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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Craft Beer Surf's Up at Kauai Island Brewing

This is one of those occasions where I get to pretend I'm somewhere I wouldn't mind being right now: Kauai. Despite the very decent weather we're having here in Portland at the moment, Kauai is a great place to be. There's just something about the tropics. And good beer.

Craft beer lovers who visit Kauai are discovering a new brewpub that recently opened. I'm talking about Kauai Island Brewing. The brewery opened a few weeks ago in Port Allen, which is down (or up) the road from the Poipu area (south side of the island). They fly small helicopters and ultralight aircraft out of Port Allen...a point of reference for some folks who've been there.

The now defunct Waimea Brewing Company
There's a bit of conflicting, confusing information out in internet land. The confusion stems from questions over whether Kauai Island Brewing is new or a transplant. Also, is it the only craft beer brewery on the island of Kauai? More issues naturally come up.

To clear some of these questions up, I called the brewery and spoke to Dave Curry, brewmaster and vice president. Dave was kind enough spend 15-20 minutes answering questions and explaining the situation there. I'll hopefully meet him when I make a trip out there in a few months. Looking forward to that.

The rundown
Who are these guys? Kauai Island Brewing was formerly known as the Waimea Brewing Company. It was located a few miles up the road inside the Plantation Cottages in Waimea. Anyone remember Waimea Brewing's tagline? World's Westernmost Brewpub. They've changed it to World's Westernmost Brewery, but you get the idea. These are the same folks. Curry has been the brewmaster for nine years.

The new location basks in the late afternoon sun
Who owns Kauai Island Brewing? Here's a surprise. The brewery is owned by Seattle-area couple, Bret and Janice Larson. Bret Larson is an engineer at Boeing, if you're wondering. Curry said the Larsons do not own a residence of any kind on Kauai...they simply fly out to the island a few times a year to vacation and check in on the business.

Why did they move to Port Allen? The simple version is the lease in Waimea expired in July 2011. Leases don't expire by accident and I'm sure there were reasons, but I didn't dig. It appears the Plantation Cottage owners had for some time wanted a more upscale dining spot in the vacated space...and you'll understand why if you visit. From a brewing standpoint, the Waimea space was small. I know because I visited several times. They were almost always low on beer choices. Not good. Curry said he and the Larsons wanted a larger space where they could put more effort into the beer. That could not have happened at the Waimea location.

The main floor looks comfortable enough
What's the new setup? The location that recently opened in Port Allen is a 4,000 square foot space that includes the brewery, the pub and a mezzanine. They have installed a 5 bbl brewhouse and several fermenters, including a 10 bbl. They also installed four 10 bbl serving tanks, which should help them keep up with demand at the pub.

What about the pub? It's turns out they are partnering with the Kauai Island Grill for the food part of the operation (they had a similar arrangement for several years in Waimea).Patrons would never know it, though. Curry said the pub and the brewery appear to operate as one. In fact, they are separate, cooperative entities. My sources (family members who just returned from Kauai) report that the food is quite good, but check them out on Yelp if you want more reviews.

Logo looks good on a good beer
What about the beers? If you ever visited Waimea Brewing, you'll recognize the beer list. Captain Cook's IPA, Leilani Light, Lilikoi Ale, Na Pali Pale Ale, Pakala Porter and several others were all on the beer menu at Waimea. Curry said he intends to have two IPAs on tap at all times in the pub once he gets production up to speed. With the larger brewing facility, he expects to develop some new recipes. There's a new English ale yeast on the way to help with that.

Any plans to distribute beers beyond the pub? The first goal is to make sure they keep up with demand at the pub, Curry said. After that, they may do some distribution to Kauai watering holes by keg. There are no plans to bottle, which makes good sense if you know anything about the very high taxes on beer and (empty) bottles in the state of Hawaii (see my earlier post on this topic here). 

A view at the interior from the mezzanine
What could be driving this? Kauai Island Brewing is currently the only craft brewery on Kauai. Its most recent competitor was Keoki Brewing. Keoki merged with Mehana Brewing in 2009 to form Hawaii Nei Brewing, based in Hilo on the island of Hawaii. Thus, you have a tourist and local population looking for craft beer and only one place to find it for now...Kauai Island Brewing. So the move to Port Allen and the expansion of the brewing facility would seem to make good sense. If you're wondering, Curry said another brewery plans/hopes to eventually open on Kauai, but it may be a while.

I'll have more to say about Kauai Island Brewing, particularly the beers, when I get out there later in the year. Until then, the craft beer surf is up on Kauai!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Craft Beer Month's Main Event is Underway

There's something terrific about a warm summer day, large tents teeming with beer fans and, yeah, a bit of beer drinking. Day 1 of the 25th Oregon Brewers Festival is in the books and I think it's safe to say a good time was had by all...or most.

I spent a casual afternoon floating from trailer to trailer, sampling more than a few beers. There were stops along the way to hang out with local beer celebs and friends. The Brewvana Tours family was front and center making friends. Fred Eckhardt was drinking water from his mug when I ran into him. I suggested a Rainier, which drew a smile. There were many more

Getting ready to tap the ceremonial kegs
The day opened with the tapping of the ceremonial first kegs from Cascade Brewing, this year's host brewery. I've been to three or four of these now and I have to say they tend to turn into a bit of a cluster. This time around the TV/video people crowded around the kegs, blocking the view. Last year, the McMenamin's Hammerheads starred in a similar role. Oh well.

