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Monday, January 31, 2011

Coors, Cool Like Burt Reynolds

A little while back, I received an email from someone at Coors wanting to send me something from their latest promotion. I get a lot of inappropriate emails from PR people who have clearly never read my blog, but this was special: it came not long after I cited Pete Coors as the namesake of a DMS Award. Clearly, they weren't big readers. So of course I said: "Sure, send it along."

Last week, this is what arrived:
  1. A Smokey and the Bandit (1977) DVD
  2. Smokey and the Bandit poster
  3. Coors beer cozy
  4. Coors beer mat
  5. Four vintage reproduction cans, drained of beer
At first, I thought the beers were just empty. Nope--they've actually been drained. If you click on the photo, you can see the hole in the bottom of the can laying down. So, not only did Coors not send me beer, they went to a great deal of effort to make sure I didn't get any beer. (Maybe they are readers, after all.) I received the usual press release touting Coors as the greatest beer ever brewed by human hands, along with a gauzy retrospective of their marketing schemes through the decades. Bizarrely, though, there's absolutely no mention of Smokey in the Bandit or why they would send a copy of the DVD and poster to me. What am I to make of all this?

As a sometime scholar of semiotics, this is my reading:
  1. Coors is cool, like the Bandit's mustache.
  2. Coors is sexy, like 61-year-old Jackie Gleason.
  3. Coors is aimed at consumers old enough to reminisce fondly about the fun times of the mid-70s.
  4. Coors is best drunk ice cold.
  5. Coors is unfit for human consumption.
So there you have it. I suppose I should mention that Coors is excited to be releasing their Heritage Cans in February and March, and hopes you'll race out to buy them. But be forwarned: they may well not have been drained of beer in advance!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Beer Saved the World

If you're around tonight at 11 and you have cable, you might check this out:

I can't speak for the show, but that's the coolest trailer ever.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cascade Scottish Ale Fest

Scottish Ale Fest
Cascade Barrel House
Saturday, January 29, 3-11pm
939 SE Belmont
In my haste to post news of coming events, I forgot one of the most important--Cascade Brewing's inaugural Scottish Ale Fest this weekend. (They're calling it the "first annual," but I think you have to have a second one before it's "annual.") Reason enough to go is the opportunity to see Ron Gansberg's band play, but you might also like the beer line-up:
The beer lineup includes Black Raven Brewing’s Splinters Bourbon Barrel Aged Strong Scotch Ale, Cascade Brewing’s McShagger Scotch Ale, Wee Ane and Black... Sheep Stout, Coalition Brewing’s Brigadoonery Scottish Ale, Fearless Brewing’s Strong Scotch Ale, Lucky Lab’s Scottish Holiday, Migration Brewing’s Old Silenus, Rock Bottom Brewery’s Highland Courage, Schooner EXACT Brewing’s Hoppy the Woodsman, and Upright Brewing’s House.
I'll be out of town, so you have to go on my behalf. I am particularly interested in the Washington breweries. (And, is that Rock Bottom beer a Havig origional? Could be a special one.) I charge you with trying the beers and reporting back. Please!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Toward a Mass-Market IPA

Although beer drinkers have apparently known about this for awhile, it's just making news today: Walgreens is selling their own canned beer. Walgreens opts for the classic "nouveau-antique" motif, styling it Big Flats 1901 and plopping an old waterwheel on the can. (Memo to Walgreens: using the word "flats" in your title was perhaps not the stroke of genius your PR people suggested.) It's the color of dirty water, sells for $3 a sixer, and is apparently awful.

But you don't care about Walgreens cheap new beer, and neither do I.

Seeing the story, though, made me reflect on my post from earlier this week, wherein I mused that there's no reason the US couldn't become a good-beer country. If that happens, one of the mechanisms might be the appearance of mass-market cheap-good beer. Imagine if Walgreens had instead decided to market a $4 sixer of below-average but adequate IPA--let's say an inoffensive 5.5%, 42-IBU beer. Using economies of scale, cheap ingredients, and high-alpha hops, a company could probably make money on such a beer if they could sell enough. Beer geeks would hate it, but many would buy it nevertheless because it was so much cheaper than better IPAs. Could a brewery move two million barrels of the stuff? Probably.

(Maybe it's not an IPA. The success of Blue Moon demonstrates that weird styles can have national appeal.)

If we do see such a beer--or at least, see such a beer that is a commercial success--it would signal the tipping point away from the kinds of beers Walgreens is hawking and toward fuller-flavor beers. I'd like to see someone give it a shot.

PHOTO: Chicago Now's Beeronaut

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Events, Events

Time, like an oncoming truck, bears down upon me, and with it come several events about which you should be aware. In order of imminent impact...

1. Double Mountain and Mort Subite at Victory Bar
Tonight, the Victory is hosting the release of beers from two breweries. Actually, Mort Subite's beers aren't getting "released"--they've been around a couple decades. But they're returning to Oregon, and that's a great thing. Mort Subite are among the handful of spontaneously fermented beers in the world, and they'll have a kriek and a "wit lambic" on hand. At eight, Double Mountain debuts Tripel Nipel, a 9% tripel brewed with honey and the Chimay yeast. Apropos of the beers, Victory will be serving mussels. Victory Bar, 2509 SE 37th, January 27, 6-10 pm

2. Hop and Vine Grand Expansioning
Perhaps you are aware that there's a pretty large space next to the Hop and Vine which has mainly served as a gallery for John Foyston's paintings. No more! (Sorry, John.) It will be the new bottle shop. To celebrate, Hop and Vine is throwing a fete with free tastings of beer from Elysian, Heater Allen, Hopworks, and Upright. Hop and Vine, 1914 N. Killingsworth, Feb 5, 3-10pm

3. Van Havig Tribute Night
This is very cool. A bunch of brewers conspired to produce tribute beers to Van Havig on the occasion of his separation with the newly en-evilled Rock Bottom. Beers featured include:
  • Barley Brown's "Van Havoc"
  • Widmer Bros "Van Helles"
  • Ninkasi "Havig Your Way"
  • MacTarnahan's "Wreak Havig"
  • Oakshire "Van's Special Bitter (VSB)" Single batch ale
  • Lompoc "Oud Van Haviglee"
There will apparently also be some Van-brewed beer on hand, which is probably the best way to celebrate--though "Van Havoc" appeals. Grain and Gristle, 1473 NE Prescott, February 8, 6pm

4. Pappy's Dark Release
Nick Arzner is throwing Portland a bone and allowing us to get in on some of his very rare bottled beer. (He could sell it all, in 23 minutes, to the fine people of Corvallis.) Instead, he's bringing six cases (72 bottles) of his barrel-aged English strong ale to Portland. Not a lot, but 72 is a larger number than zero. To assuage the despair of those who fail to score a bottle, Hop and Vine will be pouring three other Block 15 beers, including Super Nebula, a barrel-aged imperial stout. Hop and Vine, 1914 N. Killingsworth, Feb 12, 3-6pm

New Places: Hawthorne Hophouse, Columbia River Brewing, and the Guild

The Oregonian recently published a fascinating chart. It showed the vacancies of commercial spaces throughout the city over three time periods. I can't find it for you and I don't recall the details. The upshot, though, was that within East Portland, vacancies have fallen during the recent economic catastrophe. I suspect all those new businesses are involved in brewing or selling beer--anyway, based on all the new places opening lately, it sure seems like it. Below are a few quickie reviews are a few of the new places I've visited recently.

Hawthorne Hophouse (4111 SE Hawthorne)
I'm not sure what the Beeronomist would say about this, but I've observed a trend I suspect reflects market impulses. Portland is already the most-breweried city in the world. If you're a beer lover who wants to open you own place, it makes far more sense to forgo the brewery and just serve surfeit of great beer brewed locally. And so many people have concluded: alehouses are the new brewpub.

