Sunday, May 31, 2009

Toasting the Dead

In the current New York Review of Books, Julian Barnes writes a sweet encomium to John Updike:
The story's last sentence, in which the narrator stands back and looks at himself—or Updike stands back and looks at the narrator, or Updike stands back and looks at himself—runs:
If I can read this strange old guy's mind aright, he's drinking a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned.
Impossible not to think of and feel for Updike as he tapped out that sentence and then added his last full stop, his fictional endpoint. Impossible equally not to honor and thank him with a reader's raised glass, full to the brim—though preferably not with water.
(Image: David Levine, NY Review)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Loneliness of John Kitzhaber - and no Beer

I don't really know if former Governor John Kitzhaber is lonely, but when I got up close to the painting today and stared into its eyes, I saw a profound loneliness. I don't know if I've ever seen a painted portrait of someone with such desolate loneliness.

This evening's reception for the unveiling of Governor Kitzhaber's official portrait was not beer. It was wine and hors d'oerves. Even though the politicians were all in suits, and many of the guests were in casual cocktail attire, the former Governor was in jeans and boots. Wild Pear catered the reception and served Griffin Creek Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines were from the Rogue Valley, a nice nod to the Governor and to the river in the painting.

But don't jeans and boots call for beer?

The painting shows the physician Governor, his blood pressure cuff, stethescope, and black doctor bag at his feet. He sits casually in a chair, half in a studio, and half looking out over the river and land. There's another stump. I looked for a spotted owl. He was a Democrat with a Republican legislature, and the painting suggests someone trying to heal rifts, bring things together - perhaps the urban indoors and rural outdoors. But there's no bridge in the painting, and he did not bridge the divide.

I think it's an honest, truth-telling painting, one like the McCall portrait. It may not be popular today, but in a hundred years, it will tell a story to historians.

Pander talked about the ways it had to be different from the McCall portrait. McCall was mythic already, and Kitzhaber was not. So McCall is standing and seen from below. Here we look on Kitzhaber from above, and our view out over the land is from a precipice. He didn't add that the paint is thicker, the brushstrokes coarser. The impasto perhaps underscores the way Kitzhaber looks still - and perhaps is at heart - like a rancher or outdoorsman.

Kitzhaber did say that when he left office he felt "radioactive," and was gratified to read the names of donors and to see the people at the reception. I think he was genuinely touched.

The reception also had its political side. People of course were schmoozing, but Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian focused on whether Kitzhaber were thinking of running for Governor again.

In AP article, former Secretary of State Republican Norma Paulus said that she was ready to assist if he should run.

Next to Kitzhaber's portrait are those of Governors Atiyah and Geer. Neither portrait is very interesting, though Geer's bears signs of patching and overpainting, like it had been ripped or pierced. Geers hands, too, look more like mittens, and since the rest of him is realisticly rendered, I don't suppose the mittens represent interpretive fancy. He's holding a paper and seal. The portrait is from 1899, the beginning of his term, so perhaps it points to Geer's own time as Speaker of the House. It can't refer to any of his gubernatorial achievements.

Here's additional thoughts by Jeff Mapes' on the painting and the reception.

(Photo: Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dave Hunt prepare to accept the portrait at the Capitol. Lori Cain, Statesman Journal.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Brettanomyces: Loved in Beer, Loathed in Wine

The cultures of beer and wine sometimes seem so different. One is blue-collar and manly, the other moneyed and effete. But of course in another way they share the same culture. Both need yeast.

Memorial Day weekend is one of the big wine events around here. Many wineries are open only this weekend and Thanksgiving weekend. One of the faults that tasters will be looking for is Brettanomyces, also called "brett," a yeast that can settle in barrels and even entire cellars. It is responsible for an amalgam of flavors and aromas that cluster around saddle leather, barnyard, and band-aid. (Brett makes all too vivid the idea that yeast eats sugar and shits alcohol.)

