Archive for November, 2012

TRAVELS OF A CERVESAPHILE: BARLEY BROWNS OF BAKER CITY, OREGON

Until a few weeks ago, when I was planning the Portland to Salt Lake City leg of a round-about trip from Edmonton to Albuquerque, NM, I had never heard of Baker City, Oregon. But, it seemd like a good stopping point after a three hundred mile plus drive across Oregon.

Then, a few days later, I found another reason for stopping in Baker City. The easterm Oregon town of 10,000 people, which had been an important stop on the Oregon Trail and had become a boom town during the gold rush of the later 19th century, was the home of “Barley Browns,” a brewpub that had won four medals at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

Tyler Brown opened the brewpub in 1996, in what had been a restaurant started by his parents. “My parents were from the east and liked good beer. As a kid, I’d like to ‘borrow’ the occasional beer from the bar. But I couldn’t take a Bud, because the distributor had a bottle count. So I’d grab an Anchor Steam Beer or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which didn’t have bottle counts. I cut my teeth on the good stuff. At 20 I bought a home brew kit and started brewing on a slow night at the restaurant. When I got better at it, I’d offer some to our customers and they liked it.” The next step was turning the restaurant into a brewpub and naming it “Barley Browns.”

After he’d finished his first professional brew, Tyler stuck a piece of blue tape with the beer style and the date on the brewery wall. He’s been doing it ever since and, when I visited, there were 840 pieces covering all of one wall and most of another.

However, not all of them were brewed by Tyler. As the restaurant grew busier, he hired someone else to take over the brewing duties. The new brewer, Shawn Kelso, was responsible for another tradition relating to putting things on the wall –but not pieces of blue tape. On the wall at the back of the dining room are displayed the medals — nearly 50 — that Barley Browns beers have won at the Great American Beer Festival, North American Beer Awards, and Word Cup of Beer. Given the fact the brewpub only produces 325 barrels a year, “we must have highest ratio of anyone for the number of medals won per barrels of beer produced.”

What is amazing is the number of styles for which the brewpub has won medals. browns, wheats, stouts, esbs, spiced beers, scottish, winter ale, IPAs, black IPAs, Whiskey Malt ales and others. “We have a small system,” current brewer Marks Lanham notes, “but we keg our beers as soon as they are conditioned. We have a dozen taps, so we can offer a great variety.” That variety includes 11 of Barley Browns own brews and one tap for Budweiser. “We have a couple of regulars who refuse to drink anything else.”

Early in 2012, Kelso departed for a brewing job elsewhere. His replacements were Marks Lanham, a Texan who had worked in Idaho, Texas, and Bend, Oreon, and Eli Dickison, a hometown boy, who had worked in the restaurant’s kitchen before going to Oregon State, where he majored in fermentation studies. “It’s exciting just to be around them,” Tyler Brown said. “They love to brew. Sometimes when I come in, they’re busy talking about what to brew next, what new styles to try, how to tweek the recipes they’ve already developed.”

It didn’t take long for Marks and Eli to establish their skills. Of, the three silver Great American Beer Festivals they won, two were beers that had won in earlier years: Turmoil, an American Dark Ale (sometimes known as Black India Pale Ale), and Shredders Wheat, an American style wheat. But the third, Pallet Jack IPA, was for a beer Marks had developed just after his arrival. It is a delicious, fresh hopped drink.

During my visit, I sampled several of their beers, including three of the medal winners (the fourth, Twisted Whisker Scotch Ale, was so popular that they couldn’t brew it fast enough). I also tried two quite different ales: Hot Blonde, which uses five pounds of chopped jalepeno peppers in each batch (spicy but not overwhelming) and Maple Fall Ale (which thank goodness didn’t taste like pancakes that had been over doused with syrup — the hint, the suggestion of maple in the beer was much more intriguing) If I’d come through a few weeks later, I could hae tried Sled Wreck, a winte warmer which they expected to give coffee or mint chocolate notes.

