Some CBC 2015 thoughts, questions, and takeaways

Last week’s Craft Brewers Conference (my first) was a terrific experience and I’m still digesting it in a number of ways. To a certain extent you have to separate out the conference experience itself from the various events and afterparties—there’s not a lot to be learned from a Tone Loc concert sponsored by Dogfish Head, for example, other than Sam and Bryan’s Pain Relievaz are awesome and pair well with a pint (yes, I said “pint”) of Dogfish Olde School Barleywine—but you can’t deny that those extracurricular events are just as important in different ways. But for this post I’m writing about takeaways and musings I have about the conference and sessions.

CBC entrance

First, some numbers. According to the Brewers Association, as of the conference there were 3,418 total breweries in the U.S., and a staggering 2,051 breweries in planning. Of those 3,418 the breakdown looked like this:

  • 1,871 microbreweries
  • 1,412 brewpubs
  • 135 regionals

Last year (2014) saw only 46 brewery closings, and 615 openings (1.7 opened per day). Needless to say, craft beer is one of the largest growth segments in the beer industry, with the other big growth segment being—ironically, in my opinion—Mexican imports. Craft beer volume (“craft” as defined by the BA of course) is up 18 percent, and craft breweries brewed 22.2 million barrels of beer last year.

These are some crazy numbers, and while certainly not all of those 2,051 breweries-in-planning will end up opening, you have to wonder—what’s the breakdown in size range among these planned breweries? (Judging by the Starting a Nano Brewery session I sat in on Thursday morning, I’d say a good number are going to be nano—7 barrels or less.) How much beer will they be injecting into the market? Most importantly, is this sustainable?

“Sustainability” was in fact one of the themes of the conference, and it’s echoed, for instance, in one of the main questions I field all the time these days (since writing a book)—when do we reach a saturation point, or, how many more breweries can we handle? (Particularly as these issues pertain to Bend/Central Oregon.)

CBC: 2014 top brewery openings by state

There’s no easy answer to those questions and we’re already seeing the effects of so many breweries (and upcoming ones) in the growing number of stories on legal conflicts between them, to name but one example—intellectual property conflicts, the basic fact that more and more breweries are (usually inadvertently) running into trademark naming conflicts and the like. And going by the number of attendees at this year’s conference—11,500 or more, depending—we’re not going to see these overall growth issues, good and bad, abate soon.

However, what’s been nagging me about the sustainability question and what the CBC helped crystallize for me are the environmental impacts and implications. Or more accurately, focused my thinking about the environmental issues of breweries and sustainability, and helped me to start framing questions:

  • How will climate change affect the beer industry? What will its impact be on the number of existing and upcoming breweries?
  • “Climate change” by itself can be nebulous, so to narrow down to a more pressing example: how will California’s drought affect that state’s breweries? (We’ve all heard the (in)famous “California only has one year of water left!” proclamation; whether accurate or not, the issues should be addressed now.)
  • Drought isn’t only a problem in California, of course. Here in Oregon the Cascade Mountains’ snowpack levels are near the lowest on record. (The snowpack is an important source of water particularly for regions east of the Cascades.) We saw the direct impact of that driving to Portland on Tuesday observing the low levels of Detroit Lake (as low as I’ve seen). In addition to Oregon’s breweries, what effect will this have on our hop production this year?
  • Are breweries thinking about these issues? Are they planning for them?

Beer begins before even reaching the breweries, of course. We have to think about how climate change will affect the hop farms, the barley growers. Two sessions I attended touched on these issues, the first on managing the 2014 U.S. barley crop: the crop was heavily damaged by early rains—in Idaho for instance, up to 60% of the barley was unsuitable for malting. The result of the rain led to what the maltsters call “pre-harvest sprouting” (PHS) that causes a number of problems such as poor germination, mold, and loss of viability. The session was devoted in large part with how to manage and handle such barley for malting purposes. (In essence maltsters have to treat PHS barley as under-modified and brewers have to adjust their recipes and techniques accordingly.) While the panelists were quick to stress that there’s not a malt crisis, there was significant damage to last year’s crop, and the malt supply is currently tighter than it looks.

