The FDA and e-cigs at Slate

A fun thing about being a public policy writer is when you put a lot of time into researching and writing a piece, only to have the federal agency you’re covering make a surprise announcement of significant changes right after your finish it. That happened to me on Friday morning, when I awoke to an unexpected announcement from the FDA that made the article I’d stayed up writing the night before obsolete.

That was inconvenient for me, but the news is great for users of e-cigarettes. The FDA’s new direction looks like it will avert the regulatory disaster that was on the way. My revised article for Slate explains exactly what’s going on.

Although I didn’t have space to go into at Slate, the announcement is also a reprieve for cigar smokers and producers.

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Friday beer blogging: The Variant

Variant

Living in Oregon, I don’t often get to try beers from Schlafly in St. Louis. Fortunately, though, they occasionally send new releases my way. The latest is limited to just 5,000 bottles that come out tomorrow and will likely sell out quickly. So despite this being a special release in a bottle that looks so nice that I almost didn’t want to open it, a friend and I got into it yesterday.

The Variant is the first release in Schlafly’s Ibex Rare series. This stout is blended from two components; part of it was aged in port barrels, and the other infused with cocoa nibs. The result is a very rich, very dark stout that comes in at 9.4% abv.

The blending approach taken here is definitely a good thing. The beer takes on a moderately lively carbonation and the dark chocolate flavors are well-integrated without dominating the beer. It’s dark and very roasty, with hints of coffee and a light savory note. The port influence is more mild, at least to my palate, coming across perhaps in dark fruit on the finish. It’s not overly sweet, keeping one coming back for more.

There’s a tendency with event beers like this to go big in many directions, and I sort of expected that here, but one of the great things about The Variant is that it avoids excess. It’s barrel aged but not too heavy, chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, and strikes a great balance between its sweet malts and bitter roasted notes. Even the 9.4% abv, while not exactly sessionable, is moderate enough to make sharing a 750 ml bottle between two people entirely reasonable. The beer succeeds in seeming special without being extreme or gimmicky. Or, as my friend summed up, “It’s one of the best stouts I’ve ever had.”

It’s really good, and if I lived in the distribution area I’d keep an eye out for another bottle. Definitely recommended, and a great start to what will hopefully be a series of beers that continues to be worth seeking out when they emerge.

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Beer cocktails in Melbourne for Good Beer Week

GoodBeerWeek

 

This May, I’ll be making my first trip to Australia to do a few events in collaboration with Good Beer Week, one of the world’s largest beer festivals held every year in Melbourne. The scope of the program is amazing and I’m very excited to be a part of it. Tickets for events went on sale this week; if you’re going to be in Melbourne, get them while they last!

Cocktails on Tap at Boilermaker House 5/13 —  A masterclass on beer cocktails made in six different styles, with tastings of course! $40

Beer Cocktails at Black Pearl 5/14 — Teaming up with the staff at one of Melbourne’s best cocktail bars for a collaborative menu and a night of guest bartending. No tickets required.

Portlandia at Le Bon Ton 5/15 — It’s a Portland takeover with cocktails from me and beers and brewers from Breakside, Commons, and Deschutes. One of Good Beer Week’s featured events, so likely to sell out fast. $89

Beer Cocktail Battle at Carwyn Cellars 5/21 — A beer cocktail throwdown, me vs the staff of Carwyn Cellars. The audience decides the winner! Limited to just 25 seats. $50

Once Good Beer Week is over, I’ll likely head down to Tasmania for vacation. Any travel tips for Melbourne, Tasmania, or other nearby areas is most welcome.

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Smoking bans at Slate, plus a new study from Japan

Longtime readers of my blog may remember the “heart miracle” studies of the previous decade. These studies purported to show that implementing smoking bans would bring about drastic and immediate reductions in the rate of heart attacks. I and several other writers expressed doubt for a variety of reasons, noting the small sample sizes and methodological oddities that seemed to point to a pre-determined conclusion. At the time, however, there weren’t many large scale studies being done that could settle the question.

