By Gail Oberst
Look up “wild” in the dictionary, and you’ll get two definitions. One refers to “wild” plants and animals native to a place. The other refers to things untamed and feral, maybe even primitive. I’m not sure which applies best to Tillamook’s de Garde Brewing (it means “to keep”). Maybe both.
So when de Garde’s brewer, Trevor Rogers, the tall son of a third-generation Petersburg Alaska fishing family, greets me dressed in overalls, swirling beer in a tulip glass amid 80 wood casks, my first impression is that this is a brewer who may know how to tame wild beers.
Rogers and owner Linsey Hamacher, who doubles as his fiancé, have just expanded operations to a new brewery in the Port of Tillamook industrial development shared by the Air Museum. The two met in southern Oregon, just after Rogers earned his bachelor of fine arts degree. Hamacher had just returned home from a stint with the Peace Corps in North Africa. The two became ardent home-brewers – especially after Rogers took a non-brewing job at Pelican. They tried brewing at Pacific City, but for some reason, the wild yeasts there were just not right, Rogers said.
De Garde Brewing’s new 3,000 square-foot brewery does not replace its small tasting room in downtown Tillamook, but it provides ample room for the current 7-barrel brewhouse and blending tanks, more wood barrels, and a new “coolship” – a giant container the shape of a giant square cake pan. It is in the coolship where the “wild” thing happens. In wild beers (sometimes called Belgian-style), the cooling wort in the coolship’s shallow pan is exposed to the open air, inviting native yeasts and bacteria, and prompting spontaneous fermentation.
Tillamook’s steady ocean breezes produce an atmosphere that, like coastal Beligum, carries on it yeasts that create great beers. Unlike Belgium, Tillamook’s temperate stays cool and wet year-round. Rogers can brew every month of the year – in Belgium, hot summer temperatures halt most Belgian wild brewing.
“This beer is a representative of this place, this time,” said Rogers. “It’s in the style of Belgian lambic producers, but it is distinctly here.” The same combination of native yeast and bacteria occur nowhere else in the world.
Rogers is among a growing number of Oregon brewers who have chosen to specialize in native beers. He was inspired by Alex Ganum at Upright Brewery in Portland and Nick Arzner of Block 15 in Corvallis, who Rogers said helped introduce wild beers to consumers in Oregon. In addition to those at least a dozen other breweries have flirted with wild brewing, although de Garde and Block 15 may be the only truly wild beer producers. The others purposely introduce yeasts that have wild origins, Rogers said.
So far, de Garde’s reception has been wildly successful during Rogers’ and Hamacher’s Portland-area tastings. On-line and print reviewers have done their share of raving when de Garde was in the house. At just a year old, the brewery already sells out each of its releases, which are bottled and sold from the tasting room. Catering to de Garde’s early out-of-town supporters, Rogers has created a “Keepers” club where he creates special beers including (next month) a lambic-inspired beer that includes southern Oregon Tempranillo grapes, and a double Berliner Weisse aged with Merlot grapes.
Memberships to the Keepers Club will reopen in the fall.
Now that de Garde has a coolship, its tanks are freed for Rogers to brew more often. The brewery could expand in the current building by simply removing the wall next door. But before that happens, Rogers is filling up his current space vertically with plans to triple his barrels to as many as 300 by this summer. Unlike non-wild breweries, all of de Garde’s beer, once it begins fermenting, spends most of its days – up to four years – in wooden barrels or casks that once held gin, rum, whiskey or wine. Inside the barrel, a thin skin called a “pellicle” forms a cap on the beer, protecting from oxygen.
“This is going to be fantastic,” Rogers said, tapping the end of the keg old-school by pounding a nail about a third of the way up and letting flow into his glass an aged strong sour, officially weighing in at about 14% ABV, the strongest allowed before you have to call it “wine.” It took about two tons of grain to push it that high, he said.
This particular ale won’t see the light of day for a few more years. Until then, visitors can content themselves with beers as they are released (see below).
Plans for the future include beer release events in the brewery, thanks to a new OLCC license that expands the use of the new space. The first of these events will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 1, but if you miss that, stay tuned. There will be another in March.
Public releases Feb. 1 and brewer’s notes are:
Loak: 375ml bottles, $8/bottle, no limit. Strong, dark and sour, bourbon barrel fermented and aged brew. Chocolate and coffee notes, with tart red fruit character and rich barrel complexity with a balancing rustic funk.
Vin Lee: 750ml bottles, $14/bottle, 12-bottle limit. Sour red ale base, a blend in freshly-emptied Pinot Noir barrel aged brew. A secondary fermentation with approximately four pounds per gallon of Pinot Noir grapes from a Dundee Hills vineyard in the Willamette Valley. Juicy character and an elevated balancing acidity complemented by earthy notes are a subtle complement.
