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.

Learn to Homebrew Day is Saturday

One of the longer-running promotions from the American Homebrewers Association, the 19th annual Learn to Homebrew Day (formerly Teach a Friend to Brew Day) is this Saturday, November 3. This year, Eugene’s local homebrew club, the Cascade Brewers Society (of which I’m VP), will hold a public brewing demonstration at ColdFire Brewing on November 3 from 11am to 4pm.

The demonstration will include examples of extract brewing, brew-in-a-bag, all-grain brewing, cidermaking, and bottling. Other members of the homebrew club will be available to talk and answer questions when the demonstrators are busy brewing (which, if you attend, you’ll see is mostly cleaning. Spoiler alert!).

If you’re already a homebrewer, this is a good opportunity to do a few things:
1. Have a beer at ColdFire; see what happens when some people get really good at homebrewing.
2. Get nerdy with other homebrewers
3. See if you might want to join a homebrew club that does things like this
4. See #1

Homebrewing is the reason there are something like 6,500 craft breweries in the country now (up from, like, a dozen 35 years ago). It’s why we have hazy IPA and crazy stouts and all sorts of things that are barely catching on in other countries. Homebrewing is why the U.S. has a brewing identity.

Even if you’re not interested in taking up the hobby, it is worth it to see the different processes used, keeping in mind that many homebrewers make beer of equal caliber (and sometimes better… sometimes not) to that of commercial breweries.

You can RSVP at the Facebook event here.

(Image from hombrewersassociation.org)

Eugene Fresh Hop & Oktoberfest Roundup

Now begins the season of seasonal beer! In the Northwest, that means fresh hop beers, brewed with raw, wet, sticky, grassy hops that impart the true effects of the summer growing season. I look forward to seeing who makes the best use of this inconvenient ingredient (they soak up a LOT of wort, and require heavy scheduling to get them from farm to kettle within hours). The Wheel’s fresh hop beer is already gone because they brewed a super small batch, but it was a crazy mouthful of peachy Centennials.

Also, obviously, we have Oktoberfest, which begins today (9/22)! The lovely gold-to-amber lagers have heft in two ways: alcohol strength and how you treat the stein. Here’s a rundown of Eugene-area breweries and beer bars joining in the celebration of the end of fire season. I’ll update as more information comes in:

Events by Date:

Weihenstephaner Festbier Cask Tapping at The Bier Stein
Saturday, September 22, 2pm – Get into the spirit of Oktoberfest served in the old-fashioned tradition, straight from the cask! (Today, most of the Oktoberfest beers are served from giant storage tanks below ground in the fest halls. Augustiner, the only fully independent old brewery in Munich, still serves its festbier from wooden barrels.) The Bier Stein will have plenty of festbiers and Marzens on draught, too. More info: thebierstein.com/events

Falling Sky Oktoberfest Brewers’s Dinner
Sunday, 9/30, 6:30pm at the Deli, purchase tickets in advance. Beer dinners at Falling Sky are never short of good beer and lots of food. The menu looks lovely, with all the from-scratch goodness Falling Sky is known for. The beers will include the annual release of  Cloud Gazer Oktoberfest Bier. More info: https://fallingskybrewing.com/falling-sky-brewers-dinner-ticket.html

Weihenstephaner Beer Dinner at The Bier Stein
Wednesday, October 3, 6pm, purchase tickets in advance – This may be the classiest way to experience German beer during Oktoberfest. With 6 courses plus a welcome beer (Original Premium, of course!), the menu features a nice mix of tradition and inspiration, and is the only place you’ll get to try Braupakt (a hop forward hefeweizen, collaboration with Sierra Nevada) paired with a Thai-style papaya salad. It really works! $65 includes all food, beer, gratuity, and a good time. More info: thebierstein.com/events

Beer Releases by Brewery:

ColdFire: Marzen – 6.1% abv, 18 IBU. Brewed using a beta>alpha step mash with Pilsner and Munich malts, Hallertau Mittelfruh and Saaz hops.

Falling Sky: Nuggets of Wisdom Fresh Hop English Pale Ale – 6.1% abv, ~40IBU. Fresh Nugget Hops from Goschie Farms. Release Date: Friday 9/28

Small Tents Session Style Oktoberfest Lager – 3.6% abv, ~19 IBU. On tap now.

Ryein’ on the Hill – Rye Oktoberfest-style Lager. 5% abv, 20 IBU. Release Date: 9/23 for our Worlds Shortest Bike Race at the Pub location.

Cloud Gazer Oktoberfest Bier – 5.7% abv, 25 IBU. Release Date: 9/30 during the Fall/Oktoberfest inspired Brewers Dinner at the Deli.