Into this crowded field comes the Hawthorne Hophouse, and it makes quite a debut. I visited when Widmer and the Brew Crew released their latest Collaborator. (Actually a throwback to the first-ever Collaborator, a sweet, spiced Dubbel. I found it a bit cloying and one-dimensional; a useful exercise in showing how far Belgian ales have come in 12 years, but not my first choice for a winter pour.) The space is located in a little strip mall that was mostly derelict until recently, and from the outside it doesn't seem especially promising. Walk through the doors, though, and you're greeted by a wonderfully inviting space. On the winter night I visited, it was cozy and warming. With lots of windows, I suspect it will feel light and airy in the summer. Another huge bonus is the tap list--24 handles devoted almost exclusively to Northwest beers. Lots of nanos, some rare beers, and a few classics. I didn't have food, but it gets generally positive appraisals from the Yelpsters. Definitely a welcome addition to Portland's beer scene, and a place I'll visit regularly.

Guild Public House (1101 East Burnside)
There are a lot of pubs in Portland, and most of them serve good beer. They don't get a mention on my blog because, honestly, there are just too damn many of them. But the Guild does! In rank partisanship, I want to review it because my friend Jesse Cornett is one of the owners. (I have no financial stake in it, though, full disclosure.) It's located on the ground floor of the Burnside Rocket building--the one which is crowned by the Noble Rot. The environment is very urban; black and sleek inside, huge picture windows looking out onto a concrete and automotive tableau. One can retire to the loft upstairs, where there is a comfy sectional couch and a nice flat screen. (Ideal, I discovered, for watching the Packers in a living-room like environment.) The menu features great pulled pork and Gorgonzola sandwiches and a well-selected taplist of eight or so beers. I want to give a special shout-out to the wait staff, who have been absolutely stellar. I watched the Ducks game and the State of the Union speech (owing to Jesse's political roots, it may well become a pol-watching hangout) there and the waiters handled crowds with grace and good humor.

Columbia River Brewing (1728 NE 40th Ave)
The final stop on our mini-tour is a baffling one. Columbia River Brewing has taken over the former Laurelwood Pizza spot--the original Laurelwood location. As such, it is a familiar experience to walk in. Everything looks the same: tables and bar in the same place, brewery in the back. The menu is different, of course, and so are the beers. Still, I felt instantly at home. Check and check.

Before I get to the troublesome aspect, let me praise the food. Sally had a sandwich and salad which she praised in high terms (and she's tough). I had the halibut fish and chips, and they were excellent--the fish was fresh and the chips weren't greasy. It's traditional pub grub, but done better than most.

Ah, but the beer. I am not sure what to make of it. Recall that CRB sent a very tasty porter to the Holiday Ale Fest--I did as I sat down to a taster tray of the ten (!) beers currently pouring (a bock, Vienna lager, Irish red, golden, ESB, pale ale, stout, IPA, DIPA, and dubbel). As far as I could tell, the recipes were well-designed. The double IPA used five hop infusions, for example (the waiter happened to tell us about it). The Vienna was a beautiful burnished red. The stout, rich and chocolately. The problems were two. First, all the beers seemed to have a harsh, chemical note. I'm still not sure how to describe it--something like grain huskiness gone mad. Each beer seemed to have it in roughly the same proportion (which meant the bigger, hoppier ones were less affected.) The second problem was--I think!--DMS. My palate is almost wholly insensitive to DMS (diacetyl I can spot at ten feet), but Sally was getting a very strong flavor in all the beers. We talked it through, and it seemed to match DMS.

I've trawled the internets and seen no criticism. Angelo, in fact, has a huge rave following a visit a couple months ago. (Pointedly: "Each beer tested was, across the board, clean, crisp and full-flavored.") I am left wondering if I'm insane or there was something momentarily off in the system. Both seem equally plausible.

I'd love to hear your impressions if you've stopped in. A most curious riddle.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Good Reads

In addition to the fire-hose of beer news--remarkable for a January--there's quite a bit happening in the blogosphere as well. I have been lax in addressing this surfeit of writing, but will endeavor to rectify that now.

1. Goodbye Jason, Hello Nicole
We're losing a blogger--Jason over at Portland Beer and Music. For those who haunt the fests, we'll be losing more: a fun, amiable presence as reliable as December rain. He's decided to return to Texas to be closer to family. Now we know why he was getting rid of all his CDs. But, despite the loss of a great blogger, we will apparently not be losing a blog:
As a result, I am excited to announce that I will be leaving the blog in the trusted and capable hands of Nicole. I knew I had made the right decision when I learned the depth of Nicole's (and her husband Paul's) passion for craft brewing. On top of that, she knows many people in the Portland craft beer industry and is ever present at most beer events. Nicole has been interested in craft beer for over 10 years, including judging home brewing competitions. Living in New York and Vermont further fueled her passion for good beer. Nicole and her husband moved to Portland to take advantage of the excellent beer and food culture and opportunities offered here.
By way of introduction, she has an excellent piece on the life of a working brewer--in this case, Casey Lyons at Lucky Lab. If she's able to continue in this vein, we may be able to survive Jason's departure. Seriously, very good stuff. Go have a read.

2. Ted Goes Big
I recently saw Sobel strolling downtown with a girl on each arm, flashing a lot of bling and handing out Bens like they were Scientology fliers. Now it all makes sense:
Eagerly, I tallied up the production numbers for the four quarters of 2010, and am delighted to declare that we have busted the 100 BBL mark. For 2009 we only cranked out 92.07 BBL. 2010 witnessed a staggering production of 104.64 BBL, an increase of 14%. Cask ale is on the rise.
Excellent news! Ted's shooting for 200 barrels in 2011, and to that I say, Godspeed. Spread the gospel of cask, Mr. Sobel!

3. Britain's Ever Rising Beer Taxes
Pete Brown has an important report on the British government's plans to hike the already-high taxes on beer. (Their economy is in worse shape than ours.) So:
As the budget approaches, the beer industry is bracing itself for yet another duty increase. Duty on beer increased by 26% between 2009 and 2010, and is due to carry on increasing. The Tories have committed themselves to sticking with Alastair Darling's policy of increasing duty on beer by 2% more than the rate of inflation. Which means that this year, just a couple of months after a 2.5% VAT increase, we look set for an increase of 5.7%.
That's the nut of the piece, but I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing.

4. Beer Lottery?
My new favorite East Coast beer, Portsmouth, is doing something I'm not sure I'm happy about. The Beer Babe, Carla Companion, has the details:
Starting around – and I say around because the facebook page for the brewery just reminded everyone that there’s no firm date – January 24th, the brewery will be selling custom-printed scratch tickets that offer a chance to buy a bottle of Kate [the Great] for $2 each. Now, before you bristle about the brewery capitalizing on demand and making their own lottery, you have to hear part 2 of the plan. They’re going to take all the sales from the chance tickets and give it to a local charity.
Kate the Great is, along with Three Floyds Dark Lord and a few others, one of the hottest properties in the beer world. Portsmouth will sell 10,000 tickets and of these, 900 are "winners." The winning tickets, of course, just allow you the opportunity to buy the beer at the full price. So in a decidedly coercive way, the brewery is raising $20,000 from its most loyal fans--90% of whom don't even end up with the beer. Donating money to worthy nonprofits is admirable; holding your customers hostage to do so is ... not charitable.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Could the US Become an IPA Country?

A couple weeks ago, I pondered aloud the question: is craft brewing about to enter a bubble of over-growth? The answer, based on current rates of consumption, appears to be no. Based on current trends and consumption patterns, there are a lot of reasons to think that craft brewing has room to grow. That got me thinking: based on current trends and consumption patterns. Fine, but what if the current snapshot is wildly understating the case for growth?

Brewing history has been marvelously volatile. The century-plus dominance of light lagers belies the churn that marked the rise and fall of brewing styles that came before. I love the story of Berliner Weisse, now a nearly-extinct style; yet in the 19th century, it was so popular Berlin could support 700 weisse breweries. In England, porters once dominated the market. Martyn Cornell reports that until 1863, it accounted for 75% of London's sales. A hundred years later, mild accounted for more than half of all draft sales--but it was on the wane. Bitter was already on the rise.

There's no reason to think that American tastes can't similarly evolve. The US has essentially become a light beer country--Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite all outsell their "full-bodied" variants. Yet macro sales have been flat or waning for years. For the first time, beer feel below 50% of the alcoholic beverage market as macros' sales tanked. In short, things aren't looking great for the makers of cheap beer. (Though they today celebrate 75 years of canning their product.)

