An Honorary Satori (Plus Other 2015 Highlights)

Back when this blog started, 3,633 days ago*, I used to do a year-end award for the best new beer released that calendar year. I managed to keep it alive through 2011, when the sheer force of new releases overwhelmed me. In 2012 I gave a sort-of Satori to Occidental Brewing for excellence in lager beer, and general overall awesomeness. Since then the Satori has been dark…

Until now.

It’s certainly not that things have gotten easier. It’s now so impossible to keep up with beers–so much so that the New School declared Occidental, my 2012 Satori winner, the second-most “most underrated brewery.”  The winner, absurdly, was my 2009 Satori winner, Upright Brewing. Apparently we can not only not keep up with new breweries, what to speak of new beers, but now we’re losing track of beloved existing breweries. But I digress.

This year I wanted to make special note of a new brewery here in town that should quickly jump to the top tier of must-see stops on a visit to Beervana. That brewery is Culmination, which opened over the summer. I haven’t seen such a confident and sure-footed debut of a new brewery since–well, probably since Upright. Brewer Tomas Sluiter had toiled for years at Old Market Brewery, making beer for folks who had fairly pedestrian tastes. For special events, he was sometimes given the green light to make something to age in a barrel, or ferment with wild yeast, but I don’t think too many people expected him to be harboring such ambitious goals.

All that time making golden ales and porters gave Sluiter the time to envision a truly adventuresome lineup, and when Culmination launched, it had an impressive array of yeast-forward beers designed to please palates. I’ve never seen fewer than three saisons on tap, in all colors of the beer rainbow. There’s usually at least one wild ale on tap, and generally a spiced ale or two. Of course, he also dabbles a bit in hops, and it’s here where he made perhaps the biggest impression. His regular IPA is in fact fairly irregular–and has become my favorite hoppy ale in the city. Euphoric IPA is made with Brettanomcyes (the chalkboard inevitably says “Brett IPA,” and I bet half the people ask–“who’s Brett?”), but most people would be unaware of the yeast’s contribution. In the manner of modern IPAs, it’s incredibly tropical, with layers of fruity flavors and clouds of citrusy aroma. The strain of Brett he uses accentuates this, but you don’t have to know it’s there. What you find is a deeply pleasurable, approachable beer. The Satori is typically given to a beer, so consider Euphoric IPA this year’s winner.

I’ve been very impressed with his saisons, as well, and the black saison is a perfect winter beer. He also has a penchant for dark ales–no longer particularly popular, but personal faves of mine–and treats like the recent chocolate stout were good, old-school fun. From top to bottom, the beer list has been impressive.

Culmination has been getting a lot of press as one of the best new breweries this year, which is an accurate but understated compliment. Culmination is one of the best breweries in Portland, and if you haven’t checked it out, do so at your earliest convenience.

A lot else happened in 2015, and here are a few of the highlights

Kurt Widmer
At some point I hope to have a proper post up about the influence of one-half of the titular Widmer Brothers. Kurt announced that he was going to retire this year, concluding a 31-year run with the brewery he founded. It opened within months of BridgePort in 1984, and quickly became a part of the fabric of the city. Despite those 31 years, Kurt is still relatively young, and I hope he enjoys his well-earned retirement, with our many, many thanks.

Honest Pints
For a very brief moment, it looked like honest pints might become the law of Oregon. Didn’t happen.

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
Traveling around the country was a useful perspective-giving exercise. I learned many things, but one was relevant to Oregon. Basically, no one beyond a buffer of a state or two away has ever tried Oregon beer. Rogue is very like the only beer a, say Wisconsinite, will ever have encountered. This I knew. What I did not know is that Deschutes has begun pushing ever further out, and in many of the more beer districts, riding the success of Fresh Squeezed IPA. I saw it on tap throughout the Midwest. Here in Oregon, we have gotten used to these fruit-juice IPAs (the “fresh squeezed” of the title). We are still a few years ahead of other states, and so this is a radical beer in far-flung markets. Not surprisingly, people rave about it. It’s the kind of beer that hints at the huge potential of hops to go beyond bitterness. It’s a great beer and a great ambassador for Oregon.

