the opposite: Bud can reach 100 million consumers who will never otherwise consider a craft beer. And once they've begun drinking Bud's ale, they may well enjoy Black Butte Porter or BridgePort IPA or Roots Heather. If Bud's experiment is successful, they will expand the market for craft beer--one they won't ever be able to dominate in the way they dominate the single-product macro market.

I love that Bud has made a serious beer. It looks to me like a trojan horse that millions of Americans may unwittingly invite into their refrigerators. And once dry-hopped ales get in there, they may never leave.

Update. Maureen Ogle points out an obvious analogy (one I nevertheless missed) to the scenario above: the Starbucks phenomenon.

Originally posted October 27, 2008

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Secret Shame of Beervana: Cheater Pints

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites--and this one was the post that launched a movement.]

When I did my review of Amnesia, there transpired an interaction I did not mention. As most readers know--whether they know they know or not--the traditional "pint" glass used in pubs across the state (and US) do not hold 16 ounces of beer. If you pour a bottle out into one of these glasses and manage the traditional head, you know what happens--it goes right to the top. You could squeeze an ounce or two more in there if you skipped the head, but you'd have to bend the laws of physics to fit in a pint. These glasses were originally designed to shake mixed drinks in, which is why they're dense and stackable, and also why they're known as "shaker pints."

I mentioned this to the table of friends when we are at the Amnesia, and they were shocked. So shocked, in fact, that they didn't believe me. So much did one of my friends disbelieve me that she brought the waiter over to set me straight. I stuck to my guns, and so he went to fetch a measuring bowl. Sure enough, 13 ounces and change. All were mollified, mystified, and mortified. The waiter apologized and said he couldn't believe they were shorting folks.

But let us not pile on Amnesia--shaker pints are the standard in Portland. The crime of the cheater pint was once revealed by Willamette Week writer William Abernathy, who used to cruise around to pubs and pour out glasses into a Pyrex measuring bowl. He managed to shame a number of pubs into going to real pints, and inspiring others to go for 20-ounce imperial pints.

But alas, cheater pints have taken over. There's a current thread discussing the matter on the Brew Crew's listserv, and I'm surprised by how many folks were unaware of this practice. With prices edging up toward five bucks, maybe it's time to re-start the shaming. Or at least offering a list of "honest pints" so informed consumers know where to go. But who would do the research?

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Monday, September 14, 2009

Time for a Bonsai Beer Movement

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

The joy of drinking beer is in the epiphanies it sparks. In my case, the insights are often directed back on the source itself, and so it was last night as I shared a bottle of Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen with Sally. We have entered the era of imperial. No style is immune. Imperial IPAs and stouts, of course. But now there are imperial reds, porters, pilsners, wits, and hefeweizens. Never mind the "doubles" and "strongs." The age of supersized beer is upon us.

I love strong beers. When Sam Adams released its Triple Bock back in 1994, I shelled out for a bottle. I exaulted when Hair of the Dog released Fred. I laid away gallons of Jackfrost Doppelbock. Sasquatch Strong still remains one of the best beers I've ever tasted, and I drank it whenever it was available.

But the madness has to stop. I bought the Pyramid Imperial Hef with reluctance but dim hope. Maybe the word "hefeweizen" was an evocation--the beer, I hoped, might be something like a wheat wine. Alas, this really is just a steroidal hef. Hefeweizens are quintessentially light beers; the characteristics that distinguish them are products of smallness--light body, gentle wheaty palate, and the fragile, spicy character from yeast and phenols that make the style unique.

As an antidote, we need some kind of small beer movement. Bonsai beers, miniaturist efforts that focus entirely on producing flavor with a minimum of ingredients. I know that in a vacuum, breweries probably aren't going to invest a lot of time into beers that will get overlooked--especially when they can bloat a beer and get a fair amount of attention. That's why it needs to be a movement--consumers would become more conditioned to appreciate the small beers.

A festival of beers under 4%? A contest? A joint brew-off? Something needs to be done or we're going to have to endure imperial lambics, double milds, and strong sessions. Stop the madness before it's too late!

Originally posted September 21, 2007

I apparently forgot this post, because later I wrote "Super Small Beers" ...

