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Monday, July 21, 2014

Atiyeh's Link to Oregon Craft Beer

There's a fair amount of buzz in Portland media today surrounding the passing of Vic Atiyeh, Oregon's 32nd governor. Atiyeh served two terms, from 1979 to 1987. He passed away Sunday evening due to complications from injuries suffered several weeks ago.

Atiyeh's statue at PDX
Atiyeh was governor during a difficult economic stretch for Oregon. A national recession that struck in 1980 had staying power here. The double whammy was the collapse of timber industry revenues, which had floated the state for a century.

Looking for ways to keep the state solvent, Atiyeh launched a number of economic development initiatives that eventually resulted in trade relationships around the globe. Ironically, one of his most significant moments is generally under-appreciated. Atiyeh signed the Brewpub Bill (aka SB 813) into law in 1985.

At the time, no one had a clue what the Brewpub Bill would mean to the state. Founding craft brewers thought brewpubs would provide access to an otherwise allusive clientele. They thought good beer and good food in a family environment would push the business (they hardly thought of it as an industry) to new heights.

The story of how the brewpub legislation was bounced around the Oregon Legislature is covered in my book, Portland Beer: Crafting the Road to Beervana. In looking back, I discovered the brewpub idea was not universally supported by legislators. Some were against it because politically connected beer distributors didn't like it. Others thought approving brewpubs would give Coors access to Oregon, and they didn't like Coors' politics.

The fact is, the law that legalized brewpubs probably could not have gotten through the legislature on its own due to opposition in the state senate. The way it did get through, finally, was inserted into a bill that legalized the sale of alcohol in bed and breakfast establishments. The brewpub language was added to that bill and passed out of conference committee.

There was little fanfare when the bill reached Gov. Atiyeh's desk on July 13, 1985. He signed it into law and it was filed with the Secretary of State two days later. Little did anyone know.

The Brewpub Bill did not mark the beginning of the craft beer revolution in Oregon. And Oregon wasn't the first state to pass such legislation. But brewpubs turned out to be a crucial element in what has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Without them, craft beer would have remained largely hidden behind the blackened windows of taverns and bars. Instead, Oregonians got to experience craft beer in the well-lit comfort of brewpubs. The rest is history, really.

As we prepare for the 27th Oregon Brewers Festival, I hope someone will take notice and remember that the Brewpub Bill became law on Atiyeh's watch. We should toast Atiyeh and those who worked so hard to pass that legislation 29 years ago. We've come a long way.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oregon's Biggest Craft Beer Party Returns

Next week's renewal of the Oregon Brewers Festival is arguably the highlight of beer year here. The beer scene has spawned a flood of smaller events through the year, but the OBF is the oldest and biggest. Most of those other events wouldn't even exist without the blueprint of the OBF.

So I'm always somewhat amused when I hear some of my beer geek friends beating on the OBF. Gripes take many forms. Some don't like the crowds or the atmosphere. Others aren't impressed with the beer list. Still others think the event has become too commercialized.

Look, I've been happy to complain about some of the shortcomings at the OBF. I wish they could do something about the lines. I questioned the move to a 3 oz taste last year. I frankly don't like the frat-like drinking atmosphere that descends Friday and Saturday night. I digress.

As with any large event, you have to take the good with the bad. Things are always going to be crazy when you get a lot of people together. Add excessive beer drinking and you've got a recipe for potential chaos. But I've had far more good times than bad ones at the OBF over the years.

The first OBF was held 26 years ago this month, July 1988. That makes this year's event the 27th actual festival. We've come a long way in the intervening years. As the inaugural poster below shows, that first OBF was a two-day affair. Later, they added a third day, which prompted a lot of Friday afternoons off around town. Then they went to four days, prompting full days off. Last year they added Wednesday in an effort to spread the crowds out over more days.

It isn't mentioned very often, but there has also been an evolutionary shift in what the OBF is all about. During the early years, it was mostly a chance for craft brewers to show off beers that differed from macro sludge. Today, the event is much more about beers that are unique or special even within craft beer. Many of the beers poured are brewed for the event.

