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Friday, December 31, 2010

Best New Year's Hangover Cure

I am regularly asked, "Jeff, what's the best hangover cure?" I suppose my years as a blogger and my trustworthy look incline them to think I'd know the answer, and you know what?--they're right. I have spent years working on the best formula, poring through medical journals and running trials here at home. While there may be a little fine-tuning left, I am prepared to go public with my own cure. Follow it, and I guarantee you'll have no troubles.
  • Carrots. Researchers in Auckland were the first to stumble onto this important building-block in hangover prevention. Beta carotene, it turns out, binds to blood toxins, preventing body absorption. There is a slight downside: you must eat at least two pounds in any 12-hour period to gain the benefit, but with juicing and roasting, this can be a tasty proposition!
  • Wind sprints. Also important in the fight against hangovers are endorphins, those neurotransmitters responsible for calming sensations. A two-decade longitudinal study at the University of Nairobi has demonstrated the link between endorphins and lowered hangover levels. I recommend wind sprints as a way of quickly producing these. While running up and down your driveway on New Year's eve may provoke some curious glances by dog-walkers, you'll be happier in the morning.
  • Neil Diamond. Interestingly, hangovers may be as much as 89% mental creations; external causes generally contribute only a small amount of the toxic load you need to avoid. While music in general can be beneficial, neuroscientists at the University of West Calgary found amazing results in brain wave orientation as a result of the brassy baritone of Neil Diamond. Or perhaps the jazzy, nostaligic hooks are responsible. No one knows for sure.
  • Aromatherapy. While recordings of Neil Diamond alone produce remarkable outcomes, when coupled with aromatherapy, the results are astounding. The most effect scents are those produced by burning tires, but since this is unpleasant, lavender can be substituted with near-equal efficacy.
  • Avoiding alcohol. The link here is weak, but I thought I'd mention it. Anecdotally, many people have found a connection between alcohol consumption and hangover. We won't know more until the research is in, but every hangover cure has a certain measure of folk wisdom. Anyway, it can't hurt.
A lot of people drink on New Year's eve because it promotes sensations of euphoria and conviviality. Fortunately, I have discovered that a nice carrot binge followed by wind sprints and the soothing effects of Neil Diamond and lavender oil is every bit the equal to a Tom Collins or an imperial IPA. If you employ my five-part plan, I can virtually guarantee you great results. Good luck (and happy new year)!

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Post Updated. See below.

I'm taking it slow today, so I'll farm out content to others in the blogosphere--particularly since there's some nice stuff out there.

MSM Getting it Wrong
Via Stan Hieronymus, Time has an article by Anita Hamilton examining craft brewing through the prism of Sam Calagione (always a dicey proposition) and come to this conclusion:
Perhaps the biggest challenge that Calagione, like all craft beer makers, faces today is the fickle palate of his core customer. "Craft beer drinkers tend to be promiscuous. They'll have four different beer styles they like," notes Brewers Association director Paul Gatza. Such lack of brand loyalty may actually force smaller brewers to constantly release new concoctions, lest their fickle audience lose interest. As any beer buyer can attest, these days even regular grocery store shelves are typically packed with a constantly-changing selection of tempting new craft labels and flavors.
Of course, the rest of the article refutes this thesis by citing Dogfish's best-seller (60 Minute IPA) and pointing to the success of Blue Moon, a beer on the market since the 1990s. Yes, there is a lot of experimentation, but no, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans. The best-selling craft beers are the most familiar, and they outsell new releases by orders of magnitudes. Anita Hamilton mistakes the noise of new releases for the reality of craft brewing: it, like everything else, is dominated by a few best-sellers--many, like Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada Pale, Boston Lager, etc., that have been around for years or decades. The drinkers of those craft beers seem not to be fickle in the slightest.

Brady Getting it Right
At the Daily Pull, Brady Walen offers a few predictions for the coming year, all of which seem sound to me. Plus, they're interesting.

Latest Beer Price Index
Bill has the fourth quarter figures for the Portland Beer Price Index. I wonder the extent to which beer prices mirror larger economic trends. Although craft beer continues to sell well despite the economy, it hasn't experienced any inflation at all over the past year. In fact, six-pack prices were $8.85 in the third quarter of '09 and they're $8.73 now (essentially flat throughout 2010).

Not Your Father's Mirror Pond (?)
Over at Not So Professional Beer Blog, Sanjay reviewed a classic, Mirror Pond. Glancing over the review, I see these hop details: 40 IBU, Cascade and three other unspecified varieties. Wait a second--four hops? I am almost certain it used to be single-hopped and had fewer IBUs. I'll contact the brewery and find out if it has indeed changed--something Deschutes was openly pondering a couple years ago--or if this is just further evidence of my declining mental acuity.
Update. I just heard back from Gary Fish at Deschutes. There has been no change in the recipe and it's four additions of Cascade hops--not four different hops. This info is on the website, so shame on Sanjay and me for missing it. Gary adds: "We did make some subtle improvements to the formulation last year based on our perception we were losing some of the 'bright' and aromatic qualities of the Cascade hop." So there you have it.
A Bottom-of-the-Post-Scoop
A tipster (who can out himself if he wishes in the comments) sent along this link to Baristadors Coffee. I include it down here, like filmmakers who put in a bit of content after the credits, as a thank-you to those who are still reading. If you follow the link, you'll see that this West Side coffee shop just posted this news:

Now holding an OLCC Liquor License and Brewing License so we can also serve:

  • Our In-House brewed beer and your favorite liquor beverages

Stop in for a visit… you’ll be glad you found the best kept secret of SW Portland!!!

You heard it here first. (I think.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Satori Award 2010: Prodigal Son Bruce/Lee Porter

The Satori Award
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award, now in its fifith year, honors the beer that in a single instant allows the drinker to realize brewing magnificence. It is that moment when the sheer force of tastiness produces a flash of insight into the nature of beer. I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer. The inaugural winner was Ninkasi Believer followed by Full Sail Lupulin (2007), Cascade Apricot Ale (2008), and Upright Four (2009).


Trying to name a single best beer has been brutal the last few years. I have had to leave Deschutes Dissident, Double Mountain (pick one: IRA, Kolsh, Kriek, Vaporizor), and Hair of the Dog Blue Dot on the table--among many other good and great beers. This year it was a little different. I tried no beer that could compete with those beers or past winners. There just weren't many beers released. Many of the new beers came from new breweries, and new breweries rarely debut with world-class beers.

I did admire several beers quite a lot. The People's Choice winner, Deschutes Hop in the Dark, was the first CDA I actually enjoyed. Ninkasi's Maiden the Shade didn't revolutionize anything, but it was a really nice summer IPA. My local brewpub, Coalition, debuted with a nice red and an even nicer Loving Cup Maple Porter--a beer I've had a lot of pleasure drinking this fall and winter. Rogue made their best beer in years with Single Malt, an ale so mild it got little attention--but which perfectly showcased the brewery's new homegrown malt and hops. Block 15's first bottled release, Figgy Pudding, was a great effort at reproducing a strong English ale (call it an old ale or barleywine as you wish). And finally, nano-brewing Beetje impressed me with an elegant, understated saison called variously Urban Farmhouse or B-Side.

The next cut were those I actively considered for the Satori--my short list. I oscillated among each of these beers and I could make the case for each of them, but of course there can be only one. So first, the two that just missed the cut.

Cascade Noyeaux
First, a guy who might as well pitch a tent on the short list--Ron Gansberg. He constantly has something new in the hopper, but a few of his experiments grow to become regulars in his ever-expanding line-up. Noyeaux is effectively a sister beer to the '08 Satori winner Cascade Apricot Ale. It's made on a similar base of port-aged, strong blond ales (blended, as are all the Cascade sours) and includes the kiss of raspberries. The key ingredient, however, comes from the pits left over from the Apricot Ale.