A British beer blogger has a post up about an English brown ale that weighs in at 2.8% alcohol:
If you're American, you'd probably laugh it out of town. I doubt they send much - if any - across the Atlantic. Instead, the beer cowers in brown, half litre bottles on the shelves of Tesco stores in Britain. It coyly suggests on its label that it be used for cooking. There's even a recipe for beef stew on the back. It's as if the little chap doesn't want you to drink him.
It appears that the beer in question, Mann's, is a throwback. In the comments to the post, a guy named Paul notes "When we had our beer shop we used to sell a reasonable amount of Mann's brown. I don't ever remember a customer for it being under 60." That, and the suggestion that it's more fit for stew than mug, hint at its status there.

Nevertheless, there is a long and loving history of small beers, going back to the time when they were consumed in greater quantity and at what we might now consider off hours. In our mania for extremes, we extend not even scorn for these kinds of beers now--most craft beer drinkers probably believe that beer under 4% alcohol was made to serve scorn-deserving niches (light beer, non-alcoholic beer).

Well, as a sometimes brewer and all-around beer appreciator, I will go on record as a fan of the little beers. They're the quadruple salchow of brewing--very hard to pull off, so much so that few even bother. But when done properly, they reveal flavors concealed at higher octane. Here in Beervana, we so eschew anything with the macro taint that even our session ales are 5.5%. But in the world of extremes--which make Beervana's heart sing--super small beers are something to consider.

A general call to Oregon brewers: what about trying to knock off our socks with one hand tied behind your back? Something around three percent, style of your choice. Betcha can't.

Originally posted June 30, 2008

And finally, earlier this year, I had this brainstorm in a post called "Fest Thinkin"...

While I'm on the subject of fests, here's a random thought that floated through my brain after last week's experience with Full Sail's cask Amber. Since we have such a grievous paucity of beer festivals in Oregon (293 at last count), I'd love to see one more--the small beer fest. No beer above, what 5%, 4.5%? Maybe have a people's choice for beers below 5% and below 4%. Invite breweries to brew up special beer for the occasion and challenge them to come up with riveting flavors. Call it the Extreme Small Beer Fest or something. Small: it's the new frontier for extreme.

Now, how do you put on a fest?

Originally posted March 24, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chemistry of the Wet Hop

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

In my earlier post, I discussed hops generally. But what about wet hops and dry hops? To my palate, they're radically different. Last year, as I was systematically working my way through fresh-hop beers, I discovered that they perform so differently that it's clear brewers are still figuring it out, too. (That's one of the main reasons I'm trying to exhaustively document what I've tried--so that I can get a handle one which fresh hops seem to taste the best.) So the question I'd like answered is this: what happens to the chemical compounds when a hop is dried? Of to put it in the reverse, when a hop is wet, what are the volatile compounds we're tasting that are normally absent or just minor notes in dry hops?

Okay, it remains elusive. I'm no chemist, just a simple blogger. But there is some science to suggest that when an herb dries, its chemistry changes. In the paper quoted below, scientists looked at various compounds present in freshly-harvested herbs and the same herbs after they had been dried.
The herbs of lemon balm, oregano, and peppermint were analysed immediately after harvest and after drying to determine their antioxidant activity and content of total phenolics, l-ascorbic acid, and carotenoids. The strongest inhibition of linoleic acid (LA) peroxidation was found for fresh and dried oregano. For peppermint and lemon balm it was significantly lower and decreased after drying. The ability to scavenge the free radical DPPH (2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl) was very high in almost all tested samples, exceeding 90%. The three species tested had a very high content of total phenolics and drying of oregano and peppermint resulted in their considerable increase. The highest content of ascorbic acid was determined in fresh peppermint and lemon balm and carotenoid content was at a similar level in all the species tested. Drying caused great losses of these compounds.
You can follow the link for the technical discussion. But to highlight just how radically things change, just 6-15% of the vitamin C is present in dry forms of these herbs. The hop cone contains oils, acids, co-humulone, and other components. If one of those is ten times as robust in wet hops as dry, it would begin to explain why the beers taste so different.

Quick, someone take a hop into the lab and get on this.

Originally posted September 30, 2008

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Brave New Frontier of Fresh Hops

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

In the past couple months, I've been talking about the emergence of indigenous styles or elements in Northwest beer. In a great oversight, one ingredient I didn't mention were wet hops--the use of which have proliferated rather astonishingly in the past couple years. As the touring fresh hop festival demonstrates, this isn't a niche practice anymore. What's more significant is that this isn't a gimmacky practice to capitalize on local produce; in my fairly broad tasting of these beers this year, I've found that they produce completely original flavors, some of which are extraordinary, and some of which are ... gross.

