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.

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!

McMenamins beer in cans taste-off

As I wrote in my post, “Received: McMenamins cans are here!,” that I would, I did a taste-off between the canned versions of Ruby and Hammerhead from the Edgefield production brewery and those from my local McMenamins Old Saint Francis School brewer, Mike “Curly” White. On the 23rd of August I stopped by OSF and got a growlette (32 oz glass “bottle”) of each.

Picture of coozie, two 16 oz cans of McMenamins beer, a postcard, and a small ornament of Ruby.

On 24 August I compared the two Hammerheads and on 25 August I compared the two Rubys. [First 2 under this link]

Hammerhead Taste-off

“Hammerhead McMenamins Hammerhead label

A classic Northwest Pale Ale and McMenamins Standard. This rich chestnut colored gem is a model of harmony between hops and malted barley. Hammerhead’s signature Cascade Hop nose and intense hopped flavor blend nicely with the caramel tones from the Crystal Malt. This beer has a vocal following; to run out is an unforgivable sin.

Malts: Premium 2-Row, Bairds Crystal 70/80

Hops: Cascade

Original Gravity: 1.056

Terminal Gravity: 1.010

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

Calories: 241 per pint”

McMenamins Hammerhead can, 2 snifter glasses and a growler

McMenamins Hammerhead taste-off: Can on left, OSF on right

Old Saint Francis School Hammerhead

Aroma: lightly floral and light melon; caramel and toasted bread crumb.

Color: Slightly opaque golden orange. Light tan head of extra fine bubbles and a couple small fisheyes; decent persistence.

Flavor: “English.” Soft. Fairly complex malt of bread, toast and light caramel for a pale ale. Medium hop flavor which was lightly floral and very light citrus. Medium bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light chalkiness in finish; finishes semi-dry and then dries out a bit more.

Edgefield Hammerhead

Aroma: very light cattiness when cold; disappeared but then came back, so fleeting cattiness. After warming some: very light tobacco/ashtray and a very light dankness.

Color: Almost clear medium-dark orange. Light tan head of extra fine bubbles and a couple small fisheyes; decent persistence [same head as OSF].

Flavor: almost smoky. Medium hop flavor of very light citrus, pine and some earthiness. Medium bitterness.

Mouthfeel: creamier. Slightly more attenuated. Finishes semi-dry.

More “polished” overall but I think the scales [for me, in this instance] tip to Curly’s version. I like the chalkiness and the malt was more complex. His also did not have some of the odder aromas coming from the canned version.

Ruby Taste-off

“Ruby McMenamins Ruby label

One of our most popular standards, we still make Ruby with the same aims we had when brewing the first batch back in March of 1986: To create an ale light, crisp and refreshingly fruity. Great Western Premium 2-Row and 42 pounds of Oregon-grown and processed raspberry puree is used to craft every colorful batch. Simple but delicious.

Malts: Premium 2-row, Maltodextrin

Hops: Chinook

Fruit: Raspberry

Original Gravity: 1.039

Terminal Gravity: 1.005

Alcohol by Volume: 4.0%

Calories: 170 per pint”

McMenamins Ruby can, 2 snifter glasses and a growler

McMenamins Ruby taste-off: Can on left, OSF on right

Old Saint Francis School Ruby

Aroma: high fresh raspberry. Lightly bready malt almost hidden under the fruit. No discernible hop aroma. Light corn as warms. Once warm got some ashtray on intake.

Color: opaque pink grapefruit with a just off-white head of extra fine bubbles and varied fisheyes and medium persistence.

Flavor: Light corn with a light corn slickness. Raspberry present more in finish than across palate but still low.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Finishes medium-dry with a medium-low hp bitterness but no discernible hop flavor. Softer than the canned version.

Edgefield Ruby

Aroma: raspberry but more artificial. Very light bread crust. Very light corn in inhale just before sipping.

Color: much clearer than OSF version; almost clear orange-peach with the same head as OSF version.

Flavor: Almost raspberry up front and then a lot in the back.

Mouthfeel: Slightly less body than OSF version. Finishes in middle: kind of semi-dry and semi-sweet at same time.

Raspberry is not my favorite ingredient in beer but I preferred Curly’s version with its much fresher-seeming raspberry aroma and a bit less raspberry flavor. Again, the OSF version was also missing the weird (mostly) phenolic aroma showing up. Those can be fine in an imperial stout, barleywine, old ale, etc. but not in these styles of beer. All in all, it was fairly close but not as close at the Hammerheads were.

