July 5, 2014

Your last beer

From when I had Nicole Erny, Adam Lamoreaux, Dan del Grande and Fraggle on my SFoodie blind pale ale tasting panel. Includes proof Fraggle drank Budweiser.
The beer community. That’s my favorite phrase. It juxtaposes the two greatest concepts: beer and community. Beer lovers love beer, sure, but a beer enjoyed alone isn’t nearly as good as one shared among friends new and old, basically extended family. Cities across the country and around the world grow their own beer communities comprised of brewers, publicans, beertenders, bloggers, quaffers—anyone who wants in. The family is ever-expanding as more people discover the world of better beer and of course as more people raise children as part of the industry and/or scene. The first story I had published in a beer magazine was all about second generation craft breweries featuring the likes of Sierra Nevada, Bell’s, and New Glarus. As a fairly new father myself, I’m pleased this is a culture I get to raise my toddler in. But like all families and communities, sometimes we lose people.

Sadly, Fraggle—the name absolutely everybody knew him as and the crusty punk certainly rocked—suffered a stroke last week and did not recover. A passionate beer geek (and vegan and punk and socialite), he and his former partner opened Beer Revolution in Oakland, injecting a huge dose of awesome into the San Francisco East Bay community. It was and remains a place to explore new beers and congregate, really delve into, discussion about beer (and other important life matters).

I never got to be very close with Fraggle—I lived in The City and then we moved away from The City—but every time I saw him his larger-than-life personality commanded the room even if we were at an outdoor beer festival.

As time marches, people age, accidents occur, and other tragedies strike the community, we will lose more family members. I’m fondly remembering the great Bill Brand, the legendary Don Younger, and recently departed Jack Joyce. Little-known fact: the first beer item I had published in print was the obituary for Karl Strauss. Even more tragic are the recent, untimely deaths of brewers’ kids like Dick Cantwell’s son (Nap, 18), and Brendan Moylan’s son (Sean, 27). I didn’t even know those boys but as a father and member of the beer community, I cried for their losses.
Comrade Barley's final Facebook profile
People often ask what’s your favorite beer, or if you can only have one beer on a desert island, what would it be? It’s a silly question because beer lovers have hundreds of favorite beers and none of us ever sign up for a three hour tour at sea. But just like one of my truly favorite beers, Moonlight Brewing’s Death & Taxes, those are things none of us escape. How many of us have a wicked awesome beer cellar going? Mine has case upon case. I always say I plan on enjoying every single beer before I go. But I can’t help wondering if Fraggle had a stellar stash of his own. That dude loved sours and big, strong ales—stuff that woulda been amazing long down the line. It’s macabre, but I wish he could’ve known, just an hour before he started to slip, so he could’ve selected what his very last beer would be. Like I said, it’s a really dark thought, but perhaps one worth thinking the next time we stare into our beer cellars or fridges or closets. “What do I want my last beer on Earth to be?” I think many folks have something uber special we hold onto for that mythical special occasion. Weddings come and go. Landmark birthdays arrive in rocket time and streak behind us in life’s rearview mirror.  And those magical bottles persist on shelves.

I wish to God I could go back one week (and supernaturally travel back to my Beeradise in Portland then bank south to Oakland) and uncork that bottle of Cantillon Fou’ Foune, or Horal’s Oude Geuze Mega Blend, or probably that 2010 Cascade Vlad the Imp Aler to share with Fraggle. But I do know that when I go home, the first bottle I’m going to crack open is that 2007 The Abyss and polish it off with my wife (and let my son dip his finger in it). We’ve all heard to live each moment as if it’s your last but I think that’s a terrible idea for the very reason that it might be true. Having said that, I can get down with enjoying each beer as if it’s your last. Just pray we all have a million more last-beers and a million more moments to enjoy them with friends and family.

