Ready-to-Sell Brewery Bought, Surprising None

The consummately generic Oregon brewery Hop Valley was the latest to join MillerCoors’ growing portfolio. I swear to all that is holy that I’ll quit posting every time this happens, but in this case I’ll make an exception–since it’s a local brewery, I’ll tell you a bit about its reputation. It’s original location was in Springfield, which is fused St. Paul-style onto Eugene, two miles south of Portland. You can pop into the brewery in a strip mall just off I-5 if you’re headed south.

If that makes it sound like a bit of a generic place, you’re on the right track. They made one stand-out beer some time ago, Czech Your Head, a really credible Czechish lager. Mostly, though, they fall into that anonymous middle band of breweries you see at the grocery store but which fail to register. The beer is perfectly serviceable, but forgettable.  I described it yesterday as the kind of brand, with the kind of name, you’d see as the supermarket brand for a chain like Safeway. Aside from a scandal about a beer named “Mouth Raper” a few years back, they have maintained a low profile in the state. Here in Oregon, no one is gnashing her teeth and lamenting the loss of a big of unique local culture.

If ever there was a brewery purpose-built to be acquired, Hop Valley is that brewery. You may safely ignore the sale and the brand henceforth.

By coincidence, I am headed down that way today, but I’ll be going to Agrarian Ales, which is as close to the perfect opposite of Hop Valley as you can find.

from Beervana


Is Japan Developing Its Own Voice?

A group of Japanese brewers has descended on the city of Portland. (What’s the plural?–a “wort” of brewers, a “tank,” a “grist?”) They are here for the Oregon Brewers Festival, and last evening they were at Belmont Station to discuss their breweries and beer. I can’t say how much they represent new trends in craft brewing, but I did detect a few proclivities that might, if nourished and supported by Japanese drinkers, evolve into something recognizably Japanese.

Let’s start with the now. Like so many other countries, the new breweries of Japan are following a typical American model of craft brewing. We were served a Baltic porter, a stout, an IPA, and a pale ale last night, and none of them would have raised an eyebrow had they been labeled “Widmer Brothers” instead of Y Market or Shiga Kogen. German brewing formed the template for the first breweries of Japan, and it seems like that tradition still exerts some pull. Kumazawa Brewing (which makes Shonan Beer) has a lineup of mostly-German styles, for example. But that is quickly giving way to IPAs, stouts, and saisons.

At the margins, however, there are some interesting developments. Several of the breweries in town are also very old sake makers. Unsurprisingly, the use of rice in their beers is common. This is also common in mass market lagers, and the Japanese propensity toward highly-attenuated, drier beers seems to carry through. One of the most popular Japanese beers at the fest is Shiga Kogen Number 10, a burly 7.5% IPA. It is a dead ringer for an American beer in the nose and the front of the palate, but it is noticeably dry in the finish. Curiously, all that dryness doesn’t make it seem alcoholic–on the contrary, the booze is very well concealed.

Japanese breweries regularly use local ingredients as well, like yuzu (a citrus fruit), green tea, and Sansho peppercorns. And of course, they have access to barrels from local whisky distilleries, some of which are counted among the world’s best. (Japanese whisky is largely made in the Scottish mode.) Hitachino Nest, the most well-known Japanese craft brewery (but which was not among the attendees), also uses ginger, local barley, and ages one of their beers in sake barrels. All of this seems very promising.

According to Jeff’s Unified Field Theory of Beer Evolution that I just now invented, what happens when a country enters its “craft” phase is imitation. In the US, we made mainly English ales. The next phase is experimentation, when breweries start fiddling with style and trying to do something creative. That was when, in the US, we started to pimp out our pale ales with extra pounds of American-grown hops. The final stage is creation, when the communication between brewer and drinker results in a brand new beer idiom. A process that resulted, in the US, in these intensely flavored IPAs.

