All the IBUS, None of the ABVs

OREGON HOP SPRINGS

The concept of “Dry January” took off a decade ago and finally landed on my radar a few years ago, but as a beer writer, what use have I of non=alcoholic beverages to write about? It turns out, when these soft drinks are hopped, I’ve got at least two occasions to cover ’em. The first was in Drynuary 2020 and then again Drynuary 2022 with a local (to Bend) twist. Here are some great hoppy N/A beverages for a thirsty nation via The Takeout and here’s some available to Central Oregonians via Bend Source Weekly.

Winter Warmers from my Winter Wonderland

It seems every month offers something new I’m completely pumped about getting to experience for the “first” time as a full-time Bend resident. Certainly, even in Portland, Bend breweries are well represented so it’s not like these are all new to me, but whereas Portland winters are usually dreary, Bend winter is cheery. There were snowmen on every block until the snow turned back to rain these last couple of days. But I won’t let that rain on my parade. Or my batch of favorite “winter warmers.” I tried to limit this round-up to just five, but I sorta snuck in a pair from five different local breweries. Sue me.

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How a Beer Writer Writes About Wine

As the great American philosopher Fred Eckhardt declared, “Listen to your beer.” And since beer speaks to people, at least those smart enough to listen and thoughtful enough to hear it, it speaks of hops growing on the bines, amber waves of barley blowing in the field, or yeast hitchhiking on the breeze.

Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk’s beer obviously sings to him. He, along with brothers Brian and Doug Coombs, are the composers behind Alesong Brewing and Blending in Eugene, Oregon. And while they create a wide range of barrel-matured beers from earthy saisons to viscous imperial stouts, no doubt it’s the emphasis on vinous, wild ales that is music to sour beer lovers’ ears. But if their newest GABF medals are any indication, they could almost rename the brewery WineAlesong. And there are others singing similar tunes. For this reason, I got to write about those brewing at the intersection of wine and beer for CraftBeer.com.

I Kinda Have a Thing for Coffee Beers

Naturally, the guy (me) who puts on a coffee beer festival (Baker’s Dozen) is into putting coffee in beer. And the style(s) that make the most sense is/are stouts and porters because of their innate coffee-ness. But we’ve come a long way, baby. For over a decade, ever since the Brewers Association introduced what was then called the “Coffee Flavored Beer” category at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival, the winners have been exclusively stouts or porters infused with coffee. It wasn’t until 2014 that Milwaukee’s MobCraft Beer broke the streak with a beer I’m not sure I’m allowed to name on CraftBeer.com where I wrote this story…but its “PG-name” would be “Guano” Crazy built on a brown ale base. Suffice it to say, I’m guano-crazy about coffee beers.

Bayou Berry Beers

Strawberry_HeroThe last story I’d written for CraftBeer.com narrowly focused on beers made with sage. So to zoom in even deeper, I didn’t just write about beers made with strawberries (not a broad category) but zoomed in on strawberry beers made in Louisiana, where they take their strawberry beers very seriously.  In fact, the North American Strawberry Growers Association represents commercial farmers in 40 states, but none of them seem to take up the mantle of celebrating this crop in their craft beers more than the Pelican State. Yeah you right

I’m a beer sage

epicsageI love herbal beers but I particularly think sage works wonders in the right beer. But good luck pitching a story about the so-narrow-it’s-nearly-two-dimensional field of sage beers. Unless there’s a hook, a peg, an angle. Hence, I waited months until I figured CraftBeer.com would want something on Thanksgiving beers, especially ones to suggest that aren’t flavored like pumpkin pie! And since a good stuffing mix and turkey brine includes sage, well, here’s a round-up of beers so sagey, they’re sagacious.