I learned about the special ingredient a year ago when I visited the brewery. Ron showed me how he was repurposing the discarded pits. Employing a high-tech process, Ron removes the meat from inside the pits and adds it to the Noyeaux. (Actually, the process involves a hinged lever device and a lot of grunting, and then results in an explosion of pit-shrapnel.) That meat, later toasted, tastes like almonds, however (it's even used in amaretto syrups), and so does the resulting Noyeaux. Cascade's most-coveted beers are aged on bourbon casks, but I like the ones that come off wine and port barrels. The flavors meld more naturally with fruits and nuts and allow the sour to wash over them. You can take the Vlad; leave me the Noyeaux.

Oakshire Well-Mannered Gnome
By all rights, I should elevate this extremely tasty small beer to the Satori as a matter of advocacy. Everyone should drink small beers! It's certainly a worthy choice. Made in the small-beer manner, off the second runnings of the massive Very Ill-Tempered Gnome, the Well-Mannered Gnome has as its grist six malts as well as infusions of Nugget, Centennial, Willamette, and Crystal hops--including dry hops. The result is as complex and lush as it is svelte (just 3.8%). It was dry and spicy--though not husky, as is sometimes the case with small beers. (Harsher notes can apparently be pulled out in the second run.) It was pouring when Patrick and I visited a few weeks back, and I think it may have been my favorite beer of the visit. And this is exactly the thing about low-alcohol beers: they're not just good for small beers, they're good, period. I confirmed from brewer Matt Van Wyk that they'd continue to make this, and next year I'd put it on your "must try" list.

Prodigal Son Bruce/Lee Porter
The final beer, and the Satori winner, is from one of those new breweries--Prodigal Son, from that increasingly beer-rich region of Northeast Oregon. This beer didn't do too well in People's Choice polling, and I'm not surprised. Just 17,000 people live in the home of the Round-Up, and probably not many read beer blogs. They are fortunate indeed to have brewer Brian Harder, a Seibel-grad and Rogue alum, as a prodigal son who so kindly returned with the bounty of his beer knowledge. In Prodigal Son they have one of Oregon's best brewpubs, both in terms of ambiance as well as beer.

One of the themes that's come up a lot lately in the beerosphere is novelty-fatigue. While it's very cool to live in a moment of such experimentation, one also hankers for a familiar style done really well. When I visited the brewery, all the beers were well-made, and with the exception of the hefeweizen--an offering to lite drinkers--each was well-executed, distinctive, and tasty. Among these was a porter that I didn't realize until later was 7.5% because it was so balanced and approachable. I wrote this about it:
A robust beer that conceals its strength in velvety-soft folds of chocolate. Roast notes balance the beer, but they play a minor role. It was a hot summer day when we visited, and I could easily have downed an imperial pint of this dark nectar.
Sometimes I know the second I drink a beer that it's special, and sometimes I know it because I keep wanting another one days after I tried it. I thought Bruce/Lee was special the first time I had it, but over time, as I pined for it, I knew how special it was. It's a bit big to call a simple porter, but that's how it tasted: nothing gaudy or ornamental about it, just pure pleasure. I expect to see good things from Prodigal Son over the years, and I'll try to make it out there from time to time. You should, too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

People's Choice Winner: Deschutes Hop in the Dark

Beer releases seem to be cyclical. Either that or it was the economy. For whatever reason, this year we had far fewer new releases than in a typical year. A good half of the beers on my list of potential Satori winners (best debut Oregon beer) came from new breweries. If it hadn't been for the hype around Cascadian Dark Ales, I'm not sure what, beyond new breweries, we'd talk about this year.

It is appropriate then that your choice for the best debut beer is a CDA--and appropriate that you chose a different beer than I did. (More on that tomorrow, when I unveil the Satori.) Here's how the final voting turned out, and as you can see, Deschutes took home the honors:

It is worth noting how close the vote was and how the top four beers were all different styles (CDA, summer IPA, sour, and old ale). It's also worth noting that the nanobrewer Beetje ended up with a sizable share of the vote despite selling almost no beer (at least when compared with the top two breweries). Whether that was evidence of vote-packing or an avid niche fanbase, it was nevertheless impressive.

Congrats to the folks from Bend--

Monday, December 27, 2010

Announcing the 2010 DMS Awards for Worst Accomplishments in Beer

At some point this year, as I lolled backward in one brewery or another full of the complimentary draught offered to appease my powerful pen,* it occurred to me that maybe bloggers had gotten too cozy with breweries. Like Nero in a corrupt age, bloggers are apt to fiddle even while a brewery burns. Okay, it's not that bad; still, I thought perhaps a little year-end truth-telling might be an effective antidote. Not everything that happens in the beer world is good, and we will all feel better about ourselves if we acknowledge it.

So herewith I offer the first annual DMS Awards (Dismal Malty Substances) honoring the worst accomplishments in beer. May I have the envelopes, please?

The Pete Coors Award for Worst Act By a Brewery
This award is for the Coors family, who battled non-whites and unions back in the 70s and 80s before cleaning up their act (the kind of thing that sticks in the brains of people like me). Fortunately, breweries don't behave as badly as in those days. Still, we have a few offerings to chose from:
  • Columbia River Brewing for offering bogus, sock-puppet reviews online (even before they'd opened!) as nominated by Paul and documented by the New School. Tsk tsk.
  • Centerbridge Capital Partners gets a nod for behind-the-scenes efforts to homogenize Rock Bottom's beer after organizing a merger with Gordon Biersch recently. A homogenization they promised not to enact.
  • Deschutes Brewery probably shouldn't be on this list, but I'm peeved at them for dumping their entire bottled run of Black Butte XXII (!). It's one of my favorite beers, and I wouldn't have minded a flawed "visual presentation" on an otherwise "fantastic" beer. (As Deschutes described things.)
  • Although it's hard to blame Bud Light Lime for this, I will. A hooched-up Stanley McChrystal, at the time the Army Commander in Afghanistan, trashed his commander, the president, and ended up resigning. The aforementioned Bud Light Lime was the fuel of his misspeech, and I'm sure that's not the whole of its crimes.
  • We have a much-agreed-upon nomination for all breweries who pull their winter beers on January 2. Amen. Winter starts on December 21--the winter beers should at least survive its first fortnight.
  • Finally, a nomination for Magic Hat Brewing by Mark H. This was an issue I didn't even know about until the DMS nominations, but it appears richly deserved. Magic Hat sued Georgetown Brewing over the name of their 9lb Porter and won. Boo!
All of these are worthy efforts, no doubt. But easily the worst actor--from my perspective, anyway--is the Texas-based Gambrinus company for trademarking the word "Beervana" for its BridgePort brand. Gambrinus earns the DMS.

The OLCC Award for Worst Act By a Non-Brewing Entity
The award honors the always fun, always capricious Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which does its best to remind people that Beervana is indeed not a perfect place--mainly by making it so. Our list here is shortish, but there are some standouts--predictably, led by the OLCC:
The winner is a no-brainer, though. It goes to the OLCC (who else?) and Oregon DOJ for randomly deciding to reinterpret a 30-year-old law so that Oregon homebrewers could not compete in public competitions, bring their beers to homebrew meetings, or even leave their home with their own homebrew. Absolutely idiotic, and it brought national attention and shame for creating a problem where none existed.

The Pour Curator Award for Worst Label
Greg Heller-LaBelle has a blog called the Pour Curator, and it has a special focus on label art. I hadn't included this as won of my initial DMS categories, but I agree it ought to be one. So in honor of his blog, we offer these achievements in bad label design:
  • Collaborative Evil. Greg's choice is a muddled collaborative project from Fifty/Fifty, Lucky Bucket, and Oakshire. Greg observed that it was "a massive, red mess of Lenin, bombs, the grim reaper and unreadable font." You can see it here.
  • Bell's 10,000th Batch. In the other direction is a beer Bell's made with 101 malts and 58 hop varieties. Despite the complexity of the recipe, its label was apparently designed in 38 seconds on an old 286 computer. You can see it here.
The winner, however, actually debuted the "art" on their labels back in '09. I remain shocked by how unfortunate they are--both empirically and for the labels they replaced. Your 2010 DMS winner is Pyramid Brewing, with their sports-drink inflected design. No, it does not make them seem edgy or active.

