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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beer Blogging's Fringe Benefits

I get invited to a number of events, most of which are staged in the plausible hope that good press will result. Less often, someone stages an event purely for fun and I get invited, too. Yesterday, Full Sail's John Harris took a group of mostly publicans out to the hop fields to see from whence our favorite spice comes--but I think mainly to drink some of his fine beer and enjoy some barbecue and fun.

The one bit of useful news is that we got a chance to sample the first batch of Lupulin. This one is made with First Gold hops, that English dwarf variety I mentioned last week. (John got the hops from the very field I visited.) He will have a second batch a week or two later made with a different hop (possibly Centennial; I forgot to jot down the info). John added an initial dose of dried Warrior hops to bitter (which some might regard as cheating, but which seems to produce far more stable, consistent results), then used First Gold the rest of the way. This is a far more bitter iteration of Lupulin than any that have come before. It's sharp and woody and has a bell-like clarity. A pure, ringing note to sound the start of fresh hop season.

Below are a few select photos from the day (click to enlarge). Angelo has a ton more.

On the bus ride down, John tells us, "no horseplay!" Actually, I think he was talking admiringly about pinot noir.

At harvest, a crew comes by and severs the bines at the root so the harvesting machine can pluck them right up (see below). In this ceremonial severing, a dramatic swing by one of the folks on the trip.

The harvester collecting bines.

Hops drying. These are magnums, with an alpha of about 18%. Full Sail's Sandra Evans was collecting bags to take back to the brewery to use for educational purposes, and slid me a bag to collect a few myself. I owe Doug Weathers, the owner of Sodbuster Farms, at least a six pack of the imperial stout I plan to brew with them. Thanks Doug and Sandra!

Time to Rethink the Health Benefits of Drinking?

In order to make any kind of coherent public policy, we have to accept certain claims as fact, even when they are only provisionally supported by data. Almost never are these claims purely borne out by the data once it comes in, but often, the claim has become a treasured chestnut as durable as any actual fact. As a consequence, we keep charging forward on bum assumptions.

Owing to a particular mixture of history, religion, and culture, the United States has always had an awkward relationship with alcohol. You recall that dust-up we had in the late teens of the last century, but that was only the most extreme case. The way we think about alcohol sales, alcohol abuse, and alcohol consumption is colored as much by hoary myth and legend as science--abetted by the fact that until the last decade, there wasn't a whole lot of science to refute the myth. But that's changing, and the overwhelming consensus refutes much of what we have believed about alcohol and its affect on society. Time Magazine recounted some of the more surprising recent findings:
But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren't entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one's risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers....

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.
We have to add a few caveats--correlation is not causation, alcoholism remains a real and serious problem, and drunkenness can lead to a host of bad activities--but these don't refute the underlying message: alcohol is not costing society a massive amount of money. In fact, it looks like the biggest costs come from those who never drank at all and who as a consequence live shorter lives than heavy boozers.

So what effect should this have on law? Well, for one thing, it gives anti-alcohol crusaders less cover for non-moralistic rationales to ban hooch. When the beer tax surfaced last year in Oregon (as it does in every legislative session), one of the principal rationales was that the state had an interest in recouping lost revenue due to alcohol-related health problems--a cluster of costs the state pegged at $5.13 billion a year. But these costs arise from the assumption that drinking alcohol is a social ill that the state needs to spend millions combating and treating. If the state thinks of consumption of alcohol as a health benefit and managing drunkenness as a separate legal matter, the picture changes considerably.

The state has a right to recoup the cost of negative externalities of certain behaviors--smoking, for instance, which causes the state to take on massive health expenses related to lung and heart disease. Economists have created a theory of optimal taxation that compensates the state for the costs of these negative externalities such that the tax would recoup exactly the costs of the behavior. So a cigarette tax would pay for all the health-related consequences of smoking. (For those who don't recognize it, I'm just parroting what I learned from economist Patrick Emerson.)

For generations, we have treated alcohol the same way, assuming there are negative health externalities from drinking. Whether or not alcohol is definitely the cause of better health, these studies pretty clearly show that it isn't a negative. There are other reasons to regulate and control alcohol--underage drinking, drunk driving, and domestic violence spring to mind. But we need to separate those out from the idea that booze is bad for you. It's just not. The state has no right to try to recoup health costs from drinkers. And anti-alcohol crusaders need to acknowledge that their beef liquor has nothing to do with health.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Get Your Kicks on I-84

Okay, so it doesn't have the same ring as Route 66; but I-84 from Portland to Ontario, Oregon may be among the richest troves of beer in the US. Along those 375 miles, you encounter seven sizable towns (Hood River, the Dalles, Boardman, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City, and Ontario) and three tiny ones (Biggs, Arlington, Rufus). The population of these towns, collected together, is 75,000, or about the same size as Medford, our small state's 7th largest city.

Yet also along this route, you will encounter seven breweries (and that's if you don't take a bridge across the river where you can immediately locate two more). Not bad. There is a bit of a rocky stretch there between Hood River and Pendleton, where you have to drive nearly 147 long miles between breweries. Thereafter, you find a brewery in every major town all the way to the Idaho border.

For those not familiar with this stretch, it is, shall we say, stark. An amazing climatic shift happens in east Hood River; the firs change over to pine, and then disappear altogether as the wet climate gives way to arid high desert. Humans have managed to cobble together hardscrabble lives along the Columbia River, herding cattle and tending fields--but not many of them. It's not a landscape that supports much life at all. Each city huddles under river-fed trees in the bright sunshine like little oases, but they don't seem to promise much in the way of exceptional beers. But this is Beervana, so appearances deceive.

I wonder, is there any other stretch of America so apparently bereft of civilization but rich in craft breweries? We are fortunate indeed.


Certified Honest in Pendleton

In a day or three I'll do a proper review of Prodigal Son Brewing, the new place Margaret wrote about last month. Based on that engaging piece, Sally and I stopped in on my latest trip to Idaho--and I was seriously impressed. The place is impressive, the food great, but the beer--ah, the beer. Suffice it to say (for now) that Pendltonians are set. I'm still thinking about their porter.

And the coup de grace? Honest pints. I sped out to the Toyota, where I keep my trusty measuring cup, and voila, the newest certified pub.

Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub
Certified Purveyors of an Honest Pint
230 SE Court Avenue
Pendleton, OR 97801
541 276 6090

For most of the state's population, they're not the easiest pub to get to; but if you happen to be in the area, make it a destination stop.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hop Farming Without Pesticides - A Visual Tour

As I was painting the house yesterday, it occurred to me--as the spaciousness of painting allows things to occur--that there was one more tidbit from my visit to the hop fields I failed to mention. Hops have many enemies. Blights of mildew--downy and powdery--can wipe out entire fields. (You know the famous Wisconsin hop fields? No? Right; that's what happened to them over a hundred years ago.) Once a plant is infected, the blight usually recurs. The other problem is creatures, notably spider mites and aphids, which may feast on tasty hops before brewers have a chance to do the same.

