randy_byers: (beer)
In my post about Elysian Brewing being sold to Anneuser-Bush InBev I mentioned the rumor that head brewer Dick Cantwell had opposed the deal. "If true," I wrote, "it will be interesting to see what Dick does now." Well, Dick has announced his resignation from the Elysian. I find his statement a little confusing, but it seems to boil down to the fact that he couldn't consider himself a craft brewer if he worked for AB/InBev.

This news does actually make me less interested in the Elysian now, although on the other hand I'll be curious to see if Dick's departure changes their approach to brewing at all. They can continue to make his old recipes, but will they continue to experiment? Who will try to fill his shoes?

In any event, I hope he ends up brewing somewhere else, and it's hard to imagine that he won't. I believe he's around the same age as me.
randy_byers: (beer)
The Big Time Brewery & Alehouse opened its doors in 1988. I noticed. I had moved to Seattle four years earlier in part for the "beer, beans [coffee], and bud," but it was still early enough in the microbrewery revolution that new breweries in my vicinity were something I noticed. The Big Time was in fact the first brewpub in my experience, so it was even more noticeable than usual. Still, I don't remember that I became a regular at first, and maybe even not for a while after I started working full-time in Schmitz Hall, just a block away from the Big Time, in 1989. My well-cultivated (meaning possibly reformulated) memory would say that I became a regular in 1991, in the aftermath of the breakup of a long distance romance with a German girl, when I transferred my affections to a beautiful barmaid at the Big Time.

My affections went unrequited, but I spent a lot of time in the brewpub anyway. Thus I got to know much of the bar staff, and eventually largely through them and some of the other regulars I got to know the Big Time's second brewmaster, Dick Cantwell, who had started his career at Seattle's *other* brewpub in those days, Pike Place Brewing. I didn't get to know Dick all that well at the Big Time, but in 1996 he and two partners started up a new brewpub called the Elysian. They hired the beautiful barmaid, after whom I sadly still pined, and so I transferred my brewery allegiance to the Elysian, even though it was a greater distance from my home and work. There I got to know Dick a lot better -- or at least I talked to him a lot more -- and he was the first person who told me about the wonders of Belgium, where he had started leading tours for rich Americans looking for an exotic beer adventure. At the Big Time Dick had introduced a Belgian tripel recipe that he called Trombipulator ("it will funk you up"), and at the Elysian he brewed a tripel called Bête Blanche and a saison that I suggested Dick call Saison d'Infer, after Rimbaud. Alas, although he'd called his Dublin stout at the Big Time the Buck Mulligan, he wasn't interested in my literary tip. Still, he was the first to introduce me to the splendors of Belgian beer.

1998-02 Matt and Becky at AP's birthday
Friends of a friend outside the Elysian in February 1998

Once again I got to know the bar staff very well -- to the extent that I more than once stayed for after hours parties that one time memorably included smoking pot with the punk kitchen staff up in the attic space above the brewing kettles, where sacks of malt were stored. That period was probably as close as I got to being a true beer geek, with a ringside window on the cutting edge of the American brewing world. Dick's advocacy of Belgian brewing was mind- and palate-expanding, and I also fondly remember a night at the bar when a guy introduced himself to me as an actual Belgian and proceeded to give me the goods on open fermentation in the homeland. It seemed to me at the time that the Elysian was at the forefront of the American brewing revolution, as Dick also experimented with an Aventinus-style bock (tasted like bananas and bubblegum) and a weak sour beer style called Berlinerweisse that they flavored with homemade woodruff syrup. I turned up my nose at the Berlinerweisse at the time, but twenty years later it's a style I love, at least sans woodruff. Dick was ahead of his time.

Twenty years later. Yeah, a lot has changed in those twenty years. I eventually gave up my infatuation with the beautiful barmaid, although we are still good friends. The Elysian grew and expanded, first with a somewhat more upscale brewpub called Tangletown, then with a cavernous brewpub down by the sports stadiums that was called Elysian Fields, and more recently with a production brewery in Georgetown aimed at increasing their bottling operation. Over this time they built themselves up into the second largest brewery in Seattle. I gradually found myself going to the Elysian less and less, for a variety of reasons. The American brewing scene continued to evolve, and other breweries became more interesting. The Elysian followed the woodruff syrup with other strange flavors that weren't as interesting to me as sour styles and saisons and wood-aged beer. (Although Dick was the first person to tell me about barrel-aging, the Elysian has never gotten into it to the extent that other brewers have.) The Elysian still brews sours and saisons too, and I still hit the old brewpub whenever I'm in the area to see what special things are on tap, but they've long since stopped being my favorite brewery.

