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Monday, March 31, 2014

Central Oregon's House of Beers Revisited

Since I moved to Oregon 25 years ago, I've made many trips to Central Oregon. Not that many in the early years, but more than a few in, say, the last 10 or so years. These trips aren't normally about beer, though I've made it a point to lean on the beer aspect more heavily in recent times.

Last week's trip was mainly a ski vacation. We loaded up the new Crosstrek with gear, provisions and the two Labs and headed for the Sunriver condo we've stayed in countless times. I sandwiched a day of beer chasing between days of skiing on Mt. Bachelor. It's easier on the body that way.

Sunriver Brewing
My first stop was Sunriver Brewing, conveniently located in Sunriver Village. Perfect spot for a tourist trap. I originally visited this place shortly after it opened in 2012. At that point in time, their beer was being brewed in Redmond. It wasn't bad, but not very memorable, either. There is no space to install a brewery inside the pub, so I wondered what they would do. Honestly, I figured these guys for another Sunriver joke...and I've seen plenty of those over the years.

How wrong I was. These guys now have their own production brewery in Sunriver and they were pouring seven of their own beers in the pub. There are reportedly more on the way. That wouldn't count for much except these are nicely executed beers right down the line. They also had several decent guest taps to round out the list.

Beer choices? Lazy River Lager (5.5%ABV, 31 IBU) might not be your first pick on an unsettled March day, but it's a terrific beer. I also liked Adopt a Trail Pale Ale (5.7% ABV, 35 IBU), which is buzzing with the citrus aromas and flavors you normally find in an IPA, only in a more compact package. Granda's Original Blonde Ale (4.8% ABV, 19 IBU) is another fine effort and a perfect session beer.

This joint is hardly a secret. Travelers and I suspect a few locals have discovered Sunriver Brewing. They've got some TVs for sports fanatics and kids are welcome. Besides the beers, they have a solid pub menu at reasonable prices. Pints are $4.50, $3.50 during happy hour (3:00-5:30 Monday-Friday). A bacon cheeseburger will set you back $11.50 and there are other selections in that range. They fill growlers, too, though you will likely find lower prices down the road at the Mountain Jug.

For a long time, Sunriver was a joke from a beer and pub perspective. You had to drive in to Bend for satisfaction. But Sunriver Brewing changes the game. In a place where so many pathetic businesses have failed, these guys are hitting home runs. They're doing it with great beers, good food and attentive service. The pub was a virtual beehive of activity during an afternoon visit. Yet the wait staff kept up and the barkeeps were pleasant and conversational.

Rat Hole Brewpub
Perhaps the name is related to the fact that Rat Hole's brewery is located in a barn in southeast Bend. That's where Rat Hole began as a family project. Brewer Al Toepfer was an experienced home brewer who earned many awards prior to becoming a commercial brewer. It shows.

The pub is located in the Phoenix West building, which appears to be a in a sort of business park. It seemed an odd location, until I discovered the building has housed a string of eateries and a brewery dating back to 2007. The space occupied by Rat Hole is small, even if you include an outside patio, but apparently sufficient for now. The place opened in July 2013.

There were 10 beers listed on the Rat Hole board. Several of the beers were blown, including Haystack Hazelnut Brown Ale, a popular favorite. Of the beers on my tasting platter, the Lemon Wheat (5.3% ABV, 50 IBU and served with a lemon slice) was brilliantly refreshing. Rat Hole Saison (5.4% ABV, 62 IBU), made with Red Wheat and Cascade hops is pleasantly likable. Rat Hole Rye IPA (6.0% ABV, 71 IBU) is mildly spicy with a citrus kick. The Rotation Red Ale (5.9% ABV, 34 IBU) seemed a little lifeless. The Vanilla Porter (5.5% ABV, 30 IBU), features pervasive vanilla aromas, a soft mouthfeel and a nice chocolate finish.

