Sunday, December 11, 2011

Huh? We need to have a talk.

I'm not really sure how to write this. Not having much truck with incendiary or controversial threads, I tend towards keeping the flow middle of the road. If I were to argue, lets do it friendly-like. Over a pint or two. A lovely game of croquet comes also highly rated. This is just part and parcel of being a publican - smoothing things out, treating everyone as equals, keeping the smiles and the laughter above average and so forth.

However, I just sat down at my computer to write one of the many posts I've been muddling around in my head about my trip to England last month, and on my way to my grotty lackluster pub "office" I picked up the new copy of the Northwest Brewing News that gets shipped to us every two months. This copy was dated "December/Januaruy 2011/2012". Spell check.

I like this rag. I know some of the pens that regularly write for it. We've been mentioned in it, which is unusual given our size. It usually is a useful and informative read, and it has the best beer and pub listings and maps, with our own little numbered black dot on it. But. BUT. An article leapt out at me: The "Behind the Bar" column by Bob Brenlin entitled "The British are Coming, but we are Not CAMRA Ready." This got me a little bit miffed. I'll explain. Starting with the second paragraph:

… our cask tradition is not CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) approved, nor will it ever be.

True, generally speaking, up to the "ever be" part. That sentence needs some work, starting with the irony. The article goes on to talk about the MBAA meeting I went to in Seattle at the beginning of November, and how we (Americans) would have our lame attempts at cask ale chucked down the drain in England. Funny thing — I was invited to give a talk at the meeting to talk about how we, as a small cask brewery and public house, were following the tradition. The why's, the how's, the small bits of effort and infrastructure involved in making and serving a proper pint. The education of the staff. The training on British soil. Not mentioned in the article. At all.

I could go on and on with the article, pointing out my grievances (e.g. "casks must undergo secondary fermentation at room temperature"). I won't. Just read it for yourselves, if you can locate a copy; I don't believe they publish it online until archive time. Perhaps I should go back to the mundane principles of my original paragraph and just write about how lovely it was to once again sit in the Bear Inn in Oxford and relax over a pint of Ordinary. I can't, though, because I remember having a couple conversations with one of the two English brewers (mentioned in the article) at the Friday cask feast at the MBAA meeting. He was drinking from the firkin of our 3.7% Dark Mild that we donated to the cause, served through the Brewers Union portable beer engine kit. It was bright, flavorful, drinkable, traditional, and, at the end of the night, completely drained.

I DO want to argue now. Bring it on. I'll buy the introductory pint. The first of our properly brewed, cellared, and dispensed firkins of Tanninbomb (oaky old ale) goes on this coming weekend. It will be bright, traditional, and delicious. I'm just about to roll it onto the stillage. See you at the pub.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Smoke

As mentioned in my last post, there was a bit of replumbing needed in order to serve a firkin at High Street Cafe. It's done. It's not ideal, for reasons I'll get to, but this is the first time that real ale has been dispensed at any McMenamins establishment. Kinda cool, what?

Thanks to these slick Parker LIQUIfit fittings, the handpull can now pull from the usual Golden Gate kegs, or be switched to an adapter that hooks up to the 3/4" nut and tail that screws onto a cask tap. It works. For testing purposes, a few pints were liberated on Sunday after all was hooked up.

So, not ideal say I? It's a fine pint, and I'm sure it will sell well, but we're back to the problem of the physics of beer: temperature, carbonation level and methods of dispense. I get asked many times whether such-and-so can purchase and put on a cask of Brewers Union beer, and have to ask about where it's going to be kept and how it's going to be handled at the bar. At High Street all the beer is kept in an outbuilding in the back at 36°. Obviously this is a problem with cask conditioned beer. It is simply just too cold. As evidenced by our taste test, the temperature mutes some of the smokiness. The mouthfeel is also altered, such that instead of the impression of chocolaty smoothness you get a bite on the palette from the cold. Also, without a sparkler on the end of a swans neck on the hand pull (which is instead this wee little curved neck as seen below) you fail to achieve that tight creamy head all the way down to the bottom of the pint. It's still serviceable, though, and for a limited time you can have a pint both here at the pub if you're geeky enough to want to make the comparison.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Big Smoke

It's been a week now since I returned from a two week trip to England. Now that I've settled back in to the doldrums of the shoulder season, I should have a bit of time to catch up on the paperwork, brew some beer, and post a few observations of my wonderings and wanderings abroad. However, that's not what this post is about, in spite of the suggestiveness of title of the post being one of London's nicknames.

