Thursday, December 13, 2012

More on Value

I got some interesting (and predictable) reactions from my post on what Westvleteren is worth yesterday.  But I think I wasn't clear enough so here goes another shot.

My main point is that trying to define value is a bit like chasing your tail, you just end up going in circles.  It doesn't matter if a beer is made by 38 monks over a year with hops hand picked by virgins, the finest floor malted heritage barley, water from the melted snow of the peak of K2 and yeast from John Meier's beard: if it tastes bad, it is worthless.  A product's value come from the willingness of consumers to give up the consumption of something else to consume it (which is fancy econo-speak for spend money for it).

Now value comes in two forms: individual and market.  Each individual is idiosyncratic - they have particular tastes, preferences and income.  An individuals value of Westvleteren can come from how much they like the taste, how much they enjoy being one of the in-crowd that has their own bottles, how much they care that their purchase will help the monks stay dry in the rain.  There are no rules, anything that you find worth enough to pay something for is part of its value to you the individual.

Once we sum up all the individuals that have some positive valuation of the good we get the demand curve for the good and this is a measure of its market value.  If there are enough people who are willing to pay more than the producer is willing to accept, transactions will occur, everyone is better off and eventually the market value of the good is found as the equilibrium point between supply and demand. 

I am not trying to tell you how you should value Westvleteren, that totally depends on you, but I am trying to say that the value of this special six-pack of Westvleteren beer has nothing intrinsic to do with the beer or its makers other than the way the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the brewers translates to good tasting beer. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Sneak Peak of a World Ruled by ABInBev

Cervejaria Nacional
You can have your own look, all you have to do is hop on a flight to Brazil where the whole AmBev revolution took place: mergers and acquisitions, homogenization of 'beer' and cartel like control of tap handles and shelf space.

Yes, there is a craft beer scene in Brazil and yes there is a substantial community of beer lovers and geeks but it is a very small niche scene in Brazil and does not really register on the public radar.  What dominates are the big brands that are entirely indistinguishable to my taste buds and which are all frankly terrible.  The craft beers I had were all decent but none were exceptional and it appears (at least in my small sample) that there is more love for the malt than the hop and not much attention paid to the yeast.  I found the beers generally heavy for my taste and lacking a characteristic hop or yeast note to make the beer more interesting.  

I say this all after a month in São Paulo where I was very busy and missed my chance to get to the place on the top of my list: the Cervejaria Nacional in Pinherios neighbothood of São Paulo.  I had limited time and ability to seek out craft beer, but I did what I could and found a few stores (first and foremost the Casa Santa Luzia on Avendia Lorena in Jardins) that had a pretty good selection of Brazilian craft beer.  But such is the craft beer scene that more attention is devoted to imports than to Brazilian craft beer.    

What I worry about is that the craft beer scene in the US has already found solid footing and took advantage of the failings of macro-brew to establish a beach head and start their very successful assault on the big beer empire.  In Brazil, big beer already has more numerous defenses (tied houses and restaurants), has recently retrenched with consolidation and scaling up, leaving the craft brewers precious little sand upon which to establish themselves.

My great hope lies in Carvejaria Nacional - from the outside it looks a treat. It has everything you want in a brew pub - ambitious brews, constantly rotating experimental beers, and a diversity of styles with plenty of English ale and Belgian sour influences to round out the traditional German influence that dominates Brazilian beer.  I won't know until I visit if the reality matches my expectations.

Fortunately I am going back for a seven month stint in January so I'll have plenty of time to figure it out.  Unfortunately, life otherwise is hard on this NW hop head. Last night I cracked a Ninkasi Total Dom for my first beer back stateside and it was like the rapture - finally!

So for half a year, starting in January, this blog (sporadic as it is) will try to get a handle on both the economics of the Brazilian beer scene and the beer itself.  Until then I can get excited about the Oregon winter ale season!  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Brazilian Craft Beer

I am in São Paulo, Brazil for the month for an intense work/study trip so I have had little time to drink beer.  But I have found, once again, that Brazilian craft beer is expensive, hard to find and of varying quality.  But the best selection I can find is at Casa Santa Luzia on Alemeda Lorena in Jardins.  But with limited time, money and strength (to carry a lot of beer up the hill to my apartment), I need help!

What beers should I try?

I will say that I like Colorado but I find their beers a bit heavy for my taste.  Baden Baden is only so-so in my opinion.  Vera Cruz is promising, I quite liked the above 'Karavelle' but I would not call it great.  So, what should I get next?  I like hoppy english style ales, crisp pilsners, I tend to dislike more malt heavy beers and I really can't stand most BCB - Brazilan Corn Beer as typified by Brahma, Itaipava, etc.

Ironically, the global takeover of macro beer by the Brazilians, led by Carlos Brito at ABInBev has led to reasonably priced, fresh Budweiser Czechvar, thanks to the agreement between AB and the original Budweiser, though it is Czechvar here lest the US Budweiser brand be diluted.  Nevertheless I find it currently the best value for money.  R$10 will get you 25 ounces and it is a really good pilsner that, so far at least, has been nice and fresh.  
I await the wisdom of the Brazilian beer crowd...

Monday, October 29, 2012

How ABInBev is Destroying Macro Beer (and Helping fuel the Craft Beer Renaissance)

There has never been a beer company like AB InBev. It was created in 2008 when InBev, the Leuven (Belgium)-based owner of Beck’s and Stella Artois, swallowed Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser, in a $52 billion hostile takeover. Today, AB InBev is the dominant beer company in the U.S., with 48 percent of the market. It controls 69 percent in Brazil; it’s the second-largest brewer in Russia and the third-largest in China. The company owns more than 200 different beers around the world. It would like to buy more.
So starts this interesting piece on ABInBev and its Brazilian Chairman Carlos Brito from BloombergBusinessWeek.

There’s one hitch. AB InBev’s CEO is a skilled financial engineer, but he has had trouble selling beer. The company’s shipments in the U.S. have declined 8 percent to 98 million barrels from 2008 to 2011, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights. Last year, Coors Light surpassed Budweiser to become America’s No. 2 beer. (Bud Light remains No. 1.) Meanwhile, Brito is alienating lovers of AB InBev’s imports by not importing them. And he’s risking the devotion of American beer lovers by fiddling with the Budweiser recipe in the name of cost-cutting.
The article goes on to give a pretty interesting short history of how the Brazilian beer industry consolidated and how they essentially have conqured the global beer market - all from humble orgins, Brahma Beer (taste it and you'll know how humble).

But it is largely a hit-piece about how ABInBev has cut costs, cheapened ingredients and raised prices.  Which is meant to enrage the Bud drinkers of the world, but doesn't bother me one bit.  In treating beer like soda, ABInBev is just opening the door wider for craft beer.  It is no wonder craft beer sales are skyrocketing while macro beer sales are tanking. 

It makes me wonder if the Brazilian experience is affecting Brito's decisions in the US.  In Brazil (where, unfortunately for the beer enthusiast in me) I travel in a few days, AmBev (Brahma, Antartica, etc.) and other macro brewers have effectively shut out competition through tied relationships with bars and restaurants.  There is a nascent craft beer scene, but it is tiny and struggle to get their product in front of customers.  Not so in the US where the free market in beer is alive and well. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Only in Beervana: Welcome Hillsboro Hops!

It turns out I might like this team after all.  Pretty cool nod to the local craft beer industry and hops growers.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Final Fresh Hop Tour

I have been negligent of fresh hops. So busy, in fact, that I let my own fresh hops wither on the vine.  So it was that I took an opportunity last Wednesday night to do a little impromptu fresh hop tour with the Beerax himself.

