Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Pub Night Memories

Despite the fact that I recently won a Worst Photograph prize, I'd like to wind up the year with a slideshow of Pub Night memories. These are pictures I took during 2009 that didn't make it into a blog post. Even so, they tell a story of camaraderie that illustrates what I love about Portland and the beer-obsessed people that congregate here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Keg of Cask Ale

Last week I was asking for your opinions on the state of cask ale in Portland. Here's some evidence in support of Ted Sobel's gripe about "cask-conditioned" beer: a pony keg of cask Wreck the Halls that Dave picked up for the Main Street solstice gathering. Definitely just a regular-'ol keg, of a very burly Full Sail beer that wasn't brewed with cask ale as the first thought.

Over the weekend I wasn't tsk-tsking it, I was glug-glugging it, because it was mighty tasty, even if it wasn't culturally authentic. The biggest problem Dave had was, how do you get the beer out of the keg? It didn't have a blowhole like a firkin does, so he couldn't just somehow tap it and drain it. On the other hand, forcing it out with a keg tap or CO2 seemed risky.

Dave is always up for some kind of project, so he made his own cask engine, using some kind of RV water-pump gadget and the fitting from a regular keg pump. By unscrewing the central cylinder of the keg pump, the keg was able to breathe in air to make up for the lost volume of ale. It wasn't as eye-catching as English pub-style cask handles, but it got the job done for the party. And, yes, that's too much ice cooling it off -- we had to let the beer warm up after dispensing it.

On the earlier post about cask ales, I was hoping people would name more names of places with good or bad cask ale. There wasn't much response, but here's what I got, plus I'll add a bit of my own opinion.

Good places for cask ale:

  • Deschutes - even Ted approves
  • Moon and Sixpence
  • County Cork
  • Rock Bottom - from firkins at the right temperature
  • Bridgeport - especially the Pearl location
Places where you might avoid the cask ale:
  • New Old Lompoc - one commenter reports multiple fails
  • Horse Brass - same commenter says "hit or miss"; I agree
  • Lucky Lab - pains me to say it, but that two-week old Black Lab Stout has its tongue hanging out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Portland Beer Price Index: Winter 2009

It's the winter solstice, time once again for the quarterly Portland Beer Price Index. In response to comments on the first PBPI back in September, I recorded not only the regular price of the beers in the survey, but also sale prices (for retail) and happy hour prices (for bars).

Reminder: this survey is not a complaint about beer prices generally or at any particular place. It's just my attempt to watch price trends over time. For more details on which beers and establishments were surveyed, see the first PBPI.

Here is the Winter 2009 PBPI:

  • 6-packs: $8.75, down 10 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers: $5.03, down 5 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $7.85
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.97
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.20, unchanged
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.46
The makeup of the BPBI has changed a little bit, and I went back and recalculated the fall numbers based on that. When the big boys do it, they call it "restating". One change is that I reluctantly dropped Beermongers from the bomber index, because they only had 3 of the 6 bombers in stock when I was there (not a single bottle from Hopworks, Laurelwood, or Lompoc). I was really counting on them to lower the index a little bit with their great prices -- indeed, the autumn bomber index is 18 cents higher without them -- but their selection misses too many Portland standards. The other change was adding Bridgeport's Hawthorne Ale House to the pub list -- because of their generous happy hour -- which lowered the 16-ounce index from $4.27 to $4.20.

The decline in retail prices is mainly due to Belmont Station's lower prices, though Fred Meyers lowered one or two also. The sale/happy-hour prices are based on all the beers in the survey, so it includes beers that weren't on sale. That's especially evident in the bomber prices -- almost none of them were marked down when I did my canvass. A few more details are worth mentioning:
  • I used Belmont Station's cash prices. Purchases with a credit or debit card are higher.
  • Not only is the pub average unchanged, but no pub in the survey changed its regular price since September.
  • Six-pack equivalent (SPE) prices:
    • bomber: $16.46
    • sale bomber: $16.27
    • pub: $18.91
    • pub happy hour: $15.55
Look for the Spring 2010 PBPI around March 21st.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Won a Major Award!

Even though I try to decorate every post on It's Pub Night with a picture of some kind, I have to admit that my photography skills are probably not what keeps this enterprise afloat. Now I have received official recognition of my deficiency -- I was dubbed the Grand Loser of the Yuletide Photo Contest on Alan McLeod's A Good Beer Blog.

It was the picture above -- of a kegerator sitting next to the dug-up floor of the future Migration Brewing pub -- that pushed Alan over the edge and made him create a new prize category for the worst photo submitted. He claims it's the ugliest picture ever to appear on A Good Beer Blog. Gee whiz, it's probably one of the 20 best photos on It's Pub Night -- at least it wasn't taken with the 1.4 kilopixel camera on my old cell phone. Well, different bloggers have different standards.

Speaking of which, you may recall that in past years two other Portland beer bloggers have actually won the real Grand Prize in Alan's contest, Dave Selden (Champagne of Blogs) in 2006, and Matt Wiater (portlandbeer.org) last year. Matt is a photographer by trade: take a look at his collection of Portland beer photography on his Flickr page. Not only are the pictures stunning, but they are a great document of the local beer scene.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Your Thoughts on Cask Ale

If you're a good beer geek -- in the U.S., anyway -- you are always on the lookout for beer "on cask". You hope for a more flavorful experience: warmer, flatter beer that the bartender has to laboriously pump into your glass with the big porcelain handle mounted on the bar.

Two recent internet articles have me pondering the state of cask beer. One is by Ted Sobel -- the brewer/publican of Brewers Union Local 180, an all-cask-ale brewery in remote Oakridge, Oregon -- explaining on his blog why he won't let the beer he brews out of his sight. Shortly after Ted's post, Beer Advocate asked its readers for their opinion on this question: (paraphrasing) is cask beer done right in the U.S., or are those pumps just a gimmick?

In Great Britain, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) promotes this particularly English way of producing and serving beer. There's special emphasis placed on the condition of the beer: the publican has to cellar it while it finishes fermenting, then let it settle after he jostles it up to the serving area, then make sure it is served at the right temperature, while it's still fresh.

Here in Oregon, there are cask engines in more and more pubs, even places that don't cater exclusively to beer nerds, for example Beulahland and Bar Avignon. Ted's post was skeptical about such cask offerings:

The contents of the kegs are dubiously named cask-conditioned beer, which in many cases simply contain ale destined for keg that has been drawn off from the fermenter and primed in the cask (keg).

Now, to my mind, that's good enough. It would not be good enough if it were just an ordinary keg of beer, not re-fermented in the keg. But if the keg is conditioned, it's legit, right?

