Tacoma Washington

Last weekend my wife and I spent the weekend in Tacoma, Washington for her birthday. Tacoma is about a 2.5 hour drive north of Portland, not quite all the way to Seattle.  The original inspiration for the trip was to visit the newly opened McMenamins Elk Lodge, which we needed to get stamps from to finish our second set of passports and become Cosmic Tripsters once again.  Following our trip to Crater Lake and The Redwoods, we decided to also drive up to Olympic National Park and continue our National Parks exploration. Despite having other plans, when you work at a brewery and write a beer blog it’s hard not to include beer tourism. We managed to visit a whopping seven breweries over the weekend. Tacoma was bigger than I expected and there was more to do there than I expected and we’ll certainly make a return trip at some point.

The first day we visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass, which was pretty cool and featured a lot of art from Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, known world wide for things like his chandelier at the Bellagio and on several cruise ships as well as large displays in Seattle and other cities.  After dinner (poké!) we hit up two breweries within walking distance of downtown Tacoma.  First was Harmon Brewing. Located right on Pacific Avenue we walked in and sat at the bar. It was hopping, but not super crowded.  My wife ordered the Double IPA “To the Dome” which is a double reference to the Tacoma Dome arena nearby and a double IPA going to your head. I ordered the GABF medal winning Puget Sound Porter.  We got served in plastic cups, which seemed to be either a bar thing or dealers choice from the servers, we couldn’t tell.  The beers were good, but it was loud and crowded and after one beer we decided to move on.

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Classy AF.

We hiked up the hill (literally) to 7 Seas Brewing and this place was really cool. It had a modern sort of hip open-warehouse vibe, but it’s built in the old Hiedelberg brewery (part of Columbia Brewing Co, who also made Olympia and Rainer before they got bought by Pabst).

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They were playing a recorded live Queen concert, for those of us who weren’t at the Queen + Adam Lambert show that night in the Tacoma Dome.  We didn’t find out about it until we were on the way up. Oh well.  The beer here was excellent! My wife really liked their CDA, which she is really picky about, and I got a seasonal limited run IPA and their year round double IPA (Ballz Deep.. yeah that’s the name) which were both solid. My wife followed up the CDA with a hibiscus brut IPA that was really floral and complex and quite tasty.

The following day we drove up to the Olympic National Park which was pretty incredible. It was partly cloudy but we got to see most of the Olympic Mountains from up on Hurricane Ridge, so we called that a win.  The Olympic Peninsula is not the easiest place to get to, but if you’re in the area I highly recommend it. Leaving the park we stopped at Barhop Brewing in Port Angeles (the town you go through to enter the park) and this one was a disappointing stop, thankfully the only one. We walked in and sat on the back side of the U shaped bar, which apparently was a mistake, even though several other patrons were on that side.  We ordered our first set of beers, the Ediz Point IPA and the Citra Sonic IPA which were both really solid and we mulled over the food menu.  We already had dinner plans, but after some mountain hiking needed a snack. We decided on what we wanted and a second round of beers and then crickets… the servers walked past us several times without acknowledging us at all. We waited… and waited.. and finished our first beers.. and waited with empty glasses. Finally, we managed to snag a server and at that point we paid our tab and left. Really a shame because the beer was good, but I guess you don’t need good service when you’re the only game in town. Our time is worth more than that.

That night for dinner we went to the RAM Restaurant and Brewery in Lakewood, near our AirBNB. RAM is a nationwide chain, but they operate in a similar manner to McMenamins. They have 2-3 core beers they brew at every location and then beyond that the local brewers are free to experiment on small batch beers.  There’s a small 5-10BBL system at each location.  We had gotten a coupon to the RAM during our visit to the Museum of Glass and the RAM had a beer on tap (a Kolsch) that the proceeds of the sales went back to the MoG. My wife ordered the Kolsch, which was nice, and I got the Big Red IPA, one of their core beers.  For round two, I ordered the hilariously named “Buttface Amber” (to which the barkeep replied “What did you call me?”) and my wife got the RAM cider (which was made for them by Locust Cider out of Woodenville). I also tried a sample of their Belgian Wit.  They had several Belgian inspired beers on the menu which makes me wonder if that’s a favorite of the local brewer. The food was also really good.

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Our final day in Tacoma we started the day up at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, where nary a drop of beer was to be found, but we knew that night we’d be having dinner and doing our stamp collecting at the McMenamins Tacoma Elks Temple. This building took a long time for them to finish and several of the pictures on the wall reflect the condition they found the building in and all the work that was required. Apparently it was mostly gutted and covered in graffiti and trash on the inside. Seeing the area it’s in, that must of been an eye sore at the end of a busy shopping district.  I think it took a long time for McMenamins to be able to buy the building and get permission to revamp it, but I bet they are happy now that it’s opened.  It’s pretty amazing and shockingly I was too busy gawking I didn’t take any pictures at all.  The Elks Temple has it’s own small brewery in the basement and we tried several beers while we were there. The Wizard Cat IPA was really good, as well as a Belgian Tripel and a Belgian Pale Ale.