Instead, I'm enjoying a pint of a smoked porter residing in one of the pumps at the bar. I'm not much of one to head for the darker stuff, especially if it's smoky. Give me a pale pint of Ordinary or Best with a hearty malt base and a balanced hop blend, but this is not too bad. Its history began this spring when I was talking to the brewer at McMenamin's High Street Cafe in Eugene, my local when I'm "down in the ditch". He had a leftover partial sack of smoked malt sitting around, and we got talking about what to do with it. The plan became one of collaborating on a smoked porter up here at the brewery, to be shared between us. In October the plan finally came to fruition, and a very very smoky porter was born. Perhaps we shouldn't have chucked in the whole 45 lbs. of smoked malt, but it makes it mighty tasty with a side of bacon. I believe this to be the first ever collaboration between a McMenamins brewery and an outsider. See you at the pub for a pint, or at High Street once we do some replumbing in the beer storage room.

Friday, November 4, 2011

OK, Right Then, Time to Get Back Live

August 12. Last post. It's been a nice break, from writing, that is. I believe I've mentioned here that I don't consider myself a writer. I don't experience that mild compulsion to put my thoughts into a more permanent form like I imagine the real writers do. But - it's time to get busy. It wasn't that there were no thoughts, mind you; just that I had too many things going on and sitting down at the computer wasn't one of them.

I'm now up near Seattle, attending the regional MBAA meeting. The topic for the meeting is cask-conditioned ale. Right up my alley. Some folks from OSU discovered our little pub and brewery this Spring and, as a result, I've had the honor to be invited to give a talk on cellarmanship. This should be interesting, as I've never given a "talk" before. But, what could go wrong? There's also some tasting forum, or panel, or some such thing, in which I think I get to sample some cask ales and talk about them. Simple. Easy. Then, this evening, there will be a cask feast where the shoulder rubbing and schmoozing should occur in abundance. I've delivered a cask of Jaws of Borrowdale, a sessionable Dark Mild, to the Elliott Bay Brewing Company for the event, and supposedly there will be around 20 offerings. More to come as I have time. It's morning now and I have to head over there to swing a mallet and change the ice quilts. And find a spot of breakfast.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Tomorrow this community public house and brewery will have survived three years. I'm not sure I have, but the building is still intact, the walls, doors and windows function as designed, and none of the kitchen and brewery equipment is broken at the moment. Coincidentally, tomorrow is also the 3rd Annual Oakridge Keg and Cask Festival. The street in front of the pub will be closed, and there will be food, beverages and entertainment from 2:00 to 8:00. After the festival we will bring the music inside and continue the merriment. I brewed a special beer for our birthday: "3rd Superannuation Ale" is an English Strong Ale, weighing in at 6.1%. Also, the first cask of some small beer, "Little Sir John", will spring up its head. It's an Ordinary Bitter at 3.4% featuring five hops and five grains. I haven't had either of these yet; they were just tapped and vented this morning. But what could go wrong? See you at the pub.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Pardon the caps and exclamation points, if you will, but this lowly pub and brewery that doesn't even care about winning awards has won an award. In a foreign country, no less. For an ordinary three grain and two hop Best Bitter. Well, that just goes to show ... something. I'll have to mull it over.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eugene History Moment

