Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reminders

I had started this post a couple of days ago, when events were at their freshest in my slowly decaying cortex. Now that it's no longer a couple of days ago, and being in the here and the now, I totally erased the original text. I had to think about it some more, as the random notion that a bit of introspection might be useful and constructive comes fleeting by all too infrequently. I have a few moments between running errands in Eugene and driving a wagonload of goods, so why not pop by High Street Cafe, my Eugene local, to have a pint or two and get this post sorted out.


Running a pub is a silly business. It's a one-sided marriage to a building, a mostly-organized collection of property contained within, and a handful of people rummaging about trying to bring a pleasant experience all around to what one hopes is more than a mere handful of other people. Even with being closed on Tuesdays for the Winter, there is still plenty to occupy the time. Some days I just have to be there to wait for the distributors to show up. Others are spent at the bar, or in the brewery. Today I had hoped to tackle the paperwork on the desk, the late duty report to the TTB, and the messy brew kettle from Sunday's brewday. Instead I'm in Eugene doing the stock run and other errands. This is really a job for Chef, but as he doesn't have a car yet I'm fine with doing it. Once in a while. Then I catch myself starting to grumble. About having to work every day. About the stress. About the negative bank account. About trying to keep the staffing just right, and making sure the menu stays interesting, and worrying about where the money is going to come from to pay the DHS for my restaurant certificate and OTIC for keeping the shiny blue and white signs on the highway. Oh, and the mortgage company was curious why they hadn't received my mortgage payment yet.


(Insert moment of introspection here)


I used to be a highly paid software engineer. After almost 30 years of endeavoring to bend silicon to my will, I gave it up at the end of 2004. Figuring out that I would have a go at diving into the pub and brewery business, for real, started less than two years later. It's been non-stop ever since. I think there are three types of people who go into this job: those that don't know what they're getting into, those that theoretically know what there getting into, and those that know full-blown experientially what they're getting into and do it anyway because they are crazy in a nice sort of way. I think I can safely say that I started out in the middle, having made sure that I would have the opportunity to immerse myself in the environment to see what goes on under the hood. Valuable time was spent at the Woolpack Inn in Cumbria doing just that. And then you plop yourself down in your own pub and the warp drive kicks in. When your signature is the one that the bank expects on the checks, then you notice yourself being drawn into the third category, and then things can get gloomy. Without introspection. And reminders.


I found myself seeking out John Gorka's "Land of the Bottom Line" off my iPhone in the car today. A favorite of mine, and a good reminder. Freedom, or rather, an exchange of freedoms. Today I had the freedom of choosing what I was going to do, and when I was going to do it, within the certain constraints of business, family, community theater obligations, store hours and that late night hour or two of World of Warcraft so I can get that nice new piece of PvE gear. I can see the purpose behind what I'm doing. It's satisfying in a non-monetary sort of way. The original post, the one that I erased, was about the fun and fantastic night we had Saturday night. Norm, Kelly T, Erika and Kip put on a great house gig. I wanted to get that reminder back in this post, because that's what had set it off in the first place. I sat there in the back of the pub that night, on a stool with a pint of cask-conditioned Tanninbomb (from a brewery in Oakridge, Oregon, can you believe it?), and watched the magic that makes a pub a pub. That's a good enough shot in the arm to keep it up for another week or two.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

F.A.Q. #1: Distribution

After being open more than 15 months, we get asked a lot of questions. As I work my own bar at least 20 hours a week, I have gathered my own collection of mental notes. I will likely be writing about some of the questions that get asked the most over the next couple of weeks.


A couple months ago the friendly guys from The Eastburn in Portland popped by on a quiet afternoon. Not more than a couple of words in, I was asked if they could buy a keg to take back up to Portland. I would wager that most breweries and brewpubs in Oregon are equipped to do this. Not so with us. First of all, with a few rare exceptions, we don't do any kegging. Our brew length is 8 firkins or 2 UK BBL. This translates into around 90 US gallons. There have been a couple of instances where there was enough ale left in the bottom of the fermenter to draw off into a corny keg, which holds five gallons, providing an interesting demonstration of the difference between a kegged and a casked version of the same ale. But, for the overwhelming amount of the volume produced, a pub interested in handling our ale would have to know how to handle a firkin.


Now, I know that there are a small number of establishments in Oregon that advertise cask conditioned beer. I also know that what they are in truth handling are kegs, likely Sankeys, to which they affix a beer engine. The contents of the kegs are dubiously named cask-conditioned beer, which in many cases simply contain ale destined for keg that has been drawn off from the fermenter and primed in the cask (keg). Handling a firkin is different. The requirements are: stillage, preferably with an auto-tilt; proper temperature control; sundries such as spiles and the right kind of taps for hammering into a keystone; and, very importantly, someone who knows how to handle all these things. So far, despite extensive research, I have only found a handful of places that can handle this. I have high hopes for Block 15, as they soon will be handling real ale in such a way that I would feel comfortable doing cask swaps.


Another important reason for not distributing is simple economics. Even if a pub were to be equipped with all the trappings and knowledge for handling real ale, there is still the problem of (as we are a business) making any money off of selling them a cask. A firkin nominally holds 72 20 oz. pints. In reality we might get 68 or so. Multiply this by the $4.50 to $5.50 we sell a pint for over the bar. For the sake of argument, let's just say that I can gross $350 for a cask. Not counting the brewer's labor, because we don't pay him, the cost of goods sold is around 10% to 20% of the gross. Now, if you, the pub or bar owner, wanted to purchase a cask, you would want to pay in the wholesale range. Kegs, 15.5 US gallons, go for $130 to $140, generally speaking. A firkin contains 10.8 US gallons, or around 2/3 the volume of a keg, so you would want to pay around $90. I could argue for the premium nature of our beer, given it's rarity and the fact that we brew small batches. I did manage to get $150 for the two casks I brought up to the Firkin Fest last year, but I guess that that would be an exception. So, it's easy to see that selling a pint over our own bar is the way to go. We can make sure that it is well kept while at the same time keeping the doors open and the lights on.


Another nice reason for not distributing is that we can stay in control of the delicate liquid. Yesterday I put on the first cask of Tanninbomb, my oak-aged old ale. I like having the confidence that the beer will be handled properly and described and discussed by our own staff. I suggest you pry yourself out of your house and come down for a pint. See you at the pub.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Frost on the Bumpkin

Yesterday I posted that a one-off winter stout is headed for the pumps. I couldn't resist trying it last night, and decided that it was ready to serve. It's deliciously malty and smooth, with a hint of rye. I believe at least a dozen pints have been liberated already.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Winter Lineup

The frost is now firmly affixed to the pumpkin, and so in the next few days I will be taking a crack at the first firkin of "Frost on the Bumpkin". As I sit here at the Trailhead Coffeehouse over a cup of rocket fuel, I'm succumbing to the temptation to at least vent the monster. After all, it's been on stillage for almost 24 hours now, having spent almost two weeks in the cask. A mallet and a spile stands between me and that nice little puff of trapped gas that portends a nicely conditioned ale. This is the first of my winter ales, unless you want to count "Schrodinger's Other Beer", and it is a seven-grain stout with a casked ABV of 6.6%. HUB had produced a seven-grain stout, and I found to my surprise that I had accidently done the same. What are the odds that we are using exactly the same seven grains in exactly the same proportions? (The exercise of calculating the aforementioned odds left to the reader).


The remnants of the fermenter, after casking Mr. Bumpkin, have already been used by Chef, who has been experimenting with our beers in both fresh and slop bucket form. Garlic and green stout makes a nice rub for steaks and roasts. I recently enjoyed a toasted, ale-caramelized garlic and cheddar sandwich, heavy on the garlic.


After Thanksgiving the first firkin of "Tanninbomb" will be on the pumps. I brewed this last year, and tweaked it again for this season. It will have gone almost three months in the cellar with a couple ounces of oak chips in each cask. I'm not much for fussing over beer styles, but I'm calling this an old ale. ABV is 6.8%.


To complete the upcoming lineup, I have the last cask of "Schrodinger's Beer" (not his Other beer) that I've been holding onto so that the fellow that helped me brew it can give it a go. Supposedly he will be up visiting Thanksgiving weekend.


So, on or around Friday, the 27th, I should have:


  • One or the other of my session bitters "Something Light" (4.1%) or "Good With Bacon" (4.4%)

  • Union Dew, IPA, 6.2%

  • Schrodinger's Beer, West Coast IPA, 5.8%

  • Schrodinger's Other Beer, West Coast IPA, 6.5%

  • Frost on the Bumpkin, Stout, 6.6%

  • Tanninbomb, Oak-aged Old Ale, 6.8%


It's rather unusual to have three IPA's, or so many ales over 5%, but stranger things have happened. I'm planning on brewing a malty sub-5% ale next time I can gather together eight empty firkins, which I'll be needing help with. So come on down, do some skiing, and have a pint or two. See you at the pub.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heat Exchange

I've just started tinkering with the object in the following picture. It's a plate heat exchanger that was dropped off here on Friday from the friendly folks at Block 15 in Corvallis. They had come up for some solid and liquid provender, and to pick up their 2-cask auto-tilt rack that I ordered for them from England.


