Thursday, April 25, 2013

John Harris - Solo

Photo Credit: John Foyston

Oregon, filled with the legends of beer: Tony Gomes, the Widmer Brothers, the McMenamin Brothers, Art Larrance, Gary Fish, Alan Sprints, Jamie Emmerson and Irene Firmat, and on and on and on.  Then there are the new legends: Jamie Floyd, Christian Ettinger, Ben Love and Van Havig, Darron Welch 

But one legend surely rises above all others and that is John Harris.  The string of iconic beers that he has created at McManamins, Deschutes and Full Sail is amazing.  He is also one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. So if there is one person who deserves to become an independent icon of the Oregon beer scene it is John.   

I have written about John Harris numerous times in this blog, suggesting his worth is tremendous and comparing him to Lady Gaga.  I have also waxed poetic about his beers many times (and I will miss his presence at the Pilsner Room but he has trained so many good brewers that I don't think I have to worry about the quality of the beer suffering there). 

If you are not very aware of John it is because he has always brewed for someone else (though it could be argued that at Full Sail as a member of the employee stock ownership plan he was working for himself).  Finally, I am delighted to report, he is taking his act solo.  And trust me, he is more Neil Young than David Lee Roth (though Crazy From the Heat is pretty awesome).   

It has been quite a while since John left Full Sail and many, many beery folks have been waiting anxiously for the arrival of his solo venture. Finally it is here.

John is launching his solo Project Sunday, here are the details from the press release:

On Sunday April 28th at 805 N. Cook in Portland from 2-4pm the space will be open to the public. There will be brewery renderings and floor plan displays on-site, as well as initial company graphic design elements. T-shirts will also be sold. Unfortunately John can’t legally serve beer there just yet, so this will be a non-alcoholic information session.

Event Details (stolen, shamlessly, from The New School):

WHO: John Harris, brewmaster with 26 years of experience, including two years with McMenamins’ breweries, four years with Deschutes, and 20 years with Full Sail.

WHAT: Brewery and Brewpub Sneak Preview and Name Unveiling

WHEN: Sunday, April 28, 2013. 2-4pm Public Open House

WHY: Get an inside look at the new Portland brewery being started by an Oregon brewing pioneer, John Harris. John will be on hand to talk about the space and answer questions. There will also be renderings and floor plan displays for public viewing, and t-shirts for sale.
Photo Credit: Ezra (or, perhaps, Google)
When I talked to John last year his plan, as I understood it, was to do a brewpub.  This space looks like he is thinking of a production brewery as well but I don't know if the brewpub is still the first step or if it will be like Gigantic: a production brewery with a tasting room.  I hope the former but either will be welcome.  You can find out the details on Sunday (I will have to watch from afar in Brazil).

The location, it has to be said, is great - though I was, selfishly, very much hoping to see him in the SE. I know he looked far and wide including Woodstock and, ironically, I suggested to him the idea of the Westmoreland space that Laurelwood eventually moved into (see how prescient I am?). 

Anyhow, go and give John your support as a way to thank him for decades of great Oregon beer. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Rise of Craft in the UK - As Viewed by the BBC

Jeff, doing the legwork for his book at Thornbridge
I was about to simply tweet this article from the BBC about how US beers (once only a subject of scorn and derision) is inspiring brewers in the UK.  They are talking about craft beers of course, but what I found fascinating is another echo of something that Jeff and I found on our beer tour of Britain: the presentation that the establishment against which craft beer is rebelling includes old traditional producers of "Real Ale"  
British firms like Darkstar, Meantime and Marble have all manufactured drinks influenced more by California and Colorado than Cornwall or Coventry.

These do not always qualify as "real ales" - a term popularised by British beer lovers when they launched the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) a generation ago in rebellion against the prevalence of mass-produced carbonated beers.

According to Camra, beer should be left to ferment "live" in casks.

Craft beer, by contrast, is often pasteurised in kegs with added nitrogen or carbon dioxide - a technique which makes traditionalists shudder.

It's a reaction that enthusiasts for the new wave of American-inspired beers are happy to provoke. Indeed, they are often keen to dissociate themselves from Camra's beard-and-cardigan image.

While Camra has held its annual Great British Beer Festival since 1975, February 2013 saw London's first Craft Beer Rising - an event complete with modish DJs and trendy pop-up restaurants stalls, dedicated to the upstart movement.

"It's a more exciting product," says Neil Taylor of the Scottish brewery-cum-pub-chain Brew Dog. "It doesn't taste like anything else. People who are willing to push themselves are going to get more out of it.

"The establishment in the US is bottled lagers; here it's lagers and real ales.
This is a point of much debate in the UK.  Coming from America Jeff and I were, of course, in thrall to the ancient and traditional breweries like Greene King and Fullers.  But these are old, fuddy-duddy breweries that make bland beer and are resistant to change, say some of the young upstarts like the Brew Doggers. 

But the sentiment of folks like Brew Dog are not universal.  Fullers for example has made a point of collaborating with craft brewers in the UK like the aforementioned Marble.  Jeff and I thought it was great shame that there was a tension between these smaller, traditional breweries and the upstart craft breweries.  But markets are hard to penetrate in the UK and the image of Fuller's and the like is Grandad's beer and something craft brewers are hesitant to associate themselves with. 

The rigidity of the CAMRA types does not help.  It is clearly time for CAMRA to embrace both real ale and craft beer. These two groups are really allies and have a lot to teach each other, which is why it is great to see collaborations like Fullers and Marble.  The US experience has shown that there is plenty of potential market to share.  While Greene King and Fullers have the pubs, Dark Star and Thornbridge have the hip American style beer the kids love.  Together, it would seem they could totally compliment each other.  Craft beer would bring in the youngsters to the staid old pubs and re-introduce them to real ale.  Traditional brewers would provide craft brewers market access and advertising and publicity. A win-win. 

The horror!  Dark Star putting its (exceptional) beer in kegs...
What is certainly true is that the UK craft brewing scene is very heavily influenced by the US, and why not?  It is is tremendous success story here and generating a very coveted consumer base - young, hip, money to spend.  Brew Dog, Dark Star, Thornbridge are all very clearly inspired by US craft brewers and make no apologies. 

It should also be mentioned that the UK has just as many bland yellow fizzy lagers as the US (some thanks to the US) and it is also true that beer is losing out to spirits in the UK as well as the US. The bland fizzy lagers have a virtual lock on supermarkets making the challenge for craft beer that much harder. But I have no doubt that craft will eventually see the same success in the UK as it has in the US.   

Now, if we could just get Brazil going...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beer Can Innovation

In lieu of any real content, I give you the topless beer can! [HT: Jacob Grier]

This cute little gif is from the Beer and Whiskey Brothers

I have to say that I think this is fantastic - especially for very aromatic beers like IPAs, being able to smell the beer is why I always decant.