Friday, April 30, 2010

External Economies of Scale

As if on cue, the always excellent John Foyston writes today in The Oregonian about Indie Hops and its new pelletizing plant to serve craft brewers specifically:

Indie Hops' shiny new $2 million hop-pelletizing plant in Hubbard is the most tangible evidence of CEO Jim Solberg's belief that it's time for the American craft brewers to move out of the shadow of the giants.

The plant has already proved that it can make hop pellets at 110 degrees and less -- 20 or 30 degrees cooler than current methods. The lower temperatures better preserve the delicate hop oils and aromas that craft brewers prize.

Hops are usually dried and baled after harvest in the fall and then sold as whole leaf, or processed into hop extract or pellets, which are hops that have been chopped and compressed into the size and shape of a pencil eraser. Pellets are easy to store and use, and produce more consistent results.

And now, Indie Hops' pellets will retain more of the volatile aromatics and aromas.


But there is a tradeoff: The plant runs slower than the pelletizing plants in Yakima -- about an acre an hour, Solberg said, or eight 200-pound bales of compressed hops. That fits in with the business plan devised a couple of years ago by Solberg and partner Roger Worthington, an Orange County attorney and longtime friend.

"We decided from the start to scale this to craft breweries and not the industrial brewers. Craft brewing has basically grown up on trickle-down from the mega brewers," such as AB InBev (Budweiser) and SABMiller, he said. "But craft brewers have come into their own."

Pelletizing is just part of the Indie Hops business plan, which aims to elevate Oregon's aroma hops to among the best in the world and provide the state with a processing and storage infrastructure that now exists mainly in Yakima. The U.S. grows about a quarter of the world's hops in Yakima, Oregon and Idaho. The 2008 crop was worth nearly $40 million to the state.

This is precisely the trend I was talking about in my recent Beeronomics post on economies of scale. This is an excellent example of external economies of scale: the fact that the craft beer industry as a whole has grown prompts or allows suppliers of ingredients to become more efficient and offer cheaper of better inputs which improves the costs and quality of all brewers.  Pellets are easier to ship, store and use but craft brewer worry about loosing some flavor.  Indie Hops has brought a new version that will allow craft brewers to be more efficient by using pellets but still retain the flavor that typifies their beer.

[Note: the picture is from The Oregonian's web page, but is unattributed]

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hops Poll

Hey thanks for chiming in on my now closed hops poll. I think the Hopopotamus®
will begin life with a four different hops (because a Hopopotamus®
should really full of both lots of hops and lots of varieties). So I am going to go with Crystal as a base, and Amarillo, Cascade and a touch of Simcoe hops for flavor and aroma.  Crazy, I know, but the people are going to expect something crazy good when they hear the name Hopopotamus®. And what the people want, I deliver.

The wisdom of the crowd - well really just a gaggle - suggested Willamette, but Simcoe is just too alluring...

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Non-Linear Pricing

Here is a picture I took the other day at the Deschutes' Portland pub.  It is a little out of focus, the iPhone not quite up to the job of low light detail work, but notice how the beers are priced: $5 for 500ml and $3 for 300ml.  In other words exactly 1 cent per ml.  This seems straightforward, but to me it was astonishing as you almost never see this kind of 'linear' pricing in beer.  Most places are like the Full Sail Tasting Room and Pub in Hood River which prices their imperial pints at $4.25 and half pints at $3.  This is what economists refer to as 'non-linear pricing:' when the price per unit changes as the total units change.  So a pint at Full Sail is about 21 cents an ounce and a half pint is 30 cents an ounce.  This is the norm and it is everywhere in product markets: beer, soda, chips, socks ($4 a pair or 3 pairs for $10), you name it. The question for all you budding economic naturalists (or Beeronomic naturalists) is, why?

One reason for this type of pricing is simple: costs.  It can be cheaper to sell in larger quantities.  I talked recently about the cube-square rule that generally affects packaging costs: the volume from bigger packages increases at a faster rate than the surface area of the packaging - so the costs per unit of the packaging decrease with volume.  There are reduced transactions costs per unit for bulk purchases as well.  In a pub setting, smaller servings may mean more glassware to bus and wash and more visits per table by servers.  So some of what we might be seeing in non-linear pricing is just a reflection of the added costs of smaller quantities.  

