Author: whatchudrinkin?

Under Pressure It’s rare today to see a brewery with a specific…

Under Pressure 

It’s rare today to see a brewery with a specific focus, unless you count making endless variations on IPA a focus. Breweries like New Belgium and Allagash opened with the expressed purpose on making Belgian style beers for an American audience. When pFriem first opened in Hood RIver they had a similar mission. When we first visited the taproom in 2013, six of the eight taps were pouring beer made with Belgian yeast. Now, the brewery brews everything from Vienna Lager to a sour IPA. pFriem has a extensive library of Lambic inspired fruit beers, but few drinkers would identify them as a Belgian-esque brewery.

Ferment Brewing just opened in Hood River, just down the street from pFriem’s taproom and brewery. When I saw the first bottles on the shelf, I was intrigued by the selection – a porter, an ESB, and a Czech Pilsner alongside the usual IPA. What sort of brewery is this? The IPA tastes very contemporary, a hazy appearance and a fruity, juicy aroma. The ESB is very old school, a whiff of imported grains, a deep red color, a stiff bitterness. The Pilsner fits the current trend for very crisp very satisfying lager. Yeah. It’s a normal brewery making normal beer.

It wasn’t until I googled the brewery that I learned “FERMENT IS A MODERN BREWERY THAT FUSES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE TECHNIQUES WITH A FORWARD-THINKING SCIENTIFIC APPROACH.” What? Really?

Looking at their lineup, only two of the eight beers they currently offer are fermented with farmhouse yeast. (Said yeast was found up on Mt. Hood, which is fascinating, but not relevant to the current discussion.) Can you call yourself a Belgian farmhouse inspired brewery if you only make two farmhouse brews? Is that allowed? 

I understand that the market demands IPA. I understand that drinkers who don’t see a beer they think they’ll like on the menu, they are liable to walk down the block to a brewery that does. I understand that wild beers are less reliable and more expensive to produce. I understand the reasons why a brewery branches out searching for a foothold in a rough market. But it still feels like a cop out.

What’s Your Sign?Ecliptic Brewing opened five years ago to much…

What’s Your Sign?

Ecliptic Brewing opened five years ago to much fanfare. Founder John Harris has over thirty years of experience in Oregon brewing. He helped the McMenamins’ move from extract brewing to all grain. He worked at Deschutes in the very beginning, formulating flagship beers like Black Butte and Obsidian Stout. He spent a decade at Full Sail. He had pedigree. Ecliptic’s year round beers look a lot like the stuff Harris brewed a million times before – a Northwestern IPA, a robust porter, a big old barley wine. 

But in the last few years, Ecliptic’s calling card has been fruit beer. Seasonal sours in peach and blackberry, a porter with cherries, an IPA with mango, and they are capitalizing on the rise of Brut IPA with new variations featuring lavender and lemon and with strawberry.

Pisces smells like strawberries, a good sign. The beer has a nice pinkish hue and a nice full head. The first sip is full of delicious strawberry juice. The body is as light as a classy fruit soda, crisp with a little residual sweetness. The hops come through on the back end, leaving the palate with a bitter bite that fits well with the fry finish. It’s pretty dang good. 

Staring into the AbyssI graduated college and landed in the…

Staring into the Abyss

I graduated college and landed in the depths of the “Great Recession.” At twenty-two I found myself working a shitty part time job and with plenty of time on my hands. I listened to podcasts, sat around drinking too much coffee in overpriced coffee houses, and looking for something to do. I ended up spending a lot of time in the Central Library looking for something to occupy my anxious brain. Literature was out; I’d had enough of that in school. The news was depressing. And there were only so many Mary Roach books. So I started reading about beer.

At the time, Sarah and I were living in a severely sloping fourth floor, walk up apartment a block off West Burnside. Our living room windows looked down on the parking lot of a sports bar famous for cheap gyros. Sarah was working twelve hour shifts back then, so I’d often not see here till eight or nine at night. I started this blog to fill my time. I started capturing every beer I drank along with a few witty descriptors, and I read some more. I read Michael Jackson. I searched out his “world classics.” I perused the Oxford Companion and tried to use words like diacetyl and acetic acid in my posts.

Before I found Michael Jackson and Stan Hieronymus writing about brewing monks, before poring over the Oxford Companion to Beer and trying use diacetyl and brettanomyces is in casual conversation, I read was The Naked Pint

The Naked Pint was written by a pair of knowledgeable ladies, Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune. It’s an introduction to beer and brewing and introduced me to the idea of beer styles. They described everything from Pale Ale to Saison and gave a few examples with tasting notes. Most of the beers they described were brewed in exotic locales like Bavaria or Flanders or San Diego. I scoured their recommendations for something closer to home. And there, among the top Imperial Stouts from around the world, was the Abyss from Oregon’s own Deschutes Brewery.

