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 Kölsch, 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.”

June 3, 2013

Billberries and Blauw van der Jon Berry

Two and a half years ago, I'd started to blog about the last of our (Half Pint's and mine) beer dinners. They were always great fun. Ostensibly focusing on the pairing of beer and food to fit some goofy theme, but as with all dinner parties, really just about enjoying great company for a sit-down meal. I'd started to blog about it as I did all or most of them, but somehow only got so far as three paragraphs. So I'll start with those and then wrap it up somehow, since I'm never punctual, but I always finish writing my stories:

"Until just a few weeks ago, I was in possession of not one, not two, but three bottles of Cantillon Blåbær. (Apparently, a blåbær isn't a blueberry after all but a billberry.) It's a beer that uber beer geeks go bonkers for except that most of them haven't had it--it's that rare. As part of a story I did on beer trading where the mag assigned me to track down 3 near-impossible to obtain beers and then write about the experience, I obtained bottles of the 2005, '07 and '09 vintages from a "ticker" in Copenhagen who I sent 2 large boxes of beers he's never had from small American markets. Who knew driving through Arkansas for the first time would pay off?

So, before we moved out of San Francisco, I had a few friends over to open 'em all side by side and suggested that they should each bring a dish made with blueberries. The vegetarians brought blueberry lasagna! Two other chefs brought duck confit w/ 2 different blueberry sauces and another couple prepared grilled chicken (and salmon) with blueberry-jalapeno sauce. I made a blueberry-lemon buckle. I've never had buckle before.

Oh man was it awesome. The beers (including other blueberry beers; there was one that Half Pint and our friend Gail made over a year ago that Gail later added blueberries and wild yeast to it...and it was great). The food. The friends. Good times."

Not sure why I never hit publish. Probably because I intended to write up the beers themselves! So I'll cheat now and past Tiila's review from her now-defunct blog (she did get pregnant and just gave birth to a daughter, Aurelia--congrats Tiila & Dave!!--so that's perfectly acceptable). In her words:

The 2005 Cantillon Blåbær poured a clear, golden orange amber. It looked like beautiful sparkling resin. It smelled like slightly sweet grapes, touch of berry, touch of cereal and horseblanket funky sour. It tasted incredibly sour, pucker lemon, funky-cole-madina, lots of oak with a touch, and I mean a touch of berry. It was good. I was aching for a bit more fruit; but don’t get me wrong, Cantillon has an amazing capacity to create incredible back-of-your-throat sour puckers, which a lot of people love and crave. And it was good; I just wanted a bit more complexity and fruit flavor like in some of their other beers like their Lou Pepe Kriek.
The 2007 Cantillon Blåbær Batch II poured the most beautiful color I have ever seen in a beer. I wanted to just stare at it all night long. It was this incredibly sparkling, brilliant ruby red with a touch of aubergine. Absolutely gorgeous. It smelled like a bucket of tart blueberries. It tasted like tart cranberries, tart blueberries, oak and back of your throat pucker sour. This had the complexity I was looking for. The beer starts tart to sour and then metamorphose into ripe and tart blueberries with the oak rounding out the transition. Beautiful. Elegant.
The 2009 Cantillon Blåbær was the weakest link of the evening. It poured a cloudy, murky mahogany. It smelled like mulled cider mixed with berry pie. It tasted a little apple cider-y, with hint of cinnamon, sour green apple and cranberry. Was there a touch of bandaid as well? Hopefully, this was just an off bottle. It was not much to my liking, but I didn’t want to pour out this rare beer. It actually helped when it was paired with the blueberry buckle. The spices in the beer helped to bring out the crumb topping in the buckle.
How can one top a Blåbær vertical? Well, you probably can’t but next we had Dark Horse Brewing Company Tres Blueberry Stout. This beer poured a deep, dark chocolate. It smelled like blueberry pie and roasted malt. It tasted like sweet blueberries, melted dark chocolate and roasted malt. Blueberry maple syrup malt- tasty.
As a post script, right after moving to Portland, the notorious House of Sour, Cascade Barrel House, released a blueberry beer that seemingly took a stab at our friend Blåbær that they called Blauw Van Der Jon Berry. Fruitier, less complex, but overall amazing and I have a few vintages of Cascade Blueberry now that another blueberry-themed dinner might not be far off.

May 14, 2013

Portraits of dead soldiers left in yard #2: Blackberry Sparks

On the heels of introducing this new series of snapshots of discarded malt beverage vessels from my yard, here's a rather more expected discovery. See, ever since moving into a house on a corner across from a Fred Meyer, beer bottles and cans of every style and price point appear out front. Such is the inspiration behind this new series.