Those large scale studies now exist, and as I write today at Slate, the evidence for the heart miracle hypothesis isn’t holding up:

[…] now that the evidence has had time to accumulate, it’s also become clear that the extravagant promises made by anti-smoking groups—that implementing bans would bring about extraordinary improvements in cardiac health—never materialized. Newer, better studies with much larger sample sizes have found little to no correlation between smoking bans and short-term incidence of heart attacks, and certainly nothing remotely close to the 60 percent reduction that was claimed in Helena. The updated science debunks the alarmist fantasies that were used to sell smoking bans to the public, allowing for a more sober analysis suggesting that current restrictions on smoking are extreme from a risk-reduction standpoint.

It’s a rather long piece and it covers a lot of ground, from the original heart miracle in Helena, Montana to the pervasive outdoor smoking bans that stigmatize smokers today. Read the whole thing.

During the editing of the article I also came across yet another new study from Japan. This one compares data from Hyogo Prefecture, one of the first regions in Japan to impose a smoking ban, to the control population of Gifu Prefecture. The time period is fairly long (one year before the ban, two years after) and the populations are large (5.58 million residents in Hyogo, 2.07 million in Gifu). One limitation of the study is that the Hyogo ban isn’t 100% comprehensive; businesses such as bars can allow smoking and some other businesses can have separate smoking rooms. Nonetheless, given the pervasiveness of smoking in Japan, even a partial ban would be expected to significantly reduce non-smokers’s exposure to secondhand smoke.

So what were the results? No trend in the number of acute coronary syndrome admissions appeared in either prefecture. “For the primary endpoint of this study, we did not observe a significant change from before to after the implementation of the partial smoking ban.”

The study did identify a small downward trend in Kobe City, which the authors attempt to spin as evidence that the smoking was in fact having the desired effect:

The reason why only Kobe City showed a significant decrease in the number of ACS admissions irrespective of subgroups is unclear. One possible reason is that the Hyogo Prefectural Capital Office is located in Kobe City, and social understanding of smoking legislation might have been accepted more widely. Indeed, questionnaires by Hyogo Prefectural Government Health & Welfare Department, distributed in the bars and restaurants larger than 100m2 in 2015, showed that the adherence rate to the smoking ban legislation was 97% in Kobe City and 88% in other Hyogo districts included in the present study. Therefore, compared with the other districts in Hyogo, the adherence rate to the smoking ban legislation was higher in Kobe City.

OK, maybe, but this seems like a stretch. One should always be skeptical of post-hoc attempts to explain why the effect one was looking for only appears in a certain subset of the data. It’s easy to come up with just-so stories that fit the expected narrative. There are myriad other factors that could be causing the decline, and chalking it up to slightly better adherence to an already partial smoking ban strikes me as a very unlikely (and very convenient!) candidate.

In any case, the bulk of high-quality research published in recent years weighs heavily against the idea that smoking bans will bring about miraculous health benefits. So as I argue in my Slate piece, let’s move on to a post-miraculous policy and make sensible accommodation for smokers’ preferences.

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A super bowl of punch

abbey street punch
Photo by David L. Reamer

I contributed the “Cocktail of the Week” feature for Distiller this week. There being some sort of big football game today, they asked me to write up something involved beer. I went with one of the recipes featured in my book, Erick Castro’s Abbey Street Punch from Polite Provisions in San Diego, California. This is a great one for winter parties, combining Irish whiskey, Jamaican rum, allspice dram, and stout. Click over for the recipe and some historical notes on using ale in punch.

(For more recipes like these, buy Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer.)

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Blog in Review 2016

As has been typical for the past few years, I did very little blogging here and much more writing elsewhere, making the “blog in review” aspect of this annual look back increasingly irrelevant. In 2016 most of my published writing went to Reason, usually with some association to the drink world. I covered how whisky labeling regulations in the European Union make truthful Scotch labels illegal, how big craft breweries cash in on public subsidies to fund their expansions, how Mexican liquor regulations threatened traditional mezcal producers, how the FDA will make life much worse for cigar smokers, and how the decision in Citizens United protects one mezcal brand’s right to say “Donald eres un pendejo.”