As they weren't using this piece of equipment, I'm going to see if I can adapt it as a replacement for the quirky and inefficient, handmade counterflow unit that I had acquired with my brewing equipment. It's been having issues lately, and it has been difficult to get through a batch of beer without blowing a hose clamp. Age does that to things. And people. It has been a real trooper, though, despite it's homely demeanor, as 48 2 UK BBL batches have been pumped through it in the last 16 months.



The puzzle that now faces me is to figure out just exactly what the fittings are on this thing. I certainly didn't recognize them, and neither did our resident knowledge-monger Ben. I was thinking a nice set of Tri Clovers would have been dandy, but alas, wishful thinking is just that. So, today, since I had to go to Eugene anyway (and it's been about three weeks since the last time - my, how times have changed), I thought I'd take it by a couple of plumbing and fitting shops. Same reaction - much scratching of heads and rummaging through catalogs. One shop took a picture and sent it off to some fitting manufacturer in Pennsylvania, so maybe I'll get a friendly and informative email in the next couple of days.


As an additional note, Block 15 will soon be serving genuine cask conditioned ale from an Angram mounted to the end of the bar. I eagerly look forward to cask swaps.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Logistics

Scattered between the brewery, the cellar and the point of dispense (we'll call it "the bar") we have:


  • 47 firkins (had 48 but one has a scratched shive hole)

  • 2 fermenters, producing 8 firkins per batch

  • 8 auto-tilts on the stillage in the cellar

  • 6 beer engines


There is also a limited amount of resources available, especially this time of the year, for the purchase of grain, yeast and hops. The trick is to try to keep at least four cask ales on, with the requirements that there be at least one session beer, one dark (porter or stout) and one IPA. Casks need to rest at least a day for the finings to settle, and some of the stronger and/or dry-hopped ales require more time. A session beer can go to stillage in a week after casking, while some of the stronger and/or dry-hopped ales, again, require more time. Thanks to non-return valves and micro-filters on the shive I can get more than a week out of a slow cask. During the summer the problem becomes swapping them out fast enough.


One the other tricky bits is trying to be patient. Tanninbaum is still aging in the cellar until after Thanksgiving (maybe), and that first cask of Schrodinger's Other Beer is playing the siren every time I drift by. I'm determined to wait until Wednesday for that one.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Locally Sourced

One of the Big Ideas I had when I was planning on opening this place was to local source as much as possible. The reality is that I'm not the guy to be doing this - I'm not a kitchen guy - and our chef at the time didn't seek out the contacts. As of the beginning of the month of October we have a new kitchen guy who is going after the local market. Meet Christian. He's the guy with the handful of mushrooms, picked in some classified location in the Willamette National Forest by agents unknown.



Tonight we are serving some sort of mixed texture sautee that includes Bolitas, White and Yellow Chanterelles, Lobster Mushrooms, Hen in the Woods and Cauliflower Mushrooms. Garlic is also rabidly employed. From what I understand the goodies in the boxes are the pick of the crop, with the seconds going to the fancy restaurants and markets in Eugene. Another reason, along with this pint of cask-conditioned session bitter, to boldly state that "you can only get it here."



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mention in Oregon Business Magazine

I really wish I could attend more festivals and events and whatnots, but the reality is that we're dirt poor. Not all the time - this summer was really nice, and back bills got paid off. Most of them anyway. Before I started this project, I was told aplenty not to open a brewery in Oakridge, especially one that brews and serves real ale. I still get asked, on a regular basis, why I don't open a pub in Eugene, or Salem, or (of all places) Portland. Maybe I will someday (any investors out there?), but my answer is always that a) I live here and b) every small town needs a pub.


I was recently alerted to an article in Oregon Business Magazine that neatly describes the situation in which we live. We have a goofy economy, times have changed, and to make a living you have to have a vision, a really thick skull, a willingness to work every day for three years or more, and lots of credit cards. No, scratch that last one. Customers help, too, so I've now shifted my thinking towards waiting for the big snows to fall. There's certainly not much going on now up here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Release!


Catchy, huh? Excitement! A new beer is released. I see this all the time on blogs, twitters, tweets, bleats, honks and brewery websites. But what does it mean? What is a release? Last year, a few months after we opened, I notified the Oregon Brewers Guild that I was "releasing" my Christmas ale around Thanksgiving time. And there it was, on the official site for all to see. In the Spring I did the same with my whisky chip extra special bitter. As my new batch of Christmas ale ages back in the cellar, I have been wondering about this new release issue and whether it really applies to this shed brewery and pub up in the mountains and trees.



For one thing, we don't really conform to the standard rules of an American brewpub. Our ale is only available at the pub, there is no bottling, no keg distribution, and no onion rings with ranch. We are located so far from the clusters of humanity that nobody is really going to drive three hours just to have a pint of Tanninbomb. The brewer himself is often the one pulling your pints and cleaning your tables after you've wandered off. And we certainly don't have any money. Someday we'd like to get some T-shirts printed.



Today I'm going to, depending on my opinions of what dribbles out of the first firkin that's been on stillage for the last couple of days, "release" a simple session bitter similar to an American Pale. I think. When I finish this blog entry over coffee I'm off to give it a whirl. I have to hastily work up a pump clip, but that's easy. If satisfied, it will be released. Or not. I don't know. In my mind I'm just putting it on the pumps. It's not like I've "designed" the beer, by any stretch of the imagination. I just knocked off a simple recipe on brew day and now it's available for sale - something to fill the session bitter niche.



A couple weeks ago I "released" a special bitter called Good With Bacon. Or not. It was just not there one day, and the next it was. I was initially unhappy with the outcome, but as the finings continued to struggle with their calling it improved nicely, and is now eminently quaffable. The idea was to make something like Old Speckled Hen, except I didn't have Challenger hops, nor any brewing sugar, and I've been unable to locate a pitchable brick of California Ale Yeast, so I made a few substitutions. It was suggested that I put the word "Amber" in the description, as we get calls for an amber all the time, and this ale just happens to have that color. Isn't that what an amber is?




The current batch, number 11, of Union Dew came out with an ABV of 6.2%, up 0.4% from the last batch. I think this is due to the inaccuracy of the cheepo thermometer I use to measure mash temperature. Is this a new release? Or is it just the same stuff but different, subjected to the whims and vagaries of a primitive, non-push-button, shed brewery?



Or, better yet, how about: "Brewers Union Local 180 Releases Firkin Number 7 of Schrodinger's Beer". It is noticeably better than number 6, as the magical complex chemical reactions continue to work and the dry hops dance about with the joy of creation.



Naww. I'm thinking I'm just not going to announce releases, except here on the blog. This pub is a casual place, and whatever is pouring on any single afternoon might not be exactly the same as what's on in the evening. If I decide to roll on a cask of something new, then you will have to keep vigilant and check on us frequently. So, if you're in the area, stop by and have a pint. We are happy to do tasters.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tools of the Trade


It's brew day again. This is an event that requires 8 empty firkins and at least a continuous 9 hour stretch of time that hopefully starts no later than mid morning. The understatement of the day is that ingredients are important too, and I hope I can scrape together $1600 to pay off my last grain bill so I can order more. There is about one batch's worth of Maris Otter in the millhouse at the moment, after milling out 200 lbs of the stuff for today's batch. Today's experiment is another batch of West Coast IPA based on Schrodinger's Beer. This time, instead of using the 14% alpha Sorachi Ace for bittering, I will be substituting something else with a lower alpha but using twice as much. I'm not sure what yet; there is a limited number of choices in the cooler. Us shed brewers operate under a different economy than the Big Boys (tm). As such, I'm also contemplating raising the price of a pint (proper) of this brew to $5.50 to pay for the 7 Kg of hops that will be going into it. I don't think this is unreasonable, as many places already charge this in urban locales that don't have to suffer the higher costs of delivery and the relative paucity of patronage. At least it's not the $6.50 that Pelican (a Big Boy (tm)) charges for a pint of room temperature bitter, with the justification that they operate in an economically and seasonably challenged location. And Rogue? Don't get me going on Rogue.



