Review: Pray for Snow, 10 Barrel Brewing

Pray for Snow

  • Style:  Strong Ale
  • Bitterness: 55 IBUs
  • ABV: 7%
  • Malts:  Not specified
  • Hops:  Not specified
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: "The Pray for Snow is our version of a winter warmer. We used eight different specialty malts to deliver a complex and thought provoking malt blanket. To complement this we used a combination of herbal, spicy, and citrus hops to help keep this beer in balance." — 10 Barrel Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  This year, several Oregon breweries are releasing their winter seasonals in 12 oz. bottles for the first time. 10 Barrel Brewing is one of them. I'm tasting Pray for Snow as part of my winter seasonal beer series.  

The tasting: Deep copper in color, with an off white head that dissipates fairly slowly. When held up to the light, it takes on a ruby red color. It's a great looking beer! Malty aroma of sweet caramel, toffee, and very light citrus hops. Flavor starts with bitter grapefruit. In the middle, the malts come through, and they're sweet! Mainly caramel and light brown sugar. Overall bitterness is moderate and the alcohol is well hidden.  Pray for Snow is medium bodied, and softly carbonated. It has a midly resinous mouth feel and finishes with malty sweetness and lingering bitter grapefuit.
Rating: 4 star. Really Good! I want this again!  I loved Pray for Snow's malty sweetness! When I think of a winter seasonal, this is the type of beer I want! Although it was sweet (but not overwhelmingly so), it was nicely balanced the bitter citrus hops. Make sure you give it a try before it disappers for the season!

Have you tasted Pray for Snow? What's your favorite winter seasonal beer?  Wishing you a healthy and happy New Year!

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Review: Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale, Blue Moon Brewing

Winter Abbey Ale
Blue Moon Brewing Co. — Golden, OR

  • Style:  Abbey Ale
  • Bitterness: Not specified
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • Malts:  Pale, Winter White Wheat, Chocolate
  • Hops:   Mittelfruh
  • Special Ingredient:  Dark Beligan Candi Sugar
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "It’s no secret that it gets pretty cold here in Colorado. So early on in the brewery’s history, our brewmasters wanted to create a beer that would do the trick on a snowy winter day. Today, we craft our winter wonder with roasted malts and dark Belgian candi sugar for rich caramel and toffee notes. It’s perfect on those winter days when you’re stuck inside." — Blue Moon Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  I'm tasting Winter Abbey Ale as part of my winter seasonal beer series.  Blue Moon Brewing Co. is owned by Miller Coors, in case you were unaware. In the craft beer world, there has been a debate about whether or not this beer should be allowed to be called a "craft" beer. It's a bit of an irrelevant point, in my opinion. Here's my view on the Craft vs. Crafty  debate.

The tasting:  Browish-red in color with a white head that dissipates slowly. Aroma of vanilla (more like vanilla extract). That's about all I noticed in the aroma department. Flavor of bready malt and light caramel. Although this is an Abbey Ale, I didn't taste any of the typical Belgian spice flavors. Alcohol is not noticeable and hop bitterness is minimal. Winter Abbey Ale is light bodied, has an effervescent mouth feel, and finishes with wheat and light vanilla. 

Rating: 2 star.  Drinkable, but I don't want to drink it.   With the exception of their Farmhouse Red (which was a good beer), most of Blue Moon's beers taste the same to me. Perhaps that's their intent. Maybe they just want to make subtle variations on the same beer. If you like the original Blue Moon, I expect you'd enjoy this as well. If you're looking for a good winter seasonal, there are plenty of better options. Move along...

Have you tasted Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale? What's your favorite winter seasonal beer?

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Komboucha, Anyone?

Yesterday, I received this in the mail. This gelatinous substance floating in yellow liquid is called a SCOBY. It looks a bit like a calamari steak. The flip side of it (pictured at the end this post) has some stringy brown stuff attached to it. If you told me it looks phlegm, I wouldn't argue.  But first, the backstory...

At the 2011 Organic Brewers Festival, I sampled plenty of beer. But for the first time, I tasted a fermented tea drink called Komboucha. It has a great tart flavor and contains very little alcohol (typically 0.5% - 1.5% ABV). It's also supposed to be full of probiotics.

