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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.


  1. As a Minnesotan living in Portland, I am curious as to which brewbub he worked at it. Or at least the city...

  2. I went to migration a few times their first month in business, and decided to hold off on returning until I heard of a solid reason to go back.

    Between this report, and the one posted on the daily pull today:

    I'm not seeing a return visit in my near future. This space had a lot of promise, but it sounds like maybe the guys bit off a bit more than they were ready to chew.

  3. Beth and I made it to Migration when we were back in Portland a week ago. Our pub crawl day was Monday (a bad choice, considering the number of places closed that day). My impressions are pretty consistent with yours. The place is very well put together and the beers are just OK. If this were 10-15 years ago, that would be enough to make them a big hit. Today, with the number of choices and the bar being raised in terms of beer quality, it makes things much tougher.
    I do hope they have the wherewithal to find their footing. It is a space that I would love to visit on a return trip.