October 23, 2012

My 1st GABF


Our baby boy's no stranger to the beerfest circuit. I like to say Oregon has 53 beer fests because there's seemingly more than one a week. But this was his first time at the big dance. Great American Beer Festival. And in no small way, he has the GABF to thank for his existence. His mom, Half Pint, went for the first time in 2008 when my book came out and hustled outside the Beer Enthusiast Bookstore to help sell a ton of books. She drove out with me again the next year and by the time we got to Denver, she was my fiance. Next year, she was there as my wife. Since we love measuring our life events in terms of GABFs, it's only fitting that we returned this year as parents. And even more fitting that we've turned into chopped liver.



He was able to bob'n'weave through the crowds.

Obviously, he didn't do any beer sampling, but he did enjoy the sampler flight...of pancakes from Snooze. And he picked up an awesome li'l Yeti onesie from Great Divide Brewing on our walk back (photo T/K).

But that was hardly the only brewery he hit. I double checked to make sure we could bring him on the media bus tour. I heard the guide on the other bus was in disbelief someone brought a baby. He wasn't alone. But first... First stop of the tour, Mountain Sun's Vine Street Brewery. Brand new and tapping 21 -- TWENTY-ONE -- house beers. I definitely thought the IPA and Saison were right on. And it's a hippy-dippy hangout of a brewpub.

Next stop: the new River North Brewery, beers made w/ a Belgian yeast strain
And concluded the tour at Colorado's first brewpub, Wynkoop for the tail end of the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting IV. (Saving the best photo for last if you want to scroll down.) Since Wynkoop released their very real "Rocky Mountain Oyster-Stout" in time for GABF, now's a good time for a short video break.

OK, where were we?
Not everyone who goes to Denver feels this way, but we feel the real highlight of GABF is the fest itself. Beyond the endless one-ounce samples, it's the one place you're likely to bump into old and new friends and members of the beer family at large. Look: IPYae's first fist-bump with Charlie Papazian.
While standing in the bookstore, Izzy met Jack McAuliffe, the man who opened the very first microbrewery post-Prohibition! That was 36 years ago. GABF is on its 31st year. While this naturally was Izzy's first, it was only Jack's second time attending, his New Albion Brewery having gone under before GABF was even a thing.
Author Maureen Ogle did much for revamping interest in those early days of microbrewing and clutching Jack back from obscurity. As Izzy's beery godmother, I think no one looked forward to meeting him more than her. Who else could get her to crawl around on the floor?!

No live recording this year, so this is the closest IPYae gets to being on The Brewing Network. Kate's a fan.
Portland boys: SNOB Ritch Marvin, "Samurai Artist" Ezra Johnson-Greenough, Breakside's Scott Lawrence. 
Finally, considering the small population of babies in attendance (the age requirement is 21+, obviously, but also -2), I think they were all widely photographed. Izzy's bib perhaps gave him added flair. Most people dug seeing a little baby and told us as much. But I got a kick out of walking a few paces behind Half Pint and hearing drunk kids remark, "Who the (hell) brings a baby to GABF?!?"

We do. And unlike their parents, we were very proud of how he handled himself.
Photo credit: Matthew Schniper, courtesy of the Colorado Springs Independent 

September 5, 2012

The Session #67: How many breweries in 2017?

My buddy Derrick Peterman over at Ramblings of a Beer Runner hosts this month's The Session. Man it's been awhile since I've joined the fray. Derek opens:
There's been much cheering and fanfare reverberating throughout the brewing community about the latest brewery numbers recently released from the Brewer's Association, who counted exactly 2,126 breweries in the United States.
The theme he suggests us beer bloggers blog about is:
Where is it all going? The growth shows no sign of stopping and the biggest problem most breweries have is that they can't brew beer fast enough. But can the market really absorb all these new breweries?...Tell us how many breweries the Brewer's Association will count five years from now in 2017, and why you think it will be that number.
Answer: 5,001.

Oh, I should extrapolate? Well, it's like this. Yes, there are well over 2,000 breweries already. The Brewers Association further purports that there are over 1,600 BIP (breweries in planning)! True, not all of them will brew in the light of day (and to be sure we will see a huge bump in the number of failed/shuttered brewing concerns, but it will long be outpaced by new and succeeding ones). But blink and the number of brewery-opening hopefuls has already risen, so let's just say that by early 2014 when all their i's are dotted and they've navigated the alphabet soup of ABCs and TTBs, etc, there will be nearly 4,000.

"Impossible!" you say? Why? A recent Gallup poll concluded that Americans prefer beer to wine 39% to 35%. So it stands that there should be 4% more breweries than wineries, right?! (Hey, I'm a wordsmith, not a mathematician.) OK, but really, my point is that it'd be logical that since more Americans prefer beer to wine, there should be more breweries. Or at least the same amount. Fine, how about at least HALF as many!? But no, as it stands today, there are 7,626 bonded wineries in the USA. That's fewer than 28% as many licensed breweries as bonded wineries.

So where are the remaining 2,875 breweries going to come from that I'm predicting will open by 2017?