The Doc Wort Award for Worst Blog post
The namesake of this award was nominated, but that's not why we're honoring him. Rather, Doc Wort has long done his damnedest (even recently) to identify other bloggers' failings. This year we nod in his direction as the nominations come out:
  • Jeff Alworth of Beervana for initially deriding BrewDog's End of History before being convinced by his readers he was wrong. (Long live the stoat!) Plus, it was apparently the big hit at the bloggers' conference last fall.
  • E.D. Kain of Balloon Juice for praising Jimmy Carter for paving the way for craft beer. Except Carter had nothing to do with craft beer. (He legalized homebrew.) Plus, Kain's fave beer is Fat Tire, which earns him extra minus points.
  • Andy Crouch of Beer Scribe for slagging beer blogging on his beer blog. He seemed to be saying, "yeah, I have a beer blog, but I'm not a stinkin' blogger." Poor form.
But the winner is Jeff Alworth for Beervana for his lazy attempt to use an innocuous article by John Holl to grind an ax against the Gray Lady. I was immediately castigated, and Holl graciously commented on the post as well. All of it made me feel petty and it may be the low point of the blog. On the upside, I have since established a e-connection with Holl, and one day I'm leading an expedition to New Jersey with a case of Oregon beer.

The Budweiser Chelada Award for Worst Macro-Related Product
What happens when you mix Clamato and Bud--Chelada! One of the lowlights of the products foisted by creatively-bankrupt beer companies on a weary public and the namesake of this award. (A few of these, including the winner, didn't debut this year, but because we couldn't acknowledge them before this year, they get their moment in the sun in 2010.)
  • MGD Light 64. The arms race in light beers started here, with this nearly colorless, flavorless product of just 2.8% alcohol. Note the word "nearly" as we move to...
  • Bud Select 55. This is mildly beer-flavored water with a splash of alcohol (2.4%). It's certainly not beer.
  • Stella Black. One might think this is a schwarzbier, what with the "black" and all. Nope. Just a random macro that was subsequently mocked for the absurd name.
The winner by a landslide, however, has to go to Four Loko, a product not only shockingly distasteful, but so dangerous it was banned in many states and then declared illegal by the FDA.

The HAF Pin-up Girl Award for Worst Event or Feature at an Event
The Holiday Ale Fest is one of the best events in the Portland calendar, but it made two blunders this year. Organizers somehow decided that to get back into the fest, returning customers would have to keep their wristbands on, intact--for as many as five days. But worse still was the second year of the HAF pin-up girl, a bizarrely discordant image for what is otherwise not a party-hearty, frat-boy affair. It shall henceforth stand as the namesake for this award and serve as this year's winner.

The Boston Beefheart Award for Worst "Innovation" or Ingredient
The winner of this year's award will serve as the namesake, though there were some other poorly conceived "innovations" this year as well.
  • Innovation itself. We are definitely seeing blowback on all the experiments breweries have been undertaking in recent years. In nominating innovation, Bill Schneller identifies those "beers designed to be served in 4 oz samples at beer festivals because no one would ever want a pint of it."
  • Imperialization. An anonymous commenter nominated the urge to imperialize everything--a trend that shows now sign of flagging.
  • Miller Lite Vortex bottle. Sign that you have no ideas left about what goes in the bottle? You start pimping the bottle itself.
Ah, but the winner. The winner is a real joy to think about: Boston Beer's Burke in a Bottle, brewed with fried beef hearts. Seriously, that's just gross.

The Henry Weinhard Belgian Wheat Award for Worst Beer of the Year Award
Named for the world's worst commercially-produced beer, the final category is the most (err, least) prestigious and also the most difficult to assess. "Worst," like "best," is subjective. Moreover, we can't all try every beer available. Minnesota-based Flagon of Ale suggested Surly Oak-Aged Bender as worst, for example. Maybe it is, but from this distance I'll never know. Instead, I offer these nominees:
  • Laht Neppur's Strawberry Cream Ale I described it this way: "it wasn't shocking that this beer was treacly, but I was surprised that it was such a muddy, indistinct treacle."
  • Caldera's Hibiscus beer Proof that taste is subjective, many admired this at the '10 Oregon Brewers Festival. For me, it was way too sweet and gingery.
  • 21st Amendment's Come Hell or High Watermelon. This beer comes from the legacy division of recurring badness, and was nominated by commenter Renee. In a world of imperialization, this goes the wrong direction ("froufy," perhaps) . Of course, every year it's one of the most popular at the OBF, so go figure.
  • Hair of the Dog Apricot Fred A beer I had the good fortune not to try, it was described during nominations as a "fiasco" by Hopmonster and a "disappointment" by Kevin. This is a real stunner, because Hair of the Dog is easily one of the country's best breweries. But we pull no punches here.
But the DMS goes to Migration Little Bitter, a 75 BU/4.5% beer and a classic case of a brewpub misfire that was released due to cost realities. Even brewer Mike Branes admitted the beer was a misfire, and the brewery has since begun to right the ship. I know this has been a rocky year for Migration, and I am sending my best vibes their way: may you win the 2011 Satori. And hey, it could be worse--you're in a category with Alan Sprints!

*This tale is apocryphal. I actually pay for 95% of the beer I drink, and despite authoring the Number Two Blog in America (patent pending), my pen is sadly no more powerful than a Bud Select 55.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Widmers' New Labels

For your post-Christmas digestion, these new labels from the Widmer Brothers:

You can follow the link to see others in the series--though they are all of a kind. The largest loss is drifter, which was one of the truly beautiful labels out there. One thing that continues is the wood-cut "W," which you can see in previous versions (with thanks to for one):



Earlier still

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas One and All

When I lived in India for a couple of academic years, I enjoyed the regular religious celebrations there. Some were celebrated nationally--Holi, Divali, Christmas, Eid--and some were confined to local gods or religious communities. (I was once told, persuasively, that a third of the days in India are devoted to religious celebration, though I can't confirm this.) On holiday days, businesses might be closed, or government offices, or schools, or all or some. The rhythm of days was obscure to the non-Indian. But here's the thing: India celebrates only three national holidays--Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi's Birthday. The rest are acknowledged publicly, but not as national holidays.

The nice thing about India is that there's a lot of slop-over. I have been invited by joyful celebrants into mosques, temples, homes, and even the sea to join religious celebrations. On Christmas, I was taken into the shrine room of a Tamil family by a woman who plucked up a toy Jesus from her alter. It had been resting amid the images of Hindu gods. She said brightly, "See, we celebrate baby Jesus' birth, too!"

Religion isn't the problem. It's the commingling of religious observances and bank holidays. Let us consider them separate issues and allow ourselves to acknowledge the day for what it is, Christmas, a good and fine day that even Hindus in Tamil Nadu celebrate. Or Buddhists like me.

Merry Christmas, folks--

Friday, December 24, 2010

Traditional Wassail - Don't Forget the Eggs!

In the "old" category of today's posts, we turn to Martyn Cornell, who offers several 19th-Century recipes for mulled ale concoctions. In one, preparation the proportions call for six pints ale along with a half pound of brown sugar--plus some sherry. Sounds tasty! (No, it doesn't.) There are others involving gin, oatmeal, and lots of spices. But the most intriguing is this, one of two employing eggs:

Many drinks in the “spiced heated ales” tradition feature eggs: here’s a typical mulled ale recipe:

1 pint of strong, lightly hopped ale
2 eggs
3 tablespoons of sugar
Quarter-teaspoon of nutmeg or ginger
1 tablespoon of rum or brandy

Beat the eggs, sugar, spices and spirits together in a two and a half pint jug. Heat the ale in a two and a half pint saucepan almost to boiling. Pour the hot ale into the egg mixture from a great height (to prevent the egg curdling). Rapidly pour the now creamy liquid from the jug to the pan and back in a long stream several times. Serve.

