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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Another State with Bizarre Beer Laws: Florida

There are all kinds of crazy beer laws on the books throughout this nutty country. These laws are largely remnants of Prohibition and its aftermath, when the three tier distribution system was established. The system was designed to avoid the abuses that helped produce Prohibition.
Legal in Florida
No state is immune, as I recently documented with California's growler laws. However, the crazier the law, the greater the chance it's on the books in a southern state. Why? Because most southern states have been slow to modernize alcohol laws over the course of the last 80 years.

The latest bizarre law comes out of Florida, which actually has an active and growing craft beer scene. When I looked at planned new breweries a couple of years back (link), Florida appeared on the list of states with significant planned growth. That's a good thing no matter how you cut it.

The strange law has to do with growlers. In Florida, you can purchase a 32 oz. growler or a gallon growler of beer. But you cannot purchase a 64 oz. growler. That would be illegal. The industry standard throughout the country is the half-gallon growler. Not in Florida, where the law says beer containers must be 32 ounces or less, or 128 ounces or more.

Legal in Florida
Look, I have my own issues with growlers. I stay away from larger ones unless I know I'll have help drinking. I can't drink a 64 oz. growler before it goes flat. A gallon growler makes no sense to me. It seems to contradict the whole notion of moderate alcohol consumption, which is what most Prohibition-era laws were designed to encourage.

Of course, growler laws aren't the only thing messed up in Florida. Another law interprets the three-tier system strictly and makes it illegal for brewers to sell beer directly to retailers. All beer that winds up in retail channels must go through distributors in Florida. That is more or less what the three-tier system demands, but many states have relaxed their laws. Oregon, for example. Not Florida.

Illegal in Florida
There are folks around the Sunshine State who are working to get the laws changed. According to news reports, some legislators are hoping to make progress in fixing the legal mess. They see craft beer as a growing, vibrant industry, and they want to embrace it...slowly. Let's hope they get these things fixed.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wham! Holiday Ale Festival 2013 is Nearly Here

Hard to believe we've once again landed at the doorstep of the holiday season. Times flies, they say. As usual, the return of the season means the Holiday Ale Festival will be on tap next week in/at/on Pioneer Courthouse Square. This is one the best beer events of the year around these parts. No kidding.

Officially, this is the 18th rendition of the HAF. It was founded in 1995 and ran a couple of years under the Winter Ale Festival banner. If you're wondering, the tents weren't clear in those days. You could not look up and see the Portland skyline or the gleaming holiday tree. Nope. What you could see was fabric. I remember feeling somewhat claustrophobic. But never mind.

After a couple of years, the festival took 1997 off. Ownership of the event subsequently changed and it was rebranded as the Holiday Ale Festival when it returned in 1998. If you're keeping track at home, one of the original founders still owns the Winter Ale Festival name, just in case he decides to bring it back someday. But these are merely details.

The 2013 HAF will launch Wednesday, Dec. 4 and continue through Sunday, Dec. 8. Wednesday kickoff is noon. The start time moves to 11 a.m. for the rest of the festival. Closing times are 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. Are you ready?

As most everyone knows, the best times to be under the tents tasting beers are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, preferably in the afternoon. You might be okay crowd-wise early Friday...it will get quite crazy by late afternoon. I haven't attended on Saturday in several years, but it was a mosh pit by mid-afternoon the last time I sampled Saturday. I suggest avoiding Saturday unless it's the only possible day you can attend.

For folks who are lucky (or unlikely) enough to work downtown, the early start times offer the opportunity to go sample a few choice beers during your lunch hour. That's either a great idea or a really bad one, depending on how your office feels about you returning to work on your lips. In past years, I've seen lunch hours extending into the evening...a terrific idea if you can get away with it.

They expect to have 47 beers on tap for this year's festival. The great bulk of these beers clock in at over 8% ABV (nearly a third are over 9%!), which explains why you probably don't want to spend a lunch hour sampling. Thankfully, public transit is close at hand and organizers also do their best to accommodate designated drivers. No one should drive after drinking at the HAF.

I should mention there are beers beyond the 47 standards. As part of their specialty program, the HAF will have additional tappings of super special beers at specified times during the festival. These are limited release beers where they only have a keg or so available. I can't provide specifics on these beers because the list is not yet finalized. The web link is here once they have it dialed.

One of the things I truly love about the Holiday Ale Festival is that it attracts people from all over. In this case, "all over" means exactly that: I've met people from the east coast, from California, from Canada and Australia at this event. Don't be shy about striking up a conversation with the people around you at the HAF. You may be surprised to find out from whence they came.