CBC: Table of German hopsThe other session was on sustainability on the hop farm, and climate change was on the panelists’ lips among other issues. Sustainable hop farming practices are essential, and something Gayle Goschie said about Salmon Safe hop certification resonates here—sustainable farming doesn’t stop at the edge of the farm, but has to include the contiguous land, and the land beyond that. Of course it does, but it’s not something we think about when we consider sustainable farming. We should be.

Other questions I have that spun out from the hop session and tie in to the questions above:

  • How many gallons of water does it take to produce one pound of hops?
  • For that matter, how many gallons to produce one pound of malt?
  • We’re all familiar with how much water it takes a brewery to produce a gallon of beer—typically 5 to 10 gallons used per gallon of beer brewed, though some breweries have implemented practices to greatly reduce this—but has anyone done a study of water usage that includes how much water to produce the hops, the barley?
  • Continuing this train of thought: how about carbon footprinting? I’ve seen studies on the carbon footprint of various breweries, but has anyone done the study that, yes, includes the hop and barley farming as part of that footprint? A “farm to glass” analysis, if you will.

This is important, and I don’t know if anyone is working on answering these and more. I suspect it’s going to turn into a project for me, perhaps sooner than later.

Nanobreweries are another trend on the rise, though that should surprise no one at this point. I attended the “Successfully Planning, Starting and Operating a Nano Brewery” seminar held by Kevin Sandefur of BearWaters Brewing of North Carolina. He cited a definition of “nano” up to and including 7 barrels (and I wish I’d jotted down the source of this definition but missed it). The room was packed for the session, and when he asked how many there were planning to open a brewery, I’d estimate about 85% of the people raised their hands. So nanos are the next big thing. Or the current big thing, getting bigger. Or something.

Sandefur stressed quality, efficiency, and repeatable processes during the course of his talk, something that shouldn’t only be expected of bigger breweries but it’s good to hear reiterated for the small players. Because we all know or have heard of the nanobreweries that are essentially large homebrew systems with uneven batch quality and mediocre beer. Quality is key.

And in talking about equipment, Sandefur surprised me—BearWaters came up with a fermentation equipment alternative to a traditional stainless steel conical fermenter. Thinking outside the box they came up with an inexpensive yet ingenious route: glass carboys.

Carboys at BearWaters Brewing

BearWaters’ Stiff Paddle IPA fermenting away. From their Facebook page.

They purchased 40 6.5-gallon glass carboys from Brewers Supply Group for something like $22 each, effectively giving them an 8-barrel fermentation capacity for under $1000. It’s a bit of extra work, but he described their processes for keeping the carboys sterilized and airtight (to keep the oxygen out) and it made sense, and they are winning awards for their beer. Nanobrewers, take note. It’s not very scalable—nobody wants to be lugging around and filling/emptying 160 carboys when you go to 30 barrels, and more—but what a great solution. Carboys—not just for homebrewers anymore!

There was definitely an overall air of optimism pervading the conference, though to be fair since it was my first CBC experience it could very well be an optimistic affair even in down years (it is kind of a party, after all). But it seems to me the number of people there representing breweries-in-planning (particularly the small/nano ones), the overall mood of everyone I talked to, and the size and variety of the tradeshow (to name but three examples) all are indicative of this optimism.

I may have some more thoughts and questions to write about. But for now I’ll leave you with this:

CBC: Dogfish Head and Tone Loc

What, did you not believe Dogfish Head put on that Tone Loc concert I mentioned at the start?

Oregon Beer News, 04/24/2015

Oregon BeerHappy Friday! Here’s the Oregon news for the weekend of the 25th of April. As usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day with the latest news, so check back often. And if you have news to share, please let me know and I can get that updated as well.

McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse (Hillsboro) have their “Keepers of the Craft” beer dinner tonight, a $75 five-course pairing of food with beers and spirits (buy tickets here): “Join us in the Octagonal Barn for a dinner showcasing the teaming up of our Cornelius Pass Brewers, Distillers and chefs. Hosted by Distillers Bart Hance and Arthur Price & Brewers Brady Romtvedt and Chris Oslin, who will guide you through the brewing and distilling processes and all the similarities-as well as their handcrafted finished products!”

