Thursday, June 26, 2008

Meet the Champion Brewmaster

Tuesday night's Meet-the-Brewer at the Green Dragon was extra-special. The meetee was Bend Brewing's Tonya Cornett, who won the Champion Brewmaster award in the "small brewpub" category at the 2008 World Beer Cup. She brought along her trophy and some excellent beers: Hop Head IIPA, Axe Head Red Ale, Paulina Pale Ale, and Blackjack bourbon-aged Porter.

The Hop Head was the clear winner with our crowd -- a thick, hazy, hoppy treat. The Red Ale was very good, less dangerous to drink than the big IIPA. Speaking of dangerous, that's a good description for the strong, dark Porter, which was tasty but very bourbony, so watch out if you don't like that.

It's not just Tonya's recent award that made the session special; it's the fact that you can rarely find any of her beers in Portland. And that's not likely to change: there are no plans to start distributing them. She said that occasionally someone from the Green Dragon or Bailey's will be passing through Bend and stop in to buy a keg. But that's it.

A few years ago Dave and I stopped in to Acme at SE 8th and Main Street (it's since been aptly renamed "Plan B"). They had a couple of beer taps named after the bar, I don't exactly remember the names, something like Acme Amber and Acme Pale. We knew they weren't brewing there, so we asked what the beer was. It was like "Who's on first?" because neither Dave nor I had heard of Bend Brewing at that point.

  • "You make your own beer?"

  • "No, it's from Bend."

  • "Which brewery?"

  • "Bend."

  • "Yeah, which brewery?"

  • "BEND!"
I'm pretty sure Plan B doesn't still serve them, and given Tonya's comments on distribution, it looks like Bend Brewing ales will be a rare treat for us around here. Take advantage of them when you see them. For further reading on the Champion Brewmaster award, here's an Oregonian article that came out shortly after she received it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy 25th, Barley Mill

Every year the Barley Mill celebrates its birthday right around the summer solstice. This year Carla and I finally stumbled the six blocks from our house, figuring the 25th anniversary was special enough to show up for. As befits the Barley Mill, it was a pretty low-key event, at least when we were there around 2 PM, but we did get some birthday cake and pints of this year's version of the wacky Anniversary Ale as we withstood our dose of live Grateful Dead recordings.

McMenamins' pubs operate on a kind of buddy system, each pub with a brewery supplying beer to a single non-brewing pub in the chain. My understanding is that it's done that way to most profitably comply with the helpful regulations the state of Oregon has set up to protect its citizens from drowning in locally-made beer. Although the Barley Mill was the first pub in the ever-expanding McM empire, it opened before on-premises brewing became legal, and it was never a brewery. Instead, it is supplied by the chain's first brewpub, the Hillsdale Pub.

Right on the company website, it says "the pub's the thing". There are excellent brewers working for McMenamins', but the beer itself takes a back seat to real estate and atmosphere in the country of McMen-istan. Thus, the Barley Mill isn't where you go to revel in Oregon beer quality; rather, it's where you can take your kids and their grandparents for lunch and keep everyone happy without breaking the bank. Personal anecdote: my daughter chose to have her sixth birthday party at the Barley Mill. It was our first year in Portland, and as someone who grew up in the Bible Belt it felt a little strange to me that we were inviting a handful of kindergarten girls to have dinner at a bar. But why not? It's non-smoking, serves tater tots, and it's dripping with colorful artwork and crazy things for kids to look at.

The past year has brought a few changes to the Barley Mill. The dartboard is gone! It was in pretty bad shape and poorly lit, way back in a corner, but it occasionally came in handy and I hate to see the demise of any steel-tip dartboard. Also, for some reason they have draped a huge Grateful Dead flag over the excellent back-wall mural of old-fashioned Germans drinking Miller Beer under the protective gaze of a reclining nude woman. Everyone should hate to see the demise of any mural with a nude woman. And the menu seems a little different, though the only change I can put my finger on is that the Triple Play -- soup, salad, and garlic bread -- is gone.

Because the focus isn't really on the beer, the McMenamins' standards aren't of great interest to beer snobs -- though the CAMRA guide to the West Coast puzzlingly singles out Terminator as the best example of a West Coast stout. But it's not all bad. Corey Blodgett has a loyal following out at the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse for his imaginative beers. I was also impressed the other day at Ringler's by the Belgian Trippel and the Decent IPA (which supposedly got its name after one of the weekly papers complained that McMenamins' didn't brew a decent IPA). And for the last couple weeks the Barley Mill was serving an interesting little number called "Hemmerhoeff'd": the Hammerhead recipe brewed with a Belgian yeast.

