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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sunshine Tavern Welcomes Lompoc's Keilty

Sunshine  Tavern continues its popular Beer Camp this coming Saturday. This time around, Lompoc brewer Bryan Keilty will be walking campers though an afternoon of beer tasting, to be followed by a three-course meal complete with beer pairings.

The beer list will include: Kick Axe Dry Hopped Pale Ale, Batch 69 Baltic Porter, Bob's Memorial Braggot, Centennial IPA and Bourbon Barrel Aged LSD.

Keilty has been a brewer at Lompoc since 2007. He worked briefly at McMenamin's prior to joining the Lompoc team. Among other things, Keilty is the creator of Lompoc seasonals Flower of the Gods, Saazall Pilzner and Franc'ly Brewdolph (a variation on Brewdolph Belgian Red.

Festivities start at 4:00 p.m. at Sunshine Tavern on Southeast Division. Cost is $60. If you're interested, definitely call ahead for a reservation. This event will likely fill up.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Social Media and Beer Event Craziness

As alluded to previously in these pages (is that what they are?), I have been perplexed for quite some time about the speed at which the craft beer culture is moving. Last summer, there was some talk here and there about "event fatigue," a reference to the fact that it was difficult to keep up with the blitz of events.

I still think the pace of beer events peaks in the summer. But it's starting to stay crazy all the time. For instance, there were a bunch of events this past weekend: The Winter Nano Festival in Tigard, the Hillsdale Brewfest, Lompoc's Shrimp Boil and Chowder Challenge, Double Mountain Tap Takeover (NW Bottles) and the Beer Mixology Hat Trick at Guild Public House. It's quite possible I've missed an event or 10.

Related to this is the pace of new beer releases. It's quite insane. Virtually every brewery is pushing out new, experimental beers on regular basis. There was a time not so long ago when you walked into a brewpub and knew their standards and typical seasonals. That's less possible today, as the list of standards is often pared down, and the list of seasonal offerings has grown.

Why has this happened? Why do breweries, pubs and promoters feel the need to stuff the calendar with special events and new beer releases? The momentum of this trend has gone completely off the hook over the last couple of years. What's the deal?

The Shift to Digital Marketing
The answer has something to do with a monumental shift in the way marketing and advertising is done today. The trend toward more digital marketing was already underway when the economy crashed in late 2008. When the crash came, expenditures on all kinds of marketing tanked. It's not so surprising. People weren't buying anything. Why advertise?

When advertising/marketing budgets began to recover in 2010, the ground had shifted. The old way of doing things was changing. Look at the above graphic, which I did not create. A couple things to note:

  1. TV advertising has been pretty stable and will evidently stay that way.
  2. Newspapers and magazines never recovered from the recession and are being displaced by digital.
  3. Internet (digital) advertising is growing steadily and will continue to do so.

This chart shows why newspapers are getting smaller, cutting staff and covering less. Some papers have decent websites and do a good job selling display ads on those pages. However, 40 percent of their revenue was coming from classified advertising as recently as 2000. The growing power of Craigslist and eBay means those dollars aren't coming back. Print, as we've known it, is in big trouble. (More on the demise of print here.)

TV has done well because Americans love it. Despite the challenges of time shifted (DVR and online) viewing, television continues to draw advertisers who can afford to pay for it (lots of national brands). Why? Because TV audiences are huge and represent the demographics advertisers want to reach.

It's important to note that some of the lines between television, digital and even print are becoming blurred. If you watch a YouTube video on your TV, how should that be counted? If you go to a newspaper website to read a story or watch a video, what's that? My guess is that newspapers will get better at selling web-based ads, which will help them survive in digital form. But traditional newspapers are going the way of the dinosaurs.

Connecting the Dots
Back to the original question: How does the shift toward digital media marketing relate to the craziness in the craft beer scene? That's where this was leading, right? Yup.

