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Friday, April 29, 2011

Gems from Beervana: Block 15 Berliner Weisse and Oakshire Baltic Porter

This blog is available on the world wide intertubes. Not many of citizens of that wide world actually read it, but they could. Therefore, when I write about beers available only to a tiny handful of people in a tiny sliver of that wide world, I feel a twinge of regret--not just that you won't be familiar with these beers or care about them, but that you can't taste them yourselves. Consider this my open invitation to all: you must come--the beer here really is all that. Cases in point:

1. Block 15 Berliner Weisse
Block 15 is a little brewpub in Corvallis, a little town with a little Pac 10 school (with a wicked good baseball team). Yet brewer Nick Arzner is committed to making some of the most interesting and most authentic beers you'll find anywhere on the blue marble. (If you buy Best of Beervana, there's some chance you'll see his name in the book-only material. Just sayin.) Berliner Weisse, an exceedingly rare style even more rarely brewed to style, is an example. Nick has a detailed description of Berliner Weisses, how it is often brewed (aka the cheater's methods), and the way he brewed his. I strongly recommend you go have a look, even if you won't be able to try this beer.

The truth is, this beer appears so rarely that I have only a couple other examples to which to compare it. (I did shoot an email to someone who knows more than I about German brewing, and reading Nick's description, gave a Teutonic nod of approval.) The style is designed to quench thirst in the manner of a crisp lemonade--it should be tart, light, and crisp. And lemonade is exactly what Nick's beer evoked. It's a milky white in the glass and has a nose of wheat, lemon, and yogurt. It is a tart beer and crisp, but not in any way acetic or aggressive. The wheat comes through surprisingly well, and there's a gentle citric quality which may or may not be lemony--but my brain went to lemonade and so it seemed so. A perfectly refreshing summer beer.

2. Oakshire Axe of Perun Baltic Porter
It seems that brewer Matt Van Wyk produces more single-batch beers than just about anyone in the state. I read about them on his blog and then look around--but mostly they're gone before I have a chance to sample them. I thought Axe of Perun was a goner, but it was pouring at the Grain and Gristle, where I found B15 Berliner Weisse. What luck.

Baltic Porters are mostly not brewed to style in the US. Generally they're over-roasty and brewed with an ale strain. The result is stout--one of my favorite styles, but a beer readily available in most pubs in the city. A good Baltic Porter is a rare thing, bringing into harmony elements that don't necessarily seem synchronous: a hearty but gentle roast note, a clean, lager smoothness, alcohol warmth, and an ester-free vinous note. Some have a suggestion of sour to them, as in rye malt. They are at once rich and intense yet eminently approachable. You get complexity, but you don't have to pay for it. Matt nailed the style with Perun the Axe. Put that in a line-up with some nice Polish and Baltic Baltics and it would seem like a twin brother. Easily the best American Baltic porter I've encountered.

The Grain and Gristle was a real treat, too, but I'll do a review of it later on.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Portland Trailblazers RIP

Well, that was painful.

Lompoc's Cedar Experiment

One of my pet interests is the effect of locality on beer. Historically, beer was defined solely by what brewers had available locally. So the Finns lautered their beer through juniper branches and in Yorkshire they fermented on slate. Nearly four years ago, I wondered what could possibly be used that would contribute local flavor to Oregon beer and hit on cedar:
On of our most famous native variety is the Western red cedar (thuja plicata) which is, in fact, a false cypress, not a true cedar. This is the tree that produces the resinous, water-repelling wood that's used for shake shingles. It has been used for centuries by native people to make everything from homes and canoes to art. Its greatest claim to fame is its aromatics, which derive from thujaplicin, and contributes the classic cedar scent.
I've always wondered about it; though, in comments to the post someone noted that cedar is a pretty serious allergen, so I abandoned the idea. Lompoc, however, has not.
Also pouring in Sidebar on Friday is Cedar Proof Ale, our Living Proof Belgian Dubbel aged on cedar planks for five days. Made with malted barley, corn, molasses and Cluster hops, there are hints of licorice and tobacco with a malty body and a dry finish.
That description is actually just the text for Living Proof--one of two beers Lompoc brewed for Cheers to Belgian Beers. One hopes those planks added something more to Cedar Proof. Unfortunately, it's yet another beer I'm going to miss this weekend--the only time the Sidebar is open. Holler if you have a chance to try the beer in my stead.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cheers to Belgian Beers: The Westmalle Edition

Cheers to Belgian Beers
Saturday April 30th, Noon-9pm
Metalcraft Fabrication, 723 N Tillamook St.
$15 for five drink tickets and a stemmed tasting glass, which is required to taste. Additional tastes are $1 and can be purchased at the festival entrance. No kids at this one.

One of the signature events on the beer calender happens on or around May Day: Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers. Now in its fifth year, the event has grown from ten breweries to 32--and from ten beers to 37 beers. The conceit is simple: everyone uses the same Belgian yeast, people come and taste the results, vote, and crown a best beer. The brewer of that beer selects the yeast for the next year and round we go again. Because Block 15 won last year--shattering forever the "Portland" in the name, a final part of the rules has been rewritten: in past years, the winner got to host the event the next year. The Brewers Guild, which now oversees Cheers, decided to keep it in Portland, robbing Corvallis of their festival. (For shame!)

