Tuesday Tastings: Straight Outta Burns – Steens Mountain beers

If you’ve been following any of the crazy news coming out of Eastern Oregon over the past month—the ranching militia takeover and occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, near Burns, Oregon—then today’s edition of Tuesday Tastings will be especially apropos, as I’m reviewing two beers from Burns-based Steens Mountain Brewing.

Back around the end of August last year, you might recall we visited Steens Moutain Brewing in Burns, where I sampled a variety of their beers and interviewed owner/brewer Richard Roy. Since then things took a turn for the bizarre for the town, with the militia people arriving in November which led to growing tension (to put it mildly) before coming to a head at the beginning of the year with the Refuge takeover.

There’s additional backstory with Roy and Steens Mountain that is for another post, but suffice to say that for the brewery business is finally getting back to (relative) normal. So I thought it was a good time to write up my notes on the two bottled beers I brought back from that late August trip. Both of these were purchased at Reid’s Country Store.

Harney Valley Ale

Steens Mountain Harney Valley AleThis beer is turning into one of their flagships, and like most of the Steens Mountain beers, is brewed exclusively with feral heirloom hops that Roy harvests from secret sources on the High Desert. (Old homesteads, ranch properties, and the like.) One thing you’ll note in both of these reviews is hop notes that tend strongly toward “grassy” which I’m pretty sure is characteristic of their feral nature.

Harney Valley Ale clocks in at 4.7% alcohol by volume.

Appearance: Golden copper color, fairly clear, with an off-white head that broke down to a skiff of foam that is still being fed by active carbonation.

Smell: Bready, sweetish malts, with a gentle, herbal and slightly grassy hop that tends towards earthy overall.

Taste: On the malty side of “pale” with a very earthy and grassy hop presence, exactly matching the aroma, though it reminds me somewhat of mellow, green, freshly-picked hops. They do go a touch vegetal on the tongue, which makes this pale read a bit more like an “amber” ale to me.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with a soft, easy-drinking finish.

Overall: Nicely drinkable, not too heavy, with soft pillowy maltiness and easy hopping, what I would look for in an English-style pale or bitter.

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Lone Pine American IPA

Steens Mountain Lone Pine IPAAn “American IPA” that is influenced more by the east coast styles than the Northwest, according to Roy himself. This is about 6% abv.

Appearance: Darker amber color than you’d expect, a touch hazy, with an ample, lacy, off-white head. The color is almost brown.

Smell: Pungently grassy hops, not terribly floral, which want to go vegetal with a bit of dandelion. The malt is fairly neutral and does not contribute much.

Taste: Solid hop bitterness punctuated by arugula and dandelion notes. (Assuming this is characteristic of this feral hop?) Malts are a touch cakey and caramelly, working well as a backbone to the beer but this could easily go into big amber ale territory. “Old school” flair.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with a bitter-coating aftertaste.

Overall: This is what I would consider an “old school northwest IPA,” lots of caramel malt notes influenced by the English style, with a solid vegetal/grassy bitterness.

Untappd, RateBeer

Oregon Beer News, 02/02/2016

Oregon BeerHappy Groundhog Day! Looks like here in Central Oregon this morning it’s nice and sunny out, which means six more weeks of winter. So settle in with your beer and let’s hit the Oregon beer news for Tuesday, February 2nd. As usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day, so check back often for the latest news. And if you have news to share, please contact me and I can get that posted as well.

Big news in the Portland brewing scene for Mt. Tabor Brewing as they announced the hiring of a new head brewer, none other than Ben Dobler, formerly of Widmer Brothers. From the press release: “After a productive and exciting career at Widmer Brothers that spanned over two decades, Dobler will direct all brewing operations that includes, the new Mt Tabor Brewing production facility in Portland, OR and Mt Tabor Brewing and Pizza in Vancouver, WA. Eric Surface, owner and co-founder of Mt Tabor Brewing and Dobler met in high school, and when Surface started the search for a new brewer that had a mix of experience and bravery, Dobler was the first person that he thought of. Mt Tabor Brewing is in the process of expanding to a 15 barrel system at 124 SE 11th Ave, Portland, OR, in which the first brewing session will take place in the next two months. The current 7 barrel system will remain in Vancouver, WA. in which the downtown Vancouver tasting room will be open through June.” Congrats to Dobler and Mt. Tabor!

McMenamins Fulton Pub (Portland) has their Sip & Chat Beer Tasting tonight from 6 to 8pm, featuring Fulton Ginger Beer: “This golden hued ale is light bodied and mildly hopped to achieve a balance between malt and hops. A single keg of this beer was then aged on a generous amount of fresh ginger root. The result is light and refreshing with the unmistakable spiciness and aroma of fresh cut ginger root.” And about their Sip & Chat event: “Stop into the Fulton Pub to experience the innovation of the Brewer, Ryan Mott. He’s been brewing for McMenamins since 1998 but began as a homebrewer, studying the craft & finding his own style. He’ll answer your beer curiosities and would delight in providing you with a tour of Fulton’s pint-sized brewery.”

