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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Midwest-West Coast Collaboration

The notion of collaboration is no longer novel. Yet rarely do you see two breweries of the stature of Deschutes (5th largest) and Boulevard (10th largest) come together to craft a recipe. Or even more pointedly, two brewers of the stature of Larry Sidor and Steven Pauwels. They're still in the process of fine-tuning the result of their brainstorm, a beast they're calling a "white IPA." More on that in a moment.

One of the most frustrating things about good-beer fandom is how regional American brewing remains. The first problem is access: most craft beer distributed only locally or regionally. Because of this, the second problem is that we don't see how other regions brew differently. And this is where the collaboration really gets its fizz.

The two regions have different agricultural influences, different histories, different people, and different tastes. The Northwest, of course, is the land of the hop. Our beer is hoppy and that's how the beer drinkers want it. The Midwest, by contrast, is a malty place. Anyone who has directed the nose of their Ford along the blue highways of America's breadbasket understands how important grain is to the psychology of the region. As proof, Boulevard's best-seller (from a vast line that includes lots of exotica) is a wheat beer.

The idea of fusing the sense of these two places guided Pauwels and Sidor as they thought about what style of beer to brew. The concept they came up with was a beer with wheat and hops, where both elements were both distinct and at the same time harmonious. A wheat IPA wouldn't do that, so they came up with this white IPA thing--with lemongrass and white sage. (They also liked the idea of riffing on the black IPA trend.) When Pauwels and Sidor were in town, I failed to get a quote, but trust John Foyston, the old pro, to bust out his pen:
"We liked the beer but we both agreed there was a hole in the middle," said Sidor at the Deschutes Portland Pub event yesterday. "So we started experimenting with a bridge between the citrus of the hops and the herbal flavors of lemongrass and other spices and a hint of sage worked best."
The final version still isn't ready, but last week, we got to try an early batch. For Deschutes, this is a rush job--fewer than ten test batches til go time (Hop in the Dark took two dozen). It'll be interesting to see how the thing pans out. This version was strong on the sage, which gave strong aromatics but a strangely cooling sensation on the tongue, and weak on the hops. The wheat was a lovely, soft bready touch. It tasted more to me like a farmhouse ale than a wit-IPA cross, but we'll see what the final version looks like.

Both breweries will brew the final recipe separately. There will be subtle differences: they each source their malt from different companies, and of course, both systems are different. Look for them in the "summer"--which appears to have no intention of visiting us anytime soon.

Update: The New School has more on the beer, including a nice video. And from that video, I learned that Deschutes' code name (31-25) was a Packer's Super Bowl reference. Is there nothing Deschutes can do wrong?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Weather Report

The sun has broken through and all delight under its tender rays. Current temperature in Portland, 58 degrees. Now, you might think we'd complain about this, but no, for behold I pass along to you these stats (via Portland weatherman Rod Hill):
Our cool May weather is like the warm weather in Fairbanks, Alaska, each havering highs in the low 60s. Fairbanks has seen 12 days reach 70 degrees or more; Portland just five. Our warmest day [was] 74 degrees; Fairbanks has hit 85.
Despite this, May has been a slight improvement. March and April were the two coldest on record and also the wettest. This year, both 60 and 70 degrees arrived later than ever, and we're still waiting on our first 80-degree day. The poor breweries have been putting out the light, sunny beers, but all we want is stout. Of course, with the violence Mother Nature has visited upon other regions, we're not complaining. Just observing...

Molson Coors Goes "Craft" in Canada

Time travel, anyone? This is the future:
Molson Coors Canada has launched the Six Pints Specialty Beer Co., a new stand-alone segment targeted at the craft and specialty beer industry....Six Pints will initially carry Creemore Springs and Granville Island beers, but its portfolio is expected to expand to Linkinclude other specialty Canadian beers as well as import beer. Molson acquired Creemore Springs Brewing Co. in 2005, which then bought Granville Island Brewing Co. in 2009. Mr. Freedman said the company will operate separately from Molson and come up with its own pricing, distribution and promotion strategies.
When macros get crafty, they have a few options. In a ham-handed effort to seize the market, the early, failed plan was to set up shell, faux-micro brands. They have had mixed success buying brands and incorporating them into their brewing operations. Blue Moon has been a winner, but it's the only example I can think of off-hand. Finally, there's the Gambrinus model of acquiring ownership of existing micros and leaving them as intact, stand-alone breweries. This one seems like a pretty smart winning strategy for the parent company (if not the most efficient), but a big problem for those who want the term "craft beer" to mean anything.

Inevitably, small breweries will gain value and be prime targets for consolidation. And just as inevitably, there will be consolidation. So North Americans will come inevitably to this question: if a brewery gets sold, but the beer remains molecularly unchanged, can that identical beverage still be called "craft beer?" The answer is obvious: yes. But that won't be the answer a lot of people want to hear. There will be some especially painful reckoning by beer fans, too, as fiercely independent brands like Hair of the Dog or New Glarus or Stone start to fall.

On that happy note...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Beer Cocktails Hit New York

Ezra's on the leading edge of the newest trend:
Lately, though, beer has taken on a new and nuanced role in many of this city’s bars, and I’ve taken a brighter shine to it. In growing numbers and with growing frequency, bars are not just serving beer solo but also using it as one of many players in mixed drinks. Whether or not the drinks include hard liquor, they are generally referred to as beer cocktails, and they’re much more refined than the whiskey-in-beer boilermaker of yore. Beer has gone on to make friends with vodka, and it has made peace with gin.
Interesting article--if not revelatory to Oregonians who've been enjoying these concoctions over the past year. Hat tip to NS.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Links From All Over

1. Bill has clearly breached the firewall: not only does he write about the Widmers, he is a part owner of the brewery. Alert the feds! Actually, it's pretty brilliant, because now he acts as our mole inside the Craft Brewers Alliance:
Somewhere in between, I made a small investment in 115 shares of HOOK, ignoring my own advice about the risks involved.... And so it was that yesterday I wandered over to Russell Street to attend the 2011 CBA Shareholders Meeting.
Indispensable reading.

2. Ritch Marvin has put together a really fantastic video of Upright Brewing for their 2nd anniversary. It features an interview with Alex Ganum, but also has lots of beautiful photography, as well. I considered stealing it for Friday Flick, but The New School deserves the traffic. So go watch. Indispensable viewing.

3. Alan McLeod has an ax to grind: craft beer drinkers are impure. They inhabit the same grubby, fallen world as macro drinkers. They are secret swillers. They frost their terrible drinking habits with the sugary lies about moderation. Fair enough, Alan, but I'm an innocent bystander.

