I don’t get to do it that often, but that’s just a sign I need to pitch more spirits stories. The latest occasion was an assignment from Willy Week for this week’s Spirits Guide (though why I’m not listed in the guide’s contributors, I’ll take as an egregious slight) with the task: uncover the den of moonshiners and bootleggers, minus the bootlegging. I’m happy with the feedback I’ve received, even if much of it centered around, “Are you back in town?”
As I’d commented to the fine gent, who shall remain nameless for legal purposes, who poured me his homemade brandy, grappa, and more, I don’t catch myself drinking much brandy, grappa, and more. First and foremost I’m a bourbon lover, with other whisk(e)ys rounding out the bulk of my spirits consumption, and of course mixed cocktails. When I drank to drink in my youth, I went from silly stuff (Rusty Nails and whiskey sours to quote-unquote mature cocktails that I still enjoy such as Moscow Mules or Dark and Stormy’s, but mostly just vodka-soda with lime. There’s a no bullshit factor with vodka-soda.
But like I said, my heart lies with the yellow spirits and I loved researching the first story I’d done on ’em for Draft about distilling beer into whiskey. It’s an issue I revisited on my old blog, Distill My Beating Heart about Sam Adams’ beerified whiskeys. Most people have never heard of what is essentially hopped whiskey. Perhaps most people wouldn’t enjoy them. But I do. And I still think it’ll turn into a bigger segment of the craft spirits and, synergistically, craft brewing world.
This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival has something for every kind of beer lover, and there are many kinds of beer lover. The festival has beers for hopheads, sessionistas, fruitheads and those drunks who always grab the highest-ABV brew on the board—this year that’s Dogfish Head Burton Olde English at 11 percent.
There are 88 beers from 85 breweries. Actually, though, there are about 200 beers to sample this year thanks to the Dutch—more on them in a minute.
This is the second installment of this type of oral history of a Portland beer that would go onto help shape not only the Portland beer scene, but impact the national beer climate as well. Crazy to think that before this beer debuted in 1996, most beer drinkers in America had no clue what an India Pale Ale was.
I’m not re-posting every single story I did for Willy Week’s blog in the Oregon Beer News column, but this one, in hindsight, is something of a gem. It talks about a PDX Beer Week event, “Billed as “Meet the new faces of 10 Barrel Brewing,” Apex hosts Bend’s 10 Barrel and all five of its brewers: Jimmy Seifrit, Tonya Cornett, Shawn Kelso, Bobby Jackson and Ben Shirley.” Then goes on to mention that, “Mellow Mushroom, the pizzeria chain headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, “officially” opened in the Pearl last week, although it has actually been operating for eight months. The Portland franchise has 51 taps—mostly brewed in the PacNW.”
The retroactive irony is that 10 Barrel Brewing would go onto make big “OBN” when it sold to AB-InBev (Bud) and that its once-long-awaited-now-meh impending Portland outcrop is going into the now-vacated Mellow Mushroom!
Edit: This story was awarded 2nd place in the “Brewspaper” category at the inaugural North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) awards in October 2013)
When Willy Week resurrected the Beer Guide, I was tasked with writing the oral history, as it were, of one of this city’s most seminal beer offerings: Widmer Brothers’ Hefeweizen. It has protagonists, controversy, some romance, and pretty much everything needed for a Hollywood blockbuster save for a rando choreographed fight or homecoming dance scene. Oh, this story also netted me a 2nd place finish in the inaugural award ceremony of the North American Guild of Beer Writers!
Gluten Free is Big Business. That’s due partly because there are a lot of glutards and partly because some people just think being gluten free is, like, healthy and stuff. But for the folks who really are gluten intolerant, it’s serious stuff. When Widmer Bros. unveiled their gluten-free beer, Omission, it was both hailed and vilified by different camps within the GF community. (Author’s note: I like it. I’m not glutarded. It tastes like beer. My one friend who I know to be legitimately gluten-intolerant loves this stuff.) But here’s the rub:
Being the investigative journalist that I am, I tracked down the TTB’s spokesman to quote on this matter. TTB’s Tom Hogue said that the FDA continues to look into issues surrounding gluten-free labeling and that the 20 ppm of gluten standard is “proposed but not final.” The TTB’s ruling affecting Omission’s gluten-free labeling only pertains to interstate commerce, so beer labeled gluten-free in Oregon could be just “handcrafted” in California, Washington, and everywhere else it will show up.
TTB operates with the “best available information,” said Hogue, and gluten-free beers pose a problem.
I don’t often get to write about mead. Maybe “get” isn’t the right word. We know beer. We know wine. We’re learning about cider. And if you don’t make one of these beverages at home, you can bet your home-roasted coffee beans your neighbor or friend does. But there’s so little awareness of mead. Our friends at Kookoolan Farms are busily, buzzily changing that. Besides, what a fun word. Koo koo lan.
I really liked the A&E editor at Willy Week when I came on board. Then there was a schism. Then a new guy was hired and we got back into bed together. Me & the alt-weekly, not the new dude. It started with this post on Belgian-style Hair of the Dog going to Belgium.
For the last five years, much-decorated Belgian brewmaster Dirk Naudts, who develops beer recipes for brewers throughout Holland and Belgium, brings an American brewer over to his village, Lochristi, to collaborate. The chance to work with Naudts at his Na De Proef Brouwerij is much sought—beer writer Michael Jackson once described Naudts’ ultrasophisticated brewhouse as “the ultimate toy for the aspiring homebrewer.”
This year the honor goes to a Portlander, Alan Sprints from Hair of the Dog.
Sprints is the first Pacific Northwesterner to get the honor. Other brewers selected have come from San Diego’s Lost Abbey, Michigan’s Bell’s and Maine’s Allagash.
SBS Imports founder Alan Shapiro says the beer will be a blend of quintessential Hair of the Dog Fred—a Strong Ale named in honor of local beer guru Fred Eckhardt—named Flanders Fred, a reference to the Flanders Red beer style dubbed “Burgundies of Belgium.”
Expect the result to pack a tart cherry sourness and bone-warming boozy heat. It’ll be perfect for aging, too. Too bad we won’t get to try it until this summer, as Sprints won’t actually brew the batch of Fred in Belgium until March. The collaboration beer should first see release through the former Michael Jackson Rare Beer Club in June, with full U.S. release in July.
Luckily, the collaboration partner’s home state always receives the largest allocation.
Before my body was cold at SF Weekly and had barely planted my feet on Oregon soil, the first thing I did was pitch myself to Willamette Week, having noticed they oddly did not have a beer writer in the fold. How did Beervana not have steady beer coverage?! Well, if no one was doing it, I was just the carpetbagger for the job. This story on then-brand-new brewpub Burnside Brewing was actually my second post for the Willy Week blog, the first is conveniently linked from within it. Oh, and the third now seems quaint since it’s about cherished publican Yetta Vorobik expanding Hop & Vine before, jumping 3 years into the future, she’d leave us to start a family with Crooked Stave founder Chad Yakobson over in Denver.