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Monday, September 30, 2013

Fifth Annual Skamania Lodge Weekend of Beer

Can it be five years since Skamania Lodge launched their lovely autumn mini-fest?  I guess it can--and it happens this weekend.  I had the good fortune to go to the 2009 edition, and had a fantastic time.  The fest is held on the grounds out in front of the lodge and you have an almost unbelievable view of the Gorge.  There wasn't a spectacular selection of beers (though there are usually some Washington beers we normally don't see in Portland)--but that misses the point.  The Lodge and location is the focus--the beer is the pleasant tipple that enhances your enjoyment of the place.  If you have the time and bank, you can plan to stay overnight and enjoy some of the other events they have planned:
  • The fest itself, Saturday 10/5 from noon to 5.
  • Saturday Brewer's Dinner with Full Sail
  • Sunday brunch. 
All the details are here.  I don't have a taplist yet, but these are the participating breweries: Acadian Farms,  Amnesia,  Deschutes,  Dick's,  Full Sail,  Lompoc,  Big Horse,  Walking Man,  Backwoods,  Breakside,  Hopworks,  Double Mountain, and Mt. Tabor.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cider Saturday: Wandering Aengus

James Kohn (L) and Nick Gunn
 “Orchard-based ciders, that’s what I’m calling them.”  That comment came from Wandering Aengus's James Kohn, and it led to one of my key recent insights about the nature of cider.  It's an odd thing to say, isn't it?  What else besides orchard-based would a cider be?  This is one of the areas where beer and cider diverge sharply, and it's something I hope everyone puts firmly in their head--especially if the alternative is using the word "craft."  Beer people may hate mass market lagers, but they can't deny that they are still beer, just like double IPAs.  Made from malt and hops, mashed, lautered, boiled, and fermented--all beer is made like that.

But mass market ciders are actually a different thing altogether. They're made with water and sugar, sometimes apple concentrate, get their acidity from malic acid, and their apple flavor from a back-sweetening of apple juice after fermentation (and before pasteurization), and some even use apple essence to aromatize things.  They're reverse-engineered drinks made to simulate the natural flavor of apples. 

Wandering Aengus, like most of the new Northwest cideries, makes orchard-based cider.  The ingredients are apples, yeast, and touch of sulfite* (a naturally-occuring compound that retards oxidation).  In a Wandering Aengus, you get about three apples in liquid form, fermented.  What distinguishes the products are the apple varieties and attenuation.

Nick's eyes!
I had the opportunity to make a run to Salem twice in as many weeks to visit cideries, and first up was one of the oldest, Wandering Aengus.  Old is a relative term, of course--Wandering Aengus is just a decade old.  But it was enough time for them to round up some of the best apples in orchards ranging from Hood River down to Ashland.  Founder Nick Gunn calls it “the largest collection—that we know of—of this heirloom cider fruit in the country.”  (I suspect it's actually the largest collection on the West Coast--I suspect Farnum Hill has more.)

There's still just not a ton of traditional cider fruit out there, so Wandering Aengus ciders tend toward the tart and acidic.  In one interesting experiment, Gunn and Kohn have used oak-aging in one dry cider to pull tannins from something other than the fruit.  Like breweries, cideries have a house character that comes from the preferences of the makers.  What you get in Wandering Aengus are strong, assertive, and very dry, tart ciders.  They're a really nice counterpoint to the sweet ciders made with dessert fruit that are more common.

Head cider-maker Adam
Cocker (a former brewer)
The cidery also makes sweeter, easier-drinking ciders under their Anthem banner--the line most people will have tried.  These are made with Washington dessert fruit (eating apples), which leaves them without a ton of character.  Sugars convert directly to alcohol, and without acids and tannins and aromatic compounds, the ciders can be one-dimensional.  Like other cideries, Kohn and Gunn enliven them with other fruit--pear and tart cherry--to add interest.  They also have what is now pretty common, a hopped cider.  It started here: “Hop ciders are actually our progeny," Gunn said.  "James’ baby."  This year they took the very short drive to the hop fields and made a fresh-hop version as well.

If you're wondering whether the cider thing is really a thing (there's even a game!), consider Wandering Aengus.  This year they did about 650 barrels of the Wandering Aengus line, and 5,000 of Anthem.  Next year they expect to double their volume.  Eleven thousand barrels?  That's definitely a thing.

*We can tackle the sulfite debate another time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

There Is No Bubble; Long Live the Bubble (Part 239)

A few days ago, this article by the Brewers Association's staff economist Bart Watson drew some attention.  In it, Watson argues that there is no "craft beer"* bubble.  He's correct, but he cooks the numbers and conflates metaphors throughout the article, throwing gasoline rather than water on the bubble fears.  (There's an egregious chart in the piece that should make him blush.)  But his central point is correct: judging whether there's a craft beer bubble by the number of breweries is a silly metric.  If the US had 5,000 small breweries and brewpubs making 500 barrels of beer, it would amount to 1.3% of the total beer market.

(Though, to jump into a digressive parenthetical, I can't help but point out that when he wrote this sentence, I nearly fell out of my chair: "This leads me directly to my second point: everyone should stop talking and/or worrying about the number of breweries."  Ha!  Watson's employer spends a ton of their marketing capital sending out breathless press releases twice yearly promoting the growth in brewery numbers.  No one would care if the BA didn't flog that horse so brutally.)

