That was embarrassing (but not really)

On November 10th, members of the Oregon Brew Crew in conjunction with Breakside brewing, got together to review the results of a yeast experiment! With 50 gallons of a Belgian Pale as the base brewed at Breakside, the beer was then divvied up between ten lucky OBC members, who were given an anonymous yeast to pitch (I hear some were also part of witness protection) and store. The yeasts were generously donated by Wyeast but I don’t recall if anyone from that company was there or not.

Once the brews were ready, members set up shop at the Hollywood Senior Center which, because of our presence, clearly became much more hip than it had been in decades and members of the OBC and Breakside gathered to try the beers and guess which beer had which yeast in it. It was the best kind of test: a multiple choice test. With beer.

If only college had been so good to me.

Picking out yeasts is very, very difficult and I think there are a few reasons for this. First, there are just so many different kinds of yeast. Becoming familiar with each and every one is a task for scientists for a reason: they have equipment and experiments to help them make distinctions to do so.

Second, I don’t think we focus much on yeasts in the Northwest. Hops, water and grain all get attention because we have them in abundance and at a certain quality (usually high) so naturally we celebrate those ingredients.

But after this experiment, I think I may have to get some education on yeasts.

The stunning thing for me was that each beer tasted different. Not just kinda-sorta different but distinctly so. Yes, there were similarities but to any discriminating drinker, it was quite easy to distinguish from one pale to another. Which means yeast has a far greater impact on the flavor of my beverages than I ever realized! I had just been under the impression for so long that yeasts were there to make alcohol and drop out, unless making a Belgian or sour ale, that we had bred yeasts to be as flavorless as we could get them.

This experiment disabused me of that notion very quickly but in such a tasty way, I didn’t feel too bad about that.

What was a little awkward was that out of the ten ales, I didn’t get a single guess right. Completely unable to match a yeast to its appropriate beer.

My girlfriend got four. I later found out that four is the most anyone got. So amongst professionals and serious aficionados, she did as well as anyone!

Which was a little embarrassing. But not really, because that’s awesome.

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Wow

I don’t have much commentary on this article, except to say: what a wonderful experience that must have been! As a beer lover, I cannot help but be a little jealous of that experience.

As a beer drinker, though, I have difficulty keeping things in the cellar so I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to create it.

7pm Cold Seeps In

It took me a minute or two to decide but eventually I went for the Epic Double Skull doppelbock. Like sucking on a chocolate Popsicle, this beer offers me the essence of coca but not the solid. Also, and this is very, very weird but my first reference is a grape sucker, the cheap kind you’d get from the doctors office after a shot.

There are things I can explain but this is not one of them. I usually like Epic’s work but this beer? I can’t say it’s bad but I am hard pressed to recommend it, too. This dopplebock is not improving with warmth, either. It should be the perfect beer for a cold evening like this but it tastes thin and is coupled with a sweetness that is making me thirst for an ale with more body to it.

I think the holiday tuckered me out. Even for a Monday I feel a bit less animated, less engaging. More likely to say something I shouldn’t or, more exactingly, use words I do not mean to get across an idea that is dying on its feet.

Might be the chill in the air. Winter is finally descending onto Portland with clear skies and northern winds. It’s the kind of thing that sucks life away, down south, until I can fortify myself with scarves, whiskey, women and a steely eye.

I opt for a small Block 15 brown ale and I already feel better: this beer doesn’t taste as thin. Is that expectations or legit flavor making a case for itself?

Times like this, I wish I wasn’t drinking alone. Don’t get me wrong, I like these moments of contemplation but comparing notes when facing strange flavors is what makes this experience interesting.

Fortunately for me, someone comes in, asking for an IPA and weeds through her choices with that bartender to settle on the Pelican fresh hop ale. She’s visiting from Cleveland and loves the style; I tell her she’s in the right place. Wrong time, though: if she really wanted a bounty of IPAs, September would have been the time to arrive, with not only the traditional ipa bounty but the fresh hop ales too.

She tells me that there is a really good beer scene in Cleveland and somehow I’m not terribly surprised. A city like that, in the middle of the country is ripe for influences from all over and has an opportunity to bring the best ideas from everywhere to play. It may be a depressed place but where better to innovate?