In a wine class on brett, the New Zealand winemaker Matt Thomson, showed a progression in brett infection from mild to severe: increasing levels of brett first dulled and finally completely effaced the lively fruitiness of wine. At certain levels, bretty Pinot Noir, bretty Syrah, and bretty Merlot are all indistinguishable. The problem with brett is its tendency to sensory hegimony: it takes everything over. Brett is simple.

In this it is no different than excessive oak. At certain levels of fancy and expensive winemaking, the fermented grape juice simply becomes a vehicle for dessert - the caramel, cocoa, and vanilla of toasty oak. It's a question of complexity and balance.

American tasters, with a preference for "cleaner" winemaking, associated with more aseptic cellars and higher use of sulphur, are generally more sensitive to brett than are European tasters, who have grown up tasting wines with mild to severe amounts of brett in them.

The situation in the beer world is completely the opposite!

There's a brett blog, devoted to exploring brett as a "primary fermentation yeast." Wyeast Laboratories, an important supplier of yeast cultures, sells two strains of Brettanomyces and has a long instructional discussion of brewing with brett. They hide nothing, writing that the "characteristic horsey aroma and flavor are by-products of Brettanomyces metabolism"! One beer, Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale, even advertises Brettanomyces on the label.

There's also a difference on acidity. In wine, brett thrives in high pH environments, in wines that are not tart, zippy, or refreshing, and are usually described as "soft." In the world of beer, brett is associated with sour beers. Over at beervana, Jeff Alworth talks about brett as an important souring agent. One post he even titles, "Mmmm, Brettanomyces," and writes, "Even though I just added the brettanomyces during secondary fermentation, it has radically soured the beer." I can't imagine a winemaker ever saying that brett soured the wine. I'm pretty sure the souring comes from lactic bacterial fermentation.

Brett adds the funk.

If only it were so musical.

Brett's hegimony doesn't extend simply to flavors and aromas. It wants to take over the world. When Deschutes was working on their first wild yeast beer, The Dissident, they said this in their press release:
Due to the wild yeast, The Dissident required special treatment and was held in isolation under lock and key apart from the rest of the brewery’s beers to avoid any cross-contamination. A secondary bottling line was also brought in from an outside contractor to facilitate The Dissident’s bottling and ensure the beer and wild yeast never touched the brewery’s machinery.
The inversion is complete. A scourge in the world of wine becomes a precious jewel in beer. Yet note the ambivalence in "contamination."

Bretty beers taste the same. Bretty wines taste the same. Why is it lauded in beer, and loathed in wine?

One theory I have is that beer is tracing the same arc, but is a few decades behind wine. The revolution in micro-brewing started in the 1980s, but the movement for boutique wineries, domaine bottling, and protected appellations started in the 1930s. But that's another post...and if it's true, it will be double-edged at best. We already small lot production, oak-aged beers, and price creep to $10 and $20 a bottle for beer. On the surface, beer is aping wine, and the striving already makes something lost.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Full Sail LTD 3 & Honest Pint Update

The Full Sail LTD series of lagers is in many ways my favorite line of beer. They are full-flavored, easy-drinking, and mildly hopped by northwest standards. I love them. While they don't necessarily satisfy any cravings for novelty or sophistication, they requite my longing for reliable comfort. These are the beers I want to drink day-after-day.

Full Sail just announced a new member, LTD 3! A pilsner! Prost!

The most satisfying recent beer was a Full Sail Keelhauler, a scotch ale that was part of their Brewmaster's Reserve Series. It was malty, but never sugary; the toasty sweetness of malt was perfectly balanced with spicy hops. It was really satisfying. Even elegant.

Also, the Honest Pint Act finally has a hearing scheduled! Thursday, May 28, at 1pm, in hearing room B. At the same hearing are bills for light rail greeters, olive oil labeling, and fireworks displays. I guess that gives you a sense for its relative importance...

It's going to be a beautiful weekend again! Go drink beer! - and be responsible. It is Memorial Day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Venti's Taplist

How long has it been since I did a normal taplist update???