Elsewhere I wrote about where to drink in Reykjavik for Eater, the rise of rice whiskey in the United States for Distiller, and for Mixology I covered the wonderfully malty ales of Alaska and the improbable rise of aquavit in the United States. I also contributed quite a few spirits reviews to Distiller, which enjoyed a great year of growth.

Although I redesigned this website in 2016, I didn’t write a lot of new content for the blog. Most of what’s new is travel related with coverage of a few events: A guide to some of my favorite spots in Berlin, a tour of craft distilleries in Reykjavik, tasting notes from the Collaboration Brew Fest in Colorado, and a short beer tour of Denver. On the cocktail side of things I contributed a couple rosé wine cocktails to a project by Underwood.

I’d hoped to have another book completed this year, but it’s not quite finished yet. Nor does it have a publisher, though it is coming along. I’ve also contributed a few entries to the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, edited by David Wondrich.

Moving on to the annual look at site stats, this year saw a huge drop in traffic, down from a record of just over 200,000 visits last year to 52,878 this year. Given that most of last year’s traffic was due to freakishly high numbers of visitors to the stapler post, that’s not too surprising. That was still the most popular post of the year, but by not nearly as large a margin.

Top posts of 2016
1. The stapler’s secret
2. Spirit of Sri Lanka: Coconut arrack
3. My coffee smells like tuna fish
4. MxMo Retro Redemption: Harvey Weissbanger
5. Mixing with the Mad Dog
6. How grilling meat really is like smoking a cigar
7. How to make coffee bitters
8. The mystery of the five-inch bull balls
9. Everybody loves an Irish Car Bomb
10. A tour of Reykjavik’s craft distilleries

Search traffic is too low to be of much interest anymore, though this site has apparently become one of the top results for information on Sri Lankan arrack. This is reflected in the geographic stats.

Top visitor countries of 2016
1. United States
2. United Kindgom
3. Canada
4. Sri Lanka
5. Australia
6. Germany
7. India
8. France
9. Netherlands
10. Philippines

More people visited my site from Colombo, Sri Lanka than from Portland, Oregon this year, which is not something I would have guessed!

Top visitor cities of 2016
1. New York
2. London
3. Colombo
4. Portland
5. Chicago
6. Los Angeles
7. San Francisco
8. Washington
9. Seattle
10. Houston

I don’t anticipate many changes to my frequency of posting here in 2017, but will update with links to new articles, podcasts, and maybe even a new book or two.

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End of year catching up: Beer and spirits

My work desk looks a little different than most people’s. There’s the usual clutter — pens, papers, a spare hard drive, a scanner — but also a whole lot of liquor. That’s not to fuel the writing process. It usually sits untouched, waiting for me to get around to reviewing it. Most of these reviews end up on Distiller, an app/website I’ve been contributing to for the past year. But others, for whatever reason, I don’t always have a place for, and they tend to accumulate. The ones worth writing about I try to round up every once in a while.

Since it’s the end of the year, here are beers and spirits that have been on my to-cover list. Some of these were samples from the producers or their PR reps, while others I picked up on my own. And these are only the ones that stood out for some reason; the others get given away or enjoyed without note.

Alaskan Perseverance

Alaskan Brewing Heritage Coffee Brown Ale and Perseverance — One of the highlights of the year for me was visiting Alaska for the first time. My tour included 18 breweries ranging from Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula. (You can read about that trip in the piece I wrote for Mixology.) Since I was on the northern leg of the trip, I didn’t make it to the most well known brewery in the state, Alaskan Brewing in Juneau.

Luckily they sent me a few beers to try back home in Portland. First up is their Heritage Coffee Brown, replacing their seasonal pumpkin ale this year. This brown ale was made not only with cold-brewed Brazilian coffee, but also with pale malts roasted along with coffee beans, which is a process I haven’t seen attempted before. Malt-driven beers were what I loved most about Alaskan brewing, and this fits that mold: not too dark, but with a nice bitter roastiness and an upfront coffee note. Available in six packs, it’s a very solid winter beer.

