Contemplating Life and Beer in the Fall

Contemplating Life and Beer in the Fall

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

As I’ve stated before – belabored if you will – in two previous blog posts, I’m not a connoisseur or beer technology guy and my palate is not nuanced enough to discern the subtleties of beer flavor and criteria used to evaluate them in competitions such as the Great American Beer Festivalhttps://thebeerchaser.com/tag/thebeerchaser-and-the-taste-of-beer/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2021/01/07/leaving-2020-in-good-taste/

I certainly respect those who do have a grasp on the different elements of flavor including brewers such as Fr. Martin at the Benedictine Brewery, Mark Becker from Flyboy Brewing and Andrew Lamont, the Head Brewer at Old Town Brewing.  

Andrew Lamont of Old Town Brewing *1

Another guy who is an expert and writes great reviews on Bavarian beers is Rich Carbonara, who has a great blog entitled “Beerwanderers.”  Rich, who lives in Munich, and I connected through our blogs and I would love to have him guide me on one of this noted Bavarian Beer Hikes which you can read about on his blog.  (There’s more than 300 in Bavaria.)

Rich, in his narratives, evaluates each beer giving a summary of its taste, appearance, aroma and critical elements.  His descriptions are not so esoteric that they can’t be understood by someone who evaluates the quality of a beer by the way it tastes to them rather than a technocratic assessment. You will see more about Rich below. (* See end of post for external photo attribution)

And Then There’s Gimmicks

The typical beer-drinker doesn’t care whether the yeast is wild or domesticated, the type of hops, if it is barrel-aged or the attenuation percentage during fermentation. 

As I stated in my posts on the taste of beer, I’m also kind of a beer purist and have no use for beers which are brewed as a gimmick.  This bizarre trend was best summed up by a reviewer in his clip entitled, “Holiday Ale Festival Gone Amok” when he described a disturbing trend in the annual Portland event in 2018 as:

“The festival’s hallmark has always been wonderful strong, winter ales and cask conditioned brews. Just the thing to blast me out of my IPA rut. But this year the festival got too cutesy and lost its way. The so-called stouts all tasted like milkshakes or Snickers bars.  The ales were so fruity that a better name might be the Kool-Aid Festival.     

When creativity goes too far

And they’ve even tried to pollute ice cream with this misguided attempt at creativity. In an effusive July 2021 press releaseKraft Foods and van leeuwen Ice Cream reported that:

“We are releasing limited-edition, macaroni and cheese-flavored ice cream today. If you’re looking for a conversation starter to kick off a meeting…this could work well.”

Let’s all hope that the term “limited release” is meant literally.

Focus on the Basics

Although the term “style” can be subject to some debate as pointed out by one of the nation’s foremost beer experts.  Jeff Alworth is a Northwesterner living in Portland; however, his books on beer – most notably The Beer Bible and his blog “Beervana” are resources used by beer aficionado’s all over the country.  He also teaches at Portland State University.

His comments about styles in The Beer Bible are edifying:

“When people refer to style, they mean category of beers like stouts, dunkels, lagers or witbier.  The word is ubiquitous and spreads yearly like a fungus as new subcategories and sub-subcategories branch out from their root style…….

The one very important caveat to note is styles are constantly in flux.  The idea of style should be descriptive not prescriptive….Use the term, but don’t fix it in stasis.”

That said, the most critical factors to me (for totally different reasons) are ABV (Alcohol by Volume) and IBUs (International Bittering Unit).  Alworth defines ABV as:

“…expressed as a percentage.  A measure of the strength of of an alcoholic beverage, based on the volume of alcohol relative to total volume.”

*5

Knowing the ABV of your beer is critical if you are driving or plan to drink throughout the evening.  In Oregon, one is Driving Under the Influence (DUI) if the Blood-Alcohol-Content (BAC) is .08% or higher.  While disclaiming that the sentence below is definitely not legal advice, one credible source states:

“On any given day, considering your body size, weight, and several other internal factors, you may have two or three 12-ounce beers before reaching a BAC of .08.”