Tiny, nano, pico, "boutique," retirement-plan, post-law-career, I've-always-loved-homebrewing-and-all-my-friends-said-I-should-go-pro breweries. One of the biggest arguments against the success of more packaging breweries is that shelf space remains finite. So clearly we cannot have nearly 3,000 new "regional" breweries concocting over 15,000 barrels apiece. But people love supporting local and that's just not a fad or trend that will dissipate. Once people get a taste for serious, flavorful, characterful beer, they do not revert back to the industrial, commoditized swill. And if my hometown of Portland can support 50 breweries--yes, 50 breweries in a city with just over 1/2 a million folks--then so can other progressive towns. And if littler hamlets such as Asheville, Bend, and Grand Rapids can support over a dozen breweries, then who's to say many more with less than a 1/4 million residents can't do the same?

Craft beer consumers are savvier than they've ever been. The mid-90s bust needed to happen; too many bogus breweries needed to have bullshit called upon them. But now, there's a more knowledgable and talented pool of prospective brewers/brewmasters. The AHA estimates that there are a million homebrewers in this country. I'm one of them and I have zero aspirations of going pro. But if only 0.002875% of them do seriously plan on making an avocation their vocation, then welcome to a world with over 5,000 breweries.

August 31, 2012

Dunkel saved by his church key

Getting press releases and samples of actual beer is nice. Getting releases for gizmos and doodads aimed at beer-lovers often merely strikes a chord of amusement or befuddlement. Such was the case when the folks behind the Pop Tag landed in my inbox wagging their tails about a bottle opener converted into a dog tag so that the ability to open your beer "is just a whistle away" and that "It gives a whole new meaning to man’s best friend!"

Cute, but I still likely would've filed it under Delete, had my cuddlesome canine not gone on a walk unescorted that day. I got a terse phone call from my wife alerting me to his whereabouts since it's her number on his tag. If you're a pet owner: consider if you've moved or changed numbers since you had a dog tag engraved.

Before I accepted the offer of the sample, I asked if there was any danger of the opener portion somehow catching the scruff of a dog's neck.
The ID tags come with a removable silicone bumper so that it won't hurt if Dunkel is running and the tag is bouncing around!
I thought that was a rather fetching idea. They know Dunkel so well. Dunkel, since he's been mentioned here but never properly introduced despite rescuing him over two years ago, is a German Shorthair Pointer mix. Given his provenance and coat, and the fact that I couldn't come up with a better German beer style name for him, his full name is Dunkel Weisse. (A dark wheat beer that also means dark-white, like his coloring.) He only gets called that when he's in trouble. Which brings me to something else the folks at Pop Tag said.
We wouldn't want Dunkel to wander off and only be able open the beer of the kind stranger that finds him!
Perfect timing to test this tag out! Yesterday I got a phone call from some folks saying he was in the patio area (biergarten?) of Pepino's, Half Pint's favorite Mexican take-out spot two blocks away. The new tag, with my current number, saved his life. And yes, I did offer to buy them a beer and/or burrito but they'd just finished their lunch. Dunkel Weisse is safe back home, firmly in the dog house.


June 18, 2012

Distill my beating heart: A whiskey odyssey

Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, announced today a partnership with Berkshire Mountain Distillers--their in-state brethren purveying adult beverages--to create two whiskies literally made from two different Sam Adams beers including the flagship Boston Lager.

The story was picked up by several news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. It's a new frontier for craft brewers and distillers to be sure. But the press release chose its words carefully to insinuate, but not state, that Jim Koch is the Christopher Columbus discovering this new world (though maybe that's an apt comparison since Chris gets the credit but hardly "discovered" an already inhabited frontier).

As I'd reported in a Draft Magazine story in 2010, "Whiskey is a distillate made from 'low wash' or 'distiller’s beer,' meaning it contains the same malted grain, water and yeast that all beer has. The difference is that the beer we drink is bittered, usually with hops." The story was about Charbay, a winemaker and distiller in the San Francisco Bay Area using various beers, predominantly from local Bear Republic Brewing, to turn into whisky whereby master distiller Marko Karakasevic uses " a copper alembic pot (to make) cuts to the distillate to ensure only the hearts—the most desirable liquid—and not the heads or tails, remain." (That other stuff is the reason moonshine has a reputation for making you go blind.)

Oddly, the WSJ story also notes that Boston Beer isn't the first brewing company to get into the microdistilling biz. (Those who've tasted Utopias, first introduced in 2002 and clocking in usually at 27% alcohol but more like 54-proof, would say they're already selling cognac or something close to it.) It says that Rogue from Oregon, "for example," started distilling in 2003. Other breweries-cum-distilleries include Dogfish Head and Ballast Point. But I'm curious why they didn't just point to Anchor. Established in 1896, it famously launched the craft/micro brewing revolution in 1965 when Fritz Maytag salvaged the brewery. The microbrewing renaissance didn't begin until over a decade later. Maytag did the same with whiskey and craft distillation in 1993 when Anchor Distilling was born.

The first time I'd interviewed Fritz, he said, “In the eighties when all the competition came in the brewing world, some of the fun went out of it. Then I found out that no commercial American whiskies were made in a traditional manner. When I heard that, I realized, we’re going to make an all-malt, pot-distilled rye whisky aged in uncharred barrels. You don’t put hops in it, but whisky is really distilled beer.”

The Boston Beer Co. deserves a tremendous amount of credit as an early pioneer in the good ol' days of better beer. Starting in 1984, Koch put a better product in front of millions of Americans and had the gumption (and advertising moolah) to convince them they could be drinking a better tasting beer. They now release 40-some-odd active beers a year. And while they were the company behind Hard Core Ciders, they've things up quite a bit with Angry Orchards brand ciders. Can their foray into the world of winemaking be far behind?