June 25, 2014

European Beer Bloggers Conference ahoy

I've been so busy with beer writing deadlines that I realize I need to take a deep breath and enjoy a beer (or several) just for the sake of it. Living in Europe as I've been doing for the past several months has been very cool and loaded with new experiences and ex-beeriences. I've had locally crafted beers in Portugal, Germany, France, and, oh yeah, Belgium. I had a Danish asparagus beer in Denmark. And then, of course, all the Dutch beer I've been exploring here in the Netherlands from our home base in Amsterdam. One place I've always wanted to go to is Ireland: it looks beautiful, I love porters and stouts and Irish whiskey and redheads and those thick, wool sweaters. So when the EBBC announced it'd be held in Dublin this year, I had to go.

What's more: I love Guinness. That's right, a dyed-in-the-wool, avowed craft beer drinker who always champions the little guy has always been particularly fond of the nitrogenated, creamy, roasty, NOT-filling, dry Irish stout regardless of the fact that it's brewed by Diageo (including other Irish juggernauts Harp and Smithwicks plus Kenya's Tusker, Jamaican Red Stripe, and Bailey's, Smirnoff, etc.). Guinness for strength. My goodness my Guinness. All that stuff. It's not that I once dated an Irish ginger or partied into the night with the guys (and gal) from Flogging Molly drinking pint after pint after pint of the stuff. It's just good drinkin'.
Most importantly, I'm looking forward to spending a weekend geeking out and being a geek among an entirely new set of beer lovers who, I'm ashamed to admit, I'm almost entirely unfamiliar with (I've gotten nerdy with Mark Dredge, I've admired Martyn Cornell from afar, and I've recently and virtually become a fan of Dublin's Reuben Gray. All new faces, all new beers, all new places, all new everything. I'm eager to sip, to learn, to befriend.

The work beers and deadlines can wait til the party's over.

April 11, 2014

A pizza looks at 40

Before I relocated for a bit from Portland to Amsterdam, I was invited to do a collaboration beer at Old Town Brewing. All brewer Bolt Minister asked me was if I wanted to brew an IPYae with him since, as I love pointing out, my son's initials are I.P. and his last name is Yaeger. He has a soft spot for stuff like that since he and his wife, Amy, have a son not much younger than our IPYae. Brainstorming about what this IPA would look and taste like, I confess that the results could've been less than stellar since the recipe I suggested was conceptual, perhaps not practical. I wanted an OG of 1.0612 (IPYae's b-day is Jan. 6, 2012). I wanted the early hop additions to be Nugget since he is our little nugget and that's what I have growing in our yard. I wanted two middle additions to be Zeus to match the double-Z's in Izzy's name. I seem to recall we finished and dry-hopped with Cascade so that the last hops I tasted before we moved would be classic West Coast/Northwest flavor.

Anyway, the resulting beer was truly delicious. It had a light/medium body, earthy/floral first sip but strong grapefruit finish that lingered pleasantly. It's my understanding that the house IPA, now called Shanghai'd, was redesigned shortly after and that it bears some similarity to that pro-am batch. I mention all of this because A) I can't wait to return and try a pint of Shanghai'd. And I'm bummed that I'll be missing Old Town's pre-Pro lager called Nina that will be tapped to commemorate Old Town Pizza's 40th anniversary. (The brewery opened in 2012.) The anniversary party is this Tuesday. To commemorate the occasion from afar, I'm actually going to share two passages from my chapter on OTB in my upcoming guidebook, Oregon Breweries (even though something like this is simply not done.) Because the story of any brewery is really the story of the people behind it, here are the passages about the owner and the brewer.
Old Town Pizza owner Adam Milne didn’t have a hand in establishing the company back in 1974. Heck, he was just a kid then. In fact, the original location is the one in Old Town Portland but the owners had opened a few others—now all gone. Little Adam held his ninth birthday party at one in Eugene. Imagine what you’d do if you found out a beloved place from your childhood was about to shut down. If you were in a position to save that ice cream parlor or bowling alley, you’d salvage it, which is what Milne did in 2003.
After that paragraph, I add ominously, "He wasn't alone," but let's save something for those who buy the book. Fast-forwarding, I write about brewmaster Bolt Minister. And maybe I could mention here that I'm up for some focus-grouping. Do y'all like the music break in the middle? Lemme know if that stays or should end up on the digital editing-room floor.
Bolt (Bolton is a family name) says his philosophy is, “Like what you drink, drink what you like.” He’s not one for crazy beers because drinking beer is something you should “enjoy with your friends, your community, your bar mates. It shouldn’t be a self-indulgent activity where you take yourself too seriously.” The philosophy carries over to all facets; he’s a fan of Classic Country a la George Jones, not steak-less sizzling New Country. (He put on a George Jones Tribute beerfest as a wake for “The Possum” and we’ll see if I’m successful in getting him to host a Tom Jones Living Tribute beerfest for “The Voice.”) Bolt’s previous brewing experience at a few other Northwest breweries came at pubs that likewise emphasize community and casual dining. I agree with him in that a pizzeria is not the kind of place you come with your family or buddies only to ignore them while paying exclusive attention to what’s in your glass. “When you geek out you miss out,” he added.
So I raise my glass from afar and wish old Old Town Pizza and new Old Town Brewing continued success over the next 40 years.

