Best of Craft Beer Awards 2018

This past weekend I returned to the Best of Craft Beer Awards judging in Bend, OR.  This year my wife joined me and served as a steward, helping run the competition.  This event continues to grow, surpassing 2,000 entries this year, and they announced that it is now the third largest competition in the country only trailing GABF and the World Beer Cup.  In 2016, the World Beer Cup had over 6,500 entries, and GABF in 2017 had nearly 8,000 entries.  BoCB has some catching up to do, but still impressive to be third largest.

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Last year it was extremely cold, with 3+ feet of snow on the ground.  Thankfully this year it wasn’t nearly as cold and there wasn’t as much snow.  Although, we did wake up Saturday morning to a surprise of snow on the ground from overnight.  It was only an inch or so, and over the course of the day it melted, but still a bit shocking to see this out of the hotel window.

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This year I judged an interesting range of styles.  Before lunch on Saturday I judged American Style IPA, British Bitters and then Double/Imperial American IPA.  After lunch I judged Northeast Style IPA (new category this year), Brett Beers and then Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beers.  Needless to say, I was pretty beered out by the end of the day.  Sunday was a much calmer day.  I judged medal rounds for Fruited Berliner Weisse, Belgian Table Beers and Wood and Barrel Aged Dark Beers.  I don’t know if I paid that much attention last year to which flights were preliminary, semifinal or medal rounds, but this year I got to judge at least one semifinal and 4 medal rounds.  When they announce the results I’ll get to see which beers I awarded those medals to!

And of course this year ended again with the granddaddy of all bottle grabs.  All of the leftovers have to be destroyed (they can’t be resold since they are industry samples) and well, nothing says they can’t get “destroyed” in someones belly.  Stewards get a head start to grabbing bottles, so my wife already grabbed some nice stuff before I got out there.  With two of us picking, and more trunk space, we ended up with a tad more bottles than I brought home last year.

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Represented on the table are beers from 14 U.S. States (Mass., Washington, North Carolina, Hawai’i, California, Oregon, Virginia, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Indiana, New York Michigan and Colorado).  Also, two bottles from Bogotá Beer Company which I originally mistook as being from Mexico, but is actually from Colombia.  Very excited to try my first South American beer.

We already have specific plans to share some of this (because no way can we take care of all of it..) including some gluten free beers we grabbed specifically for friends.  Needless to say, we’re going to have some very happy friends in the next couple of weeks! Now, off to go find some room in the cellar…..

Cheers!

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Upcoming 2018 Breweries

New School Beer recently published an article called The Most Anticipated New Oregon Breweries of 2018.  I got a chance to read the article before we left for Mexico but I hadn’t had time to react to it.  I would suggest reading the whole thing, but here’s what jumped out at me.

First, several of these breweries were also listed on the Most Anticipated of 2017 list.  It’s becoming more and more apparent that city planning and permitting and licensing in the City of Portland goes at it’s own pace, and that’s very slow.  I don’t understand why that is, considering these businesses, especially breweries, bring a lot of money into the city coffers.  They should be excited to get them up and going.  But, such is the way of bureaucratic red-tape.  In at least one case, it’s been nearly fatal.  Ross Island Brewing is struggling to stay open, despite only being in business around a year, due to over a year in delays before opening.  They went deep into debt while they waited, and anyone with student loans can attest how hard that can be to get out from under.  Hopefully, Ross Island makes it (Go there and drink beer! They do good stuff!) and these other ones can survive as well.

Next, Southeast Portland is getting some love! Assembly Brewing which is opening at 61st and Foster is just a stones throw from IPA-bar N.W.I.P.A and is walking distance from my house.  That will be the third brewery in the area (including Zoiglhaus and Double Mountain’s Portland Pub) that’s within walking distance.  Ruse Brewing will hopefully finally open at their location on 17th Avenue in inner SE.  This is one of the  holdovers from 2017, although, they were targeting a December open so it didn’t take a huge delay to push them over.   Looking at Spring 2018 opening now, this one is certainly on my Most Anticipated list.  I haven’t had much of their beers (currently co-op-brewed at Culmination Brewing) but what I’ve had has been amazing.  Threshold Brewing sounds interesting and Montavilla is a hopping place these days.  Although, one thing does give me pause.  It says they plan to make barrel-aged beers, mixed fermentations and hazy IPAs.  All things that are super trendy right now but how long will that last? I hope they have a back up plan or can be flexible.  Some people are arguing against “flagship” beers since the Untappd and RateBeer style encourages as many new styles as possible, but a good solid Pale Ale or IPA can go a long way to cement you while still giving you room to experiment.  Case in point, Gigantic Brewing.

