Category Archives: Events

Crowd Control

Spoiler Alert: this is not a post about the overwhelming traffic to my site. Shocking.

This past weekend was the Festival of Dark Arts, a single-day deluge of very dark beer held at Fort George Brewing’s campus during, appropriately, Stout Month. I say “campus” because there are two buildings, a courtyard, and a balcony, and roughly twelve places to get beer during the fest at Fort George, and I say “appropriately” because February is officially Stout Month (it is no longer called “February,” whatever that means), and that is because it was invented in the 90s by Jack Harris, who started Fort George.

Festival of Dark Arts got a lot of flak a couple years ago for being a “shit show,” according to some sources. I was there a couple years ago, and thought the shit show was mitigated to obscurity by the breadth and quality of stouts, the artisans working their crafts, and the spooky burlesque dancers. Yes, there were people crammed into every conceivable space. But look, people: it’s a stout fest during Stout Month in chilly wet Astoria, Oregon. I know you don’t like to touch elbows, much less come within feet of each other in a mosh pit, but suck it up; you’re in line for Parabajava. Where else can you find Parabajava in Oregon? Nowhere.

This year’s Festival of Dart Arts was, in comparison to 2016, more mature. At least, I was more mature; I knew not to stand in that stupid rainy entry line at noon when I could easily wait out the line with a beer at Reach Break Brewing, literally within a stone’s throw of the line. The crowd, as a unit, was also more mature. Yeah, they were older (but they still partied; just ask the people next door to us at the Norblad). They didn’t jostle. The one thing that held back the chaos in the first two hours of the fest was the fact that everybody knew they needed a beer in order to deal with the crowd, and if they could just wait in line to get that beer, the chaos, which was mostly in their heads, would dwindle to a din. Once everybody got beer in their awesome little whiskey snifters, got back in line, and did it again a few times, the fest was terrific and some people touched elbows.

I spoke briefly with a shift lead in the pizzeria at Fort George the next day, and she impressed upon me the literal insanity of that beer fest. Over 100 employees and 50 volunteers move everything, set up, herd people to beer, and then put it all back together within 24 hours.
Every year.
One day.

FoDA crowd
This is not a picture of a line at Festival of Dark Arts.

Ask a manager at any busy place about the psychology of lines. “I was in line for 20 minutes!” somebody might complain on Yelp. But that’s likely not true. Maybe they were in line for five or 10 minutes, and since it was obviously busy, their order took longer than normal. That’s not 20 minutes in line, that’s a manager stressing out over a ten minute wait because of a Yelper. The same psychology applies to lines at beer festivals. Unless something is seriously wrong or the keg of Hunahpu’s is about to be tapped at Hellshire, nobody waits that long for a beer. And lines aren’t bad, evil things to be afraid of. Hell, they’re probably a sign that a fest is successful. For the fest organizer, it’s where to put those lines that matters. Upstairs in the pizzeria shortly into the Festival of Dark Arts this year, the line to get to the bar to get beer snaked so wildly that it was hard to tell who was in line and who was just standing around with their glass getting empty. That was a shit show, but I eventually got beer, so it was great! And the line abated after a couple hours. The fest is only as happy as you make it.

When you subject yourself to a beer fest, a tiny universe in which the people are like insects whose only purpose for the duration of their short lives is to get drunk, you have to let go. Maybe you make a plan of action because you are a smart insect, but you must trust that the organizers mostly know what they’re doing. And the organizers trust that you are there to have a good time; that’s the relationship.

Festival of Dark Arts can be a hunt and a throng and a cattle call and a shit show and all the things people want to call it who didn’t let themselves enjoy the space for the marvel of stout and crowd control that it is.
For one day.
Every year.

Anatomy of a Beer Dinner, part 2

The next beer dinner at the Stein on Nov. 26 is going to be a little different, both in presentation and attitude. Owners Chip and Kristina came up with the idea of a “Civil War Beer Dinner,” in which two breweries — Hop Valley of Eugene and Flat Tail of Corvallis — plumb their stable of beers to bring the best pairing for a predetermined menu. This is the opposite of what we’ve done for the last three, and places the challenge to pair well on the brewers’ shoulders rather than our kitchen (not that they can’t rise to a challenge– preparing all the awesome food for these dinners during normal service is no small task!).

The brewers met up here a couple weeks ago, were presented with samples of the food for the dinner, and deliberated among themselves about what to bring. Watching their process (and participating in my head) was intriguing and pretty funny. Here are some quotes, which I can’t attribute because that might give away one of the pairings:

“I want something with solid bitterness to cut that heat and sweetness, but with malt backbone to make it flavorful.”

“Oh boy!”

“We may have to make a rocky mountain oyster stout for this one . . . wrap a firkin in bacon.”

“This screams Brett B.”

Here is the menu, which is tasty on its own (who doesn’t like fancified tailgate snacks?), but will undoubtedly experience added value when paired with beer:

1st Quarter: Stuffed Mushrooms with Parmesan,
Cream Cheese, Garlic, Walnuts

2nd Quarter: Salmon Cakes with Lemon Buttercream and Asparagus

3rd Quarter: Pork Ribs with house BBQ sauce, Pork & Beans

4th Quarter: Flank Steak Sliders on a Challah roll
with Fontina, Arugula, and Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes, Cracked Pepper & Lemon Aioli, Pepper & Red Cabbage Slaw

Overtime: White & Dark Chocolate Brownie
topped with Bacon Ice Cream

We’ll have tickets available early next week– check our Facebook page!

Anatomy of a Beer Dinner

beer pig

On September 10, The Bier Stein hosted its third beer pairing dinner with Oakshire Brewing, five courses and six beers. It was a great time, well organized, and overall quite tasty. I figured it was about time to talk about beer and food pairings, perhaps to de- and re-mythologize (or elitify, if you will) the process, execution, and enjoyment of this experience, both here and at home.