As far as Seattle goes, the Big Time is my regular again, even if that's largely because it's just a block from where I work. These days the great beers are coming from all over, and the number of breweries has grown so astronomically that I can't keep up with everything that's going on. To say that I don't always notice when a new brewery hits the scene is an understatement. Last year I realized that you could do a pubcrawl from Fremont to Ballard that would hit a different brewery every half a mile. It's a different world than it was in 1988 or even 1996.

All this by way of preface to the news last week that the Elysian had been acquired by the multinational conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, and my reason for going into all this detail is to establish that I have had a pretty personal relationship with the Elysian. It was an important stop in the development of my knowledge and taste for beer. What has struck me in the aftermath of the deal is how disconnected I feel from all the rage being expressed at the Elysian selling out. Part of it is that we just went through this with 10 Barrel, not to mention Goose Island, which has never been a favorite of mine but which I observed didn't decrease in quality after it was acquired.

From my perspective the reason Anheuser-Busch InBev is acquiring these breweries is that they are losing market share with their current products and are looking to get a piece of a growing market segment. It represents a victory of the "craft brewing" movement, if only in the sense that more people want to drink something other than the pilseners that dominated the American market in the middle of the 20th Century. Now, I can sympathize if the Elysian is your favorite brewery and you really, really don't want to put a penny in a multinational conglomerate's pockets, but I don't sympathize at all with the general sense of betrayal people are expressing at the Elysian's decision to cash their business in. The nerd rage expresses a sense of entitlement that fans commonly feel for the objects of their affection, and it isn't pretty.

Most maddening of all is the argument that somehow Anheuser-Busch InBev is going to crush "craft brewing" by buying these breweries and then forcing their taps into every pub and tavern in the country. That cow left the barn long ago. Big bad ABIB can't force taps into the Big Time or Fremont Brewing or the Cascade Taproom or Upright or anywhere else that just serves the beer they make themselves. We really do live in a Golden Age of brewing, with well over two thousand breweries in the US alone. Even if a bunch of those are bought up or die off, we're still talking about undreamed of diversity compared to the days of my ill-spent youth. Even if the Elysian turns into something I shun completely, it's hard to feel much sense of loss. There's plenty else to occupy my palate.

I did read an article this week that claimed that Dick Cantwell opposed the deal, while the other two partners wanted it. If true, it will be interesting to see what Dick does now. If Anheuser-Busch InBev lets him continue to experiment and he decides to stick around, I don't see why I wouldn't continue to stop by now and again to see what strange brew he's come up with lately.

Update: The Elysian just posted an announcement of the deal on Facebook. Amongst the points made: "Loser, with the tagline Corporate Beer Still Sucks, will continue to be brewed and packaged. Yes, we still think corporate beer still sucks. Yes, we get the joke." This is one of the things people have been very sarcastic about, apparently forgetting that when Kurt Cobain wore the T-shirt saying "Corporate magazines still suck," it was on the cover of Rolling Stone, i.e., in the belly of the beast.


Mar. 1st, 2014 02:38 pm
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Over the past few years I've sort of lost interest in Potlatch -- the small, literary science fiction convention founded to, amongst other things, support Clarion West. For that matter, even at times when I was more interested I only went to one of them in California. (Potlatch has traditionally alternated years between Seattle and the Bay Area, with two or three stops in Oregon as well. I went to the one in Eugene.) In recent years it has seemed that the convention was on its last legs, but so far someone has always stepped up at the last moment to keep it going. This year, for the 23rd in the series, it was Tom Becker and a band of hearty, hard-bitten Bay Area veterans. I wasn't going to go, but then Spike told me that the Fishlifters would be there. Well, shit. I couldn't pass up a chance to see the Fishlifters! So a week ago Thursday I flew to San Jose, and I'm so glad I did. In fact, this was as much fun as I've had at a Potlatch since I can't remember when.

Hither and not far from yon )
randy_byers: (beer)
Airways Third Anniversary
Scott, carl, Ulrika, and Hal react variously to the camera

On Saturday I drove down to the south end of Lake Washington to visit friends and drink beer. The occasion was Airways Brewing Company's Third Anniversary, which they celebrated with some fine special brews, including a Belgian Strong Dark Ale and (on the opposite end of the ABV scale) a Berliner Weisse. I picked up Scott and carl in Renton and drove to the brewery in an office park in Kent, where we were joined by Ulrika and Hal. It was fairly crowded, but we hung out long enough to eventually get a table, which we shared with another couple from Kent, one of whom was Swedish. Small damned world, as he and Ulrika proceeded to speak Svensk. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we sat out in it. Good thing, too, because if everyone had had to pack into the building, it would have been a tight fit or worse.

