SMaSH beers (The Session #125) round-up

Welcome to the round-up post for the The Session #125 where our topic was SMaSH beers.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

I believe that this is everyone but if I have missed you, I apologize, and ask that you comment here or another place to let me know and I will update the post.

These are not in any particular order, just a result of trying to track all of my potential sources for entries.

Without further ado,

My friend, Ryan Sharp, one of the principals involved in Central Oregon Beer Week and the SMaSH Fest, commented on my announcement post with some stats on the 22 SMaSH beers available at this year’s fest.

qq made a comment as entry, or so I am taking it. While he does see a role for SMaSH beers, he also “see[s] the role of a brewer as giving pleasure to their customers, not setting them homework. So keep SMaSH in the pilot plant and in the homebrew world, and give us complex multi-varietal beers in the pub.”

DaveS, of Brewing In A Bedsitter, “… can’t ever remember having seen a commercial beer that made a virtue of its single-maltedness.” He is also looking for anyone having recipes with “a basic version, which would be reliable, simple and bordering on bland, but then a series of variations ….” Let him know if you do.

Andy Farke at Andy’s Brewing Blog. Welcome to a first-time participant! Andy thought they were a homebrew educational tool/technical gimmick until he began to brew Bohemian Pilsners.

Mike Stein at Lost Lagers provides most excellent answers to my questions; answers that provide a fair bit of historical context. Thank you, Lost Lagers!

By the way, my definition of SMaSH beer—without any other restrictions negotiated, in advance—means one malt, one variety of hops. Anything else, fruit, barrel-aging, coffee, wild yeasts or bacteria is an attempt at more character but does not defy the definition and thus is OK. Am I going to rules lawyer about all hops being of the same type (pellet, whole, cry, …) and batch, year, etc.? No. But I would/will be using the exact same hops across each of my individual SMaSH beers.

Derek Peterman at Ramblings of a Beer Runner writes:

“In the Bay Area, it’s a good bet we’ll start seeing SMaSH brews with the opening of the Admiral Maltings, an artisanal floor malting house which is set to open mid-summer.  I’m pretty enthusiastic about Bay Area brewers getting their hands on California grown malt playing around with it. As brewers learn how these new malts interact with hops, they’ll likely release SMaSH beers in the Bay Area, since there is a logic to starting with simplified SMaSH brews before moving on to more full blown, multi-dimensional efforts.”

I am excited for this kind of thing too. By the way, most of Mecca Grade Estate Malt from Madras in Central Oregon is sold in S. California; that is my understanding from a podcast I just listened to. But I take your point re California-grown.

Andreas Krennmair at Daft Eejit Brewing provides another historical take with the added point that historical examples weren’t intentionally SMaSH beers.

Gail Ann Williams at Beer By BART. In which a local brewer is interviewed and turns out to be a fan of SMaSH beers, both for brewers and consumers.

“This single-minded approach is not going away at Black Sands.  “It’s by far the most important thing we do,” Cole said. “Our Kölsch is a SMaSH – we always have a SMaSH on draft, no matter what.””

Thank you for this angle, Gail Ann.

Jack Perdue at Deep Beer wondered if I was joking ….

Mark at Kaedrin Beer Blog could see pitting several head-to-head in a comparative tasting.

Boak & Bailey, in the midst of moving, were “going to give this a miss” but then realized a few beers they have had have probably been SMaSH beers. They go on to wonder about other “Stealth SMaSH are out there in UK pubs?”

Jon Abernathy, of The Brew Site, is:

” … a fan of the SMaSH beer, both in concept and most of the time in execution, and I would love to see more brewers offering them up—or if they already do, for instance with a pilsner, highlight them as such, because I would seek them out. ….”

Jon hasn’t brewed a SMaSH beer yet but now seems on the hook to do so. Mission accomplished! Kidding, Jon. Brew what you want, brother.

Mark at By the Barrel. Me. I’m all over the place, as usual. While I agree that SMaSH beers mostly serve as a brewer’s educational tool, I still would appreciate a few more well-executed commercial examples for consumer education.

Wrap-up

That is the end of this month’s The Session #125. Thank you all for participating. I enjoyed and value your thoughts and opinions.

Next is Session #126

Session #126 is Friday, August 4th and will be hosted by Gail Ann Williams at Beer By Bart on Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist.

Please participate, if you are able.

SMaSH beers (The Session #125)

This month (July 2017), I am hosting The Session #125 on the topic of SmaSH beers.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

This is my post on the topic, along with an initial recap of what I said in my announcement post.

Recap of Announcement

Our local, annual SMaSH Fest, part of Central Oregon Beer Week, happened two weekends ago [May 27th]. Sadly, I missed it this year due to a bout of illness. When considering whether I was going to make it or not, I jokingly asked myself if single malt and single hop beers can be considered a “thing” (trendy, etc.) until we have coffee-infused, barrel-aged, and fruit SMaSH beers. Maybe we do; I have not seen them yet though.

I will hopefully have brewed my first batch of beer—ignoring that attempt in Belgium in the early 1980s—between this announcement and The Session itself and, wait for it, that beer will be a SMaSH beer. It will be an all-Oregon, not too hoppy American pale, if anything.

  • Mecca Grade Estate Malt Lamonta pale malt
  • Sterling, 2016 whole flower, hops
  • Imperial Yeast A01 House yeast

So, at the moment, at least, it appears I think they have some value.

Here are some potential directions you could consider:

  • Answer my question above. Are they trendy? When would they be considered to be trendy? Have you seen/had a variant (x-infused, fruit, …) single malt and single hop beer? More than one?
  • What purpose do SMaSH beers fill? For you, personally, and/or generally.
  • Do they fill a niche in any beer style space? One that matters to you? Are they a “style,” however you define that?
  • Have you ever had an excellent one? As a SMaSH beer or as a beer, period.
  • Do you brew them?
  • Are there any styles besides pale ale/IPA that can be achieved via a single malt and single hop beer? (How about achieved versus done quite well.)
  • Do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers?
  • I consider this to be wide open and am interested in your thoughts, whatever they are, regarding SMaSH beers. I sincerely hope this is not too limiting of a topic in the number of people who have tasted and/or brewed single malt and single hop beers.”

My thoughts (at the moment) on SMaSH beers

As to my SMaSH pale ale, it is happily well into fermentation. I brewed it on 2 July and it got off to a vigorous fermentation, which has now slowed down a good bit. I intend to give it plenty of time for secondary and cleanup of diacetyl, etc. Sadly, it will not be ready for this post but no doubt I will post about it closer to the solar eclipse [see below].

This beer serves two purposes for me. Or perhaps one purpose with lots of extra meaning attached. Our home(brewery) is called Starshine Brewery, based on pet names the wife and I have for each other. Thus, the beer names will be mostly, if not entirely, celestially and astronomically-related.

The timing of the eclipse just worked out for me and my first homebrew batch. I needed to make a SMaSH beer to get a good handle on what I taste/smell in Mecca Grade Lamonta pale ale malt and on how it comes across on my system as I bought a 50-lb. bag of it back in April.

It is an all-Oregon beer, as best as I could do and within my “definition.” I would have preferred to be a bit stricter but I got what I got.

My semi-American SMaSH pale ale is named Path of Totality as the path of totality of the 2017 solar eclipse will be passing directly over Central Oregon. My Mecca Grade malt was grown and malted right under the path. [They are, in fact, hosting a big party on their property which I truly wish I was attending. But we are not campers and have decided trying to travel anywhere that weekend just adds us to the other a-holes clogging up the streets.] The water and yeast come a bit outside of the path, on either side. And the hops were the best I could do on a first go but are, at a minimum, OSU/USDA hops.

I was after Santiam hops as the Santiam Pass will also be under the path of totality but could only get 2015 (or older) pellets. I wanted 2016 harvest and wanted whole cones for this so ended up switching to Sterling, which I do not really know. It got chosen as I am not really a fan of Cascades, Centennial, and Chinook as the more famous OSU/USDA hops.