That brings us to the Starvation Army Pale Ale, the pleasantly fruity pale brewed up for the anniversary. John Foyston has an entertaining article [Confidential to John: who does your spell checking?] about the ritual gathering where each participant adds something -- beer, wine, spirits, herbs, pieces of paper -- into the mash. And you know, it turned out pretty tasty.

The state of Oregon would be a far different place if there were no McMenamins'. That's especially true outside of Portland, where they serve as lifesaving oases for caravaning urbanites. Even here in town, the landscape would be far different with no Kennedy School, no Bagdad, no Crystal Ballroom. And it all began right here in Southeast. Happy Birthday, Barley Mill!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sample Stunt Follow-up

I'm always willing to blog a dead horse, so I'll write a little more about the brewed-on-premises marathon that Dave and I put ourselves through last Sunday. That's partly out of necessity: I don't have any new beer experiences to blog about. I was so tired of beer by the end of the marathon, that I didn't even consider having one for the next three days.


View Larger Map

Clarifications

The duration of our pub sprint was 6 hours, first pub to last, but we were out of the house for 6 hours and 35 minutes -- sorry Jill, it took me 4 minutes longer than Dave to get ready. According to Google Maps, the route between pubs was 6.7 miles, not 6 as I reported. But remember, I rounded down the number of samples we had in front of us. I counted 78, but we also sampled:

  • 1 Bend-brewed beer at Deschutes
  • 6 Hood-River-brewed beers at Full Sail
  • 1 mix of Ruby and Hammerhead at Ringlers
  • 2 duplicates at the Lucky Lab
  • 3 cask/nitro/keg overlaps here and there
  • 1 cider at New Old Lompoc -- there oughta be a law against that.
That makes 91 beer samples -- forget the cider, which they added as the 8th sample because they had no seasonals on. So depending on how you look at it, our velocity in beers-per-hour was between 78/6.5 = 12 BPH and 91/6 = 15 BPH.

Highlights

I actually wrote down some kind of comment about every single beer we tried, though by the end my notes get a little confusing -- at Hopworks I wrote that the Original Organic Red was "stiffly OK" and that the 78 Steam was "as dribbly as Anchor", whatever that means. Since Jeff asked what beers stood out, I'll recap the highlights:
  • New Old Lompoc: We were surprised at how good Fool's Golden Ale is -- Dave called it "Kolschy" -- though of course the classics are still tops: C-Note and Lompoc Strong Draft.
  • Lucky Lab Quimby: Amazing variety: the 5-Ton Lager was dark, delicious, and 8.5 ABV. Black Sheep was a smoky black IPA which I liked almost as much as the Mai Bock. Dave liked the Baltic Porter, but I found it too syrupy.
  • Bridgeport: Their beers are so much better on tap than bottled. ESB and IPA were the faves.
  • Ringlers: The Belgian Tripel was sweet and nice. The Decent IPA was underwhelming at first, but grew on me as it warmed up.
  • Rock Bottom: My comment on the cask IPA was "Whoa", and I stand by that. Delicious, hoppy, and rich. American Dream IPA was very nice also.
  • Full Sail: The Nut Brown was just the right temperature from the cask, chocolaty and good. Everything else was good, too, especially the excellent Prodigal Sun IPA. Cheeseburgers for $1.95 at happy hour will give you the strength to go on.
  • Hopworks: Isn't it cool that we tried 78 different Portland beers, and at the last brewery they have a beer called "78 Steam"? And 78 is divisible by either 6 hours or 6.5 hours.
A word about Rock Bottom. One evening when we were first in Portland, Carla and I decided to try out Rock Bottom, but we were shooed away from the outside tables by a snooty hostess. That led to a years-long boycott until my fresh hop quest last year. On that visit, my waiter didn't know what I meant by "fresh hop" or "harvest" beer, even though it was one of the seasonals, and he went so far as to bring me the wrong beer at first. Of course I had heard that Van Havig -- the head brewer at the Portland RB -- is one of the most respected brewers in town, but those two chain-pub experiences kept me away. Sunday was only my second time there, but it won't be my last -- Havig is brewing some seriously good beer there. Just avoid the restaurant side and go straight to the bar -- the beer guys will take good care of you.

Alternate Realities

A sub-stunt that I wanted to pull, was to save a tiny amount of each sample, all mixed together in a growler. That was unlikely to taste good, but it would be an interesting conversation piece. Unfortunately I got slapped down at the very first stop: the New Old Lompoc bartender enlightened me about the OLCC beer-to-go rules. Beer to-go containers have to be filled to the top, by the establishment. Rather than bring the law down on the 12 breweries nearest my house, I let that little project go.