The Yeast
Block 15 did, however, get to select the yeast, and Nick Arzner chose the strain from Westmalle--a classic. (Stan Hieronymus, who wrote the book on abbey ales, says Westvleteren and Achel use it, too.) Many Belgian strains lack versatility--or at least are finicky enough that breweries need to have lots of practice to produce a wide range. Westmalle's (Wyeast 3787) is versatile, though, producing the signature tripel as well as a much smaller, 5.3% beer the monks also brew called Extra. It is highly attenuative, and its tolerance for different temps means brewers can tweak the esters or produce a phenolic (clovey) character. It will produce both isoamyl acetate and the phenol 4-vinyl guaiacol, so maybe you could even try to coax a weizen out of it. In short, brewers should be able to do what they want.

The Beers
If you wanted to chart the changes in brewing over the years, you could use Cheers to Belgian Beers as one metric. In the first three years, most of the beer was single-strain, tank-aged beer. Last year we saw a bit of barrel-aging and some funk. This year the trend continues. I have my eye on the sour from Big Horse (because last year Jason Kahler really rocked it) and also the one from Coalition (because I think it's their first sour). Dave Logsdon debuts his Seizoen Bretta, soured with brettanomyces (though perhaps not made with the Westmalle yeast). Beyond sours, I like the cut of Lucky Lab's jib--a wee 3.2% table beer (because it's the Lucky Lab, it's a "Belgian-style Norse-American" table beer). Burnside is also doing a table beer, but in the Northwest "small" style--4.7%

Lots of breweries are using spices (Caldera and Oakshire look promising), Double Mountain has a barrel-aged version of their tripel, Widmer's coming strong with figs and plums, and the defending champ seems intent on keeping the crown (an unprecedented feat) with what will certainly be a crowd-pleasing dark chocolate beer. The beers of other breweries, whose names reveal little, will surely have some surprises, too.

The beers haven't always been uniformly good (years two and three were rough), but I have high hopes that this yeast will treat people right. The breweries seem to have really embraced the event and the beer list looks fantastic. Unfortunately, I'm going to be out of town and I'll miss the show. This is rather crushing, and I intend to read the chatter and try to follow up with some of these breweries on my own. If it weren't for Cascade's Saison Festival the following weekend, I might die of envy for all of you who can go. As it is, I may pull through. Don't let me down, though. Go bird dog this thing so I can track down the winners.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Zero Percent Beer: Tasty!

Proof that, even to the small-beer fan, you can carry a good thing too far:
What the company did want to talk about was the new alcohol-free drink rolled out by home unit InBev Belgium, the Hoegaarden 0.0...

Under CEO Carlos Brito, AB Inbev invests considerably in flashy marketing. And the Hoegaarden 0.0 is stylish, with design centered around a Gothic rendition of “0.0”, that looks like two ghost eyes, printed on a light yellow can with white wheat germs.

The verdict on taste was mixed. Your correspondent found the drink akin to a watered-down lemon Fanta. OK — refreshing even — if you know what you’re getting.

I sense a winning ad campaign: "For those who find Lemon fanta too intense!" I don't believe it will be available in America, which is probably a wise strategy.

Nanos of the Grape Kind

I would like to direct you toward Katherine Cole's article in today's Oregonian about a rising phenomenon--urban wineries based in Portland.
A new guard of winemakers has bucked this trend. Instead of moving out to rural areas or driving more than an hour each way, every day, they're staying put in the city. They've started making wine out of their garages and graduated to full-production professional facilities amid the hustle and bustle of city life.

With the formation of a new group called PDX Urban Wineries, this spring appears to be the coming-out moment for metropolitan winemakers. I recently met a few of Portland's garagistes and tasted their wares.
This trend is pan-alcoholic. We see it in the case of nanobreweries, microdistilleries, and now urban wineries. What all three have in common is the intent to become a part of the thrum of the city. The wider trend extends to coffee micro-roasters and farmers markets, where the commodity isn't just designed for general consumption--it feeds (or, I guess you could say creates) growing trends in hyper-local consumption. As Katherine points out, we already can go from coffee shop to bakery to brewery and find this going on--why not wine?

I'm ignorant enough that I will offer no opinion on the wineries--but the trend is consonant with larger a larger cultural evolution in the city.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Class War: No Ale at the Royal Wedding

This makes my Yankee blood boil:
Prince William and Kate Middleton have banned guests from drinking beer at their wedding reception. The prospect of guests downing pints has been deemed unsuitable for such a prestigious occasion. Instead, the couple will treat their 650 guests to flutes of champagne and wine to accompany their canapés as they mingle in the palace’s 19 state rooms.

“Let’s face it, it isn’t really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen’s presence at such an occasion.... “It was always their intention to give their guests a sophisticated experience and they have chosen the food and drink with this in mind.”
Now, I come from a land where our most important rhetorical document is a screed against the King of Britain. (Sample sentence: "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.") Had he been handy--as opposed to, say, located across the Atlantic Ocean--beer-swilling revolutionaries might well have separated his head from his shoulders and mounted it on a pike.

So, when I see the royals raise long noses toward one of the proudest traditions of their people and sniff, when I hear them declare this tradition offensive to her Highness, the language of Hancock rises within me. They eschew this great standard of British culture in favor of the drink of France. France. It suggests that their sympathies lie with their own kind--other exceedingly pampered hereditary lords--rather than their own subjects. (Even "subjects" raises the dander.)

There is an interesting paradox here. Britain, with its House of Commons and House of Lords, explicitly acknowledges class. All men are not created equal: some are lords. But if the few are lords, the many are not, and in this they have solidarity. They are the ale-drinkers, the laborers, those who will never become king and therefore must look out for their own interests.

