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.