Look, social media marketing is a perfect fit for the craft beer industry. It enables breweries and pubs to establish connections with customers that would be impossible and prohibitively expensive with "blast" mediums like TV or print. Facebook, Twitter are highly effective, targeted marketing mediums.

Here's the catch: In order to stay engaged with fans, you've got to constantly provide fresh content. That objective takes on the form of special events, beer release parties, small festivals, chowder challenges and a whole lot more. Craft brewers use these activities to revitalize their relationship with beer fans.

I still contend the beer community could do a better job coordinating the event calendar. How? I'm not really sure. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe having a ready supply of possible destinations at any given time is a good thing. Time reveals all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Boatswain Double IPA Misses its Mark

I steer away from posting beer reviews here. Why? Because tastes differ. If you want to know what people who care about beer think, click over to Beeradvocate, find your beer and read on. It's free and easy.

Still, every once in while I run across a beer that is so dreadfully bad and off-style that it must be reported. Such is the case with Boatswain Double IPA: Twin Screw Steamer. It's available now at Trader Joe's and you will certainly want to avoid this beer if you value your palate.

Remember this label...and run
Look, I don't often stalk the beer isle at TJs. No offense to them because they occasionally have decent prices on great beer. For example, they were selling blue and red label Chimay for less than I commonly see it for at Freddy Meyer the other day. That was sweet.

However, TJ's sells a lot of generic beers that are not up to the standards of respected brands. You can find Ninkasi and Deschutes, sure, but it's the no-name beers that crowd the shelves. Most of these are evidently contract-brewed by Gordon Biersch. Supposition is that some of the Mission St. label beers are produced by Firestone Walker, which certainly thickens the plot somewhat.

The beer in question, Boatswain Double IPA is not a generic TJ's beer. The label says it is brewed by Rhinelander Brewing in Rhinelander, Wisc. The beer isn't on Rhinelander's website. Sometimes you have to peel away a few layers of onion to get the full picture.

Looks can sometimes be deceiving
It turns out Rhinelander was purchased by Joseph Huber Brewing Company of Monroe, Wisc., in 1967. Huber, which has roots dating back to 1845, became known as Minhas Craft Brewery in 2006. It brews all of the Rhinelander brands in Monroe, although it no longer owns the lighter Rhinelander segments. Every brewery has a story and that's certainly the case with Minhas. Check out their history here. Fascinating.

Back to Boatswain Double IPA. This beer also doesn't appear on the Minhas website. "What's up with that?"you might say. Well, it seems likely that Minhas contract brews Boatswain under the Rhinelander name and distributes it through TJ's. Supposition, ya know.

Why should you avoid this beer? Boatswain has none of the hop character you associate with a double IPA. It has almost no hop-fueled aroma or flavor. It lacks body and malt flavor. What it does possess is a subtle sweetness that is blown away by a metallic bitterness and an overwhelming (8.4% ABV) alcohol presence. If you strip away the alcohol, this beer is an empty suit.

Boatswain is bargain-priced at $1.99 for a 22 bomber. I know, I know...what do you expect for $2? Well, I expect a beer that is at least on-style. And Boatswain doesn't come close. If you decide to take the plunge, keep something nearby to cleanse your palate. A glass of gasoline might work.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Power or Zwickelmania

Oregon's 4th annual Zwickelmania is in the books and I think it's safe to say the event's appeal was unsurpassed. Beer fans flocked to breweries around the state to celebrate the good health of the craft beer scene. I made four stops on my Saturday travels and each destination was buzzing.

The growing success of this event brings up a couple of questions. First, who came up with the idea in the first place and what's it all about? Second, and perhaps more importantly, what's a zwickel?

As the above poster indicates, Zwickelmania is the invention of the Oregon Brewers Guild. The mission of the Guild is to promote craft beer throughout the state. Zwickelmania does that by opening breweries statewide for tours and tastings. Did I mention this is a free event? Alrighty then.