You can buy Komboucha (in many varieties and flavors) at natural or specialty food stores. Priced between $3-$5 for a 16 oz. bottle, it's not cheap. However, with the help of our gelatinous little friend, SCOBY, it can be made at home for about $1 a gallon. 

SCOBY is the acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. To make Komboucha, you brew up a tea (black or green) sweetened with sugar and let SCOBY go for a swim. About 10-20 days later, you've got yourself some Komboucha.

Since I brew my own beer, I thought I'd brew my own Komboucha. I'll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, click here to learn more about Komboucha.

Any Komboucha fans out there? Do you have a favorite recipe you can share?

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Review: Sleigh'r, Ninkasi Brewing

Ninkasi Brewing Co. — Eugene, OR

  • Style:  Double Alt Ale
  • Bitterness: 50 IBUs
  • ABV: 7.2%
  • Malts:  2 Row Pale, Crystal, Munich, Carahell, Roasted Barley, Chocolate
  • Hops:  Nugget
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: "A delicious northwest seasonal brewed with winter in mind. A dark double alt, malty, nourishing and delicious, it's sure to keep the winter at bay, and yes, Sleigh'r does rock!" — Ninkasi Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  In honor of Santa's magical journey, I'm drinking a Sleigh'r on Christmas Eve. Brewed since 2009, this is the first year it's available in 12 oz. bottles. I'm tasting Sleigh'r as part of my winter seasonal beer series.  According to the Norad Santa Tracker, Santa is currently in San Diego and is headed north. So I better finish this review and get to bed quickly!!

The tasting:  Dark brown in color, with an off white head that dissipates fairly slowly. When held up to the light, it takes on a deep ruby red color. Aroma of espresso, bittersweet chocolate, bread, and sweet molasses. There's quite a lot going on here! Flavor mirrors aroma with the addition of roasted malt and earthy hops. The molasses is not present in flavor. Overall hop bitterness is moderate and the 7.2% ABV is very well masked in both aroma and flavor. Sleigh'r is light to medium bodied and softly carbonated. It has a creamy mouth feel and finishes semi-dry with notes of plum.
Rating: 4 star.  Really Good!  I want this again!  Sleigh'r is all about the malts! As a homebrewer, I'm amazed by the flavors that can be coaxed out of different varieties of malt. If you haven't tasted it before, be sure to give Sleigh'r a try this winter.  Don't wait too long, as it will soon disappear!

For this review, I sampled a fresh bottle. However, a few weeks ago, I cracked open a two-year old Sleigh'r bomber, and was surprised by how well it held up. It was incredibly smooth and the flavors seemed to meld together even better. This beer isn't meant to age, but you might consider cellaring a few bottles for next winter!

Have you tasted Sleigh'r? What's your favorite winter seasonal beer?  Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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Roscoe's 6th Anniversary Bash!

Roscoe's is turning 6 and they're hosting an anniversary bash to celebrate! The celebration begins at 3pm on Friday 12/28 and continues throughout the weekend.  Consider this a prime opportunity to escape from and/or decompress from family celebrations.  Here are the details:

Roscoe's is turning 6! We could think of no better way to celebrate than bringing you a phenomenal tap list with some of our favorite breweries represented. Our party will begin at 3pm on December 28th. Unlike most summits the Roscoe's 6th Anniversary Summit will be open to all styles of beers, and some great vintage brews. We will also be tapping additional special kegs all weekend and running through New Years Eve! Be sure to show up on Friday to have the best selection, and meet some of the brewers. 
Some of the Breweries (and beers) to be featured on Friday will include: 
  • Full Sail (2006 Old Boardhead, it'll be 6 years old just like us)
  • Oakshire (6, a Brandy Barrel aged barleywine brewed to commemorate Oakshire's 6th Anniversary)
  • Bear Republic (Racer 5000, the only keg coming to Portland of this special IPA brewed to commemorate Bear Republic's 5000th batch of beer)
  • Upright (Blend Edmunds)
  • Deschutes (A rare keg of 2009 Mirror Mirror)
  • Stone (A vintage keg of Vertical Epic 10.10.10)
  • Double Mountain, Boneyard (A special keg of 2011 Suge Knite aged on bourbon barrels)
  • Amnesia (Cafe con Leche)
  • Russian River
  • Green Flash (Palate Wrecker)

And lots more. There will be taster trays available.