At the moment, craft beer is just a niche market, but it's not hard to run a thought experiment in which good beer began to seize major chunks of the beer market. If the rest of the country catches up to Oregon, craft beer would have 12.4% of the market. Of course, the good beer share would be higher, including faux craft, imports, and good macros (like Budweiser American Ale). Say 20% good beer. At what point does beer culture change so that people start expecting better beer? Subtle clues will tell that things are changing, like seeing IBUs rise among macros. It's not hard to imagine that a major macro would go in whole hog and release a macro IPA, complete with a multi-million-dollar ad campaign. Once something like that happened, we could quickly see a change in the drinking preferences of the average American.

Maybe not--who knows? If the history of beer is any guide, it's certainly not out of the question.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Go Pack!

Here we are for the 182nd time, Packers and Bears. The Super Bowl is cool, but an NFC title game between these two teams on the frozen soil of Soldier Field--this was the way football was meant to be played. Take darshan, behold the joy. And kill the Bears.

Friday, January 21, 2011

From the Mists of Time, Two From Upright

Imagine the year 2020. We're all flying around in our electric hover cars and communicating telepathically through digital neural implants. Cloned cyborg monkeys do all the physical labor, freeing us up to blog and tweet. You're sitting in one of Portland's 237 brewpubs and a guy walks by in a t-shirt that says, "Upright Brewing, Still IPA-free since 2007." Sadly, it's not to be. Not the cyborg monkeys--those are mathematical certainty--the Upright tee: alas, Upright has brewed an IPA after all.

It's called "Safe as Milk" in homage to the recently-passed Captain Beefheart, and like him, it's not usual--at least, not in these parts. Here's Alex Ganum describing it:
"We decided to make a traditional English-style IPA. It has half the bitterness and hop charge that some popular west coast or American IPA's have, but hey, it's a start.... The Willamette hops that we got from the 2010 harvest were especially nice, and so it was an easy decision to make the English-style IPA with them as the sole flavor and aroma hop. Roughly 40-45 ibu's, not excessively hopped or carbonated for that matter, yet still displaying the wonderfully woody and floral Willamettes in the forefront. "
What Alex neglects in this description is the minerally structure that really signals a British-style IPA, achieved through amendments made to Portland's unadulterated, feather-soft water. You notice this on the tongue as a slightly chalky character; it makes the beer a bit more bracing and brings those relatively low levels of bitterness into sharp focus. It's a fascinating beer, a standard deviation or two beyond what's considered normal on the West Coast, and therefore a respectably offbeat offering from Upright.

While Safe as Milk is a nice beer and worth tracking down, the current vintage of Billy the Mountain, Upright's version of a traditional old ale, is a stunning beer you must track down. Alex wrote at length about it at the Upright blog--too long to excerpt here, but worth checking out. To summarize briefly, it starts as an 8% strong ale made with a blend of caramel, mild, black malts, and a touch of molasses to create a rich, sweet base beer. It's aged in pinot barrels with brettanomyces clausenii, the native strain isolated in England a hundred years ago. There it sits for a year, developing acidity and character (and another percent of alcohol). Alex conditioned it with a new batch of Billy to keep carbonation levels low. It won't be still, but like a nice English ale, it will neither be lively.

What results is a beer I expect is a very authentic recreation of the types of beer you could buy in London a hundred year ago and more. Here's Martyn Cornell, from his stellar book Amber Gold & Black:
Arctic Ale and other super-strong English 'stock' ales were brewed to lie in wooden casks or vats for at least a year, often longer, where they would be worked on by Brettanomyces-type yeasts lurking in the wood, which took over from the standard brewing yeasts to consume the more complex sugars found in quantity in strong beer worts. Indeed, 'Brett' yeasts were first isolated by the Danish brewing scientist Niels Hjelte Claussen in or just before 1903 from an English 'stock beer.'
Ganum's mixture of malts, use of an English strain to ferment the first wort, and the process of aging in barrels with the English brett are all perfectly consonant with the old way of producing English stock ales.

So, what does it taste like? We tend to put beers in boxes and keep them sequestered in our minds from other boxes, and so English old ales and Flanders oud bruins or reds have nothing in common. Except they did--quite a lot. Billy the Mountain has many of the qualities we associate with English strongs--a creamy body with a bread-pudding quality of dark fruits and cake--but also a vinous tartness that evokes the Burdgundies of Belgium. Contra Ezra, the brett here do contribute a sour sourness--not the dry, horse-blanket notes you get from brettanomyces bruxellensis. Yet they're gentle, and marry approachably with the sweeter, fuller notes of the malt and molasses.

It's definitely an A rating beer, but not one that will last forever. I have a couple bottles, one for now and one for the larder, but I may head back down to Upright for another pour. It's a perfect rainy-January ale.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Portlandia: Mildly Funny, But Where's the Beer?

If you live in Portland, you are no doubt aware that a new TV show is about to debut featuring our fair city: "Portlandia." (If you're like me, you became aware of the channel broadcasting the show, IFC, only after becoming aware of the show itself.) If you live elsewhere, probably you don't know about it or care. But around here, it's been getting a lot of buzz--due mainly to this viral video:

The entire show is actually streamable via Hulu, and I watched it recently. Sketch comedy, from SNL's Fred Armisen, with help from co-creative Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney. I'm not a fan of sketch comedy, and I'd say this is mostly miss with a few nice chuckles along the way.

The idea is to poke fun at Portland's unique culture--and they do a fairly good job of identifying and capturing it. Portland's the butt of the jokes, but in the manner of Portlanders kidding themselves. The biggest oversight, however, is the lack of beer references. Inexcusable! So, as a public service, here's a mini-script the writers can steal and expand upon.

Portlandia: Beer

Scene: Set in an industrial pub with lots of concrete and steel. A picture of a haloed Fred Eckhardt hangs above the bar. Three people are sitting at the bar, Armisen, Brownstein, and oh, I don't know, Sam Calagione. A bartender stands ready with a tulip glass behind the bar.

Mike (Armisen): Have you tried the new Ninkasi Quad IPA?
Kylie (Brownstein): Quad?
Mike: Yeah, it's 19% alcohol and 432 IBUs
Kylie: I'm over the IPAs. It's all sour for me. [To bartender] I'll have that new one from Cascade, the dragonfruit-artichoke strong blond.
Bartender to Joe: What are you having?
Joe (Calagione): Fat Tire.
Mike and Kylie begin to laugh.
Joe: What's so funny.
Mike: nothing. (snorts)
Kylie breaks into peals of laughter.
Bartender, to Joe: Beer geeks, just ignore them.
Andrew (James Mercer) enters. Goes to the bar, orders a Pabst tall.
Mike and Kylie nod approvingly.

Five-Year Anniversary Period Begins

Exactly five years ago today I parked the URL for this blog. One could say that it was born then, but I like to think of that as conception. Five weeks passed--gestation--before, on February 26, I posted the first actual post. So let's call 2/26 the actual date. There will be little in the way of celebration--Angelo and Ezra's blogoversary events scare hermits like me--but I do have one thing in the works. In any case, it was five years ago today that I had the idea of Beervana. All in all, I think it was a pretty good one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Craft Brewery Goes Paleolithic

I had promised to myself that I'd quit stealing content from Jay Brooks, but I can't let this one go. He posted a video today of two commercials from Atlanta-based Red Brick Brewing. In terms of tastelessness, tawdriness, and flat-out misogyny, they rival anything Coors or A-B ever aired. Behold:

"Blondes go down easy, real easy." This tagline, which is enormously offensive on its own, is all the worse with the degrading images and lecherous voice-over (double entendre very much intended).

Not only is it offensive, it's stupid. Craft brewing has been fantastic at shedding beer's sexist image--and as a consequence watched their sales grow. Retrograde "girls are for laughing at and screwing" beer ads are a sure way to turn them (and me) off.