The Session #126: Hazy, Cloudy, Juice IPAs

sessionWhen I first started beer blogging, I was an avid Sessioner. Alack, I’ve been remiss of late and see that I participated once a year since 2013. That ends now. I’m recommitting myself (even if a few days late). And happily that means jumping back in as my friends Gail Williams and Steve Shapiro up at Beer By BART ask us to sniff on this:

(The) still-emerging – though no longer new – unofficial beer style. This kind of beer has gotten so much buzz (and some mocking) in the last decade and a half that it’s surprising it has not come up on The Session yet.  New England, Vermont-inspired, Northeastern, Hazy, Juicy or whatever you like to call these low-bitterness, hop flavorful beers, they are being made everywhere now and people are definitely buying them. So fire up your keyboard – let’s hear about your own encounters with these strange IPAs.

I like beer, all kinds of it in fact. And I certainly care more about the end result—its overall pleasantness as a factor of aroma, texture, and flavor—than I do about what style the brewer calls it or if it’s the “right” beer to be drinking either in terms of popularity or seasonal appropriateness. As such, when half the beer lovers I know are enamored of New England IPAs and the other half abhor the idea of opaque IPAs, I guess I’m firmly in the camp of take it or leave it.

I do faintly recall my first Heady Topper. It garnered a live-action Meh emoji. At the time, living in close proximity to Russian River and ergo fresh Pliny the Elder, I just figured the can I’d been handed (unsure how long it had been in transit) was the East Coast’s best stab at a bold IPA. It didn’t pop the way PtE does. Maybe I’d have dubbed it Pliny the Middle-aged. By the time I had it a second time, I was actually in the state of Vermont where the can at the Burlington airport failed to meet the tastiness of even the other Vermont-style IPAs I’d naturally sampled at breweries like Prohibition Pig (established in the same space where the Alchemist Pub suffered its fateful flood), FOAM, and one a bit less off the hype-grid, 14th Star Brewing up in St. Alban (where Verizon charged me as if I was in Quebec because it’s so close to the border). Their B-72 Double IPA, I got the sense, was brewed begrudgingly for tourists clamoring for this marketing terroir, but it really was hazy/juicy/smooth and I’d happily drink it again if I’m in Vermont. Because when in Rome.

There are signs NEIPA is in full-fledged fad mode, and it’s fast-tracking all the fads IPA itself has gone through. We’ve seen NEB(lack)IPA (or as I’d prefer to call it: a New England Cascadian Dark Ale—a hilarious oxymoron given that it’s both New England and Pacific Northwest in origin and would probably be brewed out of the Midwest). Oh, and we’ve seen the Citrus-infused NECDA!

 

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An afternoon visit to M Special Brewing in Goleta, CA. What’s in that snifter above?

Oh, and speaking of NEIPAs from Cascadia, back in Portland—which I already miss greatly—the first brewery to jump on the Vermont wagon was Great Notion Brewing. Their Juice Box (8.2%) and Juice, Jr. (6%) set the tone for PDX’s race to out-NE everyone, wherein even early poo-pooers are now hazing to the max. Among Great Notion’s litany of beers with the word “Ripe” in the name and “New England” in the description, there was one called Orange Creamsicle IPA. I’d never had Tree House’s infamous Julius—nor have I had it yet—but my first sip of Orange Creamsicle, made with both orange and vanilla flavors—instantly brought me back to my childhood spent at Orange Julius. And I think that’s why some adult beer drinkers slag these adult-beverages that sorta-somehwat appeal to more juvenile palates. They are fruity and juicy and sweet and, well, nostalgic. But hey, it’s not like the industry doesn’t have its share of famous beers that famously taste like Mexican chocolate cake or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so there’s no reason to get sanctimonious about what other people enjoy in their glass of beer.