It's worth mentioning that Rat Hole's food menu is not typical. The cuisine has a Southwestern flavor... tacos, burritos, nachos and such. They also have a token burger and some sandwiches. The burger will set you back $12. I had a set of three fish tacos for $9. Good value, I thought. Some may consider the food here slightly upscale for a pub. Mostly it's just a different, I think.

Rat Hole Brewpub is a worthy stop, for sure. The beers here are well-made and it's an interesting spot. They evidently offer live music several evenings a week and I bet things get a little crazy when warmer weather allows full use of the outdoor space. The gent behind the bar was a former school principal and family member. He could use a little polish, though not bad.

Boneyard Beer
I first visited Boneyard's brewery in Bend several years ago. Things were different then. Boneyard was in high growth mode, but the place was still pretty quaint and charming. The tasting room was home to a pleasant buzz. The heavy metal motif was along for the wild ride.

Things have shifted dramatically for Boneyard in the couple of years since. Their product is in such demand that they're ranked among the top ten Oregon brewers by production volume while selling draft only. Plans to can the popular RPM IPA never materialized. Boneyard didn't have to bother. It hasn't been able to keep up with demand from draft accounts. A nice problem to have.

There's an expanded brewing facility in the works. Production is still in full swing at the brewery on Lake Pl. But the friendly old charm of the tasting room is gone. Well, if it's there, I didn't feel it. The tasting list was pedestrian and the service was crusty. If I didn't know better, I'd guess the success has gone to a few heads. Not really a surprise.

There's more. I've long regarded RPM as a fantastic beer. I knew from a 2011 conversation with Tony Lawrence that he intended to dial RPM down. It's now down to 6.6% ABV (early versions were 7.5%). I had several pints on this trip and it seems to me the current beer doesn't look, smell or taste like the original. Not terrible, but decidedly different.

Look, you can't argue with the success Lawrence and Co. have had. They knew what they were doing from day one and they've built a rabid following. The good times will almost certainly continue. But some of the old charm appears to be gone, lost in a tsunami of demand for their beer and the pains that come with that reality. I understand it. I don't like it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Got Growler Trouble? Bud Man to the Rescue

Like much of the old south, Florida has some archaic laws on the books. One of the more amusing laws pertains to beer growlers. I've talked about this here before. In Florida, you can walk into a brewery and leave with a gallon or quart growler. Half gallon growlers, the industry standard, are illegal.

Florida's growing craft beer industry wants to fix the law, which evidently dates to the post-Prohibition era. They see the current growler law as an obstacle to growth in the industry, which some observers say might eventually support 500 craft brewers. Growth is in the wind.

Craft brewers have supported two bills, one (HB 283) that would legalize half gallon growlers and another (HB 387) that would allow beer tastings at outside venues like grocery stores and related establishments. The need for bills like this makes you realize how retrograde Florida laws are when it comes to beer. But never mind.

Big beer is proving only too happy to help out. Thanks to the fact that the state is awash in political contributions from Anheuser-Busch, Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill (HB 1329) that would legalize half gallon growlers. Naturally, the bill contains a number of stipulations that would cripple the craft industry. Were you expecting something else?

House Bill 1329, which is to be debated today, would put new regulations on growlers and restrict craft breweries in other ways. Remember, craft beer is largely made up of small local businesses. Big beer is essentially attempting to preserve its position by pushing through laws that make it harder for small craft brewers to operate.

Some have pointed out that this is an odd position for Republican representatives. Publicly, they clamor for less regulation and talk nonstop about free market principles. Yet here they are supporting legislation that will hurt small, locally-owned business in favor of big business.

Lawmakers evidently don't much worry about what Floridians or anyone else thinks. Want proof? Consider the comments of Don Gaetz, Republican president of the Florida Senate. When asked about growler laws, Gaetz brazenly told the Tampa Bay Tribune he will support whatever his beer distributor friend and major donor asks him to support.