Bonus: It’s not beer, but the basement bar of the Elks Temple is a Tiki bar and I got a Hurricane and they served it in this ridiculously fabulous octopus glass, which was made out of clay and was actually quite heavy! This is the ONE picture I took at McMenamins.

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After dinner, we walked down the famous Spanish Steps and across the street to Pacific Malting and Brewing Co. which reopened in the same building as a pre-Prohibition brewery of the same name. There was a live band in there playing 1920s-1930s Blues which was cool, and we got a taster flight to try several of their offerings. The Summer Wheatly (Citrus Pale Ale) was probably the best, followed by the Mama Bear Milk Stout and the Grit Porter, although the porter was most “stout-like” than the stout.  The Boss Hoss IPA was decent, but the Dragonball Hazy IPA was not very good. Kinda sad, but still mostly a winner.

Just a block down from Pacific was Odd Otter Brewing Co. We popped in and sat at the bar and there was live music here as well, and we quickly realized it was open mic night. These were just normal people, patrons of the bar, who brought in a guitar and sang one to two songs and then passed the mic to someone else and they were good! I ordered a glass of the Hibiscus Rosé Saison, while my wife got a taster flight. We tried a small batch Blueberry Wheat, a dry hopped Pale Ale, an IPA, a Schwarzbier and a nut brown ale. They were all really solid except the Schwarz which was too roasty and dry to be enjoyable, which is a shame since it’s a style we’ve both recently discovered we liked. We finished with a small taste of a guest cider (Ace Cider) which was a Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry blend and it was delightful.

So that concludes our whirlwind tour of Tacoma Washington.  At some point we will go back and actually stay at the Elks Temple, which is one of the McMenamins hotel properties.

Cheers!

 

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Exploring Southern Oregon

For Memorial Day weekend and my birthday, my wife and I took a trip down to Southern Oregon.  Our goal for this trip was to visit Crater Lake (Oregon’s only National Park) and then venture down into Northern California to see the mighty Coastal Redwoods.

Our home base for this trip was Grants Pass, OR.  A small-ish city of about 34,000 people, right along I-5 in the heart of the Rogue River Valley.  In true Oregon fashion, even tiny Grant’s Pass has 4 breweries.  We managed to make it to 3 of them.

The first one we made it to was Wild Ride Pizza and Brewing. Grant’s Pass is the original location and they also have a second location in Cave Junction.  We had already eaten lunch so we just popped in for a beer, but we did get an appetizer called a Torta, which was layers of cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, with crackers and bread.  It tasted like the best lasagna filling I’d ever had.  I’d wager a bet their pizza is damn good.

Between tasters and pints we tried 5 beers. Two of their flagship IPAs, one was a standard IPA and one had citrus peel in it, the citrus one was very good.  We also tried a brut IPA which was good but had a lot of yeast phenolics that I don’t think it was supposed to have and we tried their version of a CDA (called Black Hops IPA) which was OK, but more roasty and chocolatey and less hoppy than I would prefer.  I finished with the Double Eagle Imperial Stout and to me that was the winner. Rich and dark and creamy. I don’t know when (if) we’ll be back in Grant’s Pass, but Wild Ride Pizza would certainly be on the return list.

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The next place we went to was Climate City Brewing, which we went to for dinner.  Located in an older, historic part of town and housed in the former home of Rogue River Brewing Company which opened in the 1880’s and closed during Prohibition. We also tried 5 beers here with dinner in a combination of pints and tasters.  Again, very IPA heavy, which is the new normal. We tried the Savage IPA and Nookie IPA, pretty much the same beer with different hop profiles, we also tried the Citradora Stong Ale which was a Citra dry-hoped pale ale that also had Lemon Verbena tea added to it. Very strong lemon flavor. Very interesting.  The Fireside Dark Ale was a very malty, English style beer that was pretty good. I got a small taste of the Bourbon Bigfoot Porter which was very whiskey heavy. Nice, but suited for small pours.  The winner for me was the Brutylicilous Brut IPA.  A great example of that style, very dry and clean which a HUGE fruity aroma.  In fact, I misheard the server and thought they said “Fruitylicious” which would have fit just as well.  The food was passable for pub food. Nothing special but not terrible. Some of the beers were better than others, but it has a neat atmosphere and if your in town it would be worth stopping by.

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The third place we went to for dinner the final night in town was a restaurant called The Haul. Owned and operated by the folks from Connor Fields Brewing it serves as their official taproom (the brewery is on the outskirts of town and not open to the public). This was the place to be. It was hopping when we were there and it had a very modern, hip vibe (I hate to use the word hipster, but it was a lot of steampunk and long beards). Their beers mostly range through farmhouse styles and Belgians but they had a couple clean beers like an American Pale Ale and a Blonde Ale. The beers were all solid, but the food was AMAZING. I got the Thai Pie which was basically Pad Thai on a pizza, chicken, peanut sauce, carrots, green onions and cilantro. Wood fired pizza and the crust was amazing. Honestly the crust was the best part.  My wife got the Bo Ssam sandwhich which had Korean pork and kimchi on it. Also, very interesting and tasty.  The Haul also has a “secret” speakeasy upstairs that serves mostly cocktails.  After we ate we went upstairs and had a drink before we headed home. I forgot to take any pictures here but if you’re in Grant’s Pass I would highly recommend it.

