The new Pfriem Family Brewers launched its beers in Portland last week with a bash and media sampling at Bazi Bierbrasserie with owner Josh Pfriem. The beers may be the most faithful re-creations of Belgian styles being brewed in the state. They bear the distinct touch of a brewmaster who has spent time both in Belgium studying brewing traditions and at Chuckanut Brewing learning refinement.
Last week I tried the first 5 beers from Pfriem--Wit, Belgian Strong Blonde, Belgian Strong Dark, Blonde IPA, and a regular IPA. As owner/brewer Josh Pfriem explained, these were all the very first batches from the new brewery, yet they all tasted pretty accomplished. The one thing they had in common? Clarity of vision, flavor, and color...
These beers have one thing in common that I found a little unusual--they were all filtered to great clarity (except for the Wit). This gave a great crisp malt flavor and dryness that accentuated the attenuation achieved from Pfriem's house yeast strain (a secret). The malt choices on each beer were also very simple, though the Blonde IPA was based on a Pilsner-only malt base to really let the hops shine. Even the more standard IPA had a very simple, clean malt profile, just as all of these beers do. They remind me a lot of more refined lagers in their malt character, not unlike the filtered and highly refined beers from Chuckanut Brewery, one of Josh's former employers. In beers like the Wit and the Strong Blonde, the fermentation and simple ingredients leave room for the subtle nuances to be coaxed out of the house yeast, leaving apple, pear, banana, and citrus flavors that are soft and inviting but not overwhelming. The beers are all pleasant and quite quaffable, but I was a bit perplexed by the filtration. While it's tasty, now I feel that maybe the beers would be better without all that filtration. I was very curious of the reason behind this, and the answer is yeast autolysis. Many homebrewers are familiar with this term, and Josh explains it more here:
"Yeast is a living organism and once it dies, goes through harsh conditions, or experiences autolysis it can give off harsh flavors. If you remove the yeast before bottling and then add fresh yeast back to the beer, you now have a environment where you are driving your yeast flavor from fresh yeast rather than relying on yeast that may have past its prime."
While autolysis is a problem, a lot of brewers find that removing the fermented beer from the settled yeast at the bottom of the tanks enough. Josh still believes in going that extra step. The question is whether the filtration removes other desired complexities and flavors in the beer. Filtration is the subject of some debate with many siding against filtering and others all for it, but that is for a whole nother post.
"I have found that you have a longer shelf life if you filter beer before bottle conditioning it. In my travels through Belgium I found that a good deal of the brewers I spoke with did similar techniques with there beer."
Further than just the freshness, the flavor of beers is affected, but each one differs in its approach, "In our Wit, I leave the yeast because I believe it enhances the flavor of a beer, it brings forth a spiciness from the yeast while tasting young and fresh. Our Belgian Strong Blonde on the other hand ages longer at colder temperatures and I find the old yeast covers up the subtle flavors". Both the Blonde IPA and regular IPA, while clean and crisp with nice flavors, were not the kind that will get the hop heads talking. again here you fine very clean and clear flavors with distinct bittering hop and flavoring hop. Hoppy beers can be especially hard to filter "our IPA style beers they are hop backed and dry hopped, they go through a light filtration to bring the hop flavor forward. In this situation I feel it creates a 'less is more'." The main reason many brewers filter their beer though is for appearance, a clean, clear crystal or amber color can be very pleasing to the eye, and Josh does not deny that is certainly a factor. Pfriem's glassware--and I mean plural--is beautiful and varies in sizes with great golden printed lettering.
As Bill noted on It's Pub Night, Josh stops short of calling these beers Abbey or Belgian. I followed up on this question and was not surprised it was because they are not truly from Belgium.
"We are inspired by the greatness and vastness of the Belgian brewing traditions, but are not trying to be a "Belgian" brewery. I have a friend who is a brewmaster in Belgium who made reference to being insulted by a US brewery that claims an association to Belgium in their name and didn't feel the beers were a good reflection of his country."
Outside of the 5 beer lineup currently being produced, there are plans for future 750ml caged and corked bottles that will be bottle-conditioned with fresh yeast after filtration. Down the line further, a barrel-aging program for wild yeast and sour beers, some of which will be filtered and then have wild yeast added at bottling, and others not filtered when called for. Sooner in the pipeline, we can look forward to a Belgian-style IPA and Belgian-style stouts, lagers, and saisons also have a bright future here.
Saturday, August 4th, Pfriem Family Brewery's tasting room officially opens to the public and you can find the brewery's beers on draft in Portland right now through Point Blank Distributing.