Bridgeport immediately came to mind as a place in town that serves cask-conditioned beer, and is probably doing it the right way. So I emailed Karl Ockert to ask him about their process. He replied:

We currently have three engines pulling from firkins at both our brewpub on NW Marshall St and the Alehouse on SE Hawthorne. Our cask ales are my beer of choice when I go down at the end of the day to our pub for my pint. And yes we have the stillage racks, spiles, keystones, cask breathers, etc.

And Bridgeport's cask ales are definitely a treat.

But I'd like to hear from all of you out there, especially if you work at a brewery or a pub that serves cask-conditioned beer. My questions are:
  • What places in Portland serve cask ale correctly?
  • What places in town are faking us out?
  • What places have cask ale, but in poor condition?
  • Can "ale destined for keg" qualify as cask-conditioned?
  • What about Beer Advocate's question: is cask just a gimmick?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Confidence

A few weeks ago, when the oddly-named Stout, Microbrew, Wines and Market -- with no real microbrews in stock -- opened near 20th and Hawthorne, I stopped in immediately, hoping for an excellent bottle shop just steps from my house. It was disappointing to find that the beer selection there was not even as good as the 7-11 across the street -- really, not as good as the Safeway six blocks away.

Beermongers had just opened a couple of weeks before, so as I was chatting up the SMW&M proprietor, I asked him what he thought of Beermongers. He said, "I don't see how they're going to make it, with New Seasons just down the street from them."

Man, that just sent my head spinning. You see, SMW&M is at the NE corner of Ladd's Addition, Beermongers is at the SW corner, and New Seasons is at the SE. So, comparing Beermongers to SMW&M:

  1. Distance to New Seasons: tie
  2. Selection: Beermongers wins
  3. Price: Beermongers wins
  4. Distance to 7-11 and Safeway: SMW&M loses
I don't see how they're going to make it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Upright Brewing Tasting Room

If I had written this up the day after my visit to the Upright Brewing tasting room, I could have made John Foyston look like a copy-cat. Instead, I get to ride the coattails of the excellent article he wrote for the Oregonian a few days ago. Fortunately, John left out a few of the dry details -- like prices for tastes and growlers -- so I get to look like I'm adding something to the conversation.

Make no mistake, the tasting room isn't a pub. It's only open from 1 to 6 on Saturdays and Sundays -- plus special hours starting at 6 PM every night that there's a home Blazers game around the corner at the Rose Garden. There's no kitchen, but on some days there might be a small charcuterie plate available to snack on -- a couple weeks ago it featured some of Alex's homemade blood sausage. It's more like hanging out in the basement of your most hardcore homebrewing friend -- a couple of street-level windows at the top of a cinderblock wall, a half-dozen beer taps sticking out of another wall, and maybe a special rare bottle open on the table. OK, your friend's basement probably doesn't have a dozen oak barrels stacked up aging beer, but you get the idea.

It's a good deal: most 12-ounce samples are $2; some special brews cost $3. The special beers are often one of the everyday Upright beers like Four or Seven, spiked with some homegrown fruit or vegetable, like Fatali peppers or baby kiwi. You can buy the various Upright bottled beers at the tasting room, or get growlers filled for $10 ($15 for some special beers).

You'll likely get a chance to chat with brewer/owner Alex Ganum; most days your bartender will be Portland beer expert Ezra Johnson-Greenough -- SamuraiArtist on Twitter. Speaking of social networking, Upright now has a blog with interesting entries so far -- keep it up, guys -- and you can follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday Ale Fest Advice

Yesterday's session of the Portland Holiday Ale Festival sure got crowded fast. When I got there about 3 with Dave and my Austin visitors Bill and Lance, the line for vintages of Hair of the Dog Jim was already backed up all the way out of the upper tent, down the stairs, and into the main tent. Lines for most other beers were quite manageable well into the evening, once you realized that most of the people in the chutes were just standing around chatting and not really waiting in line. The festival reports first-day attendance of over 2500 people -- you can imagine how crowded and loud the tents at Pioneer Square were.

Don't worry, it's still a great time, thanks to the friendly crowd and an awesome lineup of beers collected by Preston Weesner. The weather was unbelievably fine yesterday, and looks to be good today also. Here's some friendly advice on how best to enjoy the fest:

  1. Don't drive there. These beers are huge, and they'll catch up with you. Take the bus or train, or arrange a ride home.
  2. Bring water. If there were mug rinse stations, I didn't see them. You can buy bottled water, but why not just come prepared?
  3. Get there early. Shorter lines, less shouting.
  4. Warm up your beer. Due to storage and weather, the beer is served too cold to get the best flavors. Cup it in your hands for a while before tasting.
  5. Samples, not full pours. Because they're cheaper, easier to warm up, and won't clobber you as quickly.
  6. No kids allowed whatsoever. Dave found out the hard way that even a baby in a backpack is verboten.
Because of the strength and deliciousness of the beer at this festival, it's easy to go a little overboard. Food, water, and pacing will help you out with that. Just don't count on driving home. I don't even think I would recommend biking to this festival; for one thing, there's not much in the way of bike parking.

There are tons of excellent beers. Here are a few that made an impression on me yesterday:
  • Bear Republic Barrel Aged Old Baba Yaga (Imperial Stout): rich malt-o-meal flavor, strong alcohol
  • Deschutes Mirror Mirror (Barleywine): single-barrel version of the 2008 release; delicious maply, oaky barleywine
  • Cascade Sang Noir (Sour Red Ale): a nicely dry sour; you must let it warm up and open up
  • Hair of the Dog Jim 2009 (Blended Aged Ale): this year's Jim is very hoppy and barleywinish, leans very much towards Doggie Claws
  • Vertigo Arctic Blast (Vanilla Porter): a nice lighter offering, with lots of vanilla
  • Hopworks Kronan the Barbarian (Baltic Porter): dense and delicious, not as strong at 8%
  • Laurelwood Polska Porter (Baltic Porter): dark, rich, and boozy
  • Grand Teton Black Cauldron (Imperial Stout): smoky and malty
Those Baltic Porters from Hopworks and Laurelwood are wonderful, but I think both are available in the pubs right now, so you might not want to spend your festival tickets on them. The sour Sang Noir is a unique blend that won't be seen again: it's a good choice when you need a change of palate from the big dark beers. Just make sure and warm it up: there's a dusty note to the beer that doesn't go down well when it's cold, but that adds just the right funk once the beer has warmed enough.