A few bars have even installed a coin-operated breathalyzer including these two which were provided by Portland’s Gil’s Speakeasy (home of  “the Nicest A-holes in Town…”) and Bottles

While it would not be advisable to depend on this machine (which may not have been calibrated for awhile and may not be advisable in a COVID environment anyway) it could be a good double check of one’s own common sense.

IBU’s are defined by Allworth as “the accepted system for describing the hop bitterness (hoppiness) of a beer.”  The higher the IBU, the hoppier the beer, although he again issues a disclaimer: 

“….many breweries don’t actually have the labs to measure the acids chemically and predict them using mathematical formulae (to call this prediction ‘inexact’ is kind)….while hoppiness is a combination of flavor, aroma and bitterness, IBU measures only the last.”

IBU’s – for many breweries — an inexact science *6

To provide some perspective, I’m showing the ABV of a few of my favorite NW beers (and also PBR) below.  The IBU is shown when available.  You will see that I am inclined to go with the less hoppy options:

More on ABV

Beer ABV IBU
Pfriem Brewing – IPA 6.8% 50
Migration Brewing – Pale Ale 5.8% 55
Benedictine Brewing – Black Habit 7.8% NA
Block 15 Brewing – Sticky Hands Double IPA 8.1% 110
Fort George Brewing – City of Dreams Pale Ale 5.5% 40
Pabst Brewing (SAB Miller) – Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) 4.7% NA
Flyboy Brewing – Fighting Redtails 9.0% 90
Sun River Brewing – Rippin NW Pale Ale 6.0% 50
Old Town Brewing – Paulie’s Not Irish Red Ale 5.60% 30

In reading Rich Carbonara’s aforementioned blog, I was interested in some of his comments about the ABV’s of various German beers he reviewed. He commented on one of the beers he reviewed: “The finish is clean and dry with a nice bitterness. Dangerous at 5.3%. (emphasis added)

Given the chart above, I was a little surprised by this characterization so I exchanged e-mails and he clarified with the following interesting perspective – another reason why I think Rich’s blog is worth following:

“Most beer here, hover around 5%. It’s always been the benchmark percentage. The feeling here is you want a beer you can drink a fair amount of without getting drunk. In Biergartens, you can only get liter mugs (at least at night) and obviously drinking stronger beer in that size vessel is dangerous.

I know, during Starkbierzeit (see note below) they serve 7-8% beers in such measures. So, you have you have some stronger beers (Bocks, Doppelbocks, Festbiers) but generally speaking, it’s about 5. If anything is really missing here, it’s lower octane offerings like Schankbier which is more in the 3-4% range.

In England, you still find things like Milds, though less so than in former times. It’s nice to be able to go out and drink 8-9 beers and not get really drunk. Have a look at my Beer Styles section, where you’ll get a feel for the ABV of various styles here.”  https://www.beerwanderers.com/beer-styles/

*7

Note:  “Starkbierfest is held for three weeks during Lent, between Carnival and Easter,[82] celebrating Munich’s ‘strong beer’. Starkbier was created in 1651 by the local Paulaner monks who drank this ‘Flüssiges Brot’, or ‘liquid bread’ to survive the fasting of Lent.[82] It became a public festival in 1751 and is now the second largest beer festival in Munich.”  Wikipedia

And Speaking of Giving Someone Else Your Keys…

I was, however, surprised to read recently that Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Company) is going to break the mold, with this year’s release of its Utopias Beer as reported by CNN Business on 9/21.  Now, don’t try to get one of these 25.4 bottles in Oregon or ……

“The brewer releases a new version of its Utopias brand every two years, and the twelfth edition will be on shelves starting Oct. 11. But don’t bother looking for it in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont or West Virginia.

Utopias are illegal in those states because they contain 28% alcohol by volume, more than five times the potency of typical US brews.”

(These beers may be blissful, but not Utopia(s)!

And Finally….

Regardless of whether you make a point of checking out the ABV of your beer, be cautious driving when you are hitting your favorite bar or brewery – especially around Halloween and the forthcoming holidays.

When I started Beerchasing, I decided to be cautious and as an extra check, purchased my own breathalyzer.  The BAC Track S80 you see below now costs $130, but at that time was less expensive.  (I guess the demand became higher during the pandemic.)  

