Since Cantillon and Pretty Things are on the way to BC, I decided time has come for new beer in my portfolio. Scouring the internet I found www.uprightbrewing.com in Portland Oregon. I called them up, spoke briefly with owner Alex Ganum, and two days later I jumped in the car to drive down to Portland to meet with Alex.
I pulled into town at about 3pm on Saturday, checked into my hotel, and headed straight to the tasting room at Upright. It’s a small industrial-esque room right inside of the brewery (you can see the mash tun and kettle from the tables). Run by Annalou Vincent; who also happens to be the Art Director for Beer Northwest Magazine the tasting room is open only on Saturdays and prior to Blazers home games.
The beers are incredible, and nothing short of inspiring to a home-brewer like myself. Alex uses a Saison yeast strain for his year round beers, The Four, Five, Six and Seven. Coupled with an open fermentation in steel vats, this yeast produces subtle, yet intensely complex and highly quaff-able ales with a full bodied maltiness, and a refreshingly dry finish. Oxymoronic to say the least.
Almost immediately I had noticed that the Four and Five contained a character very different from any “Saison” that I’ve had before. There is a deep, juicy maltiness prevelant in both, yet the finish is dry, crisp and clean. This is due partly to the malt bill consisting of pale malt as a base, rather than Pils Malt, the latter of which would be more traditional for a Saison. As far as I knew I’d never had a Saison made this way and I feel the successful result is only possible given a very specific strain of yeast; one that dries a beer out yet somehow preserves the maltiness of pale base malt.
The seasonal beers were equally impressive. “Four Play”, which is the Four with Cherries, soured in oak, was sampled to a small group of us. It won’t be released for a while now, but you must seek it out once it is. The standout of the entire trip had to be the “Turkey on Rye”, named after the rye (malted, and unmalted) that is used in the “Six”, however this beer is then matured in an oak barrel with Turkish Chilies and Chocolate. The nose was intense, a sour without question, brett, lacto, etc… The palate however was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. (I think that last phrase was used twice by me this particular evening). The beer starts out very sour, at least compared tothe ‘traditional’ sour beers of Flanders, and then as soon as you have a moment to process that flavour, it disappears, cut away almost entirely by the chilies. The beer is more sour, and the chilies perhaps more spicy than one might want if the two ingredients were alone in a beer, but together the balance and complexity is outstanding. The chocolate is there all the while, adding a very restrained earthy note that counters the high pitch of the acid and chili.
Sometimes it’s fun to take a chance. Be it driving 500 kms to drink a beer with the hopes that what you’ve read about it is actually true. Or perhaps it’s souring, and subsequently putting chilies and chocolate into an otherwise perfectly good ale. In this case I’m glad to say that for both Alex and I, it worked out better than one might have thought. I’m really excited about getting Upright’s beer into Vancouver, and you should be too – you’ve never had anything like them and I mean that in a really good way.