Yachats Brewing and Farmstore

Last weekend my wife and I went camping down in Florence, Oregon with her family.  This is an annual tradition which happened to fall on one of the hottest weeks in record in Oregon.  Thankfully, it was much cooler down on the coast.  On the way down, we stopped in the tiny coastal town of Yachats to have lunch at Yachats Brewing and Farmstore.

 

I don’t write about every brewery we visit because that would be overwhelming, but if a place is unique, a special experience, or in my thoughts “unknown” or underhyped, I’ll write about it.  Yachats was all three.

Before the visit, I was only vaguely aware of Yachats Brewing.  I had a barrel aged version of their Marbled Murrelet Stout at Festival of the Dark Arts.  It was “on the way”, so we decided to stop in.

Camping is always a food-fest so we decided to split a sandwich, which was a good idea because it was HUGE! BBQ chicken, onions, peppers and cheese, it was great.  Warm polenta and fermented veggies on the side to round it out.  Highly recommend the food.

The two beers we tried were the Coastal Dark Ale (4.5 stars), their version of a CDA, my wife’s favorite style, and the Hyphyweizen (4.5 stars), their version of a German Hef.  Both beers were really good and we ended up taking a crowler of the CDA camping and I got a bottle of their Kriek (which I haven’t tried yet).

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The location was really cool.  Obviously not the original use of that building.  We sat on the side patio, which was half indoors/half outdoors and used to be a greenhouse/plant area.  You could see into the brewery with some tanks back in the back, as well as mics and speakers for live music.

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We got there shortly after they opened, so they weren’t very crowded and the staff was very friendly.  Quick to recommend a beer, ideas about food, pointed out seasonals and special items.  Overall a great experience.  If you’re on the southern Oregon coast, I highly recommend swinging by Yachats Brewing and Farmstore.  They are located right on 101 (Pacific Coast Highway) about a half hour south of Newport.  It’s worth the drive.

The war rages on…

Last week was a roller coaster in the beer world.  The Brewers Association announced a special logo, recognizing independently owned breweries.  You can read the release and see the logo HERE. To me, this just further emphasizes the point that the only important part of the “Craft” designation from the BA is ownership.  Based on the BA’s definition of craft, “small” is 6 million barrels of beer a year.  The largest craft brewery is Yuengling at a reported 2.9 million BBLs of production (2012) so there’s still a lot of room to grow and still be considered craft.  The limit was increased last year or the year before, specifically to bring Yuengling into the fold.  Sam Adams (Boston Beer), the 2nd largest “craft” brewer (4 million BBLs/2016) is distributed nationwide.  I can walk into a grocery store in tiny Canby, Oregon and find Boston Lager, Rebel IPA, Grapefruit IPA, 3 flavors of Angry Orchard (a Boston Beer wholly owned subsidiary) and now the new Truly Alcoholic Sparkling Water (another BB subsidiary).  I find it hard to swallow that they aren’t pushing other beer off the shelf, which is exactly what we accuse ABInBev of, but it’s OK because Sam Adams is “craft”.

The other problem I have with the logo comes from a strictly food labeling standpoint.  Even though the logo is not designed as any sort of designator of product quality, that is how it will eventually be perceived.  The BA is trying to assert that local and independent beer is “better”.  That “better” can be interpreted millions of ways, but for the average consumer that will equate to better quality or “tastes better”.  Earlier this morning I responded to a post on the American Homebrewers Forum about how the logo will be adapted into a quality statement.  I was already thinking about this post when I formulated this reply, so I will just copy it here in it’s entirety.  Click the link above to scroll through the entire post.

“This is all well and good for those of us who are deep into the industry, but as always these moves are made for the “rest of the world” who don’t care as much where the stuff in the can comes from.

As with most things that go on a label, and which several people have mentioned above, there will be an implied quality statement with the logo.  That’s just how food labels work.  I’m a food scientist and there’s a lot of stuff that goes on food labels and of course if it goes on a label it must be important right? That’s how people’s brains work.  The FDA doesn’t regulate beer labels yet, but it’s coming very soon.  We’re already having to work on calories and nutrition facts labels.