Oregon legalized it. Almost nothing changed.

Kettle Souring
Rarely does a brewing technique deserve special attention at year-end best-ofs. But this year we must acknowledge the debt the brewing industry owes to kettle souring, that process of acidifying a wort with a lactic fermentation and then using the soured mash in beers like gose, Berliner weisse, and dry-hopped sours. All three of those styles were hugely popular in 2015–gose grew the fastest of any style, Berliner weisse the third-fastest–and follow a trend led by brewers here. In April, Gigantic’s Ben Love, The Commons’ Sean Burke, and Breakside’s Ben Edmunds gave a talk on the process at the Craft Brewers Conference, illustrative of how well-established the practice has become here. It’s a great, natural way for breweries to use lactic acid to acidify beers exactly the degree they wish. You can tinge a saison with crispness or make a Berliner weisse screamingly tart–and everything in between. Expect this to become a universal, common practice in the US in the next decade.

Some Guy Released a Book
You may have heard about it. 

You couldn’t end a round-up of the year’s activities without noting the trend toward consolidation within the craft-brewing segment. Just a quick glance at a list of the largest U.S. breweries demonstrates what’s happened. The three largest US beer companies are still makers mainly of mass market lagers, but half of the next eight—all one-time craft breweries—are partially or entirely owned by large multinational beer companies. To add a cherry on top, Reuters recently reported that employee-owned New Belgium was courting a buy-out suitor. (Which goes to show that employee-owned companies may be especially vulnerable to buy-outs; earlier in the year, Oregon’s employee-owned Full Sail sold out to a private equity firm.)

None of which should really bother us. I would expect that consolidation will continue to proceed apace. Anheuser-Busch InBev’s strategy is to create a network of “craft” brands that it can use to create a national all-ABI family of products. That will streamline business at both the wholesale and retail levels. But there’s little reason to think that it will damage the market or make good, experimental beers harder to find. Indeed, for the foreseeable future, big companies are going to be emulating the craft brands, trying to make the edgy, experimental beers that craft drinkers want. Remember the old cliche, which fits the moment perfectly: Bud couldn’t beat ’em, so they joined (or bought) ’em.

That’s it for 2015. Onward to 2016 . . .
*Look for special 10th anniversary blogging in the new year.

from Beervana


Good Beers 2015

This past year was an odd one for me–a good portion of the best beers I tasted came from breweries beyond Oregon. I spent six weeks on the road, traveling to 24 cities in 18 states (plus DC), and managed to drink a beer or four at each stop. What I enjoyed is illustrative of what’s available in American craft brewing right now. We can’t really hope to keep abreast of the beer scene anymore, with upwards of a hundred thousand different brands being made last year. (Rough math: if the 3,800 breweries last year made an average of 26.3 different brands–which sounds about right–we had 100k beers in 2015.) The best we can do is sample and hope to have found a few big winners. Here are mine.

  • Block 15 [forgotten name] saison. One of my first events was at Block 15, at their new Taproom outside of town. It’s a great facility and they pour a nice selection of the kind of beers I think of when I think of Block 15–saisons, sours, barrel-aged beers. I had a couple beers that evening, including a summery saison that was kissed by Brettanomcyes. Delicate, fresh, tropical, and it drank way underneath its heft. I was reminded why I think this is one of Oregon’s best breweries.
  • Russian River Beatification. In Corte Madera, I had a wonderful event at Book Passage, in which the bookstore had four beers available for tasting. My event became that tasting, which included a porter, two IPAs, and Russian River’s Beatification–the batch that hadn’t even been released to the public yet. About halfway into the first beer–Russian River–I realized I could talk about the beer from the point of view of what the dominant ingredient contributed, and people were wowed to learn how much yeast can do for a beer. 
  • Fremont Interurban. The Book Larder in Seattle arranged to have growlers of Fremont Brewing. I am ashamed to say I’d never had Interurban IPA. Vivid, Northwestern, sessionable–a great beer.
  • A typical blackboard, this one at Ale Yeah! in Decatur, GA (note gose).