4. Colorado blogger Soggy Coaster visited Oregon recently and made some discoveries:
Craft brewers in Oregon, having mastered the arts of the hop bomb and barrel-aged strong ale, are looking farther afield for inspiration. Most remarkably, I had three beer styles I'd never before encountered: Gruit, Gose and Berliner Weisse.
Unfortunately for the rest of the country, if you want to taste these beers--and many more non-hoppy examples like them--you have to come to Oregon. Their distribution is about a fifty-mile radius. Even then, they can't brew enough beer to satisfy gose-heads.

5. Roscoe's is having one of their regular mini-fests, and it looks rocking good: the Second Annual Belgian Beer Summit. It's a really nice mixture of rare-ish Belgians (Struise, Glazen Toren) and examples of exceptional Belgian-style American beers. Fri, 4pm - close, Sat, 2:30pm - close. 8105 SE Stark, Portland.

Friday Flick: Meantime Brewery

I'm not 100% sure this video is going to be playable, but let's have a go. It's supposed to be a cool piece from the Guardian about Meantime Brewery. You can also follow the link if my tech fu fails me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Craft Beer: 5% of Sales, 60% of Drinkers

Here is a statistic: craft beer accounts for roughly 5% of the overall beer market (probably double that if you include faux craft and high-end imports). Question: what percentage of beer drinkers drink craft beer? Careful, it's a trick question.

Until earlier this year, I made the same mistake I assume most people do in answering this question. Obviously, only five percent of beer drinkers bother with craft beer. Ah, but market share and market penetration (to deploy a word I don't actually understand) are different things. Behold the findings from the market-research firm Mintel conducted just last December:
Only a modest percentage of beer drinkers (13%) say they prefer domestic craft or microbrew beers (compared to 43% for domestic and 22% for imported), but an impressive 59% say they like to try them, and 51% would try more craft or microbrew beers if they knew more about them. It seems consumer education is the key to cultivating growth in the craft/microbrew market, according to Mintel research.
How is this possible? One problem with the market=population thesis is that it assumes everyone drinks exclusively either macro or micro. But of course, many people drink both. (I was at the Timbers game yesterday with a recent college grad and craft enthusiast who pointed out that in college, he had to drink a lot of swill because that was all he could afford.) Another factor is consumption rate. People buy macros to consume in quantity; micros are more often savored. No doubt other factors are at play, too.

This is yet another reason why I think the trend toward good beer will continue to grow and grow. Steady growth in the next couple decades to an overall market share of 15%-20% isn't inconceivable. The people drinking suitcases of Hamm's will always skew numbers toward macros, putting a ceiling on overall growth. Still, we've reached an important tipping point. Craft beer isn't some obscure thing no one knows about; it's mainstream. Lots of people drink craft beer, and as they learn more about it, they'll drink even more. We're nowhere near the end of growth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Fast Rise and Slow Death of Pete's Wicked Ale

Imagine the world of American brewing in 1980 like you would a new continent. The first pioneers had landed, set up a beachhead, and were prepared to fan out and stake their claims. At that moment, none of them knew much about the continent, nor which places would later be considered prime real estate. Like little kings, they began planting flags: Fritz Maytag on the state called "steam beer," Ken Grossman in "Pale Aleland." I remember these early days clearly, as skirmishes broke out in the Northwest. Amber ales (Portland Brewing's MacTarnahan's v. Full Sail Amber) and hefeweizens (Pyramid v. Widmer) were hot properties. In Bend, Gary Fish wondered if he could build an empire on some scraggly brush land no one seemed to highly regard: Porterlandia.

Nationally, one of the most successful companies was Pete's Wicked, which from shortly after its founding until the "great shakeout" of the late 90s was the country's second largest craft brewery. It's sort of wild to imagine, but the flagship brand was Wicked Ale, a brown. I was put in mind of this as I perused this question of "foundational" beers. Back in about 1995, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the future of craft brewing was going to be brown ales and Vienna lagers. Instead, earlier this year, Jay Brooks broke the news that the brand would end production in May. Gambrinus (of the Shiner, BridgePort, Trumer Gambrinuses) bought Pete's out in 1998, just at the moment its star began to dim.

The story of Pete's is an interesting case study in brewing failures of the 90s, but it's too often told as a business story. What fascinates me is the failure of the style to take hold. In that great land grab, founder Pete Slosberg went all-in on browns, and for a decade it looked like Shangri-la. But then something happened; tastes changed, the market evolved, and now you can't give browns away. So what happened?

In my "foundational beer" post, I posited that one beer's success can help define tastes that create a market for beers of that type. Whether that's true or not, it's obvious some styles do gather momentum, while others lose it--sometimes completely. I posit no theories here, but I'd be interested in hearing if you have some. Such as:
  • In the 1990s, lots and lots of people drank and enjoyed brown ales. What happened?
  • What causes styles to wax and wane in popularity?
  • Are there current styles that sell very well that we may regard, from 2025, as bizarre anomalies, like the browns of 1995?
I mean really, brown ales. What the ... ?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stout Politics: Obama, Guinness, and the Queen

I have always felt that beer, particularly when applied in the convivial setting of a cozy pub, is the tonic to bring people together. Or, in some cases, countries:
President Barack Obama opened his four-nation, six-day tour through Europe with a stop in Ireland on Monday. There, he downed a pint of Guinness, traversed to the tiny town of Moneygall to meet distant relatives, and spoke to an estimated cheering crowd of 25,000 in Dublin. Obama praised the "centuries-old relationship" between Ireland and America, and said his visit was meant “to reaffirm those bonds of affection."

Obama continues his run as the most good-beer-friendly president since George Washington. He drinks beer at the ballgame. He touts hometown beer (Chicago's Goose Island, now helmed by Oregonian Brett Porter). And when in Ireland, he drains a pint of plain. Obviously, I would have preferred he go with Beamish or--radical idea--one of the upstart craft breweries. (Don't get the Beer Nut started.) But hey, politics is politics:
Even for those who don’t have their fingers on the nuclear button, alcohol, particularly beer, sucks away formality and promotes trust, in part because demonstrates a willingness to be vulnerable among one’s company. For a president, merely sipping a pint collapses the arrogance and pretensions of his high office; the man’s not quite so perfect — he’s approachable.
And indeed, when Queen Elizabeth visited Ireland last week, she wouldn't deign to stain her lips with the plebians' pleasure. (Don't get me started.)

