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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ecliptic it is for John Harris

John Harris' new brewing endeavor here in Portland will be called Ecliptic Brewing. He announced the name at a media gathering Sunday afternoon, after which the public got the same news. More on why he chose the name shortly.

The sizable cavern
The building that will house Ecliptic Brewing is a former auto body repair shop. No residual solvents or stinky smells, thanks very much. The place is huge...14,175 square feet. When he was looking for a building, John figured he needed 10,000 square feet. Then he got to thinking about the need to expand and do barrel aging. "More space," he said to himself. Then he found this place, a perfect fit.

Harris expects to use about 3,000 square feet for the pub and restaurant part of the operation, which will also have an outdoor patio. The brewery will consume some portion of the remaining space, but he'll have plenty of room for expansion and other activities. Architect Julia Wood is working with John to design a space that integrates sustainable principles and functional efficiency.

The blueprint
The name is a play on John's interest in astronomy. He apparently enjoys gazing at celestial bodies when he isn't occupied with thoughts of beer or drinking beer. You wonder where he finds the time. Ecliptic represents the earth's journey around the sun, which plays into brewing in a variety of ways. Look it up.

About the beer, the brewing system here will be a 15 bbl system. In an interesting twist, Harris acquired the original Bridgeport Brewing system from Dogfish Head. No word on when the old system washed up on the east coast, but it will be used in Portland again soon.

Harris talks with Channel 8
You may recall my earlier post, where I talked about John's background at McMenamin's, Deschutes and Full Sail. He intends to make Ecliptic unique. "I definitely plan to do some things differently than everyone else. I can't really talk about the specifics or those things wouldn't be unique anymore," he said. "You'll see soon enough."

When will this place open? That's an interesting question. They are apparently waiting on permits and hope to start construction in 6-8 weeks. Some of the demo may start sooner. Harris hopes to be brewing by mid-summer, which seems fairly optimistic to me, and hopes to open the pub in the fall. Obviously, everything depends on how well things go...there's a lot to be done.

The on-the-floor schematic
Located in what Julia Wood described as "the gateway to Mississippi," Ecliptic has landed on a terrific spot. I suspect its arrival will simply extend the carnival that is Mississippi north of Fremont. It's only a block to the south, so not much further to walk, ride or drive (yes, Santa, there is a parking lot).

For a lot of reasons, this looks like a great venture.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Logsdon Tapping Seques to Biergarten Grand Opening

I had the same idea as a lot of people Saturday afternoon. Seeing that Logsdon had pulled out of the Cheers to Belgian Beers festival, I headed over to Belmont Station to partake of some Logsdon beers. There was a good crowd of people hanging out there. And some good beers.

Peche 'n Brett
If you don't know the details of why Logsdon pulled out of the Cheers fest, the story is covered well here. The short version is the festival, which was taken over by the Oregon Brewers Guild this year, altered several of the prior guidelines. Logsdon didn't like it, so they chose to take their beer elsewhere. Follow the link if you need more detail.

Many people were going for tasting flights when I arrived. The Flight of the Day included four Logsdon beers, but not the one I wanted...the Peche 'n Brett. So I ordered a glass of it and started sipping. Good stuff. Mildly tart with a great flavor.

A number of people seated around the bar and at tables had bottles of Peche 'n Brett in front of them. In some cases, the bottles were cradled. The supply was limited and I have no idea how many they sold. However, I do know they sold out early on.

Spacious new patio/biergarten
The trip to Belmont Station gave me a chance to look over their new biergarten patio, which has been in the works for over a year, I believe. They had to deal with a lot of city red tape as part of the process. Oh well, the area is opening just in time for the coming summer months. 

You'll see the passageway to the patio as you walk toward the back of the Bier Cafe and past the restroom. From the top of the stairs you can look down on the area. Skylights help keep it bright by day. It was just cool enough on Saturday that the ceiling-mounted space heaters were pumping out some light heat. The glass garage doors along the south wall were closed, but they'll be open when warm weather arrives. This is basically an open patio by summer, an enclosed extension of the bar by winter. Good combo.

Food cart = more food choices
Food has always been kind of sparse in the Bier Cafe. To rectify that situation, there's now a food cart next to the biergarten. The Italian Market cart has a selection of sandwiches with an Italian flavor, as well as other snacks and quick bites.