Falling Sky & Coldfire: Fresh as You Like It Imperial Fresh Hop Brut IPA – 9.5% abv, ~68IBU. From Scott Sieber, head brewer at Falling Sky: “Fresh Amarillo and Chinook from Crosby Hop Farm and wet/dry hop addition of freshly shattered Mosaic hops.” They used the liquid nitrogen freeze & shatter method developed by Breakside a few years ago. Release in early October.

Manifest: Fresh hop Pumpkin Sour – 5.6% abv. Here is the description from founder/brewer Brandon Woodruff: “We made a fresh hop Pumpkin Sour using only fresh hop sterling hops. The [sic] was open fermented using spent Cabernet barrel staves to inoculate the wort. Doing the first 80% or so of fermentation the beer had 20 lbs of fresh hop Sterling (2.8lbs per bbl). Once transferred to unitank 2lbs of espresso was added. The beer is packed full of pumpkin and spices. The spices used were Chinese five spice, all spice, fresh ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Beer itself leans more toward a Flanders red than American Sour. Some malt sweetness.” Release date not included.

Oakshire: Fresh Hop Ale 2018 – 6.6% abv India Pale Ale brewed with 100% Crosby Hop Farm Amarillo. Release Date: 9/25. (Note: This is the first year release of Amarillo grown on Crosby soil.)

Plank Town: Oktoberfestbier (5.6% abv, 22 IBU) & Seavey Lupin Fresh Hop Pale Ale (5.1% abv, 35 IBU)
Plank Town released its Oktoberfestbier in August. Brewer John Crane describes it as a very quaffable malty lager with honey and spice aroma and flavor.

Seavey Lupin, also on tap now, was brewed with 21 pounds per barrel of fresh Willamette and Cascade hops from Norton’s Hop Farm on Seavey Loop Road. Crane says it has a “fresh, grassy and herbal aroma. Nice malt character followed by a clean dry finish.” This will be showcased at Tap & Growler at the beginning of October.

Sam Bond’s Brewery: Comet Fresh Hop IPA, 6.0% abv, available on draught and in package around 9/27. (Note: I love Comet hops for the fresh, bright orange aroma, and am stoked to try a fresh hop version!)

The Joy of Hop Harvest

I visited my first oast in 2011 at Hop & Brew School in Yakima, Washington during the hop harvest. With the temperature breaking 130 and the humid air made more lethargic by sleepy vapors, I saw a football field-sized, three-foot-deep bed of freshly de-bined hops and thought, What a wonderful world. The extensive piece I wrote about the action packed two-day experience was published in the newsletter of the Cascade Brewers Society and read by approximately twelve people.

Seven years later, the process is no less beguiling; nor has it changed much. This year, I toured Crosby Hop Farm’s fields and processing plant with my New School crew Ezra (founder) and Michael Perozzo (southern WA contributor). I took some video that smoky morning, and spliced together a quick tutorial on the process (I did the music too!):

Those are the basic maneuvers performed at any hop farm. What the video fails to capture is the momentum of history, the pace of information, and the contiguity that hop farmers have with the craft beer world.

Before the early 00’s, hop farmers were dealing with a just few people who represented giant brewing entities with no need for creativity. At the same time, hop breeders were at the precipice of the future, with Simcoe and Amarillo hops achieving acreage for the several hundred craft breweries (microbreweries we called ’em then, kids) that made beer with flavor and adventurousness. Yes, Cascade had been a hit long before, but that was low wave on a shallow shoreline compared to what was about to crash on the sands of our sensory glands.

The evolution of craft beer in the 21st century parallels that of social media and global information sharing. With the communities that flourished on the internet, including the beer rating sites Beer Advocate and RateBeer, beer drinkers had a “virtual pub” in which to discuss and rave about their favorites. The IPA buzzword “IBU” and now-patented hop varieties, with their “citrusy” and “dank” aromas, quickly rose in the ranks of the collectively inebriated unconscious. There was demand, craft brewers listened hard, and in turn put demand on hop growers for more aroma varieties.

Over the decades of commercial hop growth and brewers contracting in hop futures, there has always been a shifting balance of aroma and bittering hop acreage. Farmers must be brutally honest with their plants to be successful, which means tearing out rows to replace them with varieties that, ideally, will be very popular in two years. Despite the Internet, hops don’t grow any faster.

Fast forward a little bit, to around 2008. Although fresh hop beers were not entirely new, their popularity had grown quite a bit. This meant that more brewers were getting directly in touch, going to the fields, and trading information with hop growers.

Crosby Hop Farm has taken a leading edge on this front. Blake Crosby, a 5th generation hop farmer, sunk his teeth into the business several years ago. Rather than just sell hops to wholesale brokers, he guided the farm through a renaissance that would incorporate growing, processing, importing, and direct sales and marketing into an all-hops-everything juggernaut in the Willamette Valley.