As for Guinness--or rather parent company Diageo--a picture is worth a quite lot more than a thousand words.
Marketing experts estimate that the photograph of President Obama downing a pint of plain in Ollie Hayes’s bar is worth over $200 million to Guinness. Some marketeers have even suggested Guinness could cancel its advertising spend for the rest of the year on the back of Obama’s decision to drink his pint of the black stuff.
I wonder--surely the picture of the Queen turning her back on the pint glass is worth a Euro or two amongst the radical anti-monarchists across the commonwealth? It certainly makes me feel a bit of fondness.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Blazers Fire Cho

Sorry, this has nothing to do with beer, but I had to get it off my chest. I just learned that the Portland Trailblazers have fired their general manager, Rich Cho. Cho replaced Kevin Pritchard, by all accounts one of the best executives in the league, purportedly because the Blazers' owner, Paul Allen, didn't like the attention he was receiving. Paul Allen just wrote a book in which he complains he didn't get the credit he deserved in co-founding Microsoft. And now he's fired a GM who was doing a credible job of replacing one of the best executives in the NBA because of a "chemistry" problem.

In other words, Paul Allen has become the Al Davis of the NBA.

The Native Dunkel of Glasgow

America is an immigrant country, and one of the ways we measure sophistication is cultural diversity. Does a town have good examples of world cuisine? No decent Ethiopian restaurant: well, that's not a real city. Paradoxically, we like the rest of the world to remain locked in their rigid cultural traditions. I guess, looking at it crassly, you might say we think of the rest of the world as our farm team, and we want to be able to call them up whenever we want. Don't pre-adulterate things, that's our job.

So I bring my typical American attitude to the news that German bier is selling well in Glasgow: no!
The heart of Scotland's biggest city isn't where you would expect to find a traditional German-style brewery, serving authentic fare. But that's exactly what Bavarian businesswoman Petra Wetzel set up in a corner of Glasgow's east end five years ago....

West is the only brewery in Britain that adheres to the strict German purity law of 1516, the Reinheitsgebot, which dictates that only water, barley and hops may be used in the production of beer. Wetzel first came up with the idea when she was studying at Glasgow University....

"We are building a second brewery in Glasgow so we are increasing capacity times 20," she said. "That's what we need in order to grow to the level of business that we want to reach.
I love the fact that within a few miles of my home I have a sour-ale brewery, a farmhouse brewery, lots of Anglo-American breweries, and a little further out, a German lager brewery. But this is the American way. Scots should stick to ales.

Of course, I don't really believe this. It's good for cultures to share, and it's good for Glaswegians to have access to fresh hefeweizen. But the lesson is that the world grows ever smaller and those hidebound traditions that led to indigenous beer styles are eroding at the speed of satellite communication. In a brave new world, we may have to get used to strange ideas--like "traditional Scottish dunkel."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Flick: Fred Eckhardt

I should have used this video last week, when we are all celebrating Fred Eckhard's birthday. Consider it a late acknowledgement. Also of note: the video features locals Lisa Morrison, John Foyston, and the Widmer Brothers--plus some non-locals, too.

Happy Friday--enjoy!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Light Struck Wort?

Here's a question for you homebrewers: if you're brewing outside in the bright, midday sunshine, will it get lightstruck during the boil? This is more academic than anything; I usually find a patch of shade. Still, I've always wondered.

Summer Wheat

Post Updated: The meet-the-brewer event at the Guild is next Wednesday, the 25th, not yesterday.
I didn't know if we'd ever see the sun return to Oregon, but the summer beers were a sure bet. (It looks like they may have encouraged old man sunshine to peek in on the Beaver State, too.) In what I regard as a very positive development, it seems that wheat is becoming a more prominent player in breweries' summer repertoire. Two breweries have wits out, Upright and Redhook, and Coalition just released a fantastic American wheat.

Let's start with the wits. The style is surely one of the most surprising success stories in American brewing. A fully extinct style until it was resurrected by Pierre Celis in the 1960s, it seemed doomed to never be embraced in the US--too odd, too upsetting to our expectations of what "beer" should taste like. Anyway, that was my theory until Blue Moon, acquired by Coors, went on to become one of the country's best-selling craft (or if you prefer, craft-esque) beers.

As its brewed in the US, wit is a fairly variable style. In the hands of Allagash, it is an aristocratic, austere beer--quite dry and tilted toward sharper rind-like notes. With Blue Moon, you get an essentially pleasant beer, but watery, tepid, and sweet. In the hands of both Upright and Redhook, the wheat is prominent--a good decision, in my view. But Redhook has created a breadier version with more body; Upright's is lighter and crisper. Redhook uses ginger--a good call--but I find the coriander a bit heavy, which tilts it slightly to the sweet side. This is becoming a national trend in American wits--coriander-heavy and sweet--probably thanks to Blue Moon. Upright's, by contrast, has a much dialed-down spicing regime. The wheat adds a softness that flows into a tangy, mildly tart finish.

My favorite new wheat of the season comes from Coalition, Wheat the People. It's one of those rare beers that achieves the perfect harmony of its understated parts. The wheat is soft and gentle but round enough to give the beer substance. The Northern Brewer hops, which barely register on the IBU scale, are quite a nice contrast here--they bear the spicy, herbal evidence of their English parentage. It's a great session beer, and as we found out, a great food partner, too. Paired with the triple-sweet pastrami sandwich (with caramelized onions, bacon, and sweet sauce), an amazing alchemy happened. The wheat stiffened a bit and became a crisp complement to the sweeter elements in the sandwich. Coalition is in the process of putting in their side patio, and I can't think of a better way to spend a couple sunny hours than sitting in the summer warmth with a pint or three of Wheat the People.

Finally, I meant to mention that Matt Van Wyk was going to be debuting this year's vintage of Oakshire Line Dry Rye--another summer refresher--at the Guild. It was last night. Whoops. In any case, you should go to the Guild, which may be Portland's most sun-washed pub, and have a pint of the Rye there. No Matt, but he'd approve anyway. It's next Wednesday, from 6-8pm. I do stick to my contention that the Guild is one of the most sun-washed in the city, though. (This is why I leave event announcements to Angelo, who can actually track them. Oy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cascades and the Birth of the American Pale

People often create narratives to make sense of very complex things--like when I suggested last week that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a foundational beer in American brewing. There's some real value in narratives. The downside, of course, is that they filter out important context and contributing factors. It's probably worth adding a bit to the story--for the foundational beer brewed with Cascade hops, there had to be Cascade hops. That, it might be suggested, was the real precursor to American style.

