Saturday, August 9, 2014

Blast from the past: the Crux of the matter from the land of Deschutes

I hadn’t intended to have a “story arc” of a day, but it turns out that that’s exactly what I had on my Thursday in Bend. 

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The day started in Drake Park, overlooking Mirror Pond, which some know as a body of water and others know as a Deschutes Brewery beer. It was apt for me to make the connection since I was in the park reviewing some notes before a meeting with former Deschutes brewer Larry Sidor, depicted in art form in the Crux Fermentation Project people gallery.

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What was I reviewing? Well there was a lot of brewhaha (sorry, had to pun there) around his departure from Deschutes and opening of Crux Fermentation Project. I love the sweeping narratives, so here’s what I learned from what I read and what I heard directly from him.

Sidor’s dad attended OSU until WWII called him away. He returned to Oregon and opened a dairy farm, returning to OSU to finish his degree and staying on as an Extension agent in subsequent years. His father focused on land use planning and the family lived in both Corvallis and Eastern Oregon; after Larry was grown his dad worked full time for the federal government in Washington DC. I think he returned to Corvallis after that, but my notes are too cryptic for me to decipher. 

Sidor himself graduated from Corvallis High School and then from OSU with a degree in Food Sciences, interning at a winery while he was here. This interest in wine crops up again and he’s been quoted saying that wine making is fairly simple compared to brewing, but it’s the wine growing that’s complex.

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Bringing it back to beer, he had a brewing internship and attended a short course at Siebels, which led him to a job at Olympia Brewing in Washington. Companies change when owners change, and Larry wasn’t happy with how the work environment shifted once Miller (or SABMiller) bought the company.

After leaving Olympia, Sidor was hired by a hop merchant, working to revolutionize hop pellet production and celebrate connecting supplies and new varieties for the next 7 years. At this same time, he bought a vineyard in Yakima and happily harvested for some years, only leaving when he moved on from the hop merchant to take up a position at as head brewer at Deschutes. He was there for 8 years and is well known for pushing the creativity of the beer they made.

He left in 2011 and in 2013 opened a new brewery in Bend with two partners (Paul Evers and Dave Wilson) called the Crux Fermentation Project.

They forged connections with consumers and thought a lot about branding and marketing, but also what would make them different. The answer to the latter was innovation, pushing boundaries, and experimentation. Larry has also been quoted saying “if you brew beer for yourself, the customers will follow.” 

The facility itself is gorgeous, with a great integration of the restaurant’s public space and the brewery’s working space.

There is a fabulous outdoor area, where we spent most of our time talking, with picnic tables and a big lawn for games.

I am still interested in talking with him about transition points in his life (OSU to Olympia to hops to Deschutes to Crux) and how working in both hops and brewing makes him unique. Fortunately, his daughter goes to school at OSU and I’ll be able to nab an oral history soon! 

Later that afternoon I had another tour, this one a public tour of the Deschutes brewing facilities. 

It was a fun time, led by a knowledgeable tour guide. My one criticism is in the discomfort I felt at certain points when that guide made swipes at other large craft brewers in Oregon. It was bad form in my mind, though I admit that it’s possible that I picked up on it because of what I know history-wise – and that may be more than the average Joe. Or Jane.

My favorite bits were learning about the cryogenically frozen super secret yeast that is stored in two locations (I appreciate back up storage for both electronic records and vital brewing ingredients) and the Huppmann Brew House’s road trip up HWY 97. I took very few notes, but took lots of pictures. Enjoy!

Inside Shifties, where you’ll find taps and reminders to employees that they only get one!

I loved the Jubelale art gallery!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Another place worth seeing: Logsdon Farmhouse Ales is divine

My entire drive out to Logsdon Farmhouse Ales this afternoon was spent thinking about how I would describe that trip during the blog post I knew I’d write. Phrases like “Mt. Hood peeked up over the valleys of apple orchards” and “a sign for Glassometry gallery and gardens made me want to postpone the trip for a detour” popped into my head. I was prepared for a lovely drive, and I was treated to an incredibly lovely drive. I was also prepared to arrive at a lovely farm brewery, but it exceeded my expectations.

**Scroll down to the bottom if you want pictures, this next chunk is going to be text heavy.

Except for this first picture, which I did not take but like because it captured the guy I met today. Thanks to Kendall Jones of the Washington Beer Blog — both for taking the picture and writing an article that warned of “ROAD CLOSED” signs!

I spent the early (very early) part of the day writing a blog post on my trip to the OSU germplasm, belatedly writing up a post on the second day of my Bend trip last week (yes, I will post it soon), and researching David Logsdon and his Farmhouse Ales. Did I double-check my facts before posting? Not really, but you can read through my sources at the bottom of this post. I did crash in on Logsdon’s work cutting some wood when I arrived this afternoon, and he generously led me on a short tour of the farm and facilities, adding a light touch of the primary in the source material below… But if I was a student writing a paper I’d have to pretty much count these as once removed from the actual source. 

From that research I learned that Logsdon’s career as a brewer started with homebrewing in 1978 while at Mt. Hood Community College. He was studying Food Science & Technology (also traveling to OSU for a few classes) and came to the conclusion that homebrewing meant “free” or “customized” beer, experimentation with fermentation was good for school, and scratching the itch of curiosity for microbiology could be done with yeast. The microbio itch was further scratched with a part-time job learning to maintain bacteria and yeast cultures. I also learned that his early homebrewing equipment was enhanced by a trip to a surplus store, where he picked up an Army issue stainless steel coffee maker, and the addition of a “v wire” supplied by his friend Kurt Widmer. To reciprocate, Logsdon offered the gift of yeast, which was used for the first beer brewed by Widmer.