But this is not a blog about beer - it is a blog about tools. I have directed a few posts in the past to you, yes YOU, the prospective brewer and pub owner. This is another. As you progress your way into this silly business, it would serve you well to know how to handle a vast array of implements of de- and con-struction. A week ago, on brew day, my fancy shed brewery counterflow heat exchanger "blew a gasket". As $2500 in potential profits were being brewed at the time, this needed to be fixed before the end of the boil, so as to chill the wort on the way to the fermenter. There's nothing quite like sweating pipes while 100 gallons of wort boils a yard to the posterior, occasionally burping a gobbet of enthusiastic froth over the side and onto the floor, endangering life and limb.




Postscript: As I'm writing this in the cracks of time afforded during the brewing process, I have since weighed out the bittering hops. I went with Centennial for bittering, using 1.5 Kg instead of the 2.0 I had originally thought necessary. This harvest has an alpha of 8.8%. Total bittering hops weighed out at 3.5 Kg, which is the most I've ever used in a batch here at the brewery. I used the same 2.0 Kg of Glacier to partner with it as I used in the last batch of Schrodinger's.



Last week's repairs are still holding. For Christmas I would like a nice new Big Boy (tm) plate heat exchanger, so please put it on your list.



Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mention in the Oregonian


A former, and future, Oakridge resident has written an article for the Portland Oregonian about Oakridge, including a mention of the pub.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Hours



Winter. The Off Season. The Rainy Season. Whatever you want to call it, it's here. This means that the masses hibernate up through the middle of December when the snows lure them into the mountains. This also means that it doesn't make sense to spend $20 to make $10, and so we have cut back the pub hours. It's not too drastic. On Tuesdays we will now be closed. Just plain closed. Not that the work will stop - there's always something to brew, cook, fix, improve, fulfill or complete. On Wednesday and Thursday we are just cutting back the lunch and afternoon. Hopefully this will help us cut costs and keep us open. Margins are tight up here, and I have a forthcoming post on just that topic to dispel all notions to the contrary. See you at the pub.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Schrodinger's Beer



Cask number 4 is being served. Cask number 5 is settling out on the stillage. Numbers 6, 7 and 8 are in the back cellar. And I still haven't written about Schrodinger's Beer. Many of you may be familiar with the famous thought experiment by physicist Erwin Schrodinger involving the unknown state of a cat in a box subjected to the uncertainty of quantum events. Is the cat dead, alive, or in a putative third state until observed? Same with this beer. It was an experiment. Many of the concoctions coming out of the brewery are.




I've written before about hoppy, high gravity West Coast style IPA's on cask, also referenced from "It's Pub Night", although slightly inaccurately, as I don't question the sanity, per se. I am tempted to use the verb "designed" when talking about how the recipe came about, but that always sounds so much like what the Big Boys do, instead of someone who has never had any formal training in the arts. So, I'll say that I hacked together the recipe, based on my first attempt at a biggie cask IPA over the summer called "Whatever". This batch was deemed too light on the bittering, as if there was a hole in the flavor profile, so I cleverly decided to double the bittering hops. Otherwise, same grain bill and finishing.




A further word about experimentation: Before the pub opened, during the hop crisis, I had very little choice as to what to purchase in the way of hops. As a very small brewery, the cash flow and uncertainty of a new business, especially in a small town in the woods, makes it unfeasible to contract with hop growers and suppliers. As a result, I ended up with spending $6000 on a few boxes of three strains: E. Kent Goldings, Glacier and Sorachi Ace. Never heard of the last one? I've found few brewers using it - that I know of, that is. It's a strange one, with a unique lemony (for lack of a better word) flavor and aroma. It's also 14% alpha. This hop is the driving force behind Union Dew, an unusual, unique and popular IPA, and which is the one beer that I continue to have to brew on a regular basis. Batch 11 was just casked up two days ago.




How does this relate to Schrodinger's Beer? Well, I wanted to see how it acts as just a bittering hop. 1 Kilo of this up front, along with 2 Kilos of Glacier, makes up the bittering. The finish is 3 Kilos of Cascade spread out over 15 minutes. Dry hop was 40 grams Cascade per firkin. I suffered through two weeks of nervous impatience before tapping the first cask. It has subsequently been pronounced delicious - the first firkin only lasting a day and a half. It's not over the top in any way, coming out at 5.9%.




Many of you American readers might not know what a sparkler is. It is a plastic device with small holes in it that is screwed onto the end of the swans neck of a beer engine. The effect of an ale dispensed in this manner is a creamer, smoother mouthfeel. In the UK it is a subject of much controversy, ofttimes caustic, with those of a generally Southern persuasion describing it as a "nefarious device" or the "work of the devil". I can handle cask ale both ways, but tend to prefer the common Northern inclination for drinking a sparkled ale. I have discovered, however, that this particular ale, and likely the bigger West Coast styles in general, is definitely better sans sparkler. So be it - that is the way it is being served. Come down and try a pint. See you at the pub.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Honest Pint


This revisited. This time, thanks to Jeff Alworth of Beervana, the Blog, we have been certified as serving an honest measure. No, we don't actually serve it, we purvey it. Such a good word. Other purveyors can be viewed at the Honest Pint Project site.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Toonz


We have some good music lined up for October. It is nice to have musicians contacting me and asking for gigs. Pop over to the About page for a listing.




It always amazes me how little interest there can sometimes be on a good night of quality live music. Last Saturday we had the entire Groove Liberation Front playing, and it was probably the slowest Saturday night we have had in months. By 9:00 the pub was empty. I got to enjoy it, though, and it was a nice way to round out a long week at the bar. I suppose everyone else was huddling in their living rooms, staying out of the rain and watching some exciting reruns. Or maybe crooning out a few soulful rounds of karaoke down at the Corner Bar.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ash




The fire is much worse today. The mountains are obscured and the sun is barely noticeable through the smoke. A gentle ash is falling.




Looking at the bright side, the helicopter crews have discovered us. And they've discovered real ale, much to their delight. We sold 40 servings (pints and halfs) of our own ale, and only 3 of the guest gas taps, last night.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

These Long Days




I've got it figured out. Just get up early and all will be well. I also needed to call England to check on my order from acask.com, which so far has taken them two weeks to figure out the shipping. The smoke from the fires south of here had all drifted west and was covering the mountains. The sunset should be interesting again tonight.



I had thought, given the four hours between 8:00 and 12:00, that I could get the beer racked. Also, while waiting for each cask to get washed, I could clean the beer lines. By 11:45 I managed to do same, but only got the wash and rinse on the casks. The pub opened at noon, so I have to wait until 5:00 for my temporary barkeep Jill to take over. I figure between 5:00 and 6:00 I can get the bitter into the casks and not have to be up until the wee hours hammering in those shives. 8:00 to 6:00 then, with coming back after play practice to do the closing at 10:00 PM - a not so unreasonably long day.



For you DIY homebrewers and aspiring small brewpub owners, you can make a smashing good cask wash system out of a sink, a cheepo sump pump, some copper fittings, and a spinning wash head from The Compleat Winemaker


Monday, September 21, 2009

Lightning Strikes



Seems we've moved from Summer directly to Fire Season. A series of storms that blew through last week set some fires south of Oakridge, in steep and wooded terrain. The fire info guy drops by the maps and the update every day, and we keep it posted at the pub. Last year it was the fire crews that helped us through a slow first-year October, when the crews of 25 or 30 would drop by on a quiet Tuesday night and stress the kitchen. We've only seen sporadic groups so far - nothing to overwhelm. From what I have been told today, from one of the upper layer people in the Interagency Fire Team, the crews are required to be "well-behaved". Unless they are off duty. It's really hard to be ready for this.




With my main bar staff gone for eight days to Interbike in Las Vegas, I'm on the bar straight through from Sunday to Sunday. I have some sporadic part-time help in the middle of the week, but otherwise the thirsty punters will have to enjoy my good looks and witty banter on a regular basis for the time being. This does cause the problem, though, of getting to the brewery to prepare for when the fire crews DO get their break. I have safely tucked away Tanninbomb in the cellar, to be tapped the first week of December, but I have a bitter in the fermenter that needs to be casked up in a day or two. The tenants upstairs may have to suffer through the sound of a mallet knocking in shives at 1:00 AM. We're also just about out of Union Dew, AGAIN, and I won't be able to tackle the problem until next week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

American Mild


I don't get out much these days, as has been readily observed by my nervous tick and slumped shoulders, but am down in Eugene to run errands. Most importantly, one of the antique steamer windows that serves as doors to the keg beer coolor broke the other day is getting replaced with lexan. Also, food and bar stock is being acquired, including another box of pens for the bar that seem to disappear at the rate of one a day. As a reward for driving the around the Big City, I get to sit at the High Street Cafe and have a pint or two while handling all the computer-related work that comes with the job. I am pleased that the new brewer here, Chris, is turning out some refreshing quality and variety. Other than my place, this is the first time in a coon's age that I've been able to enjoy a mild. It is billed as an American Mild, which maybe means that it is brewed with domestic pale malts and served at 35˚ an a 16 oz. shaker glass. Nice on the palette. I wish it could've been on the one beer engine instead of the Wheat.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2 Daves



I've had this batch on the pumps for several weeks now, and there are only two casks left in the cellar, so come and get your pint before the next guy does. It is based off a recipe that is based off a recipe. In the classic nature of handed-down news, I suspect what I have going on here is much different than from the originator of the homebrew recipe, Dave A (on the right). In fact, I know that it is different because I have had the original dispensed from the kegerator in his garage. It was called Zippy IPA at the time.



