Category: brewing

Catch and ReleaseCaptured by Porches always sounded more like a…

Catch and Release

Captured by Porches always sounded more like a midwestern post-rock band than a brewery. The tiny operation has had many ups and downs over the last ten years. Somehow, despite bad press, some really off beers, and bouncing from Portland to St. Helens to Gresham, the little brewery that could keeps going. And they are now malting their own barley, too.

Captured by Porches is a one man operation, Dylan Goldsmith seems to make all the beer even after a decade in business. He started as a homebrewer supplying house parties. His homebrew was so popular, his friends never left, hanging on his porch all night – thus the name. 

The first Captured brewery was wedged into a weird space behind the Clinton St. Theatre on some hand-me-down equipment found on Craigslist. The brewery moved from cramped corner to cramped corner – from an old gas station on highway 30, to an industrial park in St. Helens, and now the backend of a health food store turned organic pizza pub in Gresham.

Captured By Porches has never garnered a lot of press. Every few years, someone hunts down Goldsmith for an interview about beer and homebrewing and sustainability, but he seems more interested in making beer than self promotion. They never opened a proper taproom, but they entered the Portland food cart scene. The Captured by Porches beer buses popped up all over town selling beer from converted campers to thirsty foodies.

But a few years ago, Goldsmith and his business partner/wife broke up. He kept the brewery; she got the beer buses. The brewery nearly fell off the face of the earth. The business had to pull distribution and focus on the smaller accounts that actually sold the beer. They continue to sell beer at local farmer’s markets and in small grocers and bottle shops but you won’t see Captured by Porches in the Whole Foods anymore. 

But I’ve been hesitant to pick up anything new from Captured, their beers do not have a great reputation. Their Invasive Species IPA made it into the finals of our grand all Oregon IPA taste off in 2012, then flunked out when we got two very off bottles. They had notable issues in the early 2010s with swing top bottles which were often infected, and came with a dollar bottle deposit. Those early bottles soured reviewers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. A single bad bottle can turn into even worse word of mouth.

But I was at the local co-op grocery and in between the hazy IPAs was Wind & Rain ESB. I had a hankering for something a little maltier, so I picked it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned the beer was made with Full Pint barley bred at Oregon State University, grown locally, and malted at the brewery. In 

2015, Captured by Porches started malting nearly all the grain in their beers. That’s insane. I had to try it.

Wind & Rain is a malty brew with a lot of character. It’s not just sweet or toasty. It’s tastes like bran flakes or wild rice. It’s slightly, slightly smokey. The caramel notes are kept in check by a firm bitterness and a hint of yeasty fruit. One sip and I was hooked. What else could they be making? So I went pack for an Oregon Sunshine golden ale and the reformulated Invasive Species. Both have a tasty malt flavor, but each shows off a different side of the grain.

Oregon Sunshine is like a sandwich, nice toasted bread notes with a seedy, grassy flavor topped with a hint of pickle and an oniony umami. Invasive Species is an old school IPA with plenty of bitterness backed by a malty sweetness. The flavor is toasted, nearly burnt like popcorn heated on the stovetop. There’s a raw grassiness underneath emphasized by the old school pine and citrus hops.

In a market dominated by massive multinational craft brewers – and small brewers aiming to become massive multinationals, it’s intriguing to see a truly tiny business overcome some serious struggles and continues to push the envelope. And somehow, despite using their own hand malted grain, Captured can still sell pint sized bottles for less than five bucks. If you see them around, I encourage you to give them another try. 

SimpleA golden ale with a whiff of fresh flowers, a hint of…

Simple

A golden ale with a whiff of fresh flowers, a hint of marmalade on the tongue, and a crisp body. It’s all you really need. Everything else is fluff.

Fresh Yakima Valley HopsEighty percent of all American hops are…

Fresh Yakima Valley Hops

Eighty percent of all American hops are grown in the Yakima Valley. Despite being so near the fields, Central Washington has never been a hotbed for brewing. In the early eighties, Bert Grant opened the first modern brewpub in the United States, Yakima Brewing and Malting Company. But after Grant’s death in 2001, the company quickly fell apart. Since that time New breweries have popped up here and there, but the largest is Bale Breaker Brewing. Founded in 2013 by three siblings and third generation hop farmers, Bale Breaker is now one of the larger breweries in the state.

Naturally, Bale Breaker focuses on hop forward beers made with locally grown hops. Their range has a distinct hoppy flavor, not so much juicy or fruity but raw and leafy. Opening a fresh can is like shoving your face in a bag of hops. The homebrewers out there know what I’m talking about. The flavors are fresh and green and earthy.

