Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Schmaltz Brewing (Clifton Park, NY)

     Schmaltz: literally, a Yiddish word for chicken fat; figuratively, a Jewish-American style of stand-up comedy, brought to its classical form in the summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains about sixty miles north of New York City; also the name of a craft brewery born in San Francisco sixteen years ago and now brewing in a suburb of Albany, New York.  That the middle four letters of the word are M-A-L-T is a happy if intended consequence.
     The founder, Jeremy Cowan, had returned from an extended trip to Israel in the mid-90s and reentered the life casually observant Jews led in northern California when he decided, on a lark, to create a winter ale for the Chanukkah season in 1997.  He produced a hundred cases at a brew-on-premises brewery in Moutanin View, Calif.,  had enough initial success to sign up Anderson Valley Brewing to make his Jewish-themed beers under contract for a few years, then contracted with the Olde Saratoga Brewery in upstate New York to brew his recipes and fill his bottles with the zany labels (He'Brew, the Chosen Beer, don't Pass Out, Pass Over, etc.).  After sixteen years of contracted brewing, Cowan bit a bullet and built his own 50-bbl plant between Albany and Saratoga, opening in 2013 and launching Death of a Contract Brewer as a T-shirt and a Black IPA, made with seven malts, seven hops, and brewed to 7% abv. All the Judaic and other meanings of the number seven are squeezed onto the label, see the story on the link.

    I wandered into Schmaltz the day after Christmas with my son-in-law Ed Lessard, a Clifton Park native son who knows the back roads here.  Death of the Contract was not on tap in the taproom, but the five we could sample all featured complex assortments of malts and hops.  I began my journey with Genesis Dry Hop Session Ale.  The session ale here weighs in at 5.5% abv.
     Other than the Messiah Nut Brown Ale (the beer you've been waiting for, 5.2% abv), the other taps kicked the alcohol up a hefty notch: Channukah Beer, 8%, Imperial Amber Pomegranate, 8%, and Lenny's R.I.P.A., 10%.  The Channukah  beer, made with eight malts and eight hops in the dark ale style, hasa piney aroma and a peaty mouthfeel.  The pomegranates in the imperial amber have a biblical reference, according to Cowan's autobiography Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah.  Poms are one of the Seven Sacred Species named in Deuterenomy 8:8 by the scouts Moses sent out to find the Promised Land.
     Cowan's book stands out in the small sub-genre of craft brewing autobios.  While accounts of the founding and growth of companies like Dogfish Head (Brewing Up a Business) and Sierra Nevada (Beyond the Pale) dwell on the gradual accession of brewing hardware like bottling lines and fermenting tanks, contract-brewing Schmaltz never had to wrestle with those issues for its first fifteen years.

The 200-bbl fermenting tanks in Clifton Park were still on the drawing board when Cowan published his book in 2011.  Rather than hardware, he dishes up wry accounts of making labels and getting them approved by the feds, navigating the hazards of trademark law, and courting potential wholesalers.
    The last beer tasted, Lenny's R.I.P.A., illustrates Cowan's shtick to a T.  It memorializes the late comedian Lenny Bruce (R.I.P.) with a Rye India Pale Ale. It is made with outrageous amounts of malts and hops, enough to be a double IPA, bitter as Bruce's humor.
     Jews and Gentiles alike will be savoring Schmaltz's kosher beers for many years, it would seem.
(Visited 12/26/14)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Four Ale Trails reviewed--Bend, Spokane, Eugene, Bellingham

     Visit a dozen or so brewpubs in a community or region, carrying a little "passport" around and getting it stamped at each brewery, and collect a bit of swag when you attain a set number of stamps. That's the ale trail phenomenon as it has been developing here in the northwest.
     Having completed three of these trails, in Bend, Spokane, and here in Bellingham, and half of a fourth, in Eugene, I bestir myself to do a little compare-and-contrast.  I have developed several criteria for judging them, as follows:
     1. Can you complete the trail without an automobile?  Bike, bus, walk, just don't risk a DUI if you are trying to make the circuit in limited time. No program sets a time limit, but if you are visiting from some distance, your schedule may limit you.
     2.  Is the program touch-every-base, or is it possible to run the course without visiting every participating brewery?  Some are only open two or three days a week, and if you don't live there, and have limited time, it helps if the course can be completed without every single establishment.
     3.  What is the reward?  Probably the least important factor for the ardent beer tourist, but it still merits consideration.

The Bend Ale Trail: As far as I know, this is the original program, running since 2012, when "only" a dozen breweries were operating in the city.  Now the tally on the passport is up to fourteen, and rumor has it, a couple more may have opened since the passport was last printed.  To complete the trail one needs ten stamps. With a rented bicycle I did the trail in a summer's day; buses tun to the more outlying locations like Worthy and Cascade Lakes Brewing, so a car is not necessary. The prize is a flexible plastic silipint, and there are more goodies for those who can collect all fourteen stamps.

The Spokane-Inland Empire Ale Trail. Spokane's inland empire stretches from Republic, WA to Sand Point, ID on the north, Yakima to Clarkston to Wallace, ID on the south, three hundred miles wide. A car is definitely necessary, Twenty-seven breweries are on board with this program, and twelve stamps are needed to claim the prize, a nifty imprinted quart growlette.  With nine breweries in Spokane city and Spokane valley, this trail offers great flexibility for getting to twelve stamps.

The Eugene Ale Trail.  Ten breweries are on board for this program; eight stamps gets you a prize described as a sixteen-ounce amber growler.  A pint to go, as it were.  I parked by Ninkasi and found three other brewpubs within walking distance in the city's Whiteaker district, west of downtown. Three others are downtown and an eighth could be either a train ride to neighboring Springfield or a bus ride several miles west.  So, the car is not necessary and the passport lists the bus and transit routes, a nice touch.  Note: the reward is limited to quantities on hand.

The Bellingham Tap Trail. Sixteen establishments (seven brewpubs, nine taverns) participate here; stamps must be collected from every one.  This lack of flexibility poses just one problem--the North Fork Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel.  This must-see attraction is twenty-one miles out on the road to Mt. Baker, and a car is a necessity to get that stamp. Every other stop is within walking distance or frequent city bus service.  The reward is not specified--it is collected at the city visitor center where they keep a stash of swag.  In November of this year it was an imprinted pint jar, a sticker, and a pen.

Overall, I would rate the Bend program best for the no-car aspect and the flexibility.  I like the way Eugene prints transit information and I get the most use out of the Spokane quart growler.  The tap trail here in Bellingham is nice if you live here, would be a challenge if you were just visiting for a couple of days.

Posted 11/15/14)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

3,000 breweries and counting: what will set limits to growth?

