Monthly Archives: June 2013

Firkins, Spiles, Shives…

It may sound like a technical guide to The Jabberwocky: the glossary of terms for cask-conditioned beer is right up there in the silly-sounding-words department. At this point in an intermediate-to-professional beer drinker’s life, you’ve probably had beer from a cask/firkin/beer engine. Chances are, you first thought it was too warm, too malty, flat. Then you picked up on some of the subtleties that come with fresh, live, real ale, nuances that can be found only in cask-conditioned ale. Or, if you still think it’s flat and warm, try it again, and imagine yourself in a pub (oh right, you already are in a pub) on a rainy evening (it is Oregon after all), in the 1890s (got ya there!). At this point I’m thirsty enough to drive to Oakridge for a pint of Brewer’s Union Local 180’s Real Ale. A pint of ESB or Porter is great after coming down from the mountain (or going up…).

Before pressurized CO2, brewers needed a way to carbonate their beer, so they would seal it up in a wooden cask (a firkin = 9 Imperial gallons, or 10.8 U.S. gallons) before it had finished fermenting; the remainder of fermentation would produce enough CO2 to lightly carbonate the beer to make it brighter, more palatable. Carbonation protects beer from oxidation and infection, increases bitterness perception, and generally makes beer more enjoyable to drink.

Back in the 70s, a consumer advocacy group called the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) wrote the constitution of Real Ale, defining it as

“a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation. It is this process which makes real ale unique amongst beers and develops the wonderful tastes and aromas which processed beers can never provide.”


And so we have Real Ale.  But don’t be fooled! Some breweries will fake it by taking finished beer, force carbonating it to a low level, and putting it into a firkin, or simply calling it “cask” beer. It may be effective at recreating some aspects of Real Ale, but is disingenuous to consumers and misses the point of recreating a historical method of making beer.

There are two ways to enjoy Real Ale: it can be hooked up to a “beer engine” and pumped into your pint; or it can be poured by gravity from a spigot that is driven by mallet force into the keystone (tap-hole) of a firkin. Regardless of how it is served, Real Ale is alive and very temporary– as beer is poured, oxygen is allowed in through the shive (a vent on top of the firkin). Oxygen exposure will spoil beer over the course of a couple days, so it needs to be drunk!

One of the many awesome aspects of Real Ale is that you can “dose” the firkin with anything you want– hops, coffee, wood, fruit… it’s impossible to do that in most commercial kegs. On July 18th, the Stein is putting on a smorgasbord of wood-aged beers, and one of those will be a firkin of Falling Sky’s Exposure IPA, dosed with (I think) hickory wood and hops.  Even sooner than that, on Wednesday (7/3), we’ll have a firkin of Firestone Walker’s Walker’s Reserve Porter tapped at 5pm– if you thought it was good out of the bottle, that creamy chocolate sensation will be elevated by the natural conditioning process, warmer temperature (~55F is proper cellar temp.), and lower carbonation.

Get Real!

Update: I had e-mailed Firestone rep Keenan Delehanty for assurance that the firkin was proper Real Ale. He replied back with a paragraph from brewer Matt Brynildson:

Having spent a good deal of time in the UK observing cask ale production, I can assure you that our casks are racked and conditioned in the same manner as those racked by the great cask ale breweries in England.  The only major difference is that our program utilizes no cask finings, therefore the clarity of our beers is sometimes less bright than those you see in the UK.  We feel that we can not use finings effectively unless the publican receives the cask and places it into stillage for an reasonable amount of time (24-48 hours) without moving it prior to serving, allowing the finings and precipitate to stay in the bottom of the cask (that’s a mouth full.)  Most US publicans are moving the cask around just prior to serving which stirs up the cask contents (finings do not taste very good since they are made from fish guts.)  Also, on the subject of priming casks (the addition of sugar or wort to spark a secondary fermentation) this is typically done in breweries that are fermenting in open fermenters and can’t assure that the proper amount of CO2 is present in the beer at the time of racking.  Priming cask beer is not as common as some folks would like to think and it’s all about dialing in CO2.  The CO2 level that finished cask ale should have is 1.2-1.8 volumes CO2/beer and this is what we get in our normal fermentation cycle.  We would only utilize priming sugar if we were unable to deliver the proper CO2 level at the time of racking.  Since we produce our beers in closed cylindrical / conical tanks, we typically are able to get all of the CO2 required for the  finished cask in tank.  We do rack the beer unfiltered with yeast so that any residual activity of the yeast protects the beer while the cask is conditioning.