Perhaps they're waiting until 2015ish to see how the whiskies do.

May 19, 2012

Freelance update, spring 2012

Most writers, beer writers and otherwise, are really good at keeping their websites and blogs up to date on their published stories. Not me. So while I've done this a couple times before here and here, here's the latest:

Starting with All About Beer, one of my favorite stories I've written to date was on hop breeders, the people responsible for creating tomorrow's hops today. When you think about how much research goes into a story and that only the tip of the iceberg makes its way into print, I loved learning all this stuff myself. And, living in Portland, rather than call these botanists and farmers on the phone, I visited several of them in Washington's Yakima Valley and Oregon's Willamette Valley, sometimes in or next to the test fields. It also marks one of the rare times that a title I came up with was actually used. "Hop Forward." Get it? (Yeah, I know, of course you did.) There's also the book review for my BFF (Beer Friend Forever) Lisa Morrison's Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest. It's not online yet, but I review the new book from Stone Brew'ers in the current issue, and am working on a brand new one for a future issue that's deliciously entertaining.

For the Beer Traveler column, recent themes have included Burger'n'Beer towns (ie: LA and KC), River Rafting destinations (Bozeman, MT; Santa Fe, NM, and the Chatooga River between Athens, GA & Greenville, SC), beer-proximate National Parks (FL's Biscayne Bay, KY's Mammoth Cave, and OR's Crater Lake), and island hopping or, rather, hoppy islands (US Virgin Islands; Sydney, Aus; Victoria, BC).

I said it before and it warrants repeating, but for AAB's website blog Beer Soup (where I've been joined, delightedly, by Win Bassett) far from being a Beer Soup Nazi, I'd like to think of myself as a Beer Soup Fuzzy Squirrel, offering adorable little nuts and nuggets of my quantum thoughts about anything beery. I'm generally good about FB-sharing & Twitter RT'ing them. Some favorites since last update include a snarky look at #IPA Day & hop-induced brewer's droop, what it'd be like to have a keg on my coffin, wondering how much more black beer can get, and most recently, perhaps a glimpse at the next quasi-healthy beer trend: low-purine beer.

Back to beer traveling, how much fun did I have "researching" this story on the Bend Ale Trail for Real Food Traveler? Four days and we didn't even get to every brewery in the area! We did, however, find ourselves looking at the calendar to figure out how soon we can go back to Bend.

The story I did for Beer West also wound up as the cover. Beer in La-La Land was a rare personal story (in part). I don't hide my love-hate relationship with my birthplace of LA. As far as being a "beer town," let's just say it'll never be in danger of winning Papazian's Beer Town USA poll. Having said that, next time I'm down, I have more to look forward to visiting than just my nieces.

In the pages of DRAFT, I reported on what, or really who, is driving the Danish craft beer scene. My favorite thing about this piece? I get to see for myself, seeing as there'll be a Yaeger family trip to Scandinavia this summer. First stop: Copenhagen.

There's a new drinks-oriented magazine called Sip Northwest and I wrote a couple stories, neither of which seem to be online. For one of them, they sent me and my buddy The Greek to Victoria, BC for the Great Canadian Beer Fest and a dude's beercation where we hit something like 6 breweries (all by foot). I also spotlighted several of the PacNW's nanobreweries.

Speaking of nanobreweries, that was the subject for Drink Me's "craft" issue. For the "legal" issue, I wrote about strong beer (I'm guessing they pirated the accompanying image, just like I'm doing.) I'm blanking, but I think it was the "elements" issue for which I observed that, "The human body is almost 62% water, and we can all agree that people are pretty important. The Earth’s surface is 75% water, and clearly, the planet is very important. Beer is roughly 93% water, so clearly it must be the most important thing in the world." (Oh, and I was asked to do something on cans.)

Finally, for Willamette Week, I contribute the Oregon Beer News online column (I give up on trying to break stories when there are more top-notch beer bloggers here than you can shake a Stickebier at. I also get to do the errant beer review, like this one on my new style obsession: ISA (India Session Ales, which are low-alcohol IPAs for lightweights like myself).


May 14, 2012

Glutards on parade

It's not as bad as being blind or deaf, but I think having Celiacs Disease or in any way allergic to gluten would suck. Because beer is glutenous.

One in 133 Americans are in some way gluten-intolerant. Drink normal beer and they will surely get sick. As such, there is a growing market for gluten-free beers. Instead of traditional cereals like barley, they’re generally made from sorghum and/or buckwheat. Tragically for the glutarded, most are unpalatable. I've tried several styles of GF beer on tap at the Deschutes pub, and I wouldn't offer a pint to my worst enemy.

So naturally, I balked when I just got a press release from Craft Brew Alliance (the umbrella under which Widmer Bros. falls, at which the Omission brand of GF beers is brewed), announcing:
Mayor Sam Adams will declare May 16 to be Gluten-Free Beer Day in Portland, Ore. The official ceremony will be held at City Hall, and we invite you to witness Adams deliver the proclamation to supporters of gluten-free beer, including the latest addition to Portland’s established gluten-free beer scene, Omission Beer.
Now, Portland’s first and only entirely gluten-free brewery, Harvester, adds chestnut flour and tons of hops to make their GF beers genuinely tasty. The just-launched Omission brand of authentic flavored beers (they're made from real barley malt but filtered to the point it features less than 20 parts per million making it as gluten-free as N/A beers that are 0.5% ABV or less) are also entirely quaffable. But do we really need a Gluten-Free Beer Day?? I always say that PDX has 53 beer festivals, meaning you're sure to find some c-ale-abration more than once a week. But GFBD? C'mon, Sam Adams, hasn't that already been lampooned by Portlandia?