As a consequence, controlling these problems without using pesticides is a tricky business, which is why organic hops are still rare. On our tour, we had the good fortune of having the USDA's Dr. David Gent along to discuss some of the challenges, and as it happens, he's working with Gayle Goschie at her farm to test certain theories about natural ways to control pests. These include strategies like planting adjacent fields with flowers to attract pest predators and breeding pest-resistant strains. Below is a visual tour of some of the things Dr. Gent and Gayle Goschie are testing (click to enlarge photos).

Dr. Gent is experimenting with plants where the bottom three feet have all foliage removed as a way of controlling mildew. (Results so far not significant.)

Another strategy is to allow the ground between hop rows grow up with native plants to attract predators to combat mites and aphids.

Leaving the base of the hop plant bushy also helps reduce the habitat for mites.

David Gent.

Off to Idaho ... Once More

On Mother's Day, my 80-year-old father ran himself over with his tractor, shattering his pelvis. He spent the better part of two months in hospitals, happy not one bit. But miracle of miracles, he didn't have to have surgery, and now enjoys a full recovery. On Saturday, he's throwing a barbecue in thanks for all the people who visited and supported him before resuming his life, which will look the same as he would have expected back in early May.

I don't post much on the weekends anyway (and there's a regular post scheduled for later today), so I don't think anyone will notice. But that's where I'll be, should anything arise. See you Monday--

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Troubling Beer & Wine Distribution Legislation

How does something like this have any support at all?
There is currently a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would give states more authority to regulate alcohol, which in turn would block interstate sales of beer and wine... Naturally, putting such a squeeze on the open market would limit competition, raise prices, and economically impair small vintners and brewers.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association is lobbying heavily in favor of the bill and has already contributed to the coffers of bill cosponsors. The NBWA claims they’re only trying to ensure states have better control in defending their alcohol laws, but bill critics claim that the NBWA is only trying to limit competition. Jonathan Yarowsky, lobbyist for the Beer Institute, states that brewers believe the bill “would lead to a protectionist and anti-competitive system that would hurt consumers.”
The bill is currently stuck in committee--thankfully--but has lots of beer distributor cash behind it. (The acronym, CARE, and supporters' rhetoric about how it will save the kids is all a little hard to swallow when follow the money.) The legislation is a response to the 2005 Supreme Court decision that "states cannot discriminate between in-state and out-of-state wineries in direct shipping to consumers."

I hope Peter DeFazio is on the case.

My Experiments With Physics

The dog days of summer are upon us, but they grow shorter each night as the shadows of autumn encroach. These weeks and those immediately around Christmas are the slowest time of the beer calendar; all the summer beers are old hat, but the sun holds off the hearty cool-weather releases. We sit--probably on our verandas and porches--and wait. We know the changes are coming, but somehow in the warmth of days, we can pretend summer still stretches out before us, promisingly.

While those of easy circumstances sit, however, I toil. For reasons that now seem naive, I decided to paint my house this summer. I looked at the small structure and relatively intact surface (only the west and south walls were peeling) and thought: no problem. After I painted our previous house ten years ago, I swore I'd never paint another. But, walking around this wee lovely, I thought again. I'll save some money and do it myself.

Well. Turns out the house is not small: it is at least seven miles long and fourteen stories high. During the phase of scraping, I found that the surface was less intact than I suspected; like pulling a loose thread on a sweater, once you take scraper to a peeling wall, you don't stop until the whole thing is wearing its birthday suit. Time bends and shortens; I appear to make fine progress until I look at the clock and see a whole day has screamed by.

The days shorten, the house widens. And I keep drinking less beer, and visiting fewer pubs, than I would like.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Texas-Fried Beer [Shudder]

Submitted without comment:
The State Fair of Texas has announced the finalists for the 2010 Big Tex Choice Award. We all thought last year's winner for Most Creative -- deep fried butter -- was wacky. But how about fried beer? That made it into this years list of finalists -- here's a Morning News story that tells it all. Fried beer, in case you're wondering, is actually a beer-filled pretzel pocket. The beer that oozes out when you bite it, apparently, serves as a dipping sauce.
You need to be 21 to buy it, though one wonders what kind of terrible violence leaves a beer to ooze--and whether any alcohol can survive such an ordeal.

Let Texas keep its fried beer; I'll take one of Beervana's finest--chilled--instead.

400 Years Later, New York State Grows Hops Again

Few crops are so specialized as hops, and few have such isolated commercial growing regions. The Willamette and Yakima Valleys account for almost all the hops grown in the US--and a large percentage grown in the world. Ah, but it wasn't always so. The first US hops were used almost exactly 400 years ago:
Hop growing in North America goes back to Dutch Colonial times, when Adrian Block and Hans Christians built a commercial log house brewery in the trading fort on Manhattan Island about 1612.

A contemporary traveler claimed that "...good hops grow in the woods..."

Their origin is unknown, they may well have been indigenous wild hops. By 1629 the first hop garden was in production on Manhattan, and there were a number of breweries in production by the 1630's.
Hops were produced in New York state for the next three hundred years, but by the start of the 20th century, lush fields on the West Coast finally supplanted the Empire State's hegemony. Hop growing has remained the fiefdom of the west for the past century (though the fields migrated from California northward), and in the age of industrial farming, it has seemed almost axiomatic that it should remain so.

Or maybe not.

It looks like New York is trying to make a comeback:
The Northeast Hop Alliance is a nonprofit created to re-establish a hop culture in New York and the Northeast and to preserve the hop heritage and architecture of the past. Kate and Larry Fisher, owners of Foothill Hops Farm, have been growing and selling hops for nine years.. They are among just a handful of hop growers in the state selling to commercial and home brewers....

The annual Madison County Hop Fest is Sept. 18 on the grounds of the Madison County Historical Society, 435 Main St., Oneida. It includes the Taste of Hops food-and-beer pairing event, noon to 2 p.m., and beer sampling 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Try more than 40 beer styles, many of them from New York state breweries. Tickets are available from the Madison County Historical Society, 363-4136, or online at
Although I have certain parochial interests in the idea that our corner of the country has cornered the market on hops, I recognize what a great boon this would be for Eastern craft breweries--and craft brewing in general. Obviously, it would give local breweries a chance to hand-select their own hops and work with local growers in the way NW breweries work with farms here. It would allow them to get in on the fresh hop fun. But more than that, New York hop fields would surely produce hops of different type and character than those on the West Coast. That would open up whole new avenues for breweries, and give Northeastern breweries a chance to make locally-distinct beers--which would, perhaps counter-intuitively, also help West Coast breweries distinguish their own beers.

So, good luck to you, New Yorkers. May your fields be lush again with the fruit of the humulus lupulus.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perfect American Beers

I've been pondering yesterday's "perfection" post, thinking about what, if pressed, I might be bold enough to call perfect beers. (Orval is such a gimme, a chicken's way out.) My mind kept sweeping across the globe and finding examples--though with a pretty heavy emphasis on Belgium. It only occurred to me, as I tried to freehand paint on window trim, that my mind never swept this far West. Odd, given that I think the US is easily the second-best producer of high-quality beers now. (Belgium ...)