It is unclear why this would be the case, but the various oils, resins, and acids behave differently when the hop is wet. The alpha acids don't seem to produce the same level of bitterness, and other properties emerge that are as intense as traditional alpha bitterness. One brewery last year--they asked to keep this on the QT--brewed a batch they thought would be intensely bitter, but it came in at something like 30 BUs. The beer was never released. Yet it doesn't seem to be uniform--in some strains, the alpha acids seem to convert better. In my sampling of fresh hop ales this year (reviews to come--or at least begin--later today) I tried beers that were grassy, cabbagy, and in one notable case, weedy. In all cases, fresh hops offer an herbal, organic flavor that isn't totally familiar to the tongue of hopheads like me.

In the next few years, I suspect brewers will learn to work with fresh hops, figure out which work best, and they may start to mix them with dried hops to select the best elements of both. I hope you have a chance to get to a brewery or a hop festival to taste some of these. They are far from universally successful, reminding me of an earlier era in craft brewing. But the experiments are something tasters and brewers can all learn from, and the failures are as important in this regard as the successes.

And as an inducement, here's a teaser: one of the beers I tried was absolutely transcendent. Maybe it's not the only one. Hunting is half the fun!

Originally published October 14, 2007

The Emerging "Fresh Hop" Style

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

My tour of the fresh hop beers continued this weekend (reviews to come), and in this tour I am beginning to recognize a through-line in terms of style. Obviously, the key ingredient is freshly-harvested hop, applied liberally. Beyond that, the base beer could be just about anything. Last year I tried three or four lagers, some beers that were very light-bodied, others that were burly and dense.

But this year, most breweries have begun to settle in on a template: a pale-hued ale ranging from about 5.5% to 7% in alcohol. Sometimes they tend more toward a pale ale, others to an ESB, and others to an IPA, but the range isn't that large. For the stronger beers, the bitterness is ramped up; in the milder ones, the brewer tends toward flavor and aroma. To be sure, there are still a few outliers, like Hopworks' Oktoberfest. Some other breweries still seem to be in experimentation mode: Lompoc's got a bock, a red, and the usual pale slated. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that a brewery hits a home run on some unexpected style (Belgians in particular seem little-explored), but so far, breweries seem to be narrowing in on this range.

It makes sense. Dark malts conceal hop flavor, and so the subtle notes that characterize fresh hops would be lost. But lagers are so clean they reveal flavors that maybe brewers might like to bury. As Rogue and Double Mountain demonstrate, throwing a lot of hops in the beer also conceal the subtlety of fresh hopping; the bitterness comes out and the beers lose the very unique note they're trying to highlight. So for now, they've settled on a fairly neutral substrate.

We'll see if this changes in coming years.

Originally posted October 14, 2008

Friday, September 11, 2009

Toward Indigenous Styles

[I'm out of town until September 18 and away from computers of all sorts. On the assumption that you won't have read every post from the past 3 years, I'm reposting a few favorites. See you soon.]

I tend to relate to beer styles almost as primordial, as if they sprang fully-formed into their present state. Of course, this is nonsense--beer styles start somewhere and they evolve. Yeast's "house character" arises from subtle changes and mutations over the decades. Even the idea that they are now fully-formed and fixed is a mistake; surely the character of beers will evolve as local environments (less farmland, but perhaps less coal smoke in the air, too) and customs change. The globe warms and barley and hops may change. Who knows?

For the first time since before Prohibition, there's a chance for indigenous styles of beer to start developing in America. The post-WWII beers of America were lighter versions of the beer brewed in Germany--witness the Weinhards and Schlitzes and Busches and Coorses. Only recently have American brewers, freed of their old-world traditions, started to experiment with styles, and although they are among the most innovative brewers in the world, the evolution so far has been one of degree.

When you look around at the classic beer styles, they're almost all intimately connected with the region or even town from which they came. English pale ales were initially strongly associated with the water of Burton-upon-Trent. Bubbling up through sandstone, Burton's water contains gypsum and calcium sulfate ("Burton salts"); these minerals draw out the resins from hops and dry the beer. Scottish ales, known for their creamy malty character, come from a country rich in barley but hop poor. In Germany, smoked beers are obscure except in Bamburg; the same is true of the saisons of Wallonia. It's not quite true that every style was born solely because of the conditions in which it was first brewed, but almost.

What has arisen in the Northwest, and to a lesser extent in American brewing, is a love of hops, particularly those that are native to the US. It's almost impossible to walk into a brewpub in Oregon and find a beer that doesn't use the sweetly citrusy, aromatic Cascade hops. They are ubiquitous throughout the country, but they are native to the Northwest--associated in my mind with our pales almost as strongly as Saaz are to Czech pilsners and Kent Goldings to London ESBs. Of indigenous character, we have already developed. Styles are another matter.

