Brewmaster's Corner-Episode #2

Brewpublic is pleased to offer the second in a series of articles written by the brewers who design the beers that we love to drink. For this installment, we present Upright Brewing‘s founder and brewer Alex Ganum. Alex’s innovative brewing techniques that involve imaginative and delicious recipes have recently won Upright a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup (for their Gose German sour ale) in Upright’s first year in business. Alex’s Portland brewery is available for tastings and tours on the weekend and is also open on nights prior to Portland Trailblazers home games. Take it away, Alex…

Written on April 10, 2010.

It’s Saturday morning, the day after Upright’s first anniversary party. I’m on a plane headed to Chicago which is about to leave Portland on time, landing me in the Windy City just a couple hours before the World Beer Cup awards will be announced. I entered six different beers and am hoping to celebrate with other brewers tonight. We’ll see. The last time I entered the WBC was in 2006 while working at BJ’s. I remember the disappointing feeling of not having won anything, especially for the Berliner Weisse we entered which was pretty fucking good in my opinion.

I probably think about beer style less than most brewers. At Upright I never considered for a second any of the recognized categories when formulating the original recipes or general brewery processes for that matter. That’s not to say that I can’t appreciate or brew a classic style, but if Frank Zappa taught me anything through music and words it’s to simply do what you want and to do it sincerely. The butt end of this is that style matters, at least tonight, which has me thinking not only about what categories my six entries are in but also the evolving style of Portland.

Is IPA king out here? Yes. A month or so ago I was out and about trying to sling my kegs to local bars. At one stop I counted two IPA’s and a hoppy pale ale amongst a total of only eight taps. When I asked how those three taps do the reply I got was, “We sell the shit outta all these. Everyone wants IPA”. While “everyone” might be pushing it a bit, it’s not too far off. While working at the Belmont Station I remember a very old woman bringing a six pack of a really aggressive IPA to the counter. “Is this for your son?” I asked. “Nope, I love these bitter beers” she replied slowly but with enthusiasm. Don’t forget that these beers are some of the most bitter beverages in the world. Amazing.

Just because IPA is so popular doesn’t mean other styles have no representation or audience here. At the only Great American Beer Festival I attended in 2005 the stout categories were nearly swept by Oregon brewers. It felt great to be a part of that. I suppose a city as grey and rainy as Portland needs good dark beer, although on a side note I firmly believe that on a ninety degree summer day a Rogue Shakespeare Stout 22oz (no glassware necessary) on a riverside just outside of town is heaven.

People in Portland have good palates and more importantly are open and eager for nuanced and delicate aromas and flavors. Some of my favorite beers of such style are coming from a couple of small brewers – Brewers Union Local 180 and Heater Allen. Those guys, like many other area brewers have grown quite crafty and skilled. It shows in what they put out for us lucky enthusiasts who can now chose between something extreme like an 80 IBU IPA or 11% ABV Imperial Stout and something elegant and every bit as artful, if not more so.

So while Ted (Sobel) and Rick (Allen) are using their expertise for classic (and beautiful) cask beer and German-style lagers, other Oregon brewers are using their skills to produce truly unique beer, sometimes rooted in historic examples, but spun into something new. Take Cascade for instance. They’ve created their own style but still have a tie to Flanders which is every bit as romantic as it is awesome, and they’re definitely doing it right. Fort George in Astoria makes the wonderful Quick Wit with non-traditional lemongrass, a lovely twist. And have you had any of Double Mountain’s Krieks? They may be different than the Belgian brewed examples that inspired them but every bit as tasty. I’d like to think that the apricot anniversary beer Gerritt (Ill) and I brewed for yesterday’s party is also a unique marriage of Belgium and Oregon. We used our house French saison yeast but hopped it up way more than anything I’ve had from across the ocean with the extra regional cascade variety. It came out like nothing I’ve ever brewed or tasted, unsurprising because it’s inspirations are from all over really. I’m sure if you asked the brewers at Cascade, Fort George, Double Mountain and others about their inspiration they’d give an answer that amounts to “all over” as well.

So, do we love IPA’s? Yes, and rightfully so because a good one is fucking delicious. I’m craving a Copacetic right now but unfortunately Amnesia doesn’t package in bottles and distribute to Southwest Airlines. But the beer culture of Portland is about more than IBU’s, it’s about the simple joy of enjoying whatever world class brew is in your glass, because we’ve got lots of ’em and more are coming.