But not always.  Bill at the It's Pub Night blog has had an ongoing fascination with non-linear pricing in beer, focusing particular attention on the inflated price of 22 ounce bottles that have gained so much popularity.  Given the cube-square rule and the lower amount of packaging (no paperboard holders) you would assume that the six-pack would be costlier per ounce of beer and therefore if price was just a function of costs, 22 ounce bottles would be less expensive per ounce than six-packs, but Bill finds that the opposite is true.  So, again, what is going on?

The answer, to economists, is well known and goes by the term 'price discrimination,' or more specifically in this case 'second-degree price discrimination.'  Price discrimination in general is the ability to charge different customers different prices for the same good based on their ability to pay.  You charge more to people who value the good more and less to those that don't.  If you can do this two things happen: you do better as a seller, and you sell more than you would otherwise.  You do better because you get to capture most of the surplus from each transaction and you sell more because if you were forced to sell everything at the same price you would keep it reasonably high (if you had any market power) and thus the folks who didn't value it that highly might not get to buy.  If you can charge different prices, however, you are quite willing to sell at a low price to a customer with a low value of the good because you can still sell to the high valuation customer at a high price.

Portland's saturday market is a good laboratory to see how this works.  Go to a booth where an artisan does not post prices and observe how prices are quoted.  You will probably find that price will fluctuate based on some observable characteristics about the customer that might be reasonably related to willingness to pay for the artisan's wares: fancy clothes, watch, age, extra excitement, and so on.  To illustrate this phenomenon I always tell my students tales from when I was a Lewis & Clark College student studying overseas in India and would go to the market.  After a while I got to know the regular prices, but as soon as they saw an obvious westerner, the shopkeepers would immediately double, triple or quadruple the asking price (it helped to know a little Hindi to hear how the prices changed from a local to me).  The shopkeeper made the correct assumption that a westerner in general had a much higher willingness to pay than a local and thus wanted to extract more surplus from that transaction.  He was practicing price discrimination and thus showed himself (it was almost always men) to be a good economist.

This is close to what we refer to as first-degree price discrimination where you can tell something about individual willingness to pay for a good.  The problem with this type is that most market situations are more anonymous - you can't tell by looking at them anything about their willingness to pay or you don't even see them at all.  So what to do, well you might be able to get different types of customers to differentiate themselves by offering different prices.  This is 'second-degree' price discrimination.

Take the pub as an example.  Suppose you know that there are two types of customers: high demand and low demand.  Low demanders are only going to buy one beer and are willing to pay up to $6.  High demanders willingness to pay for one beer is $6, $5 for the second and $4 for a third or a total of $15 for three.  Now let's suppose there are equal numbers of both types and so let's talk about a single table of two people, one of each type.  Lets also assume the marginal cost is constant so that it costs them $2 to provide every beer.  The pub could charge $6 a beer and would sell two, get $12 in revenue, $4 in costs and clear $8 in net revenue.  Or they could charge $5 a beer and sell three, and make $9 net.  Or they could charge $4 a beer sell four (one to the low demander and three to the high), and make $8 net.  But a clever publican would offer a different deal: $6 per beer or three for $15.  The low demander will buy their one beer for $6 and the high demander will go for the three beer deal (if you prefer make it $14.99 so he strictly prefers this deal and gets $0.01 in surplus over one $6 beer).  The pub will make $6 + $15 in revenue, will have $8 in costs and will net $13!  Clearly this is a better plan for the pub and notice it does not require knowing which customers are high and low demanders - they self-select.

This is classic third degree price discrimination and can be applied to Bill's 22 ounce bottles as well.  There are low demanders for these beers who want just a wee bit to taste and high demander who will drink much more.  By pricing the 22 ounce bottle so much higher you charge a premium to the low demanders and you give a discount to the high demanders by offering them a volume discount in six packs (and generally even better deals with 12 packs).