That hardly does justice to the many offerings at the festival, but these were standouts among the few beers I tried yesterday. Leave a comment if you have something to recommend.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Coming Soon: Cascade Barrel House

A couple days ago I stopped to visit the future location of Cascade Brewing's new pub, catty-corner across Belmont from the Green Dragon. Brewer Ron Gansberg already has dozens of barrels in the beer-aging section of the Barrel House. The rest of the building is still in demolition mode, waiting on permits to begin construction. The pub will have up to 18 beers flowing at one time, a couple of them drawn straight out of wood barrels. As for food, Ron says that the menu will be short and to the point. No decision yet on whether kids will be allowed, but now that the Green Dragon even allows them on the bar side until 8 PM, it probably makes good business sense. There's not a firm opening date yet -- after all, the real construction hasn't yet begun -- but the plan is for "the first part of 2010".

I was surprised at how much space there is in the pub side of the building. Everything I had read up to now made me think it would be tiny, and the building doesn't look so big from the outside, but there's quite a big area in there. Some of it will turn into kitchen, cooler, and bar space, but it's still bigger than I imagined. It will have that Lucky Lab warehouse feeling -- check out the wooden arches that hold up the roof. Add to that some outside seating below the loading dock, and you've got a place that's going to fit right in to the vibe of the neighborhood pubs.

The original Cascade pub, the Raccoon Lodge, is not that deep into Southwest Portland, but I'm sorry to say that it's enough out of my range that I have never been there. My unintentional boycott has paid off with this pub they're opening within walking distance of my house. I'm excited that we'll now have a range of Cascade's beers in the neighborhood; I guess I better start working on my sour beer palate, since the awards the brewery is harvesting in that category are only going to move them even more in that direction, especially at the Barrel House.

This continuing development of the craft beer scene in Southeast Portland is one of the many things that make me thankful to live in this neighborhood. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hoppy Holiday Ales

Last week Jeff wrote about blindly tasting three Northwest winter-warmer type ales. I don't know if I'd really count it as a blind tasting, since he was able to identify all three, and while he had good things to say about all of them, he preferred Deschutes Jubelale over Full Sail Wassail and Laurelwood Vinter Varmer.

Now, Jubelale is a special obsession at my house, but this year I find myself drawn more towards hoppy holiday ales instead of the darker spiced winter warmers. Some representatives from the hoppy holiday side of the beer family tree are:

  • Widmer Brrr
  • Full Sail Wreck the Halls
  • Double Mountain Fa La La
  • Lompoc C-Son's Greetings
  • Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration
  • Bridgeport Ebenezer
That list is more or less in my order of preference. Widmer Brrr is just so darn good. It takes the idea originally set forth by Celebration, and kind of dials up the crispness or the distinctness of the flavors. It's not that it's a hop bomb -- like Fa La La and C-Son's Greetings -- but the hops are much more floral and obvious than in Celebration, without obscuring the nice malt base.

Wreck the Halls is fabulous this year, a burly, heavily-hopped ale, with a strong bitter finish. Fa La La is also a marvel, a solid strong ale, with a big Double Mountain dose of hops. You won't find it in bottles, so if you see it on tap somewhere, you better have a pint. For some reason, the Lagunitas Red Ale isn't grabbing me this year as it has in years past. I almost want to say that it's too balanced -- the caramel malts give it a real heft that keeps the hops in check. Maybe it's just that Brrr has changed my idea of how the hops should be in a holiday ale.

C-Son's greetings, a kind of double C-Note, is a regular New Old Lompoc winter seasonal. This year for the first time, it's available in 22-ounce bottles. If you like C-Note, or big IPAs of any kind, you'll enjoy this malted-up version. Bridgeport's Ebenezer is not as hoppy as most of these holiday ales, but it seems to belong more in this category than the winter warmer one. It's not unpleasant, but it's not really very exciting.

I like this idea of a holiday-ale family tree. I'd say that winter warmers like Jubel are on a branch typified by Anchor's Christmas Ale -- think porters with winter spices. Then there's the Celebration branch of hoppy strong ales, and the closely-related winter barleywine branch, whose archetype is Bigfoot -- another Sierra Nevada brew -- emulated now by bruisers like Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws and Lagunitas Brown Shugga. I can think of one more category: the crazy European big brews -- Samichlaus, Scaldis, and various Belgian Noel beers. Can every holiday beer fit on one of those branches, or does the category need splintering some more?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Migration Update

I stopped by the future location of Migration Brewing yesterday on Glisan just east of SE 28th. The three co-owners were all there working on the building -- that's McKean, Colin, and Michael in the picture. A kegerator stocked with Lompoc's Fresh Hop Harvest Man helps ensure that the work goes smoothly.

There's a lot of work to do to get the building ready, but it will be a nice open room, with high ceilings showing off the original fir rafters. There will be a patio area out front along Glisan. The plan is to open in January, but sometimes the guys say "early 2010", so it wouldn't be surprising if the schedule slips a little. A lot of the details are still being worked out, but in the beginning the pub will open in the late afternoon, and add lunch hours as the business grows. They'll probably allow minors until 8 or 9 PM, but all things are contingent on the OLCC.

The 7-barrel brewing system is under construction right now in North Portland. Check out Migration's Facebook page for some pictures of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Collaborator CXI

The current edition of the Oregon Brew Crew/Widmer Collaborator Project is called CXI Pumpernickel Ale. It's brewed with an interesting adjunct: 60 pounds of pumpernickel bread from La Petite Provence bakery. I had a pint with lunch today at It's a Beautiful Pizza next door to Stumptown Coffee on Belmont.

CXI is a nice big beer for winter. It's a beautiful mahogany color with a yeasty, bready nose; the flavor is boozy on top of a nice dark roasted malt. There's a kind of herbal aromatic thing that creeps into your nose as you drink it -- it might be largely due to the alcohol, but you can also imagine the rye bread contributing to it. The beer has a long malty finish, with lots of bitter hops; not at all floral, just kind of a coffee bitterness. Despite the big booze -- it's 8.5% -- and the malty flavor, it's not a sweet-tasting beer. It's good stuff -- try it while it's available at Beautiful Pizza, the Widmer Gasthaus, and eventually the usual beer-snob taverns. I can't think of a beer to compare it to; the closest category I can shoe-horn it into is "winter warmer".

It's a Beautiful Pizza has a respectable set of 10 beer taps, plus a Blackthorn Cider tap. Today a couple of taps were off, but in addition to the Collaborator, they had Eel River Amber, Lagunitas IPA, Victory Prima Pils, and a few other Oregon beers. In the past I've always seen a Lucky Lab tap there, but maybe it was one of the blown kegs today. Plenty of bike parking in the corral on Belmont, and they've recently added a no-minors section with some vid-poker, if you want to get away from the ankle-biters.