The second beer was Perseverance, their Russian Imperial Stout made in celebration of the brewery’s 30th anniversary. This stout is accented by Alaskan birch syrup, wildflower honey, and a touch of alder smoke. Very rich and not at all bitter, I would have liked a little more smoke on this one, especially given Alaskan’s history with smoked porter (one of my consistent favorites). Nonetheless, it’s worth picking up if you find a bottle, especially if you like beers on the darker, sweeter side.

pFriem Pumpkin Bier — Speaking of pumpkin beers, this is the year that the backlash to the style seemed to reach its peak. I found pFriem’s rendition on the shelf and figured that if anyone could redeem the style, it was this Hood River brewer. Made with roasted pumpkin, pumpkin puree, seasonally appropriate spices, and Belgian yeasts, this was a fantastic seasonal offering. If you’re around Oregon you might still find this on shelves, and I highly recommend picking it up if you do.

Stark Spirits Sunshine Orange Brandy — Stark Spirits from Pasadena, California caught my eye because of their aquavit, but they also sent me a sample of this orange brandy, which I foolishly left unopened on my desk for a few months. When I finally cracked it open, I was blown away by the aroma of fresh orange peel. This is an eau-de-vie of California oranges, made of their peels and juice, and bottled at 100 proof without any added sugar. It’s everything you like about a good triple sec, but without the sweetness. It’s a really cool spirit, and I bet it has great potential in cocktails.

Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye — I wish I’d had an opportunity to review this rye before now, because it’s fantastic. Entered into barrel at 103 proof, my bottle ended up at 111.8 after maturation. (The bottles come from single barrels, and this year’s batches came in a little higher than last year’s release). It sips really well for its high proof, with notes of honey, pecan, and a touch of orange peel. Listing around $75, it would make a great last minute gift for an American whiskey lover if you can find a bottle.

Lagavulin 8 (200th Anniversary Edition) — I’ve described the standard Lagavulin 16 as one of my desert island whiskies, the kind of dram I can turn to again and again and always be happy (never mind the sensibility of drinking Islay Scotch on a tropical island). For the distillery’s 200th anniversary, Lagavulin released an affordable 8 year version (about $60) and an unaffordable 25 year version (about $1,000). You can guess which one they sent me a bottle of. As one would expect, the younger eight year is paler in color and lighter in oak and vanilla than the standard 16. This allows the brine and peat to stand out even more, without hitting you over the head with smoke. If you like peaty, maritime style Scotches, this one’s worth picking up while it lasts.

Arvesølvet Juleakevitt — I’m going to be annoying and include one spirit that you’re unlikely to see in the United States anytime soon. This Norwegian aquavit was part of my bounty from the Oslo duty free shop. A holiday aquavit with strong spice character, the 2015 edition that I picked up is aged in oloroso sherry and port casks for at least three years. For my friends who’ve never had the opportunity to try an aquavit like this, it’s been a game changer. If you’re passing through Norway, try to pick up a couple bottles (one for me, one for yourself).

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End of year catching up: Books

The first of potentially several end of year posts catching up on things I’ve meant to write about. Today, recommendations for non-fiction and fiction books I’ve had piling up over the course of 2016.

almostnearly

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth — For someone who loves aquavit as much as I do, it was getting to be embarrassing that I’d never set foot in a Nordic country. This year I got to cross two off my list with visits to Iceland and Norway. My guide going in was this book by an English journalist living in Denmark. Booth is appreciative of the culture while engaging in a bit of friendly myth-busting of Scandinavian paradise. (Also recommended for: Anyone overly enchanted by Bernie Sanders, whose politics are significantly less free market than successful Nordic models.)

