Monday, July 23, 2012

Pfriem Family Brewers

You will soon start to see taphandles around town from a new brewery in Hood River: Pfriem Family Brewers.  Brewer/owner Josh Pfriem (pronounced "Freem"), was at Bazi Bierbrasserie Friday with his wife Annie and some more of the Pfriem crew to promote his new Belgian-styled beers.  Those in attendance got to try the five beers on the current roster -- Pfriem calls them the "2012 varietals", implying that 2013 might offer a different lineup.

The beers don't have clever names, at least not so far:  they're just called by whatever style they are.  Here's what we tried on Friday:

  • Wit: Noticeably more bitter than most wits (this is intentional), but a nice take on the style, with the usual herbal/yeasty flavors.
  • Blonde IPA: Josh said he thinks of this as a "Pilsner IPA" -- it is brewed with pilsner malts -- but also intends it as an homage to Westvleteren Blonde (a surprisingly hoppy light Belgian beer).  It is very crisp and dry.  Interesting and not bad, though I think IPA is not quite the right word for it.
  • Belgian Strong Blonde: I loved this beer. It has that nice clovey flavor like Duvel (though it's always dangerous to compare something to Duvel).  Like the other Pfriem beers, it's pretty dry and light-bodied, and it is a beautiful-looking beer: impossibly light in color, almost clear, but with a golden sparkle.
  • IPA: This is intended to be the NW style house offering.  Again, surprisingly dry and light on the tongue, but with nice floral hops.  Pretty strong at 7.2%.  Not bad, but probably not going to become your go-to IPA.
  • Belgian Strong Dark: A 10% sipper, with the kinds of dark fruit, chocolatey, almost leathery flavors you want in big beers like this, but still drier than a lot of beers this size.  Josh wouldn't call it a Quadrupel, but he does want you to think of beers like St. Bernardus when you're drinking this. 

All the beers were clean and well-made.  At a point in time where saisons and related "farmhouse" styles seem to be all the rage, it's interesting that Pfriem didn't go down that road.  Nor are they selling any wild or sour ales, though Josh did say that a wild-ale program is in the works for future releases.  I predict that the Strong Blonde and Strong Dark are going to be the most popular Pfriem beers.  It's great to have an Oregon brewery focus on those kind of Abbey-inspired Belgians -- I can't think of another brewery in the region that has those as their flagships, though Hopworks comes out with some great strong Belgians from time to time.

Except for the Wit, all the beers we tried were filtered, which gave them a really pretty clarity in the glass.  If there's a common theme in my tasting notes, it's "dry" -- there was nothing anywhere near cloying in any of the beers, and even the stronger ones were surprisingly light-bodied and drinkable.

Look for Pfriem beers on draft in Portland at finer establishments.  The brewery has ordered equipment to produce corked-and-caged 750 ml bottles.  The tasting room at the brewery in Hood River will hold a grand opening Saturday August 4th, and it looks like the hours after that will be 11:30 to 9 Wednesday thru Sunday.

Further reading: Ezra has a very detailed interview with Josh over at the New School.


  1. Excellent report. I regretted missing it.

    It's interesting that they're going with styles that are normally bottle-conditioned and selling them on draft. The effect of bottle-conditioning--a month in the bottle in a warm room at about 60 degrees--is not subtle. Especially with those stronger beers, it will be interesting to see how the character differs from the kegged versus bottled versions (once those come on line).

    Like you, I'm psyched to see the abbey ales come to Oregon.

  2. Jeff: Josh studiously avoided calling these Abbey ales, probably because they are filtered and not bottle-conditioned.

    I'm trying to remember, is Duvel bottle-conditioned? Because that is a close relative to Pfriem's Strong Blonde.

    Also keep in mind, today's five selections are not the final word. They do intend to bottle corked 750's which will allow bottle-conditioning, though my initial impression is that Pfriem's bottles will be priced higher than many of their Belgian counterparts, which will price me out.

  3. Duvel: good question. I can't recall, either (and I didn't visit the brewery). According to Stan Hieronymus's Brew Like a Monk, Duvel and tripels are so closely related as to be considered a single style (I agree). I think one of the things that marks breweries like Upright and Pfriem as tres Belgique is that they adamantly refuse to call their beers Belgian. Which is, of course, very Belgian.

    Just had beers with erstwhile Oregonian Eric Steen, who was a big fan of the IPA--though I now realize I don't know which beer he was talking about. Still, very positive early buzz.

  4. From Duvel’s website:

    “Duvel owes its sophisticated taste to the unique bottle conditioning process of 90 days: after 2 weeks in the “warm cellars” where a second fermentation occurs, the beer stays in the “cold cellars” for another 6 weeks. Only then is it ready to be shipped and appreciated around the world.”

    I can’t wait for him to get some of these into bottles.

  5. bottle conditioning is one thing; more magic happens when keeping Duvel (and many other belgians) in a dark, cool cellar for years.
    it's not only the lambics that appreciate 10+years of storage. some of the strong blonds (Duvel/westmalle) and strong dark (bernardus/westvleteren)get very interesting too.
    most surprising is that a low alcohol beer like Orval can stand that long storage.

    cheers from Belgium!


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