But the real reason there's no bubble is exposed in a different recent article, this one from Ad Age.  The key graf:
Among the losers are No. 1 Bud Light, whose sales fell 0.7% in the period to $5.9 billion, and No. 4 Miller Lite, down 2.5% to $1.9 billion. Though light beers began declining about five years ago, their descent has accelerated this year, noted Benj Steinman, president of trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights. "And that really matters," he said.
Add to that Budweiser, which is in freefall, dropping another 4.33%, and you see why craft beer has so much room to grow.  At less than 10% of the market, it is a tiny slice and is years away from anything approaching a real bubble.

*There is no such thing as craft beer

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You Know a Fresh Hop Beer by Its Taste

Let us consider the fresh hop beer.  A seemingly simple beast, it is made from the addition of undried hops rushed sun-warm from field to kettle (or tank).  In recent years this simplicity has been obscured by off-topic etymological and existential discussions about what "fresh" really means.  It has come to mirror--or rhyme with--the debates about gluten and organics, as if the best way to ascertain the true nature of a fresh-hop beer is to check your conscience.  Can it be a fresh hop beer if some dried hops are used?  Can it be a fresh hop beer if none are used?  These inquiries lead in the wrong direction, to ethics, and away from the thing that is so blindingly obvious.  The "fresh" in the fresh hop comes from the living plant and anyone who has tasted that life in a beer appreciates it through the proper instrument, her senses.

This is not rocket science.  What we should be looking for in a fresh hop beer are those very obvious flavors and aromas that ooze out of the [pick one: fresh, wet, unkilned, undried] hop.  We know a fresh hop beer not by querying the brewer about his methods, but by tasting it.  I recognize that a lot of people in the world haven't had the chance to try these beers, so Pacific Northwesterners must act as envoys to tell of these wondrous creatures from afar.  The first lesson is: they're about as easy to distinguish from normal beers as a porter is from a pale.  If you're sniffing and swishing and cocking your head trying to figure out if the beer was made with fresh hops, it's not a good example no matter how it was made.  If you're getting lively, feral, sometimes unsettling flavors, that's a fresh hop beer.

I am all for truth in labeling, and I endorse Bill Night's long crusade to expose breweries who call their beer "fresh hop" when they're nothing of the kind.  But it obscures the far more relevant and important inquiry into the joys and wonders (and mishaps and disasters) that are to be found in those that are manifestly fresh hop beers.  They are their own thing, and their thing is obvious.  We should go forth and discover.  (I've already written about my discoveriesA lot.)
Hood River Hops Fest
Saturday, September 28, noon-9pm
Between 5th & 7th Streets and Cascade and Columbia Streets
Kids okay until 5pm
$10 for a mug and 4 tickets, additional tix $1
Full list of beers here

One way you can make your own discovery is by heading out to Hood River on Saturday for the annual festival of fresh hops (called, slightly misleadingly, Hops Fest).  There are other, smaller fresh hop fests around, but if you want to get a serious immersive experience (and you should!), Hood River is the place to go.  They have a large selection and equally as important, a large enough supply so that the kegs won't blow at 2 pm.  It is a fantastic way to spend a fall afternoon, and after about three tasters, you'll begin to full appreciate why the nature of "fresh hopping" isn't a dry philosophical inquiry but rather a immediately sensuous one. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I realize I haven't been blogging regularly.  We have family in town through Tuesday, so expect much the same until then.

I have, however, updated the fresh hop list, which is now looking pretty spectacular.  If you're not out in the pubs trying these things, you're missing one of the best moments of the year.  As of 10am this morning:
  • 42 breweries and 2 cideries
  • 71 beers and two ciders
  • 44 fresh hop beers/ciders currently available

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cider (this) Saturday; Book Events

Bushwhacker Cider Third Anniversary
1212-D SE Powell, Portland
Noon to Midnight
Eight local ciders on tap, Leigh Marble and Shoeshine Blue live from 4-7p, free samples of Bushwhacker cider, grilled sausages and more

Source: Aaron Hobbs
When Jeff and Erin Smith founded Bushwhacker in Portland, there were only four cideries in the state.  That was just three years ago, and one of the reason there are so many more now (15?) is thanks to Bushwhacker.  It may well be the most well-stocked cider store in the US, and the Smiths make their own cider to boot.  There are no bigger boosters of the product in the Northwest.  To celebrate their third anniversary, Bushwhacker will be hosting a shindig this Saturday.  The festivities will include eight NW ciders: Bushwhacker Peach Ginger, Txa Txa Txa, Cherry Hop; Schilling Spiced Ginger; Snowdrift Cliffbreaks; 2 Towns Bad Apple; Bull Run Cranberry/Pear; plus special surprises from 2 Towns.

Stop by and say congrats.

John Holl Book Signings
John Holl is having a good year.  His new book, The American Craft Beer Cookbook is on shelves now, and over the summer, he was named the new editor of All About Beer Magazine.   He's on an Oregon swing right now that will take him to these locations.
  • Full Sail Brewing in Hood River tomorrow, September 18, 2013 5-7p.  If you have the chance to stop in and buy the book there, Full Sail has cool swag on offer as a bonus.
  • Belmont Station, Thursday 5-8p
  • Feast Cookbook Social, Friday 2-4p (Heathman Hotel, 1001 SW Broadway).  $5 gets you in the door where Chef Michael Stanton will provide light fare and John and 18 other authors will be signing books (including Lucy Burningham and Ellee Thalheimer).
I have not seen the book yet, but the early buzz is good.  Stop by one of the events and pick up your signed copy. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Curious Case of Ninkasi's Dortmunder Oktoberfest

I invite you to study the label on the latest beer in Ninkasi's Prismatic Lager series.  Emblazoned in attractive gothic script one finds the seasonally-appropriate Oktoberfest written in monochrome.  But then underneath it, this odd description: "Dortmund-style lager."  What the ...?