Want a great example? Last year, Heathen Brewing brewed Transgression IPA specifically for the OBF. This beer requires a special dry-hopping treatment. The effort paid off in a big way, as the beer was a huge hit and won the people's choice award. It also put Heathen, which operates out of a residential garage in Vancouver, on the map. That's the power of the OBF.

There's also the economic impact. In the early years, the OBF was a far more modest affair than it is today. Announced attendance last year was 85,000. The financial benefit to the local economy is enormous, estimated at $31 million by a group that surveys attendees and analyzes the collected data. This is to say nothing of the countless spin-off festivals and events that boost Portland's bottom line.

If you need one more indicator of how popular and mainstream the OBF has become, look no further than the annual Get My Perks promotion. The special offer went live the other morning and they sold the 300 available packages in less than 10 minutes. That's a package every two seconds. Ye gods!

OBF 2014
Organizers will pour 88 beers in 30 styles from the taps near the main tents. Don't get too caught up in the style guidelines. As in recent years, there are a lot of IPAs. But fruit beers have a solid presence and some of the IPAs actually double as fruit beers. There's something for everyone. You can review the beer list here and create your own pre-fest cheat sheet.

It's worth mentioning that the Buzz Tent, which features rare and often barrel-aged beers, returns after taking last year off. They're now calling it the Specialty Tent. Expect to find some great, albeit costly beers in there. They plan to roll through more than 100 specialty beers during the course of the event. This is where you'll find the beer geek crowd.

An added attraction will be some brewers visiting from Utrecht in the Netherlands, which has a Friendship City relationship with Portland. OBF co-founder Art Larrance traveled there last year and discovered a thriving craft beer scene that reminded him of the Northwest in the 1980s. He invited a group of brewers over and several Dutch beers will be poured in the Specialty Tent. There will also be daily meet the brewer sessions. It's all part of giving the OBF more of an international flavor.

Last year's switch from the traditional plastic mug to a glass was well-received and continues. The glass is a far better tasting vessel and, coincidentally, helped obscure last year's other big change...the advent of the 3 oz pour. Three ounces in the old plastic mug would have raised some eyebrows. Three ounces in the bottom of a nicely tapered glass didn't cause much concern. Smart move.

It's the same old story with tokens and glasses. The glass will set you back $7 and tokens are $1. There are a few places selling glasses and tokens in advance: Belmont Station, Cascade Barrel House, the Raccoon Lodge, Deschutes in the Pearl, the Green Dragon and Rogue Public House. You won't save any money, but you may save time in line at the festival.

Even if some of my beer geek friends aren't especially keen on the OBF, I still think of it as the marquee craft beer event of the summer and year. There isn't a single event on the calendar that has close to the influence of the OBF. I look forward to it every year. If you're keeping track, I'll be attending Wednesday and will post findings and favorites on Thursday or Friday.

See you under the tents.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pints Urban Taproom: More Than Meets the Eye

If you follow Portland's beer scene, you probably know of Pints Urban Taproom. The place has been open in Old Town since 2012. It'a a cozy little space which morphs from a morning coffee house to an afternoon and evening brewpub. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot going on here that isn't so obvious.

My first visit to Pints happened back in early 2012, not long after they opened. Old Town isn't part of my hood and I don't get down there that often. In fact, that first visit was part of a Brewvana tour. I was impressed with the space. The beer list was solid, if not all that exciting.

Fast forward two years and things have changed quite a bit. In those early days, the beers were brewed by Zach Beckwith, who had come over from Lompoc. He was all about taking a simple, traditional approach to brewing. The mostly low- ABV beers reflected that approach.

Today, the beers are being brewed by Alan Taylor, who has a distinguished brewing background I'll delve into in due time. Taylor replaced Patrick Watkins, who had replaced Beckwith when the latter left for Three Creeks. These are wild times in craft beer.

The story of how Taylor became involved in Pints is a bit trickier than it appears. He began working for owner Chad Rennaker's ZH Brewing in 2010, but not on the Pints project. A local consultant was coordinating Pints. Taylor was hired to provide brewing expertise on several projects Rennaker had in motion at the time, most notably one in Albuquerque.