     Bellingham, pop. 80,000 or so, awaits the opening of our seventh and eighth breweries this winter. To those who wonder where the saturation point is, the optimists point us down to Bend, Ore., similar population, seventeen or eighteen breweries.  Why can't our town be the next Bend?
    Simple geography is one reason.  Bend sits in the middle of Oregon and its brewers can seek markets east, west, north and south.  Up here east is foreclosed half the year by snowed-in passes, west is the Pacific, and north is the 49th parallel, an insurmountable wall for beer sales to Canada. That leaves south, and a wee beer market called Seattle.
   Leaving our unique geography aside, the larger question is, how many breweries can any community/region support?  Are we headed for another shakeout?  That's the word historian Tom Acitelli used to describe what happened to U.S. craft brewing between 1996 and 2000.  In 1996 we had nearly 600 breweries operating; at the millenium that count was down to just over 400.
   In The Audacity of Hops (2013), ascribes the shakeout to "bad beer, tough times, and flighty newcomers"--the latter being those folks looking to turn a quick buck without having a passion for excellence in beer. Other factors he lists: a tv expose' of Sam Adams' contract brewing arrangements, Big Beer's "phantom crafts," and some noisy skirmishing over label content.  But at the end of that day, in 2000, we still had over 400 solid craft breweries and grounds for optimism.
    Fifteen years later, we hear of over 3,000 breweries nationwide, probably close to 400 just in Oregon and Washington.  Can most survive or is another shakeout coming?  A contraction on the scale of 1996-2000 would mean nearly a thousand breweries closing, and I can't see that happening.
   Lessons have been learned.  Bad beer gets outed pronto now, with all the consumer tasting sites online.  Most of the startups I have seen of late show that passion for brewing excellence, fueled much more by owner sweat equity than by quick-return-seeking investors.
   Distribution was a problem in the late 90s.  Budweiser distributors were admonished by August Busch III to prioritize their marketing efforts to his beers and away from competing products.  A-B has had craft-like products then and now (Shock Top) and significant minority stakes in regional breweries like Redhook and Widmer Brothers.  Miller and Coors, now merged but then rivals, also had craft-style offerings--Coors' Blue Moon Belgian-style beer has been out since 1995.
   Consolidation of the big brewers led to consolidation of the wholesaler sector as well. Towns once served by three or four beer distributors now saw just two: an A-B house and a Miller-Coors house. In addition to those main brands, they are apt to carry some of the best-known imports like Heineken and Corona, and some well-established craft beers. Last year, four of the major wholesalers in western Washington launched a joint venture called the Great Artisan Beverage Co., which now carries about fifty American craft brewers in at least some of their territories.  Most of these breweries are coming up on tenth or twentieth anniversaries, so they've been around a while.
   Middle-tier mergers have fostered the rise of the "indie" wholesaler, firms like Dickerson Distributing here and Click Wholesale in the Seattle area, who handle just craft and import beers.  A perusal of their published affiliations again shows few recent entrants.  The youngest in Dickerson's lineup are Odin Brewing (2009) and Emerald City Beer (2010).  Down at Click, they distribute a 2013 startup, Ecliptic Brewing from Portland, but that is the creation of a long-time head brewer at Full Sail.  A new brewery has to make a track record to interest any distributor.
    A distributor matters only if a brewer's business plan includes elements like packaging (bottles or cans) or draft accounts in taverns and other on-premise licensees outside one's own bailiwick.  There are plenty of brewers content to keep their own taproom supplied and a few draft accounts near enough for self-distributing to be feasible.  For those with more ambitious dreams, the first few years will be a challenge.


New Hampshire's pride: Smuttynose

     New Hampshire has just a snippet of seacoast, about twenty miles' worth sandwiched between the long and storied coastlines of Massachusetts and Maine.  The major town in this bit of oceanfront is Portsmouth, a classic New England place with a great craft brewing history.    This was where Peter Egleston opened a seven-barrel brewery, the first in the state,back in 1991--doing so because Massachusetts law would not license him to build a second brewery there after he and his sister had started one in Northampton in 1987. The original plant, doing business as Portsmouth Brewing Co, is still in the same location downtown.  Egleston opened a larger production brewery in 1994, naming it Smuttynose after one of the small islands off the nearby coast.
     This summer, Smuttynose moved into elegant new quarters in Hampton, NH, a few miles outside Portsmouth.  The site was known  as the Towle Farm for over two centuries, i.e., back to the
Revolution.  The brewery itself is in a modern building, but done up with nice landscaping.  The pub is in one of the old farm buildings, refurbished for the new purpose, and another old building has been fixed up for concerts and special events.

  The previous brewing system capped out at 43,000 barrels a year.  The new plant features an 85-barrel system with fifteen fermenting tanks capable of holding 200 barrels or more. Sales are projected to hit 63,000 barrels this year and the system could go over the hundred-thousand-barrel line without stress.
   The tour guide, the much younger person in the picture, told us that the bottling line has a fill rate of 300 bottles per minute.  Much faster than Ron, a college classmate from long ago, can fill his homemade wine in Claremont, Calif.
   Smuttynose is now sold in 23 states, in the east and midwest with a bit shipped to California, the guide said. The longest-established brand is their Shoals Pale Ale, but the best seller is the IPA (hopheads are everywhere, it seems).

(Visited 6/14/14)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snohomish brewing scene adds two more (Middleton, DK's MLT)

 1.  When Jeff Middleton opened his Middleton Brewing on the south side of Everett (near the mall and Lazy Boy Brewing) last August, he cast around for an angle, something to make his beers stand out in a crowd. He settled on flouting the old Bavarian purity law with unusual fruits, etc. to known beer styles.

Check out his taplist on a recent August day.  Tangerines in the IPA.  Ginger in the red ale.  Strawberries in the wheat ale.  Oatmeal stout is already a Reinheitsgebot violation; chocolate and coffee just compound it.
Working with a one-barrel system and a couple of fermenters, Middleton can brew enough for the taproom and some growler fills, but other retail outlets will be an aspiration rather than a current happening.
If the extra ingredients don't come across sufficiently in the regular brewing process, Jeff has another thing going on every Friday.
He runs one selected beer through a Randall (the hop infuser invented at Dogfish Head).  He can load the plastic cylinder with more hops and/or more exotic ingredients and pour a pint or pitcher with even more of the above.
Here is one former homebrewer who wants to live his dream in the stream of commerce, and I hope he gets the fan base every brewery needs.  It will liven up the Everett brewing scene.

2.  Diamond Knot hits the Terrace.  Diamond Knot Brewing, based in the middle of Snohomish County in Mukilteo, has for some years run an outpost restaurant on Camano Island, just over the north county line. Since April, they have also marked their territory near the southern county line, in Mountlake Terrace.  This one has some brewing capacity, too; small but functional.
The taps appear, for the most part, to be pouring DK's well-established favorites like Industrial IPA.  The server said one or two taps would be set aside for beers made on site.

(Visited August, '14)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sierra Nevada: Happy campers, great tour, good book

     Driving down I-5 to the Bay Area recently, I diverted in the valley to Chico, Calif. to check out the Sierra Nevada plant. The last tour of the day was forming up and our guide started out with good news: we would begin in the tasting room, where brewery tours typically end.  The reason, she explained, was that she had extra duties that evening, setting up for the opening day of the traveling beer camp.
     Lollapalooza!  Sierra had just opened their east coast plant, near Asheville, N.C., and was celebrating with a dozen excellent collaborations with top-tier brewers around the country, from Oregon (Ninkasi) to Florida (Cigar City), from San Diego (Stone, Ballast Point) to Maine (Allagash). The opening party, in a
couple of days, would showcase Sierra's collaborations with Ninkasi and Russian River. To the left, I took a picture of the 12-pack I bought at the swag store after the tour.  My tasting room highlights: Can-fusion, the collaboration with Oskar Blues, a tasty rye bock (7.2%, 45 IBU, in the silver can on the right), and Mallard's Odyssey, made with Bell's of Kalamazoo, a chocolate-y imperial dark ale (8.5%, 40 IBU), made with ten different malts. The Mallards is the only bottle with the cap still on, and I am about to pop the cap and revisit the bliss after I publish this post.