Let's set that riddle aside for the moment to comment on the beer.  It is delicious, and had memories of Bavarian steins dancing in my head.  A quietly lush aroma of soft malt and peppery hops that unfolds when it enters your mouth into grainy fullness.  Jamie and Co. played this one straight, with German ingredients that go right down to the Reinheitsgebot-compliant acidulated malt.  A brewer is not allowed to adjust the pH of his mash artificially (nein! verboten! unnatürliche!), but can acidify it naturally or--much easier--use acidulated malt.  I actually hated the Sterling Pils that preceded it because the American malts were rough and thick.  In this 5.1% Oktoberfest, Ninkasi has found the softness of German malt, the aromatics and lovely graininess that make helles one of the world's two or three best session beers.  This is about as close to Munich as you'll get beerwise here in far Oregon.  Drink up.

But what about this weird language on the label?  Ninkasi sent me to a secret in-house video the brewery made for employees and distributors describing the beer and why it had these names.  Brewer/founder Jamie Floyd explained that it was largely because the Brewers Association style guidelines essentially don't distinguish between the two.  In the video, he gives backgrounders on how the two styles have sort of grown together so that--at least to far Americans--they look pretty much the same.  Essentially: both have gotten weaker and Oktoberfest has gotten lighter-colored.  Same-same.

On the one hand, I guess I can see how this happened.  Both styles have changed a bit and one has gotten quite weak in the country of its origin.  But on the other hand, this is really a disaster.  We shouldn't describe beer solely by its sensory or statistical profile.  History should play at least a supporting role--and maybe in this case should take precedence, for Americans likely have no idea where these beers came from.  I don't blame Ninkasi for this as much as I blame style guideline-writers who made the two seem indistinguishable.  They're not. 

Dortmund Export
The town of Dortmund is located in Germany's industrial north, far closer to The Netherlands (60 miles) than Theresienwiese in Munich (375 miles).  Northern Germany was late to lager-brewing and Dortmund only picked it up in the mid-19th century, coincidental with the rise of the city's coal and steel industries.  It took even longer for pale lagers to come into vogue, but they eventually did in 1887 when Dortmunder Union began making the first Dortmund-style pale lager.  The brewery made two strengths, a regular and an "export," which was brewed strong.  Export was a sturdy beer that ranged from 5.5% alcohol and up.  It had some of the malt sweetness of helles, but added the hopping of pilsner and the whiff of sulfur that came from the local water--which also stiffened the hops (like Burton).  It was a robust beer for thirsty men.
Source: Dortmund Brauerei-Museum

Export would one day conquer Germany--a shocking fact for a style that is all but extinct there now.  By the middle of the 20th century it had a staggering two-thirds of the total German market, most of that coming straight outta Dortmund.  As you easily surmise, that was the high point.  Export began losing out to other pale lagers of the day--helles and pils--and the great Dortmunder breweries closed one by one.   Now there's just one, DAB, and that beer is no stronger nor more hoppy than a helles (4.8%, 22 IBUs).  It is still a firm lager, hardened by calcium-rich local water, but not a beer of enormous character. It is, by historic standards, a pretty diminished and shrunken example of the style.  An export should be made strong, with strong flavors.  Think of the burly coal men.

Lagers originally got their start way down south in rustic Bavaria--hundreds of years before Dortmunders got around to digging out cellars.  All those early lagers were dark--dunkel--because Bavarians loved them some dark beer.  It wouldn't be until 350 years later, in the middle 19th century, that the brewers there began to fiddle with lighter malts.  I could actually get very deep into the weeds here, but suffice it to say that lighter malts did come, though in Bavaria they were called Munich malts and were honey-colored at the lightest.  They could be used as base malts, and used alone produced deeply-colored beer.  (Dust off your Oxford Companion and look up Sedlmayr and Dreher if you want more).

One of the popular beers was known as märzen, brewed in March (hence the name), a lager that summered over the hot season in cool cellars until the fall.  Because they didn't have artificial cooling at the time, breweries couldn't make beer in the hot months--March was a brewer's last blast until the autumn chill returned.  The idea that märzens are an amber beer is seared into our small brainpans, but this isn't essential to the style. Märzens are just 13-14 degree Plato beers that may be any color.  (Go buy a bottle of Schlenkerla's standard beer, a märzen, and see what color it is.)  In dark-beer Bavaria of the 19th century, märzen was dark.  The first oktoberfestbier was brewed by Spaten in 1841--that was the famous "pale" märzen made with rich Munich malt--and it was probably pretty dark, too, owing the Munich's preference for dunkel.  We can further gather this from the fact that Spaten didn't release the first helles until 1894 and the event threatened to cause a split among Munich's breweries, many of whom thought pale beers were a debasement of the true Munich art. Had that 1841 beer been pale, the outrage would have come much earlier.

Over time, the beers that became associated with Oktoberfest (only six could legally use the term) became amber lovelies of slightly amped heft.  Even today, the great Munich Oktoberfests approach 6%.  Eventually, of course, hellesbier would win out over dunkel in Munich and the Oktoberfests--once chestnut--slid closer to helles in hue.  Those old Oktoberfests would have had lots and lots of Munich malt.  Now they're just a shade darker than the fave style of the city and rely a lot more on pilsner malt--with just a hint of Munich for that glimmer of gold. As Bavarian beers, they are soft and just a touch spicy with hops--beers built for easy drinking by the liter. 