For a firsthand report on the making of CXI, listen to Lisa Morrison's Beer O'Clock show from last week. Lisa has an interview with Widmer brewer Ike Manchester and OBC member Noel Blake.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alcohol vs. Acetaminophen

My Tylenol bottle thinks I drink too much.

Well, it's not every day that I drink three or more beers, but I drink some amount of beer most every day, and if I have one I usually have two. And, like anyone who likes to drink, I sometimes have way more than three.

It's great fun to make liver jokes -- the liver is evil, must be punished -- but I have a feeling that liver failure wouldn't be much fun. We all know that chronic alcohol abuse is bad for the liver. But did you know that acetaminophen poisoning is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the US? Apparently the recommended daily maximum dosage -- which the FDA is about to lower -- is only about half of the dosage that starts to overwhelm your liver, and the way over-the-counter remedies sprinkle in a little of this and a little of that can get some people over the line without them even thinking about it.

The combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can have immediate bad effects on the liver. First thing to remember: do not take Tylenol after heavy drinking. Like the next morning, when your head is pounding. I am not a doctor, but it looks like ibuprofen (Advil) is a safer bet for hangover help. Ibuprofen, like aspirin, is rough on the stomach -- take it with food. There's a place for each pain reliever, just don't combine alcohol and Tylenol. Furthermore, if you drink every day, only take half the maximum acetaminophen dosage (2 grams a day instead of 4 grams a day), even if you stopped drinking when you became sick. Here's a pretty good explanation of that, despite having been written by a lawyer.

Tylenol has made my life bearable the last few days, with this damn flu I've got. I'm looking forward to getting back to some beer drinking, though.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Belmont Station's New Prices

This week, Belmont Station introduced two-tier pricing on its bottled beers: customers paying cash will pay about 4% less than those using credit cards. There was a small amount of anguish about this on Twitter, and the Bulls & Brew blog published a rebuke, but 4% truly reflects the costs that third-party card processors charge to small merchants like Belmont Station -- basically a 50-cent charge per transaction, plus 3% of the total transaction. Two-tier pricing seems like a fair solution to me: let the customer decide whether the fee is worth the convenience.

Part of the initial reaction to Belmont's move was along the lines of "The most expensive bottle shop in town is raising its prices?" To counter that impression, the Station's latest email newsletter -- titled "WE REDUCED PRICES ON HUNDREDS OF BEERS!" -- tries to spin things the other direction:

We've reduced the everyday prices on hundreds of beers. 95% of our six packs and large single bottles (22 ounce, 750ml, etc.) now cost less.

Effective this Monday, November 2, the biggest discounts will go to CASH customers.


Sorry guys, but I'm not buying that. As luck would have it, I can do a quick fact check on this, since I recently collected a few 6-pack and bomber prices for the PBPI. The average price of the 6-packs in my survey did indeed fall from $9 to $8.67 at Belmont Station, and the bomber average dropped from $5.21 to $5.07. That's the cash price, and the reductions are 3.67% and 2.67% respectively. So credit-card customers are not -- on average -- seeing lower prices.

Furthermore, I would be surprised if 95% of the prices were reduced, since in my small survey, only four of the six 6-packs decreased in price, and only three of the six bombers are cheaper. The other prices stayed the same. So, either I'm a really good shot with my beer picks, or the price reductions fell disproportionately on the 950 special-occasion beers on the shelves, not the 50 biggest movers.

One more problem: customers paying with a debit card pay the same higher price as credit-card customers. My admittedly shallow understanding of the problem is that there is not a percentage fee on debit card transactions, just a 50-cent charge. On a $5 purchase, 50 cents is already 10% of the transaction, but at least there isn't the added percentage there is with credit cards. Maybe the 4% averages out, but it seems like debit cards should be treated more kindly than credit cards. [Update: In the comments below, Chris from Belmont Station clarifies that debit cards are now charged a percentage as well; Kevin points out that nowadays debit is only cheaper to process than credit above about $25. So, I was wrong to think that debit should get off lighter than credit.]

Despite Belmont Station's clumsy attempt to cheapwash their new policy, I like their approach of passing the savings on to the customer. Although I've gotten used to the convenience of paying with a credit card, I've recently started paying with cash at local establishments. Do your local merchants and publicans a favor: use cash when you can.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Clinton Street Brewing Disappears

The status of Clinton Street Brewing (warning: noisy website) -- next to the movie theater at 26th and Clinton -- has been weird for quite a while, since the little in-house brewing operation was assimilated by Captured by Porches. But it appears that the whole thing is now kaput. A new banner on the awning declares the establishment to be "The Workshop", and there are no CSB or CBP taphandles behind the bar.

As I peered in the window today, I got some details on the change from the barbecue chef, who was sitting at a picnic table outside. In my usual blundering way, one detail I didn't get was the gentleman's name, but his outfit is Smoky Mountain BBQ, most recently serving at the Queen of Hearts Tavern near the Mt. Scott Rec Center. Anyway, the Smoky Mountain Man said that the new owners will also brew their own beer -- in fact are apparently already brewing it -- but not at the place itself. That may be a good thing, considering the scary-looking setup pictured above that Clinton Street used.

Right now The Workshop opens at 5 PM; next week they hope to open at 2 PM, and eventually serve lunch. The barbecue is pork-leaning North Carolina-style. You can still buy a beer to take in to the theater next door -- the taps I can recall are Jubel and Pabst... there were three or four other choices, none remarkable one way or the other.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coming Soon: Migration Brewing

My eagle-eyed neighbor Lindsey spotted signage for a new brewpub near NE 28th and Glisan: Migration Brewing. That will make quite a little beer district there, with Spints Ale House going in around the corner at 28th and Flanders, and Coalition Brewing (née Hobo Brewing) at 28th and Ankeny.

Pretty soon you'll be able to do an alphabetical pub crawl up 28th. Coalition at Ankeny, Holman's at Burnside, Beulahland at Couch, we need stuff at Davis and Everett, then there's Spints at Flanders and Migration at Glisan. By the way, Beulahland escaped my attention until a few weeks ago, but it's a worthy bar for us snobby types -- ten decent taps and even a cask engine (!). They also do their own house-infused vodkas and bourbons, if you're sometimes tempted by the hard stuff.

The Linked-In page for Migration mentions a couple connections with the Lucky Lab, which gives me a good feeling about the place. They're hoping to open in January. I'll put up more information if it comes to me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern

It's already been open for a year, but last week I finally made my first visit to Saraveza. Sarah Pederson's bar is a much-needed outpost of good beer in that part of North Portland. The smallish space has an atmosphere something like a coffeeshop, with 10 taps of quality draft beer, and hundreds of snob-worthy bottles in stand-up coolers. There's a nice food menu, and kids are allowed in the place until 9 PM.

