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Monday, April 30, 2012

Oregon Garden Brewfest Kicks Up its Heels

If you were following along at home last week, you may know I spent some time down at the Oregon Garden Brewfest on Thursday and Friday. It was my first time attending the event, and it happened largely because they are making a serious effort to build it up. More about that momentarily.

This was the 8th annual Brewfest in Silverton. The event kicked off with a Brewers' Tasting dinner Thursday evening...a six course meal paired with six different beers. Then came the main event Friday and Saturday, featuring more than 90 beers and ciders from 45 different breweries. Live music, food, tasting lessons and beer trivia courtesy of Women Enjoying Beer, as well. Sounds pretty good, huh?

The Tasting dinner menu
Truth be told, this event does not have a history of great attendance. Last year it attracted 3,200, a record. It's not so hard to figure out why. Silverton isn't exactly centrally located. It's at least an hour from Portland, less than that from Salem. The thing is, you don't arrive in Silverton by accident.

In an effort to boost attendance and event prestige, the Oregon Garden did something smart: they enlisted Chris Crabb, the presiding guru of beer event promotion in Oregon. Chris has run the Oregon Brewers Festival forever and is well known in the beer community. She does her job well, always.

I suspect Chris contributed a lot to the pre-event messaging plan. Because she knows the value of getting the beer media involved, she enlisted the help of many bloggers. In exchange for chatting up the event, we were given access to the tasting dinner, the festival and other goodies. (That's disclosure)

The pavilion Friday afternoon, before it got crazy
The result of the renewed effort? Attendance reportedly hit 6,000 for the two days. That's nearly double what they had last year...the best ever. So the growth trajectory got a bump. I don't know how much larger they want it to be. The pavilion venue, even with an overflow tent, isn't huge. But I suppose they could figure a way to accommodate more folks.

The beer list was decent enough. A close review of the 45 breweries reveals that 25 came from Oregon. That number rises to 27 if you include Redhook and Kona, both (Portland-based) Craft Brew Alliance brands. The only other state with significant representation was California with 8.

As you might expect, IPA was the most represented style...I counted 20. Why might you expect that? Because, for better or worse, IPA is the most popular craft style at the moment. It's the style people are buying in stores and asking for in pubs. Festivals like this one must have plenty of it.

Women Enjoying Beer...Emily and Ginger
On that subject, Gigantic Brewing hasn't even officially opened yet, but I was impressed by their IPA, which is eerily similar to Boneyard RPM. Gigantic IPA is going to be a huge hit when these guys open up in a few weeks. Get some!

The bottom line is this was a well-organized, fun event. Of course, I wasn't there during the peak times, so I may have missed things that didn't go right. It must have been nuts inside the pavilion when things got crazy at night. That's something they'll have to adjust for as the festival grows.

The only unforced error I saw, and it may well be due to some entrenched policy at the Oregon Garden, is they were charging $5 for festival parking. Seriously? Most of the folks attending this festival drove significant miles to get there. Why would you greet them with a frivolous fee for parking? When you hit your ultimate attendance goal, start charging for parking...the next year.

Well, that about wraps her up. The next Oregon Garden Brewfest is set for April 26-27, 2013.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Seven Brides Serving Up Great Rural Nectar

Seven Brides Brewing in Silverton isn't what you think. It isn't operated by seven young ladies who were recently hitched. Rather, it's the brainchild of five guys who among them have five daughters. They hope the brewery will help them pay the eventual weddings costs.

The five partners shared an interest in homebrewing, a common path to brewing competency. After a few years of brewing, the would-be partner with sales mojo suggested the stuff they were making was good enough to sell. So they launched the business...and the beer has sold.

Home of Seven Brides Brewing and Vitis Ridge Winery
You've probably seen bombers of Seven Brides beer around Portland. The Fred Meyer I frequent typically stocks two Seven Brides beers...both pretty good in my book. But a road trip (to the Oregon Garden Brewfest) gave me the opportunity to visit the Seven Brides. And I try not to miss such opportunities.

