Wednesday, November 28, 2007

BridgePort Ebenezer Ale

After a lack of alcohol over Thanksgiving weekend (except for the night out with the guys, and the basketball maybe there was no lack of alcohol after all...), I've decided to get back off the wagon and start reviewing my six pack that has been waiting for me in Reno. Well, it's a six pack now that I picked up some beers that I couldn't get in Nevada. One of them, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, is a bottle-conditioned beer that will be ready for a review on Christmas morn. The other is the subject of this review: BridgePort Ebenezer Ale, a brew that is available in just about every western state...except Nevada. I think it's even available in Utah. (NOTE: The beer is not available in Utah.)

BridgePort touts itself as Oregon's oldest craft brewery, even trademarking the phrase "Oregon's Oldest Craft Brewery™" to boot. Founded all the way back in 1984 (take that, Widmer and Portland Brewing!) by Richard and Nancy Ponzi and Karl Ockert as the Columbia Brewing Co. in a century-old former rope factory in Portland's Pearl District, it has had a front-row seat to the microbrew revolution that has taken place in Portland and nationwide. In fact, it has led the way for Oregon's breweries to take their place in the world of beer. BridgePort Brewery is currently owned by The Gambrinus Co. of San Antonio, who has owned it since 1995. In addition to a brewery, BridgePort owns an ale house in addition to a brewpub/bakery of all things. (BridgePort History, Gambrinus Co. History, BridgePort Brewery Info)

It is best known for its flagship IPA, but has expanded its lineup to include an ESB, an amber ale, a stout, a pale ale (Blue Heron, itself well-known), and even a barleywine called Old Knucklehead, a beer I've tried to find on several occasions in Portland to no avail. So I snagged this one instead at Whole Foods at Bridgeport Village (not related) in Tualatin, Oregon, and brought it back to the Biggest Little City. It was originally brewed as a winter seasonal called Winter Brew back in 1986 and was sold exclusively in their brewpubs. Their first bottling was in 1999, but they realized that some other brewery had a beer called Winter Brew. So they held a company-wide contest to rename the beer, and Ebenezer Ale was the winner. They are now on their 9th bottling of the stuff, described as a "winter warmer" style ale.

Here are the stats:

BridgePort Ebenezer Ale
BREWERY: BridgePort Brewing Co., Portland, OR, USA
FIRST BREWED: 1986 as Winter Brew (first bottled in 1999)
CALORIES/SERVING: ~180 per 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 6.4%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 16° Plato (1065.84)
MALTS: Three kinds of crystal, two kinds of roasted, and 2-row pale
HOPS: English Goldings, a little bit of Chinook
FOODS TO PAIR WITH/USE IN: Gravies, basting meat, vegetable stew, pot pies
AWARDS: 2002 Brewing Industry International Awards (London, England) Silver Medal Award Winner

I got the IBUs, ABV, gravity, and awards from BridgePort's Ebenezer Ale webpage. The rest came from a phone call to the brewery at 4:15 PM on November 28th, 2007. I spoke with brewmaster Karl Ockert, the same one who helped found the brewery back in 1984, so you can be assured of its veracity. Thanks for the info Karl!

This beer is defined by its brewmaster as a "strong ale," and this description is no more accurate than with its nose. A strong nutty scent emanated from the beer once it hit the glass, which was very pleasing to my nostrils. Once in my glass, the beer's color was a rich dark brown that was slightly translucent. It was accompanied by a long-lasting head that didn't go away until I was done with two-thirds of the beer. The taste perplexed me, filled with a nutty taste with fruit undertones, a very delicious combination; it also was a very smooth beer with not a lot of carbonation. The only thing I didn't like was the aftertaste, which was a bit stale. However, I was able to taste the nutty-fruitiness of the beer with a slight hint of hoppiness mixed in.

This beer was in fact a winter warmer, as I felt the chills go away towards the end of the beer. Pick one up if you're in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, or Washington. But not Nevada. Or Utah.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Beer News: Hop Price Increases and Georgia Blue Laws

I've had these articles in my inbox for so long that one of them now 404s. But, while I'm on vacation and away from my beer, I decided to post them here and start a little discussion.

