Monthly Archives: June 2018

Drink Local Invasives: History in a Glass

In the late 1800s, Alexander Seavey and his sons planted hops on what is now Buford Park and Mount Pisgah between the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette River. Hops were the primary crop grown then, as the Willamette Valley became the biggest hop growing region in the country, and exported hops all over the world. The original variety cultivated was Cluster (thought to be a hybrid of imported and native cultivars), though more varieties, such as English-bred Northern Brewer, trickled in as the industry matured.

The Seavey family operated hop farms up and down the Willamette Valley until just after World War II, even through Prohibition; European agriculture was heavily damaged during World War I, but brewers still needed hops. During that time, they also planted orchards of plum, cherries, hawthorn, and apple. The family’s legacy is now in name: Seavey Loop Road connects Eugene and Springfield to Buford Park; it is still mostly farmland.

In 2012, some Cluster hops were found growing wild in Buford Park. Because they are technically an invasive, the native garden nursery there was not allowed to propagate the plants. Rhizomes were given to Agrarian Ales, where they now grow on an artfully conceived “hop dome” near the brewery.  Similarly, the apple and hawthorn trees that have survived are not considered native. However, they have been put to use by WildCraft Cider Works, which has produced two vintages of Pisgah Heritage Cider using only fruit from that orchard.

A glass of Pisgah Heritage Cider
WildCraft’s Pisgah Heritage Cider uses apples from the original homestead orchard.

On June 23, 2018 during Oregon Cider Week, the park held its first Pisgah Heritage Festival. Visitors could peruse the native plant garden, meet with local nonprofits involved in preserving the environment around the park, and enjoy beer and cider from Agrarian Ales and WildCraft. A feature of the festival was a talk about the hops and orchard, led by Friends of Buford Park & Mount Pisgah’s Stewardship Director Jason Blazar, with WildCraft founder Sean Kelly and Ben Tilley, co-founder of Agrarian Ales.

Blazar started the talk with some history about the crops, and noted that not all invasives are pests. “We can fight plants, or recognize that some plants have intrinsic value,” he said, offering up that some invasive species can be used and managed for value-added efficiency. The Cluster “hop refugees” growing at Agrarian Ales are an example of this.

Tilley described the Cluster hop cones as having an “incredible amount of lupulin,” like a bee’s pollen packet that virtually explodes from the flower as it matures. That the hops survived in the wild for so long has made them quite resilient, and resistant to the mildews and other diseases that plague hops in the Willamette Valley. Tilley also mentioned that an old farmer from Detering Orchards, near Agrarian Ales, told him that hops were grown decades ago on the very spot where Agrarian’s grow now. Back then, women and children worked the harvest, and the kids didn’t go to school until all the hops were picked.

Agrarian brewer Nathan Tilley worked with Blazar to develop the recipe for the beer served at the event, Fog on the Mountain. It is a refreshing, cloudy pale ale that was dry-hopped with the Cluster during fermentation. Both 2016 and 2017 harvests were used in the brew. Notes of peppery farmhouse yeast add a zingy zest to the hops, which display a bit of the Cluster’s notorious cattiness along with subtle guava.

Though the hops are grown at Agrarian, the bines are transported to Buford Park for a ceremonial hop picking party. Last year’s fires caused concern that the hops would impart a smoky flavor to the beer, but that seems not to be the case; at least not yet, according to Kelly.

WildCraft served the 2016 and 2017 vintages of Pisgah Heritage Cider. Both are classically English in presentation: very dry, with a strong tannic presence. The 2016 had dropped clear, evincing a bright, candy-like acidity. The 2017, which I sipped during the talk, was only packaged two days before, and displayed a brusque, burlap, rustic tannin; a different sort of apple presence that begged to be paired with cheese and charcuterie. With time, it too will clear up and mellow, displaying its true terroir. “Every profile-landscape takes time to evolve. Things need to settle and relax.” Kelly told me after the talk that cider, like wine, needs six to nine months before its sense of place comes to the fore; it could be that those 2017 hops, in the right conditions, could eventually show some smoke.

