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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hot Days and Cold Beer

I understand a great deal about beer. I understand how its made, a lot of the history behind various national traditions, even baroque stuff like the way pH affects fermentation. Before I started writing about beer, I had favorite styles and styles I didn't much enjoy; through the process of writing about beer, I even started understanding those unenjoyed styles so now there's basically no beer I don't actively like. What I cannot understand is a thing almost everyone else on the planet knows by intuition: that a cold beer tastes good on a hot day.

As I write this, I am huddled next to a mediocre air conditioner in the bedroom as the afternoon sun bakes the city of Portland in this alarmingly changed climate. We are people of the clouds, Oregonians, and like amphibians, hot, dry weather causes us existential panic.

I could imagine having a beer now, here by the air-con, but the second I step into the un-air-conditioned house (or unthinkably, the deadly outdoors), it's the last thing I want. There's nothing about beer that slakes thirst, nevermind all the half-baked poetry (and ad gloss) devoted to convincing me it's so. Beer, even crisp, light lagers like my summer go-to Pacifico, are relatively thick and heavy when compared to life-giving water. On top of that, the alcohol dehydrates, which is the last thing an amphibian needs on a hot, dry day.

I know I'm an outlier on this point. I was recently talking to a woman who doesn't even drink beer, and she was mentioning how this weather causes her to crave a cold one. I nodded and agreed, knowing she was just using the opportunity to find common ground. But, as I yawned and thought about the bad night's sleep I had gotten and the bad night's sleep I was about to get, I was actually thinking about a cup of coffee to cut through the haze.

It's summer, and brewers are swamped during the busiest time of the year. The whole world wants to find a shady patch and crack a frosty one. You're crazy, the lot of you. This is the one day I don't want a beer. Give me a tall glass of water with a java chaser. And please, rain gods, a nice low-pressure system and an inch of rain.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Who Drinks What

There's an old quote misattributed to Mark Twain that says it's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble, it's what you know that just ain't so. So when Gallup posted some findings on drinking patterns in the US, I clicked on through to see if it might disabuse me of any persistent old myths. One finding lined up pretty closely to what we expect: the rich drink wine, the middle-class drink beer, and poor drink (cheap) liquor*.


So far, so good. But there was one surprising finding. There is a stereotype of the poor we sometimes visualize as a man sitting on a sway-backed porch, bottle in one hand, cigarette or rifle in the other. Well, turns out the poor are the least likely to be drinking. The wealthy, but a substantial margin, are the boozers. (And that correlates with education as well.)


There appear to be other factors here as well--education, race, and religiosity. Education is correlated with wealth, so it's not surprising that the educated drink more (that's the bit I clipped out of the first table). Religiosity leads one away from the devil's water.
While not as powerful a predictor as income and education, religiosity is also strongly related to alcohol consumption. Specifically, 47% of those in the current poll who attend church weekly say they drink alcohol, compared with 69% who attend church less often than that, if at all.
And the less-wealthy are more religious. Drinking is also more common among whites (69%) than non-whites (52%), and among men (69%) than women (59%), but those factors are also both connected to wealth and religiosity--so all these variables are nested.

Anyway, all you rich, white men out there--now we know what you're doing in your free time.

____________________
*I condensed this table so as not to step on the big reveal later in the post.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lessons From the Fest

The latest podcast is up. It's part two of our Oregon Brewers Fest extravaganza, wherein we use the beers we encountered as a way of discussing the trajectory of craft beer. If you didn't get within a thousand miles of Oregon over the weekend, it should still be entertaining. (I hope!) We may finally have figured out the audio levels thing, too. This one you may actually be able to hear. (Also available on iTunes.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Beer Sherpa Ponders: Old Town Brewing's 1-Up Mushroom Ale

For the past 18 months or so, I've been doing this "beer sherpa" thing and pointing you to beers I especially enjoyed. Today we do something slightly different. Right now, on the strip of dust formerly known as Waterfront Park (this hot summer has not been kind to the grass), Old Town Brewing is pouring a beer called 1-Up Mushroom Ale at the Oregon Brewers Festival. I am sherpa-ing you toward it, and I definitely recommend trying it--but whether you like it or not is a separate matter entirely.

