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?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An alternative to a smoking ban

The Oregon Legislature continues its assault on vices, with a proposed ban on smoking in bars and pubs piling on top of the Governor’s proposed 84-cents-a-pack cigarette tax and the proposed 12-fold increase in beer taxes.

The beer tax I’ve addressed in a previous blog entry. The cigarette tax I favor outright. Cigarettes kill. They killed my father, and the second-hand smoke probably contributed to the cancers that three of my sisters have so far survived. As far as I’m concerned, tax the hell out of it. Recoup the full costs of tobacco; be punitive if we must. Price it out of reach, for all I care.

Ah, but banning it? Even partially? I’m not so sure. Maybe there’s another option. Let’s explore this question a moment.

I’m a rather libertarian sort, who nonetheless believes it appropriate to fully recover the external costs of a product, process, or behavior – in this case, smoking tobacco – so that the producer and consumer ultimately bear those costs. Hence, my support of high cigarette and higher (but not punitive) alcohol taxes. Right now, both are too low.

But I also believe that, once the price mechanism is set at the right level and precautions are taken to prevent further harm to others, we should allow people freedom of choice. Even if that choice is harmful to oneself.

The ban on smoking in pubs is problematic in that it takes an admittedly evil – but LEGAL – product and behavior (smoking tobacco) and removes our right to choose to do it. And, to do it in a time and place long associated (even expected) with smoking:  drinking. If we’re too chicken to ban it altogether, why ban it in the very place people want to do it most?

Isn’t the choice to allow this behavior up to the pub owner and the customer? Shouldn’t we allow individuals the right to choose whether to kill themselves or not? Customers who don’t like it can go elsewhere, right?

If only it were so simple.

The problem is that pesky second-hand smoke issue. Sure, non-smoking customers can go elsewhere, but not everyone can:  employees, vendors, inspectors, et al.

Maybe the occasional visit of the vendor or inspector can be overlooked. One whiff won’t kill them.

But not so the employees. Oh, sure, technically they can quit. But why should it be a choice between making a living – and dying?

Further, there’s an unequal power relationship between employers and employees. In short, employers have it, employees don’t. That’s especially true in the food service industry, which has never been (and probably never will be) unionized. Jobs are tenuous and competitive, pay is typically poor (except in swanky places), and stress is very high. I can attest to all of this with first-hand experience.

So, employees aren’t that free to walk – especially if most of the places they’d walk to are just as smoky. They often have to live with it, or, in this case, die a little faster.

Pub owners have moan that a ban could put them out of business. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Lose revenue, maybe, but close, no. They’d all be playing by the same rules. The tiny minority of pub customers who won’t go to a bar because they’re not allowed to smoke would be more than made up for by the increase in customers who might return because the environment is now smoke-free. There are many more non-smokers than smokers – and with luck, that ratio will continue to increase.

Don Younger of the Horse Brass and other fine pubs once told me that he believes that taverns are private, not public places, and as such, should not be regulated. A smoking ban, he said, would be “the end of pubs as we know them... the corner bar, the mom-and-pop’s, goes away.” Well, smoking has been banned in Washington and California, and I haven’t seen evidence of what he’s predicting. I won’t say it hasn’t happened, but I just haven’t seen it.

Having said all of that, I’m still not convinced that a ban is the way to go.

I still like the price mechanism. Why not a pub smoking tax? Establishments that allow smoking would pay a per-seat premium to the state for that privilege (funds to be used to pay for education and health programs related to smoking). Further I think smoking establishments should be required to provide full health insurance benefits to all employees, even part-timers, and maybe a wage premium, too.

In other words, internalize those external impacts and costs. Give choices – and information – but make the polluter pay.

On the other side of the coin, those of use who prefer a smoke-free environment should support those who give it to us. Here’s a list of places around Portland that I’ve put together from my interviews for Guest on Tap articles and from the Oregon Brew Crew listserve. Please, if you know of more, chime in!