Atlanta, world-headquarters of Hooters restaurants, is probably not the most enlightened city in the world. And certainly not the beeriest. (Web copy for the Blonde ale they're advertising here: "Good attack, fresh not too aggressive, the acidity though is quite present. There is a smooth texture, caressing of fresh barley and lemony flavors towards the end. Short finish with characters of slight bitterness, fresh coffee beans and blond chocolate." Please, quit torturing those innocent sentences! It's more egregious than even Bill's mocking beer-description generator.) So probably this is a reflection of nothing more than one boneheaded brewery owner who should probably be in a different business. Still, it's worth a chorus of boos, and will most assuredly be in my mind in 11 months when I assemble the next DMS Awards.

One More Post About Sessions

I was going to stop beating the drum for session beers--at least for a few days--until I had one last night at Deschutes that knocked my socks off. It's called "Experimental Cascade," and the experiment is dropping back their venerable Cascade Ale from 4.5% to 4%. As a bonus, it was dosed with late additions of Crystal and Amarillo hops. The result is easily one of the best small beers I've had--and a beer that can stand toe-to-toe with anything out there in terms of complexity and flavor.

The hops are what make it sing. Even though Deschutes miniaturized Cascade, they left the BUs at 28--which, even in a small beer isn't excessive. But those late additions give the beer a huge nose and intense hop flavor. Somewhere closer to the herbal side of things--coriander, cumin, pepper--they were also zesty without being citrusy. The lightly caramelly malt was on the dry side, and the beer finishes crisply--perfect moreishness. If this beer were regularly available, it would quickly become a mainstay of mine. A really wonderful treat. For those of you who admire the elegance of a well-made session, get over to Deschutes, stat.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Little Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing

A couple of weeks back, Widmer's annual "W"-series release hit the supermarket shelves. The beer is a slightly refurbished version of an old Gasthaus fave, KGB imperial stout. This one is at once bigger (a hefty 9.3%) and smoother, employing dark wheat malt. Amid this unexpected tsunami of new beers, I hadn't had a chance to try it, but my friends had. These are a couple of guys who enjoy good beer but aren't afflicted with terminal beer geek disease. In an unprecedented move, they started raving about it on the email. (Politics and current events are the usual topics.) They never talk about beer.

As a contrasting view, I checked in with BeerAdvocate to see if it was unanimous acclamation, and was a little surprised to find a tepid B coming from the 24 reviews. And some of the reviews are just scathing:
"What a joke. It looks like an Imperial Stout that was severely watered down, probably a one part stout, two parts water ratio."


"Moiuthfeel is very thin, to thin, it is about as thick as a lager really, a bit of carb, but leaves a very dryness afterwards. Overall, I really hope this is just a dumb'd down for the masses version of from what I heard was a great beer."
I had a pour of this at the Collaborator release a week ago, but I didn't take notes and it was the third in a line. A review will come later. But my impression is that Widmer was aiming for something specific and very different from, say, Abyss. Reading through the negative comments, one has the sense that people weren't tasting KGB for what it was, but rather measuring it against a beer in their minds Widmer had no intention of brewing.

It happened again with Ninkasi Renewale, which I tried last night. It's an Irish red ale, made mostly to style. A bit strong (5.2%) and quite a bit hoppier (40 IBUs), but still in possession of the hallmarks of the style--a rainwater softness and gentle heather-like malt sweetness. This is one of the most sessionable styles, and it should really please the palate. Ninkasi's does, and I admired it quite a bit. (I'd give it a B+, knocked down for just 5 BUs too many hops--forgivable for a Ninkasi product.) Only five reviews on BeerAdvocate, but they average out to a B-. The unimpressed reviewers remarked:
"A beer to bring to a dinner party as it won't offend or put off many beer drinkers or overpower the food served."


"Ok on the palate ,i suppose quite thin and watery near the end. Very very average beer."
Again, these reviews seem not to be judging the beer for itself, but compared to some bizarre standard--like a double IPA. It's hard to imagine any beer below 50 IBUs and 6.5% alcohol getting any kind of nod from these drinkers.

As many of you have noted, I've been on a bit of a small-beer kick lately. A related phenomenon, and one which didn't become clear to me until I started thinking about these beers, is that this extreme-beer phenomenon seems to be in danger of swamping craft brewing and setting the standard for what "good" beer is. If you look at the "best" beers in BeerAdvocate's ratings, almost none are below 6% (in the top 20, only Weihenstephan Hef crashes the party--there are only three in the top 40). Seven of the top ten bests have 10% or more alcohol.

I know most of the people who read this blog--those of you who are afflicted with terminal beer geek disease--will probably agree that size matters little to accomplishment. And there are a lot of regular drinkers out there who are also able to appreciate lots of different kinds of beer. (When I look at the beer selection in the grocery store, I notice that mostly the beers people actually buy are closer to 5% ABV.) But there's this middle stratum of Xtreme beer fans who have very fixed ideas about what a beer should be. And somehow they freak me out.

On the other hand, it could be because today's my birthday. The older I get, the more my get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids nature emerges. Lucky you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

You Say "Rocket Fuel," I Say "Session"

Last week, after I composed my ode to barely-alcoholic Oakshire Willamette Dammit, I got a comment from the Irish blogger The Beer Nut.
Anyway, a session beer at 4.9% ABV?! There's no way you could pass off rocket fuel like that as a session beer in a British pub.
It's true, we have vastly different standards. To find a beer with an alcohol percentage beginning with the number four is a trick. I haven't done a study, but I'd say 90% of the beer brewed on the West Coast is 5% or higher. At a minimum. Personally, I'd love a selection of tasty session ales with ABVs starting with threes and fours. Unfortunately, breweries don't seem to be able to stay in business selling them to me (and, of course, Ted Sobel). So we go with the flow and call our bruisers "sessions."

A second example of this--a more pointed example--comes from Brighton, England via Alan McLeod.
Brighton council bans super strength beer to combat street drinking

Super strength beer will be banned from an off-licence as part of an ongoing campaign against street drinking.
The idea is to curb the knife fights, brawls, and general mayhem caused by these super-strength beers. And not a minute too soon, I say! What are are these diabolical brews, these menaces threatening to rend this Southern English city to pieces? Oh, you know, beers with more than 6% alcohol. Hide the children!

BridgePort's New Beers: Café Negro, Kingpin, and Nightcap

Post updated below.

With the introduction of Cafe Negro and Kingpin, Oregon's oldest brewery continues what has been a very quiet reworking of almost its entire line. This is the second time they've scrapped most of their line-up and tried to rebrand themselves, though this time they've approached it very differently.

Historical recap. In 1995, Texas-based Gambrinus bought BridgePort. At the time, it had a line-up of well-regarded Northwest-inflected English ales. More than that, they were beloved of the city that was just beginning to call itself "Beervana." The flagship, Blue Heron, had prett decent claim to being the city beer of Portland. No matter; Gambrinus went a different direction, scrapped all the beers and built a new line of classic English ales. (In a colossal blunder, they even decided to scrap Blue Heron, which then accounted for 50% of sales.) The new line was keyed around their then-ground-breaking IPA and included Amber, Porter, ESB, and Blackstrap Stout. To their great credit, they also tried to promote cask ales, and plastered the motto "firkin good beer" all over the city. When an outrage about Blue Heron threatened to swamp the relaunch, the brewery decided to keep the name around, though Karl Ockert created a new recipe.

That line was more or less intact until a few years ago, when new beers began to supplant the old: Haymaker and Hop Czar, and now Kingpin and Cafe Negro. Only IPA and Blue Heron remain from the previous line. Gone are the English ales, in are Northwest ales. The last time BridgePort reworked its line, it abandoned its strength within the city. With this reworking, it seems to be trying very hard to reclaim that image of "local." The beers are big and hoppy (or caffeinated), and the branding is all about the newly acquired Trademark "Beervana." A fascinating (if low-key) development. Of course, beer drinkers mostly don't care about the business end. For them, the question is: are the new beers any good?

Here are my thoughts.