The decor is over-the-top Wisconsin, to the point of all the tap handles representing various flavors of wimpy downstream beer, from Bud to Schlitz. Hey wait a minute, I ordered a Russian River, not an Old Milwaukee -- oh, okay, it's just the handle. In fact, it's a Cascade Fall Gose that was served to me in that Coors goblet (and sitting next to a tiny snifter of 21% Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA). I've never been to Wisconsin -- despite a lifelong love for the 1880's-era Milwaukee antics of Peck's Bad Boy -- so I can't judge whether Saraveza authentically captures the Sconnie bar vibe. For me it's a little disorienting for a place to serve mostly craft beer, yet decorate with factory lager memorabilia. But it's definitely a unique approach, and probably bothers me less than it would any poor Schlitz drinker that happens to step up to the bar.

Saraveza's kitchen focuses on pasties, little fried pies made from scratch, with some cheeky junk-food options like Rice Krispie treats and a Ritz Cracker plate. When I stopped in with my friend Bill, we had just eaten a big lunch, so the only thing we tried was the jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and bacon, very tasty. Any of the bottles of beer at Saraveza are available to go at a discount from the drink-here price.

It's interesting how quickly Saraveza worked its way into the hearts of Portland beer folk. It's one of only two bars in town to have a live webcam on its tap list at Taplister (East Burn is the other). When Brewpublic celebrated its one-year anniversary, one of the parties was at Saraveza (the other one being at Bailey's Taproom, itself a relative newcomer). Sarah says she plans to put in a beer engine and start serving a cask-conditioned beer, but apart from that no big changes are planned. It's been a great first year, why change anything?

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Whine Hard about Henry's Tavern

On the previous post about the new taps at the Green Dragon, someone commented that their 50 taps must be one of the largest collections in the city. The Horse Brass just barely squeaks past them because of their 3 cask engines, and Patrick pointed out that the Dublin Pub in Hillsdale has over 50 taps (59 according to their website).

But the reigning champion in Portland is clearly Henry's Tavern, with about 100 taps. Let me pull out some cliches to describe Henry's Tavern. The large, well-chosen tap-list is like casting pearls before swine (most patrons order macro lagers or cocktails). A beer there will cost you an arm and a leg. Henry Weinhard must be rolling over in his grave to have Henry's Tavern using his name and his building.

Enough cliches. I would love to love Henry's, with its massive beer list and great historic location. The first bar I ever went into -- as you can see by my identification card -- was a tavern owned by my Uncle Henry. The finest honky-tonk in Austin used to be Henry's Bar and Grill on Burnet Road (now an AutoZone parking lot, grrrr...). But Portland's Henry's Tavern always manages to annoy me in one of the following ways:

  1. The servers know nothing about the beers.
  2. The beer list doesn't list prices or serving quantities.
  3. The servers don't know the quantities.
  4. The beer list is often out of date.
  5. The servers can't tell you any additions/subtractions to the list.
  6. The beer is expensive.
Every few months I torment myself with a trip to Henry's, but there's always some annoyance. Either the first three beers I order turn out to be unavailable, or a beer of normal strength comes to the table in a small goblet after the server assures me it is served in pints. One time when Brian and I were having lunch there, I pointedly asked our waitress if there were any new beers that hadn't made it onto the list. She said she'd check with the bartender, then came back and said there weren't. And yet when the beer buyer came by and recognized Brian, she recommended we try a new release from Ninkasi that was not yet on the list. Brilliant.

Henry's probably has the most expensive pints in town -- well, maybe Higgins or Rogue can beat them, but those places at least give a damn about the beer they're serving. And since the prices aren't posted anywhere, you just take your chances until the check arrives.

That's one thing, and I'll admit to being kind of a tightwad. Nevertheless, I would patronize the place more if not for the total lack of respect for beer there. It could be a kind of beer-geek heaven with just a little bit of creative management. For example, the Tap House Grill in Seattle is a similar establishment, but a nod is given to beer fans, and the servers know their stuff.

Don't hold your breath: I think Henry's has done the calculation on what kind of customer they are angling for, and it's corporate restaurant diners, not beer geeks. The giant beer list attracts a certain chest-thumping contingent, but they are mostly oblivious to the genuinely interesting variety on the list.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Evolution of the Green Dragon

The 30 new taps that have been sticking out of the back wall of the Green Dragon since March are now stocked. That makes 50 taps, including a couple nitro taps, plus a beer engine. At lunchtime when I've been in, there's not a dedicated server at the "Back 30" -- that's what they call the back bar -- so whoever's tending bar has to hustle back and forth. I'd say 30 taps is a good trade for the dartboard that used to be back there, but it would be nice if they figured out some other place to put a dartboard or two. I say ditch the shuffleboard table that no one ever uses.

Last week the first beer brewed at the Green Dragon was served: the aptly named Finally! IPA. Does that mean there's a brewer at the Dragon now, and the brewhouse is in production mode? Well, no. The beer was brewed by Oregon Brew Crew members. Man, $4.75 a pint and you're using free labor to make the beer? Nice Tom Sawyer action there -- the bartenders better hope Rogue doesn't realize how many Portland beer swillers would work a shift for free. Anyway, hats off to the stand-in brewers, they did a nice job on Finally! -- a dense, cloudy IPA with very grapefruity hops. It's already off -- don't know if they sold it all or saved some kegs for posterity's sake.

In another development, the door from the bar to the back patio was finally installed a few weeks ago. That's handy: it's now legal for you to carry your own beer from the bar to the patio. The "Ed's Patio" sign over the door doesn't make much sense -- it labels the entry back into the bar, not the opening to the patio. It's an awkward gesture to name part of the bar after the last guy to hold 2/3 of the hot potato, given the drama occasioned a year ago by Ed's sale of the place to Rogue over the objections of Lolo, a founder and 1/3 owner. I have an idea: let's start calling the front bar "Lolo's Bar", and the pinball machines "Parker's Arcade".

Speaking of Parker and Lolo, their post-Dragon assistant-brewmaster gigs are going well. Jim is at Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, WA, which won four GABF medals -- 2 gold, 2 silver -- this year, as well as the Small Brewpub of the Year. Lolo is brewing at Silver Moon in Bend. A few months ago I saw him at Fred Fest, and he looked happier than he did even during the early days of the Green Dragon. The Green Dragon regularly puts on a keg of Silver Moon, and stocks 3 or 4 bottles from them, so he's brewing some beer for the place after all, just not the way he envisioned it.

