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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do Not Ask Me to Lie to My Readers

Man, this stuff really raises my dander.  In almost no case would I post a private email sent to me, but this--which obviously Dave also got (a follow up email apologized for the cut-and-paste error)--deserves a little disinfecting light. What the emailer is requesting is illegal.  It's skeezy.  And for god's sake, it's lazy.  Five minutes of cruising around my blog and this guy would have realized that I'm not going to be writing about auto law.  Crikey.

Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 3:58 PM
Subject: Sponsored Content Placement on Dave Knows Portland

Good Afternoon Dave,
My name is [redacted] and I represent an agency that specializes in online search engine optimization. I came across your blog while searching for popular blogs by Oregon locals. One of our clients is an auto law firm based in Oregon and is interested in placing content on various trusted blogs and websites. We are looking to place 2-3 permanently linked keywords with “dofollow” tags within the text of a post. The content placement requirements are as follows:
  • Word count: 300-400 words
  • General article about topic/keyword
  • Unique content only (no copying from websites), paraphrasing/rewriting content is ok
  • Anchor text should be in content body.
We can create a guest post or forward our links to bloggers who prefer to create their own content, we will also provide monetary compensation via PayPal to all bloggers.
If you’re interested please respond with rates and terms of agreement.
If you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact me.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Have a great day!
Name redacted |  SEO Specialist

Driven to Outperform
CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This email message, including all attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain confidential and privileged information. If you are not the intended recipient, you may not use, disclose, copy, or disseminate this information. Please contact the sender by e-mail immediately and destroy all copies of the original message including all attachments. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

Incidentally, don't spam me, ask me to do something that violates federal law, and then append a confidentiality notice warning me not to disclose the "privileged information." 

Monday, April 29, 2013

John Harris's New Brewery: Ecliptic

Yesterday afternoon, in a fascinating location at the far northern end of Mississippi Avenue, John Harris (who? oh, come on, John Harris) unveiled the name of his new brewery--Ecliptic.  If you're looking south by southwest, you have a fantastic view of downtown and the Fremont Bridge.  Due south to south by southeast, you see a magnificent industrial tableau representative of the neighborhood that continues on for dozens of blocks through tangles of freeway and rail track.  The building itself is a huge and pretty modern warehouse (1976, according to Portland Maps) that will offer Harris tons to work with.  The name, as you'll hear, has a metaphoric component.  Everyone who knew the word "ecliptic" raise your hands.  (Mine's at my side.)

Below is his announcement captured with murky audio on my iphone, and below that some clearer photos.

John Harris's New Brewery from Jeff Alworth on Vimeo.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Spokane-Style Beer?

This topic is now bubbling up (see here, here, and here), and it's one I'd like to address more fully.  I throw it out there mainly to fire up the rage engine:
No-Li Brewhouse has been crafting beer in the Northwest since 1993. Their branding pays homage to their love of Spokane and the region. Now, No-Li has put Spokane on the map as a major force in the world of craft brews. Earlier this week No-Li announced that they have gotten federal approval for a new style of craft beer. Spokane-Style.

What makes a beer Spokane-Style? Well, first off it must be brewed and packaged in Spokane. But the origin of the beer goes beyond that. To be classified as Spokane-Style all the ingredients must come from within 300 miles of the city.
For the moment, I'll leave you with these questions: How does the federal use of the word "style" change its meaning?  Is 300 miles the right radius for a local style beer?  Why not 100?  500?  Is this a good precedent?  Will designations like "Spokane style" be a boon or curse to consumers? 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Big and Little News of the Day

I somehow missed this:
Over the past decade, the alcohol levels of many beers has edged toward — or well into — the double digits. But a couple of new Bay Area brewing companies are betting that bigger is not always better.

Pete Slosberg of Pete’s Wicked Ale fame unveiled Mavericks “Not yet world famous session beers” on Feb. 8. ...Mavericks, meanwhile, is taking a more contemporary approach, with modern styles that include a Belgian-style wit, rye pale ale and chocolate porter. Mavericks is going all-in with session beers by specifically targeting 3.75 percent ABV, but Shelton would like to see them go lower. 
How much credit should go to Magnolia's Dave McLean?  (A lot, probably.)

