Goose Island Sofie. Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. Dogfish Head Midas Touch. Firestone Walker Parabola.
If you suffer from vertigo when you walk down mesmerically long beer aisles, Portland author Jeff Alworth can help you navigate the shelves and learn to read the idiosyncratic labels with his guide, The Beer Bible.
Formerly a beer columnist for Willamette Week, Alworth runs the Beervana blog and co-hosts the Beervana podcast with Oregon State University Economics professor Patrick Emerson.
The Beer Bible was written after Alworth visited 52 breweries throughout the United States, Germany, Belgium, England, Scotland, Italy and Japan. The encyclopedic text dives into the history and various brewing methods of more than 100 styles of beers.
The Emerald caught up with Alworth and asked him about his book. Here’s the Q&A:
Emerald: Did you have a refined palate for beer when you were in college?
Jeff Alworth: I was at Lewis & Clark [College] from ’86 to 1990. The notion of craft beer wasn’t really well established. I had a crap palate. I didn’t have the fortune of growing up in the world where good beer was available. We were still drinking Henry Weinhards and a lot of crappy, cheap beer.
E: You wrote that Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman started homebrewing in the late 1960s, before the bill that made it legal to do so was signed by Jimmy Carter. Did craft brewing take off in the 1970s?
JA: The ’70s for beer is like this decade is with marijuana, in that it was technically illegal but [the law] not broadly enforced. There were a lot of homebrewers in the ’70s, like Grossman, and a lot of information being shared. By the ’70s, the function of making it illegal had kind of passed by the wayside, and people were homebrewing pretty openly.
E: Are there any Eugene or Portland beers that you’re partial to right now?
JA: I think the two Portland breweries that are really setting the pace for everyone else are Breakside and The Commons. They seem to be doing the most modern work, guiding the future. I don’t get to Eugene too often. I like Falling Sky. Ninkasi is interesting because they’re a brewery that set the world on fire when they came out of the gate in 2007. Total Domination is their flagship, and it’s now a little bit old school. People aren’t brewing IPAs [India Pale Ales] like that anymore.
E: What’s the difference between Total Domination and other IPAs?
JA: IPAs are so flexible. You can make it almost any kind of flavor you want. Each brewery is able to make a completely individual IPA. There are a million variables. That’s why there are more IPAs than any other style of beer on the market.
E: What do you think the next big fad in craft beer will be?
JA: I don’t think there will be another fad. I don’t think IPAs are ever going to be supplanted. One of the things I learned as I traveled around the world is that countries with a really established beer culture do not make a hugely broad range of beers. When you go to England, they make English cask ale. When you go to Belgium, they make Belgian ales. When we talk about American beers, we’re talking about hoppy pales and IPAs. As we go forward, you’re probably going to see fewer other kinds of beer and people’s preferences will tilt more toward these. That’s my guess. It’s a pattern.
E: Thanks, Jeff. If you find yourself in Eugene, I’ll take you to the campus bar for dollar beer night.
JA: [laughs] Alright. I’ll definitely take you up on that if I’m in town.
Jeff Alworth will be speaking from noon-1:30 p.m. on Aug. 15 at Ninkasi Brewing Company (272 Van Buren St.) in Eugene. The Beer Bible comes out Aug. 11.