Until three weeks ago, I hadn’t driven through eastern Oregon for over  40 years. I won’t be around in another 40 years. So, I’ve already started planning to get back to Baker City and Barley Browns as soon as I can. It will add a lot of miles to the trip from Edmonton to Albuquerque. But it sure will be worth it.

Advertisements

THINKING (NEXT) SEPTEMBER IN (THIS) NOVEMBER

A few evenings past, as snow fell outside, I sat by the fire place, watching the flames, sipping a glass of Alley Kat’s Pumpkin Pie ale, and thinking about Percy Shelley. Two centuries ago, the English poet had asked, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

I was hoping the answer to his question was “No” and began to think past winter warmers and holiday ales to maibocks and other harbingers of lengthening and warmer days. That’s as far as I’ll let my imaginings reach. There’s a lot of snow to shovel in the meantime.

But one beer lover I know is not only thinking past the winter, he’s already thinking about the end of summer 2013, about September 6th and 7th to be exact.

He’s John Rowling and those dates are important to him not because they’ll mean that another summer is almost over, but because they’re the dates of the 2013 Great Canadian Beer Festival . And he’s been thinking about these dates since the evening of September 8 of this year.  That’s when the 2012 Festival was just over.

John Rowling, you see, is the Director of the Great Canadian Beer Festival. For twenty years, he and Gerry Heiter have provided an opportunity for beer lovers from Victoria and beyond to sample brews from Victoria and far beyond. And, like the directors of all successful festivals, he knows that months of careful preparation are essential to make the event seem an effortless success.

“You could say that we started planning for 2013 as soon as the last visitor had departed from Athletic Park on September 8,” Rowling noted, explaining that the organizers held a debriefing session with many of the nearly 500 volunteers and gathered valuable feedback from them.

Not long after the tents had been folded and the 50 portapotties taken away, reservations for Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park, tents, and portapotties for the next festival had been confirmed. Early in October preliminary planning began, and an estimate of expenditures  roughed out.

Over the winter and into the spring, exhibitors will be lined up. “We have a list of breweries that have exhibited before or have expressed interest. In May, we’ll send out invitations and have our list fairly firm by the end of June. There are always a few changes at the last minute.” Last year, there were 55 breweries, not just the local favorites, but also several Quebec brewers Rowling had contacted during a late spring visit to Montreal.

Festival organizers will also line up food vendors and musicians. Here, they are limited by regulations imposed by the city, which owns and controls the operations at the park. The music must be acoustic, as electrical cables cannot be run across the playing fields. And all the vendors must serve finger food. No glass or metal is allowed on the field as is understandable. But plastic knives, forks, and spoons are also prohibited. Soccer players will be taking to the pitch the next weekend, and small pieces of plastic lying hidden in the grass could cause serious injury.

And, during the planing stages, right up to the moment John Rowling rings the festival’s opening bell on the afternoon of September 6, 2013, organizers must make sure they have followed the many  regulations (some of which seem arcane and foolish) set out by government liquor officials.

Last year, government officials placed many obstacles in the way of American breweries exhibiting at the festival, making it incredibly difficult for them to bring the really very small amounts of beer they’d serve into the country. In addition, officials objected to the fact that some of the higher alcohol beers were being sold for two tokens rather than one, stating that it violated government pricing policies. And, finally, they objected to the surplus of funds that existed at the conclusion of the festival, funds that would be used to meet upfront expenses incurred in preparing for the next year’s festival. Their objection — the Great Canadian Beer Festival was a non-profit organization and should not have money left over, no matter what purpose it was for.

During the winter, Rowling and the rest of the Festival’s organizers will be working to address these difficulties.

So, this winter, as you sip your winter warmers and holiday ales, lift your glass in a toast to John Rowling. You may only be thinking ahead to the spring, but he’ll be thinking about and working toward the end of next summer — making sure that the Great Canadian Beer Festival of 2013 will be as successful as its predecessors have been.