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!

2017 Beer in Review

There’s still a few weeks left in 2017 but all of the major beer events are over for the year.  Competition season has wrapped up, festivals are long since over, our homebrew club holiday party was this past weekend putting a bow on the club year as well. This past year was pretty interesting when I looked back on it even though some things didn’t go as planned.

Brewing: I didn’t brew as much this year as I have in the past couple of years.  I am brewing today what will be my 8th and final batch of the year, a repeat of my Rum “Barrel” Aged tropical stout.  For comparison, I brewed 12 batches in 2016 and 11 in 2015.  However, what I lacked in quantity I made up for in quality.  As I outlined in my Competition Review post, I managed to win 8 awards with three different beers.  2 Bronze and 3 Silver for my Belgian Dark Strong, 2 Bronze for my Belgian Wit and a Silver for my CDA.  I have some lofty goals for 2018 so hopefully this momentum continues.

Judging: I also didn’t judge as much this year as I have in years past, which was unfortunate but things just didn’t line up as well.  I started the year with a really unique opportunity to judge commercial beers at the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend.  My wife and I will be returning to BCBA in 2018, myself as a judge and her as a steward.  Besides schedule, another reason I didn’t judge as much is I got more involved in the administrative side of competitions, serving as Cellarmaster at SheBrew and Judge Director for both Heart of Cascadia and Fall Classic. This year I took the 10 week BJCP styles class offered by the OBC and took the tasting exam in June.  I wasn’t happy with my score, but I did increase from a 68 to a 76 and increased my rank from Recognized to Certified.  I re-took the tasting exam again in November and have not received my score yet, but based on talking to the proctors afterwards I feel really good about how I did.  I’m nervous about taking the written exam, but I am hoping to eventually make National rank.

Travel: The highlight of this year had to be the trip to Denver.  15 breweries in 4 days and that just barely scratched the surface of the beer scene there.  New Belgium was awesome, I can’t recommend strongly enough doing the tour there.  Our friends who we were visiting there have now moved back to Oregon, which is great, but now that means we need another excuse to go back.  Someday, I’d like to attend GABF.  We also visited new breweries in Astoria (Reach Break), Salem (Xicha) and a couple places in Seattle (Reuben’s Brews and 9 Yards).

Job:  June marked 1 year at my job at Portland Brewing, so now I’m at about a year and a half.  Things are still going well.  I’m hoping I might have an opportunity next year to do some Siebel training courses. If I do I’ll be sure to write about it here. I’m still learning a lot and the networking opportunities have been pretty crazy.  I’ve been doing some testing for smaller breweries in our lab and it feels really good to help out other members of the community.  There is really a lot more cooperation for us than competition.  At least in Portland.

Looking Ahead: 2018 looks to be pretty interesting, starting the year out with a trip to Mexico and returning to Best of Craft Beer, then over the summer we’re going to be travelling to Houston to work as volunteers at a large event there and then visit family in Austin, so another “not beer” related trip, but we’ll squeeze a few places in, especially in Austin.  The National Homebrewers Conference is coming to Portland next year, sadly the same weekend that we’ll be in Houston so we’ll miss it, but we’ll get to help with some of the set up and I plan on judging the preliminary round of the competition which will be in Portland this year as well.  Also, next year it’s my wife’s turn on the Board of the OBC, serving as Secretary, so our club involvement will ratchet up yet again after taking it kinda easy this year.

So, cheers to 2017 and here’s to 2018!

2016 Beer in Review

2016 was a very good year for beer travel and beer education, so I thought I’d take a look back.

My wife and I rang in New Years 2016 in Savannah Georgia, which included a trip to Moon River Brewing.  Right on the main drag, the building is reportedly haunted in typical Old South fashion.  The third floor is vacant which otherwise would be primo Savannah real estate so even if you don’t believe, enough people do that they refuse to go up there.  This concluded an East coast trip that included trips to several breweries in North Carolina and Georgia.  The original post is HERE is you want to revisit it.

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After we returned from vacation I jumped into my role on the Board of Directors for the Oregon Brew Crew, our homebrew club.  I served as Festival Coordinator, which involved recruiting volunteers to work the OBC info booth at beer festivals, coordinating with festival organizers about when and where we could set up, actually setting up the booth and making sure it stayed occupied (which included myself at the booth for an entire day at one festival).  It was fun and rewarding, but also very taxing.  It took me well out of my comfort zone as far as being a leader and working with large groups of people.  I learned a lot about myself and about group leadership and while it was very healthy for me to push and expand my boundaries, I’m very excited to step away and rejoin the club as just an average member.

