Thursday, November 17, 2011

West Coast Craft Beer Tour in Review - Day 3: Edgefield, Dick's Brewing, Big Horn

West Coast Craft Beer Tour - Day 3: Edgefield, Dick's Brewing, Big Horn

After a night with a friend in Portland, we drove just 15 miles to another of the McMeniman's locations, Edgefield, in Troutdale, Oregon. Edgefield is one of the crown jewels in the McMeniman's world. The original site was built in 1911, a county run poor farm that was active for 70 years. Now, the 76 acre spread houses an almost inconceivable variety of crafts, all done extremely well.

We wandered through the herb garden with its handmade branch trellises and billowing pillows of comfrey and found ourselves in front of a set of art studios, including a glass blower and his apprentice sweating over molten swirls of glass.

Walking past the tea house, the spa, the winery, and found ourselves at the cafe - this one a larger version of the Roseburg Station McMenimans, but with the same feeling of old world coziness complete with vintage signs and lamp posts. They have achieved a perfect balance of comfort and history - instilling a sense of time and Oregonness without going overboard. It's easy to want to fake antiques and it's easy to be zany. 

We did the full sampler again, which - which was the same as Roseburg Station, with the Hammerhead American Pale Ale (5.9%); Sunflower IPA (6.7%); Hillsdale Porter (5.6%); Terminator Stout (6.5%) and the Ruby Ale - a light rasberry ale (4.4%).

This is a good time to talk about naming conventions - McMeniman's has great art and is using several of the most popular naming conventions we saw:

Beer Naming Conventions:
  • Local Place Names
  • Hyper Masculine Bro Names (Terminator, Dominator, Kick-You-in-the-Face with Hops or ABV)
  • Beer as Person (often ladies or famous people, or obscure people)
  • Style Name - keep it simple
Here we see a sampling of "Beer as Person":

a touch of Bro naming (McMenimans also has a Hammerhead Ale)

and some local naming:

 In addition to the sampler, we enjoyed - hands down - the best Mediterranean plate I've ever had. The pita bread was fresh made and tasted like it was grilled in a brick oven, served with hummus, fresh tzatziki and an olive tapenade, and olives proper. The charcuterie skills are also in abundance - a selection of cured meats and pickled vegetables served with flat bread was a perfect mix of tang and spice and savory. With the beer - it was perfection. We were happy to see this type of comfort food that is a successful alternative to the straight pub menu. There is certainly a time and place for a burger, but the showcase of fresh local awesome was equally satisfying but much more interesting. We also left feeling refreshed and ready for whatever came next.

Walking outside, we spotted the brewhouse, and peeked in the window. Christina, the head brewer, invited us in for a tour. She was friendly and did not hesitate to show us around. This brewhouse was quite a bit larger, filled with dented grundies and beautiful semi secret murals. She chuckled about the grundies, saying they'd make the change eventually. This brewhouse was significantly larger than the Roseburg Station, McMenimans seems to have a network of brewers and there is a lot of brewing for onsite as well as some sharing between locations. The photo below is crummy, but you can see the brewhouse hard at work.

There is also a winery and distillery - the graphic sensibility is sheer delight. We left with appropriate samples of White Dog Whiskey, Herbal Liqeuer, and Gin.

Then we checked out the inside of the historic hotel, with 100 rooms covered with a random and whimsical assortment of art.

 Art is everywhere - whimsical, mystical murals cover many surfaces, but somehow not overdone. The mix of art nouveau and earthy cosmic art provides an endless landscape for the eye without taking itself seriously.

The fire extinguisher cover:

A wall in the ladies lounge:

  • Beyond Burgers: Fresh Comfort Food
  • Brewery as Experience: Full Synergy of Brewing Philosophy, Place, Community
  • Vertical Integration - they do most everything themselves, really well
We eventually got ourselves back on the road and using the Northwest Brewing News Map. We had most of the day to explore until arriving at a friend's house in Seattle, and aimed ourselves at a small operation a few miles off of Hwy 5 in Centralia, Washington, called Northwest Sausage & Deli, affiliated with Dick's Brewing & Sausage. The wonders of smart phones coupled with the sometimes unobvious details of reality always makes for an adventure. 