Note for word geeks: de Garde is spelled with a lowercase “de” at the beginning. The editor, however, doesn’t start sentences or headlines with lowercase letters.
By Gail Oberst
Sky High times in Corvallis. The restaurant with a 360-degree view that includes the city, the Coast Range, the Willamette River and the countryside in all directions is now open. Sky High Brewing’s 4th floor rooftop dining won’t open until this spring, but its third-floor restaurant and pub opened in late October 2013.
The third-floor restaurant seats 100 in booths and tables, with an extra 50 seats available in the pub.
Those who want the outdoor dining experience now can sit on the third-floor heated and covered patio, just outside the bar.
The new restaurant and bar is added to the ground level brewery and the mezzanine taproom that overlooks the brewery. Stairs and a glass elevator connect the floors. Giant sequoia wood bar tops, local art by Angela McFarland, a made-from-scratch lunch and dinner menu and the views create an authentic Oregon atmosphere. The menu entrees range from burgers and pizzas to rib-eye steak and wild mushroom lasagna, all created by the chef, Jonathan Scott, and his crew.
Sky High’s beers – usually more than a dozen Sky High varieties are on tap at any one time – now include hand-pumped cask ales and beers on nitro. Sky High’s beer comes directly from its 10-barrel brewery on the bottom floor, with one exception. With no small amount of pride, Brewer Laurence Livingston showed us the authentic English Ale casked beer storage and service set up in the third-story pub. A new firkin is tapped every Friday at 4 p.m.
Bottled beer, wine and cider are also available at the restaurant. For those who want to take home Sky High’s beer, growlers can be filled – on Growler Tuesdays, Sky High sells growler fills at a discount.
Sky High Brewing
( a ) 160 NW Jackson Ave, Corvallis
( p ) 541-207-3277
(h) Open 7 days a week
Owner: Scott McFarland, Brian Bovee, and Mark O’Brien.
Brewer: Laurence Livingston
In 2010, Sprints moved his brewery from the obscurity of the industrial Southeast to the foot of the Morrison Bridge, where he presides over an airy, colorful taproom decorated with his artwork, serving his new and vintage beers and a robust menu influenced by his love of Belgian pubs and his training as a professional chef.
By John Foyston
Hair of the Dog Brewing's annual production of 1,200 kegs makes it one of Oregon's smallest brewers, yet the brewery --- which turns 20 this month --- is an outsize presence in the world of Good Beer.
Two Hair of the Dog beers were included on a recent Stanford University list of the 20 best beers of the world, as chosen by beer experts at Ratebeer and similar sites. A Ratebeer.com 2010 list of the 100 best beers in the world included four Hair of the Dog beers.
Owner/brewer Alan Sprints recently put a dozen 12.7-ounce bottles of Dave, a 19-year-old Barleywine of nearly 30 percent alcohol, up for sale. The price? $1,500 a bottle if you drank it at the tasting room, $2,000 to go. Needless to say, he expected to have them available for a little while, but they all sold in five hours. Everyone from the Huffington Post to Time magazine picked up the story of the $24,000 half-rack.
When Hair of the Dog holds its anniversary dock sales, the door open at 10 a.m. and customers are limited to how much they can buy --- and still the beer runs out. Eager fans start lining up at 7 a.m. or earlier, and Sprints --- a trained chef --- has been known to cook breakfast for the faithful. This year, for his 20th, Sprints has created ticketed afternoon and evening sessions on November 9. You can read the details below, but tickets are likely gone already.
One of the brewery's earliest champions was (and is) legendary Portland beer writer Fred Eckhardt, who urged Sprints to recreate an old, obscure Dortmund recipe that became Hair of the Dog Adambier, now just Adam, the brewery's flagship beer these 20 years. In 1996 Sprints repaid the favor by creating Fred --- a golden strong ale of five malts and ten hop varieties --- in his honor.
Those beers soon caught the attention of the late Michael Jackson, the world's most influential beer writer. Jackson began including HOTD beers in his books, thus exposing them to a worldwide audience, and visited the brewery whenever he had the chance.
Sprints got two bourbon barrels in 1994 and filled them with Adam to make Adam from the Wood.in 1996, he got two new wine barrels from a friend and created fred from the Wood: It was a turning point for Sprints, who discovered that barrel aging made his beers even more flavorful and complex. Other brewers took note, to the point that nearly every Oregon brewery now has a rack of beers aging in barrels. “I didn't invent barrel aging beer,” Sprints says, “but I think it's safe to say that our beers influenced a lot of brewers.” HOTD now has 10 barrel aged beers on the roster, some of which age for three years on wood. In 2006, he bottled a batch of Fred from the Wood for Ratebeer, which gave the beer a score of 100 out of 100.