Mike Wright manned the bar at The Commons
Moving on the the question of the zwickel. We owe a lot to the Germans when it comes to brewing and bier. The term Zwickelbier once described unfinished beer taken from a barrel via a special siphon called a Zwickelhahn. So there's your zwickel reference. Today, Zwickelbier is commercially available in Germany. There's further explanation here.

And so, Zwickelmania features breweries showing people around and often providing beer samples directly out of fermentation tanks or barrels.Along the way, beer fans have the chance to rub elbows with brewers and other beer industry folks. Win vs win! There's a lengthy list of breweries and what they were doing here.

They were tasting 3-day-old Flemish Kiss from the tank
I want to mention the tour aspect. There was a line out the door at Widmer, so I didn't stop there. It's on my list of places to tour and I'll get to it. But let's face it, the vast majority of Oregon breweries are small enough that a tour basically amounts to entering the brewhouse. A few descriptive words later and you get it.

Such is certainly the case at The Commons Brewery. It was my main stop on Saturday. This place is quite small. The brewery and tasting room are mashed together. An official tour isn't really needed. Anyway, Mike Wright was toiling away at the bar while the other guys poured fresh beer tasters. The space was crowded, but the ambiance was buzzing and pleasant. I suspect that was a common theme.

Hats off to the Oregon Brewers Guild and all the breweries who participate in Zwickelmania. What a great promotional gig! I suppose the biggest downside to this event is there will surely be calls to expand it. I'm not sure that can or will happen, but it's a nice example of what success can do. I suspect all states where craft beer is flowing have or soon will have a version of Zwickelmania.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beer Geeks Further the Love of Craft Beer

Before I get around to writing (again) about the ADHD aspect of the local craft beer scene, I feel the need to give a shout out to some folks who are doing an increasingly great job of promoting craft brands around Portland and beyond. I'm talking about the pdxbeergeeks.

This logo is all about promoting craft beer
The group is the brainchild of Michael Umphress and Emily Engdahl, a couple of beer fans who concluded that hosting regular gatherings of local beer geeks and promoting the craft beer cause in other ways is a worthy cause. I probably don't need to mention that they were tipping a pint or two at the time. This was July 2011.

The logo started showing up on shirts and stickers last summer. They are slowly building up a presence in the real and digital worlds, hosting events here and there and generally promoting the cause via Twitter, Facebook, their blog and more. Check the site out for interviews of brewers, bloggers and beer geeks.

Several weeks ago they hosted an event at Bridgetown Beer House. I didn't make it to that gig, but I understand the place (admittedly small) was packed. As pdxbeergeeks expand their reach into the nooks and crannies of the Portland beer scene, I expect the number of events will grow. And get better.

Michael shows off a can of Natian's Undun Blonde Ale
Last night they hosted a well-attended event at The Guild Public House on NE Couch. This event highlighted Natian Brewery, a small nano setup just up the street from The Guild Public House. Natian is preparing to release Undun Blonde Ale in 16 oz cans and this was a sort of sneak peek. Of course, the taps were pouring five Natian beers. I am particularly partial to Vertical Horizon Red, but these guys make great beers.

Michael was without his compatriot last night, handing out pdxbeergeeks stickers, mingling with the crowd and handling a couple of raffles. It seems Emily was indisposed, having just returned from a trip to NoLa and apparently a zombie due to a lack of sleep.

Natian tap list from last night
Most bloggers and serious beer fans know about the pdxbeergeeks. Readers of this blog may not. If you want to know more about what's happening in the Portland craft beer scene, I suggest you connect with these guys via one or all of their channels...meaning the blog, Twitter or Facebook.

The next event on the pdxbeergeeks calendar happens at The Commons Brewery on Friday, March 9. Anyone who hasn't been to The Commons and tasted their beers needs to get over there. The upcoming event is a great opportunity to do just that.

Keep up the fantastic work, kids!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Collaboration Brewer's Dinner Serves Up Hits and Misses

There are a lot of breweries and brewers in Portland. Not such a big secret, eh? What some people may not know is that the brewing community is relatively tight knit. Most of these folks know each other, which presents the opportunity for friendships and rivalries at the same time.