     Tour time.  Our guide had other chores but she gave us a fine experience all the same,  In a large room dominated by the upper parts of a 200-bbl brew kettle.  A small pitcher of wort, drawn from the mash tun, was poured into sampling cups so we could taste the sweetish brown liquid that will meet hops and yeast and become our ambrosia.
   After the wort, we went into the hops room. Our guide invited each of us to take a pinch of one or more loose hops leaves and rub them between our fingers to experience the differing aromas.  Note these were baled leaves: the whole-cone hopping that SN boasts of on its signature Pale Ale is evidently not the only hopping process used here.
Still, this was a fine experience, and to have it in a brewery nearing a million barrels a year in sales made it even better.  Bitter and better.
     The last stop on the tour was to the bottoms of the huge 800-bbl fermenters.  The purchase of these monsters bought Sierra a bit more time before ever-increasing demand stretched this plant to its full capacity (977,00 bbls last year). I learned this by buying and reading Beyond the Pale (2013) by Ken Grossman, who started this brewery in 1980 (medieval time in craft brewing history).  Grossman writes that he was inspired to write this business and personal autobiography in part after Sam Calagione published his Brewing Up a Business, about how he began Dogfish Head Brewing in 1995.  Now, having read both books, here is my take:  Calagione has written a wonderfully entertaining book in the how to succeed in business category, his business happens to be beer.  You know those titles in airport bookstores, using 6-sigma to take your company to the next level? Sam C. tries to write general truths that will work for a scissors manufacturer as well as a beer maker.  Ken G., on the other hand, has written a beer book, plain and simple.  A reader can learn a lot about brewing processes, dealing with distributors, hop and barley growers, and all the rest.
   These two men are among the most successful craft brewers today, and they sound like friends,  Each has chosen to tell his story in his own way: Calagione shows his passion for unusual beers as intellectual curiosity, while Grossman just lays his heart on the table and lets the reader watch it beat.  The excruciating pain of buying out his original partner. the guilt he keeps alluding to about the neglect of his family life, the agony of when to spend money he didn't have, in the early days, this makes a gripping story. Later, with a successful business, his chapters get a little dull, like the CEO's message in a corporate annual report.  But to have started in 1980, 35 years ago, and to be where his company is today, is worth a salute from all who love good beer.
(Visited 7/17/14)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Oregon Brewers Festival: victim of success

     Took in the Oregon Brewers Festival, on the riverfront park in downtown Portland, this weekend. This is the 27th rendition of an event first launched in 1988 by Bridgeport Brewing, Widmer Brothers, and Portland Brewing, at that time, along with McMenamins,  the only four breweries in the city, with three more in the rest of the state.  How things have grown since then!  The event now takes place over five full days and 86 U.S. craft brewers, over a third from other states, participate, including ten from Washington.

Many thousands of beer fans attend, and this is what they encounter:  volunteers pouring three-ounce samples out of pitchers, which are constantly being refilled from kegs tapped in the refrigerated trailers behind them. The volunteers are local folk for the most part, who most likely have no knowledge of the breweries whose products they are pouring.  That meet-the-brewer contact, so much a part of the experience at smaller festivals, doesn't happen here.  Brewers march in a parade on the opening day and attend a dinner the night before, to which the hoi polloi can buy tickets, but that's it for direct contact.  
   The lady in the picture to the right was pouring Boundary Bay's Double Dry Hopped Mosaic Pale Ale.  I asked her if she had ever been to Bellingham; she said no.  The woman pouring Paradise Creek's Huckleberry Pucker had never been to Pullman. And so it went.  The volunteers were all beer enthusiasts, to be sure, but any information about your three ounces of brew had to be gleaned from the program.  
     There are a lot of festivals in the summer and fall, and attending many of them can stretch the staff of a small brewery pretty thin.  I can't fault the festival sponsors for organizing things this way; suffice it to say that the smaller festivals, drawing from a more local base, like Untapped Blues and Brews in Kennewick or our April Brews Day here in Bellingham, are more apt to afford one the chance to meet and talk to the folks who are making your beverage.
A pair of long white tents sheltered the tables and chairs for the fans, and were decorated with some great banners of brewers past and present.  This picure features banners from Thos. Kemper Brewing in Poulsbo, one of Will and Mari Kemper's earlier enterprises before they launched Chuckanut here, and Hale's Ales when they were in Kirkland in the 1980's, before Mike Hale settled in Seattle's Ballard district.  
    Samples were a dollar a pop with one exception: a special area had been set aside for a dozen  breweries, and their samples went for two tokens, two bucks per.  I tried something from Brouwerij Rodenburg in Utrecht, the Netherlands, called Terra Incognita.  It was billed as a Belgian Strong Ale, more on the golden side of the color scale. and with a nice balance of bitterness at the beginning.  
   The rest of my tokens went for Team USA's beers, and I put the most stars by Sierra Nevada's Double Latte Coffee Milk Stout.  This is a collaboration project with Ninkasi Brewing, one of the dozen collaborations SN has rolled out this month.  This is part of their coast-to-coast Beer Camp USA to celebrate the opening of their east coast brewery in Asheville, NC.  The milk stout is just fabulous, 7.6% abv and the creamiest mouthfeel you'll ever get from a beer.
(Visited 7/24/14)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Sly Fox jumped over the 15,000-barrel sales level

   A few miles west of Valley Forge, in southeast Pennsylvania farm country, I encountered the Sly Fox Brewery and Restaurant. Their tap list featured more lagers then one typically sees in this region--a Helles golden lager and an Alt, in addition to a pilsner, and I put them all on my dance card of small samples.
A saison and a pale ale rounded out the flight.
    Everything was full of flavor.  Sly Fox had been prominent during the Philly Beer Week just ended, and enjoyed a good rep with local beer writers.  It was founded in 1995 by the Giannopolous family -- the mid-90s were a boom time for craft beer startups all over, many of them coming up on twentieth anniversaries.
While Sly Fox has not taken off the way Dogfish has in that same time span, they have gone over the 15,000-barrel mark in annual sales, more than all but three or four Washington brewers.  It helps if you have something like thirty million people living in a hundred mile radius of your brewery.
  The brewpub here has a fifteen-barrel system shown behind the bar.  Sly Fox recently opened what they call a 50-hectoliter brewery (that's 42.5 barrels for all us non-Canadians) a few miles away.

The pub was doing a decent business on a Wednesday, a fair number of growler fills.  That was probably
due to their special price that day.  They knocked a couple of bucks off the price of a half gallon in your jug--from $8 for their regular non-imperial beers to SIX DOLLARS!  And they do it on a state-of-the-art growler filler from the Alfred Gruber Co. in Austria (the same firm Kulshan here in Bellingham ordered their new machine from).  Here's Britta the bartender filling my growler with Sticke Bishop Alt.

Sly Fox has been canning for a few years now.  Here's what their Helles lager looks like in cans.  Note the detachable lid, the wide-mouth design, and the six-ring plastic carrier.  Some of these choices are not the sort brewers are making in the Northwest.  In some states, regulations may bar the pop-top; even where legal, they seem to have fallen out of favor here.
Sly Fox says the wide mouth allows the consumer to better savor the aroma and flavor when there are no glasses in which to pour the beer; a good point.  As to the lid, well, they liken it to the cap on a bottle of beer.  Responsible drinkers will see that either gets proper disposal.  The six-ring carrier: it's both recyclable and photodegradable: the latter attribute was lacking on the old kind.