Here we have something a bit more expected, Sparks brand malternative, with a twist. A twist of blackberry that is. It seems the intoxicatee minds not the ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages, and since this souse can't obtain 4Loko, he or she but most likely he fell back onto a pint-sized can of Sparks Blackberry brewed by Steel Brewing Co., a subsidiary of MillerCoors. Classy, Adolph Coors and Frederick Miller.

May 13, 2013

Portraits of dead soldiers left in yard #1: BridgePort India Pale Ale

Years ago, while driving through Missouri, I got a call, but not on my cell phone. It was Nature. So I pulled over. That's when I first pondered the nature of beer litter. The ditch was full of empties, a bad sign considering it was the middle of nowhere and that meant the drivers discarding them were clearly driving under the influence. But then I noticed that, without exception, all the dead soldiers with macro brewed lagers, often of the budget variety such as Busch Light and Keystone Ice. I even wrote about it in my book, which you can find on pages 83-84. I'd mused, "Does that mean that domestic beer drinkers are more prone to littering and craft beer drinkers understand that trash belongs in trashcans, or better yet, recycling bins?"

Ever since moving into a house on a corner across from a Fred Meyer, a Kroger-owned one that stocks and sells more craft beer than any supermarket in the nation or so I've been told, I've changed my tune. Beer bottles and cans of every style and price point appear by our fence, in our yard, piled on the stairs, or sometimes stashed in a tree out front. Such is the inspiration behind this new series: Portraits of beers left in yard.

We begin with the noble BridgePort India Pale Ale, the trailblazer for Oregon's most popular style of beer, and craft brewing in general. Whoever littered it high within this tree proves he or she but more than likely he knows from full-flavored beers rich with hops. He could maintain his wits by drinking this sessionable 5.5% beer, but perhaps this was the last in his 6-pack and didn't have enough sense not to plant it in my front yard.

April 1, 2013

Portlandia Bröø Vërks in the works

Andrew Singer and Jonathan Krisel, producers of IFC’s hit TV show, Portlandia, announced that series stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are launching a brewpub on NE Killingsworth adjacent to In Other Words feminist bookstore frequently spoofed on the program in the “Women and Women First” sketches. The space, vacated by The Record Room, formerly served as a cherished vinyl lounge offering craft beer until Portlanders eschewed vintage LPs and shifted en masse to digitally formatted recorded music mirroring the trend away from bikes toward mopeds and motor-assisted bicycles.

Emulating In Other Words’s not-for-profit status, the brewpub, to be called Portlandia Bröø Vërks Und Das Public Haus, will operate as Portland’s first nonprofit pub. As news leaked, Oregon Public House quickly opened overnight to capitalize on the concept, moving so quickly it’s as if the operators had been planning it for over two years.

The series creators and actors announced their opening line-up of draught beers, named after characters and phrases the satirical show popularized. Put a Bird on Wit is a sourpuss of a Belgian Witbier. (In related news, Armisen and Brownstein are suing Flat Tail Brewing from Corvallis for copyright infringement). Portlandia Pils will be their super-hopped summer Pilsner. (In related news, Armisen and Brownstein issued a Cease & Desist to Laurelwood Brewing.) Pickle That IPA will not be on tap, but rather available only in tallboy cans with the slogan "we can Pickle That." And they have mixologized a Martini Saison called Dream of the ‘90s is Olive in Portland, dry-hopped with three locally sourced, certified-organic, gluten-free, heirloom olives.

The brewpub is executive produced by Lorne Michaels.

March 5, 2013

Neglected Portland-area Breweries: Off the Rail (R.I.P.)

Portland has some 50 breweries and counting, 70 if you count all of Portland Metro. Many are world-class, even out-of-this-world, but not all. If we're being honest, a handful generally have no Beer Geek Brownie Points, deservedly so or not. Here's Pt. VIII in an ongoing series that included Tugboat, Philadelphia's Steaks & Hoagies, Max's Fanno Creek, Broadway Grill & Brewery (Old Market Pub), Widmer Bros (note the post date), Columbia River Brewing Co., and The Mash Tun: Neglected Portland Breweries.

Forest Grove’s Off the Rail Brewing Co. has powered down after a dozen years of brewing up Black Sabbath inspired beers. None of their beers contained copious illicit drugs or bats, but beers like War Pigs Wheat and Over the Mountain Stout at least indicate what was blaring in the 12-barrel brewhouse run by brewer Dan Bragdon and his wife Antoinette.

