Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are You a Beer Expert?

Over at Dropping Timber there is a scan of the NASL Kick magazine from May 1, 1976 when the Portland Timbers played the St. Louis Stars.  In it is this little gem:

"A smooth beer is the brewers supreme goal" are you listening oh Craft Brewers of Oregon?

Lest we forget what is a premium beer - I bring you this picture from Jeff Alworth:

Cargill corn syrup tanker outside the old Weinhard's brewery in the pearl.
Ummm...nothing says 'premium' like corn syrup! Smooth...

In Which I Find the Answer

Growing up in Wisconsin, one is always faced with one, seemingly unanswerable, question:what is the point of Iowa?

Fortunately, last night, I think I finally found the answer.  After a long day I arrived home to an almost empty beer fridge, but lo and behold, in the back, a forgotten wonderbeer just waiting for me:

Oh man, did it make my day.

So thanks Matt (the Iowan) for a great beer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winning the Future

When Barack Obama talks about the US 'winning the future' though leading the world in innovation and development, I am confident he is talking about this:

Josh Springer may have solved the sports fan’s dilemma: Should I get a beer or go to the bathroom if I want to be back in my seat before the action resumes?
His invention, the Bottoms Up Draft Beer Dispensing System, makes it easier to do both by drastically cutting the time it takes to pour and pay for a brew. After a YouTube video that’s been viewed more than 4 million times and an NFL debut that helped the Jacksonville Jaguars set beer-sales records in a year of poor attendance, Springer’s company has signed an exclusive advertising deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev and is preparing to grow exponentially in 2011.

“We get calls from all over the world daily,” the 28-year-old inventor said by telephone from his home base near Olympia, Wash. “Apparently, you have to wait for a beer all over the world.”

Bottoms Up will make its Houston debut at Discovery Green the first weekend in April, during festivities related to the NCAA Final Four.

Alison Birdwell, general manager for Aramark at Reliant Park, said one or two of the dispensers will be operating at Texans games next fall.

She said the concessionaire also plans to install one or two at Minute Maid Park, although not in time for the Astros’ opening day.

Inspiration struck three years ago at a birthday dinner for his dad, Springer said, when he quieted the table and announced to a skeptical family that he thought he could fill a beer glass from the bottom. Four days later, he’d developed a prototype of a machine that would pump beer through a metal-ringed hole in the bottom of a plastic cup. A magnet covering the hole would then snap back into place. He estimates the process is nine times as fast as a traditional draft system.

It also eliminates excessive foaming.

“It’s gentler on the beer,” he said.
Here is one of the YouTube videos mentioned in the Houston Chronicle article excerpted above, and I gotta say, it works pretty well, though I am not sure how much the cups cost or how recyclable they are.  Maybe if you poke around their site you can find out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eco-nomics: Turning Brewery Waste into Natural Gas

In this Jan. 26, 2011 photo, Eric Fitch holds a Magic Hat glass in front of the digester building at the brewery in South Burlington, Vt. The Vermont brewery is giving new meaning to the idea of green beer. Magic Hat Brewing Co., of South Burlington, is the first site to use a device that turns spent grain from the brewing process into natural gas that is then used to fuel brewing operations. The 42-foot tall anaerobic methane digester, installed last summer, extracts energy from the spent hops, barley and yeast left over from the brewing process. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

From Boston.com the story of Magic Hat Brewery's anaerobic methane digester which turns spent grain into natural gas that they then use to fuel the brewery:

Before he started "saving the earth, one beer at a time," all inventor Eric Fitch knew about home brewing was that it could make quite a mess.

Once, he accidentally backed up the plumbing in his apartment building by dumping into his garbage disposal the spent grain left over from his India Pale Ale home brew. The oatmeal-looking gunk choked the pipes in his Cambridge, Mass., building, flooding the basement.

These days, he's doing something more constructive, fulfilling the dream of beer lovers everywhere by recycling the stuff: The MIT-trained mechanical engineer has invented a patented device that turns brewery waste into natural gas that's used to fuel the brewing process.

The anaerobic methane digester, installed last year at Magic Hat Brewing Co. in Vermont, extracts energy from the spent hops, barley and yeast left over from the brewing process -- and it processes the plant's wastewater. That saves the brewer on waste disposal and natural gas purchasing

The 42-foot tall structure, which cost about $4 million to build, sits in the back parking lot of Magic Hat's brewery, where it came online last summer.

