Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tales from the Tasting Team: CGE-GTFF Brew-Off

As a kid I used to watch Scooby Doo, Captain Planet, and the A-Team.  What valuable lesson did I learn?  Teams are good - they solve crimes, and save the environment, and buck the authority while helping the oppressed.  I wanted to be a part of such a cool team (I wanted to be Velma - go figure).  A couple of decades later I have decided I am going to make my dreams come true...not the Velma part, but the part where I get to be surrounded by the coolest people ever, and perform a highly important public service.  By service I mean quality control in adult beverages wherever I live (teamwork is all about me in case you did not notice).  Now that the Spirited Away tour has settled down (I still have your number Ms. Flatley and Mr.'s Goranflo and Seraphin) I am going to write about the dutiful assemblage of quality drinkers as we serve our community by ensuring the beverages are up to par.

Photo by Emily Booth

My receipt of an invitation to Second Annual CGE-GTFF Civil War Brew-Off seemed like an excellent opportunity to give out magic rings and pile into a van.  So now that I have thrown the alphabet soup in your face once in the title of this post, and again here in the copy, I will explain - CGE, or the Coalition of Graduate Employees (AFT Local 6069), is the Union representing Graduate Employees at Oregon State University.  In 2010 CGE was brainstorming a way to be more engaged in the Corvallis community, put on a fun event, and build a stronger relationship with GTFF, Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (AFT Local 3544)  at the University of Oregon.  The result was the Civil War Brew-Off - a friendly competition among homebrewers from both unions squaring off with awesome beers.  Proceeds from the event (the admission being $10 and a can of food) went to the local food bank of the winning team.  The first annual Brew-Off was a huge success, raising $580 and 260lb of food that went to Food for Lane County (GTFF were victorious).  CGE were excited about not only the event's success, but also its symbolism.  "Unions are not just about improving our lives," said President Mindy Crandall, "we care about improving our community as well."

Launching into the 2011 iteration of the event, CGE was prepared to steal the title from GTFF, and excited to have a great number of sponsors on board.  Both bands, Mill About Smartly and The Svens donated playing time, and the Independent Order of the Oddfellows of Corvallis donated their space for the event.  The brewers also donate their time (and beer of course) to make the event happen.  Corvallis Brewing Supply was also on board donating prizes and beers to thank the cleaning crew.  This year regardless of which team took the trophy, the proceeds went to Linn Benton Food Share.  Increased advertising assured that the event would be well attended, but, in reality, the nature of the event leaves it to stand on its own.  "It's homebrew, it's music..." Crandall stated, "'s the perfect event for Corvallis."

Beer and music - sounds like the perfect event for me.  Throw in community organizing, charitable donation, feeding people, showcasing local talent, and unions, and you have pretty much designed an event I cannot not attend.

But first, to assemble the perfect team - a team of excellence, grace, power, knowledge, fun, insight, heroics, beauty, adventure, and an undying need to drink quality beverages.  I could scour the globe to find such a squad, but I have the greatest of fortune to know such amazing people right here in the Willamette Valley:

Photo by Clare Cady

Emily - a woman of many talents, among them wine drinking and holding lingerie (she once held a bustier for 127 hours before putting it down - can't post a picture wasn't pretty).  Emily is a staunch environmentalist whose Earth First name is Hop Warrior.  She specializes in the wearing of ironic t-shirts that espouse fringe political views, and the making of vegetarian stir-fry dishes.  She trained the Iron Chefs in the ways of the secret ingredient, which, incidentally, is okra.

Photo by Joshua Du Chene

Joshua Du Chene - a man tragically lost between two times - meant to be downing Gruit Ale and wild-yeast Lambics in the lower Rhine Valley of Medieval Belgium, while simultaneously developing ultraneo-postmodern folk-metal with punkgrass and acoustic-grunge influences in the year 2035.  Needless to say, the man knows his music AND his beer (and possesses some of the finest dance moves this side of the Rockies). 

Photo by Luke Frels

Luke Frels - If there is anyone who is up for anything ever (except for cage fighting...a man has to draw the line somewhere) it's Luke.  We were lucky enough to have him with us between his intense career as the Rockband champion of the known universe, and his work building entire houses using nothing but cereal boxes and glue.  There's no one better to have on your tasting team than a person who chews on a piece of galanga and finds 173 distinct flavors. 

Photo by Alyssa Dart

Oh, and me, Clare Cady (cue awkwardness whilst I refer to myself in the third person) - Clare comes to the team armed with stories that start, "and one time, in the wilderness...," and a MacGuyveresque ability to build just about anything (tables, bookcases, bombs) out of chewing gum, tampons, and duct tape. Clare has tasted wine, beer, and spirits on all 7 continents and three planets (it used to be four, but Pluto, you know), and is proud to be the coolest and cutest of the West Toast staff in the Willamette Valley.

With our crack team assembled we ascended to the Oddfellows Hall into the brew milieu, commemorative pint glasses in hand.  We were greeted with delightful chaos - the 25 brewers circled up at tables peddling their wares, a cheerful crowd sampling and enjoying the night.  We spread out and got going.  It was hard to choose what to try first - IPA, nut brown, amber, golden, porter...the offerings were diverse.  My wino sensibility wanted to organize flavors before diving in, but given the energy of the night and my own eagerness, I opted to just start tasting.  I picked up a taste of the Occup-IPA from last year's winner, Ian Pilgrim of GTFF.  I found it very hoppy on the nose, with a champagne sensibility, smooth texture, and mildly bitter lingering finish.  Luke also tried my sample and stated that it was lightly sweet up front moving into hops through the center.

