A Morning at the ‘Shire
by Kevin – Beer and Coding in Eugene
Have you noticed the flood of new Oakshire brews hitting the taps over the last few weeks? Single Batch beers Willamette Dammit (English pale ale), Patriot Porter and Black Wolf Schwarzbier, have all been released since late December. And last week, the brewery’s spring seasonal, O’Dark:30, returned for its second year. I stopped by the brewery last Thursday to talk with Matt about Oakshire’s current beer-a-week pace, their barrel program and what we can expect to see from them this year.
When I arrived at Oakshire, Matt and Joe were getting started on the brewery’s Collaboration Brew for this year’s KLCC Microbrew Festival. Last year’s collaboration was a Belgian-style Cascadian Dark Rye Ale. This time around the theme has been simplified: SMASH. Each participating brewery is crafting a session-strength beer, using only a Single Malt And Single Hop. Glen Eagle Maris Otter is the chosen malt, but each brewery is allowed to pick their own hop and yeast. Oakshire chose the just-pelletized and very fragrant 2010 harvest Mt. Hood hop and their house California ale yeast.
While Joe got to work on the Collaboration Brew, Matt took me on a tour of the brewery’s recent changes. We started with the newest additions to the brewhouse, a stand-alone whirlpool vessel and permanent decking. When whirlpooling is performed in the kettle, the hot wort has to be chilled and transferred to the fermenter before the next batch can be sparged. Having a separate vessel allows for faster back-to-back brews, as the kettle is free as soon as the wort is transferred to the whirlpool.The decking is also big upgrade, giving the brewers a large, elevated work area.
In the fermentation room, I was shown the brewery’s bottling and labeling machines. By switching over from a mobile service to in-house bottling, Oakshire can now better time their runs. It also opens the door for bottled limited releases, like the brewery’s upcoming Bourbon Barrel Barleywine. And speaking of barrels, our next stop was a wall of Cabernet barrels near the tasting room where a Flanders Red and “Amber” beer are aging. The Amber barrels had Drie Fonteinen yeast added, while the Flanders received a cocktail of Brett B., Brett L. and Lacto. We pulled the plugs on a couple of Flanders barrels and took a peek inside. Though only a week or so into the barrel aging, there was already a layer of milky white bubbles, a sign of strong Brett activity.
After peering into these young barrels, it was time to head across the street and taste some mature ones. In the barrel room, we sampled 5 beers, starting with the aforementioned and soon to be released Barleywine. The Barleywine is 100% aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, contributing rich notes of oak and vanilla; a completely smooth brew that is definitely ready for release. Next up was my favorite of the barrel-aged beers we tasted, a Pinot barrel of Collaborative Evil ’09, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale doused with Drie Fonteinen yeast and Lacto. The beer was amazingly deep; tropical fruit, wine, oak and a touch of barnyard funk. Matt commented that he thought it would be a 2011 release and I completely agree.
The last three beers we tried were a Pinot Barrel of Le Ferme (Oakshire’s PCTBB saison, with La Folie yeast and fresh apricots), a Pinot Barrel of faux Berliner Weisse (made from Oakshire Wheat with a couple pitches of Lacto) and a Pinot barrel of Oakshire Amber with Drie Fonteinen yeast, Lacto and chesterberries. The Saison has a very delicate flavor, with just a hint of apricot showing. The La Folie yeast is just starting to take hold and I imagine that in another 6-12 months, it will be a completely different animal. The “Berliner” was light and crisp, with a clean lacto-sourness. The Amber we sampled was from the brewery’s oldest barrel and it has undergone a full transformation. It is tart, funky and has the same balsamic-like acetic flavor that I get in Rodenbach or Duchesse de Bourgogne. Not bad company at all.
After sampling barrels, we talked about the brewery’s recent Single Batch beers. Willamette Dammit and Patriot Porter were both fermented with a pitch of Steelhead Brewing’s house English ale yeast. And Black Wolf is the latest of Oakshire’s single batch lagers, preceded by a Smoked Helles, Novemberfest Marzen and Hibernator Doppelbock. It was a coincidence that Black Wolf finished lagering around the same time the other Single Batch beers were released and this early salvo is not an indication of the pace for 2011. Oakshire released around 20 Single Batch beers in 2010, but increasing demand for the brewery’s core beers, coupled with entry into new markets like Bend and Vancouver, means the number will probably be lower this year.
However, this is not to say that Oakshire is lacking in new things coming down the pipe. Laughing Planet has tapped the brewery for a special beer to accompany the opening of their second Eugene location later this spring. And starting the second weekend in February, Oakshire brewers will take turns on Jeff’s 10 gallon homebrew system each Saturday. While not a formal how-to-brew class, people visiting the brewery will be able to ask questions and observe the process. And the resulting beer can then be used for festivals and events where something unique is desired.
Oakshire is also looking to add a lighter beer back to their standard lineup. After being canceled last year, Oakshire Wheat is back, albeit on a limited basis. Fighting Widmer for wheat beer tap space is not an easy battle and the brewery is kicking around the idea of making a Pilsner or Kolsch to assume the role of full-time light offering.
We ended my visit by talking about Oakshire’s brewery farm. The farm, located next door to the brewery, includes a vegetable garden, chicken coop and earth oven. While not an attempt at GYO beer, ala Rogue, it does provide an outlet for brewery staff who enjoy both gardening and the resulting fresh food. The farm has been another way for the brewery to involve the community, hosting parties to plant crops, turn down beds and construct the outdoor oven. Oakshire is also continuing their series of beer pairing classes at the brewery. Earlier this week was another beer and chocolate class. And on February 17th, Mike Coplin, co-owner of 16 Tons, will be the special guest for the next beer and cheese pairing.
In other words, a lot to look forward to in 2011 from Eugene’s other brewery.