Maybe we could have gone for bigger numbers. When I told Dave we had actually sampled 91 beers, he was a little bit angry with me. "Why didn't we go for 100?" The short answer is because we had families to get back to, and we were already over our time limit. But more to the point, it was a long way from Hopworks to someplace new that brewed on site. We had paused for food about halfway through, and we were very diligent about keeping hydrated -- we drank about twice as much water as beer. We might have been able to make it up to Laurelwood, but I don't think we could have safely made it home from there.

Originally I had the route starting at MacTarnahans, about a mile from New Old Lompoc, but decided that a mile was too far between stops. Maybe if we had started at Mac's, and if we had tried more Bend beers at Deschutes, we would have cracked 100. Or we could have picked up various other Portland brews at Bailey's, Henry's, or the Green Dragon.

Whatever the case, I'm content with the 15 BPH pub sprint. If you try it yourself, be careful, drink lots of water, and be prepared to forsake beer for a few days afterward.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Portland Sample Tray Marathon

Since Portland has so many breweries in a concentrated area, I got it into my mind to see how many beers one could taste in a small amount of time, bicycling from pub to pub. Yesterday, after weeks of scheming, Dave and I cut a swath through 11 breweries in a 6-mile stretch, using the technology of the sample tray to sip 78 beers brewed on premises. It was like a private Oregon Brewers Festival, and we did it all in six hours. It's tempting to call it a bicycle pub crawl, but it was more like a pub sprint.

Obviously, this isn't a way to do any meaningful tasting or comparison -- we even took the unprecedented measure of leaving beer in the glass. But the goal wasn't to do something meaningful -- it was to do something senseless, but something that's only possible right here in Portland.

Here's our itinerary:

  • New Old Lompoc: 2:38 to 2:51. $7.50 for 8 samples.
    1. Fool's Golden Ale
    2. Condor Pale Ale
    3. Centennial IPA
    4. C-Note IPA
    5. Proletarian Red
    6. Lompoc Strong Draft
  • Lucky Lab Quimby: 2:56 to 3:15. $1.25 per sample.
    1. Mai Bock
    2. Baltic Porter
    3. 5-ton Lager
    4. Black Sheep IPA
    5. Organic Brown Brown
    6. Organic Red
  • Bridgeport: 3:22 to 3:36. $7 for 9 samples.
    1. Old Knucklehead Barley Wine
    2. Black Strap Stout
    3. Porter
    4. Beertown Brown
    5. ESB
    6. Haymaker Extra Pale Ale
    7. Blue Heron Pale Ale
    8. Ropewalk Amber Ale
    9. IPA
  • Deschutes: 3:46 to 4:06. $6.50 for 6 samples.
    1. Mirror Pond Pale Ale
    2. Fleet Week Red Ale
    3. Rose Peddler Pale Ale
    4. Inversion IPA
    5. Black Butte Porter
  • Ringlers: 4:13 to 4:37. $6.95 for 9 samples.
    1. Belgian Trippel
    2. Liquid Friend (light lager)
    3. Decent IPA
    4. Copper Moon Copper Ale
    5. Ruby
    6. Hammerhead
    7. Porter
    8. Terminator Stout
  • Tugboat: oops, closed on Sunday. No sample trays anyway.
  • Rock Bottom: 4:48 to 5:07. $6.80 for 10 samples.
    1. Swan Island Lager
    2. Volksweizen Wheat
    3. Sunny Day IPA
    4. Oregonic Amber
    5. Multnomah Porter
    6. Morrison Street Stout
    7. Blond Ale
    8. American Dream IPA
    9. Hoppy Days
  • Full Sail Pilsner Room: 5:19 to 6:10 (had dinner). $7.50 for 6 samples.
    1. Prodigal Sun IPA
    2. Dubbel
    3. Nut Brown Ale
    4. Brewer's Share ESB
    5. Topsail Porter
    6. Stout
  • Roots: 6:24 to 6:41. $8 for 8 samples.
    1. Suds Lager
    2. Belgian Golden Ale
    3. Barley Jule ESB
    4. Island Red
    5. Burghead Heather
    6. Exxxcalibur Stout
    7. Woody IPA
    8. Nevermined Pale Ale
  • Lucky Lab Hawthorne: 6:45 to 7:30. $1.25 per sample.
    1. Steam Lager
    2. Malt Bomb Lager
    3. Quality Rye
    4. No Pity Organic Pale
    5. Black Lab Stout
    6. Blue Dog Amber (formerly Extra Pale)
    7. Triple Threat IPA
    8. Crazy Ludwig's Alt
    9. Open Bridge Brown
    10. Stumptown Porter
  • Clinton Street: 7:45 to 7:50. No sample tray: $4 for 2 half-pints.
    1. Amber
    2. Wit
  • Hopworks: 7:56 to 8:32 (toured brewery). $8 for 10 samples.
    1. Baltic Crude Porter
    2. Original Organic Red
    3. 78 Steam
    4. Survival Stout
    5. Deluxe Organic Ale
    6. IPA
    7. Organic Velvet ESB
    8. Organic Crosstown Pale
    9. Organic HUB Lager
Whew! that's 13 beers per hour. Not surprisingly, the first hour was the fastest, clocking in at 21 BPH. It was tough going at the end, but we did what we had to do. We were originally hoping for 100 different beers in 5 hours, but it's not a bad thing that we only got to 78.