8105 SE Stark
Portland, OR 97215


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Review: End of the World Midnight Wheat, Shock Top

End of the World Midnight Wheat
Shock Top Brewing Co. —St. Louis, MO

  • Style:  Wheat Ale
  • Bitterness:  Not specified
  • ABV: 6.0%
  • Malts:  Not specified
  • Hops:  Not specified
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: "Shock Top End of the World Midnight Wheat is an unfilteredwheat ale brewed with midnight wheat, chocolate malt, chilies and other spices.This limited edition 6% ABV ale has a dark, rich color and delivers anindulgent flavor and sessionability, making it the perfect beer to celebratethe end of the world." — Shock Top Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  The Mayan doomsday prophesy foretells the world will end sometime tomorrow. Shock Top decided to celebrate the occasion with this limited, one-time release. This is the first Shock Top beer I've profiled on my blog. If the Mayans are correct, it will also be my last.  Shock Top is fully owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Last week, the beer community got into a lively discussion about what a "craft" beer is and is not. If you're remotely interested, you can read my thoughts about the whole Craft vs. Crafty debate.  Now on to our imminent demise...

The tasting:  Brownish orange in color, hazy, with an off-white head that dissipates fairly slowly. Lots of effervescent bubbles float through the glass. Aroma dominated by wheat with a hint of cocoa. Flavor starts with toasted wheat and light cocoa. In the middle, some light spice flavors come through. It finished with a very light dose of spicy heat. It's not much and doesn't overwhelm, but it's definitely noticeable. It has some light earthy hop notes, but overall bitterness is low. Alcohol isn't noticeable in aroma or flavor. Midnight Wheat is light bodied, and moderately carbonated.  
Rating: 3 star.  Good. I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  This beer surprised me. I've been less than impressed with the few Shock Top beers I've tasted, and this surpassed my expectations. Perhaps that's another sign of the apocalypse. If you're contemplating what to drink for your very last beer, I'd like to suggest the aptly named La Fin du Monde from Unibroue.

What beer are you planning to drink on the eve of our doom?

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Smooth Ryed: BridgePort's New Spring Seasonal

BridgePort Brewing Co. will soon release Smooth Ryed, its new spring seasonal. Smooth Ryed replaces Dark Rain, which is being retired after just one outing.  

Personally, I'm glad to see this change. Although Dark Rain was technically a Black Pale Ale, I've grown tired of the Cascadian Dark Ale / Black IPA style. This beer features rye and should provide a nice spicy change of pace.

I'll be sure to review it as soon as I get my hands on a bottle. In the meantime, the full press release with details about Smooth Ryed is listed below. 

Have tasted a rye ale? What's your favorite? 

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New spring seasonal uses rye malt and whole leaf hops

PORTLAND, Ore. – December 18, 2012 – BridgePort Brewing Company, Oregon's oldest craft brewery, is excited to announce its new spring seasonal beer, Smooth Ryed. The brew gets its name from a warm malt background with a hint of spicy rye character. Smooth Ryed is a full-bodied hoppy ale that uses caramel and chocolate malts combined with 10 percent malted rye. In addition, the single hop varietal that BridgePort is using in the hopjack, Centennials, will lend a citrus aroma and clean, floral notes.

“This recipe creates a smooth, solid base for a big load of hop aroma from Oregon Centennial hops.  We source the malts from Great Western Malting just across the river in Vancouver and the hops from good friends at two local farms about 35 miles south of Portland,” commented brewmaster, Jeff Edgerton. “We use only Centennials in the hopjack so that the consumer will get the wonderful full flavor and aroma that only those hops have.”

Smooth Ryed will be available in all states where BridgePort is distributed starting in late December and early January.

BridgePort’s Smooth Ryed Stats:
IBU’s:    55       ABV:          6.3          Color:      Mid-range Amber         OG:  14.8

Ingredients:  NW Pale malt, rye malt, Crystal 30-37, Crystal 70-80, chocolate malt, UK Kent Golding pellets, Centennial whole leaf hops.

