Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Juggernaut for fall

Fall is coming - less than a month away. Nights are cooler, although days still seem to reach uncomfortable highs at ruch hour. I don't drink very often before dinner, though, so the coming of cooler evenings in fall means a change in my cravings on the beer front.

Trouble is, fall offerings from craft brewers are traditionally thin. A number of them send up Oktoberfest lagers around Labor Day, most of which disapper by the time traditional Munich festivities even get rolling. Fall beers get crowded out quickly by better-selling winter seasonals - no doubt a reflection of the wider latitude and creative license engendered by that category.

One exception this year is Pyramid. Their Juggernaut Red Ale shakes up the autumnal offerings in a number of ways.

First, it's an ale. Nothing wrong with lagers, but where is it written that we have to ferment cool in the hot season?

Second, and related, is the hop profile. Fall beers tend to be bipolar - either moderately bittered but subdued in hop flavor, like the Okto's, or hop-crazy in the fresh-hop beers usually released later in September.

Not so the Juggernaut. Crisp and bitter up front, its hop flavor leans forward and balances the assertive, nutty malt profile all throughout. Cascade dry-hopping gives the Jug another little hop kick at the end, lingering a tad on the tongue.

Third, the beer has depth, both in body and color. Deep garnet in hue, you'd swear at first glance it was hazy, but in reality it's the dark malts making it opaque. No light-copper pale ale, here. It has mouthfeel, too - significantly more than the traditional pale ales and even Oktoberfests. The moderate carbonation and creamy texture offer a nice contrast to the often astringent harvest ales of fall.

Juggernaut would make a nice companion to something off the grill at a fall barbecue, or for sipping on cool fall nights by a fire. I could even see sipping on one along with some nachos at a football game. I like it. It's a good Fallternative to the usually thin autumn line-up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A beer list of a different sort

Yesterday’s post was all about hard-to-find beers that should not be missed at the Oregon Brewer’s Festival. Some folks head to the OBF with specific goals in mind – to taste all of the porters, for example, or all of the high-alcohol beers.

This blog post is intended to help some of those drinkers. But only those who think – and drink – like me. I like thirst-quenching beers, organics, and beers I can't find elsewhere.

So, without further ado, here are a couple of handy checklists. If you think of other sorts, suggest them and I'll see what I can do.

Here are the hoppiest ten beers on tap at the festival (for the jargon-challenged, IBU is “International Bitterness Units” and measures the bitterness of a beer; OG is “original gravity”, roughly the beer’s malt content before fermentation):

Brewery Beer Name Beer Style IBU OG
Laughing Dog Brewing Alphadog Dog Imperial IPA Imperial IPA 127 1.070
Old Market Pub The Kraken Imperial IPA Imperial IPA 103 1.080
Green Flash Brewing Co Green Flash Imperial IPA Imperial IPA 101 1.080
Beer Valley Brewing Co Leafer Madness Imperial Pale Double IPA 100 19P
Astoria Brewing Co Bitter Bitch Imperial IPA 99 1.080
Track Town Ales 200 Meter IPA 90 16P
Standing Stone Brewing Co Double India Pale Ale Double IPA 80 18.7P
Rock Bottom Brewery Eat a Bale o' Hops IPA IPA 80 15.5P
Stone Brewing Co Cali-Belgique IPA Belgian IPA 77 n/a
Terminal Gravity Festivale British Strong 73 17.5P

These are the most alcoholic (that provided this information) (ABV = Alcohol by Volume):

Brewery Beer Name Beer Style IBU OG
Redhook Ale Brewery Belgian Tripel Belgian Tripel 20.50 10.3
Pike Brewing Co Monk's Uncle Belgium Tripel 1.08 9.0
Widmer Bros. Brewing Co KGB Imperial Stout 21.00 9.0
Green Flash Brewing Co Green Flash Imperial IPA Imperial IPA 1.08 9.0
Beer Valley Brewing Co Leafer Madness Imperial Pale Double IPA 19.00 9.0
Old Market Pub The Kraken Imperial IPA Imperial IPA 1.08 8.9
Scuttlebutt Brewing Co Tripel 7 Belgian Style Ale Belgian Tripel 19.00 8.9
Astoria Brewing Co Bitter Bitch Imperial IPA 1.08 8.7
Terminal Gravity Festivale Strong Ale 17.50 8.3
Laughing Dog Brewing Alphadog Dog Imperial IPA Imperial IPA 1.07 8.0
Boulevard Brewing Co Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale Farmhouse Ale 17.50 8.0