Old Town used Candy Cap mushrooms, a variety with which I was formerly unfamiliar. They don't have the usual forest-floor, umami quality I expected. Indeed, they are known for their odd taste. Let's turn to Wiki for more:
The chemical responsible for the distinct odor of the candy cap was isolated in 2012 by chemical ecologist and natural product chemist William Wood of Humboldt State University, from collections of Lactarius rubidus. The odoriferous compound found in the fresh tissue and latex of the mushroom was found to be quabalactone III, an aromatic lactone. When the tissue and latex is dried, quabalactone III is hydrolyzed into sotolon, an even more powerfully aromatic compound, and one of the main compounds responsible for the aroma of maple syrup, as well as that of curry.
Whoo-boy, does that maple syrup ever come through in the beer. The brewery says they "give this unique beer a sweet, wood-aged character." I don't know about that. What they give it is a unique maple-syrup-with-soupçon-of-mildew character. It's a powerful flavor, too, and not exactly like maple syrup; there's a hint of caramel and something undefinable in it as well. The beer is an amber-to-brown ale that has a nice maltiness to harmonize with the flavors. But whether you like this beer will depend entirely on how you react to those mushrooms--and people had reactions all over the board.

I was personally repulsed by it. Sometimes strikingly strong flavors like that attract me in ways I can't understand. (Hanssen's Oudbeitje, which smells of decomposing vegetables, is irresistible.) And indeed, others seemed drawn to this beer in ways they couldn't justify. You really have to try it to know.

One of the reasons I wanted to highlight this beer is because it suggests a brave new, post-style world just out there in the near future. For decades, we have gotten used to the notion that we could hoist a beer to our lips and render judgment based on known parameters of style and method. Subjective judgments were tethered to national tradition, allowing us some measure of objectivity. As styles collapse and what we formerly called adjuncts begin to flavor our beers like cocktails, we will become untethered, forced to float in a world where subjectivity is the whole game. If you like mint, try a mojito. If you like sotolon, give 1-Up a shot. And if, you poor, deprived soul, you've never encountered sotolon, you're just going to have to step up to pitcher and have the man pour you three ounces to find out.

Good luck!

_______________________
"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature.  In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer.  Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand.  In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out?  A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop.  I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it along to you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bud Finds Its Voice (follow-up)

Back in February, AB InBev created an ad for the Super Bowl that mocked craft beer. It created an instant and sustained backlash among the craft types. I blogged about it at the time, taking the view that it was a good move for Bud. This remains a minority view, but Fortune magazine recently followed up on the story and more or less takes my view on things. They point out that, far from backing down, Bud has continued the mockery.
[I]t’d be a mistake to think the company is making these ads recklessly. Every time the craft beer world gets worked into a lather over one of these spots, it helps spread the Budweiser name. The fact that you can get a reaction today at the mere mention of that Super Bowl ad, which (with its lack of humor or cute animals) would likely have been long forgotten by this point, is actually pretty astonishing.

Will the ads convert craft drinkers over to Bud? Of course not. But they could nudge Bud drinkers who were starting to edge toward craft back to macro beers – especially if the reaction of craft drinkers creates an aura of beer snobbery. More importantly, it could keep them away from switching their allegiance to MillerCoors, which, as Fortune recently reported, sold 43 million more cans of Miller Lite in the second half of 2014 than it did in the same period of 2013.)
Fortune concludes by noting that the long-term trends are terrible for Bud, and I agree. They can try to lower casualties, but winning the war is going to be a much tougher challenge. Still, there's no reason to think (yet) that the campaign has been ill-conceived.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Oregon Brewers Fest By the Numbers (2015)

Every year since 2007, I've been running an annual feature called OBF by the numbers. Welcome to edition number nine. For extra special fun, I'm going to highlight some of the changes in the decade since I started brewing. But first, let's have a look at this year's rundown. As always, the bolded text refers to 2015, while the text in the (parentheses) are last year's.
  • Years since inception: 28
  • Total beers: 105 (88)
  • Total breweries: 89 (87)
  • States represented: 16 (14)
  • Countries represented: 4 - US, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands (2 - US, Netherlands)
  • Percent Oregon: 50% (58%)
  • Percent California: 10% (14%)
  • Percent Washington: 7% (11%)
  • Percent New Zealand and Netherlands: 14%
  • All Others: 19% (17%)