But Bill should not despair (assuming he is a high-demander) because this strategy generally benefits the high demander - they get lower prices than they would in the absence of the price discrimination.  Thus the 22 ounce bottle is a good thing for the six-pack buyer.  Why?  Well, go back to my pub example and notice that the high demander pays only $5 per beer, rather than the $6 they would have paid without price discrimination.

This is a general rule in price discrimination: some groups benefit and some suffer from the practice.  In this case, high demanders see lower prices, but low demanders get the same price.  This is due to the particular simplicity of my example, more often low demanders see higher prices.  


Monday, April 19, 2010

Happy Hours

I have been provoked...

The OLCC has had an interesting prohibition on the advertisement of happy hour: you could do it within the premises, but you could not advertise externally.  Now, in response to increasing pressure, the have relaxed the rule but in an entirely byzantine way: you can advertise the time of special priced drinks, or you can advertise the special prices, but not both.  The rationale, according to the Oregonian article on the announcement (not on line and already recycled so I am going by memory here) is to make sure price wars don't ensue and thus promote binge drinking.

Let's take things one at a time.

First, would external advertising of drink price specials lead to lower overall prices?  Economic theory suggests that it would.  By lowering search costs for customers they find it cheaper and thus easier to be choosy and this means more price sensitive.  Most bars are serving essentially the same things - though the quality of the pour might differ and brewpubs often serve exclusive beers - so a lower price would likely be a key factor in where they drink.  How big this price effect would actually be is unclear but I suspect it would be very small given the amount of information already available about happy hours and word-of-mouth.

Second, would these lower prices result in more binge drinking and problem drinking?  There is evidence of an overall price effect on alcohol consumption, particularly among young adults and teens.  But this is not quite the same thing - we are speaking here of drinking in a bar or pub.  So the teen factor is eliminated and the drinking here is during a special time in a controlled environment.  The US Dept. of Transportation is worried about happy hours and drunken driving and suspects that it matters a lot, thought there is only indirect evidence.  But their report is about happy hours in general, not the advertising of price.  They mention one study that did not find an effect of happy hours overall:
Only one study has attempted to directly evaluate the efficacy of happy hour laws in lowering alcohol consumption. The banning of happy hour practices in Ontario, Canada, was studied by observation of drinking habits before and after the ban, supplemented with analyses of total per capita consumption in the city (Smart and Adlaf, 1986; Smart, 1996). No significant decline in alcohol consumption was observed following the ban. Given that there was little time (two days) allotted to observing pre-ban drinking habits, and given that aggregate consumption figures may not be that sensitive to changes in happy hour practices, the results were inconclusive as far as the overall effect on alcohol consumption of the presence or absence of happy hour practices.

I left the DOTs disclaimer in, but it is not clear to me that this is a problem.  Anyway, though overall drinking may not change the concentration of drinking during a time period might cause externality problems in terms of excessive drunkenness and driving whilst impaired.

But the OLCC allows happy hours already so the new law is quizzical.  If it is the price war that is of concern, then why allow price advertising at all?  And if it is the price specials during certain hours, why allow happy hours and advertising of the times?

Given the rules already in place it is hard to understand these new ones.

In the end I don't really have a opinion other than it is unnecessarily complicated and a general economist's take that it is not clear that regulation is necessary at all.  There are externalities associated with alcohol consumption, for sure, and this is one reason alcohol is taxed fairly heavily, but once the Pigovian taxes are there, let the market do its thing.  However, happy hours might contribute excessively to drunk driving in which case there might be a case for prohibiting them altogether, but the evidence is not at all clear on this connection as far as I can tell.  So the advertising part seems a bit misguided - if you are going to have a policy on happy hours themselves, fine, but if you are going to allow drinks specials then it is odd to not let you talk about them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Econ 101: Economies of Scale - Redux

After my post this morning, Beervana blogger Jeff Alworth sends along this new picture and writes: "Each one of those tanks at Widmer is 1500 barrels (46,500 gallons)--the annual production of a big brewpub.  There are six in that room and one of the brewers joked, "the biggest six-pack in Portland.""