And the lowest in alcohol, for those who prefer to sip and savor without getting loaded:

Brewery Beer Name Beer Style IBU ABV
Eel River Brewing Organic Acai Berry Wheat Fruit Beer 15 40
Cascade Lakes Blonde Bombshell Blonde Ale 26 4.0
Caldera Brewing Co Hibiscus Ginger Beer Ginger Beer na 4.3
North Coast Brewing Co Scrimshaw Pilsner 22 4.4
Southern Oregon Brewing SOB Gold Hybrid 20 4.5
Oregon Trail Brewery Oregon Trail Wit Wit 28 4.5
Dogfish Head Festina Peche Berliner Weisse 8 4.5
Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge Razberry Wheat Fruit Beer 15 4.5
Three Creeks Brewing Co Stonefly Rye Rye Ale 28 4.6
10 Barrel Brewing Co Summer Ale Golden 4.7
Moylan's Brewing Co Pomegranate Wheat Wheat Ale 8 4.8
Lost Coast Brewery Great White Belgian Witbier 11 4.8
Deschutes Brewery Miss Spelt Specialty 30 4.8
Trumer Brauerei Trumer Pils Pilsner 26 4.9
Laht Neppur Brewing Co Neddy's Brown Nut Nut Brown na 4.9

Here are the organic beers:

Brewery Beer Name Beer Style OG ABV
Alameda Brewing Co. El Torero American IPA 1.070 na
Bison Brewing Co Organic Chocolate Stout Foreign Style Stout 1.070 36
Double Mountain Brewery India Red Ale ("IRA") India Red Ale 1.060 65
Eel River Brewing Organic Acai Berry Wheat Fruit Beer 9.0P 15
Fish Brewing Co Organic Wild Salmon Pale Ale Pale Ale 1.050 32
Hopworks Urban Brewery Organic Rise Up Red NW Red Ale 13.5P 60
Standing Stone Brewing Double India Pale Ale Double IPA 18.7P 80

Monday, July 20, 2009

12 beers not to miss at the 2009 OBF

The 2009 Oregon Brewer’s Festival begins Thursday at noon (10 AM for those attending the Brewer’s Breakfast, and Wednesday at 6 for Brewer’s Dinner-goers), and Oregon’s summer weather is cooperating by giving us a real beer-drinker’s forecast. I suspect I’ll be as thirsty as I need to be once those taps open.

The thing is, no matter how many hours I spend at the Festival, I never hit all of the taps. This year, with 81 beers flowing in addition to the 20 or so poured in the extra-charge “Buzz Tent”, the likelihood of hitting them all is even more remote. The best we can hope for is to try the ones we’re unlikely to find on Portland’s nearly infinite supply of taps in its rich supply of awesome neighborhood pubs.

Thus, it’s good to have a game plan in mind before you wet your whistle. Rather than numbing my taste buds with four ounces of each brew, I prefer to taste strategically. I look for:
- New beers from consistently good breweries. If the places that brew up my favorites are brewing up something new, I know I can expect a quality taster from them at the fest.
- Beers from new OBF participants. The OBF staff works hard to mix up the line-up of breweries and to balance local with long-distance contributors.
- Experimental beers – within limits. I want to know what spelt beer is like, but I also know what I don’t like (sour beers, fruit beers, and really really light lagers). Selective support of experimentation keeps your taste buds fresh, especially after taking a beating from all of those 100-IBU IPA’s.
- Thirst-quenchers. When all is said and done, the OBF is a hot, dusty place. Crisp, hoppy beers go down well.

Luckily, for the past three years I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know the OBF beers in advance by writing the descriptions for the program. Unfortunately, I don’t get to taste them all before writing about them, odd as that may seem. The ones that are special to the OBF or that are being shipped from the east coast, for example, simply aren’t available, so I go by what the brewer tells me.
Based on that information, here are the top dozen beers I want to make sure I don’t miss at this year’s OBF:

Deschutes Brewing “Miss Spelt” – a great brewery and a unique, special-to-the-fest formulation. It might well be my first stop on the tour.