Michael Jackson, in identifying "world classics," always included Anchor Steam. It was his sole US beer and was, it seems, a nod to a traditional style rather than the identification of a truly staggering beer. It didn't hurt that among US beers, Anchor had stood the test of time. Microbrewing is such a young industry that he had to worry about identifying beers that were doomed in the marketplace. Furthermore, perfection should be replicable. A brewery might brew a single perfect batch, but if it can't brew that beer time after time, year after year, well--no dice.

So the question arises: can the US claim any perfect beers? And with this question, its shadow, no less important: what is perfection? In the context of beer, I would say it includes four elements beyond the obvious criteria of flawless execution. A perfect beer needs to:
  • Demonstrate originality. A lot of breweries could produce close approximations of world standards. Doin' it the second time is not nearly as impressive as doing it first.
  • Have been brewed consistently. Not every batch has to be identical, but a brewery has to make the beer reliably well over the course of years. I probably wouldn't add a beer to a "perfect" list that hadn't been in production less than a decade.
  • Exhibit local character. If you look at Jackson's list, you see that nearly every beer on it represents a particular region in a way that characterizes the beer. You can't separate Pilsn and Pilsner Urquell, Cantillon from the Zenne Valley, or Guinness Extra Stout from Dublin. A perfect American beer must also express America.
  • Have that certain something. It's not good enough for a beer to be without flaw; it has to have some kind of inner flame of brilliance that separates it from others of its kind. This is the totally subjective element--but any list of perfect beers will rise on the foundation of subjectivity.
There must certainly be American beers on a "perfect" list. Look at how world beer styles have shifted to imitate American brewing--bigger beers, bolder and funkier hopping. You're obviously not going to cite BrewDog's Punk IPA as a world classic--you're going to go with one of the American IPAs that inspired it. In this vein, I'd argue that Sierra Nevada Pale is a world classic. Who knows what would have become of brewing if the boys from Chico had used Fuggles instead of Cascades? And how many breweries now use the Sierra Nevada yeast strain? What we consider "American" about American beer can in large part be traced back to SN Pale.

Closer to home, I'd throw Hair of the Dog Adam in there. Long before American breweries were bending styles to suit their own preferences, Alan Sprints was making very strange, huge beers. It took the rest of the country at least a decade to catch up. Probably most people would cite Fred instead, but Adam remains, even more than 15 years after it was brewed, a truly original beer.

New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red set the standard for sour ales and used Door County cherries (a Badger specialty) to boot. It would be hard to come up with the ur-hop bomb, but how about Russian River Pliny the Elder? I might throw in a winter warmer, too--it seems like the US lays claim to this style as its own regional variant now. I'd probably choose Jubelale.

Your thoughts?

Only Gathering Strength

Some days there's just absolutely nothing beer-worthy to report. This is one of those days. Plus, I've got to do some house painting before the heat arrives.

Maybe someone will buy MacTarnahan's today and I'll have something to blog about this afternoon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Philosophical Question: Can a Beer Be Perfect?

Over the weekend, I was invited, along with most of the members of the Associated Brotherhood of Portland Beer Bloggers local 503 to judge a double IPA smackdown at Blitz Ladd. Angelo has a picture of the judging panel here. (Deschutes' Hop Trip Henge took the gold; Stone Ruination rode shotgun.) Afterward, I was chatting with Bill Schneller, an avid and award-winning homebrewer--you can see him in Angelo's picture there on the left side, inhaling that sweet, sweet hop aroma. Somehow we got off onto the topic of judging homebrew, and Bill declared, boldly, that there's no such thing as a 50-point beer. A 49--theoretically possible. But no such beer exists that could not be improved upon.

This is a statement of philosophy, of course, not fact. But it goes a long way toward explaining certain differences in the way beer geeks approach beer. If you don't believe in a perfect beer, then each sniff and sip is forensic; you're looking for the imperfection. Imperfections may be objective or purely a matter of taste. (Worse, they may be imperfections only of style, which is to say, a failure to adhere to a completely artificial framework. But Bill, who is not a style Nazi, wasn't making this argument.)

I adhere to a different philosophy. I believe perfect beers exist. In our discussion, I immediately named my go-to perfect beer, Orval. If I were to sit down and make a list, I could come up with perhaps a score or two dozen. Stan once collated Michael Jackson's ratings and found that in every Pocket Guide he published, he awarded the highest score to 19 beers. That's not a bad standard.

If Bill tastes beer forensically, I taste it meditatively. I try to see what the brewer was doing. Sometimes, the quality I find offensive is intentional--recall a couple months ago when Van Havig released an IPA he described as "kind of metallic and harsh." He added, "I love that." Rather than conforming to standards, I view beer as having very few fixed points. It's almost all up for grabs. (Exceptions, obviously, exist: off-flavors, infections, indecent top-heaviness, etc.) A beer must be perfect on its own terms--the realization of the brewer's highest goals.

In Christianity, there's the concept of original sin. We are all sinners before the lord. In brewing, this would be Bill's view: we are all flawed and it is the judge's role to find the sins. But in Buddhism, there's the concept of Buddha nature. Strip away the veils of confusion and we are all enlightened. This is my view--perfection is achieved when the beer has realized its true nature. (That I am actually a Buddhist is merely coincidental.) Perhaps a more obvious explanation exists: Bill's a homebrewer and I'm a writer. Homebrewers look for flaws, writers search, like children on an Easter egg hunt, for treasures.

(I suppose I should mention the obvious: perfection isn't an absolute standard. No one is going to agree that all of those 19 beers deserve a five-star rating, never mind being perfect. Rather, the ideal of perfection must be an individual one. Thus it has ever been with art. There doesn't have to be agreement in order for there to be perfection.)

So, two approaches, one product. Which do you employ?

Status of Honest Pintery Nationwide: Woeful (Plus a Cert)

I take some satisfaction in the knowledge that the Honest Pint Project--and its antecedents--has been successful in penetrating Oregon's consciousness. The intention was always more educational than structural--if people know that a shaker pint delivers 13-14 ounces of beer, finding one in a pub puts them at no disadvantage. So, even where pubs choose shaker pints, it is pretty clear that patrons know what they're getting. But lest you think this is usual, let me offer you this dispatch from Jim LaPlume in Rhode Island--in the heart of very-beery New England:
We communicated via email last year about the Honest Pint Project. We in RI have done two Honest Pint Nights, and have discovered that every bar we visited, except for one, did not serve an honest pint. For the most part, we were not taken too seriously, but we did manage to "convert" one tavern; the owner has joined the cause and is spreading the good word. Not surprisingly, his craft beer sales have increased by 17% since he started serving (and advertising) an Honest Pint. Hopefully, the trend will catch.
Hopefully--though I think it will take a little proactive agitation of exactly the kind the Honest Pint Project was intended to provide. So let the English Cellar Alehouse in Providence serve as our beachhead, for, in addition to serving up 150 different beers, they do so in an honest pint.