Smoke-free pub list (for locations, Check out this map)

BJ’s (Several locations)
Bridgeport (downtown, downstairs)
Clinton Street Brewing
Elliott Glacier in Parkdale
Fifth Quadrant
Full Sail (none indoors – ok on deck)
Hazel Dell Brewpub (Vancouver)
Karlsson’s Brewing, Sandy, OR
Laurelwood (2 locations)
Lucky Lab (3 locations)
McMenamin’s on the Columbia & East Vancouver (Mill Plain)
Old Market Pub
Portland Tap Room
Roots (inside seating only)
Walking Man (Stevenson)
Widmer Gasthaus

Friday, January 26, 2007

OLCC's latest stupidity

This just in from the Oregon Brewer’s Festival by way of Jeff Alworth:

“After 19 years of promoting the Oregon Brewers Festival as a community event, we regret that we will not be allowed to have minors under the age of 21 on the festival premises in 2007. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has stipulated no minors be on-site, citing OLCC Rule 845-006-0340 (7) (a) in which "eating predominates" and the premise must not have a "drinking environment". In order to view this rule, please go to here and click on "Laws and Rules". Click on OLCC Law Book. This will open up a PDF file for viewing.
If you disagree with the OLCC's decision, then please contact executive director Stephen Pharo and let him know: 503-872-5000, 800-452-6522,or”
According to Preston Weesner, who manages the Winter Ale Festival and the volunteers for the OBF, this ruling applies to all beer festivals, not just the summer event.

This is absurd. It’s paternalism at its worst in the guise of protecting... whom?

Who does the OLCC think they are protecting? The kids? The parents? The vendors? Insurance companies?

Are they afraid that kids will be “exposed” to alcohol? Hey, OLCC, this bulletin just in:  Kids know about alcohol. What kids need to learn about alcohol is how to drink responsibly. Kids don’t learn about responsible drinking from each other, folks; they learn it from their parents, who tend to drink more in moderation when their little ones are around than not. The presence of kids also slows down other grown-ups a bit, in my observation.

Other states – and countries – allow kids at beer and wine festivals. Do they think that Oregon parents are less responsible than parents in other states? I hate to even think of the ramifications of that line of thinking.

The vendors? Hmmm. Seems to me it doesn’t help vendors to cut out a huge segment of their customer base.

Insurance companies? Harrumph.

And here’s what gets me. With the change in rulings, we are to believe, what? That the OLCC has just now discovered that the OBF et al are “drinking environments”? Where have they been for the past 20 years?

Is the OBF primarily a drinking environment the entire time that it is in operation? Isn’t it more like a pub, where it’s a mix of food, beer, and other entertainment through the dinner hours, and then more of a “drinking environment” thereafter?

So, wouldn’t a more reasonable ruling be:  No children allowed after, say, 7 PM?

What do you think, OLCC?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Empire: No need to strike back

I may lose my beer snob status for this, but I’ll go ahead and admit it anyway.

I like McMenamin’s.

More specifically, I like a lot of things about the various McMenamin’s pubs - and definitely, some things - and some pubs - more than others. Specifically, I like:

- Terminator Stout. Kvetch all you want about its Bock-like name, but you can always count on this glass of beer to be smooth, sweet, and yummy.

- Hammerhead. It fits no style category but it fits my palate. It’s predictably good.

- True 16-oz pints. No “cheater” pints. Ever.

- Seasonals. There is always a seasonal on tap and, due to their multiple brewery/distribution system, it’s different from pub to pub. Sometimes they suck, but usually they’re worth trying.

- Guest taps. Some brewpubs skimp on the guest tap offerings. The Brothers have no such fear. From Terminal Gravity IPA to PBR, they let you have it.

- Comfort food. It’s mediocre and at times bland, but you can’t knock a menu that gives you PBJ’s and grilled cheese with tater tots.