We were given scorecards at the door listing all of the beers as well as the scoring directions: (1) acquire beer taste, (2) consume beer, (3) record your thoughts below if needed, and (4) vote!  As we moved forward through the organized chaos of the tasting room, we worked to try everything, but alas, there were many beers we did not get to before they were tapped out.  All in all the Tasting Team got to 18 of the beers at the event, and here are some of the standouts...

Ready for the tastin' - Photo by Emily Booth

Emily highly recommended The Brown Note by CGE brewers Ashley Bromley and Dennis Dugan - she commented that it tasted nutty and sweet, and that she enjoyed drinking it.  I would second that and expound it to a broad and cloudy texture, toasty nose, and lightly sweet front to compliment the round nuttiness of the body of the beer.  Luke commented that it was accessible and drinkable, and I am inclined to agree.  Josh stated that he thought the nutty flavor was bold, and that the nose gave a very good indication of the flavor.

Another standout was Thanksgiving Stew by CGE brewers Sean Delohery and Shilpi Halemane.  Listed as a "vegetable spice beer," the brewers offered it along with sweet potato chips and a great sense of humor.  Josh was very excited to see something so creative, and commented on its creaminess as well as the spicy nose.  Luke commented that the brewer's intention to give the drinker a Thanksgiving dinner in a bottle was spot on, and that from start to finish this beer was very well done.  The nose was full of clove and cinnamon with earthy hints that made me think of sage or other herbs.  The texture was indeed creamy and had a cool finish that the brewers told us was meant to be reminiscent of the whipped cream on pumpkin pie.  Well played sirs.

The Dust Devil, a "strong golden ale" by GTFF brewer Westley Miller was my dark horse for the event.  I almost skipped over this one, not being a big fan of golden beers (I prefer beers I can chew), but it seemed silly to pass on a taste just because of my personal bias.  Note - I LOVE surprises, and this was a delightful surprise.  The nose was powerfully mossy with citrus - Luke described it as bright.  The texture was light and crisp as befits a golden ale, and the flavor was indeed strong...full-bodied with a citrus crispness up front - or almost a tart apple sensibility - there were high bitter notes and a sharp finish. 

We loved the Halloween costumes! - Photo by Emily Booth

Josh got so excited about Yersinia pestis (Black Death) IPA, that he interrupted us at another beer to drag us over for a taste.  He described this beer by CGE brewer Russel Carpenter as having huge round hops that shifted across the palette, a high end smokiness, and a smooth texture.  Luke noted that it was rich and complex with almost a marshmallow finish.  I found a dank, herbal, hoppy nose with big hops and hints of vanilla.  Emily added that it felt and tasted like a strong IPA, and that she would be glad to drink this any day.

Luke highlighted the Forever Summer blackberry wheat by GTFF brewers Andrea Yocom and Adam Goering.  I was initially impressed with the clarity of the beer and the lovely golden color.  The nose was overwhelmingly fruity and tart.  Luke noted the beer's sourness and that it was balanced well with the blackberry flavor.  Josh enjoyed the strong fruit profile that was full of ripe summer berries. 

One of the last beers we sampled as Nutsplosion by CGE brewers Mark Ingman and Mousa Diabat.  The nose on this beer was undeniably and powerfully hazelnut, and the flavor followed suit.  Emily stated that this beer was a lot of fun, and that the nut flavors were intense.  Josh talked about the beer's accessibility and rounded nut flavors.  I found the whole hazelnut here - sweet start, meaty center, and the bitter of the hulls at the end.  Luke commented on the smooth texture and flavor profile.  All of us were taken by the brewers themselves who sported rockin' mullet wigs.

Quite the crowd - Photo by Emily Booth

Voting consisted of placing colored bottle caps into containers at each brewer's station.  We were given three caps - gold, silver, and red.  The gold signified our best beer pick, silver was to vote for the best name, and red was for best experimental.  Here is where the Tasting Team landed:

Gold: Dust Devil (strong golden ale)
Silver: Scrotal Domination (gluten-free chestnut beer, 100% nuts)
Red: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)

Gold: Yersinia Pestis (IPA)
Name: Scrotal Domination (gluten-free chestnut beer, 100% nuts)
Red: Forever Summer

Gold: Dust Devil (strong golden ale)
Silver: Occup-IPA
Red: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)

Gold: Dust Devil (strong golden ale)
Silver: Occup-IPA
Red: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)

Both bands were awesome! - Photo by Emily Booth

At 9:30pm the voting was closed and the caps counted.  While we waited Josh and I cut a rug in the ballroom.  Here are the final results:

1st Place: Nutsplosion (traditional European brown ale)
2nd Place: Yersenia Pestis (IPA)
3rd Place: Indira IPA (wet hop IPA)
Name: Scrotal Domination (gluten-free chestnut beer, 100% nuts)
Best Experimental: Thanksgiving Stew (vegetable spice beer)
Winning Team: CGE
Brewer's Choice: Anfield Road, Indira IPA, Well-Red Post Bock

The winning brewers show off their trophy - photo from Mousa Diabat

In the end, the event raised $1300 and over 300lb of food for the food share.  More importantly, CGE took the title from GTFF as the winning team - Go Beavs (I TOLD you teams were cool)!  Congratulations and thanks for a great event - looking forward to next year!!!

 The spoils of victory - Photo by Ashley Bromley


  1. Thanks for a great writeup! More photos on OSU Coalition of Graduate Employees' facebook page.

  2. your pics look great! thanks for checking us out!

  3. Wonderful work, Clare! I'm happy to have been a part of such a fantastic beer-tasting team!!! :-)