Category: ipa

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.

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.

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.

Sparkling BeerOver the last twelve months, you may have heard…

Sparkling Beer

Over the last twelve months, you may have heard talk of a new kind of IPA, perfectly clear, effervescent, bone dry. Brut IPA was supposed to be a dry West Coast answer to the juicy sweet New England IPA. The first examples were brewed by Kim Sturdavant at Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco. He added

amyloglucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down complex sugars to make them more digestible by yeast, to his usual IPA recipe. The result was a beer with zero residual sugar.

The technique caught on and soon spread from San Francisco. New examples popped up at beer festivals and inspired other brewers. Brut IPA seems to have become its own thing. Even Old Town Brewing released one. Just in time for New Year’s Eve, la Brut is an effervescent, brilliantly clear, bone dry IPA. It actually tastes quite a bit like champagne, a shimmery quality on the nose, sharp fruit notes, a quick sharp finish that leaves the tongue scraped clean. It’s quite a feat of brewing, but it’s not as new as some might think.

If you pick up an old book of beers, not super old, but a good ten years will do, you’ll find another beer style influenced by French bubbly. Only back then it wasn’t an IPA, it was a Flemish beer called Biere Brut. Producing Biere Brut is a little more involved than Brut IPA. Instead of adding enzymes to create a lighter body, Bieres Brut are fermented with actual champagne yeast. The spent yeast are then “disgorged” from the bottle the same as in traditional sparkling wines.

Few breweries ever really produced Biere Brut, and the best known example is still DeuS from Brouwerij Bosteels, the makers of Tripel Karmeliet and Kwak. All other examples I’ve seen listed were one-offs and special releases. The style didn’t exactly catch on, but the beer left an impression on important beer writers like Michael Jackson and Fred Eckhart and made it into their books and thus the beer pantheon. Any book of beer written before 2010 had to include Biere Brut because it was part of the canon. 

And just as the invention of kettle souring suddenly made Berliner Weisse and Gose cheaper and easier to produce, amyloglucosidase is making beer Brut again. Whether it catches on or goes the way of the original Champagne of Flanders, well, we can look and see in 2020. 

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas TreeRarely has a…

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas Tree

Rarely has a beer’s label so accurately described it’s contents. Gigantic Brewing’s new winter IPA paraphrases John Mallet at Bell’s Brewery describing Hopslam. It’s surprising to think that five, ten years ago, a dank, piney beer was revolutionary. The catty, harsh flavors of American hops were, for centuries, considered gross by most. But somehow, American brewers convinced us all that this is the taste we wanted, and they weren’t wrong.

I miss the hoppy tingle of an old school double IPA. I miss the grating bitterness on my tongue. Sipping on a pint of The Cat Ate My Stash was a helpful reminder of just how far palates have shifted since I started drinking beer ten years ago. Everything these days is sweet and tastes instantly familiar, like cookies and fresh fruit. It’s nice to taste something a little challenging for a change.

Brewery as CommunityWe spent the last week visiting Sarah’s…

Brewery as Community

We spent the last week visiting Sarah’s family in Monument, Colorado. It’s not exactly a beer mecca, but Monument does have a brewery, Pikes Peak Brewing Company.

I’ve been plenty of breweries but few were as friendly as Pikes Peak.

Located just off Interstate 25, the brewery is situated in an old strip mall, near a library and a physical therapist. It’s not a glamorous place, but damn if it isn’t popular.

We visited on a Monday evening and the bar was packed. It had snowed the day before but there were still plenty of people mingling on the patio. We settled in at a table near the bar and watched a steady stream of office workers and old timers sidle up to the bar for their happy hour pints. A “buy a friend a beer” chalkboard on the wall is covered in miniscule writing. This is obviously a neighborhood joint, the perfect encapsulation of a “third place.”

Monument is a bedroom community. There aren’t many coffee shops to speak of, and restaurants lean toward the impersonal chain variety. The only thing Monument has plenty of is tract housing and churches. People commuting to Denver and Colorado Springs have plenty of beer options, but that probably works in Pikes Peaks favor. People who already understand IPA and Berliner Weisse are better customers than Coors drinkers. 