Total styles (by broad category): 33 (25)
Lagers: 10 (6)
IPAs: 21% (24%)
__- Standard IPA: 6 (10)
__- Session IPA: 6 (N/A - 1?)  
__- Double IPA: 4 (4)
__- CDA: 0 (1)
__- Fruit IPA: 1 (4)
__- White IPA: 2 (3)
__- IPL: 2 (N/A)

By style:
  • IPAs: 22 examples (21) 
  • Fruit/ Fruit Wheats: 17 (11)
  • Pale ale: 15 (10)
  • Saison: 7 (3)
  • Pilsner: 4 (3)
  • Abbey: 4 (3)
  • Stouts and porters: 4 (3)
  • Berliner Weisse: 3 (3)
  • Kolsch: 3 (1)
  • Radler: 3 (1?)*

By Type:
  • Beers using spices/flavors: 21, 18% (23, 16%)
  • Fruit beers: 17, 16% (18, 20%)
  • Belgian styles: 15% (13%)
  • German/Czech styles: 11% (15%)
  • Beers not brewed to traditional style: many**

Population Distribution
  • ABV of smallest beer (Claim 52 Runnermass): 3.0% (3.5%)
  • ABV of largest beer (Rogue Imperial Smoked Lager): 9.5% (11%)
  • Average ABV: 5.8% (6.1%)
  • Beers below 5.5% ABV: 47% (37%)
  • Beers above 7% ABV: 18% (25%)
  • Fewest IBUs in Fest (Oedipus [NL] Vogelen Berliner weisse): 0 (0)
  • Most IBUs at the Fest (Caldera Dry Hop Mosaic): 100 (120)
  • Average IBUs: 37 (40)
  • Beers between 0 and 40 IBUs: 65% (60%) 
  • Beers over 60 IBUs: 9% (N/A)

The Ten-Year Trend
For the past few years, there has been a trend toward lower-ABV, lower-bitterness beers at the fest. I think this mirrors trends in the craft beer segment, particularly as "hoppy" no longer means "bitter." There are now quite a few 40 IBU beers out there that are absolutely dripping with hops. But the really big trend is in the experimental beers made with fruit, vegetables (potatoes and mushrooms highlight this year's list), spices, and other ingredients (coffee, old tires, dog slobber***). Anyway, behold:



2006 2015
Amber/red 8% 3%
Belgian 12% 15%
Lagers 8% 10%
Creams/Steams 5% 1%
IPAs (all) 27% 21%
Pales 8% 14%
Wheat Beers 7% 17%
Fruit beers 3% 16%
Spiced beers  5% 21%
Other ingredients 0% 18%
All fruit/spiced/other 8% 46%
Beers over 60 IBUs 26% 9%
Beers under 5.5% ABV 42% 47%
Beers over 7.0% ABV 27% 9%


Now all that remains is tasting these beers--see you down at the Fest.
 ___________________
*     10 Barrel may have brought Swill last year.
**  This is hard to parse, but the number goes up each year.  In 2006, there were almost no experimental beers.
*** Some of these may not be actual ingredients in beers this year.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book, Book, Podcast, Blog

The Friday roundup begins with a pretty cool offer. My hometown bookstore, Powell's, is offering signed editions of the Beer Bible for pre-order. I found this slightly amusing, since they haven't consulted me about that. But anyone who knows Powell's knows how important it is to the city and I will be happy to sign as many books as they want to sell. So if you're looking to pre-order and you don't live in town, sign up now.

While we're talking Beer Bible, let me point you to the new Facebook page for the book. I'm not sure why we do this, but we do, and I have done it. I will use it as a clearinghouse for dates on the for upcoming book tour. So go like that and follow along if you feel inspired.

Next, we have the latest Beervana Podcast available. This is the first of a two-parter that will revolve around the Oregon Brewers Festival. Even if you don't live nearby and have no plans to go, you may still find it interesting. We're using the current event as a way to chart the change in beer over time, looking at this year's list and comparing it to the one from a decade ago. Big changes, and I think they represent trends in brewing writ large.



Finally--and directly related to that concept of changes in beer--is my latest All About Beer post.

