A Visit to Upright Brewing

Upright Brewing

240 N Broadway St.

Portland, Oregon, 97227

Tasting Room Hours

: Sat-Sun, Noon-5pm

We learned almost a year ago that a new brewery was coming to the Left Bank Project, in the fork where

Weidler

and Broadway split in two.

Founder/brewer Alex

Ganum

described his vision

for Upright Brewing then:

Imagine combining the spirit and methods of rustic French and Belgian style farmhouse brewing with the positive energy and downright beautiful ingredients the Pacific Northwest offers us. These are beers inspired by historical records and the dedicated few who have kept traditions alive, drawing from our city and region for resources and raw materials. In addition to the year-round brands expect to see several unusual special releases including barrel-aged beers, sour beers, fruit beers, smoked beers, and many other distinct brews.

I have been saying that

Upright's

beers speak with a Flemish accent, but maybe French is more accurate. Having interned at

Ommegang

and assisted Dan

Pederson

at

BJ's

(who was one of the earliest Portland brewers to experiment with Belgian styles), this isn't entirely surprising. Yet he takes great pains to emphasize that his beers aren't brewed to style. He would pour a beer, then describe how it behaved, not what it was. His vision does not include telling beer writers what styles inspired him. This is disorienting--you're always trying to get a bead on the beer and the style the brewer was shooting for.

Ganum

doesn't want to be pigeonholed, so he gives you very little to work with.

Guess what? This makes him all the more Belgian. What other country cares so little for the dictates of style?

The Brewery

The brewery is a ten barrel system, already outfitted with

pinot

casks for barrel-aging--with quite a bit of room to grow. Following

Ommegang's

example,

Ganum

uses open

fermenters

in a small, sequestered room, accessible by beautiful fir doors.

(The restoration of the Left Bank means lots of beautiful fir.) The day I visited, a batch was near the end of primary fermentation, and seem dangerously exposed. Not to worry,

Ganum

said cheerfully, "as long as you keep your brewery clean, you shouldn't have any problems. And you should keep your brewery clean anyway."

He uses a French

saison

yeast (perhaps

this one

)--not

Dupont's

. His doesn't require the exotic conditions of

Dupont's

, although it apparently needs a little heat. The day I visited, he had a heater going in the fermentation room. It's a very nice yeast, finishing out to bone dry gravities but somehow leaving the beer tasting smooth and sweet. It is versatile and distinctive, but not aggressive or overly "

Belgiany

." Funky flavors are mostly absent, but subtle, earthy ones reward the observant.

The Beer

Let's start with the naming convention.

Upright's

can be said to be in the

Rochefort

system, following the specific gravity of the wort. (Not, as you might have surmised--as I did--the batch numbers.) So "Four" comes from a wort of roughly 1.040, "Five" of 1.050, and so on.

Ganum

prefers this to the baroque names many beers have. (The brewery name comes from the Upright bass--he's

a jazz fan.)

Four

(4.5%).

We had a discussion just before I left about which of

Ganum's

beer would emerge as favorites. He thinks it will be Four, which is his most distinctive. (I agree, but assessing mass tastes has never been a great forte of mine. In any case, it's

my

favorite.) A cloudy wheat beer (50% of the grist) Four is made with a sour mash, which gives it a lip-smacking tartness. I was recording Alex so I didn't have to take copious notes, and he gave a great description of the process:

Ganum

may not like to refer to established styles when he describes his beer, but I have no such compunction. I'd put this halfway between a

weissebier

and a Berliner

weisse

. It lacks the banana/clove quality of a

weisse

, but isn't as sharp as a Berliner. Rather, it's cleanly tart and acidic and very

quaffable

. The wheat is evident, as are the

Hallertauers

. It's a very classic-tasting, accomplished beer. We didn't have any cheese or a salad to pair with Four, but I bet they would have gone wonderfully together.

In addition to the regular Four, there's a batch on wood to which he will add cherry puree, lactic, and

brettanomyces

claussenii

(a purportedly gentle

brett

). Thereafter, the inoculated barrel will continue to add funk to future batches.

Five

, (5.5%).

Upright's

yeast isn't in-your-face, but I had the opportunity to see just how much it contributes when I tried two batches of Five--one on

Upright's

usual yeast, one on an English ale yeast. Five is an golden, slightly cloudy ale with a creamy, frothy head. The English version was a fairly pedestrian beer. Slightly nutty but

underhopped

, it was sweetish and bland. But on the

saison

yeast it was a totally different bird. It had a rather pungent nose (absent the other Upright beers--odd) and was marked by a strange bitterness--"herbaceous," in Alex's words. The hops come forward, and the malt plays a more supportive role.

Six

, (6.7%).

If people don't resonate with the names of

Upright's

beer, my guess is that they'll refer to six--the only non-golden

Ganum

brews--as "the brown." But more than brown, it's a rye (15-18% of grist), and also has a touch of black barley. It is also highly attenuated, but has a round, fruity/

raisiny

character. Malt-forward and creamy, it is the most familiar of

Upright's

beers.

In addition to the base beer, there are three variants on wood: one with Turkish

chiles

, one with standard

brettanomyces

(not the

claussenii

), and one with chocolate. The plan is to release them simultaneously.

Seven

, (8%).

If

BeerAdvocate

is any guide, all Upright beers are going to be classified as "

saisons

."

Seven seems closest to the mark. It would be considered a strong

saison

, but the character is right. An

orangey

, lively beer with a super dense, creamy head, it sports pronounced hopping. (Magnums to bitter--as is the case with all the beers but Four--as well as Mount Rainier, Liberty, and

Hallertauer

.) It was still a bit green--Alex poured it from the tank--but already finishing out to be a dry, refined beer. I'll have to try it again on tap, but after Four, it was my favorite.

Others

.

Upright's

submission to the Organic Beer Fest is an

unhopped

Gruit

ale

made with a bit of spelt, lemongrass, two types of orange peel, hyssop, and

sichuan

peppercorn.

Upright's

yeast is especially suited to a

gruit

because it finishes so cleanly. We sampled a bit from a batch still in the

fermenter

, and it was already past the cloying stage. A nice combo of herbs, with the peppercorn adding a delicate spicy-herbal note. A

Rauchbier

may or may not also be on the way. The brewery hand-smoked the malt themselves over redwood. Unfortunately they had some yeast issues. If it's not up to snuff, they'll have to dump it.

Final Notes

You can now find pubs around town pouring Four (

EastBurn

) and Five (Belmont Station, Bailey's, Concordia Ale House). Tonight

Six makes its debut at

Seraveza

, when Sarah will tap a fresh firkin at 6pm.

Upright will ultimately be bottling their beer. They are currently trapped in that terrible

Kafkaesqe

process of trying to get their labels approved by the Feds. Samurai Artist is the man behind the label art--variants of the image seen at the

webpage

and on my little audio clip.