Now, for something completely different, we turn to Gigantic Brewing, which digs into the archives for the new beer:
Brewers in the midlands of England would boil their barley wine ales longer to intensify their flavors. In making MASSIVE!, we used only British Halcyon pale malt and boiled it for eight hours, giving the beer a deep ruby color and rich malt flavor. Heavily hopped, MASSIVE! is a beer that can be enjoyed now for its intensity, or after years, and years, and years of aging… 12% ABV 
What's next--PeetermanDoble doble?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Irresistible To All: Mass Market Lagers Compared (Part 2)

My survey of mass market lagers continued last night (part one is here), with more revelations and insights.  Minor ones, perhaps, but insights nevertheless.  Yesterday's batch was clustered much more around the median beer than the first, which featured impressive winners and losers--and glory of glories, we had only one skunked beer in batch two.  I'll list the beers again for you, and you can consider which came out on top. (Countries listed are origin, not necessarily where the beer was made.)
  • Coors (US) "The legend since 1873"
  • Kirin Ichiban (Japan) "One of the world's most unique beers"
  • Kona Longboard (US) "Island lager"
  • Miller Genuine Draft (US) "Fresh draft taste/frescura y sabor"
  • Pacifico (Mexico) "Imported beer/brewed in Mexico"
  • Sapporo (Japan) "Irresistible to all ... masterpiece of the brewer's art"
  • Singha (Thailand) "The original Thai beer"
  • Spaten (German) "Premium lager" 
Now, while you're considering those, let me mention that this batch contained three beers I'm quite familiar with, and as I was drinking them, the role of familiarity and nostalgia came into focus.  I can't drink a Miller without thinking of my youth.  Miller and Hamm's were two of my go-to cheapies, and that spritzy corn beer holds a lot of associations.  Singha I drank in Thailand, one of the nicest countries on the planet, and its slightly rough malt and lemongrass character remind me of heat, humidity, and Phad Thai.  Finally, Pacifico is my current go-to beer for hot days.  There's something similar among the Mexican beers, and of these, Pacifico is my fave.  Maybe it's the sunny yellow label or the association I have with it as a summer beer, or the slight exotica it brings with it when it comes across the border.  In each case, it's actually impossible for me to decouple the mental associations from the flavor.  This is our boon and our curse as humans--we have big, flamboyant brains that we use for silly things like investing meaning in cheap beer and remembering lyrics to bad songs.  C'est la vie.

Anyway, to the beers.  The easy winner was Longboard Lager, but I wouldn't call it a ringer.  It is very much brewed to be a mass market lager.  It's the kind of beer I could hand to my father and he'd agree that it was beer.  Perhaps rich and "European" tasting, but beer.  It's got just 20 IBUs and 4.6% alcohol, and could never be mistaken for a pilsner.  Yet it is very full in flavor, with a kiss of toast on a grainy malt bed and a bright, slightly lemony dusting of hops.  (Full Sail Session Lager, by contrast, really isn't brewed to compete with these beers.  My dad would politely have one and then head back for a can of Busch.)

The Japanese acquit themselves nicely.  Kirin, which I have drunk very rarely, was hugely floral--Sally said Gardenia--and had a sweet honey malt base.  It was lush and tropical.  Sapporo started out tropical, with a touch of lychee, but then warmed into that classic very dry, toasty profile I associate with the Japanese.

Miller Genuine Draft is spritzy but a bit thin.  When cold, it has a subtle white wine note (Riesling?) that fades into a more pronounced corny flavor as the beer warms.  If you want to really get a sense of American beer and the effect of corn, Miller's your beer.  Coors has more body and is crisper, but is fairly neutral on the palate.

Pacifico is surprisingly full-bodied in comparison with these others, especially the American beers.  You think of hot-climate beer and you think crisp and light.  The malts are toasty and I couldn't find any cereal malts with my tongue and nose; anyone know what the grist is?  Singha beer (don't ask no questions, Singha beer, don't tell no lies) has a flavor that I pick up in many Asian beers all the way to India, and I would love to know what it is.  It's a bit rough, a bit grassy.  Singha is distinctive, but not in uniformly positive ways.  Nevertheless, I am powerless to resist its charms.

Spaten was skunked.  (Though I've had the beer fairly often, and it's a good one.  Spaten Lager is not exactly a helles--it's fizzier and has less prominent malt character--but does have the density and richness you'd expect from an all-barley beer.)

The survey was by no means complete.  Mexico and Canada were under-represented; Japan probably over-.  But this wasn't a bad start.  Perhaps I'll make another round, but perhaps not.  At a certain point, you come to the place of diminishing returns. 