Some of the lists above don't add up to the number of samples, because of duplicates, or beers not really brewed where we were at. For instance, we also got an Irish Red at Deschutes, but it was brewed in Bend instead of the Portland brewery, so I didn't count it. We also had two sample trays at Full Sail, but I only counted the beers brewed here in Portland. On the other hand, it's possible that some of the beers we had at the eastside Lucky Lab were brewed at Quimby, but since we were at both, I didn't get too fussy.

Many other variations of this stunt are possible. A marathon starting in Northeast with Alameda and Laurelwood would hit a bunch of pubs that we missed; or you could remove our "brewed on premises" restriction and include Rogue and Laurlewood in the dash through Northwest. But count me out -- once was enough. Many thanks to Dave for being sporting enough to go on such a mission.

Further reading: the follow-up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Roots for Lunch

Sometimes lunchtime is the only part of the day when I can sneak off for a beer. That always left Roots out of the equation on weekdays, since they didn't open until later.

So there was much rejoicing when John reported that Roots would start serving lunch. For now it's just Wednesday thru Friday, but next month they'll open every day. Mind you, the food is still a bit basic -- mainly sandwiches with potato chips -- but I'm glad the beer menu is accessible at midday now.

Dave and I headed down there today. He had little Vaughn along, and he couldn't help but notice that a couple other Mr. Moms also showed up for lunch with the little ones in tow. Way to go, Dave, you're in a demographic now!

Something I don't recall seeing at Roots before today: a guest tap. They had Alameda Juniper Porter on tap.

[Update(2009/06/30): Roots has cut off the weekday lunch hours. Open at 3.]

Friday, June 6, 2008

Oregon Brewers Festival and Nearby Attractions

Synchronized blogging! It's The Session. This month's topic is beer festivals, so I feel obliged to write something about the Oregon Brewers Festival. The 2008 festival is July 24-July 27 -- it's always the last weekend in July, a highlight of the Portland beer calendar. What I have to say is probably old hat for locals, but I wanted to take advantage of The Session to introduce the OBF and Portland to out-of-towners.

Each of the 70-or-so breweries represented at the festival brings a single beer. The brewers seem to take one of three strategies in choosing which beer to exhibit:

  1. Light and easy-drinking: for warm weather and neophytes.
  2. Wild, one-off experiment: to keep the geeks interested.
  3. Tried-and-true slam-dunk: to show off your brewing dominance.
The first category is exemplified by 21st Amendment, and the ridiculous Watermelon Wheat they show up with year in and year out. Category 2 experimenters include Stone and Widmer, cranking out something special or unusual for the festival each year, which can be hit or miss. For example, I loved Widmer's Imperial Wit last year (many people disagreed), but their sorghum/tapioca beer in 2006 was lame. Finally, a few brewers take the chest-thumping approach, like Russian River, bringing Pliny the Elder every time, which ratebeer says is in the 100th percentile. It's better than 100% of all beers -- it's even better than itself!

Because of strategies 1 and 2, not every beer is going to bowl you over. That's OK, because what makes the OBF special is not so much all the different beers, but rather the mellow, friendly vibe. Maybe the beer has something to do with that. The crowd also tends to have more women than you would expect at a beer festival -- I remember being struck by it when I first went in 2003, thinking "Hey, it's not just a bunch of old, fat guys". We even bring kids to the festival -- draft root beer is one of the bribes that makes that possible.

That pretty much sums it up about the OBF: relaxed atmosphere, lotsa beers. So for the rest of this article, I'd like to give you some ideas for Portland points of interest within walking distance of the festival. After all, you may want to get out of the chain-link fence for a bit, either to pace yourself, or to do some more in-depth beer research.