Eventually we migrated to Imperial Garden Seafood, where a lovely Chinese meal was consumed and further gossip and smoffing ensued. (Scott: "I'm not here for the fan politics; I'm here for the party.") We were the only gweilos in the place for a bit, not that there were ever many people in the restaurant at any given point. It seems there's a bit of a Chinatown in Kent. Who knew? I even spotted a branch of Cathay Bank.

After that we parted ways with Hal and Ulrika and headed to the Dog and Pony Alehouse in Renton. Thus we were basically reconstructing the pub crawl we all did with [livejournal.com profile] johncoxon and [livejournal.com profile] strangedave when they were here on their respective TAFF and DUFF trips in 2010 2011. The Dog and Pony was out of the Creepy Monkey that carl was hoping I'd get to try, so I settled for a Cascade Kriek. Not much of a sacrifice, as far as I was concerned. Conversation got onto 20th century avant garde music and atonality, for some odd reason.

Well, it was a lovely day, all in all. Still haven't made it to the Airways Bistro, which was shut down for the day so that all the staff could work the anniversary bash. Guess I'll just have to go back. At the very least we all agreed that we should reconvene for the Fourth Anniversary next year.
randy_byers: (beer)
Seattle Beer Week concluded on Sunday, and it is because of Seattle Beer Week that carl, Scott, and I had another beer session on Saturday, just two weeks after the previous one. Specifically, one of the events during Seattle Beer Week was a workshop on blending sour beer held at the Stumbling Monk by brewers from New Belgium Brewing. Scott and carl went to that, and they wanted to share the growlers of blended beer that they brought home from the workshop. As it happened, Brouwer's Cafe's Sour Fest was on Thursday of Seattle Beer Week, so we agreed that we'd start there to see what was left. The beer menu below doesn't include what we drank at Brouwer's. I had Lompoc's Sour Willy and something from Boneyard (an Oregon brewery that I'd never heard of), neither of which was very memorable.

I'll confess that while I could taste a minor difference between Scott's and carl's blends, I couldn't describe it. carl seemed to think Scott's was better integrated. Here's the blend card from carl's (click twice and you might actually be able to read it):

And then the usual apparatus for the rest of the session:

[livejournal.com profile] daveon might recognize Hop Valley, which is a brewery outside of Eugene, Oregon that we stopped at on the way to Reno last summer. That Vanilla Infused Porter was very nice, as was the Brainless on Cherries from Epic, which was aged in wine barrels. I also finally got to taste Upright's Billy the Mountain, which I've loved for years just for the name (which is one of my favorite Frank Zappa songs). I suppose it could be Chunga's official beer, if it wanted to be.
randy_byers: (beer)
Meanwhile carl, Scott, and I drank more beer last night. The Bottleworks 13th Anniversary beer was made by Stone Brewing, using 13 malts and 13 hops. Lots to chew on there. The bottle that's hiding its label was home-brewed mead by a friend of Scott's. Really nice stuff! The artwork on the beer menu is by carl. In the future I think we'll just put the beer menu on an iPad and pass around. I mean, what century are we living in?

randy_byers: (beer)
The boys came over again last night. Beer was consumed. Click images to embiggen. Red numerals indicate the order in which we drank. My head hurts.

randy_byers: (beer)
Scott and carl were over last night. We made a list this time, so we could remember what was upstairs in the fridge.

Update: More misspellings: It should have been "LambickX", with a K. From yet another new geuze blender, this was their first release.

Big time!

Dec. 3rd, 2011 12:18 pm
randy_byers: (beer)
I watched the Pac-12 football championship game at the Big Time after work yesterday. The Old Woolly Barleywine is always released on December 1st, so it was also an opportunity to sample this year's batch, which is very good as usual. The release of the barleywine always brings old regulars around, and I saw two of the old Big Time crew that I haven't seen in years. Mark, who left to start a brewpub in Port Townsend, told me that he has since gone to culinary school and is now a cook at a high end restaurant in Belltown. He has a girlfriend who's celebrating her 30th birthday, the dog. He headed out to pick up some gifts and food for her, and not long afterward his old girlfriend Dawn came in. We only chatted briefly, but it was nice that she came over to say hi and that she swung by to say goodbye as she left.

By that time another old timer, Greg, had sat down next to me, although he didn't show any sign of recognizing me, so I didn't say anything. Dawn gave him a hug before she said goodbye to me. When the University of Oregon pulled to a big lead over UCLA in the third quarter of the game, I got up to leave.

