Thursday night my wife and I attended the Winter Beer Trade Show hosted by Columbia Distributing at the Riverhouse Convention Center here in Bend: my first time visiting such a show, which is targeted at showcasing the portfolios of brewing companies (as well as cideries and meaderies) to potential buyers (stores, restaurants, and so on). To that end, reps from various breweries were on hand pouring (free) samples of a wide variety of their offerings and talking them up; in addition to the winter seasonals there were many more options as well.
The various beers I tasted included many of the just-released or soon-to-be-releases winter seasonals (of course): Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, New Belgium Snow Day, Full Sail Wassail and LTD 06, Pyramid Ink Blot and Snow Cap, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Hopworks Abominable Ale, Cascade Lakes Slippery Slope, and more. There was a lot of beer present, and a lot of people too.
- Full Sail’s LTD 06 is a “black bock” and it pairs really well with brownies.
- Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale was first billed as a “fresh hop” beer on the label with last year’s release, and is again this year; I asked the rep if this meant Celebration was truly a wet hop beer, or if that meant it was freshly-picked-and-dried (something Sierra Nevada considers “fresh hop” which Bill Night has pointed out—sorry for the “wet hop” terminology Bill!): the rep assured me that it was indeed “fresh” (i.e. wet) hops and that Celebration has always been brewed that way, at least as long as he has worked with the brewery. Color me skeptical, but I’m still not entirely buying it; I think Sierra Nevada is using freshly-picked-and-dried hops, and is labeling it fresh. But either way, it’s still one of my absolute favorite winter seasonals.
- Tenth and Blake (AKA MillerCoors) had a draft-only Blue Moon Caramel Apple Spice Ale on hand that was really quite good—the type of apple beer that I have in mind when I brew. The website shows it appearing in bottles, so I hope I see this locally.
- Also repped by Tenth and Blake, Leinenkugel’s Lemon Berry Shandy is going to be a year-round offering. It was very tasty and even my wife liked it! (She’s famously not a beer drinker.)
- Hopworks Urban Brewery is brewing up a very limited pumpkin ale—pretty much exclusively for Brewpublic‘s Killer Pumpkin Fest next week, sounds like there will be a keg at the Fest and a keg for the brewery. It’s going on my list of “Oregon Pumpkin Beers” (part of my annual Oregon Pumpkin Beer Hunt) but I’m a little jealous that it’s only going to be in Portland…
- This isn’t beer-specific, but apparently Mike’s Hard Lemonade has a new (seasonal?) offering, Mike’s Hard Chocolate Cherry. No, really, and it tastes exactly like a Tootsie Roll. Strangely good, if you’re into that sort of thing:
But for me, the most interesting aspect of the show wasn’t the beer, surprisingly: it was the mead and cider!
First surprise: Rogue Ales‘ new bottled mead, Chatoe Rogue Mead, crafted entirely from honey produced by the beehives on the Rogue farm. As far as I know, this is the first time a brewery has bottled and released a straight-up mead—certainly there have been beers brewed with honey (Widmer’s Prickly Pear Braggot comes to mind) but nothing like this. This is additionally brewed with jasmine and should be hitting the shelves now. It’s a tasty dry mead and definitely worth seeking out.
Second surprise: Eugene’s Blue Dog Meadery not only has some really tasty meads to offer, but they’re getting ready to soon release their mead in 12-ounce cans—as far as I know the first-ever meadery to do so! I don’t remember the timeframe—possibly as early as the first of the year?—but frankly this will be a game-changer for mead, which has up to now all to often been relegated to the “obscure shelf” in the wine department of most stores. But canned mead? That will share shelf space with beer and (I predict) become a lot more visible.
Finally, the final revelation was Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: a so-far Portland-only cidery (which may or may not be a one-man operation: Reverend Nat himself was there with the ciders!) that is offering up some amazingly interesting ciders. The standout for me was the one that caught my wife’s eye in the first place: a fresh hop version of the Hallelujah Hopricot (which is an apricot cider that is dry-hopped, which is the new trend in “crossover ciders”).
Amazingly well-made and flavorful, the best hopped cider I’ve so far had. In fact, the good Reverend sent me home with a complimentary bottle to drink and review—which is sitting in my fridge right now and which I will review soon.
The other standout cider was the Deliverance Ginger: infused with an intense amount of fresh ginger that was simultaneously refreshing, spicy, peppery, like the most intense ginger ale you’ve ever tried. I really liked it and would definitely look for this one on the shelves as well.
About those shelves though: currently Reverend Nat’s is only available in Portland, but he’s started to be able to distribute to a few places outside of Stumptown as well, so you will be able to start seeing bottles in (bigger) cities like Eugene. Otherwise, this is definitely one to seek out next time you’re in Portland.
Overall: fantastic show put on by Columbia Distributing, and not just because of the free samples (though to be honest, those certainly don’t hurt!). It provides a great opportunity for networking and catching up on the latest industry information as well as providing exposure to new products and opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed.