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The Six-Pack: Timber’s Army Home Brew Contest Winner Abram Goldman-Armstrong

It's probably no surprise that many American soccer fans are not only lovers of beer, but lovers of homebrewed beer. It should also come as no surprise that many Major League Soccer supporters groups host their own home brew competitions each year. The one that the Portland Timber's supporters, the Timber's Army has put on, officially or unofficially, since 2009 in certainly one of the more high-profile ones. In years past local craft brewers have made small batches of each winner's beer in several categories.

Beginning last year the Timber's beer sponsor Widmer Brother's Brewing Company, stepped forward to help judge and then brew the winner of one of the categories. For any home brewer going from nano-batches to a major breweries industrial brewing system would be quite the experience.

Just last month Widmer Brother's released "Green & Gold" Kolsch the creation of Timber's Army long-time member Abram Goldman-Armstrong. We had a chance to speak with Abe by phone to ask him about his history with TA, Portland as a beer and soccer town, and, of course, his winning brew.

Goldman-Armstrong in front of his own visage. Photo Credit: OregonLive.com

Free Beer Movement: What’s your history with soccer in Portland and the Timbers Army?

Abe: I started out going to my first Timbers match in 1988 with my parents. It was a Timbers reunion match. When the Timber came back in 2001 I got season tickets in section 107 and, yeah, I’ve been a part of it ever since. I’ve been actively involved in the organization since.

With MLS moving in we kinda got a little more organized and put together the Independent Supporters Trust know as the 107st. I was on the interim board of that and then I was elected to the initial board and the re-elected to the most recent board.

Along with that I edit and publish “The Whipsaw”, the Timbers Army fan-zine, now in our fourth year of that.

I’m involved in all different aspects. It’s definitely a major focus in my life.

FBM: What does it mean to be to be a supporter of the Timbers and what does it means to support a local club? What is it like to have live, local soccer in Portland week-in-and-week-out?

Abe: It’s really fantastic. The atmosphere at a Timbers match can’t really be matched in North America. Having a local team is really key. Going to a pub watching World Cup is fantastic or even if you have a good crowd watching EPL or other foreign matches, but soccer support here in Cascadia has really brought it to the next level.

When you go to a match here in Cascadia, whether you’re in Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver you’re going to find it’s more that a spectator sport. You’re there, you’re participating. We’ve always tried really hard in the Timbers Army to be engaging and engage the team. We’re willing the team to win and that’s really a key part of a local team.

You can be passionate about soccer, but you miss out on that day-to-day, when you go to a match, that shared energy. You just have to lose yourself to the crowd. You’re all there and it’s really pretty amazing.

FBM: How long have you been home brewing? What is it about having local craft beer with your local team?

Abe: I’ve been home brewing since I was 17 years old so about 17 years in total now. It’s really a big part of my life. I also write about beer. I’m really engaged in the brewing community here.

Beer is really interwoven into the Timbers Army here. I probably say hi to fifteen different brewers at a Timbers game. We live and breathe beer here as much as we live and breathe soccer. We have more breweries than any other city in the world. It really is a part of our fabric in Oregon. I think that’s something that’s a natural fit. Beer and watching soccer go hand-in-hand.

The whole beer community is really passionate about Timbers. And the Timbers Army is passionate about beer. It works out pretty well.

On our bus trip to Seattle we had about 20 different breweries sponsoring each bus. So each bus has its own Oregon brewery on it. Small, independent, local breweries that are really passionate about the team and willing to donate kegs. It’s not just that we’ve got beer on the bus, but it’s “we got local beer on the bus and here’s the brewer sitting on the bus going to the game and yelling at the referee with us for the full ninety minutes”.

I think we’re really lucky here in Cascadia to have a really vibrant brewing culture. It makes it that much more of a community to have local craft beer. And we have local craft beer in the stadium, too. Something that’s really important to who we are and how we operate.

FBM:  Discuss the Timbers Army home brew contest and how long Widmer’s been a part of it.

Abe: 2013 will be our four year for the Timbers Army Home Brew Competition. It started as a fairly informal affair and actually home brewing competitions were outlawed for a year so because of some weird law. So in 2010 we didn’t have any judging and we said, “well we’re going to all show up and tailgate” and did that. We decided to just go ahead and that just had a people’s choice award.

In 2011 we had a more formal competition again. All the beers were judged blind by a range of judges, some of them nationally ranked. We partnered with a couple of local breweries that year. The Lompoc brewed the winner, and the runner-up was brewed by by McMenamins, and the third place winner was brewed by Hop Works. That year I placed third with a Northwest-style Red Ale.

Anyhow in 2012 we had the competition again at Lompoc and Widmer had approach us to brew the winner. We basically split the competition in half. There was the “Full 90” which Widmer was going to brew; something that you could drink for a full match, something that was under 6 percent alcohol and something that wasn’t going to blow your face off with hops. It was a good fit.

Lompac brewed the winner of the “Pride of Cascadia” category which included IPAs, Cascadian Dark Ales, Imperial IPAs, and Northwest Red Ales.

In the “Full 90” category there was some pretty stiff competition, but the judges (Widmer sent down four of their brewers to help out) settled on a kolsch that I had brewed. And that’s how that all came about here.

FBM: Why did you decide to go with a kolsch? Tell us a little about the ingredients you used. Describe the taste and the flavor and how it best represents your passion for the Timbers and your passion for craft beer.

Abe: Kolsch, as you probably know, is a style that originate in Cologne, Germany. It's a top fermented beer. It's an ale, but generally brewed with all pilsner malts. Very light. Very, very pale ale. So pale you wouldn't call it a pale. It's very golden-straw in color. It's basically like a lager except for the yeast strain that is used. It's a style that I really fell in love with when I went to Cologne during the 2006 World Cup. I went around to a few of the local brewpubs and it (the kolsch style) really made an impression on me. It's a style that I've been pretty much brewing every summer since then.

It's a style that is pretty different than the stuff I normally brew, but it's worked its way into my rotation of beers that I brew. In this case I used a different yeast strain that I have never used before, a "kolsch-two" from White Labs here in Mount Hood. I used an organic pilsner malt from British Columbia and I used Hallertaur hops that I grew in my own backyard.

It ended up being the palest and brightest beer I ever brewed. I was really happy with it.

I was really honored that it won.

FBM: Being at Widmer, was that kind of a Willy Wonka experience for you?

Abe: It was pretty interesting. I brew on a ten-gallon system at home and even Widmer's test batches were brewed using a ten barrel-system so 310 gallons, but they stepped it up to their 250-barrel brew house and that's 7,750 gallons for one batch.

It was pretty unreal. I've been brewing for seventeen years and that was brewing more beer in one batch that I had in my entire life.

It was a good experience. I think I learned a lot about the practicalities of brewing on that kind of system. You can't do exactly what you want when it comes to availability of ingredients.

When I had to scale up the batch to brew at Widmer we had to make a number of changes; we obviously couldn't use the hops I grew from home (they ended up using Alchemy, Mt. Hood, and Hallertaur hops), the yeast strain I used was only seasonally available, and we ended up using Widmer's base two-row malt. We brewed three test batches before the big batch at the brewery and none of those were quite right. It was great to see that when we brewed it on the big system is was much closer to the original beer that the previous attempts.

That was pretty exciting.

VIDEO - Abram talks about his winning beer:

Note: All other photos courtesy of Widmer Brother's Brewing press release.

Tags: Beer, FBM In Action, Local Soccer Local Beer, Major League Soccer, Six-Pack Interview Series

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