Sterling: “… aroma and oil composition very similar to Saazer (USDA 21077) and other Saazer clones. Pleasant continental aroma; suitable for replacing Saazer hops in brewery blends.”

Might be a strange hop for a pale ale but I wanted something I could ID and not be in the way of the malt flavor and aroma. Even if I decide I love these hops, I was warned when I bought them that they are rapidly being replaced. I did look into it and, yes, production has been minimal for a while now and is decreasing; something like <1% of hop acreage.

They were also probably grown in Washington, not Oregon, but my local Central Oregon hop growing friends only had Cascades and such on hand, in pellets, from last year. I will make another all-Oregon pale and source it completely from Central Oregon, except for the yeast and, technically, if I used Wyeast yeast then I could call it all Central Oregon. So maybe I will. I have several hop growing friends here so will get some whole flowers this year. I am thinking some (CO)-East Kent Goldings from Tumalo Hops, but we will see who has what that isn’t Cascades or Centennial.

As to my trendy question, my friend, Ryan Sharp, one of the folks who puts on Central Oregon Beer Week commented regarding my “can they be a thing” question with this info from the SmaSH Fest:

“22 beers this year.

3 of them lacto sours (and one using a wild sacc strain).

1 beer had fruit added (mangosteen).

16 different hop varieties represented, including 2 experimental varieties.

4 beers showcased Mecca Grade’s local malt.

Styles represented by brewer description: Fruited sour, Berlinerweisse, Dry Hopped Sour, Pale Ale Extra Pale Ale, IPA, IIPA, Hoppy Wit, Hoppy Lager, Vienna Lager, Pilsner, Blonde, Rauchbier.”

Based on the strength of current trends such as “IPA forever,” saisons, sours, barrel-aged beers and any other actually hot sections of the market, I do not believe that they are trendy. I am not sure I want them to be trendy either but I would love to see a lot more of them, especially commercially available.

Yes, there were soured and fruited versions available at SMaSH Fest but those are trends in themselves and, yes, perhaps I contradict myself from above but I believe it is actually a more thought out answer than my off-the-cuff jest.

I would love to see more commercial breweries producing them and touting them, though. Especially with the rise of craft malting—Mecca Grade is just one of many around the country—I think this would be a useful thing. If you are paying a premium for your malt then you ought be working at convincing yourself and your customers that the cost is worth it. What flavors and aromas is that malt bringing to your beers? Or the more basic (but misguided) question, does malt contribute to beer flavor or aroma? [Hard to believe but I have seen and heard this explicitly asked. It is our current focus on hops that has led to such ridiculousness.]

On top of the truly large and emerging issue of malt contributions to flavor and aroma, there is the question of bittering, flavoring and aroma provided by individual hop varieties and how they are used. We have new varieties with new and different flavors and aromas, and we have vastly different ways of using them versus mostly as kettle/bittering hops, thus some of that focus is certainly called for but not at the expense of applying the same kind of interest to barley and malt.

I believe that a well-produced series of SMaSH beers could go a long way to helping consumers understand these agricultural products and the ways in which brewers are using them. This assumes a brewery that feels consumer education is a part of their mission versus simply selling as much beer as they can. I am pretty sure that is not always the case though.

As for purpose, I think that SMaSH beers primarily serve as education, for both the brewer and the consumer. What do your ingredients and processes add? Reducing ingredients to a minimum is a great way to control the amount of variables.

I feel that they, currently anyway, fill a niche in style space for me both as a fledgling homebrewer and as an interested consumer. A brewery that helps to educate me is going to get a lot of extra love and goodwill from me. I assume that there are others who feel the same but no idea how prevalent this attitude might be.

As for are they a “style,” for me, I would say no. I consider them a sub-sub-style, if you will. Or more accurately, a “give me a box to brew within” constraint on brewing a style of beer; that is, you choose to work within certain limit while still aiming for a tasty beer in its own right within a specific style or sub-style.

I have had several excellent SMaSH beers. Perhaps my favorite was a SMaSH American pale ale made by Mazama Brewing in Corvallis, OR in 2015 with an early batch of Mecca Grade’s malt and Crosby Hop Farm Centennial fresh hops. We got lucky and were in Corvallis for the release of this, which included talks by Dr. Pat Hayes, OSU’s barley breeder, on the origins of Full Pint (variety) barley and by the Seth Klann of Mecca Grade on their experiences growing and micro-malting it. Perhaps, as stated above, the educational and experiential component added immensely to the experience and to the beer—there has been a lot of talk online lately of the experience versus the beer itself and I come down (almost) fully on the experience side, assuming nothing is off in the beer itself. But this was a delicious American fresh hop pale ale, one which I would be happy to drink repeatedly and routinely. Deschutes has also made several SMaSH beers with Mecca Grade malts, including a saison that was quite good and excellent in its own right.

Based on my friend Ryan’s comment, there were many styles of single malt, singe hop beers made for SMaSH Fest. Based on my own (limited) experiences I would say that pale ale, saison, Pilsner, light(-colored) lagers and golden ales are the styles that have the best potential for making a great SMaSH beer. Next in potential, I would add IPA and Vienna Lager. After that I expect it to be a total crapshoot. I see an I/DIPA in the list but I would want at least a touch of some specialty malts in my I/DIPA although I imagine many IPA lovers could appreciate one done well. I am not claiming that no other styles would work; judgment is fully reserved on those.

As to do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers, I would have to say “Yes.” I think they can serve as a very valuable component of educating drinkers. What exactly do the individual ingredients taste like? Do I like it? Do I like it on its own or is it better as part of a mélange? Am I happy (possibly) paying a premium for a beer made with a craft malted malt or one of the trendy, thus in high demand and higher-priced, hops?

Personally, I am not a fan of most of the trendy new hops. Many of them have more thiols and bless the hearts of people who get berry and whatever else flavor and aroma they are sold on as providing. I just (OK, mainly) get allium from them; garlic, onion, shallot, scallion, leek, …. Pretty much one of the last things I want in beer aroma and/or flavor. I have had some IPAs and DIPAs with them and despite the aroma or flavor I quite enjoyed them. But. That note was always present and I always wanted it gone. The beers would have been exquisitely improved without that damned allium note, in my opinion. If you like them, more power to you. No grudges from me. Non-trendy hops are cheaper anyway and easier to source often.

That covers much of my thoughts on SMaSH beers, as of now. I am truly interested in what the rest of you have to say and look forward to doing the round-up over the next few days.

Again, to contribute:

How to Participate in this month’s The Session

Today (Friday 7 July) or the next day or two, you may comment on this post or the previous one and leave the URL to your Session post in your comment, or you may email me with your URL at mark . r . lindner @ gmail . com, or you may tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession and it wouldn’t hurt to @ me too @bythebbl.

By the way, my blog’s comments are moderated for first-time commenters but it will be quickly approved as long as it doesn’t look like spam.

Within a day or three of the first Friday (July 7th) I will post a round-up of all of the submissions with links.

The links are already rolling in.

Cheers!

Announcing The Session #125 SMaSH Beers

The Session #125: SMaSH Beers

The next installment of The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, on 7 July 2017, will be hosted here. This is #125 and the topic is SMaSH (single malt, single hop) beers.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

Our local, annual SMaSH Fest, part of Central Oregon Beer Week, happened two weekends ago. Sadly, I missed it this year due to a bout of illness. When considering whether I was going to make it or not, I jokingly asked myself if single malt and single hop beers can be considered a “thing” (trendy, etc.) until we have coffee-infused, barrel-aged, and fruit SMaSH beers. Maybe we do; I have not seen them yet though.

I will hopefully have brewed my first batch of beer—ignoring that attempt in Belgium in the early 1980s—between this announcement and The Session itself and, wait for it, that beer will be a SMaSH beer. It will be an all-Oregon, not too hoppy American pale, if anything.