The folks at Belmont Station will christen the Rich Bobkin Memorial Biergarten on Monday night (yep, that's tonight). Bob was a longtime friend and patron who passed away two years ago. They will then have some special tappings during grand opening week. Check their website for details.

For me, the new patio puts the Bier Cafe on my hit list. The tap list is always good here. Now they have a very cool outdoor area to sit and enjoy. And more food choices is a smart idea.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

John Harris? Who the Hell is He?

You've probably heard John Harris is getting ready to open a brewery and pub over on Mississippi and Cook. If not, you heard it here first. John's holding a sneak preview of what he's up to on Sunday, April 28, from 2-4 p.m. He'll reveal what he plans to call the place, among other things. But wait. Who the hell is John Harris?

The collaboration with ex-employee Tony Lawrence was a hit
Even if you don't recognize John's photo or know him, you almost certainly know some of his beers if you've been around Oregon beer for any length of time. See, John has been part of the beer scene around these parts for 26 years...and counting. He's what you call an icon, even if you don't know him.

John began his professional brewing career with McMenamin's at the Hillsdale Pub. After the Brewpub Bill passed in 1985, Hillsdale was the first pub to take advantage of the law and start brewing. When they advertised for a brewer, John applied. He had some homebrewing experience, nothing more. As he joked when I spoke to him a while back, "I had no experience, but they hired me anyway." That's kind of the way it was in those days.

He got off to a rough start. "When I was hired, they told me to bring rubber boots my first day. But I forgot to buy them and showed up in hiking boots. That didn't work out too well when it came time to shovel the hops out of the brew kettle. But they didn't fire me, thankfully."

Unknown to many, they were using malt extract to brew at Hillsdale in the early days. They didn't have the ability to mash, so they bought 50-gallon drums of extract and used that. The beers were okay, never great. Other brewers made fun of them. About a year later, they started mashing and the Hillsdale beers eventually got better. Harris was there.

"The cool thing about McMenamin's is you had your own brewery. They gave you a lot of freedom to create stuff. We brewed with fruit, which was not common at the time…rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries. Some recipes worked better than others. There were times when they would say, 'Don’t make that again.'”
After two years (1986-88), Harris took a job at a little place called Deschutes Brewing in Bend. Deschutes was just getting started and he had a major role in developing recipes that were and are infamous in Oregon and beyond.

"I developed the recipes for Mirror Pond, Bachelor Bitter, Black Butte Porter and Obsidian Stout…all the good stuff," he said. "That’s where I made my name." Later in his four-year tenure at Deschutes, John hired Tony Lawrence to clean up the place after brewing day. Lawrence eventually left for Arizona, but subsequently returned and launched...Boneyard Brewing. 

John left Deschutes in 1992 and returned to Portland to work for Full Sail. Full Sail had opened in 1987 in Hood River and was well-known...in large part because they were the first craft brewery to start bottling. But they wanted a pub presence in Portland. The Pilsner Room on the South Waterfront seemed the perfect spot.
"I moved to the Pilsner Room in 1992," Harris recalled. "The place was still run by McCormick and Schmick. Pretty soon we made all Full Sail's draft beer for Portland in that brewery. We made the first IPA here…in 1994. Later, I started the Brewmaster Reserve Program, which was small batches, special beers. The brewery here was good because it gave locals a chance to taste Full Sail's specialty beers without going to Hood River."

Harris left Full Sail after 20 years in 2012. His plan all along was to start his own brewery and pub, but it took longer than he had hoped to find the right location with the right combination of attributes. Now that he has things moving along, it will be interesting to see what he comes up with. Should be good stuff.

If you plan to stop by on the 28th, keep in mind there won't be any beer. Not yet. But there are lots of places in the area to get a beer once you've taken a gander at John's plans.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Washington Beer Tax? I Got an Uncle Lives in Taxes

The current flap over beer taxes in Washington state reminds me of the old Marx Brothers quip having to do with taxes...or something. "Hey, I got an uncle lives in Taxes...Dollars, Taxes." That's funny. What's happening in Washington isn't.