There are more details. For example, you can buy advance tickets on the event website. It's a slightly better deal if you buy online, but you'll still be picking up your mug and tickets at the entry desk. Another important detail: this is a 21-and-over event. Space is limited here compared to some of our other festivals, so please leave the kiddies at home. Oh yes, the pinup art for 2013 is Angel (see above). There's a list of event facts here.

I expect to attend the festival on Wednesday, when I know all the beers will be on and it won't be particularly busy. I'll follow up my visit with a short list of beer picks here, probably on Thursday. See ya down there. Or not.

Update: Event organizers now say the venue will open at 11 a.m. all days.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Piperworks Lives in the Past with Lebowski Beer

It's hard to know how many who follow this blog are fans of The Big Lebowski. The movie was released to mostly lackluster reviews and theater attendance in 1998. It has since become a cult classic that has spawned Lebowski fests all over the place. Say what you will about the movie...it has created an ethos.

If you look around the internet you'll find all sorts of Lebowski schwag. Some urban achievers in a Chicago brewery, Piperworks, took this to heart and brewed a beer that pays homage to the movie.
This is pretty recent and, frankly, I'm surprised no one did it earlier. A beer connected to The Big Lebowski could really tie a brewery together.

The name of the beer is Hey, Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here! That is, of course, a famous line from the movie. The beer was brewed a few months ago and apparently released in October. Availability is limited...bottles only sold in Illinois liquor stores. They didn't want to get out of their element.

What do I know about the beer? Next to nothing...haven't tasted or seen it. It's officially a White Russian Imperial Milk Stout. At 10.5% ABV this is not a beer for lightweights. You might not ask for a refill even if Jackie Treehorn offered.

We aren't likely to see Hey, Careful Man in Oregon anytime soon, if ever. However, I have come across certain information, alright...new shit has come to light regarding this beer. All it took was a bit of web searching...in the parlance of our times.

It turns out this beer is lighter than your typical stout...most reviews describe it as dark amber. Not much head, apparently. Mildly sweet. The urban achiever brewers added lacto sugar to mimic the milk that would be present in a White Russian. Opinions are mixed.

As I say, you likely aren't going to find Hey, Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here! anywhere outside of Illinois. It was brewed once and there's no indication if it will be brewed again. The folks at Piperworks are apparently into the whole brevity thing. And that's cool.

But if you do happen to stumble across a bottle of this stuff, be sure to give notes on it. A lot of fans would like to close the file on this one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lompoc Launches 2013 Winter Seasonal Barrage

Winter seasonals are nothing new around here. Breweries have been brewing them for years and it's part of what's expected. But no one showcases as many winter seasonals as Lompoc Brewing. Jerry Fechter and his brewers regularly provide a wide swath of holiday beers. And proud of that tradition, they are.

Not sure what Don would think of the poinsettia
There are nine Lompoc holiday beers for 2013 and eight of them were on display at a media tasting Monday night at Sidebar. This is always a fun event, as the Lompoc folks roll out the red rug for those of us who attempt to cover Portland's beer scene. Last night was no exception, held as the ghost of Don Younger looked on (courtesy of John Foyston's great painting).

The beer list is familiar....C-Sons Greetings, Old Tavern Rat, Brewdolph, etc. There is no 8 Malty Nights for 2013, which will miff some beer fans, but you can't have everything. Still, it's a nice lineup of beers. The bulk of these will be released on Dec. 3 at Lompoc locations. I'll speak to the specific details below.

One of my favorite Lompoc beers is C-Sons Greetings, an Imperial IPA brewed with seven "C" hops and packing a serious wallop in aroma and flavor. This is essentially a bigger version of their standard IPA, C-Note, and clocks in at 8% ABV. The label no longer sports Jerry's graphic likeness in a Santa hat, but you'll get over it. C-Sons Greetings will be in pubs and on store shelves soon. Look for it.

Kids explain what they're up to
We tasted two versions of Old Tavern Rat, a barleywine affectionately named after the late publican, Don Younger, who is pictured on the label. The 2013 OTR is fairly straight forward beer...big, fairly smooth, not all that complex. It clocks in at 9.4%. This beer will be poured in pubs, but there will be no bottles.

Up next beer was a bourbon barrel aged version of 2011 OTR. This beer sent my nasal passages into arrest. The press materials say this beer is 9.7%, but it seems to have sucked some serious alcohol from the barrels. I bet it's closer to 12%. Anyway, barrel-aged OTR is a little rough right now. It will surely improve with some cellaring. They will have this on draft and in bottles (very limited) at their pubs. I recommend tasting it now and getting a bottle or two for future reference.

