Leaving 2020 in “Good Taste”?

Image courtesy of Pam Williams

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

The Taste of Beer – Follow-up

In my last post, I did a rant, of sorts, about beer reviews – where some of the descriptions of my favorite beverage, in the reviewers’ attempt to be creative, are ridiculous.   I had saved examples clear back to 2014 to illustrate my point.  https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/12/23/holiday-cheer-and-the-taste-of-beer/

The Von Ebert Boarmobile

The reaction was positive and I wanted to follow with one more current example – from Willamette Week’s 2019 Beer Guide.

It’s an excerpt from the eighth-ranking in their Beers-of-the-Year the Pilsner (4%) from Von Ebert Brewing – a small and good brewer right in Portland’s Pearl District

 I’ll follow with what I regard as some common sense advice on tasting beer from two experts.  I might add, that of all of them, this description was one of the most ludicrous although the brewery’s Pils is a great beer:

“When the first sip of Von Ebert’s Pilsner crosses your lips, it tastes as if you were reading a 19th-century love letter painstakingly translated from German.

Three different Pilsner malts, each with its own crackery nuance, join like the tiny gears inside an imported continental timepiece, ticking beneath a flowery blend of Perle, Saphir and Tettnanger hops lifted into your nose by spritzy natural carbonation. And after weeks of cold-temp lagering, you can actually read a letter through it.”

“Crackery nuance?”

Wie hat Ihnen diese Beschreibung gefallen?

Oh sorry, I meant “How did you like that description?”  I got so carried away with German that I forgot some of you may not be enlightened enough to know the nuances of German to English translation (much less the “crackery nuance” he mentions). The reviewer’s tirade of wacky similes made me laugh.

For some more practical advice, and because he is a smart and gifted entrepreneur with common sense and a great knowledge of beer, I asked Adam Milne, the owner of Old Town Brewing for his take. (His brewery also produces one of my five favorite beers – Shanghai’d English Style IPA – a 2018 Gold Medalist at the World Beer Cup.)  His e-mail stated:

“I always like one of two approaches. One is to use common terms that are known to beer drinkers, so the readers have a universal understanding. This can be words like bitter, hoppy, fruity, malty, IBU’s and many others. 

The second approach is to go outside the beer world for terms that apply to food and drinks that everyone is familiar with. This can be describing sodas, cakes, fruits or vegetables. Basically compare to any ingredient in a grocery store or made in a restaurant. This allows for people who are not as familiar with beer to easily relate.”

Goethe – did not mix German beer and love letters

Notice Adam did not use Shakespearean metaphors or an example from Wolfgang Von Goethe although the WW reviewer might have taken the advice from this 18th century German poet, playwright, novelist and scientist who opined:  “A person ‘hears’ only what they understand.” 

I thought another good source might be an article in Draft Magazine entitled “What a psycholinguist can tell us about how we describe beer flavors,” but unfortunately, Draft Magazine was discontinued in 2017 and the pieces is no longer available.

There was, however, a practical article entitled “How to Describe Beer Like a Pro,” that seems reasonable.  https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/how-describe-beer-pro

Finally, before I leave the subject, I have to give Parker Hall, the reviewer from Willamette Week at least some credit.  Although I think his beer reviews are pretentious, I respect his education and background.  He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music – a very respected institution, where he studied jazz percussion on a scholarship.

Oberlin – respected educational institution

“He remains a professional musician in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, and is an award-winning homebrewer besides being a contributor to Portland’s alt-weekly Willamette Week.”

And While I’m Ranting About Reviews…

I guess before I depart from the subject of reviews, I’ll also talk a bit about book reviews.  Obviously, my exploits to new bars was stymied this year by the virus, so I read a lot more – mainly fiction, but also some good non-fiction works as well.

2020 warranted escapism so a much of my literary menu was thrillers by popular authors such as Lee Child, David Baldacci, Harlen Coban, etc.  But I found that relying on well known authors to rate their contemporaries is not very helpful in selecting a good read.  Usually, they are one or two sentence comments on the front or back covers and thrillers typically have phrases such as “fast-paced, a real page turner, superb plotting, absorbing nail-biter, an all-night read, etc.”

