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Friday, June 28, 2013

Let the Summer Good Times Roll

The North American Organic Brewers Festival is underway in Overlook Park. It's the first large venue event of the summer. I spent a few hours there yesterday in ambivalent weather. The weekend forecast calls for heat and I suspect it's going to get crazy. In a good way.

Liz sports a pitcher of Ambacht G++ Ale
There wasn't much of a crowd on Thursday. I suspect two reasons: First, this is the first time they've opened on Thursday. A lot of people didn't get the memo. Give it a year. Second, people looked at the weather report and planned to attend when the sun is fully out...which starts today.

As was the case last year, these guys had some warm beer issues at the start. The first few beers I tasted were warmer than they should have been. Pretty soon, a cartload of ice showed up and solved that problem. I have no idea why it happened again.

As far as the beer I mentioned when I previewed this event, they were mostly quite good. I didn't taste every single beer they were serving (a good thing), but I probably tasted at least half of them thanks to a buddy who showed up and shared tastes.

The pick of the litter so far as I'm concerned is the Ambacht G++ Ale. Aged in whisky barrels previously used by Hair of the Dog for Cherry Adam, G++ is a near-perfect balance of competing flavors and aromas. The double-token price is well worth it. I paid it several times.

With hot weather imminent, I suspect Hopworks' Totally Radler is going to be wildly popular on the weekend. It's a succulent blend of HUB Organic Lager and natural lemonade. Very refreshing. This beer was a late entry, replacing something that dropped out, and is not in the program. Just look for the line.

The Bottlecap Boys entertained
Two Kilts Highway to Helles is another beer that works well. A soft sweetness in the backbone is balanced nicely with hop character and aroma, just as advertised. Highly drinkable. I also liked Fort George's Forbidden Wonder Fruit Ale.

One of the nice things about the NAOBF is the layout. The beer is situated at the east end of the park and covered seating is located near the middle. Thus, beer lines don't overflow into the sitting area, as is the case at the Oregon Brewers Festival. I realize this is largely a function of Overlook Park's shape. Waterfront Park is far more narrow.

Volunteers galore did their usual great job
As noted in my initial post, the NAOBF runs through the weekend, opening at noon each day. Take public transit or ride your bike...parking is extremely limited in this area. They've got ongoing entertainment and a nice food line-up to go with the beer. Let the good times roll.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Behind Laurelwood's Big Deal: Something for Everyone

Last week's announcement that Laurelwood will be partnering with the Craft Brew Alliance for a portion of its production brewing caught some people flat-footed. It was unexpected. But make no mistake, it's a huge deal. With something for everyone.

The details of the deal have been reported in several places, notably by John Foyston here. Essentially, the deal will expand Laurelwood's capacity to around 20,000 barrels a year. They brewed just over 5,400 barrels for Oregon in 2012, according to OLCC numbers, and another 1,300 or so were sold out-of-state. The bulk of the new production is going into 12 oz bottles of Workhorse and Red (which will not be organic in bottles).

Putting their most popular beers in six-packs is something owner Mike DeKalb has been thinking about for a while. And it makes sense. Laurelwood has built a solid reputation via 22 oz bombers and kegs in Oregon and Washington. Smaller bottles are a logical step because six-packs remain the most popular form of retail packaging in beer.

They aren't going to have to go out and find places to sell this beer. Laurelwood has already built demand for its beer in Portland and beyond. They have put a ton of effort into developing Seattle, one of the best craft beer markets in the country. In fact, they have been unable to fully develop all of their markets because capacity at the Sandy brewery is maxed out.

"We've been putting 80 percent of our production effort into Workhorse and Red," said Micah Bell, Laurelwood's director of marketing. Portland was apparently getting 85 percent of what they were producing. With a good portion of that production moving to the CBA, they will now be able to fill distribution holes in Oregon and Washington. Alaska, British Columbia and California are on the horizon.

Some 12,000 barrels of the additional production capacity will be at the CBA's Woodinville, Wash. facility. From a strategic standpoint, this is perfect because a lot of that beer is going into the Seattle area. Brewing and bottling it in Woodinville means the beer will be at its best when it hits store shelves. Woodinville fits into Laurelwood's plan almost perfectly.

One of the more significant things about this arrangement is it allows Laurelwood to continue to develop its markets without investing in a production brewery or bottling plant. Many thought they would open a production facility after the Sellwood pub launched last year. There's no doubt DeKalb considered it. With the CBA deal, he can delay a decision on that. He may very well build a production brewery at some future point, but delaying the decision gives him more time to figure out what it looks like.