The descriptions sounded so delicious, the adjuncts so unusual. Cherry bark, blackstrap molasses, licorice, vanilla, and some of the beer was even aged in wine and bourbon barrels? Wow. Black Butte Porter may have been Deschutes’ flagship, but The Abyss was their calling card for the hardcore. It was rare; it was critically acclaimed; it was expensive. When I finally saw I bottle at the grocery store, I balked at the price. Seventeen dollars for a single bottle of beer? I could get two six-packs of Black Butte for that price (2011 was a magical time).

Our ramshackle apartment was less than a mile from Deschutes’ Portland brewpub. The brewery’s log cabin aesthetic stood out in the condo-filled restaurant-rich Pearl District. It was big, but cozy. We weren’t exactly regulars, a broke twenty-two year old can only afford so many fifteen dollar burgers, but when parents were in town, or a birthday needed celebrating, it was fun to visit Deschutes and sample some new beers.

It was at the Deschutes Pub that I bought my first bottle of the Abyss. It was spring, well past the official November release, but someone at the pub found a few extra cases in storage. I rushed down and bought a bottle. Every bottle from Deschutes’ Reserve Series is labeled best after, not best before. It’s a subtle way of encouraging people to stock up. That’s exactly what I did,  figuring I could open it and have my own vertical tasting. I didn’t open that first bottle for three years, and it was great. When the 2012 release party rolled around the next fall, I was there. 

While it didn’t necessitate blocks long queues, the Abyss release was always a big event at Deschutes. The pub was packed with nerds taking copious notes. I had my own little notebook, and a vertical flight of five samples. They ranged from bold and boozy, to mellow and fruity, with notes of tobacco and leather. I even picked up a hint of balsamic vinegar in the oldest vintage. I walked home with three more wax dipped bottles.

Last week, I finally opened the last of those bottles. It’s been a solid six years since it was released. After all that time in my closet, the beer has changed. What used to come off as dark roast coffee now tastes like the crust that forms on the bottom of the oven. There’s no barrel character to speak of, but that’s not surprising. It’s incredibly drying on the tongue. There’s none of the richness I’ve come to expect in an imperial stout.

Even more than the beer has changed, the world of beer has transformed in the last six years. The Abyss was one of the original barrel aged imperial stouts, but it’s been eclipsed. In 2012, less than a quarter of the beer was actually aged in barrels. Last year’s release was only fifty percent aged in barrels. These days, a barrel aged beer is a barrel aged beer – all the beer is literally aged in barrels.

Deschutes have tried to follow the Bourbon County model, releasing variant bottles like holofoil Pokemon cards. Cognac Abyss, Tequila Abyss, Scotch Abyss – but the novelty doesn’t justify the significant upcharge. There are so many good beers out there, for far less money. But what is a brewery to do? A beer that was edgy ten years ago seems dated now. The only way to keep the brand vibrant is to mix it up.

Personally, I haven’t purchased a bottle of the Abyss in three or four years. I can still walk into the grocery store down the street and find a bottle of the Abyss from 2018, and it will probably be very good, but it won’t have the same effect it did when the options were fewer and the beer was rarer.

So The Abyss remains a relic of an earlier age, a precursor of the beers to come. Then, the addition of cherry bark and vanilla added a new layer of interest. Now, pastry stouts made to taste exactly like the adjuncts used to brew them. Then, aging a beer in whiskey casks was innovative, and dangerous. Now a barrel aged beer is commonplace and have the kiss of bourbon in every sip. The Abyss was unimaginable in 2006; it was a revelation in 2012; But today, it’s just… meh.

Rogue Wave Now that Bridgeport is dead, it seems more important…

Rogue Wave 

Now that Bridgeport is dead, it seems more important to hold onto our old local breweries. That’s why I picked up a few cans from Rogue.

I’ve never been a fan of Rogue Brewing. They made some very boring beer in the early aughts. In pursuit of a house flavor, they used the same yeast for everything. Sorry, but you can’t make a hefe and  a chocolate stout

with the same yeast strain. Then they went hard on bizarre collaborations. Did anyone actually enjoy the Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale? How about the beer brewed for Powell’s Books with actual pages of Moby Dick tossed in the kettle? I once drank Rogue’s Sriracha Stout on a dare. It seemed like a joke, not something anyone would actually drink. For years, it seemed like marketing was driving the brewery instead of the other way around. 

Rogue were early proponents of farm to bottle beer. They grows their own hops and barley. The distillery even makes its own oak barrels which are then used to age beer. Of course, Rogue’s marketing team took locally grown ingredients and added a dumb spin. Every ingredient Rogue uses is trademarked. They don’t use two-row malt, they have Dare® and Risk® malt. The hops are the same. Freedom, Rebel, Newport – they are rebadged commercial hops grown on Rogue’s land. 