Fitch, 37, is CEO of PurposeEnergy, Inc., of Waltham, Mass., a renewable energy startup company whose lone product is the biphase orbicular bioreactor, which is 50 feet in diameter, holds 490,000 gallons of slurry and produces 200 cubic feet of biogas per minute.

Brewers big and small have wrestled with waste issues since the dawn of beer-making. In recent years, they've turned to recycling -- both as a cost-saver and for environmental reasons.

Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser, uses a bio-energy recovery system in 10 of its 12 U.S. breweries to convert wastewater into natural gas that's then used to fuel the brewing process.

New Belgium Brewing Co., in Fort Collins, Colo., captures excess heat from cooling wort and funnels it beneath its loading dock so it doesn't ice up in wintertime. The wort, the liquid made with malt and hot water, is fermented to make beer or ale.

Coors' breweries sell ethanol from their brewing process to refineries in Colorado. Some European breweries dry their spent grain and then burn it, using the heat and energy in their manufacturing process.

Most operations dispose of their spent grain by selling it -- or giving it away -- to farmers, for use as cattle or animal feed.

But PurposeEnergy says its digester is the first in the world to extract energy from the spent grain and then re-use it in the brewery, and all in one place. At Magic Hat, the big brown silo is located about 100 feet from the main complex.

"Feeding it to cattle is pretty direct recycling, especially if you get steak back out of it," said Julie Johnson, editor of All About Beer magazine. "Carting it off as animal feed is pretty common. In this case, by closing the loop at the brewery, this is turning it into savings quite directly for Magic Hat."

[HT: KGW The Square]

Friday, February 11, 2011


I see that Phil Parkin, pictured above, has been getting the word out to beer bloggers that his film, Beertickers, is available to view for a very small fee ($0.99) on iTunes and asking us to review it. Jeff at Beervana has already given it a big thumbs up.  I am also delighted to oblige.  Phil is a Sheffield based filmmaker and, if 'Beertickers' is to believed, Sheffield is a hub of craft real ale in England. [And yes, most Yanks probably know of Sheffield for one reason: The Full Monty - but don't worry Sheffield has had a strong economic revival] Phil also has a delightful Yorkshire accent which is worth the price of admission in itself.

The movie follows the exploits of a group of British "beertickers" - folks who go around finding new beers to try and keeping track of their conquests, ticks them off the list.  [In Britain one 'ticks' a box rather than 'checks' it as we do in the new world] But of course focusing on this curious hobby is just a jumping off point in a greater exploration of British beer culture centered around real ales, craft breweries and neighborhood pubs.

The beertickers in the movie are compared to trainspotters - and in fact many of them were previously trainspotters (those that sought to lay eyes on unique locomotives and coaches) - but the benefits of beer ticking over trainspotting are multitude: you get to sit inside in the warmth of pubs, chat with other punters and most importantly, you get to drink good beer.

It also serves as a good reminder to Northwesterners that though we like to pride ourselves on the number of breweries and the variety of beer found locally, the centuries old beer culture found in Britain is more local, more varied and more omni-present.  In the film we witness 'Brian the Champ' tick off his 40,000 beer - all accomplished on a small island about 10% smaller than the state of Oregon.  You could live a lifetime in Oregon and perhaps manage a tenth of that total.  It also points out the difference in the type of beers typically found in both places: as a part of the tick you write down the name and the ABV of the beer which in England is typically around 3.8 to 4.3%.  In Oregon, pales are often in the 5.5% range and IPAs are now commonly in the high sixes. 

Other characters make appearances like the delightful 'Mick the Tick,' who some credit for starting the whole thing, and 'Dave Unpronounceable' and 'Gazza,' who are interesting if not altogether likable - neither really make you want to run out and find them in a pub. 

Well-known British beer blogger Pete Brown makes an appearance and utters my favorite line from the whole film when talking about how shit were the home-lives of the industrial revolution British and how shit is the British weather, and thus was created the ubiquitous pub culture as an escape.  He says that when the weather was finally nice, Brits would go outside and play sport and that, as a result, the British "...have invented every decent sport the world has ever known."  And you know, he is probably right.