Here is another aspect of economies of scale: the cube-square law.  According to Galileo (via Wikipedia) this law states: "When an object undergoes a proportional increase in size, its new volume is proportional to the cube of the multiplier and its new surface area is proportional to the square of the multiplier."  So if you double the size of a tank in a brewery, the cost of the materials to make it (stainless steel) increases fourfold but the volume increases eightfold.  So if you have the production to support it, you get double the bang for your buck in tankage - thus the average cost per ounce of beer decreases (all else equal - like just as easy to clean and maintain as smaller tanks).  Now you know.

And for my students - after these two posts, I have now made attending my class today almost entirely redundant, but as it already happened you cannot act on this knowledge - so my ego is safe for another day.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Econ 101: Economies of Scale

Over at the Beervana Blog, Jeff Alworth notes (and photos) a new set of tanks being delivered to Coalition Brewery near his house.  To the economist in me this picture says one thing: economies of scale.

Economies of scale simply refer to any productive activity whose average costs decrease with output.  In many cases this is due to large fixed costs - those costs that do not depend on the quantity of the output.  Take this brewhouse for example: the cost of these tanks will be the same if they brew no beer or if they brew to capacity.  Alex at Upright, for example, has a beautiful brewhouse but is only brewing at about 60% capacity - if memory serves.  So if Upright brews more, the average cost of the beer they brew will go down - the fixed cost will be spread across more beer.  Since breweries require a lot of large scale equipment, it is an industry prone to economies of scale. There are other sources of economies of scale that are relevant to the beer industry as well: bottling, distributing and marketing to name three.

The implications of economies of scale have been discussed here at length, but the main one is a tendency for such an industry to be prone to concentration.  It is no accident that the big macrobrewers have become bigger and bigger through acquisitions and mergers.  [I have noted in a previous post how the fact that craft brew is an artisanal product and an experience good creates a countervailing force for small scale brewers to exploit]

The good news for Portland and Oregon craft brewers is that, like these internal economies of scale (that depend on the firm's activity alone), external economies of scale exist.  For example, with a lot of local craft brewers there is more demand for ingredients.  This high demand allows farmers and other input providers to achieve their own economies of scale, promotes competition and allows for efficiency in distribution of inputs.  So it is likely that inputs costs are low in Portland and Oregon not just because of proximity to the growers but because of all the brewing that goes on in Oregon.  [There is also a demand side effect, but that is a topic for another day]

So this external economies of scale is a pretty groovy story: the more local craft brewers brew, the lower are the costs for their fellow brewers.  Once again we see that competitors can also help each other out - even unintentionally.  For an industry that is remarkable for its sense of community and fellowship, this shows that they are not just deluded hippies - they are also savvy businesspeople.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Beeronomics Poll: Hops in THE HOPOPOTAMUS®

Okay, spring leaves beer on the mind.  I am preparing for the worldwide premier of THE HOPOPOTAMUS® and yet I have not finalized the recipe, especially the hops.  I am pretty sure that Crystal, Cascade and Amarillo will make the cut, but I figure why not let my dear readers chime in?  Besides I am an economist and should not be trusted to brew a beer as anticipated as THE HOPOPOTAMUS®.  So I have created a poll to tap into the wisdom of crowds.

So, lend me your expertise and take the poll (over at The Oregon Economics Blog)!  I probably won't make it to Steinbart's until the weekend after next, so you have a little time to ponder. 

Brewing it Yourself and Growing Your Own

Over a year ago I mused about whether brewing your own beer was a cost saving strategy and concluded that at the scale of a part-time homebrewer the answer was no.  A big part of the cost of ingredients (inputs in econospeak) was the cost of hops (which were particularly high at the time).  But hops are practically a weed man, thought I, what if I grow my own?   So I did, or am about to, to be precise.  For $4.50 I bought a rhizome, a scrounged about for some unused pieces of wood to build a makeshift support for the vine and voila - hops!!  I hope.  

What to grow caused me to ponder - but not for too long.  I really wanted to grow two varieties (and in fact bought two rhizomes) but the wife convinced me that given our wee garden and my inexperience with gigantic hop vines, I had better just start with one.   I chose Cascade - I mean was there really a choice: high yielding, wonderfully versatile with a lovely citrusy-floral bouquet?  No.  Willamette was the other rhizome I bought (anyone want it?), I thought it would be a good complement but alas, next summer.