Bonus non-beer stop:

On the way out to Crater Lake we drove through the Rogue River valley and saw signs for several wineries.  We looked a few up online to see what the had to offer and decided to stop at Kriselle Cellars for a tasting flight.  They offered mostly red wines, but had a handful of whites.  The address is White City, OR but it’s pretty much way out in the middle of nowhere north of Medford.  If we hadn’t driven by it, we would have never known it was there.  I wasn’t a fan of their white wines, but I also don’t drink a lot of white wine anymore.  They had some solid reds.  My favorite was the Cabernet Franc, which is a varietal I’ve heard of but not sure I’ve tasted.  It surprisingly beat out the Tempranillo, which is a favorite of both my wife and I.  They also had a really good blend called Di’Tani which contained all five of their reds blended together.

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I don’t know when we’ll be back in this area again, but we already know we want to return to Crater Lake when there’s not so much snow still up there, and we want to go back to the Redwoods as well, although we’ll likely stay in Northern California to be closer to the Redwoods when we go back.

If ya can’t beat em…

The big news in the brewing world this week is the Boston Beer purchase of Dogfish Head Brewing.  Billed as a “merger” as the Dogfish crew will join the Boston Beer board and continue to help run Dogfish Head, it still involved Boston Beer paying for DFH in a mix of stock and cash and paying off Dogfish’s private equity investment so they will be wholly owned by Boston Beer. Based on the BA guidelines, the combined entity will continue to be considered “craft” since it’s a craft brewer buying another craft brewer.

I’ve written on the blog before about the BA definitions of “Craft” in my 2017 post “The war goes on..” Since that post, they adjusted the definition again to include “non-beer” products like seltzers and FMBs (flavored malt beverages), which seemed to favor Boston Beer almost exclusively.  And for me, that’s where the rub lies.

Compared to most people in the craft community (or at least the vocal minority), I have an “unpopular opinion” when it comes to Sam Adams/Boston Beer.  Not about the company themselves, but more about this ridiculous idea of “craft” beer versus the big “industrial” brewers.  Where it breaks down for me is the fact that Boston Beer IS a giant multinational conglomerate.  They are the 4th largest brewery in the country and in my opinion, literally no different than AB In-Bev or MillerCoors.

Boston Beer is a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of 3 billion dollars and nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue. They have several brands under their umbrella, including Sam Adams, Truly Sparkling Water, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, Twisted Hard Ice Teas, The Traveler Brewing Co and Coney Island Brewing. They are nationally distributed and can afford to advertise during the Super Bowl. There is no other BA defined “craft” brewer who is even remotely close to this level.  Now they’ve reached the point of buying craft breweries to pad their portfolio and increase their “street cred”.  No different than AB InBev buying Wicked Weed.

Now, I want to be clear, I don’t mean this as a judgement statement.  I want to present this as a statement of fact.  Simply what Boston Beer IS. To me, it’s neither good nor bad it just simply is. What I want to highlight is a tendency in the beer community to bash on AB InBev for using it’s size to push other products off the shelf, bash them for making “mocktails” like Bud Light ‘Ritas and Mikes Hard Lemonade etc, and especially for bashing them when they buy your favorite local brewery, and yet Boston Beer does all of those exact same things and yet they are the crown jewel in the BA Craft portfolio, the feather in the cap if you will.  To me, that’s hypocritical.

The BA has made it clear, doubling down on the logo deal, that the ONLY thing that matters is ownership.  Not product line, not innovation, not local interaction, not distribution, not advertising etc.

This is my opinion and I understand it’s not going to make a lot of people happy, but Sam Adams is not craft. A giant company pumping out 5 million barrels of nationwide distributed industrial lager is exactly what those of us in the “craft” are fighting against.
To me, a local 10,000 barrel brewery that pushing the boundaries with 10 or 12 different beer styles, rotating seasonals, experimenting with sours or barrel aging, THAT is craft. Even if it’s a brewery like 10 Barrel or Wicked Weed who is owned by the big boys.  If I walk into a bar with limited choices, I would choose a 10 Barrel (ABInBev) or Hop Valley (MillerCoors) beer over Sam Adams.  I don’t hate Sam Adams, but I’m not likely going to choose a light amber lager if there are more flavorful options like an IPA or a Stout. Especially, if they are the same price.  If the Sam Adams is on special or a lot cheaper, sure that might influence the decision.

To be transparent, I work for a brewery that does not fit the BA definition of craft, because of our ownership situation, but I held this position before I started working here.  Does working for a “conglomerate” color my opinion on this? Of course it does and I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but my experience is at a small local brewery (less than 60,000 barrels) who is involved in the community and constantly innovating and to me that fits more into “craft” than ownership.

In the end.. it should just be about the beer, man.

Burnside lives! …Sorta… For Now..

When Burnside Brewing closed back in February, it was ugly.  Leaked employee emails about not getting their last paychecks, padlocks on the doors and a note that they hadn’t paid rent in three months, announcing they were closed for a snow day and then never opening again.  Lots of rumors, and to my knowledge still no official announcement from the Burnside Crew.

