The best way to start the day: a sample tray.
Hop Valley Brewing, Eugene, OR

Our first stop of the day was at Hop Valley Brewing, 11:00am on Saturday. I usually don't drink beer this early in the day, so I just keep telling myself that this is work.  Justifications come easy to me.

We meet with brew master and partner Trevor Howard who walks around their 15bbl brewing facility.  Trevor started his career at Rogue in Newport six years ago.  He moved back to Eugene and became brew master at Rogue's Eugene City Brewery before becoming a partner at Hop Valley Brewing in 2008.

With Trevor at the helm, Hop Valley currently brews six standard styles:

  • Stepchild Red (NW Red Ale): 15.5° Plato, 80 IBUs, 6.1% ABV
  • Double D Blonde (Blonde Ale): 12° Plato, 20 IBUs, 4.9% ABV
  • Alphaholic IPA (NW IPA -- will hit the streets as Alphadelic IPA): 16° Plato, 90 IBUs, 6.5% ABV
  • Impeller Pale (Pale Ale): 14° Plato, 50 IBUs, 5.6% ABV
  • Vanilla Porter (Porter): 15° Plato, 50 IBUs, 5.9% ABV
  • The Heff (American Hefeweizen): 11.5° Plato, 15 IBUs, 4.9% ABV
  • Seasonals: Many other styles, including: Natty Red (Imperial Red Ale), and Alpha Centauri (Imperial IPA) which the First Place People's Choice Award at that weekend's KLCC Microbrew Festival.
Hop Valley Brewing, Eugene, OR
Hop Valley Brewmaster, Trevor Howard.

Since it was Zwickelmania, what else could we do but zwickel?  While the word is strange, the meaning is simple: tasting beer directly from the tanks.  Depending on the style of beer, these samples can taste vastly different from the finished product.  In its earliest stages, beer is called wort. It's the state of the beer before the yeast hits it in the fermenter. For first time samplers, it can be very difficult to draw the connection between the sweet, unfermented, uncarbonated wort and the final beer.  At this stage, it's merely tasting levels of sweetness and bitterness, both of which will drastically change through fermentation.

Fermentation is the next stage, and that's when "beer" becomes beer.  The yeast metabolizes the sugars from the wort into alcohol and CO2 and the beer begins to take a more familiar shape.  Of course, the beer is still warm from active fermentation and there is the residual sweetness of the unburned sugar, but tasting at this point is all about appreciating the progress of the beer. Though young, these beers are a very good indicator of what the they will be like when released to the public.

Education comes in many forms, but the best way to learn is usually hands on experience.  Talking to the brewers, spending time in the brewery, and sampling beer at different stages is a perfect way to spend a Saturday—and you'll get smarter with every sip! Thanks to Trevor Howard for taking the time to walk us through his domain and show us where the magic happens.  Keep an eye out for Hop Vally's beers by visiting them in Eugene, or finding them on draft or in 22oz bottles.

Check out the rest of the photos here.