Happy Friday - it's sunny! Have some beer!

Weed Golden Ale
Ft. George Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale
New Old Lompoc Strong Draft (LSD)

Ft. George Vortex IPA
one of the California Cider Company Ciders
Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout

Tried Widmer Drifter "Original" Pale Ale again. I had it on draft shortly after release, and again from bottle recently. I was attracted to the grapefruit - the citrusy and floral side of hops. I don't like piney, woody, resiny hopping. Drinking beer should not be like chewing on toothpicks or licking lumber. But it's not quite there. Drifter is a little too sweet for me. It's not exactly candied, but it's not crisp enough, not balanced.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Salem Legislators Oppose Honest Pints

Rep. Vicki Berger (R-Salem), Rep. Kevin Cameron (R-Salem), and Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) joined a vote mainly along party lines to oppose the Honest Pint Act when it passed the House yesterday.

Funny thing about Rep. Berger...Her legislative biography leads with this:
Vicki Berger is part of Oregon’s story. Vicki’s father, Richard Chambers, was the author of Oregon’s landmark Bottle Bill. In 1969, Richard Chambers sought to reduce the amount of litter left on Oregon’s highways and beaches. He launched a lobbying effort that lawmakers found impossible to ignore.
Among other things he'd accumulated lots of odd-ball stationary and stamps, and hand-wrote wonderful letters that got attention - and would be some of the best legislative ephemera ever! (Do any lawmakers or historians have any in a collection?)

I'd like to get Rep. Berger's opinion on the bill - reasonable people can differ over a solution (or indeed whether, like a "cup" of coffee, a "pint" of beer is nominal - though personally I find them different and treat the former as nominal, but not the latter) - but with her particular perspective on the bottle bill, I think she'd have interesting things to say. Emily at DSS and Jared at the Weekly Brew aren't big fans of the particulars of the bill.

In any event, the next time you see Reps. Berger, Cameron, or Thatcher out - buy 'em a short pint, would you?

The full list of nay-sayers:
Nays, 26--Barker, Bentz, Berger, Bruun, Cameron, Edwards C., Esquivel, Freeman, Garrard, Gilliam, Gilman, Hanna, Harker, Huffman, Jenson, Krieger, Maurer, Olson, Richardson, Smith G., Sprenger, Thatcher, Thompson, Weidner, Whisnant, Wingard.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Honest Pint Passes House

Evan Manvel of OLCV is reporting the Honest Pint Act passed the House 34-26. Next up: The Senate!

For more, see the Honest Pint Project page and Facebook.


In her Oregonian article, Janie Har cites Rep. Nick Kahl (D-Portland):
Our state faces serious problems and we're dealing with this bill, because now more than ever, Oregonians deserve a full 16 ounces.
I'll drink to that!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dutch Treats: The Jolly Toper and Gubernatorial Glory

The other day I was reading about the unveiling of John Kitzhaber's official gubernatorial portrait later in May. Henk Pander, a Portland painter orginally from the Netherlands, and working in a contemporary Dutch idiom, executed it. Thoughts about that portrait and the notion of "beer art" made me think of Frans Hals' painting "the Jolly Toper." Ale and other drink often appear in Dutch genre painting.

Old master still life and portraiture don't sound so very interesting for the 21st century, but all you have to do is look at the two portraits of Tom McCall to know why it can be interesting. There's the McCall statue recently erected in Riverfront Park, and McCall's official portrait, hanging in the Capitol, also painted by Henk Pander.

I don't much like the McCall statue. It's heroic, flat, a little banal - sappy. Salmon endangered by dams and gillnets carry the emotional charge, and ostensibly he's an ordinary guy just fishing. It's socialist realism! - and captures none of the ambition and ambiguity that makes a great politician. I want my politicians compelling and imperfect. Visionary and a little whacked. Not milquetoast.

