By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The writer behind the recently published zine, A Feminist's Guide to Beer Drinking, is unsurprisingly, a girl (and yes, she's OK being a "girl"). She's also a certified Cicerone, coauthor of the book “Hop in the Saddle” and has her first solo book coming out this fall.
Before Lucy Burningham came to the beer mecca that is Portland, she was living in Utah, which has laws she diplomatically describes as "weird." Those used to the beer-favorable laws found here, however, might describe Utah’s limit of 4% ABV on beers sold at grocery stores and convenience stores “shockingly antiquated.” Moreover, so-called “high point beer” with an ABV above 4% is limited to bottles only, even at state liquor stores, breweries, bars and restaurants. Those laws have resulted in a general lack of craft beer (although that is slowly changing) and for Lucy, a lack of a palate for beer.
When she moved to Portland in 2005 to pursue a master's in creative nonfiction writing at Portland State University, she fell in love with the city after being wooed, in part, by its craft beer scene. While interviewing a beer sommelier for her first beer article she not only learned that beer could taste like bananas; Burningham was also impressed with the beer culture. People knew the brewers, they expressed a tremendous amount of pride for local beers and were passionate about their favorites. It's not hard to understand how she became hooked on Portland, on drinking craft beer and on writing about craft beer.
That first beer article turned out to be the start of a new point of interest and direction in her journalistic career. Lucy had written for years about food. In fact, the thesis for her master's was on Oregon truffles. But Portland's beer enticed her to explore her beer palate. Jumping into craft beer Portland-style, IPAs were her first love due to what she describes as their "bracing bitterness." Beyond being drawn in by the taste, her curiosity was piqued by the wide variety of color variations both within and across beer styles. All of this combined with her journalistic skills to produce pieces for well-known publications such as Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, The New York Times and SAVEUR.
Out of her vast collection of writing, it was Lucy's first piece for The New York Times that she is most proud of. The article, “A Hop and a Sip to Fresh Ales,” was not only her first high-profile beer piece, but its research put her on a hop farm for the first time. At Sodbuster Farms in Salem, she was introduced to the excitement and incredible smells of the hop harvest. That, along with other beer experiences, opened her eyes to how much there was to explore, which she continued to do through writing. It also spurred her to pursue formal beer education and become a Certified Cicerone.
The Cicerone Certification Program offers three levels of certification with Certified Cicerone being the second, giving students a well-rounded education on beer as well as the skills needed to assess beer quality. Passing a comprehensive exam is necessary for certification and Lucy took the preparation to heart. She learned what it’s like to be a beer student — experiencing the intense pressure and feelings of being completely overwhelmed. Tough decisions arose, including times where she wasn’t sure whether she should just simply sip and enjoy a beer or continue to study in order to pass the exam. Her hard work and dedication paid off when she passed the exam and, as a bonus, she realized she had the content for her forthcoming book, “My Beer Year.”
Lucy Burningham writes about beer for well-known publications and has a new zine called A Feminist’s Guide to Beer Drinking. The journalist wanted to expand her experience with food writing by turning to beer after moving from Utah to Portland and falling love with the craft beer culture. Photo by Kris McDowell
While it will be a few months before her new book is available, her most recent work, A Feminist's Guide to Beer Drinking, is available in hard copy and online. Part of the Portland Zine series, it's one in a set of independently published booklets that reflects the progressive spirit and DIY ethos of the city. When Lucy was initially approached about the guide, she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. As she was brainstorming her approach, she started thinking about the women in the Oregon beer world and how they help to define it. Before she knew it, she was excited about what lay ahead.
With her proposal accepted, she interviewed a number of women, including Gayle Goschie of Goschie Farms, Miranda Kasten of Lady Brew Portland, Teri Fahrendorf of the Pink Boots Society and Whitney Burnside of 10 Barrel Brewing. She wanted the project to be part serious and part playful. It starts off serious, with a section on Gayle where she talks about her role in taking over a portion of the family hop-growing business and changing its focus to craft brewers to meet the changing times.
The playful tone becomes apparent as you move through the pages and find articles such as “How to Evaluate Beer Like a Lady *Or a Man *Or Fluid Gender of Preference.” There's also a guide for hosting a ladies' beer night that concludes with the instruction to "dream about your next ladies' beer night." In addition to Lucy's writing style, the zine's tone is assisted by illustrations from Deirdre Mahon and the layout, reminiscent of a scrapbook of favorite memories, pulls off the balance she was looking for.
The balance in the zine reflects a similar balance in Lucy's feelings about gender in craft beer. While acknowledging that gender can't be ignored and there are still biases and stereotypes, it's not something that she focuses on. Rather it's something that surfaces somewhat unconsciously — like when she finds herself at a beer event counting the number of men versus the number of women.