Last week's Collaboration Brewers Dinner at Laurelwood on NE Sandy was an opportunity for several brewers who know each other well to show off what they can do. The collaborators, Vasili Gletsos (Laurelwood), Van Havig (Gigantic) Alex Ganum (Upright) and Tom Bleigh (Hopworks), know each other from past brewing gigs.

The basic specs flyer
For the record, this isn't the first Brewer's Dinner they've held at Laurelwood. It is, however, the first one I've been to. The idea behind these events is to pair beers with appropriate foods, similar what you see at a vintner dinner with different wines served with different courses. Beer can work very well this way, contrary to what some people think.Yeah, I've heard the snickers.

Before I get to the menu, I should mention that this event was well-attended. I didn't ask how many tickets were sold. My understanding is there were still some tickets left on game day, but there couldn't have been that many because the place was pretty packed. (The pub was closed to the public during the dinner.)

I want to note that Laurelwood's physical space does not set up perfectly for an event like this. If you've been there, you know why. Instead of a large room where there's a shared ambiance, diners sat in three separate areas: bar section, main section, west section. This isn't ideal, though it also isn't a deal killer.

The menu specs
The menu for the five-course dinner was put together by Laurelwood Chef, Aaron Nichols. There was certainly significant coordination between Nichols and the brewers to see that the planned beers and planned foods matched up. Great line-up.

The first course was chicken coronets served with preserved lemon. Very tasty, slightly spicy. The beer pairing, a bold Cascadian Pilsner brewed by Gletsos and Havig, was excellent. This beer, born from German base malts and neutral lager yeast, leaned heavily on several hops to create a firm, but not overly aggressive Northwest hop character. I'd like to see this beer on tap somewhere...anywhere.

Round 1
The second item was a shrimp and mussel soup with lemon grass, kafir lime leaf, fish stock, chilies, garlic, shallot and Thai spices. It was tough to get a bead on the soup because it was lukewarm when it arrived. Everyone at my table agreed. The mussels were terrific. The shrimp were okay. Otherwise, nothing stellar.

The beer pairing was a Thai Wit brewed by Bleigh and Gletsos. This is a delicate beer and it went well with the soup. However, it seemed out of place behind the very bold Pilsner served in round one. Food for thought.

Round 2
This was the best pairing of the evening, I thought. A salad combining blood orange and arugula with red onions, Castelvetrano olives and parsley was delightful. The beer, a Sour Red ale, was terrific. It was based on a Flemish style red and was several years in the making as the four brewers mixed and matched their barrel aging projects. The result was a pleasantly tart beer that matched the salad perfectly. Well done!

This was the main course, a smoked pork belly and pomegranate barbecued brisket with potato-chard gratin and pomegranate glaze. The paired beer was a Scottish Ale brewed by Gletsos and Ganum. The plate could have been warmer, but the pork and other items were quite tasty. The beer was overtly smokey, possibly related to the sour served in round 3. Still, quite good.

The initial menu for this event listed grapefruit tart and pecan brittle as the dessert. Several people at my table noted the change, for which there was no explanation. Anyway, the replacement was a chocolate chiffon cake paired with a Milk Stout. The cake went well with what I would call a mild stout. It was a decent pairing, but it lost some mojo compared to what came before it.

For my money, they served up three solid hits on the food menu: the chicken coronets, the arugula salad and the smoked pork belly. The soup was a near miss. The cake, not so much. On the beer side, the Cascadian Pilsner and the Sour Red were direct hits. I put the Thai Wit and the Scottish Ale in the near miss category. Opinions will certainly differ...these are mine.

One area where they can do better is the interaction between the brewers and the paying customers. Vasili stopped by our table and talked for a minute. None of the other brewers did. This was possibly related to the way Laurelwood's space is split up, I admit. Still, people who pay good money to attend these dinners like to mingle with the guys who made the beer. Pretty simple, eh?