The Oregonian dropped a bombshell on Friday that really flips the Burnside story from negative to somewhat positive.  Apparently, famed Danish brewer Mikkeller (who also has locations in New York and California) is going to take over the Burnside location in a series of pop-up pub situations as they try to navigate the regulatory hurdles to open a permanent brewery/restaurant in that location.

There’s a couple of really juicy tidbits in this story that caught my eye.  The first is that Mikkeller and restaurant partner Chefstable have purchased all of Burnside’s physical assets (brewery equipment, bottles, kegs etc) and paid off all of Burnside’s debts. Not only is this a huge windfall for the Burnside crew, of course, it also signals that the Mikkller crew is all in on this location.  Technically, they probably paid way more than they would have for a blank empty location.

Also, in the agreement is that Burnside keeps all of their “soft” assets. Names, trademarks, etc.  So, in theory, Burnside Brewing could reopen in a different location and start up again.  Not sure how likely that is, but it could happen. The Burnside “brand” still lives somewhere out in the ether. This, according to a follow up story from New School Beer.

A lot of the discussion around this is how well Mikkeller will fit in to the crowded inner Southeast Portland space, but I think they’ll do just fine. What is interesting to me is that Portland has been considered a “beer destination” for a long time, from the point of view that people come here for the beer.  That is starting to flip (and is a direct byproduct of the beer tourism) to a “brewery destination”, i.e. breweries are looking to expand and they think “Well, we have to have a place in Portland.”  It was relatively close to the old Burnside location where San Diego brewery Modern Times took over the old Commons location (the Commons also retained their names/rights etc and are rumored to reopen at some point). Even small local breweries are getting into the act, Vagabond Brewing out of Salem just recently opened a Portland taproom.

2019 has been a rough year for the local beer scene.  Hopefully this is a little ray of light to offset some of that bad.  There will still be more breweries that struggle and close. Such is the nature of business, but hopefully some places will continue to grow and shine.

My experience with Mikkeller is very limited.  I’ve had four of their beers, but the first one was certainly a doozie.  The first Mikkeller beer I had was Black (Grand Mariner Edition) at the Festival of the Dark Arts.  It was an imperial stout aged in Grand Mariner barrels and clocked in at 21% alcohol. That was a beer that when I saw it on the menu I just had to try it, but was also very glad it was only a 3 ounce pour. I can’t imagine drinking much more than a few sips of it.

The Mikkeller pop up is scheduled to open in June and then run till the end of the year, when it will close again with the hopes of reopening permanently.  One of the articles also mentioned that Mikkeller has to find out what the building owner intends to do with the space. So, it seems they have an agreement for the short term, but the owner may still decide to sell the space or tear it down.  My assumption when Burnside closed was that it was going to be bulldozed for condos, like basically everything else in Portland (especially inner Eastside). This keeps the location intact. At least, for now.

2019 Best of Craft Beer

The last couple posts have been pretty glum, so it’s time for some happy news.  We weren’t able to make it out to the judging this year for various reasons, but when I started seeing Facebook and Instagram posts of winning beers it made me really happy to see a lot of places that I know people. It makes me proud as an industry peer to see our local places winning awards and being recognized for the greatness we already know is there, but now gets shouted on a bigger stage.

By virtue of the judging being held in Bend, OR, the entries are very West Coast heavy, but they do get entries from all over the country and even some from outside the US. It’s really nice to see how our local breweries stack up against the rest of the industry.

(Presented in Alphabetical order since that’s how the results sorted)

10 Barrel – Bend, OR: 10 Barrel took home 5 awards this year, Gold medals in Imperial Red Ale, Fruit Wheat Beer and South German Style Wheat, plus silvers in Berliner Style Weisse and German Style Pilsener.

Alesong Brewing and Blending – Eugene, OR: Alesong took home three medals, including Gold AND Silver in Experimental Beer or Other Strong Ale for wine barrel aged and tequila barrel aged beers respectively, and a Gold in Mixed Culture Brett Beer.

Ancestry Brewing – Tualatin, OR: Ancestry only took home one medal, but it was Gold in a classic style, Irish Red Ale. Very impressive.

Back Pedal Brewing – Portland, OR: Back Pedal took a Silver in American-Belgo Style ale for a Belgian Style Pale Ale.  I don’t know much about Back Pedal, but I’m pretty sure they also run the Pedal Bar tours around town and then started brewing their own.

Baerlic Brewing – Portland, OR: Baerlic also took home 5 medals.  Gold in American Style Black Ale for their Dark Thoughts CDA (One of the few CDA’s still in regular rotation around town), Silvers for Classic French and Belgian Saison and Dortmunder Style Export and Bronzes for British Bitters and International Style Pale Ale. Quite the spread of styles!

Bend Brewing Co. – Bend, OR: Bend Brewing adds to their impressive medal wall with a Gold in Export Stout and a Bronze in Berliner-Style Weisse with Fruit.  The first time I went into BBC and saw the wall full of GABF and World Beer Cup medals I thought to myself “How have I never heard of this place?” Quietly doing solid work out in Bend.

Boneyard Brewing – Bend, OR: Bend mainstay Boneyard picked up four medals, Silvers in American Style Fruit Beer and Belgian Style Lambic and Bronzes in Belgian Style Lambic and Imperial Red Ale.  Seems like they can do more than just IPAs, although their IPAs are amazing.