Kelly is an eloquent speaker, even off the cuff. He exists in a biologically dynamic mindset that is pragmatically naturalistic, humanitarian in the earthiest sense. That means he moves at a different pace, and seems to simultaneously cultivate and harvest from his surroundings, be they an orchard or a hip-hop show.

He gave an overview of apple fermentation. “Apples encapsulate the yeast of the spring,” quite literally, he said. The fruit grows around the flower, rather than from the stem. Notice that the core of an apple has hollow space compared to a pear. Kelly says this is where the yeast is preserved. The skin of an apple also carries yeast, but it can be removed, even bleached away, and the fruit will still naturally ferment.

The history of homestead orchards could be (and should be, and maybe is) a book. Kelly spoke about the purpose of the thousands of acres of apples planted over 100 years ago. They certainly weren’t for apple pie; they were for fermenting into cider to be drunk, served still from a cask, or for distilling into fuel for farm machinery. The latter practice was outlawed, and Kelly waxed a bit political: “Whether or not I agree with how America has gone its course is a different thing.” The prohibition of home distillation requires farmers to rely on commercial fuel, which supersedes a closed-system ecology. Again– could/should/might be a book.

Here, Blazar interjected with some history of the land. Elijah Bristow, the Virginian who became the first white person to settle in Lane County, put his stake in Pleasant Hill, and described Mount Pisgah as “the promised land,” according to Blazar. At that point, the history of the landscape changed forever. Bristow and future settlers brought not only disease that killed the original settlers, the Calapooya tribe, but also the endemic penchant to manage the land a certain way. Native plants weren’t given a second thought as agriculture came to the oak-spotted prairie.

Now, Friends of Buford Park & Mount Pisgah work with what they’ve got, and have indeed improved the abundance of native species. Even still, blackberries, hawthorn, Scotch broom, and other invasives are difficult or impossible to eradicate. Again, Blazar, who has been with the nonprofit for a long time, cited a progressive model of remediation. “As we look forward, we have to learn from these experiences. Not wage war on weeds, but look at the benefits they provide for us as a community.” The benefits can be intangible, as this educational talk proved, or tangible to the point of consumable, as the cider and beer act as anthropological artifacts that connect the people that drink them with the origin and history of the ingredients.

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Sean Kelly, Jason Blazar, and Ben Tilley at the first Pisgah Heritage Festival.

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Resources:
“‘Hop Fever’ in the Willamette Valley,” by Peter A. Kopp
“High hopes for hops,” by Tim Christie
“Early Day Story of Lane County and its Settlement is Recounted,” by Frank Fay Eddy

A Column on Columns

The Wheel Apizza Pub just released a new lager. Columns is a black lager – not a schwarzbier, tmave, or anything else official – brewed with Bohemian floor malted dark malt and other toasty dark malts, and local Sterling hops; the yeast of choice remains  concealed. It is lager’s answer to easy-drinkin’ porter, and was, boldly, released on the summer solstice. It is also the third lager The Wheel’s put out in the 2 months its been open, a trend I hope continues.

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I’m a self-professed Vanoraholic; the premiere lager, Vanora Amber Lager, at the new brewery got my wheels turning, especially after getting back from Europe and realizing that it’s actually the closest thing to Světlý Ležák in town. I’ve had more of that beer than any other lately (should I say, “and that’s saying a lot!”? Or would that be embarrassing?). I was prepared, despite confident assurances and my own time-tested faith in Toby’s ability to pull off most fermentations, for the first beers “out of the gate” to beg for a tweak. I can’t speak for the hoppy ales, nor is that what this column is about.

Each of the lagers has its own structure and place; rounded and mossy-soft (Vanora), staccato and sunny (Quest Pils), earthy and shaded (Columns).

The pizza at The Wheel is satisfying and just filling enough thanks to a sourdough crust; today’s lunch special was a Detroit-style pie served in big tile-sized slices, with a dollop of bright red sauce on top of the cheese/meat/mushroom toppings, and went as well with Columns as tomato’d pizza can go with beer. Both were devoured in short order.

If you’re local and haven’t been here, go. If you’re not local and you haven’t been here… go.

Why Am I Making This Face?