A double red ale is an odd choice for a new beer, but one that hints at the success of Hop Czar, BridgePort's boozy hop bomb they elevated from Big Brews to six-pack mainstay. Like Hop Czar, Kingpin is very big (7.5%) and hoppy (65 IBUs, nowhere near as hoppy as the Czar). In an email, new master brewer Jeff Edgerton--who replaced founding brewer Karl Ockert last year--described what he was shooting for:
This beer resulted from my wanting to do a beer that had a unique look and featured a hop variety that I really like, Liberty. Liberty hops are grown in Oregon (some in Washington, too) and we already had a relationship with one of the local hop farmers that grew it. So we contracted to purchase a large quantity of Liberty hops and designed our recipe to be a double-red, triple-hopped (kettle, hopjack, and dry-hopped) beer that uses rye in the grist to give a unique mouthfeel and flavor to this beer. I’m really pleased with this beer, and I consider this to be my personal first (as brewmaster) year-round recipe with BridgePort.
Liberty hops are one of the old-generation low-alpha American hops, developed in the early 80s from a Hallertau Mittelfruh and unnamed male. To get a sense of it, related hops include Mt. Hood and Crystal. They're mild, lightly spicy, and generally deployed in noble-hop-using lagers. I've heard some brewers say they have a "traditional" flavor, by which I think they mean a less funky American quality typical in that first generation of US hops.

The beer is brewed in a style I once called "Big NW reds" because about four years ago, they seemed to be everywhere. The pace of releases has slowed locally, which makes Kingpin an interesting choice--tt's a bit behind the curve in terms of trends. But then again, hoppy 7.5% beers are always in style in Portland.

Tasting Notes. There are beers you like and those you admire. This is one I admire. Big reds are on the outer edges of balance, with hops overwhelming the malts (which seem mainly to exist for their beauty and booze-producing qualities). Kingpin has a higher purpose. The spice in the liberty hops and rye malt (a hearty 20% of the grist) create an intentional resonance and provide depth beyond pure IBUs. Unfortunately, in beers this intense, it's difficult to appreciate the subtleties you might find in a low-alpha hop and interesting grain bill. I would love to try a 5% version of this beer. It is a beautiful pour--a vitreous crimson with a snowy head--and it's getting some love from the bloggers (here's Bill and Brady). No love from me, but an appreciative B rating for the craft behind the beer.

Café Negro
The second beer is also an interesting choice--a coffee porter called Café Negro. Dark, coffee-infused beers are tasty, but there are already at least three regularly on the market (Kona Pipeline Porter, Oakshire Overcast Stout, and Laurelwood Portland Roast). Here's what Jeff wrote about the genesis of this beer:
Karl and I reformulated our base Porter a few years back and were always hoping that we could find a way to distribute the beer to a wider audience. After Karl left, our owner asked if we could do a coffee porter based on our pub porter recipe. So we bought a bunch of coffees from local roasters, figured out a cold-infusion process, and tasted a bunch of coffees infused into our Porter to figure out which coffee would compliment our beer the best. We settled on blend from World Cup Coffee (on NW 18th and Glisan) and established a relationship with them to begin buying freshly roasted and ground coffee. We made minimal changes to the Porter recipe and then had to design a “system” for cold infusing coffee in our existing tanks. This is much more difficult than one might think. But we figured it out and the result if Café Negro.
Whether there's room for one more dark coffee ale on the market remains to be seen. Before moving onto the notes, though, I would be remiss in not mentioning the name, also a bold choice. The word "Negro" here means black and is uncharged in languages like Spanish and French. In American English, however .... Language is funny, and emotional resonances can produce unintended consequences--or not. Anyway, an interesting choice.

Tasting Notes. Beautiful, densely black beer with a lovely head. BridgePort uses Sumatran, a wonderfully smooth, medium-roast bean, and I was surprised to find that it was a bit harsh here. I had to confirm that it was cold-brewed. I was also surprised that it offers only a general "coffee" flavor, not the distinctively Kona-like flavor in Pipeline or rich semi-sweet espresso in Oakshire's. As expected, Café Negro mostly tastes of coffee, with just a bit of malt sweetness to indicate beer. And since it does, these underwhelming qualities of the coffee bring Café Negro down a bit. I'm afraid I won't be seeking out another pint very often and will have to give it a C+ on the ratings scale.

This final review involves a beer outside the year-round line. But of all the recent beers, it may be the one to show the way to the future. It's a great beer, unusual, and very drinkable. Of the three new beers BridgePort has on offer, this is the one that kept popping up in my mind days after I drank it. Here's how Jeff described the backstory:
Nightcap was an idea that started with the fact that when I was Karl’s Asst., I filled some empty bourbon barrels with some excess Ebenezer that we had, mostly to keep the barrels hydrated. We kept the beer for nearly a year, and when Dan Wecker asked for something special for an account that he had, we racked off some of the beer into kegs. Everyone loved it. So last January we filled about 38 Maker’s Mark barrels with beer and held them until this past fall. We were looking for a winter warmer type of big brew, so I suggested that we brew an amped-up version of Ebenezer and blend with the strongly bourbon-barrel flavored beer that we had in the barrels.
Tasting Notes. Pours out a murky russet, which I considered promising--the look of something rustic. Ahough overall the aroma is subdued, there are some biscuit and caramel notes in the nose, a touch of bourbon. The palate is sweet and malty, with strong overtones of wood (cedar more than oak) and bourbon. Slight cherry note and coconut, perhaps produced by the wood tannins. Also a bit of spice, perhaps from the Chinooks. The sweetness is balanced fairly nicely. More winter warmer than old ale. Blending the beer provides the character of the barrel-aging, but without being bludgeoned by bourbony booze. High marks: A-.


I'm not sure what the new line adds up to. BridgePort seems to be headed sort of in the Ninkasi direction: high-octane hop bombs. I wouldn't be surprised to see some more changes down the line as BridgePort learns what works and what doesn't.

Update. Bill Night has done a great follow-up on BridgePort's line change, including this bullet list:
  • ESB: gone
  • Stout: gone
  • Porter: replaced by Cafe Negro
  • Ropewalk Brown Ale: gone
  • Haymaker Extra Pale: no longer bottled; still on tap in the Pearl
There's more from Bill, so go read the whole thing.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Draft's Best Beer Bars List for 2011

Draft Magazine has put out their annual best bars list, and the NW done good: seven pubs in Portland and four in Seattle. Other cities faring well include Philly (5) and Chicago (4). If you collect together Brooklyn and NYC, you get five, and four if you combine San Francisco and Oakland. I'm proud to say that two SoCal pubs, Tony's Darts Away and the Blind Lady, are both certified purveyors of honest pints. Congrats!

Portland pubs on the list:
  • Apex
  • Bailey's
  • Belmont Station
  • Concordia Ale House
  • Green Dragon
  • Horse Brass
  • Saraveza
Seattle pubs:
  • Beveridge Place
  • Naked City Taphouse
  • Stumbling Monk
  • Uber Tavern

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Can We Just Quit Calling MillerCoors a Beer Company?

When you have effectively exited the beer business, these kinds of ideas seem brilliant:
CHICAGO—MillerCoors LLC plans to launch a lemonade-flavored version of low-calorie beer MGD 64, the latest effort by a big U.S. brewer to rejuvenate slumping sales....

The company expects the brew to attract new consumers to the beer category, and to capitalize "on the growing consumer interest in flavored beers," Andy England, chief marketing officer for Chicago-based MillerCoors, said in a memo to employees Friday.... MillerCoors also will unveil a new marketing campaign for the main version of MGD 64 later this year as part of an effort to strengthen the brand, Mr. England said in Friday's memo. [bold added.]
A couple of thoughts:
  1. A warning sign that you may no longer be a brewery is when you begin to conceptualize your market as the "beer category."
  2. Once you remove the beer from your beer and replace it with lemonade, do you actually believe the customers you're attracting are being drawn to beer?
  3. If your business has become peddling beers flavored with lime and lemonade, does your brand have anything to do with beer anymore?
The article, which comes from the Wall Street Journal, ends on a luxuriously ironic point--one clearly lost to doomed MillerCoors:
MillerCoors's beer shipments to distributors, a measure of sales volume, fell 3.4% last year.... The announcement of MGD 64 Lemonade comes at a time of declining sales volumes for mass-market brews in the U.S. The industry has been hurt by stubbornly high unemployment and rising competition from wine, distilled spirits and small-batch "craft" beers.
At the moment people are turning to full-flavor beer and away from gimmicky swill, MillerCoors has a lightbulb moment: more gimmicky swill!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Gratzer and Honest Pints at Burnside Brewing

For someone who has lived in Portland for nearly a quarter century, the experience of visiting inner East Burnside for sophisticated food and drink still provokes cognitive dissonance. Credit the city planners for turning the erstwhile traffic canyon into a more sedate street where restaurants and pubs no longer fear to gather. Burnside Brewing, joining restaurant pioneers Farm and Le Pigeon, is cut from the same upscale-urban cloth, and is the first brewpub in Portland to make a full, clean break with the standard pub grub menu. I need to go back a few times to try the food and beer before I offer a real review, but I was impressed on my first visit. And very excited: for a city on the leading edge of both cuisine and brewing, the meeting of these two trends is long overdue.