"Chad's 'real job' is real estate development, with an emphasis on mixed-use/mixed-rate concepts," says Taylor. "He wants his buildings to have a brewery-restaurant on the main floor. The Albuquerque project was the big reason we partnered up. He needed an experienced brewer/brewmaster to start up, hire, and supervise his projects. I was the right fit."

Albuquerque isn't all. For the past several years, Rennaker has been working with the Portland Development Commission on putting a brewpub in Southeast Portland's downtrodden Lents neighborhood. The PDC believes a brewpub will help revitalize the area and is financially committed to making it happen (more here).

"The Lents project has been running in the background since I started here," Taylor said. "It has moved forward and we now hope to be open early next year. In-house we will have a number of NW-style beers and a mixed American/Central European beer and food menu. We also hope to do packaged sales [probably bottles] focused on German styles." 

So Pints is actually one piece of a larger picture that includes Albuquerque and Lents. Phoenix is reportedly the next place Rennaker and Taylor are focused on. Taylor stays busy with big picture projects and his brewing duties at Pints. His employment is secure.

Getting back to Taylor's brewing background, it is extensive. He did time at Full Sail, Spanish Peaks, Gordon-Biersch and Widmer. He also worked as a Brewmaster and general manager of a brauhaus in Germany. Each of these stops happened after he received formal brewing training in Berlin. 

"My time in Germany doesn't take up that much space on my resume, but it was instrumental in my understanding and appreciation of brewing techniques," he said. "School was great and my times in Berlin and Bavaria were eye-opening and true fun."

The beers at Pints today reflect Taylor's background. Alongside a rich line-up of Northwest-influenced beers (Brickhouse Blonde, Seismic IPA, Rip Saw Red, Steel Bridge Stout measure up nicely) you'll find Konvention Kosch, Helles Lager, as well as the excellent Amerikaner Berliner-Weisse. 

Green Line Organic Pale Ale, named for the MAX line in Old Town, was featured at the recent North American Organic Brewers Festival. An organic version of the Berliner-Weisse, expected to be ready for the event and eagerly anticipated by many, was not quite ready, Taylor says. Mystery solved.

Given Taylor's role in the larger project work at ZH Brewing, you wonder how long he will be able to stay in the role of brewer. He has brewed 224 batches on a 3.5 bbl, mostly manual system since he arrived at Pints in April 2013. He knows he can't keep it up forever with all he has on his plate.

"I'm realistic. I can barely keep up with Pints production, let alone run multiple systems in multiple locations. Once Lents is squared away, I'll need someone to assist with beer production. That person will work with me on both systems to utilize the strengths of each.  As we grow, we'll add boots when and where needed and I'll pull back from day-to-day brewing in order to focus on the big picture."

In keeping with that theme, Taylor routinely invites Pints bar staff into the brewery to assist with recipe development and tweaking. Staff involvement and training helps keep things fresh in the brewery and is the lifeblood of a successful, evolving brewery, he says. 

What Rennaker and Taylor are doing with Pints and the related projects is just a new twist on an old theme. The combination of good beer and food is a proven winner almost anywhere. Look around. There's an entire industry that is built largely on that premise. And it continues to grow.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Baseball, Apple Pie, Beer Machines

If you pay attention to sports news, you may have heard about the self-serve DraftServ beer stations that will be in use at next week's All-Star game in Minnesota. The machines are the handiwork of a partnership between concessionaire Delaware North and, you guessed it, Anheuser-Busch.

The way it works is simple. Fans show their ID and then purchase a beer card in the amount they want...$10, $20, etc. There will reportedly be a $50 card are the All-Star game. To get a beer or beers, the fan goes to the DraftServ machine, scans the preloaded card and chooses one of several beers and the size of the pour.

There's a bit of a downside to this arrangement when you see the list of beers. Bud, Bud Light, Shock Top Lemon Shandy and Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale. These are obviously lowest common denominator beers, meant to sooth the pallets of novice beer fans.

Price is another thing. Fans will pay 38-40 cents an ounce for the available sludge. That translates to nearly $5 for a 12 oz glass of Shock Top or Goose Island, a little less for Bud and Bud Light. Those are horrible prices almost anywhere, but not in a Major League ballpark. The machines have a governor that limits fans to 48 ounces of beer every 15 minutes. That seems like a lot to me, but never mind.