It may seem like a small thing. Indeed it is, depending on your perspective, but as a proponent of real ale it is significant. For Oregon Craft Beer Month I was invited to bring four casks of real ale to 16 Tons in Eugene. So far it's going well. There are now FOUR beer engines in place, in a makeshift setup, and four casks in a state of repose in a couple of coolers from which the kegs have been banished. Two of the pumps are mine, part of my portable pub setup, but thanks to Nate at Eugene Rogue and a fellow what goes by the name of Mr. P. we have a complete lineup. For Thursday and Friday expect to find (while they last, of course):

  • Cumbrian Moor, English Porter, ABV 5.0%

  • Above Average, I.P.A., ABV 5.2%, 10% rye malt

  • Wotcha A La Chinook, Best Bitter, ABV 4.4%, a cask of which is also on it's way to the GBBF

  • Baba O'Rye'ly, E.S.B. ABV 5.3%, 10% rye malt

Later tonight I'll head over and do the tapping and venting. We will also see what temperature the lowest setting on the cooler is designed to achieve. I'm hoping for around 50 of those archaic but well-known Fahrenheit degrees (that's 10 of the trendy but aloof Celsius degrees). After a fine breakfast of a single strip of bacon, a double experso (as we call it) and a ginger cookie I'll be back down in Eugene to hook up the lines and ascertain the state of the swill, as you will.

Following on the heels of this fine event is the Oregon Brewers Fringe Fest at Belmont Station in Portland. I much prefer being part of festivals in which brewers and/or owners are present, and am delighted to once again have been invited.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Half Pint Grammar

We serve proper pints and half pints here at the pub, the latter being referred to as a "half". What is the plural of this, as when someone orders two halfs? Or is that halves? Or half's?

Friday, May 27, 2011


The impetus to write just hasn't been there lately. I don't consider myself a writer, and I'm still puzzled by the notion that I even bother to blog about our little community public house. But, tonights's the night. Woohoo.

It's been really grim up here the last two months. Rain and cold. Rain and cold. Sometimes heavy rain and cold. Sometimes really cold with a light drizzle. I think we've had five days of sun since the beginning of April. I vividly recall the incident of this occurring on a Sunday. Our little collection of local service sector businesses are eager to see Summer come and the return of positive cash flow. Some ponder closing, selling or moving. So do we. But, for now, we wait it out and send flowers to our creditors. And I, for one, get to make beer.

The days of "Frost on the Bumpkin", our Winter Stout, are over. I've steered the kettle (and associated bits of stainless pipes and whatnots) towards a warmer weather porter called "Cumbrian Moor". At 5% it's a little above the sessionable range, so I recommend having three instead of four. The second cask of an IPA called "B.R.O.W. Brew" is also pouring. This contains Barley, Rye, golden naked Oats and torrefied Wheat, hence the name, and is very pale. Since my brewery is so small, I was able to hop (get it?) down to one of the local homebrew stores in Eugene and secure three pounds of Falconer's Flight to chuck into the boil, a proprietary blend of aromatic and flavorful hops that showcase the West Coast way of thinking. This ale flagrantly violates the West Coast law that IPA's have to be strong, since it weighs in at 5.3% and doesn't make a fuss.

As a participant in the underground cask-swapping fraternity, I have secured a couple rare casks from our friends at Block 15 in Corvallis. "River Mudd" was on. Yep, I said "was". A bunch of people drank it already. Right now I am enjoying the other'n, the "Ctrl-ALT-Del", which shines in cask form. I take a certain amount of enjoyment out of knowing that our pub is the only one IN THE WORLD that has this outside of Block 15. I suggest that, since camping is rather miserable this holiday weekend, you should come down to the pub and play Hearts or Scrabble all day long over a selection of six wonderful handpulls.

When the cask swap offerings run out, I'm bringing out the first cask of our 100th batch of ale. It's modeled on an English stock ale, aged with oak chips soaked in Laphroaig. I will be tapping a cask once per month at the end of each month until it's gone. It might turn out to be swill, but it'll sure beat a can of Keystone Lite in a pinch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Quick and Random Post Over Lunch

Back from Portland, and into the stream of consciousness that comes from sitting in an empty pub doing cleaning, maintenance and paperwork. A Subway sub and half pint of mild for lunch, a quick foray into the current blogroll (thanks again, Jeff - we need to open a proper real ale pub in Stumptucky), and some thoughts about spending some time in the city with the most breweries than any city in the world.