Tomorrow, Saturday the 25th, is Bailey’s Taproom‘s 5th annual GermanFest, featuring a great lineup of Oregon beers inspired by the beers and styles of Germany. From Brewpublic: “Bailey’s will be open normal hours beginning at Noon for the 5th Annual GermanFest on Saturday. There will be no cover and all beers will be pay as you go.” Sure to be a good event.

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Oregon Beer News, 04/23/2015

Oregon BeerHere’s the news in Oregon beer culled from around the web for Thursday, April 23. As usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day, so check back often. If you have news to share, please contact me and I can get that posted as well.

The Bier Stein (Eugene) today is hosting the release of Full Sail Brewing‘s Session Summer Cream Ale from 6 to 8pm: “Tres refresche! Come taste a new quencher from Hood River’s Full Sail Brewing. Their Session line of beers is a cute and affordable way to drink, and they recently expanded the line from the Lager and Black Lager to include an Export and IPA. We’ll have the Summer Cream Ale on tap, let’s hope it’s super sunny out!” Session Summer Cream is 5.4% abv and 26 IBUs and will be available all summer long.

I’m a day late on this announcement (I received it yesterday): the North American Organic Brewers Festival has new dates this year. From the press release: “The world’s only organic brewers festival, the North American Organic Brewers Festival will celebrate its 11th years with a new date: the event has moved away from its traditional June weekend to August 13 through 16 at Overlook Park in North Portland. Event hours are Noon to 9pm Thursday through Saturday and Noon to 5pm Sunday. This year’s event will also feature an exceedingly rare opportunity to sample draft beer from Pinkus, the world’s first certified organic brewery. Along with Pinkus Ur-Pils and Münster Alt on draft, the festival is introducing the Merchant du Vin Organic Bottle Garden, featuring 11 bottled beers and cider from Pinkus in Germany and Samuel Smith’s from Yorkshire, England.”

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Oregon Beer News, 04/22/2015

Oregon BeerHappy Earth Day! Be sure to drink a green beer today—the organic kind, not the St. Paddy’s Day-kind. Here is the news in Oregon beer for April 22; as usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day with the latest news, so check back often for updates. And if you have news to share, please contact me and I can get that updated as well.

Saraveza (Portland) tonight is holding their “Michigan on North Michigan Night” basically a tap takeover of Michigan beers (left over from the CBC): “Saraveza may be a Wisconsin bar, but we love our neighbors in the mid-west and on our side street, North Michigan Ave. It’s Michigan on North Michigan Avenue night! All Michigan beers on tap from Bell’s Brewery, Inc. & Founders Brewing Co.! We’ll play some Euchre, eat some pasties and listen to some tunes outta Detroit eh?” The fun starts at 5pm.

PFriem Family Brewers (Hood River): They are hitting Bend this week to roll out their bottle releases, with a full schedule the next several days: Crow’s Feet Commons today, the 22nd, from 5 to 8pm; Broken Top Bottle Shop on Friday the 24th from 5 to 8pm; Newport Avenue Market on Saturday the 25th from 3:30 to 5:30pm; and the Platypus Pub Saturday night from 6 to 8pm. Among bottles I’ve seen listed elsewhere are Pilsner, IPA, Blonde IPA, Begian Strong Dark, Belgian Strong Blonde, Saison, Flanders Red and Flanders Blonde.

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Tuesday Tastings: Pinedrops, Lunch Break, Summer SMASH

I skipped a couple of weeks of Tuesday Tastings mostly because of the CBC, but I’m back this week with all Oregon beers of the “Pale” variety that are all quite tasty.

Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPA

Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPAI received bottles of Pinedrops plus a Hydro Flask “True Pint” a couple weeks ago, and sampled a Pinedrops out of the True Pint to give it a test run. So this review will comment on both.

Pinedrops is definitely a “Northwest style” IPA, with 6.5% abv and 70 IBUs. It’s also a bit of a throwback IPA style to a time when our NW IPAs were lighter with less tropical-fruit-floral and were heavier and with more bitter hop emphasis—in fact, part of the goal was to capture the essence of pine trees:

This lively IPA delivers a crisp and light malt body with ample citrus and pine notes from Chinook and Equinox hops. Inspired by the aromas and silence we experience when exploring the scenic pine forests just up the road from our brewhouse.

