Wednesday, January 30, 2019

6th NW Coffee Beer Invivational

Last Saturday saw the sixth installment of the NW Coffee Beer Invitational beer festival take place at Goose Hollow Inn in SW Portland. Once again festival organizers Dave and Jean Fleming were blessed with a dry January Saturday, although as thoughtful stewards they provided a fully tented and heated space for beer lovers to enjoy creations of 20 breweries.

With the exception of Kiitos Brewing, all of the participating breweries hailed from Oregon and southern Washington. "What’s the deal with Kiitos then?", one might ask. The answer is that they took home gold at GABF in 2018 in the Coffee Beer category with their Coffee Cream Ale. Had Bend Brewing not been at this festival with their Coffee N Cream Coffee Blonde, Kiitos would have gotten our nod for “best light coffee beer.” As it was, Bend Brewing offered a beer that had a great coffee cream aroma and a perfectly balanced, mild flavor and was more to our liking.

Two of the beers at the festival spoke to this imbiber saying, "I'm meant to be drank with food." The first was Von Ebert’s Hegel Sipped Coffee in Bamberg, a Roggenbier (smoked beer) with beech and cherry wood smoked malts. The smokiness of the malts came through and although a bit more body might be nice, what would be really nice would be to have this with Von Ebert’s delicious wings. 

The second food beer in our mind was from Fire on the Mountain Brewing. While we didn’t find much coffee character in the beer, the flavor spot-on matched its name: Mole Stout. The fact that they committed to the assertive flavor profile is to be commended and we think that although FotM is known for their wings, this might be mighty tasty with tacos. Or perhaps a taco pizza special at their Fremont location.

The remaining three beers that we particularly enjoyed were all on the darker end of the spectrum.
Sunriver Brewing His Dudness - Inspired by The Dude and his love of White Russians, this was the embodiment of a beer White Russian.
Wild Ride Brew Co. Nutty Joe Jr. Porter - Hazelnut isn’t a flavor we often see in beer (or at least used well in beer) but we still have a soft spot in our heart for it that goes back to our early craft beer explorations and Rogue Hazelnut. That beer and this beer likely taste nothing alike but Joe Jr. reminds us of the feeling we got back then drinking Rogue’s beer.
Ruse Brewing The Stages of Dawn - For having the highest ABV of the beers at the festival, 9.4%, it most certainly did not drink like it. The creamy imperial oatmeal breakfast stout came close to feeling as though it was being served on nitro, enough so that we would really hope to find it being poured that way in the future.

Thanks to all the breweries and coffee roasters that participated in this festival! It's one of our favorite and a great way to start a new year of beer festivals.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Behind the Scenes of the Oregon Beer Awards

We have been fortunate enough to participate in the judging panels for various beer competitions but it wasn’t until we got involved with the Oregon Beer Awards (for the first time in 2018) that we acquired an even deeper appreciation for all that goes into competitions. Last year we replied to a last minute call for volunteers, assisting wherever we could during the two-day judging. We thought we had gotten a good “look behind the curtains” then but it wasn’t until this year, when we returned in a greater capacity that we realized there were even MORE steps leading up to what will ultimately be a happy day when the awards are presented.

The Willamette Week Oregon Beer Awards is now in its fourth year and was co-founded by Breakside Brewery owner Ben Edmunds. Ben is the competition director, being hands on during all stages of it, something that is hard to comprehend especially when one understands the scope - 133 Oregon breweries entered a combined total of 1,080 beers. Each single entry consists of four to six bottles/cans of the beer being entered (depending on whether it is a 12 ounce bottle, 32 ounce crowler or something in between). That translates, on the low end, to over 4,000 containers of beer that are received by Breakside’s Milwaukie facility to be sorted into the 25 categories. We participated in one of three sorting sessions this year, opening boxes from the breweries, putting them into new boxes corresponding to their assigned judging session (Saturday AM, Saturday PM, Sunday AM or Sunday PM) and then packaging those palates back up for eventual delivery to the judging location - Maletis Beverage.

A week later we arrived at Maletis for training where the overall flow of the judging process was fully explained and details on the three steward categories (sorting, pouring and serving) duties laid out. The sorting stewards follow a reverse process similar to the intake sorting that we participated in at Breakside. From there the beers are transported to the pouring area where the pouring stewards fill glasses that are marked by a number (i.e. 2807) that corresponds to the number on the bottle it is being poured from. Those glasses, along with glasses of other entries in the same category, are then presented by the serving stewards to the judges in tasting flights. In total 165 flights were be poured and presented to 89 judges.