"I'm with the beer distributors in my district," Gaetz said."That's a very important issue because one of my very best friends is an Anheuser-Busch distributor...this time he's talking about growlers."

Gaetz certainly isn't alone. Contributions aren't just driving the views of Republicans. Anheuser-Busch has bought representation on both sides of the political aisle with more than $1 million in donations over the years. It's a fairly sad state of affairs.

House Bill 1329 may or may not come to a vote. Anheuser-Busch is obviously hoping to push it through, to the detriment of Florida craft brewers. Meanwhile, MillerCoors distributors support legalization of half gallon growlers with no additional strings attached. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Does Low Pay Help Drive Craft Brewery Growth?

It's hard to argue with success. And the craft beer industry is creating a lot of waves with its success. The Brewers Association's (unofficial) numbers for 2013 were released a short while ago and they show about what you'd expect. Growth across the board.

You can read the details here, but a few things really pop. Craft beer dollar share of the overall beer market hit $14.3 billion, up from $11.9 billion last year. Volume was up, too. We now have more than 2,700 craft breweries, including 413 that opened last year. There are many more on the way.

All of this gets some folks thinking about where this might be headed. Could we be getting close to some kind of saturation point? At what point are there too many craft breweries? I don't have any answers, if you're wondering. I tend to take the position that there's still plenty of room for small output brewpubs. I'm not so sure about production breweries, but I'll leave it at that.

I'm not the only one wondering about the state of the craft beer industry. The Oregon Employment Department recently released a report in which the author, Damon Rundberg, a regional economist who works out of the Bend office, rhetorically asks if the state might be "over-beered." The ongoing expansion, he says, suggests the answer is "no."

Beer fans need to read this report. It's full of all kinds of interesting factoids. For instance, there were 188 breweries operating in the state last summer. Portland and Bend have the most breweries. However, Hood River County, with a brewery for every 3,226 residents, has the most per capita. As Spock might say, "fascinating."

There are some rather enlightening employment stats in the report. More than 5,000 folks earned a living in craft beer as of last summer. That's less than 1 percent of the total private sector jobs in the state, but the brewing industry is growing rapidly and was up 10 percent from 2012. That's far better than the 2.7 percent in the private sector as a whole.

One of the things I had been wondering about recently was compensation. My sense for some time has been that craft beer is not a very lucrative venture for most who work in it. This isn't a new concept to me. I worked in the fitness and music industries for many years. Neither paid very well. I could talk about the publishing business, but never mind.

The Employment Department report is revealing. The majority of jobs in Oregon craft beer are in brewpubs, where the median pay was $12.61 an hour last year. Brewery workers make a little more...$16.24 an hour. Not surprisingly, average industry pay for 2013 was just over $28,000. That compares to $44,000 in the private sector at large, according to the report.

These are obviously some fairly shoddy numbers. To some extent, they are driven by the restaurant aspect of brewpubs, which employ a lot of part-time, often younger workers. Production breweries offer slightly better pay because jobs there are officially considered manufacturing. Still, not very good.

What does this mean? It means that craft beer is typical of a lot of industries in that most of the financial benefits go to the people who own or run the businesses. Average workers aren't in on the success, aren't making a decent living and never will as long as they stay in these jobs.

Of course, there is a proven way out. Once you've paid your dues and learned your way around, you open your own brewery or brewpub. This has happened countless times in Portland, in Oregon and around the country. It's old hat. People see opportunity and they jump. Part of the reason is it doesn't cost a zillion bucks to get started.

So if you want to fully account for the rampant growth in craft beer, it may be worthwhile to factor in the industry's shoddy pay scale as a force that encourages employees to go out on their own. At some point, that option may dry up. For now, it appears to be as good as gold.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Let's End the Guesswork on Fresh Beer

Given the wild growth we're seeing in the craft beer industry, it's rather embarrassing in my mind that there is no industry standard with regard to product freshness. A lot of breweries simply toss their beer out into the market without any indication of when it was packaged or how long it ought to be good.

