Lush Life: Tiny Wolf and Portland’s Nanos

I’m forever deliberating over the impact nanobreweries can or do have on a city’s beer culture. For every Commons (nee Beetje) brewery in Portland or Hess in San Diego, there are seemingly a dozen more that think they can emulate that level of success. To find out what these nanobrewers want to get out of the brewing industry, and what they think can have to contribute, I went straight to the teensy-tiny sources in my August turn at the Mercury’s Lush Life column.

The Rural Brewer Spotlight: Siuslaw in Alsea

Alsea is the smallest town in all of Oregon with a brewery. Give or take, 164 people call it home. When I wrote the Oregon Breweries guidebook, I made it to each and every brewery in operation across the state. Several have opened since it was published and it burns me that I haven’t made it to all of those, as well, but, let’s face it, for city folk like me in Portland, it’s not often I find myself in Alsea. Truth of the matter is, I’d never heard of Alsea (named for the Alsea River and/or the Alsea tribe of Native Americans) until Siuslaw BrewingSiuslaw field (named, presumably, for the Siuslaw National Forest that occupies a tiny part of Alsea’s Benton County) put it on my map.

The 2nd The Rural Brewer Fest will be my first time trying their beer. It sounds pretty bad-ass since, get this, Duane and Jesse (the brewer) Miller grow their own hops. OK, a few other breweries do that, too. But they also grow some of their own barley and malt it themselves.

The farmhouse brewery—or rather, forest-house brewery—in Alsea is located in Benton County about halfway between I-5 and the coast 30 miles southwest of Corvallis. As such, its nearest breweries are ones like Block 15 and Flat Tail, but keep going and then the next closest ones are 45 miles farther including Yachats Brewing and Wolf Tree Brewing. Yeah, those are so rural they’re also featured at The Rural Brewer fest (as returnees!)

Wanna see it for yourself? As Miller said via FB DM, “We have a beautiful piece of property on the Alsea River and welcome all who want to stop by and see what we are doing. We brew many styles and continue to perfect our recipes. Hopefully we will meet up sometime!”

Those styles include an IPA and a Double Black IPA. A Blonde Belgian and a Strawberry Rhubarb Ale. There’s a wide range but as for what they’re bringing up to Portland, Grass Clippings is a cream ale brewed with barley grown on the farm (and again, malted there too), using a method that retains the fresh barley flavor.

 

The Rural Brewer Fest Spotlight: Chetco

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Photo: Chetco Brewing’s Facebook page.

Interested in attending the 2nd The Rural Brewer Fest on Sat., July 23 at the Hawthorne Hophouse? Get your tickets here.

Down in Brookings, named for a man named John Brookings, some 6,374 people reside in the picturesque coastal hamlet. That’s about 1% of Portland’s population. But whereas Portland has roughly one brewery for every 10,000 residents, Brookings–home to Chetco as well as Tight Lines and Misty Mountain breweries–boasts a 1:2,100 ratio. Clearly those who’ve followed in John Brookings’ footsteps love local beer. And while the first two aforementioned breweries didn’t even open until 2013, Chetco didn’t take long in establishing itself as a world class brewery by winning a silver medal for Block & Tackle Stout at the 2014 World Beer Cup.

While that onyx ale achieves a unique viscosity after aging for six months, and the resulting notes of baker’s chocolate achieve the right balance between a sweet and dry stout, it hardly seems like a fitting sample to enjoy at a summertime beer festival. Instead, brewer Mike Frederick, who co-founded the brewery with his wife Alex, will be pouring The Chetco Effect. This summer ale is a light, bright ale dry hopped with Sorachi Ace to give it a crisp lemon finish. It’s named for a weather phenom in Brookings (that you can read about here but they lost me at “adiabatic” in the first sentence.)

Mike loves brewing single-hopped IPAs and beers in general. “I just think it’s a fun thing,” he said to me over an IPA. “You get those particular characteristics.” One characteristic of some of Chetco’s beers that no other brewery has is that they boast his homegrown hops. The Fredericks have some 80 bines in their backyard, eleven varietals strong. Within three weeks of his first home brewed batch from the kit his wife, Alex, gave him, not only did he graduate to all-grain brewing but, said Mike, “I had ordered hop rhizomes so I could grow my own.” The brewery’s rooted in their DIY ethos having self-financed. Even the system comes with a good story, a nano-story that Mike sports on the back of his T-shirt. “A good friend lends you his awesome home brewing system. A great friend lets you open your microbrewery with it.” The friend in this tale is James Smith from Arch Rock Brewing up Highway 101, which, incidentally, has some gold medals under/over its belt so if anything The Rural Brewer Fest proves it’s that a beer trip to Oregon’s South Coast is in order!

The Rural Brewer spotlight: Boring

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Interested in attending the 2nd The Rural Brewer Fest on Sat., July 23 at the Hawthorne Hophouse? Get your tickets here.

Some city folk think rural towns are boring. But this place that’s more of a suburb of Portland—15 miles east sandwiched between Gresham and Sandy—is truly Boring. And it’s where John Griffith’s road to becoming a nanobrewer began in back 1989 when he grew obsessed–his word choice–with homebrewing, thanks to the likes of Charlie Papazian.

