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The Visual Art of Craft Beer Part 1 – My Top 5

March 25, 2011 2 comments

New and...improved?

There has been quite a few stories in the beer press lately that have really got me thinking about beer artwork.  There’s the new look of Red Hook (check out this post on Washington Beer blog), a new label design for one of my favorite beers of all time – Stone Imperial Russian Stout (see this post at beernews.org), the North Coast Brewing logo upgrade (the old logo has always been a favorite of mine) and most notably the new Upright Brewing Four Play label that has been subject to much controversy (please check out this article on Beervana).

When I first started thinking about it I was leaning toward the fact that there really aren’t that many labels/logos out there that are especially noteworthy.  There’s a few that really jumped out at me right way, but for the most part…far too many exist that fail to catch my attention.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I discussed it with friends, the more epiphanies I had and the more I realized just how wrong I was.

The Classic. Is is better?

There’s actually a lot of breweries out there that are putting serious attention toward their image.  Clearly, this isn’t surprising.  Anyone possessing even the slightest bit of entrepreneurial savvy knows how important branding can be to creating a successful business.  Here, in my Visual Art of Craft Beer Series, I plan to discuss some of my favorites.  Hopefully, in doing so, I will open up the floor for debate.  I’m sure there are a bunch out there that I either don’t know about or have simply overlooked.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to present them all in this initial article, so the debate just may have to wait.  Start thinking about your choices now and see if I end up agreeing with you.

The following is my top 5.  This is not limited to logo alone.  I feel that if it were, the scope of this exercise would be drastically diminished.  This includes not only the straight forward logo of a brewery but the labels of all, most, or some of their bottles/cans/mini-kegs/what-have-you.

5) Three Floyds Brewing – FFF does not mess around.  They make some of the most unique beers in the country and their labels follow suit.  In may ways, they remind me of Garbage Pail Kids.  All have a comic book/cartoon like quality.  Some are lighthearted and humorous, others are dark and disturbing, all are well designed and fun to look at.  I’m not sure whether I like the Clockwork Orange themed Moloko Stout, Zombie Dust, or the Dark Lord (above) the best.  No matter how you look at it, they are all undeniably bad ass.

 

4) Southern Tier Brewing – The logo above isn’t very glamorous, and it by no means is the sole reason why I have put STB in the number 4 position, but I must say that I’m a very big fan of it.  I find it to be very slick, clean and simple, yet highly effective.  The tools of the trade encircled by the ingredients of the trade.  Classic.  I’ve often thought of having a variation of that logo tattooed on myself.  Good logo aside, the continuity and simplicity of all of STB’s label designs is so well done that I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to find them being celebrated in HOW Magazine (or something similar).

 

 

3) New Belgium Brewing Lips of Faith Series – Take a minute to gaze upon the above image.  Tell me you wouldn’t want a full size print of that framed and mounted in your living room.  It’s beautiful…and it’s just a beer label.  I could have posted a picture of almost any LoF label and it would be equally stunning.  Whomever is behind this is really doing fabulous work.  Give them a raise.

 

 

2) Stone Brewing Co. – This logo is absolutely unmistakable.  It may not be number one on my list but it’s very possibly the number one most recognizable beer logo in craft brewing.  It’s bold, like Stone beers and the attitude of the owners/brewers.  If you’ve ever taken the time to read the lengthy, screen printed text on any of Stone’s 22oz bottles, you know just what I mean.  Stone is hard fucking core and their dark, devious mascot exemplifies that to the t.

 

1)  Flying Dog Brewery – Can someone please explain to me how FDB got Ralph Steadman to illustrate all of their imagery?!?!  Whether you like his style or not, this has to be the most lauded, continual collaborative effort between a brewery and a world-famous artist of all time.

Yeah, I guess I do sort of get how FDB pulled this off.  Supposedly the owners of the brewery were friends with Hunter S. Thompson.  It’s quite clear that his influence is felt throughout much of FDB’s advertising and marketing campaign.  Since Ralph Steadman is most famous for his work with Hunter S. Thompson, in lies the connection.  God knows how much money they must dish out for his work, but I for one thing it’s worth every penny.

Portland Wows, Upright Stuns And Le Pigeon Haunts My Dreams

Four Play teases my better senses. Want to steal, need now.

Sunday was quite the trip. It lingered through Monday, but no regrets. Upright Brewing rocked my world. Le Pigeon made me redefine the word “burger.”

Upright Brewing was celebrating their 2nd Anniversary, so we made it a point to get their early to taste the new release. But, we couldn’t help but to shuffle around the city to visit some other favorites.

