National Homebrewers Conference – San Diego CA: June 11-June14, 2015

I haven’t blogged in a while since I’ve been pretty busy, but luckily some of the stuff that’s kept me busy has been beer related, so there will be some content soon! We’ll start out with a recap of the NHC Conference two weeks ago.

The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) conference in San Diego was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.  In fact, I joined the AHA purely to go to the conference, which is open to members only.  Even though I hadn’t been brewing for very long I knew the conference would be a great opportunity to learn a lot, and boy was I right, so much so it was almost overwhelming.

I had never been to San Diego before, so when I landed I dropped my stuff off at the hotel and then jumped on the trolley and headed down to the Gaslamp district.  I had a couple hours to kill before stuff kicked off at the conference and I wanted to head down to the Hard Rock and get a guitar pin (my wife and I collect them).  I walked down the waterfront for a little while and went down to the docks to see the USS Midway.  I didn’t have time to take the full tour but even from the outside it’s an impressive sight.

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Sadly, I didn’t have too much time to explore but I had enough time to determine that next chance I get I want to go back and spend some more time there.  I headed back to the Conference and jumped right into the action with my first seminar which was “Brewing with Experimental Hops” and it turned out to be a really cool presentation.  Basically the guys had Yakima/Hop Union had a new hop hybrid that they thought had some great potential, but rather than release it to commercial brewers first as the normally do, they are releasing it into the homebrew market first to see what kind of wild and crazy things homebrewers will do with it rather than your run of the mill Pale Ales and IPAs.  They let us taste beer made with the hops and also gave us samples of the hops to take home which I can’t wait to brew with.

The first night was the Welcome Reception which was essentially a beer festival with all the local breweries pouring samples for the attendees.  I jokingly referred to this as Pokemon night… as in “gotta catch them all”. Suffice it to say I did not catch them all.  There were way to many to get through safely in one night, but I managed to taste samples from Russian River, Rock Bottom, Oskar Blues, Stone, Mission Brewery, Belching Beaver, Coronado, Karl Strauss, Green Flash, Figueroa Mountain and probably a few others.  I got to try a couple of big name beers, most notably Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.  It had a long line but I figured I might as well try it.  I have to say, while it was quite good, it didn’t blow me away as the best beer I’d ever had. But it just got voted as the best beer in the World for the seventh year straight in the AHA member poll, so what do I know right?

The second day was all business, well… mostly.  I had several more seminars I wanted to go to.  I had so many scheduled in fact I had to drop a couple when I realized I would miss out on everything else since the seminars overlapped the hours for the expo and the other special events.  I ended up attending three seminars the second day.  Roasted vs Kilned specialty Malts, Intro to Professional Quality Assurance and Hands on Activities for Mastering Beer Styles.  Thankfully all the seminars are archived on the AHA website so I can go back and catch the ones I missed.  I also spend a good amount of the time on the Expo floor checking out ingredients, tasting samples and drooling over fancy equipment.  The one that impressed me the most was an all in one system that was essentially a fancy conical bottom fermentor with some added equipment and a grain strainer and you would do your mash, sparge, boil and then ferment all in the same vessel.  For someone who currently brews in a very small footprint this was very impressive.

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The second evening’s festivities was Club Night.  This was another beer festival essentially, but this time with homebrew clubs pouring the beers.  Clubs from all over the country participated although most were from near by in California.  Easier to drive with kegs than ship or fly with them.  As much as I hated to admit it for a homebrewing conference I wasn’t as excited about this night as I was the pro night the night before.  I also didn’t want to “party hard” two nights in a row, so I planned on taking it easy the second night but I still got to try a decent amount of beer, some better than others.  The great thing about homebrewers is they try all kinds of crazy concoctions… the bad thing is they don’t always turn out that great.  I heard rumors of a Clam Chowder Saison that was out there, and there were all kinds of sour beers since those are all the rage now.  Also in typical homebrew style, there were a couple of beers with just staggering alcohol percentages like a barrel aged stout that clocked in at 18% and several that were in the 10-11% range.  Taster beware for sure.  I fairly quickly had my fill and called it a night.

By the third day I was starting to get overwhelmed.  So much information to absorb and being around large crowds which absolutely drains me.  I was determined to press on.  I concentrated mostly on my seminars.  I was “Expo’d out” at this point.  There’s only so long you can walk around looking at the same stuff, most of which is equipment you can’t afford and don’t have room for so it starts to get discouraging.  I attended four seminars on the fourth day.  Mastering the Art of Hop-Fu (How to brew a medal winning IPA), Intro to Experimentation, Growing your own Hops and lastly Sensory and Flavor Training for Brewers.  The “brain is full” feeling lasted most of the day, but I finished strong in the last seminar which was a demonstration of some common off flavors and their causes which was extremely useful.

