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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Continuing Dishonesty of the Shaker Pint

There are some pretty amusing and supple justifications for the shaker pint glass. It stacks nicely. It's durable. It's easy to clean. It's cheap. Do a Google search if you want to learn all about why it's a great idea for bars and pubs to use the shaker pint, aka cheater pint.

 A 12 oz beer in a cheater/shaker pint
Of course, there are also plenty of arguments against the popular glass. It's a rather poor piece of glassware if you want to experience the full flavor and aroma of most beers, for example. Again, do a Google search if you want to learn more.

In fact, the primary argument against the shaker pint is simple: It isn't a pint at all. Seriously. Try pouring a pint of beer into a shaker pint. Do yourself a favor and stand near a sink when you're doing it. Because a pint of beer won't fit in a shaker glass. Sorry.

In a quick home experiment, I found a 12 oz bottle of beer fit nicely into a shaker pint glass. The reason is head or foam. Your beer needs it and the shaker pint glass can't accommodate the beer and the head. In fact, the average shaker pour in a pub is probably 12-13 ounces.

There's no law against serving patrons less than a pint of beer and calling it a pint. Thanks in part to the Honest Pint Project, started by Jeff Alworth in 2007, a number of bars and pubs upgraded their glassware to something that accommodates a pint of beer with head. An effort to enforce a 16-ounce pint rule through legislation failed.

A number of establishments were certified as serving an Honest Pint as part of the project. You can still see a list of certified places on the website, although Jeff abandoned the HPP in 2011. The part of the site where you could submit info to certify a pub has gone dark, as Jeff said it would.

I'm not going to get into an analysis of why some places continue to use the shaker pint. It's pretty obvious that pouring short pints means more pints per gallon, keg or serving tank. There's an economic incentive to use these glasses, beyond the simple fact that they're cheap.

But it seems to me that we ought to receive a proper pint of beer when that's what we order. I can't imagine the justification for representing something as a pint and then delivering something less than that. "Dishonest" is one word that comes to mind.

Frankly, it's hard to believe cheater/shaker pint glasses are still around in significant numbers. They need to go.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

NAOBF Overcomes Soggy Opening Day

If you attend enough summer beer festivals in Oregon, sooner or later you're going to get wet. Such was the case for opening day of the 2014 North American Organic Beer Festival at Overlook Park. The rain simply refused to go away. Those in attendance were not deterred.

As I was saying to some friends as we worked our way through beers and homemade bread-sticks, getting a little wet at a summer festival is something you have to experience. I could have postponed my visit to the weekend, when the weather is expected to be better. But I wanted to experience the event in the rain. Call me crazy.

The crowd was small on Thursday. The event expanded to four days last year and I suspect it would have been fairly busy by late afternoon had it not been for the weather. Beer fans usually pick up on an additional day by the second or third year.

For anyone worried about the rain, there are plenty of places to hide. When the rain started coming down heavier at one point, virtually everyone hanging around near the beer taps moved under cover. Pretty funny. There's also a large tent with tables and chairs where they have several flat screen TVs showing soccer or whatever. It's a nice arrangement.

The big shade tree that lives just beyond the entry gate is back in action. Last year, you may recall, the area under the tree had to be abandoned during hot weather due to a cracked limb. It's pretty plain to see where that amputated limb once grew.

There are plenty of good beers to be had. From my brief cheat-sheet, the Ambacht G++ was excellent, just as it was last year. I reckon it was worth the double token price. Hopworks Totally Radler tasted great even on a cool, damp day. I had targeted Pints Bio-Liner Weisse, but it was not present, and may not be for the duration due to some sort of mix-up. I settled for their Green Line Pale Ale, a light and crisp little mistress. There were many more.

One thing you need to be aware of is they have gone to a 3 ounce taste this year. It had been 4 ounces in the past and the press materials said that would be the case this year. Not so. They appear to be following the lead of the Oregon Brewers Festival and others with the change. There's not much you can do about it, but I do suggest avoiding the double token beers. At one token, you are paying the equivalent of $4 for a 12 oz beer. At two tokens, you're paying $8 for that same beer. It's a little steep.

