Newsy: Old Town Update, Barley Research, Book Signing

It's one of those days when enough small items have collected to warrant a roundup. So without further throat-clearing, let's just get to it.

Old Town Brewing Update

Old Town Brewing's Adam Milne certainly accomplished one thing: he brought a ton of attention to his battle with the City of Portland over his leaping stag trademark. Local newspapers and TV stations have covered the story, it sparked a Reverend Nat-led protest at the brewery, and the Mayor's office was forced to respond.

(Reverend) Nat West rallies supporters of Old Town Brewing.

As this whole issue has unspooled, one weird point has become a bone of contention. The city freely admits it was in negotiations with "big breweries," but for some reason is bent on denying that it's AB InBev. In his response to Old Town, mayoral spokesman Michael Cox tweeted, "The city is NOT in discussions with @AnheuserBusch to use any part of the Portland sign." Does the story get a lot better for the city if their secret discussions were with MillerCoors or Heineken? Either way, their plan has been to damage the trademark of a local brewery so they can license that trademark to a multinational competitor. The optics are terrible.

According to the latest rumors, both Old Town and the city are appealing to the Oregon Brewers Guild. As the maneuvers go underground, it's harder for me to get on-the-record comments, and the city is now ignoring my repeated inquiries. (Even benign ones, as when I asked Cox to elaborate on the proposal behind this sentence: "The Mayor has directed his bureaus to fashion a "BEER-XIT" to resolve the kerfuffle.") My sense is that a fair amount is happening behind closed doors, but we haven't reached any resolution yet. The good news, if you're an Old Town fan, is that there's clearly movement. Milne's effort to publicize the dispute has turned it from a legal fight into a political one, and that has changed the dynamic in City Hall.

Barley Research

Researchers at Oregon State are giving barley the Shellhammer treatment: trying to quantify the ways different strains affect flavor in beer, and in turn, how those strains are affected by terroir. The upshot:

Barley genotype had significant effects on many sensory descriptors. The most significant sensory descriptors—when comparing barley genotypes—were cereal, color, floral, fruity, grassy, honey, malty, toasted, toffee, and sweet. Golden Promise was significantly higher in fruity, floral, and grassy flavors, whereas Full Pint was significantly higher in malty, toffee, and toasted flavors. CDC Copeland was closest to neutral for most flavor traits. There were notable differences for some descriptors between locations.

That researchers documented the way different barley strains vary in flavor is entirely predictable and well-known--at least to Europeans. Americans, it seems, are centuries behind them in tumbling to these ancient truths. In the  announcement of the findings, researchers sound pretty silly when they say this:

We started this project with a question: Are there are novel flavors in barley that carry through malting and brewing and into beer? This is a revolutionary idea in the brewing world. We found that the answer is yes.
— OSU barley breeder Pat Hayes

if they had picked up a copy of The Secrets of Master Brewers, researchers might have learned that this idea is not so much revolutionary as foundational. Breweries in the UK, Germany, and the Czech Republic build their beers around base malts and barley varieties, which are fundamental to the character of their beer. It's why when you stop into a British brewery and ask about the malt, they'll tell you if it's Optic or Golden Promise or Tipple or whatever. Rather, Hayes' is an inadvertently revealing comment that says a lot more about American brewing than it does about barley. I am delighted that Americans are turning away from the idea that base malts are merely the "sugar" in a recipe, but let's not generalize this as a worldwide discovery.

Book Talk and Signing

In what looks to be my only book signing of the season, I'll be at the Beer Stein in Eugene on Saturday, December 9 from 3 - 5pm. The event will start out with a talk on the influence of national tradition on beer styles and then I'll sign copies of The Beer Bible and Secrets of Master Brewers. Books will be available for sale at retail price ($20/$25). I don't have to tell you what a handsome gift they make! Of course, you don't have to buy books, and I am always happy to sign books you bring to events. Come join us if you're interested.


Jeff Alworth1 Comment