April 1, 2014

BridgePort launches HOP CZARINA WIPA aimed at women

I don't generally repost press releases from breweries, but sometimes they say what I'd otherwise shy away from. Almost a year ago, I tongue-in-cheekily blogged about the death of IPAs because of how fractured the marketing had become. Numerous more "series" of hop-forward beers from larger craft breweries have not made me drink my words. Yet...little did I foresee where future marketing efforts would lead:

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Miley Papazian, Q/West
503.401.8888 / miley@q-west.com


Brand Celebrates Intensely Hoppy “Double-you” IPA and Showcases Girlish Hop Figures

PORTLAND, Ore.—01 April, 2014 – BridgePort Brewing Company, Oregon’s oldest craft brewery, has added a new Hop Czar IPA Series to its lineup of handcrafted brews. The original Hop Czar Imperial IPA, first released in 2008 as a limited edition brew, was an adventurous and boldly hop-centric brew for BridgePort. But as the enthusiasm of hop-happy beer drinkers grew, it quickly proved to be much more than a niche ale among men and women but mostly men. Hop Czar soon became the brewery’s flagship beer. Inspired by the original Hop Czar’s arousing phalanx of experimentation, the Hop Czar IPA series will feature three hop-forward craft beers, each brewed in Portland and released sequentially throughout the year.

“The original Hop Czar was born out of virile experimentation, pushing limits of hoppy flavor and aroma,” said Jess Edgerton, BridgePort’s brewmaster’s wife. “With the new Hop Czar IPA Series, our brewers have the chance to continue experimenting with the Willamette Valley’s incredible hop varietals to engender three new and gender-specific IPAs this year.”

The second offering in the series after the Citra Guy-Hopped IPA that showcased the intense musk and flavor of the Citra hop varietal is the Hop Czarina Women’s IPA, a curvaceous WIPA. This new brew adds a decidedly feminine twist to a masculine original, combining the intricacy and intimacy of seductive malts with a buxom dose of Sparkly Crystal, Xena, Warrior Princess, and Lady Liberty hops from Paradise Island. Belgian candi sugar and spice were added in the whirlpool.

Although Brewmaster Edgerton and his team of brewers are creating three adventurously hoppy IPAs in the spirit of the Hop Czar Imperial IPA, Jess Edgerton continued: “This Women’s IPA is the only one makes beer more approachable for the ladies. The candi sugar and spice lends a nice, sweet balance. Overall, it’s a little bit smoother, less rugged, a little more approachable.” Jess added, “Today’s beers are designed for a dudelier dem-bro-graphic that intimidates gals away from craft beer.” Evidence lies in actual beers made with bull testicles, cod pieces, and sausage fests. “Other beers are designed to go with male-centric activities like social engagements with friends, attending sporting matches, and life-affirming celebrations. This WIPA pairs perfectly with cute shoes, and totally cute tops.”