Nah, I'm talking about taxes, money, dollars
This mess has been discussed at length in the beer community. In 2010, the Washington Leg implemented a sort of sin tax. It affected candy, pop, bottled water, beer and even some professional occupations. The idea was to close a $2.8 billion budget hole. The excise tax on beer jumped from 26 to 76 cents per gallon. This was supposed to be a temporary tax, set to expire on June 30, 2013. Naturally.

To insulate the state's craft brewers, the Leg exempted them from the tax. Brewers selling more than 60,000 barrels a year were stuck paying it; little guys weren't. Since that time, the big guys have been shelling out $23.58 per 31-gallon barrel. Small brewers have been paying $4.78.

A couple of weeks back, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he wants to make the beer tax permanent. Worse, he wants to remove the exemption for craft brewers. The folks in Olympia evidently see this as an easy way out of the state's continued financial problems in a woeful economy.

Part of the issue here is that the tax on beer is about all that's left of the 2010 tax package. The soft drink companies spent $16 million to pass an initiative that wiped out the tax on soda and water. The beer industry likely would have done the same thing, but they were busy trying to scuttle the liquor privatization initiative...which passed with disastrous results for Washington consumers. But never mind. That's another messy story.

A couple more things about the beer tax:
  1. First, it will apply to all beer sold in Washington. It will certainly cut into the profit margins of in-state craft brewers. Beer from states like Oregon, where the per barrel tax is low (8 cents per gallon, $2.48 per barrel) will be taxed at the higher rate when sold in Washington. Distributors will pay the tax, which will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

  2. Second, big guys won't feel the impact of this tax. That's because they spread their tax burden around. Since tax rates vary around the country, the big guys simply suck it up and subsidize sales in states with high taxes with the extra money they make in low tax states. That's why Washingtonians haven't seen a spike in macro prices since 2010...and likely won't see one if Inslee gets his way.
Make no mistake, this proposal is bad news. It will cripple the craft beer industry in Washington if it happens. Most small breweries are nothing more than small businesses that cannot absorb this kind of financial hit. Jobs will be lost. Breweries will close. It's no wonder people connected to the industry in Washington are hysterical. Any Oregon governor who tried to pull something like this would be run out of the state on a rail.

Stick around...it's early
Washington craft beer brings $4.3 billion into the state annually. New breweries have been popping up all over the place at a time when there aren't a lot of bright spots in the economy. It's almost unfathomable that state leaders would consider wounding this industry. At least one publication thinks Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the country. Yikes!

Washington craft brewers are wondering how this happened. They're thinking they've never been so insulted. Hey, stick around...it's early.

State excise tax rates on beer are here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Oregon Garden Brewfest Returns

It's not as if the festival season ever really takes a break around here, but we are now beginning our descent (or ascent, if you wish) into prime festival season. That's the time of year when beer-centric festivals are held either outside or in venues where outside amenities are intriguing.

Which brings me to an annual Oregon Garden Brewfest, set for April 26-28 at the J. Frank Schmidt Pavilion in Silverton. This event is now in its ninth year and it's getting better all the time. I traveled down there last year and found a nice selection of beers in a great spot.

They've bumped up the imbibing menu this year and expect to feature more than 125  craft beers, ciders and meads from 62 different breweries. There will also be two stages offering live music from 22 Northwest bands. 

The fest expands to three days this year. Times are noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. It's a 21 and over-only event Friday and Saturday. Minors are okay all day Sunday.

The best place to buy tickets is online, where you can purchase a one-day tasting package for $15. It includes admission, a tasting glass, 7 tasting tickets and express entry. A three-day advance tasting package costs $30 and includes admission for all days, a tasting glass, 15 tasting tickets and express entry.  If you wait to buy tickets at the venue, you'll pay the same price and get less in return. A word to the wise.

There's a whole lot more information, including a list of breweries and bands, on the festival website here. It should be another great year for this event. While you're in Silverton, stop by Seven Brides Brewing. It's just a hop and a skip from the Oregon Garden.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gluten-free IPA added to Omission Line

Building on the success of the Omission brand, launched last spring in the form of a gluten-free pale ale and lager, the Craft Brew Alliance has introduced Omission IPA. They held a launch party Wednesday evening at the Hawthorne Hophouse to celebrate the occasion. The beer began showing up on shelves in Oregon on April 1. National distribution is set for early August.