After I was done making my notes on the individual Rubys I combined them in a 50/50 mix. The aroma was closer to be fresh raspberry (OSF) than artificial raspberry (can). Color and clarity were in between, of course, and the head was much longer lasting than either version alone (although the mix did get a slightly more vigorous pour). It also had a softer mouthfeel than either. For me, it was the best of both worlds.

Wrap-up

These cans are gorgeous, although I am a bit biased as I adore McMenamins in-house art style. I would say it is fairly close still between Edgefield and Curly here in Bend, although I think Curly’s still got a slight edge where my taste buds are concerned. I do not pretend this is any sort of objective standard or measure. ‘Tis just me.

Thanks again, McMenamins for sending me these beauties!

[Disclaimer: These beers came to me free and unbidden [but appreciated] from McMenamins.]

Received: McMenamins cans are here!

Picture of coozie, two 16 oz cans of McMenamins beer, a postcard, and a small ornament of Ruby.

Friday I received a package from McMenamins which included their new 16 ounce cans of Hammerhead (NW pale) and Ruby (raspberry ale), along with a Hammerhead coozie, a postcard and a small hanging ornament of Ruby.

How did they know I still collect cans? Had to get rid of so many over the years and after so many moves. I have very few of my old collection left which I started 45 years ago when I was 12. Nowadays, for now, I am keeping one can of every canned beer I have. And, yes, most are packed away from view. Again. And. Still. ::sigh::

I am hoping to get growlettes of both of these beers brewed by our own local brewer, Mike “Curly” White, at Old Saint Francis School to compare and contrast each one to the Edgefield-brewed cans. I have done that in the past when McMenamins has sent me bottles of seasonal releases. I a very lazy blogger and that is a very tad bit of work but it seems worth it and a slightly different angle to me so I like it. So far I believe Curly is ahead on my preferences but I know there was a time or two Edgefield’s bottled versions won out. Always close and always interesting.

According to the postcard, they are available at all 54 McMenamins locations across Oregon and Washington, and are $2.75 each or $10/4-pack. That’s a pretty nice price for 16 oz cans.

Reviews/comparison coming soon I hope.

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.

Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Café changing (some) hands

Wednesday, March 16, via the Facebook group Broken Top Bottle Shop Friends, I learned that two of the original four partners in BTBS will be shortly selling their share to the other two.

Diana Fischetti and Andy Polanchek are moving on and leaving the beloved bottle shop and restaurant in the capable hands of Jason and Jennifer Powell. We love all four of these folks and this is kind of bittersweet for us.

Photo of the four original partners in Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Café

Picture of Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Café owners & partners shortly after they opened. L-R: Jennifer Powell, Andy Polanchek, Jason Powell, and Diana Fischetti. Picture credit believed to belong to Gina Schauland.

We first went to BTBS in May 2012 just three plus months after they opened when we were here for Sara’s interview. We moved just up the College Way hill from them in August 2012 and commenced to being regulars. Let me just put it this way: On Untappd I have 455 checkins at BTBS. Our good friend Ryan has 302 and my lovely wife (who started using Untappd way after me) has 116. We are the top three. [At our own home location I have 714, she has 142, and Ryan has 100.]

We used to live at the other end of the street which was just over 1 mile, with a fairly significant hill. The way down was easy. One earned their beer and food with the walk back home. Almost entirely uphill. We have since moved somewhat across town but nowhere else is close for either of us on checkins. The next two would be Platypus Pub and Deschutes Bend Public House, which both around 160 checkins for me [versus 455].

This is our place. I wrote about them in the Oregon Beer Growler. [PDF: November, 2013, p. 18] I talk and write about them frequently. I even have a TextExpander shortcut for “Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Café.” Most of my browsers, at home or work, “know” that “b” typed in the address bar means “http://btbsbend.com/“ so I can check either or both of the tap list and specials menu.

I stopped by there Thursday on the way home from work to do some business with a local brewer friend. Got myself a converted half barrel to use as a mash tun and boil kettle. Stoked! But I saw both Jason and Jennifer (separately) and they are stoked to move on to this new phase. “Team Powell” is on the way and looking forward to maintaining their place and the community, along with bringing us new things. We are excited.

Friday evening was also the “Sail Away Party” for Andy and Diana during the Stone tasting. We went down for dinner and beers after I closed up the Barber Library at 5 pm. Thankfully we got a few minutes to chat with both of them. They aren’t leaving us right away and have some irons in the fire, so to speak, so we’ll be looking forward to seeing where this next phase goes for all of them and the shop.