The Gold standard
Andy Crouch's recent column in BeerAdvocate reminded me of this stupefying fact. The main issue Crouch addresses in his column is the relative worthlessness of best-by dates on packaged beer. Such dates are less than useful because there is no industry standard for what they mean. Some breweries say their beer is good for six months or a year. Seriously?

Look, we all know all beer doesn't have a "fresh requirement." Some beers, particularly darker, heavier styles, can improve with a bit (or a lot) of cellaring. But lighter beers and hoppier beers are virtually always better when you drink them fresh. These beers detest light and travel, and they do not age well in any scenario.

The best way to know you're getting freshness in a packaged beer is to see the bottling (or canning) date on the label or container. Armed with that information you, the consumer, can make an informed decision on whether you wish to purchase the product. An IPA or pale bottled six or eight months ago ought to send your hand reaching for something else...something packaged more recently.

A 12 oz bottle of Workhorse
Looking around the Oregon landscape, I'm amazed at how few breweries put "bottled-on" dating on their beer. I surveyed the shelves at my neighborhood Freddy's and found many cases where there is nothing at all on bottles (or cans) to help consumers...or breweries use the less meaningful "best-by" dating.

One brewery that does use "bottled-on" dating is Laurelwood. Beer brewed at the Sandy Blvd. location and packaged by Green Bottling  has dates screened onto bottles. Workhorse and Free Range Red brewed and bottled by the Craft Brew Alliance in Woodinville, Wash gets standard CBA dating on all bottles.

"We want 'bottled-on" dates on our bottles," Laurelwood owner Mike DeKalb told me. "We''re committed to ensuring that our customers get our beer at its best. We ask retailers and distributors to maintain appropriate rotation and we have a buy back (or dump) program with most of our distributors."

Another great example
There's some additional expense involved in putting dates on bottles, but it's minimal. Laurelwood pays an additional $75 when Green Bottling puts dates on bottles during a run, typically several pallets of beer. So the cost per bottle is low. Everyone ought to be doing this.

The best labeling example I came across was on a bottle of Sticky Hands from Block 15 in Corvallis. Underneath a very clear "bottled-on" date, Block 15 advises the consumer that the beer is "Bottled Fresh~Best by Yesterday." A little humor is always good. I bought this bottle only a couple of days after it was bottled and drank it a day later with excellent results.

Honestly, I'm mystified that Oregon's craft brewers (indeed, craft brewers everywhere) haven't gotten together and established a standard for freshness. And let's not stop there. Let's put dating in a standard place so consumers don't have to search to it. Doing this will have virtually no impact on profit and it's a huge plus for consumers.

Can someone please tell me why this can't or shouldn't happen? The industry is mature enough and flush enough to get moving on this. It's time to end the guesswork on fresh beer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bridgeport Marks Milestone with '30 Years Proud' Campaign

Portland's oldest operating brewery traces its origins to this time thirty years ago. It was then that owners Dick and Nancy Ponzi were preparing to take possession of their space in the old rope factory on Northwest Marshall. The brewery and pub remains there today.

Bridgeport Grand Opening, November 1984
To celebrate three decades, Bridgeport launched 30 Years Proud, a yearlong campaign that will feature special beers that lean on their brewing experience and renewed creativity. I'll get around to talking about the beers in a bit. First, a little more about the early days, which are generally under-appreciated.

The catalyst for what was originally Columbia River Brewing was the failed Cartwright Brewing, which opened in 1980 and lasted just two years. Charles Coury, founder of Cartwright, was a winemaker, like the Ponzis. Unfortunately, sanitation values from wine didn't translate well in beer-making. Coury's beers were too often infected and not very good.

The Ponzis, who were friends with Coury, appreciated what he was doing and thought it could be done better. Dick Ponzi took on the idea of making good beer as a challenge. During the summer of 1983, the Ponzis hired Karl Ockert, a recent graduate of the fermentation program at Cal-Davis. The brewing program there was fairly new at the time, and not all students bothered with it. Ockert did because he figured it might help him get a job. Bingo.