Like Omission Pale Ale and Lager, the IPA is brewed with traditional ingredients. Brewers then use a proprietary process that reduces gluten to well below the CODEX standard of 20 parts per million (ppm) for food and beverage. Every batch of Omission beer is tested by an independent lab for adherence to the standard.

The CBA is positioning Omission IPA as the first gluten-free IPA brewed with authentic ingredients. There are certainly other gluten-free IPAs out there...such as Harvester IPA. But the base of that beer is made with roasted chestnuts, gluten free oats and tapioca maltodextrin. Not exactly standard, obviously, and apparently common with gluten-free beers.

In case you're wondering, Omission IPA is pretty good. It pours light copper in color with a lovely head that doesn't linger quite as long as I might like. Brewed in the style of a Northwest IPA, it leans on Cascade and Summit hops. I found the aroma drifted away rather quickly, leaving a beer that is crisp and mildly bitter with nice citrus notes.

The PR gals who were greeting everyone came up with the idea of tasting Omission IPA next to a standard IPA. They chose Boneyard RPM, an interesting choice, I think. The two beers have close to the same stats...6.6% ABV and 50 IBU for RPM; 6.7% ABV and 65 IBU for Omission IPA. RPM clearly has more body, aroma and flavor, courtesy of aggressive dry-hopping. But the Omission held up pretty well, I thought. The more informative test would be to taste Omission IPA next to some of Widmer's Rotator IPAs. That's an appropriate comparison and I think the Omission would do fine.

I am not gluten-intolerant, so I do not have to seek out Omission or other gluten-free beers. The question you always have to ask in this situation is: Would I drink this beer if I didn't have to? The answer hinges largely on price. If I'm choosing between O'Ryely IPA at $8.99 a six-pack and Omission at $9.99 a six-pack, I'll take the O'Ryely. However, for people who can't choose the O'Ryely, the Omission is a nice option.

As noted at the top, Omission IPA is currently available only in Oregon. Production will ramp up to support a national release through the CBA's partner, Anheuser-Busch, in August. There's no mention of it in the media materials, but I assume Omission is the first gluten-free brand in national release. The IPA is a nice addition, given the popularity of the style. My only question is what's next? Gluten-free ESB? Gluten-free Hefeweizen. Inquiring minds, you know.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Goobers Flog Florida Growler Bills

Just when you thought the old Confederacy (of dunces) was making progress on the beer, there's bizarre news out of Florida regarding attempts to legalize 64-oz growlers. You know what I'm talking about. Half gallon growlers. The standard refillable containers at brewpubs and breweries...assuming you're a craft beer fan and you live in a sane state.
Not in Florida

Florida lawmakers have introduced two bills that would legalize these things. But the bills have been killed in committee without so much as a hearing. Why? Because the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents all of the state's Anheuser-Busch distributors and dumps a lot of money into Florida politics, opposes the idea. 

It gets better. A lobbyist for the FBWA claims the growler bill is a problem because it would threaten the three-tier system of distribution established after Prohibition. As most who follow theses things know, the three-tier system mandates that alcohol pass through a distributor on the way to the consumer.

This rationale is such horseshit. It's nothing but a transparent and shortsighted falsehood meant to protect the interests of AB in Florida.

First, craft breweries and brewpubs all over the country, except parts of the South where there still aren't a lot of breweries, have been selling beer directly to customers for years. It's complete garbage to suggest that such sales are a threat to the three-tier system. Time for a reality check if you think they are.

Second, and even worse, it turns out Florida already allows beer to be sold in growlers. You read that right. You can go down to your local pub today and get a 32- or 128-oz growler filled. No problemo. But you can't get a 64-oz container filled due to a loophole in the law. Talk about stupid and contradictory laws.

It should be noted that not all Florida beer distributors are out of touch. The Beer Industry of Florida, which represents distributors who don't sell AB products, supports the move to legalize 64-oz growlers. It only makes sense to them. But it's quite hard to change these laws when you have the power and money of AB pushing in the opposite direction. Ye gods!

When I wrote about the treachery of "Grab Some Buds" a while ago, this is exactly what I meant. These people use money and power to block laws that make sense because they fear it will mean competition. And they're right...it will lead to more competition. And better beer. Everyone needs to stop buying AB crap until they stop blocking sensible beer laws.