Eel River Organic Acai Berry Wheat – I know, I said no fruit beers, but this one is truly original, and Acai berries are good for you, right? And it’s organic.

Elysian Loser Pale Ale – Elysian is introducing the Sorachi Ace hop, grown in Yakima from Japanese stock. I’m curious.

Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA – A new brewery from a long-established California company, I want to see what they’ve got.

Laht Neppur Neddy’s Brown Nut – Another newcomer just three years onto the scene, and brave enough to bring a dark ale to an IPA-crazy event.

Kona Kailua Kona Coconut Brown Ale - Sounds sweet and mellow, perfect for when the sun goes down and the air gets just a touch chilly.

Marin Brewing Bluebeery Ale – Once again violating my fruit beer rule (what are rules for, anyway?), I want to see if their attempt at using blueberries in an ale works any better than mine.

Moylan’s Pomegranate Wheat – Okay, shut up about the fruit thing, okay? Come on, it’s pomegranate. I have to know. Don’t you?

Rogue Latona Pale Ale – It’s a one-hop, one-malt brew. Crazy. It might be one-dimensional, and it might knock my socks off. Let me at it. Besides, Rogue always rocks.

Three Creeks Stonefly Rye – One of Oregon’s newest breweries, with Dave Fleming (formerly of the Lucky Lab) at the helm of the brewery, how can we go wrong?

Vertigo Razz Wheat – Another Oregon newbie, which once again makes me violate my no-fruit rule. Besides, Oregon raspberries are awesome, and I’m sure my girlfriend will finish this one for me if I don’t like it.

Widmer KGB Russian Imperial Stout – you can only get this one at the Gasthaus, and I don’t get there often enough. And it’s just. Incredible. Beer.

There you go – my first 12 stops. What are yours? (Check or for a complete list with descriptions.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy to be in Beervana

It’s Oregon Beer Week, and that makes it an amazing time to be in Portland.

It began with an event I missed - the Portland International Beer Festival – due to bad planning, bad luck, and excessive fiscal prudence. But there are gobs of other events, including Meet the Brewer events at the Green Dragon, hospitality parties, Fred Eckhardt’s Beer and Cheese tasting, and no end of other options. This is not Beervana for nothing.

But my focus is on the main event – the Oregon Brewer’s Festival, starting today at noon at Portland’s Waterfront Park, and several of its satellite warm-ups.

The first of those events was last night, at the sold-out Brewer’s Dinner, a fancy name for a gigantic picnic with some 25-odd kegs of beer flowing through the capable hands of several dozen happy, well-fed volunteers. The salmon was, once again, absolutely outstanding. Not only that, but for the first time in over ten years of participating in this event, I finished off all of the scrip that comes with admission.

Of course, that’s because they reduced the number of half-pints you can get down from eight to six, and I had to rush to get my last one in. I finished with the sublime Bourbon-barrel Stout from Old Market Pub, a wonderful surprise from a place that usually hasn’t impressed me with their beer. It fit right in with the wide array of strong, full-flavored, full-bodied ales and a handful of lagers from which we had to choose.

Today, events begin early, with the Brewer’s Breakfast at 9 AM at the Rogue Ale House, the Brewer’s Parade from there to the festival, the ceremonial firkin-tapping at noon to open the festival, and the media tour for VIPs at 12:30. (Somehow I qualified. I’m not arguing the point.) The festival (for those of you who just emerged from under a rock) runs 12-9 thru Saturday and 12-7 on Sunday, as the kegs (it is hoped) run dry early that day.

I’ve been asked whether I sensed a theme at this year’s OBF, and I do. It’s Wit, both for the clever names and outrageous concoctions being presented, and for the prevalence of Wits and other wheat beers at the fest. (I wrote the program, so I have advance information: there are five Belgian Wits and 6 other wheats out of 72 beers on tap today. You won’t need a sandwich to get your glutens this weekend.) Clever names include Lagunitas’s Hop Stoopid, New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk, and 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon. I think that says it all.

The ones I’ll be anxious to try, besides the Hop Stoopid and Dragon’s Milk, are Full Sail’s LTD 02 (Bock), and Collaborator Resurrection Rye, and Minneapolis-based Surly Brewing’s Coffee Bender. That ought to start the morning right, if the brewer’s breakfast doesn’t. I’ll also sample the handful of other Imperials (IPA’s, stouts, and strong ales), particularly Widmer’s Full Nelson Imperial IPA.