Pairing beer and food as a conscious ritual has not been around for very long. I have been drinking and brewing beer for nigh on a decade, and it wasn’t until two years ago that I heard about this method of gustatory enhancement; I attended two sessions of pairing at Oakshire, one with beer and chocolate, one with beer and charcuterie. (Overall, a wider variety of beers pair better with cured meats than with chocolate, in my experience.) I had first experienced this sort of synergetic joy with wine– a German Riesling worked wonders with the combination of spices, dried apricots, and splash of balsamic in an Ethiopian lentil stew.

Nowadays, many beer connoisseurs are on the hunt for the next thing; the rare, fleeting beers that get stowed away (perhaps forever) and shown to friends like a trophy, and shared if you’re really lucky. Trust me, this happens. New flavors are exciting (until they’re not). Probably the best way to create new flavors also happens to be the best way to interact with your friends and family: food! There are myriad blogs, charts, articles, and guides that suggest viable, tried and true pairings, either by beer style or food type. My favorite way is to pick one or the other, pick apart flavors and sensations, and figure out what I want out of its partner. This is a great way to get to know your palate and grow your knowledge. Sounds like a lot of pressure and work, eh?

grilled Pacific prawns with chili/lime glaze, Oakshire Watershed IPA
grilled Pacific prawns with chili/lime glaze, Oakshire Watershed IPA

The dish above is a great example of an easy pairing. “Heat and hops,” are a favorite pairing of Dave Stockhausen, the beer buyer here. It’s his go-to at home because it can be quick, easy, and cheap. In this case, from our beer dinner, “the citrus notes from the marinated shrimp went perfectly with the IPA.” Often times, IPAs can be overwhelming with bitterness and huge flavors; drinking it alongside a dish with equally intense flavors actually makes the IPA seem lighter and more refreshing, but no less flavorful. Another opportunity to make a great pair is dessert. Dark beer and chocolate is often the first pairing for most people; it’s like “Smoke on the Water” for beginner guitarists, something everybody has to go through to get to the next level.

If you’re an experimental home cook, you might want to incorporate beer into your food beyond “Beer Can Chicken.” Dessert is also a great place to start, and there are no shortage of stout cupcake recipes out there. Then you’re pretty much sure to have a great pairing with whatever beer you put into the food.

As we at The Bier Stein have started doing bi-monthly pairing dinners, we’ve encountered many challenges (remember collaboration and timing?), successes, and a couple falters. I asked several coworkers for some feedback on their experiences “behind-the-scenes.”

Our process starts with a meeting with chefs Richie and Andrew, Dave the buyer, owners Chip and Kristina, the brewer(s), and myself (as interloper and brainstormer). We discuss the brewer’s upcoming beer and ask them for some tasting notes; if we’re lucky, we get to taste beer on the spot. Since we’re starting with the beer, the challenge is to design food to match. We think about both complementary and contrasting flavors, depending on how we want to approach the pairing, and how it fits into the menu as a whole. I’m a fresh-and-local junkie and a gardener, so I try to think about what’s going to be in season and how it can be used. I also draw on my memories of specific ingredients or dishes. The brewers are great at this brainstorming process, and it can become a really long conversation that leaves mouths thirsty and watering at the same time.

Chef Andrew makes clean slices of cheesecake with a clean, cold knife
Chef Andrew makes clean slices of pumpkin cheesecake with a clean, cold knife.

“My favorite part is the challenge,” says chef Andrew, who has executed the desserts (among other dishes) for all three dinners. He had never heard of “Beeramisu” before the Pelican Brewery rep suggested it, but his final product bordered on the divine. For Richie, the kitchen manager, the challenge is complex. “Our customers are knowledgeable, so it’s different than just cooking dinner; they’re looking at all aspects, so I have to think  a couple steps ahead.” At the same time, he gets some relief from the fact that “people are happy with the beer to begin with.”

During the dinners, we are lucky to have brewers on hand to explain their beer and illustrate the way in which it interacts with its paired dish. This is added value, as you get an insider’s look to the way a brewer approaches his/her ingredients and brewing process, and how a specific hop, for example, tastes in a beer and with food.

Putting together the beer dinners is a team effort. As leader of the team, Chip, one of the owners, is always on, even when sitting to eat. He makes sure the kitchen is ready with tested recipes, and heads up meetings both before and after the dinners to discuss any issues and to affirm successes. He pays close attention to timing; dinner guests should never be kept waiting, nor should courses be served too soon.

Our expert staff keeps the flow smooth.
Our expert staff keeps the flow smooth.

Beer pairings come in many forms, and some can be quite surprising; imagine Firestone Walker’s Pale 31 and some dark chocolate with ginger. The smooth, cereal malt character and light orange and spice hop notes are accented by the ginger, while the chocolate fills out the light body and turns malty Total into Coco Puffs. Crazy.

You should consider the “mouthfeel” when looking to pair. Often, contrast works best, especially with cheese. You probably wouldn’t want to pair a thick, sweet ale with Brie, as the fatty cheese and high residual sugar could fill your mouth and be overwhelming. Rather, try a drier, more tart beer that will cut through some of the fat, but keep the luscious buttery flavor of the cheese– Biere de Garde (like La Choulette Ambree) comes to mind because it is dry and somewhat fruity, but has enough malt character that you might not even need a cracker under your cheese.

Stay tuned for more of this discussion– clearly (as I’ve gone far too long here) there’s a lot to talk about.

The menu from our dinner with Oakshire Brewing.
The menu from our dinner with Oakshire Brewing.