Vasili at work
Of course, people are already wondering if beer contract-brewed by the CBA will live up to the standards of Laurelwood's relatively small operation. I am generally not a fan of contract brewing. However, Laurelwood brewmaster Vasili Gletsos has significant experience on large production systems from his time at Pyramid. He will be working with highly competent CBA brewers to ensure solid production values. We'll see how it works out, but I get the feeling things will be fine.

For fans of Laurelwood here in Portland, shifting production will be huge. They will continue to brew for 22 oz bottles at the Sandy brewery and the organic brewing program will be maintained for beers served in the pubs. More importantly, Vasili and his crew will be freed up to create more specialty beers. I'm looking forward to the specialty board having more options. And I suspect some of these beers will make their way to better shops around town.

This deal has something for everyone, for sure.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Get Ready for Organic Beer!

If you didn't already know, we have entered the outdoor festival season. The recent Fruit Beer Festival was arguably the kickoff, but there are so many smaller events happening all the time that the calendar has become mostly a blur.

Almost time to flip and fill...
Next week's North American Organic Brewers Festival, set to run June 27-30 at Overlook Park, has established itself as one of the premier outdoor events of the summer. That's a difficult hill to climb for any June event because the weather often refuses to cooperate. Yet the NAOBF has been successful. So successful that they've expanded to four days this year.

The event was founded in 2003 by Craig Nicholls, the founding father of organic brewing in Portland. Nicholls worked at Alameda Brewing on Fremont and later at Halling Brewing in Gresham before opening the now defunct Roots Organic Brewing in 2005. The NAOBF took a couple of years off while Nicholls worked on Roots, then returned in 2006. It moved to its current location in 2007.

According to the event program, organic beer sales were up $66 million in 2012, an increase of nearly 25 percent over 2011. That's an interesting stat, and basically suggests that brewers and beer consumers are increasingly comfortable and committed to organic beer. This is arguably good news for the planet, as organic ingredients are less damaging to the environment.

Possibly the last year for the cornstarch cup
The NAOBF puts a lot of effort into advancing sustainable values across a wide spectrum, and Nicholls' efforts have influenced others. The festival glass/cup is made from compostable cornstarch and they may go to glass next year. Electricity comes from biodiesel generators. Food vendors use compostable plates and utensils. They generated 175 lbs of trash last year, which is next to nothing for a festival of this size. 

There are 39 breweries/cideries pouring liquid sunshine at this year's NAOBF. You can view the list on the event website here. Not all of the brews are 100 percent organic, but all are made primarily from organic ingredients. Like always, I'll be hunting for beers that aren't commonly available around town...and they won't be hard to find. A partial list:

 Ambacht Brewing Hillsboro, OR - G++ Ale | Belgian Strong Golden 8.5% ABV, 18 IBU
Aged in whiskey barrels previously used by Hair of the Dog to age Cherry Adam. The beer is apparently heavily influenced by cherries the Dog left in the barrels. Can't wait to try this one.

Yep, it can get crazy at times
 Brunehaut Brewery Brunehaut, Belgium - Brunehaut Amber 6.5% ABV, 28 IBU
An authentic Belgian beer in gluten free, organic form. This beer is apparently the color of port, tawny port, I assume.I'm interested to see how fragrance (pine seeds) balances with the yeasts and malts.

Falling Sky Brewing Eugene, OR - Done Rye't Pale Ale  5.5% ABV, 35 IBU
I'm a fan of rye beers, so I have to give this one a try. They say it has aromas of citrus blossoms and grapefruit in a spicy rye finish. We shall see.

Golden Valley Brewery McMinnville, OR - Milo Mild Ale  3.8% ABV, 22 IBU
I'm always searching for low alcohol beers that have flavor and character. Could this be a good one? It's brewed with a bit of chocolate and black malts to give it a little color, hopped with homegrown Willamette hops for character, fermented with English yeast. Could be a winner.

Laurelwood Brewing Portland, OR- Green Elephant IPA 6.9% ABV, 80 IBU
I've had this beer many times and it's terrific.Too bad it's a seasonal and usually only available this time of year. The combination of Cascade, Amarillo and Ahtanum hops make this beer. Now that Laurelwood will be contracting some of it's production out to the Craft Brew Alliance, I hope to see more seasonal offerings like Green Elephant at the pubs.