The True Pint is kind of cool but as you can see in the picture, affords absolutely no visual cues as to how the beer itself looks, just the foam. The Hydro Flash double-wall vacuum insulation (basically, like a thermos) seems to keep cool. You can see from the shape it’s really little more than a shaker pint so you don’t get the best aroma quality, and while it does hold 16 ounces, it’s measured if you fill right to the rim, with no foam. So I won’t use this every day (or most days) but it would be a good addition for camping and similar.

Pinedrops IPA itself, well I do enjoy this beer, and like I said, it’s a bit of a throwback in flavor. Caramelly crystal malt, a pitchy resin bitterness, not as much fruit and yes, it smells piney and hoppy. I have of course had this beer before and I like it; perhaps not as much as, say, the brewery’s Fresh Squeezed IPA, but this is a suitably “Oregon” beer. It’s fairly balanced and finishes very clean as most of Deschutes’ beers do, not too cakey or sweet from the maltiness.

Now I just need to drink this out of a proper glass for the best aroma characteristics…

Untappd, BeerAdvocate, RateBeer

Breakside Brewery Lunch Break India Session Ale

Breakside Brewery Lunch Break ISAWhether you love or hate this so-called “India Session Ale” style—I personally quite like them, though don’t see the need to put the “India” marketing term in front of everything (unless I’m ironically creating a new style)—Breakside’s version is pretty delicious. This year-round beer is 4.7% abv and 28 IBUs. Their description:

Lunch Break is our hop forward session beer, built for enjoying any time of day. Whether you call this beer a Session IPA, American Pale Ale, India Session Ale, Mini IPA, or something totally different, we know that you’ll find this beer to be full of juicy, classic hop flavor with just enough malt backbone to keep things in balance. We reserve some of our favorite hops–Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade and Centennial–to use in this beer, which gives the aroma a heady mix of lemongrass, orange marmalade, grapefruit, pine and resin. Hop heads who seek a big punch of hops in the nose need look no further!

Appearance: Clear orange color, poured a big fluffy white head. (Picture is a vigorous pour, not infected/foamy.) Bright, and turns nicely gold in color when held to the light.

Smell: Fresh and resiny hop aroma, plummy citrus fruit, very “Northwest.” Not overwhelming but brings nice fresh hops to the forefront.

Taste: Light, juicy, toasty malt balanced with a casual hop bitterness and juicy (reiterated) hop fruit flavors washing over the tongue. Really well-melded, with bread crust, mango, lemon peel, and earthy bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied with a noticeable malt backbone and juicy character in the finish.

Overall: Very good, one of the best-balanced examples of the ISA style I’ve tried.

Untappd, BeerAdvocate, RateBeer

Portland Brewing Summer S.M.A.S.H. Pale Ale

Portland Brewing Summer S.M.A.S.H. Pale AleThis is another recent arrival the brewery sent me, just last week in fact. Yes, I do think April is too early to be heralding summer beers, but unfortunately it’s driven by demand and distributors afraid of losing shelf space and tap handles, so here we are. On the other hand, I enjoyed this beer, and despite being nominally classified as an American Pale Ale, I think it works much better (and really well) as an English Pale Ale (English Summer Ale?) which crystallized for me as I was drinking it. With 5.6% abv and 35 IBUs it’s not terribly big and would be a good hot weather drinker.

Incidentally SMASH means “Single Malt and Single Hop” and they say, “One hop and one malt combine for a dazzling display of a rich, bready malt base with lush pine and citrus hop notes.”

Appearance: Bright copper, super clear, with lacy off-white head that presents as wispy foam.

Smell: Green and lightly-resined hops, with touches of fruitiness but more earthy. Very clean, minimal malt, bready nose. Foam is slightly soapy.

Taste: Minerally malt graininess in the backbone, firm and slightly steely (lightly roasted?). The hops are clean and mellow, a bit earthy with a note of herbal tea. Strikes me as having a classic English Pale aroma and flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with a clean, toasty finish.

Overall: Really good example of a classic English Pale Ale after working through it. Plus it drinks easy, like a session beer.

Untappd, BeerAdvocate, RateBeer