Welcome back, little guy. After Olympia Brewing’s beloved stubby bottles disappeared off the shelves for good in 2003, Full Sail Brewing recognized an opportunity—and leapt at the chance to fill a precious void in the consciousness of Northwest beer lovers with the advent of its Session Lager.
“We had talked about doing a stubby bottle ever since we’d heard Olympia was going to close,” says Full Sail’s executive brewer Jamie Emmerson. “We talked about it because of the following, and because of that nostalgic view.”
But there’s more to the story than a beer company getting style points for going the retro route. Full Sail Brewing has been employee-owned since 1999, but as one of the state’s major beer producers (No. 26 among American breweries), the player-managers on staff seldom make a decision based purely on sentimental reasons. Emmerson said Full Sail was looking to win fans of more conventional beer who seemed to be having trouble wrapping their taste buds around Full Sail Amber, Rip Curl and other bold brand titles.
“I had a crew of construction workers working on my house,” Emmerson says. “And I brought some Full Sail beer out for them, you know, ‘free beer, free beer.’ And they said, ‘No thanks.’ I just figured they were on the wagon. So next week I came out and they were drinking a fine Mexican beer. So I said, ‘Hey, how about some Full Sail?’ And they said, ‘No, no; it’s too bitter, too heavy.’
“Stylistically we found they’re buying the beer, Heineken, Corona, etc. And they’re paying the price, because none of those beers are inexpensive by any means. But they’re not picking us because of the taste.”
Session may sound like a concession to the plebeian palates of beer’s rookie leagues, yet Emmerson and his cohorts brought considerable research, toil and trial-and-error to the plate, and the results have been solid. Session has proved a brisk mover amongst the Pabst Blue Ribbon (still the most popular beer in town) crowd, and it recently claimed a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup.
And Full Sail certainly deserves props for developing a tasty, modestly priced lager that comes in a familiar—and comforting—shape. “If we had put an ale in the stubby bottle, a Full Sail style beer, I think there would have been a disconnect between the bottle shape and the taste people would expect,” Emmerson says.
Ruth American Ale
Situated in a former iron foundry among a warren of industrial outposts near SE Holgate Blvd, Hair of the Dog Brewing and its “top dog” Alan Sprints conduct their beer business with a humid élan. Reggae thumps through the tidy brewery while employees amble about in shorts and flip-flops. In one corner there’s a small bar rigged with a half-dozen taps: This is the tasting “room.”
There’s no question that Hair of the Dog is one of the most respected and innovative breweries in Portland (established in 1993), if not the entire Northwest. But the summer beer formula—light and invigorating, prompting the consumer to consume a bit more freely—is not normally associated with this lot, whose mystique is more Bad News Bears than Yankee pinstripes. Hair of the Dog’s noggin-knocking offerings include Adam, a dark “dessert beer” that weighs in at a hefty 10 percent alcohol, and the “special golden” Fred (named after beer writer and historian Fred Eckhardt—), another 10 percent monster.
“My beers are big and strong; they’re not the kind of beers you have four or five of, so I found it difficult to sell much volume here in Portland,” the affable Sprints says. “And I wanted to do something to help that.” Ladies and gentleman, meet Ruth.
On first taste, she delivers a provocative dose of Crystal hops, but it’s not overly bitter and gets progressively less assertive and more palate-friendly over the duration of the bottle (sorry, it’s not available on draft—browse your local upscale grocery store).
“I always tell people Ruth is more or less like a regular beer,” Sprints says. “You won’t be too surprised when you try it.” Sprints names most of his beers after those near and dear to him; Ruth is his mother’s mother. “It’s my attempt at a lighter beer,” he says. “Granny doesn’t really drink beer, but if she did, she’d definitely drink Ruth.”