  • Revolution What the Helles. I made a special trip out to Revolution when I was in Chicago, and on the whole I was underwhelmed. (Top to bottom, Goose Island, where my event was, had more accomplished and daring beer.) But they had a helles that saved the day. It wasn’t particularly authentic, but it was just perfectly made in terms of balance and pleasure.
  • Urban Chestnut [forgotten name] corn lager. This was an evocation of a classic American pale lager made with corn, and it showed how well corn works when people are trying to make a good beer with it. Supremely crisp, but with a hint of sweetness, all of which made for a perfect platform for zingy little hops. 
  • Schlafly Lemon Basil Gose. Gose was the big surprise on my trip: I would estimate that at least 75% of my stops had one on tap. My fave, and perhaps my favorite beer on the trip was Schlafly’s gose, which had a perfect savory-tart-sweet balance point. It was in so many ways not like beer–it was like a beery Gatorade on a hot day–and yet I couldn’t imagine anyone not liking it. I loved it.
  • Other Half Brett IPA. I managed to get half a glass of this elixir as the keg blew, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. Other Half is the beer geek’s choice in the Empire state, and they really had this beer dialed in; it was all sticky tropical fruit and deep aromatics. I suspect no one knows what the “brett” meant, but I bet they love this beer. 
  • Hidden Springs Berliner Weisse. Tampa, Florida, unexpectedly had a fantastic beer scene. My event was at Hidden Springs Ale Works, which was just a few months old. Nevertheless, the brewery had already dialed everything in. The IPA could have come straight from Portland, but what really caught my eye was the tropical-fruit Berliner (there was more than one fruit and I forget which ones). Even in November, when I visited, the city was 85 degrees. What you want is something like this that can both impress with its intensity, but also slake a mighty thirst.
  • Ardent Single Hop IPA. In Richmond, VA, I did another guided tasting at Ardent Craft Ales, a wonderful newish brewery there. As I was talking, I got off on an IPA jag (I was supposed to be talking about saison) and the brewery folks ran back and got tasters of an IPA so people could see what I was talking about. They brought out one of their single-hop IPAs (they did a long series), and I think it was with El Dorado. Whatever the reality, it was a perfect example of the (new) American penchant for late- and dry-hopping beers to tease out insanely intense flavors and aromas. 
  • Fullsteam Wild Sacch beer. In Durham, NC, the Fullsteam Brewery is trying to isolate a wild Saccharomyces strain to use as a house yeast. We generally think of Brett when we’re thinking wild, but standard Sacch start out that way, too. The beer they had made was a session ale that had something of a saison and something of a kellerbier in it. Crisp but slightly funky, hazy, and rustic. 
  • Atlas Brew Works Home Rule Lager. Maybe it was just because I was tired and that point a bit sick, but my last stop, which I enjoyed with my brother- and sister-in-law, really hit the spot. Lightly sweet, a bit cakey, and laced with just enough herbal hopping to keep it interesting, Atlas was a perfect final beer for the trip.

I also had great beer at Boulder, New Belgium, Goose Island, Yazoo, Magnolia, and at various pubs in Brooklyn (things got a bit away from me there), but those are the ones that really stood out. It has become pretty easy to find good beer in this country of ours. You no longer have to be in a town like Portland to do it.

from Beervana

Thanks For a Lovely Year

Yesterday as I was idly scanning through Twitter while attempting to endure the assault of pre-movie ads at a Regal Cinema*, I came across this little gem:

It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that my book would be playing a bit role in people’s Christmas mornings across America or–more meaningfully–that people would actually be excited to receive it. As so often this year–as I trotted around the country hawking my book, as I read (mostly positive) reviews, as I received well-wishes from friends and family–I found myself flush with gratitude.