Looking ahead, I suspect this is the last year the NAOBF will be held in June. They've simply had it with the unpredictable weather. Last year they had cool followed by hot. This year, rain. It gets a little old hoping and praying for good weather and getting mixed results. And we all know Oregon weather tends to be better and more predictable after the Fourth of July.

Next year's event will likely move into July and may change venues, as well. Nothing is certain, yet. Look, it's great to have an event that allows attendees to get there by public transit or bike. But there's very little parking, which discourages folks who have to come by car. And you really need to make your event easily accessible to all potential comers.

As for this year, the forecast had been suggesting the weekend weather would be better than Thursday or Friday. Now it looks a little dicey. I don't really see why that should be a problem for beer fans. As noted, there's plenty of shelter...and what's a little rain, anyway? This is Oregon!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Festival Blitz Ramps Up with NAOBF

We have entered the festival twilight zone, otherwise known as summer in Oregon. Between now and late September, there will be some kind of outdoor event happening virtually every weekend. In other words, it's a great time of year.

Next week's North American Organic Brewers Festival 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 expanded to four days last year.  Dates are June 26-29. The venue is  Overlook Park, a great spot.

The NAOBF puts a lot of effort into advancing sustainable values, and  not just with the beer.  The festival glass/cup is made from compostable cornstarch . Electricity comes from biodiesel generators. Overlook Park works nicely because it is conveniently located on public transit lines (MAX and buses), as well as bike routes. A bike corral, sponsored by Hopworks, will be in action.

Almost everything gets recycled here. Food vendors use compostable plates and utensils. The event generated 171 lbs of trash last year, down from 175 lbs the year before, when it ran only three days. Not bad. Just as important, NAOBF values have rubbed off on many other festivals, which have implemented recycling programs and other earth-friendly measures.

Organic beer has been gaining in popularity over the last 10 or so years. For 2013, sales increased by $79 million, according to the NAOBF press release. That suggests brewers and beer consumers are increasingly comfortable and committed to organic beer. That's good news for the planet, as the production of  organic ingredients is less damaging to the environment.

The NAOBF goes back to 2003, when it was founded 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.

There are 40 breweries/cideries pouring liquid sunshine at this year's NAOBF. You can view the full 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. My partial hit 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 heavily influenced by cherries the Dog left in the barrels. This was my favorite last year and I'll be more than happy to consume it again. It's one of the double token beers that's worth it.

Pints Brewing Portland, OR - Bio-Liner Weisse 2.8% ABV, 0 IBU
A traditional Berliner-Weisse brewed with organic German malts and with yeast and bacteria brought to Portland by Pints brewmaster Alan Taylor, who got his brewing training in Berlin. This is a tart bomb, as opposed to a hops bomb. Can't wait.

Reverend Nats Portland, OR - Overlook Organic Heirloom (cider) 8.6% ABV, 0 IBU
Reverend Nats makes some of the best cider around. This one leans on a blend of organic apples and is lightly sweetened with local honey. This cider was created specifically for the NAOBF. It's reportedly an "off-dry" cider free of cloying sweetness. Sounds pretty good.

Hopworks Portland, OR - Totally Radler 3.5% ABV, 21 IBU
One of the more popular entries last year, this beer is 70 percent Hopworks Organic Lager and 30 percent organic lemonade. The result is a crisp, refreshing and highly drinkable beer. If it gets hot, you won't even have to search for this one...just look for the longest line.

That's just a partial list. I expect to attend Thursday afternoon and file an updated report Friday morning. That report will include a short list of new discoveries. 

If you're wondering, festival hours are noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. As with virtually all of these events, I suggest arriving early for the best selection and shortest lines. I suspect Friday and Saturday will see crowds, but you never know. There's a lot more information on the event website here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Paying the Cost to be the Boss

Craft beer pricing is one of those things that is constantly in the back of my mind. It's almost comical to watch the increasing demand for rare and "special" beers produce prices that are in some ways totally insane. If enough people chase these beers, escalating prices are the result.

I was first looking at price strictly from the standpoint of retail packaging vs. growlers. There are some fairly wacky things going on there, as you will see. The best and worst deals aren't necessarily what many think. Then I took a look at festival pricing, which is home to some true insanity.

Bottles and Growlers
A few notes on pricing. I came up with some averages for the various forms of packaged beer. For growlers, I used $12. For 22 oz bombers, $4.50. For six-packs of 12 oz bottles, $8.50. For four-packs of 16 oz cans, $9. There are certainly prices above and below those values. If anything, I think my averages are probably on the low end.