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It looks like I’ve just been stung. The exaggerated crinkling on the bridge of my nose and the tensed levator and zygomaticus muscles above my lip and astride my schnoz indicate an intense reaction, in this case to an aroma. My eyes are closed, which boosts olfactory perception. You may wonder: what’s in the whiskey glass?

The answer: Spigot Licker. Flat Tail Brewing in Corvallis, headed up by jack-of-all-everything Dave Marliave, produced this beer (yes, it’s still a beer and I’ll tell you why later) for the coming of age of Corvallis Brewing Supply – its 21st birthday. Spigot Licker is 18% alcohol by volume. It is a single malt beer, yet it is deep brown in color due to the fact that the wort was boiled for six DAYS. It was fermented in neutral oak, and dosed with four yeast strains in order to achieve enough attenuation to be drinkable.

Marliave is one of the few brewers I’d trust to do a damn fool thing like that and get it right. He isn’t all willy-nilly about it. He lone-wolfs it in the brewery, and takes long trips on his motorcycle; plenty of time to spend in one’s head, poring over the minutiae of making beer.

In a world where best-of beer lists are topped by IPAs and pastry stouts to the near exclusion of subtle flavors and simple recipes with a focus on process, Spigot Licker’s complexity is derived from a simple recipe with intensive processes. A record-setting six day boil reduced the volume of wort by over 60%, thickening and caramelizing the originally pale, bready Golden Promise malt liquor into a syrup that no brewer’s hydrometer could read. Kettle caramelization (or in this case, pre-fermentation distillation?) produces deeper flavors than using caramel malts, and is a hallmark of the Wee Heavy profile (but a strong Scotch ale this isn’t). A wisp of burnt sugar adds complexity and satisfying roundness, the difference between cooking meat on a stovetop or on a grill; you taste the fire.

I can imagine the kettle cleaning process after this: using a pastry knife to scrape the honey-like wort off the walls and drizzle it onto a waffle. You did do that, right Dave?

Actually, my expression is exaggerated; it should have shown a thousand-mile stare, and then I could have added an animated whirlpool emanating from my pupils and a plume of leather-colored smoke sneaking over the rim of the glass. There is nothing sharp about Spigot Licker. Think Helen Mirren dressed in ruddy satin, sipping a glass of Madeira while a cigar smolders at the other end of the bar.

Like so many obtusely flavored beers that get their cocktailitude from an abundance of standard cocktail ingredients, Spigot Licker is self-contained and elevating, the way a proper Manhattan is more than the sum of its parts. It conjures memories; it tells a story or weaves a dream. Yep, it’s romantic.

On a more tangible note, I think it’s available at Flat Tail primarily. It’s served in 6oz pours for $10; that is basically three beers for the price of two. It is just barely carbonated; it doesn’t need the bubble, as its richness is balanced by tannins. But it IS a beer; it is 100% barley malt and fermented with yeast to its final alcohol content, rather than freeze-distilled like some extremely strong beers on the market. Though I doubt it will be as popular as, say, Pulp Action IPA (which came in 2nd at a blind IPA tasting in Portland), Spigot Licker is worth spending 30 minutes with your nose in the glass, imagining your life as a slice of mahogany baked into tiramisu.

How to Beer Week

Beer weeks are hard if you have a real job, or a life. If, like so many others, you suffer from FOMOOB (fear of missing out on beer), you know that a good plan of attack is crucial to maximizing your sample factor and minimizing drunken calls home for a ride.

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Eugene Beer Week is in its 8th year! Founded in 2011 by 16 Tons proprietor Mike Coplin, it totally qualifies as a beer week, but also totally qualifies as a classic Eugene interpretation of a beer week. Since UO football games are the only events that motivate most people to mark their calendars, businesses participating in Eugene Beer Week may anticipate a lack of enthusiasm but must prepare for hordes. And it’s not even football season! Despite my pessimism, EBW supports a bunch of great events. Here’s where I think I’ll be. Maybe.

It begins with a grand kickoff a couple days early: The Bier Stein Invitational Beer Fest. I am biased because it is actually one of the best beer fests in Oregon, if not Eugene. And I have helped organize it every year. But it’s really the best because of the attention to detail that Dave puts into it, and the lineup of beer that includes debuts of special brews, one-off beers, and–this year–a whopping four collaborations various staff did with breweries. It’s this Saturday (tomorrow!), June 2 and is an easy $25. Most of the beers are 1 ticket. I’ll be there until it’s time for dinner and The Flaming Lips.