So here's the thing.  By all reasonable, historic standards, both Dortmund and Oktoberfest should be beers of 5.5% to 6%.  But besides that, they're actually different beers.  Only recently have the Oktoberfests ditched the Munich malt.  When I spoke to Jürgen Knöller, the Bavarian-born and trained master brewer at Bayern, he told me how much things have changed since he got to the US. "I’m still brewing the German lager beers from 1985.  When you go to Germany you have some of the older breweries that still brew the same way, but the bigger ones certainly don’t do anymore.  What’s different between our beers here in general is that they’re all probably a little bit stronger, a little bit darker, whereas in Germany they have gotten a lot lighter."  It's strange to think of an Oktoberfest that completely eschews Munich malt.  Perhaps they exist, but I will maintain a prejudice against any Oktoberfest without Munich malt.  It strikes me as a minor form of apostasy. 

Americans are under no obligation to follow the modern German shift to the light.  We can easily accept the not-exactly-truth we always thought was true--that Oktoberfest should be amber beers with a bit of that rich, honey-caramel Munich malt flavor.  Dortmund beers are more like a Burton pale lager, with a sulfurous, mineral edge and a fair bit of hop and no Munich malt.  Both should be a bit on the burly side, certainly not less than 5.5%.

Ninkasi has brewed a glorious helles.  There's just no other way around it.  It's neither an Oktoberfest nor a Dortmund, but it is very much a German-style lager--the most important thing.  It has the flavor of authenticity and Munich.  It's just not either of the styles listed on the label.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thing or Nothing: White IPA

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their early IPA, Harpoon has released something highly modern and 21st-century--White IPA.  Their version has a fair dose of coriander and 45 BUs of peppery hopping but it's more wit than IPA and is marked by a soapiness that illustrates how hard it is to thread this style's particular needle.  But whatever: white IPA is having its moment.  In the churn that defines the current moment in the craft segment, coming up with the hot new style counts for a lot of sales--even if the styles don't last long.

Source: Beer of Tomorrow
Expect more of this.  The craft beer segment thrives on novelty.  If you cast your glance backward in time, you'll see a pretty impressive churn of styles that have come and gone.  Many of them are American inventions, but a few are rediscoveries.  American wheat ales and caramelly amber ales started things off, and we passed through pumpkin ales, fruit ales (both of which have come back around), wits, the many permutations of IPAs (the various coasts, rye, red, black, double, triple, and who knows what's next) and so on.  

White IPA is an invention (and a particularly clever one, given that the two most popular styles in the craft segment are IPAs and wits), so it's definitionally new, but to the average drinker a few of the recent trendy beers--gose and gratzer spring to mind--probably seemed pretty new, too.  In a country with 2,600 breweries making something like forty thousand beers, no style is ever truly extinct (even helles!).  But the promise of some of these new styles as the next big thing (inevitably called the "new IPA") was often a mirage.  Some, like saisons, have managed to become a thing, if not a big thing.  Others, like gose, had their moments and then faded to almost nothing.  So it got me thinking--thing or nothing, that sounds like a fun game!  Here's a sample.
Style ... Thing or Nothing
Wild ale  ... thing
Gose ... nothing
Gratzer ... nothing
Black IPA ... nothing
White IPA ... ???
You can play this game at home, of course.  The list is by no means exhaustive, and your mileage may vary.  (I expect black IPA/CDA partisans to offer rebuttals.)

White IPAs are an interesting case.  It seems like they're a little hard to make--striking that balance between spice and hop isn't a cakewalk.  When done well, as with Deschutes Chainbreaker (which is by no definition remotely an IPA), they're sublime.  A near miss and you enter that uncanny valley of Frankenbeer.  The difficulty of pulling off the trick may doom White IPAs, but with a few hits, who can say? 

So let's play the game.  White IPA, thing or nothing?  You be the judge.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Unbearable Whiteness of Craft Brewing

National Public Radio had a nice piece yesterday on how overwhelmingly white craft brewing is (the fame and stature of Garrett Oliver notwithstanding).  They bore to dorky heart of matters:
"Craft brewing is rooted in home-brewing," [Lagunitas brewer Jeremy] Marshall says. "And if you look at home-brewing, you see nerdy white guys playing Dungeons and Dragons and living in their mom's basement, and I know this because I was and am one of them."
They then quote Steinbart's Duke Geren, who admits that few of his customers are black--but this has a lot more to do with the pasty sheen of Southeast Portland than homebrewing.* I've often wondered (uncomfortably) what the story is with this.  Beer is a universal beverage, right?  Everyone on the planet makes it.  Everyone in America enjoys it.  Yet craft beer?  Mostly white.  Maybe this old explanation remains the best:
White people don’t like stuff that’s easy to acquire.  Beer is no exception.  They generally try to avoid beers like Budweiser, Labatt’s, Molson, Coors, and Heineken because if it’s mass produced it is bad.  No exceptions....  Being able to walk into a bar and order a beer that no one has heard of makes white people feel good about their alcohol drinking palate.

A friend of mine once met a white guy who brought a notebook with him to every bar.  He would then keep a record of all the beers he drank and his experience with them.  He called it his ‘beer journal.’
Which takes us right back to that kid playing D&D, doesn't it?

