All posts by beerstone

About beerstone

I used to think I knew beer. Now I know it's more of a narrative than that. I work at The Bier Stein, a rad Bottleshop & Pub in Eugene, as a beer steward. I also write about beer for Northwest Brewing News and The New School. I'm a BJCP National-rank judge, Certified Cicerone, an active fermenter, an active member of the Cascade Brewers Society, an active guitarist, and an active gardener. I'm fairly active, though I still consider myself a lazy so-and-so.

A Diverse Culture is a Healthy Culture

A mixed culture fermentation, with a diversity of organisms acting in some sort of harmony, has more positive effects on health than fermentation with a single organism. I learned that first from Sandor Katz, the anarcho-fermentalist gay communard living (and surviving) with AIDS, and author of Wild Fermentation and the ultimate reference tome The Art of Fermentation. He’s living proof. But this post isn’t about him, no offense. This post turns the issue of cultural diversity back to the humans who instigate fermentation, and the way they interact with each other.

Having now extracted myself from the freestyle grandiosity of my last post, I have some things to say about what actually happened at HomebrewCon. The massive event is not just a big ol’ pat on the back drinkathon for the American Homebrewers Association and its members. It is an educational opportunity for homebrewers, as dozens of professional brewers and other industry members present thematic seminars on a wide range of topics.

Given that both Gary Glass, AHA director, and Charlie Papazian, the founder and totem, were in attendance for the seminar called Cultivating Diversity and Inclusion in Homebrewing, and that the AHA has recently formed a diversity subcommittee, it’s small wonder that the seminar was the most important thing to happen at HomebrewCon. A panel of four people–Diane Griffin (Umpqua Brewers Guild), Kiley Gwynn (Cascade Brewers Society), Annie Johnson (Picobrew, pro brewer), and Anthony Salazar (diversity education pro, Latino baseball historian, homebrewer)–was led by Debbie Cerda, head of the Diversity Subcommittee. The origin of the subcommittee was a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis within the AHA. This analysis revealed diversity as a weakness within the nonprofit and its constituency, and so the AHA took action. Kudos!

The seminar, which took place at 11:30am on 6/30, was guided by the goals and tactical points of the strategic plan that was implemented in June 2018 (I think – very recently regardless), and the panel was asked about personal challenges and successes with diversity in their lives within brewing communities. The atmosphere in the large room, occupied by 70-100 people, was alert and receptive. In the wake of some technical difficulty, Annie Johnson chatted about the Czech-style pilsner she’d brought to serve, and cracked jokes with the audience. Once the PowerPoint was active, Cerda led off with a lengthy overview of the formation of the subcommittee and its nuances. It went a bit long, and I felt that the discussion with the panelists should have been more prioritized.

Once they were given the floor, however, the panel broke down the broad strokes of the diversity subcommittee’s goals into distinct patterns, causes, and effects.

Kiley Gwynn told a story I’d heard before and even been present for, though I was not aware of it at the time. In short, she’d been let go from the second round of judging at a local homebrew competition, and found out later that her presence was, indeed, needed. The misogynistic under- and overtones of that event left her feeling excluded from a group–her own homebrew club–in which she was actively trying to participate.

The tables have turned, however, as Gwynn is now “first lady” and an enthusiastic guiding voice of CBS (my homebrew club as well). She’ll be leading a re-write of the club’s bylaws to incorporate language that is inclusive and anti-discriminatory. She also brought along her homebrewed braggot-style Belgian single, brewed with meadowsweet honey, for us to taste during the panel.

A short generation apart, Diane Griffin expressed that she hadn’t dealt with the same feelings of exclusion as Gwynn, but recognized that homebrewing is a male dominated hobby (according to a recent AHA survey, 93% of homebrewers are male). She put it well: “We would have eliminated 50% of the problem if there had been a Ms. Beer kit.” Chuckles from the audience.

Johnson, who is a black woman, also spoke about her experiences. I had my pen working to compute my thoughts in the moment and didn’t catch everything she said, except this quotable quote: “Beer is community and just wants to be drunk.” If ever there was an elbow in the ribs to get over the active-awkward “colorblindness” that white people are acting out today, that’s it. Johnson also noted that in big beer advertising, historically and currently, women are used as props and marketing tools, still selling beer as sex. Women aren’t represented as brewers anywhere in popular culture, which has the doubled effect of causing people to assume that a woman in the beer industry is probably in sales or service.

Anthony Salazar, who had brought along his Mexican chocolate stout to serve, gave the AHA the template used to form the bones of the subcommittee. He’s a Chicano who works as a diversity education professional in Washington State. His comments flew by as well (luckily, these seminars are all accessible online to AHA members; go listen when they’re up!), but I was able to process an important point, which applies to the hobby’s position in a capitalist society: “It’s a privileged hobby. It takes money and time to get started.”

So, even though I was pretty poor when I started homebrewing (yeah, I was poor but attending college), I had initial help from my Dad, who gave me the equipment. And even when I’d ditched my gear when I moved to Oregon, I still prioritized some of my remaining cash to buy new equipment and start homebrewing again; that’s privilege. The unfortunately large percentage of Americans who depend on some sort of welfare or charity to keep a roof over their heads won’t necessarily have the mental space to take on a hobby like homebrewing.