Writing is not a solo endeavor. It is an act of communication, and isn’t whole or complete until someone reads the written words. The meaning exists in trust between reader and writer, and both contribute to that meaning. Once a sentence is put to paper, it begins a life that will only be complete when someone else reads it and it becomes transmuted in her mind. The writer never has the final word; the reader does. The text then goes on to live a separate life outside the control of the author. Whether a book becomes beloved, reviled, or ignored is entirely dependent on public, in the thinking and discussing and considering done in the months or years after publication.

I had two books out this year, and one of them has managed to begin living its separate life. (Cider Made Simple–though I think a book equal in quality if not scope to the Beer Bible–may end up in the “ignored” camp.) The gratitude comes because I see all those lovely readers out there giving it that life.

Thanks thanks thanks thanks–it’s been a special year.

*I’ve basically scrubbed Regal from my life, except on Christmas day, when it’s generally the best/only theater option available. Christmas-day movies are, for this Buddhist, a tradition going back two decades.This year it was Star Wars.

from Beervana

Favorite Photos of 2015

Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip poplar tree sprint leaves unfolding on tall trees with bue sky (Mount Cuba Center) Delaware

I thought selecting my favorite photos of 2015 would be easy for my final Gardening Gone Wild  post of the year. That is, until I had to actually narrow down the choices.

What follows are surely 10 of my favorite photos, but I can’t say they are my absolute favorites – my overall list is 26.

This is a broad mix of photos, some from my garden travels, some of my landscape shots, some of my art and extractions, and some from work to be published next year. I do seem to dabble in many things:

Alnus tenuifolia - Mountain Alder; California native deciduous small tree, bare branches in winter in shrub border with Cornus

Alnus tenuifolia – Mountain Alder bare branches in winter in shrub border.

I still gasp when I see this photo, from the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley, California. I was shooting bare trees last January in that wonderful California native plant garden, and at the end of the day, after absorbing branches and patterns all day, these white branches of the Mountain Alder at the end of a border, with the garden in the background became a blend of shapes and colors I put into my art gallery.


Parkinsonia 'Desert Museum' hybrid Palo Verde, yellow flowering drought tolerant tree, with Century Plant, Agave in dry garden at Los Angeles Natural History Museum

Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde tree at LA Natural History Museum

I made a trip to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum  especially to see the sustainable gardens that my friend Carol Bornstein is helping to create and curate. An early morning shoot with backlight allowed these Parkinsonia flowers to glow.


Oak trees (Quercus agrifolia) in California native plant garden around modern home on hill in evening light, Santa Barbara,

Quercus agrifolia in California native plant garden around modern home

High on a ridge in central California this modern home overlooks the Pacific ocean. These oak trees were planted to create sight lines within an entirely native plant garden.


Heteromeles arbutifolia 'Davis Gold' (Davis Gold Toyon) - A yellow-orange berried selection of the California native evergreen shrub

Heteromeles arbutifolia ‘Davis Gold’, Toyon – PhotoBotanic Extraction

I have been doing a series of PhotoBotanic “Extractions” over the years. An extraction is a botanic illustration from nature, where the elements of the plant are highlighted against the garden itself, as opposed to a studio illustration where the plant is drawn on a white background. This native Toyon shrub is a hedge by my front steps.


Webb Farmhouse, Meadow Garden, Longwood Garden, Pennsylvania

Webb Farmhouse, Meadow Garden, Longwood Garden, Pennsylvania

An entirely different native plant garden, here at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. This old farmhouse reminded me of Andrew Wyeth painting, sitting at the edge of the grand new meadow that is being planted at Longwood.


Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip poplar tree sprint leaves unfolding on tall trees with bue sky (Mount Cuba Center) Delaware

Liriodendron tulipifera – spring leaves unfolding with bue sky, Mount Cuba Center.

While on the same trip to the East Coast I visited The Mount Cuba Center For Piedmont Flora in Delaware just as the Tulip Poplar trees were budding out. This delicate moment of leaf unfolding is more fleeting than the flowering of more ornamental trees.


Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum, Red Cutleaf Japanese Maple tree, spring leaves unfolding, Winterthur Garden

Red Cutleaf Japanese Maple tree, spring leaves unfolding, Winterthur Garden

My trip to the East Coast was a lesson in leaf unfolding. Every day, in every different garden, I saw a different array of leaves budding out. Here is a beautiful Red Cut leaf Japanese Maple at Winterthur Garden in Pennsylvania.


Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

Connecticut meadow garden by lake with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

On a summer trip to the East Coast I was able to photograph a couple of Larry Weiner’s beautiful meadow gardens in Connecticut. In this one, by a pond, the native flowers were in the lineup, seemingly just for me.


Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’, Oenothera pallida, and annual wildflowers bright yellow Layia gaillardioides and pale yellow Layia glandulosa; Kate Frey Garden

Nepeta, Oenothera, and Layia – pollinator flowers; Kate Frey garden.

Back in California, my friend Kate Frey, called me one day to say her bee pollinator garden was looking okay. Just okay?


Geranium nodosum 'Clos du Coudray', Robin Parer Geraneaceae nursery, art rendering

Geranium nodosum ‘Clos du Coudray’, Robin Parer Geraneaceae nursery

Perhaps my favorite project for the year was the new geranium book that my friend Robin Parer has just completed for Timber Press. The style of the book  places the flowers against a black background for identification. Creating these sorts of silhouettes for my PhotoBotanic illustration series was a joy.

I invite you to look at more of my favorite photos on my site. Next year I will be sharing more of my new books from PhotoBotanic here on Gardening Gone Wild.

Happy New Year to all. Onward into 2016 !

from Gardening Gone Wild

About Those Ads

Okay, so it looks like I won’t be using Google ads on the site. Apparently the content of this blog is too scandalous for the tender souls in Mountain View:

We did not approve your application for the reasons listed below

Drugs, drug paraphernalia, alcohol, beer or tobacco: Google believes strongly in the freedom of expression and offers broad access to content across the web without censoring search results. However, Google policy does not permit the placement of Google ads on sites promoting illicit drugs, prescription drugs, drug paraphernalia, sales of hard alcohol, tobacco, or tobacco-related products. We’ve found that your site contains content of this nature.

What’s ironic is that moments after I started using Google ads, I considered dumping them because one appeared that advertised “Find sexy Thai women” or something, which seemed pretty tawdry. So, for the near future, this gorgeous blog will be unsullied by ads. I’ll try to figure something else out eventually. (If you’re interested in advertising here, shoot me an email.)

from Beervana

A Holiday-Buying Spree

Wow. The world’s largest brewery has, in just five days, added three new breweries to its craft portfolio. Last Friday it was Arizona’s Four Peaks. Yesterday we learned that AB InBev had snapped up London’s Camden Town Brewery. Today it was Colorado’s Breckenridge:

Anheuser-Busch has made a play for a piece of Colorado’s craft brew market, snapping up Breckenridge Brewery for an undisclosed sum, officials announced Tuesday.

Breckenridge, which sells its beers to 35 states, is on track to produce 70,000 barrels of beer in 2015. Earlier this year, Breckenridge departed its downtown-area Denver digs for a 12-acre brewery and restaurant in Littleton. The 25-year-old company is Colorado’s sixth largest craft brewer by barrels produced, according to The Brewers Association data.

We were playing a little game on Facebook of trying to guess which brewery would go next. It’s possible someone might have rung in with Breckenridge (one commenter was on the right track with Avery and Great Divide), but the damn thing happened too fast for a robust sample to gather. I will leave you with the newly-updated map of the Little Buds and their national distribution:

Various comments/questions. (1) Interesting that ABI seems to be focused on blue states (a fact made more obvious by my use of an electoral college calculator to generate these maps)–does this mean North Carolina or Florida is more likely to be the first southern state than, say, Georgia? (2) Some enterprising young journalist (Bryan Roth?) should look to see what the distribution ramifications are in these states. I continue to believe that’s a huge part of this equation. (3) Which brewery is next, and (4) how many breweries do you expect ABI to buy stateside before it feels it has collected enough to make a big push into the craft segment?

from Beervana