expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lemons Drops are Forever

They tap a new barrel at Cascade Brewing Barrel House in Southeast Portland every Tuesday evening. People interested in great beer ought to put a reminder on their calendar. The blended, barrel aged beers they produce at Cascade are excellent. Sure, they're sour. Give 'em a try!

The beer they tapped this week is called Lemon Drop. It's a blend of triple and blond quad, flavored with lemon peel and honey. The blended beers were aged for many months, according to Preston Weesner, who supervises the Barrel House blending and aging program. The honey and lemon peel were added only recently, to great affect. For the unknowing, Weesner is well-known in the local beer community via his longtime involvement in the Holiday Ale Festival, Oregon Brewers Festival and other events.

Getting back to the beer, Lemon Drop packs a punch at 9.25 percent ABV. Like most if not all of the sour beers at Cascade, it is served in a snifter. The beer has a surprisingly subtle nose, with hints of honey and lemon. The flavor is mildly tart and the triple/quad blend seems to provide a perfect background for the lemon and honey. The lingering lemon finish is just right.

Lemon Drop is a terrific warm weather beer that must be tried, even given the alcohol content. Tonight, I found myself searching my beer cellar for something similar and it isn't there. The closest thing I have is some Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, but that's not quite the same.

I intend to stop in for another snifter of Lemon Drop before it's gone. Weesner told me this is a one-off and when it's gone it's gone. Don't miss it!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Small was King

One of the things that's happened to craft beer in its zeal to be the polar opposite of macro lagers is it has gotten big. Check the beer list at your favorite watering hole. You'll likely discover that ABV levels are regularly north of 5 percent, often a lot higher. Is all that alcohol really necessary?

Serving up the little guys
Yesterday's Mighty Mites Session Beer Festival was designed to answer that question. The event, nudged into reality by esteemed Portland beer writer and blogger, Jeff Alworth, was held at Coalition Brewing as part of PDX Beer Week.

There were 18 beers on tap. The program listed 17 breweries, but one of those was pouring two beers. More importantly, these were small beers, most coming in at less than 5 percent ABV. In fact, at least eight beers came in at less than 4 percent.

Of course, reduced ABV means nothing at all if the beer has the taste and character of a Bud Light. Anyone who looked at the list of participating breweries prior to arriving at Coalition probably had reason to believe the beers weren't going to suck. The list included: Hair of the Dog, Breakside, Cascade, Coalition, Oakshire, Ninkasi and Burnside, among others.

Before I move on to the beers, I want to talk about the session concept for just a second. The term apparently refers to a time when factory workers in England were allowed to drink during licensed sessions that lasted several hours. The beers had to be low in alcohol because the workers often returned to factor floors after consuming numerous pints. Session beers, then, can be consumed in significant quantity without causing incoherence.

A good time was had by all!
I didn't taste every beer, but I tasted more than half of them. There wasn't a bad one in the bunch, although Little Sir John, a cask-conditioned bitter, was flat (as expected) and warm (not expected).

My highlight reel:

Ninkasi Helles Belles 
I first met this beer, a German lager, at the Oregon Brewers Festival. As I said at the time, this beer is off-brand for Ninkasi, which is widely known for heavily hopped ales. Never mind the history. Helles Belles is well-balanced, crisp and has plenty of subtle flavor. At 5.1 ABV, Helles Belles barely passes muster as a small beer. Great stuff, anyway!

Hair of the Dog Little Dogs
Hair of the Dog has been producing top flight beers for years, most of them big ones like Fred and Adam. HOD had two beers at the Mighty Mites: Little Dog Fred and Little Dog Adam. Both are made by reusing the grains made to make their high gravity elders. I was pleasantly surprised to see HOD owner/brewer Alan Sprints pouring his beers. Alan is always happy to chat about his beers and yesterday was no exception. Both Little Dogs behaved nicely. Little Dog Fred was light and crisp, and my favorite of the two.

Alan Sprints (right) pouring his Little Dogs
Stone Brewing Levitation
I walked up to the Levitation tap without and real thought. In the glass, this beer smelled very similar to Laurelwood's Workhorse. For the unknowing, Workhorse is a fairly big IPA (7.5 percent ABV) that leans heavily on Amarillo and Simcoe hops for aroma and flavor. A quick taste. Levitation lacked the depth and punch of Workhorse, but the subtle flavors were terrific. I'd like to have a case of this stuff in the fridge for summer drinking. Great stuff.