Japan is well into its experimental phase. The final stage is an organic process where styles enter the wild (which is to say the marketplace) to see if they can survive. We’ll see what comes next in the next decade or two.

from Beervana

How Americans Will Change German Beer

I had a number of tasty beers at the Oregon Brewers Festival yesterday, but none were as interesting or surprising as the one that came from Montana’s Bayern. It was born last summer, when the brewery experimented with a very American hop, a reinheitsgebot-dubious practice, and a classic Bavarian lager:

The story of how this beer came about goes like this: During American Craft Beer Week (2nd week in May), Bayern has been offering a different cask-conditioned version of one of their usual offerings each day of the week. It has been a fun opportunity to experiment with some of things you can do with beer that we don’t normally do such as dry-hopping and infusing with fruit. The cask (called a firkin) in which we dry-hopped Dump Truck with Citra hops turned out to be one of the best. Summer 2015, Bayern had the opportunity to test drive a centrifuge (a.k.a. separator) allowing us to dry-hop a whole tank of Dump Truck and remove the hops. “Citra Charged Dump Truck” was born and made available in many of our markets in bottles and on draught.

In all other ways, this beer is purely Bavarian. The brewery’s brewmaster, Jürgen Knöller, is a Bavarian-born, -raised, and -trained brewer who does things exactly by the book. He has his malts prepared to his own specs, he uses a decoction mash on this maibock, and everything about the base beer, it’s rich creaminess and wonderfully warm malt breadiness, is pure Bavaria. (Bayern has a second German-born and trained brewer as well.)

But the use of Citra in dry-hopping transforms the beer into something that seems un-German. The nose reminds me of the way the scent of jasmine seems to be heavier and more viscous than the surrounding air. It is somewhere between tropical fruit and summer flower. The flavor is largely typical for a maibock, but the scent continues to waft off the beer, leaving the drinker with the impression of a sweetly floral beer. The aroma and rounded maibock body are perfectly in harmony, but this smells like no German lager I’ve ever had.

Dry-hopping was a practice almost no breweries did in Germany until recently. Uerige does it in their Sticke alt, but they make ales, and they come with an asterisk anyway. Whether it was Reinheitsgebot-compliant was mainly a theoretical one. The effect of American craft brewing on the world came quickly, and apparently it has already changed the thinking in Germany. But what makes Dump Truck seem transgressive is not the practice, but the taste of those American hops.

Germany’s great strength as a brewing country has been its rigid adherence to norms. A helles is a helles is a helles. Everyone understands what it is and how it should taste. But that is also leads to calcification. Knöller told me, “I have seen over the years in Germany where your Reinheitsgebot also led somewhat to a standard beer which they’re all doing to perfection, but it kind of got a little bit boring.” Germany has a rock-solid foundation, but that can sometimes feel like a prison.

The way forward is using wholly authentic techniques and ingredients, but looking for new flavors. There are only so many things you can do with Hallertauer hops. But open up the possibility of using American hops, and the potential range of flavors mushrooms. Then imagine using some of the other techniques Americans have uncovered in working with hops–tons of late- and post-kettle hop additions. The palette of flavors multiplies again.

The biggest barrier to German beer innovation has never been Reinheitsgebot–it’s that cultural expectation about what beers should taste like. No doubt there will be some distress in the transition, but beers like Dump Truck have to the be future of German beer. The forces of craft beer will eventually challenge Germany’s classic styles. For some, a beer like Dump Truck would seem an intolerable apostasy. But my guess is that there will be enough of a market to explore these new flavors and that, reassured that what they’re tasting is still classically German, drinkers will be happy to come around.

from Beervana

Oregon Brewers Fest Recommendations, Observations

Patrick and I used the Oregon Brewers Fest as an occasion to consider the kinds of beers people are making these days in the latest podcast, and also to offer a few beers that caught our fancy. Here’s the Soundcloud version, but the Beervana Podcast is also available on iTunes and Google Play.