A bottle of original made its way to our sister pub the Woolpack Inn a couple of years ago, nestled in a sock inside a backpack inside the belly of a United Airlines jet. It took a year, but the bottle was discovered lurking in the cellar and summarily consumed, causing Dave B (on the left) to inquire about the origin of the bottle. This led to the acquisition of the recipe, and its subsequent modification into a number called Zippy Red IPA.



I decided to have a go at it one day, and called Dave B for the recipe. There was some confusion as to crystal malt color designations, as the British like using arcane units of measure, but I just used 120L crystal for whatever was specified as crystal. Upon tapping, we discovered this lovely dark red stuff that had nice balance and a subtle hop aroma. Would I call it an IPA, like Dave A and Dave B did? Nope. It wasn't pale, for one thing, and it wasn't destined for India. It was just a dark red hoppy ale, albeit yummy, so I've been using the official style designation "Dark Red Ale". I think the official style designations have gotten a bit silly and out of hand, so I can make up my own; it's my pub.



This whole IPA thing has gotten out of hand. I like the occasional hop bomb, but for a nice night out at the pub I, generally speaking, don't require a hammer that large. I'm even getting more touchy about people stomping up to the bar and demanding (not "please" or "may I have") an IPA, without even looking at the beer list. Of course I can't appear touchy, what with the diminishing quality of customer service that this entails, but I'll talk about you when you leave, and you know who you are. The other one I often get is "What's your hoppiest?". This could mean several things. Are you talking about the finish; or about the number of IBU's; or what about that massive amount of bittering that doesn't translate into aroma. I have a nice bitter on right now that's nice and hoppy, what with the 0.3 Kg of Fuggles dumped in at flameout. It's sure hoppy by many standards, but its 3.5% ABV and lack of citrus confuses the unwashed masses.



2 Daves certainly is "hoppy", double quotes intended, but three of the handy imperial nonics will serve you nicely for an evening session at the Local 180. See you there.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's Too Early for the Slow Season


School has started already. The idea of them going to school before the Labor Day weekend has been a hard adjustment, as this weekend is a holiday weekend and already the trade has slacked off dramatically. This last week at the pub was heralded by the plaintive sound of crickets.




August was very good to us. Last weekend was the first Oakridge Keg & Cask Festival, which, for an inaugural event, was a great success. Thanks to Angelo for a nice write-up on Brewpublic, but for the record the credit for this event really goes to our local Danielle Bowerman who organized it, and all the volunteers that made it all happen. All I did was throw out some opinions, help with the logo design, and try to keep a pub up and running. Everybody seemed to be happy, the music was great, and the Oakridge Food Bank and the Oakridge/Westfir Chamber of Commerce made off with some cash. Some pictures are here.




The week before that was another Mountain Bike Oregon event. The August event was bigger and better than the July event, and the pub and the other beer sponsors gave away copious amounts of refreshment. The pub had its busiest day ever on the Thursday when all 500 or so participants arrived into town.




But it's now September. Trade is slacking off. Vacations are over. School has started. I had hoped to stash more cash away during the busy Summer, but any extra money was earmarked for covering back bills from the slow Spring. I do so look forward to pulling in some income someday and achieving positive cash flow, but for the time being we'll just have to tighten our belts and look forward to ski season. Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised, though, as we do have a year behind us and the fan base is growing. Come October we will be shortening our hours, which will include closing on Tuesdays this Winter.




Expect some new ales soon. I just brewed yesterday, with the assistance of a visiting professional brewer, a hoppy West Coast style IPA, balanced for cask rather than the extremes that are appearing on keg all over the place. The first cask of batch 10 of Union Dew is in the pumps right now, and it's chock full o' yum. Next weekend a firkin of Cumbrian Moor, a porter, will be appearing. This is based off last year's recipe, but hopefully with more body. Sometime next week I will be working on mashing 295 lbs. of grain for our winter Tanninbomb, which will be appearing after Thanksgiving with all it's oak chip goodness.




See you at the pub.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kegged Dew


When the last batch of Union Dew, our Sorachi Ace hopped IPA, was casked up a couple of months ago, there was a wee bit left in the fermenter. It was decided that this might do (dew) just fine racked off into a corny keg and gassed up like a proper real kegged ale. It's now on the bar, pushed with a fine batch of West Coast extraneous CO2 and served cold.




It ain't the same, say the few locals who have been taking samples. I find that many of the interesting flavors have been subdued (subdewed) by the temperature and the busy bubbles. All-in-all, a valuable lesson in beer physics.




It's nice to hear the folks eager for the cask version, which should be back in the pumps in a week and a half.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Warm Beer


Just back in time for the first pub superannuation after four days of just plain not being here. While not working the bar until this evening, I did personally perform the quality control job of sampling the cylinder of each of the pumps before opening to remind myself how nice it is to have a well-kept cask ale.




However, spankings are in order for the Fish Brewing Company in Olympia, which serves their single cask offering at room temperature. The poor waitress, when queried on the matter, said she was "told to serve it that way". Humph. Some ales can be just fine right up to ambient, but not their hoppy IPA. How could such a well-established and obviously cash-rich brewery give either the appearance of not knowing better, or simply not caring? It certainly would put many off real ale, and I suppose contributes to the notion that I often hear that real ale is warm and flat.




Pelican, another biggie in the industry, does the same. Their cask sits behind the bar and is gravity dispensed. At the end of the day, when I was there, the ale had sought out the ambient as well. If they were to take it seriously, and they certainly have the money to do so, then they could easily build a small cellar under or behind the bar. They get a Humph as well.




Pike in Seattle gets an A and will avoid a Humph for the time being.




In the Proper Real Keg department, the Lompoc Strong Draft on nitro at the Hedge House in Portland was superb. Perfect temperature, perfect mouthfeel, and a nice malty body with a hint of smoke. Recommended as the ideal pint to dry off soaked motorcycle gear by.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Superannuation


The 13th is the pub's first superannuation. Since I'm not much of a party planner, and the duties of just keeping this place afloat seem sufficiently adequate for the consumption of one's time and energies, I can boldly claim that there is not really going to be much going on. I do have it on good authority that the esteemed Porkesus shall be returning, our winged, prodigal, porcine pal, for a visit of cluck, swine and sauces from around the galaxy. Other than that, come down and have a pint. "Quid Hoc Sibi Vult" should be pouring, and possibly "Leftover Fuggles".




And for you doubters out there, PORKESUS IS REAL. REAL, I TELL YOU. JUST LIKE THE VELVETEEN RABBIT.




I think that if we've made it this far, through our first year, amidst poor financial and economic times, then we have a passable chance of a go at another. Or go silly crazy mad. And so, to stave that off, I'm strapping a tent and sleeping back atop Fair Chromio for a few days of just not being here. I hadn't been out for a good escape since the middle of May, so I'm due. See you on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Oakridge Keg and Cask Festival



The first, hopefully annual, experimental Oakridge Keg & Cask Festival is coming up in a few weeks. Saturday, August 29th, to be exact. The last big meeting on this was today, an attempt to tighten up the loose ends. While I am not by any means the "Organizer", what with all the things going on here that make a pub and brewery function, I have tried to insert the sundry molecule of influence. One of the best festivals, if you want to call it that, that I've attended was a Brewers Weekend at the Prince of Wales pub in Foxfield, Cumbria in June of 2007. I was confronted with around 40 different cask ales, the actual presence of many of the brewers and owners, and a room to stay in above the pub when the lights were turned out. The experience of rubbing shoulders and buying rounds with real industry professionals, not indifferent volunteers, made all the difference. It is this simple idea that I've tried to inject into this small budding local festival.




For breweries, I had the idea of selecting around a dozen within a 100 mile radius of the pub. Not the big guys, but the smaller crafts willing to send a brewer and/or an owner around to serve and discuss their products. I was hoping for around eight breweries, but so far we've only ended up with four. A couple of wineries also. I was a little disappointed with some of the brewers/vintners that took either a wait-and-see attitude, or just gave the cold shoulder. Nevertheless, we shall have a good time all around, and there will be music and food vendors and, I think, games involving fruits and vegetables.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Plumbing



This pub is in a building constructed, along with the two to the West, around 1945. They are block buildings and they butt up against each other. It has interesting plumbing we discovered during the renovation. Common sense would've suggested that the collection of big black pipes would converge somewhere under the slab and run out to the street and into the main sewer. When constructing the front sidewalk patio we enthusiastically had the crew dig out the entire front of the building. Carefully, of course. Wouldn't want to crush the pipes.