Every brewery has something new -- Sly Fox has plenty!

(Visited 6/11/14)

Monday, July 7, 2014

What's in a (beer) name?

   Craft brewers hassled by lawyers over trademark issues: it happens all over the country.  Whether the issue is the name of a beer (Foggy Noggin's "12th Man Skittles IPA" changed to "Cease and Desist Ale", Georgetown's "9-pound Hammer" changed to something that didn't infringe on a Vermont brewer's trademarked "No. 9") or the name of the business (Spokane's Northern Lights now No-Li), our corner of the country has seen its share of such squabbles.
   A beer scribe with the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, Alexander Mitchell, has written up a collection of similar stories from Maryland.  He recounts the experience of the Baltimore brewer forced to rename its Ozzy Ale when sued by rocker Ozzy Osbourne; another Baltimore brewer, DuClaw, taking Left Hand Brewing to court when the Colorado brewer began selling Sawtooth Ale and Black Jack Porter in Maryland; and Ocean City brewer Danny Robinson, who had to change the name of his operation from Shorebilly Brewing to Backshore Brewing when a beach apparel maker asserted trademark rights over the Shorebilly name.  Danny couldn't even use Robinson Brewing; some other Robinson got there first.
   As plaintiffs like Texas A and M, which-incredible as it seems--owns the trademark to 12th Man, Ozzy Osbourne, and Shorebilly beach togs all illustrate, challenges can come from anywhere, not just from other brewers.  Indeed, beer name overlap among brewers can sometimes come to a friendly resolution.  A highlight of the recent Philly Beer Week was a keg of "Collaboration, Not Litigation", a Belgian strong dark ale.  It was jointly brewed by California's Russian River and Colorado's Avery brewing companies after each realized that they were bringing ales called "Salvation" out around the same time.
   Talking it over is one solution.  Another is asking permission and maybe paying a bit for it.  That's what the Seahawks did, paying Texas A and M for a license to use the 12th Man name.  In this google-fied age, it's easy enough to run a search on any given phrase and see where else it pops up.  For a draft-only beer,especially a one-off like Foggy Noggin's, it's hard to imagine any craft brewer acting like the Aggies down in Texas.  The brewery that is thinking about bottling or canning something, designing a label and submitting it to the TTB and state regulators, that's a brewery that needs to be careful.  Label review by the TTB does not look into whether anyone else is using a particular name; that falls under the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  What they do is a whole 'nother story, which I will write on in a later post.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The legendary Dogfish: not yet 21

   Delaware is a very small state, just three little counties (and that's at low tide, the joke runs). Where the southern county fronts on the Atlantic, it offers some excellent beaches; Rehoboth  Beach in particular has long been the go-to spot for people fleeing the sweltering summers in the "other Washington".   In 1995, a Massachusetts guy named Sam Calagione came to Rehoboth with a wife, Mariah, whose hometown it was, and a couple hundred thousand dollars raised to open a pub and brewery.  Named for a peninsula on the Maine coast where his family had a summer cottage.
    By the time a kitchen and restaurant were ready to go, they were down to about twenty thousand. Which didn't buy much brewing equipment then or now.  What it bought was a ten-gallon system cobbled out of half-barrel kegs.  Calagione describes the early days in his book Brewing Up a Business (2012):  "To make enough beer for the restaurant, I had to brew two or three batches a day five or six days a week.  I quickly got bored brewing the same beers over and over again, so....I would grab some apricots or maple syrup or raisins and toss them into the beer."  And so, dismissing the Reinheitsgebot as a five-hundred-year-old Bavarian law that has long since outlived its usefulness, Sam was off to the races.
    From ten gallons a batch to two hundred barrels (631,000 gallons) a batch in nineteen years--that's explosive growth.  Keeping the pub and a small brewery (now up to five barrels) in Rehoboth, Dogfish moved the large production work to Milton, a pretty town a few miles inland, and opened a fifty-barrel system there in 2002.   Wasn't too many years before they outgrew that (sold it to Russian River Brewing in 2008) and built a hundred-barrel plant.  That equipment is still turning out most of the quirky brands, while the humongous two-hundred barrel system, brought on last September, turns out the sales leaders, the 60-minute IPA and the 90-minute IPA.

    The sales those two lead came to over two hundred thousand barrels last year, but the passion still goes into the descendants of those apricot and maple syrup experiments.  Here's what I sampled on a recent visit:
First, some Midas Touch (9% abv), a recipe deduced from clues found in the tomb of King Midas, buried some 2,700 years ago.  Brewed as a one-off for an archeological society event, with honey, thyme, muscat grapes, and saffron, it became an unexpected sensation and stayed in the rotation.  A cloudy golden ale with a sweet finish.  Then an Etruscan Ale (8.5%), dating back to 700 B.C., around the time of Midas.  Those Etrsucans, north of Rome, added to their wort hazelnuts, honey, pomegranate, gentian root, and myrrh.  The combination (was it the pomegranate or the myrrh?) created the most amazing aroma in this ale, sharp but surprisingly pleasing.  After this, a couple of IPAs (Burton Baton, 10%, oak-aged imperial) and Sixty-One (6.5%, with syrah grape must added) were almost pedestrian,  Almost. And only after these ancient recipes, both derived from digs and research by Penn Professor McGovern (the Indiana Jones of ancient beer).
    On the tour one can also learn about the Palo Santo wood from Paraguay, so hard bullets fired into its trunk just bounce off, imported here to make a 10,000-gallon wooden tank used to make Palo Santo Marron, a 12% Brown Ale of epic flavor.  The bottling line cranks out 650 12-ouncers a minute.  The company's motto, "off-centered ales for off-centered people," is reiterated throughout the tour and Sam's book.

    I thought about that ten-gallon startup back in 1995 and what a mighty oak grew out of that little acorn here.  The small-scale startups I have recently seen in our Washington, Whiskey Ridge in Darrington and MP 111 in Cashmere--how far will  they get in nineteen years?  Still brewing, I hope. But the lucky lightning doesn't strike everyone.  A couple of points in Sam's book stayed with me.  Niche-settling for one. He notes that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, were it being launched today, would be plunged into a very competitive market where so many west coast brewers are turning out excellent pales.  Getting there first, Sierra was able to enjoy a standard-setting status.
   A second point is how many breweries were started in the mid-nineties as Dogfish was, and how many soon failed because they were started by people who smelled profit here (quoting M. Thenardiere from Les Mis) without being passionate about doing God's work, per Ben Franklin, by making people happy with good beer,  We still have a lot of breweries celebrating or closing on 20th year anniversaries, making a modest profit even if they didn't catch the lucky lighting.
(Visited 06/13/14)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Philly Beer Week: report from the other coast