I covered the early season process and a bit about Crosby in an article for the Oregon Beer Growler earlier this year. But this tour, just when the harvest was winding up to go full bore, made it clear that the relationships that hop growers like Crosby and Goschie farms have with brewers and drinkers is another seam strengthening the fabric of craft beer.

Since Crosby integrated other aspects of the hop business, it’s had to build a strong marketing team and develop language that diverges from the agronomic lingo you’d hear at a Hop Growers of America meeting. Now, the story of the farm becomes part of its terroir. Its Salmon Safe certification isn’t just for the land, it’s part of the salesperson’s toolbox. Welcome to the 21st century, hops!

Though marketing is never a measure of quality in any product, closing the gap between producer and consumer does enhance the information relay. Does a beer drinker need to know the hop grower? Obviously not, the same way we don’t need to know our chicken farmer. But it sure does help make informed decisions. And really, hops are far outside of the scope of scrutiny for the ethically-minded consumer. The Salmon Safe designation is, as far as I can tell, the best compromise between conventional and organic pest and fungus management. Every hop grower I’ve spoken with says that the time and effort to get a much lower yield using organic practices is hardly worth it on any sort of production scale. That’s to be taken with a grain of salt, as certain hops do better in different climates and can be successfully grown organically; those are not the hops people are looking for in an IPA, though. The point: if you, the consumer, prefer drinking organic beer, you have the ability to contact the producers of organic ingredients and find out who uses them.

As we roll into fresh hop season, complete with the crazy array of fresh hop festivals in the region, it’s worth appreciating the incredible amount of hard work at hop farms between August and October. A lot of the manual labor is done by temporary workers, many of whom are Latino men and women. Many farms have on-site labs. Crosby has a pelletizer as well, and a warehouse of hops to manage and rotate through. Hops go from the field to a ready-to-brew format in just a couple days, which is part of what makes the harvest so exciting; in the coming months, as breweries start brewing with their 2018 hops, we’ll start tasting the effect of this year’s weather on the first crop of Amarillo grown on Crosby soil.

A Religious Experience at Monkless

I had a religious experience (in the bathroom) at Monkless Belgian Ales this weekend. And I’m having another while typing and listening to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert from 1975. But that’s not what I heard in the bathroom.

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Let there be beer!

Monkless Belgian Ales is just four years into production, and only two-and-a-half years on a 10-barrel brewing system. The shiny, clean brewery has a tank capacity of 100 barrels, and it’ll push 1,000 barrels of production this year. While that’s not very large for a production brewery, it is remarkable that 100% of the beer is fermented with expressive Belgian-type yeast. This model is an extreme rarity in the U.S., and deserves attention because the brewery has been quite successful selling its canned, bottled, and draught beer in Oregon.

When Monkless first came to Eugene, while I was working at The Bier Stein, the Imperial Peppercorn Wit and Capitulation, a dry-hopped Tripel, seemed a bold first move to push into a new market. But once the pint cans of Shepplekoffegan Wit, Peppercorn, and Capitulation hit the shelves and started selling, it seemed that Monkless had discovered a sect of beer drinkers who appreciated the balance of its characterful beers. It helped that Shep’ became an easy, affordable domestic alternative to Blue Moon.

In 2017, 500ml. bottles of Friar’s Festivus, a Belgian Strong Dark ale spiced with mace and cardamom, spent a brief layover on the shelves before being scooped up. That compelled the brewery to shift its schedule and brew more while customers continued to seek it out. As far as I remember, it outsold the perennial favorite St. Bernardus Christmas Ale; at the very least it generated more fervor. This year, it won a Gold medal at the Oregon Beer Awards.

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Monkless turns water (& malt & hops) into beer!

I was treated to a flight of all eight of Monkless’ current beers at the brewery’s tasting room on a hot Saturday afternoon. Somebody had kindly set up water misters in the garage doorway. A Mexican food truck was serving tasty street food. Folks trickled in; most ordered flights. Some came back for a full glass, others got their Bend Ale Trail passports stamped and continued on.

The flight was arranged on two barrel staves, in order from lightest to heaviest, starting with Shepplekoffegan and ending with Meet Your Maker, an un-spiced Belgian Dark Strong. With the exception of the Maker and Dubbel or Nothing, all of the beers lay in the pale-to-golden realm, but the shared traits more or less ended there. The brewery keeps four yeasts for its various beers, and even blends a couple of them for one of the beers (can’t remember which).

If you’re curious about the difference between a Tripel and a Belgian Golden Strong, Monkless has you covered; the Restitution and Trinity are quite different, with the former, a Belgian Golden Strong, showcasing fruity, apple-pear-peach esters with a bit of spice, honey, alcohol, and a full body without being too sweet. The Trinity, an Abbey-style tripel is spicier and a bit drier, with some pale stone fruit and pepper/cinnamon notes, all from yeast. Capitulation, which is Trinity dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Citra, pairs the vinous German hop and now-classic IPA hop to lend bright fruitiness and some extra bitterness to the Tripel, which is a lovely addition that’ll surely get a hop-head’s attention.