In the US, by contrast, we have the illusion of equality. We proudly note that "all men are created equal"--even though the men who wrote those fine sentiments actually thought some men were only 3/5ths equal. As to "women"--the thought didn't trouble their minds. This is the fiction of America. We are good about sending cultural cues of equality--the rich dress like us, commingle with us, drink beer with us, and refuse to build massive castles on the moor. The virtue here is that all Americans tend to believe they enjoy social mobility. The trouble is that, when social mobility turns out to be a crock, the bottom 60% of the country do not see themselves as fellow-travelers and find fellowship with one another. Like Groucho Marx, they don't care to belong to the club that will have them as a member.

So maybe it's good the royals will enjoy champagne while marrying off the heir to the throne. It keeps things in perspective. They are they and we are we. While they sip champagne and sup on caviar, the rabble will watch the telly, beer in hand.

It's not without its downsides, however. We Yankee dogs will use the occasion to smugly point out our leader is not offended by the humble--and delicious--beer. And so I do:

Update: I should have checked out Pete Brown before posting this. If anything, his makes mine look obsequious. We are, however, much of the same mind. Sample sentence: "Particularly given that £1 of every pint sold in the UK consists of duty and VAT, which goes to the public purse, which is in turn paying for the event, the contempt shown by the royals towards their subjects, their economy, and the icons and traditions of their kingdom, is sickening." Fun. But: where's the pike?


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Roy's Amazing Game

Good god, what a game. I thought Brandon Roy was effectively done as a go-to player. Not so. Down 23 to Dallas at home and they came roaring back--all on the play of number 7. Nine of 13 shooting, five assists, and the fourth-quarter comeback was buoyed mainly by his offense. (An otherwise super crappy game: 11 after one, 35 at halftime, 49 after three. We were 3 of 16 on threes at one point and finished 4 of 19.) At one point, with just 1:09 to play, the Blazers were still down four, and Brandon stepped up to take a three, got it, and was fouled. (Vid here.) That set them up to hang on for the win.


Friday, April 22, 2011

A Weekend in Beervana

For the beer geek around town, this could be a busy weekend. Today is Earth Day, and you might celebrate with a pint of Eel River Earth Thirst DIPA at the Guild Pub. One dollar will go off to the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. The beer was specially brewed to celebrate Earth Day. Then you could head off to the Spring Beer Fest, happening today and tomorrow at the Oregon Convention Center. Or perhaps you would prefer to attend the brewers dinner at Urban Farmer with Fort George. It will feature pairings with five oyster-centric dishes (though the sixth, chocolate cake, comes sans bivalve). Menu here (pdf).Link
On Saturday, the Spring Beer Fest again beckons, and Blazer fans will be pleased to know they'll be showing the game. Another good bet is Brewpublic's Microhopic fest, featuring beers from Portland's wee breweries. (Two are micro, one nano, and one pico.) The venue is Migration.

No rest for the beery on Sunday. Jacob Grier and Ezra Johnson-Greenough go upscale with their third Brewing Up Cocktails event at Spints Alehouse the Grain and Gristle, while Beermongers goes downscale with national Pigs in a Blanket Day. Oakshire beers will be featured in Brewing Up Cocktails, and brewer Matt Van Wyk will be on hand for the event.

So, pick your poison, but carefully: you will have to choose.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fort George 1811 Lager

Post updated!

There's this funny beer style--actually, I'm not prepared to acknowledge that it is a style--called "pre-prohibition lager." I have no data, but it has the aroma of a "style" that was probably a broad and changing spectrum of different examples brewed in different places at different times. But through the inevitable process of calcification, it has come to stand for this wide rane. Or I could be wrong--but a fifteen-minute spin around the intertubes doesn't dissuade me.

The key features of this style, such as it is now retrospectively characterized, are the use of corn (apparently rice is a permissible, but less-tasty, variant) and pretty assertive hopping. The sources I've seen suggest noble hops would have been used, but this seems the weakest of the contentions--it was more an assumption than a finding. (As always, folks like Bill Schneller can weigh in to correct gross errors on my part. We're all used to gross errors on my part.)

Whatever the historical precedent, though, this is a very good description of Fort George's 1811 Lager, which I tried for the first time on Tuesday. If you want to immediately predispose your customers against your beer, here are two suggestions: 1) brew a lager; 2) add corn. Cardinal sins!

I hope customers are so mesmerized by the shiny blue cans that they ignore the prominent word "lager" and don't read blogs like this. Because, if they manage to get the beer into their glass, they're in for a treat. Despite people's expectations about canned lager, this is quite a lively and assertive beer. I'm not sure what the hops are, but noble sounds about right--or maybe Sterlings or a mixture of nobles and bastard American varieties like Mt. Hood. In any case, it's zesty and spicy, but buoyed by a lovely, summery sweetness. As is de rigueur for an Oregon beer (nod to Stan Hieronymus), it is as cloudy as November Portland skies. And, although it is packed with flavor, the volume doesn't blast at IPA levels, so it has that moreishness you want from a summer tipple. Great beer.

There are far too few crisp, hoppy lagers in this town, and I am delighted to learn that Fort George has added another--"pre-prohibition" or not.