We stated at the mecca of fresh hops: Descutes Portland Pub.  Deschutes has arguably the most consistent success with fresh hops and they go all in, with no less than six fresh hop beers on tap that rotate continuously through the season.  Jeff's favorite Fresh Hop Mirror Pond was no longer available, much to my dismay, and his other big rave, Chasin' Freshies, was (a week later) a bit too long in the tooth which says a lot about how ephemeral fresh hop beers are.  They just don't last.  Chasin' Freshies had lost that aromatic fresh hop flavor and, to me who is very sesnitive, just tasted like fusel alchohol.  There was a fresh hop porter, which was actually quite nice, but not what punters are generally looking for in fresh hop season.  Hop Trip was very good but my favorite by a long shot was Flagline which at 4% ABV is a wonderfully tasty sessionable fresh hop ale (note the name had just changed to something else which escapes me: something road perhaps...whatever, look for the 4%).  Tremendous. 

We then meandered to Gigantic where "The Most Interesting Beer in the World" was loosing it freshness as well. Still good, but no longer great.  The risks of waiting too long to go and get fresh hop beers.  We ended up at the Laurelwood Westmoreland pub where the Fresh Hop Red was no longer available.   Trying to decide on a replacement was a challenge with a server who knew nothing about beer and seemed very bemused that we would want to know what hops were used in the beer we chose.  She didn't have any idea and went to find out - with no luck.  Apparently the pub knows nothing about the beer they serve.  Methinks a staff training session is in order.

So the moral of my story is not to wait too long to go and seek out fresh hop beers.  There are still some good ones out there but they are quickly fading.  And if you do find one, ask for a taster first to see how well it is holding up.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Another Note on Gigantic: Fresh Hop

My lovely wife stopped by Gigantic Brewing yesterday to pick up a growler of beer for me for my birthday.  She was impressed by the place and the folks behind the bar.  And she decided to get me the fresh hop beer that had just gone on tap the day before.  Good call, it is excellent.  Admittedly, I haven't had any others this year and I hear great things about Deschutes' Fresh Hop Mirror Pond and Laurelwood's Fresh Hop Red (as well as expecting the ever excellent Killer series from Double Mountain to once again rock), but Gigantic's is a wonderful example of the art.  It exudes fresh hops without the grassiness that can make the beer less pleasant and sits on a body that complements without overwhelming the fresh hop flavor.  Once again, the hop flavor I get is citrus dominated so I am inclined to like it.   Anyway, though I can't give it a relative judgement, I can say that I think it is an exceptional fresh hop beer.  Definitely worth a trip.

By the way, my wife could not remember what they called it but, amusingly (if you understand Gigantic's sense of humor) she said very seriously: "apparently it the the best beer in the world." To which I replied: "I am sure that it is." 

UPDATE: Bill Night informs me the name of the beer is "The Most Interesting Beer in the World" which must be what my wife was thinking of but misremembered.   Bill is also the go-to authority on fresh hop beers as he zealously tracks down almost every one each year. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Gigantic IPA

UPDATE: It is amazing what you can find out if you simply read the bottle (in my defense a zealous recycler in my family disposed of the bottle before I wrote the review below).  Anyway the hops used are Cascade, Centennial Crystal and Simcoe.  So I was not that far off, I was pretty sure about Simcoe (which is a wonderful hop variety) and I got the Cascade and Centennial right as well.  I love crystal hops but they are clean and often can be subsumed - the old Rogue Brutal Bitter was a showcase for Crystal and turned me on to it.  Also notable is the fact that it comes in at 7.3% ABV.  Normally, I'd be complaining about this - it is much bigger than I usually like, give me a 6.3% and I am much happier.  And it IS big and full of flavor, so much so that a friend found it too intense.  But it is such a well made beer that I didn't notice the bigness as much as I normally would and the flavor is exactly in my sweet spot (I love the citrus hop if you haven't noticed).  Anyway, it won't be everyone's favorite IPA but it sure is mine. 

To say that Gigantic is getting a lot of love would be a bit of an understatement. From John Foyston's blow-by-blow account of the construction of the new brewery to the many rhapsodic reviews that followed its opening (not to mention the crowds of hipsters at the taproom), Gigantic has be beset with high praise. Like such supergroups as Audioslave and Velvet Revolver - Gigantic was born from the star power of well-known brewers Van Havig (of Rock Bottom fame) and Ben Love (Pelican, HUB). Fortunately this supergroup is turning out to be more Cream than Chickenfoot.

I have run across a number of Gigantic's early beers, the most recent being their excellent, and aptly named DYN-O-MITE, that they offered at the OBF.  So my opinion of their beer was already high when I finally encountered a bottle of their IPA at the store and greedily grabbed it.  The IPA is, apparently, going to be their one and only regular offering and to say that in the Pacific Northwest you have to hit the ground running with your IPA is a massive understatement.  Like it or not this will be the beer by which Gigantic is known, their touchstone, their calling card.  Fortunately, they know what they are doing and have managed to hit this one out of the park.

The beer, as you can see in my crude photo, pours a medium amber with orange hues, has an ample and creamy head and very nice lacing that lasts long after the beer is down the gullet. But the relationship with one's IPA should start with the nose in my opinion, and Gigantic's IPA introduces itself with a bang: massively hop saturated aroma that is a lovely pine-citrus.  I do not know what hops are used (though I do know they use a heck of a lot of them) but I detect the more citrus notes of Simcoe, say, and less of the stanky CTZ varieties.  I suspect you'll find the traditional Cascades and Centennials and maybe even Amarillos or Citra in the beer.  But whatever the hops used, Gigantic pulls off that rare feat of achieving total hop saturation full of flavor but without the face-melting bitterness that sometimes accompanies such beers.  This is, as I have written before, what I thinks characterize the NW hop bomb from the palate destroying Southern California varieties (e.g. Stone). Gigantic IPAs aroma carries over onto the tongue, each sip a massive flavor experience that engages a the senses.  Because it lacks the palate destroying bitterness, the flavor of the last sip is just as intense as the first.  This is a truly remarkable beer. 

As an amateur I won't try and characterize the beer beyond that, but if you are a hop head like me that loves the aromatic NW hops, this beer is a delight.  You often hear hop bombs slagged off as easy to make - just throw a lot of hops in and you are good - but as a home brewer that has tried to perfect his own hop bomb, I can say with some authority it is not nearly as easy a trick to pull off as it may seem. To get the flavor and aroma out of the hops in a way that sings and dances on the nose and palate is very, very hard. With their IPA, Van and Ben prove themselves to be masters of the hop.

Of course it may also have to do with their pioneering resurrection of the long lost 15th century brewing technique known as rauchspringdammerung which is a combination of triple decoction and party-gyle brewing with metallurgy and the use of virgin softwoods sourced solely from the region of the southwest Czech Republic known as Plzerdns.  Though incredible expensive and time consuming (not to mention bizarre - the insistence on bare feet is especially strange) it seems to yield amazing beers.  But I digress.

I am a true hophead and lover of Pacific Northwest IPAs and I have a running internal debate about which is the best.  For a time it was Ninkasi's Total Dom until (IMHO) QC issues have compromised the product.  I think there is a special place in brewer heaven for Alan Sprints for his Blue Dot which still delights me after all these years.  Pelican, Oakshire, Ft. George and especially Bear Republic's Racer 5 are all in my top 10.  But I now have a new #1: Gigantic IPA is my new favorite beer.

I have tasted the awesome.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Beer Distributor as Agent Model of Craft Beer

The Oregonian is now in to the second of a set of three articles that extensively explores Oregon's byzantine regulations regarding alcohol sales in the state.  Jeff, over at Beervana, waxes philosophic about the whole thing and today both the Oregonian's article and Jeff's post talk about distributors.