There are two things I can and should comment on: the brewery's second beer, a grätzer, and the glass it came in, an honest pint. First, the beer. A couple of months ago, I discussed the style, along with the first example brewed locally, at Breakside. The style emerged in Poland, where it was known as grodziskie for the town of its birth, Grodzisk. An early 20th Century brewing text described it as "rough, bitter beer, brewed from 100% wheat malt with an intense smoke and hop flavour."

When Ben Edmunds made his grätzer at Breakside, he eschewed the intensity of smoke and hop for a milder version that accentuated an apple note described in first-hand accounts of the beer. Burnside, which used 600 pounds of apple-smoked wheat malt (70% of the grist), followed suit. Brewer Jason McAdam was a little worried about overdoing the smoke, so this first batch displays a light hand. (Still, it took fourteen hours to smoke the malt.) It's gently smoky, more of an accent note, with a light, fruity body and soft mouthfeel. At only 8 BUs, McAdam also ditched the "rough, bitter" hops. The beer uses kolsch yeast, but the wheatiness makes it taste more like a weizen, despite the lack of phenols and banana/bubblegum notes.

I asked Jason yesterday if he planned to do it again, and he was a bit equivocal, but I hope to see a slightly more assertive iteration down the road. Burnside's beers will not be aimed solely at the beer geek set; rather, Jason is working with the kitchen to create beers that will accompany the menu. (When I visited, they were offering a duck "cohiba"--boneless duck leg wrapped like a cigar, served in retro ashtrays with a dollop of sauce at the end, like ash.) This grätzer appears engineered to complement, not overwhelm, the cuisine.

Honest Pints
I'm also pleased to see that Burnside has opted for elegant, embossed glasses that carry an honest pint. Even before I visited, the brewery's Byron Rolston sent me over the following picture for certification. Consider it done, Byron:

Burnside Brewing

Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
701 E Burnside
website | Facebook

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Brew Oyster Stout

A video description, hot off the presses. The video below was shot as Alex Ganum and Gerritt Ill brewed the 2011 batch of Upright's Oyster Stout:

The process, in case it's not totally obvious, is this. In addition to 72 large oysters added near the end of the boil, Alex and Gerritt dumped in about twelve gallons of oyster juice (or brine or...). It smelled of the fishy sea. But, as Alex describes, the final result is pretty subtle.

The Magic of Beer: It Even Helps You Lose Weight

I'm off on a secret mission this morning, so reports about Burnside Gratzer and the new Collaborator will have to wait. But I leave you with this little fairy tale, which may even be true:
Spanish researchers said moderate consumption of ale and lager can reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure and can even help people lose weight. They added that the infamous British beer belly can be blamed on an Anglo-Saxon culture characterised by eating fatty takeaways and drinking too much....

Dr Estruch said Spanish beer drinkers did not resemble their British counterparts who 'drink large quantities, almost without moving from one spot, while eating fried chips and sausages.'
Color me skeptical that a high-calorie beverage helps you lose weight (a couple pints and you've downed 500+ calories), but hey, the PR's nice.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Collaborator Release

This is awfully late notice, but the latest Widmer/Brew Crew Collaborator is debuting tonight at the Hawthorne Hop House. Drop by if you're in the neighborhood.

Collaborator Release
Hawthorne Hop House, 6 pm
4111 SE Hawthorne, PDX

Sorry I failed to get it up sooner.

A Craft Brewing Bubble?

In the mid-eighties, when I became addicted to caffeine, I realized there were these places you could go to get insanely strong coffee. Mostly, restaurants and coffee shops served Boyd's or Farmers Brothers, which was brewed to the color and viscosity of weak Red Rose tea. Over the next ten years, I spent a lot of my mind-space strategizing so that the demons of my addictions wouldn't be left to these puny distillates. Small towns were murder, as were many relatives' homes. Then, magically, espresso stands became ubiquitous. And then they became annoying. There were too damn many of them. I recall standing on the street somewhere in Portland and realizing that all four corners were occupied by coffee shops (probably two were Starbucks). Of course, then came the shakeout.

I mention this history because a couple of days ago I stumbled across the news that we're in the midst of the greatest boom in brewery building in--well, maybe in forever, but certainly in the last 140 years. Searching through the Brewers Association's list of breweries, I counted 505 breweries listed as "planned." BA currently lists 1599 craft breweries, which means this represents an increase of nearly a third (32%). And, even if a certain percentage of these fail to materialize, it almost certainly understates matters because the BA can't possibly track all of them. My instinctive reaction: uh oh.

The numbers are a bit staggering. Fourteen states will have increased their number of breweries by 50% or more since '08 (the last time the BA compiled state-by-state totals); five states will more than double their totals. California plans for 65 new breweries, Texas 33, Washingon and Colorado 29. Every state but one has at least one new brewery in the works (poor Delaware). Surely we're headed for a train wreck, right?

But then I looked more closely at the numbers and did a little thinking. Maybe this isn't so many after all.

The number of breweries is not evenly distributed across the country. In Oregon, where you'd say the market is still very healthy, we have a brewery for every 40,000 people. Now, we have a more rabid beer culture, so this may not be typical. Let's take Wisconsin instead, where the density is a brewery for every 85,000 people. Using that level as a benchmark, the US would have 3,500 breweries--more than twice as many as we have now, and way, way over the total we'll see even after this boom.

So, if the market is healthy and growing to fill demand, we'd expect to see more growth in regions that have low brewery density. And indeed, that's exactly what's happening:

Here's a couple other metrics to consider. People buy roughly 210 million barrels of beer in the US every year. Of that, just 10 million are craft-brewed. Most of these new breweries will hope to sell modest amounts of beer (like all craft breweries)--say a couple thousand barrels. At that rate, the entire new batch of breweries would add only a million barrels of production to the US total--point four percent of America's annual production. The last fact? After a drop-off a few years ago, there are still 11,000 Starbucks in the US.

I guess a few more breweries won't hurt.

Oakshire Willamette Dammit

Having put 36 hours between myself and that painful ending at the national championship game, I am now prepared to return to the scene of the crime. Not to talk about the game, but the beer. I watched from the Guild Public House, auspiciously celebrating its first night of business with a packed house. On tap was one Willamette Dammit from Oakshire, a part of the brewery's single-batch series. A super simple recipe, with just Maris Otter and Willamette hops (the old workhorse bred in the 70s from English Fuggle hops), a session of 4.9% heft. What a joy.

Rarely do I sit down for a full session with just one beer, but the experience is delightful. A session ale really doesn't show its chops until pint three, when it needs to be just as fresh and interesting as the first sip. Any faults will, after two pints, be evident to the drinker--and annoying. Ah, but a good session is greeted by the tongue as an old friend, one who can recognize and appreciate its good qualities. I would say Willamette Dammit was about 8 BU out of balance, but that was perfect for me (if a bit much for Sally)--especially on pint three. Also a joy was the name, a lovely homage to the pronunciation of our famous river (the two words rhyme)--all doubly perfect when watching the Ducks play. I only wish it wasn't a single batch.


NB. Here's an interesting question: is balance an objective or subjective concept? We don't have to agree that beers should be in balance to agree that such a thing exists objectively. Some regions will prefer beers skewed toward malt, others toward hops, but I wonder, would all parties agree that their beers were in fact skewed? Or is balance like chili fire--a subjective continuum where each taster is his own judge?

