Beer Bulletin

Breakside Brews

Ben Edmunds is a mad scientist—with beer!

May 12, 2011

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Happy birthday, Breakside Brewery! You’re one year old on Saturday and my, how you’ve grown! In just 12 months head brewer Ben Edmunds has already established a reputation for being a bit experimental. And by a bit, we mean a lot. Since September, Edmunds has been rolling out a new brew release every week.The full release list to date shows styles ranging from a German Gose to English Barleywine, as well as a few tricks of his own—like cocktail beers.

If you want the numbers, that’s 30 releases in 8 months. Oh, and two of those releases were five different styles of smoked porters and dry hops. Sound absurd? Why, yes, but in that wonderful Beervana sort of way.

With cunning concoctions like the Brewer’s Bramble, a cocktail beer that placed in the Top 5 People’s Choice at Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers (PCTBB), the Portland beer community is impressed, but a little curious: Is Edmunds brewing out of personal amusement or public challenge? His answer: Neither, merely making a virtue out of necessity.

When Breakside opened last May, the brewery was not in place, and was hurting to find space for one. Breakside’s original brewery involved two kegs, brewing about 11 gallons at a time. The running joke around the place was that the name should be Breakside Bar & Grill, since they weren’t producing their own beer. With only an 11-gallon system, Edmunds reasoned it made more sense to have a fun, exotic release on a slow weekday than a standby that wouldn’t last three hours. “We didn’t realize we were creating a trend of nano-brewery experiments,” says Edmunds, “but it got such a positive reception."

Edmunds’s esoteric brewing career originated out of boredom. After moving to a small town in Colorado, he began homebrewing two to three beers a week to provide a little bit of nightlife for himself and his friends. Four years later, Edmunds decided to get serious about a brewing career and enrolled at Siebel Institute in Chicago, the nation’s most prestigious brewing institution. He also ducked over to the Old Country for some extra credit studies in Munich.

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Now with their three-barrel system in place, Breakside is producing nine of their own beers on tap but they retain their experimental inclinations. Cocktail beers, Edmund’s latest project, is part of a collaboration with mixologists Jacob Grier and Ezra Johnson-Greenough from Brewing Up Cocktails. Cocktail beers are not shaken, nor stirred, nor do they come with little pink umbrellas. They are beers with flavor profiles resembling classic or modern cocktails, which is accomplished by aging them in liquor barrels with spices and fruits. In many ways, Breakside is still searching for the language to talk about these experimental beers. Originally described as “barrel-aged with botanicals,” the Brewer’s Bramble raised some eyebrows, and the question, “Ben, what is this?”

If you sit down with Edmunds over a glass of beer, you’re going to get more than the ingredient list—you’re going to hear about the philosophy of beer in transcontinental dialogue (no joke). But he’ll assure you that he’s not a bank of great brewing recipes. Sometimes the best policy is to steal, or maybe, collaborate. For the upcoming summer season, Edmunds is bringing in Portland beer aficionados that aren’t necessarily brewers, to develop new recipes with him. A few notables to whet your palate are veteran beer writer John Foyston and Lisa Morrison, Beer Goddess blog writer, radio hostess, and author. I was lucky enough to get an early sample of Morrison’s Meyer Lemon Kolsch, which is anticipated to sell quickly, and with good reason. The lemony scent and flavor is enough to be refreshing, without the overpowering soapy flavor you might anticipate. These collaborator beers should be released June 4 and will be on tap all summer.

Wednesday releases will be through at the end of May due to fermentation considerations in the warmer months. In the meantime, you can look forward to bottle releases over the summer. And don’t fret about the tap—there are always plenty of beers to select from. Here’s a half dozen that I’ve had the pleasure to sample.

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Image: Dylan Harkavy

Witbier: This traditional brew is a mix of oats, wheat, and unmalted wheat, adding a tart, lemony feel around the tongue. Not the usual spice bomb here, and includes an unusual ingredient: chamomile. This gets my vote for prettiest beer, with its cloudy, creamy yellow color.

Rye Kolsch: It’s a light ale that was originally brewed as the base for a Cucumber Collins cocktail beer, with cucumber and juniper berries. The base, though, stands on its own. The rye adds an oily mouthfeel part way through and ends with an enjoyable spiciness.

Double Dry Hop Blonde: Belgian beer lovers will go bananas for this hard-to-label brew. Inspired by English barleywines and Belgian hoppy blondes, it boasts bold fruity flavors with well-balanced bitterness. This blonde packs a punch with 8.9 percent ABV.

Dry Stout: Perhaps their most “traditional” beer, the Irish dry stout is roasty, chocolatey, and surprisingly light. The dark coloring and flavor may have you wary at first, but with 4.5 percent ABV, this is a session beer that won’t knock you out too early.

IPA: I’m an admitted hophead, so I’m obliged to mention that the IPA here is delicious. The pine and citrus characters in this beer are huge, which you’ll enjoy sniffing just as much as tasting. The bitterness is just right, without tasting grassy.

Azteca: This novelty American strong ale is the brewpub’s third-largest seller. Brewed with habaneros and serranos, it ignites an instant “chest heat.” Don’t worry, you won’t be reaching for a glass of water. Rather, a lingering heat in the back of your throat warms you as chocolate and honey malt flavors rest on the palate. Watch out, though, for the 9.9 percent ABV.

On May 18, all three Breakside cocktail beers (Brewer’s Bramble, Sazerac, and Whiskey Ginger) will be re-released in limited quantities along with a batch of Lavender Fudge Stout (!), in honor of American Craft Beer week. Keep ’em coming, Ben!

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