A Visit to 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
and Broadway split in two.
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
beers speak with a Flemish accent, but maybe French is more accurate. Having interned at
and assisted Dan
(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.
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 is a ten barrel system, already outfitted with
casks for barrel-aging--with quite a bit of room to grow. Following
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,
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
. His doesn't require the exotic conditions of
, 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 "
." Funky flavors are mostly absent, but subtle, earthy ones reward the observant.
Let's start with the naming convention.
can be said to be in the
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.
prefers this to the baroque names many beers have. (The brewery name comes from the Upright bass--he's
a jazz fan.)
We had a discussion just before I left about which of
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
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:
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
and a Berliner
. It lacks the banana/clove quality of a
, but isn't as sharp as a Berliner. Rather, it's cleanly tart and acidic and very
. The wheat is evident, as are the
. 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
(a purportedly gentle
). Thereafter, the inoculated barrel will continue to add funk to future batches.
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
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
, it was sweetish and bland. But on the
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.
If people don't resonate with the names of
beer, my guess is that they'll refer to six--the only non-golden
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/
character. Malt-forward and creamy, it is the most familiar of
In addition to the base beer, there are three variants on wood: one with Turkish
, one with standard
), and one with chocolate. The plan is to release them simultaneously.
is any guide, all Upright beers are going to be classified as "
Seven seems closest to the mark. It would be considered a strong
, but the character is right. An
, 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
.) 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.
submission to the Organic Beer Fest is an
made with a bit of spelt, lemongrass, two types of orange peel, hyssop, and
yeast is especially suited to a
because it finishes so cleanly. We sampled a bit from a batch still in the
, and it was already past the cloying stage. A nice combo of herbs, with the peppercorn adding a delicate spicy-herbal note. A
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.
You can now find pubs around town pouring Four (
) and Five (Belmont Station, Bailey's, Concordia Ale House). Tonight
, when Sarah will tap a fresh firkin at 6pm.
Upright will ultimately be bottling their beer. They are currently trapped in that terrible
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
and on my little audio clip.