As a serving steward during two of the four judging sessions we were able to observe the judging process. The judges, in small groups, were presented with descriptions of the beers, each evaluated the entries individually, then discussed the entries as a group, deciding which beers got moved on to the next round. In addition to recording their discussion digitally, a comment sheet was filled out for each beer, both providing a paper trail for the judging itself and, post-competition, are sent to the brewers. Particularly for those beers that did not advance on and receive a medal, these comment sheets can be very useful in making adjustments to the beer in the future. Maybe the beer was solid but the category it was entered into wasn’t appropriate (ever had a beer being touted as an IPA but presents more as a pale ale? Or a “stout” that was more like a porter?). Maybe there were aspects of the beer that fell within guidelines (most competitions use BJCP guidelines) but weren’t as solid as other beers it was competing against. Maybe there were outright flaws in the beer (off flavor, inappropriate mouthfeel).

In addition to all of the official duties, each group of stewards is in continual clean up mode of their area. For sorters, that means moving empty boxes to the appropriate area and compiling the extra bottles of beer that were submitted but not needed, in another area for “dispensing” after the judging concludes. For pourers there’s the clean up of extra beer that is poured or extra glasses that are labeled and the laying out of new trays and glasses to be filled. For servers, once the judges they are serving are done with a flight of beer, the comment sheets and recorders are collected, the table cleared of glasses, the dump buckets emptied and the requisite water pitchers and oyster cracker supply refilled. It’s a circular process for each group, a rhythm that becomes more steady as time goes on until the end is in sight and the final clean up process can begin.

All in all, it takes a village of committed, mostly volunteer beer folks to pull off a beer competition. We are grateful to be part of this village and eagerly anticipate awards ceremony on February 26 at Revolution Hall.

Oregon Beer Awards
Tuesday, February 26 6pm
Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark
Tickets: $18 on sale now

Monday, January 7, 2019

What We're Looking Forward to in 2019

With the first week of the new year under our belts and a more normal rhythm resuming we figured it was a good time to share some of the things that we are most looking forward to in 2019.

Beer Festivals
No matter how many beer festivals we've been to or the abundance of them we are fortunate to have in this area, there are still some that get us excited about what will be poured and we make a point to attend. Here are three that take place in the first quarter of the year that fit that description.

- NW Coffee Beer Invitational - This will be the sixth year of the festival and with the exception of 2017, we have been at every one. Dave Fleming's festival has grown in prominence among beer drinkers but has remained true to its original location - Goose Hollow Inn. This year 20 brewers will be showing off their collaborations made with locally roasted coffee on Saturday, January 26. It has historically been the literal bright spot in one of the darkest times of the year and with any luck, that day will be another sunny one.

- Festival of the Dark Arts - For us this festival is about more than just what one finds in their glass. It's the whole experience of getting out of Portland and making an always overdue trip to Astoria for a long weekend. Besides the festival, and staying at our favorite B&B, we do our best to hit old favorites in Astoria and along the way, as well as anything new that may have popped up since the previous year. The mid-February festival is sold out and overnight accommodations are likely in short supply but there always seems to be a few last minute tickets available for those who look hard. 

- Brewstillery - Just a year younger than Coffee Beer and taking place two weeks after Dark Arts, this festival is hosted by StormBreaker Brewing and showcases the delicious flavor combinations that can occur when beer and spirits get together. When we first attended we had little experience with spirits but it has been part of the process that has opened our eyes to a world that we are coming to realize is as vast and complex at beer. 

Beer Cocktails 
Dovetailing on our anticipation of Brewstillery, we are excited to continue the adventure we started last year creating beer cocktails. So far we've experimented with vodka and rum and we've found ourselves paying more attention to cocktail menus, looking for new sources of inspiration. The year end crush of the holidays threw off our plans for December but we've got a late January date on the calendar to start up anew.

Beer and Food Pairings
Whether attending formal pairings put together by professionals or the happy-go-lucky pairings we dream up (Easter candy, Doritos, Kettle Chips, Girl Scout cookies, even coffee creamers) finding what goes together is a source of delight. Even the missteps we make are palate-educating and we are all on board with learning. 

Beyond what we are looking forward to finding in our glass this year is those we will be sharing the experiences with. The craft beer community - from brewers to consumers - is overall incredible. The generosity, the creativity, the willingness to explore is unique and we are thrilled to be part of it. 

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Cheers to 2019!