Looking at the graph, it's pretty evident that 22 oz bombers are the worse packaged deal around. Growlers are a close second. Six-packs are easily the best deal. The obvious argument for bombers and growlers is that you often can't buy those beers in smaller bottles or cans. Fine.

I have little problem with those who are willing to pay a premium for a beer that can only be had by growler or bomber. Go for it! What doesn't make any sense at all is getting a growler fill or buying a 22 oz bottle of something you can get in a six-pack. You're wasting money.

The high price of growlers suggests they are tied to pint pricing. Indeed, pints bought in a pub (average price of $4.50) are a worse deal than growlers or bombers by more than 10 cents an ounce. I suppose this is related to the overhead associated with serving that pint. There's some of that with growlers, as well, but they look like a bargain next to pints.

Something to keep in mind with respect to pub pints is the glass. I used a value of 15 ounces, to account for foam in a pint glass. But most watering holes use shaker pint glasses for beer. These things hold 14 ounces, at best. A little foam on top turns that pint you just ordered into 12-13 ounces, which bumps up the cost per ounce and gallon. So my numbers are generous.

Festival prices
Summer is festival season and summer is here, more or less. There are several large events on the docket and numerous smaller ones. Tasting costs have increased in the last couple of years, almost in concert with the blitzkrieg schedule. Growing demand apparently means higher prices.

A few years ago, most festivals offered a 4 oz taste for $1 in cash or script. Within the last year or so, they have mostly gone to a 3 oz taste for the same money. Even that is a bit deceiving due to the escalating number of "special" beers that require two, three or four tokens for a taste. Seriously.

The standard 3 oz festival taste is a marginally worse deal than a pub pint (33 vs 30 cents an ounce). Of course, you may be tasting something reasonably unique and you might be tasting it in a unique setting. So you can't get too excited about the cost difference.

The double token taste makes matters significantly worse. Now your per ounce cost has jumped to 66 cents, $84 a gallon. Folks who think gas prices are high evidently never heard of beer festival pricing. The only plausible scenario in which the double token taste makes sense is something truly special. And then barely.

The three token taste, which I've already seen and will certainly see more of this summer, is truly offensive. Your cost per ounce has now reached $1 and the cost per gallon has risen to $128. Let's hope OPEC doesn't hear about this.

The four token taste...well, never mind.

If you take festival prices and extrapolate the numbers to keg price, the numbers are astounding. The standard taste yields a keg price of $650. The double token taste keg would be worth $1,300. The triple token keg would be $1,980. The four token keg, $2,640. These prices are for standard half barrels, and most of these "special" beers are poured from smaller kegs. Still, you get the idea.

I was telling some friends at a recent festival to avoid the multiple token beers.They didn't and there was a bit of buyers remorse. Hey, it's your money and you get to decide how to spend it. But there aren't many beers worth two, three or four tokens and the associated price per ounce, gallon and keg. In fact, these numbers are fairly shocking.

The organizers dreaming up these prices have a great sense of humor, I think. They know they can do whatever they want as long as there are hoards of fans who want "special" beers and don't mind "Paying the Cost to be the Boss." And so it goes. With apologies to B.B. King.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Paradigm Shifts and the Future of Craft Beer

One of the most perplexing questions in the craft beer world today has to do with where flavors are headed. This is an ongoing discussion that is to some extent driven by the nearly complete breakdown of style guidelines. There are no more rules. The floodgates have opened.

What this means in practical terms is we see countless cases of styles merging with or borrowing from other styles to create something new. Anything goes. The mindset produces Belgian IPAs, sour and wild IPAs, barrel-aged avocado stouts and so on. Some of these beers can certainly be classified as "extreme," although that term is not universally accepted within the industry.

To me, an extreme beer is one that leans heavily on one or more dramatic flavor profiles. Super hoppy, wildly sour, aggressively fruity, overly boozy or combinations of these fall into what I consider to be extreme beers. They are very far removed from the style guidelines of yesteryear.