James Patterson writes of Lee Child, “I’m a fan.”   Best selling author, Lisa Gardiner writes of David Baldacci, “…one of the all-time best thriller authors,” and New York Times best-selling author Lisa Scottoline states, “Baldacci delivers, every time!”   One has to ask, with their writing demands and appearances, how thoroughly are these best-selling authors going to read and digest another writer’s book?

Perhaps others have arrived at the same conclusion as stated in a 2012 Los Angeles Times article,Why is Amazon deleting writers’ reviews of other authors’ books?”   The author quotes Amazon in a response to a reviewer inquiry:

Amazon Book Store

“We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.”  (emphasis supplied)

And, of course, this raises all kinds of questions such as, “How does one define ‘directly competing?'”  The article quoted one writer opining “….author-on-author reviews comprise so little of Amazon’s overall site content as to be nothing more than a “sparrow’s fart.”  Evidently, Amazon amended its position because the policy now allows authors to submit reviews of others’ books:

“….unless the author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process.”

A Solution?

Now since in the last blog post and this one, I railed against the over-the-top creative license by beer reviewers and now I’m slamming book reviews for being boring gibberish, one might ask, “Okay Don, what’s your solution?”

My answer – after giving it about the same amount of contemplation that Lisa Gardiner demonstrated in her review of David Baldacci’s book above – is in two parts:

First, since one of the purposes of book reviews and comments is to help readers avoid wasting their time on bad books and other literary works, reviews should be limited to those of lousy writers, poets and other artists.  To illustrate, I will use the example of English poet William Topaz McGonagal (1825-1902).

I became aware of him from a calendar of events in the Oregonian which noted the date of the death of the man “who is affectionately considered Britain’s worst ever poet.”  Upon researching, I learned that others “celebrate” him in more exalted terms – “The world’s worst poet.”

An excellent 2011 article in the British newspaper The Independent entitled, “The Story of William McGonagal” stated:

“In his lifetime, he was a music hall joke….He was paid five shillings for a public recital so that his mostly working-class audiences could jeer at his bad poetry or pelt him with rotten vegetables…..

….Yesterday, the writer and comedian Barry Cryer went on the Today programme to pay tribute to the Dundee bard, and recite the only poem McGonagall was ever paid to write, which was an advertisement for Sunlight soap:

Requires minimal elbow grease….

‘You can use it with great pleasure and ease — without wasting any elbow grease.'”

In concluding this section and without trying to overdo the topic –  albeit extremely fascinating –  I leave you with a poem he wrote after visiting New York City.  It gives credence to the Wikipedia summary:

“He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers’ opinions of his work….. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme.

McGonagall’s fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language.”

Empire State Building – Tall,  but more than thirteen “storeys”

“Jottings of New York” by William Topaz McGonagal

Oh mighty City of New York!  you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only things that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.

McCongagal died in Edinburgh in 1902 in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave  leaving behind a vast quantity of work and a reputation that endures more than a century after his death.

To reinforce my point – reviews of bad literary work are much easier to write, there is more consensus on the degree of unworthiness, it helps readers avoid wasting their time and it may actually help the author’s awareness.  (I just need to be hopeful that reviews of this blog and the manner in which I play the oboe since retirement will be only mildly disparaging when included under this standard.)

“Bard” Reviews

Furthering my argument to essentially limit critiques to lousy literature or maybe even substandard beer, I would submit that the model in the following article could be used to promote creativity and more inventive descriptions.    Book Bub published a captivating piece, “Twelve of the Funniest Shakespearean Insults” – replete with affronts which would be fit for describing either a shoddy literary work or hideous malted beverage.

For example, let’s assume you’re about 120 pages into a novel that is boring, puts you to sleep and has no redeeming literary value.  You could aptly describe it as, A fusty nut with no kernel,” (from Troilus and Cressida Act 2, Scene 1).