 We eventually pulled into a rather abandoned looking stripmall and came to understand that this was the sausage factory and the brewery was in another location. The staff was super friendly and we ordered a few sticks of very delicious jerkey and a couple of schooners - again we always appreciate when smaller glasses are available.  Dick's Brewing opened in 1994, and now distributes bottles throughout Washington. Dick recently passed away, but the team is still producing more than 2500 BBLs per year. The sampler had 11 choices, and the total repertoire includes almost 20 beers - honestly, we did have to drive again, so we opted for a couple of half pints:

Dick's flagship beer, is the Dick's Danger Ale, a 4.5% described as "Our flagship beer. A large percentage of black malt give this distinctive ale its dark brown/black color and that slightly roasted flavor. Magnum hops provide a backbone of bitterness and large additions of Mt. Hood hops later in the boil come right through in the finish. The result is a highly drinkable dark ale which bridges the gap between pale and porter."

We also tried the IPA, a super hoppy 5%. I'm not a super hops lover, and this West Coast trend is alive and well at Dick's.  I like that the style descriptions are less floral and more about the brewing process: "A pale ale hopped to the extreme! This beer starts out as a nice pale ale until it reaches the kettle. Throughout the course of the 90 minute boil four massive hop additions are made which transform this beer into a hop-head's dream come true. Both Chinook and Tomahawk hops from the Yakima valley are added in extreme quantities for the maximum bitterness, flavor and aroma. Fermentation is conducted as usual with our house ale yeast at higher temperatures to produce more fruity esters which complement the hoppiness. Just to be sure, we add even more hops to the beer when it is transferred from the fermenter to the bright beer tank (dry hopping), and allow the beer to rest on these hops until all of their character is absorbed before kegging and bottling."

We filled up a six-pack for future research purposes.

To me - the more openness a brewery has about its recipe and technique, the more confidence I have in their beer and philosophy - Go Dick's!

At the same time, as a woman and a beer drinker, I will say that the hyper-masculine naming and branding conventions are a real turn off. While I liked the operation, the beer and the sausage, I found the "Chick's love Dick's" bumpersticker did not make me want to drink a glass of beer.  Take a moment about the images that run through your head when you say "Chick's love Dick's." Fresh, local, honest glass of beer, anyone? I don't want to be dominated or terminated by my beer. To be honest, I am not even interested in layers of personality or place or hyperbolic descriptive adjectives. I like the simple, local concept of style. You go to your local pub and see what styles are on tap. Let the beer speak for itself. 

  • Beer & Sausage Model
  • Hyper Male Naming & Marketing Conventions
  • Lots of Varieties - A few flagships and lots of rotation
Now, keep in mind, that our goal for this adventure is a survey of as much of craft beer culture as we can. The different waves and styles of establishment are beginning to shake out into pretty clear categories. So, our next stop the Ram, might surprise some of the die-hard craft beer purists, but the 1990s sports bar niche is certainly part of the craft beer world.

While Big Horn Brewing, located in Lacey, Washington, is firmly in the BJs realm of sports bar, the place was full of families and all sorts of more mainstream beer drinkers drinking beer brewed in that very restaurant, albeit served in extremely frozen chilled glasses. The menu was a typical pre-frozen jalapeno poppers and burgers, but we'd like to think that any expansion of local and regional craft beer production and consumption, is a pretty good thing. These guys also continue to win awards at GABF and other venues, this year picking up 3 Golds at the Great American Beer Festival, including for the Big Horn Blonde.

All of the beers were virtually crystal clear as well, indicating the use of plate filters.  The question of filtering, taste and clarity are rather fascinating to us. It seems to be some combination of taste preference, convention, official style definitions. Over the course of our tour, we definitely saw a mix of plate filters, as well as the use of irish moss, isinglass, along with whirlpooling and other methods of pulling out the larger chunks, while leaving the complex of minerals and vitamins that give unfiltered beer it's freshness. There is lots of debate and preference about filtration methods and the value of final clarity. Keep in mind, we're not talking about chunky beer, when done well, you can get a pretty darn clear beer. Filtering played a historical role in bottling (read Maureen Ogle's book, Ambitious Brew if you haven't!) helping to make the beer durable and stable for shipping. We find it heartening to see a growing number of craft brewers using alternatives to plate filtering resulting in some amazingly fresh, subtle and complex flavors - and some B vitamins to ward off hangovers!

  • 1990s Brewpub, with a mainstream sport's bar leaning
  • Hyper Male Naming & Marketing Conventions  
  • Plate filtering - crystal clear beer

Stay tuned for Day 4:
Hales Ales, Seattle, WA
Stellar Pizza & Ale House, Seattle, WA
Georgetown Brewing, Seattle, WA
Two Beers Brewing, Seattle, WA
Schooner Exact, Seattle, WA 

Find Van Houten Brewing on Facebook for events and other updates


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