     Back in Philadelphia for the birth of granddaughter Elowen Jane, I also had time to take in some bits of Philly Beer Week (May 30-June 8).  For seven years this event has highlighted craft brewing in and around this historic old city: one of the longest-running events of its kind.  And seven years is long enough to begin building traditions.
    The Hammer of Glory is one of those traditions.  Over 150 pubs, breweries, bottle shops, bars and restaurants host one or more beer week events, and the Hammer is supposed to visit every location at some point.  Not every event--that was close to a thousand!
    The beer writers also filed some good stories.  The Philadelphia Inquirer's Craig LaBan filed a good story about how the saison style had almost been abandoned in Belgium in 1988, due to lack of interest. when Dan Feinburg, who was importing Duvel beers, ran across the style at the Brasserie Dupont brewery in Tourpes, Belgium and realized that this flavor could be a big hit in the USA.  He persuaded the Dupont brewers to make bottle some saison for export, and the rest is history.
     Pennsylvania brewers predominated, but other states made a good showing.  Dogfish Head in nearby Delaware had a strong presence, and New York brewers like Southern Tier and Brooklyn also had multiple events.   Two Michigan brewers, Bell's in Kalamazoo and Founders in Grand Rapids, were often seen, too. I noticed, in bottle shops and places with extensive taplists, how little they see here of the Pacific Northwest brewing scene.  California, yes, they get Stone, Sierra Nevada, Anchor, and 21st Amdt., but the occasional Rogue bottle is about all you see from further north.  Which made Deschutes' big introductory splash this year noteworthy.   Deschutes brought plenty of kegs of Black Butte, Red Chair, Chainbreaker, and their other familiar brands to do some tap takeovers, stock the few bottle shops (Pennsylvania beer marketing laws are another story altogether), and generally make its presence felt.
    When I have the capability to post pictures, I will add some from several of the events I took in.  The granddaugher pix will go on other sites:).

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Made in Darrington: Whiskey Ridge

   The catastrophic landslide in Oso last month brought the nearest incorporated town into the news, too: Darrington, Wash.  Until the mountain fell, the biggest news in Darrington this spring was the planned opening of the Whiskey Ridge Brewing Co.

   This is smaller than nano, a ten-gallon brew kettle made out of a recycled keg.  From little acorns,
mighty oaks have been known to grow.  While Darrington is a mill town, the kind of place where a guy moves up from PBR or Rainier to Bud for special occasions, a craft brewery can make it in such a setting.  Mill City Brew Werks in Camas is a good example.  A strong sense of community, even before the mudsliide, should help.  And the plans for the building--it had been the city hall, the fire hall, the library in various municipal applications--has left it with a good hardwood floor upstairs and the option of converting that space into a nice pub and restaurant.
   Jack Hatley owns and runs the brewery with his wife.  The building's owner intends to put a distillery in a space to the side, and the option of a shot and a pint, hand crafted, could be a good draw.

   Whiskey Ridge is the kind of start-up you have to root for.  The highway from Arlington will reopen someday soon; for now access is just off the North Cascades highway, SR 20.

(Visited 5/22/14)

Aslan joins the Bellingham beer scene

     Imagine Aslan, the wise lion who came with the witch and the wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis books, walking into the leonine barber shop and asking to have his mane shaped in the silhouette of a hop bud. That's the logo for the latest brewpub to open in our city of subdued excitement.

    Like Elliott Bay,Laurelwood, and a few other brewers in the region, Aslan is striving to source all its ingredients from certified organic growers.  As we are accustomed to paying a little bit more (but not a fortune) for organic foods, Aslan will be testing our competitive beer market with slightly higher prices. The most illustrative instance appears in the growler case.
Like Kulshan and Foggy Noggin (and I remain surprised that the idea hasn't caught on more), Aslan stocks already-filled growlers which can be exchanged for an empty growler, their own glass, for a set price.  If you bring in some other branded growler, you can have it filled by hand, for a considerable premium.  For example, a 32-oz. fill of their OPA, exchanging their own glass, is $7, while the cost to put 32 ounces of that beer in your own "growlette" (the term used here) is $11.
Kulshan has a similar upcharge for manual filling of some other brewer's glass.  One can understand a brewer's desire to put incentives in its own loyalty program.  There is floor space for a cooler, and in Kulshan's case, the investment in a high-speed growler filler from Austria (see Everybody's Growing post a few weeks back).   The downside is that beer travelers who don't live in the brewer's town are discouraged from taking some beer back to where they came from to compare with the local brews.  And that organic price differential? Kulshan exchanges regular (non-imperial, etc.) styles in their glass for $10 a full growler, $6 for a half, that Aslan exchanges for $12 and $6, respectively.
     Aslan brews on a modern 15-barrel system designed and built by the Criveller Co. in Healdsburg, Calif.
I tried several of the styles listed in the first picture.  The Ginger Rye is a distinctive flavor: a true blending of ginger ale and malty ale.  The B'ham Brown adds another quality entry in our north sound region to the oft-overlooked English brown ale style.
(Visited 5/24/14

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Belgian II: Wander Brewing in Bellingham

    The road Chad and Colleen Kuehl took to Bellingham and their just-opened Wander Brewing Co. rambled through a lot of the country, starting in Iowa, where they met as UI Hawkeyes, to San Francisco, to Seattle with a couple of years at Hilliard Brewing in the Ballard district, and finally to our city of subdued excitement.
Their beers were out in the community before the taproom was open.  Here are the Kuehls pouring a taster of Baltic Porter at the April Brews Day festival last month.  May 2 was the day the taproom doors were open and the customers poured in.
The brewing is done on a twenty-barrel system made by Marks Design and Metalworks down in Vancouver, WA.  "We wan to support local workers and jobs," Colleen says, so it was "extremely important to us to have equipment built in the U.S. and as close to home as possible."
The first thing a visitor notices is the high, cathedral-height ceiling in this industrial metal building.  It was erected in the 1920s and was involved in shipbuilding for some years. (Factoid: in World War II, Bellingham shipyards made minesweepers, with wooden hulls, for the Navy.)  After shipbuilding, the space was only used for storage until the Kuehls came along.
A crane, part of the shipbuilding days, now serves to hold a grist case over the mash tun.

      Wander uses three yeast strains, an American ale yeast, a German lager yeast, and a Belgian abbey yeast (Abbey I, Chad says, the same as Sound Brewing down in Poulsbo uses).  The first strain goes into popular styles, like a Rye IPA "for the hopheads."  The lager yeast goes into brews like the California Common, a steam beer like Anchor.  Chad's eyes light up when you get him talking about the Belgian abbey yeast.  I tried his Belgian Brown Ale (more of a Dubbel) and asked him how he got those hints of caramel and apple.  "Rather than add the yeast when the wort is around sixty degrees F, I like to stress the yeast at a slightly higher temperature, mid-70s, to tease out those esters."
    This was the opening day lineup: besides the IPA, the steam beer, and the brown already mentioned, they tapped a Belgian Blond, a Wee Heavy strong Scottish ale, a stout, and the Baltic Porter so popular at the festival.
     Wander has no restaurant side but has a rotation of food trucks in the creekside beer garden out back.
The standup tables inside are eye-catching.  These live edge tables were made by a miller in Everson, doing business as the Mad Marmet.  Tricky Timbers in Bellingham made some of the other tables.  The bar is a whole set of stories.  A strip of darker wood running down the center comes from a tavern Chad's grandfather operated in Iowa for many years; the lighter wood on either side is recycled wood from an elementary school in town, and the whole is framed by more live edge wood from the mill in Everson.
In the medium range plan, Wander expects to do some barrel aging and to start bottling later this year. The evolution of this business will be fun to watch.

(Visited 5/2/14)

New Belgian I: Ramblin' Road in Spokane

     Ryan and Danielle Guthrie opened the taproom door to their Ramblin' Road brewery last January, in one sweet location.  A block north of the well-established No-Li brewery, beside the Spokane River and the Centennial Trail, across the street from the building where the Gonzaga Bulldogs play basketball and prepare to  go deep in the NCAAs every March.
The Guthries are Spokane natives who spent about a decade over on the wet side, in Seattle, where homebrewing experiences enticed them to take the road less traveled.  Their passion is the beers of Belgium; although the hoppy IPAs and Pales run up more sales numbers.