A tip of the hat to Art Larrance and the OBF's longtime organizer, Chris Crabb, for introducing representatives of the three founding breweries...Widmer, Bridgeport and Portland Brewing. This being the 25th year, it was more than appropriate to acknowledge Dick and Nancy Ponzi (Bridgeport), Kurt and Rob Widmer (kinda obvious, huh?) and Art himself (Portland Brewing). None of these folks had a clue, in 1988, that the OBF could or would become what it is today. They were simply looking for a way to promote their fledgling breweries. Today, this event is the crown jewel of an industry that has made Portland and the state of Oregon an international destination for craft beer fans. It's pretty amazing to consider what has been built here in 30 years. Wow!

The Brewvana fam-bam: Sal, Ashley and Pam
The Beers
I promised to deliver some thoughts on the beers I tasted. You may recall the tasting list I posted the other day. I was fortunate enough to arrive early enough and stay late enough to taste most of the beers on my list and still make it home safely on the bike. Slow drinking and plenty of water was the key to that. There's more tasting to come.

Lagunitas OBF Fusion was the first beer I ran into. This thing seemed more bitter than 40 IBUs. The reason is the beer has almost no malt backbone. It isn't bad, but I definitely didn't find it all that memorable.

The ceremonial first beer
I moved on to Cherried Alive from Old Market Pub and Brewery. They used a truckload of sweet and sour cherries to make this beer and the name is fitting. The beer is slightly tart and I thought it worked well. A friend didn't care for it. Such is the slippery slope of reviewing beers.

Huckleberry Hound IPA from Alameda Brewing wasn't a failure as an IPA, but I didn't smell or taste much in the way of huckleberry. Whatever juice is present seems to take a backseat to the hops.

Redhook's Peach Trippel was surprisingly light, slightly tart and refreshing. At 8.2% ABV, drinking too much of this stuff isn't advisable...although opinions will differ on that.

Things were buzzing in the Buzz Tent
Because I was trying to save my palette, I didn't taste any big IPAs right away. So there was a gigantic line for Gigantic's Dynomite Double IPA when I finally got there in the mid-afternoon. The reason was instantly apparent. This beer is essentially a bigger version of their standard IPA, which is pretty good in my view. Lots of pineapple, grapefruit and citrus notes. This beer packs 8.9% ABV, but it's not that obvious. If you want to taste this one, get it early. It's on the North side.

Berry White from the Ram Restaurant and Brewery was another nice beer, with a great berry flavor and a mildly tart finish. As advertised in the program, hops are in the background.

The Buzz
They've got a bunch of terrific beers in the Buzz Tent, which is just south of Token Sales. It was pretty busy from the outset and I didn't bother going in there until late afternoon. High Class Blonde from Cascade Brewing was terrific...nicely tart. Freik Cherry Raspberry from Odell's Brewing (Ft. Collins, CO) was also yummy. I don't want to dive any deeper because I have no idea what will be pouring in there the rest of the way.

One point I do want to make about the Buzz Tent: It really bothers me that there is essentially no information on the beers. Some of the servers had snippets of info, but that was it. "Wait a second," I thought. "We ought to be getting a bit of information for double token beers." Indeed we should. Hopefully, they'll find a way to resolve this issue for next year, if not this year.

Cheers to festing!

Update: The crowd arrived earlier than usual and was huge for a Thursday. There were lines for some beers by 2 p.m. Thursday is evidently no longer a secret. I'm guessing this year's attendance will break records, although cooler weekend weather could mess with that theory.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tabor Tavern Serves the Underserved

As almost everyone knows, the craft beer experience continues to expand into all parts of Portland. I'm talking about the breweries, pubs and related establishments that seem to be popping up all over the place. It may seem crazy, but it's also good business.

A case in point is the new Tabor Tavern on 53rd and East Burnside. The place opened about two weeks ago and they are staying busy. This area was ripe for some kind of pub. Why? Because options like Laurelwood, the Horse Brass and Belmont Station are a hoof from this neighborhood. Nearby residents now have an option that is easily reachable on foot.

Signage marks the spot
Owner Ken (Zig) Naffziger is the driving force behind this project. He has some 25 years of industry experience with McMenamin's, Horse Brass and Lompoc. Like a lot of people in this business, he always dreamed of having a place of his own. Earlier reports had TT opening by mid-May, but they obviously ran into things that delayed things a bit. They're up and running now.

They serve up a nice list of craft beer from 10 tap handles. There's also a full bar and wine. The beer list includes Zig's Swig, a Lompoc brew brewed specifically for TT. It will evidently be a fixture here, though the style will change depending on the season...lighter in summer, darker in winter. Naffziger expects to have two Lompoc beers on tap continuously. Other taps will rotate.

The long bar is from reclaimed wood
The menu is what they call classic tavern fare. It isn't as expansive as a lot of pub menus you'll see, but the items seem smart and well-chosen. In planning the food offerings, Naffziger leaned on his own experience as a pub manager, as well as what he's seen on his travels of the world. His wife, Kristin, and Lompoc head brewer Bryan Keilty were also involved.

Open hours were a bit spotty during their first week. I stopped by several times in the lunch-o'clock zone and found them closed. That was merely a logistical issue, apparently. They are now open more standard hours and building their lunch business.

Historic photos add to the experience
I stopped in twice during evening hours and found the place packed both times. The outside tables with lined with people on two warm nights. Inside it was noisy...about what you'd expect for a place that's pretty open. I ordered a Tabor Burger and Double Mountain IRA on one of those visits. The burger was terrific, although the fries were not quite what I'd hoped for. I suspect they will figure that out. No need to talk about the beer.