I know what all you kids at home want to know: Was the dinner worth the $50 cost? It definitely depends on your perspective. If you like unique beers paired with inventive, tasty food items, then you're going to see the value. If that isn't your thing, this isn't your gig. Take your $50 and spend it somewhere else.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gustav's Dials in German Connection

I spend a lot of time babbling about craft beer here. There's a lot to talk about between opportunities to kick Budweiser to the curb when they launch a new bad beer. Once in while I see something on my travels that makes me realize my search for the holy ale sometimes has blind spots.

On my way to last night's Collaboration Brewers dinner at Laurelwood, I stopped in down the street at Gustav's. There are reasons for everything and the reason I went into Gustav's is that I arrived at Laurelwood too early and they weren't yet open for the dinner. Gustav's is a few short steps away. Viola!

The German taster tray
You need to know I have a reference point with respect to Gustav's and its affiliated restaurant, the Rheinlander. I once lived a block away. This was in the mid-nineties. There were no brewpubs nearby, as there is now. We would often walk down to Gustav's for a beer and sometimes a snack.

The beers there have always had a German flavor. Go figure. Spaten is practically a house brand and has always occupied at least several taps there. Back in the day, Gustav's also had a selection of Northwest craft brews on draft. Beers like Widmer Hefeweizen, Deschutes Mirror Pond...you get the idea. This was true as recently as a couple of years ago.

I wasn't really shocked to see that they no longer have any craft beers on tap (there are a few available by the bottle). Instead, they have dialed their selection more deeply into German beers. There were no fewer than 17 tap handles, all of them occupied by German beers: Helles, Pilsner, Kellerbier, Ocktoberfest, Dunkel, Wiessbier and so on.

A few of the beer menu choices
Make no mistake. These are amazing beers. I ordered a taster tray of four beers: Kellerbier, Munich Helles, Hofbrau Original (another Helles style) and Spaten Optimator, which I've always liked. Every one of these beers was excellent...and refined. I particularly liked the Kellerbier.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I think our rabid pursuit of unique craft beers in and around Portland sometimes obscures the fact that there are other terrific beers out there, beers that have often been brewed and refined over centuries. I know, I know...these beers aren't local, and local is definitely important. But still.

I salute what Gustav's is doing. Why should they compete with the brewpubs and pubs? They're smart to offer an alternative. Oregon's craft beer industry is still in its youth and it has borrowed extensively from what brewers in Europe have been doing for centuries. The German connection, a piece of it, anyway, is on display at Gustav's. Good for them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don Younger's Lingering Influence on Display

Beer geeks and industry folks gathered at the Horse Brass last night to give another sendoff to legendary publican Don Younger, who passed away a year ago last week. The event was well-attended, as beer people packed the area around the back bar at the HB...and parking was scarce.

Two vices
The main event was the unveiling of a new John Foyston painting of Younger. Prior to the unveiling, Foyston tapped a Firkin of Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA for all to enjoy. Lots of mingling. Good times.

For the unknowing, another Foyston painting of Younger hangs over the mantle at Lompoc's Sidebar on North Williams. Younger was a partner in the Lompoc operation and the Sidebar painting was mounted just months before his death. When Don first saw that painting, he was shocked, but loved it, according to Foyston and Lompoc owner Jerry Fechter.

Foyston lifts a glass moments before the unveiling
The newly unveiled portrait is a painted version of a picture taken by Lisa Morrison, aka the Beer Goddess. It appropriately shows Younger drinking a beer from a glass (he's drinking from a plastic mug in the picture at Lompoc) and smoking a cigarette. His favorite vices. Morrison took the photo at Amnesia Brewing.

While we surely crossed paths many times over the years, I never formally met Don Younger. So my points of reference with him revolve around the legendary stories, which are many. I've always been drawn to the one about how he wound up owning the Horse Brass.