“We kept to ourselves,” said Antoinette, which explains why the Bragdon family—their kids have all done time at the brewery—were phantoms of the local beer scene despite self-distributing to many neighborhood watering holes. For my local, that meant Nick’s Famous Coney’s in the Hawthorne District, which always had Over the Mountain Chocolate Stout on tap. Silver Dollar Pizza downtown was a reliable source for Sweet Leaf Amber, while two of The Waypost’s five taps in the Eliot neighborhood recently proffered Coal Porter and Paranoid IPA.

In the end, the Bragdons didn’t point to lagging sales but said it was a “personal decision. It wasn’t business.” In an era with increasing competition from ever-opening breweries (around 175 in Oregon) and ever-expanding ones at that, OTR Brewing self-distributed to accounts from Portland to Corvalis. “(The brewery was) more of a passion and a hobby. Dan and I are happy and positive with our decision.”

I’d learned about the closure at the beginning of this year, but per Antoinette’s request, kept mum. When the story involves medical issues warranting emergency responders as well as a son returning home after being stationed in Afghanistan, getting the scoop on a rare Oregon brewery closure matters very little. Perhaps what’s most telling is that in the two months since, absolutely nobody seems to have noticed.

March 3, 2013

Beer Birthday: Jay Brooks

Today is the birthday of beer writer Jay Brooks. 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. His guidebook, California Breweries - North (Stackpole Books), comes out later this summer. He is the co-founder of SF Beer Week (and it broke my heart to miss it for this first time in its fourth iteration last month). 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

January 7, 2013

Neglected Portland Breweries: The Mash Tun

Portland has some 50 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 used to beat myself up for not having visited every single brewery in town. As of tonight: no more! But before we begin, if we're being honest, the ones that took me the longest to hit are the ones that generally have no Beer Geek Brownie Points. Here's Pt. VII in an ongoing series that included TugboatPhiladelphia's Steaks & HoagiesMax's Fanno CreekBroadway Grill & Brewery, Widmer Bros (note the post date), and Columbia River Brewing Co.: Neglected Portland Breweries.

The reason for the visit wasn't actually so I could finally haul my butt into the solitary brewing company based in Portland--The Mash Tun--that I'd yet to visit, although naturally that did influence the decision. No, Half Pint and I went (along with our friends John and Anna who pronounces her name not like the latter half of banana but like the end of the Spanish word for tomorrow, and I confess we refer to them as Johnna in our house) because our son I.P.Yae turned 1 on Sunday and I pledged to escort him to 50 breweries by his first birthday. (Actually, I aimed for 52 and with wifey's help, we achieved our feat!)

So onto the experience. The Mash Tun, brewing since 2005 thus making it a veritable veteran of Beervana, gets zero lip service but it has something better than blog-love: patrons. The place with no sign above the entrance just around the corner on NE 22nd Ave from it's Alberta address (there's a beer garden that's certainly hopping in non near-freezing weather) was packed on a chilly Friday night. Our waitress was very sweet and attentive, but we could tell she wanted us to order when we kept saying we were waiting for a fourth (fifth; sorry IPYae). The interior is mostly wood (well, obviously the brew house visable through picture windows is stainless) including a pool table in the center and a dart board tucked behind the front door. Lots of hanging plants are a nice, lively touch.

Check in on Yelp and your first pint's FREE. Not that you'd walk out of here dropping a lot of coin; the prices are reasonable. Anna, John, and I all opted for the Keelhaul IPA, billed as "herbal and citrus" hop flavors with "sweet and nutty" maltiness, but I got lots of lemon notes and didn't mind the lack of ballyhooed malt backbone (though at 7.2% ABV it's there). Half Pint of course got the Penfold Porter, then got it again. Good malt-driven cocoa flavor.

Curiously, no one got a burger. I nearly went for the Dragon Burger, but even as a chiliphile I've had two jalapeno dishes this week and both set my mouth en fuego so I played it safe and got the cheesesteak that beckoned. It had Half Pint's and John's number, too. Decent. No mistaking it for actually hailing from the City of Brotherly Love, or even Cheesesteak Nirvana.

We all opted for another round. Johnna stuck with the IPA. Half Pint as I mentioned ordered another Porter, this time an actual half pint. I do something I rarely do: ordered a cream ale. Concordia Cream Ale entails flaked corn so I worried that while I wanted light, I'd also get sweet, but the beer is saved by sufficient local aroma hops to make it palatable to beer lovers and at 4.5%, perfect for lightweights like me.

All in all, the Mash Tun is like Cromagnon Man on the human evolutionary chart--a good snapshot of how far brewpubs had come since the early '80s to the mid-aughts and then gets frozen in time. Maybe it's the caveman in me, but I think this analog brewpub is a pretty good respite in this digital age. And the packed place proves we paleos travel in packs.