One of the cool things about this place is the historic photos that adorn the walls. There's a large picture of a Mt Tabor streetcar taken many moons ago on one wall and a collection of smaller photos on another. It's all about connecting the pub with the neighborhood, Naffziger said. If you have an historic photo you'd like to see hung in the pub, bring in a print or negative for Naffziger to see and it just might happen.

The big board
Oh...if you're arriving by car, there's a small parking lot next to the pub and lots of street parking. Cyclists will be pleased to learn that Naffziger has ordered a large bike rack, which he hopes to have installed in the next few weeks. Parents will be pleased to learn kids are welcome until 8 p.m. I expect this place will do increasingly well as the word gets out. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

On Tap Thursday-Sunday: OBF XXV

Finally, the little event many beer fans have been waiting for is nearly here. If you pass Waterfront Park in the next couple of days, you'll see a beehive of activity as organizers hoist tents and essentially assemble the infrastructure required to support an event that will attract 80,000. The Oregon Brewers Festival is upon us.

They're expecting great weather for this year's OBF...sunny with temps in the low to mid 80s is what I'm seeing and hearing. It doesn't get a whole lot better. One of the great things about having a big outdoor event in Portland this time of year is the weather almost always cooperates. Anyone feel like a beer?

Prep to Fest
Festival posters are up at breweries, pubs and other beer-centric locations around town. They advertise 125+ craft beers. Please realize, the 125 includes beers that will be featured in the Buzz Tent and Sour Tent (new this year). Something like 82 beers will be poured from taps in front of the big tents everyone is familiar with.

Just to be clear, no one knows what the Buzz and Sour Tents will be pouring. Actually, at least one person does know...that person being Preston Weesner, the OBF's maestro of beer. He's not saying anything about the beers because he knows he doesn't have to. There's no pre-festival program for the Buzz or Sour Tents and it's arguably better that way because these beers usually don't last very long. A lot of us will report what we find on Thursday, but that's no guarantee the same beers will be around for Friday or the weekend. In the end, you'll get what you get in these tents.

Putting together a tentative tasting list is tough...too many great choices. I have to admit the Buzz and Sour Tent beers play into my thinking. Why? Because I know will be trying quite a few of those high octane gems. So the list of standard beers I plan to taste leans in the direction of lower ABV beers. If you recall, the average ABV this year is 6.2%, which is lower than usual. I'm pretty sure that number doesn't include the Buzz or Sour Tent beers. In any case, there are plenty of beers to choose from in the 4-5.5% ABV category.

Get ready for sunshine and great beer!

Tasting Sheet
Below is a short list of beers I hope to run into at the festival. I haven't tasted any of the these before, to my knowledge, and that's part of why I chose them. I'm listing them in no particular order because I know that's how I'll find them. Most of the descriptions are taken from the media program, with slight editing.

Huckleberry Hound IPA 6.5% ABV, 55 IBU
Alameda Brewing, Portland
Columbus, Cascade, Amarillo and Simcoe hops in the boil, whirlpool and fermenter complement the unique grain bill of German Pilsner malt, German Munich malt and Crystal rye. Huckleberry juice pumps up the gravity and adds a sweet fruity touch to the dry but full-bodied brew.

Tropical Blonde 5.1% ABV, 15 IBU
Vertigo Brewing, Hillsboro
Key Lime juice is said to give this beer a unique, sweet citrus taste. The medium-strength beer was brewed from Gambrinus 2-Row pale, Rahr wheat, Crystal 10 and Cara Foam malts with flaked barley in the grist. Noble Czech Saaz hops bitter the wort, with Mt. Hoods added at 15 and 30 minutes before knockout for flavor and aroma. Sounds interesting.

Raspberry Crush 5.2% ABV, 4 IBU
10 Barrel Brewing, Bend
Acidulated white wheat, raspberries and an inoculation of lactobacillus in the fermenter. Low hop levels let the special sour flavors dominate, and rice syrup helps yield a light finish and body.

Oregon Strawberry Honey Ale 5.3% ABV, 15 IBU
Mt. Emily Ale House, La Grande
Organic strawberries and organic honey add special sweetness, but also an exceptionally dry finish to this all-organic brew. A simple grain bill of organic 2-Row malt provides the wort, bittered and flavored by an early and a late addition of organic Cascade hops.

This scene from 2005 will soon be repeated
Kellerbier 4.9% ABV, 25 IBU
Occidental Brewing, Portland
Occidental produces a terrific line of German-style beers. Kellerbier, also known as Zwickelbier, is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Pilsen and Carapils malt form the simple grist bill, while the wort is moderately bittered with Tettnanger hops for a slightly spicy flavor and aroma. Budvar yeast strain yields a malty nose with subtle fruit tones. The yeast held in suspension makes it naturally cloudy. It's full of vitamins, they say.

Pineapple Express 5.7% ABV, 7 IBU
Collaborator, Portland
Collaborator is one of the oldest collaborations in the nation between a craft brewer (Widmer Brothers) and homebrewers (the Oregon Brew Crew). Pineapple Express is the latest in the Collaborator series. Pineapple added to the secondary fermenter adds a fruity sweetness as well as the flavor and aroma of the fruit, while leaving the acidity and bitterness behind. 2-Row, Munich and wheat malts are supplemented by corn sugar for a light-bodied sweet beer that's not cloying.

Cherried Alive 7.8% ABV, 19 IBU
Old Market Pub & Brewery, Portland
They added 700 pounds of Oregon organic sweet and tart cherries to the secondary fermenter, on top of a five-grain malt bill. It wasn't enough to satisfy Old Market brewers. So they aged much of the brew in Pinot Noir oak barrels with an additional 900 pounds of cherries. Wow!