Part of what drives the demand for extreme beers is boredom with traditional styles, particularly among younger drinkers. It's instructive to note that we've been drinking traditional craft styles for well over a generation now. Many folks are ready to move on to something a little more stimulating. They actively seek alternative flavors and makeshift styles that zing their taste buds. Tradition means next to nothing.

By the way, beer isn't the only thing wrapped up in this movement. We're seeing it with food, coffee and drinks of all kinds. Many established standards are passe. Across the board, we're seeing a cross-section of folks who are bored with the status quo and actively chasing new flavors.

Plenty of brewers are perfectly happy to serve these evolving tastes. Just as fans have become bored with traditional styles, so have many brewers. They love the chance to experiment with provocative ingredients and techniques. Innovation is fun. Creating unique brews has become a sort of competition to see who can create the wackiest beers.

There's another important factor at work here. Very few brewers are opting out of the extreme craze. Full Sail, as noted in Monday's post, officially refuses to chase trendy brews. They aren't alone, but they are in the minority. I honestly suspect fear of not joining the movement drives many. Brewers simply do not want to appear to be out of touch with current trends.

The question remains: Where is this headed? Many assume the trend toward wackier and more extreme flavors and combinations of styles and flavors is an endless continuum. I think that's a sketchy argument, but I realize everyone needs and is entitled to an opinion.

Historical perspective may provide the most instructive context in which to view current trends. In particular, everyone needs to understand the craft beer movement evolved out of a paradigm shift in tastes embraced initially by the baby boom generation, which sought higher quality foods and drinks with richer flavors.

It's important to note that shift was largely a rejection of the tastes of the prior generation. Baby boomers grew up on a diet dominated by light, flavorless, prepackaged foods and drinks. That was the preference of their parents, itself a rejection of the tastes of a prior generation. Baby boomers came to want something different, something better. Craft beer became part of that.

Generational shifts in taste are not new. Just as baby boomers rejected earlier tastes, younger Americans today are rejecting the tastes and preferences of their forebears in a number of ways, one of which is beer. So we see the abandonment of traditional styles in favor of beers that are effectively experimental and very often extreme. It makes some sense.

At some point, there will be another paradigm shift in tastes, a rejection of the existing norm. When it will happen and what the shift will look like we do not know. But it will happen, sure as the sun will rise and set tomorrow. Because history, almost everyone knows, is not bunk.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Full Sail Confidently Navigates Independent Path

Full Sail is one of the oldest and most respected craft brands in the land. Founded as Hood River Brewing in 1987, the brewery made an instant splash by bottling its beer. They were the first Oregon craft brewery to do so, after the failed Cartwright..which made bottling seem like a sketchy, treacherous prospect.

The bottling scheme, and I'll get back to how and why it happened, is a good example of how the company has operated for 27 years. They make a plan and follow through with it. Full Sail, which has been employee-owned since 1999, operates differently than most breweries.

"Our ownership is so different," said founder and CEO, Irene Firmat."When your owners are your employees, you have a long-term perspective. We don't have an investment group in San Francisco or New York pushing us for quarterly returns or telling us to do things that don't fit with our mission."

What Full Sail does have in the minds of many beer geeks is a collection of tired, worn out brands that don't seem nearly as relevant as they once were. On top of that, the financial boost provided via a contract to brew several Henry Weinhard brands for MillerCoors beginning in 2003 ended in 2013.

There's more. The recent hiring of Andy Krakauer as vice president of sales, and Jim Brady, as Pacific Northwest region sales manager, suggest Full Sail may be looking for a new strategic direction. Krakauer previously held a high profile position MillerCoors, while Brady was a sales director at AB-InBev.

Could Full Sail be in trouble? Are these desperate times in Hood River? It's a question worth asking. I talked to Firmat about the past, present and future at Full Sail.

The Lost Contract
When Full Sail lost the MillerCoors contract in 2013, a lot of people wondered if the company would be okay. The value of the contract is difficult to figure looking at OLCC numbers, for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of the beer brewed at Full Sail is sold outside Oregon. So it doesn't show up in these reports. Second, because of the way the contract was structured, there are no MC numbers for 2003-2009. The numbers shown for those years in the graphic are estimates based on MC production in the years for which we do have numbers. (I ignored 2013 because things were winding down and production was very low; 2003-2004 aren't here because they aren't on the OLCC site.)