The back story, relayed in detail by Roger Worthington of Indie Hops, is fascinating. In the long decades prior to the craft revolution, hop growers were asked to produce hops of a couple types: neutral, high-alpha strains to add a bitter charge, and refined, low-alpha strains like the famous varieties in Europe. There was no idea of trying to produce characteristic "American" hops in the manner of the distinctive strains from Britain, Germany, and (then) Czechoslovakia. The USDA had established a hop research lab at Oregon State, and their main focus was trying to keep crops healthy and abundant.

In service of this goal, hop researchers were trying to create hybrid strains with the same qualities as European hops that grew well in the Willamette Valley--and were also disease resistant:
Dr. Stan Brooks, the USDA/OSU hop breeder, had grown an open-pollinated (wind pollinated – we’ll never know the parentage) female hop having a strong Fuggle pedigree. Dr. Brooks collected and studied open-pollinated seeds from the latter hop flower, which demonstrated good resistance to DM, among other attractive qualities.

One selection from these, USDA 56013, advanced to multi-hill plots for testing and, eventually, in 1967, it was produced on a one acre plot near Salem, Oregon. USDA 56013 turned out to be a diamond in the rough, but it took a while for brewers to take a shine to its sparkle. USDA 56013 had an alpha : beta ratio similar to the imported German aroma hop Hallertauer mittelfrueh and was thought to be a potential replacement for German and Czech noble imports.
That hop, of course, would be named "Cascade" by another researcher, Al Haunold. If you're interested in the long story, go have a look at that post at Indie Hops. In short, what happened was that Coors got interested in Cascades and started buying huge lots of them, sparking a massive trend in the market. But as Coors used the hops, they found them too assertive, to wild, and too far from the less boisterous European strains.

Ken Grossman, who had been homebrewing since the sixties and had by 1976 set up his own homebrew shop, was well aware of Cascades. He was interested in using as many locally-sourced ingredients as possible--and those very qualities that spooked Coors attracted Ken. A couple years later, he was drawing up plans for a new brewery, and a couple years after that, he released Sierra Nevada Pale, a vibrant beer that tasted nothing like ubiquitous mild lagers that had, for decades, dictated which hops would be grown.

Now, of course, new hop strains are greeted with enormous interest by brewers and consumers. Strains like Citra have the potential to create new trends in brewing, serving as modern day echoes of the mighty Cascade. So credit where credit is due: hop researchers and far-sighted beer companies like Coors started the ball rolling long before craft brewers would have a chance to get in the game.


Women's Beer?

Happening on one of those extremely forgettable macro ads recently--maybe the Coors Light ad touting the temperature-sensitive labels--Sally turned to me and said, "They're not selling beer, they're selling packaging." Remember this anecdote as I relay news that Carlsberg has a new product aimed at women:
Danish brewer Carlsberg is getting set to unveil a new beer called Copenhagen, which is already turning heads for the minimal, stylish design of its bottles and other packaging. The message is unmistakable: In a category almost complete geared toward men, Copenhagen can also attract women, who make up one-quarter of the beer market.
Has the company come up with a new recipe that might appeal to women's palates? Have they made beer that will compete with wine at the dinner table? Nope. It's about the package:
"We can see that there are a number of consumers, especially women, who are very aware of design when they choose beverage products," Jeanette Elgaard Carlsson, international innovation director at Carlsberg, says on the brewer's website. "There may be situations where they are standing in a bar and want their drinks to match their style. In this case, they may well reject a beer if the design does not appeal to them."
This is not only depressing--but demeaning. Does Carlsberg think that the whole of women's interest in beer comes from accessorizing? Apparently, it does: "Blonde is the new black."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Breaking News: Blogger Moves ... Plus Some Other Stuff

I knew Stan Hieronymus was moving from New Mexico to St. Louis. I didn't realize it was MSM newsworthy, though. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch disagrees and welcomes Stan and his wife Daria with this nice article.

Speaking of writer/bloggers, Jack Curtin noted at the beginning of the month that he was listed a woeful 33rd on the flawed Wikio beer blog rankings. Worse, he fell twelve points in the past month. This is inexcusable, for Jack's a great writer and a really good blogger--he posts at least daily (except when he's fishing in Idaho). The logarithms are against him, though, and I hope other beer bloggers do their part to link to link back to Liquid Diet and get him up the rankings, where he belongs.

  • When I was passing through Hood River, I happened upon Double Mountain's Matt Swihart and his brand-spanking new purchase: a 1953 Chevrolet Panel Truck (like this one) which will be the new DM truck, outfitted with taps and looking groovy.
  • Pabst is moving to LA--though it hardly matters, since Pabst brews no beer.
  • Craft Brewers Alliance saw sales--but not profits--jump 15% in the first quarter of the year.
  • European beer bloggers will be conferencing this weekend in London. American beer bloggers will be meeting in August, here in Portland.
  • Since this newsy post is blogger-heavy, I should acknowledge the obvious: Doc Wort has vanished. More surprisingly, he's done so without a peep.
That's all I got.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Good Reads: "Craft Beers of the Pac NW" and "Beer Craft, Six Packs from Scratch"

Until about two or three years ago, beer books were pretty hit and miss. Then something happened, and now they're mostly hit. What that something was I can't say, but I'm glad it came to pass. Today I have a couple of real winners that get my highest endorsement. One's a guide book, one's a combo intro-to-beer/homebrewing book. Both are long overdue. We go with the home town gal first.

Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest
Lisa Morrison
Timber Press, 208 pages, $18.95

Of the many behaviors of 21st-century humanity, one of the most recent and characteristic is this: they travel for fun. Wherever they go, they go looking for local culture. Baguette, art, and wine in Paris; pyramids, hookahs, and noseless statues in Egypt. So it follows that lots of people visit the Pacific Northwest. They come for a variety of reasons, but many know about beer and some--a now-old poll suggests 7%--come exclusively for the beer. Which guide do they consult to give them the lowdown on which breweries, pubs, and restaurants to visit for the signature beverage of Greater Beervana (which for the purposes of Lisa's book we're extending, EU like, all the way to British Columbia)? Until a month ago, none. A travesty. As someone who regularly fields questions from visitors who want the inside dope, I can attest to the need.