*The states with the most breweries per capita are Vermont, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and New Hampshire--with black populations of 1.1%, 2.0%, .6%, 3.7%, 4.3%, 1.3%, 1.5%, 3.9%, .8%, and 1.4%.  So there's that. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fresh Hop Beers 2013, the Big List

Last updated: Sunday, 9/29, 3pm

It is that time again, when round trips to the fields result in delicate ales glowing green with the flavors and aromas of live hops.  It is that month of the year when hopheads wander the streets besotted with flavors that can only come from undried hops, the fresher the better.  In the past, we've had Bill Night to keep us up to date as these beery fireflies glow for a moment and then vanish--but like so many before him, Bill has slowly stopped blogging.

I can't possibly hope to keep up, but I will post the beers I hear of--and you can help by hop-spotting for me.  Did you see (or brew) a fresh hop ale?  Tell me the brewery, the beer name, and the hops, and I'll add it to the list (extra points for including the source farm).  Some breweries have begun bottling fresh hop beers, but Oregonians know better.  You can't capture that essence.  These beers are made for draft, and they last no longer than a blooming flower.  Their freshness dates are a matter of days, not weeks, so get 'em while you can.

Because hops don't grow everywhere, certain breweries have taken to eliding whether their beers are made with undried, wet hops straight from the field, or the season's first, freshly-dried hops.  That latter category already has a name: beer.  It is a cheat and the beer should never be called "fresh hop."  The beer must have been made with undried hops, full stop.  Breweries have learned that it helps to use a dose of regular dried hops for bitterness at the start of the boil, with the fresh hops coming in later to add their own sensory phantasmagoria.  That's cool--and even advised.  I have found that this technique actually allows the fresh hops to exhibit more of their character.  But no undried hops = no fresh hop beer.

The List

Note: it turns out tracking whether or not the beers are still available is a fool's errand, so just keep your eyes peeled.  Stats, for those scoring at home: two cideries, 51 breweries; two ciders and 91 beers

10 Barrel
Goodin' Fresh, Chinook (Gooding--Idaho)

Fresh Cent'd, Centennials

Mother Plucker, Amarillo

Fresh Hop Cider, Cascade

Barley Brown's
Fresh Hop Pallet Jack, with wild, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade hops
Fresh Rye'd, Wild

Base Camp
Golden Hopportunity, Centennial 
Double In-Tents, Centennial and Meridian
Hopoularity Contest, Cascade and Liberty

Beer Valley
Leafer Madness, Chinook
Many Farms Pale, hops from OR, WA, and ID

Big Horse
Sticky Green, Mosaic and Simcoe
Black Eyed PA, Centennial and Simcoe

If It's Wet and Not Yours, Don't Touch It, Citra
Barrel-aged Wet Hop IPA, Citra

Brewer's Union Local 180
Little Green Man Pale, brewer-harvested Willamette 

Hop Harvest, Fuggle and Tettnang (Annen Farms)  

Prime Meridian, Meridian
Freshy Oatmeal Pale Ale, Crystal

Cascade Lakes
First Street Fresh Hop, Sterling 
Fresh Hop IPA, Liberty

Green Pig, Cascade (Crosby)   
Simply Dank, Centennial (Crosby)  

The Commons
Fresh Hop Myrtle, Meridian (Goschie Farms)

Crux Fermentation Project
Cruxtennial Belgian Pale Ale, Centennial
Off the Fence, with hops grown on the brewery property 
Crystal Zwickel, Crystal 

Deschutes Bend
Cinder Cone Red, Tettnang
Hop Trip, Crystals
Crystal Cream Ale, Crystal (Weathers Farm)
Chasin' Freshies, Amarillo
Fresh Hop Pine Drops, Centennial and Amarillo
Crystal Pale, Crystal (Goschie)

Deschutes Portland
Oktoberfest, Willamette hops 
Bitter, Tettnang 
King Cone, Centennial and Cascade 
Mirror Pond, Cascade 
Saison, Meridian 

Double Mountain
Killer Green, Brewers Gold (Sodbuster)
Killer Red, Perle (Sodbuster) 
Killer Brass, Mt Hood (Sodbuster)

Falling Sky
So Fresh So Clean lager, Centennials (Goschie)
Nuggets of Wisdom, ?

Fort George
Fresh Hop Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale, Centennials 
Fresh Hop Vortex, Simcoes 
Hopstoria, Citra 
Co-Hoperative, community-contributed hops 

Full Sail
Pilsner, Cascades (Sodbuster)

Sodbusted Simcoe, Simcoe (Sodbuster farms)

Fresh Prince of Ales, unknown 

Golden Valley
St. Paul Fresh Hop, Cascades 

A different Season, with community-contributed hops

Fresh Hop Meridian Pale, Meridian

Bitchin' Camaro,  Crystals (Goschie Farms)
Fuggin' A, Fuggles (Leavy Farms) 
Powell Estate IPA, Willamette and Cascades from the brewery's bines 

Hop Valley
Citra Self Down, Citra

Humble Brewing
Larch Creek Harvest Ale, multiple hand-picked varieties (Larch Creek Farms)

Workhorse IPA, Centennial
Fresh Hop Pale (Pale Project 21), Cascades (Crosby Farms) and Willamette (Goschie)
Free-Range Red, Cascade 

Fresh Hop Seizoen, 40+ varieties 62

Harvestman Red, Crystal

Lucky Lab
The Mutt (all different varieties of hops)

Thundercone, Cascade (Sodbuster)  

Glisan Street Fresh Hop, Meridian 
Wild Style, Crystal
Better Off Fresh IPA, Crystal