So, at the moment, at least, it appears I think they have some value.

Here are some potential directions you could consider:

  • Answer my question above. Are they trendy? When would they be considered to be trendy? Have you seen/had a variant (x-infused, fruit, …) single malt and single hop beer? More than one?
  • What purpose do SMaSH beers fill? For you, personally, and/or generally.
  • Do they fill a niche in any beer style space? One that matters to you? Are they a “style,” however you define that?
  • Have you ever had an excellent one? As a SMaSH beer or as a beer, period.
  • Do you brew them?
  • Are there any styles besides pale ale/IPA that can be achieved via a single malt and single hop beer? (How about achieved versus done quite well.)
  • Do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers?

I consider this to be wide open and am interested in your thoughts, whatever they are, regarding SMaSH beers. I sincerely hope this is not too limiting of a topic in the number of people who have tasted and/or brewed single malt and single hop beers.

Resources

Some resources–mostly brewing-focused, sorry–about single malt and single hop beers:

Brewing

Keeping it Simple with SMaSH Brewing [AHA]

Single-Malt Brewing [All About Beer]

Brew Your Own 20/4 Jul/Aug 2014 Single Malt and Single Hop 55-64

Zymurgy 40/2 Mar/Apr 2017 Uncommon Taste of Place SMaSH recipe 35

Style Guidelines

Neither BJCP 2015, NHC 2017, Brewers Association 2017, World Beer Cup 2016, or GABF 2017 have anything on them based on searches for “smash” and “single malt.”

Event

This looks like an interesting set of events and I wish more breweries did something similar:

SMASH Vertical Tasting Event

For General Beer Drinker (non-brewer)

I did try to find anything specifically directed more to the drinker/general consumer rather than the brewer but I could not find any. I would be interested in anything along that vein any of you have seen.

For instance, neither Mosher Tasting Beer, 2nd ed. or Alworth, The Beer Bible or Oliver, ed., The Oxford Companion to Beer have anything on SMaSH beer, although single-hopped does make an appearance in some of these.

How to Participate in this month’s The Session

On Friday 7 July, you may comment on this post and leave the URL to your Session post in your comment, or you may email me with your URL at mark . r . lindner @gmail . com, or you may tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession and it wouldn’t hurt to @ me too @bythebbl.

By the way, my blog’s comments are moderated for first-time commenters but it will be quickly approved as long as it doesn’t look like spam.

Within a day or two of the first Friday (July 7th) I will post a round-up of all of the submissions with links.

Views on imported beers (The Session #122)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Views on imported beers” is hosted at I think about beer by Christopher Barnes. It is apropos that this month’s instantiation of The Session falls on National Beer Day in the US, April 7th, when we, i.e., beer nerds, celebrate the Cullen-Harrison Act going into effect and effectively ending Prohibition. It is also, and more accurately, known as National Session Beer Day since it was 3.2% ABV beer that was approved for sale. Nor was it the entirety of the country as some states failed to pass there own legalization laws prior to the 7th.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

Barnes has a fairly close connection to imported beers as his post explains:

“I love imported beer, specifically Belgian and German beer. They’re what I drink. My cellar is made up of Belgian beers, my fridge is full of them, and there a few stashed around in a closet or two as well. Imported beer is my life. I drink them. I write about them. I travel to experience them. In fact, my career involves working with Imported Beer. I manage several prominent import portfolios for a Oregon craft focused wholesaler. And while I have a vested interest in the success of Imported Beer, it doesn’t lessen my passion for the traditional beers of Europe. As craft beer sales have surged across America, sales of imported beers have suffered. I’m going to ask a couple of questions.

For American and Canadians: What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?

For Non North Americans: How are American beers (imported into YOUR country) viewed? What is their place in your market?”

I am clearly a North American, and sadly have not been out of the country in a couple of years so could not tackle the second question anyway. I will begin by first answering the related question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in my beer drinking?”

#1: What place do imported beers have in my drinking?

For point of reference, I spent three tours in the Army in Europe: twice in Germany and once in Belgium and I have been back once to Germany for my son’s wedding. Just not lately. To say the least, I drank a fair bit of European beers and drank them fresh and (mostly) local during those tours.

Over the last couple of years, I studied for and qualified as an MBAA Beer Steward, a Cicerone Beer Server, and a BJCP Certified judge. Preparing for all of these involved drinking imported beers from the major brewing centers of Europe and a few of the smaller ones to boot.

I also quite enjoy lots of Belgian beers, German Lagers, Czech Pilsners [have not had those local, sadly], some Samuel Smith’s beers, and many, many others. No doubt I would love many additional beers and styles if I were exposed to them.

But. Freshness is a major issue. [I have a gestating post on the freshness problem in craft beer, including local craft beer, so this problem is not an imports-only issue, although many of the issues are different.]

Living in a thriving local and state beer scene, no, even a hip and happening local and state beer scene, means the imports see a little less love than they might in an area without a glut of choice for fresh, tasty and local beer. Sure, you can choose imported—European or otherwise—beer but it will not be fresh. If that seems too strong a claim, then purchasing imported beer will always be a crap shoot seeing as you have no idea how it was handled and stored on its voyage from the brewery across the seas and to the store shelf or bar tap. It may be quite tasty but it will (most likely) not qualify as fresh.

Just recently I started studying to retake the BJCP tasting exam in July. I want that 80+%! This means, again, looking for representative beers from twenty (20) European style categories and sixty-seven (67!) European substyles I need to have a grasp of.

Imported beers—of whatever quality—will be critical to my preparation. If our exam administrator finds the time to do a prep class again, like last year, then they become critical in the context of a larger group of people. Perhaps the importance is the same but moving scale from one person to a class of several or more amplifies any learning by being able to discuss the beers with other like-minded folks towards the same purpose. That seems to me amplification enough of their value, in an educational context.

Imports also provide some variety, which is quite nice amongst all of the PNW (and other) beer at hand.

Back to the larger question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?”

#2: What place do imported beers have in a craft beer market?

One of the areas I think imports may serve in the craft beer market is as a potential gateway. There are many folks—of all ages but especially nearer mine—for who it is little to no stretch to consider an imported beer on occasion instead of only industrial lagers. They might not think much past that but they can at least get that far. It might even only be on a “fancy” occasion.

While I agree that many craft breweries can brew a craft light lager that blows any macro away as far as flavor goes, not all beer drinkers want their light lager to be so. If they consider an international lager, or a Festbier, or German Pils, or Hefeweizen or any other imported beer that has just that much more flavor, then perhaps craft Euro-style beers might also appeal or at least be given a chance. But if said drinker never deviates from industrial light lager then all flavor “lures” are off-the-table already. Then they might be tempted to try an American craft version of that style [which is another completely fraught issue of its own].

Aside on imported beer and craft/macro: Let me be perfectly clear, by-the-by, that craft beer and imported beer are neither mutually exclusive nor mostly overlapping categories, but overlap they do. Just as much imported beer overlaps with “American” macro beers.

Now this should not be the only role for imported beer in a craft scene. As I just said, many of these beers should and do qualify as “craft” [define how you like].

Beers like Saison Dupont are exquisite and amazingly affordable. Then there are the even more renowned beers such as Westvleteren XII that is neither affordable and was only once legitimately available here in the states. I still have 2 bottles that came with my 6 bottles and 2 glasses package. Being able to taste this “best beer in the world” and to share it with friends and fellow craft beer geeks was very special. Is it delicious? Quite. But I like beers of that profile, call it a style or not. Is it “the best beer in the world”? Seriously? Those titles are always ridiculous. It is not even my favorite beer. By a long shot. But I am stoked that I still have 2 little bottles to drink and enjoy some day in the future.

I guess I don’t really know “What place imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market.” Many traditional European beers are craft beers.

Primarily, they should be available in their own right for being the (often) tasty beers that they are.