So, here we are after a year of Rogue ownership. The finished patio and increased number of taps are positives. The relatively high prices on beer and food are negatives. The atmosphere is as good as it's ever been -- Rogue has kept up an interesting schedule of meet-the-brewer nights (though tonight's "brewer" is Aengus Ciderworks) -- and the new Cascade barrelhouse and pub around the block will make the area even more of a beer destination. I don't go to the Green Dragon as often as I used to -- largely because of the high beer prices -- but it's still in the rotation. What do you think? Has Rogue changed it for the better, the worse, or not much at all?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last Fresh Hop Post of 2009

You must be completely bored by now with all the fresh-hop talk on It's Pub Night. One last gasp from me: I'll list the ones I've tried this season, in roughly the order that I'd recommend them to you as examples of fine fresh-hop flavor. Some of the ones far down the list are still nice beers, just not as remarkable for fresh-hop-ness.

  1. Deschutes Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond
  2. Full Sail Lupulin (Crystal)
  3. Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale
  4. Walking Man Fresh Hop IPA
  5. Bridgeport Hop Harvest
  6. Three Creeks Santiam Hop Harvest
  7. Full Sail Lupulin (Cascade)
  8. Widmer Hopturnal Emission
  9. New Old Lompoc Crystal Wheat
  10. Lucky Lab The Mutt
  11. Barley Brown's Roadside Fresh Hop
  12. Upright Fresh Hop of Belair
  13. Double Mountain Killer Green
  14. Standing Stone Wet-Hop Amber
  15. Deschutes Fresh-hopped Hop Henge
  16. Hopworks Bike Beer
  17. Silver Moon Hoppopotamus
  18. Oakshire Harvest Ale
  19. New Old Lompoc Crystal Missile
  20. Vertigo Midnight Harvest
  21. Lucky Lab Das Moot Pilsner
  22. Deschutes Hop Trip
  23. Pelican Elemental Ale
  24. Laurelwood Fresh Hop Organic Goodness
  25. Astoria Hoptimus Prime 2.0
  26. New Old Lompoc Millenium IIPA
  27. Beer Valley Fresh-hopped Leafer Madness
  28. Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
  29. Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
  30. Deschutes King Cone
  31. Hopworks Sodbuster Pale Ale
  32. McMenamin's on Monroe Hop Bud-E
  33. 4th Street Brewing Fresh Hop Pale
  34. Hopworks Fest of Fury
  35. Oakshire Conundrum Cascadian Dark Ale
  36. Cascade Cascadian Fresh Hop
  37. Beer Valley Fresh-hopped Black Flag
  38. Oakshire Red Nugget
  39. Rock Bottom Hoodwinked
  40. Golden Valley Mt. Hood Fresh Hop
  41. Roots Hoppopotamus
  42. Fort George Cohoperative Ale
  43. MacTarnahan's Fresh-hopped Amber
  44. Ninkasi Nugg E. Fresh
That's a lot of beers, if I do say so myself, though some of them I just had small tastes of. I tried all of those on draft -- or cask -- except the Silver Moon, which I got a bottle of from Belmont Station. That's probably it for this year, though I haven't had Amnesia's, Caldera's, or the Harvest Man from Lompoc yet, and I suppose there's a chance I'll see one of them.

And now I'll shut up about fresh hops for a few months.

Monday, October 12, 2009

That Was a Busy Week

Last week was a blur of beer activities. Throughout the week, I was on my October mission to sample as many fresh-hop beers as I could, ramping up to the Fresh Hop Tastival at Oaks Park on Saturday. It was a beautiful day to hang out with friends and neighbors and all their ankle-biters. And here's a big "Happy Birthday" to the blog Brewpublic -- the Killer Beer Fest at Bailey's Saturday night to celebrate one year of Brewpublicanism was a blast.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The madness really started on Wednesday, when Alan Sprints brought some big Hair of the Dog brews to the Green Dragon for meet the brewer. This year's Cherry Adam from the Wood and Doggie Claws were probably too young to drink by HotD standards, but it was nice to try them. It was my first taste of the Cherry Adam, though thanks to Brian G. I have a bottle from last year stashed in the basement. The Green Dragon bungled the event, only announcing it the day before, but the usual suspects made it out, as covered by Brewpublic.

Thursday I finally made it to Belmont Station for their Fresh Hop Week. It's great to see so many fresh-hop beers on tap at once, and Belmont is a nice, relaxed place to do some experimenting. I think the only beers they had that didn't show up at the Tastival were Oakshire's Conundrum (Cascadian Dark) and the Crystal Hop variant of Full Sail Lupulin. They also had the Cascade Hop Lupulin, and I believe they're still on, so if you want to try them side-by-side, get on in there.

I already mentioned the Saturday Tastival. There were no astonishing new beers to displace fresh-hopped Mirror Pond from the throne as the best fresh-hop beer of 2009. I thought the Santiam Hop Harvest from Three Creeks was nicely done -- a light ale that let the freshness shine through. Astoria's Hoptimus Prime 2.0 was a nice hop bomb, one of those like Double Mountain's Killer Green that is an awesome beer that clobbers the fresh-hop flavor. Pelican's Elemental Ale was bitter and tasty, though Lindsey was put off by what he called a "coconut" flavor. Caldera was a no-show in Portland: I would have liked to try their Alpha Beta.

One interesting thing was to note the similarly cabbagey taste of the two beers brewed with Mt. Hood hops: Rock Bottom Hoodwinked and Golden Valley Mt. Hood Fresh Hop. That's the flavor that turns some people away from fresh-hopped beers: it made our group wonder if that particular hop might be a bad choice.

The Brewpublic party at Bailey's Taproom Saturday night gave me a chance to try a couple of hard-to-find fresh hop beers -- Vertigo's Midnight Harvest, and the fabulous Wet-Hop Amber from Standing Stone. But as impressive as the beer list was, it was the crowd that really made the party. Portland's beer-obsessed turned out in droves to congratulate Angelo and Margaret on a terrific first year. Brewpublic does an excellent job reporting on Oregon beer, including some nice in-depth interviews with brewers and other beer characters. It's become such a fixture in Portland's blogosphere that someone I was talking to said "It seems like it's always been there", and it's really true. Happy First, Brewpublic, and keep up the good work!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting Ready for the Fresh Hop Tastival

The Portland edition of the Fresh Hop Tastival is this Saturday at Oaks Park. Despite its goofy name -- can we call it a "Wastival" next year? -- I'm really looking forward to it, a frenzied climax to the fresh-hop season. To get you even more excited, the OBG has published the tentative list for the Portland fest.