The painting is not milquetoast. It captures McCall straddling the water and shore, a fine image for Oregon's proud, but now lost, tradition of centrist and bipartisan Republicans. The line demarcating the upper boundary of the beach's public way bisects his head. McCall extends his hand and yet looks a little forbidding, perhaps even crazy. There's a driftwood stump, the trace of forest and clearcut. The painting is shot through with tension, and suggests the tensile nature of the deal, of balancing compromise and ideals, stubbornness and ambition.

The list of McCall's accomplishments is long. His terms brought us the Department of Environmental Quality, Land Conservation and Development Commission, the Bottle Bill, the beach public access law. Riverfront Park happened in part because the DEQ stopped Boise's river and waterfront pollution. We have much to thank him for.

According to Brent Walth in Fire at Eden's Gate, McCall also liked beer, gambling, and especially gin.

Governor K. is boring, and I wish he'd mix it up a bit. The best he can seem to do is advocate for a 4 billion dollar highway bridge and electric cars. That's not visionary: That's just more of the same mess we're in.

Long before McCall, another Governor who didn't like the mess he thought he was in was Oswald West. Now he was visionary and more than a little whacked.

We saw how in the mid-1890s he'd eavesdrop on Governor Lord and John Minto while they were in their cups. Later in 1912, when he was himself Governor, he came to Salem to clean out the brothels.

His biennial address in 1913 is a marvel - sometimes good, sometimes horrific. Today we have Oswald West State Park, and in 1913 he said, "The ocean beach from the Columbia River on the north to the California State line on the south should be declared a public highway." In the same address he also said:
Degenerates and the feeble-minded should not be allowed to reproduce their kind. Society should be protected from this curse. Our asylums and our prisons are being populated afresh through such parentage. We confine the vicious and the irresponsible for a while, only to send them forth to blight the future by the creation of defective children that grow into the criminal or the imbecile.
Spurred on by the Portland Vice Commission's Report (pdf map here), he'd been working on cleaning out Portland, and in 1914 had his secretary Fern Hobbs shut down Copperfield, a small town in Baker County, too lawless and vice-ridden for his taste.

Reading about "cleaning up" in light of West's enthusiasm for eugenics is a little scary. From the Capital Journal, 1 and 2 July 1912:

The much-looked for action of Governor West in closing or nailing up the house supposed to be used for immoral purposes, near the armory, did not materialize, as up to the time of going to press nothing has been done. From telegraphic advices received from Portland, the governor is in Portland, and is busy with matters of the same kind there. He is expected back this afternoon, but as to whether he will begin operations here today is not known. The intimation is given out that there will be “something doing” tomorrow, but this cannot be verified, as the report is out that a number of women who were located near the armory have left the city.


Further action by the governor will not be necessary, so he says, in reference to cleaning out the immoral house near the armory, as the police inform him that the house has been vacated. This is no surprise to the police, as the city officers have had the place under surveillance for over two weeks. According to the statements of the officers, all the occupants of the property have left the city or have taken quarters elsewhere, leaving nothing for the executive to do. A “for rent” sign on the house, where the supposed immoral practices were going on, is further proof that it has been “cleaned.”

The action of the governor in closing several road houses around Portland has led those conducting questionable resorts to sit up and take notice, and it looks as if good, wholesome obedience to state laws will be had, at least for a time. Every movement of the chief executive has been closely watched by everybody, and his actions seem to meet the approval of the public generally.
The armory was located at the northeast corner of the block where the Pheonix Grand Hotel and Salem Conference Center is located. The same block with the Marion/Chemeketa Hotel and the Capitol Brewery. (You can see several photos of the armory here.)

As a Prohibitionist, Governor West makes me suspicious. More than a little whiff of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard. What was in his closet? His crusades suggest the eradication of something he feared in himself.

The last thing we need is a neo-prohibitionist. But maybe some of the opposite? Governor K. could use a little zip and juice to his final tenure. Maybe not full on Spitzer smash-up - but a visit to Amsterdam and a stripper pole?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Honest Pint Update

The legislative website finally published the amendments and engrossed version of House Bill 3122. It passed out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation. Vote details on Beervana.