Unseen City by Nathanael Johnson — Nathanael Johnson’s work at Grist is consistently some of the best food and environmental writing I follow, willing to question easy orthodoxies. In this lighter book, he explores the urban wildlife of his neighborhood with his young daughter in San Francisco. Reading it had me paying attention to mundane nature in new ways, taking note of local ginkgo trees and pigeons’ feet for the first time.

Bourgeois Equality by Deirdre McCloskey — I’m admittedly only half-way through this one, but given the strength of the previous two entries in her Bourgeois trilogy, this one is self-recommending. And given ongoing turns against liberalism around the world, McCloskey’s defense of bourgeois rhetoric and values is more essential than ever.

Hall of Small Mammals by Thomas Pierce — With the opening story in which a reality TV star surreptitiously brings a revived dwarf woolly mammoth home for his Christian mother to hide from authorities, Pierce shows his talent for thrusting ordinary people into imaginatively weird situations. In another engaging story, a man struggles to come to terms with his girlfriend’s confession that she is married to another… but only in her unusually detailed dreams. The stories remain remarkably humane while following through on their odd premises.

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes — It’s a controversial German-authored comic novel about Hitler coming back to life in contemporary Germany. Assumed to be an actor, the revived Hitler becomes a hit on national TV, misunderstanding the world and being misunderstood in turn. The story literally asks: If Hitler came back today, would we recognize him? Vermes tackles the question with humor — perhaps too much so, never fully undermining Hitler as protoganist, despite occasional glimpses of his cruel nature. With our own recent election of a white nationalist backed TV star as president, the satire cuts closer to home than when first published.

Honorable mentions: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba had been on my to-read list for too long, and I learned a lot about both the rum company and Cuban history from reading it. Foolproof was a fascinating book on the challenges of managing risk in a complex, interconnected world. I really enjoyed my non-comics introduction to China Mieville’s writing via The City and the City, a detective novel forced into uniquely challenging conditions given its creative setting(s). Lanark was dense and deeply surreal; I think it was ultimately worth the read, though I’m not sure I’d have gotten through it absent long hours spent on planes.

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New podcast: Sipping Soylent on The Four Top

A few weeks ago Katherine Cole invited me to be a panelist on her new food and beverage podcast The Four Top, which is released every two weeks through Oregon Public Broadcasting. On this episode I join prolific beer writers Jeff Alworth and Lucy Burningham to discuss Soylent, issues in beer production, and the valuation of Yeti coolers. We also taste (and I mispronounce) Anchorage Brewing’s Anadromous sour ale aged in pinot noir barrels, and I recommend agricultural economist Jayson Lusk’s recent book Unnaturally Delicious. Listen and subscribe to new episodes here.

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Mezcal, Citizens United, and Donald Trump

My latest article for Reason combines three of my favorite things: mezcal, free speech, and insulting Donald Trump. “Donald eres un pendejo,” says a popular campaign from Ilegal Mezcal:

Messaging like Ilegal’s has struck a chord, but it’s also in tension with the idea, popular on the political left, that corporations should not engage in political speech. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, it has become common for liberals to assert that corporations don’t have free speech rights, that money is not speech, and that corporate expenditures intended to influence politics can be restricted unproblematically. A question worth asking then is: Would a hypothetical President Trump have constitutional authority to forbid mezcal companies from calling him a pendejo?

Nothing that Ilegal has done so far would have violated election laws as they stood before Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. At the time of the decision, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act applied only to broadcast, cable, and satellite communications that explicitly mentioned a candidate by name. But if that decision had gone differently, it’s also easy to imagine election laws being extended in ways that would have a chilling effect on advocacy.

Read the whole thing here.

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Alaska: Malt Mecca

IMG_20160519_105525

Back in May, I joined a few other drink writers for a tour of Alaskan breweries and distilleries. I wrote up the results of that trip for Mixology:

Sitting outside the brewpub at Kassik’s in Nikiski, Alaska, alongside a group of drink writers making our way through a couple tasting trays of beer, our experience was initially the kind one might enjoy at any number of breweries across the United States. There were solid renditions of classic styles with cheeky names, like their Morning Wood English IPA. Head brewer Frank Kassik stood by, genial but not particularly talkative, and I thought we’d soon be moving on to our next brewery stop. But it turned out that those ten beers were just the warm up. Soon his wife, Debara, appeared bearing the big guns: Bomber bottles of Statny Statny stout brewed with licorice and molasses, Big Nutz imperial brown ale, smoked Russian imperial stout aged in oak barrels, and Buffalo Head barleywine.