About Hop Czarina Double-you IPA
IBUs: 36-24-36
ABV: 8.008135%
SRM: 2 (platinum blonde)

Ingredients: The Hop Czarina Double-you IPA contains Sparkly Crystal, Xena, Warrior Princess, and Lady Liberty hops for a dainty citric taste and seductive malts and velvety oats for a more sweetly, if top-heavy, flavor.

Description: With lower alcohol content designed to reflect women’s shorter statures and oodles more sweetness than the original, Hop Czarina Double-you IPA is a safe and approachable ale, featuring a range of complex ideas and qualities marketers never imagined in female customers.

To taste this release in the Hop Czar IPA Series, visit BridgePort Brewery, located at 1313 N.W. Marshall Street in Portland, Oregon or look for it wherever BridgePort beers are sold.

About BridgePort Brewing Company Celebrating 30 years in 2014, Oregon’s oldest craft brewery continues to evolve from a microbrewery to a regional leader committed to producing high quality craft ales. Lead by Brewmaster Jeff Edgerton, the team of BridgePort brewers prides itself on using hops from an hour away and clear glacial water from Mount Hood. The BridgePort family of ales includes IPA, the Hop Czar IPA Series, and Kingpin as well as a forthcoming Queenpin, an Empirical Ruby Ale. BridgePort Brewery is located at 1313 N.W. Marshall St. For more information, call 503-241-7179 or visit www.bridgeportbrew.com.

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March 3, 2014

Beer Birthday: Jay Brooks

Today is the 55th birthday of beer writer Jay Brooks. His guidebook, California Breweries - North (Stackpole Books), came out last year (even though we started our respective tomes around the same time.) Jay is a veteran beer writer (Celebrator Beer News, All About Beer, BeerAdvocate, etcetera etcetera) whose column Brooks on Beer appears in the San Jose Mercury News. He has contributed to the Oxford Companion to Beer as well as Playboy Magazine.  He is the co-founder of SF Beer Week (and it breaks my heart missing it even if it was because I live in a foreign country now). To anyone who follows the brewing industry, none of this is news. But for years, a convivial component of his Brookston Beer Blog has been celebrating brewers and those in the beer community on their birthdays. So please...join me in wishing Jay a very happy birthday.
Brewmaster Craig Cauwels, yours truly, the Beer Chef Bruce Patton, the birthday boy

Beer bloggers Jay Hinman, Chris Cohen, Steve Shapiro, Jay Brooks, moi, Bryan Kolesar
Outdoor Speakeasy: Me, Brian Lenzo, Jay Brooks (whose blog I copied this from), and Meg Gill

October 21, 2013

Farewell Beervana, Hello Biervana

This is my last week as a Portland resident. For just a couple of years, give or take. I basically love everything about living in Portland, not the least of which is the dynamic beer culture. And what I've discovered firsthand is that it isn't relegated to just the city nicknamed Beervana but the entire Beaver State, given that in the last year I've visited literally every single brewery big and small near and far for my forthcoming guidebook, Oregon Breweries (Stackpole, 2014).
John Harris had a lot to juggle to open Ecliptic on time. Photo: B Yaeger
Having said that, there are a few I've missed. Not missed so much as not been able to return to every corner of the state since production breweries, nanobreweries, and brewpubs are opening at a gut-busting rate. Forty this year so far, and it's only mid-October. Yesterday I attended the soft opening of Ecliptic Brewing from one of the most vaunted veterans in Oregon brewing, John Harris (Starting with McMenamins in 1985, then launching Deschutes in 1988, and brewed at Full Sail for the last 20 years.) Given that some of Oregon's best-known brands--Hammerhead Pale, Mirror Pond Pale, Black Butte Porter, Top Sail Imperial Porter--have his signature all over them I can't wait to see what he'll concoct at his brand new brewpub. Whether or not his Procyon Pale and Arcturus IPA, the first two beers from Ecliptic, enter the Oregon canon of ales is anybody's guess, but unlike those halcyon days, the canon is also open to anybody (and seemingly everybody).