I walked in the joint around 11 a.m. and was surprised (and perplexed) to discover they had 12 beers available. That's more beers than I usually want to sample before noon on a weekday. It was gut check time. I opted for the full flight...nothing says you have to drink every drop.

Flight of 12...minus one (the Kolsch got clipped)
I'm not going to give a blow by blow review of each beer. I really don't care for beer reviews. Suffice it to say these beers were all clean and high quality. At any given time, I could drink any one of these beers. But I did have several favorites:

Maggie's Marzen -  This is Seven Brides' Oktoberfest beer. It has a lovely, deep orange color and is balanced, smooth drinking. The brilliant character is courtesy of several German malts. 6 % ABV, 25 IBUs, 15 SRM.

The Weezin-ator - Seven Brides' dopplebock is dominated by deep roast flavors and a touch of warm sweetness. It has plum notes on the nose. Jeff DeSantis, Seven Brides sales and marketing guru, took a minute out of his Brewfest prep to talk to me about this beer, then poured me part of a snifter, which really brought out the aromas. 9.7% ABV, 71 IBUs, 18 SRM.

The Weezin-ator
Lil's Pils - A traditional Bohemian Pilsner. Very light body and color. This stuff is super clean with not a lot of hop aroma or flavor. It has a mildly bitter finish. I liked Lil's Pils better than Kili's Kolsch, which is similar. 5% ABV, 40 IBUs, 4 SRM.

Abbey - A bold Belgian Dubbel, this beer is fermented in Port barrels. Similar to some Cascade Barrel House beers, the Abbey is light in color and mildly tart. This is a terrific gateway sour. Jeff told me people either love or hate this beer. I fit into the former category. 8.1% ABV, 20 IBUs, 17 SRM.

Seven Brides is a perfect example of why you can't discount a brewery due to its location. Silverton is a ways off the well-beaten path. You might expect them to be producing just mainstream beers. That is decidedly not the case. These guys are serving up a long list of varied, quality beers.

If you get a chance to stop by the pub and tasting room in Silverton, definitely go for it. Otherwise, you can find Lil's Pils, Lauren's Pale Ale, Emily's Amber and Oatmeal Ellie in 22 oz bombers in stores around the area. Keep up the great work, folks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Roscoe's Delivers

One of the great things that's happened in Portland over the last few years is the proliferation of pubs and taprooms...places that don't make beer, but nonetheless serve up some of the best beers around. This isn't a new idea. The Horse Brass has been doing it for ages. Others have joined in with varying results.

These places run the gamete in terms of sizes, shapes and styles. We've got upscale places and we've got dives. Indeed, the popularity of craft beer in these parts has forced the crappiest dive bars and the highest end restaurants to pour at least a few decent beers. If all you've got is shitty light beer, your brand will be damaged and customers will go elsewhere. True story.

Honestly, not much to look at
Down on the corner of Southeast 81st and Stark sits a little place called Roscoe's. As they themselves say, "Looks can be deceiving." Ain't it the truth! This isn't the best part of town and Roscoe's is pretty unimpressive from the outside. Do not make the mistake of driving by and not stopping.

I stopped in on a recent Friday. They were having an single-blind Imperial IPA tasting...you know which beers you're drinking and your job is to guess which one is which. These were all damn good IPAs...Pliny the Elder and a wood aged IPA from Great Divide were easy to spot. The other two on the plate, from Migration and Oskar Blues, I got backwards. Oh well. No one's perfect.

Cheers to the IIPA tasting plate!
More to the point, Roscoe's tap list is pretty stellar. They have 16 taps (two nitro) and they rotate in some of the finest beers around. Don't bother looking on their website, which is pretty basic and unimpressive...similar to their exterior.

There are plenty of other distractions here. They've got a couple of retro TVs focused on the two sides of the bar. Classic stuff. If you aren't into hazy tube TVs, you can crane your neck and watch on one of the flat screens mounted elsewhere. If TV isn't your thing, they've got pool tables and some video games in another room.