The old rope factory in early 1984
"Almost from the day I started, we schemed non-stop about putting together a brewery," Ockert recalled. "You couldn't buy small batch brewing equipment in this country in those days, so we had to learn how to make it. I learned how to weld and plum. Our first mash tun was a square dairy tank."

Construction of the brewery commenced in April of 1984, when they occupied their space in the old rope factory. It took them a few months to get things assembled and working. Test batches came in the early fall. Finally, in November, they had a grand opening and started selling beer.

"I'm sure Dick would have liked it if we had been able to sell beer earlier," said Ockert, now technical director of the Master Brewers Association of America. "It was obviously more important to get it right than to rush it out."

It's a forgotten detail, but there was no pub at Bridgeport at the outset. That wouldn't happen until after the Brewpub Bill passed in 1985. And there were no bottles in those days...Bridgeport didn't bottle until 1989. You could taste beer at the brewery, but you couldn't buy it there. The beer was initially sold through taverns, bars and restaurants. It's hard to fathom, honestly.

Why did they change the name from Columbia River to Bridgeport? All the early beer names had the Bridgeport prefix...Bridgeport Ale, Bridgeport Stout, etc. When they opened the brewpub in early 1986, they called it Bridgeport. Columbia River was eventually dropped.

If you weren't around to witness it, Bridgeport's Brewpub was a beehive of activity throughout the late eighties and nineties, despite streets with gigantic potholes that were virtually impassable at times. They perfected a recipe for pizza and the beer was always pretty good. It was a home run.

The Ponzis had tired of the beer business by the time they sold Bridgeport to Gambrinus in 1995. The brewpub had been highly successful, but they recognized the need to increase production and invest in marketing if they wanted to stay relevant. They accepted an offer they couldn't refuse and went back to concentrating on wine full time.

Under Gambrinus, production was expanded and marketing efforts got a bump. Bridgeport moved forward. The pub was renovated in 2004, largely leaving the charm of the past behind in favor of a more upscale setting suited to the trendy Pearl District. Many didn't care for the change. Yet Bridgeport continued to do well.

If you look at OLCC production numbers, you'll discover Bridgeport's annual barrel-production has declined slightly in each of the past two years. That is likely related to increased competition in the market. Regardless, it isn't the kind of thing you necessarily like to see if you're part of the business.

The decline may well help explain their partnership with the Hillsboro Hops baseball club, announced more than a year ago. Long Ball Ale is the official beer of the Hops. Getting your name in front of folks who may not know you all that well is a good thing when numbers are static or in decline. Smart marketing.

It seems likely the special beers being released as part of 30 Years Proud are also part of a renewed effort to boost recognition of the Bridgeport brand. A lot of established breweries are taking this approach in the face of intense competition from newer breweries. It makes sense.

The first of Bridgeport's Trilogy Series beers arrived a few weeks ago. These are limited edition beers to be released over the course of the year. The first is Trilogy 1, a dry-hopped pale ale. They say it's a tribute to the pioneering brewers who introduced intense hop character to consumers 30 years ago. I can buy that because I recall what was available 30 years ago and most of it wasn't good.

I really like Trilogy 1. It is reminiscent of the beers craft brewers were making in the early days, with a soft malt backbone and a silky veneer of Crystal hops. Like a lot of beers from the old days, Trilogy is fairly light at 5.2% ABV and 40 IBU. You can drink a lot of this stuff...feel free to do so. A word to the wise: If you hunt bodacious modern day IPAs, you'll find Trilogy 1 lacking.

Then there's the recently released Citra Dry-Hopped IPA. This brew is the first in what they're calling the Hop Czar IPA Series. There will be three hop-forward beers in the series, to be released sequentially during 2014.