Suddenly this tasting was getting a lot more interesting, shifting into the darker, richer, maltier ales that I’d anticipated most on this trip north. As the outdoor chill set in and the abv of the beers got higher, the only thing that could have made this tasting more uniquely Alaskan would have been encountering a moose —­­ which we did, about five minutes drive from the brewery.

Read the whole thing here.

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A Coasean solution to Vanderbilt’s Confederate problem

When I was an undergrad at Vanderbilt University (2000-2004), one of the most contentious topics on campus was the status of the Confederate Memorial Hall dormitory. Constructed with a donation from the United Daughters of the Confederacy given in 1933, the name became viewed as out of place on an increasingly diverse campus, and the administration sought to change it. In 2005 an appeals court ruled that it could not do so without compensating the UDC, resulting in a stalemate that lasted until this week:

Vanderbilt University has settled a long-running lawsuit so it can rename Confederate Memorial Hall. The school will pay $1.2 million to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which is considered present day value of the original $50,000 donation more than 80 years ago.

It took a long time, but this is roughly the outcome I suggested in a 2005 blog post about the dorm controversy, offering compensation to change the name, and the Coase theorem:

As long as this dorm dispute was tied up in the court system, the name was stuck as is. Bargaining has begun now that the appeals court has determined that the right to name the dorm belongs to the UDC. The transaction costs are not insignificant, but if there are enough Vanderbilt alumni who care about this aspect of the university’s image, the name will change. […]

The existence of a well defined property right forces each side to take the other’s interests into account: the UDC has to ask itself if keeping the name “Confederate Memorial Hall” on an increasingly progressive campus is worth the opportunity cost of whatever else it could do with a sizeable amount of money while the university community considers whether it’s worth compensating the group to change the name.

That’s exactly what happened. Until now, the university’s position has been that it would spend funds “for other purposes rather than enrich an organization whose values it does not share.” But now anonymous donors have put up enough money to settle the lawsuit with the UDC and permanently remove the name from campus.

It’s an imperfect solution — I can think of a lot of groups I’d rather see with an unexpected $1.2 million before the United Daughters of the Confederacy — but it’s good to see the dorm issue finally peacefully resolved. And in the bargain, Vanderbilt professors get a new case study to use when teaching students about the Coase theorem.

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BrewDog is no underdog

Photo of Columbus, Ohio by Flickr user Joey Lax-Salinas.
Photo of Columbus, Ohio by Flickr user Joey Lax-Salinas.

My inbox this morning included a press release from the Scottish brewery BrewDog about their forthcoming operation in Columbus, Ohio, which will be funded in part by selling shares in the brewery via their “Equity for Punks” program. “$50M UNDERDOG: BREWDOG SET TO BLOW UP SMALL BUSINESS FINANCE IN AMERICA WITH THE LAUNCH OF EQUITY FOR PUNKS USA” reads the headline. Founder James Watt boasts in the release:

“Equity for Punks is a completely new business model in the States. It is a revolution in small business finance. It’s an opportunity to enlist the people of the nation that changed the beer landscape forever, and invite them to join our existing 46,000-strong global investor community and help us change the face of small business finance in the US as we share our passion for great craft beer. Few companies have been so bold as to turn their backs on traditional financial institutions in favor of a brave new world of community-driven business. We’ve pioneered the Equity Punk model in the UK, and now we’re bringing our unconventional approach to alternative business stateside.”