Front side of the bar, tap list and retro TV included
Definitely do not overlook the menu here. They advertise Southern Cuisine. The happy hour menu (2-6 p.m. daily) features hush puppies, pulled pork sliders, Cajun-style chicken strips, Cajun fries and tots, oyster shooters and more. Prices are pleasantly cheap. I ordered hush puppies and pulled pork sliders. There were excellent.

Add some nicely tatted up wait people to the mix and what have you got? Well, basically you've got a place that would nominally be considered a dive bar if not for the great beer list and fantastic comfort food. Looks can obviously be deceiving. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Deliverance from Evil in 'Bama

I'm not sure how many readers of this blog may have seen the old Burt Reynolds movie, Deliverance. It's the story of a wild water canoe trip down a dying river in rural Georgia. The boys from the city wind up in conflict with some rural folks and it gets ugly, to put it mildly.

There's a conflict of a different sort happening down south now and this time it involves beer. Frankly speaking, there are parts of the old Confederacy where they still think Prohibition was a damn good idea, and they're doing everything they can to keep it alive with dreadful, antiquated laws.

One of those places is Alabama, where the state's Alcohol Control Board the other day banned the sale of Dirty Bastard beer, brewed by Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, Mich. Profanity on the label was given as the reason for denying Dirty Bastard a place on store shelves.

Banned in 'Bama
Just to give you some perspective, this is the same state that allows the sale of Fat Bastard wine. And you can also find Raging Bitch beer in select stores, "select" being any store that wants to sell it. No word on Stone's Arrogant Bastard, but it doesn't sound good.

An attorney for the Alabama Alcohol Control Board says he thinks the decision on Dirty Bastard was right...bastard is something the kiddies don't need to see in stores. He defended the decisions on Fat Bastard and Raging Bitch, saying they happened years ago and the beers wouldn't be approved now. Now we're getting somewhere.

Problematic in 'Bama
Free The Hops, an organization that is working to get the state of Alabama to at least move in the direction of sane beer laws, opposes the decision on Dirty Bastard. But they've got an uphill battle. More than a third of the counties in Alabama prohibit the sale of alcohol.

Another Alabama law prevents the sale of beer in containers larger than 16 ounces, effectively keeping many craft beers off store shelves. The "Gourmet Bottle" bill designed to fix this didn't make it out of committee in 2011. Free The Hops has introduced versions of the same bill in the state House and Senate for 2012. You can track their progress on the Free the Hops website.

Prohibition isn't dead in Alabama. It's obvious a good part of the state would bring it back full bore if they had the chance. It makes you wonder if these people are ever going to join the 20th century. Forget 2012.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Churchkey Leans on Memories of Yesteryear

If you follow the local beer scene, you may have heard about the launch of a new beer that comes in a good looking, retro steel can. Churchkey Can Company is the name of the operation. The beer is a Pilsner, reportedly quite good.

Churchkey beer...opener included
Churchkey (that's the thingy you use to punch holes in the can) was founded by Portland native Justine Hawkins and actor Adrian Grenier (Vinny Chase on HBO's Entourage). The Northwest-style Pilsner is the creation of Portland-based homebrewers Sean Burke and Lucas Jones. It comes in at 4.9% ABV and 29 IBU.

As good as the beer may be, Churchkey is all about the steel can. They claim it harkens back to a bygone era. Indeed. Steel cans came into popular use by the late 1930s and were widely used for a lot of stuff through the sixties. Pop, beer, beans, tennis balls, motor oil, etc. I can well-remember drinking PBR and other fine beers from a steel can. I was a kid at the time, but never mind.

Use to come in a steel can...
Give the Churchkey folks credit. If you're going to release a Pilsner in today's competitive craft beer marketplace, a bit of differentiation is a good idea. The attractive steel can does exactly that. I keep hearing that stores and bottleshops are selling out of this stuff quickly. The beer may well be excellent. But the can is the novelty floating this boat.