Total Crystalization, Crystal (Sodbuster) 
Hop Fraiche, Sterling (Goschie)  

'Bout-a-Hunerd, Centennial 

Old Town Brewing
Freshtoberbrau Fresh-Hop, Cascade
Cents and Sensibility, Centennial

Elemental Ale, Sterling (Goschie) 

Fresh Hop Mosaic Belgian Wheat, Mosaic 

Seismic Upgrade Imperial IPA, Centennials
Oktoberfresh, Crystal 
Crystal Lite Lager, Crystal 

Reverend Nat's
Fresh Hop Hopricot 
Unknown beer (using their own hops? 
Sasquatch Brewing
Oregon Session Ale, Willamette and Cascade
Drop It Like It's Hop'd, Centennial

Silver Moon
Hoppopotamus, Cascade

SoleraChubby Bunny, Simcoe and Citra

Single Malt – Single Hop (SMaSH), Cascade (Crosby) 

Three Creeks
Cone Lick'r Fresh Hop Pale, Golding (Sodbuster) 
Hop Wrangler Fresh Hop Red, Nugget (Sodbuster) 

The Hop and the Abstract Truth, Golding
Fresh Hop IPA, Centennials (Crosby Farms) 

Widmer Brothers
Dark and Dank Fresh Hop Lager, Santiam and Goldings 
Bring the Boom Fresh Hop IPL, Citra 
Worthy Brewing
Session IPA, Meridian

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hop Harvest to Fresh Hop: Hopworks' Bitchin' Camaro (Video)

Hopworks' Tom Bleigh recently headed out to Goschie Farms to pick up organic Crystals for their fresh hop beer, and the brewery made an exceptional video about the hop harvest.  There are a few of these out there, but this is one of the best I've seen.  It also shows the great relationship brewers and growers have formed--and illustrates just how cool it is when your brewery is 42.5 miles (as the hop truck drives) north of the farm.

Monday, September 09, 2013

New Book: The Complete Beer Course by Joshua Bernstein

The Complete Beer Course
Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes
Sterling Epicure, 318 pages

The folks at Sterling Publishing sent me a review copy of Joshua Bernstein's (Brewed Awakening) new book.  I was excited to receive it and was looking forward to giving it a close read and careful review.  The conceit is that you walk through it like you might through a ten-week beer education course, and Joshua acts as your chatty guide, pointing out the subtleties of flavor and style as you go along.  But when I cracked it open I realized I was going to be useless as a reviewer.

The design of the book is slightly artificial, though.  Really, what Complete Beer Course amounts to is an overview of beer.  Joshua organized it so that ten of the dozen chapters focuses on beer style, and the first and last give you the basics about how beer is made, beer flavor and aroma--and appreciating them--serving beer, and pairing it with food.  In essence, almost the identical material I covered in writing the Beer Bible.  They're very different books, but Joshua has had to pore through the same material I did and make the same ten thousand decision about how to organize and present a narrative. 

This is one of the hidden dynamics behind any book.  The author presents material as if it's a kind of enduring truth.  In 1842, Josef Groll brewed a pale lager in Pilsen, Bohemia.  Hops are actually bines, not vines.  Lactobacillus is the same bacteria that sours milk.  It's misleading, though.  What the author actually has to do is take a collection of material that collectively constitutes knowledge, distill it, and present it in a meaningful way.  A writer--a good writer, anyway--will see in the bare facts of Josef Groll's story an opportunity to describe something essential about the hinge of history that swung from those first batches of pale lager.  It's a story but also a metaphor.  And the way Bernstein tells the story is different from the way I did (though you'll have to wait another year before you can compare them side-by-side).  Beyond the storytelling aspect, there are a million other tiny decisions he made that I also considered, like the right temperature to serve a beer, which beer represents the world classic, whether to put citrus in your weizen. 

As I read the book, I kept second-guessing whether he or I had made the right decisions--the problem being, there is no right decision.  They are all roads the reader hopes will take you to a destination of understanding.  But they necessarily look very different.  One example.  In the Beer Bible, IPAs get one of my shortest treatments.  I figured it was one of the most well-known styles, so no need to go into a lot of detail.  In Complete Beer Course, conversely, IPAs get by far the most ink.  Joshua breaks them down into myriad sub-styles: English, East Coast, West Coast, Pacific NW, double, triple, black, white, red, rye, and Belgian.  The book is written primarily for an American audience, and Joshua decided to try to bring meaning and coherence to all the different kinds of hoppy beers that may or may not be labeled IPA.  Same material, very different decision.

Aside from writing a 5,000-page book that includes everything from the Sumerian texts describing the different styles of beer brewed in the early 4500s (BC) to the genome of Meridian hops and the reason they add a bright quality to IPA, a writer has to make decisions about what to include.  Since we made different decisions, I am too close to the subject to stand back and assess Joshua's.  I can say that it's well-researched and fairly comprehensive; the writing is accessible and personal.  Any reader, especially those new to the broader world of beer, will be able to pull a lot of information out of it. 