It’s an interesting business model and BrewDog has successfully used it to generate a lot of press. But why Columbus, Ohio? As with many of these craft beer expansion deals, I suspected that there were subsidies involved that the brewery omits from its press materials. Sure enough, Columbus Business First reported on their land deal back in 2015:

The project received state backing this year in the form of an eight-year, 60 percent income tax break, valued at $659,000, plus the support of Canal Winchester through a 15-year, 100 percent abatement estimated at $182,000 annually or $2.73 million over the 15-year term, according to info provided by the city. It also will waive some building, water and sewage capacity fees that tally up to about $320,000 in saved costs.

The total incentive package from the city is estimated at $3.45 million.

As I noted in my recent Reason article about the crony capitalists of craft beer, this is exactly what Watt advises in his book on business:

As well as the obvious places, there are several other ways to get more cash, legally of course. There are very often loans, soft loans, grants, job-creation assistance, tax relief and a myriad of other types of funding available from various public bodies, business development agencies, local authorities and government organizations. This type of funding is often very tough to get and intrinsically linked to job creation but given its potential to supercharge your growth it is definitely worth the effort. Over the years we have to become experts in maximizing the amount of grant support we could get into our business. Indeed, BrewDog has only been able to grow at the speed we have due to the amazing support we have received in the form of grant funding.

This doesn’t sound very punk, and venue-shopping to avoid paying local taxes doesn’t sound very community-driven either. And although BrewDog is hardly alone in seeking these sorts of subsidies — Stone, Deschutes, New Belgium, and Sierra Nevada have all played the game as well, often receiving significantly more in the bargain — they are particularly brazen about doing so while maintaining a public image of brash independence.

So don’t be fooled by the headlines. If you want to support scrappy, independent brewers making a go of it without millions of dollars in public subsidies, there are plenty of other options worthy of your business.

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Tasting through Schlafly Beer’s Hop Trial SMaSH Pack

Schlafly Beer from St. Louis recently sent me an interesting package of new beers for review, their Hop Trial SMaSH pack. “SMaSH” stands for “single malt and single hop,” with each beer in the series made from a nearly identical recipe, with the hop as the changing variable. The package included four golden ales brewed with two-row malted barley, each hopped to 45 IBU.

SMaSH

From the press release:

The Hop Trial program allows Schlafly to test out hops that will soon be introduced to market, offering feedback to the hop farmers on flavor and aromatic profiles, as well as viability in finished products. Schlafly begins the process by combining a base malt and single hop to create a simple SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beer, which brings out the individual qualities of each ingredient, making the profile of the featured hop variety the true focus. Schlafly’s Quality Assurance team tests the beer before it’s released at the brewpubs to consumers, whose feedback is crucial (and welcome) in order to determine the future potential of pursuing a particular hop to use in the brewery’s beers.

Brewers experiment with new hops all the time, but this was a unique opportunity to try four new hops in isolation, picking out the qualities (good and bad) that they can bring to a beer. The Schlafly pack included Eureka! from the United States, Hallertau Blanc from Germany, Enigma from Australia, and Bramling Cross from the UK. Since this held the promise of being a fun tasting, I assembled a couple groups of beer-loving friends to try them out and take notes. The panels included myself, sake sommelier Paul Willenberg, beer enthusiast and soccer teammate William Chasse, and our beer and wine steward at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, Kyle Sanders.

Some tasting notes gathered from our sessions:

Hallertau Blanc (Germany) — A very floral aroma with pleasant notes of honey and lemon peel. Not much pine on the palate and only mildly bitter. Refreshing and mostly aromatic. “Gorgeous. Very German.” One taster noted a “wooly” character reminiscent of Chenin blanc wine.

Bramling Cross (UK) — Less aromatic. Dank and earthy with a mild blue cheese funk. Cardboard, cellar. A hint of roasted arbol spice and grapefruit pith. Gently bitter, especially on the finish.

Enigma (Australia) — Tropical, pineapple or passion fruit aroma. Slightly green and herbal. The sweetest hop on the palate, bringing tiki cocktails to mind. Not at all bitter; very fun and enjoyable up front, but a little unpleasantly murky on the finish.