Description:  Smooth Ryed has an appetizing mid-range amber color with an aroma that is derived from a pound per barrel of whole Centennial hops in the hopjack, kettled by UK Kent Golding pellets. Smooth Ryed is brewed with a variety of malts, including a spicy rye and chocolate malt.

About BridgePort Brewing Company

Oregon's oldest craft brewery continues to evolve from a microbrewery to a regional leader in the craft brewing market, while remaining faithful to its commitment to producing high-quality, innovative craft ales.  The BridgePort family of ales includes IPA, Hop Czar, Kingpin, Witch Hunt and a list of seasonal releases.  BridgePort Brewery is located at 1313 N.W. Marshall St.  For more information, call 503-241-7179 or visit 

Review: Bifrost Winter Ale, Elysian Brewing

Bifrost Winter Ale
Elysian Brewing Co. —Seattle, WA

  • Style:  Pale Ale
  • Bitterness: 70 IBUs
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Malts:  Pale, with small amounts of Munich and Crystal
  • Hops:  Bittered with Centennial, finished with Amarillo and Styrian Golding
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: "Bifrost is our lively winter brew, a bold pale ale with citrus and earthy hop character balanced by a smooth malt backbone." — Elysian Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  In Norse mythology, the Bifrost is the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard (home of the gods) to earth. I learned this interesting bit of trivia watching Thor. That's a quite a lofty aspiration for a beer. Let's see if it lives up to the name. This winter is the first time this beer is available in 12 oz. bottles. I'm drinking Bifrost as part of my winter seasonal beer series.

The tasting: Golden orange in color, hazy, with a white head that dissipates fairly slowly. A decent amount of sediment has settled at the bottom of the bottle. Aroma of bread, mild citrus, yeast, and light alcohol. Flavor starts with sweet caramel malt, and is followed by citrus (grapefruit and mandarin orange) hops in the middle. Overall, it's quite bitter. I also noticed some grass, orange rind, yeast, and some spicy esters that I can't place. The 7.5% alcohol was not masked and was noticeable in flavor. Bifrost is medium to full bodied, has a creamy mouth feel, and is moderately carbonated. It finishes with a lingering grapefruit hop bitterness and warming alcohol. 
Rating: 3 star.  Good. I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  Bifrost is a complex brew with many layers of flavor. I enjoyed its sweet caramel malt backbone, which stood up nicely to the bitter hops. My only critique is the alcohol, which seemed a bit hot. I wish it wasn't as strong. I wonder if a year in the cellar would take the edge off?

Have you tasted Bifrost? What's your favorite winter seasonal beer?

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Review: Abominable Winter Ale, Hopworks

Abominable Winter Ale
Hopworks Urban Brewery — Portland, OR

  • Style:  IPA
  • Bitterness: 70 IBUs
  • ABV: 7.3%
  • Malts:  Unspecified organic malts.
  • Hops:  Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook
  • Sampled: 16 oz. can

Description: "This mythological beer emerges from the depths of our brewery every winter. Made with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops and six organic malts. 'A-Bomb' has a complex floral, spicy and citrus hoppiness backed up by just the right amount of malt sweetness. Don’t turn your back on the BEAST!" — Hopworks Urban Brewery

Random thoughts:  Hopworks started canning beer earlier this year. This holiday season marks the first time Abominable is available in a 16 oz. can. Prior to this year, A-Bomb was only available on draft and in 22 oz. bombers. BTW, I absolutely love the label art! This can is a keeper! I'm drinking Abominable as part of my winter seasonal beer series.

The tasting: Deep Amber in color, slightly hazy, with a white head that dissipates fairly slowly. Aroma of caramel, grapefruit, pine. Flavor is similar to aroma, but the bright grapefruit citrus flavor dominates, along with a solid dose of hop bitterness that hits you square in the middle. Beneath it all is a solid malt backbone of caramel and light biscuit.The 7.3% alcohol is noticeable in aroma and flavor, but is not overwhelming. Abominable is medium bodied, softly carbonated, and finishes quite dry with the same grapefruit bitterness.
Rating: 4 star. Really Good! I want this again!  If you're looking for fruit or spice, look elsewhere because Abominable doesn’t have the trappings of a typical winter seasonal.  That’s OK though.  This is one solid IPA that I’ll be sure to revisit every holiday season!
Have you tasted Abominable? What's your favorite winter seasonal beer?