In the last few years, Rogue has branched out. There seems to be less focus on branding and bottle design and a recalibration of the beer itself. Straight Outta Newport is the first Rogue beer in years to actually focus on the location of the brewery. The can features the iconic Yaquina Bay Bridge. And beneath the bridge we see the Rogue archetype, dudes with beards.

The beer itself is pretty good. It’s billed as a west coast double IPA. The brewery is still run by the same few old white guys, and the beer options have only slightly widened. Straight Outta ifeatures Citra and Mosaic hops, but it is no tropical unicorn. But it does has some nice citrus and mango flavors on the melody and a resin-y bassline underneath. It’s got a bit of a bite on the finish, but is not nearly as bitter as Rogue beers used to be. It’s tame and drinkable. It’s good. And an historical brewery making good beer is all I want.

ShadesFor Valentine’s Day, Sarah got me a bottle of Shades from…

Shades

For Valentine’s Day, Sarah got me a bottle of Shades from Upright Brewing. This is the second bottle of Shades she’s given me in the last few years, and somehow I haven’t tasted it yet.

Shades is a golden ale fermented with whole rainier cherries in oak barrels. The yellow-pink rainier has a subtler, sweeter flavor than the dark ruddy bing. The flavor is more like a small stone fruit, a bite size nectarine. Upright takes pains not to call Shades and the darker Hearts’ Beat kriek. Though both are made with cherries, they don’t follow the strict guidelines of a Belgian lambic.

But it’s hard not to see the influence of the Pajottenland in Shades. It has some of the same wild yeast character seen in a Belgian cherry ale, notes of hay and freshly shorn sheep fleece. The acids from bacteria are subtle, balanced, drawing out the fruit flavor, not overwhelming it. The fruit is the real star. Those rainier cherries taste juicy and fresh even two years later. Maybe I should pull out that other bottle…

The End of BeervanaYesterday, Bridgeport Brewing announced they…

The End of Beervana

Yesterday, Bridgeport Brewing announced they were closing. You might be asking yourself “didn’t that happen last week?” No. That was Burnside Brewing. And that was messed up, too. Burnside hosted the Portland Fruit Beer Festival in their parking lot every June. Bridgeport was Portland’s original brewery. Like the first brewery.

Okay. Technically, there were other Portland Breweries before Bridgeport. Somebody out there remembers Blitz-Weinhard, opened in 1856, closed in 1999. A few nerds can shout out Cartwright Brewing which opened in 1980 and made really bad beer for three years before shuttering. But Bridgeport was the first successful Portland brewery this century. 

The importance of Bridgeport in the history of Oregon beer cannot be overstated. Dick and Nancy Ponzi, the original owners, helped pass the Oregon brewpub bill that made it legal for a company to make and sell beer in the same building. Bridgeport’s location, deep in the industrial wilds north of downtown helped shape what would become known as the Pearl District. Bridgeport’s IPA introduced the Northwest to the style.

Today, Bridgeport’s IPA tastes distinctly of its time. It was first introduced in 1997, and it tastes like it. Despite fifty bitterness units, it’s surprisingly restrained. So many early IPA were just completely bitter. Bridgeport’s has some nuance – notes of orange peel, a nice floral tone. The bitterness is just a nice piney bite in the finish. The body is spritely. Caramel malts are used sparingly. IPA bears some resemblance to the English pub inspired ales that were popular at the time. It’s actually a pretty good beer, but there’s no way this IPA could carry an entire brewery on its back for another 20 years.

Bridgeport has been looking for a new hit for years. For years. They bet heavily on Hop Czar, a double IPA. It was fine. They tried making fruity Belgian ales under the Stumptown Tart label. They were terrible, absolute garbage. Bridgeport signed on to be the official beer sponsor of the Hillsboro Hops, the minor league baseball team. They trademarked the name Beervana. Last year, Bridgeport made, incredible as it sounds, a really good hazy IPA

They tried so hard, but Bridgeport just spiraled down the drain, and Carlos Alvarez will be blamed for pulling the plug.

Alvarez is CEO of the Gambrinus Company, a Corona importer and owners of Shiner Bock. Gambrinus bought Bridgeport from the Ponzi family in 1995 and made an unbroken series of poor decisions. Gambrinus renovated the original Bridgeport pub, Oregon’s original brewpub, turning it into an upscale Chili’s. They killed off all the old beers, which may have sold poorly, but had a certain niche audience. They brought back the brands they had killed with new, worse recipes. They rebranded. They rebranded again. They rebranded again. The Bridgeport image went from bland to blander with each new iteration. In the end we get a pale green can with IPA in fancy Comic Sans.

