Portland’s Beerly Walkable Buckman/Hosford-Abernethy

The Brewers Association announced to their freelance crew that they would be adding a feature called “Walk this Way” for their Beer Muses blog (about walkable brewery ‘hoods). Natch, I pitched that it needed to start with Inner Southeast Portland’s twins Buckman and Hosford-Abernethy. Here’s the result, published August 30, 2016.And already

The kicker? Fewer than 7 weeks later, we’ve already seen Mt Tabor Brewing Company – PDX & Scout Beer open. (And possibly in the next 7 weeks we’ll welcome Wayfinder Beer & Ross Island Brewing.) That will bring us to 13 independent breweries within a 2.5 mile walk! CheersGrixsen Brewing Company, Baerlic Brewing Co., Ground Breaker Brewing,Lucky Labrador Brew Pub, PDX Green Dragon, Cascade Brewing, The Commons Brewery, Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, Base Camp Brewing Company, Burnside Brewing Co

 

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.

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.”

 

Over a Pint: Sean Burke of The Commons

Name: Sean Burke

Brewery: The Commons

Professional brewing experience: Since 2011 (Sean went straight from the Siebel Institute’s Doemens Academy in Germany to The Commons).

IMG_0258As Sean and I both recall, albeit fuzzily, we met at a brand new brewpub called Burnside Brewing in 2011. Sean had just moved back to Portland, having been hired by Mike Wright to be the head brewer at Mike’s brewery he ramped up from a home-based nano to a seven-barreler renamed The Commons. Four years and four GABF medals later, the brewery is prepping to expand again, this time to 15 barrels. The Commons Crew has a lot of work ahead of them. (Sean, an expert in cabinetry, used to put his expertise to work at Powell’s but has doffed his brewer cap for his cabinet-making one at the brewery’s new location a few blocks away on SE Belmont.) But instead of burning the midnight oil I found Sean and the crew at the Oregon Beer Awards, an awards ceremony thrown by Willy Week at the Doug Fir. The beer community was rubbing elbows while up to its ears in the crowded lounge and The Commons, nominees for some six awards, took home the golden tap for Best Belgian Style Ale (Urban Farmhouse).

Afterward, we celebrated with A-listers at Spago’s in the Hollywood Hills. No we didn’t. We huffed a block away to The Wurst where Sean and I got pints of Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed IPA. Truth be told, I tried to get him to go for some beers a block in the other direction, to Union Jacks, but the dedicated husband wasn’t down. (He may have only gotten married a year and a half ago but they were a couple for 14 years.) No, I don’t think that’s his reason. It has something to do with having gigged there. Not working the pole, sheesh, but playing guitar in a band with his brother, which is how the Burke boys rang in Y2K. True story. He still plays out, but has switched to banjo in old-timey sounding, beer-influenced, Maris Otter.

In lieu of strippers The Wurst’s entertainment comes in the form of arcade consoles, shooting pool, and busted skeeball and pop-a-shots. I know they’re busted because later in the night I thought it was an okay idea to drop my bus fare quarters to play skeeball and only got 3 balls (but still nailed the 100-point hole) and some pop-a-shot, which Josh Grgas, The Commons’ brand manager, showed me basically worked even without paying since the balls aren’t caught by the catch. Not exactly an arcade game, but Occidental’s Dan Engler was there, too, and somehow we discovered we both had majored in Russian and turned speaking choppy Russki into a parlor game. Incidentally, while I know the focus is on Sean and The Commons, not that WW’s Beer of the Year, Upright Engelberg Pils, isn’t great but IMHO Occidental’s Pilsner is the best in town.

Pilsner, and all manner of lagers, are certainly Sean’s passion, his Belgian-influenced brewery’s slant notwithstanding. Remember, he did study brewing in Bavaria after all. I think we got into an interesting conversation about Franconia, but maybe that was someone else. I was onto a pint of Double Mountain Black Irish Stout by that point and I think Sean was on his second pint of Trumer Pils.

Pilsner. “Crisp and clean.” Reinheitsgebot. The irony is that Sean made one of my many favorite Commons beers by pitching actual yogurt to introduce the souring agent, lactobacillus. Yep, Nancy’s Yogurt right in the kettle. And it had to be Nancy’s since Sean grew up in Springfield, OR where the creamery was founded in 1960. Given the greatness of Biere Royale—the resulting beer augmented with currants like a kir royale (get it?)—it’s not surprising others around town have attempted kettle souring but The Commons was first, at least in Portland. Sean’s pretty positive others had experimented with it sooner. Please send me the link or citation if you know of an earlier example.

Afterward, there was a pizza run, well, walk since Sizzle Pie’s just a block away. There was talk about getting his pizza fix in North Portland where he lives but with substandard pie, which is sad. He also talked about skipping the re-opening of the brewery in a month since it overlaps with another beer festival much closer to his home (he wishes he could ride to work; I think I encouraged him to tackle the five-ish mile ride). I suspect he was kidding. Either way, that’s likely the next time I’ll see him but we won’t have the luxury of sitting down and just talking since it will be crowded and there will be an agenda.

Hoppily Ever After

This isn’t really a Portland Monthly story, but when I was contacted by the same publishing company to write a story about beer weddings, I had to accept if only to say I’ve been published in Portland Bride & Broom. It ended up being a fun story to think about and organize, even though I was given tons of direction on that end. What can I say? I love love. And beer.

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.

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.