An Investment Worth Considering

I’ve never come close to the .08% threshold, but felt it was a good investment given my retirement hobby.  There are pros and cons to this idea and according to The Atlantic article, less than 1% of the US population has one.  If you do get one, be sure to have it calibrated or it may defeat the purpose.

In any event, drink responsibly and drive carefully.

Cheers

By the way, how about the Oregon State Beaver Football Team.  According to Oregon Live, “It’s not known the last time OSU had sole possession of first place in the conference standings, but it’s at least not since 1975.” 

Go Beavs! Beat the WSU Cougs.

External Photo Attribution

*1  Old Town Brewing Website (https://www.otbrewing.com/aboutus)

*2 – 4  Beerwanderers Website (https://www.beerwanderers.com/)

*5  Wikimedia Commons (http://By Lynnea Kleinschmidt – Digital photograph made by myself., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6091802

*6  Wikimedia Commons (http://By Schlemazl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22601592

*7  Wikimedia Commons (http://By holzijue – https://pixabay.com/de/menschen-oktoberfest-m%C3%BCnchen-3237513/ archive copy, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69055677)

The Benedictine Brewery – “Beam” Me Up

The slab at the start of the day

On Saturday morning, November 11th, the future Benedictine Brewery and Taproom started as a concrete slab adjacent to the Mount Angel Abbey Hilltop, which is also the home of the Mount Angel Seminary.

By the end of the day, there was a structural frame with six bents ( two-dimensional transverse rigid frames and the building blocks that define the overall shape and character of a structure) using 14,000 board feet of Douglas Fir timber harvested from the Abbey tree farm.  And the next monumental step for this project – in the planning stages since 2012 – was taken.

Project Manager and Director of Enterprises, Chris Jones

Chris Jones, on the Abbey staff and a key player in the planning and construction, arrived at the site before the sun rose at 5:00 A.M. to contemplate what lay ahead for the almost one hundred volunteers.  They worked under the direction of the professionals from New Energy Works and participated in the modern-day equivalent of an old-fashioned barn raising. As Chris stated that day:

“This raising is a ton of right in a wrong-way world. Yeah, it fits right in with the mission of the brewery (support the Abbey, local charities and local economics), but it’s a lot more than that. It feels like making a change for good and right – one community step at a time.”  

A little over one-half mile away, the monks were participating in their first of five prayer services that day, before many of them would join the seminarians and residents of the City of Mt. Angel when the work started at 9:00 AM.  (The monks have “divine office” five times per day plus the Eucharist).

The beautiful chapel on the Abbey Hilltop

 

 

 

As inspiration, workers could see the impressive spire of the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church visible through the Abbey’s adjacent hop fields.  (And Fr. Philip Waibel, OSB, pastor of the church was among those at the Timber Raising that day.)  The 350 acres of hops owned by the Abbey will be a source of the ingredients used in brewing Benedictine beer.

The steeple at St. Marys Catholic Church

 

The timber was milled through Hull-Oakes Lumber Company from Monroe – a family business founded in 1937 that specializes in cutting big timbers.

Another important firm which made the structure possible is Withers Lumber from Brooks – a family owned full service local lumber company with ties to Woodburn, Silverton and Mount Angel among other Oregon communities.

John Gooley, represented Withers (he’s worked there for forty-two years) that day and was a wealth of information.

A team effort by volunteers

To see the first bent raised by the group, check out the video I took below.  Remarkable!

John told me that there were 305 pieces of wood that were joined for the structure.  Besides the 14,000 for the structural components, another 11,000 board feet of lumber was used for the siding  and the tongue and grove boards for the top of the structure.  It will also be used for the actual bar in the Taproom.  It took seven truckloads of logs for the Brewery and Taproom and additional load that went in exchange to the plywood mill.  

Besides the source of the wood, there was another unusual aspect of the construction process:

“The timber was harvested, cut, dried, milled using mortise and tenon joinery, which is secured with wooden pegs — an age-old traditional craft — and prepared for a seamless, no-hammer, no-saw construction.”  http://www.capitalpress.com/Orchards/20171113/unique-brewery-raising-at-abbey

Mallets rather than hammers and nails….