For many folks studying for Cicerone, MBAA, BJCP or other certifications, having a diverse array of imported beer available is critical to their study, preparation and continued learning.

Lastly, they might serve as gateway or transition beers for folks who either “do not like beer at all” or to lead those who might on occasion drink an imported beer to other craft examples, whether imported or American.

Loving Deschutes, Firestone Walker and Fremont

I do not do this near often enough, so I want to pass on some of my current beer love which was prompted by a lovely lunch down at the pub yesterday.

Deschutes

Just want to give a shout out to the Deschutes Bend Public House, and Andrew in particular, for a grand lunch yesterday. Had a tasty salad and tasted 3 amazing beers and also had a taste of the production Pacific Wonderland on draft (3rd version for me; 2nd favorite).

Salad on plate, 2 taster glasses of beer, a pint of beer and a pint of water.

Black barleywine on left, Kaizen Cream Ale almost gone, and a pint of The Oregon Tr’Ale IPA

Stopped in for The Oregon Tr’Ale IPA and had tasters of Kaizen Cream Ale and Black Barley Wine. All were exquisite. The Oregon Tr’Ale is a collaboration between several local breweries (The Central Oregon Brewers Guild) for the American Hop Convention held just recently in Bend. It uses Mecca Grade malt and experimental hops from the Willamette Valley.

Deschutes, et al. The Oregon Tr'Ale bottle label

All photo credit belongs to Deschutes Brewery. Borrowed (and slightly cropped) from this tweet: https://twitter.com/DeschutesBeer/status/821881154349441024

Andrew always takes great care of me and I sincerely appreciate him and all of the staff at the Public House. Cheers!

Deschutes Brewery Bend Pubic House brewhouse on The Abyss 2016 release day (16 December 2016)

Deschutes Brewery Bend Pubic House brewhouse on The Abyss 2016 release day (16 December 2016)

The other two shout outs I want to give are to the two breweries I wish I were far closer to: Firestone Walker and Fremont.

I think of them as roughly equidistant—as in, far removed from here—but I guess they are not, in a stricter sense. According to Google maps (various routes rounded) it is ~700 miles to Paso Robles, CA (our main FW destination) from Bend or ~800 to Buellton, CA (my desire but not wife’s) and only ~330 to Seattle, Earth for Fremont.

Firestone Walker

We (the wife and I) have been loving Firestone Walker vintage beers—the “boxed beers”—since just after getting to Bend in 2012. We buy more FW “prestige” beers each year than Deschutes, since before now there simply were more FW ones (which we love) and now the Big D [my moniker for Deschutes; they are comparatively “big” in the craft beer world] is stepping up with The Abyss variants and more Pub Reserve series and such. Our taste buds and other sensory apparatus love it. Our pocketbooks do not.

Bottle, snifter full of beer, and box for Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale

But Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Sucaba [on hiatus this year], the Anniversary blends, Helldorado, Velvet Merkin, highly lamented Double DBA …, even the recently late and lamented Wookey Jack (perhaps my favorite black IPA/Cascadian dark). I have also loved the Luponic Distortion series. Um, where is #4 though?

Back of my wife's head taking a photo of Firestone Walker Helldorado glass and bottle with her iPad

Sara taking a picture of 2015 Helldorado blond barleywine

But those boxed beers from FW?! Oh. My. I have 47 checkins of FW beers in Untappd and they are mostly variants of the boxed beers.

Full snifter, bottle and box of 2014 Sucaba Barrel-aged Barley Wine No. 004

Fremont

Another brewery we have come to love for the same sorts of reasons is Fremont in Seattle [20 checkins]. They are masters of barrel aging and spicing and I will rarely say that of the first and, until now, never of the second.

Bottle of 2015 Coffee Edition Bourbon barrel-aged Dark Star oatmeal stout

Bottle of 2015 Coffee Edition Bourbon barrel-aged Dark Star oatmeal stout

I have had the pleasure to experience [their beers] Bourbon Barrel Abominable [B-Bomb], barrel aged Dark Star and their assorted variants. And I hope I am justified again this year but regular Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal stout in 12 oz cans, available for two months a year, is my go to again this year. I got a case last year but asked my guy to get me two this year. This would be my daily go to beer if I could have it year round. As it is I buy it in quantities nothing else compares to. Except perhaps the wife’s Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. Her go to beer.

I have also simply adored a few of Fremont’s fresh hop beers. Packaged fresh hop beers! I can only imagine how transcendent they would be at their own pub.

Bottle and two glasses of 2016 Rusty Nail Imperial Stout with cinnamon, licorice and smoked barley

2016 Rusty Nail Imperial Stout with cinnamon, licorice and smoked barley

Prairie Artisan Ales

I also want to throw a bit of love at Prairie Artisan in Tulsa, OK [8 checkins]. We have had a few things out here and they are lovely. A friend did point out the trend to incapacitating ABVs to which I had to agree, especially since even I made it in reference to one of their beers. But I consider a non-brazen 12-12.5% beer to beer fair game as long as you know what you are getting in to. We prepare for that scenario. We live that scenario.

I simply adore their labels, by the way.

Bottle and glass of Pirate Noir at BTBS

But Apple Brandy Barrel Noir, Vanilla Noir (as a non-fan of most beers with vanilla), and Pirate Noir? Simply amazing beers.

I have a second Pirate Noir, which I just had in last few days, to try in future; currently slated for 4th quarter this year. I had the Apple Brandy in July via a bottle brought home from Corvallis Brewing Supply (Love you folks!). Doubt I’ll ever get to try it again. My checkin comment was “Tastes like chocolate-covered apple brandy. It does.” That cracks me the heck up. I assume that was a good thing at the time.

Bottle and glass of Apple Brandy Barrel Noir

Untappd 2500th unique

I am one unique beer away from 2500 unique checkins on Untappd. I have decided it will be the Firestone Walker 2015 Parabola barrel-aged Imperial Stout. Not sure why I haven’t checked it in already but no worries; I will tonight after work.

Screenshot of my Untappd profile page showing 2499 unique checkins

Recap

So big love and thanks to Deschutes Bend Public House, Firestone Walker, Fremont and Prairie Artisan. I could definitely see myself spending lots of quality time at both Firestone Walker’s and Fremont’s pubs. Some day we will get there. Or so I tell myself anyway. Mighty glad though that they are distributed here.

Just wish they were closer so I could drop in and hang for an afternoon every once in a while.

Discomfort Beer (Session #119)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Discomfort beer” is hosted at mostly about beer … by Alec Latham.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

“For Session 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your comfort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were compromised, defective, flat, off etc because this is about deliberate styles. It would be interesting to see if these experiences are similar in different countries.

I think this could be a good archive for people researching fads, the origins of styles and the dearths of others – but especially how new ones were initially perceived.”

My wife told me to keep this simple and focus on this one specific aspect of the question. I will attempt to do that but from there I hope to extend the same concept because my discomfort beers are like that.

Not talking about

And to get it out of the way, as the host said, “bad” beer was not on the table. I agree. I am a BJCP Certified judge and I taste a few discomforting beers while judging; and, to be fair, the same is true at the one professional craft beer awards I judge at. Beer that is infected or full of diacetyl when inappropriate and so on. Bad beer.

I am also not including styles I simply do not like or even beer with ingredients I don’t like in beer; except in one instance. To cut to the chase, I have had to drink a few peanut butter beers to realize I do not think it a proper ingredient for beer that I am going to drink. They exist; drink them if you enjoy them. Same goes for most nuts. Nuts are simply too oily for beer, for me (Although Ninkasi’s versions of Ground Control Imperial stout with Oregon hazelnuts were exquisite). Same goes for a few other ingredients and that includes almost every instance of spiced beer. Fremont and a few others can pull off spicing, for me, but most cannot. I will not be going into detail about these beers in this post.