Your thoughts?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Beer Sold at the Grocery Store is Fair Game

In response to my mass market tasting, part one, Jack writes:
re: lightstuck Stella and Beck's
For fairness, you should seek non-abused beers for comparison. Eg, a bottle from the middle of a light blocking cardboard carton box or canned beer.
Absolutely not.   I made sure to purchase the beer at a high-volume grocery store (Freddy's), but I bought the samples in a manner I could afford (twenty half-racks, just to get one beer from each that's not lightstruck, is crazy).  Where possible, I tried to determine how fresh the beer was, though not all breweries make that easy.  And come on: American breweries have figured out that if you're going to package your beer for appearance, you use hop extracts that lack the compound that gets lightstruck.  If you're going to sell me a bottle of beer in a green bottle, you can't say it's "unfair" of me to have noticed that it's skunked.  There is a lot that is out of a brewery's hands once a palette of beer leaves the brewery, but not that.

Indeed, it's naked contempt for your customers to sell them beer in a green bottle.  The brewery knows it's going to get skunked, but makes a calculation that the customer can be won over by a big ad campaign, anyway.  I want to give every brewery a fair shake.  I strongly reject the false correlation of brewery size and beer quality.  But if you don't want beer writers to excoriate you for selling skunked beer, don't sell the damned stuff in green bottles.  It's very fair for me to taste the beer the brewery puts on grocery shelves. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mass Market Lagers Compared (Part 1)

I have always intended to do a survey of mass market lagers, and there's nothing like a book chapter to bring urgency to such a plan.  So on Wednesday I went out and rounded up a bunch of them (there are tons, more than you probably imagine) and last night Sally and I cracked open the first chunk.  To make this interesting, I will list the beers I tried and you can guess which were the tastiest.  I'd put one head and shoulders above the rest, another two were quite nice, two were skunked (green bottles!) but somewhat discernible, and one was really quite bad.  So the challenge--which was the really good and which the really bad?  (I've listed the countries of origin, not necessarily where they were produced.)
  • Asahi Super Dry (Japan)
  • Beck's (Germany)
  • Carlsberg (Denmark)
  • Foster's (Australia)
  • Heineken (Netherlands)
  • Peroni (Italy)
  • Steinlager (New Zealand)
  • Stella Artois (Belgium)
  • Warsteiner (Germany)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mass Market Lagers

Note: Post has been updated.

As you may have guessed from my most recent brewery tour, I'm working on a portion of the book involving what we variously call "macro" lagers.  Nomenclature and taxonomy are interesting here.  For some reason, people have felt it necessary to make separate categories for a ton of beers that consumers think of as one continuum--examples like Budweiser, Bud Light, Singha, Foster's, Stella Artois, Kirin, Pacifico, and so on.  Most countries have these beers, and the similarities far outweigh the differences.  Yet distinguish people do.

Here's how the BJCP does it:
  • "Lite" American lagers (why does the BJCP use that spelling?)
  • Standard American lagers
  • Premium American lagers
  • Helles
  • Dortmund export
For reference, Kirin would be a "standard American Lager," while Singha would be a premium.  Clear?

BeerAdvocate, which speaks for the mind of the beer geek, does it this way:
  • American Adjunct Lager 
  • American Malt Liquor 
  • American Pale Lager 
  • Light Lager
By their lights, Budweiser is an adjunct lager while Kirin (also made with rice) is an American pale lager.

In my book, I have decided to dispense with these categories.  There's something supremely bizarre about using American brewing and its attendant prejudices to conceptualize style.  It's just silly to call a Japanese lager made with rice an "American lager" (standard or pale) while Budweiser, an American lager made with rice, is an adjunct or "premium" lager.  Those divisions of standard and premium (along with super-premium) are marketing artifacts of the pre-craft brewing era that the large American companies used to distinguish between pretty well indistinguishable beers.

The beer geek framework is equally dubious.  "Adjunct" is propaganda, too.  It's what the Brewers Association used to distinguish their membership from the big companies--more marketing--but it's ahistorical and misleading.  There's nothing wrong with adjuncts.  In saisons, the beer geeks' beer, we celebrate them.  But in our own indigenous beers, where corn and rice are as American an expression as invert sugar is in English brewing, they are somehow the stain of shame. Don't buy the hype.

The story of how there came to be mass-market beer is much like the stories of how there came to be mass-market everything: the industrial revolution made it possible to mass-produce beer, which led to mass marketing and mass distribution, the practices of standardization and preservation. In this way, beer isn’t much different from meat or bread or cheese. The development of mass markets make it possible to manufacture and distribute a product cheaply, putting it in front of the largest number of people possible. Tailoring products for huge populations, in beer as much as other product categories, necessarily meant appealing to the center of the bell curve, where most people’s tastes congregate. When made to serve the median palate, products lose their thorns and idiosyncracies and become a more generic, bland version of the thing. More or less, that was the story of the 20th century in beer just as much as it was in other products.