The last night of the conference was the Grand Banquet.  A plated dinner of some really awesome food all paired with beers from the evening’s sponsor Lagunitas.  We had a pilsner, IPA, Lagunita Sucks (double IPA) and finished with dessert and an espresso stout. Very tasty.

After the dinner a few of us headed out to a couple San Diego nightlife spots in the famous North Park neighborhood.  We stopped in at the Blind Lady Ale house which had a great selection of local brews plus a small on site brewery, and then the Toronado Public House, which had a great selection of local brews but also had bottled offerings from Cascade Barrel House and Hair of the Dog, as well as Deschutes Abyss on draft.  Great to see Portland beers represented in another beer crazy city like San Diego.

All in all, an amazing trip and I learned a ton, but still was able to cut loose and have fun a little bit.  I can’t wait for the next conference I get to go to.  Sadly, I already know I won’t make the 2016 conference in Baltimore, but here’s hoping for 2017!

Cheers!

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Bend Brewing Company – Bend, Oregon

My wife and I were in Bend this past weekend for some hiking and adventure.  We don’t make it to Bend very often, so part of that adventure was to find a brewery to visit.  In this case we were looking for one that also served food.  There’s a couple great places in town like Boneyard that have a tap room but no food.  Not knowing the area that well we figured we’d save for later the adventure of finding a local cart, cafe, take out place etc, to grab food at and then take it to a place like Boneyard.

We ended up not actually eating at Bend Brewing, since we had had some heavy snacks at the McMenamin’s Old St Francis school while we were there completing our McMenamins passports, but we still stopped in to try the beer.  We decided to split their taster tray, so we could try everything.  The BBC taster is 10 5oz pours which includes everything they have on draft at the moment.  5 of them are standards and 5 of them are rotating seasonals.  The tray is a little pricy at 18$, however once you realize that 50 ounces is the equivalent of slightly more than 3 pints, it’s well worth it.  The five standard brews we had were the High Desert Hefeweizen, Metolius Golden Ale, Elk Lake India Pale Ale, Outback Old Ale and Pinnacle Porter.  The Hefe is an American style, so it doesn’t have the spicy, fruity notes of the German style, but still was a good wheat beer. The IPA was really incredible with a good mix of piney and citrusy hops.  I like the pine but it can be overpowering, and I love the citrus hops, so this was a great balance.  I can see why it’s their most popular beer.  The other beers were also good, if not remarkable.

The five seasonal brews on the tray were the Outback X Strong Ale (a riff on the Outback Old Ale), Big Bad Russian Imperial Stout, Baltic Porter, Eclipse CDA, and Ludwig German Pilsner.  The RIS and the Baltic are both pretty similar, strong notes of dark dried fruit and full of alcohol, clocking in at 10% and 10.5% respectively. The Outback Strong was similar to the old ale, but a brighter flavor and more upfront.  The CDA was pretty good, dark roast with piney hops and the German Pilsner was nice and clean with a little bit of fruitiness, mostly apple.

The interesting thing once we got there was I was shocked I’d never heard of them.  They brew some really great, award winning beer.  And not just local festivals, they have a wall full of awards from the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.  With so many breweries in this state, it’s impossible to keep track of them all, but I was surprised to have not at least heard of such a prestigious brewery.  It’s tucked away on a corner in downtown Bend, but it’s well worth finding! The taproom over looks the Deschutes river and also Mirror Pond.  (A couple of names that should be familiar to fans of one of the larger Oregon breweries, who also calls Bend home).

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Saison Reviews

I had recently grabbed a couple of bottles of beer at local bottle shops and realized I was collecting Saisons, which is a style I really enjoy.  I ended up drinking them on consecutive nights, so this is what I think about them.

Saison d’Etra – Mazama Brewing (Corvallis, OR) – 6.3% ABV, 25 IBU

This beer pours a nice golden color with a nice thick white head.  As I drank it it had a great characteristic Belgian lace in the glass.  The aroma of this beer just jumps out at you, especially the peppercorns.  The flavor has the nice saison yeast characteristics, as well as a nice floral/herbal note from coriander and a caramel/cotton candy like sweetness.  This beer has a LOT going on.  Really, really enjoyable. With the addition of the orange peel, coriander and peppercorns it really straddles the line between a saison and a Belgian wit, but very well made.

Rank – 4.5 (of 5) stars: Really incredible, one of the best Saisons I’ve had.

Three Eyed Raven (GoT) – Ommegang Brewing (NY) – 7.2% ABV, IBU Not Listed

This beer bills itself as a “Dark Saison” and it pours a deep brown with a nice reddish tone to it.  This beer was extremely foamy with a thick off-white head.  It’s in a cork finished bottle, and likely bottle fermented, so be careful to not pour it too vigorously. The beer as a nice spicy aroma as would be expected for a saison.  The flavor is nice and clean, with the good Belgian characteristic.   Not sweet like the Mazama but still enjoyable.  I’ll be honest that I bought this beer mostly for the bottle and the label, but it’s actually quite good.  A nice well made saison.