Lastly, while only tangentially mentioned in the article, one thing that hangs over the whole list is the 10 breweries that closed/transitioned/sold in 2017. I read, in an article that I, of course, cannot find now, that this smoothing of the peak (10 closings vs 14 openings) is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a sign of a market that’s maturing and stabilizing.  It’s bad, of course, for the 10 places that closed, but it could mean good things for those that live on.   I’m not an expert in any sort of business stuff but it seemed to make sense to me.  If I ever find that article again, I’ll link it here.

Three places on this list fit into that category.  First, the 10-ton gorilla in the room.  San Diego, CA based Modern Times, who has desired to be in Portland for a long time, is finally opening their Portland Brewery dubbed the Belmont Fermentorium.  The hitch is, they are opening their new place in the space formally occupied by The Commons.  A brewery that, by all outside indicators, seemed to be doing great and very suddenly shut down.  I will give Modern Times a ton of credit.  They have been very delicate about the “take over”, saying they were fond of The Commons and they aren’t “replacing” The Commons and hopefully The Commons can exist again in some other form.  The Commons still owns the building and some of the equipment that MT is leasing from them, so a steady source of income, and there are rumors that The Commons may not be as dead as previously thought.  I hope it’s true.  They had a small niche market, with sours, saisons and Belgian style beers but they were world class.  Next, we have Bazi Bierbrasserie, a Belgian focused beer bar that is being bought by Thirsty Monk.  While sounding vaguely familiar, I was surprised to learn Thirsty Monk is based out of Asheville, NC and has a location as well in Denver, CO.  Bazi was only a beer bar, but Thirsty Monk plans to install a small brewery at the location to make house brews.  They will likely also serve other commercial Belgian style beers.  The unfortunate story behind this sale is the owner needed to move back to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to help her family and be closer to them.  Hopefully, Thirsty Monk can live up to the history the place has, and it sounds like that’s the plan.  Last is Von Ebert Brewing.  This is a weird one for sure, but I feel like it will work out for the best.  The team behind Van Ebert will be the same team behind the award winning beers out of Fat Head’s Portland location.  Turns out, the Ohio based brewery is expanding operations in the mid-West including a new production brewery in Ohio and they couldn’t continue to support the franchise in Portland.  Both sides mutually agreed to end the agreement and go their separate ways.  Von Ebert is keeping the brewing team intact and restaurant employees will be given the opportunity to keep their jobs as well, so this should be a pretty quick transition, but as far the official stats go “Fat Heads” will close and “Von Ebert” will open, even though it’s essentially the same brewery.

Lots to look forward to in 2018, it’s going to be a busy year!

Cervezas de México

My wife and I just returned from a week-long visit to Baja California Sur in Mexico.  This is the southern portion of the Baja California peninsula.  We were visiting friends who live there half the year to see the sights, enjoy the nice weather and learn about the culture.

Craft beer is not nearly as prolific in Mexico as it is in the U.S.  There’s a few places scattered here and there, often in the border towns like Mexicali and Ensenada.  The main purpose of the trip didn’t involve beer, but it always works it’s way in there.

Normally I’m not a big fan of lime in beer (e.g. Corona) and especially when they don’t give you a choice (shove the lime wedge down the neck of the beer).  However the first beer I had was at a beach front restaurant eating nachos after spending an hour or so swimming in the Sea of Cortez.   In that environment, a Modelo Especial with a tiny squeeze of lime went down very well.  I had previously rated Especial as a 3.0, but bumped it up to 4.25.  Freshness and place help out a lot.

The town we were staying in (El Sargento) didn’t have a big grocery store, but several small C-stores.  The one we shopped at the most was called Oscaritos and it was closest to the house we were staying there.  We went there almost daily to pick up vegetables, local cheese and other things for cooking at the house.  It was there that I found a series of beers from Cerveza Fuana. This brewery is located in Mexicali, which is up on the border of Baja California and the U.S.  So not “local” for El Sargento, but at least from Baja California. They had four beers in the case.  Mala Vida Belgian Blond (4.25), Penelope Coffee Porter (4.5), Nox Arcana Imperial Stout (4.0), and Tristan Blonde Ale (3.75).  Unfortunately, most of these beers had some serious age on them.  The Belgian had good yeast character with some oxidation, the Imperial Stout was sweet and boozy, but pretty tasty.  The Coffee Porter had held up the best, with good flavor and only slight oxidiation.  The Blonde Ale, unfortunately, didn’t really have any strong flavors to hide the oxidation.

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On another trip to Oscaritos, I picked up a six pack of Bohemia Vienna lager, Obscura (4.0).  This beer is made by Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma.  One of the two macro breweries that have pretty much a monopoly on Mexican beer.  The other is Grupo Modelo, makers of the Especial I had earlier.  This brewery is in mainland Mexico but it’s at least a Mexican beer.  This beer was decently good, but a little sweeter than I would have expected for the style.  A lot of Mexican beers are based on German styles, but I’m sure they’ve tweaked them.