Kirin reflects the mass tastes of Japan the way Budweiser reflects the mass tastes of the US and Singha the mass tastes of Thailand.  To try to distinguish these in terms of their taxonomy misses the forest for the trees.  To add a moral component by focusing on ingredients is also a matter of putting on blinders.  These are a category because they evolved to appeal to the largest group in a population.  That's what distinguishes them.  There are a few wrinkles we can argue over, like light beer and malt liquor, but I'm defaulting to "mass market lagers" when I can see no other reason to try to sort beers like Singha, Budweiser, and Foster's.

Update.  In a case of synchronicity, Pete Brown has posted a fascinating video illustrating my point.   For what it's worth, my own experience at Budweiser was completely different.  In several hours of my tour, the only question anyone dodged was about future projects--which isn't actually a dodge, but prudence.  I would use the video to illustrate the nature of the product, not the perfidy of the makers.  Had the filmmaker been speaking to a brewer, this would have been a very different video.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Mothership in St Louis is ... Gorgeous

There were a few things I didn't anticipate about the main Anheuser-Busch brewery in St Louis.  I've never seen a 15 million barrel brewery, and somehow in my imagination, it was appropriately scaled up--mash tuns as big as city blocks, fermenters that could do double-duty as oil tankers.  That was silly and naive, a mistake I recognized the minute I saw how AB does it.  (A complex matrix of big but not insane vessels that dance through intricate choreography to push through lots of beer in a day.)  But it was not naive of me to imagine that the place would look like an industrial plant.  I've been to smaller big breweries that did.  Paulaner does five million hectos and it's beautifully steampunk fused with 70s utilitarianism. 

But no, the Budweiser brewery is gorgeous--probably the prettiest I've ever seen:

It's a turn-of-the-(20th)-century gravity brewery with a soaring atrium, chandeliers made to look like hop vines (they were made for the 1904 St Louis World's Fair), tiled artwork, and incredibly gracious space.  You can see the equipment peeking out to the left in the picture above; here's what it looks like at eye-level:

And here was my tour guide, the gregarious and affable Jim Bicklein, master brewer at the St Louis brewery (AB has eleven others in the US and 8 more in Canada), standing in front of the equally-impressive building exterior.  

I'll try to give a report of the visit in a couple weeks--when my brain can handle a little blogging.  It was eye-opening and intriguing, and like nearly every brewery I've visited, made me think more deeply about the nature of beer.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Next Stop St Louis

It is exactly 24 days until the manuscript for the Beer Bible is due (current length, 211k words), which means blogging is going to get extremely bad for a period closely corresponding to that period.  Yes, yes, I know: how will you be able to tell?  Badda boom! 

If there is any blogging to be done, it might relate to a trip I'm taking on Thursday and Friday to tour the mothership in St Louis.  I should also get a chance to try some beers by local craft breweries (Perennial, Urban Chestnut, Schlafly's).  On the other hand, it's a blitzkrieg trip and I will be either busy or wrecked most of the time, so you never know.

Credit: Dave Ibison
I leave you with some final thoughts I had in an email exchange with Dave McLean at Magnolia Pub and Brewery this weekend.  Magnolia, for those of you who aren't familiar with your Haight Street breweries, is a place for session ales on cask.  Magnolia has multiple bitters (the biggest clocks in at less than 5%) and two milds.  I have not had a chance to visit Magnolia, but I've weirdly been lucky enough to try the milds, which is what we were discussing.  I wondered how he could sell these little lovelies when here in Oregon our sessions start at 5%.  He said:
I guess the short explanation has something to do with the if you build it they will come notion. These kinds of beers have been some of my earliest inspirations as a brewer and from day one at Magnolia, I set out to brew them, turn people onto them, and educate about them. I think we make it such a focal point of what we do and train our staff to spread the good word about them, too, that in the end, we've managed to somehow convert a lot of people and become known for these styles of beer more than any other.
That's hopeful--now I just need to con a brewery to follow Dave's lead or con Ted to open a Brewers Union in Portland.   But he also said this, and I'm wondering what you think:
I agree that it is a little like swimming upstream against a massive current of hops and high abv's but it's working for us and I think maybe we're poised to take advantage of the second look session beers are starting to get
Sessions rising?  Is this true?  Wishful thinking?   Consider it an invitation to opine.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Do We Need a State Microbe?