Breakside Brewing – Portland/Milwaukie, OR: Breakside took home a stunning 8 medals. 6 from the main production brewery in Milwaukie and 2 from the original Portland pub.  Gold medals for Contemporary Style Gose, American Style Lager, International Style Pale Ale and German Style Schwarzbier.  Silvers for American Style Sour Ale and American Style Strong Pale Ale. Bronzes for American Style Sour Ale and German Style Pilsener. Quite the haul!

Brothers Cascadia Brewing – Vancouver, WA: Bronze medal for Session India Pale Ale. I’ve driven by their place a couple times but haven’t made it in yet. Someday that needs to be fixed.

Gigantic Brewing – Portland, OR: Surprised to see Gigantic only take home one medal, but it’s a Bronze in German Style Koelsch. Craft lagers are starting to take off and Kölsch is a very competitive category right now.

Golden Valley Brewery – McMinnville, OR: A Silver medal for English Style Summer Ale. Another brewery that is very quietly cranking out quality stuff.

Immersion Brewing – Bend, OR: Immersion took home 4 medals. Gold for a California Common, Silver for Imperial Red Ale and Bronzes for American Style Stout and German Style Schwarzbier.  Less than 3 years old, a relative newcomer onto the Bend beer scene making a splash already.

Loowit Brewing – Vancouver, WA: Literally just across the river in Downtown Vancouver, Loowit took home two Silver medals. One in Irish Style Red Ale and one in German Style Doppelbock.

Mazama Brewing – Corvallis, OR: Mazama (named for the collapsed volcano that created Crater Lake) took home 4 medals.  Gold for Belgian style Dubbel, Silvers for Bohemian Style Pilsner and German Style Marzen and a Bronze for American Style Barleywine.

Migration Brewing – Portland, OR: Migration also only took home one medal, but it was a Gold Medal in American Style Strong Pale Ale which is a very competitive category. The BA guidelines are razor thin between Pale Ale, Strong Pale Ale and American IPA (they all overlap) so this is basically an IPA category which are always huge.

Monkless Belgian Ales – Bend, OR: Another newcomer to the scene, focused on Belgian style ales and they took home a Silver medal in Belgian Style Dubbel.

Mt Tabor Brewing – Portland, OR: Mt Tabor took home a Bronze medal in Australasian, Latin American or Tropical Style Light Lager, which I believe is a fairly new category.

Old Town Brewing – Portland, OR: A while back Old Town took on the big dogs (AB InBev) and won.  A brewery that seemed to be forgotten suddenly had a huge swell of support. Score one for the little guys.  Old Town collected 3 medals, a Silver for German Style Schwarzbier and Bronzes for English Style Pale Ale/IPA and Irish Style Red Ale. That’s a local sweep for Irish Style Red Ale.

Ordnance Brewing – Boardman, OR: I have two friends who work here so it’s hard not to get excited to see them take home three medals.  A Gold in American Style IPA (125 entries!!) and silvers for American Style Lager and Oatmeal Stout.

Oregon City Brewing – Oregon City, OR: We were at OCB recently and saw the award for their Cherry version of Coming to Fruition fruited sour, this time it’s the Marionberry versions turn with a Silver in Mixed Culture Brett Beer.

Pelican Brewing – Tillamook, OR: Pelican took home two medals this year. A Gold in Golden or Blonde Ale for Kiwanda Cream, which is not a shock and a Silver in Wood and Barrel Aged for the Queen of Hearts Barrel Aged Saison.  Also, not a surprise.

pFriem Family Brewers – Hood River, OR: pFriem is another surprise to only take one medal, but it’s a Gold in a classic style, German Style Pilsener.  Having had it before I can concur that it is World-class.

Rogue Ales and Spirits – Newport, OR: Rogue picked up a Gold medal in Honey beer for their Honey Kolsch.

Rosenstadt Brewing – Portland, OR: Rosenstadt focuses on classic German styles and took home a Bronze medal for Munich Style Helles.

Silver Moon Brewing – Bend, OR: Silver Moon took home a Silver medal in American Style IPA and a Gold in Brett Beer.  I wonder if American Style IPA will be a local sweep as well.

Stickmen Brewing Co. – Tualatin, OR: A small pub brewer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make good stuff.  Stickmen picked up a Bronze in Belgian Style Pale Ale.

Stormbreaker Brewing – Portland, OR: Stormbreaker has been around for a while, but I feel like they’ve had a resurgence lately with some strong offerings and award recognition.  Stormbreaker snagged 4 medals, a Gold in American Brown Ale, Silvers in German Style Altbier and California Common and a Bronze in Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale.

Sunriver Brewing – Sunriver, OR: Sunriver grabbed a Gold in American Style Wheat Beer for their Fuzztail, which is one of their flagship offerings.

The Ale Apothecary – Bend, OR: Ale Apothecary took home a Bronze in Experimental Beer or Other Strong Ale. A lot of their stuff is barrel aged or blended so Experimental is probably right in their wheelhouse.

Three Creeks Brewing Co. – Sisters, OR: Three Creeks took home a Bronze medal in Scotch Ale. Three Creeks does really good stuff and is starting to get recognized for it which is exciting.