In my estimation, this is an event whose time was right. I hope Jeff and some of the folks who helped organize the inaugural Mighty Mites will continue on next year. I think they should provide more shade next year, either in the form or umbrellas or trees (move it to a park). No one has been able to provide attendance figures, but it looked to me like the event was a success. On a perfect summer day in Portland, a celebration of small beers is just what we needed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What is the Future of Craft Beer?

One of the things people connected to the craft beer industry are reluctant to discuss is the bubble currently forming. By most accounts, the industry is going gang busters. Craft beer sales are up 14 percent for the first half of 2011. The number was 9 percent for the same period in 2010. This is happening in a flat economy at a time when overall beer sales are down slightly, something like 3 percent over the last year.

Now take a gander at the graph below. The year-to-year increase in the number of planned breweries was pretty well in-line with the slow but steady industry growth from 2008 to 2010. Not so much for 2011. As of the end of June, there were 1,740 operating breweries in the United States. So the 725 planned breweries represent a 41 percent increase in the number of breweries nationwide. Seriously? A 41 percent increase in breweries to support a 15 percent increase in sales volume? Wow.

These numbers admittedly don't tell the full story. All 725 planned breweries won't open this year. The process of opening a brewery and getting up to production speed can be arduous and time consuming. Some of the new breweries will open in 2012 or later. Of course, it's also true that there will be more breweries in planning prior to the end of 2011. So 725 isn't the final count.

Is there an elephant in the living room? Indeed there is. Are we looking at an industry that is expanding too fast for its own good? Don't forget that these new breweries are going to have to draw paying customers from somewhere. Some macro-beer drinkers will surely be converted. But not nearly enough to fill the growth hole. The apparent answer is new breweries will draw customers from existing craft brewers.

There's something that's been nagging at me for a while. It may be nothing. I keep remembering the story of Joe Kennedy and the 1929 stock market crash. Kennedy sold his holdings prior to the crash after he heard shoeshine boys and other novice business types speculating in stocks. He realized the market was saturated with risk and overvalued. He got out in the nick of time.

What does Kennedy's story have to do with craft beer? Maybe nothing. A few years ago, it was hard to find good craft beer at the grocery store. You could search specialty shops to find good beer or you could go to a brewery or pub. Not so today. Walk into almost any Fred Meyer or Safeway and odds are you'll find a decent selection of craft beers from top breweries. That's a great thing. But lately I notice convenience stores have jumped on the bandwagon. The above photo was shot at a convenience store in downtown Portland.

That fact that convenience stores are selling craft beer mostly means they are catering to the demands of their customers. However, thinking about the nearly two-fold increase in the number of operating breweries in the near future makes me wonder where those breweries are going to market their product. Is the market saturated? Will increased capacity overtake the size of the current craft market? Is the explosion in the number of breweries sustainable over the next few years. I suspect the answers to these questions will be apparent soon enough.

Next up
I'll take a look at where the bulk of the new breweries are opening. Parts of the country have been largely missed by the craft beer revolution. If a lot of the new breweries are opening in neglected areas, market saturation may not be an issue.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lost Weekend at BBC11

First off, the title is a little misleading. The just-completed Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland was definitely worthwhile and not a lost weekend. Well, a few people (no names) may have overindulged. What are you gonna do when you're in Beervana? So many beers to taste, so little time.

There was much to like about the Conference. For instance, one of the first things I saw when I arrived on Friday was a line of people who were, yeah-huh, tasting beers. What better way to kick off a beer conference than by getting people lubed up before they even walk into the room? Thanks to Widmer, Sierra Nevada and Pyramid for providing some nice brews.

The opening segment by Julie Herz took us through some great information on the state of an industry that is growing at, frankly speaking, an alarming rate. The stats essentially suggest that craft beer is bursting at the seams all over the country. Portland may have the most breweries in the world and the most vibrant beer culture (apologies to Asheville and brewgasm), but the concept of craft beer is taking hold everywhere. It's quite a time to be writing about (and drinking) craft beer.

John and Fred Show
Possibly the highlight of the weekend was the Friday Keynote of Fred Eckhardt and John Foyston. If you don't know, Eckhardt is a onetime Marine and the dean of American beer writers. He has written several books and numerous articles on beer and has been an influential force on the Portland craft beer scene from day 1. Foyston has been writing about beer for The Oregonian since, well, forever.

Foyston served up the questions and Eckhardt provided the answers. It was like Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson, with a bit of audience participation. A couple of examples:

The John and Fred Show

Fred: “People ask me, Fred, what’s your favorite beer? And you know what I say? The beer in my hand.”
Audience member: “What’s your second favorite beer?”
Fred: “I think that’d be the next beer in my glass. Especially if it’s free beer.”