Last year's festival in the small Hopworks parking lot was way too crowded. Holding it at Oaks Park is a great idea -- a pleasant bike ride down the Springwater Corridor and you're there. There's another excellent beer event Saturday night: Brewpublic's first anniversary party at Bailey's Taproom. Angelo has lined up a bunch of possibly once-in-a-lifetime beers -- including six fresh-hop ales -- so pace yourself at Oaks Park and save some room for Bailey's.

Carla asked me yesterday morning how many fresh hop beers I've tried so far this year. I came up with 13, but I'm not a morning person, so there were 7 more that I forgot about until later. Then I applied myself at Belmont Station last night to bring the total up a little more, to 25. That's without the aid of a Fresh Hop Tastival -- I didn't go to the Hood River Hops Fest last weekend. Here's what I've tried so far:

  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond
  • Full Sail Lupulin (Crystal)
  • Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale
  • Walking Man Fresh Hop IPA
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Hop Henge
  • Full Sail Lupulin (Cascade)
  • Widmer Hopturnal Emission
  • New Old Lompoc Crystal Wheat
  • Lucky Lab The Mutt
  • Barley Brown's Roadside Fresh Hop
  • Upright Fresh Hop of Belair
  • Double Mountain Killer Green
  • Hopworks Bike Beer
  • Oakshire Harvest Ale
  • New Old Lompoc Crystal Missile
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Organic Goodness
  • New Old Lompoc Millenium IIPA
  • Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
  • Deschutes King Cone
  • Hopworks Sodbuster Pale Ale
  • Hopworks Fest of Fury
  • Oakshire Conundrum Cascadian Dark Ale
Not one of those is a bad beer. I suspect that the specialness of doing a fresh-hop beer means that extra care is taken with these batches, which raises the quality level. Still, with such an embarrasment of riches, I can get a little picky, and say that Hop Trip and all the beers above it on the list are the beers that show the most fresh-hop character. The beers at the very top of the list are highly recommended: make every effort to try them before they're gone.

I'm proud of what I've been able to accomplish so far this season, but looking over the list, I see quite a few beers that I will set my sights on this Saturday at Oaks Park:
  • Ninkasi Nugg E. Fresh
  • Caldera Alpha Beta
  • Three Creeks Santiam Hop Harvest
  • Lucky Lab Das Moot Pilsner
  • Fort George Cohoperative Ale
  • Rock Bottom Hoodwinked
  • Astoria Hoptimus Prime 2.0
  • Amnesia Fresh Hoppalata
  • Cascade Cascadian Fresh Hop
  • Pelican Elemental Ale
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh-hopped Amber (why not?)
What, no Roots? I guess I'll have to stumble down to the pub to check out this year's Hoppopotamus. And a couple years ago Mt. Hood Brewing brought a reasonable fresh-hop ale to the Tastival; I wonder why they've dropped out. Hopworks and Double Mountain have a couple more fresh-hop brews -- Crystal Method Pale and Fresh Vienna -- up their sleeve. I hope I have enough stamina to get to those also.

Are there any good fresh-hop beers out there I missed? Anything that really grabbed your attention?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Good Is Deschutes?

Last week the Pennsylvania-based beer writer Lew Bryson posted a review of Deschutes Hop Trip on his blog. He was underwhelmed by what I consider to be one of the better fresh-hop ales each year, finding the fresh hop flavor to be too subtle. No big deal, everyone has different tastes, and I certainly wouldn't claim to have the most refined palate on the Internet.

What was surprising was the thread of comments following his post, where a few commenters had some really harsh words for Deschutes. It started off with a fellow from our own neighborhood, who said the brewery is a shadow of its former greatness. Another commenter opined that the brewery is now merely competent although it was once great; someone else went so far as to compare Deschutes to Miller High Life.

Since Deschutes is one of my favorite breweries, I want to sound off myself. I'm a little late: Jeff beat me to the punch yesterday by opening a discussion of this "Deschutes Backlash" on Beervana. But here goes...

I only moved to Oregon six years ago, so I don't have the history that some of the Deschutes detractors have. The "shadow of former greatness" commenter has fond memories of John Harris' tenure at Deschutes, and finds everything since that time to be boring. The "High Life" comment guy thinks Deschutes gutted their beers in 2003 -- the year I moved here, what luck. I don't doubt that John did a great job there, just like he's doing at Full Sail's Riverplace brewery right now. Heck, I bet Hammerhead tasted better when John was the first McMenamin's brewer, too.

But surely some good things have come out of Deschutes since the good ol' days, right? What about the superstar imperial stout, the Abyss? The Abyss is so highly prized that I was able to sell my empty Abyss bottle on Ebay last year for $15. Some of their other big beers are anything but boring: Mirror Mirror, Double Black Butte, Hop Henge, and -- for you sour beer sickos out there -- the Dissident.

Big beers in wax-sealed bottles are one thing, but the everyday supermarket beers from Deschutes are also at the head of their class. Inversion IPA has become my default six-pack. Black Butte and Mirror Pond may not be revolutionary, but you can pretty much count on any guest at your house -- beer expert or novice -- being able to enjoy one of them. So I was also shocked by another recent symptom of Deschutes Backlash: when the Beermongers opened last month, they didn't stock a single beer from Deschutes, despite carrying industrial brews like Coors, Bud, and Miller. Ouch!

Jubel Ale, a rich, creamy, roasty winter ale is on the shelves --and taps -- now. That first winter I lived in Portland, my neighbor Dave did a little dance when that year's Jubel came out, and the two of us got a little carried away, chasing from pub to pub in the rain on rumors that the Horse Brass or Rose and Raindrop had Jubel on cask. I still have a couple bottles of 2003 Jubel in the basement.

Chasing down cask Jubel is no longer much of a problem, now that there's a Deschutes pub here in Portland. As Derek pointed out not long ago, the pub always has several creative beers on tap in addition to the usual Deschutes lineup. Since it's fresh-hop season, I highly recommend the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond that's been pouring there. An amazing beer, one you'll remember for years. If it's on, the fresh-hopped Hop Henge is also a stunner.

So if Hop Trip or Black Butte -- or even the Abyss -- doesn't grab you, fine. But look at the range of beers put out by Deschutes, the awesome one-offs in the pubs in Portland and Bend, and the ability to produce mass quantities of high-quality supermarket six-packs. What's not to like about all that? Those pieces weren't all in place 10 years ago, so how could this be a brewery in decline?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2009

Announcing the results of the first Portland Beer Price Index (drumroll, please...): the average price of a six-pack of Oregon craft beer in Southeast Portland is $8.85. A 22-ounce bomber averages $4.90, and 16 ounces of quality draft beer will typically set you back $4.27. Not very fascinating information, but my real goal is to calculate the PBPI four times a year, so we can watch price trends over time. That might not turn out to be very fascinating, either, but from where I sit in the United States of $9 Six-Packs, I wish I could see the trend that took us here from five dollars or less.