Sprints has recently been invited to brew some high profile collaboration beers, such as the recent Collage with Deschutes Brewery and Flanders Fred, which he brewed in Belgium with Dirk Naudts of De Proef Brouwerij. On that trip, he also brewed with Belgian brewmaster Urbain Coutteau of De Struise, who in turn brewed with Sprints at Hair of the Dog in summer of 2012.
“That was the realization of a dream for me,” Sprints says. “I always idolized the beers and brewers of Belgium, and to have Urbain come to my place and brew with me, well, I don't know what else there is to achieve. I guess I'll be happy to maintain what I've got, to keep making flavorful, unique beers for people who really seem to appreciate them.
“In a way I feel almost weird that I don't really have any desire to get huge, like so many other breweries seem to want to. Staying small allows me to be creative and make the beers I imagine, and it allows me to have a relationship with my staff and my customers. I'm happy making 600 barrels of beer a year.”
Sprints, who has always wanted to make things by hand, has achieved his fondest wish at Hair of the Dog, where the brew day is just that --- a 24-hour marathon. It takes three batches made in the brewery's original four-barrel open kettle to fill a fermenter, so Sprints brews from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., when assistant brewer Denver Bon takes over for swing and graveyard, then Sprints comes back in at 5 a.m. the next morning to finish the brew.
Alan Sprints trained as a chef after moving to Portland in 1988, the year of the first Oregon Brewers Festival. “The OBF was pivotal for me;” Sprints says, “sparking my imagination about brewing and connecting me with the Oregon Brew Crew, one of the oldest homebrew clubs in the country. As president of the club for three years I met many of Oregon's brewing pioneers, which led me to becoming a professional brewer in 1991.”
He worked at Widmer Brothers until 1993, when he and then-partner Doug Henderson started Hair of the Dog in an old foundry in Southeast Portland on the edge of the Brooklyn railyard. From the start, Sprints wanted to brew big, bold beers such as Adam, which is 10 percent alcohol. “I had this idea to brew versions of the big holiday beers that I loved and brew them year 'round. It seemed like a niche we could fill.”
In retrospect, he says, he's not sure he'd do it again: “We were early, and its been an uphill struggle much of the time. I bought out Doug in 2000 --- relationships are tough and things were not much fun, not that they got a whole lot more fun after we split. I still brewed all the beer, but I had to learn the business side, too; keeping the books, making sales call. Plus I had to assume all the debt, which was considerable --- I stood to lose my house if things didn't turn around.”
But he kept on, buoyed by the belief that there was a place in the beer world for his kinds of beers. In 2010, he made the major move from the old factory in Southeast to Hair of the Dog's present brewery and tasting room on the east end of the Morrison Bridge. It's paid off, raising HOTD's local profile and attracting beer tourists from around the country and the world to the taproom, with its current and vintage HOTD beer selection, its robust, Belgian-influenced menu and décor of stained glass and ceramic pieces made by Sprints.
“The new place has dramatically changed things,” he says. “Now I have a staff of 18; in the old days, if I wasn't working, Hair of the Dog wan't making money; if someone came by to visit, I had to drop what I was doing. And the tasting room has added a new dimension, because I've always believed that eating and drinking elevates both beer and food to a new level.”
By Warren K. Bruhn
Santiam Brewing Co-owner
After a discussion on the pros and cons of investing in casks and beer engines (mechanical pumps) with another co-owner at Santiam Brewing Co., I asked the customer for whom I had just poured a Spitfire Extra Special Bitter what it was that he liked about cask conditioned ales. Turned out that he is a fermentation science student at OSU named Alec Klassen, whose ambition it is to be a professional brewer. He has a passion for traditional English and German beers.
Alec told me that cask-conditioned ales present more character from the malt and yeast. One can sense more fruit character from the esters. Alec feels that 75% of this is due to serving the beer at cellar temperatures (50-55 degrees F) and that beers on cask are as close as one can get to a living product, like fresh bread right out of the oven. It's a better way to serve certain beers, especially dark beers. Casked ales are a nice throwback, requiring more dedication from the brewery, more effort, and more expertise from the server, said Alec.
To my surprise a week later, Santiam Brewery’s treasurer reported that 40% of our sales of imperial pints and half pints since the four beer engines were installed had been cask-conditioned beers! This was a surprise, as we also have 10 normal taps. That afternoon a customer ordered a pint of Bramble On Honey Raspberry Wheat on tap, declining the invitation to try the cask conditioned version on the grounds that she liked her beer colder and with more carbonation (or so she thought... ) After letting her get started on her pint, I brought over a taster of the cask-conditioned version so that she could compare. After she downed the taster, she told me that I was very wicked, and that now she wanted a pint of that cask-conditioned beer!
