Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hooray for Hopworks!

Procrastination makes the world go 'round. I'm not really accusing Hopworks Urban Brewery of procrastinating, but when Christian Ettinger's pub finally opened yesterday after a year of delays, it definitely drew a crowd. Hundreds of people pressed together drinking beer -- it was like the Holiday Beer Fest with glass mugs instead of plastic. Maybe that's why a keg of Kentucky Christmas was on tap.

We've been getting a taste of Hopworks beer for quite a while now, starting with the classic IPA. Then the winter warmer Abominabale was out at a few places, and more recently it's been possible to find the Lager and the Deluxe Organic Ale around town. HUB is part of the talented Class of '07 Oregon breweries, so expectations were high as we elbowed our way into the grand opening of Hopworks' pub for our Tuesday Pub Night. We were not disappointed, the beers were amazingly good.

Lindsey was executing the Beerfest-inspired maneuver of "get beer; get back in line" when I arrived, so I had a taste of his Kentucky Christmas (bourbon-aged Abominabale, I think) while we waited in line. Dave showed up in time to get in on that first round; miraculously we snagged a booth and crammed in there with Brett and Chris when they showed up. With that kind of manpower, we were able to run through the beers on tap:

  • Seven Grain Stout: smooth and rich, with coffee and chocolate flavors
  • Crosstown Pale: floral and pretty, maybe even tastier than the IPA
  • El Diablo: a Belgian golden ale, strong and delicious
  • Cultivator Doppelbock: sweet and malty, right on
  • Kentucky Chrismas: warm and tasty
  • HUB Lager: I'm not a fan of the style, but it was very drinkable
  • IPA: full-bodied, flavorful, classic Portland IPA
  • DOA: good as always
  • Velvet ESB: smooth but a little unremarkable
The IPA has quickly become a well-loved Portland staple, but as good as the HUB IPA is, the first four beers in the list were the big winners at our table. That's four pretty distinct styles, and they were all right on target -- we were astonished that Christian and his assistant brewer Ben Love were able to capture the styles so well. In particular, I almost always wrinkle my nose at micro-brewed doppelbocks, because I can't get that candy-beer taste of Paulaner Salvator out of my mind. But Cultivator -- while not a Salvator clone -- had the sweetness, the roastiness, but not the bad aftertaste that seems to come with U.S. doppelbocks. We complimented Christian on the smoothness of it, and he said, "yeah, it's got some age on it", which Brett interpreted for us to mean that it had been lagering for a long time.

Similarly, El Diablo nailed the Belgian style. Being true to style is one thing, but that's a minor consideration -- the most important thing is that it was delicious, and even "I hate Belgians" Dave was smacking his lips. I really can't think of one defect to report about El Diablo.

In addition to the beers listed above, there were two cask engines, one with DOA and one with IPA. Both are excellent on cask. I mentioned the glass mugs above: honest pint sticklers will be pleased to note that the Hopworks mugs have a 0.4 liter mark on them, about 3/4 inch below the top. Google informs me that 0.4 liters is about 13.5 fluid ounces, so we're probably looking at a 14 or 15 ounce pour here. But the point is, you know what you're getting.

Christian and Ben were working the taps and tables right up until closing time. That's Christian chatting with Lindsey in this photograph (and that's the back of Ben's head). The pub has a great atmosphere -- it will be a little more comfortable when it's a regular-sized crowd -- with high ceilings and a good mixture of booths and tall tables. There is lots of room at the bar, and lots of interesting spaces: an open loft with pinball machines; a semi-private 8-person cubbyhole table complete with a gas lamp overhead; patio areas on the side and in the back. Kids are welcome in the restaurant area and the loft.

For more information on Hopworks, check out John Foyston's recent writeup. Jeff Alworth has some better pictures than I do; I forgot my camera and just did the cellphone thing. It's really exciting to have HUB in the neighborhood, after so much anticipation. It's nice to see that it was worth the wait, they've created a nice space and fantastic beers.

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