Update. Two tweets from the brewery, which I'll post in order so you can see that my own failures of fact are not entirely unprecedented.
FortGeorgeBeer Fort George Brewery
@Beervana Thanks for the good word! BTW - The hops used are Galena and Czech Saaz.
3 hours ago
and then:
FortGeorgeBeer Fort George Brewery
@Beervana Correction on the 1811 hops ... Saaz and Centennial. It's right on the can!
14 minutes ago
That's a brewery after my own heart. Or brain.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What the Firk?

If you're of two minds about something, what happens if the minds go to war? This, roughly, describes my feelings about the Firkin Fest this weekend. I strategically waited until others waded into the breach, and so let me refer to you Ezra and Ted, both of whom capture the sense of my dismay. Ted, for example:
While I enjoyed being involved in setting up for the Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon, I can't escape the sense that there is nobody there that is really enthusiastic about it. I'm open to the idea that my perceptions are misguided, but I felt that the organization of the event, the publicity, and the follow through in producing acceptable printed information for the punters was lacking.
Ted's right: cask ale has yet to find its base. I know of three people in the world who consider cask indispensable, and I infer from the way Deschutes handles it that there are more. Add the assorted hundreds I don't know about and you have ... hundreds. In a city where you can't swing a dead cat without knocking over an imperial IPA, hundreds is a rounding error. So we beggars showed up at the Firkin Fest thankful for its existence, and thankful for the handful of really outstanding beers: Hopworks, Double Mountain, Brewers Union, Block 15, and Deschutes all spring to mind. We don't complain. Anytime 20 casks of real ale are collected together, we gather in appreciation.

But the critiques are warranted. The event was a dissipated affair, as if Rogue couldn't really get that excited about it. The rigid structure, the strange food arrangement, the now-unnecessary two sessions (which arose when the tiny Victory Bar first hosted it), and the dwindling number of beers were all a little depressing. Which itself was depressing: how can you expect cask ale to catch fire if the only fest is weighted by a wet blanket?

Not that I'm complaining!

Update. Patrick, with whom I attended the fest, also has thoughts.
The 2011 edition of the Firkin Fest was, I'll have to admit, a bit of a disappointment. Let me be clear, it is still one of my favorite beer events, but this year instead of the great leap forward I expected, I think it went a step in the wrong direction.
That I failed to check Beeronomics before writing this post will earn me no end of (well-deserved) opprobrium, not least because this post is an inadvertent echo of his. Except that his deploys the word "arbitrage," which I regret never using enough. If you click through in sufficient numbers, he may forgive me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fuller's ESB

Last Friday, Ted Sobel of Brewers Union brought a firkin of cask mild to Belmont Station. Not coincidentally, I visited Belmont Station that same evening, and shared two pints of the mild ("Jaws of Barrowdale") with Ted. If you'll allow me a slight digression, I'll mention that since I've had precious few milds--since there are precious few milds to have--I can't really judge it. One can read about milds and compare the descriptions with on-the-hoof examples, but it's not quite the same. It matched up nicely based on the descriptions, and was furthermore a very moreish beer--lightly sweet with a touch of roastiness and a bit of mineral. At 3.7%, a behemoth, but I muscled through a couple pints.

(Hell, since we're digressing I'll mention that the Brewers Union "Au Naturel" offered the next day at the Firkin Fest was exceptional. The name comes from the ingredients: few. Just Maris Otter and US Challengers. If I'm recalling correctly, there were twice the hops in Naturel as Jaws, and the beer was even tinier--3.2%. But au, was it good!--golden in color and delightfully zesty and peppery. I think I offended Ted when I told him it was my fave ever Brewers Union, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em.)

Inspired by our conversation of British Ales, I decided to grab a beer to take home and settled on Fuller's ESB. This venerable, family-owned brewery has long been among my very favorite in the world, and ESB my favorite in their line. Unfortunately, thanks to this damned blog, I am generally off tasting new beers and rarely returning to my old faves. It's been at least five years since I've had an ESB, and I was ever so slightly worried that it wouldn't stand up to my memory.

No worries. It's a spectacular beer. For those who think of English beer as small and malty, Fuller's ESB might come as a surprise. It's a hearty 5.9% and has quite a few hops (though modest bitterness--35 EBU, which is more or less like IBU). But it's not the details that impress--it's the overall presentation. The malt bill is simple--pale and crystal--but produce a deep, satisfying base that has large measures of caramel and marmalade. The hops ( Target, Challenger, Northdown and Goldings) are mainly zesty and spicy, but have a hint of something that bridges over to the marmalade. I think one of the reasons the hops seem more assertive is because of the minerals, which help harmonize all the elements. And all of this comes from a bottle shipped all the way from London.

If you've been neglectful like I have, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle. You won't regret it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Craft Brewing Migrates South to Mexico

Ken Ellingwood had a fantastic article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times about a new wave of craft breweries in Mexico. It seems like a natural fit--Mexico has long had a great beer-drinking culture, and back in the dark days of hyper-consolidation in the US, Mexican beer was often the best and most diverse variety on supermarket shelves.
Mostly self-taught, the Mexican brewers have launched an array of offerings, from Belgian-style wheat beers and imperial stouts to an ale aged in tequila barrels. They want to translate a hobby into commercial success in a country that is increasingly quick to embrace foreign trends, from smartphones to designer coffee.

"There's a niche. People are looking for something different," said Jaime Andreu, commercial director of the Primus Brewery and spokesman for the Mexican microbrewers association, which has 16 members.
There is a problem, though: consolidation left Mexico with two brewing giants, and they have all the legal and institutional power to quash the upstarts.
The newcomers say the vast majority of restaurants and bars in Mexico are off-limits because the establishments have agreements to buy only from one of the two giants, Grupo Modelo or Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, in exchange for equipment and discounts.
The little breweries have a few cards to play, but I won't spoil the ending. Go read the article--it's fascinating stuff.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A New Era Dawns

Note: this post will nod not even passingly at beer. It is, however, a rumination on the cultural evolution of Portland, so you could call it relevant at a macro level.