April 18, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Columbia River Brewing


Portland has, what?, 40 breweries, and many are world-class, but, if we're being honest, they're not all worth blogging home about. So rather than take everyone's word on it, or rather, take nobody's word on it since these ones aren't being ballyhooed by the local beer mavens, I intend to visit them all. Here's Pt. VI in an ongoing series: Neglected Portland Breweries.

Columbia River Brewing Co, or just CRBC, isn't just on my radar, it's on my route to many of the places I walk. And with the new bambino, we find ourselves walking around a lot. From what I gather, beer geeks simply don't go to CRBC. Maybe they're miffed that the original brewpub in their location, Laurelwood, relocated 11 blocks farther up Sandy. In the New School Beer Blog's case, the reasoning is more dastardly, landing the brewpub on the McCarthyist blacklist: Enemies of the State.
So it's ironic, to put it euphemistically, that CRBC practically swept at the most recent Northwest Brewing News Reader's Choice Awards (Best Oregon brewpub, Best Oregon bartender in Lynn Burkhardt who I'd guess is owner/brewmaster Rick Burkhardt's wife, Best Golden Ale in cleverly named Sandy Blonde Ale, Best fruit beer in Rose City Wheat, & Best Belgian-style ale in Double Vision though why it wasn't Dubbel Vision I dunno). My Google kung-fu is weak today since I can't seem to find the blog post I thought I remembered wherein Ezra takes CRBC to task for ballot-stuffing in 2011, but he does squarely point the finger at Rick's daughter, Heather Burkhardt, here.

The kicker? At the biannual World Beer Cup--arguably the most auspicious beer competition since entries are judged blind and unlike GABF, it opens up the entries to breweries the globe over--five local breweries took home some hardware including some of the most celebrated and respected such as Breakside, Upright, newcomers The Commons, and aforementioned Laurelwood...and CRBC! Only one won two medals. Guess who! (Both were silvers for stouts, a coffee and an oatmeal.)

But all the above means nothing; I'm the judge and jury in this blog. Two things I like about it at the start. They kept the sunken brewhouse in the back corner from the Laurelwood days (as if they financially had a choice) and it's family-friendly. Not every brewpub in town is.

At the same time, you can come in with your mates for a few rounds of darts over pints and chips. Sorry, but Burkhardt lived in England so I busted out my British. But it serves as the perfect segue. Having visited on a Monday, and I'm a practitioner of Meatless Monday, I ordered the housemade veggie burger and got the fries on the side. Lest you think it's healthy, while the patty is made with broccoli, sundried tomatoes, brown rice, and garbanzo beans, it's also lightly fried. A crispier, more delicious veggie burger I'm not sure I've had. And the fries--being beer battered--are, no joke, easily among the Top 5 Fries/Frites in all of PDX! Nay, Top 3.

As for the beer, the most crucial element: yeah, it's OK. I meant to try the stout then, and now will certainly have to return in order to do so especially since Half Pint drinks almost exclusively stouts and porters since our I.P.Yae came along. And to keep the balance, more than ever I'm drinking more IPAs. I tried the Hop Heaven IPA at 7.5% ABV (it wasn't carbonated enough) and the War Elephant DIPA at 8.5%. They say it's their Northwest-style double IPA, which replaced Ground 'n' Pound, their British-style DIPA (8%). Oddly, I found it more perfumy than citrusy/piny, so it had the bitterness and aroma but for me, the thing I always care most about is the actual flavor. And I would've liked more than just a hint of grapefruit.

So, overall, given its proximity, its fries, the baby-changing trays in the bathrooms (you're welcome for not attaching that pic), and the fact that I know Half Pint will want to head in for the WBC-winning Stumbler's Stout (they offer half pints, US pints, and imperial pints, so she'll probably ask me to share an impy and I'll happily oblige), this won't be our new baby-centric HUB/Laurelwood, but it'll be on the rotation.

April 12, 2012

The Drinking Games

How old were you the first time you had a beer? I was 8. It was literally an accident, a misunderstanding, but I was 8 years old when I went into the minifridge in the family den and pulled out what I thought was a soda, but one in a silver can, or I guess you'd call it a Silver Bullet. My dad found out, not because he found me drunk, but because he found a half-drunk can of beer back in the fridge. Can you blame a guy, 8 or 38, for not liking Coors Light?

A news story tonight talks about actors Josh Hutcherson and Alexander Ludwig, apparently from a movie based on a book aimed at the 21- demographic called The Hunger Games. But the story focused not on being hungry, but on their, well, drinking games. Both actors are 19, and both are alleged to have imbibed alcohol. Hutcherson went on record (OK, he went on TMZ) and said, "I think the age to go to war is 18, so I think the drinking age should be 18 as well."

I agree. Do you?

I'm not saying I think Americans age 18-20 should break the law. I'm saying the law should be changed to allow them to drink legally. I'm not going to say I think they already do drink; we all KNOW they do. Dollars to d'oh, nut brown ales, we all had some beers in that age range ourselves. And not very good craft ones at that. (Although, in my defense, I got bit by the better-beer-bug when I was studying abroad where I was well above any legal drinking age, so it was hard to come back to school and A: not drink beer and B: not splurge on better beer even when my friends thought I was mental for spending more on bombers than they spent on 40s!

