When I signed a publishing deal with Chicago Review Press for Viking Age Brew the editor laid down a condition: I should do a book marketing trip to the USA. I have always wanted to travel to the west coast USA and I instantly thought it’s now or never. The trip to Oregon and Washington came true on July 2019 and I’ll now recap the highlights.
Luckily at the same time, American beer writer Jereme Zimmerman was planning a book tour to the west coast. Jereme was about to market his latest book Brew Beer Like a Yeti that deals with traditional brewing techniques. His earlier book Make Mead Like a Viking wasn’t far off from my work either. Gradually we matched our timetables and we ended up traveling together for two and half weeks along the route Seattle – Bend – Portland – Williamette Valley – Cannon Beach – Astoria – Seattle. This route took us through lively cities, mountains, deserts, fertile valleys all the way to shores of the Pacific Ocean. The featured image of this post show us enjoying the awesome ales of the Ale Apothecary at their tasting room in Bend, OR.
The Book Events
We did together four book events targeted for homebrewers, beer enthusiasts and fans of Nordic culture. The events were at Nordic Museum (Seattle), Base Camp Brewing (Portland, in collaboration with F. H. Steinbart homebrew store), Belmont Station (Portland, in collaboration with the Ale Apothecary) and Skål Beer Hall. The details for these events are given at my Events page.
Each event had around 30–40 participants. The events at the Nordic Museum and Skål Beer Hall were especially popular, likely because they were in Ballard district of Seattle known for its Nordic heritage. At all the events, people in the audience had Nordic ancestors.
Homebrewers brought me some samples of their sahti to evaluate because they didn’t know what sahti is supposed to taste like. These beers were already in the right direction but I guided them to bump up the gravity. Norwegian farmhouse yeast kveik was a hot topic and I donated dried flakes of kveik (Sigmund’s) for both commercial and homebrewers.
It was an awesome road trip. In addition to the book events, we visited around 20 breweries and chatted with dozens of brewers. Visits also included a malthouse, distillery, cheese farm, and a beer festival. The highlights of the trip were:
- Sahti collaboration brew at the Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR.
- Mecca Grade Malthouse in Madras, OR.
- Upright Brewing in Portland, OR.
- Hair of the Dog Brewing in Portland, OR.
- The brewery tour at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR.
- Lively high-beer-quality brewpubs everywhere: Base Camp, Black Raven, Boneyard, Breakside, Buoy, Cascade, Cloudburst, Crux Fermentation, Culmination, Fremont, Machine house, Reuben’s, Stoup
- Food trucks along with the pubs.
- Oregon Brewers Festival.
Viking Age Brew was published in the USA because it is the biggest market for beer information and the beer trends flow from the USA to the rest of the world. The book sales may not justify the costs of traveling, but I think it was important to meet the biggest audience of my book.
I also wanted to see the regions where the craft beer was virtually born, and from where the most craft breweries around the world pick their model of brewing. In Europe, some beer drinkers moan about the dominance of hoppy IPAs, but on the west coast USA I see no point in moaning. IPA is west coast’s own beer style and people drink it regularly in quantities, much like people in Munich drink Helles. Besides, 75 % of the US hops are grown in Washington.
Interestingly, many brewpubs had pilsner – well made hoppy pilsner in the vein of Northern Germany – as a popular alternative for their IPAs.
Somewhat surprisingly, Belgian influenced beers were relatively rare, apart from saison. Saisons, especially hoppier versions of them, are not too big of a distraction from IPA and pilsner. They seem to fit well to the line up of craft breweries around the world.
Sour beers from breweries dedicated to the craft were outstanding. Access to fine oak barrels from nearby wine counties has created a great symbiosis between winemakers and brewers.
I tasted several kveik-fermented IPAs, but I was surprised how little kveik is used outside the hoppy styles. Brewers seemed to be experimenting with kveik and still working on their comfort zone. I guess it is just a matter of time when brewers find the full potential of these yeasts.
Overall, I think Oregon and Washington showed signs of a mature beer culture: people drink more well-made fresh local beer instead of gimmicks. The high density of breweries and educated beer drinkers have created really skilled brewers. I didn’t see new big trends that would spread from the US to elsewhere, and that’s a good thing. I’d rather drink good solid beer rather than trendy experiments.
I will not be making American style beers soon but this trip reinforced the idea of doing my own thing and occasionally rethink the way I brew.