Three Mugs Brewing – Hillsboro, OR: Three Mugs is another place that flies under the radar, way out in Hillsboro, but they have had great success. This year they took home a Gold in Strong Ale or Old Ale for Biggie D’s Strong Scotch Ale which is a favorite among the regulars.

Thunder Island Brewing – Cascade Locks, OR: If you blink in Cascade Locks you’ll miss it, but how classically Oregon to have an award winning brewery there? Thunder Island took home two Silver medals, one in Classic Irish Stout and one in Golden or Blonde Ale.

von Ebert Brewing – Portland, OR: Another relative newcomer to the Portland scene, but started with an experienced crew from the award winning Fat Heads Portland outpost, von Ebert sprang up when Fat Heads decided to not continue it’s Portland franchise and now they are independent.  von Ebert took home a Bronze in American Style Light Lager.

Widmer Brewing – Portland, OR: One of the OG Portland breweries, Widmer continues to crank out winners.  A Bronze medal in American Amber Ale for year round Drop Top Amber, a Bronze medal in German Style Altbier for their Alt (which is the first beer Widmer ever made) and a Gold medal in Coffee Beer for Creme de la Cafe, which I’m assuming is one of their small experimental pilot batches.

Wild Ride Brewing – Redmond, OR: Wild Ride took home two medals this year, a Bronze for American Style Light Wheat Beer, and a Gold in Field Beer for their Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter.

Worthy Brewing – Bend, OR: Worthy Brewing pulled out two awards, a Silver for International Style Pale Ale and a Gold for Chocolate or Cocoa Beer for Peace Pipe Porter. Having had the Peace Pipe before I can attest it is VERY chocolate heavy.

So that rounds out the winners from Oregon and Southwest Washington.  There were also a lot of winners from the Seattle area and California.  You can check out all the medal winners HERE at the Winners page of Best of Craft Beer.

Cheers!

Time Waits for No One.

What better way to build up hype leading up to Zwicklemania* than a rash of industry closings, yeah? While I’m sure it’s not what the Oregon Brewers Guild had in mind, as the saying goes, the show must go on.  But the timing is ominous at best.

About two weeks after the announcement of Widmer closing their pub/tasting room for good this time (they pulled out the kitchen in a remodel and shortened hours/changed menus etc about a year ago), this past week has seen a couple brutal blows to the Portland beer scene. The past week has seen two breweries and a taproom/growler station close, and while there are of course other issues at play, the recurring theme with all three of these (that I see) is really expensive real estate.

Early last week, amidst the snow and ice, Burnside Brewing announced it was closing for the day due to bad weather, and never reopened.  A post on Reddit shared what appeared to be an internal email telling everyone the business was closing and they may not even get their last paychecks. At that point rumors started flying, including a picture of an eviction notice posted on the door that implied the business hadn’t paid rent in 3 months.  As far as I know, there hasn’t been any official announcement.  The Burnside website still looks as if they are open and the last post on the facebook page is the “Tomorrow we’re going be closed for a Snow Day” post.  Based on comments I’ve read online and conversations I’ve had with people in the industry it sounds like their landlord is seeing dollar signs from condo towers and owns a sweet patch of East Burnside real estate.  Obviously those are unsubstantiated, so take it with a grain of salt, but that’s what I’m hearing from the grapevine.  There may have been forgiveness and patience for late payments in the past and that patience may have run out.  Giving Burnside the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t doing anything shady (and that will be my assumption until I hear otherwise) it seems almost like a gamblers desperation.  The thought that “Just one more good weekend and we’ll make it!” And time simply ran out. I’ve also heard whispers they may reopen somewhere else and may not be completely out of the game just yet, but time will tell in that case.

This Monday, a post appeared on BeerAdvocate that the Growler Guys location on SE 8th (between Belmont and Morrison) was closing.  In this case, the reason was absolutely cut and dry.  At the end of their 5 year lease they were offered a chance to renew at a “significant increase” in rent.  They don’t say how much, and honestly that’s no one’s business, but I just so happen to have lived in the same apartment for 5 years and in that time my rent has increased about 50% (1.5 times what it started at).  Those were incremental increases that I was able to absorb, if it had all come at once I’m not so sure I would have been able to.  Based on the location (inner SE) and being a commercial property I wouldn’t be shocked if the increase was double (or more).  The area where they are located has changed dramatically in 5 years. A couple apartment towers have gone in, Market of Choice opened a store there along with Shilling Cider House across the street.  Rogue rebranded and renovated the old Green Dragon into the Rogue Eastside Pub and Pilot Brewery and The Commons gave way to a Portland outpost for California brewery Modern Times.

