Liking them apples


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?

Edit: This story was awarded 1st place in the “Short Form” category at the 2016 North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) awards.

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.”

Over a Pint: Ian McGuinness of Natian Brewery

I interview brewers all the time and frequently socialize with them, too, but typically at some type of beerfest or event. Of my own work, I’ve frequently said I’m a beer writer who really writes about people. So here’s the idea, the goal, and not only am I going to keep this going, but I’m putting it out there that everyone with some type of beer blog should participate.

“Over a pint.” Sort of in the vein of The Session kicked off by Stan Hiernymous exactly 8 years ago in 2007 and still going strong. The Session entails a different blogger each month conceiving a disparate topic related to beer wherein everyone aims for that target and then said blogger hosts the discussion on his or her web-log. Since The Session claims First Friday of the month, how’s about Last Monday for Over a Pint?! I’ll link to everyone’s “OaP” left in the comments or tagged on Twitter. I’m envisioning just two instructions.

  1. Head out with someone who brews for a living and talk to them over a pint (or more) without recording it or taking any notes. Just chat. About stuff.
  2. Don’t do it at the brewery’s pub or tasting room.

This is what I did the other night. Here goes. Oh, and maybe each installment of Over a Pint can start with the most basic of templates like this:

I neglected to pull out my iPhone and take a pic so here's Ian's Facebook profile

I neglected to pull out my iPhone and take a pic so here’s Ian’s Facebook profile

Name: Ian McGuinness

Brewery: Natian

Professional brewing experience: Since 2009 (I’d list every brewery Ian has brewed at but it

At some point a few years ago, Ian and his then girlfriend Natalia suggested getting together for a beer at one of his favorite watering holes, Laurelthirst on NE Glisan. It’s not hip but it’s not a dive. It’s primarily a live music venue with two bands nightly and there’s tchotchkes everywhere like an old toboggan, a rocking chair, and I think a mandolin on the wall above the bar. I’d say there’s about 20 taps if that.

Over the years, whenever I’d talk to Ian, the idea of going there would come up but it just never happened. So we made it happen. At this point, Natalia’s long out of the picture but I don’t feel badly bringing her up. She’s the first half of the brewery’s namesake. Oh yes. It was Nat and Ian’s one barrel nanobrewery. Nat + Ian. Natian (pronounced “Nation”). He’s now working on a 10-barrel system and the guy who I gather is Natian’s sole but lofty employee, Dave, also joined us. When I got there they’d grabbed a table because it fills up by 6 for the music and they were drinking pints of stout. He pleaded that I go get a pitcher of the stout and, not that I’m getting paid for this so no need for any “full disclosure” but he said to put it on his tab. I did. And I simply ordered “a pint of the stout” from the bartender. She came back with a pitcher of Pelican Tsunami Stout.

Neither Ian nor Dave noticed. Noticed what? That it was Pelican’s 7% export-style stout (winner of seven GABF medals since 1998) and not Natian McGuinness Imperial Milk Stout at over 9% ABV. Then again, the folks at Diageo haven’t noticed the McGuinness Stout either.

As the band kicked in, we naturally had to shout to try to hear each other. Being a regular, he pointed to a tall, lanky, middle-aged guy with a button down shirt tucked into his slacks and warned us that he’d soon start dancing like Elaine from that famous Seinfeld episode. He was dead right. The whole night.

I know Ian is from Pennsylvania and has lived in Austin, Texas—a state he’d previously sworn never to live in but really Austin’s Texas’s anti-matter—so I’m not really sure how the subject of Florida came up, but I know he lived there, too. It’s one of three states I’ve never visited and am afraid to ever go. The weirdest stuff happens there. But he was saying how his bosses at the company he worked for all really liked it (since their offices overlooked the beach). That company, I thought I heard him say, was Slim Jim. Loud music. Turned out to be Slim Fast, which is almost as bizarre, but for a good minute I had visions of Ian shoveling Godknowswhat animal parts and some cayenne pepper into a grinder.

Another topic of conversation was the breaking news of Portland’s latest next brewery, One Nation Brewing. They’re building out on SE Division, a direct 1.5 mile walk down from Natian Brewery. It’s fair to say Ian’s a bit perturbed especially since he contacted them and they confirmed they were aware of Natian. I highly doubt anyone would try to open a brewery by adding a number and changing one vowel to an ‘O.” One Widmor anyone? Funnily enough, there was a recent news story about a brewery set to open in Missoula, Montana called One Nation (but they’ve since opened as Imagine Nation.) Given the other –ation/-ition breweries in Portland—Migration, Coalition, and now Culmination, you’d think One Nation could’ve made a smarter naming decision. If they’re into the whole “Under God” thing from the Pledge of Allegiance,” might I suggest IntOneNation (like how we use our voice). Time will tell how this pans out, but I loved the idea that Dave chimed in with: calling Natian’s next beer “One Notion” since in some universe changing an ‘A’ to an ‘O’ or vice versa is sufficient differentiation.

It didn’t dominate the night’s conversation quite the way Mr. Dancing Pants did. Which got me thinking how it’s too bad Ian hadn’t been dating someone named Elaine (who preferably doesn’t dance like that iconic character). He could’ve called his brewery Elatian. Everyone wants to be elated as they drink beer. Then again, his new lady friend joined us by the time our second pitcher, this time a proper McGuinness Stout, and her name is Mary. If One Nation sues Ian after operating successfully for five years and wins, maybe he can check to see how John Harris over at the galactic-themed Ecliptic would feel if he changed the name to Martian.