It’s fun being an ambassador for Portland.

7pm Resistance

Silver Moon Purgatory's Shadow belgian dark aleI am drinking Silver Moon‘s Purgatory’s Shadow.

Man, I love that name. A dark name for a dark night, it’s a Belgian dark ale that apparently has been kept in Shiraz barrels. As a matter of fact, I am fairly certain that the juicy red wine nose and the touch of dryness at the end is what’s selling me on it. Plus a finish that is using very tiny bubbles to give the beer a lift, if you can imagine that, so it avoids the criticism of many darker beers.

Sandwiched in the middle of all that is a chocolate flavor; ball bearings to help this beer flow down the tongue.

As you might imagine, I like it.

I am being tempted by the Block 15 Figgy Pudding. There is a growler of it left, I am told but the price, while quite reasonable is difficult for me to justify given this season.

The chocolate notes are starting to appear in the nose of the Silver Moon. Apparently, this beer rewards contemplation.

I am going to not give in today. I don’t know what makes today that much different from other days and I’m certainly no stranger to spending money on something I feel justified in purchasing. Hell, I could probably base my fascination with games on this very impulse.

But today, restraint. There is going to be a wonderful week ahead of me where restraint will be malnourished but there’s no sense in getting ahead of myself.

Which leads me to my final point: I’ll be traveling this week, so no more posts until Monday. I wish everyone a happy and safe thanksgiving!

Negative Alcohol

I’ve broken my 3rd hydrometer in as many years; I swear I just need a plastic one. Or maybe a metal one. All I know for sure is that I am hard on those objects.

Fortunately for me, a new homebrew shop has opened up close to my new house! And I must give a quick shout out here, because even though it was getting close to closing time and my intention was only to buy a hydrometer, the people at Above The Rest were more than gracious about assisting me and pretty much coaxed me into getting all the shopping done right then and there. They were very helpful and pleasant, chatting me up like new neighbors. Although the shop had just opened and they were already talking about improving it, getting it better organized and useful. If you’re in the SE area and are looking for homebrewing supplies, check it out.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I got a new hydrometer and this time, read the directions. I’d heard but had it confirmed that it’s wise to give the hydrometer a little spin to disperse bubbles which might attach themselves to the meter and give a false reading. The directions told me that this device gave correct readings at 68 degrees F, and one had to adjust if you took measurements at a  higher temperature. (It didn’t say how one should adjust but details, details.)

What it also provided me was a list of measurements to ABV, so I could tell that once I took a Final Gravity reading I could tell how much sugar had been converted.

What I wasn’t planning on learning was that apparently, one can have a negative percentage of alcohol in a liquid.

This opens up a whole world of insanity for me. The idea that somehow, there’s an anti-alcoholic drink out there, something that has and opposite for alcohol, one that could make you more sober.

That’s just terrifying.

*note: I get it, it’s only math. Just having some fun with it.

Lompoc Holiday Preview

I had a chance to try six of the eight upcoming holiday ales from Lompoc because two of them hadn’t been brewed yet. It was a fine evening to spend at the Sidebar, with tales of brewing and recollections of Don Younger, including the classic, “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.” I can’t speak for anyone else but I certainly had a good time. And by god, I need to make a shirt with Mr. Younger’s quote on it. That should make money, damnit.

Here’s what I thought of the beers I tried that evening.

lompoc holiday set 1
From R-L Jolly Bock, 8 Malty Nights, Franc’ly

The Jolly Bock was a malty, red lager that they said wasn’t quite finished yet. It showed: the beer was a solid, malty brew it had only the barest hint of hop bitterness at the end to balance it out. The lack of strong carbonation held it back I believe, but not by much. Should be fine come it’s release near the end of the month.

8 Malty Nights, a beer inspired by the Chaunkah holiday (it was even blessed by a rabbi, the first year they made it!) had great roasty chocolate flavors in the nose and through the mouth. I found it to be one of the highlights of the evening and I’m told it’s going to be bottled this year, so I look forward to getting some of that to share with friends.

The third beer, Franc’ly Brewdolph is one that I have a little trouble with. It had been aged in Cabernet Franc barrels and just blended that day when I tried it, so there was practically no carbonation to it; this beer definitely resembled a fresh beer, just brought out to play.