The volunteers that day know that there labor will be “captured” in the structure for its duration based on the fact that all were encouraged by John Gooley to sign the pegs that secured the bents before they were put in place.  Thebeerchaser eagerly participated.

Thebeerchaser signing a peg

When completed in the spring of 2018, the 3,000 square foot Brewery and Taproom will house a five-barrel brewing system including boil kettles, burners, a heat exchanger, fermenters, chillers, bottle conditioners and related equipment such as siphons, pumps and hoses.

The building’s architect is Henry Fitzgibbon of Soderstrom, a leading Portland firm founded in 1984 and which has done work for many faith-based communities and educational institutions.  Henry donated many hours on the Brewery project and is one of the many skilled professionals without whose contributions this venture would not have been possible.  https://sdra.com/henry-fitzgibbon-2/

Henry Fitizgibbon

Conceptual drawing of finished Brewery and Taproom

In fact, Fitzgibbon’s most recent project has been designing a basilica for the tiny village of Kibeho, in southern Rwanda, after being approached by author Immaculee Ilibagiza; who saw work he had performed in Mount Angel at the Abbey.  http://sdra.com/interview-with-henry-fitzgibbon/

This blog has previously featured the remarkable story of Father Martin Grassel, O.S.B., the Head Brewer at Benedictine and under whose vision this project has come to fruition.  Father Martin, who is also Procurator (essentially the Chief Financial Officer) at the Abbey was featured as the most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

Father Martin with his current on-site brewing equipment at the historic Abbey “fort.”

He is a remarkable man with a unique story and background as a software engineer before his journey of faith and service brought him to the Mount Angel Abbey

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/07/26/father-martin-grassel

Notwithstanding the almost continuous showers during the previous week the sun shone brightly in the morning as the work started.  And the video below shows the remarkable process for raising each bent.  (It may also be one of the few times you see monks wearing hard hats and jeans rather than their traditional black habits,) 

New Energy Works, which has offices or shops in McMinnville, Portland and two locations in New York, conducts these public raisings all over the country – from private residences to barns to larger commercial buildings and they usually draw a crowd. And what a dynamic and environmentally conscious company it is.

They co-designed the building and designed the first layout and timber frame.

Father Martin – right – with the Jonathan Orpin from New Energy

As you will see from the video below in which the largest timber section – 80 feet in length, requiring forty workers  was raised, Jonathan Orpin, the President of New Energy was the equivalent of land-based coxswain for his “crew” team.  His enthusiasm and energy was inspiring to all present.

 

New Energy even supplied a drone to memorialize the action that day.  You should check out the video below for a “start-to-finish aerial view. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psEJsPahTfM&t=130s

Cab Construction of Mt. Angel was the general contractor and Chris Bischoff, the owner, was at the raising all day working both on the ground and in the rafters…..

Cab Construction – the general contractor

That day was also the occasion of the first prayer in the Benedictine Brewery and Taproom – held at noon before we ate and in lieu of the standard noon-day prayer in the wonderful Abbey chapel.  Fr. Vincent Trujillo, O.S.B., the Prior of the Abbey,  led the service which was “uplifting” – very consistent with the theme that day!   The monks sang and were joined by the other participants.  See the video below:

 

At noon, in the tradition of historic barn raisings, there was a feast for the workers and attendees, prepared under the direction of the Abbey’s Chef Paul Lieggi.  His spread of delicious barbecued chicken, baked beans, potato salad and green salad boosted the energy and spirits of the workers.

Chef Paul prepares…but not pig stomach…..

Research on the menu for historic barn raisings revealed that the traditional menu was often slightly different than ours that day, most notably for the main course.  In Amish and Mennonite communities Pig Stomach was often the main course at these events.  In case you want to try this yourself: 

“Remove the inner lining of the stomach and discard. Wash stomach well and than soak in salt water several hours. Drain and fill stomach with stuffing. Sew securely.