I have always struggled to know exactly how to think of distributors from an economist's perspective.  In other words, I don't know the right model to hold in my mind with which to analyze this set up.  One of the reasons is that normally I would think of models of double marginalization (essentially where both producer and distributor takes a cut and the consumer ends up with less and at a higher price) but when you talk to small brewers these day, as Jeff mentions, you almost always hear them defend distributors.  Why is this?

Well, the key to selling beer is getting it in front of consumers.  Shelf space is hard to come by and subject to capture by the big brewers.  A distributor can use their influence to get smaller brands on the shelves.  They do this because they want as big a stable of clients as possible and they need to get sales for their clients to attract others.  Brewers don't have the manpower to get their beer in stores by themselves and so getting a distributor behind them is a key step to increasing sales.

[Doesn't have to be this way, by the way, at the beginning of the Ithaca Beer Company, founder Dan Mitchell, got his beer sold the old fashioned way, driving all over central New York getting tap handles and shelf space through sheer force of will and charisma.  Oregon is now much more crowded marketplace than was central NY in the late 90s and I doubt an individual would have much success these days around here.]

Anyway, the point is that the model I now think of when I think about distributors is more of an artist/agent relationship.  If you stop thinking about distributors as trucking and storage companies and start thinking them about serving as agents for their clients, the whole thing starts to make a lot more sense and you start to see why brewers defend them so vigorously.  Agents want to make money and they do so by getting their clients money.  To accomplish this they must fist attract clients and then push them on the market - sell them to bars and retail stores, get them prime tap handles and shelf space.  Brewers for their part are happy to cede part of their revenues to pay for this advocacy and service.

The question then is where does this leave consumers, better or worse off?  I think there is a good case to be made that consumers are better off in choice and variety, but worse off in terms of price.  I don't think there is any doubt about the latter - the effects of double marginalization are well known and empirically valid - but how much is consumer choice worth?  Apparently a lot judging by the prices local consumers will pay for a 22oz bottle of beer.  When you pay the same price for one 22oz bottle of beer as you would for a six pack of macro beer it is a pretty strong indication that consumers place a very high premium on choice and variety.

Which is the main thing that the distributor-as-agent model provides - more choice, better variety.  So in this sense, I think that the balance tips in the consumers favor...for now.  In the future, as the craft beer scene matures, there may be more and more natural variety on the market, by which I mean that retailers will internalize the premium for variety they get and look for it themselves.  I think it is beginning to happen already.  But just like a 43 year old economist on Spotify, just because you now have access to variety does not mean you know what to do with it.  So distributors still have a role as agents of beer, selling retailers on brands they may not know of or beers they have never tried.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Beer Tasting in São Paulo

Our host instructing us on the method
I was invited to a beer tasting event while I am visiting and conducting research in São Paulo.  At first I was excited because I thought it would be a chance to try out new craft breweries in Brazil (which are devilishly difficult to find due to the stranglehold the big brewers have on the Brazilian market), but it turn out it was all macro brews.  No matter it was a fun time and the host was interested in finding out if his guests could distinguish correctly among the beers, find consensus on what beers were good and the ranking of the beers.  Unsurprisingly, there was a distinct lack of ability to tell them apart and no consensus on what were the better beers.

By the way, I don't think it is translated into Portuguese but what my host needs is his own copy of the Beer Tasting Tool Kit.  Next time I come I'll take him one signed by the author...

My sheet
Brazilian macro lagers have a distinct taste due to their use of corn they are derisively called Brazilian Corn Beers (BCB) by the small but growing community of beer geeks in Brazil.  I dislike them and find them desperately in need of a little more hops.  The beer I turn to when I have a choice is Heineken which is brewed in Brazil but tastes pretty close to the real thing - Heineken in Brazil also produces Kaiser and Bavaria (which was one of the beers at the party).  AB InBev is the global conglomerate that is a Brazilian - Belgian company and was formed in part out of the Brazilian firm AmBev that was formed by the merger of Brahma and Antartica - two of the beers we tried - and they also own Bohemia and Skol.  Thus the companies that are represented in the list below are exactly three: Heineken, AB InBev and Itaipava (Groupo Petropolis).

The beers were:
The metric


Brahma Extra





Frankly they were all pretty bad I am sorry to say, but no worse than if I was in the US judging Coors, Miller and Bud.  They do have a distinct taste due to the corn, just as US macros have a distinct taste due to the rice they often use. I found the beers lacking in taste and substance and my winner won because it was the only beer in which I could detect even the faintest hint of hops.
My winner

Still it was a fun time with lots of denigrating the beer and a friendly contest to see who could name the most beers correctly (the winner was able to name 4 beers correctly and did so twice - impressive - the rest of us peaked at 1).  My winner, by the smallest of margins (mainly because I had to choose a winner) was Brahma Extra.  I like to think that this confirms my discriminating taste as I chose the only beer that was 'Extra." 

So what of the Brazilian craft beer industry?  Well it did make one appearance in the from of Baden Baden Stout, which at 7.5% ABV was for me far to heavy and sweet.  Take 25% off the grain bill and you might be on to something as the flavors were nice.  I had a Baden Baden Golden the last time I was here and I remember finding it a bit heavy as well so I suppose it is their house style and it makes some sense in response to the thin watery beers.

My next time here perhaps I'll arrange a craft beer tasting party, but for now at least I am well learned in the ways of BCB.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beer Review: Mt. Hood Ice Axe IPA

I, among many beer bloggers it appears, was sent a bottle of Mt. Hood Ice Axe IPA to help announce its arrival in bottles and on the shelves of Zupan's Markets. Though I have driven by Mt. Hood's brewpub in Government Camp many times I have never had occasion to stop in, nor have I ever had the opportunity to taste their beer. 

Given that I had not been privy to any buzz about the place and also that it is launching (both predictably and smartly) an IPA as its first bottled offering to thirsty Oregonians I was frankly not expecting too much.  What I was expecting was a pretty conventional NW hop bomb with generous helpings of Cascade, Centennial and perhaps Columbus to make a three C hop bomb, or possibly Summit or another heavy citrus hop.  Which is all great for me, I am a slave to such beers.

What I got surprised and delighted me.  This is not a typical NW IPA, it is more of a NW take on a traditional English IPA.  And it is phenomenal.

I don't get too technical when I think about reviewing beer.  Frankly I don't have the palate for it, nor the inclination.  I like to drink beer experientially - by which I mean I like to think less about all of the component parts and more about how the beer makes me feel.  This beer hit a sweet sport because it took me immediately back to my beer tour of Britain with the Beerax while at the same time reminding me of home. 

It has a nice malt profile, and pours a fairly deep amber with ample head and nice lacing.  It is exceptionally well-balanced (which will probably lead to condemnation among NW hop heads) and is more malt forward than NW IPAs but true to the English style.  It features English variants Centennial, Willamette and Goldings hops prominently so look for a spicy and slightly piney hop flavor but not the big citrus nose that characterize so many of the big NW faves.   Added to this are Geman style Mt Hood and Magnum hops that further emphasize the spice.  This a brave beer to make in a region that has such a well-defined idea of what makes a good IPA.  This, my firends, is an exceptional IPA but wonderfully different.  As it warmed, the malt biscuity flavors mingled lovingly with the English spicy hops and made me think of those cold English evenings huddled in a country pub, tucked into a sheppard's pie and a fresh IPA.  Nice.

It splits the difference between Britain and the NW by coming in at 5.7% ABV - small for the NW, but grotesquely big for England.  And they claim 60 IBUs but these are English hops and treat your palate more lovingly than do the big NW super hops. 