Fred Eckhardt and Rob Widmer enjoyed some chat time
The story is well-known. He evidently bought the place during the course of a day and night of drinking, and wasn't sure what he'd done when he discovered the bill of sale the next morning. He may have been a little groggy at the time.

After he took over, the Horse Brass would eventually become a place where players in the fledgling craft industry met to share ideas over a few beers. Some of those same folks, people like Fred Eckhardt and Rob Widmer, were on hand last night, honoring their departed friend.

This event and the people who attended it are proof of Younger's lingering and extensive influence. Without him, the Portland beer landscape would not be what it is today. Foyston's latest portrait will hang as a testament to that notion.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Giants vs Pats: Who will buy the Beer?

Like a lot of people, I tend to think political figures wagering on the outcomes of games is silly. We see it all the time. Mayors vs. mayors. Governors vs. governors. Gov. Kitzhaber recently picked up on some Wisconsin goodies courtesy of Oregon's win in the Rose Bowl.

There's beer on the line...
They're at it again for the Super Bowl. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is putting beer from six New York breweries (Brown's, Brooklyn, Blue Point, Saranac, Captain Lawrence and Ithacaon the Giants. His opponent, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is putting up Smuttynose beer from her state on the Patriots.

If the Giants win the game, the entire Senate will be treated to beers from the New York breweries, paid for by Shaheen. Should the Pats win, the Senate will get New Hampshire beer paid for by Schumer. Where are the Massachusetts senators in this mix? It's a mystery. And what about New Jersey senators? The Giants do play in New Jersey. I digress.

The Winner is...
The last time these teams played in the Super Bowl, New England was heavily favored and trying to complete a perfect season. New York pulled off a huge upset, thanks to tough defense and some freakish plays down the stretch.

The crazy helmet catch put the Pats in a bind

This time around, the Patriots are again favored. We're talking small numbers this time...a field goal. It almost makes sense. The Patriots earned the top seed in the AFC, but they were not nearly as dominant as they were in 2007. To get to the Super Bowl, New England demolished Denver and squeaked by Baltimore, both home games.

The Giants weren't dominant, either. They got hot late in the year and earned a spot in the playoffs by beating Dallas in the final regular season game. They opened the playoffs by soundly beating Atlanta at home. They then beat the NFC's two top seeds, Green Bay and San Francisco, on the road.

If you're trying to figure out who will buy the beer (Schumer or Shaheen), I suspect you need merely review what these teams have done in the playoffs and the relative strength of their respective conferences. Their prior Super Bowl result means next to nothing.

Look, I'll be rooting for the Patriots. I actually enjoy the way Belichick hoodwinks other teams, coaches and the gullible media. Tom Brady isn't my favorite quarterback, but I like him a whole lot more than the dork, Eli. Did I mention I don't care for Tom Coughlin, the man with the perpetual scowl?

If New England is going to win this game, they are going to have to overcome the following:

  • The AFC as a whole was far weaker than the NFC this year. The three best teams in the NFL during the regular season were Green Bay, San Francisco and New Orleans. The AFC didn't have any teams as good as these three, in my view, including New England.
  • New England got to the Super Bowl the easy way, winning two games at home against flawed teams. Denver is a team with a poor offense and decent defense. They were shredded by the Pats. Baltimore has a great defense and not much offense, yet the Pats barely won.
  • New York got there the hard way, beating the top two teams in the NFC on the road. I don't put too much weight on the Green Bay result. The Packers didn't show up for that game. But beating a rugged San Francisco team on the road was a tall order.
Much as I hate to admit, the Giants are a well-balanced team on a roll. I don't see them having too much trouble moving the ball against New England's soft defense. Meanwhile, the Giants defense is going to harass Brady and make it tough for New England to score at will. The game may be close, and it may well be decided by turnovers...these games often are.

In the end, I think Shaheen is going to be buying New York beers for the Senate. Hopefully I'm wrong.