But it was good. Really good: someone mentioned that it tasted like cranberries and that’s not an unfair description: the tartness at the end was right out of a nice dry white wine and I really liked this beer! This beer is going to change, though: carbonation is, I’m told, going to subdue the oak flavors a bit and bring up the fruit, and the tartness should mellow a little. However I don’t want it to; I want people to try this one because it’s really tasty.

That said…I also really want to try it when it’s carbonated too, to see how it changes. I have no doubts that the Franc’ly will be a good beer and represent Lompoc well at the Holiday Ale Fest, I’m just curious if the changes will be for the better or even out.

Lompoc holiday beers 2
From R-L, C-Sons, Old Tavern Rat, wee heavy

The C-sons Greetings was a definite highlight of the evening. My notes say ‘Pine sword across the tongue!’ It’s a really good IPA and this year’s batch should be given to anyone who enjoys NW style IPAs.

Old Tavern Rat was the penultimate brew and, despite being a barleywine, had a very strong bitter note at the end, uncharacteristic for the style. It was explained to the crowd that this year, the OTR was brewed on a different system; the one at the main brewery, instead of where they had usually done it, at the NW 23rd location. Despite knowing the new system might provide more hop bitterness at the end and planning for it, this beer came out a bit different than expected.

Which I find comforting as a home brewer. Even the professionals occasionally have trouble with their alchemic processes! I also find it really interesting: they took a recipe they knew well and were able to adjust, yet brewing on a different system-a set of tools they knew well-led them to making a beer that was different than expected.

That’s fascinating, to me. Now, the OTR may or may not be for you but I think it will be worth trying some this year and comparing it to last year’s batch, should you have some, or next year’s batch, when it comes out.

Finally, there was a bourbon barrel aged wee heavy, brewed in conjunction with LOLA. This spent months in barrels and was made with fifty pounds of molasses! This beer is a strange one, in a good way. The nose is very bourbony and had me thinking it was going to be really potent. But the mouthfeel was very light, the ABV only 7.5%, so it drank like a much lighter beer. Really a wonderful drink and I recommend trying it if you get the chance.

7pm Arrival

I was invited to the Lompoc Holiday Ale preview event, which, as always, is a super cool thing to be invited to. I’ll have a writeup on the beers I sampled on Wednesday but the spoiler alert is: they were interesting and/or good and I had a great time.

I arrived early, perhaps too early, with everyone noticing my entrance; Jerry, the owner of Lompoc, Chris, the PR woman who is responsible for my invite and John Foyston, who is one of the Elder Statesman of beer writing in Oregon.

No pressure.

But here’s the thing about events at the Sidebar; they are jovial and friendly and all around in the spirit of the holidays. Being there felt like the kind of event that kicks off your holiday season. It wasn’t long after I arrived that other people started to wander in and we all started to talk about beer and break up to…talk about beer again. I even had a chance to catch up with the folks at Taphandle, which was awesome and I’m hoping we are able to arrange a beer together soon.

Yet, the whole time I felt a little out of place. I was asked multiple times who I wrote for and that question made my brain go weird. What do you mean who do I write for? I write for me. I write for you.

But that isn’t what they meant, of course. I was even asked if I ever considered ‘monetizing my blog’ which also felt weird. I’m not against making money; hell, I’d be happy to have people pay me for this but I don’t know the first thing about such matters–and truthfully, that isn’t why I’m here. I’m here to talk to you.

It became a little clearer when I was talking to Josh, one of the new brewers at Lompoc. I told him I felt a little out of place and he said ‘You built this thing because you loved it’.

The only thing I could think at that moment was; well, yeah. Why else even bother?

And that’s why I can stand with the people–whose efforts I respect and appreciate–who have become those larger figures in the scene. I’ve spent my time and I can be proud of what I’ve done.

The money matters less than the interaction with people. Getting to hear the stories told in a pub is a reward that is very distinct from a paycheck and I’m fortunate and thankful that I am in a position to go to these events. I just recognize that I’ve earned that position and maybe don’t have too feel so awkward next time.

Plus, I’m thankful for those who have allowed me to be in such a position. Without an audience this would be a very different blog so I appreciate your attention.