I tend to think balance is mostly objective--say objective within a range--but I might be kidding myself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The New Brewery Tsunami

When I was compiling my pre-emptive football-attention-deflecting post yesterday, I had to try to figure out how many breweries are located in Alabama. The Brewers Association compiles a very handy list of each state's breweries, which made my task a snap. Even more handily, they list breweries in the planning stages, and I was struck by what appears to be a tsunami of new breweries ready to open. Alabama, for example has just six breweries, but seven more in the planning stages. I selected a few states at random as further examples:
  • Connecticut, six in the planning stages
  • Iowa, nine
  • Tennessee, eleven
  • New York, twenty-six
  • Colorado, twenty-nine
Of course, I had to check out Oregon, and consistent with the trend, twelve breweries are in the planning stages. The list:
  • Charlatan Brewing, Portland
  • Dexter Brewing, Portland | website
  • Dragon's Gate, Milton-Freewater | website
  • Noble Brewing, Bend
  • Occidental Brewing, Portland
  • Sasquatch Brewery, Portland
  • Workshop Brewpub, Portland
  • Unnamed brewery, Hillsboro
  • Four unnamed breweries, Portland
Holy doppelbock, that's a lot of new places! The Brewers Association currently lists about 1600 active breweries in the US. If this rate of new openings is typical, then the number of breweries could jump by a third in the 12-18 months. I will have to put my head to the question of whether this represents the natural evolution of a growing market or a brewery bubble (or both), but for the moment, I'll leave it at the observation stage.

Monday, January 10, 2011

If Football Were Beer, Oregon Would Crush Alabama

I have a grave fear about tonight. (This owes more to being principally a fan of the Badgers, Blazers, Packers, and Red Sox than anything.) As a pre-emptive strike--or maybe a diversionary tactic--I offer one way in which Oregon absolutely trounces the Yellowhammer state: beer. We're number one, we're number one!
Alabama: 6 breweries
Alabama pop: 4.6 million (3.2 mil 21+)
Alabama breweries per-capita: 1 in 767,000

Oregon: 112 breweries
Oregon pop: 3.8 mil (2.5 mil 21+)
Oregon breweries per-capita: 1 in 34,000

Auburn, AL: 0 breweries
Auburn pop: 58,000
Auburn brweries per-capita: 0

Eugene, OR: 5 breweries
Eugene pop: 155,000
Eugene breweries per-capita: 1 in 31,000

Alabama per-capita beer consumption: 30.3 gallons/yr
Oregon per-capita beer consumption: 30.8 gal/yr
If my fears are borne out, please refer to this post as a pick-me-up. In the meantime, Go Ducks!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Where to Watch the National Championship: the Complete Guide


A few people around the state of Oregon have expressed some interest in an event this Monday. It turns out a local university is participating in some kind of contest. I don't know, maybe it's not that big of deal; but hey, any excuse to get out to the bars, right? On the off-chance you're planning to stop into a public house, you might be interested in the following choices, culled by my team of interns in a rigorous selection process.

Note: I will update this if/when I gather more info. Don't hesitate to email!

Best For Beer
Mostly, the best beer spots are not the best places to watch football. Here are your best bets for combining the two:

Beermongers, 1125 SE Division. Wear Ducks gear for a discount; a prize will be awarded to best-dressed fan. Tap selection: Four rare(ish) beers (plus Total Dom), including a mystery beer.

EastBurn, 1800 E Burnside. Special projection screen, TV on the patio; $10 pitchers; doors open at 4pm. Tap selection: Always very solid rotating selection, usually featuring at least one rare beer. Instantly updated list here.

Pilsner Room
, 0309 SW Montgomery. Tap selection: Full Sail's finest, including cask taps, plus a very nice selection of guest taps. Comment: The Pilsner Room has the virtue of a projection screen, but not a huge room. Get there early--and enjoy a great happy hour (including $3 burgers).

Projection Screens
For some, the only way to watch football is on a screen large enough to approximate the experience of being there. These aren't always the places with the best beer (though some are!), but life is full of compromises. In descending order of beer selection, here are your best bets.

Spirit of '77, 500 NE MLK Blvd. Tap selection: an extremely well-selected eight taps (Ommegang Hennepin, Hopworks Secession, Old Rasputin, etc.). Comment: I didn't know this place existed, but it looks like a great venue.

The Guild House. 1101 E. Burnside Tap selection: just five taps, but they are well-selected and include the rare Oakshire Willamette Dammit. Comment: This is a pre-grand opening for my friend Jesse Cornett's new pub. I haven't been there yet, but obviously it rocks.

Tom's Pizza and Sports Bar. 2630 N Lombard Street. Tap selection: a dozen or so non-exotic micros.

Claudia's. 3006 SE Hawthorne. Tap selection: a dozen or so non-exotic micros. Comment: This used to be a smoky sports/dive bar with a serious fan vibe. It still is, sans smoke.

McMenamin's Tap selection: McMenamins' beers have lately been spottier than usual; caveat emptor. Doors open at 4:30.
  • Bagdad Theater, 3702 S.E. Hawthorne.
  • Grand Lodge, 3505 Pacific Ave. Forest Grove
  • Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan.
  • St. Johns Theater and Pub, 8203 N. Ivanhoe

Multiple Flat Screens
For pure visual splendor, nothing beats a projection screen, which sort of approximates a live-event feel. But if not a big screen, a clear, sharp flat screen is the next best thing. These pubs are those with lots of little screens (you know, like four feet), which, if you get a good seat, are perfectly serviceable.

, Pearl: 110 NW 10th Ave and SE: 2239 SE 11th Ave. Tap selection: nice mixture of reliable micros and a few more exotic choices. Comment: Blitz Ladd is a great place to hang out, and if you find a nice table with a view--or better yet, get a seat at the bar--it's one of the best places to watch sports.

Bottles, 5015 NE Fremont. Two flat screens and 412 bottled beers. Tap selection: An additional eight well-selected beers on tap.

Breakside Brewery, 820 NE Dekum St. Tap selection: Breakside's own brews plus a few well-selected guest taps. Comment: just two 50-inch screens, but it's a great environment.

Laurelwood, 5115 NE Sandy Blvd. One of your best brewpub bets. Tap selection: Laurelwood's finest.

Good Call, 11010 SE Division. Tap selection: apparently a few micros, but more importantly it's an Asian-owned pub with Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Khmer food.

Grand Central Bowling. Tap selection: a dozen or so non-exotic micros.

Pit Stop, 10245 SW Canyon Rd. Tap selection: unknown, but the barbeque is purported to be good.

Beyond Portland Metro
McMenamin's Old St. Francis School, 700 N.W. Bond Street, Bend. Tap selection: McMenamins' beers have lately been spottier than usual; caveat emptor. Projection screen. Doors open at 4:30.

The Cooler,
20 Centennial Loop. Projection Screen. Tap selection: a decent selection of Eugene-area craft beers.

  • Side Bar, 1680 Coburg Road
  • Sixth Street Grill, 55 W. Sixth Ave
  • O-Bar & Grill, 115 Commons Drive

Pacific City
Pelican Brewery
, 33180 Cape Kiwanda Drive, Pacific City. Tap selection: not too shabby. (Actually, when I got the email, I considered briefly driving to Pacific City for this.) Doors open at 2pm, so you can start piling in plenty early

Brewers Union Local 180
, 48329 East 1st Street. Brewers Union now has a projection screen to go with their beautiful pub and tasty fish and chips. Tap selection: some of the state's finest cask ales as well as several more great guest taps.

Prodigal Son Brewery
, 230 SE Court Ave. On the projection screen in the theater room. A $20 buffet includes two beers. Doors open 4pm. Tap selection: the finest ales from one of Oregon's brightest debut brewery.

Seven Brides Brewing
, 990 N. First Street. Tap selection: Seven Brides' finest.

Sporty Sport
A bullet list of more traditional sports bars, with culture and beer to match:
  • Big Al's, 14950 SW Barrows Rd (projection screen)
  • Lil' Cooperstown, 5851 NE Halsey St
  • Macadam's Bar and Grill, 5833 SW Macadam (projection screen)
  • On Deck, 910 NW 14th Ave
  • Skybox, 7995 SE Milwaukie Ave

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Qwest Field Cheater Pint?