Lompoc's beer for the upcoming Holiday Ale Festival is Revelry Red, which is their Big Bang Red aged in whiskey barrels with sour cherries for nine months, then blended with Big Bang Red aged in Port barrels for nearly a year. This beer was on double secret probation because the HAF prefers that its beers not be tasted prior to the event. No matter. This beer is fantastic...mildly sour, gently complex. There is still blending to be done, so the final result will change. Seek this beer! They will evidently hold onto some of this to be served in their pubs after the HAF.

Tools of a tasting
There are five more Lompoc winter brews worth tasting, including Cherry Christmas, Jolly Bock (lager), Brewdolph (Belgian-style red), Holiday Cheer (Vanilla Porter) and Blitzen (a spiced golden ale we didn't taste). As noted above, you'll find all of these at Lompoc locations beginning on Dec. 3. 

Special thanks to Jerry Fechter for continuing to placate us beer media folks. Similar thanks to Chris Crabb, who routinely does a great job of organizing materials for lazy, sometimes disorganized media folks. Finally, a shout out to Lompoc brewers Bryan Keilty, Irena Bierzynski (a better brewer name does not exist) and Grant Golden, who hung out to talk about their beers.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Search for a Functional Brewery Guide

One of the things that's happened as the craft beer industry has exploded in recent year is that beer touring has become popular. I cannot even begin to count the number of folks I've met at various area breweries who are visiting from out-of-state or another country. It's nuts.

It goes without saying that folks who are unfamiliar with the area need some sort of guide. There are obviously formal tours, such as those offered by Brewvana and others. Even then, there's a need for guide materials of some kind...because no tour can possibly cover all the spots.

If you dig around in the literature pile at breweries and other places that have such piles, you will sometimes find brochures and other materials that are essentially guides to the local scene. There are also traditional books, like Lisa Morrison's excellent Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest. Similar books are available and there are more on the way, for better or worse.

Honestly, printed materials are not the best guide to an industry that is changing virtually by the minute. Some of the brochures I've seen do a reasonable job because they are apparently printed fairly often. Book-based guides typically contain more information, but they tend to become obsolete quickly due to the pace of change.

I've often thought there should be a better way. Information on breweries and pubs needs to be accurate and current. My conclusion is that the most useful solution to this problem is a website that provides the ability to search for breweries and includes hours, location map, etc.

Today I received an email from a guy who has put together a website that approximates what I had in mind. The site is Brew Trail and it allows the user to search breweries by state. It was created by a couple of beer geeks in Connecticut, evidently. There's no charge to use the site, although it could surely serve as an advertising platform at some point if it succeeds.

I searched Oregon breweries just for fun. The list is pretty impressive at first glance. 10 Barrel through Worthy. Looks good. However, there are problems. The recently opened Ecliptic Brewing is not on the list. Stickmen Brewing of Lake Oswego is also missing. The hours shown for The Commons are out of date by many months. These are just examples. The execution is clearly a little off.

There's also a lack of detail. It's strictly information on hours, tour availability, fees and mapping. Nothing more. For the site to be complete, its needs some basic information on the breweries and maybe the beers. Of course, that would require a lot more research, the kind of bothersome research someone has to do in person.

Nonetheless, I like the Brew Trail concept. I know of nothing else like it out there. The site may evolve into the fully functional web-based guide we need. Even if it doesn't, it is at least a weigh station on the road to that solution.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Collaboration Suggests Growing Influence of Craft Beer

I wasn't at home when the knock on the door came. It was gym night. The gent at the door presented my wife with a bottle of Norman ale and a CD by the band, NormanInto the Eventyr. I'll provide some thoughts on the beer and the music shortly. The more important message here is the growing power of craft beer.

Think back a few years to a different time. From the Sixties through most of the Nineties, there were music stores everywhere. Most music was sold in stores in those days and record stores were destinations for people interested in the newest sounds around. I spent way too much time in music stores, by the way...even worked in one for many years.

If you fast forward to present day, the role of music in pop culture has declined. The move to online music sales and piracy killed record stores. But, honestly, there are so many other entertainment choices out there today. The golden age of recorded music passed long ago.

In the case of craft beer, we may well be experiencing its golden age. The number of places featuring great beer is off the hook. In much the same way that folks were once driven to keep up with the newest in music, they are now driven to seek the latest greatest flavors in craft beer.

Looking at the Norman project, it is nominally a collaboration between Calapooia Brewing and the band. If something like this could have happened 30 years ago, the music almost certainly would have played a leading role. Today, the roles have flipped. It is the beer leading the way, propping up interest in the music.

The idea to market a CD alongside a beer coincides with the increased marketing power of craft beer. Businesses around here are using craft beer as a partner in marketing all kinds of things...bikes, food, trips, music and more. Who knows where this leads. The possibilities are endless.