John: Do you have a blog?
Eckhardt: I probably should write a blog. But I'm just too lazy.

It just doesn't get much better. Two local legends on the stage clowning around while providing great insights into the state of craft beer today for writers from all over. Thanks to both of these great guys.

Brooklyn Brewing? Seriously?
The team of Erica Shea and Steven Valand gave an interesting presentation on what they are doing with their brewing supply business in New York. Yep, you heard that right. Even in New York, interest in craft beer and brewing is growing. I recently read that they are starting to grow hops again in rural New York. This was once a very productive hop growing region and they apparently hope it will be again.What's driving it? Demand for hops among craft brewers and homebrewers in the Northeast. Go figure.

Beer Making in New York
These guys talked about all kinds of things they are doing to increase interest in beer and homebrewing. They also mentioned using some strange ingredients (lobster?) to brew and, not so surprisingly, some odd results. But they have great passion for what they are doing and what they are doing is spreading the gospel of craft beer to an urban audience that hasn't always been in the loop. Big kudos!

Hops in the Field
Our Friday afternoon excursion took us to the Goschie farm near Silverton for a tour of their hop production facility, followed by dinner. This would normally be a fairly short trip, but all bets are off when you hit rush hour traffic out of Portland. On a Friday. The trip took well over two hours. Fortunately, folks from the Oregon Brewers Guild (Ninkasi, Widmer, Oakshire, etc.) were aboard the buses handing out tasty beers. Their coolers were well-stocked, thankfully.

Serious hop farming
I grew hops at home as part of my homebrewing phase a few years ago. Seeing hops on a production scale is a different story. These things are growing on trellises that must be 30 feet tall. They are in harvest mode for some of the varietals grown at Goschie. We got to see the entire process. It's fascinating to see hop vines brought in on one end, cones separated, piled up to dry (takes 8-12 hours, apparently) and then eventually baled. Pretty amazing to finally see how it's actually done.

Hop drying in motion

Oh, kudos to the Oregon Brewers Guild and Gayle Goschie for hosting the trip. Dinner was great, as were the beers they had available there for all of us to quaff. I think a good time was had by all...maybe too good. I know the brewdad (Mike Besser) and a few others were passed out on the ride back to Portland. Long day, but a fun one.

For the Love of Beer
We listened to several informative presentations on Saturday, but I want to move on to what was billed as the marque event of the weekend, For the Love of Beer. The movie was served up at the Bagdad, following a terrific dinner at Bridgeport (thanks again to the Oregon Brewers Guild and to the folks at Bridgeport).

I wrote about the movie in an earlier post, so I'll summarize here. Although brewing was for many centuries handled by women in the home, it became the domain of men with the coming of the industrial revolution. Today, women are slowly working their way into beer-related careers. The movie focused on the stories of several women, particularly Sarah Pederson (Saraveza) and Tonya Cornett of Bend Brewing.

It's a good movie. Hearing the stories of these women and seeing the passion they have for what they do was inspirational. They have made significant contributions to the craft beer movement in Oregon. Here's where I was disappointed: Although a number of women are featured in cameo roles, really only two of them get attention in the film. I wanted to hear more from Lisa Morrison, more from Chris Crabb, more from the others. Again, it's a totally worthwhile film. It just felt incomplete to me.

It's a Wrap
Sunday came and went like a flash. For better or worse, the good folks at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene provided some morning wake-up nectar in the form of Line Dry Rye. Thanks for that! We enjoyed some great presentations from eight bloggers and I'll have more to say about some of them in due time. It was fun meeting so many people who are enthusiastic about beer. A lot of ideas were shared around. I hope to do it again.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Beer Geeks and Pink Boots

The rapid expansion of the craft beer industry --15 percent growth in national sales for the first half of 2011 --has been amazing to watch. There are new breweries popping up all over the country now, some in places where many thought it would ever happen.

As the times and fortunes of the industry have changed, so has the way it markets itself collectively and individually. The business was once driven by predominantly by handshakes, face-to-face conversations and traditional marketing. Today, it is increasingly driven by electronic media, particularly web blogs and social media chatter produced by forces outside the industry's control.

Perhaps because it attracts a younger crowd, the craft beer industry was quick to grasp the importance of new media. If you want to know what's happening around your local beer scene, the places to go are Facebook, Twitter or blogs. Here in Portland, and you suspect in many other places, the beer buzz is high pitched. There's almost always something worthy going on and the community is wired to share the information.