Rank – 4.0 (of 5) stars: Good and drinkable.  Great bottle is a bonus.

Organic Belgian-Style Saison – Hopworks Urban Brewing (Portland) – 6.6% ABV, 18 IBU

This beer pours a light straw yellow with a thick white head.  The aroma has a little bit of spice, and a little bit of Brett-like farmyard.  The flavor has a good spice to it and a little bit of sourness.  The mouthfeel is a little thin, and while the beer is not “bad” it just seems to be missing something.  Not a lot going on in the flavor department, which I would expect for a Belgian.  It does say “Belgian-style” so perhaps it’s not intended to be perfectly “to style”.  Enjoyable but just not world changing.

Rank – 3.0 (of 5) stars: Good, just not great.  Missing some intangibles.

Traveling Yeti meets Thirsty Sasquatch

Well, this was destined to happen.  They opened a place called the Thirsty Sasquatch and I had to go there and see what it was all about.  The Thirsty Sasquatch opened a couple of weeks ago North of the river in Vancouver.  Vancouver is starting to be influenced by Portland, especially in the areas of microbrewing and microdistilling, but still has a feel of it’s own.  The ‘Squatch is a taproom and taproom only.  They serve beer and hard liquor with a focus on whiskey.  They don’t serve food, but they encourage patrons to BYO and also have menus to a few local places that will deliver, including a Mexican restaurant that’s right next door.

Inside, it’s a little bit smaller than I was expecting, just a handful of tables, and it was mobbed when we showed up (not that that’s a bad thing).  We managed to snag a spot at the bar which was fashioned from a slab off a log with knots and stumps and all.  We both ordered a beer flight to try several things.  They offer pints, smaller pours, and the flight samples of the beers and full shots (1.75oz) and a “flight” taste (0.75oz) of the whiskeys.  The beer flight was four samples, and the whiskey flights according to the menu are “usually” four, but you can mix and match as you like, including just getting one, which we did.  You can find the taplist here. Nearly all the beers are from Oregon or Washington, with a couple currently from Epic in Utah and a couple from AleSmith and Alpine Beer in San Diego, CA.  The list changes often so be sure to check before you go.

The staff behind the bar is very friendly, with lots of suggestions including pairing of some of the beers and whiskeys.  We got a small pour of beer and a half pour of one of the whiskeys to give it a try and they paired together quite well.

Overall, it was a good experience and probably somewhere we’ll return to.  One of the newest taprooms in the area and it seems to be doing really well so far.

Hopworks Urban Brewery

I’ve been to Hopworks many times with my wife and friends.  The beer is great, the food is top notch and it’s just a neat place to hang out.  This last Sunday, Hopworks hosted an AHA rally at their brewery which I attended and I learned some really cool new things about Hopworks that I didn’t know and that makes them just even that more impressive.

Owner/Brewmaster Christian Ettinger talked at the beginning of the rally and then later Head Brewmaster Trevor Bass gave the brewery tour that I was on and this is where these tidbits came from.

  • Hopworks is solely owned (and locally owned) by Ettinger and his wife.  They have been careful not to expand too quickly and not have to allow an outside equity firm to come in and prop them up.
  • Hopworks is expanding.  They’ve taken control of the building that adjoins the brewery and the building behind them (which I always assumed was already part of their property).  The distant building is housing the experimental beers such as sours and lacto beers to prevent infecting the main brewhouse.  The side building is going to become the new brewhouse, and Hopworks is also going to begin making ciders. While still being careful not to overstretch their bounds, they feel they can begin to expand their presence in the neighborhood.
  • Hopworks gives away it’s yeast to homebrewers.  After they’ve used it as many times as they are going to, but when it still has usefulness left, HUB will give it’s yeast to homebrewers who come in with a clean sanitized jar.  The two strains they use are Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager and (I believe) 1332 Northwest Ale.  Christian also acknowledged if one of the neighborhood brewers such as Laurelwood came to them in dire straits they would give them yeast as well, highlighting the  “work together” mentality of Northwest brewers.
  • Hopworks has a single dairy farmer that they sell their spent grain to, and in Christian’s words he pays “a little bit of money”.  They are committed to processes further down the chain, and offer the grain to him as organic food so he can get his dairy products certified as organic.
  • Hopworks used to get organic two row pale malt trucked in from Canada, but now, whether from market pressure or insistence from Hopworks, they can get organic malt locally from Great Western Malting, which lowers their transportation burden and carbon footprint, and supports a local company.
  • Hopworks is constantly upgrading their brewery and restuarant to reduce time, electricity and water usage.  They recently installed a centrifuge which reduced water usage compare to previous filtering and also means they can stop using diatomaceous earth, which while not harmful to skin or the environment, can be harmful if inhaled.