 

All kidding or ribbing aside, I just enjoyed a few beers at one of my new local breweries, M Special in Goleta, where I got a beer they honestly dubbed an NEIPL. And you all remember how much you scoffed the first time you saw the IPL acronym. Back to my original point, I only care if the beer I’m drinking is good, not if it’s a good style. And it had all the attributes those five letters denote: it was certainly citrus and tropical fruit forward, more sweet/less bitter, and some of the clean, crisp expression of lagering over top/warm fermenting you’d look for in a lager and before you get all bunched up that lagers are ultra clear, then you need to have a kellerbier my friend. I think even some progressive German brewers could clearly see their way to appreciating an NEIPL or NEIPA, even if they can’t see through it clearly.

Just how sour

Edit: This story was awarded 2nd place in the Technical Writing category at the 2017 North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) awards. While I’m extremely grateful to the judges, it’s humbling yet a li’l embarrassing that the estimable technical beer writer Randy Mosher placed 3rd for this cool story, “Hot Process: Exploring the role of heat in brewing” in All About Beer. Stan Heironymus took 1st place with his story on brewing with honey, also in AAB.

Remember Top Secret? Remember that great song in it, How Silly Can You Get? That’s how I think of a lot of beers. How alcoholic can you get? Brewmeister’s Snake Charmer has an ABV of 67.5% How bitter can you get? Flying Monkey’s Alpha-fornication packs 2,500 IBU. From OG/FG to SRM, brewers have a lot of measurements and acronyms to tell the consumer just how something something is. For sour heads, ours may come in the form of TA. Titratable Acidity. Firestone Walker Brewing isn’t the first to use TA in their lab, but they are the first to put how quantifiably sour their beer is right on the label of their funky Barrelworks offerings.

Now, a quick word about this story on Titratable Acidity just published in the November issue of BeerAdvocate: it’s crazy heavy on the chemistry-spiel, and I barely passed high school chemistry. I do this from time to time–I really challenge myself to wrap my head around a story. I had never heard the word “titratable” or “titration/titrating” before pitching this. I bludgeoned these poor master brewers, master blenders, and folks with Ph.D.s in food and brewing science with questions first so I could begin to understand what’s going on with the acidity in certain beers–specifically what types of acids are present and how they got there–and once I felt semi-comfortable with that, I had to write it up for the readers who didn’t have the same access I got. SO… if you think this story is “TL;DR” just imagine poor little me for whom it was nearly TL;DW. (And here I massively applaud my editor at BA, Ben Keene, for whom this must’ve been challenging to no end but did a masterful job, even if he originally assigned me 1,800 words, then caved and gave me 2,000, and somehow got it way, way down to 2,300!)

Draft: Craft Lightens Up

Funny where inspiration will hit. For me, it was at a G. Love concert at a music venue that serves beer from such dirty tap lines I’d vowed never to drink there again. Until I made a valuable discovery. Actually, it was a $2 discovery.

For an industry defined by its antithesis to cheap, macro light lagers, does its growth hinge on emulating that model?

Is Pale Passé?

From BeerAdvocate #114:

In 1983, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale medaled at the Great American Beer Festival. Not in the Pale Ale category, mind you, but it was one of three beers singled out for honors in the Consumer Preference Poll. At the time, the beer was just three years old. Today, 33 years later, the brand remains the tippy-top selling craft brewed beer in America. Brian Grossman, 31, is Sierra Nevada co-founder Ken Grossman’s son and manages the company’s second brewing facility in Mills River, N.C. He proclaims that he absolutely drinks this beer every week. “[Pale Ales are] the Swiss army knives of beers,” he says. “They’re about 5 percent [alcohol], mid-30s IBU, have nice hoppiness, go great with a wide variety of foods, and are sessionable.”

According to Chicago-based market researcher firm IRI, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a $130 million juggernaut, but “Pale” has diversified and split off in hoppier, bolder directions. It has evolved past its original, caramel malt-driven British template. It has even morphed beyond the brasher, hop-centric American iterations. Name a brewery that opened between 1980 and the early 2000s though, and it most likely featured a Pale Ale prominently in its core line-up—even if that wasn’t the flagship brand.

And then India happened.