While I enjoyed being involved in setting up for the Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon, I can't escape the sense that there is nobody there that is really enthusiastic about it. I'm open to the idea that my perceptions are misguided, but I felt that the organization of the event, the publicity, and the follow through in producing acceptable printed information for the punters was lacking. On the plus side, it is soooo nice that the setup occurs the night before. This gives me a chance to vent the firkins and determine which are going to be well-behaved or not. After working through the lineup a couple of times, I decided that three of the casks were not going to be suitable for tapping until the morning. A couple of soft spiles overnight, and then I'll see what the new day brings. Out of those, two supplied me with the cellarman's badge of honor upon bringing the mallet to bear on the end of the tap. Good thing I brought a change of clothes.

This is not a "look at him, he's so cool" statement, but I think I was the only brewery dispensing his/her own wares. Well, for the first session, anyway. The second session was mine; after all, a man's gotta engage in research appropriate for his vocation. I believe I worked through 9 samples without trying a single IPA. Everything I had was, as I think might be the case in Lake Wobegon, above average. The only cloudy beer was the IPA from Columbia River, but I ran out of tickets before trying it. I also had to pace myself, as there were dark corners in pubs to spend the evening in with my book.

I did manage to take in a couple of the new breweries, Breakside and Burnside. I'm not here to do beer reviews, but I had a pint in each and scrutinized the atmosphere. The typical high-ceilinged Portland style venue continues to prevail. No dark corners here, with a pint of cask to nurse and local color to peruse under the watchful eye of a friendly and knowledgeable barkeep. Business was brisk, though, and I can't help but think of myself as being three sigma out when it comes to my thoughts about pubs in America.

As for pubs, those I think of as pubs, I frequented my favorites over a period of four days. Three visits to the Horse Brass and two to the Moon and Sixpence should be indicative of my chosen. I was very impressed that a single barkeep and a single waitperson at the Moon and Six kept the flow moving at 10:30 on a Saturday night. I made mine a Red Seal on cask, and it was perfect.

Now I'm back to work, work, work. I discovered while cleaning the brewery this morning that the sump that services the brewery and the prep kitchen is stuck off, meaning that fat from the grease trap is messing with the float. Another job, I guess. But it's not so bad. It's a beautiful Spring day, and summer is coming with the teaming hordes sitting outside on the patio drinking proper pints of small bear and chomping on great pub specials off the specials blackboard. I also am thinking through what to brew for my 100th batch, which will take place on Thursday. That jar of oak chips that have been soaking in Laphroaig for over a year might find a home in this endeavor. See you at the pub.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jaws of Borrowdale

With the sound of the March page being ripped out of the calendar, I thought it would be nice to bring on a Mild. After all, May is Mild Month in England, and I wanted to get a head start. Sitting before me is a sample (pint-sized) of "Jaws of Borrowdale", a Dark Mild named after a feature of the Central Lake District of England. I had the pleasure of a wander back in September of 2006 from Penrith to Boot which took me up to the top of Catsbells and then down through the Jaws along the Derwent and into one of my favorite Lakeland valleys - Borrowdale. So, here's a refreshing tribute to memories of Stonethwaite, Rosthwaite, Seathwaite and that rainy climb up past Styhead Tarn into Wasdale. Cheers! (And don't even THINK of sipping it.)