Peach Trippel 8.2% ABV, 20 IBU
Redhook, Woodinville, WA
They added a half-ton of real fruit peach puree to make 35 barrels of this beer, which makes its debut at the Festival. A four-step mash process on 2-Row, wheat, Munich and Cara-20 malts produced a sweet wort, supplemented with dextrose and Candi sugar in the boil. A gentle dose of Northern Brewer and Saaz hops creates a light but slightly sweet beer with low bitterness to accentuate the aroma and flavor of the fruit.

OBF Fusion Secret ABV, Secret IBU
Lagunitas, Petaluma, CA
Lagunutas may have the best sense of humor in the brewing industry. This is a special beer for the OBF. Conceived by Oregon beer lovers, then brewed in Petaluma by Oregonians with a recipe so secret, even the brewers don't know it. The program claims they overcome the risk of brewing blindfolded by hiring seeing-eye dogs to do all of the heavy lifting. Alrighty, dudes.

Berry White 5% ABV, 13 IBU
Ram Restaurant & Brewery, Happy Valley
The program says once you taste this beer, you may find yourself singing in a low baritone about how you can't get enough of it. Start with pale malt, malted and unmalted wheat, acidulated malt and flaked oats. A light hand with Vanguard hops provides just enough bitterness to take off the sweet edge. Raspberries added to secondary fermentation and the brite tank finish the beer with a tart, tangy berry flavor.

IPA is the most popular craft style nationwide at the moment, and I'm positive there will be some hopheads at the OBF. These are a few hoppy highlights.

Sculpin IPA 6.6% ABV 70 IBU
Ballast Point, San Diego
Seven different hops added several times to the boil, as well as to the knock-out and in the fermenter. Northern Brewer, German Tradition, Columbus, Chinook, Centennial, Amarillo and Simcoe give it not only a bracing bitterness, but a rich, hop flavor.

Tan Line Summer IPA 5.2% ABV 82 IBU
Fire Mountain Brewing, Carlton, OR
This has the look of a hop bomb. Centennial and Saaz hops go into the kettle on a secret schedule, but rumor has it they don't stop once they start. Pilsner and light caramel malts provide the grain base to carry all that hop bitterness. Dry English Ale yeast supposedly leaves some malt flavor behind to balance the hops.

IPA Chronicle: FL-Oregon Trail 7.5% ABV No IBU listed
Dunedin Brewery, Dunedin, FL
Dunedin makes its OBF debut with this high-gravity IPA of record-setting bitterness (off-the-chart 125 IBUs). They say IBUs of more than 100 can't be tasted. We'll see, I guess. Don't ignore this beer due to any preconceived notions about Florida beer. They are making progress with an increasing number of breweries and beers. 

Double Hopped Double IPA 7.8% ABV, 85 IBU 
Terminal Gravity Brewing, Enterprise
This is a collaboration with Double Mountain Brewery. Wallowa Mountain water extracts its malty sweetness (and yeast food) from Belgian Biscuit, Maris Otter and high-color U.S. pale 2-Row malts. Chinook, Styrian Goldings and experimental HBC342 hops are added into the boil, with the Goldings and HBC342s also added in the fermenter for an extra snappy hop flavor.

Dynomite! 8.9% ABV, 90 IBU
Gigantic Brewing, Portland
An Imperial IPA with "Gigantic amounts of hops, malt, alcohol and flavor," says the program. A little bit of Crystal malt is added to lots of base 2-Row pale and as many hops as they could find - especially in the hopback, to make sure you can taste hops in the finish. Another hop bomb!

Report Card
I'll be festing Thursday through Saturday. Thursday will be mostly focused on keeping track of what I taste and what I like. I'll post some findings on Friday. I hope to see you there. Cheers! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Revisited Lab Woofing it Up

Lucky Labrador Brew Pub on Hawthorne was once a favorite landing spot. This goes back to the early days of the Pub, which opened in 1994. There weren't that many places you could get a craft beer in those days and the Lab was likely the only place we could take our knucklehead Labs and enjoy a decent beer. Not to mention Dogtoberfest. 

Most beloved craft beer logo in town? Quite possibly 
Lucky Lab beers were usually decent, seldom great. It was more about ambiance, I suppose. Over the years, as more and more places closer to home opened...places like Laurelwood, Alameda and others...we eventually stayed closer to home. And, yeah, our own knuckleheads were usually left at home...poor pumpkins. 

One thing you cannot do in the current beer climate is assume any brewery is frozen in time. The trend toward innovation and experimentation has infiltrated virtually everyone...with increasingly positive results. We've moved far beyond the days when your typical Oregon brewery produced a basic list of standard beers, along with a few known seasonals. 

The taster six-pack
And so it is with Lucky Labrador Brewing. I stopped in the other day midway through a bike ride to check on the current beer offerings. They had 11 house beers on standard draft, one on nitro, another on cask, plus a cider and a guest tap. Some of the beers were familiar...Super Dog, Triple Threat IPA, Hawthorne's Best Bitter, Stumptown Porter, Crazy Ludwig's Alt, Black Lab Stout. Several beers I didn't recognize...and I'll get to them. 

My most recent recollection of Super Dog was of a fairly bitter, out-of-balance beer. Not so this time around. The beer wasn't as bitter and had a nice grapefruit/citrus aroma and flavor. I'm forced to assume the recipe has been modified to accommodate the growing popularity of IPAs that feature those characteristics...Boneyard RPM and Gigantic IPA come instantly to mind, but they aren't alone. Widmer's Captain Shaddock is in the same boat...so to speak.