   Here's the tap list on a Friday afternoon in May: nine of RR's own and three guest taps from other local brewers.  The Grisette, first one listed, is a favorite in Belgian mining districts, as contrasted with the usual farmhouse or monastery themes.

Brewing is done on a ten-barrel system
visible through the pub wall on the right.  Four different food trucks come, each on a scheduled day during business hours, Wed thru Sat afternoons. RR has no current plans to try wild yeast open fermenters, but they are aging some sours in red wine barrels out back.
This and No-Li were my 9th and 10th stops on the Inland Empire Ale Trail, which I finally completed over an eight month stretch.  This earned me a half-growler (grunt? barker? growlerette? We have no consensus on what to call a 32-oz beer jar) with the imprint of the trail.
   The beer?  Tastes great.  I tried taster flights of the Saison, the Golden Strong, the Saison d'Rye, and the Dubbel. The Golden Strong Ale, cloudy, great mouthfeel, hints of raisins.  The Saison d'Rye, clear, chocolaty, rich aftertaste. My two faves.
(Visited May 9. 2014)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Untapped festival: rockin' the brews in Kennewick

     It was not a sure thing throughout the winter, whether the Untapped Blues and Brews Festival would go on again this year in the Tri-Cities.  But with new management stepping in, the blues bands came from near and far and so did the brewers.  Not as many brewers as last year, and no new faces.  The sun came out, the barbecues stoked up, the bands belted out their tunes, and the taps did flow.
     The big stage at the Benton County Fairgrounds showcased the better-known bands, while a couple of local bands played in a corner of one of the barns, where the better part of the twenty-some brewers set up.
Snipes Mountain Brewing had the booth closest to these bands.
This band opened the barn session and really got the house jiving. Blues songs run about
five minutes, too long for radio play, and they appeal to an older crowd.  I would guess the moshers who danced in front of the bands averaged over 45 and weighed--well, lets just say over average.
But the beats were irresistible foot-tapping stuff.  I snapped a photo of a couple of trim ladies staffing the Sierra Nevada booth, swaying to the beat when they had no customers lining up for a taster of SN Pale.
  Like Sierra Nevada, the festival drew some breweries from a distance:  Ninkasi and Rogue from Oregon, Fremont, Elysian, and Pyramid from Seattle. But most were Eastern Wash. brewers, some we seldom see on the wet side of the state: Rocky Coulee from Odessa, Orlison from Airway Heights near Spokane, Atomic Ales, Rattlesnake Brewing, Shrub Steppe, and White Bluffs, all from Richland, the third of the Tri Cities after Pasco. Wine-soaked Prosser, a few miles away, had its two brewers, Whitstran and Horse Heaven Hills, on hand.  No-Li showed up to represent the booming Spokane craft brewing scene.
   While most brewers brought kegs from their regular rotation, the pride of Pullman, Paradise Creek, put on quite a show, with two sours, among other treats.  Owner Tom Handy and his crew were happy to extol the
Rosemary-Lemon Wheat Sour and the Huckleberry Pucker, a Berliner Weisse built on a sour mash, with, yes, huckleberries for tart sweetness.  The huckleberry concoction clocked in at 5.5% abv and a very light 4 IBUs. No numbers for the rosemary-lemon number, but it was liquid lemon meringue pie, very easy drinking.
Kennewick: a long drive for a good time!  On May 10. 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Milepost 111: Cashmere gets beer

   If you drive Stevens Pass enough times, you learn the milepost markers of particular landmarks: the espresso shack in Index at mp 35, the summit at mp 67, Leavenworth at an even 100.  Add mp 111, for that is the name of a new brewery in Cashmere.  Opened in October 2012, it features a restaurant with plenty of pub food options and 27 taps flowing:  two wines, one root beer, two ciders, and 23 guest tap craft beers.
The brewing operation, visible behind the bar, is a pair of ten-gallon systems.  "Way smaller than nano," owner Melissa McLendon says with a laugh, "we're super-nano."
  McClendon had just hired a brewer this May and said he was still figuring out how to work with the little system.  She is hoping to buy a regular brewing system on the used equipment market; for now, MP 111 will have one or two of its own brews on tap now and then. at the moment there are none.
   One noteworthy component of the draft taps: the two wines come from one-sixth barrel kegs.  A CO2 delivery system is out of the question, of course (waiter, my merlot has bubbles in it), but rather than nitro, these wine kegs are pressured with argon gas.  McClendon says the Millbrandt winery down the Columbia from Wenatchee, is one of just a few putting up wine in sixtels.
(Visited 05-08-14)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Everybody's growing--

   As the consumption of craft beer in Washington continues to climb as a percentage of total beer sales (hey, if Oregon's percentage is 15, we still have a ways to go), signs of growth appear in breweries all over the state. Fremont Brewing, an old favorite, has expanded beyond its original footprint, in the same location so that it now has an L shape around a yoga studio at the corner of N. 34th St. and Woodland Park St. in Seattle.  They still call their taproom the urban beer garden but have moved it into a more spacious setting.
   The yoga studio must be scouting out a new location, because FBC has plans to expand further, into their space for yet more taproom capacity and production space.
    Across the lake in Woodinville, Dirty Bucket is also planning to expand the floor space and Bellevue Brewing has tanks on order to nearly double production over last year's levels.  Another sign of growth is more hours open to the public.  Dirty Bucket went from Saturdays only to six days a week, while up in Arlington, Skookum has gone from the Friday and Saturday afternoon taproom hours to five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
     Here in Bellingham, as we await the next two breweries about to open (Wander and Aslan), our existing producers have been fitting more equipment into the floor space they have to put out more beer.  The recent appearance of Chuckanut bottles (the 500 ml size) is due to the new bottling machine they ordered from Meheen Manufacturing in Pasco, Wash.
The machine was filling at the rate of twenty bottles per minute on March 18, when I got to watch the operation.  Meheen customized this machine for Chuckanut as the half-liter size the brewery has oped for falls between the 12-oz. (355 ml) and 22-oz.(650 ml) sizes most commonly used for beer on both sides of the border.
The bottles are labeled before filling.  Chuckanut bought a hand-labeling machne from another northwest manufacturer, LabelOne Connect in Beaverton, Ore.