English Cellar Alehouse
Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
165 Angell St.
Providence, RI 02906
(401) 454-3434

That's not the greatest picture, but this one at their Facebook page adds corroborating evidence. I'll be in New England around Thanksgiving, so maybe I'll stop in and have a pint. Any of you who are closer, do the same.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


After a week of prepping and priming my house, I think there will be some relaxing this weekend. A showing at Breathless at Cinema 21 and maybe some of this:

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Beer Sherpa (Aspirational)

NPR carries a show out of Chicago called Sound Opinions, which bills itself as "the world's only rock 'n roll talk show." (A claim I find hard to believe.) It's a fairly entertaining show that I download via podcast and which keeps me somewhat in the loop about popular music. (Very cool, cutting-edge stuff takes too much time to follow for old men like me.) Anyway, the point of this is that they have a regular feature called "Rock Doctors," wherein they invite some hapless schmo to discuss how he's become mired in old music and needs something new to which to listen. They probe about what music he currently likes, then offer two recommendations of (usually) recent albums. And they're terrible at it.

Generally the poor schmo praises at least one of the records and everyone appears happy, but I've been listening to the show for a couple years now, and I know that they almost always just offer a selection they've recently raved about in a review. (What they should do is recommend that the poor schmo download the Pandora app, though that makes for less interesting radio.) Recommending things is hard. It requires the recommender to abandon her own biases and listen to the actual preferences of the other person. Amelie is a great movie, but if the guy likes slasher picks and hates rom coms, it's a bad recommendation.

Beer is much the same. People tend not to have a vast sweet spot--they like certain types of beers and stick with them. For someone who loves hop bombs, recommending a bock may be risky business. But it goes deeper than that. People tend to have specific tastes, but slightly idiosyncratic ones. They like hop bombs, but they also like stouts and witbiers. If you probe a bit, you may discover that they don't actually like especially bitter hop bombs, that the stouts they prefer are lighter and sweeter, and that they don't really like most witbiers, but absolutely love Hoegaarden. Pretty soon, a map begins to emerge.

I'm thinking of this because I love to make recommendations. I was slotted to take some friends-of-friends from North Carolina out on a pub crawl last night, but they had to cancel. Too bad: I was really looking forward to guiding them along so that they walked away thinking--as they should--that Portland has the best beer on the planet. I was to be the beer sherpa.

I see that this name has occurred to someone else; a pity. I wouldn't mind donning the parka and snowshoes and leading people up the mountain of good beer. If only I could figure out a way to monetize that. If only!

Obvious Finding of the Day

Have a gander at this earth-shattering "discovery": hooch makes people more attractive. This from researchers (who just have to be sociologists) who got--I kid you not--undergrads drunk before testing them:
Halsey found that as we drink, we lose our ability to perceive asymmetry. Essentially, the drunker you get, the more attractive everyone around you gets.
Before you start to decry this as more stimulus spending gone wrong, though, note: the researchers were British, and squandering the Queen's pounds. Imagine if the funds supporting that research had gone to, oh, I don't know, fund a study on linalool, say? But then how would the findings get retweeted ten thousand times?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Linalool - Not Angelina Jolie's Newest Child

That's a fine word, isn't it?--linalool. Rolls around luxuriously in the mouth, as you naturally draw out the final syllable: linaloooooool. You could imagine it's a trendy name among self-involved Hollywood stars.

Actually, it's a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in many flowers and spices. Including, as it happens, hops. (In fact, it's a terpene alcohol, whatever that means.) If you've looked into hop chemistry much, you've seen discussions of the acids and essential oils, but these are just broad categories; hops contain hundreds of chemical elements. According to research I've seen, linalool, which is a constituent of the oil myrcene, is chief among these little-discussed other compounds.

In short, linalool is a source of both flavor and aroma in hops, and apparently has a specific character that runs on a continuum from citrusy to flowery/fruity. (Hops produce a dazzling range of flavors, but these two are among the most common.) What's more, higher concentrations of linalool contribute to what researchers describe as a "harmonious" hop flavor. Fascinatingly, it also appears that linalool is produced during fermentation, particularly the first 2-4 days. As with everything, the act of brewing creates very complex chemical activity, and there are a lot of moving parts here.

I've recently been looking more deeply into the science of hops, but research is woefully scant. Most of the interesting types of research I'd like to see simply hasn't been done. (Craft brewers don't seem to be funding research into hops.) That work on linalool has been done at all is surprising, though it doesn't seem to have had a huge effect on brewing--hop producers don't list the amount of linalool by hop type. (Whether you could estimate based on myrcene levels is not clear--but it might not be a bad place to start.)

Anyway, you can go impress your friends with your new-found knowledge of that underrated, but beautifully-named terpene alcohol, linalool.

Sources: among the fragments I found online, here are a couple interesting scientific papers on the subject (both pdfs): Hanke (2009), and Kaltner (2006).

How to Manage the Moobs

One option to consider if that beer belly is getting out of hand:
Men's girdles are now all the rage. They call it "men's shapewear," true, but ladies, we know that you know from long and tummy-tucking experience what that really means.

Spanx for Men -- undershirts that fit and feel like a wet suit -- debuted to such testosterone-fueled success this year that the company is coming out with a line of (gulp) bottoms for the fall. The cotton compression undershirt "helps with the love handles and beer belly and man boobs -- or 'moobs,' as we call them," says Maggie Adams, public relations manager for Spanx.
Just a thought.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dwarf Hops

When we were rolling through the Goschie hop fields, I was surprised when the bus came along these trim, manicured little rows. Less than half as tall as a regular 20-foot trellis, these are dwarf varieties grown on what are known as low-trellis systems. It turns out there are some advantages to them.

In conventional hop farming, the entire hop vine is pulled from the ground during harvest. Dwarf varieties, however, can be plucked with a special harvester, leaving the vines intact. Nutrients are preserved when they can run down into the root system--making plants hardier and healthier. Researchers are investigating whether low-trellis hops are more resistant to pests and disease, although the data is incomplete. Gayle Goschie, who took us out into a low-trellis field, pointed out that this is how hops used to grow in her grandfather's generation, when hops were picked by hand. England seems to have led the way on breeding dwarf hops, and the field we visited contained First Gold, an English variety.

Of course, there's a downside, too. Shorter trellises mean less length for hops to grow on, and as a consequence, less yield per acre. Goschie calculates that the yield is at least 30% less, and possibly up to 50% less, than regular hops.

With the advantages in health, harvest efficiency, and possible disease and pest resistence, my sense is that dwarf hops are an intriguing option for hop growers--and a trend we should keep our eye on.

Early Look At Hair of the Dog's New Tasting Room

Hair of the Dog Tasting Room
61 SE Yamhill |

Wed - Sun, 2pm-8pm (check
here for updates)

Hair of the Dog's move into new digs along Water Avenue (technically 61 SE Yamhill) is officially complete. I stopped in on Monday to have a beer and a gander, and below are some of the photos I took. Those of you who don't live in Portland, take note: Hair of the Dog should be a top-three attraction on your beer itinerary when visiting. The new space is great, but the imperative is beer, not ambiance. You just won't find this kind and quality of beer anywhere in the city--or the state, or the country, for that matter.