Use recipe for filling……Place stuffed stomach in a large roasting pan and bake at 350 for 3 hours. Serve with gravy made by adding flour and water to drippings in roasting pan.”  http://oldfashionedliving.com/barnraising.html

Although there are goats and sheep raised on Abbey property, fortunately pigs are not part of the livestock……

Beer expert and volunteer, Jeff Alworth

There were a number of print and social media reps and there covering the event.  One of them is a well-known Northwest beer expert and writer, Portland’s Jeff Alworth, who first wrote about plans for the Benedictine Brewery back in 2014 in his excellent blog – Beervana.  Jeff was there for the entire day with a hard hat on and actively participating.

His books include The Secret of Master Brewers and his award-winning comprehensive guide to beer, The Beer Bible. Jeff also writes a weekly column for All About Beer Magazine and co-hosts the Beervana Podcast, where he and Oregon State University economics professor Patrick Emerson discuss beer and the economics of beer.

The Benedictine saints Bonifatius, Gregorius the Great, Adelbertus of Egmond and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk (Circa 1529-30)

The legacy of Benedictine beer goes back to the Middle Ages:

““….when local water supplies were rife with disease, monks brewed beer as a way to sanitize the water and also produce a libation to serve guests who sought refuge….Beer was an important part of their diets, particularly because it could be consumed as a source of nourishment during Lenten feasts.”  (Catholic Sentinel 2/21/14)

The Benedictine Brewery at Mount Angel will be the first monastery west of the Mississippi, and one of only two or three in the US, that does its development, major production, and taproom service on-site, with monks doing the brewing and running their own operation.

And the vision for this venture transcends the goal of making quality beer.  As Father Martin eloquently wrote in a recent missive:

” To say it should be a place of hospitality and welcome and family-friendliness would be too shallow.  I want it to be a place where people are more than just welcome:  I want a place where they will feel blessed, where they will feel the peace of the Abbey, where they will encounter faith in an inviting and non-threatening way, where they will want to come back because of the spiritual atmosphere.” 

Although the on-site brewery will not be completed until March, the Benedictine Brewery already has a record of producing great beer although much of it is done on a contract basis through nearby Seven Brides Brewery in Silverton.  (Some of us chuckle at the irony of monks brewing at Seven Brides)!

The flagship beer is appropriately named “Black Habit”, and has sold out multiple times at the Mount Angel Octoberfest.  Another of the beers garnering good reviews is the St. Benedictine Farmhouse Ale.  Black Habit was first brewed with the help of the Oregon State University Fermentation Program.  (Go Beavs!)

It is hoped that people traveling to the Taproom to taste the Benedictine Beer will also visit the Abbey Hilltop – a place of beauty and hospitality founded in 1882 and with a noted museum, expansive library and great bookstore.  

And for a memorial experience, attend Vespers – almost every day of the year at 5:15 where you will be inspired by hearing the monks sing.  Thebeerchaser is not of the Catholic faith, but has valued each time I sit in the beautiful chapel for this service.

And until the Taproom opens next spring, don’t hesitate to stop by the Bookstore and pick up a case of Black Habit or one of the other Benedictine beers on sale.  It will bring new meaning to the Brewery’s slogan –  “Taste and Believe.”

Thebeerchaser’s Note:   As followers of this blog know, I started Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs in August 2011, (with the blessing of my spouse of 38 years, Janet) after retiring as the Chief Operating Officer at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm where I worked for twenty-five years of my career.

 

 

 

 

I became involved with the Benedictine Brewery about eighteen months ago as a member of the Brewery Advisory Committee at the invitation of its chair, Stephen Zimmer.

After getting to know the people in the Abbey and its Foundation and given the unique story and mission of the Brewery, I decided to take a more active volunteer role in helping to set up the business operations until a general manager is hired in four to six months.   This project is the epitome of a collaborative effort of individuals, companies and the Mt. Angel community.I chuckle at some of the similarities between the law firm and the monastery.   Both are wonderful organizations, filled with intelligent, passionate individuals devoted to their profession and both organizations are consensus-based in making decisions.   The primary difference is that lawyers do not wear habits and don’t get up at 5:00 AM and pray in church six times each day!