There were no pipes. After scrambling around outside, we found a pipe coming from the back of the second story of the green building that had a clean-out near the ground, and after banging on it with a pipe wrench and listening to the clean-out in the ladies room we discovered that they shared a common destiny. That destiny is presumably the side street, the long way around, where I would image it works its way downhill to East First.




Something in those pipes got stuck today, because the water started pouring out of the floor sink in the kitchen, right while we were happily serving customers and I was awaiting the boil of my batch of hoppy ale. This is a Bad Thing (tm), because I dispense a great deal of water into that system on a brew day. If I didn't get it fixed, then a) I would have to toss out an entire batch, or b) I would forge ahead, allowing a couple hundred gallons of dihydrogen monoxide to flood the kitchen and bar. Fortunately one of the locals had a 20' snake, and I managed to root out some fascinating biological compounds and spent sanitary products, thereby freeing up, at least temporarily, the efflux of pub matter and mitigating my Level 2 Whinge.




The Good Thing (tm) that we've learned here is the demonstration of why the plumbing code insists on floor sinks in commercial kitchens. Also, I have a Sewer Expert coming tomorrow to do a thorough cleaning so this doesn't happen again for a month or two.




I hope this episode doesn't scare away all you promising young aspiring publicans. This state needs more pubs, so get out there and purchase or lease your space, get your Brewers Notice and Brewpub License, hire some staff, and get that career rolling. (And this means you, Jon the Lompoc brewer, as well).




Oh, and any happy trails and so forth to the 15 or so euro-bikers that showed up right when we opened, ate food and drank hardly and beer, and then left a whopping $5 tip. Woot!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Continuing Quest for Cask Sundries


This is perhaps a bit of a mundane topic, but essential to the running of a real ale brewery is a steady and reliable supply of sundries. That's such a great word - sundries. When used in conjunction with the word "notions", it conjures up imagery of the sorts of shops at the mall that the ladies drift off into while we gents take the straight and narrow to Radio Shack to buy batteries. But prefix it with the word "cask" and we're off into important, yea even critical, territory.




I had written way way back about my difficulties in finding a source for shives. My existing, and diminishing, collection was brought over in a backpack via airplane by Woolpack Dave in December. Now that that bucketful is 3/4 gone, it came down to either a) calling up Dave while he's in the kitchen in his multi-colored chef's trousers wielding a sharp knife, or b) once again trying to get a warm body on the end of the telephone at Plastic Kegs America. With images of sharp knife in mind, I called Plastic Kegs America and got AN ACTUAL RESPONSE. The nice young lady at the other end of Ma Bell sounded a trifle nervous about having to answer questions and take my order, but we got it sorted out that indeed they did now carry shives for CypherCo firkins and that I would be permitted to order some. She wanted to make REAL SURE that I was ordering the big things, not the little things, as she said that many customers get them confused. I assured her that, after brewing 37 batches of real ale in this country, I had a firm grip on the differences between shives and keystones, and that I wanted the big things.




I brew 2 UK BBL per batch, which is 8 firkins, hence 8 shives, keystones and hard spiles in disposable sundries. I can get the keystones and spiles easily enough from UK Brewing Supplies, but for some reason the 52.3 mm shives that work best with the CypherCo firkins are scarce or unavailable. The shives I ordered will cost me $0.55 each, with no volume discount (odd). With shipping, I'm paying $70 for 100. I was told that there would be a 2.5% surcharge for using my debit card over the phone, but that I would be permitted to send a check in advance. This is America - who does that?!




For the record, I had also been courting F.H. Steinbart in Portland for shives, since they had informed me that they could get anything. Anything, I tell you, anything. Given a couple phone calls, and even stopping in twice while in Portland, I remain unable to get any response. Sigh. Such seems to be standard for us small backwater breweries (or shed breweries - a term I've recently seen pop up on some British blogs). I suppose if I were a Full Sail or a Bridgeport I'd get somewhere, but I'll never know.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Compression in the Rear Cylinder


It was Sunday afternoon, and I had intended to complete at least one of the many blog entries that I had started and left unfinished. I didn't want anyone to miss out on the tragic tale of the two malfunctioning thermometers, or my commentary on good customer relations, or the satire on pub closings. Nevertheless, I had dealt with a loose head bolt in the real cylinder of Fair Chromio a couple of weeks ago, one which caused a burnt-out head gasket. Repairs having been successfully completed, I remain steadfast in my attempts to "run it through its paces" to determine if aforementioned recalcitrant bolt should rapidly wiggle its way loose, or alternatively (and for the better) make it through another leak-free year of American engineering. No blogging this day.




A trip to Bend was calculated to be just the thing for it. Via the Cascade Lakes Oregon Scenic Byway. 110 miles one way. This is a truly stunning ride, especially the part that winds between South Sister and Mount Bachelor. By the time I made it that far I settled on the knowledge that compression in the real cylinder, or any for that matter, is a Good Thing (tm). Whilst traveling, and to kill the proverbial bird with the celebrated solitary stone, I though checking to see if the cask offerings at Deschutes in Bend were as good as the ones mentioned in Portland.




It was broken, I was told. No handpull. I though there used to be two pumps, but didn't argue the point. The parts, difficult to acquire, were being sought after in some remote island off the coast of France. I had to opt for "regular beer". First choice was the Jubelale in July. Remarkably delicious. This is their traditional winter brew, but was trotted out in July for some reason.




What's a trip to Bend without stopping by the Bend Brewing Company; it's only the walk of a couple blocks. The Outback Old Ale was the choice, as I wanted something bitter without all the hop finish. No comments on this pint here - after all this is not a beer review blog, it's about motorcycles.




To further test the performance of the rear cylinder, and to clean out the carb, I then motored over Santiam with the intent of riding the Aufderheide back to Oakridge for some proper (and free) real ale, but decided that the scenario of encountering a large, mobile piece of meat around 10:00 PM near Constitution Grove in the pitch dark at 70 MPH was less desirable than going all the way down to Eugene and coming up 58. Which I did. I tried to stop at High Street, my Eugene local, but failed to acquire a pint after waiting 30 minutes. It didn't appear like they were busy, as they said they were, but I got tired of just sitting and browsing The Internets on my iPhone and decided just to give it a miss and head up the mountain.




Back at the Local 180, I have to say that this new batch (#9) of Union Dew is outstanding. You should try a pint.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Beer

Wednesday morning at the Trailhead - the weekly hide-in-a-corner and think moment. I've just read, as is my wont, a number of British pub and beer blogs, many of which were heading down the slippery slope of increasing antagonism. So, I thought I'd write about something positive.


Free beer.


Yep. Legend and lore has it that "there's no such thing", but this past weekend was the first-of-the-season Mountain Bike Oregon event in our little ex-logging, ex-mining, ex-railroad, ex-tourism town up in the sunny Oregon Cascades, and such a thing there was. As sponsors, the Brewers Union and three other local breweries, Oakshire, Ninkasi and Block15, gave away copious amounts of liquid bounty. The cyclists, around 300 of them, were mostly encamped out at the Greenwaters Park, where a beer garden was set up in front of the amphitheater. I chose not to provide my wares at the park, as all my regular bar staff was involved with the event and, as such, I couldn't get away to set up and operate portable stillage. My solution was to give away pints of whatever was on the handpulls concurrent with the opening hours of the beer garden at the park. My solution to the lack of staffing was to work the bar from Thursday night at 6 PM to Saturday night at 11:30 PM, with the periodic, helpful assistance of my friend Dave . This is not a recommended method of recovery for plantar fasciitis.


Free beer: Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10. Most of us have recovered by now. The corpses in the picture were not all given away; I'm guessing we sold around half of them, especially on Thursday when we had our highest grossing night since we opened around 11 months ago.


The saddest part of Saturday night was cleaning up all the partially consumed pint glasses after the doors were heaved shut at 11:30. For the second MBO event in August I'm considering bringing out several cases of half pint glassware, instead of drawing full pints. I also have a lot of brewing to do in the next month. I tucked away a special bitter into FV1 yesterday, and will be cleaning the copper out and brewing again tomorrow. Maybe. Alternatively I could rest my sore feet and tuck into a good book.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

"I don't want anything hoppy."