Firmat reckons MillerCoors production at Full Sail peaked at around 50,000 barrels in the sixth or seventh year of the contract. My graphic suggests 2011 was the peak year, but that may be misleading since these are Oregon-only numbers. Regardless, there was a lot of MC beer coming out of Hood River. And a fair amount of cash coming in.

"As soon as we lost the contract, people wondered, 'Gosh, is Full Sail going to be okay?'” Firmat said. "I can understand why they wondered, but you really have to look at what we did when we had the contract. We made some huge investments for the future."

Among other things, she's talking about the purchase of a mash filter that saves a million gallons of water a year. They renovated their pub, which hosts more than 220,000 visitors every year. They also invested in additional fermentation capacity and and bought an adjacent building, which enables then to do things they previously couldn't.

"If you want to be independent and you want to be able to pursue your passion without compromise, you need to be financially sound," said Firmat. "You can’t have your back against the wall worrying about whether you’re going to be able to pay your bills. The Miller contract did that for us.

"If you take a look at all the lagers we’re able to experiment with now, that’s quite an investment in time. There are things we can do today because we have so little debt. I think creativity and quality are nurtured in an environment that is financially healthy, sound. We strive for that and we're fine."

The Beer
Full Sail markets its beer in 31 states, although they are tightly focused on fewer than that. In terms of creating interesting beers, the brewing philosophy is grounded in the basic brewers pallet of hops, barley, water and yeast.

"We believe strongly in the four ingredients," Firmat said. "It’s endless what you can do with hops, barley, water and yeast. We like the discipline of that. We’re interested in creating beers that fit with the culture of people sitting around drinking a few beers. We don't believe good beer is about geeking out on IBUs or who brewed a beer or beers than only a select few have access to." 

That approach means Full Sail beers are often seen as out-of-touch with contemporary trends. The proliferation of fruit beers, sour beers, super hoppy beers, barrel-aged beers, etc, has produced a scene in which tastes are eclectic and shifty. Whether that culture is here to say is an open question and a subject for future discussion here. But Full Sail's path is clear.

"We've been in business for 27 years and there’s always been something new and trendy," said Firmat. "And we've not chased it. It’s been wheat beers, it’s been sour beers, it's been hoppy beers. You name it. Weird, extreme flavors. So many different fads. For us, the long view is all about brewing consistent, memorable beers that people can enjoy for what they are."

That isn't to suggest Full Sail is frozen in time. They brewed and marketed an IPA in 1991. It didn't sell. Too early. They got immersed in barrel-aging more than 15 years ago. They were among the first Oregon craft brewers to produce fresh hop beers. Time does not stand still in Hood River.

"Innovation is great," Firmat said. "But chasing something that’s in one moment and out the next isn't appealing to us. Right now, our Amber is growing by double digits. We see people coming back to beers they believe in and trust…consistency and a flavor profile that is sophisticated and elegant. There will always be extremes. We just don’t think that's what should drive things."

The Session brand, now on the market eight years, might be one of the best examples of Full Sail's grand plan. There's nothing wacky or trendy about Session, which comes in several basic flavors. Instead, it represents a solid, value-oriented approach to beer. And it has been a huge hit.

It's funny, Firmat said. "A lot of people are talking about sessionable beers right now. But we've been living and breathing that since 2005. Session is a quality product sold at a decent price. We work hard at that. We've invested in efficiencies that make it possible because we think customers should get good value off the shelf."

The conservative, traditional approach means you won't often find Full Sail beers on tap in taprooms and bars where trendy, extreme beers are king. That's largely a choice and you can certainly question if it's a wise one. Firmat and Full Sail prefer to see the beer game as a marathon, not a sprint. They have 27 years of success on their side. 

The New Hires
Full Sail's recent hires are probably best viewed in the context of the culture. This is not the kind of company that would bring in people to turn the place upside down and shift the overall mission in newfangled ways. Flashy personas and gimmicks don't have much traction here.

"When you look at the investment we’re making in Andy and Jim, it fits in with our view of things," Firmat said. "Given our long-term focus, our message isn't always the easiest to get across. We need people who are strong and know how to execute in the increasingly cluttered environment of craft beer. Andy and Jim have those attributes."