We want to extend our heartfelt good wishes to Diana and Andy in whatever comes next in their lives. Cheers, friends!

BrewJacket Immersion Pro Fermentation Temp Control

Homebrewers and potential homebrewers, do you live in an apartment, small house or other constrained space, like I do? Do you want to take your fermentation temperature control to another level but but don’t have room for a dedicated refrigerator or freezer? Are you OK with ales but need better cooling for lagers? If any, or all, of those things are true for you then please consider backing the BrewJacket Immersion Pro on Kickstarter.

Photo of BrewJacket Immersion Pro in a carboy in someone's living room

*All images courtesy of and property of BrewJacket*

I am a budding home brewer with some serious space constraints among other things. We live in a small house and already have two temperature-controlled refrigerators for cellaring beers and have no more room for a fermentation fridge. And seeing as we need more cellaring space neither of those will be converted to brewing use. But I do have a spare small shower in a second bathroom that would be perfect. Most of the winter it has been sitting at 60° F but it will warm up come warmer weather. I clearly need better temperature control to undertake brewing.

The BrewJacket Immersion unit has been around for a couple of years now but was so far restricted to cooling only. Their new, upgraded version which will both cool and heat to 35° F from ambient temp is currently being funded on Kickstarter. There are still 9 days left and they are just under $11,000 away from the $65,000 goal.

I backed the project at the No Wait Carboy level in which, if funded, I will be sent a current BrewJacket Immersion cooling-only unit in April and then be sent an upgrade [new circuit board] in September that will allow both heating and cooling.

How it works: It consists of a “highly insulated, waterproof, beer-proof, heavy duty jacket” and the rod which goes into your fermenter with the solid-state cooling (and heating) system connected to that.

Photo of rod and control unit lying on side

Now this unit isn’t exactly cheap but it does solve serious space issues for many of us, along with replacing that fridge or freezer and dual-stage temperature control and heat source which would be needed otherwise. They are compatible with over 20 different fermenters, with more coming, and work with 5-gal batch sizes.

Photo of two different styles of fermenter both jacketed and unjacketed

Here are a couple reviews of the cooling-only unit:

If this might solve some of your homebrewing issues then please consider backing the Immersion Pro on Kickstarter. I truly need this device if I hope to start homebrewing this year. Thanks.

The Session 109 Roundup: Porter

Thank you all for your participation in this month’s Session! The roundup follows, and while I hope I got them all if I somehow managed to overlook yours PLEASE do leave a comment below and I will correct the oversight immediately.

Your contributions

Juan Fajardo of Beer 511 (Juan’s Beer Blog) was first with his post, “The Session #109: Porter.” Having “settled pretty clearly on saisons, “farmhouse” ales, and sours. porter holds some strong and dear associations” for Juan. We learn about his journey into homebrewing, porters, and of a couple porters from Lima, Peru.

John Duffy at The Beer Nut went “Back to the source.” We learn about two versions of porter brewed for Marks & Spencer by Meantime, London Porter, and Greenwich Winter Porter with cinnamon and allspice. “Simple is best where porter is concerned. In 1750 and today.” Can’t say I disagree.

Gary Gillman’s Beer et seq. “The Session – What Is Porter?” provides a brief history lesson on the differences between porter and stout, and why it is all porter in the end. There are times and reasons to differentiate but this is certainly my thinking.

Jessica Boak  & Ray Bailey at their eponymous Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog dash off “Session #109: Porter” where they tell us “It is like drinking a Dickens novel.” Hear! Hear! Boak & Bailey spit out some rapid fire thoughts on porter and remind us that they have done some previous writing on the topic. Think if it as background material for this post, if you will.

By the way, have you read their book Brew Britannia? You should consider their Gambrinus Waltz also but I have so far failed to review it. Consider this a hearty recommendation. [Amazon US | Amazon UK]

Alistair Reece at Fuggled in “#TheSession – Head East Young Man” takes a look eastward and provides a story of Baltic Porter.

Sean Inman of Beer Search Party lets us know in “The Session # 109 – “Porter”” that he is clearly not a fan of porter with it being “…,  well, boring and solid” but seeing as this is an election year in the US he does bring in several political references. Who said beer and politics can’t mix?

By the Barrel; or, Bend Beer Librarian, “Porter (The Session #109),” in which I, your host, waffle on about a local cherry Baltic porter and The Brewers’ Project beers (currently) available from Guinness.

