By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
On Mar. 21, 1986, the brewers at McMenamins Hillsdale in Portland were setting up to brew their 67th batch of beer, simply called “Raspberry.” The 110-gallon batch used 144 pounds of malt extract, two pounds of Cascade boil hops, two pounds of Willamette boil hops, two pounds of Willamette finish hops, and 30 pounds of raspberries. Starting with an original gravity of 1.043, on Mar. 26, with a final gravity of 1.026, the brewers racked the finished beer to seven kegs.
That beer hadn’t been foreseen as something special. Raspberry was just another in a long line of fruit beer experiments for the young brewpub, which prior to the raspberry brew had also fiddled with blackberries, blueberries, pineapples, apples and cherries. It was also another beer built off the company’s first beer, Hillsdale Ale, from which Hammerhead Pale Ale and Terminator Stout also descended. But this beer became more than just another sheet in the brew log. It became McMenamins Ruby Ale, now a flagship beer for the Oregon/Washington chain of more than 50 pubs. In 2015 alone, McMenamins brewed 166,036 gallons (5,356 barrels) of Ruby, in 628 batches (McMenamins Edgefield brewed the most volume — 47,000 gallons). The simple, hazy-pink brew not only remains a top seller. This month it celebrates its 30th anniversary.
At 11:39 a.m., on July 2, 2015, at the Queen Anne Pub in Seattle, McMenamins reached another milestone: racking their millionth keg. The beer that marked their “keg million?” Ruby. The unassuming, slightly tart ale doesn’t have the bitter punch of a DIPA. There’s no barrel-aging. No brett or other fascinating Petri dish of ambient, wild microbes. No “it” hop or spiffed-out, malt-of-the-moment. No bells and whistles whatsoever. Yet in 2014, Ruby was the No. 1 beer in sales for McMenamins, comprising nearly a quarter of the production and output for the entire company. It beat out not only Hammerhead, but the entire category of IPAs and DIPAs.
“Ruby is probably one of my favorite beers in the grand scheme of things,” says Hanns Anderson, head brewer at McMenamins High Street Brewery in Eugene. “It’s very popular, brings people in to try it and also try other things, and it’s pretty straightforward to make.”
Conrad Santos, one of the pioneer brewers for McMenamins, says that early McMenamins brewing philosophy was influenced by Belgian brewing, especially the use of fruit, such as raspberries and cherries, in lambic beers. Ruby became a juggernaut for the young brewpub and helped McMenamins grow and expand their brand. “It is just a huge, huge beer,” says John Richen, former chief brewery administrator for McMenamins. “Not much has changed about the basic recipe specs and flavor profile of the ale since its inception 30 years ago. Ruby is a genuine artifact from our earliest era of brewing.”
That simplicity is what keeps Ruby so popular, says Anderson. “There aren’t any huge flavors competing with each other, it’s just a nice simple base designed to be a raspberry delivery system. Ruby is very approachable.”
It’s also flexible enough to be blended, such as the popular Rubinator, a mix of Ruby and Terminator Stout, or to brew variant beers, such as the seasonal Purple Haze, which is the Ruby recipe brewed with boysenberries instead of raspberries.
Throughout its three decades, the biggest changes to Ruby have been moving from extract brewing to single-infusion, all-grain mashing in 1987, and switching from whole raspberries to puree (42 pounds of Oregon-grown raspberry puree, sourced from Oregon Fruit Products in Salem, go into every batch) during the middle of the last decade. “The aseptic puree allowed us to dial in the consistency and we got much improved color, flavor, and aroma,” explains Graham Brogan, district manager. Other than a brief period in 2008 when a raspberry shortage forced it off the tap list for a while, Ruby has been in constant production.
The enduring popularity also seems to be Ruby’s ability to be an “every beer,” with something to offer any beer fan. Anderson notes that non-hopheads are drawn to its lack of bitterness, and malt fans enjoy the light, refreshing flavor, and how it cleanses the palette.
And, simply, “it’s a joy to brew,” says Anderson. “Low hops and a light malt bill make for an efficient day in the brewhouse, and the low original gravity leaves for a quick turnaround in the fermenters. It’s a good chance to step away from a lot of the bigger, complex beers I brew down here, and hit the reset button once or twice a month.” He smiles. “It reminds me that not every beer needs to be insanely difficult or overly involved.”
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Beer apps have come a long way since the days of iBeer (you remember: “drink beer” on your phone). Today’s apps include versatile, useful tools: everything from beer tour itinerary builders and brewing calculators to flavor guides and assistance with ordering a beer in multiple languages. There’s even a brewery game. Here are some must-haves for your device.
Note: Generally apps are available for phones and tablets, but your mileage may vary. Apps were evaluated on an iPhone 5s running iOS 8.4.1.
Search, rate, discuss
iOS and Android
Combines beer news, online discussion forums, beer style profiles, events and user ratings/reviews. A free account is required for this reference app from the folks behind BeerAdvocate magazine. Many features could be more robust, such as narrowing down events by location and date. Styles are brief but provide a solid, non-technical overview, followed by most popular beers in that style. Beer listings default to recent reviews, with one option of filtering by the top 250 instead. The search is useful if you know exactly what you want; improved filtering would make searching reviews more useful. Overall, though, a handy app that is a free alternative to RateBeer.
