Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Snow Cap Winter Warmer

The last time I bought a Pyramid beer...not sure but its been awhile. Anyway, when I was recently contacted to try Snow Cap, celebrating its  30th anniversary this year, I thought, sure, why not? I've been surprised by more beers as time has gone on and according to Untappd I hadn't had Snow Cap before.

Poured from the bomber that arrived on my doorstep the aroma and flavor presented on the sweet side, not unexpected for the style. I tend to prefer my beers hoppier however as the beer warmed instead of becoming more malty as expected, the spice notes became more prominent, balancing the roasted chocolate and caramel malts.

I suspect this beer would play well on many palates, such as one might encounter over the next few days and weeks during holiday gatherings. The deep ruby/copper color would not only look nice against a holiday spread but would be a nice compliment to many foods from cheese plate to meaty main dish to dessert.

Pyramid products are widely available, including at Plaid Pantry stores, meaning all it takes is a quick pop in to grab a bottle on your way to the feasting. Reasonably priced ($3 at one of the Pantry's near me), it'll leave more jingle in your pocket to pick up that special beer you've been wanting to try later on. Winner, winner, turkey dinner.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Culmination's Kitchen Welcomes Chef CJ

Those familiar with the food at Culmination Brewing may have been sorry to see their original chef, Carter Owen, leave for the next step in his culinary path but fear not, owner Tomas Sluiter has selected a replacement worthy to fill the large shoes Carter leaves behind.

Chef CJ Mueller hails from Oregon and in addition to 10 years of cooking under his belt he's also been homebrewing for five years. His aim is to do farmhouse, rustic food that pairs with farmhouse beers and it seems that he may have found the perfect spot in the incubator, both for brewers and chefs, that is Culmination.

His menu is decidedly different from the "Vermont BBQ" Carter served up but it is no less delicious. At a recent media preview CJ took us through six, beer-paired courses starting with liver mousse and 2015 Kriek. I'll admit liver mousse isn't for everyone (and if you're someone that isn't sure, invite me along, I promise to make sure the dish is cleaned) and its richness can be overwhelming. The pairing with the Kriek balanced that richness and I'm not ashamed to admit I ate as much of it as my tablemates would let me have.

Next up was the Thompson Farms Broccoli paired with Farmhouse Fresh Hop. The sharp cheddar, fish sauce, togarashi and perfectly cooked, runny egg was delicious on its salty, umami-y own and well complimented by the fresh hop beer. Even the folks that weren't huge fans of fish sauce enjoyed this dish that displayed CJ's understanding of how to use a powerful ingredient to correctly to work with the other flavors in the dish.

Following that, and designed to pair with the fresh hop Saison as well, was Gruyere three ways with Chanterelle mushrooms. The presentation was as artful as you'd see anywhere in town and the flavors equally impressive.

The meal continued along the theme of "so you think you don't like ____, let me change your mind" with a charred beet salad that my friend, Pete, who is self-admittedly beet-averse said was "damn good." The sweetness brought out in the beets was complimented by the peppery arugula, which also served to accentuate the hops in the beer it was paired with - Vic Secret IPA.

Moving back toward the more familiar was CJ's take on colcannon with a side of mushrooms and gravy. It was comfort food on a plate with the mushrooms and gravy of the sort that would be found in an English pastry or shepherd's pie. The beer pairing was a Burton Ale, a style that was popular before IPAs took off. A more malty beer than I prefer, the pairing made sense.

The main dish of the night featured coulette steak that had been cooked sous vide and was paired with Phaderus IPA. The meat was incredibly tender and Phaderus is a solid IPA that works very well with meat, standing up to but not overpowering it. As with the previous course, this was a refined take on comfort food and is the type of hearty fare that will be welcomed during the cooler, darker months ahead.

The tasting finished with a dessert of pumpkin pie, malted whipped cream made with 4&20 Black IPA and concentrated pumpkin seed oil drops served with the beer they made for Horse Brass' recent anniversary - New Olde English. The dry Irish stout was made with smoked malt, giving the 7% ABV beer a roasty aroma. Stouts are great dessert beers and the dryness complimented the just-right sweetness of the pie.

Huge thanks to Culmination for a taste of the new kitchen! CJ's clearly a talented chef whose food is on par with the beer that it's being served with. Next time you pay them a visit make sure and have room for both beer and food.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Orchestrating the Brewing Business

Portland is home to a multitude of breweries that churn out some of the best beer in the world but did you know that it's also home to a company that helps breweries make sure all of the parts of their business work together effectively?

Last week I was invited to attend Orchestrate 2016, an annual conference put on by Orchestra Software. The Beaverton-based company provides business management software for beverage companies, which encompasses breweries, distilleries, kombucha makers and soon wineries. Perhaps that doesn't sound like the most fascinating conference to attend, and admittedly it is a conference put on by a business for its customers and prospective customers, but bear with me, there are some good nuggets ahead.

During the opening keynote CEO Brad Windecker took a global look at the beverage business, a perspective that is all too easy to forget when managing the day to day operations of one's individual business. While he was specifically speaking to and about the beverage industry his comments could be applied (in the broadest terms) to many businesses. A couple quotes stuck out to me:

"A millennial drinker is more promiscuous."

"Generation Z is next and they have no concept of the internet NOT existing."

Since many of you reading this are of my general age those statements may make you feel old. They make me feel old. Regardless, these are critical observations that must be taken into account for any brewery that wants to cultivate the younger end of the consumer spectrum. A lack of brand loyalty and being used to having so much information at one's fingertips are new hurdles to be addressed.

To those points Brad reminded the audience that "it's no longer good enough to make a good product." He went on to explain businesses can do that by:
- creating new digital business (i.e. beer clubs that sell directly to customers, crowd sourcing to determine the next beer to be made)
- rethinking the value proposition (maybe it's not about selling a product, but selling an experience)
- substituting products (breweries adding cider production or doing contract brewing)
- reconfiguring the delivery model

I'm sure there's a transcript of his talk somewhere if you want all the nitty-gritty but the short of it is that in order to achieve their goals and reach their full potential breweries need to intentionally drive change instead of letting it happen. While we can all appreciate a finely crafted product those that don't address the business side of the equation with as much care as they put into the product in their tanks will stagnate and at some point fail to remain competitive.

It was a lot to think about, even for someone like me who was attending as a casual observer. But it was also be surrounded by hundreds of people who were there because this is their business and are interested in being proactive about their future.