At the moment, there's no kitchen, so I'll wait to do a full review. What there is is good beer and lots of it. All draft pours come in 12-ounce goblets and are a relative value at $4.50 (keep in mind that none of the beers is below 6% and most are 10% and above). A pour of Cherry Adam (13.5%) is six bucks--still an amazing value. Alan has also laid in a stock of vintage bottles, and these ain't cheap. I spent $12 on Michael, Hair of the Dog's Flanders Red, an homage to the late Michael Jackson. You won't be buying a lot of these, but think of them like the rare ports or Scotches that easily go for double digits in bars and restaurants. I was actually happy to be able to finally taste Michael at any price.

Okay, to the photos.

The space is large and and well-lit, an old warehouse with soaring ceilings. Two banks of south- and west-facing windows will draw on all available light to keep the space cheery in the long, gray months. Two sky lights add yet more light. Those fir tables you see were made from beams reclaimed during the remodel.

When we visited, Greg, Fred, Adam, Blue Dot, Doggie Claws, and Cherry Adam were all on tap.

The pub looks out toward downtown Portland; the Morrison Bridge is a block north--or to the right as you look westward.

Follow the bar to this photo's background and you see the kitchen area. Food should be available in a couple weeks.

That's the Morrison Bridge you see in the upper left-hand corner.

Alan described Michael this way: "I have been brewing this beer once a year since 2007; it is made with organic pilsner, Munich and Vienna malts. It is around 6% abv and fermented with the Wyeast Roselare blend. This bottling is a blend of American oak and sherry-cask aged beer from the 2007 brewing. It will be released every year in November. Next year's bottling will be mostly French oak-aged. I hope people compare it with Rodenbach; it is still to early to tell."

The brettanomyces are really expressing themselves in the beer now. It's very dry, and has that characteristic citrus rind sour-bitter. I'd like to try it next to a bottle of Rodenbach, particularly one of the same vintage (Michael is made with the Rodenbach yeast). I don't recall the brett being this assertive--Rodenbach of my memory was sharply lactic--but this may be a function of age. Oh, that's Greg, by the way, trying to crowd into the picture with Michael.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Boys Are Alright

The good gentlemen of Migration Brewing recently invited the media over for a meet and greet--and tasting, of course. I attended, but with a touch of the nerves, for back in June, I called the brewery out for bad beer. No need to repeat the comments here, but suffice it to say that I figured I wouldn't be the most loved guest. But hey, that's how it goes. I certainly owed Migration another shot to prove me wrong--and, given that the pub is walking distance from my house, I was hoping they would.

Co-owners Mike Branes, McKean Banzer-Lausberg, and Colin Rath started out by giving an oral history of Migration, useful context for understanding the full story. The three are young guys with not a lot of experience in brewing, though Mike Branes, the brewer (pictured at right), worked at a Minnesota brewpub before heading to Oregon. The owners didn't have a lot of money, so they scrambled to get the place opened at the earliest possible moment--meaning they didn't have their brewing equipment installed yet. Lompoc and Three Creeks let them brew with their excess capacity, but that wasn't the same as learning on their own system.

When they did get their system--built by a fabricator that had never made brewing equipment--they had to just brew and go. This resulted in catastrophes like Little Bitter, the source of my earlier post, which they inexplicably didn't just dump.

All of which brings us to the tasting last week. Let's start with the punchline first: big improvement. I would still call these beers average, but they show marked improvement. The early batches of the flagship Migration Pale Ale were harsh and unpleasant. It's still a bit tannic, but a pleasant summer pale. Brief comments on the beers:
  • Migration Pale Ale (5.5%). The flagship is designed to be a balanced, English-inflected pale and uses Cascade and Fuggles. The recipe has evolved and is now more balanced and sessionable.
  • Honeydew Pale (6.2%). The name comes from the use of honey malt and is meant to be evocative. Unfortunately, it's pretty sharp and expresses very little sweet honey character. I'd like to see more fruit character from hops like Amarillos and a more assertive sweetness from the malt.
  • Cream Ale (4.6%). My fave of the bunch, even though it had a very mild touch of diacetyl. Mike uses oats instead of the more traditional corn, but the result is the same--a light, frothy, summer session.
There is a lot to love about Migration. The location and feng shui of the pub is fantastic and the food is good. The guest taps have always given patrons excellent beer to enjoy. The big thing is Migration's own beer--which was, after all, the point of the exercise. McKean, Mike, and Colin are hard-working guys who really want to give the public what they want. I think ultimately it will take more varied, characterful, accomplished beers than the ones currently pouring before Migration conquers the world, but they are light years ahead of the early MPA and Little Bitter I tried. The trajectory looks very promising.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hops But Were Afraid to Ask

Last Friday, the summer heat finally rolled up from California and licked the Beaver State like the tongue of Satan. That was, by serendipity, also the day the Oregon Hops Commission led a small tour of the hop fields around Brooks. The group included largely brewers, all of whom brought along samples, so as we rolled out into the fields, our resistance to the sun's debilitating rays were extra low. Nevertheless, we forged on. In the course of the afternoon, we visited five growers and in the process, I picked up a ton of handy info. No doubt some of it will be familiar to some of you, but perhaps not all. Therefore I will sprinkle the nuggets of wisdom (if not nuggets of Nuggets) in posts throughout the week. Today, a primer on commercial production of the plant closest to every craft beer lover's heart.

The Humulus Lupulus is a remarkably energetic herbaceous perennial that can grow a foot a day and, in the wild, cover entire trees--but only in certain conditions. Hops require at least 15 hours of daylight and therefore can only be grown between 35 and 55 degrees latitude. They do better in drier climates, but require a lot of water; they are also subject to a number of diseases and infestations. As a consequence, commercial production is isolated to just a few regions, with over 85% of the world’s output grown in Germany, the US, China, and the Czech Republic. In the United States, all commercial hops are grown in the Northwest.

It's not a crop planted lightly. To get started, growers must erect rows of 20-foot-tall wires for the plants to climb. They must also have specialized harvest equipment to pull the vines down in the fall. Add the cost of land in agriculturally productive regions like Yakima and the Willamette Valley and the expense of bank loans and drip irrigation (which hop growers seem to uniformly employ), and you've got a slate of very high fixed costs. And to make matters even worse, plants don't reach commercial viability for three years. As a consequence, a new grower would have to have hundreds of thousands--or possibly millions--of dollars just to get started. No wonder, then, that there are only 84 growers in the entire country--35 in Oregon, five in Idaho, and the rest in Washington. Oregon produces just 15% of the total crop; Washington is the big dog, accounting for 77%.

