May 20th bottle release!

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May 20th bottle release!

On Saturday, May 20th from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m., we are hosting our fourth release of barrel-aged beers with a nod towards the coming sunny days of summer. The new beers will be available for tasting for the first time and bottle pickup for mailing list members.  Additionally, in celebration of their collaboration with the Eugene Symphony and its upcoming SymFest, a classical string ensemble will perform during the release.

We’re all excited about this release as it includes a few really fun projects, (including Brian's wedding beer!) and are also looking forward to warmer weather and the beginning of fruit beer season!

Beers to be released include: 

  • Touch of Brett: Mosaic – Farmhouse ale aged in French oak barrels and dry hopped with Mosaic hops.
  • Pinot Spontanée – Barrel-aged wild ale spontaneously fermented on Pinot Noir must.
  • Plum in Love – Wild golden ale aged in French oak barrels with whole local Santa Rosa plums.
  • Strawberry Symphony – Collab with the Eugene Symphony. Strawberry gose with 100% OR ingredients.

EVENT DETAILS: The event will take place from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. on May 20th at the brewery (1000 Conger Street) in Eugene.  A Eugene Symphony string ensemble will provide live music for a portion of the afternoon and a food cart will be on site with meals available for purchase.  Beers will be released online first to the mailing list a couple weeks prior to the release and this will be the official pick-up party.  For members who have purchased bottles during the online presale, orders will be ready for pickup and free samples will be available of each, served in commemorative glassware and accompanied with carefully paired chocolates.

Non-mailing list members are also welcome - tastes of our newest release and chocolate pairing will be available for purchase ($15; no commemorative glassware) as well as bottles of the new release depending on availability after the presale.

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Intro to "Farmhouse" Ales

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Intro to "Farmhouse" Ales

WHAT ARE FARMHOUSE ALES?

During the last decade, the term Farmhouse ale has grown exponentially in the craft brewing world.  Sure, East Coast brewers have been privy to this type of brewing for a long time, with access to the best of French and Belgian examples, and with the 2004 release of Phil Markowski’s very informative book, Farmhouse Ales. But the hop happy west coast, where we live, was a little slower to adopt these eclectic group of beers oft brewed with unique brewing techniques. In fact, most Belgian related styles were hard to come by when I moved to Oregon in 2009.  Today, some of the best brewers of Farmhouse Ales are found in Oregon.  For those new to this vast array of beer styles originating in the rolling hills of French and Belgian farm country, I hope to give a quick inside peek and shed some light on what farmhouse ales are.  For more in depth understanding, I highly recommend the aforementioned book.

A Farmhouse ale isn’t just a single beer style, but a set of styles with fuzzy boundaries. If one needs to know specifics, you could lump the following beer styles into Farmhouse Ales: Saison, Biere de Garde, Biere de Mars, Grisette, and perhaps even Sahti.  The last three styles are arguably just sub-styles of the former two.  Many of today’s American craft brewers who are producing these styles are also making beers like lambic, Flanders red and brown, gose and Berliner weisse.  All these styles have similarities to Farmhouse brewing, but I won’t be touching on them, as that goes down a rabbit hole that is too in depth for the confines of this post.

TWO MAIN STYLES

First, to give a little overview of the two main beer styles, one may want to know the basics of a Saison and Biere de Garde. However, keep in mind that specifics of a beer style do not define farmhouse ales.

A saison (French for “season”) was typically a pale ale that is generally around 7% abv, highly carbonated, fruity, spicy, and often bottle conditioned. Historically, most Saisons were lighter, in the 3-4% range as more of a refreshing summer time beer for the farmworkers. Most saisons varied based on preference or what was on hand to brew with.

A Biere de Garde ("beer for keeping") is a a strong pale ale or keeping beer traditionally brewed in the Nord-Pas-Calais region of France. These beers were originally brewed in farmhouses during the winter and spring, to avoid unpredictable problems with the yeast during the summertime. Biere de Gardes were typically amber or copper to golden beers, often of higher strength than Saisons and packaged to be consumed later in the year.

While these definitions will help us understand what we are drinking, most breweries producing these beers have their own interpretation.  The best part about this group of beer styles is that you don’t have to have narrow lines to stay within.  There is much room for free styling, in my opinion.

PROCESS

Beyond grain and hop bills and yeast choices in these styles specifically, what I feel is the real essence of Farmhouse ale is process related. Three points to consider are where it’s brewed and where the ingredients are sourced, how it is fermented, and how it is carbonated.