There’s also this tidbit that helped kick off beer week on the right foot for me. Leaving Laurelwood Pub after an early dinner on Saturday, I passed a young man in a Laurelwood shirt – clearly an employee - wearing plastic gloves, cleaning out the sandpit ashtray in the parking lot. Despite the grunginess of that job, he wore a big smile as he said to me, “Hey, thanks for coming in!”

I smiled back and said, “Always a pleasure.”

“That’s really great to hear,” he said, still grinning.

That kid’s positive outlook, even while doing such a distasteful job, made me want to return to the pub more even than the great beer, tasty garlic fries, and friendly staff inside. And it made me even more happy that I live in the greatest beer city in the world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hallucinator is back!

People have often asked me, "When can I get your beer on tap somewhere?"

Well, they will get their wish. Today I made a commercially-available beer in a commercial brewery for the fourth time. The beer is my own creation and may never be made again - or it may be made over and over. We'll see.

This is the story of how I got to brew that beer today.

Ten years ago, I designed an English Old Ale, called "Old Ironsides." Golden in color, it was lightly hopped, very malty, and smooth. An easy-drinking beer, it was subtly dangerous: at 7% alcohol by volume, it had nearly twice the alcohol of the pale fizzy lagers most Americans drink.

My second batch of this brew was called "Old Floorboards." It was made and tweaked with my friend Michael Rasmussen and aged fifteen months before being selected as one of the first "Collaborator" beers from Widmer Brothers Brewing. "Collaborator" is a joint project between Widmer and the Oregon Brew Crew in which homebrewers design beers of less-commonly-known styles. Selected winners get brewed by Widmer and served in area pubs. A healthy share of proceeds funds the Bob McCracken Scholarship Fund at Oregon State University's Fermentation Sciences program (named for the late OBC President who championed the idea). The brewers get accolades and very nice letterman's jackets. We can then brag to our former high school jock friends that we've "lettered in beer." They are nearly always supremely jealous.

Mike and I helped brew the first batch of this beer, now called "Hallucinator," at Widmer's Rose Quarter pilot brewery with brewmaster Ike Manchester on my 40th birthday - October 28, 1999. It debuted in November of 2000 at the New Old Lompoc pub in northwest Portland. It was a smash hit. The keg was tapped at 7 PM and it was empty by 8:30. Lompoc rushed out and bought a second keg and we drained half of it before the night was through.

The beer was sold in pubs all over town, including the Horse Brass, the M Bar, It's a Beautiful Pizza, the Triple Nickle and of course Widmer's own pub, The Gasthaus. I had a pint of Hallucinator at each pub that served my beer. A second batch was served at the 2001 Oregon Brewer's Festival and the 2001 Winter Ale Festival, where it won the "People's Choice Award." I was thrilled to serve my beer at that festival as a volunteer.

Since then, many other great Collaborator beers have come along, and Hallucinator became a distant, fond memory. Until...

My pal, Winter Ale Festival boss Preston Weesner, convinced Widmer to brew Hallucinator again, specifically for the 2007 festival (November 30-December 2, at Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square). That's what we brewed today. This 10-barrel batch of beer required:

750 pounds of pale malt
93 pounds of specialty malts
about 8 pounds of hops
about one-half barrel of yeast slurry
gobs and gobs of water, heat, sweat, and patience

I spent most of the day chatting with Ike and waiting for the opportunity to do something like shovel grain, flip a valve, attach giant hoses with screw-on clamps, or weigh hops. At the end of the day I got to examine the finished wort under a microscope and count yeast cells. Just like in my home brewery, the whole process took about seven hours.

This batch of Hallucinator won't be aged a year like the previous (and my home-made) batches. In fact, I expect it to sell out completely by year's end. Preston said he'd buy every drop of it for the Winter fest if he could - but he can't. Several individuals, including Michael and I, will pony up for quarter-barrels for home consumption, as I'm sure will Preston.

Those will get aged.

Maybe... it's pretty good drinking beer young, too.