The hop cone itself is produced only by female plants and is called a "strobile;" the vines are actually "bines" (bines climb by encircling a vertical object, while vines send out little tendrils, like hands, to latch on). Each variety of hop is different, and for the grower, each one presents its own challenge. Some are more susceptible to mildew (powdery or downy) or bugs (spider mites and aphids), some don't grow as well, and some don't produce as well. Hop yield varies by variety; a grower may only get a thousand pounds per acre of Fuggles, but twice that in Cascade. When you ask a grower what her favorite hop strain is, she'll give you a very different answer than a brewer--they like to see lush, healthy plants and care little about notes of lemon or lavender.

Of course, hop growers can't just plant the most hardy and productive plants--they have to grow the varieties brewers want. And this was, to me, the most fascinating element of the business. When we visited John Arren's farm, he told us about his newly-productive fields of Sorachi Ace (which piqued Matt Van Wyk's interest) and Mt. Rainier, as well as experimental types like Furano Ace and Shenshawabi (spelling?). Starting sometimes with a single rhizome, Arren will begin production on a new strain. He adds a few rows to see how the hop behaves and if it looks good, he'll plant a small field. At that point, if the hop has flourished, Arren has to find a brewer who will use it. When he was going through the process with Sorachi Ace, he managed to find one who was keenly interested, so he knew that he had a buyer--but that's not always the case. "It's a huge crap-shoot," he said when I asked him about this. "It can take ten years to get up to full production." If that hop isn't popular, or if it somehow becomes more trouble than it's worth to grow, they pull the entire field out and start over. Annen, in fact, was just about to pull his German Hallertauers out for lack of market.

Fortunately, the relationship between craft brewers and hop growers has been beneficial to both. Growers like Annen can coordinate with brewers ahead of time to try to find a market for experimental hops. In earlier decades, growers did all their business with the big beer companies, which regularized and streamlined things, but gave growers less flexibility. The growers we spoke to have slowly been giving more of their crops over to craft breweries. Doug Weathers now sells 75% of his crop to craft brewers; Annen works almost exclusively with craft brewers.

And of course, Oregon breweries have a big advantage here. They can visit the fields, develop relationships with the growers, and can hand-select their hops on-site. Van Havig, who was on the tour, told me that this close relationship is relatively new and comes almost entirely from the fresh hop phenomenon. Brewers had to visit the fields to get their hops and so began to work directly with growers. Now they work with growers year-round.

I have talked a lot about how "beer is local." Generally I mean to say that the types of beer we like and the way we like to drink it are local expressions of beer culture. Historically, though, this axiom applied more to the ingredients--brewers could only make beer from what was available to them. In Oregon, it means both. Oregon breweries have a unique advantage over brewers nationwide in their access to hop fields. I've always wondered about a causal link between Northwest beer, strident hopping, and locally-grown hops came in, and it's still a mystery. There doesn't seem to be any particular reason locals should like hoppy beers more than anyone else--but of course they do. And now that they do, the die is cast: hops are going to remain the definitive element of Northwest beer for decades to come. Good thing brewers have a good supply.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beer Causes Psoriasis in Women?

Hmm, this isn't going to help my campaign to turn America's women into beer drinkers:
Women who had an average 2.3 drinks or more per week had a 72% greater risk of having psoriasis than women who didn't drink. But when various types of alcohol were assessed, there was a higher risk for the disease among women who drank regular beer. Drinking light beer, red or white wine, or liquor were not linked with a risk of psoriasis. Women who drank at least five regular beers a week were 1.8 times more apt to contract psoriasis than women who did not drink
Psoriasis causes "cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin, forming thick silvery scales and itchy, dry, red patches that are sometimes painful."

I guess it should be pointed out that only 2.2% of the population has psoriasis, so even the consumption of beer isn't going to cause many women to develop it--proportionately, anyway. Still, not the greatest news ever.

IPAs and More IPAs: Ninkasi Maiden the Shade

I'm a little late to the party, but I wanted to comment on Ninkasi's new (or rather two-month-old) 22-ounce release, Maiden the Shade. Let's start with the label, a curiously discordant pastiche of themes. The artwork comes from Jerry Garcia's daughter, Annabellle, a perfect tribute for a beer first brewed for the venerable Oregon Country Fair. The image shows a young woman under the shade of a summer tree, receiving a painted Ninkasi logo from a tree sprite. I take this to be Ninkasi herself, but perhaps this is projectiong. (In the first rendering, a fair amount of the Goddesses buttocks are visible and she is topless. Apparently the government found this too risque--she now sports a bikini top and arse-covering sarong.) It is consonant with the Fair's crunchy vibe and the Dead's canon of cartoon art. All in all, spot on.

But then there's the name and title font: a separate tribute to a different Maiden, the Iron one, a band very much un-crunchy nor Dead-like. I am getting the sense that the good folks at Ninkasi like their music hammering to the hammer of double bass drums--recall that the winter seasonal is Sleigh'r, with similar fonty homage to the homophonic band Slayer.

Eugene is, of course, a sacred site along the spiritual ley line of famous Dead/hippie haunts, so the crunchy part makes sense. But perhaps the thrash metal allusions point to the music Ninkasians actually prefer. (It would be interesting to see Jamie Floyd's iPod. Rarely do you find "Number of the Beast" and "Aiko Aiko" on the same machine, but stranger things have happened. Or maybe it's a Nikos Ridge/Jamie Floyd dichotomy. But I digress.)

Tasting Notes
There appears to be emerging a trend toward what you might call a "summer IPA"*--a pilsner-hued, light-bodied beer brewed at substantial strength and bitterness, but in a kind of stripped-down, pure-essence presentation. I would count Double Mountain's Vaporizer as a member of this small club. Both beers vent hop aroma like glue vents brain-destroying vapors. Both are surprisingly light-colored (though unlike pilsners, they have the shimmering haze of hop particles). Maiden the Shade was purported to have been brewed with ganja in mind--another homage to the OCF--and does have a sticky, resinous musk. It is not, to my nose, as stanky as Racer 5. Instead, I found it more layered that that--notes of lavender, pine, and sage make it an earthy, spicy bouquet. Ninkasi employs seven hops to get the effect: Summit, Centennial, Simcoe, Columbus, Crystal, Palisade and Amarillo. Sometimes the result of potpourri-hopping is a muddle, but here you get quite a bit of articulated flavors.

I give special credit to the beer for its surprising sweetness. Some of this comes from the malt bill, but I think more come from the hop esters--or more likely, the interaction between the two. Some sharply-hopped beers either exhaust or dull one's palate; because of its lightness and sweetness, Maiden the Shade remains fresh and sessionable despite the 72 IBUs and 6.8% alcohol.

When you see the Ninkasi label, you have certain expectations. Despite the fact that Maiden in Shade penned out to exactly meet them, I was surprised by the beer. It was both more delicate and yet oddly more bold than I expected. A great beer.

The review panel at the New School took a look at this beer last week, so you can compare and contrast my findings with those.

*I am not wedded to the term, but if it takes off, or if there's a movement to enshrine this style into the canon of the BJCP, I claim full rights to Summer IPA .

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Simon Loves the Beer

The first story that caught my attention this morning on the radio involved "gyspy brewers."