Keep and open mind and enjoy a rare locally made English style IPA, done to perfection. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Brewery Bubble?

The U.S. now boasts 2,126 breweries—an increase of 350 additional breweries since June 2011. The BA also tracks breweries in planning as an indicator of potential new entrants into the craft category, and lists 1,252 breweries in planning today compared to 725 a year ago. Additionally, the count of craft brewers was at 2,075 as of June 30, 2012 showing that 97 percent of U.S. brewers are craft brewers.

With the latest Brewery Association numbers comes renewed worry that we may be seeing a bubble in brewing.  First, to be a little pedantic about it, in economics a good working definition of a bubble in when prices become detached to the fundamental value of the good in question.  Of course, careful economic students will think about how prices are set in marketplaces and represent the market value of a good - which leads to the first existential question in economics: can bubbles exist.  But leavoing that aside, I understand the usage here: are there now too many breweries than can be sustained long term in the market? [This is a bubble in the sense that the price folks are willing to pay to start a brewery may be too high given the present discounted value of the expected stream of revenues]

In general the market for craft beer is showing stong growth:
Dollar sales were up 14 percent in the first half of 2012, while volume of craft brewed beer sold jumped 12 percent during that same time period.
So the fact that the number of craft breweries is expanding makes sense. However, the overall market for beer is shrinking - something the big brewers are grappling with by getting into more and more flavored malt beverages to try and compete with cocktails and the like.  In other words, the craft beer niche is expanding at the same time the overall beer market is shrinking.  What to make of this?  I actually think it is not contradictory at all.  Whereas before most drinkers would find themselves behind a Bud, new drinkers are looking for more - more flavor, more variety, etc.  Both spirits and craft beer offer this.

Which is all to say that I think craft beer is in a good place and maybe we should think of craft beer in the same way we think about spirits and not lump it in with the macro lager industry.

Which is not to say that there will not be some bloodletting in the craft beer industry.  I imagine that at the rate of new openings we are currently seeing there are probably a number of breweries with inadequate experience, poorly thought out business plans or poos locations.  But brewery closings in these cases are a sign of industry health - creative destruction as economists call it - not a sign of an ailing industry.

Overall, then, I see no reason why the marketplace can't sustain vastly more brewpub models.  I think the pressure will be on production breweries - the economies of scale reality and the limited shelf space in supermarkets make pure production brewing much more cutthroat and I expect that we will soon start seeing some failures in this area even with overall increases in market share.  But again, I think this is healthy - better breweries will survive and lesser ones will not.

The winners in all of this are the punters who will get better beer, more variety and lower prices as a result.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Flat Tail Redux

On the last night of an intense work week in Corvallis I decided to finally get back to Flat Tail Brewery.  Work, unfortunately forced me to miss a chance to hang out with Dave the brewer so that will wait for another time but I have two little notes from my economist's notebook to pass along.

I hadn't noticed before but Flat Tail prices beer differently for different beer and roughly by ABV.  Which is nice.  It makes the exceptional Kolsch both a great session beer for being lower ABV but also because it won't make to big a dent in your wallet.  [I also suspect it helps cut down on binging by price sensitive college students but who knows]  The Kolsch last night was as good as I remember and perfect for a lovely summer evening down in the valley.

And talking of beer, I highly recommend the IPA, a great example of getting great flavor and aroma out of hops, but what the heck is Zythos hops?  Apparently good, because it was hopped with Cascade (which I know very well) and Zythos (which I don't).  Zythos appears to be a fruity hop ala Summit that imparts a nice citrus note.

I did not care for the imperial IPA, the Licentious Goat, because I am very sensitive to herbs and spices in beer and generally find them objectionable.  But, that is me and it is a very well made beer and a real crowd pleaser so there you are.  I bought a bottle of a pale ale (whose name escapes me) in a local market which was also very nice - it was great to see bottles out in the market.

I will also put in a plug for the fish and chips (one of my other passions).  The fresh halibut was fantastic and wonderfully flavorful.  Just a tiny bit rubbery, but nice big chunks cooked well puts it well up on my list.  I do think they should rethink the waffle fries though. And something that is often neglected is the tartar sauce, but Flat Tail's appears to be made fresh and is exceptionally tasty.  Ditto the slaw which is sans mayo, fresh, light and tasty. 

Funny that the crowd outside Bock 15 was bigger, but Flat Tail deserves just as much love: beautiful location, great beer and good food. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kids and Pubs

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
It always seemed like good economics to me to make pubs in Portland family friendly, and it is the rare exception to find a pub that is not.  I have never felt tension in such places and, though I am a parent who from time to time patronizes pubs with kids, I more often meet up with adult friends for a little adult chatter and beer sans fils.

But apparently our tolerant, family-friendly culture is not common in hard-core New York:
It seemed that every parent in Park Slope was talking about it. A new bar was opening on the edge of the neighborhood and its owner had put out the word to local families: strollers welcome.

This was big news among the stroller set in a Brooklyn neighborhood where relations between those with children and those without have often been testy.

But within days of the June 28 opening of the bar, Greenwood Park, vitriol erupted online.

Several patrons took to Yelp, the popular review Web site, to complain — loudly — about the influx of children.

“I arrived around 6 PM with friends and showed my ID to the doorman. OH YEAH, time for a laid back and relaxing time with some frosty beverages and bar food! WRONG, welcome to Chuck-E-Cheese in South Slope,” a Yelp reviewer, John H., posted on July 3. “From infant to toddler to preteen, every age except adult seemed to be well represented. I’m not sure why they even put tables and chairs in. It would have been far more practical to just throw a jungle gym in there and call it a day.”

At 13,000 square feet, Greenwood Park, tucked between the Prospect Expressway and Green-Wood Cemetery, is much, much larger than bars on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, where they average about 1,000 square feet, according to the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. Most of its space is outdoors, ringed by a high wall of wooden pallets and dotted with picnic tables and featuring a bar made out of a shipping container, bocce courts and 40 varieties of draft beer.
Here are some amusing responses to this article.

I think places like Laurelwood get it just right: have an area in which kids can entertain themselves, mildly segregate the groups with kinds and those without and otherwise not worry so much about it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

OBF Review

Yesterday I got a full dose of the OBF starting with the parade and ending with a dinner at the House of Louie in Chinatown.  Here are my thoughts and recommendations [note that they coincide fairly strongly with Jeff/Beervana as he and I agree on a lot of things beer-wise and share each others beer choices to broaden our samples without getting falling-over drunk].

Parading through scenic industrial SE PDX

First off the parade was a mild amusement but not more than that.  Fun once, but I don't think I need to do it again.  Jeff mused that if you had arrived in Portland for the first time to attend the OBF and this was your first look (a march through the gritty industrial inner SE) you might have a skewed impression of our fair city.

Ah, this pic could be from any of the last 15 or so OBFs, but it was yesterday.  This is the absurdly long Dogfish Head line for a decidedly unimpressive beer.  Once again the Dogfish hype-machine at work in the service of poor beer - they do have some great ones but too many are total duds.  This is not a total dud, but no where near the best of the fest.

Second, it just keeps getting earlier and earlier.  I used to be able to count on a few relatively peaceful hours on Thursday afternoon before the chaos started, but this year, the first big whoop I heard came in just before 12:30pm.  Bummer.  Still, it is a pretty well oiled machine at this point and I never had to wait long for beer, toilet, or water.  On the latter, it really is time to improve these facilities.  More water stations and better flow rates.  Many have figured out that to stay hydrated you need to drink lots of water which leads to long wait times at the water stations as the little dribble fills up a big water bottle.