Most look as though they have adequate info to actually construct, so if you're looking for an interesting beverage to serve on Christmas Eve, you might consider the very old school. What they lack in appeal they gain in authenticity.

Beer West's Strange New Adventure

For Christmas Eve, I offer you two posts--the old and the new. The new involves a technology the magazine Beer Northwest plans to deploy when it restyles itself Beer West. Developed by the Beaverton-based tech company Digimarc, it allows you to scan print matter with your smart phone and trigger web-based content.
With Digimarc, you can bring the interactivity and enhanced content from either images or text and use what readers are familiar with in the digital world on the printed page. By inserting a digital watermark behind text, publishers can create a hyperlink from articles to related content online. Readers simply hold their smart phone over the link and are instantly connected.
I think it would work like this. You're reading an article about Russian River, say (now that the mag covers the West Coast), and you scan the article with your phone. On your phone, up pops a video interview with brewer Vinnie Cilurzo. Or--and this is where I think the tech could really be handy--up pops a list of bottle shops selling Consecration, the beer they're discussing.

Now, technology of itself is no virtue. This is a tool of communication, and it will be up to Beer West to harness it. And, despite the fact that publisher/editor Megan Flynn is about 19 years old (I kid), Beer Northwest has had a decidedly traditional approach to publishing, with little to no web presence or social networking component. So Megan and Co. will have to step up their game and make sure the back end is loaded with cool features and info.

In any case, it will be an interesting experiment.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beautiful Oregon

There are many fine places in Oregon. This is one:

It's the Yaquina Head lighthouse in Newport. Taken 12:30 pm today. Just before I took this one:

You can climb up to the light, which is shockingly tiny--the size of one of those old-school outdoor Christmas lights. The only thing it lacked was a pub from which to watch the sea pound the rocks. BLM should get on that.

Five Most Important Figures in Craft Brewing

Lists proliferate at the end of the year, and most of them are useful for starting conversations--but not a lot else. The New York Observer identifies the five most important figures in craft brewing, though, and it's hard to argue with their list:
  • Jack McAullife, who founded the first micro (New Albion).
  • Fritz Maytag, who provided a blueprint for the modern micro (Anchor).
  • Ken Grossman, who founded Sierra Nevada.
  • Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer and pioneered contract craft brewing.
  • Fred Eckhardt, the "dean of American beer writers."
It's an intriguing question. Importance is difficult to identify. All of the Observer's choices are respectable and defensible, but if I were to put together a list, it wouldn't include the three California brewers. You could make the argument than any of them "founded" craft brewing, but maybe all three is overkill. Jim Koch is a great businessman, and founding a beer business based on a contract-brewing model was actually pretty brilliant. (Though most people haven't forgiven him for it.) And Fred is clearly the most important beer writer in US history, but was he the most important writer? I'd probably go with this five:
  • Fritz Maytag. When people regale the story of Anchor, Fritz gets credit for rehabbing an ancient brewery and bringing back the steam beer style. But his biggest contribution was showing that it was possible to find a market that would buy traditional, expensive all-barley and whole-hop beer.
  • Ken Grossman. He was one of the pioneers in craft brewing and put all the elements together. One of the most important aspects of his approach was quality control, which is not incidental in Sierra Nevada's longtime success.
  • Bert Grant. All the brewers in the Observer's list are production breweries, but Bert was the first one to see the potential in brewpubs.
  • Dave Logsdon. If you've ever read the story about Redhook brewing, you know that yeast wasn't always easy to find. Americans didn't really know how to brew, and yeast was a topic mostly beyond their ken. Logsdon, who founded Wyeast, is perhaps more responsible than any brewer for the proliferation of authentic beer styles in the US.
  • Michael Jackson. Although I love the Observer's choice of the most colorful, lovable figure in Beervana, I'd say that it was Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer that set brains spinning.
But as lists are principally for starting discussions, I throw it back you--who would you include?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vote For the People's Choice

Okay folks, here's the final list of beers I'm considering for the Satori. There are a couple that may get scratched down the road because they won't be brewed again, but better safe than sorry.* I consider every beer on this list to be at least very good. I've already created my short list and am 90% sure which will take home the final prize. But palates differ. The last couple years, the People's Choice differed from my own, and I expect that will be the case in 2010. So let your voice be heard. I'll leave this poll open through the end of the weekend and next week I'll announce both the People's Choice and the Satori.

*To make the list, a beer had to be brewed in Oregon, be something the brewery planned on making again (no festival one-offs), and had to be released in the last calendar year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Name That Pub

Me likey:
As part of the multi-year Founding Partnership, Widmer Brothers will sponsor the new bar area, located behind the south end goal at PGE Park, and is looking to fans for ideas on the bar’s name. Timber fans can submit ideas and vote on their favorite name on the Widmer Brothers Facebook page.
They have pretty generic offerings, but also a fill-in space where you can add your own. Something characteristic of logging would be cool--the Widmer Millhouse or something. (Any loggers out there know some logging-appropriate term that would be cool? This site of Minnesota logging lingo offers interesting ideas. You could go with "Deacon's Seat.")

The brothers also list a regular line-up of Widmer beers, but I think they're missing a fantastic cross-branding opportunity here. They should re-purpose W '10 as the local Timbers tipple--available only at the stadium. What with Abe now being the poster boy for the Timbers--and the pied piper of Cascadian Dark Ales--the whole thing comes together beautifully. Plus, I bet the Timbers Army is a CDA-lovin' group of fans.

CDAs and People's Choices

Last week, I polled you about your favorite CDAs. There was a method to my madness: as we come toward the year's end, I start eyeballing the Satori Award (which honors the best debut of a beer to an Oregon brewery's regular or seasonal line-up). The really big trend this year was Cascadian Dark Ales, which I have to consider for the Satori, even though it's a style I don't really love. So to help winnow things down, I polled you. Below are the results with a weighted average (1-4, poor to excellent):
  • 3.1 - Deschutes Hop in the Dark
  • 2.9 - Widmer W '10
  • 2.6 - Oakshire O'Dark 30
  • 2.6 - Boneyard Armored Fist
  • 2.4 - Alameda Cascadian Coal
  • 2.4 - Terminal Gravity CDA
  • 2.2 - Full Sail Bump in the Night
So there you have it: Hop in the Dark the clear winner. (It also polled the best in a multiple choice, but that was biased toward the beers more people had tried.) Widmer placed a close second, and I kept hearing complaints that Hopworks' Secession wasn't on the list. Technically, it was an '09 release because it appeared at the Organic Beer Fest that year. I'm persuaded by those who think it's properly a '10 beer, though: it couldn't have qualified in '09 because I didn't expect to ever see it again. I'll therefore add all three to the final Satori long list, which currently includes these beers, annotated where necessary:
  • Beetje Small Saison
  • Block 15 Figgy Pudding (based on its expected return)
  • Boneyard (?) - not sure which, if any, beers this new brewery might place in the long list.
  • Breakside Dry Stout - I could be persuaded this wasn't Breakside's best beer
  • Cascade Noyeau (also thinking we may see this beer again in the future)
  • Coalition King Kitty Red/Loving Cup Maple Porter - either one of these should be in there--the red's the best of their hoppy beers (ie, most of them), but the porter's the really inspired beer.
  • Columbia River Brewing [Paddlers Porter?] I should check this brewery out before final Satori balloting.
  • Deschutes Hop in the Dark
  • Hopworks Secession
  • Mt Tabor Little Bull Stout - This was so well-loved at the Microhopic I'm thinking it's this new brewery's best. Yes?
  • Ninkasi Maiden the Shade (appeared at the '09 Oregon Country Fair, but counts even less than Secession's '09 appearance)
  • Prodigal Son Bruce/Lee Porter - I could be persuaded this wasn't the best Prodigal Son beer, maybe. Damn fine beer.
  • Rogue Single Malt - easily the best of their debut beers made with homegrown ingredients
  • Widmer Sunburn
  • Widmer W '10 CDA (I'll check to see if this will be back in the future)
Obviously, not every beer that meets the criteria is on this list, but you might see something that I clearly missed. Please holler. I'd hate to miss an obvious choice. Although the Satori isn't exactly the most important award on the planet, I'm pretty happy with how the previous choices look in the rear-view mirror. I like to get it right.