Finding space was a challenge and of course a good economist thinks about opportunity cost, so... out went the sage!  Opportunity cost of just about zero, right?  Apparently my wife was not so sure, but what's done is done and I am sure she will stop being mad at me once she tastes the beer that will result - and between now and then is only 6 or 7 months...

Nevertheless, your intrepid beeronomist jury-rigged a hop support and prayed that he would still have a fence come winter. Besides, I kept them out of the veggie beds which my wife controls (and hasn't gotten around to weeding yet) so I am on pretty firm ground here.  If only she were a beer lover...

So at about $2 an ounce, Cascade hops at Steinbarts are not cheap.  I think I can get at least a pound (though I have been told not to expect too much the first season).   But for a beer with a 8oz hop bill we are talking $16!  Okay, best we not think in terms of pure monetary reward.  The real reward comes in being a yeoman farmer (that is a way inside economics joke, by the way, for you macro-types - here's to you Bruce!) close to the earth and self-sufficient.

Unfortunately (or happily) it is now time to brew again and to gear up for the spring unveiling of my ultra special Hopopotamus® will require no less than three varieties of hop (and maybe even four) - so off to Steinbarts I shall go.  But I shall dream of Emerson's Special Wet Hop Ale come the early fall.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Upright Brewing Turns One

What a nice day on which to turn one year old - and an even nicer day to walk, bike, bus, drive over to the LeftBank Project and help the Upright gang celebrate their first anniversary.  They have some special treats for you if you do: the release of Four Play as well as some apricot farmhouse ale.   I had a chance to sample these (as well as a bit of the Congo Pale Ale) in the media preview night they put on and I was very impressed - more below.  Treats from the Sugar Cube will be served as well, whose proprietor, Kir Jensen modeled for the label (shown here).

What can you expect?  I'll leave the real reviews to the experts, but I found the apricot farmhouse ale to have a strong apricot flavor yet none of the cloying sweetness that often dooms fruit infused beers.  In fact the apricot ale was wonderfully dry, perhaps thanks to the amazing yeast they use that eats up just about all of the residual sugars.  It does not quite reach the level of Cascade Brewing's trancendent Apricot Ale, but it is not going for transcendency rather it is a noble farmhouse ale and would be a wonderful summer session beer.  I highly recommend it.

The Four Play is the star however: a truly delightful infusion of cherries into the already wonderful Four produces a dry yet complex belgian ale with a subtle cherry flavor that is ever-present but not too assertive.  Again the house yeast is, I imagine, largely responsible for counteracting the sweetness in the fruit.  This is a special beer worth a special trip.  It was dark in the brewery when I tried it but it appeared to have a rose tinted glow to it and I look forward to a glass bathed in sun.

The festivities start at 4:30 and continue on until 9.   The LeftBank Project is at 240 N Broadway at the east end of the Broadway Bridge.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Foyston on Ninkasi

Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian

Just a note to guide you to John Foyston's piece in today's Oregonian on Ninkasi.  Some highlights:

Last year, Ninkasi brewed 18,000 barrels of beer (558,000 gallons) and graduated from microbrewery -- making up to 15,000 barrels a year, as defined by the Brewers Association, a national trade group -- to regional brewery, joining the likes of Rogue Ales, Full Sail, Widmer, BridgePort and Deschutes.


This year, Floyd said, Ninkasi is on track to nearly double last year's total and brew as much as 32,000 barrels -- nearly a million gallons of beer.

That kind of growth can spell trouble, said Paul Gatza of the Colorado-based Brewers Association; he's seen it happen before.

"They really seem to be doing something right," he said, "but plant capacity becomes a real holdback to that kind of growth rate -- it's very unusual for a brewery to be able to sustain a growth of more than about 10,000 barrels a year."

But, thanks to the left-brain/right-brain partnership between Floyd -- the creative, charismatic brewery frontman -- and Ridge -- the financial and planning wizard who spent his college summers interning on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange -- Ninkasi is ready.