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Craft v. Crafty — Beer Snobbery on Display

On the day of the tragedy in Connecticut, it’s irrelevant and trivial to think or talk about beer.  However, writing this helps to remove the horrific events from my mind—at least temporarily. Peace, comfort, and prayers to all of the families.

Beer Geekdom is abuzz. This time it’s not about an $85 six-pack, but a definition. Specifically, the definition of “CRAFT” beer.

Before we delve into the grisly details, let’s examine the environment.  For years, Big Beer (or macro) sales have been on the decline, while sales of small beer (micro or craft) sales have been growing rapidly.  Simply stated, consumers are learning about good beer. They’re discovering it, liking it, and buying  more of it. This fact has not gone unnoticed by Big Beer. They’ve responded by buying craft breweries and launching new brands such as Shock Top and Blue Moon.

The Brewers Association is an advocate for craft brewers. They’ve long defined "Craft" in a specific way (read the press release below for more details). This is the BA’s interpretation. There is no legal definition of a “craft” beer. It’s their opinion. Yesterday, the BA upped the ante when they accused Big Beer of “…deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.”

The BA went a step further and published a list of non-craft brewers (shown below) to expose those attempting to sell beer under the “craft” banner. According to BA, those on the list are not “Craft”, but “Crafty”. The insinuation is the listed breweries are either producing an inferior product or attempting to deceive by inappropriately using the “craft” moniker.

In my opinion, the BA went a step too far.  This list is a disservice to beer drinkers. It also insults their intelligence. I fully understand that BA exists to support small (a relative term) brewers. But some of the breweries on this list make great beer. Widmer Brothers, part of Craft Brew Alliance, is one of the most innovative breweries around. Goose Island has introduced the Midwest to amazing beer. What are their crimes? They are partially or fully owned by Anheuser-Busch. 

I’m no fan of Big Beer and have long despised macro-lager. However, this list is silly and counter-productive because it assigns guilt by association. Frankly, the BA should thank these breweries. Shock Top and Blue Moon are gateway brands that ultimately bring macro beer consumers into the “craft” fold. Breweries such as Pyramid, Widmer, and Goose Island will firmly keep consumers in the "craft" fold for the long-term. 

The following statement was issued yesterday by Tenth & Blake, owner of Blue Moon and Leinenkugel:

“Anyone who visits Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin will understand the blood, sweat and tears that went into building that brewery, and they’ve continued brewing amazing beers for 145 years. And anyone who spends time chatting with Blue Moon Brewing Company founder and brew master Keith Villa will understand the passion and creativity that has gone into developing his Artfully Crafted beers for 17 years. To question the quality of these beers due to their size or success is doing a disservice to the entrepreneurs who created them, and to beer drinkers who love them. Most beer drinkers don’t get hung up on industry definitions, which often change. They just enjoy drinking great beer. Whether people call them craft or some other title is fine with us. We’ll just keep brewing great beer.” Tom Cardella, CEO of Tenth & Blake

I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, most people could probably care less about the craft v. crafty definition—and rightfully so. Explore beer, enjoy it, drink whatever you like, and most importantly, don’t be a beer snob!

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Craft vs. Crafty: A Statement from the Brewers Association

Boulder, CO • December 13, 2012—The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers, issued the following statement regarding the increase in production and promotion of craft-like beers by large, non-craft breweries: 

An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

The community of small and independent craft brewers has grown as beer enthusiasts embrace new, diverse beers brewed by their neighbors and friends who are invested in their local communities. Beer drinkers are voting with their palates and dollars to support these entrepreneurs and their small and independent businesses.

In 2011, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume; in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent. Meanwhile, the overall beer industry was down 1.3 percent by volume and domestic non-craft was down 5 million barrels in 2011. 

Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.

However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.

And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?

About the Brewers Association
The Brewers Association is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. The Brewers Association (BA) represents more than 70 percent of the brewing industry, and its members make more than 99 percent of the beer brewed in the U.S. The BA organizes events including the World Beer Cup®, Great American Beer Festival®, Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®, SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience and American Craft Beer Week®. The BA publishes The New Brewer magazine and its Brewers Publications division is the largest publisher of contemporary and relevant brewing literature for today's craft brewers and homebrewers. Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at and about homebrewing via the BA's American Homebrewers Association. Follow us on Twitter.