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On the next to last day of out trip, we happened to be spending a second day in Todos Santos.  Something I had missed the first time, there was actually a small craft brewery called Todos Santos Brewing.

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This was mostly an American style craft brewery with several varieties of IPA and Pale Ale, accented by a Stout, a Red Ale, a Brown Ale and a few others.  I settled on the Chuck Norris Red Ale (4.75) and my wife got the Midnight Oil Double Black IPA (4.25).  The hop profiles on both were fantastic.  Very American/New World style.  The owners are from Australia originally, so I’m sure they throw in some New Zealand and Australian hops that are all the rage now.  The Black IPA was on Nitro, which was a little unfortunate, but it was still good.  Neither my wife or I really care for beers on Nitro and it’s sort of out of place on an IPA anyway.  To my palate, nitro beers tend to be a little sweet, lacking the carbonic “bite” of carbonation.  That’s fine in a creamy Irish stout like Guinness, but for an IPA you want that bite. All in all, very good, friendly staff, great service.  It’s out of the way, but if you’re ever in Todos Santos, B.C.S, I highly recommend you stop by.

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The last beer I had on the trip was actually in the airport on the way home.  San José del Cabo is a really small airport and the one choice for a sit down place to eat was a sports bar themed in Corona dressing.  They had beers from Grupo Modelo, and the two draft options were Modelo Especial and Negra Modelo.  My wife and I both opted for the Negra Modelo (4.5).  Negra is a dark Vienna style lager similar to the Bohemia Obscura, but quite a bit better.  I’ve enjoyed Negra here in the States on a couple of occasions, but fresh on draft at the airport in Mexico was a very enjoyable experience.

Another interesting thing that I noticed was that all of the C-stores, and even some of the small cafes were completely decked out in beer logos.  A lot of the C-stores had their name painted on the side of the building, but the light up sign on a post would be a beer logo.  The three I saw most often was Pacifico, Tecate and Modelo.  Restaurants would also have logos on chairs, tables, napkins, etc.  It seemed as if each place was “branded” by one of the breweries.

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This logo was painted on the side of Oscaritos, and as you can see the whole building is decked out in the blue and yellow of Pacifico.  The other C-store down the street was completely decked out in the red and black of Tecate.  This seemed to be the way all of the stores were decorated.  (Car shops were also completely decked out in white and green with a Quaker State logo on the side, so it wasn’t just breweries who advertised this way).

So there we have it, a small sampling of some beers from Mexico!

Into the Woods – Part 5

Happy New Year! The holiday season brings out the special beers from cellars and collections and this year is no different.  Cheers to 2018 with these special brews.

2017 Hopworks Kentucky Christmas: The whiskey barrel aged version of their Abominable Winter Ale.  Aromas of dark fruit, light oak, light whiskey.  Flavors of dark fruit, heavy oak character, lingering tannins and a surprising hop bitterness.  I’d prefer more whiskey character, but still good.  (4.5 stars)

2017 Pyramid Bourbon Barrel Snowcap: This year’s barrel aged version of Snowcap.  Aromas of dark fruit, sherry, faint whiskey.  Flavors of dark chocolate, apple, Christmas spices.  Interesting this year, but maybe not quite as good as last year.

2016 Worthy Dark Muse: Barrel aged Imperial Stout.  Aromas of dark fruit, whiskey, faint chocolate.  Flavors of dark fruit, whiskey, brown sugar and coffee.  This was really delicious. My wife picked this up at a white elephant bottle exchange and it was quite a lucky draw.  (4.75 stars).

2017 Anchorage Brewing Time Waits for No One (Batch 2): Port barrel aged Imperial Stout.  This was was pretty interesting, but a little heavy on the port character for my tastes.  Gave it an odd flavor.  Super rich and thick, jet black like India ink.  If you like port this might be for you.  (3.75 stars)

2016 The Breury Mocha Wednesday: Tasted this at a party, so didn’t take full notes, but my first experience with The Breury and this stuff was amazing. Very balanced, coffee not too strong.  The price on their bottles always gives me sticker shock, but obviously some amazing craftmanship going into this.  (5 stars)

De Garde Saison Mélange 3: Blended farmhouse ale aged in Gin and Vermouth barrels.  A departure from the usual stouts and barleywines, but this was incredible.  Very well balanced, lightly tart, good gin character.  I don’t like gin at all, but I tend to like gin barrel aged beers.  Bizarre.  This was one of our blind picks off the beer wall at Brews for New Avenues and it was an absolute winner.  (5 stars)

Cheers! More to come this year for sure.