Styles not loved as a whole

What I will talk about are a few styles that I do not love as a whole; that is, I do not love the entire spectrum but a only very narrow slice of that style spectrum appeals to me; immensely so. Two particular instances are IPAs (any strength) and American sours. There are a handful of IPAs—that I am aware of and can get routinely—that I simply adore. The bounty of Oregon and nearby surrounds, again.

The same is true for American sours, although I am aware of and get fewer. My wife does not like any sours so being my primary drinking partner I get them at bottle shares and on draft here and there on occasion. But most American sours are way overdone for me. Making a beer sour for the purpose of being sour is just as unbalanced of a beer as going extreme on anything else (IMHO and not saying they are all made with that intent as that’s silly). I like very few of these. I do love many Belgian sours and Berliner Weiss and … though. Different animals often.

So I particularly love a (few) very narrow slice(s) of the IPA and American sour spectrum and there are large slices that are, to me, nasty beers. There are, of course, some that are tasty enough and are also superbly executed beers but simply not to my palate.

The point

The point is that to find this narrow slice of heaven that my sensory palate adores implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer. It is not that I inherently dislike the entire style nor is it that I “need to adjust” to them. The world is rarely that simple.

My palate / Judging

I have a long, interesting and hopefully fun, journey ahead of me but I have a pretty good handle on what my palate likes within a huge range of the beer spectrum, although there is always so much more to learn, which I am actively attempting to do.

Helping others is the point of judging, for one. It forces me to be better about recognizing my experience for what it is, as it is happening, and to turn that into words useful to the brewer of that beer. It also forces me to learn all about brewing and the causes and fixes of issues, and to have a good grasp of many styles. I did this for me for my own learning but the ethical duty is towards others.

As BJCP judge I must drink in styles that I do NOT like. But I can objectively tell the difference between a bad beer and whether or not it is to style (as codified currently). These are discomfort beers that I consume out of a sense of duty. Getting certified as a judge tends to bring along with it the duty of actually judging—everybody always needs judges—and sometimes you have to judge styles you do not like. “Christmas” spiced beers—and others—on a 90°F (32.2°C) day in May; for example. But you must be professional (and ethical) and do your best to determine whether the beer is within the style, if not so how not, and whether the brewing processes were successful, and if not, what and how to overcome. That is completely different than “do you want to be drinking that beer ever” or “just not right now.” This again implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer.

Reductionism is (generally) futile

Of course, I earlier critiqued the idea of “you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to” as being simplistic. So is my current topic/reduction of “I think a few exemplars of this style are the bee’s knees of the beer world but I could not care less for the rest of the broad spectrum of the style” or I simply do not like that style or ingredient.

Because sometimes as you figure out whether you do or do not like a style (I find it sad to rule out a whole style unless you simply cannot do, say, sour then OK all of the sours are out, I guess, but, again, it is rarely that simple. IMHO.) or perhaps as you “adjust” to higher ABV/IBU/pH/… levels you are in the quandary as presented. There are other ways to be in it too but those seem the basics to me. Those are only some of the slices of life that can lead to consuming discomforting beer, as I see it, is what I am saying.

Complexity

I have presented two other angles above, and now I want to make it more complex.

There are also the styles I particularly love, my go-to-styles, if you will—Pilsners, Imperial stouts and barleywines, bourbon-barrel aged Impy stouts—to name a few.

But here’s the thing, you can’t just put some crap Imperial in a bourbon barrel and have me call it good. See the discussion of my palate above. I have a great handle on how my sensory enjoyment prefers these. There are few combinations of the various elements that can vary within ranges but I know what I like; even if it is a new combination. I also know the difference between a well-executed one and a bad/off one, as above.

The same goes for these other styles: Pilsners, stouts, barleywines. I might tend to stand a broader range of the style from “amazing” down to “meh” than I do for say, American sours, but that still implies I drank a lot of potentially discomforting beers to find this narrow slice of sensory heaven for myself.

Bringing it together

Within the beer styles of which I choose to drink any exemplars—whether I love the style as a whole or not—there is a very narrow slice of heaven for me. Those are the beers I want to drink as routinely as possible. But I also like experiencing many different beers, although that is slowing down. So maybe I’ll be better able to put this hard-won and often discomforting information to even better use.

To find out what my preferred flavor profile is for any individual style implies drinking lots of discomforting beer (Not to imply the many “merely good” beers also consumed are discomforting).

Secondarily, as a BJCP judge I have an ethical responsibility to both judge and to accept sometimes judging styles I would really prefer not to even consume. Lots of discomforting beers.

Main point, recapped, in brief

I experience discomforting beer in looking for outstanding examples of a narrow range of these styles to both learn what I do like and what I do not and to also learn that I do not like a style/ingredient wholesale and then being called on to consume them anyway.

Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2017

These are my beer and brewing resolutions for this year, which I got from Beer Simple.

Pint of Oblivion beer on a wooden table top

1. Brew at home!

This has been my goal for two years now and I really hope this is the year I can pull it off. I need to get my kettle modified and acquire a few more pieces of equipment and also nail down my processes that I want to use. But I either need to do this or give it up.

2. Revisit (one of my) least favorite breweries and drink at least 4 of their beers

There are several local breweries who I almost never think about–we are that blessed here in Bend, Oregon thankfully–but perhaps they have improved. It is only fair to give them another chance. Perhaps I’ll find a new favorite beer or at least be able to give more up-to-date info to others regarding them.

I also hope to be making a trip to Salem, Oregon this spring and let me just say I trashed every post I started to write after my trip to Salem two years ago. I am not a “If you can’t say anything nice” kind of guy but had to keep deciding that was best in this case. I am looking forward to giving pretty much all Salem breweries another chance.

I want to do this locally too, though, as there are several new(er) breweries in town I have never even visited, although I have had some of their beer. Ergo, no visit previously.

3. Read at least 3 new-to-me beer or brewing books

This one should be extremely easy but it is still important. I am already well into Beer, In So Many Words.

4. Attend a new-to-me festival

I would really like it to be something like the Oregon Garden Brewfest (June 16-18, 2017) or the Hood River Fresh Hops Fest (September 23, 2017) but I will take any new one that interests me.

5. Find a new appreciation for a passé or overlooked beer style

Bock or malt liquor perhaps, although it will be tough to find many of either.

6. Write a letter to a brewery making one of my favorite beers and thank them

Do it!

7. Learn one scientific lesson that will improve my brewing

Water profiles, perhaps?

8. Attend a homebrew club meeting other than my own (COHO)

Cascade Fermentation Association in Redmond I expect.

9. Participate in at least 2 group brews

I definitely need more experience and watching and/or helping others and seeing other systems and processes in action is a great way to get it.

10. Re-take BJCP tasting exam

This is scheduled for July and I am hoping to get a 70 or above. I got a 68 last year on my first go, which was better than I expected, but I want to be eligible to take the written exam even if I never do.

There are other things I hope to do but I need a better formed idea in the first place for one, or more ideas to expand on another, or simply to remember/realize some things for others.

What are you hoping to accomplish in 2017 in your beer drinking, writing, appreciation, etc. and/or in your brewing? Cheers and Happy New Year!

Who you gonna invite? (The Session #118)

Stan Hieronymus of appellation beer, author of Brewing Local and For the Love of Hops, and the founder of The Session is hosting the 118th Session: He asks “If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

This can go so many directions as there are very many scenarios I can imagine, so I am going to put forth a couple different ones here, seeing as they are all fantasy anyway.

As much as I was inspired by this, I also seriously struggled with writing it. Not sure what’s going on, but here it is, as it is.

Beer & Brewing #1

Jessica Boak – co-beer blogger extraordinaire at Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog and co-author of Brew Britannia: the strange rebirth of British beer and Gambrinus waltz: German Lager beer in Victorian and Edwardian London

Ray Bailey – the other half of the dynamic B&B duo; see Jessica above

Jon Abernathy – friend and another extremely long-term beer blogger at The Brew Site and author of Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon

Peter Kopp – author of Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

I have been reading Boak & Bailey for a couple years now [blog, books, & newsletter] and interact with them a tad bit on Twitter too. They seem like good folks and ones I would love to actually have a chance to sit with in a pub and talk, so they are natural fits.