The beer runs the gamut from Mild to milkshake IPA. There’s something for everyone, and it’s all pretty decent. Nothing blew me away, but over the course of a week I tried six different beers from Pikes Peak and each one was brewed to style. The golden Belgian ale was dry with a yeasty spice flavor. The mild was clean and toasty. The blood orange IPA was fruity. The beer is tasty, but that seems almost beside the point. Pikes Peak is good because it functions as a communal space, a place for people of all stripes to bond over their pints. 

A Fresh Hop OdysseyIn the Northwest, the period from Memorial…

A Fresh Hop Odyssey

In the Northwest, the period from Memorial Day to Halloween – give or take a week or two depending on the weather – is fresh hop season. It’s the one time a year when brewers can throw hops straight from the bine into their brew. The rest of the year, brewers use hops that have been dried to preserve them. Fresh hop cones begin degrading the second they’re picked. Within a few hours they already show signs of rotting. Within a few days, fresh hops turn to compost. 

The limited viability is what makes fresh hopped beers so hard to make, and few brewers outside hop growing regions attempt them. But in Oregon and Washington, so near the Willamette and Yakima Valleys, fresh hop beers are an annual tradition. Every brewery from Alameda to Zoiglhaus is throwing fresh hops into any beer they can. 

The first beer to hit shelves this year was Hopworks Totally Chill Hazy IPA with fresh Centennial hops. I don’t think the haze really let the fresh hops shine. There was an odd sort of oniony note on the nose, but it turned into tropical fuzz on the tongue. But I feel like the subtle fresh hop aromas were buried under layers of sweet bready malt.

Our bottles of Double Mountain’s Killer Red faired better. Also hopped with fresh Centennials, Double Mountain drew out more fall flavors by adding fresh Perle hops, too. Cranberry and fresh chopped wood on the nose. Pine needles and spruce meets citrus rinds on the tongue. The red ale base adds a nice toast note underneath without getting in the way.

When Sarah got a whiff of Stormbreaker’s Handfuls of Fresh Hops, she winced. She said it smelled “questionable.” It smells like pot. It’s infused with pungent  Centennial and Amarillo hops. It’s raw and rough. It’s very herbal – basil, thyme, arugula. It tastes like the bitterest greens. It’s not a subtle beer.

For a change of pace, we moved back toward the fruity end with Hopican from Old Town Brewing. Hopicana is a hazy IPA with fresh Mosaic and Citra hops. It smells like fresh strawberries. The flavor is woodier – cedar and grapefruit. The body is full and juicy with a vanilla sweetness. But again, I thought all the malt covered up the freshness.

At this point, I should probably mention we didn’t drink all these beers in a single sitting. Freshness is incredibly important to fresh hop beers, so the best way to sample them is as soon as they hit the shelf, or even better the tap handles. But I digress.

Back at Double Mountain, Killer Green was ready. This IPA is chockfull of fresh Simcoe and Brewer’s Gold hops. It’s a straightforward IPA. The old pine and grapefruit aromas spread out across the palate. It definitely tasted fresh.

But nothing is as fresh as Gigantic’s Sodbuster VI: the Return of the Simcoe. It tasted incredible. In a word: herbaceous. Handfuls of garden fresh basil. Bunches of fresh cut flowers. Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Perfection.

Mazama Brewing’s Green Magic canned some of the same sorcery in a smaller package. Fresh Centennial hops meted out a constant low level of deliciousness. It’s exactly how a pale ale should taste. Balanced unassuming, but with a depth of character that only reveals itself through multiple glasses. 

Next up, Field to Ferment from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing. Again, Centennial hops take center stage. It’s green and plant-y – spicy herbs, notes of cedar. Nice, but missing a bit of fruitiness.

The last beer of our 2018 fresh hop odyssey brought fruit in spades, but was about it. Hop Bot is Gigantic’s all Citra fresh hop ale. It’s got a nice citrus note, but also a load of berries. Blueberries, under ripe raspberries, maybe a red currant. Whichever berry it is, it tastes seedy and leafy. Not bad, but I think I’m convinced now, I only really like the old hops.