Maintaining the cavernous charm
The other standards on my taster tray were Hawthorne's Best Bitter and the Alt. I've always liked HBB going back to the early days. It's a nicely balanced beer, certainly not remotely bitter by modern IPA standards. The Alt is another well-executed beer with good flavor and substance. At this point in my excursion, the Lab was batting 1.000. Go figure.

Moving on to the seasonal or specialty beers, there was an Amber of middling character. Fine. Then I arrived at Black Sheep CDA. I appreciate the appropriate naming nuance...much better than black IPA, thank you. I was pleasantly surprised by this beer. Just the right amount of toasty flavor upfront and mildly bitter in the finish. Great CDA! This is one I could come back for. 

Yeah, come and get your solar-powered beer at the Lab
The best I'm saving for last, although it wasn't the first beer I tasted. They call it Bavarian Crystal Weizen. It's a wheat beer that's cold conditioned, causing the suspended yeast to drop out of solution. Lab brewers used a Bavarian yeast strain for this beer. They say it magnifies notes of banana, clove and vanilla. I found the beer light, crisp and slightly tart. At 3.3% ABV, I probably could have had a few of these. But another tasting mission beckoned.

It may be time to reconsider the Lab. The beers have improved in my estimation. I can't comment on the food, always mediocre in my memory, because I invested in peanuts. But you can't ignore the beers, the dog-friendly patio or the cavernous, user-friendly interior. The ambiance has always been good here.

Current knucklehead Labs love a beer after a swim
There's also an environmental angle, if you weren't aware. The Lab has an array of solar collectors on the roof and uses the captured energy to heat water for brewing. Solar Flare Pale honors the solar connection (it wasn't on tap when I stopped in). Under normal circumstances, the work of heating water for brewing would be done by natural gas or electricity...which have greenhouse gas components. Nice thinking, guys. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Next Up: Oregon Brewers Festival XXV

The Oregon Brewers Festival, coming up next week, is a destination event. Something like 80,000 craft beer fans will descend on Waterfront Park to sample some of the best beers the planet has to offer in an amazing setting. A growing number of them come from outside the Portland metro area. Best event in the galaxy? Well, we just don't know, dude. Best in the solar system? Almost certainly.

Where the OBF is today is something of an enigma given the event's pedestrian beginnings. The story has been told before here and elsewhere. The first official OBF happened in 1988, when there was really nothing like it around. I say "official" because there was a precursor in 1987, when Art Larrance got Portland Brewing involved in supplying beer for Papa Aldo's Blues Festival. Once the taps were turned on, they ran continuously, perhaps suggesting craft beer needed a festival of its own.

Before the masses arrived last year...
As luck would have it, Papa Aldo's bailed out of the blues festival in 1988. But they had a two-year permit to do an event in Waterfront Park. They turned the permit over to the Blues Association, which wanted to do a festival around the Fourth of July. That left an open, permitted date in late July. Portland Brewing bought the permit from the Blues Association for $500. Larrance then got Widmer and Bridgeport involved. McMenamin's declined to get involved as an organizer, but agreed to bring beer to the festival

The first OBF happened in July 1988. It was miniature next to what the event is today. There was a single tent and 22 breweries pouring something like 30 beers over two days. The plastic festival mug (the city did not want broken glass in the park) cost $1. Half a mug of beer was $1 and a full mug was $2. Logistical issues were rampant, largely the result of the fact that the expected crowd of 5,000 tripled to 15,000. They couldn't pour the beer fast enough.

McMenamin's Hammerheads with the 2011 ceremonial first keg
It's important to recognize the Oregon Brewers Festival for what it isn't as much as for what it is. The Great American Beer Festival started in 1987. Larrance had no intention of copying the GABF. In fact, the OBF was going to be very much the opposite. The GABF is an indoor event; the OBF is outside. The GABF accepts all beers and gives 1 ounce samples; the OBF is more selective and pours larger samples. The GABF has judging; the OBF will never have judging of any kind.

As we look ahead to the 25th rendition of the Oregon Brewers Festival next week, there are some significant details worth listing:

  • There will be 82 breweries from 14 U.S. states pouring 84 beers
  • Some 40 beer styles are represented...IPA being the most popular
  • Kona traveled the most miles to get here: 2,600
  • The highest alcohol beer is Positive Contact, by Dogfish Head, at 9%
  • More than 2,000 volunteers make the festival possible
  • A Buzz Tent will be pouring an as-yet unspecified number of specialty beers
  • A Sour Tent will be serving an unspecified number of sour beers
  • The average ABV this year is 6.2%, lower than year's past
  • The event will inject more than $23 million into the local economy

An awkward pour...from 2010
If you can't wait to know what beers will be poured this year, you've probably already gone to the OBF site and scoped it out. If you want to and haven't, find the list here. As noted above, we still don't know what will be pouring in the Buzz Tent or Sour Tent. The OBF's Wizard of Beer, Preston Weesner, is keeping the specialty beers under wraps for now.

For those who want some direction, I'll make some recommendations early next week. Picking beers to taste at  the OBF is a bit of a slippery slope because there are so many good ones. I'll break my list down into several categories because that's how I like to taste. Check back next week for a cheat sheet.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Laurelwood Sets Fire Recovery Benefit

Sometimes you have really have to tip your hat to the local beer community. And not just because they make great products that make people smile. Nope. Sometimes they go the extra mile.

That's what Laurelwood is doing this week to help out a longtime employee who was the victim of an apartment fire. More on that shortly. Soren Appoldt is the employee. He's been part of the Laurelwood family since 2007. You'll often find him behind the bar weekday evenings at the Sandy pub.