If you're wondering if there are non-marketing reasons why they would choose steel over aluminum, you aren't alone. The issue has been kicked around on blogs and the web. Jeff Alworth brought it up several weeks ago on the Beervana blog. It's a legitimate question.

Also popular in the golden days of yesteryear...
Some of the press Churchkey is getting talks about the benefits of using steel, which has the highest recycling rate of any food packaging in the United States. Steel containers are recycled 66 percent of the time while the number for aluminum is about 58 percent.

It isn't that people necessarily intend to recycle those tin cans; it's just that steel is easy to separate from garbage using magnets at waste processing facilities. Not so with aluminum. When aluminum gets recycled, someone likely put it a curbside bin or took it to a store or collection center.

There's more to consider on the question of energy use and carbon footprint:

  • Making aluminum using recycled cans takes 5 percent as much energy as it takes to make aluminum from scratch. The number for steel is 40 percent. 
  • Steel weighs three times as much as aluminum. That means more energy is used in all phases of transporting steel, compared to aluminum. We don't want to talk about glass.

I recently talked about the crazy growth of craft beer sales in supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores. Most of that growth is in bottled beer, still the most popular packaging for craft beer at retail. What doesn't come in a bottle mostly comes in 12 and 16 oz. aluminum cans. Steel isn't part of the mix.

Lots of these in landfills...
Cans are a great choice for beer. They don't break, don't allow light to damage the beer and offer great portability. Aluminum is a better choice than steel largely because it's lighter and, thus, cheaper to ship. As canning gains popularity (via in-house canning lines or mobile canning), we'll see more craft beer in aluminum cans. It's already happening.

If you think about this very long, you're going to start asking yourself why there's still so much glass out there. Glass breaks and it's heavy...an empty aluminum can weighs about an ounce, while an empty bottle weighs 6 ounces. Glass is still top dog largely due to the myth that beer tastes better from a bottle.

So give Churchkey credit for a novel marketing approach. But steel cans aren't coming back...not for beer, anyway. In fact, you have to wonder how long it will be before aluminum cans dominate craft beer sold at retail.That day may not be far off.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Brewvana Tours: A Ticket to Ride in Beervana

If you're a fan of the Portland beer scene and you don't know about Brewvana Tours, you can be forgiven. The organization has only been in existence for a year...and celebrated their first anniversary on Sunday with a gathering of friends at Laurelwood on NE Sandy.

Ashley Rose Salvitti is the brains and muscle behind Brewvana Tours. She became a fan of craft beer at a young age and eventually wound up working in a brewery. She moved to Portland so she could pursue her passion for great beer more completely and has been doing so ever since.

The anniversary celebration is on!
The beer tour concept is borrowed from what wine people have been doing in the Portland area for many years. You hop on the bus and ride to a handful of excellent destinations. In this case, fantastic beer is the beverage of choice. Once on site, you tour the brewery and often get to hear brewers discuss their beers. Seriously, it doesn't get much better.

What's really cool about the Brewvana arrangement is that Ashley often has guest tour guides from the beer community. There's a nice list of brewers, bloggers and other connected folks who have shared their personal knowledge of the local and regional beer scene as tour guides. And there are more to come.

Did I mention the bus doesn't stop at the Portland city limits? Brewvana Tours has embarked on trips to Hood River, Astoria and Bend. And I may have missed one or two destinations. 

Under intense interrogation on Sunday, Ashley told me the business started slowly, but is picking up nicely now. She also said she's looking at purchasing a second bus to accommodate the increasing interest. Although she didn't say so, I suspect summer is going to be really busy.

If you're reading this, you just might have an interest in craft beer. If you do, a Brewvana Tour is an ideal way to get immersed in the area beer scene. Tours work well for all levels...from novices to complete beer snobs. 

It doesn't matter if you live in the Portland area or in Timbuktu. Hopping on the Brewvana bus is a ticket to an enjoyable and informative experience. You can view a list of recent and upcoming Brewvana tours here.