Seeing as they are somewhat fairly-to-heavily focused on the recent history of beer in Britain, I thought my friend, Jon Abernathy, would be an excellent choice due to his same focus on our local region.

A fourth here was tougher but I went with Peter Kopp as another historian of an aspect of beer production.

So I guess my theme here, if there is one, is authors of recent historically-focused books on beer.

The beers I would serve—I’m sure I could be swayed as my creativity here got exhausted quickly—are the following:

A lovely British cask bitter in perfect nick. Because. I have never had such a thing and I need the experience. What is all the fuss [SPBW, CAMRA, real ale, …] about?

Heineken (Dutch) c1984. While I was stationed in Belgium in the mid-80s one of my fellow soldiers—a Dutch airman—would bring me this by the case. I also drank Rodenbach—in 33 cl bottles—and a couple others by the case. This was so very different than the stuff imported in green bottles that I had been drinking 5 years earlier just before joining the Army and leaving for Europe. I would really love to taste this and see if it was as good as I remember it.

1842 Pilsner Urquell. Why would you not want to try the first—and only—Pilsner? What was this thing that so changed the world?

Thrales 18th century Russian Imperial Stout. The wife and I adore big Imperial stouts, so again I would love to try one of the early exemplars and possible eponym.

Women in Beer

I definitely would love to do my part for the many great women in and around great beer and there are so very many inspiring choices here. Sadly, my creativity was restrained here as there are no doubt many more amazing and interesting women in this field that I am not aware of.

Women in Beer #1

Tanya Cornett – R&D Brewer at 10 Barrel, former brewmaster at Bend Brewing

Tanya is a great brewer—I don’t care about your feeling re AB InBev here—and someone I’d love to get to know. One of my beer heroes  in my newly adopted hometown.

Carla Jean Lauter – “the beer babe,” beer writer, blogger, twitterer

Carla is always interesting on the Twitters and her longer form writing—when I get a chance to see it—is also. Another person from my corner of the interwebz that seems like a really cool person to hang with over some beers

Mirella Amato – beer educator, author of Beerology: everything you need to know to enjoy beer…even more and one of the first Master Cicerones

Again, another really cool seeming person whose passion is focused on beer education, something near and dear to my heart.

Annie Johnson – 2013 AHA Homebrewer of the Year

I read an article—somewhere—about Annie in the last couple years and maybe even saw a short video and she just seemed so interesting and enthusiastic.

So I have award-winning brewers, both professional and homebrewer, and a beer writer and a beer educator/author.

For the women in beer dinner I would want the ladies to each bring their own selection. This would (hopefully) be a dinner in which I, the host, would mostly sit in and listen. Keep my mouth shut as much as possible and allow them to discuss what they want, how they want.

Women in Beer (Science)

Veronica Vega – R&D Brewer for Deschutes Brewery

Karen Fortmann – senior research scientist at White Labs

Nicole Garneau – geneticist & curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; coauthor of the Beer Flavor Map [see above link] [This is a bit breathless, to say the least, but gives an idea. Am immensely interested in discussing this with the coauthors.]

Lindsay Barr – sensory specialist at New Belgium; currently serves as chair of the ASBC Sensory Subcommittee; coauthor of the Beer flavor Map.

Veronica is one of my favorite people and another definite local hero of mine. I also know, for a fact, that she is an amazing person with a wide variety of interests and experience. I have been on a couple hikes with her—beer-related—and see her now and again at the pub or around town. I always get a hug. But please don’t let any of that distract you from her brewing chops—she has a much larger role now and well deserves it—but she was the Deschutes Bend Pub brewer when we moved here and is a major force in why I adore those pub beers so very much. I have drank quite a bit of her beer.

I read about Karen Fortmann in that Beer Advocate article and her work sounds absolutely intriguing.

The other two scientists, also mentioned in that article, came to my attention a few months back due to their work on the Beer Flavor Map. I have read Meilgaard’s work and others on the flavor wheel and find this [set of] topic[s] incredibly interesting. I would love to get a first-hand account of that work and the resultant product.

One professional brewer with a science background and three brewing scientists. This one would be extremely hard for me to be quiet so I would not hold myself to that here. Beer science. Got to learn. Got to ask questions of the researchers when you get a chance. Still, hopefully, not being a typical guy and letting the ladies have at it.

I would leave the beers up to the professionals, as above.

Growers / Researchers

Seth Klann – barley and rye grower, maltster Mecca Grade Estate Malt

Pat Hayes – OSU barley breeder

Gail Goschie – hop grower, Goschie Farms

Al Haunold – USDA hop breeder. Took over the hop breeding program in Corvallis (USDA-ARS) in 1965:  Nugget, Willamette, Cascade and several other hops are credited to him.

These people and their roles are critical to great beer! We need farmers–especially ones like Seth and Gail whose families have been farming in Oregon for over 100 years each. We also need our agricultural researchers and these two–at least in my world–are rock stars.

I do know Seth and Pat personally and they are both great people. I have had the privilege of attending OSU Barley Days with Pat playing host and another huge privilege of hanging on the Klann family farm for a a day during a homebrew club group brew and seeing the mechanical floor malter and the storage silos and so learning about all they do to bring us great malt. I have also heard both men present on barley a couple of times.

I do not know Gail personally but she seems like great people from all I have seen and heard. I never had the privilege of meeting Al Haunold either but in our little part of the world he is legendary.

For these folks I would love some vibrant, yet simple, SmaSH beers made with Mecca Grade malt [Full Pint, thanks Pat!] and Goschie Farms’ Haunold-developed hops.

Others

I had a couple other scenarios lined up but due to struggling with writing they need to be left out—there were plenty more women in beer, more growers and researchers, more beer writers, a foursome or three of library folks, homebrewing folks, beer education folks, and so on.

The role of beer books (The Session #115)

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

This month’s Session is hosted by Blog Birraire (Joan Birraire in Barcelona) and is on “the role of beer books.

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. There’s also the -bad- role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.

The Session has been about books before just once, and it was about those that hadn’t already been written. I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session. To participate in the current Session just write a comment down here with a link to the article on -or before- September 2nd, so that I can include it on my Round Up.”

05 September 2016: Update posted below

Being me and being about books this is long and perhaps even rambling. Sue me. I’m a reader, a librarian and a cataloger.

The short version: the role of beer books is education to entertainment, and hopefully a bit of both at the same time, along with any other roles between or on other, orthogonal axes that people may have for any particular book in a time and a place.

First beer books

I doubt that it was my first “beer book,” as I had been collecting beer cans since the age of 12, but I received a copy of Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer, 1st US ed. for Christmas 1978. As I was a 19-year-old US soldier stationed in then West Germany, this is the book that first opened my eyes more fully to the world of beer, as it did for many, many others.

Prior to that I was given a copy of Will Anderson’s, The Beer Book; an Illustrated Guide to American Breweriana, 1st US ed. by my parents for my 16th birthday (1975). Somewhere in and around here I also got copies of The Beer Cans of Anheuser-Busch: an Illustrated History (©1978 so one of my earliest “beer books”) and The Class Book of U.S. Beer Cans (©1982), both new. Somewhere in there I also acquired a copy of The International Book of Beer Can Collecting (©1977).

Of course I read all of these books, some, in particular Jackson’s World Guide, several times.

More Recently

For a long time my interest in reading about beer waned as did my can collecting. I am simply ecstatic that I never got rid of any of my early beer books, unlike many other books over the years or like the vast majority of my can collection that was actively worked on for almost two decades. Too many moves. Too many dollars spent on storage. Most of the cans had gone long before we moved to Oregon, although most were shed over a ~20 year period.