Third, the beer selection was good and quite varied.

Some of my favorites:

Uinta IPA - This is a pretty big IPA but very well well made with a delicious hop aroma and flavor

Sierra Nevada Pilsner - Not too big but full of American hops.  This is similar to the Laurelwood Pils in that sense but I thought a bit more successful.

Prodigal Son - I liked it a lot but it was not universally admired. 

Odell St. Lupulin Pale - Very, very nice hop aroma on a non-aggressive well-balanced beer.

Occidental Kellerbier - Perfect for a hot beerfest day.

Gigantic Dynomite! - What else is there to say?

Flat Tail White Light/White Ale - Beautiful use of white peppercorn to give some spice and flavor.

Epic Lager - Wonderful hop flavor in a lighter session ale.


Russian River - too much of a good thing, Simcoe, it turns out.  A little agressive and one dimensional.

Ninkasi  Pils - A dark pilsner?!? I'm sure some love it but I don't want roasted noted in my pils.

Dogfish Head Wheat Beer - Overdone, and way too many banana esters fro my taste. But if you like you them banana-y wheat beers, and many do, try this.

Boundary Bay Pale - A well-made beer but it turns out that the Delta hop is not one of my favorites.  I don't think it has enough character to stand alone.   

Ooops - ones I missed but wished I hadn't:

Pelican Wit.

Eel River Pale.

Fort George Wit.

Lompoc Saison.  Figure I can try this locally at the Oaks Bottom.

Summit Abbey.  If this was last year this would have been my brother's contribution to the Unchained series, now he has moved on to Renegade in Denver. 

Finally, a bonus.  With I-5 across the river closed this weekend, the fest should afford a rare opportunity to enjoy the waterfront park without the din of cars.  Now if we could only do something about the ever-increasing "whoop".

Enjoy the fest folks!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beer Review: Widmer Citra Blonde

 The Widmers do love the Citra hop...and so do I.  Citra, which started out as the experimental 114 hop that gives X-114 IPA its name tastes just like the name suggests: a citrus explosion, more orange and lemon than others on my palate.  As I have made plain in these pages, I absolutely love X-114 (bring it back please!) and the main reason is the wonderful Citra hop note they achieve.

But I also love sessionable beers and am a big proponent of lower alcohol beers with lots of flavor.  And so it is that the Widmers (a brewery which as recently as a few years ago I hardly gave a second thought) have brought out a beautiful new beer, the Citra Blonde for the summer. 

At 4.3% ABV and only 20 IBUs you might be tempted to believe that the beer will be watery and tasteless.  You would be very wrong, the beer absolutely sings with the Citra hop while not overwhelming you with bitterness.  It has a very simple malt base, mostly pale malt with some caramel for color and a touch of sweetness.  It pours out a beautiful golden with a slight hint of amber and has a generous head - it definitely looks the part of a summer thirst quencher.  Then it hits the nose with a gorgeous aroma of Citra hops and has the flavor to match.  For those that think you need a 7%ABV hop bomb to get hop flavor in spades this is the perfect rejoinder.  Yes it misses that bracing bitterness but it also wont put you right to sleep in the middle of the day.  I give it a super-big thumbs up, this is the beer I have been waiting from from NW brewers - a hop infused summer session beer.

Once again, time to give it up for the Widmers - they have definitely found their mojo.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Back in Time for the OBF!

I failed to mention on this blog, mea culpa, that I was going on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I am back now (both physically and spiritually) and ready to resume blogging and beery things.  The good news is that I have timed my return with the Oregon Brewers Festival!  The OBF just keeps getting bigger and bigger and, unfortunately, more of a scene and a bit overrun (they anticipate nearly 80,000 attendees this year).  But if you are wise like me you have a nice afternoon on Thursday before the crowds get too crazy and enjoy the hard to get beers on offer.

[It is also worth noting that they do an very good job handling the crowds: the porta-potties are plentiful (this is a beer fest after-all, you are going to need a LOT of toilets), the lines get long for some popular beers, but are generally not too bad, and there is ample free drinking water]

This year I am even planning on joining the parade from the Cascade Barrel House to the OBF.  For me I always enjoy getting to sample great breweries like Boundary Bay that are not available in Oregon.  This year, Boundary Bay is offering up a Double Dry Hopped Delta Pale Ale which is right in my wheelhouse.  I was also happy to see that SF's 21st Amendment is finally bringing something other than the uber-popular Watermelon Wheat.  Kudos to them.

Some of the beers that piqued my interest (this being summer, I am particularly interested in lower ABV beers):

10 Barrel Brewing, Bend: Raspberry Crush.  A 5.2% ABV Raspberry tart beer with lacto and rice syrup.  Could be a great summer session beer.

Laurelwood, Portland: Portlandia Pils.  Apparently Van Havig (of Gigantic fame) had a hand in this pilsener brewed with Columbus, Cascade, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Amarillo and Centennial hops.  Wha?  This is a must-try.  No word on the yeast - ale or lager, would like to know - but at 5.5% it could be the hit of the fest. 

Boundary Bay, Bellingham: Double Dry Hopped Delta Pale Ale.  A 5.6% pale single hopped with Delta, a hop of which I am unfamiliar.  I'll know it intimately after this.

Ninkasi, Eugene:  Lady of Avalon. Ninkasi, masters of the hop bomb, rolling along with a 5.2% Pilsener that they lagered for four months.  Nice!

Russian River, Santa Rosa: Story of Simcoe.  Like the BB above, a single hopped adventure into the world of the Simcoe hop.  5.8% ABV.

Flat Tail, Corvallis: White Light / White Ale.  Okay so this is a 8% ABV bomb, but combining Flat Tail and Velvet Underground has got to be a sure winner.

Gigantic, Portland: Dynomite!  It is Gigantic and it is dynomite, what more is there to know?  At 8.9% even JJ would call it dynomite!, by the way,

There are surely many more that will pique yours, so go have a look at the list of the beers.

Here are the essentials:

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland, Oregon Main entrance at S.W. Oak Street and Naito Parkway

July 26 - 29, 2012 — "Always the last full weekend in July"

Thurs through Sat, taps are open from Noon to 9 p.m. Sun, taps are open from Noon to 7 p.m. Token & mug sales close one-half hour prior to the taps shutting off

Admission into the festival grounds is free. In order to consume beer, purchase of a 2012 souvenir mug is required and costs $6. Mugs from previous years will not be filled. Beer is purchased with wooden tokens. Tokens cost $1 apiece. Patrons pay four tokens for a full mug of beer, or one token for a taste. The festival is cash only; there are ATMs on-site.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Organic Beer Fest

The North American Organic Beer Festival is this weekend at Overlook Park in Portland.  The event, one of the season's best, starts today and continues through Sunday.  Overlook park is a lovely setting for the festival and with the explosion in organic ingredients the beer selection and quality should be excellent.

One caveat, however, to be organic in beer you need only to use organic malt not hops.  Organic hops are still hard to come by but it would be interesting to know if there are any beers at the festival that use both organic hops and malt.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Will Sellwood-Westmoreland Finally Get a Real Brewpub?

Laurelwood coming to the former Springwater Grill space.

From PDX Eater via Brewpublic I learn that it is none other than Laurelwood Brewing Company that is set to take over the prime restaurant space on SE Milwaukie Ave in the heart of the Westmoreland business district that was most recently occupied by the Moreland House restaurant.  Prior to the Moreland House the space was the Springwater Grill.  Neither restaurant lasted terribly long in the space making me wonder why - it is such a great location.  Recently I mentioned the location to someone else who was looking for brewpub space as it is in my own self-interest being a Sellwood resident. 