I already had a lot of respect for Hopworks, but this new insight into their inner workings just gave me even more things to like about them.  Big thanks to Christian and his crew for hosting the AHA rally and really making us feel welcome with pizza, beer and unprecedented access behind the scenes.

Widmer Sampler Pack

Another sampler pack for me to crank out several tasting notes at once, this one by Widmer.  This is their standard sampler.  Three of the beers are standard offerings and the fourth is a rotating sampler.

Widmer Hefewiesen – 4.9% ABV

This beer pours a cloudy pale yellow with a thin white head.  A light aroma with some sweetness and just a little bit of bready aroma.  Very light hop aroma.  Clean crisp flavor with a little bit of hop bitterness that fades quickly. No aftertaste.

Rating – 3.5 (out of 5) Stars: A nice serviceable beer.  The American Style Hefe doesn’t have the characteristic spice and fruitiness of German counterpart.  This however, is the beer that started it all 30 years ago.

Alchemy Pale Ale – 5.8% ABV

This beer pours a nice golden color with a thin white head.  Some malt sweetness in the aroma along with pine hop aroma.  Crisp bitterness in the flavor with a lot of pine hop and some citrus. Clean finish.

Rating – 3.5 (out of 5) Stars: Another good serviceable beer.  Tastes especially good after finishing the Shamrock Run 8K.

Upheaval IPA – 7.0% ABV 85 IBU

This beer pours a nice reddish gold color with a thin white head.  Strong citrus and pine hop aroma.  Some caramel sweetness in the aroma as well. Pine hop flavor right off the bat which mellows into a combination of citrus hop and malt sweetness. Bitterness lingers long into the finish.

Rating – 4.0 (out of 5) Stars: A solid IPA without being a hop bomb.

Brrr – Winter Red Ale (Seasonal) – 7.2% ABV 

This beer pours a nice reddish brown color with a thin white head.  Sweet caramel malt aroma, faint aroma of citrus hop.  Slight sweetness in the flavor which gives way quickly to hop bitterness.  Piney and earthy hop flavors.  Bitterness lingers into the finish.

Rating – 4.0 (out of 5) Stars: Nice seasonal winter warmer.

*A note on the head retention.  All of these beers had fairly thin heads, but I think some of that could have been coming from bottled product as opposed to draft.

Portland Spring Beer and Wine Fest – April 4-5, 2015

*This past weekend my wife and I volunteered to pour samples at the Spring Beer and Wine Festival.  We had a blast, and this event review is a copy of a newsletter article I wrote for the Oregon Brew Crew newsletter.

“Beer and Wine” in the title of the Spring Beer and Wine Festival is a bit of an understatement.  Because, joining the thirty-three breweries and fourteen wineries in attendance were seven cider makers, nine local distilleries and a handful of local artisan cheese and chocolate makers in a huge celebration of Portland and the Northwest. Also joining the party were dozens of merchants selling everything from kilts to timeshares; wrought iron beer bottle holders to massage chairs and everything else imaginable.  The festival is a Portland institution now in its 21st year. The website touts it as the nation’s largest, sampling related springtime event.

For those of us who have caught the brewing bug, the Oregon Brew Crew were on hand showing off some nice homebrewing gear and answering questions.  They were also showcasing a couple of beers from the Collaborator series, which are homebrew recipes that are chosen in a competition and brewed on an industrial scale by Widmer Brothers.  Proceeds from the sales of Collaborator beers fund scholarships in the brewing program at Oregon State University.

Whether or not it was intentional on the part of the organizers is unclear, but this festival seems to be geared towards the smaller local breweries.  Noticeably absent were the major local players like Widmer, Full Sail and Deschutes. One of the major national figures was present and pouring some of its smaller craft-style offerings.  Blue Moon, Leinenkugals and Crispin Cider (All distributed by MillerCoors) were pouring samples as well.  Rather, this festival was filled with small breweries with funky, fun names like Rusty Truck, Calapooia, Awesome Brewing and Sasquatch.  The festival has a “trade show” type feel, in part from being hosted at the Convention Center and each brewery has an individual booth, but also there weren’t the huge lines of a lot of other festivals, as there is ample seating and people mostly mill about and enjoy the atmosphere.

One of the breweries in attendance was so new, they haven’t actually opened yet.  Coin Toss Brewing out of Oregon City is set to open their tap room in June or July and this festival was their first time serving beer to the public. Brewer/Owner Tim Hohl was on site most of the time anxiously watching people’s reactions to his beers.

Throw in some perfect Spring weather and you have a great weekend to be a beer drinker in Portland.  Cheers!