On the road we discussed how new things are afoot, literally, in beer land. "Gypsy brewing," although by no means a trend, has been added to the lexicon. In oversimplified terms, it's brewing on the go, a supersubculture of the craft beer industry. Strumke is one of about three people in the world who do it, Denmark's Mikkeller brewers being another example.

Like an old-world itinerant preacher, Strumke travels from brewery to brewery — from Belgium to Baltimore — spreading the craft beer gospel. He finds breweries that jibe with his thinking; rents out their excess capacity; and uses his own recipes to create limited edition batches and a brand.

Far out. You should listen to the report--or read it. As a bonus, the story sort of merges into a piece about pairing food and beer. A fascinating report, and proof that NPR is way ahead of the rest of the MSM.

The second story wasn't really about beer, but it sat me up more easily than my morning coffee. A ten-minute story (very long by NPR standards) on Oakridge, Oregon. It was one of those biographic sketches that details the life and times of a small town, showing how it has evolved. For Oregonians, a familiar tale of the decline of logging and devastating aftermath--and possibly hopeful denouement.

For Oregon beer fans, it was a moment to hope that our favorite cask brewery would get a shout-out. And it did! Not a big one--Ted Sobel doesn't even get interviewed, though you can hear him in the background--but it gets a positive mention as part of the hopeful denouement. You actually have to listen to the story--the text is shortened and they clipped Ted's bit. They also got the name wrong ("Brewer's Union Local 18"--so close!), but still. I have no doubt that it was the growing light of Ted's fame that drew NPR, lighthouse style, into Oakridge's orbit. Kudos!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday the 13th News Bits

I don't bury the lede:

The tasting room will be open for the first time at 2:00pm tomorrow, Friday the 13th. Stop by and help us break in the bar.

I am so on it. I admire Alan's choice of Friday the 13th as the grand opening. Bold. (Oh:
61 Southeast Yamhill, PDX, 503-232-6585)

Next up, we have a whinge. In journalism, the word "lede" refers to the the leading sentence (the spelling of lede was to distinguish it, in those old days of dead trees, from the use of actual lead in printing) of a news story. The nut or crux of the thing. Well, writing in today's Oregonian, Michael Zusman reviews Spints Alehouse. This is the key paragraph, and it is the eleventh of twelve that appear in the review.
Though [owner Alyssa] Gregg is obviously serious about food, Spints remains above all a place to drink. For those passionate about their libations, Spints could limit its edible options to pickled eggs from a jar and the world would still be good. Last I counted, there were more than a dozen draft beers -- from local IPAs to brawny Belgians, nearly two dozen choices by the bottle dominated by German and German-style brews -- and an impressive list of spirits to boot. Patrons arriving primarily to eat should be prepared for a barroom layout -- albeit one with windows -- or a secondary dining room like the kids table at a family gathering: off to the side and not nearly as interesting as the main space.
That right there is whatcha call "burying the lede."

Last, I would like to draw your attention to a project Billy Broas--one of my newly linked bloggers and the man behind BillyBrew--just launched:

In the spirit of that quote, I am very excited to announce The Beer Bucket List – 50 Beers to Try Before you Die.

While myself and the BillyBrew readers drink quality beer on a regular basis, there are those selections that soar above the rest. These are the beers that no man or woman should miss out on in their short time on this planet. These are the beers that should be on everybody’s beer bucket list. I’ve assembled a team of distinguished beer bloggers to help me bring you the top 50 beers in the world.
I am one of those bloggers, and I have already selected my five beers. Two, of course, come from Beervana. I figure at least 40% of the best beer in the world comes from here, so that seemed appropriate. Which two? You have to sign up so you can receive the emails and see.

Now, I'm off on a tour of the Oregon hop fields sponsored by the Oregon Hop Commission.

Breweries That Give Back

For about 14 years, I worked on various grants at Portland State University doing research on the state's child welfare agency. For those who are unfamiliar with child social services, the way it works is that the state oversees the legal protection of children, but private non-profits provide services to make children and families whole. One of those agencies is Morrison, which serves the mental health needs of kids. Their services can change children's lives, and the state depends on them when they encounter cases of serious neglect and abuse.

I mention all of this because last night's Deschutes Street Fare was a fundraiser for Morrison. Not all fundraisers are created equally, so I took the opportunity to chat up Lauren Tietsort, a representative from Morrison, who was at the event. She gushed about how smooth it had been, and praised Deschutes for donating so much time and money. I wasn't surprised, but I was very pleased. According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, breweries gave $1.25 million last year to charitable organizations. I've talked before about other how other breweries have pitched in, and so this is no longer surprises me. But it's something to be proud about.

The Street Fare, incidentally, was a blast. Deschutes blocked off Davis in the block next to the brewery and invited ten Portland food carts to set up shop. Then the brewery paired each dish with one of their beers. For a token, you got the paired beer and food--and a survey of Portland's food carts. (If I had any quibble, it's that some of the pairings could have offered a bit more pop--but this is no time to quibble.) My fave was Flavour Spot's insanely decadent pecan "Dutch Taco"--a waffle wrapped, taco-shell style, around tasty filling. They serve many varieties (menu, pdf), but this version contains organic maple spread with whipped butter and roasted pecans. Whoo, boy.

In sum: good food, good beer, good music, good time, good cause. What could be better?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Asia Overtakes Europe

This is interesting:

Asian beer manufacturers produced 103 billion pints of beer in 2009, marking an increase of 5.5 per cent compared to the previous year. At the same time, European beer companies experienced a production drop of 5.1 per cent to 97 billion pints during the same period, according to a study by the research department of Kirin Holdings Co, the Japanese beer giant.

Defying cultural stereotypes of beer-swilling Europeans, it is the first time that Asia has assumed the top spot in the world's beer producing since annual records began in 1974 by the Kirin Institute of Food and Lifestyle.

This appears to be mainly a function of demographics, though. Asia is growing far faster than Europe, so overall consumption is increasing because the number of mouths is increasing. Even in metropolitan cities like Tokyo, Singapore, and Seoul, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a trend toward connoisseurship. I was reminded of a post I saw a few months back by Fal Allen. He started a brewery in Singapore called Archipelago five years back or so. The beers he designed incorporated local ingredients, simultaneously pushing the beer envelope and also an attempt to create something indigenous. But in April he reported that the entire line was being replaced with traditional beers:

For the most part the Asian spiced beers are a thing of the past (we still have the Samui as our wheat beer - made with Kalamasi lime and Pandan leaves). But, it was felt that the spice beers were a bit too niche for the market (actually a niche within the niche of craft beers), and maybe that's right. Maybe we were a bit ahead of the curve with those beers, and so we have redesigned.

Until Asians develop a more robust culture of beer, I'll take this as an interesting--if not particularly relevant--statistical quirk.

The Virtues of Virtuosity

Last night I finally got around to drinking my sample bottle of Ninkasi Maiden the Shade. It's an incredibly accomplished beer (review to come), and were any other brewery's name on the label, it would be getting lots of attention. A friend of mine, though, expressing what I think is a common sentiment, dismissed it as "another Ninkasi hop bomb." And indeed, it is that. It got me thinking, though: what's so great about style virtuosity?