In March was a very exciting event, the first annual Pacific Northwest Homebrewers Conference (PNWHC).  Held in Vancouver Washington the conference was meant to emulate the National Homebrewer Conference, but focusing in on the PacNW.  This years NHC was out on the East coast and a lot of us couldn’t make the trip, so perfect timing for something local.  The conference was set up pretty much exactly the same as the national one.  There were lots of seminars on every imaginable topic, an expo with equipment and ingredient vendors, a lot of whom are already based in this area anyway, a pro night banquet of all the local breweries and a club night banquet for all the local homebrew clubs.  Members and clubs came mostly from Oregon and Washington, but there were representatives from Montana, Idaho, Northern California and even Canada.  My wife volunteered to help run the conference since (at the time) she wasn’t brewing and not as interested in the seminars as I was and now is helping plan the 2017 PNWHC which should be even better!

In April, my wife graduated with her Masters degree and we went to Disneyland to celebrate.  We only visited one brewery while we were there, but it was a pretty cool one.  The Anaheim Brewery was in the Anaheim Packing District which is full of old citrus warehouses close to the historic downtown area.  It was neat to walk around a quieter section of Anaheim, even though it wasn’t really that far from Disney and the Convention Center area.

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June brought about perhaps the most exciting beer related event of the year as I started my new job as a Quality Analyst at Portland Brewing! One of the original Portland microbreweries along with Widmer and Bridgeport, PBCo has grown and partnered with Pyramid Breweries out of Seattle into a fairly large regional brewery.  I’ve learned a lot in the last 6 months and continue to learn daily, but the coolest thing is I get to make beer for a living! I don’t do any of the actual brewing, but I work daily with the brewers and monitor the fermentations from brew day to bottling day to make sure everything turns out as it should.  It’s amazing to see the difference between homebrewing and commercial brewing, especially large scale commercial brewing.

In July we celebrated my wife’s birthday with a trip out to Bend, which is a great beer town if you haven’t been.  We visited two breweries while we were out there, one small and one very large.  The small one was Cascade Lakes brewing, which we discovered by accident while we were out riding bikes, the large one was Deschutes.  We took the tour at Deschutes which was really cool and left there with a super nice growler full of beer, compliments of a friend who works there as a birthday present for my wife.

In September I had the opportunity to meet Jamil Zainasheff, who came to speak at one of our homebrew club meetings.  Jamil is pretty much a rockstar in the homebrew community.  Long time homebrewer with many gold medals in the National Homebrew Competition and several homebrewer of the year awards, went on to found Heretic Brewing, where true to the name he pretty much does whatever the Hell he wants.  I got two of Jamil’s books (and had him sign them) and got to speak to him briefly.  I hope to learn from him and it was a super cool experience.

In October we traveled to San Francisco on a very non-beer related trip (friends wedding) but I managed to sneak a couple places in.  While a large group went off of to be pampered at the spa, I took a stroll through the SoMa neighborhood headed towards AT&T Park.  I stopped at 21st Amendment on the way, which was much smaller than I was predicting it to be.  They obviously have a production brewery somewhere else for all those cans that make it as far as the East coast because the SanFran pub was small.  Not a bad thing, just a little shocked when I got there.  They didn’t have Back in Black on draft, although my coaster said otherwise.  I got the Brew Free or Die! IPA and it was quite nice.  As we were leaving San Fran (since it was near the airport) we stopped at Armstrong Brewing Co in South San Francisco, which is a brewery run by an NC State classmate of mine.  We took several of our food science and bioprocessing classes together.  I didn’t get a chance to see him, but it was super cool to stop by his place.

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Also in October, my wife brewed her first batch of homebrew and joined the American Homebrewers Association, so that was exciting.  She just brewed her second batch and is slowly dialing in a recipe for a Chocolate Orange Stout.  It’s already good and just going to get better.

In November, I started a small beer cellar and taking some detailed tasting notes on beers that I want to drink now, and then drink again a few years from now and see how they evolve.  This is a pretty drawn out, long term project, but the results will eventually make their way here on the blog.

2017 already has some pretty epic stuff lined up, so stay tuned!