Into the breach comes Lisa Morrison with Craft Beer of the Pacific Northwest. Region guides are strangely quite rare, and because the geographical center of American publishing is 3,000 miles away, the more general beer books tend to give short shrift to the Northwest. Lisa Morrison has been writing about the beer of the region for a decade or more, and she literally knows everyone there is to know. Her book is a selective guide, region by region, of the best breweries and pubs, with little call-outs for local figures or interesting places. Lisa's been judicious about her selections, but I had fun looking at the word count she gave each brewery for clues as to her secret faves. Example: Double Mountain gets two paragraphs, Full Sail one; Upright two, BridgePort one.

I pretty much have only one criticism: why is there no app?? This is a shocking omission; even as the book is being released, it's falling out of date. No problem; that's how it is with guide books. But in the age of digitization, apps are a wonderful fix. Not only would this information be enormously useful as you're tromping around a town--with links to Google maps, the book would become a beer GPS--but it would never go out of date. It's not too late for Timber to make an app--so consider this a very strong appeal to do so.


Beer Craft: Six Packs from Scratch
William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill
Rodale, 175 pages, $17.99

When a future beer lover discovers beer, she goes through four stages in relatively quick succession: (1) Whoa--I had no idea beer could taste like this. Interesting. (2) Damn, this stuff is pretty good. Tell me again, what's making it taste like lemons? (3) Okay, last week I was really geeking out on that "amber" stuff, but ever since I found [pick one: IPAs, stouts, sours], I have been in heaven. (4) I love beer! How do you homebrew?

Having arrived at stage four, many people launch a precipitous assault on homebrewing, with mixed results. The thing is, it's possible to reach stage four novicehood without knowing very much at all about beer. I've encountered many people in this stage, and I've always been reluctant to inflict a homebrewing book on them--homebrewing guides are at once too technical and too narrow to really edify the stage-four novice. William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill have written a book that is an absolutely perfect solution.

It's ostensibly a homebrewing book, but in the few minutes it takes you to thumb through the first pages, you pick up an enormous amount about beer. You're drawn in by the brightly-colored pages and graphics--which, as both a beer writer and former researcher, I admire for their clarity. Good info, great graphs (Edward Tufte would give them a big thumbs up). Once you do get to the brewing section, the education continues. There are concise, clear, and accurate sections on hops, malt, water, and yeast, brief treatments of several major styles and how to brew them, then more information about things like barrel-aging, sour beers, fruit beers, and so on. Another nice section describes tasting elements of beer, and it concludes with a slightly random but cool piece on branding and beer label design. Even if a person never brewed the beer, this short book--readable in an hour and a handy reference guide--would take them from novice to semi-pro in short order. It's easily the best presentation of basic information I've even seen.

Of course, there is a section about homebrewing, and this too is the best I've ever seen. A while back, it occurred to me that no one should ever brew with extracts. Ever. It further occurred to me that test batches need not be five gallons--one or two would be fine. I was so delighted to see that Bostwick and Rymill had come to the same conclusion. They walk you through a one-gallon, all-grain batch you can brew in your kitchen--no exotic equipment required. The process they describe is actual brewing, not a dumbed-down system that delivers beer but conceals ingredients and processes.

Not everyone is going to bake their own bread, but everyone should have baked a loaf. That's true of beer, too, and this book makes it possible. If people take to it and want to step up to larger batches, they can go buy books by Palmer or Daniels and invest in the equipment they'll need. If people decide it's a little too involved, they'll walk away understanding beer far more deeply and be better tasters and appreciators.

It's a great book, and I'd buy it for anyone who was new to beer and jazzed about it--whether they planned to brew or not.

Note: I have known and been a fan of Lisa Morrison's for years. Timber Press and Rodale Books sent me review copies of these titles.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Timbers Army's Beer Buses?

This intrigues me a great deal:
The Timbers Army has filled its section in the Northeast corner of Qwest Field, and the flags haven't stopped waving since the raucous group hopped off its 10 buses (each nicknamed after different Oregon breweries for the journey) and noisily made its way into the stadium.
The Army went north to do battle against evil Sounders (and their apparently wildly insecure fans) last night, lifting them to a 1-1 tie. But I'm interested in those buse--anyone know the breweries they were named for?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Flick: Samuel Smith, Iron Lord of Tadcaster

Tadcaster, England is a picturesque little town in North Yorkshire. It is famed for one of its local businesses, Samuel Smith's a company brewing beer at its Old Brewery for over a hundred years. Here in America, we celebrate its quaint old-timeyness and its Yorkshire squares and, of course, its tasty beer. But all is not well. According to the following BBC piece, the company, which is the town's major land owner, governs the place much as Henry Potter might. It was a bit eye-opening, and made me wonder how many bottles of Oatmeal Stout I'll be buying in the future. Enjoy--

Blogspot Down

Blogspot has been acting up and they've lost recent posts. I've only just been able to sign in (after about 12 hours) and the recent posts don't seem to be returning yet. The Google folk are on it, but there may be further hiccups. I appreciate your patience.

Update: see comments for the full update and explanation from Blogger.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

OLCC: Opaque, Capricious ... and Corrupt

This is inexcusable:
Documents surfaced this week that show frequent communication between Paul Romain, who represents beer and wine distributors, and Steve Pharo, director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. In them, they discuss how to block a bill that would benefit Grocery Outlet while taking business away from the distributors.
The issue is actually pretty byzantine and difficult to understand, but the upshot is very clear: the director of a government agency is working directly with a lobbyist to change Oregon law. The effect was even more malign than secret collusion; Rep. Jason Atkinson said that Pharo and his employees at the OLCC of lying about the issue.

The whole thing is emblematic of what's wrong with the OLCC. It's an unnecessary agency that wields enormous power, often capriciously, and can pick winners and losers in the private sector. Add to that an element of corruption, and you have the trifecta of dysfunctional. I've argued before that we need to kill the OLCC and start over. This makes the case clearer than ever. Get rid of this malignant agency.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Testing Out a Theory

I harbor a theory I may incorporate into the book: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a foundational beer in American brewing and was instrumental in setting the course for craft brewing.

I could argue the point, but let me instead just let it sit there as a hypothesis. Anyone care to bolster it or knock it down?

The Gypsy Brewer

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers..."
--Blanche Dubois, A Streetcar Named Desire
We know what a Gypsy Blogger is, but what about a gypsy brewer? I met one at the Saison Fest at Cascade over the weekend. He is Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, one of the three most well-known of his breed (the others are Dann Paquette of Boston's Pretty Things and Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Denmark's Mikkeller). Gypsy brewing* is the act of producing beer without a brewery. I imagine the brewer waiting at home, near a phone with a red light, waiting to get the call.

"Your brewery's free this afternoon? You have a couple of extra tanks? I'm on my way!"