Monday is my deadline for an article, so I’ll be celebrating my procrastination by working the big screen at Beer Family Feud at The Bier Stein (again!). This is one of many long-running EBW events, but isn’t the usual semi-social drinkathon. Two teams of brewers, who become increasingly rowdy and tend to heckle me when they make a bad guess, compete to guess the most popular answers to questions answered by our [less rowdy?] bar patrons. It starts at 7 and fills up quick since there is also a raffle for prizes. And the closer you sit, the closer you are to Ty Connor.

Even though there is a beer dinner at the Stein with Oakshire on Tuesday, I’m going to give it a pass (but don’t recommend missing it). That is simply because I now do this for a living, not plan beer dinners that I get to attend for free. Who’s the sucker now? No, I think I’ll get some exercise and bike over to Hayden Bridge Taphouse to crush everybody at Beer Trivia (that’s pure hubris talking, everyone), hosted by beer buyer Sebastian Rauenzahn. That starts at 6:30. Deschutes Cultivateur is on tap there right now; that’s what I’ll be drinking if it’s still there.

Wednesday will be pub crawl day. I may just do the entire Eugene Beer T, as there is some contiguity with events. Join me at any time! South to north, east to west: Tower of Sour at The Bier Stein (Loons! Sennes! pFriems! (If that means nothing to you, come have a flight.) Manifest Beer Co. is having a benefit for the HIV Alliance, and I think that’s really groovy. Brandon’s beer has gotten a hell of a lot better since he found a stable home for his 4-hectoliter brewery, and deserves some love. If I feel like doing some heckling, I’ll swing by ColdFire and watch Dana from Oregon BrewLab teach people how to taste beer. Like, really taste it, not just say it’s yummy because it’s hazy. Westward, Beergarden is having a Modern Times pop-up pub all week. I’ll go because when I went to Modern Times-PDX new location it was a hipster gallery and far too distracting with all the mismatched clothing patterns and coiffed whiskers to pay attention to the beer… or the prices. OK, that sounds like a solid Wednesday to me.

Thursday is another doozy, and I may have to sing for my supper to attend the Alesong & Friends Rare Beer Tasting & Discussion from 6-9pm. I really want to. The price tag may burn your eyes, but for the breweries they’re bringing in, it’s worth it for the experience (The Ale Apothecary, The Bruery, Cascade Brewing, Casey Brewing and Blending, De Garde Brewing, Jester King Brewery, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, and Wiseacre Brewing Co.) In this case, “experience” doesn’t mean the beer is, or has to be, good by any standard definition; good is subjective, and these breweries utilize the subjective sensory skills of their brewers and blenders to create flavor combinations that don’t exist in nature (and yet are made by… nature). I want to taste that just as much as I want to taste a Czech lager I brewed myself (that is: a lot!). It builds character.

Simultaneously, and much closer and cheaper, there is a book release at Falling Sky Pub for Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest, written by Brandon Fralic and Rachel Wood (who totally stole my idea that I never told anyone!). If you have to be near a brewery when you hike (no judging!), these two have you covered. Writing books is hard work, and I’m happy to see two of my favorite things combined in print media.

*Update 5:54pm: Ninkasi is hosting Pints for a Cause for my homebrew club, the Cascade Brewers Society! Thursday from noon-10pm at the Tasting Room, $1 from every pint sold will help us spread the good wort, and have fun doing it.*

Prior to that, McKenzie Brewing is opening up its brand new tasting room/production facility and releasing its first batch of cans. This project has been in the works for over 5 years, since the brewhouse was moved up from a northern California location of the small Steelhead brewpub chain. The new spot is 1875 W. 6th Ave, and the event is 4-7pm.

On Friday, 16 Tons begins its Funk ‘n Wild Fest, a perfect segue from Tower of Sour. And Beergarden celebrates its 3rd Anniversary with three collaboration releases: with Yachats, ColdFire, and Agrarian Ales. I’m excited to taste these!

Yep, it’s gonna be a beer week!