The brewery that closes next month is a hollow shell of its former self. I would mourn the loss of a Portland classic, but it’s been dead for years.

Secrets and SubterfugeI’ve forgotten how great a really subtle…

Secrets and Subterfuge

I’ve forgotten how great a really subtle beer can be. This new Brut IPA is brewed with apples and fermented with both plain ale yeast and champagne yeast. It’s incredibly effervescent. The flavor never punches you in the face.

A white grape is suggested in only every other sniff.

A hint of apple is just perceptible, like the skins of a granny smith left on the counter. The apricot notes don’t taste like ripe fruit. It tastes like you left a shriveled, dried apricot in a glass of water overnight and then took a sip in the morning. It’s subtle. The finish is bitter and dry and makes great use apple-y tannins. It’s great. 

But the thing that really stuck out to me is who brewed the beer. It’s labeled a pH Experiment by Craft Brew Alliance. The CBA isn’t a brewery; the CBA owns breweries. It’s the parent company of Widmer, Redhook, and Kona. CBA, which is itself partially owned by Anheuser-Busch, controls distribution and logistics for all the member breweries. Thanks to the CBA Kona is brewed here in Portland at the Widmer brewery, not in Hawaii. The CBA has never itself made a beer. Why is this incredible beer being sold as a CBA product and not part of an existing brand?

According to a recent article on the alliance on Good Beer Hunting, “CBA partnered with the Yale School of Management … and this summer launched the ’pH Experiment,’ which provided 50 participants access to a new brand every month if they were to provide feedback on their impressions and alcohol buying habits.” So why is on shelves now? To see if the beer sells. Then they can give it a brand. Does Brut IPA make sense as a Widmer beer? Maybe it would make more sense under the Kona brand. When next you see it, this Brut IPA could be sporting a Wynwood logo. Who knows.

Big Pulp, Big ProblemBaerlic Brewing’s latest hazy is a double…

Big Pulp, Big Problem

Baerlic Brewing’s latest hazy is a double dry-hopped double IPA. Big Pulp was brewed with Trap Door Brewing from Vancouver – the one in Washington. It’s a surprisingly crushable, incredibly fruity beer. It tastes like tropical tangerine juice, with just enough basilesque herb to give a little balance. It’s eight percent alcohol and features seven pounds of hops per barrel. It’s great.

But what I can’t get over is the can. I looks just like a Big Gulp cup. It has a fake 7/11 logo on the side. How do they not get sued? It wouldn’t be the first time a parody beer name landed a brewery in hot water. Knee Deep Brewing was sued by Sony over the Breaking Buds label last April, and they’ve been making that beer for years. Why even invite the possibility of a lawsuit? Is the joke worth the lawyers fees?

This is what Joe Strummer trained you for. I don’t think I…

This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.

I don’t think I was expecting a punk rawk IPA to smell so much like flowers. Baerlic’s latest IPA blends the juicy hops so popular with the kids – El Dorado and Strata – with some old school funk from Chinook. Punk Rock Time starts out pretty dank, but beyond the weedy smell is something more perfumy. Is that a geranium? Maybe some sweet rose water? It’s definitely not the catty resin I was getting earlier. Under the hood, Punk Rock Time has the body and edge of a west coast IPA. There’s bitterness. There’s a dry finish. But it can’t be mistaken for an oldy.

Brew Your OwnI spent 2018 learning to make beer at home. I made…

Brew Your Own

I spent 2018 learning to make beer at home. I made a few little saisons, a bitter or two, and a maple spice brown ale that was so good at Thanksgiving, I made another batch for Christmas.

Is it good? Well, I’ve paid for worse. I’m not sure that’s high praise for my brewing, or an indictment of shoddy commercial brews. But, so far, I’ve avoided any major flaws. A little diacetyl here, some oxidation there, but for the most part, the flavors are good and the mistakes are few.

Making beer isn’t actually that hard, or expensive. A gallon batch costs about ten dollars, sometimes less sometimes more. Three pounds of malt, an ounce of hops, and a packet of yeast – in four hours that could be fermenting away in my closet. The time investment is really the hardest thing, but it’s nice to feel like I’m making something. So much of my life seems to be devoted to consuming – beer, food, TV, time – but brewing is creative. You take ingredients that by themselves are sort of useless and end up with a delicious beverage, hopefully. 

Brewing is intimidating at first. The internet is full of advice, the library is full of recipe books with thirteen ingredients and twice as many steps, but you can do it. You don’t need any fancy equipment. You don’t need to figure out how to use a refractometer or a hydrometer. I rarely even use a thermometer thanks to our variable temperature tea kettle. You probably have a big pot. Get yourself a bucket, a tube, and a couple bottles. Go make beer.