   Another Bellingham brewer, Kulshan, does a roaring trade in growlers, thanks to its exchange program. A cooler out front holds an assortment of growlers already filled with counter-pressure. A customer walks in with an empty Kulshan growler, chooses a full one from the cooler, and slaps a ten dollar bill and the empty growler on the bar.  He or she is all set.  Keeping that cooler stocked is a major job here.
To make growler filling more efficient, Kulshan has recently acquired and installed this double growler filler made by the Alfred Gruber Co, in Austria.  In the photo, only the right-side filler is in use.  The fill rate when two 64-oz. growlers are at the teat, so to speak, is two per minute or 120 per hour.  Kulshan has also altered the landscape of North James Street by installing a 26 foot high grain silo out in front, big enough to hold 50,000 lbs. of malted barley. This unit was built in Alberta.  Great Western Malting, down in our Vancouver, ships a truckload of the malt to Kulshan every other month.
    This is just a wee sample of the bull market in craft brewing in these parts.  As more people discover that beer is just as varied and as fascinating as wine, the demand driving that market will go up yet more.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Three Bohemian Pilsners (Chuckanut, Hoyne, Ninkasi)

   At the Victoria Beer Week last month, I bought a bottle of Bohemian pilsner at Hoyne Brewing and brought it home, knowing that Chuckanut here in Bellingham was about to bring out the same style. It originated in the town of Plzen, in what is now the Czech Republic, in the 1840s.  Back then, the region was known as Bohemia, a part of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire.
    Brewed lager-style, bottom-fermented and stored cool for longer than ales, pilsners have become the best selling style on the planet, thanks to industrial brands like Bud and Coors.  Those have precious little flavor,  The real thing, whether brewed in the Czech or the German tradition, is, au contraire, bursting with flavor. Chuckanut has been turning out German pilsner since day one, brewing it consistently and with renown.  That track record won them a deal with the Tom Douglas restaurants in Seattle, to brew a Bohemian pilsner exclusively for those restaurants.  The only other place you can get Chuckanut Bohemian is at the brewery.
According to Joe Wiebe, who writes on the B.C. brewing scene, Hoyne Brewing has been turning out their Bohemian pilsner for several years now, also to much acclaim.
   To run my first comparisons, I took my chilled bottle of Hoyne Bohemian down to Chuckanut when both the German and Bohemian pilsners were on tap, and ordered a glass of each.  It may not be fair to compare one brewery's version in draft form to another's bottled, but until such time as we can have a true international beer festival right at the border, this is the best we can do.
L: Chuckanut German Pilsner, 5.0% abv
C: Hoyne Bohemian Pilsner, 5.5 % abv
R: Chuckanut Bohemian Pilsner, 5.8% abv

Don't compare heads: I jumped right into side by side sips of the two Bohemians, with water and toast for palate clearing, before I addressed the German. Chuckanut's is clearly a little darker. As to aromas--the Czech Saaz hops is renowned for its citrusy aroma and both Bohemians had that, Hoyne perhaps a bit more.  On the tongue, the maltiness was about the same with each,  Chuckanut lists the IBUs, 39 for the Bohemian and 38 for the German.  Hoyne does not put that number out; I'm guessing high 30s again.  This means nice balance, the bitterness of the Czech hops comes through without overwhelming (Hoyne lists them, beside the Saaz, they use Hallertau and Hersbruch and a German hop; Chucknaut's tasting notes simply say they have imported all the malts and hops from the Czech Republic).
   Here's a curious factoid: the plato numbers on the two Chuckanut pilsners were 12.5 for the German and 14 for the Bohemian. Canadian brewers cite their original gravity more than plate; Hoyne lists the OG on its Bohemian at 1.050, which translates to 12.5 plato.  Measured at the beginning of brewing, these numbers are supposed to predict eventual alcohol content.  As one can see, Hoyne's recipe came out a half percent higher than Chuckanut's German, with the same plato.
   My bottom line:  mouthfeel on the two Bohemians was a draw but the finish, the aftertaste on the Chuckanut was earthier, lingered longer.  The biggest difference in recipes I could see was the malts, Hoyne using Canadian barley and Chuckanut importing Czech barley.
   There's more.  Ninkasi, down in Eugene, does a nice Bohemian called Pravda, which is available in 12 oz. bottles in Bellingham.  I went back to Chuckanut, purchased a 500-ml bottle of the Bohemian pilsner and set it up next to my bottle of Pravda.
Again, Chuckanut achieves a darker color than Ninkasi.  Here's how the numbers compare.
Pravda: 5.0% abv, 38 IBUs, OG 1048(=12.2 plato)
Chuckanut: 5.8% abv, 39 IBUs, 14 plato
Aroma was more pronounced with Pravda.  With aroma, more is not necessarily better, and I enjoyed the subtle aromas in the Chuckanut better.
Initial taste:  Pravda malt-prominent.  Chuckanut: I got a tang, a sense of malts and hops in balance.
Mouthfeel: both really lively, a complex package of earthy flavors.  Aftertaste: I felt the Pravda lingered a bit longer, left a keener sense of the malts. Ninkasi appeared to be using similar ingredients, pilsner malt imported from Czech Republic along with Saaz and Hallertau hops.
   All three Bohemians were fine products; I'm happy that I can get Chuckanut's without leaving town.  Clearly, I'm no cicerone but this was fun.
(Tasted April 2014)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Port Angeles--sorting out the Peaks, and Barhop

   Been wondering why the state beer commission's Washington Beer Guide (2014) lists three breweries in Port Angeles, out on the Olympic Peninsula, two of them named Peaks and Twin Peaks,  I traveled out there April 22 and got it figured out.  They're the same people really, Ed and Wanda Smith, who've been running Peaks Pub downtown with a small brewery since 2005.  They opened up Twin Peaks Brewing and Malting Co. in a new location, out by the airport, for a couple of years.  The third week in April they wrappped up a sale of the downtown site to Jan Robison, who is rebranding the spot at the Lazy Moon-a Craft Tavern.
The Smiths have taken the 2.5 barrel brewing system out of this site and moved it to the Twin Peaks space and set it up next to the new 8-barrel system there.
  The Lazy Moon, now a regular tavern, has ten taps for local beers.  Five are running Twin Peaks brews and three of the other five were carrying other locally brewed suds: Two from Dungeness Brewing in nearby Sequim and one from The Hops Crew, also in Sequim. (Dungeness is listed as Fathom & League Hopyard in the WBC guide).

   The Smiths made renowned chili at this location and I ordered some to see if the torch has been passed.  This was a bowl of smokey pork chili, nice and chunky and pretty good.  The pint behind it is the Dungeness folks' Agnew Amber, the ale they call their flagship.  Agnew, I hasten to add, is a little village near Sequim, and the name has nothing to do with Richard Nixon's first vice president.  This amber is made with three hops, the three C's (Chinook, Cascade, Centennial) but none to excess, it comes out at 6.4% abv and just slightly to the bitter side of balanced.
   The Hop Crew is a nano-scale operation that orders in, yes, hops, in sufficient quantities to crank out a high octane IPA.  Something in the 100 IBUs, I was told. I passed on that, this trip.

  I drove a couple miles out of town to where you can see the Elwha River flowing free again, around the dam that was intentionally breached in 2012. The dam was built a hundred years ago, with no provision for salmon to  migrate past it, against the law even then.  Glad I did, because that sets up a couple of the beer names at Twin Peaks, on the way back into town.

This is where the Smith family, Ed and Wanda, son Evan, and brewer Jeff Abbott, are brewing now. Not malting yet, they put that in the name to allow for that option in the future.
The names. Wandafuca is a golden ale, a play on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, that part of the Pacific you see looking north.  Elwha Silt is brewed as a pale ale but is not particularly hoppy; there is a dry-hopped version that does perk up in IBUs.  Bogachiel Brown, Mt. Pleasant Porter also represent local landmarks and those beer styles.  Evan's Last Dam Beer is a recipe concocted when the dam was breached.  I should note that a number of the more popular styles, such as the Trainwrecked IPA, were not available due to the move.

   This is part of the new system in the back of the building.  A fair amount of plumbing and welding remained to be done to integrate the two systems under one roof.  They do some bottling on-site, and self-distribute to various locations around the peninsula.  "Hand-crafted, hand-bottled, hand-distributed," Ed Smith says with a laugh.
   The taproom does not cook food but has nuts and munchies to sell.