Ian Croxall, a Santiam owner and a brewer, led the push to get usto produce and serve cask-conditioned beers. Some of the owners would jump in a car in Salem and drive 100 miles to Oakridge to drink at Brewers Union Local 180. Ian had been home brewing since he was a teenager in England, and had served cask ales at his university pub. He talked other co-owners into investing in some pins (4.5 imperial gallon casks, half the size of the better know firkin) and her borrowed a beer engine. We started tapping these pins on Thursday nights, and the first two emptied in 90 minutes and 80 minutes! Apparently there are plenty of people in Salem who will drink cask conditioned beers.
That made the acquisition of four beer engines and a lot of firkins seem viable. Another selling point was that cask beers don't have to spend time in a bright tank, as they age and clarify in the cask while the secondary fermentation takes place. And now Santiam is preparing for a big party called "Rock the Cask Bar" on Saturday, July 6, with some casks promised by other breweries (See related article, this issue).
I've noticed a number of beer engines around the Portland area, several at the Horse Brass, and one or two at various breweries and taprooms. For small taprooms or pubs, two seems to be a pretty good number. Mike, the beer buyer at the Moon & Sixpence, told me that two firkins will usually empty in two days, which means that he doesn't have to have a cask breather to slow oxidation. (That device introduces non-pressurized CO2 and/or nitrogen.) For the pub or taproom, rate of sale matters because cask beers will start to oxidize (flatten and sour) after tapping, and this influences the number of beer engines, the size of casks, and the decision whether or not to use a cask breather. For taprooms considering serving cask beers, I recommend the small book "Cellarmanship" by Patrick O'Neill, published by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale).
Oregon has seen plenty of trends in beers, including high hop, high alcohol, gluten free, organic, sour, etc. Could the retro cask conditioned beers become the next big thing? At Santiam we seem to be seeing it happen. And I hope that it does, because Ian has gotten me hooked on "real ale," to the extent that beer engines are the first thing that I look for now whenever I enter a pub.
By Gail Oberst
If you’re lucky when you stop by Brewer’s Union in Oakridge, Ted Sobel will take a break from his 12-hour day and have a pint with you --- anything’s great, he says – and talk to you about beer. Not the kind of beer you sniff and swirl, he said, with a note of disdain. What Sobel means by “real beer” (and his Real Ale movement co-horts) is that this beer has been brewed and especially finished and served without adding synthetic carbonation. The beers are generally unfiltered and unpasteurized, kept at 50 to 55 degrees in the cellar behind the bar, and pulled or pumped directly from the cask into your glass. They are served until the cask is empty or the beer goes flat.
We were lucky the day we drove into the paradise that is the upper Willamette River’s middle fork, all heavy with mountains and early summer cool sunshine, because Ted had a Wocha in his hand, the latest incarnation of his most popular beer, so he began with the story of how this former New Yorker came to feature the very English cask ales in the tiny Oregon mountain town of Oakridge. Ted landed here with his wife Patti in 1992. But he was a software engineer with a mission: First, get to England to taste their beers. And second, get out of New York.
“Arrr,” he growls, pirate-style, possibly English pirate-style. Early on, Ted said he was an Anglophile, and now calls himself “inveterate Anglophile,” mostly because he loves their beer, but also because he loves the English pub culture.
It’s not like you’ll see the queen’s picture on the wall, or tea cups in the display case, but you might hear a little background on cask beers. Casked beers (which include the 9-gallon “firkin”) are most often “pulled” by hand directly from the cask through a hand-operated pump engine. Carbonation occurs in the cask or in the bottle as a result of yeast interacting with ingredients, not because of added carbonation. These are lower alcohol than most beers – generally under 5 % ABV. “You can drink a lot of them!” Said Ted. The storage temperature (50 to 55 degrees) is generally cellar temperature.
His beer was meant to be brought to the pub’s table, shared with friends (and one of the friends should be the publican), and then someone should buy the next round, and the next, said Ted.
“Tickers,” he called the people who taste and don’t drink a reasonable pint. “That’s what the English called them.”
The advent of adding nitrogen or carbon dioxide to the finished beer in the 1970s prompted the “Campaign for Real Ale,” founded in Ireland by drinkers who were opposed to the promotion and sale of keg-based beers that require carbonation and wanted to promote instead the pubs where real ales are drunk. The movement is gaining a toe-hold in Oregon, Northwest innovations notwithstanding.
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