And then the brewer hops in his old Metro van full of grain and hops, and races over to the brewery.

It's actually not like that. Strumke, who is from Baltimore, is able to produce 85% of his beer at the DOG brewery. This answered a lot of my questions, like: where do you find breweries with excess capacity; how do you account for the differences in systems you have to brew on; how do you juggle the distribution issues? The trick, it seems, is to find a brewery with excess capacity and work out a deal. Strumke also manages to take his show on the road--or plane, actually, and also brews in Belgium. Somehow he manages to figure a way to travel there, brew, ship his beer back to the US as a sort-of import and still make money. That's is a cool trick, and one I would attempt if I weren't just a half-assed homebrewer.

Strumke is sort of the East Coast Alex Ganum, producing saison-inspired beers that apparently do a bang-up business among restaurants and pubs around Baltimore. (That's another question I had: where do you store your beer? He was visiting Portland with his distributor Maggie Fuller, who groaned. "That's not the problem--they're sold the second he has a batch finished. The problem is deciding who gets a keg.") They have been getting raves from the beer geeks, and Strumke has been profiled by the Washington Post, NPR, The Atlantic, and elsewhere.

He brought three of his standards to the Saison Fest--Stateside Saison, Cellar Door, and Existent. I enjoyed them all, though I found them to lack the complexity of some of the more accomplished saisons available. (Though that's a really provisional judgment; four ounces from a plastic mug isn't exactly the best environment to really take a beer out for a test drive.) The Stateside is a Dupont-style classic and my favorite of the three. Cellar Door is made with white sage which, in addition to a sagey quality, also has a note of chamomile--not my favorite. Existent is a black saison and was approachable and rich. Amazingly enough, we may actually get a few kegs out here at some point. I've asked the distributor to give me a holler if they do--and I'll give you one then, too. I'd like a full pour.


The gypsy brewer phenomenon raises some interesting questions, and I've only begun to think seriously about them. For one thing, it requires a great deal of generosity on the part of the lending brewery. After all, a gypsy brewer gets a brand new brewery without having to pay for one. (Other codgery blogger types have noticed this, too.)

On the other hand, it does take a particular kind of personality: Brian struck me as enormously flexible and relaxed. Keeping all those balls in the air, bouncing around between breweries--it's not for the strictly-regimented. Finally, I wonder why we haven't seen gypsy brewers in Oregon--or even on the West Coast. I have no doubt that there is enough capacity to keep a brewer active in Portland--if s/he could find a willing lender-brewery. It seems like a much easier way to get started than nano-brewing, which has all the attendant problems associated with mini-batches.

In any case, fascinating stuff.

*A term used kindly, though one nevertheless freighted with cultural baggage. Let me emphasize that I didn't invent it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Fred!

Fred Eckhardt is 85 today. Raise a pint for the most celebrated Portland beer guy since Henry Weinhard--he deserves it.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Three Tasty Saisons

Note: this post had more garbled English than usual. I've tried to clean it up.

On Saturday, the Cascade Barrel House hosted a saison tasting, with a dozen and a half examples to demonstrate the breadth of the style. As a tuning fork, they had Saison Dupont on tap. Not that this is the only way saisons can be made or should--but as a matter of perfect pitch, you can't do any better. I tasted most of what was on offer, and was pleased with most. Three, however, really stood out and deserve special mention.

1. Boulevard Tank 7
Saisons are a state of mind as much as a style, and Boulevard does a magnificent job of capturing their essence without being slavish to a Belgian norm. Perhaps as a nod to the region, Boulevard's version uses corn and wheat in the grist, and the result is a soft, lightly sweet malt base as comforting and familiar as a bowl of porridge. The aroma is pure saison, though, with a musty, slightly cellarlike quality the yeast gives. The yeast also provides some interesting pepper notes, and while the grains are suggestive of sweetness, the beer is really quite dry and finishes with a crisp snap. An impressive beer that I would rank with Ommegang Hennepin as the best American examples I've tried.

2. Cascade Fume
I'm a fan of smoked beers, but Iwould have skipped Fume without a second thought except that people kept raving about it. The idea of smoked malt and saison yeast struck me as being roughly as compatible as anchovies and ice cream. Fortunately, others' minds were more open than mine. What I discovered was a very lightly smoked malt in an otherwise typical Dupont-style saison. But where Cascade's Saison de la Maison was wet and a mite sweet in the middle for my palate, the smoked malt dried out Fume. It added an austerity and richness, and when you swallowed, it clipped all sense of sweetness and evaporated instantly, like a wisp of smoke. Of all the attempts to find new ground beyond Dupont, this is the most interesting and palatable I've enjoyed.

3. Breakside Amarillo Saison
With apologies to Rod Serling, there should be a warning label on Breakside's beer reading: "You unlock this beer with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of aroma, a dimension of flavor, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over into the twilight zone of beer." I overheard people denouncing this beer; I watched people dump it; others just expressed shock and confusion. I loved it. Admittedly, when I took the first sip into my mouth, my eyes bugged out and rolled around in surprise. This beer is off the grid.

We often talk about hops as tasting like grapefruit, but this is an evocation. Flavors can only be described by other flavors; we triangulate from there. But Breakside's saison?--it really does taste like grapefruit. The hops provide one element, but it's the aromatic, oily part, not the juice. Add a dose of brettanomyces and you get the sour and bitter--the fruit itself. It was an amazingly resinous beer, and long, long after I quit drinking it, it was still managing to throw my palate off. Still, the intensity, once I submitted to it, was beguiling. By the time I finished my taster, I wasn't even thinking of it as all that intense. It was, but my palate had re-calibrated. I don't doubt that only a few, proud drinkers would find this beer worthy of praise, but I am among their company, and it is indeed worth praising. Approach cautiously, but prepare for a new dimension...

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Great Article on Gose

Allow me to direct your attention to an in-depth treatment of gose in Imbibe Magazine. Writer Joshua Bernstein recounts the history and then spends some time with brewers of modern versions in America, particularly two of my faves, Ron Gansberg and Alex Ganum:
Instead of sour mashing, Upright’s Ganum takes a different tack to gose, which he was first introduced to at a homebrew competition. “My friend was like, ‘You gotta try this,’ ” Ganum recalls of the gose, which was, interestingly, soured with lemon juice. “The salt changes the finish and makes it more appetizing. It makes you want to drink more of it.” Intrigued by the style’s flavor and low alcohol content—gose is traditionally less than 5 percent ABV—Ganum brewed his own version in fall 2009. He used a French saison yeast, then fermented it at cooler temperatures to impart a hefeweizen-like character. Cautious about overdoing it with the lactic acid and salt, he initially used too little of each. He added more salt and lactic acid, then more still. The result was bright and acidic, offering notes of lemon and earth paired with a drying, quenching close. “That’s probably the seasonal beer that’s had the most requests. I always get, ‘When are you going to brew the gose again?’ ” Ganum says of the early spring specialty.