For the average consumer, “IPA” is completely disconnected from the historical style—it just means juicily hoppy. So when you attach it to any other adjective (session, white, Belgian, etc.), all it does is designate the presence of the juicily hoppy character. So yes, if Ben made a 4.8% lager made with pilsner and Vienna malt, infused it with that juicy hoppiness, he could probably call it a helles IPA. (The helles part would be a lot more confusing than the IPA.) But the implicit point in his question is evident—by the time you’re making a helles IPA, you’ve stretched that poor adjective so far it hardly has any meaning left.

Have a good weekend--

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Puckerfest, Today Through July 20

A July programming note. This is the month when there are 73 events happening at any given time, including 927 beer festivals. Roughly. But one of these is not like the others and deserves the spotlight when it arrives: Puckerfest, Belmont Station's celebration of the sour and wild. It starts today, with special beers pouring every day through next week. Here's the lineup:
  • Today, Tuesday, July 14: Breakside. Passionfruit Sour, Bellwether, Bricolage, Framboise.
  • Wednesday, July 15: Cascade. Sixteen (!) taps pouring, including the usual Wonka-esque creations of Ron Gansberg and team.
  • Thursday, July 16: Double Mountain. Tahoma and Devil's Kriek, as always, plus the debut of Peche Mode, a peach beer. 
  • Friday, July 17: Out-of-state Day. Offereings from (among others) Russian River, Crooked Stave, New Belgium, and Firestone Walker plus kegs that have been squirreled away for years.
  • Saturday, July 18: Block 15 and De Garde. At least four beers from each brewery.
  • Sunday, July 19: Upright. Small World Saison, Saison du Blodget, Fantasia, a new, unnamed cherry beer, and possibly more. 
  • Monday, July 20: The Belgians. A great wrap-up that includes Cantillon, Oud Beersel, St. Louis, LambickX, "and more." 
See you there--

Monday, July 13, 2015

Craft Brewing Does Not Have a Sexism Problem

The summer of slow blogging continues, and today's anemic offering is a brief rebuttal to this silly article in Slate about sexism, rife in brewing, in which the subhead reads "There are gross puns and derogatory illustrations on far too many beer labels. The misogyny needs to stop." Writer Will Gordon trots through the case of some pretty egregious examples of sexism, but not, however, very many of them--and herein lies the problem. The existence of something does not make it a problem.

Take for example the case of Irvine, CA, which had two murders in 2013 (I can't find 2014 numbers, but this is an example so 2013 will suffice). The number of murders we consider acceptable is zero, of course, but at what point does the murder rate become a problem; you know, a situation that needs to be corrected as opposed to a situation of imperfection that is the state of the real world? It's a lot more than two, that's for sure, because in 2013, Irvine had the fewest murders of any large city in America.

Craft brewing (accepting this as a market segment if nothing else) has around 3,500 members making something on the order of + / - 50,000 different beer brands. Would we expect none of these breweries to be making products that are sexist? At what point does the sexism become a problem? You see the issue here.

Weirdly, Gordon acknowledges how integrated women are into this beer segment, citing craft beer's civic-mindedness and female consumption rates and cicerone memberships as evidence of how well it's doing. So the point is? Right: clicks. (Slate has made a business trying to write contrarian articles to drive traffic, with at least as many misses as hits. Put this in the swing-and-a-miss column.)

Obviously, sexist beer labels are worthy of contempt and the breweries that made them, of opprobrium. But their mere existence doesn't illustrate that, as the title of this article claimed, craft brewing has a sexism problem. The article actually manages to prove the opposite; if you can't come up with any more than a few examples out of the tens of thousands of possible cases, you've illustrated there's actually no problem at all.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

For Your Listening Pleasure: Latest Podcast Live

The latest Beervana Podcast is live. This week, we delve into the netherworld of "malternatives" (aka "progressive adult beverages" and "flavored malt beverages")--those weird quasi-beer products on the fringes of the beer world. We discuss what they are and how they're made; why even products like Twisted Tea, Smirnoff Ice, and Hard Lemonade are malt-based; and how the category bleeds over into products like shandies, radlers and, lately, hard root beer made by craft brewers. You don't have to like these products (and you won't) to find their presence a curious quirk of the beer world, and I think you will find our discussion of them interesting.

Please consider subscribing, either to Soundcloud or iTunes. If you have comments or feedback, email me at my usual address (the_beerax[at]yahoo[dot]com) or chat about it at this Facebook page.  (And for those of you who commented that the audio was too low, we tried to adjust it, so I hope it's loud enough.)