The DraftServ machines reduce labor costs, for sure. Someone still has to check ID and collect funds for the cards. And someone has to monitor the area around the machines to make sure minors and drunks don't have access to the beer. But they will generally reduce the cost of serving beer, it seems.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about these machines. I suppose they're the wave of the future as ballparks outsource concessions to corporate efficiency experts. Reducing labor costs is one of the few ways they can boost profits while expanding food and drink options.

These machines have potential. They might offer a way for sports and other venues to sell a wide selection of good beer without a lot of fuss. Imagine two or three of these things lined up and filled with good craft beer. And no Bud Light. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Of course, that's probably a pipe dream, given who's involved in this project. Fans are likely to be saddled with standard issue Anheuser-Busch swill, which makes DraftServ a great idea with apparently nowhere to go. Too bad.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Soulless Thugs at Work in Natty Greene's Patent Case

The upcoming Fourth of July celebration, otherwise known as national war zone weekend, is going to be great for the beer industry. A whole lot of beer is going to be bought and guzzled this weekend. And we all know massive beer consumption and fireworks go perfectly well together. Boom!

Just in time for the holiday, I came across news that our old friend, Anheuser-Busch, is continuing its ongoing attack on the craft beer industry. This time out, the St. Louis thugs are attempting to block a trademark application filed by Natty Greene's Brewing of Greensboro, N.C.

Natty Greene's, founded in 2004, has been growing steadily and now produces about 17,000 barrels of beer annually. Owners filed the application to patent the phrase "Natty Greene's" because they recently expanded distribution outside the state of North Carolina. Now seemed a good time to protect the name.

In case you're wondering, and you should wonder, Natty Greene's is named after Nathaniel Greene, a general during the American Revolutionary War (no, kids, that's not the one that started when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor). A number of American cities, including Greensboro, are also named after Greene, the general.

Anheuser-Busch, which owns dubious trademarks on Natty Light, Fatty Natty and Fatty Daddy in connection with its Natural Light brand, claims that granting Natty Greene's application would damage or dilute the value of the Natty family.

Let's take a look at that claim. How do you damage a brand like Natural Light? The beer has been part of the Anheuser-Busch line since 1977, when it was rushed to market in response to the wild popularity of Miller Lite. AB had to do something. Bud Light, you may recall, came later.

Natural Light or Natty Light or whatever you want to call it is a sub-premium brand, typically sold at discount prices where you can find it. It has a good following on some college campuses because it's cheap and frat boys can drink a lot of it before they puke or pass out. It's also popular in poverty-stricken urban ghettos for similar reasons. But never mind.

The thing is, if someone is going to be damaged by way of name association, it will almost certainly be Natty Greene's. Some people outside North Carolina might see the name and immediately connect it with Natty Light or one of the other Nattys. Natty Greene's is a respectable craft brand. They are the ones risking damage or dilution of value.

Natty Greene's co-founder Kayne Fisher characterizes AB's opposition as a nuisance filing. He has a hard time seeing how anyone is going to confuse Natty Greene's with any of the Natty-related trademarks. He has a point. He brews a good product. Natty Light is another animal.

We'll have to wait and see what happens in court. Fisher expects to move ahead with the patent application. Anheuser-Busch, with the deepest pockets in the industry, is not going to drop its opposition and can easily afford to extend the proceedings. Soulless thugs never quit.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Continuing Dishonesty of the Shaker Pint

There are some pretty amusing and supple justifications for the shaker pint glass. It stacks nicely. It's durable. It's easy to clean. It's cheap. Do a Google search if you want to learn all about why it's a great idea for bars and pubs to use the shaker pint, aka cheater pint.

 A 12 oz beer in a cheater/shaker pint
Of course, there are also plenty of arguments against the popular glass. It's a rather poor piece of glassware if you want to experience the full flavor and aroma of most beers, for example. Again, do a Google search if you want to learn more.

In fact, the primary argument against the shaker pint is simple: It isn't a pint at all. Seriously. Try pouring a pint of beer into a shaker pint. Do yourself a favor and stand near a sink when you're doing it. Because a pint of beer won't fit in a shaker glass. Sorry.