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Oregon Beer News, 02/01/2016

Oregon BeerWelcome to February, and happy 37th anniversary of homebrew legislation! On this day in 1979, HR 1337 that President Jimmy Carter signed into law took effect, and “homebrewing was officially recognized as federally legal.” Make sure to drink a homebrew today! In the meantime, here’s the news in Oregon beer as well; as usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day with the latest news as I find it, so check back often. If you have news to share, please let me know and I can get that updated as well.

This coming weekend, from Thursday the 4th through Saturday the 6th, the second annual Salem Winter Brewfest is taking place at the Capitol Mall across from the Oregon State Capitol. “The Salem Winter Brewfest is an event for ages 21 & over that was started in 2015 by the Bite & Brew of Salem. We have created a winter event that brings together what makes the Willamette Valley and Salem a great place to live.” Over the three-day festival they have over 110 beers and ciders pouring, which will cost $20 for one day ($15 in advance) or $30 for all three days ($25 in advance); you can pre-purchase tickets around Salem at Gilgamesh Brewing, Santiam Brewing, Salem Ale Works, Vagabond Brewing, b2 Taphouse, Westside Taphouse, and Venti’s.

The annual CiderCON industry cider conference is taking place in Portland this week (starting tomorrow, the 2nd, through the 6th), so naturally there are a number of cider events taking place—and tonight, Saraveza is hosting Reverend Nat’s for an unofficial CiderCON kickoff party: “In honor of the big apple event, Monday night is our “unofficial” Cider Con kick-off party with our good buddies over at Rev. Nat’s! Nat himself will be here, along with the rest of the Rev. Nat’s crew, and they’re bringing some special goodies with them! Join us this night as over half of our rotating tap list will be dedicated to fermented apples and all that that implies!” The party is taking place from 6 to 9pm.

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The future of “craft”

No deep answers here, but there were some of interesting thoughts and articles I came across this week made me think a bit about the future of craft beer—and “craft” beer (the label).

On Twitter, Ray Daniels (author, founder of the Cicerone Certification Program) had a 13-part write-up on the future of the industry as the number of breweries continues to grow. I’ve pulled those tweets into a readable “narrative” here:

Wrote this sequence last week and just saw talk by Jim Koch that affirms parts of it, so here goes:

@BrewersAssociation continues to encourage brewery openings, cites larger winery pop in US (6,000+). But with huge brewer population, I believe fundamentals of brewery business change for most. Of course increase in brewers = increasingly hard to get distribution, tap handles, shelf space. Also: more brands = more difficult to be known, remembered by consumers esp beyond local area. Wine world is similar. Few brands break through avg consumer consciousness. Most bought on varietal, region.

A crowded beer world where purchases based on style, not brand, would be a disaster for brewers. One wine/beer difference: beer can’t sit around for years. This further limits distribution options. Onsite tasting rooms already essential to small brewery start ups. Parallels in wine world. Consider: ~1/2 of all winery revenue from tasting rooms. As margins higher, must be >> 1/2 of profits!

Future of beer may look a lot like wine market: onsite and direct sales essential for success in 95+% of brewers. Imports now being pushed out of US retailers. Far-away US beers soon to get same treatment? Soon, I figure most stores will only stock 1) popular local beers 2) acclaimed classics and 3) household names.

Logical, interesting train of thought here. But it mostly ignores the brewpubs, which, selling primarily on premise, don’t have to worry about tap handles, or shelf space, in the same vein as production breweries. Of brewpubs, I see the overall number proliferating. Particularly in Oregon; here in Central Oregon at least 33% of our brewing operations are (primarily) brewpubs.

And in today’s (Sunday’s) local newspaper, the Bulletin, there is an article on the growth of the nanobreweries here in Bend as part of the “boom,” which does tie a bit back into Daniels’ comments but also brings the focus back to hyper-local.

Which San Diegans are thinking of as well; they’ve had what you might call a rough year in Southern California for beer purists: “losing” Golden Road Brewing, Ballast Point Brewing, and Saint Archer Brewing to the corporate megabreweries. And with news out that Anheuser-Busch-owned, Bend, Oregon-based 10 Barrel Brewing is wanting to open up a brewpub there, it’s got the locals thinking about what it means to be a “craft” — in this case, the label — brewery.

On the Hoptology blog, in The Battle for the Soul of San Diego Indie Beer, author Tom says (the bold emphasis is mine):

By placing a brewpub in San Diego, InBev has shown that it will continue to rely on deception and outright lies to attempt to create a ruse to confuse and trick customers. It is shameful. This is an effort to severely damage the indie beer culture of San Diego and we cannot sit back and take it.