There’s a lot of stuff out there that has nothing to do with quality, but crafty advertisers or just human intellect of “this must be different and special” turns into quality statements.  For example, if I say the words Black Angus, what do you think? Most people are going to think about a fancy downtown steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris. Black Angus is a breed of cattle.  Not a quality designation.  There are three grades of meat, Select, Choice and Prime.  Choice is what you get in the grocery store, Prime is what you get in Ruth’s Chris, but they are both still Black Angus.  When Hardees/Carl’s Jr is advertising Angus Burgers they are banking on most people equating that with expensive steak.  Are they using Prime beef? Hell no, they are using Choice (or even Select) but people equate Angus with Prime.

The BA’s selling point is “local and independent is better”.. better how? Better for the economy, better business practices, better for your community etc etc.  Over time most people will turn that into “better quality” or “tastes better”.  Is the BA trying to intentionally mislead people? No, I don’t think so, but they are certainly taking advantage of how human emotions work to push their message.  In essence that’s how all advertising works.  Is it meant as a quality statement? No, but in 5 years that’s not what people will remember about it.  People automatically assume “better quality” and pay a premium for things like “Natural”, “No Corn Syrup”, “Free Range”, “Dolphin Safe” “GMO Free” etc etc, all of which are unregulated and mostly meaningless statements (Organic is the only one certified by the government) and don’t always (or sometimes ever) equate to product quality.  It’s a shell game.. and it always has been.”

Of course, the other side of this coin is the immediate and comical reaction from ABInBev’s High End. This is the branch of the company that owns the 10 Barrel’s and Wicked Weed’s in their portfolio.

You can watch the video HERE from Draft Magazine.  It’s… well.  It’s something.  It’s ridiculous and it’s a video that doesn’t need to exist.  I may or may not agree with the labeling, but there was absolutely no reason for InBev to respond to it.  Just let it go.  They aren’t helping themselves with this at all.  They come across as whiny and judgmental even though they are the ones controlling the market.  They have a huge chunk of market share, but some new label comes along and they are all up in arms about how it’s “not fair!”.  Wow.  This is greed and capitalism 101, big companies only like something if it’s *their* rules.  The whole “we need to gang up on wine and spirits” is complete bullshit.  The market doesn’t work that way, at least not at the distributor level.  It may look that way in the high up offices of a multi trillion dollar international conglomerate who has to worry about the Diago’s and Robert Mondavi’s of the world, but on the boots on the ground level, at your local pub, it’s beer vs beer.  Mr Small Local Brewer wheels a keg into a bar, the bar man say’s sorry, we don’t have any open taps because some distributor went in and brought 12 kegs instead of one.  What looks like a decent selection of Budwieser, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Goose Island, Breckenridge and Wicked Weed is not much of a variety at all when they all come from the same company.

I’m all for fighting against illegal business practices.  I don’t think a large brewing concern like ABInBev should own distributors.  In some states that’s legal, in some it’s not.  To me that pushes the boundaries.

However, I don’t think the BA is going about it the right way.  You can’t beat the behemoth at their own game.  It won’t work.

Oregon Mead and Cider

Yesterday, I was meeting my wife and some friends at Culmination Brewing, but I ended up getting there way early (I work 6AM-2:30PM).  I remembered that Stung Meadery was in the same building and so I figured I’d check them out and do a tasting while I waited for everyone else.  When I got there, I discovered they had also begun making cider and had changed their name to The Oregon Mead & Cider Co.  You can check out their website HERE.

I was planning to just get a glass of something while I waited and after some initial confusion found out they don’t pour pints/full pours.  They have a taster flight you can try, or just a handful of small tasters, and for take home they have bottle sales and growler fills.  So I ended up doing the full flight.  8 samples which included six of their bottled products and then two choices from the draft only menu.

First the ciders:  The first one I had was the Cherry Vanilla Cider.  This was the first one I picked and was planning to get the full pour of when I discovered I could only get tasters.  It was good, but I’m glad it wasn’t the only thing I had because some of the stuff that came later was really delicious. Next from the draft list was the Pinot Gris Barrel aged FrankenCyser.  The server (who’s name I didn’t catch.. of course.. my bad) explained to me that Cyser is a blend of Cider and Mead and this Frankencyser was the leftovers from the bottom of the tanks after bottling the standard mead and cider and it was blended together and put into a wine barrel.  This was delicious and picked up a lot of the white wine character.  Next were their two bottled ciders.  The Free Press Cider and the Free Press Hopped Cider.  The base cider is very clean, very lightly flavored.  It was good but very basic.  The hopped cider was very nice.  The hops added a fruity/floral component to the cider.  They don’t boil anything, so no bitterness was added, just “dry hopped” so to speak with the hops.