Greg said, "If Dawn knows you, you must be an old timer here."

So we chatted a bit, and I told him the last time I'd seen him, he was still a bartender at Flowers. Now he works for a game company in Redmond, although he still lives in the U District. He apologized for not remembering me.

Well, you know, I've been going to the Big Time since it opened in 1988. I've got a lot of memories connected to it. Later today Hazel is coming by to show me some designs for a handrail she's going to make for our outside stairs, and I'll tell her about seeing Mark and Dawn. Last night had a sweet feeling of reunion. Dawn thought the last time we'd seen each other was after the barleywine was released. Maybe I'll see her again in a few years.
randy_byers: (beer)
Apparently one industry that's still doing well in the economic downturn is craft brewing. This AP article claims that demand is growing so much that some craft brewers are reducing distribution to serve the local market. I'm not convinced that this is an actual trend, but the article is still an interesting reflection of the gradually evolving U.S. beer market:

Craft brewers pull back on wider market to tap local thirsts


The other side of this, which Jeff Alworth writes about in "The Future is Craft", is that increased sales of craft beer seems to be coming at the expense of some of the big industrial beers. He quotes an LA Times article: "Big beer brands have been losing the affinity of core drinkers over the last two years, according to YouGov's BrandIndex, a research firm that tracks brand buzz, loyalty and quality perceptions based on consumer surveys. MillerCoors' Miller Lite and Coors Light and Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light have had negative ratings for most of that period."
randy_byers: (Default)

Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915)
randy_byers: (beer)
Upright Brewing in Portland stirs controversy with the new label for Four Play -- a sour saison that I'd love to taste at some point. Although now that I've seen the (NSFW) old label, it seems clear that they were actually trying to tone things down a bit. Well, I imagine a little scandal is good for sales, at least in the short term.
randy_byers: (beer)
I got together with carl and Scott last Sunday to drink beer -- our first session of the year. We actually started off at the Big Time brewpub, where Scott finally got to taste the Saison Grisette, which is a very good saison that I've been drinking a lot of lately. Because of that I actually opted for the cask-conditioned Dark Days Black IPA, which had been dry-hopped with, IIRC, Amarillo hops. (Scott, carl, and I agreed in our conversation at the Big Time that beer geeks are people who know the names of hops. I'm getting there!) The Dark Days is extremely hoppy to begin with, so the dry-hopped version was goddamn hoppy. After that carl switched to the Golden's Tate Maple Nut Brown, while Scott and I had snifters of the Old Wooley Barleywine. I was surprised that the barleywine was still on tap, but the bartender told me that business in general has been down this year. I've been doing my best, but apparently it isn't enough.

After that pre-session, we headed to my place and cracked open some bottles. Here's a picture of the lineup. Click once to get a bigger version, and click again for the hellanormous version.

Notes )
randy_byers: (beer)
Jeff Alworth at Beervana reviews a new brew from Portland's Upright Brewing called Billy the Mountain. According to Alworth, it's their version of a traditional English old ale, which is a style I really like, and this one is aged in pinot barrels with brettanomyces clausenii (not to be confused with the brettanomyces bruxellensis used in Belgian beers), which apparently gives it a bit of tartness.

So it sounds like a beer I would love to taste, but it's also true that "Billy the Mountain" was the first Frank Zappa song I ever loved with all my heart. I'll always remember the first time I heard it in 1978 or 1979, which for various reasons I really shouldn't describe in detail here, but suffice it to say that one of my clearest memories of that night is my friend and ex-co-worker Phil's face looming over me, where I was lying flat on my back on the floor in his apartment struggling to breathe because I was laughing so hard at the song, and Phil's face asking, "Are you okay?" Sounds like this beer might put me in a similar state. Now if I can only track down a bottle of it.
randy_byers: (beer)
Zak Avery, who runs a bottle shop in Leeds, posts a beer-year in review and makes three claims for the British beer market:

* British beer is on the up
* Belgian beer is on the wane
* American beer is on the verge of going stellar

In his Best-Of categories, his Best UK Brewery is the Kernel (a small brewery in London) and Best UK Bottled Beer is Kernel Citra IPA. I got to taste that on my November trip, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] reverendjim, and it really was superb, managing to taste like passion fruit despite having no fruit additives. Jim was rather high on Kernel's porter as well. [Jim tells me below that I actually tasted the Pale Ale Nelson Sauvin, not the Citra.]