One aspect common to all Farmhouse ales in the past, is that they were brewed in rural settings on farms.  Agrarian Ales outside of Coburg, Oregon is one such example.  While they make many farmhouse styles, they actually promote themselves just as a ‘farm brewery’ that creates ales on a farm.  What differentiates that from a brewery located in an urban setting is that a farmhouse brewer can use, or sometimes HAS to use what they have on the farm.  Well water. Check.  Grains grown by the farmhands. Check. Wild harvested berries and herbs. Check.  Today, Farmhouse styles can be brewed anywhere, while still giving a nod to the farm, yet still be located on city water and waste.  However, if you want to truly make Farmhouse ales, move to the country.

Another process related aspect is the use of organisms other than cultured saccharomyces for fermentation. In days gone by, there may have been spontaneous fermentation, not unlike the lambics of Belgium. Also, the use of wood in fermentation would promote the growth of wild yeasts like Brettanomyces and bacteria like lacto and pedio. This varied ‘soup’ of critters would surely lead to some of the classic flavors in these rustic beers.  Hay, earth, fruit, barnyard, and of course tartness, defined these unique beers. Filtration, of course, wasn’t a technology initiated in these days, so haze and yeast were quite common. Today, brewers can purchase and pitch a host of micro-organisms to simulate that mixed culture fermentation, and many of the best farmhouse brewers today have good control over their micro-organisms and are able to produce repeatable results.  This ability, in my mind is what separates the average brewers from the masters. Paul Arney at Ale Apothocary in Bend certainly falls into this category of brewers who has a great understanding of their fermentation.

Finally, many brewers of Farmhouse styles will point to bottle conditioning for carbonation as a true essence of what makes Farmhouse ales authentic. Hundreds of years ago in the rolling hills of Northern France, you wouldn’t have the CO2 truck dropping off bottles of compressed carbon dioxide.  You needed to call on your yeast and maybe some added sugar to provide a refermentation in the bottle.  This not only adds authenticity to the beer that is being made, but also changes the mouthfeel, appearance, and some would argue the flavor. Sean Burke at Commons Brewery in Portland is known to be a big proponent of bottle conditioning as a key component to farmhouse ales.

In conclusion, I leave you with these questions to ponder. Can a Farmhouse ale be made in a large city? Can you order ingredients from far away or do you need to grow your barley? And can you force carbonate your beer to make a lovely and effervescent Saison?  Of course, the answer to those questions are personal to each brewer. Many brewers today would say yes to those questions, because we are truly inspired by and influenced by the brewers of yesterday and the challenges they faced in making palatable beer.  Paying homage to many of the components of farmhouse ales could be enough. But other very talented brewers might argue otherwise.  Personally, I’d love to sit down with the makers at Ale Apothocary, De Garde, Logsdon and Commons breweries and have a lively debate on what is really the essence of a farmhouse beer. Regardless of the ‘right answer’ to these questions, farmhouse ales are personal, artistic, and eclectic. Despite the brevity of this post, I would challenge you to seek out farmhouse ales and truly get a taste of a brewer’s creativity and expression.

Cheers!

Matt

 

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Alesong does the Big Apple!

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Alesong does the Big Apple!

At the end of 2016, we were invited by The Brewers Association to participate in a beer pairing dinner in Manhattan targeted towards media members outside the typical beer writers. The dinner was by invitation only and had the intent of keeping the mainstream media abreast of the state of small and independent brewers in the US. When they explained that 40 writers would be invited alongside only four breweries who would pair their beers with food created by four guest chefs, we knew this was a great opportunity to showcase Alesong Brewing and Blending to a group that typically would not be interested in someone as new and small as us.  So we answered the call and I packed my bags for NYC.

The other brewers that were invited included Rob Todd of Allagash Brewing in Maine, John Mallet of Bells in Michigan and Lynne Weaver of 3 Weavers in California.  The chefs, led by the BA's executive chef Adam Duyle, came from New York, Boston, Denver and Boulder.  We were paired with Brian Mercury of Boston's Oak and Rowan.  I hadn't met Brian, but I sent him out a sampling of beers we could use for the dessert course of the dinner and he chose Saison du Vin '16 as the course pairing.  And then he used it to create the most awesome Saison du Vin sorbet on a beautiful plate that included grapefruit, quinoa, apricot, earl grey, and kumquat.  It was a great cap to the dinner, as the tropical notes from the Muscat grape addition produced astounding harmony with the tart, fruity citrus in the sorbet and its accoutrements. Delish!