Krakauer, who started last week, becomes just the fourth VP of sales in Full Sail's history. The Oregon native has a lengthy resume that includes stints at MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch. He has expertise in strategic business development and, significantly, led development of the SmartSKU program at MillerCoors. Brady brings 20 years of sales excellence at AB.

"Andy and Jim completely fit the mold we’re looking for," said Firmat. "They're smart and they understand how technology is affecting beer, beverage and consumer products. They also understand the need to analyze and understand data in today's marketplace. You can’t underestimate how important it is to know what’s going on with your brands at all times."  

Inquiring minds may fairly wonder how a couple of guys from big beer fit with the Full Sail mission. It isn't entirely clear. On the surface, these hires appear to be as much about fit and feel as they are about any particular area of expertise. That may turn out to be a mirage. Time will tell.

"One of the things I take pride in is the positive culture we have here," said Firmat. "People come to work because they have to, but we respect and support each other. It’s everyone’s job, particularly mine, to help foster that. Andy and Jim understand that culture and the importance of being part of a team effort. That's a big win for us."

Any kind of significant rebranding or repositioning of Full Sail's brands appears unlikely. They evidently have some things in the pipeline, but whatever changes or additions are coming will fit with what they're all about. It's easy to argue for a more aggressive approach in today's marketplace. But, again, Full Sail's strategy is what it is. They own it and they believe in it. 

Some Brief History
Getting back to the early days, as promised, Full Sail's founders originally planned to open in Portland. They had a plan in motion as Bridgeport and Widmer were ramping up. There was no way to get bank loans for a brewery in those days, and it took them three years to raise the money they needed from friends and family.

In the interim, Portland Brewing opened in 1986. Firmat and her partners figured Portland would not support four breweries. Little did they know what was coming. So they looked at Hood River, which was economically decimated at the time. They liked the potential of the place and chose to open there. In fact, the brewery has been part of bringing the town back to life. Today, Hood River is a destination for folks looking to enjoy its charms in many forms.

It's tempting to think Full Sail launched the bottling program because of its relatively remote location. They would, after all, need bottled beer to gain easy access to Portland and other not-so-nearby markets. As often happens, the reality runs somewhat counter to perceptions.

"Bottling was part of our business plan from the beginning," Firmat said. "Even when we thought we were going to open in Portland, we expected to bottle our beer. We would have been scared out of our wits if we'd known what bottling truly meant. Fortunately, we were young and had no idea what we were doing."

Just to close the loop, the plan to bottle evolved out of Firmat's background in retail at Meier & Frank. She figured people should be able to drink good beer at home and share it with friends at parties and gatherings. Bottling took some effort and know-how, but it was a huge success for the reasons she put forth. It also positioned Full Sail, the first to bottle, as a leader. 

In the end, the bottling program stands as a nice example of how Full Sail operates. They make decisions for their own reasons and they see them through. Their path has often been unorthodox, but never trendy. Like it or not, that's who they are and, likely, who they will be going forward. They have some history on their side.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Portland Fruit Beer Fest Ready to Rock

Last Friday night's media preview of beers for the upcoming Portland Fruit Beer Festival proved a bit more lively than your typical preview, thanks in large part to some playful comments made by host and event beer curator, Ezra Johnson-Greennough.

While Willamette Week Arts & Culture editor Martin Cizmar looked on, Ezra commented that Willamette Week would soon be switching to a new single page daily format. He later said not to worry about Cizmar, who would be joining Ezra's New School blog as an intern. That drew a laugh from the crowd and a lot of plastic glasses clonked together.

It was all in good fun. Willamette Week is a co-sponsor of the Fruit Beer Fest, along with Maletis Distributing, Burnside Brewing and a couple of others. The event is on tap this weekend at Burnside and will feature more good beers than you can shake a stick (or empty glass) at.

There's no need to blather on about the beer list, which is extensive. If you're into pre-event planning, there's plenty of information on the event website or in my earlier post here. Below is a short list of suggestions based on the 10 or so beers we tasted Friday evening. Here goes:

Deschutes Brewing, Peach Slap 3.2% ABV, 22 IBU
Here you have a mildly tart and highly drinkable beer produced at the brewery here in Portland. You will immediately think you're drinking a derivation of Squirt when this beer hits your tongue. Then comes the mild peppery finish, courtesy of pink peppercorns and habanero peppers. This is a Belgian-style sour ale with peach puree. It's light and the peppers are fairly subtle. Enjoy.