I've kinda-sorta known Soren for a couple of years, but we've had more conversation in recent times because, for better or worse, blogging responsibilities get me out more and Laurelwood is close by. I know...it's a tough job...but someone has to do it.

Soren the artist (from his Facebook page)
When Soren isn't working behind the bar, he enjoys surfing on the Oregon coast. I routinely ask about recent great white sightings...and he has definitely seen some sharkies cruising the break. Sounds exciting, huh? Another of Soren's passions is the guitar, which I'm told he plays well. They also say he's a self-taught painter. 

Back to the fire. A couple of weeks back, Soren and his girlfriend, Lindsay, woke to the sound of fire alarms and the smell of smoke. It turns out there was an electrical fire of (as yet) unknown origin in their apartment building. They were forced to get out quickly, taking very little with them.

The time since has been a nightmare. They have not been able to return to the apartment. Beyond the obvious problem of having no home, they have lost many of their essential possessions. Rebuilding after a serious fire is never easy. Soren told me they did not have renters insurance, which he kicks himself for now.

Enter Mike De Kalb (owner), Micah Loiselle (Soren's close friend and fellow employee) and the Laurelwood family. This Tuesday, July 17, they will donate 20 percent of the day's proceeds to getting Soren and Lindsay back on their feet. So drop by if you can. Buy a burger, buy a beer...hell, buy a keg of beer! Anything you can do helps.

Laurelwood can also take a straight donations by credit card at the pub and they are working on a way to take them remotely, either by phone or web. I'll update this post Tuesday morning if those options come to pass. Meanwhile, here's to a great turnout all day Tuesday!

Update: You can now make a remote donation by credit card here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Last Call for Chowda Dave

There are a lot of great folks in the Portland beer community. I've always been amazed me that these people, who compete for the hearts, minds and taste buds of the same customers, have developed a friendly camaraderie that seems to transcend business competition.

One of the best people around is Lompoc's Dave Fleming. I first met Dave at a Lompoc tasting last fall, and I've since run into him quite a few times at the Fifth Quadrant/Sidebar and around town. He's always happy to share what's going on with the beers and the brewery. And he doesn't mind taking a little ribbing over the exploits of the Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots. Chowda is just one of his nicknames, based on his Northeast origins, I assume..

Chowda Dave with Lompoc owner, Jerry Fechter
After three years as the head brewer at Lompoc, Dave is leaving the building. It's not so surprising if you look at his bulging travel docier. Dave has bounced around the brewery landscape extensively since 1992, when he started at Bridgeport. He's had portages at the Lucky Lab, Rock Bottom (Bellevue), Caldera (Ashland), Bend Brewing, McMenamin's, Three Creeks and, finally, Lompoc. Some might call it wanderlust. 

It turns out Chowda Dave isn't going far this time. He's going to work for Willamette Valley Hops, one of an increasing number of growers that produce designer-quality hops. This ought to be a nice arrangement for Dave and for Willamette Valley. They have a great product; Dave has the contacts and persona to make sales happen. Perfect.

They are giving Dave a farewell soiree this Friday, July 13, at the Sidebar on North Williams. Stop by between 4 and 10 p.m. to toast Dave one more time. Everyone is welcome. He truly is one of the good guys. Come by and wish him well.

Monday, July 9, 2012

OBF at 25: Premiere, Past and Future

Most readers of this blog are well aware that July is Oregon Craft Beer Month. If you didn't know that, shift your eyes to the top of the left column. See the graphic? Alrighty then. You're on board!

I think I need not mention that July is a packed with beer events. There's barely a free moment for beer lovers. Last year we were talking about event fatigue by mid-July. This year, I think we've gotten used to the idea. Bring on the warm weather and festivals!

Under the tent at the 2011 OBF
The culminating event of Craft Beer Month is the Oregon Brewers Festival, which marks it's 25th year in 2012. This year's event will happen July 26-29 in Waterfront Park. The OBF is the quintessential beer event not only of the month or summer, but of the year. More than 80,000 beer fans will descend on Waterfront Park for this year's event, which showcases craft beer from Oregon and beyond. More than $20 million will be injected into the local economy as a result. There's no better event here. Period.

The Premiere
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the premiere of the movie, My First Oregon Brewers Festival. I'll get to the movie shortly. First, you need to know it was commissioned and presented by Art Larrance, co-founder of the OBF and Portland Brewing back in the day. Besides the festival, Art also operates the Raccoon Lodge in Raleigh Hills and the Cascade Barrel House in Southeast Portland. He is one the founding fathers of the craft beer industry in Portland.

Eckhardt shares a thought with Larrance
Events like this are great fun. You get to mingle with the legends of craft beer. I spent 20 minutes talking to Fred Eckhardt about his World War II military service as a Marine. Then Art launched into a discussion of his service during the Vietnam era. These guys obviously love great beer, but maybe more than anything else they are great story tellers. You gotta love hanging out with them.

As for the movie, it is not my cup of tea. Or maybe I should say it isn't the movie I, personally, would have made. Art told me point blank he was happy with it...which is cool. The pacing, content and editing suggests it was made mostly for young folks who have yet to attend an Oregon Brewers Festival. As a promotional vehicle, that makes sense. As an historical vehicle, it doesn't work...despite interviews with many key people. Beth Harrington's wonderful OPB documentary, Beervana, is a better place to start if you want some historical perspective on the early days of craft beer in Oregon. Just saying.

