The brewery averaged two new beers a week all year long. The most impressive part of Breakside's project isn't the sheer number of beers—it released 83 in 2012 and 92 in 2011—but the fact that the brewery did it while also putting a small selection of bottles into wide circulation. Oh, and 62 of those 100 are brand-new recipes. (See the whole list here.) When you're experimenting so regularly, not everything will work. Yale- and Siebel-educated Breakside brewmaster Ben Edmunds has been transparent about admitting when his brews don't come out how he wants. We asked him to tell us about his own favorite and least favorite Breakside beers of the year. Here are Edmunds' notes:
BEN'S BOTTOM FIVE
Duck Duck Drunk Porter
Easily our most ambitious experiment—a porter made with 100 pounds of roasted duck!—finished as a very nice porter, with nary a hint of duckiness. The beer that went into fermentation had an intense umami flavor, like a rich duck consommé. But as yeast flavors broke down the meat-flavored compounds in the beer, we were left with something that was very expensive to make and lacking the flavor profile we sought. Perhaps some of our customers were relieved—it was a very rich porter—but this was the most off-target beer we made this year. I'm working on how to make our meat beers meatier in 2014.
Two years ago, we had the idea to make a version of our IPA using all German malts and hops. What would happen if we used German hops the way American brewers use American hops? Could we get tremendous hop flavor and aroma that had previously not been discovered? Two years ago, the answer was yes. This year, when we changed the hops and added aroma hops from New Zealand, we found ourselves with a muddled herbal and fruity mess of hop flavors.
Imperial Sour Apricot
Developing sour beers with a wide range of acid levels was another project of mine this year. I wanted to explore beers that were extremely tart as well as beers that used acid in a supporting way. This Imperial Sour Apricot was a blend of an imperial golden ale and 15 percent sour golden ale, fermented entirely on apricots. Perhaps the fruit wasn't ripe enough or the 15 percent was too low, but this beer failed to deliver on any of its three names.
Munich Dunkel and Oatmeal Stout
There are some classic styles that we still struggle to produce in a masterful way. Despite following very traditional guidelines for water, malt and fermentation, our Dunkel came off too sweet. Similarly, the Oatmeal Stout was a mess of malts that never really came together for me. Next time these two come around, they'll be retooled to hopefully be exemplars of their style.
BEN'S FAVORITE FIVE
Our director of brewing operations, Jacob Leonard, knocked it out of the park with this golden IPA. Since its release in late September, people have been clamoring for it, and it's rapidly catching up to our regular IPA in sales. I love that we have two very dry IPAs showcasing how different "big" hop flavor can be in our stable of full-time beers.
October Ale and Smallwares Saison
These two collaboration beers challenged me to design beers in ways that I normally wouldn't. We brewed October Ale, a "caramel malt stout," with Ben Kehs of Deschutes for BenFest, a festival celebrating Portland's many brewers named Ben. The malty, rich and roasty caramel notes created a beautifully full beer. Smallwares Saison was a beer inspired by a dish on Johanna Ware's menu—a scallop sashimi with pink peppercorn, aji amarillo and lychee. We ditched the scallops but kept the spices, and the layering of flavors worked out beautifully.
Pilsner and American Lager
We made a number of different lagers this year—probably as many as any other Oregon brewery except Full Sail—and these two were my favorites. Pilsner is a beer that we've tweaked ever so gently since we started brewing on our new system. Sam Barber's take on an American adjunct lager—he brewed it with six-row barley, rice and corn—was as true to the style as it could be. It was my shift beer for months and proof that you can make PBR in a small basement brewery.
This is a beer that we started brewing in May of 2012 and have retooled a number of times to get the acidity, fruit and finish just right. While it was a bit of a risk to jump from a three-barrel batch of sour beer to a 30-barrel batch without any recipe testing, we couldn't have been happier with the results, and the fact that this beer won a medal at [the Great American Beer Festival] was just icing on the cake.
GO: Breakside Brewery has taprooms in Northeast Portland, 820 NE Dekum St., 719-6475, and Milwaukie, 5821 SE International Way. Edmunds blogs at breakside.com.