Portland is famously a terrible sports town. An immigrant city, it has for generations been peopled by incoming waves of New Englanders and Midwesterners who formed their allegiances elsewhere. This is its great virtue: people didn't happen by Portland accidentally; they had to go out of their way to get here. Ironically, our parochialism is maintained by these very besotted newcomers who want to preserve this mossy, quirky gem just as they found it. But it means they remain Steelers and Packers and Red Sox and Yankees fans.

The asterisk to our sports terribleness is the Trailblazers, a team so showered by love that players regularly hang around after their playing careers. They've only won one championship, and yet every year the fans treat them like royalty. (Boston fans, who have the luxury of winning--six championships in three sports in the last ten years--throw their teams under the bus at the first sign of failure.) Portland, a one-sport town. Anyway, that's what I thought until last night.

The Portland Timbers "debuted." Actually, they first debuted back in 1975, in the first of many half-assed attempts to bring professional soccer to the US. But last night they debuted as a major league team--and it felt like it. Despite the fact that it was pouring rain all day and pretty cold, the crowd arrived early and roared. It was a full house, and I don't think anyone there sat while players were on the field. The hardcore fans, the Timbers Army, around whom owner Merritt Paulson has wisely built his fan base, sang from a long list of chants throughout the game. Eventually, the crowd picked up a few of them and joined in. Our new coach, John Spencer, from Scotland, described it this way:
"Even during the warm-up, I thought it was electrifying," Portland coach John Spencer said. "Myself and the staff were talking and saying, 'This doesn't feel like the U.S. No disrespect to anybody, but it felt like you were playing in the (European) Champions League."
In this clip below, you get a sense of what the crowd was like. (It also features a young fella I've taken a liking to named Jorge Perlaza. He's rocket fast, and I hope to popularize the nickname "Lightning" Perlaza. Tell your friends.)

One of the enduring features of the Timbers is the mascot, a lumberman who cuts the end off a log when the Timbers score. (For decades, it was Timber Jim, whose name was retired to the Ring of Honor last night; Timber Joey now mans the saw.) After the Timbers let a three-nil lead slip, Joey walked around the concourse, revving the chainsaw.

In a surreal turn, almost none of the players had witnessed this before. The team is mostly newly assembled, and have been on the road while workers finished the stadium renovation. They seemed to be stunned by the spectacle--but also totally charged up. Here they were, a new team in what was supposed to be an expansion market, and it seemed like the fans had been here for years. It was truly a spectacle and felt like a watershed moment.

Like everything else, Portland's sports enthusiasms mark it as an oddball. but we're no longer a one-sport town.

Okay, one beer comment: it looks like Widmer and Budweiser have sole rights to beer sales, but I couldn't get anywhere near a tap to study it more closely.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Three Small, Unrelated Things

Our newly-upgraded professional soccer team (that's football club to you Europeans), the Portland Timbers, play in their first home game tonight. I will be one of the 18,000 in attendance. They are starting out a rocky 0-2-1, but as a Red Sox fan, I know it gets a whole lot worse. A few of the local breweries are offering celebratory batches, but I think Lompoc's Kick Axe is the best: a green, vivid, dry-hopped pale. If you're brewing a beer to honor a green-and-yellow-jerseyed Portland team, it's gotta have hops.

A couple weeks back, I attempted a modified turbid mash for a lambic. It was a long and strange procedure, the results of which will only be known years from now. Unsatisfying! However, I transferred it off the alarming trub pile in the primary fermenter and had a zwickel on the way. It was wheaty and fresh and while you could go so far as to call it zesty, funk was nowhere to be found. It was, I expect, roughly what medieval mild ale tasted like. Interesting.

Doing a bit of research for the book and I found a source that identified three styles of beer brewed by the ancient--and first--brewers, the Sumerians. Dark, white, and red. It didn't get much into the distinctions, but did go to show that even at the outset, styles proliferated. I have no word on whether late-era Sumerians debated the evolution or critiqued later iterations as "not to style." Probably.

Go Timbers!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Get Ye to the Firkin Fest

"Yea, I say to you, blessed are the cask-makers, for they build the houses in which dwells the ale."
Beer, as God (or Mother Nature) intended it, comes in casks--fresh, alive, and unadulterated. Ensconced in a firkin (kilderkin, hogshead, or even pin), ale that is lively with yeast and not quite fully attenuated is allowed to rest. Perhaps it serves as a tea for additional sachets of hops. Once the yeasts have generated a bit of carbonation, the ale, through no help of man, is ready. Pour, drink, repeat.

Sadly, there's WAY too damn little cask beer in Portland--Beervana's one verifiable fault. Except in April, when the annual Firkin Fest comes to town. There you will find dozens of firkins, enough at least for one afternoon. (Hogsheads, sadly, will be in short supply.) This Saturday, in two sessions at the Green Dragon. You can either pick up tickets in advance, or buy online. I wouldn't advise showing up without a ticket, but I think you can buy them at the door--unless this post generates the kind of interest I hope it does. It's thirty bucks, but you get eight 6-ounce tasters and two food vouchers, which is by any measure a good deal.

