Friday, March 6, 2015

Edgefield's Matt Bergfield & a Belt Winning Beer

I was bummed to have missed McMenamins 22nd Annual Hillsdale Brewfest this year but was able to make up for that by taking the winning brewer up on his invitation to visit. If you haven't heard, the winning beer was Cerberus Wild Ale, brewed at the Edgefield Brewery where Matt Bergfield is the Head Brewer and manager.

The beer is a blend of Belgian strong golden, Berliner Weisse and golden ale that has been barrel-aged with Brett. It's a nicely tart, but not punch-you-in-the-face sour and very drinkable. As a fan of all manner of tart/sour beers I certainly would have had this on my short list if I had been at the festival and agree with Matt that this beer winning is reflective of a shift in many people's palates to less hoppy/more sessionable beers.

It'd take a pretty big pair of britches to wear this belt.

In past years the winner of The Belt, the physical prize of the festival, also had their beer showcased as the McMenamins submission to the Oregon Brewer's Festival. I've been of the mind that it's a very equitable way to select one beer out of the hundreds turned out annually from the stable of McMenamins breweries. This year McMenamins will go through a different selection process, making the decision internally instead of leaving it to a people's choice vote. At first I was disappointed but in chatting with Matt realized that it is probably a wise decision for McMenamins. OBF if not only the largest beer festival in Oregon but it draws people from all over the world, people that may never have had a McMenamins beer before and of course they want to put their best foot forward.

Matt, an east coast transplant, didn't expect to take top honors at the festival and was pleasantly surprised with the win. The Belt now hangs in the brewery office alongside a machete, which legend has it former brewer Jason McAdam (of Burnside Brewing) brought in to cut his mash. Weird, yes, but legends often are.

Matt Bergfield & Nate Whitney

Always interested to hear brewers' back stories I asked Matt about his and found out that he and his wife came to Oregon three years ago, via a cross country bicycle ride from their former home in Boston where Matt worked at Harpoon Brewing. The ride started with dipping their tires in the Atlantic and ended with a dip into Pacific waters in Astoria, after which they made the decision to set down stakes in Portland.

Working first for Harpoon and now McMenamins, neither small companies, Matt sees one of the biggest advantages of working for a larger company is that "all your payroll doesn't depend on each batch." I haven't directly asked some of my favorite small brewers about this but I suspect there is quite a bit of pressure in that regard. It also means that when Matt brews a beer he loves, a recent batch of mild for example, but it doesn't sell well it's simply one batch in hundreds that are turned out.

Kegs waiting to be repaired, beer being barrel aged & sour magic happening.

Many of us, me included, tend to give McMenamins less than a fair shake when it comes to their beer. Matt admitted that in the past, when the price caps on batches were in place, there was perhaps a different focus for the McMenamins brewers. These days, however, they have more flexibility and if you've had more than just a passing pint I think you'll agree that the quality has gone up. At Edgefield they're putting more beer in barrels from their winery and distillery and delving into sour beer.

Thanks again to Matt for inviting me out. If I've managed to convince you to give McMenamins, and Edgefield in particular, a second glance I suggest following Matt on Twitter for updates on special releases and more.

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