 

Top of the Morning with Imperial Workhorse

 

I won’t jump right into Upright’s display of greatness, because we had some other amazing visits that I’d like to share. First off, we visited Laurelwood’s production brewery in NE neighborhood of Hollywood.

Laurelwood Brewing recently released its first ever batch of Imperial Workhorse, a larger than life version of its iconic Workhorse IPA. The big brother is 9.9% and almost 100 IBUs. At first sip, it immediately wakes you from whatever slumber you might be residing within. The beer is incredibly flavorful, sharp and non-boozy. Lots to like about that beer, and the brewery will be bottling a limited amount in swing-top bottles that will be available at the brewery. Hint: Do not miss the Bourbon Barrel Aged Moose & Squirrel Russian Imperial Stout – I actually preferred this beer to the Imperial Workhorse.

 

Upright’s Rise to the Top

 

We left Laurelwood to head over to Upright Brewing, where we spent an hour crying in the last drops of each beer. Its that good. Watching it reduce to nothing was so incredibly painful.

Upright Brewing decided to release a sour version of its Four, a 4.5% wheaty farmhouse ale. The beer, appropriately named “Four Play,” uses a combination of fresh Oregon cherries, brettanomyces and lactobacillus yeasts aged in Pinot Noir barrels. This beer is right now, my beer of 2011. Drinking this beer reminded me of standing in front of Jean Van Roy in Cantillon’s tasting room, drinking one of their more celebrated Lou Pepe lambics – its that good. Incredibly smooth, yet refreshingly tart, the cherry flavor is subtle enough to keep this from being a kriek, but pronounced enough to not be forgotten. Do not miss, if you can find it.

To prevent a one-sided affair, Upright also decided to pour its last remaining portion of its christmas ale, Noel. This spiced farmhouse ale is aged in Pinot barrels and spiked with cherry juice. The wood really works well on this beer, because the alcohol is barely noticeable and it goes down very smooth. The spice is unforgettable, hitting you with concentrated dosages of black pepper and herb. Had Four Play not knocked me out of my boots, Noel would have stole the show.

To end our visit, we had a great talk with owner/brewer Alex Ganum. If you want to meet a great brewer and better guy, chat with Alex. Ganum hails from the ballyhooed ranks of Ommegang and certainly knows how to make incredible beer. Despite his incredible success (they made the Rate Beer Top 50 Brewers in year 2), he remains a normal guy, more than happy to stand and chat with his customers over a beer.

 

Some Old Favorites

The remains of duck wings, flanked by Fred.

 

After leaving Upright, we had quite the whirlwind trip around the east side. We visited renowned bottle shop Belmont Station, who was holding its 14th Anniversary sale (Congrats). There we got our first tastes of Corvallis brewers Block 15 and Flat Tail Brewing. Block 15 poured several bourbon barrel aged brews, including the rare Pappy’s Dark Ale. Pappy is a Strong Ale aged in 10 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels for 2-4 months. While a few other Block 15 barrel aged beers were surprisingly unimpressive – this one blew our minds. The Pappy wood is noticeably more rich and flavorful than other bourbon barrels, and we agree its worth the extra dough.

After Belmont, a visit to Hair of the Dog was simply nostalgia and routine. Why the hell would you ever go to Portland and not get indulge in Alan Sprints’ craft? The house flight of Greg (a spiced pilsner?), Blue Dot, Fred and Adam, will warm the cockles.  If you are lucky, Alan might be serving the duck wings, a stack of 3 full wings smothered in a rich gravy. Get it.

 

A Burger for the Ages

 

Last but not certainly not least – a visit to Le Pigeon. While we were waiting for this renowned eatery to open, we ran over to Burnside Brewing and tried the Oatmeal Pale. I was surprisingly impressed by that beer, as Pales typically do nothing for me. The oatmeal was absolutely noticeable and really changed the body of this otherwise simple beer. But, 5:00 PM rang and we ran back to Le Pigeon.

Nothing to say. Look and admire.

Why are we running? Rumors of Le Pigeon‘s incredible burger have haunted my dreams for weeks. I have seen glaring images of this burger in nightmares in the previous few nights. It was seemingly stalking me – and for good reason. Le Pigeon makes 5 of these bad boys each night. Thus, its incredibly important to get in there when they open at 5 PM. By 5:15 PM, all 5 orders had been placed.

Le Pigeon has an earthy, classic gastropub feel. Sitting at the bar, you feel part of the kitchen and the decor makes you feel right at home. It only took about 60 seconds to order our burgers with greens ($13) and our $4 Pilsner Urquells (they also have $2 High Life – got to love it).