Firkin Fest
Green Dragon, 928 SE 9th
Session 1 (11am - 2pm) or Session 2 (3-6pm)

Ted Sobel, Oregon's Johnny Appleseed of real ale, plans plant some mild ale at Belmont Station on Friday night--for those of you who can't wait til Saturday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Odd Words From the Washington Post

I've been keeping one eye on the Washington Post's Beer Madness competition, which is now down to its final two. The idea was interesting: a bracket system like the NCAA basketball tourney, but with each quadrant representing a broad category of beer. Obviously, the outcome isn't worth debating (run the same beers past any ten panels and you'd get ten different winners), but the experiment is interesting.

What's weird is today's write-up by Greg Kitsock. It includes passages like this:
A wheat wine from DuClaw Brewing in Abingdon, Md. An Americanized version of a Belgian tripel from Flying Fish Brewing in Cherry Hill, N.J. A coffee stout from Evolution Craft Brewing in Delmar, Del. A double IPA from Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, Calif. None of those breweries existed 20 years ago; neither did any of those styles. [emphasis mine]
and this:
Bob Tupper, of Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale renown, summed up the dilemma: “How can you choose between this nice [double] IPA, well brewed, with well-blended flavors, or the big coffee jolt?” He picked the Lagunitas “because this beer is so much harder to brew than the coffee.”
One of the main reasons to hold a competition like this is beer education--especially for a newspaper. The final four certainly didn't represent novel styles--even by American breweries. And highlighting a quote saying a coffee stout is easier to brew than a double IPA is also a dubious claim.

Good luck to the competitors, but to the WaPo I say: work a bit on the education part.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beer drinking Increases Stomach Cancer (Probably)

Okay, this is bad:
For individuals who consume two to three beers (or more) daily over the course of many years, a new study suggests that they may have a 75 percent increased risk of gastric (stomach) cancer. And for those who also have a certain gene called rs1230025, which is found in about 20 percent of the general population, the chance of getting gastric cancer goes up seven-fold. If you have this gene but aren’t a heavy drinker, your risk of developing gastric cancer is still 30 percent higher than people who drink less than one beer per day.
If your mind is like mine, it immediately went to this place: "must be the alcohol." Depressingly, no:
Interestingly, the link to gastric cancer only held true for beer drinkers, while wine or liquor consumption was not associated with an increased risk.

“We’ve always assumed that any risk associated with alcoholic beverages is due to the ethanol content and not whether it’s beer, wine or liquor, meaning all spirits consumed in excess pose the same risk. But this new study shows us that beer in particular seems to pose a greater danger to health, at least for stomach cancer,” notes ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.
For those of you looking for thin reeds upon which to hang hopes, the study didn't look into beer-drinking specifically. Researchers found correlations in an older study ('92-'98) on cancer and nutrition. Your reed is this: correlation isn't causation, and there could be other factors at play. Still, not cool.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pierre Celis, Dead at 86

Both Stan and Jay have news of the passing yesterday of brewing legend Pierre Celis, but for a fuller account of his life, try this blog:
He revived the Belgian witbier style in his home town of Hoegaarden after the town’s last brewery had closed down in the 1950s, opening his own brewery in 1966 following a nostalgia-washed conversation in a local pub lamenting the witbier’s demise. His Hoegaarden Witbier became the standard for the style.
That word "revived" is the usual verb used to describe what Celis did for wit, but it substantially downplays the contribution. The witbiers of Belgium bore a closer resemblance to lambics than weizens in their six-century run. According to Stan's Brewing With Wheat, they were soured--always by lactobacillus and sometimes by pediococcus. They may have employed orange peel and coriander (though little mention is made), but in low quantities.

Celis, brewing his wit sixteen years after the style went commercially extinct, left the wild beasties out of the equation and created a beer more resembling German hefeweizen than lambic. He may even have left the spices out in the early batches, which would have further enhanced the resemblance. Eventually, though, the style we recognize emerged: a soft, light wheat ale spiced to brightness (but not sweetness) with Curacao orange peels and coriander and a crisp, sometimes tart finish. This is now "traditional," though side-by-side comparisons with historical examples would reveal only a distant cousin.

Which is certainly no criticism. The infected style died out for a reason; Celis' new style became a huge success for a reason. Celis' wit is an immense crowd-pleaser--I've rarely found a beer drinker, novice to terminal-stage geek, who didn't enjoy it. Pallid examples like Blue Moon and over-coriandered versions (unfortunately too common) fail to arrive at that lovely balance between approachability and complexity, but even they are pretty drinkable. It's a fantastic style, and we can trace it literally back to a single man.

Wherever you are, Pierre, thanks--

Friday, April 08, 2011

And So It Begins

Just when I make my triumphant return as The Number One Beer Blogger in America (TM), things start to slow down. I'm doing some "research" today on the book that, whatever its actual merit with respect to the book, will prevent blogging. As a talking point, I commend you to Brady Walen's brand dissection of the new Widmer look. By way of sweetening the pot, I'll throw in this sentence as a nice Friday-morning provocation. "I'd like to find someone who doesn't think that the new packaging isn't a huge step in the right direction."

Okay, Someone, go.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What Did English Pale Ale Once Taste Like? Orval.

A couple of days ago, Ron Pattinson posted some evidence about a mystery he'd long investigated: "did long-matured Pale Ales contain brettanomyces?"
[T]here are the descriptions of Pale Ale picking up its distinctive flavour only after a long maturation. You know what that screams at me? Brettanomyces. What else takes so long to develop?
I hesitate to offer the answer to the question because the whole post is worth your time. But I have to, because what really caught my eye came down in comments.