The film goes on and touches on the epidemic of pub closures (perhaps because British home life is no longer so shit?) and the CAMRA real ale campaign.  And indeed, the beer ticking is all about fresh, local and unique real ale.  It makes me think immediately of Ted Sobel and Brewer's Union, who brews small batches of real ale in the British pub tradition, many of which are unique recipes. Thanks in part to CAMRA, craft brewers of real ales are enjoying a bit of a renaissance in Britain as well and, in the film, Phil travels to the Thornbridge Brewery and helps brew a special batch of their 'Jaipur IPA.'

When watching Beertickers, I couldn't help but think of the Bill Bryson book "Notes from a Small Island" in which he finds the British marvelous in their ability to get real pleasure from small things.  I think this is true and I think that in a way this is a trait I inherited from my British mother.  I find sitting around and having a good chat over a beer in a pub one of life's real profound joys.  I much prefer that to more ambitious shows, amusements and vacations.   This movie highlights this trait and one can't help but be moved by the real joy 'Mick the Tick' takes in finding and sampling a new beer.

Overall, I found "Beertickers" to be a delight - part travelogue, part exploration into the inherent obsessiveness of hobbies, but mostly a beautiful meditation on beer and beer culture. For $0.99 it is well worth a watch.

Here is the trailer:

To get more information about the film you can go to the website, and to watch it yourself you can go to iTunes.

One last note of warning, it will make you thirsty and in the mood for some real English-style ale.  Harder to find but possible if you are on the lookout.


Thursday, February 10, 2011


A quick note of condolence to the family of the Maletis Beverage worker, Jeromy Judd, who was killed this morning when a rack of beer kegs collapsed on him, and to the company and its employees.  Jeromy was 25.  


Monday, February 7, 2011


It is hard to describe the anachronism that is the Green Bay Packers.  It is absurd that a small rust belt town would have and even own an NFL team and while I was living in Wisconsin as a kid it seemed that perhaps they wouldn't last.  They were playing half their games at County Stadium in Milwaukee (they only place I have seen them play live) and, the exploits of Lynn Dickey and James Lofton notwithstanding, they were not very good.

Anyway yesterday I watched and celebrated their victory as any good Wisconsin boy would: brats and beer done right - boiled in beer and onions and then grilled to juicy perfection.  Jeff stopped at Belmont Station to find that the entire stock of Leinenkugels had been sold, so we settled for Miller, that great Wisconsin South African English beer.

Unable to find Leinenkugels, Miller had to suffice.

What a year it is shaping up to be: my itinerant youth has made me a lifelong supporter of the SF Giants, the Green Bay Packers and the Trailblazers.  Two championships so far this season, maybe the Blazers can shock the world!

By the way, I was morose at halftime, certain in the knowledge that the Steelers would come back and win.  For my other team, Arsenal, managed to squander a 4-0 lead to Newcastle just the day before causing a fit of apoplexy.  And it almost happened, but once again the Pack came through.

By the way, what we drank was a selection of homebrew: chipotle stout, Sirachi Ace Ale, porter; and craft brew: racer 5, Pelican IPA, and Upright's wonderful Billy the Mountain.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Oakshire Redux: The Kilted Badger

Yesterday Oakshire announced it latest special release: the Kilted Badger - a scottish ale.  Now I know it must be hard for Matt the Iowa Hawkeye to admit, but clearly the Badger kicks the Hawkeye's ass.  And it is nice of him to offer such a fitting tribute to the Wisconsin Badgers and the great state of Wisconsin in general.  It also comes at an opportune time - all Packers fans simply MUST serve this at their Super Bowl parties.

Go Pack!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Tale of Four Businesses. Part 2: Oakshire

Matt Van Wyk
As part 2 of my recap of my trip down south to visit four brewing businesses, I am going to profile Oakshire, the 'other' Eugene bottling brewery.  Lately Oakshire has been on a tear, producing a line up of stellar regular beers (standouts include Watershed IPA and Overcast Espresso Stout) and wonderful one offs including a small beer (the Well Mannered Gnome) and an English Ale made with Willamette hops (Willamette Dammit - the best beer name ever in the history of the world, if not the cosmos). 

Just a little smaller than Ninkasi

It is impossible to talk about Oakshire without also mentioning Ninkasi.  And not just because of their shared hometown. For if Ninkasi is all about seasoned pros with an ambitious business plan, Oakshire is about a homebrewer turning pro: turning hobby into a business and slowly building a business.  And it is for this reason that I suspect many readers are more interested in Oakshire's path to success than Ninkasi's.

