Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I had a fascinating conversation with a brewer recently about beer ingredients. It started with a talk about a possible impending shortage. This time in malted barley as, he claims, the ethanol market and subsidization is making more and more acreage go to corn. Plus, he said, growing barley for malting is risky because if the quality is not there, it is no good for malting and the price of non-malting barley is very low. There is also continuing concern about hops as well as the acreage of hops apparently continues to shrink. All this suggests that we may be paying even more for beer in the future.

But what really interested me was the claim that we should also expect the average quality of ingredients to suffer. Makes sense: with smaller amounts of barley and hops, even marginal crops will make their way into beers that they might not have before. Apparently there is also a pecking order for ingredients whereby bigger brewers get the best stuff and smaller brewers get ingredients of lesser quality. [That means home brewers are getting the real crappy stuff, I said, and he concurred] I have never noticed quality differences from smaller breweries, so does this means that they are especially good at overcoming poor quality ingredients to produce great beer?? Any brewers out there like to refute this assertion or concur with it?

Switching gears, because it is Friday and because where else would you turn for beer reviews than an economist, Beervana? Ha! I don't know where Full Sail is in the pecking order (probably pretty high) but either way, John Harris continues to produce remarkable beers. His latest, Keelhauler, is a Scottish ale meaning a malt-forward beer. I don't tend to like these very much as I am a bit of an incorrigible hop-head, but John's is, predictably, magnificent. It retains the traditional rich malty body but is nicely rounded with hops giving it a delightful scent and making it a more flavorful beer than most. Kudos. The spring season also brings out my favorite of the seasonals: Full-Sail's Prodigal Sun, new faves Ninkasi's Spring Reign and Deschutes' Red Chair. All three are worth the price of admission a few times over. Get ye some.

Making the pub rounds: Deschutes Bitter (on cask at the PDX pub), Fish Organic IPA (on cask at Belmont Station), Ninkasi Tricerahops (on cask at Bailey's Taproom) and how about an old classic served Real Ale style: Deschutes Mirror Pond (on cask at Horse Brass). Do you see a pattern? Yes, Portland needs more casks...please!

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