83 Beers Later

Now that we’ve officially rung in the New Year, we can close the books on our 2012 brewing logs and take stock of what the Breakside team has accomplished over the last twelve months. In 2011, we released 92 different beers. 2012’s total came in slightly lower at 83 beers; though, considering that we did more re-brews and built out a new brewery, this is still a pretty respectable number. Here are some interesting notes about those 83 beers:

  • 17 fall into the broad category of “American ales.” These include all of our hoppy Northwest-style IPAs and pale ales, our fresh hop beers, CDA and imperial red. As mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, we did three different fresh hop beers this year, including the very popular Fresh Hop Citra Wheatwine.
  • We can’t keep pace with Cascade and their barrel releases, but we did release 12 beers this year that were 100% barrel-aged. If you count beers with barrel-aged components, or beers that were barrel fermented that number rises slightly. Most of these beers were released either around our 2nd anniversary back in May or at our bottle release and Winter Formal last month. To break it down even further, there were 3 gin barrel-aged beers, 7 bourbon barrel-aged beers, 1 from a Chinato barrel, and 1 beer that is wild fermented in neutral oak.
  • As for European-inspired brewing, we released 13 Belgian-style beers, 10 German-inspired beers, and 8 that come from the classic British brewing tradition. Looking at these numbers now, I’m surprised that we didn’t do more British ales this past year. Notably, we made no Scottish-style ales, nor any lower alcohol bitters or pale ales. Had it not been for Andrew Horne’s ESB in the fall, we would have failed to make any bitters at all!
  • And then there are the out-of-style beers. I’ve long maintained that our experimentation with non traditional fermentables and flavors in beer is just one component of what we do at Breakside, and I do bristle at the descriptions of Breakside that characterize us as a purely “experimental brewery.” That said, we made 23 different beers that can’t easily be categorized or that clearly violate the German Purity Law. Here is the complete list of adjuncts that made their way into our beers this year: espelette chile, salted caramel, sour cherries, lychee, counoise juice, maple caramel, fennel seed, pineapple, fatali peppers, aji cerezas, tarragon, sweet orange peel, chamomile, coriander, bitter orange peel, habanero peppers, serrano peppers, Dutch chocolate, cacao nibs, western red cedar tips, chestnuts, wildfire honey, lapsang souchong tea, lemongrass, tomatillo, Oregon sea salt, lavender, kaffir lime, galangal, coffee, rhubarb, strawberries, lemon peel, Colorado spruce tips, vanilla bean, star anise, cucumber, lime peel, sungold tomatoes, Genovese basil, Oregon wild plums, candy cap mushrooms, ginger, saffron, pumpkin, apples, coconut, dill flower, caraway, rosemary, hazelnuts, nutmeg, passionfruit and blueberries.

There were a few areas of beer world that we really didn’t get to explore in 2012, and I expect that we’ll be spending more time brewing more lagers and recreating historical styles in 2013. Indeed, with our new production facility ready to pump out a huge amount of beer this year, we’ll have a lot more flexibility to dedicated time and tank space to lagers. In January alone, we’ll be releasing three of them!

Now, what about favorites? First off, I think it’s important to mention that we do recognize that not all beers are created equal (nor are all beer styles), and there were some missteps amongst those 83 beers of 2012. Before I start patting Sam, Jacob, Andrew and myself on the back for a job well done, I think there are a few misses that are worth remembering. Here are the five beers we made in 2012 that you likely will not see again:

  • There were a handful of beers that we made that were damned by a flawed malt profile. Perhaps these beers shouldn’t make the ‘never again’ list, because really what they need is some fundamental changes. Our East Coast Pale Ale was a nice Cascade-driven hoppy beer that was marred by the false diacetyl flavors from Crystal 60L malts; International Way APA and the second version of our Newport Summer Ale both demonstrated why Simpsons Golden Promise is a better base malt in dark beers–the husky/grainy flavor was super unpleasant in such light bodied beers. And, Victory malt has been forever banned from use in our Belgian-style beers after it overtook the flavor profile of our Belgian Pale Ale. So, if these beers do re-emerge, expect to see them have entirely new malt flavors.
  • I am done with Gose, at least flavored ones, at least for a while. I love using salt to add complexity and mouthfeel to beers, but the Cucumber Gose and BLT Gose that we made this year both were disappointments. With gose, where the salt character is meant to be prominent, these beers quickly move into the territory of undrinkability, and we certainly were guilty of trying to use a neutral gose base as too much of an easy springboard for further experimentation. I do think that there’s some potential here, but if we make a gose in 2013 it will be a ‘plain’ one, and if I want to flavor it I’ll mix it with some Bloody Mary mix in a brunch cocktail rather than in a fermentor.
  •  Smoky Radler. Peated malt plus lemon peel. Not sure what we were thinking with that one.
  • Lavender Fudge Stout and Coffee Cream Stout. Both of these were ‘doctored’ versions of our dry stout, and they were demonstrations of how difficult it can be to balance flavors delicately when trying to ‘reverse engineer’ a beer. In the case of the LFS, the lavender-to-cacao ratio just skewed a little too much to lavender. The Coffee Cream Stout was proof that dry stout and coffee really should not be mixed.
  • My personal biggest miss in brewing this year was our Yakima Valley Sour Ale. This was brewed with the intention of being a ‘blueberry sour,’ and the beer was neither sour enough nor did any real blueberry character come through. On the upside, this beer did provide us with a fantastic way of culturing some bacteria and wild yeast that were later used (more successfully!) in our Passionfruit Berlinerweisse and the New World Bruin (currently in barrels, due for a May release).

Writing that is a good form of brewer’s catharsis. Now that I’ve expiated those 2012 beer sins, here is my highly personal list of our eight best beers this year:

8) Session Brown I wrote this recipe in June on a flight from Boise after judging at the North American Beer Awards and tasting through many milds and browns. It was fun to re-tool it for a few more batches in the summer, and then a wonderful surprise when it medaled at this year’s GABF.

7) Apizza Alt There were a number of beers that were part of our Chef Collaboration Series that were highlights for me over the past year, but the delight that this beer elicited from Brian Spangler of Apizza Scholls was a real validation of the entire project.

6) New Nordic Porter I was really satisfied by how well the dill, caraway, and fennel intermingled in this beer. This beer is my case that ‘experimental flavored beers’ can be drinkable, balanced, and complex. One of our riskier experiments this year (dill beer, really?) was one of my most pleasant surprises.

5) Smoked Apple Ale An idea that I’d been toying with for a long time came together really nicely: 200 pounds of free apples fell into our laps, and the guys at FH Steinbart were kind enough to let me press all of them in the rain on Election Night. The result: our fastest moving one off in Breakside history.

4) 1911 Vienna Coffee Beer Our senior brewer, Sam Barber knocked it out of the park with this beer that was a three way collaboration between Breakside, Saraveza, and Red E Coffee Roasters. The sweet, medium-bodied base beer complemented the lightly roasted, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Red E just beautifully. To me this was proof, that there’s a whole realm of lighter coffee beers waiting to be explored.

3) Gin IPA In the interest of full disclosure, I stole this idea directly from Ben Flerchinger at Lucky Lab. The name says it all: Breakside IPA went into an Old Tom Gin barrel from Ransom Spirits, got re-dry hopped in the barrel and then bottled. I’ve heard from some folks that these beers are still holding up beautifully, so you might want to try it now if you have any left from the 2nd Anniversary sale.

2) Cedarbaumbier We’ll be doing a lot more foraging in 2013, and western red cedar tips are at the top of the list of ‘crops’ to get again. There’s no beer that we make that is more “Oregonian” than this one, and I’m still impressed by the complex aromas–so similar to hops, yet distinct–that come from using tree tips.

1) Woodlawn Pale Ale What began as a project to re-tool our Hoppy Amber evolved into the creation of an entirely new, year-round beer. I’ve probably spent more time thinking about the recipe and execution of this beer than any other over the last eight months, and now it’s scaled up for 60 barrel production. Only 26 IBUs, and still one of the most hop forward beers we’ve ever made.

To those folks who came and tried one, some, many or all of our beers in 2013, thank you so much for your support. The rest of the brewery staff and I promise you more creativity, fun and deliciousness in the coming year! Onward to 2013 and a whole new set of beers!

Cheers,

Ben

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