Of course, well into the 20th century, aged pale ale did contain brett--as one expects all aged British beer did. (Do follow the link, though: you won't find Ron's answer to the mystery anywhere else.) Good data, but that mystery wasn't as compelling to me as to Ron. In comments, however, Gary Gillman offers this observation:
Orval has a notable earthy/barnyard/estery taste from brett and also multiple fermentations (which characterised beers long held in wood - not the same but similar). It was devised at a time pale when pale ale had world reputation for quality.
To which Ron concurs:
Orval was developed at a time when British beer was popular in Belgium. And Orval does seem to have similarities with British export Pale Ales of the time: colour, dry-hopping, ABV. And now, of course, we can add brettanomyces to that list.
If you look at the history of beer styles even passingly, this is the kind of thing you discover. Styles are constantly evolving and influencing each other. American craft brewers love to twist and mangle "traditional" styles, and what results purists describe as misshapen abominations. But their traditional styles were themselves once the abominations that emerged from twisting and mangling.

In any case, it makes you wish you could time travel back to London for a pint of that brett-aged pale ale, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Hunting the Elusive Mild Ale

For this book project that still cannot be named, I'll be discussing style. I've lately been looking into mild ales, a beer with very little presence in the US. The only milds I've seen brewed in the Northwest came from Brewers Union--which, despite its many virtues, doesn't get, ah, broad distribution. Maybe you can help.
  1. Can you point me to any American mild ales, particularly ones brewed either seasonally or (best case) as a part of a brewery's regular line? I don't expect to find any, but bottled examples would be especially useful.
  2. Do you know of any examples imported to the US?
I'm looking for more traditional modern examples. I know the style has a fair amount of latitude, but I'd like to locate some that are more typical--probably dark, definitely low-alcohol, probably not very hoppy. But let's not start with the narrow end of the funnel. I'll start with anything.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hoosiers and Beavers

A little while ago, John Holl and I exchanged books. I got his real live Indiana Breweries (with Nate Schweber), published by an actual publisher, and he got Best of Beervana, published (and unedited) by me. Incidentally, that same offer's good for other writers with actual titles out there.

Now, I expected to read it with distance. Given that it's nowhere in the even long-range plans to visit the Hoosier State, I figured this would be a mostly academic read. Not so--it's interesting! I admit to being a bit of a history buff, so the section on Indiana's past was a great reminder that at one time this system of having lots of breweries scattered over the country was pretty common. Craft brewing is not a fad, it's a return to normalcy. Every state has a proud tradition of brewing.

But it was especially interesting to see how the the state has developed in the modern era. I looked to see if there was any particular predilection toward styles--wheats or lagers, as might befit a midwestern farm state. At first I thought I could see a pattern, but no--the lists of beers look quite a bit like any list you'd see on the West Coast.

What did leap out was how: 1) small, and 2) new the market for good beer appears in Indiana. Let's take the small first, despite the reverse causal nature of such a presentation. Amazingly, of the 29 breweries that listed their production (of 37), 23 made less than a thousand barrels.
Brewery Size

80% - 1-1000 bbls
10% - 1,001-3,000
10% - 3,001 +
The largest brewery, Three Floyds, projected it would brew 17,000 barrels this year (more below).

Interesting, but less so than this: of the 37 breweries operating in Indiana, 23 (62%) were founded after the year 2000. The median date of brewery founding in Indiana is 2006, and ten breweries were founded in 2010 or early 2011.

(It's a little hard to compare these stats to Oregon because of the McMenamins and other complications. Suffice it to say that they look a lot different, especially in terms of date of founding. Despite what feels like amazing growth in the past five years, I think it's been somewhat less than 100% since 2006. And, obviously, a number of Oregon breweries are making over 1,000 barrels--an not just a few over 10,000.)

Reading the book feels a bit like time travel back to about 1990. Indiana is exploding with new brewing energy. It's home to famous Three Floyds, there's a cool Belgian brewpub in Indianapolis (Brugge Brasserie) where you can get mussels, frites, and a tripel, and breweries are scattered across the state. And it may be that the market is about to blow, too. I mentioned that Three Floyds brewed 17,000 barrels in 2010; what I didn't mention is that they brewed only 12,000 in '09.

Anyway, a cool book you might enjoy even if you never plan to go to Indiana:

Indiana Breweries
John Holl and Nate Schweber
$16.95 Stackpole books, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Dutch Liquor Genever: Don't Call it Gin

Last Friday, Jacob Grier put together a classic Dutch tasting: a liquor called Genever with a beer back. In the Netherlands, they call this combo "kopstootje" (an word translated, enigmatically, as "little head butt"). On hand were a representative of Bols, a genever producer, and Alex Ganum, who brewed the beer specially for the pairing. I of course asked the dumb American question right off the bat--let's hope I was alone in this regard--"So, what's genever, some kind of Dutch gin?

Gin is made from a neutral spirit and gets its character from infusions of botanicals, notably juniper berries. Genever is also a botanically-infused liquor--in fact "genever" means juniper in Dutch. But genever is based on a mixture of distillates--a bit less than half from neutral gain spirits and the other portion from corn, wheat, and rye mashes--more like whiskey than gin.