Which brings me to Biervana. My family leaves Friday for Amsterdam, where of course The Netherlands borders two of the greatest beer cultures the world has ever produced: Germany and Belgium, Reinheitsgebot and anti-Reinheitsgebot, respectively. I cannot wait to start exploring regions where centuries-old brewing heritage is starting to meet 21st century innovation. I'm not huge in K├Âlsch, but I still can't wait to experience stange after stange of them in Cologne. Similarly, I've become a Lambic lover, and will be in celestial sour celebration in Brussels.
IPYae's favorite part of visiting breweries! You think he hits a lot stateside, wait 'til
"Irresponsible" pics of him start posting across Europe. Photo: B Yaeger
But that will have to wait until I finish the aforementioned guidebook. It's gonna be weird, bittersweet, writing about Oregon beers and breweries from overseas. Though doing such will help alleviate one of my greatest challenges, which is including chapters on every single brewery in Oregon. The first of my Achilles heels was Tandem Brewing out in Ontario, Idaho, er, Oregon. It's the dangling participle of Oregon's state line since it's the only town on Mountain time, not Pacific. And even though I schlepped out there for Beer Valley Brewing, it's now home to a 10-gallon (yes, ten Gallon, not barrel) brewery tucked inside a juice bar crammed inside a coffee shop. And like I said, there are a small handful of other Tandems on my list now.

Moreover, while it was a treat to visit Ecliptic that opened in Portland right before I blow this bacon-wrapped, barrel-aged popsicle stand, I'll miss the grand openings of Portland's next newest breweries. In Sellwood there will be Arbella Brewing, delayed due to an auto accident involving one of the founders. Goose Hollow is possibly going to be receiving Culmination Brewing from Tomas Sluiter who recently left Old Market Pub to launch this high-tech nano pub. A pair of nonprofit breweries are coming for altruistic beer lovers: Ex Novo (I met the founder, Joel, at a crawfish boil and he happened to mention that soon his homebrew wasn't going to be just homemade beer) and of course the brewing arm of the Oregon Public House. Speaking of ten-gallon breweries, Late Addition Brewing is looking forward to outgrowing theirs and up to a two-barreler, meaning six-times the batch sizes. But there are so many more, too: Moonshrimp from the guy who sees the success Harvester and its brand new pub expansion are having in the world of gluten-free beers, Royale from the guys behind Green Bottling, the Crooked Bottle from the team behind the Homebrew Exchange, and in the same vein, the homebrew shop/taproom Uptown Market on the Portland/Beaverton border is scratching and clawing to get their brewery going. And let's not forget our friends from Ohio, Fat Head's, who are headscratchingly leapfrogging over the Midwest and Rockies to open a pub in "a pretty hip area" we call the Pearl.

And those are just the ones around Portland from the list of FIFTY new breweries-in-planning...that I happen to know of. Bifrost in Corvallis. Awesome Ales in Silverton (well, contracting out of there for starters, but aiming for Portland). From Bend to North Bend (which is actually Coos Bay on the coast), and from Roseburg to Rhododendron (take that, Bunsenbrewers in Sandy!), the beer culture of Oregon knows no bounds. And that means I'll be extremely busy visiting them all once we're back in late 2015 for Oregon Breweries, 2nd Ed.
Since we can't take liquids with us and besides, bringing beer to Amsterdam is like
bringing coals to Newcastle (or, y'know, Heineken)
Until then, I'll miss all the IPAs and fresh hops and NW Sour ales and braggots and organic Brett'ed cider hybrid ales that will be tapped around here in the near future, but they're not going away so long as y'all promise to not drink it all before our return. And considering Portland already enjoys the most breweries, highest consumption of craft beer per capita, and other impressive stats, may just happen. But I'm keeping my frites dipped in mayo crossed, just in case.

July 8, 2013

The Session #77: What's the Big Deal with IPA?