The interesting thing about these ciders is that they are very dry.  I have a tendency to like my ciders sweet, and I think part of the reason is a lot of dry ciders, especially English ciders, tend to be harsh and tannic and astringent.  These ciders aren’t that at all.  They are dry… but just dry enough.  Like a white wine, rather than a steeped tea.  They aren’t bitter or astringent.

Next the meads: The first mead I tried was their standard base mead Drink Mate Die, AKA Worker Standard Sparkling Mead.  So, the first thing in that name that jumps out is sparkling.  These are carbonated meads.  The standard mead uses ginger and Cascade hops.  I’m not usually a fan of ginger, but it’s very easy going here.  They use a light touch, it’s very subtle.  Quite tasty and quite drinkable.  The other mead I tried was a Mosaic Sparkling Mead which had the addition of Mosiac hops, which are very fruity.  A very nice compliment to the honey.  These two meads, and all of the Worker series, are pretty low alcohol (by mead standards) at around 6.5% A lot of meads and honeywines clock in at 10-15% like standard grape wines.  Fear not, OM&CCo has a few of those as well.

The last two meads are from the Queen Series.  These are the showstoppers.  Single varietal honeys and specific areas to showcase the flavor of the honey.  These also clock in at around 16% alcohol.  The two that I got to try were the Blackberry Blossom and the High Desert.  The blackberry blossom is exactly what it sounds like, honey from bees that only eat from the flowers of blackberry vines.  It’s very fruity with notes of the berries themselves.  It’s amazing that flavor passes through just from the nectar.  The blueberry is very boozy and has a good bit of burn to it.  Not sure if aging would help that, or letting it stand like a wine.  The High Desert honey is harvested from out near Bend where the bees eat from sage. rabbit brush, and other desert wildflowers.  This mead has a really interesting herbal quality to it.  The sage really shines through.  It was really quite interesting.  Similar alcohol to the blackberry but this one was much, much smoother.  Dangerously so.  This would be quite drinkable on a hot day, so watch out.

Much like the ciders, the meads are also bone dry.  They use champagne yeast to get a complete and clean fermentation.  Some meads can be cloying sweet and heavy in mouthfeel that makes it difficult to drink.

If you’ve never had mead, this would be a great place to do a flight and try several different kinds.  If you love mead but haven’t been here yet you should put it on your list.  I would highly recommend it for fans of cider and mead.  It’s different than most of what I’ve ever had and I would assume that would apply to others as well.

Cheers!

Another one bites the dust…

New broke last week that Wicked Weed had been assimilated by the Borg acquired by AB InBev’s High End division.  As expected, backlash has been swift and severe.  This time, not just among the beer snob crowd though.  Several breweries who were collaborating with WW and a good chunk (almost 30 at last report) of the attendees of the Wicked Weed Invitational Beer Festival have immediately cut all ties to the brewery.  Don’t feel too bad.  I imagine we’ll eventually find out how many zeros were on that check.  They’ll be fine.

Personally, I’m very conflicted about this buyout.  I can’t really say I’m a huge fan of Wicked Weed’s beer, since I’ve only tried two of their offerings, but I was a fan of the brewery itself.  One of the standard bearers for the quickly growing North Carolina craft beer scene, I was planning to visit them on my next trip out East, whenever that may have been.  Also, listening to the interviews with Walt on the BN’s Sour Hour, not only did I get excited about what he’s trying to do there, but felt like I got to know him and his crew a little bit.  Hence the feeling of deep disappointment and betrayal.

I want to be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone for selling a business when presented with an obscene amount of cash.  Talk about love and craft and artisan all you want, but at the end of the day it’s a business.  The goal is to make money and support your family and support your community.  When 10 Barrel sold for what, at the time, seemed like a ridiculous amount ($10 Million) I thought to myself “Wow… what do you do as a business owner when someone, quite literally, walks in the door with a suitcase full of cash?”  Those of us who are not business owners have no idea how we would react to such a situation.