But I suspect that Sellwood-Moreland will still be without a proper Brewpub.  I mentioned this lacuna in the blog a while back and someone responded that there are already three.  But not quite.  Philadelphia's is a sandwich shop with brewed on site beer.  Oak Bottom Public House is a fully realized pub but no brewing occurs there.  The Portland U-Brew Pub has brewed on-site beer but no kitchen (you can get paninis and such if you are hungry or, even better, scuttle next door to the San Felipe Taquria).  So there really is no fully realized brewpub in the neighborhood. I suspect the Laurelwood will be like the Oaks Bottom - full pub menu and Laurelwood beer, but trucked in from the Sandy Boulevard location, but you never know, they may try to cram in a little brewhouse. This is not a criticism of any of these places, just a statement of desire for a full-fledged brewpub that I ca walk to.

Regardless of how they set it up I am totally excited to welcome the Laurelwood, they have good beer, good food and a good atmosphere.  I am also extremely high on Laurelwood these days now that Vasilios Gletsos is brewing for them. I will give this one word of advice (or perhaps it is a plea) to the Laurelwood folks: do like the Sandy location and have sports on TV, the neighborhood needs a good place to watch games...

NB: I have now patronized the Portland U-Brew & Pub and I have been neglectful in writing about it.  So I'll give a quick snapshot.  The space is a tad awkward, but they have done a nice job working with what they have and creating a comfortable environment.  The dart board rocks and it worth the trip in itself: it is real, high quality and free.  The beers are interesting, when I was there they were well-crafted subtle beers (I think there was a cream ale and a blonde on, for example) and not big hoppy proto-typical NW beers.  All were well done but I did miss the signature IPA.  I think on a warm night, some beer on the tables outside with food from San Felipe next door is a winning combo.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Portland Fruit Beer Fest and Burnside Brewing

The Portland Fruit Beer Festival is this weekend and it promises to be a highlight of the summer beer fest scene that has become so prevalent in Portland.  The weather is supposed to be nice, the event now commandeers 7th street by Burnside brewing and will have much more pouring capacity than last year - so it is all shaping up to be a big hit. 

And we are not talking about watermelon wheat here - these are some serious and seriously creative beers that are a-comin' to the fest.  I had the chance to sample some of the beer that will be featured and here are some impressions and advice for the festival:

Winnners from the beers I have tasted

Hopworks Urban Brewery: What Up Apple-Weizen

A beer I assumed I'd dislike, beer and apple juice? Yuck. But I was totally wrong the wheat and apple play off each other elegantly with a subtle tartness and a really nice apple note that shines through.  My only quibble is that at 6.5% ABV it is a bit big, something in the low 5s would make this a can't-miss summer session beer. 

Widmer: Marionberry Hibiscus Gose
This Ben Dobler beer is a tremendously accomplished beer, a beautiful subtle tartness with a hint of salt that balance the marionberry nicely and the hibiscus adds some complexity all in a 5.4% beer that is very quaffable.  This is the next generation of last years fruit beer fest one-off and now it is a national release (apparently it is a big hit in DC for obvious reasons).

Burnside: Red Light District

At 10.2% ABV, a very little of this goes a long way, but it is the ultimate desert beer.  Rich in chocolate and strawberry, this imperial stout is rich, complex and sure to please.

Laurelwood: Cascara Obscura

This one is hard to describe. It uses the cherry from the coffee bean and had a similarity to hibiscus and there is a dark cherry note detectable.  A tartness from a Belgian yeast balances it nicely.   

Burnside: Barrel-Aged Mango Kali-Ma International Incident

This beer almost caused WWIII, thanks entirely to Jeff, who is in Burnside's dog house apparently.  But you could not buy that kind of publicity, now the whole world knows Burnside Brewing.  Anyway the beer is a must try even though many will find it too aggressive.  It started with a mango beer that was way too sweet and mango-y, so Jason decided to turn it into a curry and well he did with a bunch of hot peppers as dry-hops to give it a serious kick.  Woah.  It is about the most interesting beer you'll ever taste. 

Can't miss beer I have not tasted

Block 15: Tropical Storm

I would go to the fest just for this.  Seriously. "Farmhouse style ale brewed with Pilsner malts, Palm Sugar and Nelson Sauvin Hops. Conditioned with yellow papaya and blended with a one year old barrel of Ferme de la Ville Provisions." Remember Nick Arzner is at the helm - this will rock.

Intriguing beers I have not tasted

Gigantic: Hot Town, Summer in the City

You work a Lovin' Spoonful song into the name of your beer, I will try it.  Plus, Gigantic is the buzz brewery of the moment.

Flat Tail: Strawberry Mandarin Wit

Sounds like a disaster, but Corvallis is where it is at and I have had more hits for their experimental beers than misses, so I'd give this the benefit of the doubt.

With good weather in the forecast, this is shaping up to be a hell of a fest.  NE 7th and Burnside, Sat 11am to 9pm and Sunday 11am to 6pm.

And finally a note on Burnside Brewing.  I had not yet had the pleasure of visiting prior to the tasting and I was pleasantly surprised.  I thought, given its locale, it would be a bit gritty, but it is not at all.  It is a very pleasant space, has some tasty appetizers and nice beer.  I'll be back.    

Friday, May 25, 2012

Beer Review: Coalition Two Dogs IPA and Burnside IPA

A couple of local brewpubs in the bottle that I picked up at my local New Seasons: Coalition's Two Dogs IPA and Burnside's IPA.

Coalition: This is a wonderfully sessionably IPA, at 5.8% ABV and 77 IBUs it is neither too big nor too heavy.  It is not abusively bitter, in fact it is rather mild for NW IPAs but with a bright hops fragrance and aroma due, most likely, to dry hopping.  To me it is a perfect summer IPA - lots of hop character but lighter and immensely quaff-able.  The malt note is particularly lovely with the addition of oats it has a nice softness and biscuit flavor.  If I have a quibble it is in the fact that the hop note is slightly muddy, there is no one note that rises above the rest and gives it a distinct character.  The Cascade hops were the dominant note I perceived but nothing came in too brightly.

Burnside: Off the charts bitter...face-meltingly bitter.  Not really out of balance, at 6.6% ABV and 88 IBUs it has enough body to keep up (barely) but within about three sips your tongue is numb and your head is starting to float.  All of which is great if you are into that sort of thing (and many of you are given the success of Stone Brewing) but I found it a bit too aggressive.  To me it has that SoCal character of super bitter without the saturated pine and citrus hop notes you find in beers like Total Domination or Ft. George's Vortex.   It is precisely that saturated flavor I like and that I think Burnside lacks.  The beer is on the heavy side and the color is darker than some IPAs, I'd call it a dark caramel, so it is not in any way to be confused with a sessionable beer. But this is all about me, objectively it is a finely crafted beer and if you are a fan of Stone's beers, I suspect you will love this.  And if you just love bitter - there is plenty to be found here.

As an aside these two beers are a perfect example of why IBUs are totally useless - I barely pay attention to IBUs on bottles or menus.  I get a sense of what the brewer is after if they list 80 or 20, say but otherwise I think there is little utility in them.  Given the listed IBUs and alcohol content these beers aught to have a similar level of bitterness, but the Burnside is abusively so and the Coalition is only slightly bitter. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Picture of the Day: Breweries by State

NPR's Planet Money blog reports on the growth of the craft beer industry and provides this helpful little graphic, breweries per capita by state:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Migration Finds its Groove

It had been a long time since I visited Migration Brewing on NE Glisan St. when fate brought me there last Friday evening.  I never would have returned on my own given that my one and only trip there was an unmitigated disaster: the beer was a horror show.  It was both badly infected and poorly crafted, as I wrote in my original review of Coalition and Migration.  I raved about Coalition at the time and still think very highly of their beer.