This coming weekend, some of geeks who write the blogs and social media posts will gather in Portland for the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference. This event is a partner to one that already occurred in London several months ago. Highly successful, it was. We'll spend time meeting people we only know from online interactions, tasting beers, rubbing elbows with industry people and generally having a pretty good time.

Part of the program on Saturday evening is a party at the Baghdad theater during which we will see the world premiere of  Alison Grayson's documentary on women in the craft beer industry, The Love of Beer. The film focuses on women who are leaders in the Pacific Northwest beer community.

It probably doesn't surprise anyone to hear that women are a vast minority in the expanding craft beer industry. Of some 50,000 craft beer workers nationwide, only 598 currently belong to the Pink Boots Society. The society is an organization for women in the industry.

Although it's a story too long to be told here, brewing has not always been a male-dominated profession. Women from ancient times through the middle ages performed brewing as part of their household chores. That changed with the coming of the industrial revolution, when brewing became more of a production job. The industry has remained heavily male-dominated, but things are at least beginning to change.

I'm looking forward to a fun-filled and highly educational weekend. I'll be posting thoughts from the conference and it's events. Your comments are welcome.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Get Ready for the Small Beers

Just because most of the beers we love to drink are big beers doesn't mean the smaller, less heavy stuff is bad. I'm not talking about Budweiser or Coors or Miller or PBR. Those beers are best consumed ice cold on a hot summer day after mowing your own lawn and maybe also your neighbor's. But there are good beers that have plenty of flavor and don't hit you over the head with high alcohol and taste bud overload.

The fact is, small beers can reveal more flavors than heavier ones because, as Beervana's Jeff Alworth says, they have "more molecular space to unfold and blossom." Small beers often have subtle aromas and flavors that you would never taste in an imperial IPA or medium bodied ale. Those beers contain overbearing textures and flavors that dominate what you taste.

I am the first to admit that this small beer concept seemed a little sketchy to me. When I go to the pub, I tend to drink a pint or two and I always like a beer with plenty of flavor and IBUs. What Alworth is saying is you don't have to order a big IPA to enjoy a lot of flavor. If you don't believe it, come to the Mighty Mites Beer Festival on August 27. There's no admission charge and you can use a mug or glass from a past festival. I know I'll be there.

Saturday, August 27, noon - late 
Coalition Brewing, SE 28th and Ankeny (in the parking lot behind the pub with the Grilled Cheese Grill) 
Bring a mug or glass from a past fest (or buy one at the door), tokens $1 a pour. 
Cruise over to the Beervana blog for a partial list of participating breweries.
Bring an open mind about how tasty small beers might actually be. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Future of the IPA Style

The arrival of the inaugural International #IPA Day is being greeted with a yawn in Oregon. That's probably because every day is IPA Day in the Northwest. The brewers here have taken the IPA style and run with it over the past 15 or so years. As a result, quite a few variations of IPA have appeared and most are pretty good.

IPA is arguably the most popular craft beer style in the Northwest. It's hard to find a brewpub or pub that doesn't have several IPAs on tap. They might not have a porter or a stout, but they will have one or more IPAs. On a trip to Laurelwood the other day, they were serving two new IPAs, Aftershock and Best Bet, as well as the standard Workhorse and another high alcohol imperial IPA.

So why would there be any question about the future of the style? I suspect it has something to do with an industry that's constantly trying to reinvent itself. Brewers once regarded the production of heavily hopped ales as the new frontier. They met the challenge by adding more and more hops to their IPAs. They tweaked dry hopping formulas and turned to using fresh hops. The result was a sort of hops arms race, in which brewers routinely upped the hops ante. 

Once heavily hopped beers became mainstream, brewers started looking for the next frontier. They began experimenting with unusual ingredients and building out their portfolios with different styles. We're now seeing sour beers, Belgians, tweaked lagers, mint beers...the list is endless. The average beer consumer has only a faint idea this is happening. He/she still orders an IPA and enjoys the burst of hops. But change is afoot.

This is likely part of the evolution of an industry. I suspect we would not have seen the exponential growth of the craft beer industry if early brewers had presented patrons with the variety of styles we are now seeing. Too much variety early on would have stalled growth. What they needed was a narrowly defined style to serve as a platform. The IPA style provided that stability for many years.

There's no chance of the IPA style going away anytime soon. Brewers will continue to brew it and people will continue to buy it. But new styles are coming in behind it. When you look at those evolving styles and at the healthy state of the craft beer industry, lift a pint of IPA in recognition.