For example, Leota Mae, the juiciest beer in their lineup, still has certain earthy dankness. It’s brewed with trendy Mosaic and Ekuanot, but the flavor is balanced. The nose is floral. The flavor is fresh. No mango or passion fruit, just grapefruit and pine, yet the beer tastes new and exciting.

Top Cutter and Bottom Cutter, single and double IPAs respectively, are a more old school. The flavors are bitter and earthy – pine tar, cedar, a third thing. But the aroma is one hundred percent raw hops. Even Bale Breaker’s light pale ale – Field 41, only 4.5% ABV – reveals a huge scent. Herbal hop flowers just waft from the can. 

I’m not sure how they do it, but I am in love with these beers. Is it a new dry hopping technique? Is it just the freshness of having the hops grown right there? I don’t know, but I am definitely going to look for more.

Historical Drama, Time Travel, BeerWe’ve been catching up on…

Historical Drama, Time Travel, Beer

We’ve been catching up on Outlander lately. It’s a Starz series about time travel, 18th century Scotland, and unpronounceable place names – also, this being Starz, gratuitous nudity. Sarah tried reading the books first, but got caught up on all the Gaelic words. It seems that even when Anglicized, spelling and pronunciation do not always go hand in hand. 

To go with our sci-fi romantic drama, we picked up a few bottles from Traquair House, the oldest home in Scotland. It once housed Scottish Kings and Queens and has now passed through the twenty Lairds of the Stuart family – the very same Stuarts referenced in the show.

It was the twentieth Laird of Traquair, Peter Maxwell Stuart, who started the brewery. Well, he rediscovered it. After literal centuries of neglect, he resurrected the old brewery in the basement. They still use some of the same equipment from the 18th century, including the unlined oak fermenters. You can see archive video of the Laird brewing on the ancient kit at the National Library of Scotland.

The beer isn’t exactly historical in nature. Traquair House Ale, which was dreamed up in 1965 with Sandy Hunter of Belhaven Brewery, is based on traditional Scottish ales of the time, though at 7.2% alcohol, it was quite strong for its time. 

House Ale tastes remarkably clean. It has a nice rich malt flavor, all brown and toasty and sweet. The oak fermentation tubs add a subtle vanilla hue to the figgy fruit flavor of the yeast. It finishes with the clean sharpness of a new copper penny. You’d be hard pressed to guess the strength of this beer, but it is tasty.

The second beer brewed at Traquair is Jacobite Ale an even stronger ale at 8% alcohol. It was brewed to celebrate the anniversary of the Jacobite Rebellion when the Scots fought the English in an attempt to restore the Catholic king. This is the time period depicted in the second season of Outlander as the main characters attempt to prevent Charles Stuart from leading the doomed Jacobite Rebellion.

Jacobite Ale is based on historical recipes and prominently features coriander seed. It has a similar flavor to the House Ale, but with a spicier, sharper flavor that shows off its strength. The spice fills the palate, leaving less room for subtle malt flavors. But Jacobite Ale fits right in with the flavor of the season, it fits in perfectly next to the gingerbread and sugar cookies.

We should do this more often, pairing historical sci-fi dramas and beer. Any suggestions for what to watch next? We could pair Gilmore Girls with oversized cups of coffee stout or Seinfeld with big glasses of nothing. The possibilities are endless.

Fungus Take Over the WorldMushroom Ale is exactly what it sounds…

Fungus Take Over the World

Mushroom Ale is exactly what it sounds like, a beer made with mushrooms. Did you know you could make a beer with mushrooms? Neither did we. Then Old Town Brewing made one for the big Oregon Brewer’s Festival in 2015. We put it on the “nope” list, but a lot of people said it was good, or at least worth a try. Apparently, enough people liked it that they brought it back last year, and it was good. It was weirdly good

Another year, another bottle, and it’s still a great beer. Where most fruit, or vegetable, enhanced beers attempt to recreate said fruit, Mushroom Ale still tastes like beer. It’s a good beer, not just an interesting use of fungus. Candy cap mushrooms have a distinct maple flavor to them – that’s why they’ve also been used by Salt and Straw to make ice cream. When added to Old Town’s Altbier base, candy caps sweeten the beer without adding any extra sugar, the same way a little vanilla extract makes cookies tastier. The earthiness of the fungus blends into toasty malt and the sharp bitterness. The result is dry and moreish and far more beer like than your average vegetable infused ale.

When it first came out, Jeff wrote on Beervana that Mushroom Ale “suggests a brave new, post-style world just out there in the near future.” He probably couldn’t have guessed how prescient he was. In 2017

saison

can mean anything, half the new beers are brewed with some fruit or other, and no one is sure what an IPA is even supposed to look like anymore.