Butenschoen said that Floyd also saw a wide-open market in Eugene for a production brewery and that the outcome would've been very different had they started a brewpub.

"If you're a brewpub, you're often seen as competition by other pubs and restaurants, and they're not likely to put your beers on tap."

A few thoughts: First, I was fascinated by Ninkasi's business model from the start. The standard modus operandi of new Oregon craft brewers these days is to start a brewpub. The state makes it easy with a special license from OLCC and the food side helps on the revenue front.  But restaurants are hellishly difficult beasts to do well and concentrating so much on the restaurant can inhibit your ability to get the beer out of the door.  Ninkasi started by doing its own distribution of its kegs to restaurants and bars and thus was able to capture all of the revenue themselves to start (and maybe offer it more cheaply?) - and were able to get an astonishing number of taps quickly (fantastic beer helps a lot too...).  Anyway, it is interesting what they say about the perceived competition of brewpubs versus breweries.

Second, Ninkasi from the start mastered the art of the new social media: Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc.  These days, among the youngsters at least, this is a low cost and very effective way to get yourself known.  Ninkasi has been more active on this front than any other brewery I am aware of.

Third, they are apparently ready to start packaging in 12oz six-packs.  For this I say hooray.  Big beers in big bottles are difficult for a wee economist whose wife is not really a beer drinker.  

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Night at Upright

Okay, so maybe I am a "beer economist" after all turns out it is working out pretty nicely for me.  I was, for the first time, invited to a media preview event involving beer. Ezra and Alex of Upright Brewing did me the honor of inviting me to the 1-year Anniversary and Four Play release media preview and I had an altogether delightful time attending, tasting the wonderful beer, chatting about the business of beer and meeting many folks that make up the beer-o-sphere for the first time.

Since my readers are mostly not regulars in the beer-o-sphere I suspect, a little background on Upright is in order.  Perhaps the best introduction from the early days is Jeff's.  It is located in the basement of the Leftbank project and focuses on Belgian-inspired farmhouse ales.  Upright's owner and brewer Alex Ganum is a Belgian beer enthusiast, but it was my impression that he was more a fan of the Belgian brewing ethos than the specific style (as much as there is one - see: ethos).  He brews beers in the Belgian tradition but is inspired by local ingredients and uses mostly Willamette Valley grains and hops.  He also uses the tricky open fermentation method and his house yeast is a curious beast - but I am getting ahead of myself.  For a while Upright's beers were only to be found on tap, but now they are turning up in such places as New Seasons in the bottle. The standard line up includes the delightful Four, the more robust Five and the darker Six.

Upright will be a trend-setter, I believe.  The number of breweries that start up, produce a hoppy pale, a very hoppy IPA and so on are myriad - Upright represents a clear break from the trend and a local beer that is truly unique and representative of an entirely different type of beer.  I'll talk about those beers in a future post, but different than most of the beer writers/bloggers in attendance I was interested in the economics of the industry and the niche that Alex occupies.

Brewing such an open style can be a tricky business proposition. Using open fermenters adds some risk to the whole endeavor (though Alex doesn't apparently think it ads much) and building and maintaing a climate controlled and sterile room is expensive.  So in a business sense, Alex is banking on people appreciating his efforts, being able to tell when tasting the beer and being willing to pay a small premium for it.  It is thus unlikely that many other places in the US would support such efforts (though I may be selling other beer communities short).  Alex also uses a yeast that is amazingly hungry but remarkably slow.  It takes weeks for the yeast to go through the primary fermentation stage, and then it just keeps on going during secondary fermentation and in the bottle or keg (so when it goes out the door, he is not entirely sure what it will be like upon opening/taping).  Keeping the beer around for weeks upon weeks is costly and not being able to completely control precisely the finished product is a risk that most business people like to avoid.  I am tempted to make the comparison to wine production, but the dirty little secret there is how much wineries can manipulate the final product with additives.  Not so here.  This just shows you how different this type of truly craft brewing differs from industrial brewing where the bottom line rules and the product is never, ever supposed to taste any different.  Alex admits that it tests his devotion to his yeast, but he hasn't lost faith yet.