In case you're scoring at home, only two of these are straightforward hop bombs (you could boost the number to five by including CDAs), while five are porters or stouts. Only a couple Belgian-styles, which may mean the streak in that genre (of two) may be over.

Weigh in and I'll post a follow-up poll with all the finalists and get a people's choice. (Oh, and the interns are madly collating your suggestions on the DMS Awards, which will be announced by week's end.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Very Cool People

On Friday evening, I enjoyed a couple hours and a few beers at Beermongers with Joe Middleton and Jason Rizos of the Oregon Brew Crew (Joe's the tall one), where they presented me with the hardware that goes along with the Pulp Bung award. Before you leap to the conclusion that I'm on my second victory lap--gauche, at the very least--wait. I actually am remedying a mistake from that earlier post. The Brew Crew cited several people for awards, and I wanted to nod in their direction. Six people in all received bung awards, and two--Oliver Manuel (homebrewer, cited for contributions as a volunteer to the Brew Crew) and Randy Plew (of Plew's Brews, in St. Johns)--are unfamiliar to me. To them I nod with appreciative ignorance.

The three others, however, I do know and they are among the people I most admire in the Portland beer world. I consider it extremely good fortune to share this award in a year they were also honored. So, to these very cool people:
  • Chris Crabb ostensibly does PR. She has long worked with the Oregon Brewers Fest and Holiday Ale Fest, and lately with some local breweries, and possibly she does a lot more than that. But "PR" understates matters. Bad PR people send out press releases. Good PR people send out press releases and liaise between the media and clients. Exceptional PR people build long-term relationships with people, making the media feel like clients. Back in 2004, when I had long been out of writing about beer from anything looking remotely like real media, I contacted Chris and told here I'd be blogging about the OBF. For a political blog (post here). Cool, she said, and got me credentialed: classy. Over the years, every email I've sent with questions has been returned within hours with accurate info and a pleasant response. This year, unbidden, Chris sent me a spreadsheet of the beers at the Holiday Ale Fest, adding a note mentioning that she knew I liked this kind of data, so here it was. The award goes to her for her "efforts to promote or support the trade from a commercial perspective," but this also understates it. Someone said, "she's one of the good ones," which is better.
  • Alex Ganum won the Jim Kennedy Entrepreneurial Bung, and I'm not sure if it honors his work founding Upright Brewing, his joint project with Ben Meyer (Grain and Gristle), both, or something else. In any case, it's deserved. With Upright, Alex pushed the envelope on brewing in Portland--away from hops, and toward a brave new future. More than any brewer I know in Oregon, Alex is oriented toward the culinary possibilities in beer. When a I wrote a piece for Sunset last year, I asked him which cheeses his beers best suited. He wrote back at length with a variety of suggestions for pairings, including descriptions of the flavor notes and how they related to each other. In a city that takes food very seriously, Alex has created a series of that can match the culinary diversity. If Portland is going to continue to be on the leading edge of good beer, we need folks like Alex around.
  • Ron Gansberg received a special bung for achievements in sour ale brewing. I've written a lot about Ron in the past few years, so probably not a lot more needs to be said. I've raved about his beers and described him as everything from a mad scientist to Willy Wonka. I could add James Brown, because Ron's the hardest working man in brewing. In the past 18 months, he's come into his own and is now achieving the national reputation he richly deserves, and Oregon is getting some ink for beer that doesn't feature hops. With the debut of the Cascade Barrel House earlier this year, Ron's beer has begun to receive more attention in the hometown--also richly deserved. I have gone on and on about Ron in the past, so no need to do so here.
It's interesting that in the year I was selected, the two brewers who were also selected have won Satori Awards. I don't know if the Brew Crew planned it that way, but I thank them for it nevertheless.

Photos: Jay Brooks (Crabb) and Angelo De Ieso (Ganum)

Friday, December 17, 2010

DMS Award Nominations

Back in July, I ruminated on the corrupting nature of beer blogging. It is an innately compromising activity. In that post, I pointed out how my positive review of Rogue's Chatoe Single Malt resulted in links from the brewery and juiced traffic to the tune of a 25% bump. Add to that the free beer, in-depth brewery tours, and general cliquish nature of the industry, and you have lots of reasons for why we might shade things in a brewery's favor.

I threatened an antidote to that impulse, the Dismal Malty Substances (DMS) Awards.* Well, let's deliver on the threat. I have a couple of nominees in mind, but I would love to solicit input from you all. Did you have offensive beer this year? Did you see a brewery behaving badly? Was there an "innovation" you'd rather forget? Embarrassing blog post? Let's have a little fun, along the lines of Hollywood's Razzies. We don't want any salted earth commentary, but we should all be able to poke fun at ourselves, right? Here are a few potential categories
  • Worst beer
  • Worst act by a brewery (local and/or national)
  • Worst blog post
  • Worst macro-related product (Four Loco, Bud Select 55, etc.)
  • Worst event or feature at an event
  • Worst "innovation" or ingredient
  • Others???
I can put this together myself, but I would love some help from you all. As you proved with the info about CDAs, your collective brain is far bigger than mine. Add your nominations in comments (or ideas for other categories). If you have something that's too hot to handle, you can also email it to me privately at the_beerax (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Let the fun begin--

*A beer geek pun. Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is an off-flavor in beer.

Falconer's Flight and Pellet Blends

Hopunion sent an intriguing email over the transom this week announcing hop pellets made of a proprietary blend of NW hops, named for Oregon brewer Glen Falconer, who died in 2002:
It is with great pleasure that Hopunion LLC announces the release of Falconer’s Flight™, an exclusive proprietary hop blend created to honor and support the legacy of Northwest brewing legend, Glen Hay Falconer.... This novel proprietary pellet blend is comprised of many of the Northwest’s most unique hop varieties and is perfect for any Northwest-style IPA. Each hop has been hand selected for its superior aromatic qualities, imparting distinct tropical, citrus, floral, lemon and grapefruit tones.
A portion of the proceeds go to support the Falconer Foundation, which supports brewers and brewing. That alone should sell a few pounds, but I'm wondering: are breweries going to be interested in blends offered by a hop company? The idea isn't outlandish: Widmer uses their own proprietary blend called "Alchemy." Certain hops can contribute a "house character" to a brewery's beers--I've noticed Rogue is partial to Crystal, while Double Mountain likes Perle, for example. (Those are in addition to the usual C hops, which are ubiquitous.) And when I visited Eugene a few weeks back, Jamie Floyd denounced Columbus--one of my favorite hops--which you apparently won't find in Ninkasi's beer.

So I guess we'll see. If hop companies could come up with the right blends, it might be absolute catnip for beer drinkers. And that could give the idea legs.

Boutique Hops?
All of this reminds me of something else I've been wondering about. Why don't breweries get more involved in the development of propriety hop strains for their own use? Earlier this year, Indie Hops invested a million dollars into OSU's College of Ag Sciences to develop aroma hops. (A portion of this goes to study of essential oils and how they contribute to aroma and flavor, which, shockingly, has never really been studied closely.) Clearly, they think there's some potential there.