They're building on the success of Hop Czar Imperial IPA with these beers. Hop Czar was first released in 2008 as a limited edition beer. It subsequently became Bridgeport's flagship, riding the popularity of hoppy, aromatic IPAs. Hop Czar is going away for now, but may return as a seasonal, modified or not.

I did not particularly care for the Citra Dry-Hopped IPA. It clocks in at 6.5% ABV and 60 IBU, and seems lighter than those numbers. The beer isn't at all bitter, but I expected a bigger blast of flavor and aroma. Lighter IPAs often lack the malt substance and residual sweetness needed to hold onto hop character. That seems the case with this beer, though opinions will surely differ.

It's going to be an interesting year for Bridgeport. The craft beer marketplace is growing and evolving. Staying relevant in an ocean of fish who want to eat you is an ongoing challenge for established breweries. Bridgeport's 30 Years Proud campaign suggests they understand the lay of the land and are moving to protect and build on their position.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Surprise! An Area Where Oregon Should Follow Idaho's Lead

The state of Idaho and progressive policy aren't generally mentioned in the same breath. I mean, this is a state that typically ranks at or very near the bottom of the pack in spending on education and social spending generally. They've had a string of wacky Republican governors. The state is a company store.

So I was surprised to learn the Idaho House has passed a bill that will prevent breweries from owning any interest in beer wholesaling or retailing operations. House Bill 524 passed by a 63-6 vote and is moving to the Senate. No word on its prospects there.

If HB 524 is passed into law, it will effectively block the types of acquisitions we've seen in Oregon, where Anheuser-Busch has come in and bought several distributors. The most recent example is the buyout of Morgan Distributing, discussed here a short while back. 

The folks behind HB 524 are attempting to block similar acquisitions in Idaho. The idea is to protect the growing craft brewing industry there...and jobs. They want to make sure big beer can't come in, buy up the state's beer distributors and put craft brewers at a competitive disadvantage.

This seems like a no-brainer to me, but sensible rationale hasn't stopped some people from opposing it. One of the counter arguments is that, by protecting the three-tier system, legislators are interfering with "free market" principles. Seriously? 

Look, the reality is you cannot have any semblance of a free market if you let beer behemoths come in and buy up distributors. If you do that, you put small breweries at a disadvantage because access to retail outlets will go through big beer. Protecting free market principles means you must pass legislation that preserves the integrity of the three-tier system.

If you don't believe it, just wait and see what Morgan Distributing's (to be called Western Beverage, evidently) product list looks like. On the beer side, the list will be dominated by AB products. Craft beer doesn't fit with their objectives. They want to sell their crap. Period.

If Oregon had a clue, it would start working on something like what Idaho is trying to pass. Otherwise, we will soon face a situation in which Anheuser-Busch has more control of market access than it should. And if you believe self-distribution offers a way out of that mess, you may need to schedule some sessions with your shrink.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Universal Bar Etiquette: The Younger Rule

I stopped off at Belmont Station the other night. It's one of my favorite places. My timing was a little off. You may recall hearing that tickets for Pliny pours sold out in 22 minutes. Well this was one of the days on which they were exchanging pours of the Younger and Elder for tickets.

The place was busy, not packed. I didn't have any Pliny tickets. Lisa Morrison, Beer Goddess and co-owner of the joint, stopped by to redeem a ticket. She kindly offered me a taste of the Younger. Not bad, I thought, but definitely not worth the hype surrounding it.

I resumed my drinking/tasting. My habit at Belmont Station is to order glasses (as opposed to pints) of the most interesting beers on the tap list, which is usually pretty good there. That way I get to taste a few great beers without having to stumble out of the place.

At one point, I needed to use the restroom. Since the place was relatively busy and I wanted to keep my seat at the bar, I put a coaster over my beer. That's the universal signal for "Please don't disturb my beer" and "This seat is taken."

When I returned a few minutes later, I found a young gent glued to my seat and another gent wedged in next to him against the bar. I guess traditional bar etiquette may be lost on the younger generation of craft beer drinkers. That's not the only thing that's lost, but never mind.