As much as I like the occasional hoppy pint, it's really nice to hear customers looking for something different. I had several customers in here tonight choosing either the mild or the bitter I had on the pumps for the simple reasons that a) they wanted something light in alcohol, b) not a little of bittering or hop aroma, and c) the temperature and mouthfeel of real ale.

On the other hand, the keg of the Eel River IPA from Northern California (ABV 7.0%) is very nice and has been selling briskly. I've been quite delighted with it, as the brewer has chosen to provide more of a malty characteristic to (here's that word again) balance out the bittering and aroma. Depending on how late I'm here tonight, I might just pour myself a (gasp) half to close out the evening, but I'm still tugging away on a bitter at the moment while I catch up on my bookkeeping.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

If It Ain't Broke...

... fix it 'til it is.

Things keep breaking with gusto. This past week it was an outlet near the ceiling that fried. This was old circuitry installed by the former denizens of the building, who had intended to use them to proudly power Oregon Lottery Machines. I was home at the time, trying to get a few things done such as fix my motorcycle and take a 20 minute nap. When informed via telephone that the breaker was off and the circuit was safe for the time-being, I opted to just stay home and fix the thing in the morning. The nagging feeling that something important was also on that circuit was fortified in the morning when it was discovered that the sandwich prep table, chock full of prepared and neatly organized foodstuffs, was refrigerating its contents at 65˚. Fortunately all was not lost - the cheese survived and a few of the veggies. Circuit fixed - table working by opening hour.

Next was the HVAC system in the brewery and kitchen. It had been vigorously pumping ambient air all day without a care for rendering it COOLER, which was the directive from the thermostat. A brave inspection under THE PANEL in the heat pump outside revealed that 240V was getting to the compressor and fan, but neither were functioning within any reasonable tolerance of spec, i.e. they weren't spinning and they smelt a little odd. Being holiday weekend, getting ahold off Phil the HVAC guy was to be difficult. Two days later and the unit is back working. Fortunately the offensive piece of technology was a starter cap, and not the entire unit which would've cost me a tidy bundle.

This means that I can brew again. It looks like it will be another batch, number 9, of Union Dew. Mountain Bike Oregon is a week and a half away and I'm sponsoring free beer, so I need to stock up.

"Whatever" IPA, the first cask, was on this weekend. It is gone now, three days later. It came out a bit cloudy, which was unusual as I have a working finings regimen down these days. It also tasted a little green, but that is the price one pays for being anxious. I will be putting another one on for the weekend, along with the last cask of The Movie Star, a ginger bitter brewed almost a year ago, and the new batch of La'al Rye'un, a light rye mild. It should be a decent weekend with the Cascade Creampuff mountain bike race and a large class reunion going on.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Random Sundries and Minutiae

The only thing that broke so far today was the swans neck on the pump at the left (is that pump #6 or pump #1?). Perhaps we were all letting our enthusiasm getting away with us when faced with the task of dispensing a pint of That Dark Beer. Anyway, a quick substitution from one of the two traveling pumps and we were on our way. I suspect a quick trip to the local welder, if he can be found, will make it all like new.

I had briefly toyed with the idea of traveling to England, sitting at the bar at the Woolpack, and waiting for Mr. Simpson to bring his van of bar bits round so I could purchase a replacement. After all, I had pulled in almost the Oregon minimum wage yesterday working the bar the entire day, pocketing $85 in cold cash money. Begone, wishful thinking - I'll just treat myself to some gasoline and an eggie and coffee at the Trailhead, and leave off trips abroad until I'm flush with cash and all six of my real ale pubs are in jolly happy running order.

The mild in fermenter number one was not broke today. It looked just about right for turning on the chiller, so casking up should be Monday. This is a remake of La'al Rye'un that was brewed back in December, but this time it broke - in the mash. I had been messing with the grinder to try to break up the grain a little finer, and I think I went too far. Up until this batch the mill was turning out a few unsplit grains, so I thought I'd just tighten it up a little. Too much, apparently, because the increase in the amount of dust coupled with the 20 lbs. of rye must've conspired to create a bed of glue in the bottom of the mash tun. It took a good long time, and a lot of sediment, to get the copper full. O.G came out at 1.033 instead of the 1.036 in the last batch. Smells nice, though, and I'll be giving it a taste soon when I get it all tucked away into the casks.


A gentleman who had been down here in the fall, fly fishing, was back last night. He has close connections with a hop farm up North, and he said the crops look good this year. The prices have declined a bit, which will be enormously helpful, as I'm starting to run low on my stash. Hops are much harder to come by for a little brewery like mine, as I can't carry a contract, so I will be having to knock on a lot of back doors. I may be able to acquire a bail or two in August if I drive up to get them. Trouble is, they won't be vacuum packed and I will need to figure out a way to preserve them for several months. Also, a bail is 200 lbs. and I have limited storage space. Necessity is the mother of.... etc.

Now it's time to go fix a motorcycle. No Harley jokes, please.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yet More Portland Commentary

It always takes a few days to catch up on stuff whenever I leave the business for any reason. Now that it's Thursday, and I am spending my $4 in tip money from last night on a micro-breakfast and coffee at the Trailhead Coffeehouse, I can liberate my notes from the weekend Portland airport run.

There was not as much time to spend researching as was afforded in the previous weekend's run, but I managed to check out a few more new places and revisit the old. First was the Highland Stillhouse (again) to see what was in the pumps. It turned out to be Ninkasi Tricerahops, which was way too big a beer for the first pint, or the second. Instead, I opted for a couple of Brew Dog products in bottle, which I hadn't had before and had heard a lot about. I paid too much for them, but the house needs to make its markup somehow. I thought they were nicely balanced and refreshing. The amusing commentary on the labels comes across as the Scottish equivalent to San Diego's Stone Brewing Company, with its fiercely independent, no-compromise and non-conformist philosophy to brewing.

I had been tipped off that the Full Sail Pilsner Room had cask offerings, so I headed that way next. It is located in the riverside marina area towards the south of Portland, where money obviously has its foot firmly in the door, and where rural publicans are likely to feel out of place. This one did, the immediate impression upon entering conveying the typical American-food-factory-brewery approach to having a pint and a bite to eat. The only way to avoid the flicker of the televisions was to look at my feet. As advertised, there were three hand pulls proudly mounted to the prow of the island bar, of which two were affixed to a couple of casks tucked away in some unknown location. I ordered a pint of a stout for starters. Now, as I've undoubtedly stated before, ad nauseam, that I don't like beer reviews, I am still trying to find a way to issue a brief and objective statement about the attributes of some of the offerings without the perfunctory assertion that so-and-so is just rubbish. However, how can a brewery as large and established as Full Sail (or Bridgeport) succeed in getting it wrong? Is it a matter of just not caring, or are the intricacies of tending to real ale within the large, impersonal, corporate model unattainable? I'm not much of a stout drinker, but this one was [perfunctory assertion] rubbish. It had a harsh edge to it, and not the sort of chewy body that I hope to find in a stout. This impression was assisted in its downward spiral by the visual of the barkeep filled the glass with around a dozen jerking motions on the handle. I requested a taster of the Amber on the other pump, and it had the same quality. Also, the company next to me wanted to make sure that I departed with the knowledge that they were, on a daily basis, simply exhausted with having to sit in the sun all day and throw parties all night on their 70 foot boat moored out in the Willamette. I was eager to move on.

I did manage to get a pint in at the Alberta Street Public House, having cleverly arrived after 3:00 unlike my previous misguided attempts. This establishment was refreshingly pub-like, and I entertained myself in the little cozy in the front window with a good book. Now if they could only install a nice little real ale brewery in some disused back room...

After the family was picked up from the airport and tucked away in the motel, I snuck off to one of the few Oregon Brewers Guild breweries that I had yet to visit - the 4th Street Brewing Company in Gresham just a few miles away. American-food-factory-brewery model again, but the patrons seemed to be having a good time. The brewery is showcased in glass behind the bar, between two large TV's. I tried two pints, a porter and an IPA, and didn't much care for either, being too cold, thin and gassy. The little card describing each beer informed me that the IPA was made with "over 30 lbs. of hops". This doesn't really tell me anything, does it? I mean, which hops? And what is the capacity of the brewhouse? And when are they introduced to the boil? At least I had some good conversation with the bar staff, which doesn't happen that much in some of the slicker places.

The following day found us downtown at Powell's. Since the restroom therein was being cleaned at my moment of greatest need, and the book I was looking for was not in stock, I popped out and headed two blocks North on 11th to the new shiny Deschutes place, which I knew to have two hand pulls. Sure enough, they had both pouring, and I tucked into a pint of Twilight. It was delicious and well-kept. Despite having a push-button brewery, replete with touch-screen technology, they have really succeeded in demonstrating that the big, shiny guys CAN product an extraordinary pint if they put their mind to it. The other cask offering was something dark, which I wasn't in the mood for, so I opted for the SeaFort 7, a deep red Belgian style ale. It didn't disappoint.