In a quick home experiment, I found a 12 oz bottle of beer fit nicely into a shaker pint glass. The reason is head or foam. Your beer needs it and the shaker pint glass can't accommodate the beer and the head. In fact, the average shaker pour in a pub is probably 12-13 ounces.

There's no law against serving patrons less than a pint of beer and calling it a pint. Thanks in part to the Honest Pint Project, started by Jeff Alworth in 2007, a number of bars and pubs upgraded their glassware to something that accommodates a pint of beer with head. An effort to enforce a 16-ounce pint rule through legislation failed.

A number of establishments were certified as serving an Honest Pint as part of the project. You can still see a list of certified places on the website, although Jeff abandoned the HPP in 2011. The part of the site where you could submit info to certify a pub has gone dark, as Jeff said it would.

I'm not going to get into an analysis of why some places continue to use the shaker pint. It's pretty obvious that pouring short pints means more pints per gallon, keg or serving tank. There's an economic incentive to use these glasses, beyond the simple fact that they're cheap.

But it seems to me that we ought to receive a proper pint of beer when that's what we order. I can't imagine the justification for representing something as a pint and then delivering something less than that. "Dishonest" is one word that comes to mind.

Frankly, it's hard to believe cheater/shaker pint glasses are still around in significant numbers. They need to go.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

NAOBF Overcomes Soggy Opening Day

If you attend enough summer beer festivals in Oregon, sooner or later you're going to get wet. Such was the case for opening day of the 2014 North American Organic Beer Festival at Overlook Park. The rain simply refused to go away. Those in attendance were not deterred.

As I was saying to some friends as we worked our way through beers and homemade bread-sticks, getting a little wet at a summer festival is something you have to experience. I could have postponed my visit to the weekend, when the weather is expected to be better. But I wanted to experience the event in the rain. Call me crazy.

The crowd was small on Thursday. The event expanded to four days last year and I suspect it would have been fairly busy by late afternoon had it not been for the weather. Beer fans usually pick up on an additional day by the second or third year.

For anyone worried about the rain, there are plenty of places to hide. When the rain started coming down heavier at one point, virtually everyone hanging around near the beer taps moved under cover. Pretty funny. There's also a large tent with tables and chairs where they have several flat screen TVs showing soccer or whatever. It's a nice arrangement.

The big shade tree that lives just beyond the entry gate is back in action. Last year, you may recall, the area under the tree had to be abandoned during hot weather due to a cracked limb. It's pretty plain to see where that amputated limb once grew.

There are plenty of good beers to be had. From my brief cheat-sheet, the Ambacht G++ was excellent, just as it was last year. I reckon it was worth the double token price. Hopworks Totally Radler tasted great even on a cool, damp day. I had targeted Pints Bio-Liner Weisse, but it was not present, and may not be for the duration due to some sort of mix-up. I settled for their Green Line Pale Ale, a light and crisp little mistress. There were many more.

One thing you need to be aware of is they have gone to a 3 ounce taste this year. It had been 4 ounces in the past and the press materials said that would be the case this year. Not so. They appear to be following the lead of the Oregon Brewers Festival and others with the change. There's not much you can do about it, but I do suggest avoiding the double token beers. At one token, you are paying the equivalent of $4 for a 12 oz beer. At two tokens, you're paying $8 for that same beer. It's a little steep.

Looking ahead, I suspect this is the last year the NAOBF will be held in June. They've simply had it with the unpredictable weather. Last year they had cool followed by hot. This year, rain. It gets a little old hoping and praying for good weather and getting mixed results. And we all know Oregon weather tends to be better and more predictable after the Fourth of July.

Next year's event will likely move into July and may change venues, as well. Nothing is certain, yet. Look, it's great to have an event that allows attendees to get there by public transit or bike. But there's very little parking, which discourages folks who have to come by car. And you really need to make your event easily accessible to all potential comers.

As for this year, the forecast had been suggesting the weekend weather would be better than Thursday or Friday. Now it looks a little dicey. I don't really see why that should be a problem for beer fans. As noted, there's plenty of shelter...and what's a little rain, anyway? This is Oregon!