Skip to Friday and Migration, beerwise, was like an entirely different place.  Not one beer had a trace of infection, DMS or diacetyl and all were well crafted (but super duper hop heavy) and one was, I thought, exceptional: the Glisan Street Dry Hop - an exceptionally aromatic and sessionable beer.  The IPA is an in-your-face bitter hop depth charge but is intoxicatingly aromatic and flavorful, at least in the first few sips when you can still taste anything - anything after and your tongue is singed beyond repair by the hops.  It was great to see that they have really figured out this brewing thing and are starting to rock.

It is also interesting to note that if you make a good enough space and have a good location, the punters will support you even if your beer is a work in progress.  Because Migration's space is very good (though still retains that frat boy grunge) and location is fantastic they never appeared short of custom.

Coalition on the other hand, which came out of the gates firing on all cylinders with their beer was a bit quiet for a Friday nigh when I walked by on my way home from Migration.  Their space is lovely as well but it is quite small and their location is a little more out of the way.  They have a limited kitchen as well and this may be an impediment as well.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that there is a lot more to the brewpub business than just the beer.  Anyway, congratulations to Migration and if you are like me and wrote them off long ago, now is a great time to give them another look.  The groove is on.

Note: I should mention that I have seen Coalition beer on sale in 22oz bottles at New Seasons and you should definitely give them a try if you have never had the chance to visit the pub. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Politics and Economics of Beer in Colorado

Here is a very interesting article about the death of a bill in the Colorado legislature that would have allowed brewpubs to expand bayond 60,000 barrels a year to up to 300,000 barrels a year.  It was the baby of Breckenridge Brewery, the Denver brewery that has seen impressive growth recently and has smacked up against the 60,000 limit.

There is some talk about the mounting tensions among Colorado breweries which is addressed by Doug O'Dell, founder and Brewmaster of O'Dell Brewing Company:
Odell did talk about how quickly the craft beer landscape is changing as breweries like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Oskar Blues and Lagunitas jockey for position and market penetration in an industry that saw 13 percent growth last year nationwide in terms of volume and 15 percent in terms of sales.

The four companies plan to build second locations in the next two years on the East Coast (all but Lagunitas in North Carolina) to better serve customers there.

"All four have said it's primarily because of shipping costs. In the case of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, they are also running out of capacity. Todd [Usry] has said the same thing about Breckenridge and shipping and that they are running out of room.... And he is from Virginia, and I think he would like to move back there one day," Odell says.

"As far as shelf space is concerned, it is finite. There keeps being more and more breweries opening up all the time, so it seems logical that something has to give after a while," Odell adds. "As long as the craft beer market is growing like it is, there is room for people to grow. But if volume declines, that's when I think it will get ugly."
Which is precisely what I have been saying for some time.  The market is experiencing boffo growth and so everyone can get along and be happy, but it will end at some point and I think that point is soon.  When I think about the new breweries, like Gigantic, that are opening up in the Portland area and are planning on packaging and selling in stores, I think about the shelves in my local markets which have maxed their craft capacity.  What is going to give, I often wonder, if you put some Gigantic beer up there who gets pushed out? 

But back to Colorado, the politics and regulations concerning alcohol there are byzantine and deserve to be scrapped.  The decision of craft brewers to oppose the lifting of the 3.2% ABV limit in supermarkets was absurd and counterproductive.  If anyone should be for market liberalization, it is they.

And as an aside, to almost every brewery we went in England, Doug O'Dell had either been to or was coming to.  He, more than any I have heard of, loves and embraces traditional English beer.  And O'Dell's beer is more English in being more malt forward and less aggressively hopped than typical NW beer.  All the brewers spoke glowingly of him and so, though I have never met him, I have formed to impression of a great and passionate beer enthusiast.  I used to quite enjoy the 5 Barrel Pale Ale when I lived in Colorado - a nice English style pale. 

Thornbridge was one of the places he had both been and was coming back to to do a collaborative brew.  Caolan was our host at the Thornbridge Brewery and was excited about his upcoming trip to Colorado to visit O'Dell.  Cut to a few months later and here he is talking about Pond Hopper - the beer itself:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Widmer Rotator IPA: X-114 is the Runaway Champion

Well, in the end it wasn't even close.  Over 60% of voters chose X-114 IPA as their preferred Widmer Rotator IPA.  I tipped my hand, it was my choice too, and by a pretty clear margin.  Interestingly, the Falconer's IPA got almost no love at all, I suspected it would come in second.  It seemed to me to be on the market the shortest amount of time so perhaps folks just didn't get a chance to try it.  But it also was an old school hop bomb and I suspect that NW IPA fans these days have no become accustomed to the saturated floral and citrus aroma and flavor that, to me, typifies the best current IPAs.  Falconer's was more in your face bitter.

O'Ryely and Spiced IPA split most of the non X-114 votes.  I just had another O'Ryely the other day after seeing some in the market.  It is getting a bit old now, probably having sat in the bottle for a couple of months, but now that the weather is getting warm and sunny, it did not hit the spot, furthering my opinion that it is a great winter warmer but not a summer IPA. 

I was happy to see some folks who really liked the spiced IPA come out of the woodwork.  It is a fine beer, but not one for the masses.  I give huge props to Widmer for having the guts to go to market with some more divergent beers and have enjoyed the Rotator ride.

So, Widmer: GIVE US MORE X-114!!  The weather is right, the Timbers are in season, it is time for that exceptional IPA to come back and perhaps find a permanent place in the line up.  Please.

And an aside about a Widmer/Timbers fail:  I was at the game on Saturday and bought a beer that was supposed to be Captain Shaddocks IPA as it clearly said on the tap handle.  I was excited, having not tired the beer, but expecting to like it.  What I got, however, was not Shaddocks but Spiced IPA.  Yuck.  Trying to go back to the concession line to correct this blunder was not in the cards, so I drank the Spiced IPA unhappily.  C'mon guys, this is Beer City USA, let's get some better quality control.  On the other hand, the dude at the concession line brightened up considerably when I ordered the Shaddocks and he said "oh man, I can't wait to try this myself."  So there you have Portland in a nutshell - concession dude knows and loves his craft beer.  Sweet.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Timbers Edition: Kick Axe Pale

I had intended to blog about the Oregon Garden Brewfest this week but I has the misfortune of coming down with the flu which prevented me from attending the real fest.  I did get to attend the Brewer's dinner and I got to see the lovely Garden and Resort so I'll get a post up on that soon now that I have fully recovered.  But as it is Friday and the Timbers have a home game tomorrow, I figured it was finally time to give Kick Axe a try.

Kick Axe is a fairly true to form Pale Ale in the tradition of Sierra Nevada.  Is is medium bodied and a rich amber color, beautifully clear and has a tinge of orange when held to the light.  The nose is immediately assaulted by the beautiful aroma of Cascade hops. Which is of course perfect for a Timbers Army inspired beer.  I get a big hit of pine form the beer, I am not sure if it is single hopped with Cascade but if so it would be fairly true to form for me, for come reason Cascade express a lot of pine to me - more so than most it seems.  It is a really nicely balanced beer, the malt is present but does not get in the way, the hops are the point here.  I might have gone slightly lighter on the malt, it could be described as a tad malty given the hops, but the flavors are subtle and create a reasonable backbone.  And I am a hophead, balanced to me is probably ridiculously hoppy. To me this beer is as big a homage to the Northwest as you can get.  I suppose a big hoppy IPA would be another obvious choice, but having nice big hoppy beers that do not assault you with either bitterness or alcohol is a wonderful and somewhat rare thing. 