The other interesting thing about Alex's yeast is how efficient it is in the end: it eats just about all of the available sugar.   Most yeast in the beers we regularly enjoy will achieve 70-75% attenuation, but the good Brothers Widmer analyzed the yeast in the lab (and did so pro-bono - cheers Widmers!) and found that Alex's was achieving up to 97% attenuation. Wow.  Jeff has a nice post on the implications of the yeast in the brewing process.

I had a chance to ask Alex the question that I find most interesting: how do you decide on price?  I like this question because for a standard business the textbook answer is clear: you charge the price that maximizes profit.  But in this business - with experience goods and where price is a signal of quality - you want to be careful about what price says about your product.  Alex talked about the 'right' price and I don't know what was in his head but this was my interpretation.  For example, you might think a new brewery would think about pricing very cheaply to get people to try the product so that they could learn about the quality, but doing so might leave the impression that it is not a quality beer (otherwise how could it be so cheap?).

I'll post on the beer later, but for now, it is definitely worth your while seeking out the beer - perhaps the good folks at Taplister (one of whom, Kerry, I met that night) can help you out.  I have seen bottles in New Seasons and I have a suspicion that Belmont Station and the Beermongers might also have a bottle or two in stock.  They are also now at the Portland Farmers Market so you can find yourself some tomorrow while you are there.  You will not be disappointed.  Cheers.


It is April 1 and traditionally this would be the moment for a witty, clever April Fool's joke, but I am neither witty nor clever so I'll just amuse myself with an entirely frivolous post on beer.

Deschutes has jumped on the Cascadian Dark Ale bandwagon with Hop in the Dark (pictured).  The label was designed by the brother of a friend of mine and is, by association, fantastic.  Seriously, it is cool. I am not a huge fan of the CDA or Dark IPA style - I personally find the roasty notes and the floral hop notes in conflict and they don't sing on my tongue as much as argue - but I'll try Deschutes' version as if someone is going to get it just right, more often than not it'll be the Deschutes folks.

Speaking of cool labels, you have to check out Ezra's label for Upright's forthcoming Four Play.  You'll get a chance for a first look at the release party on April 9th (more on that tomorrow).

For me the spring kicks off the season of wonderful, floral, hoppy pale beers that are my favorites.  One great seasonal out right now is Full Sail's Hop Persuit, a real throw-back (in Jeff Alworth's words) by John Harris: a simple pale, hoppy Northwest classic.  In the bottle it is good, but on tap (mine was at the Pilsner Room watching the NCAA tourney) it is transcendent.  Speaking of Harris and transcendency, the Pilsner Room had Slipknot Imperial IPA on cask when I was last there two weeks ago.  Sometimes these extra hoppy beers don't do well on cask because the underlying flavor characteristics that cask brings out are overwhelmed by the hops, but Slipknot on cask reveals itself to be an amazingly complex and, yes, even subtle beer with a vibrant hoppy nose.  Cask can often take away the singeing bitterness that can befuddle the tastebuds and this is true in this case.  Slipknot and Ninkasi's Tricerahops are two of the best cask beers I have ever had.  If you are fortunate enough to find them - get them.

Speaking of Ninkasi, in my never-ending pursuit to try new beers - and with a never-ending supply of new beers in Portland (and I really don't drink that much beer - I just like it to be great beer when I do) - I find myself going long stretches without drinking some of my favorites.  Thus it was recently that I picked up a bottle of perhaps my all-time favorite: Ninkasi's Total Domination. One sip and my immediate thought was "good god, why the hell am I drinking anything else?"  Oh lord it is good stuff.  Also recently I had a Hair of the Dog Blue Dot for the first time in an even longer time (it must be a couple of years)  and had a similar reaction.

Lastly, while in Seattle last week I picked up a bottle of Elysian's Avatar Jasmine IPA.  It is an IPA with dried jasmine flowers added to the boil.  If you want floral this is it, and while I enjoyed it I was a bit overwhelmed by the very strong jasmine flavor and nose.  A small glass was delightful but enough - a session beer this 'aint.  Still, nice to try something truly unique.

As today is probably the only nice day we will have had or will have in quite a few, perhaps it is a good opportunity to taste some spring beers after work...