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.