The very next day, a bombshell hit that, to quote Jeff Alworth, was “shocking but hardly surprising”.  In a statement from owner Gambrinus, it was announced that Bridgeport Brewing was closing after 35 years.  One of the literal godfathers of the Portland craft beer movement, the first to open in 1984 (after fledgling Cartwright Brewing failed) and followed in short order by Widmer, McMenamins and Portland Brewing. Jeff’s post about it gives a lot of background info over on the Beervana Blog.  Most of us knew Bridgeport was struggling.  Two years ago they laid off half their brew staff, shortened/cut pub hours and took other cost cutting measures.  I assumed they were dead at that point, but then they introduced new labels and a couple new products that looked like they *might* just make a comeback, but alas it wasn’t to be.  According to Jeff’s blog post, their highest volume was 27k BBL(beer barrels =~ 31 gallons), which in all honesty is a lot smaller than I thought. I’ve always thought about Bridgeport as one of the “Big Three” along with Widmer and Portland Brewing at 100k+ bbls.  But even so, their volume the last couple years had been around 6000 barrels, or less than 1/3 of capacity.  One thing I’ve learned in my short time in the beer industry is that empty tanks are really, really expensive.  You still have to maintain them, clean them, keep them hooked up to glycol and CO2, but with the opportunity cost of not making something in them you can sell. This quote from Jeff Alworth says it all; “The former rope factory in the Pearl is valuable real estate, and operating a moribund industrial business out of there hasn’t made sense for at least five years.”

I’ve lived in Portland for almost 6 years. Just long enough to get that “Dammit people need to stop moving here!” vibe even as a transplant myself.  I’m not foolish enough to think that any of this change will stop.  Portland is growing the same way all cities grow. In fits and starts, some of it good, some bad, some controlled, some rabid.  I’ve watched it in Charlotte and Atlanta growing up and heard about it in Seattle and San Francisco.  These things happen, life goes on.  It’s simply how shit works.  The only thing about it that makes me sad is I see these neighborhoods that are really funky and cool, like Hawthorne or Division or the Goat Blocks and a lot of people visit those places because it has shops, cafes, theaters etc.  Eventually, people don’t want to visit there, they want to live there. But what happens when you need to build apartments? You tear down the shops, cafes, theaters etc.  After a while, a bunch of people live there but all the hip, cool shit that got people to move there is gone.  As the original group of residents move out and new ones move in no one knows what made it cool anymore, it’s just a “place to live”. All three of these closures reek of “We’re in a super hip cool spot, but now it’s so hip and cool we can’t afford to stay here anymore.” That’s the part that sucks.  Artists make a place cool, but then you kick out the artists so the yuppies can live there and be “cool” but then it’s not cool anymore.

Note: Literally as I was writing this, a post on Facebook claims that Scout Brewing is now closed.  There’s no information beyond “Scout Brewing may have poured it’s last pint”.  I don’t know anything about Scout and never went there, but I have seen their location on Division (see hip neighborhood comments above).  They opened a place with a built in food cart pod. Seems like a good idea yeah? Based on the Facebook comments it sounds like they were contract brewing elsewhere before they opened their own place, and I don’t think the Division spot has been open very long, so maybe this is more of a thing that was doomed from the start? 30% of all new restaurants close within a year or so I’ve heard.  Some stuff just literally never makes it off the ground.

*Zwicklemania is Oregon’s annual brewery open house.  One day a year breweries open their doors offering tours, tastings, beer specials etc, a lot of it free and open to the public. Often breweries will offer a taste of beer directly from a fermentation tank. Zwickle (or Zwickel) is the name of a sample port on a beer tank (named for the company that makes a type of them, same as how “BandAid” and “Coke” just became universal).  Germany even has a type of young, unfiltered beer called “Zwickelbier”.

Super Bowl Hangover

If you managed to stay awake for the Super Bowl (no shame if you didn’t, it was a snoozefest) you might have noticed AB-InBev pull out their claws and go for the throat.  They specifically called out both Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup in a series of Bud Light ads throughout the night.  How will this play out for Bud Light and ABI? In my opinion, not well.

In the current age of instant fact checking, people quickly realized, while Bud Light might not use corn syrup, many other ABI brands do.  So, technically, they aren’t lying when they say Bud Light doesn’t, but it’s a bad look to call out a competitors ingredient that you also use.

BudLight

This post from the Mad Fermentationist was posted at 4:38PM (Pacific Time), in other words, DURING the game.

Jeff Alworth’s Beervana Blog offered a quick recap posted later that night, AB InBev’s Weird Super Bowl Message, which also points out that ABI makes more than just Bud Light, including a beer that also got a Super Bowl spot, Stella Artois which uses corn as an ingredient.

The Beer Business Daily newsletter published on Monday morning did not pull any punches.  A couple things popped out to me while I was reading it.  This was the first.

“One of the first rules they teach you in marketing school is you never, ever, under any circumstances, name your competitors when they are smaller than you. Second, if you do, don’t disparage them because it makes you appear to be a bully. ” BBD 2-4-19

I hadn’t really thought about the bullying angle.  I had always heard, the leader in a category doesn’t mention it’s competitors in ads because it doesn’t have too.  Take Coke for example.  Pepsi is running ads about how Pepsi is consistently ranked higher than Coke in blind taste tests, while Coke is running ads about polar bears drinking Coke.  Pepsi has to try to PROVE it’s better.  This is what makes this so wild.  ABI isn’t acting like the industry leader.  They are acting like a wounded animal, lashing out violently but randomly.  They seem to be acting out of fear.