The comments on that post are also very interesting for the discussion of how American craft brewing is influencing British brewing and how Belgian brewing is also evolving in ways that aren't necessarily noticeable in the export market. Lots of interesting things are going on at a local level that hardly anybody sees, but under the influence of global trends. The Dutch and the Italians are given as examples.

I discovered the Zak Avery post via a Beervana post that also has some interesting comments regarding the retail market for beer in Oregon, where Belgian beer is apparently not waning yet. (I doubt it is in Seattle either.) One retailer breaks customers down into the categories of noobs (beginners), average craft drinkers, and beer geeks. I'd say I fall in between the latter two categories, with a taste for rare beers but an only haphazard interest in actually tracking them down.

Reading this discussion made me think again about how much the American scene is evolving right now as well. When the craft brewing phenomenon started out in the '80s, it mostly produced British-style ales: IPAs, ESBs, porters, and stouts. A German-style hefeweizen managed to stand out in that early market. In the past ten years there has been a huge Belgian influence on top of this British tradition. Nowadays there's a very eclectic pursuit of obscure styles such as gose and Berliner weisse and spontaneously fermented beer. There has been another explosion of small breweries, most of which seem to cater to a small, local clientele and a large, sprawling series of beer festivals where aspiring brewers compete with small batches of strange brew. I've taken to calling this a golden age of brewing, because there is just so much going on. It's impossible to keep up, especially if, like me, you don't care for the festival crowds.

Well, to paraphrase the Bottleworks motto: I don't drink to get drunk, I drink weird-ass foreign and American craft beer to get drunk. I'm certainly not complaining about my choices, and this year was a wonderful chance to investigate the British and Belgian scenes in person, as well as a taste of the East Coast and Toronto. If I don't watch out, I might topple (or tipple) myself right into the beer geek category.

Beer notes

Dec. 19th, 2010 05:35 pm
randy_byers: (beer)
Had another beer session with Scott and carl last night. I didn't even dip into the stash I brought back from Belgium and Britain. Instead my contribution was three years of Big Time Old Wooly Barleywine -- 2007, 2008, and 2009. (The 2010 was released a couple of weeks ago.) Note to [livejournal.com profile] reverendjim: You might as well drink that bottle of 2009 now, because all three years tasted practically identical. The 2007 might have been a tad sweeter, but that was about it. Aging it does smooth out the taste, but it appears that after one year there isn't any noticeable improvement. On the other hand, the text on the label seems to get darker.

(Click to enlarge. Click again for humongo-view.)

The three other beers we tried included the IPA from Airways Brewing in Kent, which was mostly notable for being one of the first bottles they've released. It's a perfectly fine strong IPA (about 8% ABV), but nothing special. The other two beers would make the high-heeled [livejournal.com profile] fishlifter happy, I bet. Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew (the label uses the artwork from Miles Davis' album) is a blend of three imperial stouts with something -- a mead? -- made with honey and gesho root, which is an African plant that has been used in the place of hops (according to Wikipedia). Don't know that I could taste the gesho, but I could taste the imperial stouts. Superb. In a similar vein was Lost Abbey's Deliverance, which is a blend of imperial stout and their Angel's Share barleywine. One of those beers -- like BrewDog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin -- that approaches the condition of liqueur. Divine.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)

My God! It's full of lambic!

This is another shot from the Cantillon brewery in Brussels, this one taken by [livejournal.com profile] reverendjim. Have I mentioned that the visit to the brewery was one of the high points of my trip? Did I mention the huge, riveted (not welded), open-air, red copper vat in the attic where they expose their wort to wild yeast? Something I'd been hearing about for years, but it was still awe-inspiring to see this strange and beautifully-crafted machine of human industry, which results in such strange and wonderful brews.

And I am now back from Thanksgiving weekend in Oregon. My travels are behind me for now, although there are almost certainly trips to come in the next year -- three of them in the process of formation even now, including one to Corflu in Sunnyvale, California and one to Worldcon in Reno. This trip was fantastic all along the the long and winding way. It's great to be home. I need to get my head (and my routine) back on and maybe do some writing. For now I'll just post an "angsty album cover" photo, as Jim described it.

How is everyone? I suddenly feel like a stranger here! I need to get regrounded.
randy_byers: (beer)

Catching up with a bit of my backlog today. This is a stack of beer bottles at the Cantillon brewery in Brussels. Yes, the bottles are full of beer -- or of lambic, actually. It makes a nice abstract pattern, but considering the quality of Cantillon's product it's also a sight to make a grown beer-lover cry tears of joy.
randy_byers: (Default)

The Dream of an Opium Fiend (Le rêve d'un fumeur d'opium, 1908)


randy_byers: (Default)

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