She's seen the number of women involved in craft beer increase in the last 10 years and takes the count as more of a quick observation than of something to dwell on. In her experience, she's generally found the beer community to be very welcoming, spurring her curiosity instead of discriminating against it. It's the occasional situation that catches her by surprise briefly. For instance, there was the time she was told by a guy that “you don’t look like a beer drinker,” which left her a bit bewildered. Much like the boy picking on girls on the playground, there's bound to be one who hasn't figured out that both guys and girls enjoy craft beer and can even enjoy craft beer together.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For most of us, collecting beer simply means there’s a can or bottle in the back of our fridge we forgot about. Not the case, though, for the few dozen folks who lined up on a sunny September day outside the Portland Art Museum for a panel discussion on cult and collectible beers. Yep, a beer lecture, at an art museum — holy Manet!*
Held in a canopied space between two museum buildings, the “I’m in a Cult” drink and learn event was part of Feast Portland. A five-person panel did the educating and included three writers from the magazines Imbibe and Bon Appetit; Portland-based co-author of “Hop in The Saddle” Lucy Burningham; and Sarah Pederson, owner of Portland’s Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern.
Before the quintet pulled up their chairs and microphones, a squad of servers poured specially selected beers into wine glasses at each audience member’s seat. For our tasting pleasure:
To Øl Sur Citra, dry-hopped American wild ale (Denmark)
Crooked Stave Surette, wood-aged farmhouse ale (Colorado)
St. Bernardus Abt 12, quadrupel (Belgium)
Deschutes The Abyss, imperial stout aged in oak pinot noir barrels (Oregon)
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels (Illinois)
The richness of these beers had us licking our lips wanting more and asking the obvious question — why does anyone pass up drinking a beer so they can store it in a dark, cool place?
To answer that question, I head to North Portland’s Humboldt neighborhood, which is a cultural world away from the Portland Art Museum. There, art tends more toward graffiti, neon signs and music club flyers. I’m sitting at a table in Saraveza on North Killingsworth Street. Owner Sarah Pederson said, “the beer has to be good enough.” She continued to explain why people collect first and drink later: “People who really decide if it is going to be cultish or highly collectible are those people who are buying it. Those people — their value, the value of the beer is how they talk about it.” She said they are the ones who create the cult-building buzz.
Tyler Auton, a chef at Pasty Tavern, has a 200 bottle beer collection. “I tend to find the beer I like ages well and a lot of stuff I like is in such small quantities you really have to collect it to get it.” Auton began collecting when, at 21, he met the bartender of a Bellingham, Wash. tavern. “He was giving me tastes of these really limited beers and then invited me to a beer tasting where everyone brings two bottles and everyone shares things you can’t normally find.”
Beer is a social drink and, Pederson said, being social is how to start collecting. “Go get in line. Find a place that’s doing something special. They have a dock sale and go get in line. Talk to everybody who’s doing it. The other thing I would do is join a reserve society. Certain breweries have these reserve societies.”
The Bruery in California, as an example, releases limited-edition beers through their reserve club. De Garde in Tillamook is having a fourth-quarter release Nov. 21. Or you can get on the mailing list for a brewery like Block 15 in Corvallis. You can also build contacts online. For example, Auton managed to get his hands on a Founders Brewing Canadian Breakfast Stout by reaching out to others. “They used bourbon barrels that once held maple syrup. The first year they only made a thousand bottles. I traded a few things and got a first-year batch of it. It wasn’t that good but it was fun to connect with people.”
Once you collect, you have to store what you cherish. “I store them underneath my house,” Auton continued. “I have a system that is normally around 55 to 65 degrees. It is ideal. I think some beers, some sours, are less temperamental with aging because they have all that wild yeast in them. But something like imperial stout I’ll be careful with and, like, the higher the alcohol the more comfortable I am in letting it sit for a while.”
As Pederson peels a chart defining “vintage bottles” from the glass front of the Saraveza retro coolers, she explained what you should collect: “The collectible ones, historically, are the big malty ones. The big beers, the hop profile should be mainly used for preservative. The ones that have been collectible in the past are real malt-heavy barleywines, imperial stouts. That’s what everyone was looking for when they began barrel aging them. Over the past couple of years in America, this was always going on in Belgium, the sour beers have gotten bigger. Those are the other beers you can age and hold onto for a long time. The alcohol has to be high enough in it. The alcohol helps preserve it.”
You should also collect at least three bottles of these beers: one to drink now, one to drink in about a year and one to hold for, however long you want. The flavors will change. “They develop, they mature. They get more stone fruit, more caramel or the acid can mellow out. Some of the sour parts can mellow out,” Pederson assured me.
Recently as I considered buying bottles for long storage, I remembered asking Pederson about her favorite collectible. “That was Hair of the Dog Fred. The first batch. I saved it for 13 days.”
She has beers she’s kept longer, but will do the same with those that she did with the Fred; share with friends when she opens them.
*Edouard Manet completed the painting “A Good Glass of Beer” in 1873.
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