The next thing that struck me is this (emphasis mine):

“IS IT FAIR? Well, all is fair in love and war, and this is war. A-B knew it could leverage it’s huge audience without the majority of consumers checking the fine print. High fructose corn syrup, of course, has been widely publicized as an evil ingredient in most products. I’m sure A-B tested for that. But no MillerCoors products are brewed with HFCS.

Many beer brands brew with regular corn syrup, which includes ABI’s second largest brand outside the U.S., Corona. But not sure the average consumer gets the distinction. And of course, in brewing, the vast majority of the corn syrup is fermented anyway into ethanol and carbon dioxide, just as any starch, including rice. But that is lost on the majority of the public.” BBD 2-4-19

This cuts to the heart of not what they are doing, but why.  Throw out a dirty word that the public hates (sliding by on the lack of distinction between HFCS and CS) and pin your opponents name to it.  Unfortunately, nowadays this will most likely have the opposite effect of focusing people on Bud Light and asking, so what’s in YOUR beer that you don’t want us to know about? This drives me mad with Coors Light commercials all the time.  They make huge bold statements (COLD FILTERED, COLD PACKAGED) that, while they are true, are not unique to Coors Light.  Every beer on the planet (save perhaps bottle conditioned Belgians) is cold aged, cold filtered and cold packaged.  You can’t filter or package warm beer.  But, the majority of the public doesn’t know that, Coors is the only one to put it in their ads and therefore Coors is special.  That’s what ABI is doing here as well, it’s an advertising sleight of hand. “It’s not that we DON’T use Corn syrup…. but they DO!” It’s not lying, but….

So, let’s talk about sugar here for a minute.  Maltose (the sugar from Malted Barley) is a disaccharide (two sugars) formed from two glucose molecules.  Dextrose (usually refered to as Corn Sugar) is a single glucose molecule. Yeast break down the maltose into single glucoses (dextrose) and from that point on they are identical.  Sucrose (sugar from cane or beets, common granulated sugar) is a disaccharide formed from one glucose and one fructose. Fructose is commonly referred to as fruit sugar since it was likely first discovered in fruits, but these different configurations of carbon structures exist in all starch/sugar containing foods.  Corn Syrup is made by treating corn starch with enzymes to break down the long chains into dextrose and double glucoses still referred to as (you guessed it) maltose.  They are chemically identical whether they come from barley or corn.  The yeast cannot tell a difference.  High Fructose Corn Syrup has a bad wrap mostly because it’s in everything that’s bad for you, soda, cakes, cookies, etc.  But here’s the thing, it’s identical to sucrose.  HFCS is corn syrup that’s been treated with enzymes to convert some of the glucose to fructose.  How much you ask? About 42% fructose to 50-52% glucose and the rest longer chain starches, which is the exact same formulation as sucrose.  That’s intentional.  Fructose “tastes” sweeter than glucose, which means corn syrup isn’t as “sweet”, so HFCS has been modified to have the same flavor profile as table sugar.  Now, I’m not saying it’s good for you, but it’s no worse than sucrose.  The new sodas made “Without HFCS” and “Made with REAL sugar” etc are implying that regular sugar is better for you. Of course, legally they can’t make that claim, so they expect the consumer to make that jump, which most do.  This beer ad does the same thing. “We can’t say it’s bad, but you know it’s bad so you’ll do that math for us.”

Miller Lite of course fired back with a full page ad in the New York Times which was not surprising, and also not surprisingly they play off the corn syrup vs HFCS trope as well saying: “What might have gotten a little lost […] is the distinction between “corn syrup” and High Fructose Corn Syrup”

As far as our bodies are concerned, sucrose and HFCS are chemically identical.  Any implication that one tastes better (or even different for that matter) is bogus and any implication that one is better or worse for your body is bogus.  We all know sugar of any kind in large quantities is bad for you.  The type of sugar honestly doesn’t matter.  Your body converts all of it to glucose.

This holds true for brewing as well.  Whether the sugar comes from wheat, barley, corn, rice or cane sugar, in the end it all gets converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  It really doesn’t matter.  To try to claim rice is better than corn is foolish.  And yes, lets acknowledge the fact that a lot of this “rice and corn bashing” in macro beers is coming from the same people who will happily drink a beer with lactose (milk sugar) and/or actual Lucky Charms in the mash tun.  Hypocrisy is not a good look for anyone.  I have the same reactions when “craft” people bash regular beer.

The last caveat I’ll add to this is the same I would for any such post about a single ingredient in a larger mix.  This is alcohol we’re talking about, which is (in the wrong doses) a poison.  Now, surely if you’re reading this you know I’m not anti-alcohol.  I’m a homebrewer and work in a brewery, an avid consumer of both beer and whiskey, I play on both sides of the beverage alcohol industry, production and consumption, but lets be real for a moment.  We all know (or should) the dangers of alcohol consumption.  In too high of volumes or for too long a period of time it can be detrimental to your health, up to and including death.  Maybe we shouldn’t be too terribly concerned about what form of sugar is used to make our poison? I see similar posts about artificial flavors in tobacco products (such as certain brands being listed as “All Natural”) and just shake my head.  It’s not the cherry flavor in tobacco that’s going to kill you.

AB InBev is playing a dangerous game and I don’t think it’s going to play well for them at all.