Thomas Cizauskas of Yours for Good Fermentables reminds us in his “In Praise of Porter. (The Session: Beer Blogging Friday.)” that “Modifiers heaped upon modifiers yield differences of kind not degree.” Be “honest and respectful” and call your Imperial chocolate coffee peanut butter porter something besides porter. I fully agree. We also learn about his homebrewing and professional brewing background that led to this respect for porter.

Kate Bernot at Draft Magazine writes an ode to porter after first almost dismissing them as a topic in her “We should all swipe right on porters” post.

Looke at Likely Moose “The session – Porter” could only find one in his British supermarket, Guinness West Indies Porter, which was “nice,” but ends with a question, “My question, are dark beers really just for beer geeks because the powers that be think most people dont want to drink it.” I certainly hope not.

Derrick Peterman at Ramblings of a Beer Runner is in search of porter in his post, “The Session #109: In search of Porter.” Derrick has to work at finding a few porters among the plethora of other choices, whether at his local bottle shop, the supermarket, or at local bars. He succeeds but the numbers are not heartening to us fans of the style.

[Despite what I said above about agreeing with Thomas that too many modifiers/ications takes one away from the style itself I would love to try that Heretic Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. Maybe I’d decide it had gone beyond porter but was tasty nonetheless. That said, getting nuts right in beer is, in my opinion, almost impossible. Peanuts, “Blergh!,” but I have had one or two well-executed hazelnut beers.]

Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin gives us “Session #109: Loving Porter.” Please tell me that you are aware of Jay Brooks’ more recent undertaking, Typology Tuesday! It takes place on the last Tuesday of the month, and addresses where he prefers that The Session itself had stayed centered. As he says, “So I want to make more of a concerted effort to explore the nature of different kinds of beers, how they can, or should, be organized, divided, dissected and shuffled around, preferably with one in my hand.” There’s a tad bit more to it if you need a better explanation but see that Typology Tuesday page. In January we did Barley Wine; February was Bock [Sadly I was unable to find one and was unable to participate.]; March will be Irish-Style Dry Stout, for which I have already secured a couple; and April will be Saison. Please consider joining Jay and others and let’s get this look at styles off the ground and running.

Why did I write all of this? Well, as one of my suggestions was to “Construct a resource along the lines of Jay Brooks’ Typology style pages,” he did just that for Robust Porter. Check it out.

A Good Beer Blog, “Session 109: Porter And Our Shared Georgian Culture,” is written by Alan McLeod and brings us an image “from the commonplace book of William Maud, evidently of Wetherby, York, England, b. 1787 who served as a customs official in Great Britain; he was employed at the excise office in Leeds in 1830.” It includes recipes for both strong and common porter. As he writes, “Porter is Georgian Britain’s gift to us all. It comes in many forms.”

Quite possibly my favorite contribution from Georgian Britain.

Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site in “The Session #109: Porter” drinks a classic local [Bend, Oregon] porter, the flagship of what I often think of as our “little local brewery” [due to the pub] despite the fact that they are squarely in the top 7 or so craft breweries in America, along with a much newer, adjectified, er, flavored, porter from one of our newest local breweries that really has people talking.

Sorry about the timing regarding “Porter,” Jon and Sherri. But coincidence, serendipity, outright strange things cropping up seems to be some kind of metaphor or description of my life.

At my blog, By the Barrel; or, Bend Beer Librarian, my wife, Sara Thompson contributes “The Session: Lovely Time Warp” in which she expounds on the Bend Brewing Lovely Cherry Baltic Porters we shared and a lesson she learned regarding beer awards.

** Updated submission 08 March 2016 **

“The Session #109: Porter” by Dan at Community Beer Works in which we learn that he is just as confused as many others as to what exactly a porter is; “For me, stouts, porters and brown ales are sort of like a pie graph mixed with a venn diagram that then gets beer spilled on it ….” Sounds about right to me.

Some of us might want to pull that apart a bit but I actually kind of love that metaphor for the (few) non-pedantic moments in life.

Final comments

All this talk of porter and flavored porters, whether for or against, put the wife and I in mind of a few of ours that need drinking. We settled on our last Ninkasi Ground Control Imperial Stout released in April 2015. It is a flavored with Oregon Hazelnuts, star anise, and cocoa nibs and it is fermented with ale yeast shot into space. Seriously.