With respect to the Norman beer and CD, I think the beer is somewhat bolder than the music. Calapooia has done a nice job brewing a Northwest style pale ale that has a deep, gravely character. The beer is worth a try if you happen to see it. Does it mesh with the music? I'm not so sure.

Compared to the beer, Into the Eventyr seems more refined. In my mind, it's reminiscent of the Eagles, Allman Brothers, Byrds and maybe Gram Parsons and Neil Young. Your opinion of this album will likely depend on your view of folk rock. It is well-produced and executed...polished, you might say. Beyond that, you'll have to be the judge.

I suspect we will see more collaborations like this one. And why not? It's a great idea.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Kauai Beer Company Chases Local Tastes

POIPU, KAUAI – My  travels around the Northwest and West Coast have taken me to countless places where beer styles are mostly similar what is most common in Portland. I'm talking about hoppy ales of varying color, and the occasional lager, stout and Porter.

On the bar
It's different here in the tropics. I don't want to go on a rant about how climate affects tastes in beer, but I think it definitely does. Heat and humidity alter choices. People in the tropics are far more apt to look for something lighter. I think that applies to locals and tourists.

As I've mentioned in the past, the beer choices here in Kauai are not great if you're a fan of good beer. Light Kona beers are everywhere and you can find beers from Maui Brewing and others if you dig a little. But locally produced beer for this climate is not easy to find.

Street view
Of course, Kauai Island Brewing up in Port Allen makes some decent beers. Brewer Dave Curry has been making good beers here for many years. He makes ales, and I would say some of the lighter ones are especially good fits for Kauai.

Enter Kauai Beer Company, which recently opened a tasting room in Lihue and is distributing its beers to select restaurants and bars on the island. The approach here is different. Owner Jim Guerber and his son and head brewer, Justin, believe strongly in drinkable session beers. Today, these take the form of German-influenced, tasty lagers.

Eric answers questions
The flagship beer is Black Limousine (Black Limo, for short). It's a dark lager...officially a Schwarzbier, that clocks in at 4.5% ABV and 28 IBU. You look at Black Limo and you think it's dark and maybe doesn't fit here. Then you taste it and realize the roasted flavors are smooth as silk. This beer is light as a feather, despite the color.

The co-flagship beer is Lihue Lager, a crisp and refreshing beer that is chock full of flavor you just don't find in a typical light lager. It clocks in a 4.4% ABV and 17.5 IBU...the type of beer you can drink all day with friends hanging out at the beach or pool. Lihue Lager is so popular they were out when I visited... so I tasted it from one of the tanks. Not quite ready for prime time, but still good.

Lihue Lager from fermenter
Helles Swells is the evil twin of Lihue Lager. They use German yeast and Hallertau hops in this one. (They use a yeast hybrid and more standard hops in Lihue Lager.) Helles Swells clocks in at 5.1% ABV, 17 IBU. It is a decidedly bolder interpretation of Lihue Lager. I could not get enough of this stuff when I was in the tasting room. So good.

Other entries include a light-bodied Oktoberfest (4.1%, 22 IBU) and the mildly hoppy, A Hoppy Accident ((5.5%, 40 IBU). These are both serviceable, drinkable beers, but Black Limo, Lihue Lager and Helles Swells are the ones to remember.

Fair warning
By all accounts, Kauai Beer Company is the brainchild of Jim Guerber, who is an accomplished brewer going back many years. His son picked up on Jim's brewing techniques and values and together they decided to launch this business. The fact that they make primarily lagers is interesting, particularly given the cost of doing so out here (refrigeration is expensive). This is the beer they think fits best here.

These guys are really just getting started. They bought and installed a used 10 bbl brewing system. Jim has three 20 bbl fermenters and there are four 10 bbl serving/brite tanks. They have eight tap handles at the moment...four for their beers and four guest taps The number of taps will likely expand, but they apparently expect to always have guest offerings. It's a perfect set-up and they have plenty of room to expand in their downtown Lihue location.

The tasters
There's barely a hint of it now, but they will eventually have food here. Also lots of TVs. The goal from the beginning was for this to be a brewpub. But Jim and Justin take the long view. They are building the business from the ground up. If things go well, they hope to have the pub part of the operation up and running by early next year.

Special thanks to Eric Burda, assistant brewer and apparent jack of all trades at KBC. Eric provided a lot of information on the beers and what whey are working to accomplish in general. As more fans appeared at the bar, he happily moved over to answer their questions, as well. This is the kind of guy every brewery needs.
The back bar
If you're headed out to Kauai and want to taste great beer, look these guys up. The place is not hard to find, but beware the hours are somewhat limited. At the moment, the tasting room is open Wednesday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. That may well change. These guys do not yet have a fully functional website, so like them on Facebook to follow what's happening there.