My son's 17 3/4 years away from turning 18. I seriously hope I don't have to wait 3 years longer to take him to a bar for his "first" real beer.

April 1, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.

Portland has some 40 breweries and counting. Many are world-class, even out-of-this-world, but not all.

Sometimes I beat myself up for not having been to every single brewery in town. I intend to visit them all, but if we're being honest, the ones I haven't checked out yet are the ones that generally have no Beer Geek Brownie Points. Here's Pt. V in an ongoing series that included Tugboat, Philadelphia's Steaks & Hoagies, Max's Fanno Creek, and the Broadway Grill & Brewery: Neglected Portland Breweries.

It seems that this town has short attention spans when it comes to breweries. Sure, Upright just had a packed house for their 3rd anniversary this week, but let's see if anyone shows up for the 4th. Everyone's gaga over Gigantic and they haven't even opened yet. And it's fair to say that at less than year out of the starting gate, Occidental Dunkel is the Pliny the Younger of Beervana. The longer in the tooth, the more neglected the brewery. An Eighties Flashback reveals Oregon breweries like Full Sail, Deschutes, Rogue, Bridgeport, MacTarnahan, and the McMenamin Bros. debuting, but where are they now? Add to this list yet another pair of brothers, Kurt & Rob Widmer, who have all but descended into fermented obscurity.

While big brewing companies advertise during the Super Bowl or World Cup, you're only likely to see Widmer Bros. at a Blazers game thanks to having a pilot brewery at the Rose Garden Arena, or at a Timbers game, if you can even find the Widmer Brothers Southern Front bar at JELD-WEN Field.
As with the other breweries we've looked at in the Rose City, perhaps there is something in a name, for a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but names do count. Philadelphia's doesn't have the word "brewing" in their name. Broadway Brewery doesn't have a brewery. There's no Max at Max's Fanno Creek. Perhaps if the real brothers Widmer came up with a catchier name for Widmer Bros. that really stood out with some personal pizzazz, say, Craft Brew Alliance.

Now onto our visit to their brewpub in industrial NE PDX. As with most hidden Gasthauses, their tap offerings have been known to run on the common, well-trodden side like a Hefeweizen, Prickly Pear Braggot, and most recently, a mundane Spiced IPA I cleverly dub ChaiPA (and by that I mean like the tea, not the Hebrew word for living). Apparently, they had to resort to letting some homebrewers come in and help save this one. Finding IPAs in Portland is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, so to prove this point, there's actually seven different shots at an IPA, most they were too lazy to devise a catchy name and merely dubbed things like X-431 IPA or X-467.

To eat, despite having a bountiful menu, I ordered a large plate of "Widmer sisters potato salad." I'll give them this much, it's the best potato salad in town!

March 31, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Broadway Grill & Brewery

Portland has some 40 breweries and counting. Many are world-class, even out-of-this-world. Many ain't.

Sometimes I beat myself up for not having been to every single brewery in town (or in the outskirts). I intend to visit them all, but if we're being honest, the ones I haven't checked out yet are the ones that generally have no Beer Geek Brownie Points. So here's Pt. IV in an ongoing series: Neglected Portland Breweries.
You're easily forgiven for driving down NE Broadway by the Lloyd Center and not realizing that the Broadway Grill & Brewery is a brewpub. For two reasons: 1) There are neon signs for Widmer and Pabst in the window but none for their own beer. 2) It isn't technically a brewpub; it's the sister pub to The Old Market Pub & Brewery near Multnomah Village deep in SW PDX, which is where the beers are brewed. Why the different name? Beats me. Why is their URL www.drinkbeerhere.com instead of, oh, say, OldMarketPub.com? Again, Michael Jackson, beat it.
Onto the thing that truly does matter: the beer (all organic, I might add). Yeah, it's OK. Well, it varies, wildly. So let's start with their flagship, Mr. Toad's Wild Red Ale. Neither toady nor wild, it's a malt bomb that remains drinkable if you're actually in the mood for a Brown ale. Maybe that's the point, instead of taking you to Redsville, the road veers off course to Browntown? I had a few samples (there were at least a dozen house beers!!) including Great White Wheat (good thing the folks at Lost Coast Brewing aren't litigious) which I found underspiced, Old Granny Smith which was not unlike the acetaldehyde I found in the last Coors Light I ever had, meaning it is certainly apply, but not quite Unibroue Ephemere, but cider fans should still dig it. I also couldn't resist and had a sip of the Hot Tamale. I actually like some hot, chile beers. But this one, that they're upfront about it being spicy, is en fuego. Por que?

So what beer did I like? Well, the sample of Bombay IPA was decent in that it wore a nice floral dress on its medium bodied figure. But the Hop On, described simply as "splendid," truly is. Great body, ravenously perfumed with hops, and tasty enough it warrants more than a one-night-stand.