12/12/12: Westvleteren XII Comes to Town

Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of the early 80’s?  If so, you’ll recall the sheer madness—adults searching high and low in a state of frenzy in their quest for the elusive toy. Yesterday brought a similar event. Instead of seeking  grotesque dolls, beer geeks across the land searched for six-packs of beer—$85 six-packs of beer. Why on earth would anyone willingly pay this outlandish price?  Here are a few facts to consider:

  • The coveted beer is Westvleteren XII (affectionately known as Westy 12).
  • It’s made by five Trappist monks who operate a brewery within the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in Belgium. Check out their website.
  • The monks sell their beer directly from the brewery. For the first time, they're selling it through retail on a one-time-only basis to raise cash to fix their crib. Actually, it’s a monastery—but let’s not quibble.
  • The six-pack is packaged in a special gift box which includes six 330 ml bottles and two Trappist beer goblets.
  • Westy XII is considered by many to be the best in the world—as evidenced by its high Rate Beer and Beer Advocate scores.
  • Finally, demand far exceeds supply.

The reasons above explain why I’m willing to part with $85 for this six-pack. If you follow my blog, you know I don’t drink crazy expensive beer. I guess it’s fair to say I’ve been caught up by the back story and hype.

Even if I’m lucky enough to get my hands on the beer, I know there’s decent chance I’ll be disappointed by its taste (see the Westy 12 reality check on Andy Couch’s Beer Scribe). I'm willing to take that risk given the rapidly approaching Mayan Doomsday on December 21. Sadly, most of the stores across the country are already sold out, so I’m not likely to get any.   

Another aspect of this release is unique. ALL of the proceeds go directly to the renovation of the monastery. NO ONE in the distribution or retail chain is allowed to make a profit on the sale of this beer. Anyone selling this beer (outside of the grey market) had to agree to forgo profits. Those monks drive a hard bargain, don’t they?!?  For more on Westymania ’12, check out Jeff Alworth’s coverage on Beervana.

Would you pay $85 for any six pack?  Were you one of the lucky few to land the Westy 12?  How does it taste?

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The Commons Brewery's First Anniversary: Interview with Mike Wright

Last week, The Commons Brewery celebrated its 1st anniversary. What an eventful year it's been! Mike moved the brewery out of his garage, renamed it, hired a great staff, and won a bunch of awards! Oh, and together they've made some amazing beer!

I chatted with Mike about his experiences during the past year. Here's what he told me.

Congratulations on your first anniversary! How did the first year meet and differ from your expectations?

Mike Wright:  With no commercial experience to guide me, my year one expectations were speculative, and very conservative. We had better sales than anticipated, and I could not have foreseen accolades coming our way from WBC, and GABF. Needless to say, that was a very pleasant surprise.

On the production side, I was really impressed with our ability to come up to speed on our new system and get into a production rhythm.


In our current economic requirement, lending is a challenge for small businesses. You solved the problem by creating your own unique financing opportunity. What did you do and what was the response? 

MW: Trying to get a bank to lend to a start-up run by someone with no industry experience was a long shot at best. I did visit a big bank and that conversation lasted about 3 minutes-I did not walk away with any money. 

I decided to try and secure 10 small private loans and put together a proposal I thought was fair and would be attractive to potential lenders. Once the package was ready for public consumption, I sent out a small blurb in one of our newsletters. I was amazed at the response and was quickly able to secure the loans.

It was important for me to share with the lenders the specific needs I had in the brewery and how I intended to spend the proceeds. All of the money was to be spent on three specific equipment needs where we had gaps. This was basic infrastructure stuff that would enhance our capabilities on the production side (more fermenters, a real chiller and malt handling equipment).

In addition to offering, what I believed was, an attractive loan and clearly spelling out the need, there was some short term return for lenders in the form of perks. From my perspective the deal was a success and allowed us to relive some pain points in our production process.


What has that funding enabled you to do?