Fort George Brewing, Pi Beer 5% ABV, 3.1415926533...IBU
You get it, right? Some people were thinking the name had something to do with pie. Not quite. Just a clever reference to the genetically engineered IBU rating. Anyway, this is a wheat beer fermented with strawberries and rhubarb in secondary. It's fruity and tart, yet mildly sweet. Great stuff.

Laurelwood Brewing, Orange You Glad I Didn't Say Banana 4.4% ABV, 14 IBU
I had tasted this beer prior to the event and didn't care for it. (It's known as Citrus Wheat Ale at the Sandy pub). That's hard to explain because it was terrific this time out. There's a bevy of fruit in this beer...orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit. Zest and juice, they say. The low IBU is meaningless. The beer gets its bitterness from the juice and zest. A brilliant effort.

The Commons, Citrus Royale 5.8% ABV, 11 IBU
This is a sour, spelt-based beer. Brewmaster Sean Burke and his helpers added Navel Orange, mandarin, lemon peel and orange and lime juice to spice things up. There was a full keg of this stuff in the cooler and a few of us stuck around after the  event to do some additional research. Not to be missed.

Those aren't the only good beers of those we tried, just my highlights. All are from the standard beer list. A list of rare and rotating beers just came out...nearly 25 beers, including stuff from Breakside, De Garde, Elysian, Oakshire and others. They're posted here. It's probably a moot issue, anyway, since most of these beers will be tapped randomly during the event. Watch for them in the rotating tap areas.

My event advice is simple: If you aren't attending the Friday evening VIP session, arrive early Saturday or Sunday. Gates open at 11 a.m. That will give you the best access to the beers of your choice and you'll avoid long lines at least for a while. It's bound to get busy by mid-afternoon given the expected good weather.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the biggest challenge this event faces is overcrowding. Organizers are working to open up more space this year, which is great. Inevitably, though, they will have to endure the risk and added expense of moving to a larger venue. That's how successful events become even more successful. This event can have an even greater reach.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New 3-Way IPA Steps to the Plate for Summer

We all learned somewhere along the line that good things sometimes come in small packages. You can change that to read small aluminum packages with the release of Fort George Brewing's Summer Seasonal, 3-Way IPA. It's coming to shelves, pubs and bottleshops near you by the end of the week....June 6, officially.

This year's rendition of 3-Way is a step up from what it was last year. Fort George's collaborators this time around are Boneyard and Block 15, breweries that have achieved rock star status in Oregon and around the Northwest. The packaging reflects that notion.

The new 3-Way pours hazy blonde in the glass. There's a bit of residual sweetness in the backbone, a perfect veneer for the hops to latch onto. There's no stated IBU. "Taste it for yourself," they advise. Each of the collaborating breweries contributes to the end result.

If you're a fan of the aroma and flavor of Boneyard's RPM, Hop Venom and others, you will almost certainly like 3-Way IPA. There's a burst of high octane aroma on the nose and in the upfront flavor. Brilliant.

The Block 15 contribution to the beer seems to be in the mouthfeel, which is luscious, liquid hops. If you enjoy Sticky Hands, Space Cowboy or Bad Fish, well, you're going to have a similar tasting experience with 3-Way. Hooked.

The Fort George part of this beer appears to be the slightly bitter finish. That seems consistent with some of their other beers. 3-Way IPA isn't "San Diego" bitter, but there is a definite bitter tone in the finish. Some will find that refreshing; others may decide it detracts from the flavor.

Like most Fort George beers, you'll find 3-Way IPA in 16 oz cans. They're switching to six-packs of 12 oz cans for a couple of their year-round beers...Optimist and Quick Wit. But the seasonal 3-Way will be in the packaging we're all used to. Craft beer in cans works really well.

Special thanks to the folks at Fort George for sending a package of 3-Way to my doorstep a week ahead of the release date. Nicely done. This beer should be on the wish list of anyone who likes a beer with a zesty hoppy character.

Update: It looks like Fort George is ahead of schedule getting 3-Way out to retail outlets. I'm told it will be available in some Portland-area stores and pubs as early as tomorrow (the 3rd). Below is a schedule of release dates and party locations.