Griffith has never stopped championing the DIY approach to better beer. After years of dreaming about starting his own brewery, a little fate and a lot of paperwork allowed Griffith to brew commercially in an accessory building on his own property. Visitors used to have to look for the little sign he sets up out front on the sleepy street and then were greeting not by stainless steel equipment but his goats and chickens, who are happy beneficiaries of his spent grains. He launched Boring Brewing with a 5-barrel brewhouse in 2013 and earlier this year, March of 2016, he opened a Taproom (located at the corner of Hwy 212 and Richey Road next to the Boring Station Trailhead; you can get three crowlers for twenty bucks if he puts them on special.) Last year, Griffith produced just over 100 barrels.

Here seems like a fine time to interject: the city’s named after William H. Boring, a Union Army veteran who moved here after the Civil War. The town adopted its name in 1903. Also fun to note: Boring (population 8,000) is the sister city to Dull in Scotland.

As a radiology administrator, Griffith has worked in health care since 1983 and took up homebrewing in ’88. He did take also a weekend course in brewing science at University of California, Davis. In 1993 his porter took first place at the state fair.

The first Boring beer, RyPA, which he’d been honing since it was still the 20th century, went into fermentation tanks in late 2012 and debuted in early 2013. Hoppy Blonde, a true light-bodied blond with just enough of a floral kick to keep it from being, hm, uh . . . banal, has become his bestseller thanks to having more permanent tap handles than the others. Riffing off the name, Griffith introduced Big Yawn IPA as an even hoppier option. “I got feedback on the RyPA,” he said with an implied scratch of his head. “It didn’t have a big enough hop character for the Portland crowd.” For the sake of comparison, Big Yawn makes folks open wide for its 7.5 percent ABV backed with 75 IBUs. This, my friends, is the beer you’ll get to sample again at this year’s The Rural Brewer Fest.

Liking them apples

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When the CBC hit Portland last year, I said, Man, I gotta write something about this for the Portland Mercury. Which I did. (Then, once the hangover waned, I recapped CBC events for 1859.) When, a year later (present date), CiderCon was heading to, uh, Cidervana, I pitched doing a bigger story and maybe we put it on the cover and really show those cider makers from other places outside the Northwest how big fermented apples are here and what a true cider city looks and reads like. They bought it. Even cooler, I somehow finagled an assignment for 1,800 words into 3,000. Clearly, there’s a lot to say about cider.

 

Barley, Hops, Water and…Yogurt?

From BeerAdvocate Magazine #103:

No one raises their eyebrows when black currants are used in a beer these days, but yogurt? To create the desired tartness and acidity in The Commons Brewery’s Biere Royale—a riff on the cassis-based Kir Royale cocktail—head brewer Sean Burke pitched tubs of the stuff. Specifically Nancy’s brand Greek yogurt. Burke is from Eugene, Ore., not far from the creamery’s location. Plus, it was in his fridge. Remarkably, the creation of that beer for the 2013 Portland Fruit Beer Festival is one the first uses of Lactobacillus found in unpasteurized yogurt to acidify beer. Instead of extensive aging in barrels inoculated with acid-producing bacteria, Burke went with a probiotic-rich dairy product.

“We knew we wanted to have a high amount of acidity,” said Burke at the time. “We took Nancy’s Greek yogurt and created a starter and soured in the kettle. Nancy’s has multiple strains of Lactobacillus… We mashed into the mash tun, lautered into the kettle, then soured the collected wort.”

 

Coin Toss Brewing: “Beer Geek” Talker Turns Brewer

unnamed-3Coin Toss Brewing Co. is a new brewery from homebrewer Tim Hohl, KPAM Radio’s news director, coming to the Portland suburb of Oregon City, with great assistance from veteran brewer Dave Fleming. That sentence is my attempt at SEO optimization. HT: Ezra Johson-Greenough of The New School.

We all know the proverb, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” but for KPAM radio news director Tim Hohl, host of the Thursday-ly “Beer Geek” segment, it’s never been about beating brewers but championing them. Since 2011, Hohl has interviewed plenty of brewers along with publicans, hop growers and, back in January, yours truly.

“The more time I’ve spent telling stories about the craft beer industry, the more I’ve wanted to be a part of it,” said Hohl. “The people, the creativity, and the collaborative spirit are an inspiration. Plus I love history and the idea of merging it with my love of craft beer.”

Hohl was kind enough to interview me for his show and I’m delighted to get to return the favor now that he has announced his new brewery venture, Coin Toss Brewing. Technically, the brewery’s grand opening is this summer, but I coin-cidentally sampled his first brew, George’s Honest Ale, at Growlers Hawthorne a couple weeks back.