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A little beer church on a hot day

Being a fan of sessionable beers, the Shep’ did me right, and paired perfectly with my pork tacos and spicy salsa verde. I’ve found that witbiers made as one-offs lack the fluffy wheat body, and are often too dry feeling; Shep’ is a well-practiced wheat beer with a good dose of the traditional orange peel and coriander.

 

Samaritan’s Saison was a recipe from one of the assistant brewers, and had the distinct ganja aroma that I remember from my first bottle of Dupont Saison; that was very pleasing to recall. It’s dry, a little scratchy, but not as carbonated (on draught) as a bottle-conditioned saison so the pils-like malt sticks around for the next sip.

The bartender, cellarman (and also homebrewer and cheesemonger) Nick gave us an educated tour of the brewery, which is well set up and seems ready to receive more tanks if necessary. The brewery currently hires a mobile canner, but the cork & cage bottles (packaged with priming sugar and yeast for natural carbonation) are done by hand.

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Thou shalt wash thy hands after peeing.

After the tour, finishing the flight and chatting about cheese, I felt the familiar urge. Entering the bathroom is a step back in time, to a Renaissance-era cathedral – especially if you close your eyes. A single speaker in the corner was playing Miserere, the Gregorian hymn based on Psalm 51, at a high enough volume that all other sound disappeared. I guess I found where the monks went.

One of the hardest things about brewing Belgian-style beer is attaining a balance between yeast, malt, and hops. All beer obviously requires yeast management, but the flavors in American-style ales and lagers are mostly expected to be “neutral.” Utilizing yeast’s potential for flavor contribution is a tough game, and means really getting to know how it acts under various conditions. Monkless gets it right.

Growl to Garden Beer Fest & Road Mile

If you’re hankering for something to do this weekend, and to burn ‘n earn the calories for your next round, check out Tap & Growler / Beergarden’s Second Annual Growl to Garden Beer Fest and Road Mile on Saturday, August 18th from 12-8 PM. The concept is simple: combine Eugene’s enthusiastic running community with beer. Sounds like a real arm twister. 

The one-mile race starts at 4pm at Tap & Growler, goes down 5th Ave., and ends at Gray’s Garden Center right next to Beergarden. Race registration is $25, and includes entry to the beer festival, a commemorative glass and 4 beverage tickets. Entry to the Fest, which runs noon-8pm, is $10. There will be food provided by some of the carts that serve at Beergarden, and live music from local acts Corwin Bolt & the Wingnuts and Etouffee. The race awards ceremony will take place at 5:30 at Gray’s.

Beer, cider, and wine will be served from over 20 producers – the list is posted below. Check growltogarden.com or the Facebook page for volunteer opportunities, and more fest and race details.

Beat feet and then hang out among the flowers, shrubs and trees… doesn’t sound too bad for a Saturday afternoon.

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This could be you! Photo by Trask Bedortha, courtesy of Tap & Growler/Beergarden.
Brewery Beer
Agrarian Dryad- Spruce Tip Sour
Agrarian Pineappleweed
Ballast Point Aloha Sculpin
Ballast Point Tart Peach Kolsch
Coldfire Kite String IPA
Coldfire Tangle of Tigers IPA
Deschutes New Fresh Haze IPA
Deschutes New Grapefruit Rose Sour
Goodlife Give’m Helles
Goodlife Descender IPA
Hop Valley CryoClassico
Hop Valley Bubble Stash
Lagunitas SuperCluster IPA
Lagunitas Sumpin’ Easy
McKenzie Hopasaurus Rex Imperial IPA
McKenzie G2G Lager
Ninkasi Yours Truly Easy Drinking Ale
Ninkasi Raspberry Lime Gose
Oakshire Hazy IPA
Oakshire Sun Made Cucumber
Pelican Peached on Deck
Pelican Hazy Rock
Vagabond Victory Pils
Vagabond Attack Owl
Wild Ride Let’s Go Hazy IPA
Wild Ride Tarty to the Party Watermelon Lime Sour Ale
Yachats Ten Mile Saison
Yachats Blackberry Sour
Cider House Cider
2 Towns Pacific Pineapple
2 Towns Easy Peasy
Avid Cider Dragonfruit
Avid Cider Apricot
Portland Cider Sangria
Portland Cider Apple Pie
Wildcraft Strawberry Spruce
Wildcraft Elderflower Quince
Wine
Eugene Wine Cellar
Pinot Gris, Rose, and a Red
Kombucha
Elevate Summer Fling
Elevate Lavender Lemonade