The US is an immigrant country and we love diversity. It thrills us to see an Irish pub nestled between a Mexican and Thai restaurant. We are quick to absorb foreign influences and add them to our bubbling cultural stew. It's a bias we take into beer as well. Breweries that hew to a single influence don't get the geek cred that those with broad style palettes command. A line of British-style beers? Yawn. I mean, don't you have something with a little brett in it?

Of course, we don't hold foreign breweries to this standard. We don't say, regarding a new release from Cantillon--"Really, another lambic? Jeez, when are you guys going to expand a little?" Of Fuller's we don't demand doppelbocks nor do we despise the monks of Orval for making a single beer. In fact, we don't like it when foreign breweries screw around with different styles. We like our foreign influences undiluted, traditional, ancient.

I am agnostic. Some breweries are generalists--they brew a hodgepodge of styles from around the world. Some breweries are specialists, honing in on a single focal point. I have no preference, except that the beer is good. If Ninkasi can continue to put out beers like Maiden the Shade, I say go. There are a lot worse things in life than being the masters of hops.

As always, it's what's in the glass that matters.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Labatt Buys MacTarnahan's, Pyramid, and Magic Hat

Last week Widmer acquired Kona, and today, Labatt bought up the collective of breweries known as Independent Brewers United--that is, Magic Hat, Pyramid and MacTarnahan's. Labatt, which is owned under the title North American Breweries, also owns Genesee and Dundee. In a press release, the new owners claim that they will change nothing:
  • The beer will remain the same: it will be brewed by the same people in the same breweries, using the same recipes, ingredients and commitment to artisanship as it has always been.
  • All breweries, Alehouses and the Artifactory will remain open. They provide a unique opportunity to sample and showcase the company's best beers and brewing capabilities. Through the retail locations, we can talk to customers about the beers they want us to make.
I'm trying to track down someone for a comment on the Mac's side. I'll update you if I can find out more.

Update. Still haven't gotten anyone from Mac's, but there's a nice clarifier from Frank White in comments:
An NYC-based private equity firm called KPS Capital Partners bought bbought both Genesee and Labatt's USA rights (from Bud/InBev) last year, and formed a shell subsidiary called North American Breweries. NAB is now buying IBU, which is Magic Hat, Pyramid & Mac's.

This deal is happening because the private equity fund (Basso Capital Mgmt)that's financed Magic Hat's expansion and subsequent purchase of PyraMac (I just invented that) has been hemorrhaging cash and "has decided to exit the beer business". So they're selling the whole thing to KPS, which specializes in "turnarounds, restructurings, bankruptcies, employee buyouts and other special situations". Basically it's a distressed sale, not strategic in any way.

Review: Coalition Brewing

2724 SE Ankeny
Portland, OR 97214

(503) 894-8080

Hours: Wed-Sun, noon to midnight
. Beer Prices: Shaker pint - $3.75. Beers: A range of NW-style ales and rotating "Coalator" beers brewed in conjunction with local homebrewers. Menu: Light fare, including sandwiches, salads, and appetizers, a cut above pub grub in quality and ambition.
Coalition's unavoidable first impression is its size: wee. Call it the Smart car of brewpubs (but with a ten-barrel brewhouse, don't call it a nano). I'd like to direct your attention to less obvious aspects. Note the heavy, single-plank fir bar, the embossed glassware, the wood paneling, the precise photographs on the walls, the solicitous staff. Coalition isn't an ad hoc pub; everything about it is intentional and well-executed. Of course, it should be. I first blogged about Coalition Brewing in April '09 (when principals Elan Walsky and Kiley Hoyt were thinking to call it Hobo), and it opened more than a year later, in June. During that time, there were the usual setbacks start-ups face, but more than that, there was a lot of planning going on.

Coalition sits in the heart of the inner Southeast, nested along 28th Avenue's restaurant row. The Kerns Neighborhood has elements of Buckman and Laurelhurst, high and low, and Coalition has aimed to cater to both. The space is--though small--both comfy and elegant. It spills out through a garage door that is the width of one wall, bringing the outside in (I worry that it's going to be awfully small in the winter months, though). The menu features better fare than you find at most pubs, but the price is great--and shaker pints of beer are only $3.75. The clientele is a mixture of the hipster techies like Crema, next door, draws, and young, casual Buckman types.

The Beer
Coalition debuted with three hoppy beers and then added two more. I would guess this is, as everything, intentional. In Portland's ADHD pub scene, Coalition needed to win converts on the first pint, and the surest way to a Portlander's heart is through hops. They started out with a pale (5%, 59 IBUs), and ESB (5.5%, 56 IBUs) and a red (5.7%, 59 IBUs), all of which were fairly similar in type. The red is my favorite of the bunch. The malts are creamy and slightly candy-sweet, and they help offset the sharp bitterness. The next addition was an IPA, which counter-intuitively, wasn't quite as aggressively hoppy. But then came a stout, which is. All of the early beers were a bit tannic, which added to the perception of bitterness. Later batches, though, have had far less of the tannic grind and are quite tasty.

For those who prefer less bitter beers, there's a very nice cream ale (actually, I'd say it was closer to a kolsch). Light, peppery, and very sessionable. The final beer in the regular line-up should be coming on-line this week--a maple porter. Kiley hails from Vermont, and this is a tip of the hat to the homeland. (I married a Mainer, and I can confirm that maple syrup is a major part of the culture of New England. If you visit, just make sure you know the proper use of the term "sugar bush.")

Finally, Coalition's name comes from the idea of working with the community of home brewers to create one-time beers. In the "Coalator" program, homebrewers work with head brewer Bruce McPhee to reproduce recipes in small batches. Last week, they had on a fantastic strong wheat ale from the program. Because the batches are so small, there's no way to predict what will be on (though they're pretty good about updating it on their Facebook page).

The Menu
Coalition clearly has a pretty small kitchen, so elaborate meals are out of the question. Still, they have tried to improve on the standard pub menu. I had a sandwich made with Oregonzola that was amazing (though sadly, it was a special). The salads are use fresh, tasty greens. They recently switched the menu, leaving behind the meat muffins that were getting so much attention (a loss I can't say I much lament), and seem to have gone for an even more elegant line-up. They also do exotic hand-made ice cream--balsamic and strawberry, lemon-pear, peanut butter, and chocolate covered bacon (!).

The Upshot
Coalition has been open less than two months, and it already feels like a neighborhood fixture. It's literally four blocks from my house, so I've watched its evolution and visited more often than I do most pubs. None of the beers is a trend-setter or instant classic, but none is a dud, either--a good start for a two-month-old. I've spoken with Kiley and Elan about future beers, and they have some fascinating ideas (one on the super-secret down-low I've been forbidden from discussing). Sitting in the setting sun on a summer evening, it's hard to beat the laid back, comfortable atmosphere. A welcome addition to Beervana.