The incident reminded me of a story Morrison shared with me when I was interviewing her for my book about a year ago. This was one of many Don Younger stories I heard. Few made the book, sad to say, due to the contractual word count limit. This one involved something that happened when he was at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in some unspecified year.

When Don went to the GABF, he evidently didn't hang out much in the frat hall. He knew a lot of people in the business and liked to spend time drinking and partying with them. So he would visit his favorite places in Denver and hang out with friends..

On this particular occasion, Younger was at the Falling Rock Taphouse, a joint patterned after his own Horse Brass. Sitting in his designated seat drinking (and surely chain smoking), his throat started to bleed where he'd had an incision (apparently a tracheotomy).

Younger got up, put a coaster on top of his beer and announced he was going to the hospital to have his throat taken care of. "I'll be back," he told them.

When he returned a few hours later, his beer was gone. "What happened to my beer?" he wondered. "I told you I was coming back." No one had an answer and he wasn't happy.

Back to Belmont Station. I didn't make a big deal about the gents who commandeered my seat. I reached between them and grabbed my beer. I told them I didn't mind standing. "I've been sitting most of the day," I said. Which was true.

The point is, if you see a glass with a coaster on top of it, leave it alone...and assume the empty seat or stool is only temporarily vacant. Perhaps we should call it the Younger Rule.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chasing the Heavy Metal of Beer

I should know better. Triple IPAs really aren't my thing. Too much alcohol and over-the-top hops. But sometimes a quick beer outing on a Saturday is too much to pass up. The chance to visit NWIPA, a place I'd never been, carried the moment.

The event was the first ever Triple IPA Festival at NWIPA on Southeast Foster Road. I didn't know the vintage of the event, but I heard the gents behind the bar telling numerous patrons it was a first for them. And not a bad idea. I'll get to why.

I arrived in the early afternoon. The place was busy, but not packed. There was some muddy, industrial heavy metal playing through the sound system. NWIPA has a collection of vinyl and that's what they played while I was there. The music later switched to some kind of hip-hop. It was time to go.

They were pouring five serious triple IPAs...Boneyard's Notorius, Barley Brown's Super Slapper, Moylan's Hop Craic and a couple of others. The list changed throughout the day, I understand. These beers all clock in at over 10% ABV. They have layers of hops over the top of pretty minimal malt profiles. These are palate wreckers, plain and simple.

The cost was not offensive. I bought a $5 wine glass for tasting. It came with a 2 oz taste of my choice. Additional tastes were $1 for 2 oz, $2 for 4 oz and $3 for 6 oz (full glass). They had water close by and palate cleansing crackers (for what they were worth) were available to all. Not a bad setup.

This was mostly a young crowd. It occurred to me that these folks are a perfect fit for the beers and the venue. Triple IPAs are the heavy metal of beer in my estimation, a stripped down style designed solely to showcase bold hop character. They resemble the music that was being played. You might think heavier barrel-aged beers are the heavy metal beers, but it seems to me those beers are more complex than these triple IPAs.

The NWIPA folks did a nice job keeping people filled up and monitoring numerous tabs. That part was nuts. I bet the tab chase got old as the day and evening wore on and it got busier. Maybe they'll sell tokens at the door and be done with it next time. I assume there will be a next time because there are clearly plenty of people who actively hunt for these hop bombs.

These beers are so wildly out of balance that picking a favorite is a sketchy business. Of the group I tasted, I thought Super Slapper had the most balance. By that, I mean it had some semblance of a malt backbone to go with the hop gaudiness. Notorius, which I have had before, is good, but the Super Slapper was my favorite. The others were tied for third. I heard differing opinions.

I suspect this event will become a regular thing. Why? Because these triple IPAs are a perfect fit for the demographic that faithfully turns out for such beers at places like this. And the folks at NWIPA know how to put together a party. When they do it again, people will come.