Spring is just one inspiration for Ron Gansberg, 54, head brewer at Portland, Oregon’s Cascade Brewing. Gansberg is renowned for crafting complex, painstakingly blended tart brews, so it follows that when he began dabbling in gose, he went all out. Using the traditional lactic-fermentation technique (the same one employed by Hollister’s Rose), Gansberg crafts a distinct gose for each season. “One of the beauties of the style is that it’s open to interpretation,” Gansberg says of his beers, sometimes released simultaneously as the “four goses of the apocalypse.”
There's lots and lots more in the article. Go read it. Me, I'm off to Cascade for a different rustic wheat ale--saisons.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Flick: Chimay

As a way of providing content while trying to keep my shoulder to the wheel, I will henceforth offer video clips of cool beer stuff--mainly, probably, breweries. Today, a lovely piece on the monks for the Abbaye de Scourmont. You know it better as Chimay.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Third Generation Micros

I'm writing a short article for Draft Magazine (based, actually, on a post I did here) about the explosion of new breweries starting up across the country. For the article, I tracked down breweries in the process of opening in three remote places--North Dakota, Alabama, and Texas.* All three projects are fascinating for different reasons. Avondale Brewing in Birmingham is simultaneously working with an architect to build their tasting room while a bill goes through the Alabama legislature to make such a practice legal. Edwinton Brewing is trying to bring beer to the great far north--in Bismarck.

But here's the really fascinating thing: every one of them is planning to do Belgian beers. They may do other styles, too, but they're leading with Belgians, and it's clear the reason they want to brew is because of Belgians. I just spoke to the owner of Avondale this afternoon and I was certain he was going to list a standard line-up of British-American ales. Nope. In fact, the brewer is planning to make a saison from a yeast strain he's taken from a red wine--and muscled into beer-fermentation. (This is, purportedly, the same place Dupont got their famous yeast.)

I think it's what happens when you've had good beer in a country for 35 years. The first breweries had to make it up as they went. The second wave of breweries, 15-20 years later, started with a more sophisticated sense of beer and brewing. The third wave, just getting underway, have been exposed to good beer long enough that selling Belgian beer on the high plains or deep South doesn't seem insane. It's just what you do.

Ever more reason to think that all these new breweries aren't just derivative opportunists, but the extension of a market that still has a way to grow.

*True, Texas is not remote nor new to brewing. But it is massively under-represented on a per-capita basis. In fact, when I mentioned it to Scott Hovey, who's busy founding Adelbert's Brewery near Austin, he instantly said, "We're ranked 47th in terms of per capita breweries." It was in his business plan--smart guy.

George Washington's Small Beer: Less Than Meets the Eye

My Google News alert was thrumming last night with a story that Schmaltz Brewery would be making a batch of George Washington's famous beer:
The founding father and first president of the republic was a man of the people when it came to his drink of preference. His "Notebook as a Virginia Colonel," dated from 1757, includes a handwritten recipe for "small beer."

That recipe, along with many of Washington's other papers, is part of the New York Public Library's collection. This month, the library is joining with Shmaltz Brewing Co. to recreate a modern version of the porter to celebrate the centennial of its Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

Just 15 gallons will be brewed and offered for tasting. Local brewers Peter Taylor and Josh Knowlton have taken the liberty of tweaking the recipe, which the library has dubbed "Fortitude's Founding Father Brew."

There are a couple problems here. First. Fifteen gallons? That's not even nanobrewing. Who brews a half gallon barrel? Second, if you're going to do something like this and light up the internet, shouldn't you at least go all in and hawk it like it's Billy Beer? Cash in if you're going to cash in.

But my bigger problem is that the "recipe" is no such thing. Behold:

"To make Small Beer. Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. — Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask — leave the Bung open till it is almost done working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."

What the hell is he talking about? He was only 25 when he scratched this out, and my sense is that his knowledge of brewing was ... rudimentary. Even if we grant that "bran hops" is supposed to be rendered "bran, hops," it still doesn't make a lot of sense. Maybe by bran he meant malt, but then "to taste" doesn't give a lot of direction. And the business of adding the molasses after the boil--probably not super wise. (But, maybe--if it was boiling Hot.)

Schmaltz's Jeremy Cowan acknowledged that the recipe is cockamamie--or "tricky," as he described it. "The ingredients in the brewing process that he used are kind of pre-modern." Indeed.

Good President, bad recipe.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Festival of Saisons

In the manner of men everywhere, I like lists. One of my favorite ideas for lists is: if you had to limit yourself to just five styles of beer for the rest of time, what would they be? I once asked a well-respected writer this question and he said: "saison." A man after my own heart.

This weekend, the Cascade Barrel House will be the site of a little one-day fest that would leave Stan totally satisfied. There are only 16 examples here (which is, obviously, more than you'll drink, anyway), but they represent a lot of what the style has to offer in terms of diversity. Fortunately, Cascade is offering Saison Dupont, the standard against which all others are compared. They range from the very small (3.5%, Buckman La Petite Morte) to the booming (8.4%, Double Mountain Bonne Idee, vintage). Then things get wild. Among the notable entrants:
  • Hatter's Riddle (Block 15), dandelion and two secret ingredients.
  • The brett pack: Amarillo Saison (Breakside) and Saison de Lente (Bruery).
  • The black pack: La Petite Morte, Saison Minuit (Cascade), Existant (Stillwater).
  • Saison Fume (Cascade), a smoked saison.
  • Thai-son (Green Dragon*), ginger and lemongrass.
  • Frederic's Lost Arm (Oakshire), green oolong tea.
  • Cellar Door (Stillwater) finished with sage.
  • Cider Saison (Two Rivers), a "saison style cider." Yup, no idea.
As you can see from this list, the grist and spices don't make the saison. What does, of course, is the yeast. Generally very-well-attenuating, saison yeasts can produce amazing flavors, ranging from exotic tropic-fruit to peppery esters. Add some funk or spice and you can draw these out. (Once, all saisons were infected.) I have had exactly two of the beers on the list (Dupont and Upright), so everything else will be a new experience. Fortunately, I'll be in town, and this is one fest I can experience with my mouth--not my eyes as I read about it afterward.