But what about breweries? In a densely crowded market of hoppy beers, distinctive flavors give breweries a competitive advantage. The huge variety of hops means it's possible to create novel combinations, but breweries can't invent flavors. Hop scientists have an impressive list of cultivars that aren't commercial strains. It would take years, but breweries could select for various characteristics and engineer a hop that would give a singular flavor to their beers. Seems like Oregon breweries have a real advantage here--researchers, hop farms, all within an hour or two of the kettle.

(Rogue may be embarking on this, or maybe not. They have their own hop fields and their own proprietary hops--"Rebel", "Revolution", "Independent"--but I don't know if these are re-branded extant strains or newer hybrids. Anyone?)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beer Trends of the Year

[Note: if you haven't already, please consider filling out the Cascadian Dark Ale survey.]

Karl Jung would have something to say about the way trends emerge and evolve in the American craft brewing world. Somehow, without getting instructions from the head office, breweries nevertheless manage to pick up on invisible cues and create trends every year. Fresh hops, farmhouse ales, sour beers--all have had their moment. This year? Here are my thoughts.

1. Exotic Ingredients
The use of exotic ingredients (fruit, vegetables, spices, etc.) is as ancient as brewing, and craft breweries dabbled with them almost from the start. So on the one hand, you could make the argument that this isn't any trend at all. What has changed, though, is that these ingredients are no longer the purpose of a beer. Once, breweries made "chili beer" or "cherry beer" and there was no mistaking the adjunct. Now, breweries are tossing in extra goodies to draw out flavors already present in the recipe.

You tend to notice this a lot more at the fests. Winter beers have always deployed spice, but at this year's OBF, 40% of the beers had nonstandard ingredients (a partial list included dried tulips, ginger, grapefruit peel, hibiscus, hyssop, lemongrass, orange blossoms, and pepper).

It's a far more interesting way of brewing, and the results are more subtle and far more accomplished. In the old model, the adjunct was used to mitigate the beery-ness of a beer. Now brewers add ingredients to enhance it. (Actually, there are plenty of the old gimmick beers around, too.) This is how Belgians brew, and it's so common that the extras aren't regarded as anything special. Many times they're not even acknowledged. As American craft brewing continues to mature, I expect we'll see a Belgian attitude emerge. We're well on the way already.

2. Historical Revivals
If the use of adjuncts is a long-developing trend that has finally fully blossomed, the appearance of historical revivals is just beginning. It's not as if every brewery is awash in grätzers and roggenbiers. But the mere appearance of a grätzer or roggenbier is interesting. Combine that with the flood of goses and Berlinner weisses, and we can credibly call it a trend. In addition to the aforementioned grätzer, another--and a more traditional one--will apparently be on offer by Burnside Brewing when it opens next year. Block 15's Figgy Pudding Olde Stock gets credit for being a nice take on a traditional English old ale--replete with tasty brettanomyces. And, the fact that I found rauchbier and gose in Portsmouth suggests to me that this isn't isolated in Beervana.

3. Cascadian Dark Ale Goes Commercial
Until 2010, the term "Cascadian Dark Ale" was retrofitted to beers without their permission. Certain examples (many bearing the hated title "Black IPA") have been around for years, but the term hasn't appeared on bottles. Until this year. Widmer called their version "Pitch Black IPA," but christened it a Cascadian Dark in the small print. But then Oakshire, Deschutes, and Full Sail went the fully monty, no hedges.

I have no idea whether this style will survive and, if it does, whether the name will survive. But give Abe Goldman-Armstrong credit: he managed to get breweries to start using the name officially. As a secondary consequence, I think Abe may have inadvertently introduced "Cascadian" as a regional appellation for any style of beer that bears the hallmarks of the Pacific Northwest. I started to see it used as a way of claiming certain characteristics (alcohol heft, hoppiness) that are not unique to the region. The use of CDA is itself a controversy (other parts of the country take exception to the regional claim), and no doubt further extension of the word will create more controversy.

But hey, controversy sells beer, right?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poll: 2010's Best Cascadian Dark Ales

Having collected all the info on the Cascadian Dark Ales released this year, I would now like to solicit your opinion. What was good, what was meh? For those of you outside the Beervana catchment area: sorry, you probably won't have tried many/any of these.


The OLCC's Strangely Convoluted Message

Via Jay Brooks, we have a couple of PSAx produced for the holiday season by your favorite government agency, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. They're fine, I guess. The idea is that party hosts should help partiers get home safely. But once again, I am surprised at how starkly obvious the agency's inner conflict of interest is. Have a look:

On the one hand, you get the standard, don't-get-hammered-and-pile-into-the-Honda message. On the other, you get a sponsorship tag from a liquor company. It highlights the fact that the agency responsible for overseeing liquor sales (which fund it) also tries to limit or control sales.

Wouldn't it be better to just have an agency wholly devoted to regulation of liquor and out of the "control" business? In its current form, the OLCC is about as compromised as "your friends from Crown Royal" who are trying to get you to guzzle their product...but safely!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Awards Season, Floyd and Alworth Edition

Ah, December, the time of awards. Outside Portland, the "Bung Awards" probably don't mean anything, but here, they're a pretty big deal. The Oregon Brew Crew, an ostensible homebrew club (but actually also an advocacy group for good beer--and easily one of the five most important reasons the city is known as Beervana), offers up annual awards to "to acknowledge, honor, and occasionally, share a laugh with many members and craft beer industry personalities." There are bungs for homebrewing, beer appreciation, service to the beer industry, and--important to this particular post--the "Pulp Bung," awarded to a writer. This year, for the first time, the Brew Crew named me. It's a huge honor and an award I've coveted since I wrote for Willamette Week. Thanks, Brew Crewers!

The second award goes to Ninkasi Believer, who won Wired Magazine's months-long beer bracketed taste-off.
A red brew in a tourney full of wheat beers and IPAs. But with its easy 6.9 percent ABV and rich profile, the Believer garnered much support of skeptics as the night wore on. Devin declared that he “didn’t expect to like it, yet I loved it!” Peter said it “was just right. No messing about.” Brian Noble found it “nice and hoppy, but with a good body to back it up.” One unnamed voter found the Full Boar “too subtle; Ninkasi had much stronger flavor.” Brian Mossop of PLoS summed it up best, saying, “I did not vote for this beer in the first rounds, but the Double Red made me into a believer.”
Ironically, one of the beers Believer had to crush under its heel to win was Total Domination. Not bad.

Jury Duty - And a Question

Off doing my civic duty, which is bound to hamper blogging. But while I'm gone, could I crowdsource an answer to this question: which CDAs were released this year? (I'm starting to think about my annual year-end wrap-ups, and CDAs are getting some ink.) Widmer started things off with W '10. Then there was Oakshire O'Dark 30, Deschutes' Hop in the Dark and recently Full Sail's Bump in the Night. Am I missing any?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Buying Guide

Ah, Christmas, you sneaky devil. How is it that one minute I'm trying to squeeze the last dregs of heat out of a fleeting summer sun and the next there you, are, ringing a damn bell? Amazing. Well, in any case, here it is, the middle of December, and I am only just about to begin shopping. If you're like me, you'll be looking for a few ideas, pronto. Well, for that beer fan in your life, here are a few suggestions.

1. A beer cellar starter kit.
Everyone should have a beer cellar. Not everyone can--you do really need a stably cool place--but everyone should. It's a relatively cheap way to turn good beer into something more rare and special. Most people don't realize that beer ages, or that it changes when it ages. You can do someone a big favor by presenting him with a selection of aging-ready beer and instructions on how to manage them. Beer likes stable temperatures, preferably below sixty degrees. Suitable beer is stronger than 8%, and beer stronger than 10% is especially good. Dark beer generally ages better than light beer, and bottle-conditioned beer better than standard bottles. If the bottle is corked it's best to lay it down, but store it upright if capped. That's it--for thirty bucks you can set someone up with a half dozen great beers and the beginnings of a cellar program.