But rewinding a bit, before the dinner I was able to see a little of New York thanks to my friends and beer writers John Holl and Josh Bernstein.  Josh is a great writer, but I know now he’s also a fantastic tour guide when looking to visit a few breweries in New York, his home turf. I also got the opportunity to speak on John's podcast, After Two Beers.  We'll provide a link to that audio once it’s published (provided of course that I sound good in my comments!).

I was able to check out a few beer bars and breweries while there and had some great beers.  The NY beer scene is rapidly expanding, but still seems like it has plenty of room to grow considering the 8 million people that live there.  Of course this is coming from a guy who calls Oregon home…  No offense East Coasters, but we're spoiled with our volume and variety out here!

Anyway, back to the dinner...  During the meal, each brewer had the opportunity to speak for roughly 10 minutes about their brewery, the beer in the dinner and a few comments on what it means to be a small and independent brewery. I touched on what it is like to be a new brewery and open one in today's highly competitive craft beer scene with the main point being that there is room for more breweries to open, despite the fact that there are 5000+ breweries open today. In our view, there’s always more space for newcomers if the new breweries: 1) focus on making the highest quality beer, 2) serve their home market well, 3) differentiate themselves from the crowd, and 4) place an emphasis on a great customer experience.  Our industry is healthy and thriving and more and more breweries are going to continue to pop up across the country.  We’re thrilled to be a part of it!

While it was a whirlwind of a trip across the country, it is great "seeing how the other half lives" and share our message with the media. And having a world class beer dinner to experience it with is not all bad either.

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Get to know your beer: Here Comes the Sun

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Get to know your beer: Here Comes the Sun

For every quarterly release at Alesong, we make at least one non barrel aged beer.  In the past we have made a Blackberry Gose and a Belgian Quad.  For the release on Feb. 25, we knew that we would still be in the cold-ish time of year but would be headed toward sunnier days as spring approaches.  Knowing that, brewing a Biere de Mars seemed like the obvious choice. 

Biere de Mars is a type of Farmhouse ale originating in Belgium and France.  Historically, they were brewed in the cold winter months, to be released in March as a welcome to Spring when lighter styles of beer were appreciated as the temperatures warmed.  And like other farmhouse styles (Saison, Biere de Garde, Grissette) there is a wide range of what the style can be, allowing brewers to offer up their own interpretations.

Mainly they are dry, crisp, and light similar to a Saison.  However, some examples that I've experienced have a little malt balance to them. Sometimes they are spiced with herbs and spices or even dried fruit.  They can also be crafted with just the four main beer ingredients and given the bulk of their character through fermentation with an expressive Belgian yeast.  Really, what's fun about this one is it is mostly up to the brewer and there is a fairly wide range of what a Biere de Mars can be!

Our version, Here Comes the Sun, is a light orange colored beer reminiscent of an Oregon sunrise.  It has mild aromas of citrus, grass, hay, and flowers.  Light bodied and crisp, Here Comes the Sun is perfectly refreshing for the warmer months to come. We dry hopped the beer for some extra aroma and there are 5 different herbs and spices added, but you'll just have to drink it to find out what they are.  Let us know your guesses.

Cheers!

Matt

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Get to know your beer: Cherry Parliament

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Get to know your beer: Cherry Parliament

This was a super fun beer for us and another great example of how things evolve over time.  We started out with some inspiration from the Flemish beer styles Oud Bruin and Flanders Red and made a deep reddish brown base beer using healthy doses of some darker malts.  We pitched a full array of microflora, including brett, lacto and pedio on top of the primary saccharomyces fermentation to add some nice acidity that really evolved over the first few months in neutral French oak wine barrels. 

At that point we were pulling some barrel samples to taste and felt like it was coming along quite nicely, but maybe still missing just a little bit of the intrigue we were hoping for…

...so as we barreled up Rhino Suit in October, we decided to transfer a few of the barrels of our adolescent wild red ale into those freshly emptied bourbon barrels and add whole, Oregon grown cherries to the mix.   Those barrels went nuts for a few days as the cherries fermented (making quite a mess in the cellar), but after finally calming down and maturing for a couple more months, we were thrilled with the result!

The final blend includes about 25% beer that spent the duration in neutral oak Pinot Noir barrels and 75% that got a quick, couple month dose of second use bourbon barrels in addition.  So although Cherry Parliament took a little different path than initially contemplated on brewday, we love the beer and our flexibility to experiment a little bit and evolve each project as it develops is one of the most exciting things we get to do around here. 

Mellow notes of cherry, dark fruits, and spices blend with some pleasant vanilla oakiness and just a hint of chocolate on the finish.  Mild to moderate acidity headlines a medium bodied mouthfeel, and obviously if you’re making a Parliament reference, it's gotta have that funk!

Cheers!

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