But where will it go from here? In 100 years, will we still be brewing styles with distinct lineages back to the UK and (to a lesser degree) Belgium? Or will the rest of the world brew "Oregon-style" beers?

As a not-quite-avid homebrewer, I started to think what I could brew that would be distinctly native. An idea arose--that in a later post--but as I pondered what makes things native, I came up with a few variables:
  • Ingredients. A Belgian wit is distinct mainly for the use of coriander and Curacao (bitter) orange peel. Until they figured out how to roast malt without burning it, all beers were dark; in the late 19th century in Plzen, brewers cracked this nut and invented the world's most popular style. When brewers added lactose, they created cream ales and milk stouts.
  • Method. Some breweries have funky ways of brewing, and these help define style. The slate squares employed in Yorkshire breweries; the spontaneous fermentation of the Lembeek Valley; the funk contributed by casks at St. James Gate (Guinness) and Roeselare (Rodenbach); or the lagers fermented warm to create "steam beers"--America's only truly native style.
  • Yeast. Many of the world's classic beers emerged from the decades- or centuries-old strains of yeast. In many (most?) cases, yeast strains are connected to locations where they originated and consequently are one of the chief elements that define styles.
  • New Variations. Sometimes styles emerge by remixing the ingredients, methods, or yeasts to produce a beer recognizably different.
  • "Localness." What has guided many brewers through time wasn't necessarily a desire to be innovative, but restraints of locality. They used what they had. In the age before industrialization, hops, grains, adjuncts, and water all had to be local. The character of the beer has historically been a reflection of the place it was brewed. The physical imperative is gone in the age of globalization, yet artisanal beers are still predominantly local products.
In the Northwest, things have begun to show signs of evolution toward native brewing. One example that springs to mind are the Big Reds that have appeared in the last few years. Put these in the "variations" category. They are bitter but not overly strong, sharing qualities of IPAs, ESBs, and the Northwest fascination with vivid hopping. Three popular standards are now readily available throughout Portland: Laurelwood Free Range Red, Roots Red and Ninkasi Believer.

But while these beers have a lot in common with each other, they can't easily be shoehorned into other styles. They're a little stronger than a pale ale, but lighter than an IPA. The lighter body creates a platform for the hops, which though robust, aren't overwhelming. Brewers in Oregon have discovered that the sweet spot for hop lovers is a beer where the flavor, aroma, and bitterness are all aspects of hops; these large reds seem to have been designed to highlight hops at all turns. A native style? Getting there.

Peering Into the Future
The Northwest offers a wonderfully rich natural environment. I can see a number of possible ingredients that could become a part of the brewing tradition--fruit, wood casks from local trees, native botanicals. Breweries have made some forays, notably with fruit, but not in especially novel ways. What makes the krieks of Belgium sing is that they are not syrupy; the fruit is an essence, not a treacly additive. Wood is a big investment that doesn't pay off for years, so experiments have been limited to bourbon barrels (distinctly not Northwestern). Botanicals? Craig Nicholls has experimented with desert sage and juniper branches (from his back yard). Siletz makes a slightly strange spruce ale that is a version or two from perfected.

Yeasts may be the next frontier. Some breweries have developed a "house" character--Widmer and Hair of the Dog, for example. Other breweries will nurture character more actively--coaxing it by mixing strains and so on (Double Mountain seems a likely candidate). Belgian, English, and German beers are all recognizable by their yeasts; perhaps an Oregon yeast is in our future.

Finally, I also wonder if breweries may look to experiment with ingredients that have quasi-hop qualities, or those which draw out hop notes. No one can seem to get enough of the humulus lupulin, so experiments are surely in our future. In any case, it is impossible to imagine native styles developing that didn't play strongly to the zestiness of our local hops. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that zing.


Of course beer styles aren't fixed. They metastasize and change, and from the mutations emerge styles. We live in a very fortunate moment when we're seeing the process happen in real time. I'll try to keep my eye on this development and see if I can suss out any trends. It will be a joy to watch.

Originally posted August 23, 2007

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lupulin Returns: Cascade and Crystal

A formidable beer makes its return tonight: Full Sail's Lupulin, a fresh hop beer so good I gave it my Satori Award two years ago. That beer was brewed with fresh Amarillo hops. Last year brewer John Harris did a tripartite batch and hopped each third with Mt Rainier, Cascade, and Nugget. The base beer remained the same in all four batches, so the only difference came from the hops. Follow the linked text above for a description of past batches.