I was a bit reluctant to wire up all six pumps today, what with April being one of those dismal rainy months that calls for a paucity of chatter in the pub and a lonely till behind the bar. There is a risk of having on too many active casks that could linger and drift towards vinegar whilst the thirsty punter languishes at home in front of the TV eating Cheetos and watching the rain dribble down the windowpanes. However, my thoughts wandered to the beauty of a smart looking lineup on the blackboards and I caved. So, if you're tempted to just stay at home, think of what you're missing. There is also a pretty good chance that a cask will be pouring at Belmont Station next Friday the 15th. See you at the pub (or Belmont Station).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Moments Like This

There aren't enough moments like this. It's about 9:00 on a Friday night. There are three musicians in the house, playing sometimes separately, sometimes together. Unlike many nights when there is live music at the pub, there are actually people listening and enjoying. There is a boisterous pool game going on on the other side of the partial wall, seen through the windows from where I'm sitting way in the back by the office. Off at the end of the bar are some lively conversations. There are a couple of ladies dancing in the parlor, seen through another set of windows. The Cranium game in the Henhouse has been going on for hours, and is still going strong. And as I continue scanning this unlikely public house in the middle of timber country, I see tables covered with Imperial pints of locally brewed cask-conditioned ale, the overwhelming beverage of choice. There aren't enough moments like this.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tricks to Get Away For a Spell

One must get out once in a while, for the sake of sanity, well-being and a proper recharge, so fortunately there are festivals and tastings coming up. Tomorrow I haul a cask up to Belmont Station in Stumptucky for the opening of their 14th Anniversary weekend. I jumped on the opportunity when asked. So, Friday I get to draw a firkin of Quid Hoc Sibi Vult, as well as sampling the other interesting wares. Going up on a Thursday to get the cask settling means I have an evening to spend at the Highland Stillhouse on St. Patrick's Day. I'll be good.

There are other escapes in the works. The 4th Annual Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon is coming up on the 16th of April. Looks like the offerings have crept up to 30 breweries. I'm betting I'll be bringing the ale with the lowest ABV.

The beginning of May marks the advent of the first Eugene Beer Week, culminating in the annual Sasquatch Brew Fest. I don't know if I'll be at Sasquatch, as it's hard for a brewery of my size to attend festivals that expect donated beer, but there are some rumblings about some firkins being liberated at 16 Tons. It's nice to see the Southern Willamette Valley making some noise. Why should Portland get all the attention?

Another interesting invite this year was the 5th Annual Festival of Arts and Wine .... and Beer! at the Mount Angel Abbey in June. I tried to pencil out how I could attend, but this is a limited attendance event and I had doubts that 3 oz. servings for 500 to 700 people would be sufficient to drain two casks. It would've been more for my own benefit in engaging in a breather, and, from what I was told, the interest and benefit of the monks who have a certain fondness for their ale of a traditional nature. A shame, that is; I would've liked to have spent a week in their library.

Now as the pub is winding down on a quiet Wednesday night, I'm scratching this entry out between casks on the cask washer for a filling early tomorrow morning. Then a quick packing up of the portable real ale kit and I'm on the road. I'll be missing the festivities at the pub tomorrow, what with the St. Patrick's Day release of the last, six month old cask of Tanninbomb, but I can at last test it out tonight before wiring it up to the pumps. It's up to you to have a pint tomorrow, so don't be a slacker.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Silent Movie

I would've figured, what with the three people coming around the KLCC Microbrew Festival to our booth festooned with gadgetry, that at least SOMETHING I said was worthwhile. Oh, well, at least we got a moment of dispense.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Au Naturel

Wow. Almost a month since my last post. Some might think this as either a sign of being too busy, or maybe just a lack of compelling material. Truth is, I started several posts and have subsequently deemed them to be rubbish. But now I sit in a pub in Eugene in anticipation of the opening of the KLCC Microbrew Festival. Once again we are down here in Eugene trying to cool casks with ice blankets and artfully fielding questions like, "is that a nitro tap?"