Photo of a bottle, box, bottle cap and glass of Ninkasi Ground Control Imperial Stout

I think this is one of the best nut-infused beers that I have ever had but nonetheless did not want to risk the hazelnut going rancid. I first had it less than a week after it was released in the tasting room of the brewery in Eugene, Oregon (April 2015). It was particularly exquisite 2 1/2 months later. From there it has tapered off, in my opinion, but it is still quite tasty. It will never be my favorite Imperial stout, as I much prefer them “simple” as John said and “honest and respectful” as Thomas said. It was quite good with a bit of homemade chocolate chip cookie, which brought out a really nice rum barrel-aged quality that it doesn’t actually have. Yum.

Thank you all for your contributions to this month’s Session and I hope we can find room to appreciate one another’s viewpoints whether or not we agree.

Porter (The Session #109)

This is my entry for the 109th Session, which I am in fact hosting, on the topic of porter. My post will cover some tasting notes of several different porters. We drank a couple vintages of Bend Brewing’s Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter and I had three different porters from the Guinness boxed set, The Brewer’s Project.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

See here at Brookston Beer Bulletin for an intro to The Sessions.

Bend Brewing’s Lovely Cherry Baltic

On Sunday, 28 February 2016, the wife and I compared a 2013 and a 2016 bottling of Bend Brewing’s Lovely Cherry Baltic. BBC is the third oldest brewery in Central Oregon and the second oldest in Bend proper. They celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2015 on my birthday, which means they are now over 21.

I respect the hell out of Lovely but it is one of my wife’s favorites, not mine (because of sour cherries). The label states that it is an Imperial porter aged on Montmorency cherries but makes no mention of yeast used. Is it truly a Baltic? Who knows? And it would depend on whose style guidelines you used anyway.

We had a bottle we acquired in October 2013 and another we just got on 13 February during Zwickelmania at the brewery. We asked the brewer’s wife, Jen, about the origins and she asked Ian (the brewer) and they confirmed it was bottled this year, which I assume means it was actually brewed sometime in 2015.

This is a beer that was originally brewed by Tonya Cornett before her departure for 10 Barrel. See this post at New School Beer for a profile of her from shortly after her departure.

For a profile of current head brewer, Ian Larkin, see “Bend Brewing anniversary and profile of Head Brewer Ian Larkin” at The Brew Site.

See Jon Abernathy’s post, “Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter,” also at The Brew Site, to read one of the earliest reviews of this beer and learn a bit about its bottling history.

We compared them head-to-head and tasted them with assorted cheeses, chocolate, and roasted sweet potatoes, apples and pecans.

Two photos of a glass and a bottle each of 2013 and 2016 Lovely.

2013 on left; 2016 on right. artist Ken Knish of Sisters; styled realism of the 1940-60s. http://www.knish-artwork.com/

They were definitely different beers but clearly also the same beer. The wife, who will be writing her own [guest] post, definitely preferred the 2016 bottling. I guess that means we best drink the other 2013 and the two 2014s and the other “random” one we found in our refrigerator.

For the record, I am not the biggest fan of sour cherries or even cherries, period, although I like the sweeter cherries more. But considering I am not a huge fan that then makes them an ingredient that, while I agree they can work in beer, I am not usually a fan of in beer. Nonetheless, this is a well-executed, award winning, beer.

Awards:

  • 2013 GABF Gold Medal in Aged Beer
  • 2012 GABF Bronze Medal in Aged Beer

I wrote a lot of notes on both of these beers but I just don’t know …

I kept waffling between them depending on temperature of the beer as it varied from cold to warm (and back to cold … as we refilled our small snifters) and as paired with different foods. I started out preferring the 2013 and at the end of the night just when I thought I was preferring the 2016 I decided to drink the rest of it off so I could finish with the last of my 2013. Different in lots of ways but sort of a tie. In the end though I think I prefer the older version. If I had to drink them by themselves and not together then I would choose to drink more of the aged one.

Tasting Notes:

2013

Aroma:

cold: med low sour cherry; med dark fruit

warm: med sour cherry

Color: Clear dark red-brown with dark tan head, extra fine with some small fish eyes, non-persistent

Taste:

cold: Full-bodied and creamy; initially sweet with slight sour bite from cherries, quickly moves to darker malt flavors arriving at chocolate in the swallow. Finishes dry with lingering light-med sour cherry and darker malt flavors of chocolate

warm: Tastes much thinner; but, in fairness, most of the carbonation would have been swirled out at that point. I believe it is a combination of the temperature of the beer and all of the swirling.