But the goal of the subcommittee is to increase the awareness and incorporate inclusive, accessible, and diverse language and marketing into the AHA. This is a complicated topic; beer is both a working-class beverage and a “luxury” item. It is not necessary for life, but does contribute to quality of life if used appropriately. The impetus to form the diversity subcommittee is the AHA’s desire to access new demographics while fertilizing its cultural and moral fibers. A businessperson might say, “that’s business,” and I’d say, “that’s business in America.”

After the panel was timed out (but long before it was done), there was a brief Q & A session, which included as much commentary. AHA Governing Committee member Roxanne Westendorf came to the microphone and offered this encouragement: “Don’t be afraid to ask the awkward questions!”

Jason Alderman, owner of Eugene homebrew shop Home Fermenter Center, asked if there were any resources for homebrew shops. What a concept; homebrew shops are the avant garde for new homebrewers, and have the greatest visibility for any campaign the AHA wants to engage. The response from Cerda was a bit off-guard, but the point was definitely taken; the question, well put.

The last comment I noted is the closest to me: a cis white middle-class-ish male (click the link if you don’t know what cis is; I didn’t until recently). I don’t remember who said it: “The issue needs to be pushed forward and supported by white men.” Further, we need to “get out of the way and listen.” Stop mansplaining, hold each other accountable, pay attention. Pay attention. And read Jeff Alworth’s series on sexism in beer.

Here’s what I wrote during the seminar. Forgive the long sentences, it’s how I do:  “Concepts of diversity can extend into the cis white male realm because everybody has inadequacy, inferiority, and fears that are at the root of prejudice. By talking about diversity and leaning into these challenges and fears, these issues are shown the light of day, where they can be observed and conversed about. The most effective conversations acknowledge that everybody is fallible and different, so being open, unrestricted by matters of ego, allows progress and the further awareness that we are all humans with the same basic needs and rights and flaws.”

The AHA has recognized that a diverse culture is a healthy culture. The appreciable effort, I hope, will be a successful, recognizable landmark in the nonprofit world and beyond. The personal stories shared by the panelists were effective leagues beyond reading a simple outline; it will take more of that for the plan to work, for that skeleton to grow muscles. Luckily, Kiley Gwynn was recruited to the subcommittee after the panel was over!

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The FemALE Homebrewers Meet & Greet after the Cultivating Diversity seminar at HomebrewCon

#rdwhahb – A Moment with Charlie Papazian

“Relax!” he said. “Don’t worry!” he said. “Have a homebrew!” he said. 

The totem, in Groucho disguise sitting in a cloud adorned-cart and wielding shuni mudra hand pose (patience, awareness of moment), maneuvered by Phil Farrell The Chicken Man dressed in a turkey suit, beamed under the nose of his mask at the rectangular objects his followers use to record and share their memories. They chanted, on command, “fooooooooam,” fervently, as though the mantra could impel his visage to the stage. The dream-like state within the tall box of a room in which the crowd had gathered pulled the half-drunk mass back from the flow tide of inebriation, even as a bitter, brown ale was distributed to to encourage revelry; a balance of forces. Magnetized by the sight of, it seemed, a man wearing the mask of the totem wearing Groucho glasses, two thousand standing heads followed the movement of the grinning guru; two thousand invisible spider threads sprouted from the heads and arced to the totem, and felt some satisfaction as they connected to a charge of affirmative energy. The chant continued until the totem reached the stage and took the human form of Charlie Papazian, the godfather and patron saint of homebrewers. For a few minutes the Groucho glasses lingered, a remnant of the comic chariot that had brought him there, an apt segue from idol to person. With a voice set firmly in the treble range, Charlie greeted the audience and began unraveling his mythology. Which came first, the homebrewer or the homebrew? Can one simultaneously manifest and stumble upon a new way of being? Those questions remain only partially answered, the true talent of a demigod. The answer lies in the culture. Charlie found a single viable cell (let’s call it the can of hopped malt extract), fed it and nurtured it and smiled at it as it slowly reproduced. He learned its habits and adapted to them. The can of hopped malt extract proliferated around Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s, before cordless, satellite, and cellular phones caused disarray in human communication. It inoculated at first by eye contact and touch in classrooms and at parties. It bounded away from sterile bureaucratic environments that would restrict its growth and movement. The can of hopped malt extract was absorbing nutrients from its growth media and preparing, unbeknownst to anybody, for evolution. The guided became the guide. Timing was critical, and steam began to build as the can of hopped malt extract pushed up against the cracked dam walls of government sludge, control, and ego. Then, from the guarded, gated dungeons of legislation came a POP! A fissure opened, and the can of hopped malt extract tore off its lid and poured through, widening the gap and flowing as fast as malt extract can. Had Charlie waited or asked for permission, the receptors of the collective unconscious may never have been tickled by the idea, and the can of hopped malt extract would have gathered dust.

In the 40 years since the foundation of the American Homebrewers Association, the culture, the can of hopped malt extract, has mutated from a kitchen counter hobby to an industrial sandwich with all the fixins’. Economic impact, import and export, distribution, fiscal years and return-on-investment are now part of the homebrew lexicon. The can of hopped malt extract is an adult, and has adult successes and makes adult mistakes. And now Charlie can leave this nest to the next, return to his home in the clouds. Fooooooooam!

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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.

~~~~~~~
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.