Now since my nickname is “Dirt” as you will see from the blog header above, I might take issue with the following.  It could describe an author who should be pursuing a career using his or her hands to produce a product other than the written word – O Gull! O Dolt! As ignorant as dirt!” (Othello Act 5, Scene 2)

Or let’s suppose you hit a new brewery and after sampling their flagship beer, you have to force yourself to swallow the loathsome malted concoction.  It would lead you to describe the brewer as, “Thou cream-faced loon,” (Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3) while describing his brew as “(A) mouthful of foul deformity.”  (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2).

This scheme could be expanded to other classical philosophers such as Machiavelli who might have been describing a writer when he wrote  – “……fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.”

Socrates (left) with buddy, Aristotle

Or perhaps, Aristotle, advising a scribe to pursue another occupation – “To avoid criticism – say nothing, do nothing, be nothing!”

Upon reflection, it’s unfortunate that some of these utterances were not employed during the election cycle this last year.   So ends my rant and I guess, if reading annoying and trite reviews is my biggest annoyance, I’m pretty fortunate.

So Happy New Year from Thebeerchaser.  We are thrilled and encouraged that our two nurse daughters both recently received their COVID vaccinations and let us hope that the vaccines end up in arms around the world in a rapid, safe and responsible manner.

That said, since I’m a healthy, retired guy under 75, my older daughter when I asked her when she thought I would get my shot, responded with the following photo and said, “Drink up, Dad!”

So, until then, I will be a faithful mask wearer as I hope you will be.

New Energy and Ideas at Old Town Brewing

Old Town Brewing’s brewery and taproom on MLK Blvd – photo ,courtesy of Old Town Brewing

Notwithstanding the fact that there are many thriving breweries in Oregon, the micro-craft business in Oregon – it ranks fifth in the US for the number of breweries per capita – is extremely competitive.

An eastside mainstay closes its door in early 2019

This is evidenced by the closure of three major players in the Portland brewing scene just in the last several months – Alameda, Bridgeport and Burnside.  (Click on the links on the names of the last two to see Thebeerchaser’s reviews.)

And Widmer Brothers, the Lompoc Tavern and Portland Brewing have also closed their pubs – gone, but not forgotten as good places to raise a mug.

Bridgeport joins the legendary Slab Town in closing its doors in NW

While some not familiar with the brewery business, have a dream of establishing their own operation based on their enjoyment from home brewing, it takes considerable planning, risk tolerance and devotion to long hours and meeting challenges to sustain a successful brewery or pub – and there’s also the initial capital to even open it.

Backwoods Brewings’ second location in the Pearl District

That is why I have so much respect for the entrepreneurial spirit of some of my favorites including Mark Becker of Flyboy Brewing, the Waters family of SW Washington’s Backwoods Brewing and Jim Mills’ from Caldera Brewing in Ashland – and these are just a few.

Add to those, Adam Milne, the founder and owner of Old Town Brewing (hereafter OTB) in Portland.  I had dinner and beer with Adam and lawyer, Carson Bowler, on my second visit to Old Town’s operation in NE Portland – the brewpub and actual site where they brew their six flagship beers in addition to a number of limited batch seasonal brews.

By the way, due to the breadth of the story of Adam Milne and Old Town Brewing, it will be covered in two separate blog posts rather than the customary one narrative.

Adam Milne – young entreprenauer

The original, and now companion location is the well-known historic Old Town Pizza site.  And the story is interesting and fulfills a dream – similar to those of the people mentioned above in their enterprises.  Adam first visited Old Town Pizza when he was only nine years old.  It was owned by the Accaurdi family who opened it in 1974.

“It was in the historic Merchant Hotel in Old Town and a hub for like-minded people with a radical agenda. It stood as a beacon for the local community; a place to break bread and enjoy your neighbor.”  (Old Town Brewery web site)

That visit had an impact and demonstrates this young entrepreneur’s vision since he bought Old Town Pizza in 2003 when he was only in his early thirties – 33 to be exact.

He subsequently expanded to NE Portland on NE Martin Luther King Blvd in 2008, where he built the brewery and pub.  Assistance came in the form of a low-interest loan from the Portland Development Commission in its effort to promote enterprise close-in NE Portland.