All-in-one homebrew assistant, calculator, tracker and brew journal
iOS, Android and Kindle
From its humble desktop origins, BeerSmith has expanded to online forums, social media popularity, a regular blog and podcast, and, of course, handy mobile apps. In addition to integrating with cloud storage and more than 68,000 recipes at beersmithrecipes.com, BeerSmith’s simple, easy-to-use app interface helps beginning and advanced brewers search, build and manage recipes; review profiles of hundreds of ingredients; track all steps in the brewing and fermentation process; and run brew timers, calculators and converters. Professionals such as Hanns Anderson, head brewer at Eugene’s McMenamins High Street, have used BeerSmith, and it has something to help your homebrewing too.
Be the sensory expert you wish you were
How many times have you been at a loss for words when describing a beer? Beer Judge turns your phone into a taster, a sensory analyst and an amateur spectrophotometer. The Flavor Wheel feature lists flavor and aroma descriptors, and the Off Flavors guide shows at-a-glance and detailed descriptions of flaws. Tap any color on the Standard Reference Method (SRM) spectrum graphic for an SRM value, or use your device’s camera with the app’s Analyzer to calculate an SRM (you wouldn’t use it for a brewing lab analysis, but it’s a good ballpark figure for happy hour technical evaluation). Perfect for beer tastings and enhancing your competition chops.
Is your beer in style?
iOS and Android
A just-the-facts compilation of official 2008 and 2015 BJCP official beer styles. When you first open the app, you’ll be asked if you want to default to the 2008 or 2015 guidelines (you can switch between them at any time). Search for a style or scroll the list, then tap for the full profile. Text is well presented and easy to read, with controls to increase or decrease the size. While you can highlight and copy, functions to export to email, PDF or printing would be useful. A must-have for brewers, judges and enthusiasts.
Build your next beer tour
iOS and Android
Whether seeking out neighborhood places or planning a beer tour, BreweryMap builds itineraries and locates breweries, brewpubs, tasting rooms and more. Users can also add new listings or submit updates. The Road Trip function builds your next beer tour from start point to end point. Once you choose a route, the map fills in with pins. Tapping “List View” shows a list of locations in each locality: an Oregon Coast itinerary from Astoria to Brookings pulled up 21 locations in a 15-mile radius. Save itineraries for later reference too. The perfect app for the beertripper.
Who says brewing isn't a game?
iOS, Android and Windows
Whether you’re a homebrewer who dreams of owning a brewery or a beer pro who believes work is play, Fiz allows you to realize your dream of running your own brewery. With graphics and music reminiscent of ‘80s/’90s early Nintendo, Fiz allows you to start a brewery, analyze the market, develop recipes, brew beer, manage staff, enter competitions and more. Play during a few minutes’ break, or moonlight all weekend as a pixelated brewer. Fiz is rooted enough in reality to have real ingredients listed and a solid sense of the realities of brewing. And it’s fun enough that I better stop playing and finish writing this article.
Order a pint in 59 languages
Travel in foreign lands is all about mastering the basics of the local language. And it doesn’t get more essential than confidently ordering a beer in anything from Afrikaans (“n Bier, asseblief”) to Zulu (“nye ningi utshwala”). Pivo is simple, useful and fun for the global beertrotter. Alphabetically scroll a list of 59 languages, complete with phrase, phonetic pronunciation and video or audio. (Browse, search, or favorite functions would have minimized scrolling.) One caveat: this app’s last update was 2013 and is no longer being developed, but functionality was fine in testing. Does Google Translate do the same thing? Sí. Is it as cool? Nein.
Every beer everywhere
iOS and Android
Since 2000, RateBeer has become one of the beer world’s largest independent online communities and a go-to source for beer and location reviews and information. Take the pulse of any beer on the market: Who’s drinking it? What are they saying about it? Share what you think of what you drink, and rate where you’re enjoying that beer, cider, mead or sake. Whether searching by name or scanning a barcode, you get easy and quick access to beer data, including reviews, IBUs, ABVs, preferred glassware and more. Also curate your own wish lists and favorites, and search by location for bottle shops and watering holes near you.
A beer a day
iOS and Android
You know those “quotation a day” calendars that wind up under the Christmas tree? This is the beer version. Today’s Beer presents one beer, every day, along with beer info, bottle and pint views (with 360 degree rotation), beer color and more. (You can also look back at beers from the past seven days.) A simple interface with intuitive controls helps you dig as deep into a beer’s profile as you want. A must for beer hounds hunting inspiration, designers seeking ideas for novel labels and bottles, and anyone who knows that sometimes a bit of daily random inspiration is all you need to keep your palate dazzled and intrigued.
Never drink alone/
iOS, Android, and Windows
The “Facebook of beer” makes sure your drinking is always social. See the latest with the beer world in three main ways: “Friends” lets you see what folks you follow are doing. “Global” goes macro with updates from users all over the world. And “Nearby” tells you what users are enjoying in your area. Fancy an old favorite or something new? Seek out beers, pubs and breweries popular and nearby, and keep tabs on trends for the next tipple you should try.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.