Bad LuckI had planned to write about beer pricing, prompted by…

Bad Luck

I had planned to write about beer pricing, prompted by the uproar in london over £13 pints of Cloudwater and a disappointing bottle from the Commons. But Friday morning the news broke that the Commons is closing. And, to add insult to injury, as the Commons exits, their space will be filled by a new branch of San Diego’s Modern Times.

Over on Beervana, Jeff Alworth wrote an elegy to a weird brewery that just couldn’t find a foothold in a town dominated by IPA. Jeff calls the Commons the Velvet Underground of Portland breweries, “making exceptional beer most people didn’t understand.” 

I think that’s giving the Commons a little too much credit. Upright Brewing started making the same sort of Belgian style ales two years earlier, and until last year rarely brewed an IPA. I think Jeff is closer to the mark when he points out the Commons made unusual beers without the marketing to make it seem worth the extra few bucks.

Just down Belmont Street, Cascade Brewing’s Barrel House is pulling in money hand over fist selling funky beers at a premium price. I’m sure Cascade sells fewer bottles at thirty dollars a pop, but they have developed a rabid following across the country. There’s room for difficult beer in Portland, but maybe selling it requires a certain braggadocio the Commons lacked.

But all this armchair analysis ignores the simple fact: a business needs to make money. The Commons started in Mike Wright’s garage as a nanobrewery known as Beetje in 2010. A year later he moved it into a larger space in Southeast and things just kept growing. But there were hiccups, especially when the brewery moved into their current digs on Belmont.

Wright bought the building in 2015 planning to reopen the taproom in time for the Craft Brewer’s Conference that summer. They opened just in time, but without the comfortable feel of their old site. And a distinct lack of chairs. Since then the Commons has moved from being a cool up and coming brewery to another part of the beer scenery. 

I hear in recent years they moved beyond their Belgian influenced roots and made some spectacular German lagers. But signs of trouble started showing earlier this summer. Head brewer Sean Burke abruptly left the brewery in June and was followed a few weeks later by other employees. At the time, everyone denied the brewery was in trouble, though rumors circulated that the brewery was on the verge of a buyout. 

Then on friday morning, without warning, they announced the Commons was closing at the end of the year, followed by a polished press push from Modern Times explaining their plans to take over the building for a new “Fermentorium.”

Over on Brewbound, Mike Wright gave an interview trying to explain just what happened. Since opening the new brewery two years ago it’s been, “lagging sales and battling cash flow…

this boiled down to simple debits and credits.” If there’s a lesson to learn from the Commons, let it be this: good beer alone won’t make your business successful.

There’s been a steady stream of bad news the last few years about breweries closing and consolidating, selling to big beer and private equity firms. The Commons, like Speakeasy before it, is another in what may be a long line of breweries taken down by their own pride. I don’t mean hubris exactly, maybe it’s just misplaced hope. When all around people are making breweries work, who would think their own would fail.

Yeastie Beasties There’s an old saying that brewers make wort…

Yeastie Beasties

There’s an old saying that brewers make wort and yeast make beer. The idea is that a brewer only has so much control over his beer, the final product depends on chance and the whims of nature. But a clever brewer can work with her microbes to create the exact flavor she wants.

First, one must choose a yeast strain. Picking the right bugger for the beer is job one. English strains are known for their jammy, fruity scent.

Belgian yeast has a spicy, sharp flavor. Wild Brettanomyces is often said to produce notes of “horse blanket.” And what would Bavarian hefeweizen be without the banana and clove notes.

But every now and then you get a weizen, like Isarweizen, that tastes more like bubblegum. Heater Allen describes it as “tutti frutti” notes, but I taste those rubbery gumballs from an old vending machine. Same weizen yeast, completely different result.

So why do you sometimes get clove and other times get banana? It comes down to the temperature of the fermentation. At lower temperatures weizen yeasts make more phenolic compounds, leading to more clove flavor. At a higher temp, the yeast makes more esters, and a fruity banana scent. Ferment even warmer, and you get bubblegum.

Tastes Like Beer1845 was first brewed, with the help of the…

Tastes Like Beer

1845 was first brewed, with the help of the Prince of Wales, at Fuller’s in 1995 to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary. The brewery doesn’t say much about it. It’s a strong amber colored ale made with four malts and Golding hops. It’s bottle conditioned for a hundred days. That’s about it, a modest description of what sounds like a rather bland beer. 

In his book, Amber, Gold, and Black, Martyn Cornell singled it 1845 as one of a very few Burton ales in production. Burton is one of those beers that, while a very popular style in its own time, is now seen as a precursor to popular modern styles. Burton was named for Burton-upon-Trent this new style of pale ale was produced. The hard local water made for a snappy beer that took well to hops. It’s a sort of proto-IPA.