Books Owned

More recently since moving to Bend, Oregon my interest in all aspects of beer has been rekindled. According to LibraryThing—which until now has served as my personal catalog—I own 87 books having something to do with beer or brewing, plus there are a couple that aren’t in as they need manual cataloging and I haven’t yet.

Books Read

My Goodreads account has 118 books on my beer shelf. Bouncing that off of the read shelf I show 74 as read, 1 skimmed, 1 gave up on (had a better version), 1 on pause, and 3 currently being read. Many of those would have come from assorted libraries, both public and academic.

My beer blog

My blog is named “By the barrel; or, the Bend Beer Librarian.” Sadly, I have done a poor job at reviewing all of these books. There are many reasons for that, only a few of which are actually good/legit ones. I always strive to do better although I see seven beer books waiting for reviews on my review-these-damned-books-already (physical) shelf next to my desk. There are of course many more that aren’t sitting here needing reviews. Some of those currently waiting are:

  • Alworth – The Beer Bible
  • Acitelli – The Audacity of Hops
  • Zainasheff & Palmer – Brewing Classic Styles
  • Papazian – The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, 4th ed.
  • Amato – Beerology
  • Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide
  • Herz and Conley – Beer Pairing

Others waiting to be reviewed, not directly related to beer but of immense overlap and interest possibly, include:

  • Halloran – The New Bread Basket
  • McQuaid – Tasty

Of course, these are just those books still to hand. ::sigh::

The Role of Beer Books

So what do I consider the “role of beer books”? I may not be much of a reference librarian—my specialty is elsewhere—but as a reader (and a cataloger) that “role” is completely dependent upon the context(s) brought to bear by the reader and cannot really be given much in the way of an answer unless that context is included.

Education

Education is the simple and most relevant generic (and specific) answer. As you can see from just the above list, my personal beer book-enabled education covers a lot of ground from brewing to the history of craft beer to style knowledge to beer and food pairing to almost encyclopedic works and on from there to the revival of craft grain/malt production to the science of taste.

Early spring this year I went on a book buying binge to ensure I had most of the books in the BJCP Judge Certification Program “BJCP Beer Exam Study Guide” [see pg. 3-4] as I was involved in a 12-week tasting exam prep class and hoping to take the tasting exam [I did manage to take it on 23 July and now get to spend a few agonizing months waiting on my score]. I already had quite a few of the books listed but I got almost all of the others, except for the individual style books in the Classic Beer Styles Series from Brewers Publications I didn’t already own.

To backup, my very first beer books were books about beer can collecting and were for both education (history, production) and to see far more of the variety of what was out there (can porn) than I could encounter in my Midwest home town and surrounding environs. Will Anderson’s book is more generally about breweriana and so helped broaden my education beyond cans.

Michael Jackson’s book was given to me just a few months after I had arrived in Europe for my first tour of duty. I knew styles existed, of course, but this book was a real eye opener.

Nowadays my interests are far broader and I have a massive amount to learn! I want to be a competent and confident beer judge. I want to brew beers well that Sara and I like, along with understanding their historical and current cultural contexts. I want to be solid at beer and food pairing. I want to understand how we got to where we are culturally via archaeology, anthropology, ethnology and so on (across cultures). I want to understand as much of the science of brewing as I can. I want to enjoy what I read, at least some of the time. I could probably elucidate many other reasons for a desire to learn about beer and to be entertained by beer writers.

On Bend, Central Oregon and Oregon beer

If you are interested in the beer, breweries, and history of Bend, Central Oregon and Oregon then I highly recommend the following:

  • Jon Abernathy – Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon
  • Brian Yaeger – Oregon Breweries
  • Logan Thompson – Beer Lover’s Oregon: Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars

For the larger region but covering Oregon also are:

  • Lisa M. Morrison – Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest: A Beer Lover’s Guide to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia
  • Gary and Gloria Meier – Brewed in the Pacific Northwest: A History of Beer Making in Oregon and Washington

All of these books are a bit dated; some more than others. They are either primarily history (Abernathy & the Meiers) or Regional guidebooks (the rest; and the most dated).

“Beer books” is a non-category

I think beer books is too broad a “category” to consider as a whole; as in it isn’t really a category, far too amorphous. In 2013, I gave a talk on beer books during Central Oregon Beer Week and this is how I broke down what I talked about:

Those I addressed:

  • General
  • Beer porn
  • Reference
  • Beer business
  • Historical
  • Breweriana
  • Trivia
  • Regional Guidebooks

Those I did not:

  • Homebrewing
  • Brewing science

No doubt other categories could be named as no doubt some of these could be split further.

The role of a regional guidebook is generally going to be much different than a book of beer porn or one on the business of beer or one on brewing science and so forth. A book of beer can porn serves one role to a collector and another to a student of mid- to late-20th century commercial art.

Conclusion; or, a return

Thus, I am going to say that the role of beer books is education to entertainment, and hopefully a bit of both at the same time, along with any other roles between or on other, orthogonal axes that people may have for any particular book in a time and a place (context).

Update

I have received a few comments regarding the Brewers Publications Classic Styles series. I believe that I could have been a bit clearer in places in my post but let me offer some comments to take or leave as you please.

I believe that the only books I explicitly recommended were under the heading ON BEND, CENTRAL OREGON AND OREGON BEER. All of those are technically historical documents at this point; one always was and a second mostly was. But the first four are still close enough to the present to be useful even if lots of newer breweries are left out. Any other book(s) mentioned I meant to neither recommend nor not; many I would but that was not my point. I was attempting to discuss the role of books from my perspective and not which were good or bad. Perhaps I should have had a small section on the use/role of books that have bad or contested information. That would include pretty much every beer-related book ever written to some extent. The reason I mentioned the Classic Styles series was in the context of acquiring the recommended books to study for the BJCP exams. Clearly I did not believe that those style guides were necessary for my studying.

I am aware that there are some definite issues with the Classic Styles series books. I do not have enough brewing chops to provide much useful critique though, except in the rarest of circumstances and that would still be based on book learning. I do know that some of the “history” is definite bunk. I also realize that they still sell. I have even picked up a couple—all used—as primarily archival documents, if you will. Not necessarily to learn how brew the styles, nor to believe everything written in them—I do that with no book; do you?—but to take them as an artifact of a time and a place.

I do my best not to slog products here—especially those creative endeavors of one or two authors—but rather avoid them or discuss them in a context that hopefully doesn’t entail recommending them. Others far better qualified have addressed the deficiencies on the individual Classic Styles titles and I leave it to them.

I have read several books—some of them fairly new—by big names in the beer world and I thought them either not at all worth the paper they were printed on; there are more older books that fit in that category, thankfully. I gave them a low rating in Goodreads and moved on without writing a review. I do not believe in the “If you don’t have something nice to say …” school of thought but I also see little reason to be an ass for the fun of it. I get excitable enough, which turns me into something of an ass on occasion, that I do not need to pursue it as hobby.

Besides, I have too many outstanding reviews still to be written for books that I do want to recommend to bother writing reviews for ones I find lacking.

I apologize if I failed to pull apart some of these issues but they did not seem particularly pertinent to me in my thinking on the role of beer books at the time I was writing my post. That does not mean they couldn’t have, and maybe should have been, included; or, I could have been clearer about what I was recommending and what I was not. But that was also not my point.

My point is that use of any particular book is up to the individual reader. And while we may or may not be privy to the specific failings of any given book, that too is a part of the context that we need to attempt to bring to it, even before reading sometimes. That is often difficult after reading it. Makes life a little less uncertain to say the least but you should regard pretty much all of your knowledge as potentially fallible and kept open to actual experience anyway.

To decide if a given book is relevant to your own purpose(s) is a critical, complex, and, yes, often fraught undertaking.

That was an awful lot of words to say that “mentions do not imply endorsement.”