Ninkasi was a pro outfit from the start.  Jamie Floyd had a long resume as a professional brewer and was ready with perfected recipes and a clear idea of the distinctive character that would be their hallmark.  Throw in a finance guy with a head for business and a well-researched plan and the result - spectacular growth - is no accident but the result of all of these ingredients with a very healthy dose of hard work.  But if Ninkasi is all spit and polish, Oakshire is, by contrast, the scrappy little guy out by the railroad tracks that is making diamonds in the rough getting slowly bigger and growing a loyal following.

Re-purposing and old boiler

Oakshire (nĂ© Willamette Brewing) was started by Chris and Jeff Althouse and launched with its Amber Ale which was, as I understand, a perfected homebrew recipe.  And here the story could have stared and finished as while Amber is a perfectly fine beer it does not stand out in the NW craft brewing scene.  After some coaxing, mostly involving maturing the business to the point that it looked like it has legs, Jeff convinced experienced brewer Matt Van Wyk to relocate from Chicago to Eugene and take charge of the brewing while Jeff concentrated on the business. This proved to be a masterstroke as Matt has created a line up of truly exceptional beers which have gained the admiration of the beer geeks and casual craft beer fans alike.  Matt is just getting started and I was amazed at the number of special beers that in currently in the works.  They are all winners as far as I can tell (though Matt was suspicious of my ability to spot a winner from a green Zwickel - alas he has no faith in me, but I maintain faith in his beer!).

Oakshire started as Willamette Brewing
To find Oakshire is not easy.  Luckily I was manning the iPhone and Google Maps while Jeff piloted the Pius, uh I mean Prius (his, not mine). Oakshire is located in a small light industrial zone by the railroad tracks on Bethel Drive, NW of the downtown area.  You would never find it unless you were looking for it but it is exactly the type of location - cheap - that you would expect a packaging brewery to start.  Simple space in which to brew beer.  Over time the space has been gussied up and they now have a tasting room and a nice outdoor area with picnic tables and even a garden in the lot adjacent to the brewery.  Once there the space they have created for fans is really quite nice.

Matt and Jeff

But such a low profile means that they have to hustle for shelf space and tap handles and create their reputation in slow incremental steps.  What this means to the business is that Oakshire has to brew excellent and distinctive beers, come out more frequently with special beers and, well, be scrappy.  You have to create the loyal following by continuing to experiment and, at the same time you can do so by being smaller and more flexible. Ninkasi has to spend something like 60% of their time brewing only Total Domination IPA - they need to grow fast and so they need to flog their big three beers.  Oakshire, on the other hand can spend more time experimenting, brewing special beers only for kegs and brewing less typical NW beers like schwarzbier.  Of course the rewards are more modest as well.  

Coming soon - barrel aged beer!

Oakshire has grown slow and steadily, adding newly acquired, but generally used, equipment as they grow but doing so in a considered fashion.  It is still not clear to me how the craft beer industry will shake out but some of Oakshire's competitors are, it seems to me, the ever growing list of brewpubs that package their beer.  Places like Laurelwood and HUB are selling great beer but also have the advantage of an identifiable pub - a public presence that has its own rep.  Oakshire will have to continue to build on its loyal following as well as continue to catch the market's attention with new and interesting beer.  Economies of scale are huge in the industry and as more and more of these packaging breweries grow it will be interesting if a shake out is inevitable.  If so, I think Oakshire stands a good chance to be one of the survivors because in the end, great beer will prevail and Oakshire beer is great.


And though in some respects Ninkasi and Oakshire are competitors - fighting for shelf space, tap handles and sales - I think the existence of Ninksai is mostly good for Oakshire.  Because of Ninkasi people pay more attention to what is going on in Eugene and Oakshire can play off Ninkasi and be the scrappy little guy that people cheer for and want to succeed (they are the self-proclaimed 'Humble Brewers of Delicious Beers). I think many retailers and publicans know about Oakshire thanks to Ninkasi but I also think that as Ninkasi gets bigger there will be a counter trend that will support smaller and more local. 

In short Oakshire seems to me a perfect example of successfully turning a hobby into a business - where Ninkasi is about making a big business of craft beer.  The beauty is that there is space for both types of businesses and that, in fact, they both create space for each other.  In the end we are all better off for having both around (especially those in Eugene) and it is nice to see both achieving success.

Don Younger: 1941-2011

You will be missed.