First up is from October 26th:

Forget Gas Prices: Beer is Going Up

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. (AP) -- Fans of Snipes Mountain Brewery's cloudy Hefeweizen relish the subtle wheat flavor of the bright, summery brew, and like beer drinkers everywhere, they know when their favorite brew tastes a little too hoppy or bitter.

Connoisseurs could be in for a surprise this year, and they may not be alone.

Small brewers from Australia to Oregon face the daunting prospect of tweaking their recipes or experimenting less with new brews thanks to a worldwide shortage of one key beer ingredient and rising prices for others.

Oh, and one other thing: Beer prices are likely to climb. How high is anybody's guess. Craft brewers don't have the means to hedge against rising prices, like their industrial rivals.

"I'm guessing, at a minimum, at least a 10 percent jump in beer prices for the average consumer before the end of the year," said Terry Butler, brewmaster at central Washington's Snipes Mountain. (Google Cache of Full Article)
What killed me was the next line: "Sales have been relatively flat in recent years among the country's big three brewers - Anheuser-Busch Cos., Molson Coors Brewing Co. and SABMiller PLC. unit Miller Brewing Co - while small, independent brewers have experienced tremendous growth." I guess it just goes to show that if you brew pisswater "beer" with rice adjuncts, people are going to get sick of it. The only beer I badmouth are macrobrews for this reason.

But anyway, this was surprising to me. I guess it makes sense that in the race to find growable, renewable energy, many farmers are now switching to growing corn for ethanol. The drought in many states this year isn't helping, as farmers struggle to cultivate any decent-sized crop. My solution: we apparently pay farmers in this country to grow nothing, right? Why not have them grow hops and barley instead of nothing? I think of it as a Depression-era approach for beer growth; put people to work growing the stuff that makes American beer great.

If there's one flaw in my plan (aside from the "farmers growing nothing" bit), it's that the fundies will probably never let it happen. The baptists and pentecostals and the what-have-you will complain about the evils of alcohol and that the devil's in the drink, and the idea will get scrapped because some spineless congressmen will capitulate to their demands. Much like what my other story, from September 7, is about:

Georgia breweries dry up

Local laws that limit beer tastings hurt independents.

By Mina Kimes, Forbes Small Business Contributor

Georgia, with twice the population, has only three, down from eight a decade ago.

New rules governing brewery tours could reduce that number to zero, says Fred Bensch, owner of Sweetwater Brewing ( in Atlanta, by driving away thirsty crowds and eliminating the brewers' best marketing tool.

"This would totally cripple us," he says. The dispute has been fermenting since May, when the Georgia Department of Revenue proposed limiting tastings to two ounces per brew. Under pressure, the revenuers raised the limit to 24 ounces, but with stipulations: Breweries can't serve samples until tours are over, they can't pour any beer if they charge admission (Sweetwater charges $8), and Sunday tastings are verboten.

DOR spokesman Charles Willey says the rules are for "public safety."

Bensch, who has operated Sweetwater since 1997, says it's part of a pattern of regulatory harassment. "Five breweries have gone out of business since we've started," he says. "This is an inhospitable place to brew beer." (Full Article)

"Public safety." What a cop-out. What difference does it make if a brewery charges admission for its tastings or not? People are still going to drink that beer. Why force patrons to wait until the end? Wouldn't it be safer to spread that beer tasting over an hour's time? Also, why forbid Sunday tastings? Beer doesn't get you more drunk on a Sunday. (The last one was more rhetorical than the others...I'm pretty sure Georgia's position in the Bible Belt is a prime reason.)

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-religion. I just feel that religious laws have no place in American legislature. Georgia's Blue Laws consist of religion imposing on people's freedoms, and I am pro-freedom. If you don't want to go to a store or a brewery on a Sunday, don't. It's your right. Just don't prevent me from doing the same, because I will do everything in my power to defy you.

This is all part of a larger rant I'm planning to write involving Blue Laws, dry counties, Prohibition, and freedom.