   The other relatively new brewery in P.A. is Barhop Brewing, right down on the waterfront, across a street from the terminal for the ferry to Victoria.  The strait is one busy shipping channel, as all the shipping bound to or from Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, and Tacoma must pass this way.

Barhop's brewer-owner, Tom Curry, started commercial brewing behind the Harbinger Winery out toward the Elwha, and moved his 2.5 barrel system into this building (originally a rail-side fruit warehouse) three years ago last December.  Co-owner and taproom manager Natalie White says the entire output of the brewery is needed just to keep the taps flowing here, so they have no off-site accounts and do no bottling at present.  A band is scheduled most every evening in the ample space.

Mainstay beers here include Hugh Hefeweizen, PA Pale, and of course the IPA, here called Fn A' IPA at 6.2% abv and a sizzling 116 IBUs.  I tried a seasonal, Bourbon Porter, brewed to 6.2% also but with a rich malty flavor and light bourbon notes from the barrel it aged in.

   A griller behind the bar can cook up brats and other hot snacks.

(Visited 4/22/14)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Victoria, part II--the downtown brewpubs

  In part I I set out on Joe Wiebe's Victoria beer mile-plus from Spinnakers and went off counter-clockwise as far as Vancouver Island Brewing.  Heading down Government Street from that point, one passes Phillips Brewing, which was not open, and then to the old downtown, the touristy part.
   Swans Brewpub is part of a boutique hotel also called Swans.  The brewery part cannot be seen from the pub, which has a cozy European feel, with both tables and stand up areas and dark wood trim.
I took Joe's published advice and ordered a pint of Appleton's Brown Ale.  I found it a good exemplar of the style, malty, great aroma, creamy mouthfeel.   I wanted to peek at one of the rooms, for future reference, but the hotel was full that evening.
The brewery opened in 1989 as part of the making of the hotel (formerly a feed warehouse).

   A couple blocks from Swans, on the waterfront, the Canoe Brewpub, Marina, and Restaurant is located in a refurbished brick building that originally housed the coal-fired generators that electrified the city in the 1890s.  The marina part means you can look out on the harbor through the masts of moored sailboats while enjoying a pint on the patio.

Canoe, like Spinnakers, does food on two levels, upscale dining down below and the pub, with the big screens on all sides for the hockey games, on the second floor.  The menus disclose that Canoe is a member of the Truffles Group, a corporate entity but one with taste.  The pub affords a glimpse of the brewing system, and the high ceilings with canoes hanging down are dramatic.

The website says the four signature beers in Canoe are a red, a brown, a pale and an ESB.  The beer list in March said that the fourth signature ale was an IPA rather than the ESB.  This IPA is bittered with Australian hops, not something you see very often, but the brewer is from Down Under so not surprising.
  There were three or four seasonals on the menu and I went with a Simcoe Imperial Pilsner.  Not sure how imperial it was, at 6.5% abv and 45 IBUs, but it had a nice lemony finish and a good aroma.

   This wrapped up the beer mile.  I ate at Canoe and walked over later to a beer week event downtown, a combination panel discussion by six brewers, art show of beer labels, and cask tapping.  Discussion was lively, the cask samples were very good, and the label art, enlarged for public display, showed some creative imaginations at work.
Victoria is great fun for tourists of many persuasions, beer tourists for sure.
(Visited 3/06/14)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Victoria Beer Week: Spinnakers and a bunch more

   Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is only about 25 miles from Bellingham as the crow--or should it be the gull?--flies, but we can't get their beers unless we go there. nor can they get ours.  This spring a range of breweries, among the very first in the craft beer renaissance, celebrate 30th anniversaries, and two of them are in Victoria, which was good enough to throw a craft beer week the first week of March.
    Spinnakers is special because of all the fine breweries in that class of '84 (Pyramid, Widmer Bros., Bridgeport on our side of the line, Granville Island and Vancouver Island Brewing on theirs) it is probably the least changed.  What would you change when you have a million dollar view of Victoria's Inner Harbor, and a beautifully furnished building with a posh restaurant downstairs and a casual pub above.
In Joe Wiebe's Craft Beer Revolution, a guide to B.C. breweries with the best format I've yet seen for books of this type, he describes a walking tour around Victoria's harbor, a mile-plus route that enables the beer tourist to see more than a half-dozen places cranking out the suds. Joe's route ended at Spinnakers, for this post I'll start out there.  With a pint of Jameson Scottish Ale.  Nothing to do with Irish whiskey, Jameson was the maiden name of the wife of founder-owner Paul Hadfield.
   A few blocks walk on a sunny afternoon takes one to Moon Under Water,also a working brewery with a food-serving pub.  Here, I stopped for lunch, appetizers and a pint of Creepy Uncle Dunkel.
At the Moon, my server referred my questions to the brewer and owner, Clay Potter, an enthusiastic young guy who was happy to give me a tour of the works in the back of the pub.  The heart of the system is an 8-barrel brew kettle with mash and lauter tuns, built in Germany for a new brewery going up in South Korea.  The Germans came, got the system up and running and went home after six months.  The Koreans could never turn out good German beer after that and the system ended up on the used goods market.
Multiple batches end up in one of six 20 barrel fermenters (Canadian brewers talk hectoliters, but Clay translated the capacity for me) and one flat-bottomed
open-top fermenter he is using for those Belgian recipes that slurp up yeast from
the atmosphere.  His four core beers are the dunkel I had, a pilsner, a weizen (Clay interned at Bitburger, the big German brewer) and the inevitable IPA.  One seasonal, a hefeweizen in March, rounded out the Moon's own taps.  The other five taps included one rare bird, a "Biere de Vie", described as a smoked salted sour ale, from Cologne and made by the Freigeist Bierkultur brewers there.  Clay's brother is studying the craft in Germany now, hence the unusual import.  I had a taste and it was truly distinctive.

A couple of blocks up from the Moon brings on to two production breweries, almost side by side.  Hoyne Brewing and Driftwood Brewing are so close, in this industrial district, that they share a parking lot.  And over the parking lot runs a pipe that was used in perhaps the most collaborative brewing project ever undertaken.  As Joe Wiebe reported in the latest NW Brewing News, each house brewed a batch of baltic porter with the same ingredients except for the yeast.  Driftwood used an ale yeast and Hoyne a lager yeast. Using the pipe, Hoyne sent its batch across the parking lot to be combined with the ale yeast version in a big tank at Driftwood and kegged off as Rock Bay Mash Up Baltic Porter.
These production breweries fill growlers, and do a fairly brisk business that way, in very limited hours.  Two or three hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons was the case at Hoyne.  No tastes allowed.  You could buy bottles at some of them, and I took a bottle of Hoyne's Bohemian pilsner home to compare with the new Bohemian pilsner Chuckanut just brought out.  Tasting notes to be published soon.

   Several more blocks of walking in this industrial part of town takes one to Vancouver Island Brewing, another one of the class of '84 celebrating thirty years of making beer.  This, too, is a production brewery with limited growler filling hours, but it is large.  I failed to record the capacity but it has to be in the hectoliter equivalent of a 50-barrel plant. The look is modern, built in the mid-90s as it outgrew the original plant.
VIB offers tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons which evidently end by the growler station where tastes may be poured.

The balance of my day was spent at two downtown brewpubs and a public event held as part of the first beer week in Victoria.  That will be covered in my next post.  These notes are getting old!

(Visited 03/06/14)