[Update. Flag on the play!--false start. Apparently, Quest was serving 16-ounce beers in mismarked 20-ounce cups. Story here. So actually, people buying small beers were getting a bonus.]

A tipster passes along this video, which I pass along in the manner of a blogger (unconfirmed) directly to you.

On the positive side, the Seahawks just scored, so maybe patrons won't riot...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sad News: Van Havig Leaves Rock Bottom

John Foyston has the news:
One of Oregon's most innovative brewers, Van Havig, is suddenly at liberty today after leaving Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, a national chain of brewpubs, after nearly 16 years with the company. "I just don't fit with the company," he said today, "I've been asked to leave."
John's story is worth a read, so consider this effectively a referral to his nice reportage. But I'd just like to add my regrets. Oregon is blessed with an embarrassing richness of good brewers. Van is that, but beyond brewing, he's one of the real characters in this region, a guy who injects joy and wit (dry, Beckett-like wit) into everything he does. I have no doubt he'll land on his feet, but it's a sad statement about a company going through corporate re-shuffling that they would decide a guy like Van doesn't "fit." Guess who just ended up on Beervana's shit list?

Hang in there, Van--

Oregon Ducks Game-Viewing

I'm trying to assemble an omnibus post containing all the cool places to watch the Ducks and drink good beer on Monday. If you know of/own/work at a place that fits the bill, will you email (the_beerax @ yahoo) or comment? (Special consideration to large screen/projection screen viewing options.) Also, places beyond the Portland metro area would also be useful. Thanks!

By the way, SI has an interesting article about how Phil Knight made the Oregon Ducks.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

What's in a Name?

Fifteen years ago, the names of BridgePort's beers ran like exhibits at the zoo: Blue Heron Pale Ale, Pintail ESB, Coho Pacific Extra Pale Ale. Then they went through a period lasting until roughly four years ago when the names read like this: IPA, ESB, Porter, Stout--and Blue Heron, their legacy label. Now, as they have almost completely reworked their line, it looks different once again: IPA, Blue Heron, Cafe Negro, Kingpin, Hop Czar, Haymaker. Do you see the difference?

Some breweries use a style as the name of a beer, and some actually name their beer. So:

My first exposure to this phenomenon came, coincidentally, back when BridgePort was ditching the animal names. They were very confident this was the right move, for two reasons: 1) with the proliferation of beers, no one could follow so many names, which weakened the line, and 2) they wanted to brand "BridgePort," not specific beers. The brewery was sure that with this change, people would just start asking for whichever BridgePort was on tap. Brand loyalty and yadda yadda. The big problem was a factor they hadn't considered (but which every beer lover in America could tell them): people drink beers, not brands. There's not a brewery on the planet I would order exclusively without ever hearing which beer was pouring. (Okay, Dupont, but mainly because it's so rare on tap.) And so, here we are a decade later, and BridgePort has slowly worked its way back to named beers.

I don't think there's any right answer--as the Sierra Nevada and Mirror Pond examples demonstrate. If a brewery is lucky enough to have several well-selling beers, they're probably better off not tinkering with things. If, however, they become known for one beer, trying to develop an identity for other beers is probably not a bad idea. In BridgePort's case, IPA has long been the most popular beer in the line (overwhelmingly). The launch of Hop Czar was wise and I think has helped bring a bit of balance back--and no doubt BridgePort hopes Kingpin and Cafe Negro will find loyalists, too.

Of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the beer. I'll have some reviews of BridgePort's new beers soon.

Wine, Woman, and Song

Here's another story we could file under "those crazy economists!" In it, two Belgian economists note a correlation between having many wives and eschewing booze.
Interestingly, while these days most societies are monogamous, polygyny(1) has not completely disappeared. Looking around the world, a few societies and cultures still allow and/or practice polygyny. There are some societies, such as some African indigenous tribes, where men have multiple wives. However the most well known cases that still practice polygyny are parts of the Muslim world and parts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) – more specifically the so called Mormon Fundamentalists.

What is intriguing is that these two groups are characterized by another distinguishing characteristic: they do not consume alcohol. While these groups are not the only social groups in the 21st centuries which do not consume alcohol, alcohol is widely consumed around the world these days – and in virtually all monogamous societies. Hence, it is intriguing that the two main social/religious groups which still practice polygyny also do not consume alcohol.

(1) 1 Since the term “polygamy” is often use instead of “polygyny”, an important distinction should be pointed out: polygamy (from Greek : πολύ - many, and γάμος – marriage) refers to the case of an individual (male or female) having several partners at the same time; polygyny (from Greek : πολύ - many, and γυνή – woman) occurs when a man has multiple women at the same time; polyandry (from Greek : πολύ - many, and άνδρας – man) when a woman has multiple men at the same time. However, since polyandry is very rare, many authors often use polygamy when referring to polygyny.
Of course, you're asking the obvious question: "But correlation isn't causation, so is there any evidence one begets the other?" Right you are. And actually, no, the Belgians concede, it doesn't really appear that there's any connection at all. ("We conclude that there is no direct causality in either way, but that other factors cause specific changes in both alcohol use and marriage arrangements.") Although this is only implied and not literally written in the paper, the authors add, "However, writing about booze and sex is a sure-fire way to get a lot of attention, and so we felt the paper was nevertheless a good use of our time."

Mostly I pass it along for the footnote, which was news to me.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My Troubled Relationship With the BJCP

Last year, I reviewed a book that contained style guidelines for beer. Usual enough, but these came from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)--which is not usual. Google "beer styles" and the BJCP's are the third option. There's a BJCP app. As the public gets more and more familiar with the idea of beer style, they look to a guide to describe what a doppelbock is or what distinguishes a saison from a biere de garde. I tend to get a lot of blowback when I suggest it, but for those people, the BJCP guidelines cause more harm than good.

Let's start with the broadest critique first: there's no such thing as style. What we refer to styles are useful categories that help us understand general characteristics about beer. But styles are not, like humulus lupulus, genetically-specific species that can reside happily in taxonomic perpetuity. A style is more like an ethnography; it gathers together the incomplete, blurry, and constantly-changing history of the style and offers a provisional designation.

Almost everyone, encountering the concept of beer styles for the first time, thinks they represent unanimous consensus and are fixed. Like the ancient wine appellations of Europe, to know what a mild ale is now is to know what it was in London two hundred years ago. But since beer is a recipe-based beverage and a commercial product, styles fluctuate constantly. Most styles look different today than they did 100 years ago.

To narrow the critique a bit, the trouble grows when we begin to parse the larger categories (which do have historical and regional significance) into small sub-categories. For the BJCP, there's a method to this madness; they're trying to offer guidelines so that judges can evaluate several beers in a flight. Yet the division into sub-categories is mostly an artificial process of distinguishing between categories of beers that have no historical or regional distinction and which may not vary much at all by gravity or ingredients. Even the BJCP recognizes this reality: "Many styles are quite broad and can encompass multiple stylistically accurate variants."

In the context of a judging panel, there have to be criteria. But the descriptions that appear in the BJCP aren't prescriptive, they're descriptive--a fact almost certainly lost on most average beer drinkers. There's nothing innate about "English pale ales" as written in the BJCP. I wish people would hold these concepts lightly and leave them behind when they don't seem useful.

Let's say you've got an amber lager in front of you and you'd like to know if it's supposed to be a Vienna lager or a marzen. It's fantastic to understand what distinguish those two styles historically, and to know how the development of Vienna and Munich roasts help define the malts that made them famous. But let's say that beer was brewed stronger than either style and made with American hops (which, if you're sitting in an American brewpub, will likely be the case). In the context of judging the beer, you might be able to say whether it's brewed "to style," or not, but so what? At this point in your tasting experience, the idea of trying to match it to a style is just a distraction.

Anyway, I wish the BJCP guidelines were less broadly available and average drinkers were mainly consulting guidelines that were broader, had more (and better*) histories, and less technical. The BJCP guidelines are great for judges, but not so good for the public.

*Each style described in the BJCP guidelines is accompanied by a brief history, and many are pretty bad. I wish they'd clean them up--at this point, good, reliable historical research is broadly available.