- Atmosphere. Every McM’s is different and every one is funky. Their “art” budget alone must be killer.

- Preservation. The way that The Empire has invested in restoring old landmarks into new destination pubs and maintained their architectural and spiritual integrity never ceases to amaze me. I point to the Kennedy School, Baghdad Theater and Hotel Oregon as exhibits A, B, and C.

- Theater pubs. They didn’t invent the genre and they have many excellent imitators now, but credit the gorgeous Baghdad, the airy Mission Theater, and the cozy Kennedy School for defining the Portland-area market for this awesome idea.

Then there are the specifics of each pub that make them unique. Some of them work for me; others don’t. My favorites are:

- Edgefield Manor. I just love the idea of a “beer campus,” particularly one transformed from a poor farm and old folks’ home into the sprawling beer/wine/spirits getaway that the Manor has become. If you’ve never stayed overnight or caught a movie in the tiny theater there, you haven’t truly lived the Oregon beer experience.

- The Kennedy School. Walking the halls, beer in hand, I so want this to be my back-to-school experience. Being able to drink in Detention (and smoke, for those who swing that way) or to lie on a love seat and much pizza while watching a movie is good for lots of extra credit.

- The Fern Bar on NE Broadway. Not its real name, but it is what it is. Comfy and green and so ironic that the anti-Starbucks resides directly above one.

- The Rams Head. The anti-bar on NW 23rd. I love the living-room atmosphere and it was here that I first learned to love “High Pasta.”

And then there are a few I don’t fancy:

- The Tavern and Pool Hall on NW 23rd. I’ve been treated rudely too many times there. It’s the only place I’ve gotten bad attitude from McM’s and I just don’t need that.

- Sunnyside. Uh, scratch that last comment. There are two such places. I won’t go back here, either.

- Fulton Pub. It’s just plain drafty there.

- Blue Moon. What a meat market. Meh.

What about you? What are your likes and dislikes about the McMenamin’s Empire?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Not so neighborly

When the Laurelwood Public House opened its doors in Hollywood several years ago, I was one of the many who stormed its doors and enjoyed Christian Ettinger’s fine craft ales. Having loyally supported its predecessor, the Old World Pub, through its lean times, I was thrilled to have a high-quality brewpub within stumbling distance again. I’ve brought many a thirsty palate to this spacious, attractive spot and consider many of the pub’s employees to be friends.

When Laurelwood opened its new restaurant in NW Portland, I convinced many of my fellow “actletes” at ComedySportz to move our après-comedy gatherings from the mediocre and sometimes surly service at McMenamin’s Tavern. In short, over the years I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter.

Not so much anymore.

A number of folks I know tire of the kid-friendly policy there. Not me. While I find the uncontrolled playground atmosphere during the early dinner hours distracting, I also feel that it’s great that we have places where kids can see adults drinking responsibly. And I’m a sucker for a little one’s laugh. So, that’s not a problem for me.

Some complain about their “cheater” 14-oz pints. I haven’t measured them but they do look small. But so what? Do you weigh the burger to make sure it’s a quarter pound? If you don’t think the serving size is worth the money, don’t go. The problem is not one of value for the money.

The problem, really, is attitude.

Over the years I’ve been made to feel less and less welcome in my neighborhood pub. As a freelancer, I often work evenings and like to enjoy a late-night pint with a friend. But the Laurelwood has made it tough to do it there. Unpredictable early closings have found us in hurry-up mode to finish our pints. On one occasion, the night manager, Wade, actually took my 2/3-full glass off the table just minutes after it was delivered and a full 15 minutes before their official closing time. Why? We were the last ones there. He had some place to be, apparently.

Other friends have similar stories, of how they were treated brusquely by Laurelwood staff, and as often as not, the same names keep coming up. About a half-dozen friends of mine refuse to step foot in there ever again because of it. How many others they’re telling - and keeping away - one can only guess.