MW: We have effectively double our tank capacity (to be fair it was not significant to start), and added a chiller that is targeted for brewery use-the one we had at start up was not cooling like we needed it to. The brewery was started with the absolute minimum necessary components, and the loans have allowed us to move closer to a "real" commercial brewery.

Tell us about your beer lineup. What are your core year-round beers and how many seasonals do you plan to release each year?

MW: Our line up continues to evolve, but we have two year round beers: 1) Urban Farmhouse Ale (draft/bottles) and; 2) Flemish Kiss (bottles). Each month we produce 2-3 rotating, or seasonal draft beers for the local market. It is our goal to offer 1-2 seasonal bottle offerings as well, and 3-4 one-off barrel aged beers annually.

You've done quite a bit of experimenting in the past year. What's your approach to new recipe formulation and experimentation?

MW: We have played around a bit, though I don't consider our beers too experimental. Our overriding goal is to produce a balanced  approachable beer even when we are using new, or non-traditional ingredients. We bounce around ideas, and come up with a desired flavor then Sean (typically) will develop a recipe and then we go for it.

What types of barrels are you using? Have you had any memorable experiments? 

MW: The vast majority of our barrels are red wine barrels (mostly pinot given our locale). We do have some white wine barrels, gin barrels and bourbon barrels in play too. We quickly maxed out on space when we hit about 35 barrels (that's changing now as we add more space).

There are a couple of standouts so far, but with time I expect more. Eleanor, a barrel aged Urban Farmhouse with a variety of micro-flora was a really enjoyable beer for example.

Photo courtesy of The Commons Brewery
You released two new seasonals last Thursday. How would you describe them? 

MW: Fleur de Ferme is a dark, winter farmhouse seasonal with hibiscus, lavender and chamomile. It has a nice roasty note, and a floral nose. The hibiscus produced a subtle gingerbread flavor that works remarkably well in that beer.

Bourbon Little Brother is a Belgian dark strong ale with 40% aged in bourbon barrels. Malty up front, with a balanced bourbon character. We purposely wanted a more subdued bourbon character relative to many bourbon beers on the market. Still, there's no mistaking the bourbon in the beer.

Do you expect each of these will age well? How do you expect they will evolve over time? 

MW: Fleur de Ferme is really meant to drink now, but will certainly hold up for a while. Bourbon Little Brother is high ABV beer at 10% so that will definitely age well.

You recently started shipping to some new regions. In which states is The 
Commons currently distributed?

MW: Oregon, and Idaho (Boise). we are just now moving into Washington state, and have near term plans to ship some beer to California.  

Besides the taproom, where can we find your beer in the Portland area?

MW: We have rotating taps in nearly 50 bars and restaurants in town. Bottles can be found in beer focused bottle shops, and some grocery chains (New Seasons, Market of Choice, Zupans, and Whole Foods). Draft is such a dynamic thing that we can't accurately tell folks where the beer is actually on tap. We do, however, try to keep the following page up to date:

You won awards at World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival. How would you describe the experience?

MW:  Surreal. I found it a very strange, and exciting experience. It's hard to put into words, but suffice to say it was a very positive experience. 

You’re currently expanding into a new space in your building. What will you do with the extra space? 

MW: More cold storage, a dedicated bottling conditioning room, more barrel storage, a mill room, and general storage. We very well may expand the tasting room into a portion of that space in the future, but not in the near term.

Can you give us a sneak peek on any plans for 2013? 

MW: You will see more barrel aged beers in 2013, more concrete seasonal plans and some things we haven't even dreamed up yet. Internally, we are working hard to improve our production processes, and scheduling (challenging with multiple house yeast strains). Slow and incremental change.

You're sitting at a bar next to a guy who's drinking a macro lager. If you could give him any two beers in the world, which would they be and why?

MW: Heater Allen Pils would be a great transition to craft beer. It would likely be familiar, but also represent hand crafted beer in a positive unassuming light. Maybe the second would be something like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It's an extremely well made, straight forward, flavorful beer that is widely available. The goal is to introduce beers that are not pretentious and would hopefully not be a radical departure from a macro lager-that's the challenge though.

A big thanks to Mike for taking the time to chat! I can't wait to see (and taste) what 2013 will bring!

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