2. A Good Book
This was a great year for beer books. The market has been weak since Michael Jackson died, but it seems like publishers are finding good writers to do serious books now (rather than just cashing in on a fad, as they once did). Here are some of the titles I'd recommend:
  • Brewing With Wheat, Stan Hieronymus. This is a fantastic book for anyone interested in the history of beer. I have gone back to it time and again over the past year, and never to consult it for brewing info. A first-rate treatment of a number of world styles, and now an indispensable part of my library.
  • Yeast, Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff. More suited for the advanced beer geek--and probably mainly for those who brew. For that crowd, a wonderful resource, and a book I'll be revisiting regularly as fermentation questions arise.
  • Amber, Gold, and Black, Martyn Cornell. Those of you who read Zythophile know that Martyn Cornell is the go-to man on the history of British brewing. Cornell's account is painstaking and debunks a lot of the received wisdom about beer styles. Another must-own.
3. For the Aspiring Homebrewer
Every year, homebrew shops are inundated with wives and daughters buying homebrew kits for husbands and fathers. I'd say ditch the kits, though, and start with a book. Those kits get a beginner in the door, but they are designed to be low-cost and stripped down. Most homebrewers that stick with it overhaul all their equipment within the first year of homebrewing. Rather than dropping a hundred bucks on a bunch of extract equipment, get Dad a nice book and let him think about the system he wants. When he goes to the homebrew store, he'll be able go assemble the equipment himself. Best bets:
  • Complete Joy of Homebrewing, Charlie Papazian. This is still the best entry to homebrewing for the non-techie novice. It's easy to read and encouraging.
  • How to Brew, John Palmer. Palmer's guide is the recognized standard among homebrewing books. Far better for advanced techniques than Charlie's guide.
  • Designing Great Beers, Ray Daniels. For even more advanced brewers, with lots of technical information. Not for the beginner (unless she's an engineer--and even then, get Palmer's book, too.)
4. Beer
I know, it's obvious. But keep in mind that beer is a consumable, so drinkers constantly need new infusions. Your local bottle shop will provide you with numerous options, nearly all of which will be greeted with a smile when pulled from the stocking.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cool Winter Events

I know Angelo is the blogosphere's resident social coordinator, but two events have caught my eye--and perhaps yours, too.

Amnesia Winter Brewfest
Saturday, Dec 11, noon
832 N. Beech
$15 for a glass mug and 5 six-ounce pours

Amnesia has absolutely zero web presence. They don't even have a Facebook page (just one set up by "friends of" Amnesia.) Nor do they send out emails or press releases. As a consequence, I had to learn about this via our old-timey MSM correspondent, John Foyston.* He describes it thus in his column in today's A&E:
They'll also be pouring, for the first time in five years, The Precious Pilsner, plus a new ale from brewer Sean Thommen.... Amnesia alos has invited Walking Man, Double Mountain, Everybody's Brewing, Upright, Caldera, and Fort George to bring special beers to the fest.
If you were to assemble a list of the best NW breweries under 5,000 barrels, every one of those would be on it. I am otherwise occupied, but this seems like an absolute must-see for those of you who want a break from the gift-buying rat race.

Week of the Wild Fest
December 14-18
16 Tons Bottle Shop
265 E 13th Eugene

Remember when Eugene was lame? Like, five years ago? It was easily the most under-performing town in Beervana, with just a handful of breweries and no real scene to speak of. Well, we can now definitively say the city has gotten its act together.

Week of the Wild fest looks a whole lot like Belmont Station's Puckerfest--but possibly better. Sixteen Tons will be pouring ten beers on tap, and 50 from the bottle, but the very cool thing is that you can get 3-ounce tasters for $1-4. (Yeah, four bucks for three ounces is steep, but sour ales can get mighty spendy in the bottle; this way you get to taste a $20 beer for a whole lot less.) No beer list, but the breweries look fantastic:
Featured Breweries:

Oregon: Block 15, Boneyard, BridgePort, Cascade, Deschutes, Hair of the Dog, Rogue, Upright

Other States: Allagash, Avery, The Bruery, Jolly Pumpkin, New Belgium, North Coast, Ommegang, Russian River, Victory

Belgium: Frank Boon, Cantillon, De Dolle, De Proef, De Ranke, Dupont, Girardin, Hanssens, Lindemans, 3 Fonteinen, Orval, Oud Beersel, Rodenbach, Strubbe, Verhaeghe

Germany: Bayerischer Bahnhof

Norway: Haandbryggeriet

Denmark: Mikkeller
Good times. Don't miss it, Eugenies, this will be cool.
*John has his own tech issues. Apparently, he has to send his blog posts to New Jersey, where the parent company of the Oregonian vets his content before posting it themselves. New Jersey! And you wonder why the O keeps having to lay off writers because of collapsing sales.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Guild Public House Opening on Burnside

Apparently it's official. An old friend of mine, one of the original founders of BlueOregon (along with Kari Chisholm and me), is ditching politics and getting into the pub biz:
His new joint, The Guild Public House, will open in mid-January in the first-floor space under Noble Rot that, in its most recent incarnation, was the Report Lounge.

Says Cornett: "The notion is to have high-end yet limited pub grub priced to compete in a food cart city. We won't have burgers and fries (kitchen limitations) but we will have great sandwiches, classic salads with unique twists, and feature seasonal specials on an ongoing basis. As a very Portland Pub, we'll be local sourcing as much as possible. We're also cognizant that we're moving into a LEED Platinum building and going to make sure that we continue the environmentally friendly theme to the fullest extent possible. I think we'll be the only pub in Portland on a well and heated/cooled with geothermal."
I knew this was in the works, and behind the scenes I've been directing my meager influence toward securing a cask tap at the place. Either way, though, I hope it's a hit. Good luck, Jesse--

What Starts Up Must Ultimately Go Down

Beervana is no longer the Number One Beer Blog in America. It's number two. I've fired my PR staff and beaten the copy editor. (Rule of thumb: always beat the copy editor.) We plan to go back to two-a-days, retool the spread offense, and adopt a strict diet regimen. No more screwing around.

Despite my loss, the Pac Ten has moved into near total dominance of the top spots. The new Number One, Jay Brooks, is down in NoCal, and #3 and 5 belong to Brewpublic and the New School. The Washington Beer Blog rounds out the top ten.

In any case, this is all silly, but it seemed appropriate to acknowledge that I've been knocked back a peg--for humility purposes.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Not All Breweries Are Built Alike

Note: some of the language cleaned up for clarity.

Nearly a month ago, Patrick Emerson and I took a long-overdue tour of the lower Willamette Valley. We managed four breweries in about 27 hours, which is by far the most condensed brewery-touring I've ever done. Eventually, I'll give separate write-ups about each one, but I wanted to do a meta post about an insight that came by virtue of doing all four.

Everyone who starts a craft brewery loves beer, but they don't all have the same goals and aspirations for their breweries. Some models call for multi-million dollar plants with scores of employees; others are tiny, shoestring-budget systems that employ one--the brewer. Some are designed around a restaurant/pub; others are industrial sites that may have a only a tasting room (or nothing at all). Some are maximized to produce idiosyncratic, one-off beers; others to produce consistent beers in a line, batch after batch.

These differences in goals became evident in our inadvertent scheduling of four very different models of breweries: the small production brewery, the large production brewery, the high-end brewpub, and the neighborhood local. They were very nearly a complete range of the types of models brewery owners shoot for when they start their businesses (I'd add the restaurant-brewpub, where beer is subsidiary to to the restaurant, as a final slot).*

Large Production Craft Brewery
From the very start, Ninkasi was designed to grow. Jamie Floyd had worked in a medium-sized brewpub (Eugene's Steelhead), and when he and Nikos Ridge set plans for Ninkasi, they very intentionally decided to create a "roduction brewery (a brewery producing bottled and kegged beer for wholesale--not a retail location with attached pub). The growth spurt Ninkasi has enjoyed wasn't probably in the plan, but Floyd and Ridge have been extremely aggressive in growing the brewery. As Jamie took us around the plant, it was pretty amazing to hear the hours he's worked.