2016

Aroma:

cold: dark malts but far from prominent; can’t find cherry

warm: very light chocolate and cherry

Color: Clear dark red-brown (carbonation interfering with visual inspection; head same as 2013

Taste:

cold: Full-bodied and creamy; less sweet than 2013 at beginning; goes into darker malts rapidly; some very light cherryish notes in finish. A bit more bitter; from malt? [Didn’t seem a hop bitterness.]

warm: no notes

They were vastly different with assorted foods:

  • Egmont cheese
  • Beecher’s Marco Polo cheese
  • Rosey Goat cheese (rosemary): No! enhances soapiness of the rosemary
  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Roasted apples
  • Roasted pecans

The 2013 was more complex than 2016; while in the 2016 the cherry, which was very subdued, came out nicely with assorted foods.

Again, I have the utmost respect for this beer but the cherry is not my thing. Give me BBC and Ian’s Big Bad Russian or The Raven Baltic Porter or Currant Volksekt or Salmonberry Sour or Ludwig German Pilsner. Ludwig is one of the very best Pilsners available in Bend, which is something with Crux’s amazing Pilsners available here, which also makes it extremely good. Period.

Guinness The Brewers Project Taste-Off

We saw our friend, Ryan Sharp, at Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Café last Friday evening and he told us Costco had Guinness’ The Brewer’s Project 18-pack in and he had only tried one so far but was looking forward to the other two. I went to Costco Saturday morning and got one.

Picture of a carton of Guinness' The Brewers Project box

Here’s an article about this project at Ad Age.

And here’s a 0:30 video from Guinness, which truth be told irked me after giving up an exact birthdate for age verification. In particular, my gripe is that that is it for info available there. Um. OK.

Photo of description of the beers on the carton

Yes, they used “brewers,” “brewers’” and “brewer’s” and they left a period off one description. Grammar? Sort of. Sad they can’t get the name standardized.

Dublin Porter [1796]

ABV 3.8% “Dublin Porter is inspired by a reference in our historic brewers’ diaries dating back to 1796. It is a sweet and smooth beer with subtle caramel and hoppy aroma notes and burnt biscuit finish.”

Aroma: Sweet; very light grape. Slight tang emerges as warms.

Color: All are about the same color but lighting was also sub-par; very light tan, fine-bubbled head, non-persistent.

Taste: Very slightly vinous, very light smoke, definitely light tang?, very light grape; finishes very lightly sweet and then dries out long. Thinnest of the three.

West Indies Porter [1801]

ABV 6.0% “A style with origins from our brewer’s diaries dating back to 1801, West Indies Porter is complex yet mellow, hoppy with notes of toffee and chocolate”

Aroma: Light smoky sourness.

Color: All are about the same color but lighting was also sub-par; light brown, fine-bubbled head, non-persistent.

Taste: Light but lingering smoke; med dry finish with light astringency. Light chocolate as warms.

Guinness Original [1800s]

ABV 4.2% “Guinness Original is the closest variant to Arthur Guinness’ original stout recipe and was first introduced in Dublin around 1800’s as a premium porter. Still sold today in the UK as Guinness Original, this brew is very similar to Guinness Extra Stout. It’s hoppy, roast and crisp with a bittersweet finish.”

Aroma: Very light chocolate. Extremely light grape as warms.

Color: All are about the same color but lighting was also sub-par; fine-bubbled head, non-persistent, in between other two in color

Taste: Creamiest [mostly due to carbonation]; very light sweetness and extremely light tang across middle; finishes with hint of chocolate, med dry but sweeter than West Indies Porter. Very light astringency and mild chalkiness late in the finish.

Comparison. Color of the beers and all aspects of the head were pretty much the same with the biggest, yet still small, difference in head color. As for body, all were very similar yet different.

None of them are really that good but they are respectable. I will most likely use the remaining 13 for cooking with unless I have a friend visit who simply must taste them.

Concluding thoughts

I am looking forward to seeing everyone else’s thoughts on porter and in how they interpreted the fairly wide-open prompt.

I adore some porters and if you include stouts as forms of porter, as Terry Foster and Martyn Cornell do, then I love lots of them but I much prefer some forms of porters and stouts to others, to say the least, and even then I don’t love every example within each sub-style. As for “regular” porters I prefer them to be sliding into stout territory in body and roastiness along with a slightly broader range of bitterness acceptable.

Even if none of these are my favorite examples within their various sub-styles I quite enjoyed spending some time tasting and comparing all of them while trying to work on my sensory perceptions and translating those into words. Usually a good exercise.

See you in a couple days with a Session #109 Roundup post. Cheers!