Whoa, what's with the sexy talk? I don't know where that came from, and besides, it's inappropriate given how family-friendly this place is. How do I know? The third neon in the windows reads Families Welcome All Hours near a hanging sign that says Family Dining. Indeed, there's a good li'l kids menu our li'l I.P.Yae will feast from in years to come. But the kicker is that it's mostly a generic sports bar inside yet with a side-room solely inhabited by an unused billiard table and plenty of video lottery machines playing host to elderly women like the ones I saw at the video poker machines at a Denny's in Vegas. But the flipside is, there are Diaper Decks in the bathrooms.
Finally, on the pubgrub side of this brewpub, they cast a wide swath with this multi-paged net menu. There are burgers, pizzas, sandos, finger foods, and the like. Half Pint got some sorta grilled chicken Chinese salad. Scanning their lunch special menu, I got the "3-Way Chili," which the classic Cincinnati specialty. There are variations and riffs, but it's usually 1: chili, 2: spaghetti, 3: cheese. You can have 7-way and add beans, tomatoes, onions, etc. Or just as often, 3-way subs pasta with a hot dog. Excuse me, with a Coney, as is the case at Broadway. The lunch special is $5.95 and included a soft drink (Half Pint wanted some lemonade, but it was far too sweet for her to drink). So imagine my surprise when my plate arrives and it's three of the most massively-topped chili-cheese dogs. I could barely get through two. Luckily, chili's just as good the next day.

March 26, 2012

Widmer Bros.'s Gluten-free Omission Beer:

Once again, burned by the embargo. So, whatevs, here's the boring ol' press release from Craft Brewers Alliance, a week ahead of their "preview" event. I won't bother writing any thing myself.

OMISSION BEER: BREWED WITH BARLEY, SPECIALLY CRAFTED TO BE GLUTEN-FREE;
Coming Soon to Oregon, Drinking is Believing

PORTLAND, Ore. – March 26, 2012 This spring, Craft Brew Alliance will launch Omission Beer, the first craft beer brand in the United States focused exclusively on brewing great-tasting craft beers with traditional beer ingredients, including malted barley, that are specially crafted to be gluten-free. Omission beers are brewed by Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Ore., which uses a proprietary brewing process to reduce the gluten levels to well below the widely accepted international gluten-free standard of 20 parts per million (ppm) for food and beverages. (The international gluten-free standard was set forth by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which was created in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization.) Omission Beer is expected to release the first beers in its portfolio, which will be available only in Oregon, on April 2.

Developing great-tasting, authentic craft beers that happen to be gluten-free was a personal mission for our brewmaster and me, and it’s a mission that our team really got behind. The launch of Omission Beer is a game changer for celiacs and the craft beer community,” said Terry Michaelson, CEO of Craft Brew Alliance. “As a 12-year celiac and longtime craft beer enthusiast, I’m thrilled to introduce two delicious craft beers that can be enjoyed equally by those who are affected by gluten sensitivities and those who are not.”

Unlike many other gluten-free beers currently available, Omission beers are not brewed with sorghum, rice, tapioca, buckwheat or quinoa; they are brewed using traditional beer ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

Omission Beer has been a work in progress for the last six years,” said Joe Casey, brewmaster at Widmer Brothers Brewing. “My wife was diagnosed as a celiac in 2006, and since then, we’ve made it our mission to brew a great-tasting craft beer using traditional beer ingredients that everyone of legal drinking age could enjoy. After years of hard work, mission accomplished.”

Gluten-Free Guarantee, Every Batch Tested:
Each batch of Omission Beer is tested by an independent lab to ensure that all Omission beers contain well below 20 ppm of gluten. Gluten levels in Omission beers are tested using the R5 competitive ELISA test. Beer will not be released to consumers until test results are received and after an extended quality assurance hold.

About Omission Beer:
Omission Beer is a new brand of gluten-free craft beers, available only in Oregon. Brewed by Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Ore., Omission is the first craft beer brand in the United States focused exclusively on brewing great-tasting craft beers with traditional beer ingredients, including malted barley, that are specially crafted to be gluten-free. Each batch of Omission Beer is tested using the R5 competitive ELISA test to ensure that it contains gluten levels that are well below the international standard for gluten-free of 20 ppm. Drinking is believing.

About Craft Brew Alliance:
Craft Brew Alliance was formed with the merger of leading Pacific Northwest craft brewers Widmer Brothers Brewing and Redhook Ale Brewery in 2008. With an eye toward preserving and growing one-of-a-kind craft beers and brands, CBA was joined by Kona Brewing Company in 2010.

March 25, 2012

Beer scoops

A little over two years ago, right before I started doing the beer writer thing full time, I blogged about my first visit to Creekside Brewing in San Luis Obispo. It was a brewpub I'd been waiting to open for months, having regularly driven down Hwy 101 through Central California and happened to discover while pulling off the highway for a bite to eat. So when Half Pint & I were visiting friends nearby, we popped in for a bite and pint during its grand opening. I used to be better about writing up each new brewpub I hit; I blogged about visiting Creekside. As an aside to my thoughts on the beer and the food, I casually mentioned that the brewing system was behind NSA-mandated terrorist-proof glass, which, when you think about it, is ridiculous.

Jay Brooks evidently agreed and wrote about it on his infinitely more popular blog. So imagine my amusement when, a month later, Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell also covered it and credited me for being the "first (to) report" on it. I didn't think I "reported" on it. I thought I merely blogged it, shared my experience and observation. I've never considered myself a reporter. I never went to journalism school. But that's just semantics, so I guess I am. I did get a master's in writing if you can believe that. My thesis was on beer and the personal stories within the industry.

Anyway, the Creekside incident was the first time I recall breaking a beer story and the few other times I've done it since were mostly incidental. Being the first with a scoop in this day and age is highly unlikely. (You have to be the only one in the right place at the right time with the right person and then tweet like the wind.) Equally so in the beer world, what with the 1,000 or so beer blogs out there. Even just right here in Portland, OR, there are well over a dozen.