And maybe that's review enough.  If you want more, you will probably need to consult a more dispassionate reviewer.  A sampling are here and here and here.  At the very least, stop by one of your finer bookseller's, page through it, and see if it's something you need to have on your bookshelf.  The answer is likely to be yes.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Fresh Hops Are Coming

This is a bit fragmentary, but possibly informational enough for blogging purposes.  A recent Twitter exchange alerted me to what may be the season's first fresh hop beer: Laurelwood's Workhorse IPA.  Nice work, Vasili.  (It uses Centennials.)  That further reminded me that I recently learned what Deschutes had planned for the Portland pub's slate of fresh-hop ales, at least one of which makes me dance an involuntary jig.  (Guess.)  Here's the deets--keep your eyes peeled.
  • Oktoberfest, Willamette hops
  • Bitter, Tettnang
  • King Cone, Centennial and Cascade
  • Mirror Pond, Cascade
  • Saison, Meridian 

I also know that Full Sail is doing a pilsner with Cascades, similar to the normal-hop beer they released for the 26th anniversary.  So look for that one, too.  Now, if we can just drag Bill out of retirement, maybe he'll do his regular bang-up job of herding these evanescent darlings. 

Arch Rock and the Lessons of No-Geek Craft Brewing

I spent last weekend in a tent by the Rogue River a few miles from where it empties into the Pacific at Gold Beach.  This is one of the most remote regions of Oregon--the kind of place where you can go to a gorgeous, rocky beach on a weekend during Labor Day and only see three other people.  You're more likely to spot a black bear than a signal on your AT&T phone (or at least black bear droppings).  In January, Curry County got its newest brewery, a little joint called Arch Rock located in an industrial shed outside of Gold Beach.  I stopped in on Saturday, met the owners, and learned a little bit about what craft brewing is like in the vast regions beyond the population of beer geeks.

Arch Rock
Larry and Marjie Brennan pursued backward-retirement.  They began by quitting the heat of Arizona to move to Southern Oregon (the traffic usually goes the other direction) and then skipped the retiring part to instead pursue the dream of opening their own brewery.  Neither one knows much about making beer, so they started by hiring a professional brewer.  They found James Smith in Idaho at Grand Teton and lured him west. 

The only myrtlewood
mashing fork in the world?
The Brennans found a nice building outside of town and outfitted it with a nice 15-barrel brewery with a 30-barrel conditioning tank.  They turned James loose and he developed a line of just three regular beers: a pale ale, a helles lager, and a porter.  This summer he brewed a wit, but one-offs are not really a part of the business model.  The Brennans, who self-distribute, are really trying to establish these three beers in the region.  They have accounts from Brookings in the south to Florence, 130 miles north, and are about to expand to Medford in the Rogue Valley. 

All three of the beers are excellent.  The porter seems to be everyone's favorite, and that makes sense in a chill, wet area.  It's light-bodied but warming, with a very approachable, chocolatey lining.  The pale ale has quite a bit of hop zing (though not bitterness), and the lager--predictably my favorite--is a rustic, slightly hazy beer more in the Czech tradition than German.  The Brennans act as ambassadors for the beer and nurture their accounts.  They take calls at all hours and if it's not incredibly awkward, are happy to run a keg out to a pub.  They greet people at the brewery and fill growlers most days of the week.  In what is surely a rare (though I doubt unique) practice, they maintain "growler cards" like coffee shops: buy ten, get one free.  While we chatted up the Brennans, a local came in with a couple of growlers and was crestfallen to learn that the porter had just blown.  (She did fill one of the growlers with lager--but took the other to a pub for porter.)

What, No Tangerine Gose?
Most of the chat about craft beer happens among beer geeks in cities where novelty and experimentation is prized.  Years and years ago, our old comrade Doc Wort would rail against any brewery that brewed up "boring" styles like porter and pale.  But in that remote stretch of southern coast, there are very few people with strong opinions about beer.  The lady who came in with growlers admitted that until she tried Arch Rock Porter, she was an avowed lite beer gal.  "Craft beer" didn't interest her. 

When all else fails, hit the shut-down button.
Because the porter was out at the brewery, we headed over to the local pizza parlor for pints.  An Oregon Ducks game was on television, and there were a couple tables of fans sipping beers and enjoying the slaughter (66-3 over lowly Nicholls State).  Soldiers occupied one table, and there was a sea of sparkly mass market lagers.  The other table were locals with kids and two in the group had porters--the other two were sipping domestics. 

As Gary Fish found when he launched Deschutes 25 years ago, porters are about the perfect crossover beer.  They are sessionable, approachable, and, with their chocolatey smoothness, vaguely familiar.  And they taste nothing like lite beer.  Arch Rock is repeating the experiment in a county with just 22,000 people (a population density roughly equivalent to South Dakota's).  These are not the kind of beer drinkers who want saison or sours--or even IPAs.  (Yet.) 

But that doesn't actually mean they're out of the mainstream.  Most of the country--and much of the state--doesn't pine for wild ale.  Even though the best-selling brands are fighting to maintain market share, the styles of beer that remain popular do not run to the exotic. IPAs are about as crazy as things are likely to get in the mainstream, and I wouldn't be surprised if Arch Rock didn't brew one soon.  But it may be some time before James Smith decides to experiment with brettanomyces.

In the meantime, Gold Beachers will have his very tasty troika to slake their thirsts.  They seem happy enough about that.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Rare Beers and Good Karma

Brews for New Avenues
Green Dragon, 928 SE 9th Ave
Saturday, September 7, 5 - 10pm
$10 gets you a beer, a mug, and a raffle ticket

I would like to direct your attention to the month's best win-win: Brews for New Avenues.  On your side of the ledger is an extraordinary beer event at the Green Dragon that features a kick-ass lineup of draft beer, including a few from De Garde, perhaps the season's first fresh hop beer (Deschutes), specialties from Logsdon, the Commons, a Freigeist/Jester King collab*, and of course many more.  But that's just to get things started.  The main event is a live auction of a spectacular collection of bottles.  The whole list is here, but a few of the highlights include:
  • A seven-bottle collection from Crooked Stave
  • The Armand 4-Seasons set from Drie Fonteinen
  • A Lost Abbey box set that comes in a wooden box and contains 13 rare beers
  • A Westvleteren 12 box and a special five-year vertical of Westvleteren 12
  • Bottles from Cigar City, Upland, Cantillon, and New Glarus
In addition, there will be live music, chocolate stout floats, free root beer floats for designated drivers, a wall of mystery beer ($10 gets you a mystery beer and the wall includes Abyss, Pappy's Dark, Super Nebula and more), and a raffle for cool beer swag. 

But appearances aside, you will not be the main beneficiary of this; New Avenues for Youth, a local nonprofit that helps kids get off the street, will get all the proceeds.  Last year that amounted to $17,000, and this year they're hoping to do better.  Go raid the piggy bank and buy some guilt-free beer geek trophies, because the more you spend, the better it is for New Avenues. 

*Freigeist is that obscure sour-ale brewery from, of all places, Cologne.  

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Third Dimension: Wild

A little while back, we had a lively discussion about whether Americans should call their wild ales "Lambics."  The question was taken up on Twitter and Reddit as well, and one of the most pervasive critiques was summed up by commenter Jordan like this: "At least supply a catchy name for the new style if you're going to insist on the semantic distinction."  Fair enough.

Each lambic brewery has unique markings so blenders
can distinguish them.  This is Boon's.
Let's begin by agreeing that aside from these wildlings, beers can be divided pretty cleanly into the categories of ale and lager.  (There are outlying opinions, but let's dance past them for brevity.)  This taxonomical division rests on the behavior of the yeasts, so why not follow the logic and add a third category of wild ales*.  These are the beers acted upon by any rough interloper (brettanomcyes, lactobacillus, pediococcus, etc.) in any method of brewing.  The category would then include anything from Berliner weisse to lambic, Flanders tart ales to whatever it is Chad Yakobson is making. 

The thing is, there are a lot of ways to get to funky, and the extremely baroque procedures of lambic-makers are only one.  A possibly inexhaustive list includes:
  • Spontaneous fermentation.  Leaving aside things like turbid mashes and extra-long boils, what makes this the most extreme and rare form of wild ale is the method of fermentation: naked wort exposed to the elements.  The resulting bacteriological bacchanalia is wholly uncontrollable and few brewers actually rely on pure natural fermentation.  Allagash did the world an enormous favor by inventing a word for this process, and we should stick with it.  All lambics are spontaneous wild ales, but not all spontaneous wild ales are lambics. 
  • Spontaneous via media.  Cideries and wineries use this method all the time.  Yeast collects on the surface of fruit, and is adequate to ferment wine and cider all by itself.  I know of only one brewery that does it--Italy's LoverBeer, where brewer Valter Loverier uses local Barbera grapes to inoculate his wort.  It makes such spectacular beer, I wouldn't be surprised to see others follow along.
  • Solera.  In the production of balsamic vinegar and certain liquors like sherry, a solera consists of a series of wooden casks.   In beer production, each cask is its own solera.  New Belgium is the most famous solera brewery.  When it comes time to produce a beer like La Folie, the master blender will begin tasting lots from different vats and making a mother blend.  Afterward, the brewery tops each vat off with fresh beer and the process repeats.  Over time, each vat becomes a distinct ecosystem for populations of different microorganisms, and the beer each one produces is different from the next. 
  • Barrel inoculation.  Another way of working with native populations of yeast and bacteria is to nurture them in barrels and inoculate fresh wort by putting it in inside these funky casks.  Some breweries regard this as spontaneous, but it's a form of indirect pitching--especially in cases in which the brewery has seeded the barrel with a batch of brettanomyces-pitched beer.  
  • Pitched wild yeasts.  The easiest and most common way to introduce wild yeast and bacteria to fresh wort is in the form of laboratory-produced pure culture. At some point, people are going to debate whether these constitute "wild" strains, but so far, we haven't had to contend with that argument.  (Knock on wood.)
As you see, only one of these techniques uses spontaneous fermentation.  In no case should the word "lambic" be used to describe a beer made by any other technique--whether or not you think the place of origin matters.  It becomes very complex when you consider that there is a version of Berliner weisse that also uses purely spontaneous fermentation, but which begins with a lactic fermentation sparked by wild wheat-born lactobacillus. (Pedio, not lacto, is the main source of lactic acid in lambics.)  The process and final beer is quite a bit different from lambic--and there is only a couple fully wild Berliner weisses I know (Bear Republic Tartare and De Garde's Bu Weisse).  And anyway, Berliner weisse is a nice style we all understand.

So that's my modest proposal.  Place them all in the category of wild ales, as distinguished from ales and lagers, and pay special attention to those beers that use fully spontaneous methods of fermentation.  

It's really easy to get in the weeds here.  Rodenbach, for example, calls its method "mixed fermentation," and uses a version of barrel inoculation of fresh beer.  Ah, but those barrels were originally inoculated by beer fermented spontaneously, a practice Rodenbach only discontinued in the 1970s.  So it's in a sub-category of probably one brewery.  But whatever else Rodenbach is, it's definitely wild.

*Pedants may point out that "ale" indicates saccharomyces, and the beers of Crooked Stave are made exclusively with brettanomyces, so therefore Chad is not making wild ales.  I say those pedants take it to BeerAdvocate, where such hair-splitting is encouraged.