The icon of glory arrived before me in less than 15 minutes. I had ogled at its creation, built from the implements of success, beauty and wonder. Its time. I sliced the perfectly charred ciabatta bun in half and dig in. What followed was a protein orgasm smothered in pickled specter. I have no doubt in my mind that this is the best burger I have ever tasted – and my companion agrees. The meat is top notch, cooked to a perfect medium rare, maintaining its juiciness. The pickled slaw on top is such an added treat that you barely notice the perfectly melted cheese that covers 100% of the burger mound. Perhaps most important is the fresh powdered ciabatta roll that was charred to perfected, giving the burger an “off the grill” flavor.

Its not often when a Sunday in March results in my favorite beer of the year and my favorite burger of all time (and that is saying a lot). This past Sunday, Portland floored me. Well played, PDX.

 

 

Upright Brewing To Celebate 2nd Anniversary

Scandalous

 

Upright Brewing is one of the Northwest’s brightest young talents (to put in a sporting vernacular). In just 2 years they have managed to gain a much coveted spot on ratebeer.com‘s annual Top 100 Brewers In The World List (92 position) and they came in at number 14 in the top 50 breweries to visit list.  I’m fairly confident that if rate beer had made a top 50 list of best beer labels in the world that Four Play label over there would be highly ranked as well.

Needless to say, these guys are doing some really fantastic things.  They’ve effortlessly coupled innovation with pristine quality and impressive craftsmanship.  If you’ve had any of Upright’s beers and you’ve visited their basement brewery, I know I’m preaching to the choir.  It’s mostly just exciting that they have been acknowledged so quickly, especially since so many amazing NW breweries go under the radar.

For me, being a huge fan of saisons, Upright has become a brewery that I would rank very highly in my own list of most exciting breweries, either new, old or in between.  Their use of open fermentation is something that is most intriguing to me.   I still don’t know much about it, but it’s clearly working very well for these Portland fellows.  There is no doubt that Upright Brewing is a great inspiration to me and should be to anyone that has a dream of opening a brewery.

This anniversary party ranks up there in excitement levels (for me) with such recent Portland area events as the opening of the Cascade Barrel House and the opening of the Hair of the Dog Tasting room.  The prospect of getting a few bottles of Four Play and Apricot Anniversary Ale are what cellar dwellers dream of.  If anyone else is going down there let us know by adding a comment.  Maybe we can hook up and chat beer.

Here’s the details from Upright:

 

What/Why:
Oregon’s only farmhouse inspired craft brewery Upright Brewing is turning 2 years old and celebrating with a party on Sunday March 20th from 1-6pm at the Tasting Room. The party will also mark the return of perhaps the breweries most anticipated annual release Four Play a sour farmhouse cherry wheat beer aged in Pinot Barrels.

About Upright Brewing
During the last two short years the small production brewery just east of the Broadway bridge has been devoted to producing some of Portland’s most diverse range of beers, focusing on a French/Belgian inspired farmhouse-style, but brewing without inhibition as evidenced by their historic takes on English Old Ale and Oyster Stout or their authentic German Gose and Engelberg Pilsener.

Upright recently added three new tanks, using one to produce a year-round hop forward German-style pilsener for draft only. It’s called Engelberg Pils, a nod to Mt. Angel where all of the brewery’s hops are sourced. The other two tanks will enable the brewery to produce more one-off draft beers and also allow production of at least eight annual seasonal bottled batches throughout the year. As always, the numbered beers that Upright has focused on since the beginning will continue to be fermented in our unique open-top tanks. The new year has also brought expanded distribution for Upright’s beers with Lime Ventures now bringing the bottles and occasional draft beer to the Northern California market adding even more west coast cities that include north to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

About Four Play
In celebration of the brewery anniversary, it’s becoming tradition to release Four Play, a very Belgian-esque beer based on Upright’s wheat beer (named Four) but barrel-aged for a year with cherries, souring yeasts and bacteria. Four Play is blended from former pinot noir barrels that yield a rosy looking sour ale with wonderfully complex aromas and flavors. It’s always a limited release and the 2011 batch is represented by only 67 cases and 3 kegs, all of which the brewers believe is their finest and suitable for cellaring up to 5 years.

About the 2 Year Anniversary Party
In addition to the extremely rare Four Play one of only 3 kegs on draft Upright will also be releasing something even more rare in bottle, last years Apricot Anniversary Ale aged in Ransom Spirits Old Tom Gin Barrels of which there are less than 3 cases of 750ml bottles. To top it off look for a special cask of this years edition of the World Beer Cup award winning Gose stuffed Dry Hops and extra Salt.

Follow Upright Brewing:

Website

http://www.uprightbrewing.com

Twitter

http://twitter.com/uprightbrewing

Facebook

http://www.facebook.com/uprightbrewing

Blog

http://uprightbrewingblog.blogspot.com/

 

 

 

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