Pints Brewing Portland, OR - Green Line Organic IPA 5.1% ABV, 37 IBU
This might be a decent session IPA...or not. They use organic malts along with Bravo and Cascade hops to create a classic Northwest IPA. At only 5.1%, this is definitely worth a try.

Two Kilts Brewing Sherwood, OR - Highway to Helles Lager 5% ABV, 20 IBU
This classic, refreshing style is drinkable anytime, but particularly if we get good weather for the festival. Two Kilts has developed a solid reputation and is getting a new brewing system to pump things up.

Uinta Brewing Salt Lake City, UT - BABA Organic Black Lager 4% ABV, 32 IBU
Anyone who doesn't know about Uinta might be inclined to write them off because of their Utah roots. Don't be naive. These guys brew some of the best beer around. You can find BABA around town in bottles, maybe even in cans. I've enjoyed it at home and look forward to sampling it at the festival. I'm breaking my own rule...oh well.

With the extra day, I expect to attend on Thursday and Friday. Slacker schedule. Festival hours are noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Get there early for the best selection and shortest wait for beer. Oh, I'll be filing an updated report Friday morning.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book 'em, Danno

Last night's Cluster F#ck release party at Velo Cult turned into virtual surf party. The only things missing were the beach, the waves and the surfboards. They were replaced by bikes and beer, which isn't half bad. By the time the Church of Surf hit the final notes of Hawaii Five-O, it was clear a fine time had been had by all...or most.

Hats off to Velo Cult and Double Mountain for putting on this great shindig, which attracted a good crowd despite a power outage in the area before it got underway. When I got there around 6:30, there was a group of folks augured in at the bar testing the beers. Someone has to do it.

Double Mountain released its Single Hop IPA, Cluster F#ck, at the party. Everyone I talked to tried it and most apparently liked it. To me, it didn't have the depth of character I expect in a special release beer. Good, not great, is my take. Double Mountain's IRA and Kolsch are better beers by far, and both were available, along with others.

Entertainment was provided by The Church of Surf, a Portland-based group that plays surf-oriented music in the vein of Dick Dale. Their style is a little more laid back and not nearly as edgy as Dale's, although they can crank it up pretty good at times. They played from a catalog of mostly recognizable surf tunes that seemed a perfect fit for the space, the crowd and the evening.

Not likely to be forgotten were the efforts of the Chakra Surf Dancers, who front the band and do a good job keeping the crowd engaged. If you aren't that into the music, there's always the dance moves to keep you interested. Women in the audience enjoyed the Dancers as much as the men, so boo-hoo.

This was a nice change from your typical beer release party. Far too often, these parties are nothing more than cheesy posters and social media posts. You arrive and discover there's really nothing happening, no beef at all. Not so at Velo Cult last night. Nice job, folks!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Surf's Up at Double Mountain Cluster F#ck Release

In this season of event overload, making choices about where to go any day or night of the week can be a dicey business. But not all beer-related events are created equal and next week's Double Mountain Cluster F#ck release party is one of them. Not to be missed.

This is happening Thursday, June 13, at Velo Cult in the Hollywood District. If you don't know about Velo Cult, this is your chance to get acquainted. They are a combination bike shop, tap room and meeting place. I posted about them before, not long after they opened a year ago. Today, the place is a beehive of activity, with ongoing events and a great tap list. Bikes and beer are great companions in Portland and Velo Cult is becoming a destination.

Double Mountain, which recently announced a parting of ways between the co-founders Matt Swihart and Charlie Devereux, is releasing a single hop IPA as the featured part of Cluster F#ck. I'm not a huge fan of single hop IPAs, but I'm happy to give this one a try. There will also be other Double Mountain beers available and these are some of the best beers in Oregon. 

Velo Cult fisheye
To provide some ambiance for the beer, Double Mountain and Velo Cult are bringing in the Church of Surf and Chakra Surf Dancers. One of the bike mechanics described Church of Surf as a Dick Dale-type outfit. Sure enough, YouTube videos concur. For anyone remotely interested in Dick Dale-inspired surf music, the Church of Surf and Chakra Dancers are going to be a treat.

If you're concerned about Velo Cult being too small for an event with music, don't be. The space is quite large. They have an existing stage and lighting setup. The Church of Surf is going to be a perfect fit for the space. Of course, if you aren't into surf rock, this may not be the event for you. Oh well.

Festivities kick off at 6:00 p.m. Don't be late.