This year's collaboration (or collabrewation, as I like to call it) beer is right up my alley. Those brewery type folks what attended the meetings that I couldn't go to decided we should all brew a sessionable pale using a single malt and a single hop. Each brewery was to choose a different hop and use their house yeast. I am now working with Wyeast London ESB (WY1968). I was, of course, curious how the gray matter of a West Coast brewer would interpret the concept of sessionable. Would Ninkasi produce a 6% pale using Citra, for instance? I shot for a nice low ABV session (or ordinary) bitter using U.S. Challenger. 130 lbs. Gleaneagles Maris Otter went into a 2 UK BBL batch, with 1.2 Kg Challenger at the top of the boil and two 0.2 Kg drops toward the end. Talk about pale. It's a bit deceiving, though, as it comes across nice and spicy/bitter, with a wee little malty note towards the end. All this at 3.2% ABV. I decided to call it "Au Naturel".

I had the pleasure last night of popping over to Oakshire last night where a gaggle of the brewers brought over jars and growlers of their batches. The naked malt and hop flavors and aromas make for interesting comparisons, as the distractions of specialty malts or hop cocktails are absent.

In less than an hour I head over for the opening shift. I like to have myself and/or my staff present to serve, so we are well represented and can handle questions. We are also pulling a cask of "Mutt", which I hoarded just for the festival, much to the chagrin of some or our regular customers. Hope to see you at the festival. I'll be there for the full two days this year, as there is no conflict with productions from my local theater group.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Production Is UP!

I've just finished the last TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau - i.e. The Gummit) brewpub report for the year 2010. I'm only a few days late, no biggie. This is a quarterly report that states (a) how much beer was produced in the brewery, and (b) how much was removed for "tax determination", i.e. we drank it. Eagerly, I tallied up the production numbers for the four quarters of 2010, and am delighted to declare that we have busted the 100 BBL mark. For 2009 we only cranked out 92.07 BBL. 2010 witnessed a staggering production of 104.64 BBL, an increase of 14%. Cask ale is on the rise. For all you British readers out there, these BBL figures employ our pathetic American barrel measure; the equivalent Imperial Barrel measure is 75 BBL, or 21,600 proper pints of elixir.

As you can see, there is much work ahead of us for 2011. Let's shoot for 200 BBL. Sounds outrageous? Well, it is, but who wants to give up now. See you at the pub.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011, Late at Night

I was going to say that it just doesn't end, but it does. The pub was closed today, albeit without second-hand complaints from a few, but it was nice to take a day off. Well, most of one. While the door is locked, there is still a lot of pottering about that takes place.

It's late night on the first of the year. I'm not prone to making "best-of's" or collective summaries just because a number increases by one, but was sitting at my favorite pub table near the bar, armed with notepads and the trusty computer and bits of whatnot, and got an inspiration to take a grainy iPhone photo of the dormant bar and environs. It had a nice peaceful look to it, resting up for another year of the social melee. There is year-end inventory to deal with right now, and my accountant has made a number of demands about cash-on-hand and mileage and so forth. I find it a bit petty, myself, but one must at least hazard a dance with the rules, or at a minimum flirt with them across the dance floor from the comfort of the punch bowl and the attractive platter housing the cheese and cracker selection. Also, our New Years Eve party, full of lively locals and winter revelers and replete with the bluesy strains from Kip (who played for 4.75 hours) drained a couple firkins of ale that needed tending to tonight. Fear not, the stillage is stocked and the pumps should be flowing tomorrow for the last day of the Winter Break.

After going a month without being able to brew due to lack of funds, a bit of money was scraped together for another pallet of grain. The Big Winter Stout is finally in the fermenter. Yep, I'm just starting to brew the winter beers now. Winter's not over; just getting going. The opening of the ski season on Thanksgiving weekend resulted in the increase of the amount of brass in the coffers to the point that it once again doesn't feel hopeless playing the publican in this wayward town up in the mountains. In the long dark teatime of November I couldn't help but think about just packing the pub up and moving it to a more populated domain. Now, just looking at this temporarily dormant little block building on First Street, with the beat-up furniture and the weathered Mac Court floor and those enticing England Worthside pumps on the bar.... I think I'll see what happens tomorrow. Tenacity. I have a little bit left, and if I want to appear borderline sane tomorrow I must finish up here with the stuff behind the scenes that doesn't end and get some sleep, because 2011 awaits. See you at the pub.