Hope this helps


Thanks Matt, great info!

New Bottles of note 6.22.13

If you get  your hands on one IPA this summer, make it Deschutes Fresh Squeezed. Its bold, clear amber color is aptly followed by silky malt flavors and succulent hop chewiness. This is a beer you can judge by the label. Unlike many citrusy IPAs that scorch your tastebuds with cohumulone and alcohol, Fresh Squeezed gooses you good, then puts its arm around your shoulder. It is hopped with Nugget, Citra, and Mosaic– what a great combination! Citra is, obviously, a citrusy, tropical hop. They could have just used Citra and kept the name, but it would have been one-dimensional and harsher. Instead, Nugget adds a softer fruit and herb note, and Mosaic (the “daughter of Simcoe,” and all the rage right now) lends some  melon flavor, rounding out the tropical/citrus bouquet with grace. Some of the solo-Mosaic beers have a musky sensation similar to the “cat-pee”  (sorry) aroma often accompanying super fresh Simcoe beers; it is not the case here.

squeeze me!
squeeze me!

Anchorage Brewing’s homepage proudly declares that it is “WHERE BREWING IS AN ART & BRETTANOMYCES IS KING!” If only that were the case more often…

This Belgian-inspired brewery in southern Alaska (because of course there is) puts at least a little Brett into everything, and sometimes more. More is definitely the case with the latest bottles, Anadromous and AK Alive! (a collaboration with the crazy guys at Mikkeller). Anadromous probably has more cold-side additions than in the mash and boil kettle– it’s a black ale fermented with Belgian yeast, then aged in Pinot Barrels with Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus (does that mean it’s quintuple fermented?). The skeptic in me says “too much!” but I can see how this could go right. At the very least, drink this after a round of antibiotics to get your gut flora replenished…

Pediococcus doesn’t sound like something we should put in food, but it is actually a vital microorganism in our cultural library. It is partly responsible for fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut, for example. Ironically, Anadromous comes up as the seventh entry in a Google search for Pediococcus. Pedio is one of the fermenters of Lambic beers, often producing the bulk of lactic acid, and can generate some really funky esters (think anywhere from feet to butterscotch)– don’t fret, it generally (hopefully) plays second fiddle to more appealing flavors, while lending a particular creamy mouthfeel. Yeah!

I’ve never seen a “cover beer” before, but Anchorage seems to have done it. AK Alive! is their version of It’s Alive! And, apparently, that too is a cover beer. Converse to Anadromous, the recipe is simple, straightforward: brew a pale, hoppy Belgian ale, then bottle condition with a lively Brett strain.