Fest Details
"The festival runs from Noon to 10pm and also features live music by Black Lodge and Left Coast Country . Admission is free - to drink, either bring a 14 ounce plastic festival mug from home (like the ones sold at Oregon Brewers Fest, Holiday Ale Fest or other such events) or purchase a plastic Cascade mug for $3. Sorry, no glass allowed. Beer costs $1 for a 4-oz taste, or $4 for a 14 oz mug (there may be a few double token and/or taster only kegs). The event takes place on the production side of the Barrel House. Minors are allowed, but not encouraged."

No idea what the difference is between Green Dragon and Buckman Brewery. I thought they were one in the same.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

What to do with styles?

I have been wrestling with this question over the past week: are bitter and pale ale two styles? What if you include American pales? Into my consciousness comes Alan McLeod, who offered this fascinating rumination on Michael Jackson and the origins of styles--the concept, not styles themselves.
What it really represents, as Martyn's article points out, is the beginning of a concept that he and others used to go on to define how we beer nerds think about beer. Yet, as far as I can tell, what we now call "styles" were really, in 1977, "types" to him. Consider this: these days the general convention is that 100% of beer brands need to fall into one style or another. There is no room left over for un-styled beer. Back then, by contrast, styles were not all the wedges on a pie graph. They were classic examples arising from groups. And groups related to types. For Jackson, at the outset, "styles" were still something of a hybrid idea somewhere between "type" and a further fifth category which he went on to call "classics" - which is an idea, from my reading, which leaned heavily towards the singular rather than the class. Perhaps archetypes. Or maybe just best beers ever. All very good ideas in itself to be sure. But ideas that were not yet fully formed.
The comment thread continues with interesting observations. Martyn Cornell, who wrote the story Alan was referencing, added this:
[I]t appears Michael's initial movements towards the concept of "beer styles" in the [World Guide to Beer] were not the same, more fully formed, ideas that he, and others, developed later. Certainly it's true that to begin with, Michael had no conception, explicit or implicit, that all beers had, of necessity, to be slotted into one style or another, and I'm not sure that he ever did: this was an idea that seems to have developed as the concept of beer styles themselves gained acceptance. If you're going to write about world beers for a world audience, though, especially an audience that was likely not to have drunk many/most of the beers you were writing about, the categorisation of beers into styles made the job of writing about those beers hugely easier, I'd suggest, which is why Michael pioneered and popularised the concept of beer styles, because he was a natural teacher and found, through the idea of beer styles, an easy way of teaching people about beer.
Stephen Beaumont continues:
In other words, he was liberating these beers from their national and, in some cases, decidedly regional straitjackets.... Today, on the other hand, we see beer style as the imposition of a different kind of straitjacket, as in, "this isn't really of this style because it doesn't look and smell and taste like A, B and C." Rather than liberating beer, this approach seeks to pigeonhole brands for ease of evaluation, or "rating."

The irony, of course, is that this is all occurring during a period of unprecedented innovation in brewing and internationalization of beer sampling opportunities. Which is why I suspect the GABF will soon be judging several hundred different beer "styles."

To which I'll add a modified version of my own comment there. I expect every beer writer confronts the question of style at some point and, like Jackson, many probably commit provisional, murky, and inconclusive markers to paper--some overly general and some overly specific. One day, I plan to do that, too, but I'm still not there yet; my thinking has yet to clear up to become just murky.

Three factors intrude on the discussion and I'm not sure how to handle them. The first is evolution. Beer styles change, sometimes very quickly. When we talk about "traditional," what do we mean? Take pale/bitter, for instance. On the one hand the style has evolved and individuated a bit. It has sort of split, but the overlap is pretty profound. Add to it American pale ales and you create a third thing at least as distinct as the first two are from each other--and one that has ricocheted back to Britain. So what to do? Porters/stouts, wit, spontaneously fermented American sours, American ales--these and many more have multiple definitions. Which to use?

That takes us to the second problem: the human desire to solidify things, which obviously runs smack into the changing nature of beer styles. Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell have done a lot to knock down some of the old myths Americans continue to tell about certain styles, but we're constantly making more. This Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale thing is a good example. No amount of arguing will convince me that a hoppy strong dark ale is in any way novel or deserving of special identification, yet we're well on the way to making it so. As a beer writer, I must acknowledge that, while BIPAs aren't really a new or unique style, they are a commercial style and a style many humans recognize. Like money, if enough people believe in them, they come to be.

Finally, beer styles should bring clarity to the discussion, not confusion. An ever more byzantine catalog of beer styles surely doesn't add clarity to understanding beer, but oversimplification doesn't, either. And, as Stephen notes, this age of unprecedented innovation needs to be documented in a way that allows readers to understand what connects different beers taxonomically and historically, but also to what distinguishes them. Are they innovations, or do they just seem like innovations to people who aren't familiar with the long history of the art?


For Beer City, USA, Vote Portland ... Maine

For the past couple or so, Charlie Papazian has run an online poll to determine "Beer City, USA." The last couple years, it has been a battle between Portland and Asheville, NC--and pretty much no one else. Obviously, this isn't a hugely important laurel most cities seek. The battle of the past two years hasn't reflected especially well on Portland, and I join Brady Walen and Bill Night in hoping that we sit this one out. Since Asheville has won the last two years, it might be valuable for a different city to have bragging rights, and so I nominate the other Portland, in Maine. It's a great beer town that gets way less press than it should given all its great pubs and breweries. They got my vote.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Study: Keep the Kids Away From the Liquor Cabinet

(I'm suffering a little bin Laden fatigue, and since this is my blog, I'm allowed to violate my own rules, like not talking about beer today.)

I have no horse in this race (or kids in the house), but I know studies like this provoke strong reactions. Still, I think it's wise not to dismiss them out of hand.
A new study shows that teens who drink with an adult supervising are more likely to develop problems with alcohol than kids who aren’t allowed to touch the stuff till they hit age 21.
I think we all want the same thing for our successor generations: healthy, happy people who enjoy superb beer in moderation. Since the goal is clear, it's worth being open minded about the method. However, it's also worth noting that the methodology mentioned in the story doesn't seem to be perfectly brilliant. Maybe the actual study was better.

Your thoughts?

Noting the Larger World

Last night, President Obama announced the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan--and today writing about beer feels a little frivolous. I'm not sure what significance this will have in geopolitics, but it will bring up a lot of emotions for people across the globe. There are myriad reasons to raise pints today--but not the pints themselves. Tomorrow we can talk about beer again.