The Rural Brewer

The-Rural-Brewer-2-300x139-1Equal parts spotlight on Oregon’s most remote breweries (and no, I don’t just mean distance from Portland) that I found myself slogging to on the open road while working on Oregon Breweries, as well as homage to the running gag about the Broadway show (or was it a Lifetime movie?), The Rural Juror, on 30-Rock, The New School was kind enough to start this series. Here are the ones I’ve profiled so far. I promise more to come. I mean, Burns, Ore?

1. Fire Cirkl Braggot-brewery in White City (Dec. 13)

2. Wolf Tree in Seal Rock (Jan. 14)

3. 1188 Brewing in John Day (Apr. 14)

San Diego is the Greatest Beer City. San Diego is Not the Greatest Beer City.

I might have been inclined to call pitting San Diego against Portland a fool’s errand, since both of them are clearly so awesome. But my editor Ezra Johnson-Greenough gave me explicit instructions: “don’t pull your punches (and) at least take off your gloves and slap someone with them.” Hence the above-linked blog from March 2014 in The New School.

So as a solid to him, rather than bring up, and then put on par, places like Boulder/Denver/Ft. Collins, the Bay Area, Asheville, Grand Rapids, Philly, Austin, Vermont, and others that all make reasonable claims, I will do what Portlanders are too polite (or dismissive) to do during Charlie Papazian’s annual BeerTown USA poll. Bottom line: in terms of volume and global awe and respect, it comes down to Portland, Oregon, and San Diego, California. And as everyone who’s seen The Highlander knows, there can be only one!

It’s a debate I didn’t start. And one I didn’t finish. It’s blazing ever brighter today. A half pint for your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

Of Bikes, Bakeries, and Brouwerijs

I moved to Amsterdam at the end of October, but instead of finding dozens of pumpkin beers, I was greeted by scores of bocks. It’s really the only seasonal specialty beer that the Dutch do, so I’ve already jumped ahead. My wife was offered a job that would relocate our family to Amsterdam for a couple years, and that just didn’t seem like an offer worth refusing. If a European vacation is nice, a two-year stint must be amazing. Two months into it, we have successfully stopped thinking of ourselves as tourists on holiday. We are Dutch now–if being Dutch means that I’ve tried all 27 bakeries within a four block radius, anyway.

Death Rides a Pale Horse Brewing

In the span of traversing the state of Oregon researching veteran as well as rookie breweries, it stands to reason some soldiers will fall on the battlefield. But are they squeezed out of the marketplace or does their ticker simply stop…ticking? I found myself in Salem anyway, so I took the time to pop across the street from one that was still under construction to visit the not-young owner of one that was in the midst of selling off parts. Here’s that story for The New School on Pale Horse Brewing and the intriguing discussion about what leads a brewery to fail in the comments section.

95% Asshole Free

I don’t recall the specific conversation that inspired this post for The New school, but that’s probably the point–that it wasn’t one straw that broke this camel’s back.

It used to be said that the craft beer industry was “asshole free.” Then someone made that figure a bit more realistic and many now refer to it as “99% asshole free.” For years, that was entirely true. Now? I begrudgingly consider it 95% asshole free. That’s still amazingly better than you’re apt to find in any other industry, social scene, or grouping of any sort. Look at the people in the last classroom you were in. In the last office job you have/had. In your family, even. The fact is, whether you’re a brewer, a beertender, an avid beer fan, or in some way connected to the craft beer milieu, odds are you’re a pretty great guy or gal. I look forward to our next or first beer together. (Unless you think I fit into the 5% of jerkwads, in which case go eff yourself.)

For a long time, there was a sense that it was one-for-all and all-for-one among the band of brewers, at least all the little guys versus the few big guys. That’s changing. Not on the whole or in giant leaps, but I’ve noticed some disparaging comments here, or there some snide remarks pointed at a new or neighboring brewery. Obviously those utterances don’t make the utterer an asshole in any overall sense—there’s a big difference between being an asshole and just acting like one—but brewers are saying some assholish things about their colleagues.

IPA is Dead. Long live IPA.

A month after my debut muckraking post for The New School (April ’13), I had some fun again both by declaring IPA dead and, more egregious to publisher Ezra and the beer community on the whole, announcing that another editor of mine, Willy Week’s Martin Cizmar, was “right.” Again, the comments blew up. I can see how this kind of needling is addictively fun.

Oh, my central tenet? “White chocolate is not chocolate. It’s a derivative of chocolate containing cocoa butter, but chocolate requires actual cocoa! If I sauté broccoli in cocoa butter did I make green chocolate? White chocolate is an abomination used to sell a disgusting confectioner’s creation using a delicious marketing name.”

No-no to Nanos

In a way, this is my first real blog post for The New School. The blog’s creator, Ezra Johnson-Greenough, earned a reputation for landing somewhere between a button-pusher and in-your-face. He’d probably call it “brutally honest” or “constructive criticism.” Whatever the style, it works. The site’s really quite popular among beer geeks. More than my previous or this current blog will ever be. And that’s a fact he liked to brandish my way. But guess what. I can do that, too. I tried to temper my goat-getting with enough blunt comments about my tongue-in-cheek nature of this post but even that went over a few people’s foamy heads. I’m too lazy to look up the number of hits, but I know it immediately became one of the most clicked stories on the site. Funny stuff.

Oh yeah, the story. It was called No-no to Nanos with the premise that, “Basically, oxymoronically, nanobrewers are like professional homebrewers” and that they should do ME a solid and keep it in the garage.

Ale Apothecary

In my first real contribution to Ezra Johnson-Greenough’s New School Beer Blog (Feb. ’13), I decided to sort of workshop the entry I was writing for Oregon Breweries knowing it was a rough draft for the book that wouldn’t be published for nearly two years to come. It also enabled me to publish the story long before the print magazine whose photographer severely delayed my interview with brewer Paul Arney despite my huge time crunch.

The Ale Apothecary will never be a spot on the well-trodden/sloshy Bend Ale Trail. It’s ten miles out of downtown way up in the mountains. There’s no pub. No merch wall. Founder Paul Arney is a man who, after 15 years at Deschutes working his way up to assistant brewmaster, set up his own brewery and has the finished Finnish kuurna to show for it.