2018 Beer in Review

It’s that time of year again, another year gone.  The time to look back and reminisce and also look ahead to the year ahead, which like an unwrapped present offers so much promise.

Brewing:

Like last year, I only brewed 8 batches this year, but I began to fall into a bit of a predictable rhythm. Two weeks ago I brewed my last batch of the year, another batch of my Black Flag CDA.  I never expected to have a “flagship” beer, but that’s what this one has turned into.  I made 4 batches of it this year, and the most recent was my 13th batch in the last three years.  I have this recipe dialed in to the point where I just remake it, I don’t make any changes or adjustments.  The other four batches were two batches of a British Strong Bitter, a style I had never made before but rather enjoyed, my annual batch of Belgian Dark Strong, and a re-brew of my Imperial Milk Stout “Waiting for Santa” that I made a couple years ago.

Competitions:

Also continuing the trend from last year, I traded quantity for quality.  This year was really remarkable from a competition standpoint.  I started the year with an early surprise. I was invited to pour my Rum Barrel Stout at the people’s choice for Stout Bout and then was awarded 1st place in Wood Aged Stout, which I did not expect.  This was followed by a gold medal at COHO Spring Fling for my British Bitter and then a gold medal at Heart of Cascadia for my CDA.  Three category wins with three different beers was pretty shocking.  The COHO medal earned me points for the Oregon State Homebrewer of the Year program, which was one of my 2018 goals.  My Belgian Dark Strong took a third place at the Oregon State Fair, and then took 1st place at Salem Harvest Classic and received an Honorable Mention for Best in Show, essentially 4th place BOS, although there’s no ribbon for that.  I rounded out the year with a 3rd place in Specialty IPA at Fall Classic with my CDA.  6 total awards, 4 of which were 1st Place.

Judging:

I was able to judge 5 competitions this year, starting again with Best of Craft Beer.  I also served as Judge Director for the OBC Fall Classic at the end of the year.  Based on travel plans and work schedule, I won’t be returning to Best of Craft Beer in 2019, but hope to someday judge that competition again.  It’s a lot of fun and of course we get to bring home a ton of beer.  At the time of my last Beer in Review, I had taken the tasting exam but hadn’t received my score back.  I increased my score from a 76 to an 80, which is good enough for National.  I plan to take the written exam at some point in this year, but I don’t expect to do well enough on the first try.  Several people have recommended to me to just take it so I have an idea what it’s like.  My goal for increasing my rank is to have opportunities to judge at larger competitions like the NHC Finals, GABF and the Oregon Beer Awards.

Travel:

Well 2018 was a pretty amazing year for travel.  We started the year in January with a trip to Mexico.  We visited one brewery (Todos Santos Brewing) and tried several local and national Mexican brews.  Fresh Modelo Negra on draft is an amazing beer.  The bottles you can get here are nice, but don’t quite do it justice.  In April I traveled to Montréal, Quebec, Canada to attend a Siebel Brewing Microbiology Course.  This trip was paid for by my work and was an interesting, albeit difficult, learning and travel experience.  They crammed a lot into two weeks, and I did manage to visit 8 breweries while I was there and tried several other local offerings in cans and bottles. The tour and tasting at Unibroue was definitely the highlight of the trip. In June we traveled to Houston and Austin, Texas. The Houston part of the trip was a church conference, so certainly not beer related, but the Austin portion was visiting with family while we were in the area, so a lot more relaxed.  We did visit three breweries in Houston on the last day when our main responsibilities were over, and two more in Austin as well as trying some local stuff on draft and bottles around town.  Sadly, some of the big name breweries, like Jester King(Austin) and St. Arnold(Houston), were closed the days were were in town, but with family in the area we know we will return soon. Oskar Blues in Austin was very cool.  We finished the year with a trip to visit my family and friends on the East Coast for Thanksgiving.  We visited one brewery in Garner, near my friends house and also spent two days exploring Asheville, which has blown up into a beer mecca since I left the state.  The highlight of that trip was the tour at New Belgium, which is always a good time.  We’ve now visited the Colorado and North Carolina locations for New Belgium.  If you haven’t done a tour there I highly recommend it.  It’s free, although you do need to sign up in advance, and they are very generous with the samples.  They also do a good job explaining their processes and lay everything out, they don’t really have any “secrets”.

Job:

The end of this year marks 2 and half years now in my position at Portland Brewing.  My role has grown, including the aforementioned training trip to Montréal, and moving into 2019 I am beginning to take over our sensory tasting program.  My goals are to expand and refine the program, which will include in 2019 another Siebel course for sensory panel management.  We are setting up a dedicated space for the sensory program to match that growth and expansion and I’m very excited to be involved in it.  With my background in Food Science and BJCP Beer Judging the managers felt that sensory was well within my wheelhouse and they are hoping I can take our program to the next level. The goal as always will be to provide a consistent and high quality product to our consumers.

Looking Forward:

2019 is already looking like a busy year.  My wife and I are planning to dial back on our travel this year, after literally globehopping this past year, but we do have a short trip in January coming up to visit friends in San Francisco.  I will also be attending the Siebel Sensory Panel Management course, either in February or November.  This course is not as intense as the Montréal course, since it’s only 4 days long and is in San Diego. We will be very involved in the homebrew club this year as my wife is returning to the Board as President and I will be re-joining the Board as Competition chair. This will likely mean less judging opportunities, but I will still be heavily involved in the local competition scene.  For competitions, my 2018 goal (unfulfilled) for advancing a beer to the NHC Finals still stands (and honestly, this will be a goal every year) as well as my hopes to participate in some sort of Pro-Am brewing opportunity, whether that be through winning Best in Show at a competition, being chosen as a Widmer Collaborator through the OBC or being selected to brew for something like the Willamette Week Pro-Am, hopefully I can brew one of my recipes on a larger scale.  I think that would be extremely fun and an amazing learning opportunity.

So cheers to 2018 and here’s to an amazing 2019!

Cervezas de México

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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