It now houses, in 6,000 square feet, an attractive and bustling brewpub in addition to their brewing hardware and canning/bottling equipment.  Adam and his family live in the same neighborhood.  This review will focus on the NE location rather than Old Town Pizza brewpub which is still located on Second and NW Davis Streets.

Those who view the story on the OTB website will see that the enterprise, since that time, has had two major expansions and thus may conclude that it’s been a smooth ride for this native of Marcola, Oregon, but that’s not the case.  He graduated from Mohawk High School – with twenty-one other classmates in his senior class.

In 2003, to raise the capital to purchase Old Town Pizza, Adam mortgaged the equity in his home and sold a rental house to make the down payment.  Only one month into the new venture, their primary refrigerator went out – they had no cash to replace it.  He had to buy all new refrigeration and new pizza ovens.   When I asked how they resolved, Adam chuckled and said, “I suppose that’s what credit cards are for!”

Attractive recovery from the 2012 fire in the second story

Then there was the fire upstairs at the NE brewpub in 2012, which resulted in closure of the pub for two to three months.

Many people are also familiar with Adam’s battle with the City of Portland over the Old Town Breweing trademark – the iconic “leaping white stag” – which was not only stressful, but the multi-year legal battle, resulted in significant attorney fees before OTB eventually prevailed and settled with the City.

Source of mult-year legal battle…

On both of my visits to OTB, I was accompanied by Carson Bowler, a partner at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm and with whom I had the pleasure of working for a good portion of my 25 years at the firm.

Starting in 1990 and for four years, while at the U of O, Carson lived in the same fraternity – Sigma Nu – as Adam.  Carson also bears a strong resemblance to former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Art Vandely, President of Vandely Enterprises.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2014/01/31/beerchaser-of-the-month-art-vandelay/

Art Vandelay in his executive role has a different legal perspective…

This environmental attorney has enjoyed his friendship with Adam and stated:

I’ve known Adam for more than twenty-five years.  We were in the Sigma Nu house and his reputation then was that he was the nicest guy in the fraternity.  Unfortunately, that reputation was accurate. 

One could never lie to, or ‘borrow’ from or prank Adam without the everlasting worry that God, Himself would punish any such shenanigans with eternal damnation. 

Adam always had one great idea too many until he didn’t and launched Old Town Brewing.  It was in this enterprise that his ambition, good taste, generosity and entrepreneurial spirit blissfully collided to produce pure-love in a pint.  Adam makes good beer because only good things come from Adam.”

We will get back to Adam in the second blog post, but first let’s talk about their quarters in NE Portland.  The architect was another Sigma Nu at Oregon, Eric Aust, now practicing in Newport Beach, CA and who specializes in custom residential and commercial development.

https://www.austarchitect.com/old-town-pizza

He succeeded in making Old Town Brewing one of the most impressive and comfortable brewpubs I have visited in seven and one-half years of Beerchasing.   Thebeerchaser is not conversant with technical design concepts and themes, but I know what I like and that was definitely the case with the environment at OTB.

While some of the new breweries and brewpubs in the Pearl are sleek and modern-industrial, the OTB building is rustic – large fireplaces, dark wood and a home-grown Northwest ambiance.  And there are interesting historic photos as can be seen below.

For example, most of the wood in the two-story structure is reclaimed from an old tobacco warehouse in Kentucky.  When we were touring,Adam stated, “You can still smell tobacco,” – (well, at least somebody without the sinus issues that plague me probably could….)

The round barrel tables are former sewing machine stands purchased from an antique store in nearby Aurora.  The bar and backbar are very attractive and there are a variety of seating options.

Attractive bar

Okay, ambiance is nice, but what about the beer?  OTB fares very well in that category which is evidenced by the extensive list of awards on their website dating back to 2013:

https://www.otbrewing.com/dock-sales

I will cover the beer in significantly more depth as well as the food and the trademark battle and show some of the pictures from my first visit – this time with two lawyers – the aforementioned Carson (not Washington) and his fellow lawyer in the Schwabe Natural Resources GroupBrien Flanagan, the Group Leader.

Bowler and Flannagan

Old Town Brewing        5201 NE Martin Luther King Blvd