1845 tastes a bit like an old style IPA. It’s a rich amber color with a sweet fruity scent around and caramel center ending in a firm smack of bitterness. There’s a bit of a gingersnap flavor and a minerality to the finish. Is it authentically Burtonian? Don’t know. I’ve only had the one example. But as interest in historical beer styles spreads, I’m sure I can find some more. I hear the ultrahip Culmination Brewing made a Burton for a festival last year, so It’s only a matter of time.

Hop TerrorGigantic Brewing is relaunching their Ginormous…

Hop Terror

Gigantic Brewing is relaunching their Ginormous Imperial IPA this summer as a rotating seasonal. Each new brew will highlight a new hop. Mark 1, on shelves now, features African Queen hops grown in South Africa. It’s a little surprising they were able to find enough. South African hops are currently in short supply. 

In May, South African Breweries Hop Farms – the same SAB of SABMiller, recently merged with A-B InBev – told American buyers they would not be selling anymore hops to the American market this year. Of course, there were dozens of news stories from Food & Wine to Paste Magazine saying InBev was “commandeering” the whole hop market for themselves and their American breweries. In reality, it’s more complicated than all that.

SAB has a virtual monopoly on all hops and malt made in South Africa, and the region is in the middle of a long drought. According to SAB their yields have fallen and they have an obligation to sell hops to their African breweries first, and – as part of their monopoly – they are legally required to provide hops to small South African breweries. Local brewers have their own problems with the arrangement, but it’s not true AB is hoarding all the hops for their own High End brands.

American brewers – particularly Modern Times in San Diego, which was an early adopter of South African varieties – are rightly pissed. Many will have to reformulate recipes, but the bigger issue is fear that a super conglomerate like A-B/InBev/SABMIller/WTF could pull a similar move here in the States, crippling small brewers. It’s unlikely, but the South African example doesn’t bode well.

But the entire South African hop growing region only harvests 1000 metric tons, a small segment of that is exported, something like 40 tons. Last year, American hop farmers harvest something like 40,000 metric tons of hops. InBev’s massive buying power could hypothetically shift the supply of certain popular varieties, no doubt about that, but as Jeff Alworth pointed out, we’ve been here before

Anheuser-Busch was once the biggest buyer of hops in Oregon, gobbling up 75% of the entire harvest. When A-B got a better deal elsewhere, they cut their contracts. Oregon growers were screwed. I doubt any one of them would enter into the same arrangement again. That is of course, assuming farmers grew the hops In-Bev brewers wanted. The majority of the hops currently grown in South Africa are high alpha acid varieties. They work great adding bitterness to just about any beer, but they are not the aroma hops everyone in the states is clamoring after.

The current trend is toward new and exotic flavors. Every autumn hop growers in America harvest experimental new varieties. Brewers test the waters with new hops with odd names, often just a string of letter and numbers. Some of those hops go on to become trademarked commodities, like Mosaic and Citra. Others are rarely heard from again. Southern Passion and African Queen are just the latest runners in this race for novelty.

The thing is, maybe these hops everyone is worried about aren’t even that good. I’ve only had two beers I can confidently say were brewed with African Queen hops. One of those was that new Ginormous IIPA up top and it’s not great. It’s got a really hard flavor, dense and jagged. It’s very green, very unripe. It could be the hops or the malt or the water, it could just be the beer, but I am getting no hint of flavor worth fighting over. 

Wake me up when someone take away all the Cascade hops, all the Centennial. That I’ll get up in arms over. But that’s a terrifying and very unlikely future. More Cascade hops were grown in Oregon alone last year than all the varieties grown in South Africa combined. I think we’re safe.

An Industrial SaisonWhen Upright started brewing eight years…

An Industrial Saison

When Upright started brewing eight years ago, farmhouse ales weren’t a thing. Fancy bottle shops carried Dupont and maybe the occasional Fantome, but otherwise it was a rare style. In the years since saisons has become increasingly standardized. Brew a pale beer, add a handful of spices, and throw in a French yeast strain, three weeks later you have a “farmhouse” ale.

Scrap Iron is an attempt to revive an older style of saison, and break away from the current flavor orthodoxy. It’s based on the Belgian classic Orval and the little known Saison de Pipaix. I’d not heard of Pipaix, but it was listed as a World Classic by the late Michael Jackson. He described it as a tasting similar to a fruity, maltier geuze. 

Scrap Iron has that same wild flavor without much acid. Munich and caramel malts give it a dark orange color and a deeper grain flavor. The old world hop flavor comes from Mt. Hood and Golding hops – green team, dry tannins. Sweet orange peel brings out a fruity marmalade tang from the wild yeast and hops. The finish is sharp and metallic like licking a knife blade. The intense carbonation gives it a nice body, somewhere between creamy and fluffy.