…and all McMenamins properties are serving pints of the reborn Hillsdale Ale at special prices today…
The brew sheet looks nothing like a modern brew sheet, with spaces for ingredients, steps of the process, beginning and ending gravities, boil time and all the rest, but the crumpled, stained piece of plain paper framed on the Hillsdale Pub wall has something that no other does.
It’s old Number One, the first of who knows how many tens of thousands of beers brewed in Oregon brewpubs over the last generation. It’s headed “First Brew” and the first entry is 8:30 a.m., October 25 1985, for a beer called simply Hillsdale Ale.
The McMenamins brew team recently recreated that beer for the 30th anniversary of the brew day and brewed it in large batches to be served at all pubs and hotels today.
“This is good,” said McM’s brewery boss Rob Vallance as we sampled the reborn Hillsdale Ale at its namesake pub recently. “I wish we had a sample of the original to know how close we got.”
“No you don’t,” said Brian McMenamin. “Those were different times. We did the best we could back then, but we didn’t know much about brewing and people weren’t making equipment and selling supplies to guys who were brewing a few kegs of beer at a time.”
That’s the reason for the biggest change in the 21st Century Hillsdale Ale: it’s an all-grain recipe. The original was brewed with malt extract syrup and not the milled, malted barley that almost all modern craft beers use, because industrial malters were accustomed to selling malted barley by the traincar load to industrial breweries such as Blitz Weinhard and Olympia. They didn’t sell malt by the 50-pound bag.- to guys brewing a few kegs at a time. In fact, you could likely trace the roots of craft brewers’ well known collegiality to the fact that the beginning brewers – the Widmers, Ponzis and McMenamin brothers – sometimes banded together to order enough grain or hops to get a supplier’s attention.
There was no question that the reborn brew Hillsdale Ale would be an all-grain brew, but that still left many questions for the team, which was director of brewery operations John Richen and ace brewer and now brewery district manager Jeff Cooley. They couldn’t just to go to that first brew sheet and reproduce the beer because the information was often cryptic to the point of inscrutability.
“We used malt extract back then,” said Brian McMenamin, “but the brew sheets just say “m.e.,” they don’t specify the type or degree of roast, so how do you reproduce that with the dozens of different barley malts?”
In the end, Richen collected as many brew sheets as he could and Cooley went through them all and used his experience and maybe a bit of Kentucky windage to produce an eminently drinkable golden beer that verges on ESB territory, says fellow district manager (and ace brewer) Graham Brogan. They brewed batches of it at the big brewery at Edgefield and at the newest of the 60 or so McMenamin properties, the just-opened Anderson School in Bothell, Wash. and shipped kegs to every McMenamin pub, tavern and hotel so you can sample Hillsdale Ale today at any McMenamins property for the special price of $4 a pint or $8 a growler fill.
Call it arch-ale-ology; to me it’s further proof that the McMenamins are one of Oregon’s great treasures, and committed custodians of history, be it architecture, culture or craft beer. Bless ’em.
John Foyston is Oregon's longest serving beer writer, and wrote a
weekly beer column for The Oregonian until just recently. His
work has appeared on CNN, and in Beer Connoisseur, Celebrator Beer
News, Oregon Beer Growler, Mix Magazine and other publications and
will occasionally appear on these pages, at least until Angelo and DJ
get tired of him too...He can be followed on Twitter at @beerherejohnny.