One of the many rewarding aspects of loving the local, independent beer scene of San Diego is the knowledge that your money is staying in San Diego and supporting small business. Your money is helping your neighbors, and not lineing the pockets of rich people who do not give a damn about the community of San Diego. They see our city as dollars signs. They know their product does not stand a chance when lined up against the world class beers brewed by many of our local, indie Brewers. Deception is the new strategy.

Recently on a trip to Portland, Oregon I spent a Saturday night hopping from brewpub to brewpub in the downtown area. After a few hours I stumbled upon the 10 Barrel location; it was packed. I was shocked. Portlanders are known for their being savvy when it comes to supporting local business over corporate greed. It opened my eyes to a few truths that I still wrestle with but two of those truths are that not only are InBev’s deceptions working, they are working very well even in a indie beer town like Portland.

“Indie” beer and brewers, meaning anti-corporate, independently owned, hearkening back to the “indie” rock movement in the music industry. The San Diego Reader brought this to everyone’s attention this week, in Craft is dead. Now we drink Indie Beer:

The term Craft Beer may be in need of a makeover. The Union-Tribune reported this week that Bend, Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing Co. has proposed a 10,000-square-foot brewpub in East Village. In response, local beer industry podcasters have doubled down on a push to describe independently owned breweries as Indie Beer companies, rather than craft.

The Indie Beer designation (and social media hashtag) arose during a November 17 podcast on ThreeBZine.com, a blog devoted to local beer, music, and food. During a discussion about Ballast Point’s billion-dollar sale to Constellation Brands, podcasters Cody Thompson, Dustin Lothspeich, and Tom Pritchard decried the efforts of “Big Beer” to enter the craft beer marketplace, including other recent purchases of longstanding craft brands Lagunitas, Elysian, and Golden Road.

“Is craft beer even a thing any more, or is it just marketing?” asked Pritchard. “It’s been appropriated by corporations.” Taking a cue from the concept of Indie Rock in the music industry, the trio settled on Indie Beer as a way to distinguish small, privately owned businesses.

It’s not inappropriate, as “craft” as it applies to beer is really much more of a marketing term these days, especially fueled by the Brewers Association’s own definition of “craft brewer.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly think 6 million barrels of annual production is “small” — I don’t even think barrelage in the hundreds of thousands is small. Deschutes Brewery is not “small,” Stone Brewing is not “small,” Sierra Nevada Brewing certainly isn’t “small” but we would probably agree that all are “craft brewers.” (Or as Alan McLeod has taken to calling breweries of this size, “big craft.”)

And then of course “craft” has been appropriated by the biggest players to varying degrees. And one year ago this month, All About Beer magazine declared they would (mostly) eliminate “craft” from the magazine’s vocabulary.

Is “indie” or “independent” better? I don’t know, I don’t think it’s bad, but not everyone’s a fan. For instance, Boulevard Brewing’s Jeremy Danner on Twitter got into a bit of a dust-up with some of the San Diego “indie beer” folks, and declared (among other things), “I’m not going to embrace or use the term “Indie Beer” as a replacement for “craft.” I’ll switch to drinking vodka tonics if I have to.”

It’s worth noting that Boulevard is owned by Duvel Moortgat, so they wouldn’t be considered “indie” by the “small, privately owned” standards. Then again, other breweries that wouldn’t qualify as “indie” would include Full Sail Brewing (private equity group), Lagunitas (Heineken), Firestone Walker (also Duvel Moortgat), Alpine Beer Company (Green Flash), and many, many others.

Beyond that, I don’t know… does “craft” need to be replaced? Is “indie” what should replace it? Is a qualifier/adjective even necessary?

Oregon Beer News, 01/29/2016

Oregon BeerIt’s the last Friday (and weekend) of January! Here’s the news in Oregon beer for this 29th (and 30th and 31st). 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.

Three Creeks Brewing (Sisters): Today (Friday) is the annual release of their McKay’s Scottish Ale starting at 6:30pm: “Join us as we pay tribute to our lovable local Don McKay with the celebration of our Mckay’s Scottish Ale. Sisters own master piper, Mark McIntire, will kick-off the event with traditional Scottish sounds of bagpipes. Don’t forget to wear your kilt to earn yourself some free TCBC swag. Don’t have a kilt? GET ONE!”

There is also a Three Creeks tasting taking place tonight (Friday) at Redmond Craft Brewing Supply (ind downtown Redmond) from 5 to 7pm.

Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing is being featured at Portland’s Imperial Bottle Shop Friday evening for the release of their new Easy Way IPA: “We’ll be pouring $4, 20 oz pours of both Easy Way and Helles Belles lager, and we’ll also have their R&D series Mango IPA on tap as well! Easy Way IPA… dynamic medley of hops and a crisp, satisfying finish define this enexpectedly sessionable IPA. Aromatic and drinkable, the big, fruity hops nose and toasted malt flavor are anything but ordinary. Break the routine; go the Easy Way. Enjoyed Since: 2016 | OG: 1045 | IBUs: 44 | ABV: 4.7%”

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