Ballast Point Sculpin. Bell’s Two Hearted. Weyerbacher Double Simcoe. Russian River Pliny the Elder...Russian River Blind Pig.

Just typing those words has Pavlovially created a shaker glass’s worth of saliva thinking about all that delectable, hoppy elixir. The reason is so simple. I, like most beer lovers who predominantly patron the smallest 99.8% of the brewing industry when and where I buy beer, enjoy hop-forward beers in much the same way oenophiles take pleasure in fruit-forward (grapey) wines. Hops are beer’s domain. Plenty of other drinks contain malt or have flavors nuanced by yeast, but only beer genuflects at the altar of hops. So it’s quite natural that the hoppiest of the hoppy—IPAs and Double or Imperial IPAs—get the shiniest pedestal.

But Justin Mann over at Justin’s Brew Review, who is a confessed IPA drinker yet has noticed a splintering in the craft beer world by some like Adrienne So who deem today’s craft beers “just way too hoppy,” asks for the July installment of The Session and in his best Jerry Seinfeld blog-voice, What’s the big deal with IPAs?

It’s a subject I’ve spent time thinking, discussing, and writing about, most recently over at The New School wherein I facetiously proclaim IPA is Dead.

Obviously, it’s anything but. In fact, here in hop heaven Oregon, the IPA category accounts for 25.2% of the Oregon beer market. More than 1 out of every 4 beers bought and drank in the Beaver State—total, not just among craft beers—is an India Pale Ale. Nationally, at the GABF, American IPA has been the most-entered category for a dozen years. No. 2? Imperial IPA. 4th? American-style Strong Pale Ale, which is scarcely different that IPA. And rounding out the top 5 is American-style Pale Ale, which, let’s admit it, is still more IPAesque than a British IPA.

Clearly, the IPA category is the behemoth of the craft beer industry, and is only picking up speed. Just as the three rules of real estate are location, location, location, it’s fair to say the three rules of craft beer are IPA, IPA, and IPA. For the sake of variety, maybe you could say IPA, Double IPA, and Imperial IPA. See, drinkers are hop-silly for IPA and as such, brewers make more and more of them. Maybe it’s due to the blessings of living in Beervana, but it’s not uncommon to enter a brewpub that has multiple iterations on tap, or walk into a beer bar and find out that it’s IPA tap takeover week where well over a dozen handles are devoted to IPAs. For serious.

To hop breeders, this is music to their beers. Despite dozens of existing magnificent flowers on the market ranging from classics such as Goldings, Saaz, and Cascade along with fresh new aromatic faces including Citra, Mosaic, and perhaps my favorite Simcoe, dozens if not hundreds more will become available and the result will be that hop-forward beers like IPAs will remain fresh. God bless all the single-hoppped IPAs that allow brewers to showcase the breeders' work and give consumers the chance to drink something educational and, ideally, tasty.

On the flip side, I wonder if the oft-hybridized style won’t sound its own death knell if too many producers obfuscate what IPA even means. I’m sure the BIPA (Bacon IPA) is in someone’s fermenter as we speak. But between that other BIPA (Black IPA) and White IPA and Smoked IPA and Coffee IPA and Apricot IPA and...it’s safe to say India Pale Ales can get out of hand.

But that’s to be determined in the future. In the now, IPA dominates the better beer biosphere. Every style says something different, be it stouts, saisons, or sour ales. (Stouts say “chocolate or coffee in beer is awesome.” Saisons say “sophistication.” Sours say “extreme in the way IPAs were years ago.”) And then there’s Pilsners, which say “easy-drinking refreshment.” Of course, Pilsner is also rapidly becoming the anti-IPA and I think its current surge in popularity (among craft brewers, not among global industrial breweries, mind you) is due both to newcomers to the craft beer table as well as wizened IPA drinkers who are ready to mellow out on over-hopped beers. But for now, and likely forever, IPAs say “hops! Because a world full of hopheads who love the citrusy, piney, fruity, earthy, resinous, and herbaceous flavors and aromas that are made possible through Humulus lupulus can’t be wrong.”