My ire is more directed at InBev, and I think that’s true of a lot of people, even including the initial knee jerk reaction towards the small brewery of “HOW COULD YOU??” AB InBev is working to manipulate the market, using legal, if not quite moral, ways to do it.  I see it as a monopoly without being a monopoly. “But your Honor, it’s 27 different companies.. that’s not a monopoly.”  It’s not so much that they bought “my favorite brewery” but that they can do so with such ease.  They probably spend more than 10 million dollars taking Wal Mart execs out to dinner.  10 Barrel is barely a blip on their balance sheet.  But it puts them in Central Oregon plus a pub in Portland. It seems as if they just point and say “I want that one….” In the current climate, it’s just another reminder that money is power. “If you can’t beat them, join them” has become “If you can’t beat them, own them.”  You don’t have to work or stand in line if you can just buy your place at the table.  Looking at their acquisitions, they are all scattered across the country in pretty strategic locations.  California, Oregon, Seattle, Chicago, Georgia, New York, Colorado… and now North Carolina.  Adding to the web, adding to the network.  Also, taking another step deeper into “craft” by getting into sour beer.  They grabbed a barrel program when they got Goose Island, but sour beer is a whole different animal.

The immediate reaction by a lot of people is that they will never buy or drink that beer again, and that’s fine, there are millions of choices.  But that can be easier said than done.  I’m not a huge fan of 10 Barrel or Elysian, so those are easy to avoid.  Golden Road I’ve never had before, and suddenly saw it show up in our local Fred Meyer, and then remembered why it suddenly showed up.  This year I did go out and buy some of the Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.  I don’t know if I will again in the future, but I do think it’s really good.  I don’t yet know what I’ll decide about Wicked Weed.  I may still try it, just so I can say I had it, and then not have it again.  Or I may swear off it.  Right now you can’t get it here in Oregon, so it’s not hard to avoid.  If they start distributing here, it might be hard to say no, even knowing they are InBev now.  I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

For now, there’s no immediate choice to make.  My next trip to NC won’t be any time soon and they likely won’t start selling WW beer in Oregon for quite some time, if ever.  I have time to think and mull on it, but mostly it just sucks.  I know full well that the whole “loyalty” gambit that a lot of fans play when a small company sells is mostly bullshit.  They don’t owe us a damn thing.  Granted there have been cases where a brewery has publicly said “We’ll never sell!” and then they do a few weeks later.  That of course is shifty and worthy of scorn.  Wicked Weed to my knowledge had not made any statements similar to that, but who knows.  They made their choice.  Now we make ours.

Beer is a democracy.  We vote with our dollars. Do with that what you will.

How much is too much?

The other day I bought a bottle of Modern Times City of the Dead Export Stout with Bourbon Barrel aged coffee beans.  Modern Times just got distributed to this area, so this was brand spanking new, a holdover from a release party a couple days prior.  It was $7 for a 22oz bomber.  When I got home I remarked to my wife what an amazing deal that was.  Man, have times changed.

Long gone are the days of $6 six-packs.  Granted, when I was paying that price I was buying macro beer like Miller Lite, or faux-craft like Blue Moon and Shock Top.   Now that I live in Oregon, you can’t get ANYTHING for a dollar a bottle.  16 oz Pabst tallboy will set you back two bucks.  I’m OK with that.  Good beer is worth paying for.  But how much?

The first time I dropped $20 on a 22oz bomber was for Ninkasi’s Ground Control Stout.  This was an imperial stout with cocoa and local Oregon hazelnuts made with yeast that had been grown in space! Yeah, I bought it for the geek factor, but it ended up being a really amazing beer.  Knowing what I know now about yeast propagation, that beer probably wasn’t as quite a small and limited run as I imagined it to be, but still a pretty rare release.

Grocery store beer is always going to be cheaper than beer in a bar (or it should be).  But it still helps to think of things in terms of pints.  Average price for a pint in Portland is about $5, give or take.   So you’re looking at about $3.75 for a 12oz or $6.88 for a 22oz scaled on a per ounce basis.   $22.50 is a hell of a lot for a six pack, so thankfully you get a pretty good deal on the 12 ouncers, which usually run $8-10 depending.  The 22’s not so much.  They hold pretty well onto the per pint price, running $6-8 depending on what it is.  Sometimes you catch a special on something for 3.50-4 bucks and so that’s a good deal.  I’ll think to myself when I’m going to buy something if I would pay for it on draft at a bar.  For Budweiser, no.  For Boneyard, yes.