This year John returns with a divided batch, half hopped with Cascade, half with Crystal. They debut tonight at five:
Lupulin Fresh Hop Release
Tasting Room and Pub, Hood River
Riverplace Brewery/Pilsner Room, Portland
Thursday, September 10th at 5:00pm
What to Expect
Fresh hops behave differently than dry hops. The flavors of a wet hop compare neither to dry hops generally nor even to their dried selves. I've been trying to chart the experiments of wet hopping to see which varieties perform best. Cascade and Crystal are two that have shown consistent success.

John's used Cascades before, though this is no guarantee he's following the exact same recipe for this batch. Of the four Lupulins he's made in past years, the Cascades are his fave. (For my money, the Amarillo and Nuggets were tastier, but especially with hops, your experience may vary.) This is how I described that beer:
Cascades are a bright, happy, and sunny. They don't have a care in the world. But wet Cascades are earthy and rustic. They have a freshly organic quality, but very little of the floral/citrusy quality of dried Cascade. It had a bit of orange, but it fades to a darker, more bitter tea-like quality. There's a certain quality about some leafy green vegetables that is bitter--this beer had that.
Given their ubiquity in American craft brewing, Cascades haven't been featured in a huge number of fresh-hop beers. However, in addition to Lupulin, BridgePort used it in last year's Hop Harvest. (This year Hop Harvest uses Chinook and Cluster.) Cascades have been used in mixtures by other breweries, too.

Dry, Crystal is a pretty generic hop. It's clean and crisp, but exhibits nothing particularly unique. As a wet hop, it shows much more character. Deschutes' very well-regarded Hop Trip uses Crystal. It's stability as a dry hop is good--it means less funkiness wet. The clean character becomes denser and more oily, with notes of lemongrass. Of Hop Trip, I wrote, "They linger in the mouth almost tangibly after you swallow--a fresh, rich aroma you can chew on for a few seconds."

How will they be in Lupulin? You have only a few hours wait to find out.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Number Nine

It's 9/9/09 today. And at this moment, it's 9:09:09.

Just acknowledging the rare harmonic convergence: there's an off chance I won't see the next one when it comes around.

(As a slightly-related aside, when I compose posts in advance--the night before they appear, say--I generally set them to go off at 9:09 in the morning. Feel that chill run down your spine? Whooooeeee indeed.)

Delaware Chicha

There are a few pretty famous alt-beers in the world (no, not altbier, alt-beer, like alt-country): tuak, sahti, and of course, chicha. The latter, a corn-based beer, hails from South America, still brewed at the family scale and perhaps dating back as far as the Incas. Traditionally, the corn went through an enzymatic conversion by way of the human mouth. The references I recall mention old women and perhaps even toothless old women, who gum or chew the corn so that their saliva can break down the starch. (How much of this is apocryphal, I can't say.)

All of which brings us to Sam Calagione's newest endeavor: chicha he himself gnawed. The details are all contained in today's Times in one of the most entertaining articles I've read about beer:
“We’re going to have an archaeologist and historians and brewers sitting around and chewing 20 pounds of this purple Peruvian corn,” he said. “You kind of chew it in your mouth with your saliva, then push with your tongue to the front of your teeth so that you make these small cakes out of it, then lay them on flat pans and let them sit for 12 hours in the sun or room temperature. That’s when the enzymes are doing their work of converting the starches in that purple corn.”
Joyce Wadler, the Times reporter, got to sit in on the event, and the tale is coffee-spraying funny. Although I've never met the man, it seems, based on the many, many articles about him, that Calagione is not a particularly meticulous planner. So things start out with verve (and not much info):
Mr. Calagione hoped to make about 10 kegs of chicha, which would be available only in his Rehoboth Beach pub, Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats. He was confident that his team would be able to process the 20 pounds of corn his recipe required in about an hour.
But proceed ... unexpectedly.

At the end of two hours, there were but two trays of salivated corn. We took a break for dinner in the pub.

At 9:30 p.m., it was back to the brew room. A weigh-in of the larger tray showed but 14 ounces of salivated corn.

“It’s dismal, I’m not going to lie to you,” Mr. Calagione said. “I’d say everybody is deeply, unpleasantly surprised at how labor intensive and palate fatiguing this stuff has turned out to be.”

Did the experiment result in a batch of chicha? You'll have to read the article to find out.

Jean-Pierre Jeannin, Marco Falcioni