I love including myself in the community. I suppose for some there's an element of competitiveness in breaking a piece of news, but that's kinda silly given the poor odds. Personally, I don't distinguish between beer "writers" and "bloggers." There are huge benefits to both. One thing we all share is a love of beer and the industry. One of the things we love writing about are all the collaboration beers. Far be it for us to not bring that same sense of fraternity into the reporting side as we respect on the actual creation side.

All of this is to say, Adam Nason, whose BeerPulse is the most comprehensive site for disseminating brewery news from coast to coast, chimed in on the issue of breaking beer news and whether or not it's any particular writer/publisher's duty to rapidly be the first to report on an item or honor the request of a brewing concern to withhold it until given the thumb's-up. His post, it appears, was at least partially inspired a tweet of my own mentioning (OK, yes, "humblebragging" in good fun, self-aware that I'm not a traditional source for you-heard-it-here-first) that I'd learned the name of a brewery in Bend, OR heretofore known as Yet to Be Named Brewery. The name, as I'd hinted at by tweeting it was "central to their mission," is Crux. Hardly earth-shattering stuff, but inquiring beer minds wanted to know.

As Nason pointed out, I'd foolishly accepted the "embargo" on unveiling the name until I had the go-'head. Believing my column in Willy Week's Food & Drink blog would break the news later this week, Crux took it upon themselves to do so, and their release was quickly picked up by some of my friends in the beer writing realm. C'est la vie.

I agree with 99% of Nason's post about reporting--beer related or otherwise. He concludes by saying:
Your job, as a journalist, is to disseminate information to your audience. It is perfectly acceptable to be a little selfish, look out for your own interests and do everything it takes to report information first (and accurately).
What you report and whether you are first matters. A lot.
What you know and whether you know first matters very little.
On The Daily Show recently, Jon Stewart mocked CNN for humblebragging that they'd "bring you the results from (the contests in MS & AL) before anyone else," when in actuality their reporting coach turned into a giant pumpkin it arrived so late. Such a whole lot of fuss just to be first. I still think credibility matters most, but beyond that, do we turn to news sources to scoop other outlets by a matter of seconds or minutes, or do we read or tune in to sources that are merely local or in other ways germane to us? If I'm wrong in that belief, maybe that's why I'm really not a reporter.

Then again, stay tuned for a story "TK" that, according to the source who personally promised me the exclusive first-look at something that he guaranteed to be a "game changer" in the beer world...;-) Now I can't wait to find out who'll post the news before me.

March 24, 2012

Yet to be named named Crux

The beauty thing about blogs is that it allows bloggers to break news instantaneously. Reflexively, the bad thing about writing for someone else's print or online publication is that you have to wait for them to publish it. Hence, I've been scooped by my friends like Lisa Morrison, the Beer Goddess, and Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site, in regards to the official name of Larry Sidor's new brewery, crux Fermentation Project. The kicker is that while I didn't get the press release they evidently sent out, I was told I was the first to hear the new name and see the new logo by one of Sidor's partners, Dave Wilson, while at the new brewery. (I had been to the site--a former Aamco station--the day before but returned to retrieve a baby blanket I'd left there when taking pictures of my baby Izzy with the 3 owners, also including Paul Evers.
Dave asked me not to tell anyone yet, but that I could include it in my Mar 30 post for Willy Week. OK, so I kept my word and didn't break the story--fine--but I DID snap the first and only photo of, L-R above: Wilson, Sidor (former brewmaster at Deschutes), and Evers. Take that. Hence, this is now going on my blog instead of WWeek this week, where I hope to vaguely-somewhat break another OR brewery story. Anyway, here's what I'd written about cruz Fermentation Project based on my visit this past week:

...We’re looking at a yet to be named brewery going by the moniker Yet to Be Named and operating as 856 Brewing Co., LLC (see Dave's hat, left), also from a Deschutes alum. This time its brewmaster Larry Sidor, and one of his two partners—like a volcano overstuffed with magma or Diet Coke that’s had Mentos introduced—couldn’t contain the pressure to keep the official name a secret and spilled the secret name: crux Fermentation Project. Not Crux Brewing Co, mind you.

Sidor, Dave Wilson and Paul Evers provided a tour of the 10-hectolitre (8-point-something barrels; it’s really high time America goes metric) brewery still under construction but with a target opening date of “mid June.” Located at the very center of Bend near Arizona Ave and Hwy 97 (at the crux of town you could say), the pub will open with 10 taps—only three of which will be house beers (and even when they reach their goal of 20 taps, a variety of guest beers will always be available). As for those house beers, Sidor didn’t disclose exactly what they’ll be, but did proclaim his love of variety and experimentation. They will eschew rigid styles, but will approximate farmhouse saisons that espouse open fermentation, Northwest hoppy ales, and a cornucopia of barrel aged projects. Indoor seating will be limited (given that the brewpub is housed in a former Aamco station) but the outdoor area is spacious enough for the planned Bocce court. Fear not if you just can’t make it down to Bend, offerings will make their way to Portland via corked-and-caged 375-mL, 500-mL, and 750-mL bottles (again, very metricsexual). As for the name which succinctly captures the crucial core of what they believe a brewery should be about, crux also gets to what their offerings are all about: Primarily using the four basics of brewing (malt, hops, yeast, water), as well as exploring their possible directions (um, I believe they were gravity, color, flavor, and maybe IBUs). As for "Fermentation Project" over "Brewing Company," the partners want it to be an ongoing experiment creating unique art, more than a factory producing a never-changing unit.
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Can't wait to check 'em out later this summer. And another thing not contained in the official release but a topic of conversation I particularly enjoyed and also gets to the heart of what this project is all about, all three of the owners are devoted family men. All would love to see their kids grow up in the brewery, learn the ropes, develop a passion for the business, and lead it into a second generation company (far, far down the road). For Izzy's part, I vowed to return with him to crux on his 21st b-day and buy him his "first" beer.