The Journey is the Destination

The OBF's location at Tom McCall Waterfront Park makes for a nice 2.5 mile loop along the east and west banks of the Willamette River, walking over or under four of Portland's drawbridges. Go south along the river, beneath the Morrison Bridge, and cross the Willamette (rhymes with "dammit", by the way) on the beautiful Hawthorne Bridge (1910). Pedestrians should keep toward the bridge railing -- bicycles get the part of the sidewalk nearest the cars. Follow the curving sidewalk down to the path on the east side of the river, the Eastbank Esplanade.


View Larger Map

Heading north along the river, accompanied by the automotive roar of I-5 overhead, you'll cross under the Morrison and Burnside Bridges before coming to a stretch of the sidewalk which actually floats in the Willamette. You'll cross the river back to Waterfront Park on the Steel Bridge (1914). There are other double-deck drawbridges in the world, but the Steel Bridge is the only one that telescopes: the lower deck can be raised while the upper deck remains open to traffic.

For Kids of All Ages

If you brought your kids to the festival and need to give them a break, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a science museum on the east side of the river, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, easily accessible from the Esplanade. There is also an IMAX theater and planetarium at OMSI.

Another interesting eastside youth attraction is the skateboard park hidden under the Burnside Bridge. Originally a do-it-yourself project that was later embraced by the city, you can't get to it directly from the pedestrian loop described above -- you can't even see it from there. You have to get onto the south sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge, either on the west side at Saturday Market, or by taking the stairs labeled "Burnside" from the Esplanade. Follow the Burnside sidewalk to MLK, turn right and go a block to Ankeny, turn right and go two blocks to 2nd (the sidewalk runs out), and turn right again to go under the bridge. You probably shouldn't go down there at night, but it's a cool thing to see during the day.

More Beer!

There are several interesting brewpub options you can walk to from the festival.

The Full Sail Pilsner Room [review] is about 3/4 mile south of the festival. Go underneath the Hawthorne Bridge and follow the sidewalk down towards the sailboat harbor.

Tugboat Brewing Company [review] is about 1/2 mile west of the festival. Follow Oak St. across Broadway, Tugboat is one block to your right.

The Oregon outpost of Rock Bottom is about 1/4 mile southwest of the festival at 2nd and Morrison.

If you took the stroll to the east side of the river, you're only about a half-mile from Roots [review] at 7th and Hawthorne, the Lucky Labrador [review] at 9th and Hawthorne, and the Green Dragon [review] at 9th and Yamhill.

Further Afield

This article is too long already, so I'll briefly list a few more attractions that you should see while you're in Portland.
The Horse Brass would be quite a long walk: take bus #15 (to Parkrose) and get off near SE 45th. The Tram is not too long of a walk if you're already at the Pilsner Room, but it's not a very pleasant one; you could also take the streetcar.

That's my take on the Oregon Brewers Festival, and some things to do nearby if you're a tourist. Thanks to Thomas for hosting this Session!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Speak of the Devil

The last entry mentioned that the Tugboat brewpub downtown often pours beers from Off the Rail Brewing (which I mistakenly called "Off the Rails"), the brewery that names most of their beers after Ozzy Osbourne or Black Sabbath songs. Corey commented that OtR is out of business -- which is also the impression I had, based on a Belmont Station blog entry a few months ago -- but the Tugboat people scoffed at the idea.

So I shot Off the Rail an email to see what was up, and got this reply from Antoinette Bragdon: "Nope this is a rumor started some time ago that refuses to die. Here to Stay!". I guess my rock lyric memory isn't what it used to be, because at first I was surprised that she would pick the phrase "Here to stay" from a Motorhead song (Built for Speed), instead of something more Sabbathy, like "Never say die". Google was able to remind me that it's also a line in Ozzy's You Can't Kill Rock And Roll.

She also gave me some tips on where to find Off the Rail beer around town:

  • Pizza Schmizza: various locations
  • Pub at the End of the Universe: hmmm, not far from Hopworks
  • Nuestra Cocina: SE Division
  • Rock n Roll Pizza: way SE Powell
  • Greek Village Tavern: Beaverton
  • Malone's Ale House: Beaverton
  • Malone's Cafe and Bar: Beaverton
I'm a little embarrassed not to have tried their Over the Mountain Stout at Tugboat, but I was on a different mission that night. I'll seek out some of their beer pretty soon. Rock n Roll Pizza will forever have a place in my heart for hosting a Hanzel und Gretyl (website) show a couple years ago, but I suspect it will be one of the closer SE places or a Pizza Schmizza where I try some Off the Rail. If you spot it somewhere, don't be Paranoid, leave a comment here.