Ideally, there'll be some at next year's Pagan Party, but no promises. Unless there's another batch after this one...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Drink your green beer

I’m writing the beer and brewery descriptions for this year’s Oregon Brewer’s Festival Program, a welcome return to a task I left to others’ capable hands some ten years ago. It’s the 20th annual festival, and many of the 72 breweries are boiling up some special batches for the event. I’m not at liberty yet to say what, but rest assured, it’ll be an exciting long weekend for your taste buds.

It will also be good for you – and the planet.

This year's OBF could be crowned the Year of Green Beer. And not the food-coloring-in-your-CoorsMillOb variety, either. At least nine of the 60 known entries thus far are organic beers. In addition, four breweries claim to be greener and cleaner than all the other in their production methods and other civic goodness. Combinations of solar and wind power and donations to earth-friendly causes lead the rightful crowing.

The way to a beer-drinker’s heart, I guess, is through his conscience.

For it seems that he craft brewing industry has suddenly caught on to the need for sustainable practices – or, at least, the marketability of bragging about it. The upcoming second annual Organic Beer Festival here in Portland is testimony to the fact that Oregonians love their beer and their planet. That festival, a smash hit in 2006, had to change venues, I’m told, because it already outgrew the beautiful and appropriate setting it had last year at the World Forestry Center.

Even then, I think some breweries are under-selling their earth-friendliness, or are missing opportunities to capitalize on it. At least one brewery I know of makes several organic beers but didn’t enter one (or claim its organic status) in the 2007 OBF program. And at least one well-known all-organic brewery isn’t even on the list.

I see the same phenomenon happening in the craft wine industry, although they’re perhaps a little ahead of the game. One of my favorite wineries, Brick House (of Newberg, OR), is all organic, and always has been. But it wasn’t until very recently that they even stated that fact on their wine’s label. The winemaker there told me that it’s because organic wines had a negative stigma in the industry for low quality and poor shelf life. Those are not problems with Brick House wines, I promise you.

It’s also not a problem with the “green” beers and breweries you’ll experience at the Organic Beer Fest or the Oregon Brewer’s Festival. The breweries pouring at these events all have great reputations, and in many cases, have brewed these same beers for years without claiming their earth-friendly goodness.

Up until now. Now, earth-friendly is not only good for the world, it’s good for business. It not only is green – it helps bring in the green.

So drink your green beer this year. Your grandchildren will be glad you did.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Oregon Beer Grows Up

We’re not the new kids on the block anymore.

By “we” I mean Portland brewers, and as such, the “we” is a bit of a stretch. I’m a mere homebrewer, not a pro. The ones with mortgages on the line are the ones I really mean here.

What brings this about is a press release and accompanying graphics for an old friend. An old friend, that is, with a new name, and a new face. MacTarnahan’s Brewing Company, née Portland Brewing, who will celebrate their coming of legal age - 21 years – with a party (“Mac’s Madness”) this Wednesday at 5 PM in the taproom.

At the party, they’ll “reintroduce” MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale (also born with a different name – it was a “Scottish Ale” in its youth). If you find this old sawhorse in the stores, you’ll notice it has a new label. Gone are the green tartans of yesteryear. Here today is a crisp, clean, modern look – market-researched to connote maturity, combined with a sense of modernity. We’re big boys now, the label says, not those upstarts brewing out of the back of a basement. You can rely on us now.

Indeed, you can. Mac’s is a reliably decent beer, one that will provide a full-bodied, nutty caramel flavor and a gentle dose of hops. Not a tongue-ripping Northwest IPA, nor a body-building bock; just a nice, clean, reliable amber. Good for a cookout, or a cool-down on a spring afternoon once the gardening’s done.

The new image is consistent with the trend of its companions around the state. Take, for example, Full Sail and Deschutes. I pulled a couple of bottles from my stash recently. Here’s what they used to look like:

And now, the current packaging:

Apologies for the Mercator-to-Amber switch on Full Sail... I don’t have a direct comparable label, but the old ones were as similar to each other as the new ones are, so I think you get the picture.

And that picture is: We’re serious about brewing in Oregon now. We’re not the brash kids, decorating our labels with cute graphics that make you curious. We’re presentable. We want to be served at the symphony as well as the barbecue.

So, to whom goeth the job of the brash, young brewer, yearning to stand amongst the crowded shelves?

Is that not Oregon’s place in the beer firmament any longer?