Pit Stops: Terre Haute, Denver, Bend

You never know what you’re going to get driving into the heart of a giant landmass. –Aaron I credit my Dad for turning me on to good beer, and so it was with pride that I got to show him a slew of great watering holes on our transcontinental tour of the Interstate system. Let the record show: we are extremely lucky. Mere hours after we had battled severe rain between Terre Haute, Indiana and St. Louis, Missouri, several tornadoes caused I-70 to shut down in the area. Significance junkies would wrestle with the whys and hows of our fortune, try to decode reality as Carl Jung would interpret a dream. As for Dad and I, a beer was in order. Let the record also show: Colby, Kansas is not the place to be a beer snob. Negra Modelo is awesome, especially when you are in the Mexican restaurant-in-a-hotel-across-the-street-after-10-hours-driving. Thankfully, we had a cooler with some East Coast reserve bottles stashed back in the room. That’s all I have to say about that. Day 3 got us into Denver, Colorado: the most centrally located Beer Heaven in the country. If you can find your way around (I suggest a detailed map), there are wonderful suds to be had. Vine Street Pub, the Denver outpost of Boulder’s Mountain Sun consortium, is tucked into a neighborhood with great old bungalows and Craftsman homes. The atmosphere is decidedly homey in the just-out-of-college sense; classic concert posters adorn the walls, and the menu is simple and tasty. My first experience with Mountain Sun beer, on a road trip in 2005, was revelatory: Colorado Kind Ale on Nitro gave me shivers back then, and it is still one of my all-time favorites. It is extra smooth and malty from the Nitro, but a good dose of bitterness and classical American hop sensations keep everything in balance.

vine street pub
Colorado Kind Ale at Vine St. Pub in Denver, CO

These days, the most desirable beers tend to be the least available, especially of the wild/sour variety. Crooked Stave, the brain/love child of Chad Yakobson, is a particularly tasty example of this phenomenon. Yakobson, following a Masters dissertation on Brettanomyces, brews all of his beers with some combination of Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, and/or Lactobacillus. Many are fermented in large oak barrels, some are dry-hopped or otherwise augmented. Our final beer destination (aside from landing in Eugene) was Bend. Bend is beer country. Actually, Bend and Eugene are beginning to share a desirable trait when it comes to microbreweries: proximity. You can walk less than two miles in Bend and hit at least 5 breweries (Silver Moon, Bend Brewing, 10 Barrel, Good Life, Boneyard); Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood has just gotten a sudsy facelift; now you can walk from Ninkasi to Oakshire to (in a few days) Hop Valley. From Whiteaker it’s just a short jaunt downtown to Steelhead (where I’m waiting for brewer Ted Fagan to make another round of awesome lagers), Falling Sky, the Rogue, McMenamins, and of course the Bier Stein (or you can just come here– we’ve got it all!). Finishing the trip was bittersweet, but well-punctuated by pints of tasty homebrew (home is where the homebrew is). Thanks to the wonders of wireless internet, our six days of travel didn’t leave us lacking good beer, even in the middle of nowhere.

Oregon Cider Week – 6/21-6/30

As long as apples are growing, there will be cider. Hard cider consumption most likely predates humans, as we can observe some animals that forage fermenting fruit in order to catch a little buzz. These days the process is a bit more precise. The Johnny Appleseed story, as detailed in Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, is a tale of success, especially in our neck of the woods where the Temperance movement’s shenanigans were shrugged off long ago. Make a trip up the Valley to Hood River, and up into Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and you’ll be hard pressed (pun intended) to miss the apple orchards along the way.

Craft cider (known as “cider” before large, commercial hard cider makers came along) is booming — booming so much that Oregon has dedicated an entire [long] week to it. And much like the nationally popular “Beer Week,” Oregon Cider Week will be rife with events showcasing different cideries and their multifarious wares. The Bier Stein will be hosting tasting events with Finn River, Wandering Aengus, 2 Towns, and Tieton (see the Facebook page soon for more details). Cideries have been popping up everywhere lately (except Eugene…), and with some peculiar offerings that should pique the interest of those beer lovers who seek out the weird and wild. Reverend Nat’s in Portland makes the Hallelujah Hopricot, and describes it as such on their website:

The making of Hallelujah Hopricot starts with heirloom American apples as a Belgian wit-style cider steeped with coriander, bitter orange peel and paradise grains, fermented with French saison and Belgian ale yeasts. On top of that rich base, I add apricot juice and finish with whole-leaf Cascade and Amarillo hops. A fresh and fruity concoction not dulled by any sweetening, this off-dry cider is my best-seller, and for good reason. ABV 6.9%.

Sounds weird, eh? Can’t wait to try ’em.