I'm hoping to get back up North again for my two month break around the middle of July. Any suggestions for new research sites are appreciated.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Not a Beer Blog

This is not really a beer blog. If it were, I would not be inclined to mention things you don't want to know about our kitchen equipment. You don't realize how important these appliances are until something goes all pear-shaped with one of them. Frightening thing is, if there is a failure in any one of the major AND minor exhibits of pub technology, then you are bound to find, somewhere in the vicinity, a whingy publican.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night, at 5:00 prompt, the deep fryer went on holiday. This, next to the 2 x 2 flat top grill (more to come on this subject) is a cornerstone of our little kitchen. A couple greasy hours later and the fortuitous discovery of a replacement 240V cable in the storage room, and our little electric gem was back in order. A few customers had to go without their fish and chips for a spell, but there's always the mash and gravy for a handy substitute.

Monday night featured the grill throwing sparks. This grill was one of the appliances that was left in the building when the former owners fled, and which, under evaluation, was deemed to have some merit left to it. We are currently working with a temporary propane camp stove substitute until the part, a heating element that was observed to be partially crispy upon deconstruction of the grill, arrives from some warehouse in Illinois. I get to take yet another trip to Eugene in hopes of picking up the brand new shiny replacement and getting it installed and reassembled before the lunch reservation of 20 shows up. I suspect, as I type now on Wednesday night, that the aforementioned scenario might contain a few parts wishful thinking, but what could go wrong, I keep saying.

Now let's blog about beer. With all the heavy thoughts lately about West Coast IPA's on cask, I thought I'd just hack one together today. For all the customers that come up to the bar and say, "Oh... I'll just have a pint of .... whatever", I have named it "Whatever" in order to ease the decision making process of the barkeep confronted with the unsatisfying task of making choices for others. This is my first brew with a yeast called Windsor from Lallemand, which has done something like double the prices of their dry yeast in the last year. Sheesh. It had an unusual nose to it as I waited for it to activate in my pitching pitcher (the pitcher into which I pitch the yeast into 2L of 25 deg. C wort), but we're committed now. I'll make passing mention of its progress in future editions of my pub blog, a blog that sometimes mentions beer.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quickie Research Project

I had to drive to Portland yesterday (Friday) to take my family to the airport to visit the folks in Illinois. That gave me the afternoon and evening to do a little business-related research. My focus this time was IPA's on cask. There are a small collection of cask outlets in Portland, usually with a single handle serving one of the few breweries that bother drawing off a beer into a cask. The reason I was after IPA's was that I'm finding that the West Coast style doesn't translate well to cask. I think that the over-the-top and out-of-balance qualities are well-masked by gas and lower temperature.

First stop was the Alberta Street Pub. I wasn't able to get in last time I was up in May, as it was shoulder-to-shoulder and dimly lit, so I'm not even sure that they have a beer engine. Alas, it was noon, and the pub was to open at 3:00. Or was it 5:00. It didn't say on the door, and my quick little iPhone search revealed two different opening times. Same results for the Moon & Sixpence, which was to be my next stop. Change of plans.

The Horse Brass was guaranteed to be open for lunch, so I navigated my way a bit further South and East to the mid-regions of Belmont Street. It was remarkably quiet for a Friday at 12:30, so I had a nice cozy corner to work on a pint and a book. First pint was Hale's Mongoose IPA. I like this one - it is similar to my Dearth and Surfeit, but with a hoppier nose. It is dispensed sans-sparkler, as were destined to be all my pints for the day, but not with the sort of care one would expect in a southern English pub. The glass is unceremoniously placed on the drip tray, into which the liquid is pumped a vast distance from the stubby nozzle creating a thick-foamed head. Next pint, served in similar fashion, was Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas. This pint really needs to be enjoyed via keg, as the temperature and conditioning brought out some of the problems that are masked by a set of numb tastebuds.

Next, a quick walk up to Belmont Station to see if they had their beer engine installed as I had heard was to be the case. It was installed, but, guess what? Not available until 3:00. Change of plans.

One of the three Lucky Labrador establishments is in the same Portland quadrant as the Horse Brass, and I knew they had a single beer engine. It also was somewhat quiet for the middle of a Friday afternoon. The offering on cask was a guest beer. I can't remember who's it was (no jokes here please), but it was hazy and decent. I think I confused the barkeep by ordering it. He gave the pump handle and the blackboard listing the beers a puzzled look before tucking into the task at hand. Plenty of time here to knock off a couple chapters of my book and engage in some quality people-watching.

By now I had great hopes that the Moon & Sixpence would be open. Good enough, it was. 5:00 on a Friday afternoon yielded three gentlemen at the bar. I was starting to feel a bit better about slow days at the pub, although not that much better as I was also thinking about all the bills I still have to pay when I get back. The Red Seal was on, which I had the last time I was there, but also Ninkasi's Tricerahops (!!). This is an 8.8%, ridiculously hopped imperial IPA, which doesn't belong on cask. So, that means I had to have one, along with a nice Cornish Pasty. The beer was so hazy and full of particulates that you could almost spread it on a piece of toast. I was hoping the little chunks floating around were remnants of the dry hopping process. Only one pint could be enjoyed here, as Tricerahops fails miserably as a contestant for the "session beer" moniker.

One more stop before going home. My new favorite place in Portland is actually in Oregon City, viz., the Highland Stillhouse. You all should visit. Outrageously comfy atmosphere, more than 140 single malt scotches, great food, and a fine selection of beers and ales, including a couple of cask offerings. It was jumping busy, and the patio was open. It took 30 minutes for the rain to hit and force most of the patrons inside, but I managed to grab a corner of one of the canopies and took to people watching. No IPA's on the pumps, but the Red Seal was nice.

Back home, one night further along the path of life, I'm blogging and enjoying a pint of Baba O'Rye'ly, which you won't be able to find in Portland, or any great city for that matter. I get to travel back up to Portland next Saturday for an airport run, and undoubtedly will continue a bit more research in the area.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Couple One-Offs on the Pumps

A couple new beers are finding their home on the stillage behind the bar. I have written about Whisky in a Jar on this blog, and it is now on. The second cask, in fact; the first lasted only a couple of days. The tannins from the oak chips are evident but not overpowering, and the fragmentary amount of the whisky manifests itself as more of a tickle on the tongue, provided one takes a generous quaff.

On Monday I rolled on Baba O'Rye'ly, a special bitter at 4.9% ABV. This has a range of crystal malt, with sparse amounts of the higher Lovibond malts for a hint of the caramely (is that a word?) flavors, and a dash of Black Patent for spice. It also has 20 lbs. of rye, and was dry hopped with E.K. Goldings. I vented this ale on Tuesday, satisfied with the slight puff from the shive. Wednesday morning I tapped it and then tried it that evening. I was not satisfied with the flavor, having too much of an isinglass problem yet. Same on Thursday, but not so pronounced. I tried to help the problem along by drawing two gravity pints and drinking them. Today, Friday, it was just slightly above decent. I put it on tonight, and am enjoying a pint whilst I type.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Exhaustion Almost Has a Flavor

It's been many weeks since my last confession. Puzzling, because the interval between now and my last post contained a highly anticipated respite from the daily beating - viz., three days (two nights) off, astride fair Chromio, questing Northwest Oregon for a worthy pint and an establishment of quality and dark nooks in which to consume it in the company of a book or a an enlightening and intelligent conversation. I had taken a few notes while away, both on flat bits of highly compressed and processed tree, and in the more dubious recesses of my slowly decaying cortex. There were to be a series of blog entries to follow; well crafted sequences of constrained verbiage to be chucked into the digital slough.

And that's all fine and good, but it's not where I am. I'm examining a phenomenon, a beast that almost manifests itself as a funny, elusive taste in my mouth, which is too complex and rich to describe unless you, yes you, the reader, immerse yourself in the life of a pub owner. My friend Premises Supervisor Dave writes about similar stuff at his rural inn in the Lake District of England. He permitted me a taste of the life, and I'm still rolling it around in my mouth like a cask-strength single malt whisky from Islay. Peat's not for everyone.

I know that there are many of you out there who have dreamed of opening and running your own brewpub. I've talked to you. You can be recognized by your nervous tick, by the pace and rhythm of your conversation, by the elusive reflection in your eyes reminiscent of a board-room pie chart: one part crazy, two parts mad. I may not, at the moment, be able to offer a reason why, but I still say to you, "run with it."

Are you running? Good. Good to hear. While running, herein lies a mere taste of what you might encounter along the Road to Exhaustion and the Best and Worst of Times.