Eureka! (USA) — Sweet pine, Doug fir bud, and citrus on the aroma, but a little funky in ways some tasters found off-putting (note of “sewer water”). Possessed a hard-to-place savory flavor, reminding one taster of the sauce on Totino’s pizza. Rich on the palate and quite bitter; very West Coast IPA in style.

If we were ranking these in order, the German Hallertau Blanc was the nearly unanimous favorite, with the American Eureka! the nearly unanimous least favorite. Enigma placed a solid second for most of us, though it was a bit sweet to stand as a solo hop beer. Most of us found the Bramling Cross simply inoffensive and unremarkable on its own, but one taster ranked it dead last.

Of course, most of these hops won’t be used primarily in single-hopped beers, so this tasting was mostly an academic exercise. The experimental hops will likely be used as accents along with other, more typical hops. Of the four we tasted, Hallertau Blanc was the standout, and I’d be eager to try more beers that feature it prominently. It was also the only beer of the pack that many of us said we would happily buy on its own. The aptly named Enigma was also very interesting, and while it may not carry a beer by itself, it could provide intriguing tropical notes to summer beers. The Bramling Cross and Eureka! I’d probably most like to see used in supporting roles to other hops.

Schlafly’s Hop Trial pack was released to the public earlier this month. While it wouldn’t top my list to pick up for casual enjoyment, getting to try the various hop varieties side by side makes for a very interesting tasting and highlights the extent to which selecting the right hops can make a massive difference in the final quality of a beer.

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A pair of Underwood Rosé cocktails

Drink PinkEarlier this year, my friend David L. Reamer (photographer of my book Cocktails on Tap) recruited me for a collaboration with Union Wine. The project: Create a collection of cocktails with Union Wine’s popular Underwood Rosé to be published by Scout Books. It’s finally come together with illustrations by The Ellaphant in the Room, and it looks great. My fellow Portland bartenders Mindy Kucan (Hale Pele), Lauren Scott (Angel Face), Douglas Derrick (Ava Gene’s), and Ansel Vickery (Free House), along with Maitland Finley from Union Wine, all contributed recipes.

Pink Peruvian
Photo by David L. Reamer.

My first contribution (above) is the Pink Peruvian, which was an opportunity to mix with Encanto Pisco’s new Barkeep’s Whimsy, a pisco created by a team of bartenders on a visit to Encanto’s distillery in Peru. The grape blend essentially inverts their popular Grand & Noble pisco, leading with Torentel grapes backed by Quebranta, Moscatel, Mollar and Italia. It’s beautifully floral and aromatic, perfect for light and complex summer cocktails.

2 oz Encanto Pisco Barkeep’s Whimsy
1 oz Underwood Rosé
1/2 oz Combier Pamplemousse Rose (grapefruit liqueur)
lemon peel, for garnish

Stir with ice and serve in a cocktail glass, expressing the lemon peel over the drink.

My second contribution is the Rosé City Sour, a fairly straightforward gin sour with a rose wine syrup. A dash of Chartreuse provides a little herbal complexity.

2 oz London dry gin
1 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz rosé syrup
1/2 teaspoon green Chartreuse
edible flower, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnishing with the flower.

For the syrup:

1 cup Underwood Rosé
1 cup white sugar

Combine in a pot over medium-low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Bottle and refrigerate.

Look for the Drink Pink booklet to appear around Portland this summer.

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Assorted links

For my first contribution to the Distiller weblog, I take a look at the sudden arrival of rice whiskeys on the American market, including Kikori from Japan and Vinn from right here in Portland, Oregon.

I was also a guest on Greg Pulscher’s “Free to Brew” podcast out of North Carolina, discussing corporate welfare for craft brewers. (See my recent Reason article on the topic.) On that note, we can unfortunately add Ballast Point to the list of West Coast breweries getting public subsidies to fund their East Coast expansion.

And speaking of Reason, Baylen Linnekin quotes me in his column today about one of the USA’s most ridiculous alcohol laws, Utah’s “Zion Curtain.”

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