Full disclosure: I received no freebies or other considerations in exchange for writing this piece.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Craft Conquering Mississippi and the World

There was news out of Mississippi yesterday. You may recall an earlier discussion here focused on the nonsense of Mississippi's beer laws, which limit ABV to 5 percent. Mississippi was giving the Middle East a run for its money in the area of antiquated beer laws

Well, the Raise Your Pints movement finally succeeded in getting a bill through the Mississippi Leg increasing beer alcohol level to 8 percent. Congrats to them for that, because this wasn't a slam dunk by any means. They've got idiots all over the place down there, bent on keeping the state "safe" from good beer.

Enter Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Hicksville). This fine gent has voted against increasing the beer alcohol limit for the entirety of his 13-odd years in the state senate. No surprise that he was one of 14 senators who opposed the recently passed bill. Impeachment must be tough down there.

Fortunately, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant didn't see things Fillingane's way. The Gov. signed the bill into law. Don't get too excited yet, though, because the new law won't go into effect until July 1. Once it does, Mississippians will be able to enjoy craft beers that haven't previously been available in the state. The new law will also enable brewers in state to make something other than light beer. Good times.

World Domination
In a related (under the category of craft beer gains) story, The Brewers Association just announced that exports of American craft beer set a record (for the ninth straight year), reaching 110,000 barrels in 2011...worth an estimated $23.4 million. This represents an 86 percent increase by volume and a 97 percent increase in dollars over 2010.

Look, $23.4 million is pocket change next to the overall volume of US foreign trade. It wouldn't take that many cars from Japan or Germany to eat up what craft beer is bringing back to the US. So don't count on international sales of craft beer to reverse the trade deficit.

Nonetheless, craft beer exports are growing rapidly. The world is starting to figure out where it can get good beer! We actually are good at making something. Just not TVs or cars, apparently. World beer domination can't be far behind. If beer laws in the Middle East could be brought into line with Mississippi, we might have something.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Oregon Garden Brewfest the Real Deal

As we begin our slide toward the craziness of summer on the beer festival front, he Eighth Annual Oregon Garden Brewfest is set for April 27-28 at the J. Frank Schmidt Pavilion in Silverton. I haven't been to this festival before, but I hope to make the trip down this year. 

The OGB has attracted a growing following in recent years and is becoming a destination. They expect to feature more than 90 craft beers and ciders from 45 different breweries. There will also be two stages offering live music from well-known Northwest bands both days. Times are noon to 11 p.m. both days. Oh yeah, minors are okay until 3 p.m.

Just to give you an idea of cost, you can purchase a one-day advance tasting package for $15. It includes admission for one day, a tasting mug, 7 tasting tickets, and express entry. A two-day advance tasting package costs $25 and includes admission for both days, a tasting mug, 14 tasting tickets, and express entry.

Tickets are the same price at the venue, but you'll get only 5 tasting tickets for the one-day, 10 tasting tickets for the two-day, and no express entry. Tasters cost 1 ticket; a full mug of beer costs 4. Additional tasting tickets are $1 apiece.

An additional feature this year is the first annual Brewer’s Tasting Dinner on Thursday, April 26 at 7 pm. This six-course tasting will be attended by participating brewers and industry insiders. Each course will be a small plate paired with a beer from one of six area breweries. There are just 100 tickets available to the public at $40 apiece.

Finally, a Connoisseur Tasting will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on April 27. It will feature many brewers at their booths engaging with attendees. This tasting is included with Friday admission.

There's a whole lot more information, including a list of breweries and bands, on the festival website here. This should be a fantastic event.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cheers to Mitzi!

Those of us who enjoy great beer are often quick to credit the brewers who develop the recipes and execute the production details. It's well-deserved. We get a kick out of meeting these folks and listening to their wisdom.

Too often overlooked in our pursuit of the best beers are the people who provide guidance in finer stores and bottleshops. A lot of people assume this is an easy job. Not so fast. Working with the public in any retail setting is an art, requiring knowledge, patience, a sense of humor and a lot more. The beer setting is no different.