Tal Nadari, the Bols rep, said that in a Dutch bar there might be as many as a hundred genevers available. I asked what made them differ was the infusions. "No," he said, "botanicals are nothing." It is the blend of "maltwine" distillates that made them distinct. Some may have a greater proportion of corn--making them sweeter--or rye, making them spicer. The blends are guarded by the master distiller--Nadari himself didn't know the proportion in Bols.

Gin came later--the bastard child of refined genever. According to Bols, "the result of an attempt to copy genever gone awry." Whether because of the vaunted maltwine base or because the botanical infusions are lighter and less intense, Bols Genever does taste different. You can actually taste the base liquor, which is soft and slightly sweet. The herbs are richer and less dependent on juniper than gin, and the result is a liquor pleasant to drink straight. There's absolutely no burn or kick--just a smooth, herbal, almost rainwater fresh quality.

Of course, people don't drink it straight. In the Netherlands, the version of beer-and-a-shot is light lager and genever. For our tasting, Upright provided a crisp biere de garde as the accompaniment. Alex infused the beer with similar herbs found in genever, as well as rye, wheat, and corn. He also used a lager yeast--a nice touch that kept the beer clean and light. The herbal infusion was understated, though there was a lovely woody note Alex guessed came from angelica root. Personally, I found both the genever and the beer preferable on their own--they needed neither augmentation or dilution. They were fine together, but I found myself going back and forth, enjoying them concurrently, rather than simultaneously. (Genever is also apparently versatile in cocktails as well.)

On the other hand, I'm always a fan of ritual, and the "little head butt" is pretty entertaining. The tradition holds that the bartender fills a genever-specific tulip-shaped shot glass all the way to the brim. Further, actually, until the meniscus arches up like a little dome. Since you can't hoist a glass this full before you down it, you have to slurp it first. Then comes the beer chaser, and finally, an amused "prost!" If you're out for a night on the town, one round of kopstootje might be in order. You can currently find the Upright/Bols Genever pairing at Beaker and Flask, Broder, Clyde Common, Cruz Room, Grain and Gristle, Hop and Vine, Irving Street Kitchen, Spints Alehouse, Spirit of '77, St. Jack, the Temple Bar, and the very lovely Circa 33, which hosted us for the event.

More pics:

Alex Ganum is on the far left and to his right is Tal Nadari. Jacob Grier is second from right.

All in a line.

Head butting.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Weinhard's IPA

Yesterday, assorted beer bloggers tackled Alan McLeod's question "what makes you buy a beer" for the monthly session. I didn't participate in that, but it did remind me of a new beer on the scene: Weinhard's IPA. They first released this beer as a seasonal three years ago, and I admired it. Compared to everything else in the line-up, it was an actual craft beer. A bit underpowered for a NW IPA, but a decent beer--and cheap.

(For those of you outside the Northwest, Weinhard is an old brand that used to be brewed on Burnside street in downtown Portland. It survived 143 years, but died in 1999. The brand persists, though, and while nostalgia continues to slowly evaporate, enough people still hold warm feelings for the old brand that it yet survives. It doesn't hurt that a lot of it is contract brewed by Full Sail, making it once again an Oregon-brewed beer.)

The new version will be a year-rounder, and they've futzed with the recipe a bit. They've knocked back the IBUs by two or seven (the earlier version was listed at 45 and 50) but are using a greater variety of hops: Galena, Cascade, and Citra. The beer's a respectable 6%. And, as a Henry's, it will be a lot cheaper than craft beer, even sale craft.

Which brings us back to Alan's question. Price, obviously, is a huge deal. I know more than a few people who wouldn't mind saving a couple bucks a sixer and would find this a more than able compromise on the taste:dollar ratio. I have no idea how well this will sell, but I wouldn't be shocked if it became a dirty little secret stashed in the back of beer geek fridges across the Northwest.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Van Havig's New Joint: Havig's Modern Goserie

Van Havig, known internationally as "brewing's Eugene Ionesco" has been out of the public eye since his well-publicized split from the Rock Bottom Gordon Biersch Centerbridge conglomerate. An announcement yesterday made clear why: Havig has been busy putting the final touches on his new venture, an all-gose brewery: "Miles had his horn, LeBron has his ball; I've got a freshly tart, slightly salty wheat beer from Leipzig." He went on to describe the brewery:
"It's a 43-barrel system, typical of the goseries of 19th century Leipzig. (Goslar, where the style was born, employed 39 barrel systems; we preferred the Leipziger version.) I've contracted with local growers to produce both Dresden golden wheat, the strain that made gose famous. In addition, other growers in the Umpqua valley will be producing free-range, organic lactobacillus.

"We have an annual capacity of over 15,000 barrels, which we should easily brew within three years. Gose is the most versatile style, and we have a regular lineup including kaffeegose, hopfengose, schwarzengosen, doppelgose and ungose, which is actually an IPA. The lineup will allow drinkers to enjoy our range of beers throughout the day, from breakfast through to a nice, soothing nightcap."
Havig, who left the field of economics to pursue a lucrative career in professional brewing, was quick to point out the financial upsides.
"The potential growth is astronomic. In 2008 only one gose was available in Oregon, but by 2010 you could easily find four. Four-hundred percent growth! The market has barely been tapped. With my forays into imperial goses and black goses, not to mention hoppy goses, we expect the market to explode. Some people ask if sour is the new hoppy. Sort of. Sour and salty is the new hoppy," Havig said with a wink.
The new brewery will occupy the former Coca Cola bottling plant on NE 28th, exactly three blocks equidistant to both Migration and Coalition Brewing. Production will begin in May.