I still love the beer at Laurelwood. I think Chad Kennedy is doing a great job, admirably filling the big shoes that Christian left behind. The food is decent, although not cheap. And over on NW Kearney - well, they close early too, but at least they’re friendly and up-front about it.

Laurelwood is building a new site even closer to my house, in the old Sylvia’s. Mike DeKalb showed me plans last year and it looks like it’ll be great.

But I’m not sure I’ll make a beeline for the door this time when they open. Nor will those friends I mentioned.

I guess I’ll just have to see who’s on duty that day.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Black Beauty Porter, 06/07

I haven’t brewed as much in the past few years as I used to; life keeps getting in the way, it seems. Besides which, as of this morning’s clean-out-the-basement (or at least, brewery area of the basement) initiative showed, I have at least 10 cases of homebrew already waiting to be consumed, a by-product of drinking mostly from the kegerator and being a solo drinker of 10-gallon batches. And most of that stash is strong (7%+) beer, not the session ales you can knock back 3 or more at a time.

So, here I was, Christmas Eve, behind in my brewing and getting low on quaffing drink... and I realized:  I hadn’t made my seasonal holiday ale in two years. That’s just wrong, especially when you consider its name:  Black Beauty Porter, named for my now-deceased canine friend of nine years who graces its label. So I figured, what better day to make a holiday ale than on a holiday itself?

It’s an extract-based beer, but it’s anything but simple. Modeled after Charlie Papazian’s “Tumultuous Porter” aka “Goat Scrotum Stout,” here’s the basic recipe:

             14 lbs Dark Malt Syrup Extract
             1 lbs Molasses
             0.5 lbs Brown Sugar
             2 lbs Crystal 40L
             0.5 lbs Roast Barley
             0.25 lbs Black Patent
             1 lbs Franco-Belgian Kiln-Coffee
             0.5 lbs Belgian Aromatic
             1 oz Cluster hops - Garden 5% BOIL 60 minutes
             4 oz Cascade hops – Garden 5% BOIL 60 minutes
             2 oz Cascade hops - Garden 5% BOIL 30 minutes
             1 oz Cascade hops - Garden 5% BOIL 5 minutes
             1 tsp Ginger powder
             2 ea Brewing Licorice, in.
             1.5 oz Juniper Berries
             500 ml Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale

First I crushed the malts in my new mill setup described in my previous blog. It worked pretty well except that the bolt had to be driven into the Valley Mill’s turning wheel a little further in order to get things going. Hey, that’s what hammers are for.

I steeped the malts in 155F water for about 20 minutes, then rinsed and drained them into the kettle, topping up the water to about 9 gallons. When it reached boil, I added the extracts and the initial hops. Note that all of the hops I used were from my garden, so the AA%’s are all gross estimates. (In other words, I really have no idea as to their bittering contributions.)

The spices went in for the last 10 minutes or so. The Juniper berries I cracked with a rolling pin to help release their flavorings. I normally prefer to use fresh ginger but I didn’t realize I was fresh out until I was well underway.

I bottled and kegged it today. I ended up a little high on my volume, in part due to the shorter boiling time than usual (60 for extract vs. 90 minutes on all-grain) that I didn’t adjust for. I kegged a little over 8 gallons, bottled about 2 and probably spilled about a half gallon due to a last-minute makeshift change to my bottling operation. That’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog, I think.

It came out well. It’s sort of a brown porter, more dark-brown with ruby tinges than the black you see in commercial porters or even the other ones I make. The molasses and extracts give it a bit of a caramelly taste and there’s a touch of citrus from the American hops. The Juniper berries add an interesting earthy bitterness and there’s an overall spiciness to the beer that should come out strongly in the nose.

The OG was about 1.050 and the FG was 1.018, a little on the sweet side due to the presence of all those unfermentables. I’m looking forward to having lots of this on draft in a couple of weeks when I have the boys over for poker.