At 5.2% ABV and I'll guess about 45 IBUs, Kick Axe is wonderfully aromatic and flavorful and you can get through a whole pint and still walk away from the table in a straight line.  It may be a seasonal one-off but I don't mind calling it one of the best Lompoc beers full stop and you can consider this a vote for making it a regular in the stable of Lompoc beers.

But what of the Timbers, they are neither balanced nor is their aroma particularly pleasant these days.  Since I am a genius, let me lay it bare: forget the defense, that is not the problem.  The problem is there is no service into the box from the wings and no creative play whatsoever in the center of the midfield to break down opponents.  Boyd is a handful but without service you hardly have to bother marking him.  The Timbers have to be the easiest team to defend in the league.  There, problem assessed.  I'd like to see Jewsbury playing right back (as has been rumored) because he is adding nothing in the midfield and usually delivers a good cross.  the new Scot, Scott, seems a bit slow on defense right now, but puts in a good long ball and cross.  Let Chara be the holding midfielder and let Songo'o try the #10 position (number is now free after all).  Okay, so I have no idea but I'd rather see the Timbers stick to a style of play than keep changing it in the face of recent performance. 

So hopefully, you can enjoy a Kick Axe while celebrating a Timbers win rather then using it as a way to forget your woes after a loss.  But either way, its a good tipple.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reminder: Oregon Garden Brewfest Fri & Sat


Hopefully the hot summer weather has you in the mood for a nice brewfest. So this is just a reminder that there is a great way to satisfy your brewfest urge: the Oregon Garden Brewfest in lovely Silverton on April 27 and 28.  There is even a few tickets left for the Brewer's Dinner on Thursday night.  Here is the beer list...nice:

Brewery Name Beer Name Style
10 Barrel Brewing Apocalypse IPA
10 Barrel Brewing TBD TBD
2 Towns Ciderhouse The Bad Apple Semi-Dry Cider
2 Towns Ciderhouse The Incider Semi-Sweet Cider
21st Amendment Brewery Bitter American Extra Pale Ale
21st Amendment Brewery Hell or High Watermelon Wheat American Wheat
Alameda Brewing Co Black Bear XX Stout Stout
Alameda Brewing Co Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA Imperial IPA
Block 15 Brewing Co. Nebula Naked Oat Stout
Block 15 Brewing Co. Wandlepad Blonde
Blue Moon Brewing Co. Blue Moon Belgian White Ale Belgian Style White
Blue Moon Brewing Co. Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat Ale American Style Wheat Ale
BridgePort Brewing Co. BridgePort Kingpin Imperial Red
BridgePort Brewing Co. Dark Rain Black Pale Ale
Calapooia Brewing Co. Chili Beer Specialty
Calapooia Brewing Co. RIPArian IPA India Pale Ale
Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. Blonde Bombshell Sessions
Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. Cyclops IPA
Crispin Cider Co. Crispin Original Cider
Crispin Cider Co. Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear Cider
Eel River Organic Brewery Organic IPA American IPA
Eel River Organic Brewery Organic Porter Organic Porter
Elysian Brewing Avatar Jasmine IPA IPA
Elysian Brewing Dragonstooth Stout Imperial Stout
Firestone Walker Brewing Co. DBA British Pale Ale
Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Solace Unfilitered Wheat
Flat Tail Brewing Co. Jarabe Caliente! Chocolate Chili Porter
Flat Tail Brewing Co. Tailgater Kölsch Kolsch
Fort George Brewery & Public House Cavatica Stout Stout
Fort George Brewery & Public House Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale American Style Pale
Gigantic Brewing Co. Axes of Evil Hoppy Beer
Gigantic Brewing Co. Gigantic IPA IPA
Gilgamesh Brewing DJ Jazzy Hef American Hef
Gilgamesh Brewing Vader Cascadian Dark Ale
GoodLife Brewing Co. Descender IPA India Pale Ale
GoodLife Brewing Co. Mountain Rescue Dry Hop Pale Ale American Pale Ale
Hoegaarden Brewery (InBev) Hoegaarden wit
Hopworks Urban Brewery Organic Hopworks IPA IPA
Hopworks Urban Brewery Rise up Red Nw Style Red
Kona Brewing Co Longboard Lager Lager
Kona Brewing Co Wailua Wheat Tropical Passion Fruit
Lagunitas Brewing Co Little Sumpin Sumpin Hybrid Pale Wheat
Lagunitas Brewing Co Undercover Shutdown Ale Imperial Mild
Laughing Dog Brewing Co Dogzilla Black IPA Cascadian Blacdk IPA
Laughing Dog Brewing Co Rocket Dog Rye IPA Rye IPA
Leinenkugal's Brewing Co. Leinie's Summer Shandy Lemon Shandy
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Kili Wit Organic White Beer
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Seizoen Bretta Saison
Lost Coast Brewery Great White Belgian White Ale
Lost Coast Brewery Tangerine Wheat Citrus Wheat
McMenamins Thompson Brewery Bellini Cream Ale Cream Ale
McMenamins Thompson Brewery Black Jack Russian Imperial Russian Imperial
Mendocino Brewing Co. Red Tail Ale Pale ale
Mendocino Brewing Co. White Hawk IPA American IPA
Nectar Ales Humbolt Brown American Brown Ale
Nectar Ales Red Nectar Amber Ale
New Belgium Brewing "Dig" Pale Ale
New Belgium Brewing Belgo IPA Belgian Style India Pale Ale
Ninkasi Brewing Spring Reign Pale Ale
Ninkasi Brewing Total Domination IPA
Oakshire Brewing Line Dry Rye Rye Pale Ale w/honey
Oakshire Brewing Overcast Espresso Stout Espresso Stout
Pale Horse Brewing Co. Hillbilly Blonde Blonde Ale
Pale Horse Brewing Co. Hopyard Dog India Pale Ale
Pelican Pub & Brewery India Pelican Ale India Pale Ale
Pelican Pub & Brewery Kiwanda Cream Ale Cream Ale
Ram Restaurant & Brewery BIG RED IPA IPA
Ram Restaurant & Brewery MAI BOCK MAI BOCK
Redhook Brewing Co Longhammer IPA IPA
Redhook Brewing Co Redhook Wit Wit
Rusty Truck Brewing Co. Fender Bender Amber Ale Amber Ale
Rusty Truck Brewing Co. Roadwrecker IPA IPA
Seven Brides Brewing Abbey's Apple Ale Beer and Cider hybrid
Seven Brides Brewing Becky's Black Cat Porter Porter
Shock Top Brewing Co (InBev) Shock Top IPA IPA
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Summerfest Pilsner-style Lager
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Torpedo Extra IPA
Stella Artois (InBev) Stella Artois European Pilsner
Stone Brewing Co. Stone Imperial Russian Stout Imperial Russian Stout
Stone Brewing Co. Stone IPA IPA
Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider Cider
Tieton Cider Works Teiton Cherry Cider Apple Based Cherry Cider
Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Cider Cider
Uinta Brewing Co Duhbe Imperial Black Ale Imperial Black Ale
Uinta Brewing Co Hop Notch IPA IPA
Wandering Aengus Anthem Cherry Cider
Wandering Aengus Anthem Hops Cider
Widmer Bros Brewing Co Citrus Blonde Summer Seasonal Blonde
Widmer Bros Brewing Co Pitch Black CDA Cascadian Dark Ale
Widmer Bros Brewing Co Widmer Rotator IPA IPA
Woodchuck Hard Cider Woodchuck Hard Cider Amber Amber Cider
Woodchuck Hard Cider Woodchuck Hard Cider Granny Smith Granny Smith Cider