The Past
Prior to the movie screening, there was a panel discussion moderated by John Foyston (subbing for Lisa "The Beer Goddess" Morrison, who was ill). Panelists included Larrance, Eckhardt, Kurt and Rob Widmer, and Karl Ockert (with Bridgeport during the first OBF). John got things going with some general questions and eventually took questions from the audience.

It's instructive to consider what these guys were thinking at that first festival in1988. They were desperately looking for a way to promote what they were doing. At the time, there was no calendar of events featuring craft beer. Indeed, there was nothing. These guys had no idea if their fledgling breweries were going to make it or not. An outdoor beer festival in the summertime seemed like a good promotional idea.

There were 22 breweries and a single tent that first year. They planned for 5,000 beer fans over 2 days. When three times that number flooded the grounds, logistical issues cropped up. For starters, they didn't have enough beer. To keep the taps flowing, the co-founding breweries (Bridgeport, Portland Brewing and Widmer) exhausted everything they had, There were evidently quite a few guest taps around town the week after the festival. But a star was born.

The panelists and moderator
Why has the OBF flourished over the years? There are many answers to that question. The event happens in the same location and at the same time every year. It's highly visible. The weather is almost always excellent for beer drinking. Finally, the OBF remains a reasonably affordable event. For $20, you can taste great beers in a terrific spot for an afternoon. Does it get an better?

The Future
The most legitimate question of the evening came from someone behind me, who asked about the future of the OBF. It's a fair question...the elephant in the living room. It's plain to see what the festival has been for its first 25 years, how much its grown and what it has done for craft beer. What do the next 25 years look like?

Larrance answered the question nimbly. He intends to do the festival for another 7-8 years. Although he would like to see it grow, there are obstacles. The permit they have for Waterfront Park is for the space between the Morrison and Burnside bridges. Because of other summer events, he does not believe it will be possible to expand the space. The most readily available option is to add days.

Look, to a great extent, the OBF as it exists today is the vision of Larrance and the team he has assembled. The event isn't going to change much as long as Art sticks around. It may or may not change when he steps away. It all depends on who takes over. If his daughter Alissa or someone on the current team takes over, the OBF is likely to stay much as it has been. If an outsider takes over, all bets are off.

Deschutes' ceremonial first keg, 2010
Looking ahead, you have to assume the OBF will get bigger. You've got a world class event that parks a significant amount of money in the Oregon economy. And it supports a growing industry that brings even more economic benefits to the state. Why wouldn't you want to expand it? Why wouldn't the City of Portland want to get behind expanding it? 

My thoughts? I think slowly expanding the number of days makes great sense. You can't instantly go to five days or you will simply spread your existing attendance out. The key is going to be getting the word out to the world, since that's who you're inviting. Once you fill the park for four days, expand to five. Pretty soon you may have the thing starting on Monday instead of Thursday. Then you can start talking to the city about expanding the space. Could this wind up being an Oktoberfest-like event? You never know.

Anyway, here's to Oregon Craft Beer Month and another great Oregon Brewers Festival. I'll have more to say about his year's event in coming weeks. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Canning the Myths (About Cans)

There's been plenty of talk in recent times about the growing popularity of cans in craft beer. I've discussed the topic several times here. I was mostly concerned with the viability of cans as an alternative to glass. I continue to believe cans are a great packaging option for craft beer and that they will continue to gain share over the next few years.

Right container, wrong contents
When I wrote those prior posts, I was looking only at the growth factors. The numbers are pretty dramatic, showing off-the-hook increases. The graphs below show what's been happening and which segments are growing fastest, among other things. In case you're wondering, all of these graphs are based on information from the Brewers Association.

Growth Spurt
The two graphs below illustrate the growth of canned craft beer in two ways. First, you're looking at case sales growth. Next you're looking at the stripped down financials. These are fairly scary numbers. We are seeing a near doubling of numbers each year. I suspect these figures are convincing some brewers that moving to cans is a viable option.

Segment Stories
The graphic immediately below shows which packaging types are dominant. The bulk of the market is clearly owned by 12 oz cans, whether in packs of six or 12. I'm trying to recall seeing 12-packs of craft cans. I see lots of 6-packs, as well as 4-packs. But not so many half racks in cans. Oh well.
The next graphic shows where the growth is. The two segments with the smallest share of the can market turned in by far the greatest growth for 2011. The growing popularity of 16 oz cans is handily illustrated here. These numbers suggest that some craft brewers may see 16 oz cans as an alternative to 22 oz bottles. I can't run too far with that, but that's what I suspect. Meanwhile, 12 oz cans are competing with 12 oz bottles...which dominate the retail category.

Sobering Perspective
Understanding the place that cans have in craft beer means you have to know the size of the market. The Brewers Association says the retail craft beer market was worth $8.7 billion in 2011...representing a 15 percent increase over 2010. Rapid growth continues...you gotta love that.

Now for the shocking part...if you think cans are about to take over craft beer distribution. The graph below shows what share of the $8.7 billion market is owned by cans. The number is $11.5 million. In other words, barely a blip. Despite monstrous recent growth, which tends to warp perceptions, cans have a very long way to go before they become a serious player in the overall scheme of things. 

Just for fun, consider comparative numbers for 22 oz bottles: They own $44 million of the craft retail market. Bomber market share increased by 35 percent in 2011 and they remain a popular option for breweries and buyers. Yet 22 oz bottles account for only about 5 percent of overall retail sales. And cans represent about a fourth of bomber volume. Yikes!