The first step was spending long hours becoming the house beer of Eugene--a sizable market that fueled their first round of growth. Almost immediately, they expanded their brewhouse to a 30-barrel system. (Whenever you hear the size of a system, it means the size of a single batch of beer. A ten-barrel system is common for small breweries and brewpubs; in a single batch, they make just over 300 gallons. With a 30-barrel system, Ninkasi was making almost a thousand gallons a pop.)

The next frontier was Portland, which again meant more long hours promoting and selling around a town two hours north of their homes. Beer is a relationship business; breweries need to have good connections with distributors, retailers, and now, thanks to the avid beer scene in the NW, customers. Floyd picked up an apartment in Portland to save him a drive after long days selling beer. Portland has now eclipsed Eugene and accounts for about 45% of Ninkasi's production.

The next step is further market saturation and expansion. When we visited, Ninkasi was just completing a move to a 60-barrel brewhouse. They recently picked up a bottling line so they can sell both 22s and regular six-packs, and are busily adding massive tanks to condition the beer.

All of this is very high-risk, high-reward work. Ninkasi now employs dozens of people, and boasts impressive revenues. But it's also risky. Selling a lot of beer is enormously complicated: the plant is a huge industrial operation, which poses plenty of challenges itself, but there are also the distributors and retailers, the promotions operation, the ingredients, bottle, and equipment suppliers--and on and on. The bigger a company grows, the more small problems can trip it up. As Patrick and I got in the car after our tour, we were both exhausted. Jamie has been going pedal-to-the-floor for four years, with no end in sight. He seems to be working pretty much constantly. The reward may be one of the largest craft breweries in America (Ninkasi is already one of the larger Oregon breweries), but that will come only at the cost of enormous effort.

Small Production Craft Brewery
An ostensible competitor across town, Oakshire Brewing is about an eighth as big as Ninkasi. In many ways, though, size is really the distinguishing characteristic. Both are industrial plants--and in fact, Oakshire is in a more industrial area, and their brewery has only a provisional tasting space. (In its last remodel, Ninkasi added a haute tasting room.) Both produce kegs and 22s, with distribution mainly centered in Oregon.

But behind superficial similarities, there's a big difference in their goals: Oakshire doesn't seem to have aspirations to take on Widmer and Deschutes. Rather, it looks like the brewery is a vehicle for owner Jeff Althouse and brewer Matt Van Wyk to earn a decent living while making high-end beer. Matt told us his story, which started out as a teacher. Brewing seemed interesting, but he's not one of those guys who had his heart set on being a brewer. But ultimately he did end up in Chicago brewing, and was interested in coming to Oregon--but he didn't want to take a job for no money just to be here. He met Jeff and they were in discussion a while before it became clear that the Oakshire job would be a good fit. When it seemed like Oakshire could afford him, Matt moved out.

Production breweries have less flexibility than brewpubs for tinkering with their line. Putting beer in a bottle is an arduous process that involves art design, printing, and a federal label-approving process. Breweries can't easily just throw out a one-off beer and take it to the grocery store. Ninkasi's beers are almost all in their regular line-up, with few deviations. Oakshire, though, can afford to tinker. They have a barrel room and they talk a lot with Nick Arzner at Block 15 (see below) about souring and aging. Matt, who hails from Iowa, has the Midwest love of lagers, and they have both a doppelbock and a schwarzbier in tanks. When we were there, they had an absolutely perfect small beer they made from Ill-Tempered Gnome. All of these will go into kegs, and they can easily find distribution for these small quantities around town (so much so that I note with pique that they don't often come up I-5 to Portland).

Some brewers like to tinker, and some breweries like to have lots of fun projects going on. And not everyone is willing to work 80-hour weeks. There's real money in brewing, even in small breweries like Oakshire. I'm not enough of a brewer ever to take up the mash paddle myself, but if I were, this is the kind of job that would appeal to me.

High-End Brewpub
This may be more of an Oregon thing, but some of the breweries producing the best beer in the state are brewpubs. Pelican, Double Mountain, and Cascade spring to mind. I think there was once an idea that production breweries were for serious brewers and brewpubs were more a gimmick--a restaurant with beer. But this may be exactly backwards: brewpubs offer a creative brewer the opportunity to brew almost any beer she wants, in the way she wants.

This is clearly the case with Corvallis' Block 15, the basement of which was referred to as the "fermentation wonderland" by someone on our trip. Block 15 is in many ways the standard brewpub. Owner/brewer Nick Arzner has a background in food service and understood the restaurant side of things. It has standard taps and pretty standard menu. On the brewery side of things, he wanted to hit the ground running with high-quality, clean beers. He had only homebrewed himself, so Block 15 hired Steve Van Rossem, a brewer with nearly two decades of commercial experience. Block 15 has a regular menu of a dozen or more beers, and Steve mans these regular brews.

Nick, meanwhile, tinkers in the fermentorium down in the basement. Over time, they have expanded out, underneath adjacent businesses, and now the cellar is a riot of grundies, hoses, and oak barrels, all nested in warrens of small rooms. (If he could figure out how to fit people down there, Nick could sell it on ambiance alone for its prohibition vibe.) Here, Nick can follow his bliss. When we visited, he let us sample souring beers from the barrel, and then unveiled some absolutely stunning beers he's got in bottles--a soured wit, a very dry saison, and some of that La Ferme’ de Demons from Cheers to Belgian Beers (it's aged beautifully). He's fiddling with quite a few others, as well. Oh, and he picked up a coolship recently, too, so he can start spontaneous fermentation.

So long as Block 15 stays where it is, it won't be producing vast amounts of beer. Nick said they'll do 1200 barrels this year, which is quite robust for a brewpub. But unlike production breweries, these little guys are just not built for quantity. Instead, Nick has the freedom to brew absolutely anything that comes into his mind.

The Neighborhood Local
The final model is an idiosyncratic one, and one I didn't fully understand until I visited Brewer's Union Local 180. From my distant vantage point of Portland, I regarded owner/brewer Ted Sobel as "the cask guy." Indeed, the conceit of his brewpub is that all his beer is served cask conditioned. He has a few guest taps on regular CO2, but his beers go only into firkins. As a huge cask fan myself, I have seen Ted as a kindred spirit, the Johnny Appleseed of real ale.

But to visit the pub is to understand Ted's plan more fully. His real aspiration--the reason he quit his tech job to start the pub in the first place--was to create in Oakridge, Oregon the kind of local pub he found in Wales. He wanted to create a town living room, a place where everyone (6 to 86) can come, have a basket of fish and chips, and enjoy each others' company. Cask beer--this is the path, not the destination. Ted sees it as part of the holistic nature a pub plays in a community. Some people open a bakery because the innate wholesomeness of fresh bread seems like an end in itself. Cask ale is like that, particularly as it's the glue that holds neighborhoods together.

Whether Oakridge, Oregon (population 3000--though Ted said, indignantly, that it's 4400 if you include the whole Westfir-Oakridge metro area) has the population to support that is a different matter. We got there on a dark, cold Wednesday in November and the place was humming with life (until about 8:30), so let's hope so. It's a beautiful little pub.


If Kevin's numbers are right, Ted has a shot at hitting triple digits this year (100 barrels!), so he's clearly not in this to get rich selling beer. Going from Ninkasi to Brewer's Union caused a bit of whiplash, but it was also revealing. Jame and Ted are both brewers, but man, do their goals differ.

*The numbers I'm working with in this post are unverified, but they look like this. Annual production 2010: Ninkasi - 20,000 bbls, Oakshire - 3,500 bbls, Block 15 - 1200 bbls, and Brewer's Union - 100 bbls.