As time goes on, we find things that we’re willing to pay for and that recalibrates our inner scale of what we think is a good price.  $10 for a 16 ounce bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout? I felt that was a worthy price, so I bought some.  $25 for a 22ounce of Deschutes Black Butte 29th Anniversary? Yes, in my mind I feel like that’s worth it.  Learning what all is involved in barrel aging beer and making of sour beers and blends really helps put a value to the price you’re paying.  $14 for a 22oz bottle of New Belgium 2015 La Folie? After finding out what goes into making that beer, to me, that’s a steal! $6 for a 6 ounce draft pour of a blended lambic imported from Belgium? Sign me up.

Everyone has a limit though right? Even though it counteracts my pint argument from above (because it’s still under the $3.75/pint guide) I have to draw the line at Ballast Point.  I just cannot bring myself to pay $16-18 for a sixpack.  They are priced well above the rest of the market, with no one else at that pricepoint, I don’t understand how they sell a single bottle.  Then again, they just sold themselves to Constellation brands for a cool one billion dollars, so what the hell do I know? What also hurts is that I don’t like Ballast Point’s beers.  We only get a few of their brands up to Oregon, and the one that is the most popular, Grapefruit Sculpin, in my personal tastes, is disgusting.  Way too bitter, lots of pithy grapefruit peel rather than fruit, and from what I’ve heard it’s not even real fruit.  To me that’s not worth paying for at any price.  If you like it, knock yourself out.

The other side of this coin is a conversation I recently had with a coworker about how “if you got into homebrewing to save money you’re going to be disappointed”.  I got into homebrewing for the science and creativity.  My favorite part is formulating recipes.  Can I buy beer for cheaper than I can make it? Yes of course, but the key factor is the quality of the beer in question.  My last batch of CDA cost me around $10 a gallon, or about $1.25 a pint. (This does not account for my time or equipment costs, this is ingredients only)  This is a 7% ABV beer with a ton of flavor and lots of hop aroma.  This is “craft” beer.  What can I buy on the market for that price or cheaper? Miller Lite, Coors Light, PBR etc.  4% ABV beers with no flavor and no hops. So homebrewing might not be cheaper, but it’s a better value.  I get more bang out of my buck by making my own.

What’s your limit?

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.

Bigfoot Growlers – Damascus Oregon

On Friday evening, my wife took me on a surprise date night.  She had driven past the place and with our running Yeti jokes knew it was a place she needed to take me.  So, imagine you’re leaving town and getting out into a more rural area and you come across a country store with a growler fill station.  You’d expect the place to have 4 or 5 taps of a few major local brands right?

Try 42!

Welcome to Bigfoot Growlers. The L shaped bar takes up an entire corner of Nature’s Country Store in Damascus Oregon.  Along with 33 beers, the taplist also includes 1 wine, 7 ciders and Crater Lake Root Beer.  The staff behind the bar is great at recommendations and pouring samples.  We were there when one of the kegs blew, and we got a sample of the new beer that replaced it just because we were sitting there. Turns out it was Half-Hitch IPA from Crux, which was incredible.  They also aren’t afraid to experiment with things.  My wife couldn’t decide between the Chocolate Shake Nitro stout or the Black Cherry Imperial Stout, and so they mixed it 50/50 which turned out to be pretty incredible.

Although it will likely change very often, the current taplist (link) includes:

14 taps from Oregon
8 taps from Washington
8 taps from California
1 tap from Utah (Uinta Brewing)
1 tap from Idaho (Woodland Empire)
1 tap from Missouri (Shock Top)
1 tap from Illinois (PBR)
1 tap from Texas (Shiner)
1 tap from Germany (Ayinger)
1 tap from Wisconsin (Leinenkugels)
1 tap from New York (Original Sin Cider)

They can take care of all your beer needs ranging from sampler trays, glasses, pints, howlers (32oz) and growlers (64oz).  You should check them out!

We met the owner, and I regret that I can’t remember his name, but he’s a really nice guy and he interacts with his customers the same whether they are regulars or first timers like us.