What do you think about either one of these stories? Raise a glass and let me know.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Xingu Black Lager

Another black lager that I picked up from Booze Bros. is the exotic Xingu (pronounced shin-goo). This beer certainly caught my eye when I was perusing the foreign beers in Booze Bros., so I had to snag it. It is a schwarzbier from Rio de Janeiro, and it takes its name from an Amazonian tributary (the Xingu River) and region that contains some of the most untainted cultures in the Amazon Rainforest.

The earliest Western account of Amazonian black beer can be traced back to 1557, where it was used by the natives in religious and social ceremonies. The beer itself was brewed using manioc root and dark roasted corn, fermented with wild yeasts, possibly like the lambics of Belgium. This incarnation of Amazonian schwarzbier was first brought to America in 1988, a result of five Vermont women who hired beer historian Alan Eames to find dark beers on the verge of extinction worldwide. (Five Women in Search of Good Beer, from Amazon Inc.)

Here are the stats:

Xingu Black Lager
BREWERY: Cervejaria Independente Ltda., Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
FIRST BREWED: 1986? 1988?

I got this (limited) information from Five Women in Search of Good Beer. I hope an e-mail to the brewery or to EuroBrew, the American importers, will answer some more questions.

Like most dark beers, this one poured very dark almost black color with a slight tannish head. However, while the head wasn't that big, it still had staying power, lasting a really long time. The aroma just burst forth from the beer, smelling like dark chocolates with heavy fruit influences. The taste was, for the most part, indescribable. I was scratching my head throughout this tasting trying to describe the flavor. I think it was a carbonated grainy-fruit with maybe some slight nuttiness mixed in, but it was certainly very different from any beer I've ever had (including Old Peculier). And just as mysteriously as this beer's flavor arrived, it vanished into a slight grainy aftertaste that was welcomed into my mouth with opened taste buds.

This is a great beer for those looking to take a walk on the wild side. It's very different and enjoyable. I don't know the availability of this beer, but it's been around since 1988, so liquor stores will probably have it.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Samuel Adams Black Lager

I've always thought that Samuel Adams makes some very interesting beers. Ever since I first heard about the Utopias (which weigh in at about 25% ABV), I started to keep my eyes on Sam Adams. One beer I noticed when I was buying my latest 6-pack at Booze Bros. (great selection of beer, BTW) was the Sam Adams Black Lager. Since most lagers I've had are light in color, I was intrigued, so I picked one up.

Samuel Adams Black Lager is a relatively new beer that is part of their Brewmaster's Collection. It is brewed in a less known beer style in the United States, called schwarzbier, or "black beer" in German. Unlike strong stouts and porters, schwarzbiers do not have a strong hoppiness to them despite their dark color. The schwarzbier that has been brewed for the longest period of time is Braunschweiger Mumme, which has been brewed since around 1390. However, in an archaeological dig in the German town of Kulmbach (considered the origin of schwarzbier), an ancient Celtic beer vase from the 8th century BCE containing blackened bread, which was used as an early brewing technique by Celtic and East Germanic tribes to subject beer to the forces of airborne yeast. While schwarzbier was thus proved to have been brewed in Bavaria for at least 2,800 years, Sam Adams' black lager version has only been brewed since 2004, a significantly shorter amount of time. (Samuel Adams World of Beer, then Brewmaster's Collection → Black Lager, Bella Online German Schwarzbier)

Here are the stats:

Samuel Adams Black Lager
BREWERY: Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA, USA
CALORIES/SERVING: 191 per 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 4.9%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 14° Plato (1057.14)
MALTS: Two Row Pale, Munich, Weyermann dehusked Carafa®
HOPS: Spalt Spalter

All information except the bitterness, serving temperature, food pairings, and awards came from the Sam Adams website (Flash-based, so no direct linking). I hope to get more information from the brewery itself.

The beer poured a thick almost-black color into my glass, accompanied by a tannish head. The beer's aroma wasn't too strong, but it smelled of a hint of coffee. Unfortunately, the taste was where the beer just vanished. I tasted the carbonation of the beer, with maybe a faint trace of coffee, but nothing else. The good news is that even though the beer tastes like almost nothing, there's no aftertaste that grows stale on your palette.

This beer seems to have been brewed more for novelty than for anything else, but it tastes better than most of those Central American lagers out there (and looks cooler too). Pick one up at your local supermarket; it's available year-round at stores across the country.