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.

Oregon City Brewing Company – Oregon City, OR

The first place I wanted to write about was the most recent place we had discovered.  The wife and I literally stumbled upon it as we were headed somewhere else in Oregon City.  Tucked away on Washington Street a couple blocks back off of 99E is the Oregon City Brewing Company. One of, if not the first brewery in Oregon City since 1895 and Henry Weinhard.

In an unassuming cinderblock building that looks like it used to be an oil change place sits OCB.  It’s not a huge place, seating maybe 45-50 on a busy night, but they have a massive selection.  44 rotating taps including four of their own, and then a plethora of other local options of beer, cider and even wine.  The current tap list includes three beers from Washington State, two from New York State, one from Vermont (a cider), and then all the rest are from Oregon with local favorites like Deschutes, Lompoc, Coalition, Rogue, Crux, Gilgamesh and on and on.

The current 4 house beers according to the online taplist are Elevator IPA, Scottish Ale, Hank’s Marionberry Blonde, and the Chocolate Pale Ale (CPA).  When we visited it was an Irish Red instead of the Scottish but the other three were the same.  They are all solid beers, but the Chocolate Pale Ale blew us both away.  I can’t remember how much chocolate they told us they add to it, but it has a distinctive chocolate flavor and aroma and it darkens the beer but not as dark as a Stout or Porter would be.

OCB does not serve food, but they do host food carts a couple nights a week, and that’s where things get interesting.  OCB has locked horns with the city council on Oregon City’s ban on mobile food vendors.  This article from the Oregonian explains what’s going on and includes a link to an online petition to get the zoning changed.  As part of the fight OCB lost their brewery/brewpub license and had it replaced with a brewery license, which meant that they could no longer allow minors anywhere on the property.  This flies in the face of the owners desire for a “living room for the community”.  Normally when companies oppose local government and try to change laws and zonings it’s for jealous and greedy reasons but to me this feels like “fighting the good fight”.  Supporting a community atmosphere and supporting other small local businesses in these food carts is a lot of what is a backbone to the Portland area and things we and others feel are important, so hopefully they get the changes they are looking for.

What can you do to help? Sign the petition if you like, or just head down to OCB and have a pint.  It’s really that easy.

Pirate Republic Brewing Co – Nassau, Bahamas

There is “local beer” that is close to you, and “local beer” that is local to the region you’re in.  The second one is the case of another place the wife and I literally stumbled upon.  Pirate Republic Brewing Company in Nassau, Bahamas.  We were on our honeymoon cruise and we were walking down the main drag (Woodes Rodgers Walk) to get back to the boat and saw a couple ladies sitting outside a storefront with a couple bottles of beer and small sample cups.  Being Portlanders of course we had to stop and try it.  Turns out we had discovered the first and only craft brewery in the Bahamas.

Right now they have three beer styles: Island Pale Ale (IPA), Gold and Haze of Piracy (Belgian White/Wit) and Long John Pilsner (Pilsner).  The two they were sampling that day were the IPA and the Belgian.  I happen to really like the unique funky flavors of Belgian style beers, while my wife doesn’t so she tried the IPA.  They were both well done, the IPA was crisp and hoppy and the Belgian was suitably funky.  We picked up a couple 12oz bottles to take back to the ship with us.

It was a really interesting experience to discover a place that is tied to the local culture, but also brand new.  I just saw on the Facebook page the Pilsner was not even available until Jan 9th which was about 2 days after we were there.  I thought I remembered seeing it, but it was probably just the tshirts and things.

I also have an affinity for Pirates, both fictional (Pirate of the Caribbean ride at Disney and the movies) and real life (Blackbeard was sunk and killed on the coast of North Carolina).  So, needless to say, I love the name and the logo.

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