Deluxe Brewing/Sinister Distilling in Albany

Deluxe Brewing in Albany, OR

Howie manning the bar at Deluxe Brewing in Albany, OR

Technically I’ve been to Deluxe. But I hadn’t really BEEN. That is, I hadn’t tried their beer because when I visited on tour for the book, Eric “Howie” Howard was just building out his brewery/distillery or as they call it, “brewstillery.” Albany isn’t exactly the brightest star in Oregon’s brewery constellation but with Deluxe it now hosts two such businesses (the other being Calapooia a short walk down the road along the tracks).


Unless you’re really looking for it

The space is a large warehouse sectioned off with the brewing equipment, the bar area replete with a ping pong table (I didn’t find any takers during my visit which means I’m undefeated on the tennis table), and the “other” space as you walk in with two vintage pickup trucks and seating for anyone with minors. There’s a dry-erase board for local food options and a pretty good bbq cart parked outside. To pair with my brisket sandwich, I had the Pure Sin Schwarzbier, a dry, no-roast onyx lager at an ideal 4.7% ABV.

Howie said it’ll be a few months til he has any of his spirits available in bottles. There’s something pretty cool about a whiskey with a beer back that all originated paces from the bar. No sooner had he poured me a beer than he was whisked away to lead a tour that, since my seat in the 21+ area was within ear shot, sounded like an educational discussion of the brewing process conducted via a homebrew setup and a fridge/kegerator.


It’s what’s on tap

Albany is not Corvallis (though their flagship is Wild Beaver, which isn’t a spontaneously fermented lager as beer geeks might hope for but an amber or Vienna-style lager.) But if you’re looking for something on the truly wild side, their brewer named Bobby had a “Black Wine Ale” on tap. Far from something like a 13.8% black barleywine, it’s actually a 3.8% schwarz fermented with red wine yeast. I liked it. Maybe even more than Howie. I’d be curious what some lager-loving Germans would say.

Of Oregon IPAs

unnamed-1I’m currently at the Hawthorne Hophouse, having just completed my sampler flight of 15 of the “best” Oregon-brewed IPAs (half priced at $6 on Mondays).

“Fifteen? Surely you mean 12, you drunken reprobate!” you might have caught yourself exclaiming.

No, I mean 15 because after I ran through the dozen IPAs (no Imperials, no Sessions, no Grapefruit-infused, no sage-pomegranate aged in tequila barrels for a year while having daily positive affirmations recited to it by the lead brewer), I asked if they’d deliver a run-off of my 3 faves to really seal the deal.

All January long, both Hophouse houses are running this event: a blind flight of 12 IPAs for 12 bucks ($6 on Mondays) and the winner, after voting solely based on taste and not presumptions, goes on the 1-tap for the whole year. Spoiler alert: There are no spoilers in this blog post.

It can easily be argued that if there are 185 brewing companies in Oregon (by MY count and I promise that’s up-to-date as of 1-5-15), then there are in the vicinity of 235 IPAs so how can they have narrowed it down to only a dozen? I hear you and agree, but take it up with their mgmt. For my part, I thought the 12 they selected were good calls based on reputation and taste. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Hophouse…

unnamedOrder the flight and they bring you a tray of twelve 2.5-oz samples. Just enough to give you a good enough idea of which ones you liked, which ones you didn’t, and which ONE you loved. As alluded to, I loved three. What blew me away was that I told my wait person I suspected they were all new to my personal pantheon but, in fact, were actually the two of the three I would’ve picked based purely on assumption and bias. FWIW, my 4th place vote was one I always put in my Top 3. BTW, I have 5 top threes.

The blind tasting runs all month long. I’ll post a follow-up around February 1st with my tasting notes, scores, and the eventual winner. But for now, here are the IPAs as they appear on taps 1-12 on Hawthorne:

1. Boneyard RPM

2. Hop Valley Alphadelic

3. Crux Outcast

4. Breakside IPA

5. Ninkasi Total Domination

6. Ft. George Vortex

7. Laurelwood Workhorse

8. GoodLife Descender

9. Gigantic IPA

10. Migration Luscious Lupulin

11. Barley Brown’s Pallet Jack

12. Double Mtn. Hop Lava.

What do you currently claim as your favorite Oregon IPA? Are there any you feel they blatantly left off the list? Will you come in and “vote”? Hoppy New Year.

Bull Ridge Brewpub: R.I.P.

The guidebook Oregon Breweries is mere weeks old but the nature of the Oregon brewing scene is so fluid in nature, there are already a few brewing companies serving us that aren’t fully introduced in the book as well as one that is no more. In full candor, I have a mental list of a very small handful of breweries that I feel are not long for this world. In rare instances, it’s because the beer’s just not worth selling. In most instances, I just don’t see them being able to get their product into a sustainable number of thirsty mouths. Heck, maybe in such a Venn diagram there’s a large intersection. In any event, I had Baker City’s Bull Ridge pegged for the brewery obituary section and lo and behold, they’ve perished.

Rip page 197 out of Oregon Breweries. No, don’t! Double Mountain is on page 198 and they’re never going anywhere!

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 3.37.58 PMAs seen in the screen shot above, I’d even contacted this brazen brewpub that bid to build Baker City into a two-brewery town alongside Barley Brown’s. Scroll through the comments on this thread this yarn and you’ll see there’s little love lost in town. The owners were inexperienced both in the restaurant game and the brewing biz. Two things pretty vital for operating a successful brewpub even here in Portland let alone a town of fewer than 10,000 people with tourism seasons that are more shoulder than peak.

On the upside, Barley Brown’s runs both the pub and the “Baker City Brewing” tasting room across the street, so Baker City’s still, technically, a two brewery town.