My most recent encounters with local cider have been rather wonderful; I brought home a bottle of Wandering Aengus’ Wickson, a single-varietal crabapple cider, and fairly devoured it– the balance of tartness, tannins, and 100-Watt fruit flavor was, to my mind, perfect. I’m also a fan of dry white wines, so this was a good match for me. Tieton, out of Yakima, WA (where 95% of the nation’s hops are grown) makes a dry-hopped cider (appropriate, no?) that lends a crisp citrusy bite to the finish– while not a “cider for hopheads” per se, it lends a familiar air to some of the unfamiliar traits of cider. This is a key element in cider: there are so many varieties of apple (apple seeds are not genetically stable, so you will get a different apple whenever you plant a seed; this is why orchardists graft Oregon Cider Week is kicked off by the Portland Cider Summit on the 21st & 22nd, which features nearly 100 ciders from 29 cideries, mostly from Oregon and Washington. Of course it’ll take a little while for an event like that to happen in Eugene, but I’m sure we’ll see a small cider festival before long, and maybe even a Eugene cidery!

East Coast Sippin’

Of course I’d start up a blog and then ditch to the East Coast for two weeks..

A year ago when  my college roommate Mark called to announce his engagement,  I was naturally thrilled and honored to be included in his cadre of groomsmen. My anticipation of the event, marked by a current of nervousness at performing a reading and jitters at the prospect of seeing so many people after 5+ years, somewhat abated after hearing the beer lineup: Sam Adams Summer Ale, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, and Allagash White. The former two are readily available in Oregon, but Allagash has fallen through the cracks of distributorship here, sadly.

Allagash White pairs well with garden weddings!
Allagash White pairs well with garden weddings!

When I started drinking craft beer in college (I would buy a 30-pack of Schaefer and a 6-pack of 60 Minute, feigning financial efficiency), and then started home brewing in my junior year, Mark hopped right into the hobby with me, and was, while in med school, far outpacing my own output until I got to Eugene. Now as a doctor he brews less, but enjoys more.

The groom enjoys a pre-wedding beer...
The groom enjoys a pre-wedding beer… you gotta make sure it’s good!

Anyhow, another upside to the eastward sojourn was the opportunity to do some extensive “research” on the craft beer scene in the DC area, whence I hail. Surprisingly to my Oregon-centric mind, there are breweries sprouting up all over the Mid-Atlantic states. I have to throw in another aside here:

Customers frequently request Yuengling, which is the oldest brewery in the country. Having been gone so long, I had dismissed it as “just another pseudo-craft lager,” lumping it in with National Bohemian and Olympia as passable alternatives to PBR and BMC products. But while it is not the shiniest of examples, I have to laud it as a mild, pleasing Amber Lager– not quite a Vienna Lager like Negra Modelo, but far toastier and smoother than your standard large-scale American Lager, especially if served at higher-than-freezing temperatures. If you’re back east, give it a whirl and a nod as the best “old standby” out there.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to try them all. Otherwise I’d be at Churchkey in D.C… I managed to sample some of the District’s finest: DC Brau. Their pale ale is of Northwest descent, with a dry-hop haze and grapefruit + floral aromas that belie a gentle bitterness. Also in the fridge were two from Duck Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville (yes, it’s a real place) North Carolina (no, the beer didn’t taste like blue cheese buffalo wings…). Their Brown Ale was smooth but somewhat roasty for the style (it went great with sesame/ginger kebabs), their Porter was spot on, just darn tasty.

Whenever I travel, the challenge is to drink beer that the Stein can’t get; this way I learn about local flavors, local palates, local trends. For instance: the sour beer craze has not fully hit the Mid-Atlantic states. IPAs are, overall, more malty than West Coast versions (my opinion: there is nothing wrong with that unless it is too sweet!). Many restaurants are catching on, and adding good beer stock with their good wine stock.

Next up: a whirlwind (literally!) trip across America, mostly Denver and Bend.