Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Voting with Beer Dollars

Last night I got into, wait, I willingly pursued a bit of a row on Twitter regarding the opening of a new AB InBev revenue source in town. I tried not to be mean, simply stating that making the choice to spend whatever-amount-of-dollars there meant that those were dollars not going into the hands of craft brewers. I make choices, you make choices, they are often different and in the end we each have to acknowledge the impact of those choices.

Infographic courtesy of the Brewers Association
Near the end of the back and forth I conceded that there were plenty of people, in the craft beer world and beyond, that were excited about the opening. Some of them don't share my view about what the impact of choosing to support AB InBev means and some of them don't care. More importantly I realized that I the beer thing* I got excited about today was news from Brooking, OR (population 6,400-ish). In case you missed it Chetco Brewing is making plans to open a tasting room. That's a big step for a little operation.

I'm not a road tripper so the six hours that separate me from Chetco will make regular visits to the taproom unlikely. That means many of the funding rewards aren't as attractive** as if I lived down the street. What is attractive is the opportunity to spend my whatever-amount-of-dollars to support a great guy who makes some darn good beer. I'll bet that Mike would agree with the comment from another craft brewer who weighed in on that back and forth saying that his brewery "is growing, tough fight though." Craft brewers may have reached double-digit volume share for the first time in 2014 but it's no easy line to tow.

So if you're like me and find it important to support those chipping away at the ever-decreasing market share of Big Beer, check out Chetco's funding campaign. And if you'd rather give that money to a macro, that is still your choice.

*The exciting non-beer thing was the opening of Chizu. Long live cheese, one of beer's perfect pairings.

**That being said I'm still pretty tempted to have my name on one of the barstools just because.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Edgefield's Matt Bergfield & a Belt Winning Beer

I was bummed to have missed McMenamins 22nd Annual Hillsdale Brewfest this year but was able to make up for that by taking the winning brewer up on his invitation to visit. If you haven't heard, the winning beer was Cerberus Wild Ale, brewed at the Edgefield Brewery where Matt Bergfield is the Head Brewer and manager.

The beer is a blend of Belgian strong golden, Berliner Weisse and golden ale that has been barrel-aged with Brett. It's a nicely tart, but not punch-you-in-the-face sour and very drinkable. As a fan of all manner of tart/sour beers I certainly would have had this on my short list if I had been at the festival and agree with Matt that this beer winning is reflective of a shift in many people's palates to less hoppy/more sessionable beers.

It'd take a pretty big pair of britches to wear this belt.

In past years the winner of The Belt, the physical prize of the festival, also had their beer showcased as the McMenamins submission to the Oregon Brewer's Festival. I've been of the mind that it's a very equitable way to select one beer out of the hundreds turned out annually from the stable of McMenamins breweries. This year McMenamins will go through a different selection process, making the decision internally instead of leaving it to a people's choice vote. At first I was disappointed but in chatting with Matt realized that it is probably a wise decision for McMenamins. OBF if not only the largest beer festival in Oregon but it draws people from all over the world, people that may never have had a McMenamins beer before and of course they want to put their best foot forward.

Matt, an east coast transplant, didn't expect to take top honors at the festival and was pleasantly surprised with the win. The Belt now hangs in the brewery office alongside a machete, which legend has it former brewer Jason McAdam (of Burnside Brewing) brought in to cut his mash. Weird, yes, but legends often are.

Matt Bergfield & Nate Whitney

Always interested to hear brewers' back stories I asked Matt about his and found out that he and his wife came to Oregon three years ago, via a cross country bicycle ride from their former home in Boston where Matt worked at Harpoon Brewing. The ride started with dipping their tires in the Atlantic and ended with a dip into Pacific waters in Astoria, after which they made the decision to set down stakes in Portland.

Working first for Harpoon and now McMenamins, neither small companies, Matt sees one of the biggest advantages of working for a larger company is that "all your payroll doesn't depend on each batch." I haven't directly asked some of my favorite small brewers about this but I suspect there is quite a bit of pressure in that regard. It also means that when Matt brews a beer he loves, a recent batch of mild for example, but it doesn't sell well it's simply one batch in hundreds that are turned out.

Kegs waiting to be repaired, beer being barrel aged & sour magic happening.

Many of us, me included, tend to give McMenamins less than a fair shake when it comes to their beer. Matt admitted that in the past, when the price caps on batches were in place, there was perhaps a different focus for the McMenamins brewers. These days, however, they have more flexibility and if you've had more than just a passing pint I think you'll agree that the quality has gone up. At Edgefield they're putting more beer in barrels from their winery and distillery and delving into sour beer.

Thanks again to Matt for inviting me out. If I've managed to convince you to give McMenamins, and Edgefield in particular, a second glance I suggest following Matt on Twitter for updates on special releases and more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Craft Beer + Spirits = Brewstillery Festival

StormBreaker's Brewstillery festival will take place this Saturday and brings together craft beer and spirits in carefully selected pairs. Now before you dismiss this festival, siting your preference to stick to craft beer on its own, as I almost did when I first heard about it, give me a chance to change your mind. In fact, let's start with a brief intro from Rob about how the festival came about.

Last week I had the opportunity to try some of the pairings and while not all of them were for me it was definitely an eye-opening experience, one that left me with a greater appreciation of spirits. The pairings are designed for one to alternate sips of the beer and the spirit, taking the time to swirl the spirit around in the mouth and taste how it interacts with the beer it has been paired with. The majority of the spirits are whiskey/whisky or bourbon but even if those aren't up your alley you'll also find gin, rum, vodka and liqueur pairings, including a liqueur called "hopka" which is an 80 proof, vodka-base infused with Citrus and Cascade hops.

While I didn't drink all of them (nor would I recommend attempting that feat on your own either) there were two that I particularly enjoyed. The first was Bull Run Temperance Trader whiskey and StormBreaker BBA Winter Coat. The beer was aged in Bull Run barrels for two months and the whiskey is a blend of four- and seven-year-old varieties. The sweetness in the beer is brought out by the whiskey and in turn the beer mellows the alcohol bite.

The other pairing that captured my attention was Aviation Gin and Breakside's collaboration beer with Fat Head's, Juggling Plums Gose. Both parts of the pairing I would happily drink alone and the pairing pleasantly combines the coriander in the gin with the savory saltiness of the beer, imparted by the Japanese salt plums that were blended in post-fermentation into the bright tank. 

So, how did I do? Do you believe this "beer-only" drinker that this is a festival you don't want to miss out on? If so, get your tickets now and save $5 on the door price. If not, I guess you can take your chances, skip it and then cry in your beer on Sunday when you hear what a great time it in fact was.