I've bought a fair amount of beer at Belmont Station over the years. Great store. The person I relied on most often when I had a question was Mitzi Komisar. Never mind that I didn't know Mitzi's last name until recently. She always gave good advice and conversation. And she knew whenever I arrived with empties that I wanted my tattered old Deschutes box back.  

I just learned that Mitzi worked her last day at the Station on March 23. She's decided to actively pursue her acupuncture business. I guess that's probably her true calling...I hope it is. Because I know I will miss the conversations about beer and other things. I know I'm not alone.

Belmont Station is honoring Mitzi's contributions to the business and it customers on Friday, April 13, from 5 to 11 p.m. I'm looking forward to that event and hope to see a good contingent of beer people there.

Cheers, Mitzi. We wish you well.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Opportunity Drives Craft Expansion in Retail

I have to admit I've been perplexed in recent months. I look at the Oregon beer landscape and I see numerous breweries expanding their operations and planning to distribute in bottles and/or cans. I sometimes wonder if the market can support the kind of additional production involved.

Just in case you haven't heard what's happening, here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:

Amnesia Brewing, which has a home on N. Mississippi, is in the process of building a production facility in Washougal. The new place will triple their annual brewing capacity overnight (from 1,700 to 6,000 barrels), and will also house a pub and tasting room. They plan to bottle and can beer for distribution as soon as practical.

Coalition Brewing, located on SE Ankeny, will formally release its first bottled beers this week. The beers are Two Dogs IPA, King Kitty Red Ale and Roosters Cream Ale. All of these beers are favorites at the pub and will now be available in stores, bottleshops and select bars.

One of the newly available Coalition bottles
Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River is expanding into the space next to its current operation and will include a bottling line. They expect to distribute bottles of their year-round beers (K├Âlsch, Vaporizer, IRA and Hop Lava) and possibly seasonals at some point. Expect to see these beers in bottleshops and finer grocery stores sometime next summer or early fall.

Alameda Brewing, located on NE Fremont, has opened a production facility in southeast Portland and is expanding its bottle distribution in Oregon and Washington. Their beers have been available at Fred Meyer and other stores for a few years. I suspect they will be even more visible now.

These a just a few examples. Many other breweries are planning to pursue retail distribution. Breweries already in the retail game are doing what they can to improve their brand image. Lompoc, for example, is in the process of refining its labels.

Available by the bottle, possibly by summer
Behind the madness
What's all the madness about? Aren't there enough craft beers available on store shelves? How much shelf space can they grow into? How much of this stuff will the market support?

The answer is that sales of craft beers in US supermarkets increased by 15 percent in 2011, to nearly $1 billion. It was the sixth consecutive year of growth in the retail channel. Craft beer is the fastest growing alcohol/beverage segment in supermarkets.

Convenience stores and drug stores, which saw solid growth in 2011, are tracked separately from supermarkets. Expansion into this channel is expected to be brisk for 2012.

Numbers from the Brewers Association say craft beer reached a 10.8 share of the retail market last year. Please realize, this is a national figure. The share is probably 20-25 percent in Oregon, Washington and California. And closer to zero in places like Mississippi, where craft is struggling due to antiquated beer laws.

As mentioned in my prior post, some of the growth numbers are off the hook. Sales of craft beer in 22 oz bombers grew by 35 percent in 2011. Canned craft beer sales were up 97 percent to 350,000 cases. These numbers show no signs of slowing down or collapsing.
Bomber sales are expanding nicely

With all these numbers staring them in the face, it isn't surprising that brewers are positioning themselves for retail distribution. A large and growing pool of consumers is actively seeking craft beer in stores. Brewers are merely moving to take advantage of the opportunity.

Is there a risk with so many brewers intent on entering the retail space? Sure there is. The flood of new bottles and cans could create too much competition for shelf space, squeezing some brands out. There's also a possibility that too many choices could drive prices down, impacting profit.

But the game is clearly on...and escalating. You have to admit it's fun to watch as craft beers take shelf space away from the large brands. The craft revolution seems to be moving forward unabated.