No one doubts that Wisconsin is America's Dairyland (except in Tillamook County), nor that Georgia is for peaches in much the way Idaho is for russets and Maine for lobsters.  But will Oregon be known for microbes if state representative Mark Johnson has his way?
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a Latin mouthful commonly known as brewer's yeast, could become the official state microbe, joining the ranks of the beaver, western meadowlark and the thunderegg as an official state symbol. Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, brought the idea to the Legislature as a way to celebrate the state's microbrew movement. His district is home to some of the state's most popular breweries.
(Incidentally, I'd like to point out that it's April 4, not 1.  This is not a fake.)  Someone should probably have pointed out that the microbe does triple duty; it ferments wine as well and is also the organism that gives bread dough a rise.  Come on, Representative Johnson, get your blocs together! 

The real questions are these: 1) do state symbols really do anything, and 2) is this really more pressing than higher ed funding and PERS reform?  As to the first question, I suppose a small number of state symbols do benefit homegrown industry: probably hazelnuts and cranberries get a boost by local boosterism.  It is difficult to imagine that a creature no one can see with their naked eye (except in the collective) and a name no one can pronounce could be of much use.  Wyeast Labs would probably be pretty psyched, though.  (Take that, Chris White!)  As to the second: no. 

Ah, it's a slow beer news Thursday, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Where America's Cultural (and beer?) Boundaries Lie

I have long been fascinated by American culture.  I grew up in the Mountain West, a flinty, hardscrabble region where life is as spare as the high desert, and the people are as tenacious as sagebrush.  When people say the "Pacific Northwest," they often include Idaho, my birthplace.  It's absurd--Boise is five hundred miles from the sea.  You can drive from Munich to the Czech Republic and then to Austria, detouring into Slovakia and then drop into Budapest, Hungary in the same distance.  What would the cultural Pacific Northwest look like?  How about this:

What you're looking at is the result of some very interesting research.  A physicist named Dirk Brockmann was looking for sources of data to show mobility within the US.
[H]e stopped by the home of his old friend Dennis Derryberry in the green mountains of Vermont. Over a beer on the porch, he told Derryberry about his research. Derryberry asked: "Do you know about" You can think of as a primitive FourSquare for $1 bills. "Georgers"--as users call themselves--"check in" their bills by entering the zip codes and serial numbers, then write or stamp "" on the bill. If someone finds the bill and enters it again, they get a "hit."
What he deduced from those data were a theory he calls "effective boundaries"--those natural regions defined by affinity, not lines on a map.  The Northwest, you'll note, looks exactly like you'd expect it to.  It captures Northern California, as Jefferson Staters always knew it should.  That chunk of Malheur County where most of my family comes from in Eastern Oregon is properly aligned with Idaho--as I experienced the region in my youth.  Northern Idaho--Sandpoint, Coeur d'Alene--are part of the Spokane region, not the Boise region. Behold the rest of the country:

I have a strong suspicion that if you could map beer affinities, you'd find a map very similar to this one--at least here out west.  To the rest of the world, it's West Coast whatever (pale, IPA, red).  But everyone north of California sort of hates the Golden State (recall the Henry's ads?), which in turn thinks of Oregon roughly as often as it thinks of British Columbia.   Colorado roughly stands alone--as it does in the beer world, too.  California is part of a giant sunbelt.  I'm surprised to see a bright line separating Wisconsin and Minnesota, but not at all surprised to see that New England is one unified Red Soxistan.  That's exactly what it feels like there.

At the end of the day, it's all culture.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Pope Francis to Trappists: No More Beer

I don't follow the papacy too closely, but it's been a high-profile two weeks for the new pontiff, from his casual manner to washing the feet of Muslim girls.  But now he's gone too far.
In his first message to monastic communities across Europe, Francis urged a "less mercantile" approach to financial independence.  He praised Benedictine and Trappist monasteries for their welcoming, engaged approach to surrounding communities, but warned that the Catholic Church should not get too involved in "retail" enterprises.  Many non-profits, he pointed out, raise funds easily enough without resorting to cheese and jelly sales.

Francis also singled out the handful of Trappist monasteries producing beer in Europe, adding that anything that "interfered with clear devotion" was not a proper function for Church brothers.  Church traditionalists, already in turmoil over early actions by the new pope, were left reeling by the news.  
You think Westvleteren is expensive now?  Wait until they they quit making it.  The black market will be huge.