March 10, 2012

Neglected Portland Breweries: Max's Fanno Creek

Portland has some 40 breweries and counting. Many are world-class, even out-of-this-world. Many ain't.

Sometimes I beat myself up for not having been to every single brewery in town (or in the outskirts). I'd like to visit them all. I intend to. But I guess if I'm being honest, the ones I haven't checked out yet are the ones that simply have no Beer Geek Brownie Points. So here's Pt. III of an ongoing series: Neglected Portland (area) breweries.

Half Pint, I.P.Yae, Dunkel and I found ourselves running errands around Tigard (it happens), so I seized the opportunity to check out a brewpub no one from Portland really makes the effort to head out there for. Max's Fanno Creek Brew Pub basically is a big ol' family-style pizzeria/sports bar, but with a shiny brewhouse in the front and visible through windows to the right of the entrance. Will you ever see Max there brewing or gladhanding regulars? Evidently not. But while there's no Max, there is a Fanno Creek, which runs to the left of the pub as you're facing it.

Having arrived on a rainy, winter night, the plentiful picnic tables out front weren't asappealing as they'd be on a long, warm, summer eve. Promptly after being seated in the back, our server kindly brought the following flight of six beers (out of nine):
  • IPA: Seems like a British IPA down to the use of English hops. Dry and grassy but I wanted some citrus.
  • Pagan Pale: Medium-bodied, balanced, I enjoyed more than the IPA.
  • Dry-hopped Red: Savory and makes me think I could actually like a Red. Great companion to pub grub.
  • Reverend's Daughter Belgian: Fantastic spice. Wouldn't fool anyone, but would appeal to fans of Orval and De Ranke XX Bitter.
  • Vanilla Porter: Sweet, creamy, would be good for a float.
  • Raspberry Stout: Umm... syrupy.

To eat, we shared a pizza and a salad. It was just OK. But now that we have a kid, if we lived in the area, I'm sure it'd be in our regular rotation. Between the pale, the red, and the Belgian pale--and I've reason to suspect at least two of the other three plus which I know include an imperial IPA, plus constant seasonals--I could be quite happy supporting my local brewery.

On our way out, I noticed the selection of T-shirts. They were basic almost to the point of boring, but good colors and only $3. I shoulda bought one. That's basically a free brewery shirt minus three bucks. Why don't more breweries realize how brilliant it is to sell swag on the cheap since you're essentially a walking billboard for them? In lieu of that, I'll blog about them.

February 29, 2012

3rd Annual SF Beer Week "Beer Run" photo redux

The 3rd Annual Beer Run was a whopping success. I even ran 99% of the 5-mile course despite figuring I'd take the point-A-to-point-B-back-to-point-A 5k course. Yep, I earned that post run beer. "Only one post run beer?" you ask. Well that speaks to what a rousing success it was, if I may put a li'l spin on it. The organizers, Ramblings of a Beer Runner's Derrick Peterman and The Brew Lounge's Bryan Kolesar, and myself, exceeded our expectations by drawing roughly 125 fellow beer runners. Despite its growing attraction, we hope to keep it casual (permit-free and not a logistical nightmare). Gotta love SFPD for having a cop on the force who, upon seeing the throng bolting down 9th Avenue and toward Golden Gate Park--some of whom donned costumes this year!!!--shouted, "Hey, where's the keg?!"

I'd planned on stopping at the "midway point," Magnolia Brewpub, for a light Kolsch this year, but even I didn't have the patience to wait in the line some 50-deep that our clique had created! I recall effortlessly ordering one of their Strong Beer Month offerings last year as one of maybe 8 people who'd stopped for a beer. This time, we caught Magnolia so off guard, they corralled the runners in an impromptu beergarden and have pledged to come up with a solution for the 4th Annual.

Sure hope Social Brewery steps up, too. Despite ample forewarning from Derrick to brewmaster Rich Higgins, management did not suitably provide sufficient staff (read: the same lone bartender as last year, who earned much respect for his hard work). This is probably the #1 reason Higgins has resigned his post. Still, the large crowd was perfectly friendly, fun, festive, and fermented by early afternoon. Thanks to the gregarious beer runners--many of whom aren't actual beer geeks and made this their only SF Beer Week event, we were told--as well as many generous sponsors who donated beer and running prizes for a new element added to the Beer Run, a fundraising raffle that raised hundreds of dollars for Autism Speaks and the Contra Costa Food Bank (the late Bill Brand's preferred local nonprofit).

Following this list of companies that donated prizes, check out some of the great photos from the event.
Migration (PDX)
Harpoon (Boston)
Ommegang/Duvel (NY/Belgium)
Dock Street (Philly)
Sly Fox (Philly area)
Troegs (PA)
Iron Hill (Del., PA, NJ)
Victory (Philly area)
On the Run Shoes (SF, next to Social)