Beer midlife crisis (The Session #111)

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

From Oliver Gray at Literature and Libation who is hosting this month’s Session on Surviving a Beer Midlife Crisis:

I think that’s true about a lot of bloggers and beer writers. Some may work directly for breweries or distributors or behind the till in a beer store, but a lot of us toil in vocational worlds apart, spending our free time and free dollars on what can only (by definition) be called a “hobby.”

Recently, I’ve found my interest in said hobby waning. The brilliant luster of new beers and new breweries looks now, a few pounds heavier and a bunch of dollars lighter, more like dull aluminum oxide.

The thing I have embraced so fully and spent so much time getting to know and love, suddenly seems generally, unequivocally: meh. It’s like I’ve been living a lie, and everything I’ve done is for not. I’m having a beer mid-life crisis, yo.

Maybe it’s the politics of purchasing or selling. Maybe the subculture has peaked. Maybe this is the natural progression of a hobby that has no real tie to the industry behind it.

Maybe I’m way off the mark, and this whole thing is just a figment of my imagination.

But I’m willing to bet it’s not. All that talk of beer bubbles might prove true, but instead of a dramatic *pop* we’ll might see a slow deflation followed by a farting noise as some of the air leaks out and the hobbyist move on the spend their time and dollars elsewhere. It’s impossible to see the future, but if my fall from rabid beer fanboy to dude-who-drinks-beer-and-sort-of-wants-to-be-left-alone is indicative of a trend, I’ve got some signs to make a doomsaying to do.

What say you?

This topic really spoke to me when I first saw it shortly after it was announced.

I have been feeling something is ‘off’ in my beer drinking and the culture around that for a while now. One might say something has been troubling me but I had no real idea what that was.

I reread the prompt before heading out on a road trip to a beer fest last weekend and just let it gestate way in the back somewhere. I read it again Monday morning so I could do the same on a shorter timeframe as I was heading out to do some weeding. All of a sudden I was writing down some good thoughts before I even got out the door.

A large part of my problem has been, and still is, a matter of reconciling what I want my beer drinking world to look like and what it actually does; limited storage, limited funds, very few occasions our drinking friends and us can get together, and other real world (and, admittedly, first world) problems. Major improvements have been made in attitude and some expectations have been adjusted, yet some of the core issues remain, especially limited time to drink with friends (and we all have a lot of beer that needs drank). Nonetheless, some peace has been made.

Still. Some things are nibbling at the back of my mind. Perhaps I have identified one of them. Here’s my current thoughts on my beerlife crisis, with a bit of a setup.

Since August 2012 I have lived in a beer heaven, Bend, Oregon. There is almost too much availability; certainly more than enough choice. Except for the large number of things not distributed here; including lots of other Oregon beer. 😉

I live in a town of 80,000+ and we have over 20 breweries with a total of 28 in the immediate Central Oregon region, with more on the way. I can not think about most of them on a routine basis and just mainly concentrate on the top five or six that I prefer. Life is that good here [see sidebar of Jon’s blog for a list]. I am not trying to brag but to simply express how freaking blessed we are here.

I started using Untappd on moving here. I currently have 2169 unique check-ins. Once I hit 2500 I’m not sure I’ll continue using it to track them. I may though as it the best, at-hand, tool I have to see if I had a beer previously and what I thought of it. That is a big part of trying to engineer my tasting experience towards only drinking better-than-average beers.

Besides the above issues, which seem perennial, I have come to realize that the issue  is that I’m pretty much over tasting different beers simply for their own sake, and perhaps seeing that number of ‘uniques’ go up. And now, while I’m still happy with a very wide variety of beers, new or not, I want good all of the time; my definition of “good,” not yours. 😉 I don’t want just different. That was never a major motivator but it certainly did play a role for a while.

Button from 20th Annual Legendary Boonville Beer Festival

Button from the 20th Annual Legendary Booneville Beer Festival

As I mentioned, I went to a beer fest last weekend, the 20th Annual Legendary Boonville Beer Festival put on by Anderson Valley Brewing Co. I went for the adventure and because I love some of Anderson Valley’s stuff and at the brewery I could get mostly stuff I haven’t had as it is not distributed, or certainly not up here. But that’s not enough anymore for my limited time and travel/fest budget and there are still several other fests we would love to attend.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company taplist

Anderson Valley Brewing Company taplist

03Tent

Home for my friend and me for two nights. [Windy when I took this photo.]

06FirePit

Someone’s extremely cool beer fire pit during an evening camp walkabout, which we did both Friday and Saturday evenings. Bahl hornin’!

08CampMtn

A small part of camp and the surrounding mountains.

09Fest

One small corner of the fest.

There were lots of beers, scores from breweries I had never even heard of. But it was almost all normal production/“standard” beer. Some were tasty; few needed to be poured out. But mostly meh. I did, though, drink several exquisite beers back at camp with the other five guys I was with.

Firestone Walker Anniversary XIII-XVI. Filled a big space in my love of FW anniversaries. [Friday]

Firestone Walker Anniversary XIII-XVI. Filled a big space in my love of FW anniversaries. [Friday]

Three amazing New Glarus fruit beers. Simply incredible! [Friday]

Three amazing New Glarus fruit beers. Simply incredible! [Friday]

The Rare Barrel No Salt [Saturday]

The Rare Barrel No Salt [Saturday]

Libertine Pepe Le Pluot [Saturday]

Libertine Pepe Le Pluot [Saturday]

12Libertine2

The back side of the Libertine. An absolutely gorgeous presentation on both sides. [Saturday]

13FarmhouseNoir

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Farmhouse Noir (Batch 3) [Saturday]

Our own Bend Brewfest has been like that for me since our second year here. Just an awful lot of decent stuff. Meh. I am very glad that I went to Boonville, though. Despite the mostly mediocre quality of beer at the fest—that was only four hours—there were excellent beers and people throughout the weekend. And I got to see large parts of my country that I had never seen. So beer fests are fraught in their own way but we will continue to be selective as we refine what we want out of them.

Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta, California

Redwoods

Redwoods

Map of a small portion of our trip

Map of a small portion of our trip

Northern California coast

Northern California coast

Paul Bunyan and Babe and his big blues ... Oh. Wait.

Paul Bunyan and Babe and his big blues … Oh. Wait.At Trees of Mystery, Klamath, California

On the flip-side of any ‘crisis,’ I am extremely excited about new hop profiles that are emerging, whether based on new hops or on brewers learning to use hops differently than the recent past where it was mostly about bittering. I am here referring to mostly hop-forward beers like pale ales, IPAs, etc. But then, some of these hops and associated techniques can probably help create some amazing hop profiles in many non-hop-forward beers too. This is probably the thing I am most excited about in the beer world right now.

Thee beer world is all business and that can take its toll sometimes. Then again, so can movements. I am going to drink mostly local and mostly craft but you better believe I bought a 6-pack of 10 Barrel Cucumber Crush in cans because I could. I might never buy one again but I couldn’t let the absurdity of the availably of that beer in that way pass me by. I may well, though, buy it a can at a time in the future [six was too many to keep fresh]. The wife absolutely loves, and I appreciate, Goose Island Bourbon County beers and we will drink some of those in the future, especially as we have a fair few in our cellars.

The main point is my beer world is still evolving, as it has since I took my first sip four decades plus ago, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not everything is perfect but I am working to accept some things that simply are, and to shift focus and priorities in other directions to keep me interested.

Whether or not I have something like BJCP certification to work towards I will continue to read about beer history, the making of beer, the consumption and packaging of beer, and so on. I am also beginning to home brew; ok, still collecting equipment and I need to help my friends more often but that’s about as fraught an issue as getting together to drink so …. I certainly hope to be brewing by late summer here. Still need to acquire a few pieces and get my kettle modified.

To wrap up this rambling: things are evolving as they always have, I have amazing beer close at hand, I am beginning to brew myself, attitudes are being adjusted, realities are being accepted, I see emerging trends in beers that I am excited about, and, most importantly, I am still learning. I ain’t got no stinkin’ crisis.