As promised, here are our personal choices:


  • Anchor Mango Wheat
  • Bent Paddle Venture Pilsner
  • Breakside Pomegranate Gose
  • Culmination Deutschland Down Under
  • Ex Novo All of the Things
  • Fort George Dirty Snowball
  • Iwate Kura Japanese Herb Ale Sancho
  • Ninkasi Grapefruit Sour
  • pFriem Mango Sour
  • Pints Lemon Curd ESB


  • Buoy Dragon-Fruit Berliner Weisse
  • Burnside Cedar IPA
  • Gigantic Le Petit Bâtard Abeille
  • Jinga Koji Red Ale
  • No-Li Big Juicy
  • Oersoep Schnappi
  • August Schell Hefeweizen
  • Shiga Kogen Isseki Sancho
  • Van Mollen Luikse Vechter

And for the daredevils, we encourage you to give Zoiglhaus’ Birra Pazza al Pesto a whirl. 

Also, my extended list included these: 54-40 Ultra Pilsner, Bayern Citra Maibbock, Deschutes Sagefright, Drake’s Foraging Raccoon, Pelican Chongie Saaz, Three Creeks Berry Porter, and Upright Wit. Hey, that’s only a quarter of them!

    from Beervana

    Gardens of Alcatraz – Update

    Alcatraz gardens in the ruins

    Virginia Beach umbrella with chairs

    No, this is not the view from Alcatraz, The Rock, the old prison in San Francisco Bay.  I am on vacation, relaxing on a family reunion at the beach..

    So I have pulled a post from July 2009 with an update on the Gardens of Alcatraz.

    The rock - Alcatraz island

    I was recently invited by The Garden Conservancy to tour the Alcatraz garden project.  The Conservancy, in partnership with The Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, has spent the past 5 years restoring and replanting the barren and windswept old prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

    Talk about Gardening Gone Wild!  It is a truly wild and difficult site.  The fact there are any gardens at all is a testament to the human spirit.  This barren rock had hardly any soil until early Army engineers brought soil in the 19th century for the original military prison and built a Victorian style garden.

    Alcatraz gardens in the ruins

    Much of what prospers today are hardy Mediterranean native plants that were planted as a beautification project starting in the 1920s.  Notice the Acanthus mollis here with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

    Acanthus mollis on Alcatraz

    The gardens were expanded during the years as a Federal penitentiary, 1933- 1963, when prisoners were given permission to work out of doors.  Other naturalized flowers such as Centranthus ruber grow among succulents under the watchful guard tower.

    guard tower and Alcatraz gardens

    The ferry ride trip to the gardens is a must do tour for any visitor to San Fransisco.   The prison itself has definite if depressing history, but the very location of this island rock with sweeping views of the city skyline is thrilling.  Below we see Verbena and Achillea on a hillside overlooking the Bay.

    Gardens of Alcatraz with San Francisco skyline

    Since I wrote this piece, The Garden Conservancy has now finished restorations and has opened the garden to the public.  Visits can be arranged through their wonderful website –  The Gardens of Alcatraz website with virtual tours.  More of my Alcatraz photos on PhotoBotanic.

    There is now the Alcatraz Florilegium, and inspired collection of botanic artwork being created by the Northern California Society of Botanical Artists and the master teacher Catherine Watters.  Their website contains even more information the history of the gardens and offers the artwork for sale.


    OK. Now back to vacation:

    Virginia Beach umbrella with chairs

    Virginia Beach umbrella with chairs and a good book.

    from Gardening Gone Wild

    Oregon Brewers Festival 2016 By the Numbers

    Oh, how you wait for this annual tradition! Don’t tell me it got old hat in 2008 and this is merely more evidence of this blog’s certain decline into irrelevance–I know you love it! Hey, traditions beget traditions, and as surely as the OBF comes around each year, so does my by-the-numbers post.