In the 1980s he collected yeast strains from breweries and cultured his own brewers’ yeast; the collections came to business fruition in 1985 when he opened a yeast lab. In 1987 he started at Full Sail as one of their founders and brewer, but he left a couple of years later to found the well known Wyeast labs. He didn’t stray far from brewing, of course, and his work with yeast allowed him to brew in the lab’s pilot facilities and consult directly with the brewers who (obviously) use yeast. He sold his shares in Wyeast in the last 2000s and travelled through Europe to start a new yeast collection. One might even use “yeast library” in that previous sentence?

In 2011 he started up a new brewery, this one with no “employees” but several “partners,” an organic mission, and contracts with local hop growers. And that’s where I went today. 

What I haven’t mentioned is the location itself. This brewery lives in a barn, hence the name, but that barn also housed Wyeast until it moved in 2001. The original farmstead dates from 1905 and barn from the 1940s. This truck? I don’t know. 

The farmland itself has had many occupants and I found references to an orchard, dairy land, pig farm, and marijuana “farm.” The family has lived on the land for many years (not as marijuana growers!), raising highland Scottish cattle and Sharbeekse Cherry trees (imported from Belgium). 

They use spent grain to feed the cows and compost their hops and yeast sludge.

Other fun fact I learned?

  • To qualify as organic you have to scrape and toast the wine barrels because the wine may have contaminated the wood.

For the good of the historical record, I did have a small tasting flight and bought a bottle, and if you like the sour funky beers you will agree that these are divine. 

I have plans to come back to Hood River in the late fall and look forward to doing an oral history so I’ll have some primary sources to share rather than these regurgitated facts and lovely photos!

Sources: 

USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository: field trip report from the archive of plants

For those who are delighted by the very thought of historic preservation, uniqueness, and history the National Clonal Germplasm Repository is the place for geeking out over plants.

It’s a library of plants and Peter Kopp and I spent a few hours there Tuesday afternoon talking hops and learning about how the facility operates. Our conversation with Supervisory Research Horticulturist Dr. Kim Hummer included diplomatic relations, plant heredity, genetic testing, species verification, strawberries, and Luther Burbank.

Established in 1981, their purpose is to collect and preserve plant specimens from all over the globe.

The National Clonal Germplasm Repository is a branch of the Agricultural Research Service research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Repository is a gene bank that preserves genetic resources by various means, including cryopreservation. There are nine clonal repositories located in appropriate locations throughout the United States. Germplasm of citrus plants and dates are preserved in Riverside, California, a distribution center for grapes, temperate fruit, walnut, almond and pistachio nuts is located in Davis, California, and the repository for temperate small fruit, pears, hazelnut, butternut and specialty crops is located in Corvallis, Oregon.

While the whole network collects specimens from throughout the world, this unit was established to “collect, maintain, distribute, evaluate, and document germplasm of hazelnut, strawberry, hop, mint, pear, currant, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, and specialty temperate fruit and nut crops and their wild relatives.” Each is grown in greenhouses or stored in seed/cutting form (back up) for both commercial and wild varieties. Snaps from the tour of Greenhouse 8, which does also house raspberries that (regrettably) I didn’t sample…

This isn’t just a place to grow stuff though,

The associated research program adheres closely to the practical problems of germplasm storage, including managing plants in a field genebank, with back-up, alternative storage in tissue culture, and cryogenics. Pathogen detection and elimination, plant genotype identity verification through morphological and molecular means, and development of seed and clonal propagation techniques are critically important research aspects that are performed to ensure the efficient operation of the genebank.

As a side note, many may know that wild hops have been in the hop/beer news lately with Natasha Geiling’s article “In Search of the Great American Beer” and reactions to it. 

What this means is that they save the plants in different forms, both keeping them alive in order to share soft tissue cuttings for research purposes and trying to destroy them with viruses! Kim joked that her job was to kill the plants, but pointed us to Jim Oliphant (Biological Science Technician and greenhouse guru) to talk about how they keep them alive.

I haven’t spent tons of time on their portion of their site that pertains to hops, but it is extremely robust and I could see how it would be extremely useful for people researching the lineage of hops!

One of my favorites, probably not surprisingly, is this photo essay “A Repository expedition to collect native North American hops from the southern Rocky Mountain region of the United States” because the rest makes me feel a bit like this…

The bunny cartoon above was tacked up just outside the geneticist’s office!

And I could imagine that for others a favorite page would be these nestled under the domain NCGR-Corvallis Humulus Catalog of Hops: Hop Cultivars and Selections: “Humulus Core Subset” and the more comprehensive “Hop Cultivars and Selections.” 

Their site summarizes the magic nicely: “this genebank supports many multi-million dollar temperate fruit, nut, and specialty crop industries throughout the US and the world…” preserving an “invaluable diverse living plant collections for all people for all time.” I went to Seed Savers in Decorah Iowa last summer, the trip that really sparked my idea for OHBA, where I had an amazing time.

The place was beautiful, as you can see above, but beyond visual aesthetics my mind was blown by the idea that to keep something alive you had to grow it. Most/many seeds can’t be saved forever, despite our technologies, so you really do have to grow them rather than put them in a sterile box in a sterile refrigerator. The image below is from Seed Saver storage. 

My view of archives is very similar. While preservation is obviously at the top of my mind, there is nothing more professionally satisfying than seeing someone dig into research resources and make connections that change the course of their work. I collect to preserve, of course, but I also collect because I want people to actually learn something or recollect something by actually using the materials. 

Long live archives! And hops. And happy scientists and historians.