The clever name is homage to pioneers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove (y’know, the guys for whom those NW streets four blocks apart in Alphabet City are named after) who, instead of rochambeauing for the right to name our fair city after their own places of origin, decided to go best-out-of-three on a simple coin toss. Lovejoy, from Boston, lost. Pettygrove, from Maine, won. The infamous toss off, incidentally, occurred not in Portland proper but in Oregon City, which is where Coin Toss Brewing will open as a 10-barrel brewery in a 1,400 square foot space at 14210 Fir St, Suite H.

As for George’s Honest Ale, it’s part of Coin Toss’s “Heritage Series.” To learn more about it, I joined Tim and his “beer swami” (Hohl’s quote), Dave Fleming, one of Oregon’s most prolific brewers (whose c.v. includes the Lucky Lab, Lompoc, McMenamins Old St. Francis School (Bend), Three Creeks (Sisters), Coalition, Kells, and probably several more. I found them at Belmont Station enjoying some shift beers, having spent the day gypsy brewing at Coalition.

unnamed-2Brian: On your program, you asked me to prognosticate if brewers may return to “more traditional flavors.” I see you were asking out of self-interest!! What is the Heritage Series and what does returning to traditional flavors mean to you?

Tim: Simple has a lot to do with it. I’ve been a big believer in Simple since this project started. I want to take us back to where we started, see what others have done that was successful—even if that’s 200 years ago—and recreate it.”

Dave: ‘Where we started’ also means ‘We as craft brewers.’ (That’s) 1992 to me. Beer was simple and IPA wasn’t even a thing then. We made it at the Lab in ‘94/95. Didn’t have to put the UK designation on it. [Ed.’s note: here Fleming means that any truly-balanced, moderately-bitter IPA today gets ridiculed as a “UK-style IPA.”] That’s simple, too, but that’s just 20 years ago. Beer was much simpler. It wasn’t Sea Salt Caramel Chocolate Hefeweisse.”

Tim: With our interpretation of the George Washington beer, you look at the ingredients, it’s so simple: molasses, one grain and yeast…(and) we showed the hops the beer basically. Our interpretation is based on his journal entry that leaves room for interpretation. He used ingredients available to them: 6-row barley indigenous to the colonies at that time. Cluster hops. And yeast.

Brian: If we’re talking simple, that was pre Louis Pasteur. Early 1800s versus late 1800s. (The implication being: Washington didn’t pitch yeast.)

Tim: It’s just about inspiration. I’m sure the beer that Henry Weinhard first brewed when he moved to Oregon was awful by today’s standards. So imagining what was beer like then. No specific goal in mind, just a love of history and beer.

Brian: A Rockwellian approach to brewing.

Dave: Exactly. And there were no light beers then. Pale malt wasn’t available at the time. All beers were dark.

Brian: Good segue. Earlier you guys were brewing your planned flagship, Black Hole CDA. A decidedly modern/non-historic beer. How’d that come about?

Tim: I like hops. I like dark beer.

That simple. Here, Tim and Dave went back’n’forth trying to recall the specifics of how Black Hole came about, but the gist is that Tim first homebrewed it circa 2011 and late that year, after having Dave on his Beer Geek show.

Tim: I forced my homebrew on him. He was nice enough to try it.

Dave: It was good.

That led to an invitation to brew it as a pro-am collab at Lompoc early 2012. They take it as a given that the beer’s really named Black Hohl, but they’re hoping Soundgarden sues them for copyright infringement that’d make them famous. No. I just made that up.

Tim: I made it. Dave just over-hopped it.

Here Dave worked in an anecdote about making the first true Cascadian Dark Ale in 2006, inadvertently. He was supposed to be making an IPA at Three Creeks and simply blindly dumped a bag of grain in he thought was placed by the mash tun for him. That “mistake,” his words, turned into Three Creeks’ 8 Seconds India Black Ale.

Tim: That’s how it went from just being a hobby and interest and part of the radio show to thinking, ‘I’d really like to do this.’ Maybe it was a fantasy before then. But it’s more than just making the beer. It’s being part of the craft beer community. I love it and respect it so much. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experience in my competitive day job career. Cutthroat. In beer, it’s collaborative. It’s like Don Younger said, a rising tide raises all ships.

Brian: And you’ll continue to do the radio show?

Tim: “Beer Geek” has been on the air since 2011. I’ve been covering the beer industry for much longer than that but finally had my own weekly segment. As a reporter…it won’t change. There are still countless stories to tell. I like a good story.

And then I had to dart out of Belmont Station and pick up my kid. Tim’s a good guy and speaking of good stories, when we’d talked about the brick’n’mortar tasting room, he explained that he lives in West Linn but, perhaps channeling Sarah Palin, “I can see Oregon City from my house.” Coin Toss’s official launch will coincide with the Spring Beer & Wife Festival over Easter. Hohl expects to have the Coin Toss brewery and taproom open by July. By then, it might be home to five new breweries. Feckin’ and Oregon City Brewing are already open. Bent Shovel and Shattered Oak are also in the works. That got him fantasizing about a Clackamas County Brewers Fest including Fearless, Mt. Hood, Bunsenbrewer, and the forthcoming Drinking Horse. “It’s not Bend overnight,” Tim said, “but it could be a new craft beer destination.”