    New Trends
    The biggest trend is definitely beers made with the help of our friend Lactobacillus. These little bacteria are used to make tart summery beers like gose and Berliner weisse, and boy are they all the rage now. If you count only those in the regular trailers, 20% are B-weisses or goses. Yes, one in five beers at the OBF is a Berliner weisse or Gose. Last year there were, I think, four or five altogether; this year there are 18. (If you throw in the foreign breweries, it boosts the total to 19, but drops the percentage to 17%.) Partially as a consequence of this trend (most Berliner weisses and all goses are made with wheat), the number of breweries using some grain in the grist beyond barley is nearly half–44%. This isn’t surprising, unless you cast your memory back to about the turn of the century, when 85% to 90% would have been the norm, and when the remainders would have all been light American wheat ales and maybe one rye. Now oats and corn are commonplace and wheat is everywhere. Fruit beers continue to soar in popularity as well–they’re now a quarter of all beers.

    Also, after a couple of low-IPA years, they’re back and popular. Once again, session IPAs outnumber imperial IPAs. Radlers had a momentary blip last year but are absent this year. There are only four pale ales, which shows just how far this once-dominant style has fallen. That has got to be an all time low.  Kolsches, amazingly, are absent as well. That may be the first time in a decade or more no kolsches have come to the fest. Frowny face. Nevertheless, Czech/German styles account for a quarter of the beers, while Belgian styles have fallen to just 4%. There are more pilsners than witbiers and saisons combined, which is an interesting reversal of past years.

    Getting More International
    The best trend by far in recent OBFs is the inclusion of international breweries. Last year, the Netherlands and New Zealand were highlighted, and Canada had a small presence. This year there will be beers from four other countries: China, Japan, Germany, and The Netherlands (breweries from the Netherlands always seem to make it–some guy must know a guy).

    By the Numbers

    Below are the annual breakdown of the breweries and beers. As always, last year’s totals are included in parentheses.

    • Years since inception: 29
    • Total beers: 112 (105)
    • Total breweries: 84, plus 16 internationals (89)*
    • States represented: 15 (16)
    • Countries represented: 5 – US, Japan, China, Germany, Netherlands (4)
    • Percent Oregon: 61% (50%)
    • Percent California: 9% (10%)
    • Percent Washington: 11% (7%)
    • All Others: 19% (19%)

    Total styles (by broad category): 31 (33)
    Lagers: 15, 13%  (10)
    IPAs: 27% (21%)
    __– Standard IPA: 15 (6)
    __– Session IPA: 6 (6)  
    __– Double IPA: 5 (4)
    __– CDA: 3 (0)
    __– Fruit IPA: 0 (1)
    __– White IPA: 0 (2)
    __– IPL: 1 (2)

    By style:

    • IPAs: 30 examples (22) 
    • Fruit/ Fruit Wheats: 26 (17)
    • Pale ale: 4 (15)
    • Saison: 2 (7)
    • Pilsner: 6 (4)
    • Abbey: 1 (4)
    • Stouts and porters: 8 (4)
    • Berliner Weisse: 8 (3) (plus 4 goses)
    • Kolsch: 0 (3)
    • Radler: 0 (3)

    By Type:

    • Beers using spices/flavors: 41, 37% (21, 18%)
    • Fruit beers: 29, 26% (17, 16%)
    • Belgian styles: 5, 4% (15%)
    • German/Czech styles: 27, 24% (11%)
    • Beers not brewed to traditional style: 17, 15% (“many”–I punted)
    • Kettle-soured beers: 19, 17% (N/A)

    Population Distribution

    • ABV of smallest beer (pFriem Mango Sour, Oersoep Schnappi and Buoy Dragon Weisse): 3.5% (3.0%)
    • ABV of largest beer (New Holland Dragon’s Milk and Lost Abbey Serpent Stout): 11% (9.5%)
    • Average ABV: 5.9% (5.8%)
    • Beers below 5.5% ABV: 45% (47%)
    • Beers above 7% ABV: 20% (18%)
    • Fewest IBUs in Fest (Aslan Disco Lemonade): 1 (0)
    • Most IBUs at the Fest (Molen Hell and Damnation): 102 (100)
    • Average IBUs: 35 (37)
    • Beers between 0 and 40 IBUs: 66% (65%) 
    • Beers over 60 IBUs: 18% (9%)

    *There are 88 beers pouring in the regular trailers, but Deschutes brought two (one gluten-free), and there is a an Omission (Widmer)

      from Beervana