Note: This post was updated on 9/21/2012 to correct a mistaken data point. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

NAOBF Reviewed and Recycled

I hesitate to write event reviews. They're too personal. My experience at a given event may be completely at odds with the experience of others. But never mind. Let me tell you about the just-completed North American Organic Brewers Festival.

Wither Weather
This festival was victimized by marginal weather for the second straight year. If my recollection is correct, it wasn't as wet last year...and Sunday was nicer. I was down there Friday afternoon and it was cloudy and warm. By the time it started raining Friday evening, I had vamoosed out of there. Saturday must have been a quagmire with all the rain and Sunday was cool until late afternoon. Not the best.

The recyclable cup looked good in liquid gold
June is always a sketchy month for outdoor events in Oregon. Festival organizer Craig Nicholls knows that. All of us who have lived here for any length of time know it. I have no idea what attendance was...don't even need to know. What I do know is attendance would have been better if the weather had been warmer and drier.

I suppose Craig has a several options: First, he could try to shoehorn the NAOBF into July or August. That could prove difficult due to the packed summer calendar. Second, as insurance against unkind weather, he could cover more of the festival area with large tents. I suppose he'd have to weigh the cost of doing that against the benefit of better attendance. The other option is to move the event indoors...and let's face it, that isn't going to happen.

Ladies and gents, get ready to start your engines...
Unforced Errors
People on the outside generally have no idea how much coordination it takes to run a festival like this one smoothly. A lot of things have to come together for things to come off the way they're supposed to. By the way, I didn't coin the phrase unforced errors...Jeff Alworth over at Beervana did. Credit due.

I have no idea what kinds of issues occurred during the weekend. I wasn't there. They likely ran out of some of the more popular beers before closing time. That's par for the festival course.  If they avoided this scenario at the NAOBF, terrific. If you want the best beer selection, arrive early.

Possible ride home...for the overindulgent
What did happen was truly stupid, though it affected mostly those of us who showed up for the media tour Friday morning. The tour, a first at the NAOBF, was to be led by Lisa Morrison, who most of us know as the Beer Goddess and host of Beer O'clock Radio. Lisa was ready to lead the tour on cue at 11:00 a.m. It was fortuitous that some members of the media did not arrive on time.

When we did get over to the taps, we discovered the beer was warm. This was unfortunate. Here you have a bunch of people who have come to sample the beers so they can write or talk about them. And the beer is warm. As well, some of the beers hadn't arrived or hadn't been tapped. This threw a monkey wrench into Lisa's plan, which was well-organized. The good news is that paying customers weren't affected. Still, not the best. 

Faithful tasters...Alex Ganum (Upright) and Angelo De Ieso
By the way, this problem was well on its way to being solved by the time the gates opened at noon. By 1:00 p.m., they had iced down the jockey boxes and all the beer was flowing cold. I can assure you that members of the media did their best to find a warm beer...and failed.

The Layout
They changed the layout this year, to mixed reactions. The beer taps were located to the right of the courtyard as you entered, as opposed to straight back, which was the case last year. I saw the possible reason when I took a gander at the area where the beer was located last year: it's quite uneven. The area where they had the beer this time appeared to be flatter.

This may have been a nice logistical change, but it created a couple of issues: First, the beer taps were a long ways from the restrooms, located on the opposite side of the festival green. I heard a few people bitching about that. Oh well. Take a walk. Second, the beer was a long ways from the stage, where they had live music playing pretty much continuously. I can't say how big of an issue this was. To me, the music seemed remote and muted this year...I paid little attention to it. Last year was different.

The Friday afternoon crowd
The Beers
It's a little late to talk about the beers, since the festival is over. But you will be able to find some of these beers around town on draft or in a bottle. I used my original tasting list as a guide (find it here) and was pleased with most of what I found. A few notes:

Alameda Brewing - Thai Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA - ABV 8.2% IBU 100
This variation on standard Yellow Wolf is made with 100 percent organic malts. The addition of dried mangoes, flaked coconut, Thai basil and ginger softened up the normal bite. I thought it was terrific. 

The Commons - Havier Bier/Oat Saison - ABV 5.6% IBU 15
Typically on-style and refreshing. Any beer by The Commons is worth a try. 

Fort George Brewing Spruce Budd Ale - ABV 5.2% IBU 0
They use spruce tips in place of hops for aroma and some flavor in this beer. I didn't care for it. The other Fort George offering, a barrel-aged fruit beer called South, was good.

Laht Neppur Brewing Co.- Peach Hefeweizen Fruit Beer - ABV 5.2% IBU 15
This is Laht Neppur's Hefeweizen with peaches and puree added. I found it crisp and tasty.

Laurelwood Brewing - Organic Green Elephant IPA - ABV 6.9% IBU 80
Both of the Laurelwood beers were quite nice, but I knew already knew that. Organic Green Elephant and Organic Deranger IRA are on tap at the Sandy pub and should continue to be for a while. Update: I stopped in last night (7/3) and discovered they are not pouring Deranger. Bartender said they won't put it on until the Green Elephant is gone. I swear they had Deranger on last week. Oh well.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales - Kili Wit Beer = ABV 5.5% IBU 20
I may have ingested more than my fair share of this stuff during a visit to the brewers tent. Brilliant.

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing - Love Potion Fruit Beer ABV 4.5% IBU 36
This one was not pouring at the outset. It's a pale ale brewed with cherries, oranges, rose hips and hibiscus. I thought it offered a nice mix of lightness and complexity.

So there you have it...my version of the 2012 NAOBF. It was a decent event all in all. Of course, the weather could have cooperated. Maybe next year.

Update: Check out the Brewpublic blog for Angelo's version of the NAOBF. Nice write-up.