- Revolving credit is evil. When credit card companies, upon which you have based a portion of your unexpected startup costs, can raise your rates from 7.9% to 29.99% without asking for permission, you will be entitled to the privilege of living with a rock in your gut until you can find a way to expel or digest it.

- The menu has been revamped to actually reflect the original vision of a "Pub Menu". For you American's, unfamiliar with British or Irish pub life, read that as "Cafe Menu". I want it to be simple and on a chalkboard and to not create the impression of being a restaurant. I know I aggravate my customers and my staff by my seeming bullheadedness, only to continue to affirm to myself that I have specific ideas of what this pub is to be.

- We have great reviews on TripAdvisor.

- More often than not the first thing I hear upon arriving in the morning is a complaint of some sort or another. I haven't failed to notice that sometimes I'm the source of the complaint. Lately it has been the cost of running the kitchen. It shouldn't cost as much as it does and I wish I didn't have to solve the problem any more than the next guy. Problem is, if I don't solve it, I ultimately wind up commuting and programming computers for Some Other Guy, like the days of yore. I would also have to start buying beer again, and it would be cold and fizzy and in a bottle.

- You don't want to, ever, ever, try to please everyone. No matter what you choose to do, you will annoy, puzzle and confuse some portion of the public. But I know, less and less theoretically, that success is not based on statistics, but on quality, personality and commitment. And cash flow. Stupid cash flow - who invented that? Probably some Harvard MBA or something, or a (gasp) economist.

- I have equity investors to appease real soon, who wish to convert labor into cash in various and seemingly impossible degrees of expediency. I'd like to comply, but the business at 9 months is not even profitable yet.

- Water. Simple, but people want it hot, cold, and instantly. When we're having a busy evening, it would be useful for this natural product to be self-serve. I've spent part of the day trying to solve this problem, and don't have a good answer yet. I think I'll just buy a bunch of picnic water coolers and rotate them through the walk-in cooler for the moment, as I can't get into the idea of paying for bottled water that I have to pay for and pick up in Springfield once a week.

My next post will be about butterflies and bunnies. These butterflies and bunnies will be enjoying real ale and reading a book or enjoying an enlightening and intelligent conversation, hopefully in an unlikely and incongruous real ale pub in a small ex-logging/mining/railroad town in the Oregon Cascades.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

(Sigh) On the Telly Again

We had an unexpected visit from KVAL, one of the local TV stations, on Monday. They were up here doing an "Unexplored Oregon" story about the mountain biking scene, and were lured into the pub by our own enthusiastic Ben and Randy. Sit yourself back and watch the video.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hours

Since the "News" page on the regular website now links here and elsewhere, I thought I should post that our Summer Hours are now in effect. This means that you will no longer be disappointed by a locked door when you appear at 12:18 PM for a pint of Union Dew and a Pastrami Reuben with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom & Thyme Gravy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Culture

I had been contemplating a number of posts on culture, particularly how it relates to the pub, and even more particularly the American Pub (definition pending), when I came across a bunch of photos fermenting on my iPhone. I suspect that there are many of you out there on this third rock who might be unable to reconcile a gathering of screaming bagpipes as a cultural event worth note. However, this is the Great Melting Pot, and to hear these guys wailing away in the confined space of the public bar was sublime. It was Tree Planting Festival weekend in our small mountain town, and I, for one, am a fan of the small town parade. There are not many small towns engaging in this distinctly American cultural pastime, or doing it properly in my opinion, and so I get moderately "into it". This incongruous marching assembly of drummers and bagpipers, the Eugene Fire Pipes and Drums, wafted past during the formalities, and then drifted into the pub afterwards. The simple lure of a free pint was adequate impetus for a a nice half hour micro-concert.

There is a good chance I can get them back up here in full regalia and with all the exciting bits of musical equipment. I have a business card here on my desk from the Pipe Major/Manager who suggested that if I brewed a batch of beer and named it after them, then they would periodically appear to drink it and to play. Sounds fair. I'm not convinced that "Eugene Fire Pipes and Drums" is a blue-chip beer name, so I'll have to mull that over a bit, but I'm fairly sure it will be a dark mild.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This One Writes Itself

I Am A Craft Brewer on Vimeo

Wow! Made me both proud and thirsty. And a little bit misty.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Whisky in a Jar

I finally grabbed the pictures off my iPhone, which serves as my only camera. It's also a great phone, browser, mail client, and it plays music, but that is fodder for someone else's blog. What I was attempting to retrieve were some of the pictures from casking up day of my Spring seasonal one-off. It seems that some oak chips got accidently crammed into a quart canning jar, which was (accidently as well) filled with a peaty Bowmore single malt whisky.

They lingered in said fashion for a month.

Then one day I was casking up an extra special bitter that I specially brewed for the coming days of sunshine and outdoor recreation, and I got a clever idea - probably the second or third time this has happened to me. Consequently, the whisky was extracted from the chips, revealing a darker color than the original.


The math was easy - as I brew 2 UK BBL, which is eight firkins, I separated up the chips into eight piles. Astute observers might inquire as to the contents of the other containers on my sophisticated brewery desk. The white stuff is isinglass finings being blended. Followers of previous posts will be delighted to know that I've figured out the correct mixture. The amber liquid on the far right in the pitcher is a finings adjunct that works together with the isinglass to produce yummy bright beer.


It will probably be Memorial Day weekend before I tap the first cask of "Whisky in a Jar". I want time for some of the tannins to work their way into the beer, and the end of May will give it about two months. ABV worked out at 5.7%, so it will be the highest gravity ale on for the summer; my IPA's are working out at around 4.0% to 5.5%. It is also time to work on some nice low gravity summer session ales, so I better get busy.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Honest Pints and the Strong Arm of the Law

In the last week and a half I've had two conversations about whether THE LAW should be involved with the notification or regulation of the discrepancy between the amount of beer nominally dispensed in a glass, and the ofttimes unsuitable amount actually dispensed. The first was with a well-known whisky and beer writer with whom I had the pleasure of entertaining at my pub last Friday. This was the point at which I first became aware that our elected lawmakers were even considering generating paper, perspiration and poo-poo over over this issue. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call from a writer for the Eugene Register-Guard over the same topic, which resulted in an article in the Register-Guard and a subsequent expurgated version on Fox News.

I had been aware of the Honest Pint Project for some time. It seems that a large proportion of beer vendors dispense a measure inferior to the stated amount. I know this is true, because a cursory scan of the standard shaker glass (16 oz. American pint) often reveals a large glassy bit at the bottom and a whitish foamy bit at the top, neither of which qualify as one of our favorite liquid refreshments (although the foam does contain trace elements). Maybe this is OK for some, such as the pitcher punters unaware that there is no volumetric definition of a pitcher, but for me it is just plain dishonest. Who, after all, would be satisfied with 19 gallons of gas for the price of 20, or a perceived inferior ratio of the so-called "berry" to the little yellow sugary pillows in my Cap'n Crunch Crunchberry box.

At first I was afraid that the State Gummint busybodies were going to attempt to turn this kind of behavior into a crime, much like the OLCC prohibiting me from enjoying a pint (proper, in a lined glass) of my own ale produced in my own brewery after closing time while I do the till, or allowing a youngster to come up to the bar and ask for another creme soda. If they were to take that approach, then the liberation of the proverbial worm-laden can suggests a tsunami of honesty legislation. Or maybe manners mandates? Hmmm. Now we're talking. I would love to have a law requiring customers to be polite, read signs, and say "Please" instead of "I'll have...". Violators would be clapped in irons without bail and sent to the pokey for three years until they can learn to wait twenty minutes for their food.

The second twang of uneasiness in the stomach was that they (The Gummint) might force every one of us to use exactly the same size glass. This would spark my own personal revolutionary insurrection. I already have a significant investment in my glassware, which I had custom-printed in the spirit of the British Imperial Pint, notably the 23 oz. overisized, lined glass. I like my glassware. I REALLY like my glassware. It feels good in the hand, and I know exactly how to fill it. It is eminently grippable and painfully honest. It is not to be messed with, Gummint or otherwise.

As I understand it, though, the proposed legislation takes the approach of certification. If your dispensed volume equals the stated volume, if you walk the talk, then you get a sticker or something. That might be alright, as long as I don't have to pay for it or otherwise waste taxpayers' money. I admit to really appreciating the Cask Marque designations at British pubs, but then I'm a snob for real ale and don't want to wander into a pub bereft of my favorite beverage. So, I'd put a sticker on my door, provided that it was free, large, and colorful.

Sadly, though, I'm not sure the American consumer, for the most part, really cares. Some do, though. My hope is that an awareness and appreciation for honesty and friendliness, for civility, for decent pubs and real ale and good music and nice slow-cooked meals, will continue to grow. Honesty is self-regulating, and the customers that appreciate these things will find us, Gummint or no.