Since the PBPI is based on regular retail and non-happy-hour prices, you can almost always get something a buck or two cheaper. In the future, I might also collect sale prices on the same day that I gather the regular prices, but I didn't want to get in over my head on this first mission. Here is what went into the index:

  • Six-packs: Bridgeport IPA, Caldera Pale Ale, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Full Sail Amber, Terminal Gravity IPA, Widmer Broken Halo
  • Bombers: Hopworks IPA, Laurelwood Red, Lompoc C-Note, Ninkasi Total Domination, Pelican IPA, Rogue Shakespeare Stout
  • Stores: Beermongers (bombers only), Belmont Station, Fred Meyers, New Seasons, Safeway (six-packs only)
  • Bars: Bailey's Taproom, Barley Mill, Belmont Station, Deschutes, Green Dragon, Hopworks, Horse Brass, Lucky Lab, Vincente's Pizza
  • SPE: Six-pack equivalent prices: bombers, $16.04; pints, $19.22
  • Not included: bottle deposits, bartender tips
The retail beers were chosen to be respectable craft brews from a variety of Oregon breweries. It's a little Portland-heavy, but it does include things from eastern and southern Oregon, Bend, the coast, and the Gorge. I also wanted selections that were likely to be widely available. The brand-new Beermongers surprised me with a curve-ball, though: so far they only carry one of the six-packs on the index. I couldn't even choose substitutes from the same brewery, because they didn't have a single beer from Caldera, Terminal Gravity, or Deschutes (?!), and their only Full Sail was 12-packs of Session. Safeway -- less surprisingly -- also came up a little light, with none of the indexed bombers, and a couple of gaps in the six-pack list.

For the pint prices, I took the most typical price of a pint-like serving at the place, and converted it to an SPE price based on the glassware. The average of all of those is the $19.22 SPE reported above; then to make it intelligible, I converted it back to a price per 16 ounces, since that's the most common way for people to think of a pint (even though most of the time you're served a little more or a little less than that).

Notice that the bomber SPE isn't far from what you'd pay for pints in a bar. And that's the average, so it's really just barely below the most economical imperial-pint establishments: Lucky Lab, Horse Brass, and Bailey's. Tips will increase your costs, but some of the best beer specials around town come in way below the bomber SPE: Tuesdays at Roots ($9.47) or East Burn ($9.60), or Mondays at the Lucky Lab ($12.32). You could tip lavishly on top of that and still spend less than on bombers. Support your local pub!

Next quarter's PBPI will be out right around Christmas.

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009 Fresh Hop Update

I haven't gone as insane this year as I usually do for Fresh Hop beers. I think it's the early arrival of the season -- the slow trickle of fresh-hop creations kept the pressure from building up to intolerable levels.

Still, it is a favorite time of year, and of course my fresh hop mania is what launched me down the path to beer blogging in the first place. So I have tried a few of 2009's fresh hop offerings:

  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond: Stellar, my new favorite. Drink it. Now.
  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Hop Henge: They've been playing around with Hop Henge for most of this year. Now with Fresh Hops? An amazing tour de force.
  • Full Sail Lupulin: The 2007 champion (brewed that year with Amarillo hops). Of the three hops tried in 2008, the Nugget variety was best. This year I've tried the Crystal-hopped Lupulin, and it's another winner. Excited to try the other experiment: Cascades.
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest: Tastes a lot like Lupulin to me. Which is a good thing, letting the sweet fresh hops do the work.
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Bale Pale Ale: Light and crisp, with the honeyed green-hop flavor that is called for.
  • Hopworks Bike Beer: An IPA with some freshly-picked hops in it. A lovely beer, one of my favorites at BikeToBeerFest.
  • Deschutes Hop Trip: Another perennial favorite. Once the FH Mirror Pond is gone, I'll start in on this Crystal-hopped beauty.
  • Hales O'Brien's Harvest Ale: Something I look for every year. A nice, dense ale, with a little fresh-hop flavor on the top. [Update 2009/09/29: Apparently there are no fresh hops in this year's O'Brien's.]
So far the most disappointing fresh-hop beer for me has been the Rogue Chatoe Wet-Hop. Not at all a bad Pale Ale, just lacking the crazy fresh flavor. It is impressive that they make it with hops they grew themselves. A couple other also-rans were Hopworks' other fresh-hop ales: the Fest of Fury, and Sodbuster Pale Ale. Fest of Fury is a lovely, malty beer, but for heaven's sake, stop wasting fresh hops on it. The other flavors in that beer carry the day -- just make it a year-round beer and put the fresh hops into a lighter beer. The Sodbuster was pretty good, but it was outshined by the Bike Beer. Another Laurelwood offering -- called Fresh Hop Organic Goodness -- is a nice hop bomb, but the fresh flavor is clobbered by the overall hoppiness.

Our work isn't finished yet. The Mutt was not yet on at the Lucky Lab earlier in the week when I was there, but I'm eager to try it since the sweat of my own brow went into the hops for it. I haven't hit Roots, Widmer, Lompoc, or Rock Bottom yet for fresh-hop ales, and of course there is the Fresh Hop Festival Saturday the 10th at Oaks Park. If that wasn't enough, Angelo has some seldom-seen fresh-hopped beers lined up as part of Brewpublic's 1st-anniversary party at Bailey's. Fresh-hop beers from Upright, Barley Brown's, Vertigo, and Standing Stone?!?! That's ridiculous Angelo, are you trying to kill us?

One more thing: if you buy a growler of fresh-hopped pale ale, and have a little left when it's past its prime, don't forget that the original Stale Pale Ale Martini was made with Laurelwood's Hop Bale. I had a flat Lupulin Martini the other night, and it was fabulous.

Life is short. Stop and smell the fresh hops.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BikeToBeerFest 2009

You gotta hand it to Christian Ettinger for taking a chance on BikeToBeerFest. Closing both parking lots at Hopworks Saturday was a bold move, and one that could have blown up in his face. But attendance was good when I was there for a couple of hours in the afternoon, so I suspect that it wasn't a money loser. It was a really good time, and I hope it becomes an annual tradition. By the way, note the spelling -- it's not "Biketoberfest", which was trademarked by a motorcycle event in Florida -- but "bike-to-beer-fest". Nice.

The back parking lot and dead-end street were organized really well for the fest. A couple tents with picnic tables were set up on the east side of the lot, between a snack bar and the music stage. In front of the stage was a dance/bike-trick area, and a little more space in front of the tents where a lot of people sat or stood to take in the acts. After some old guys on BMX bikes showed their stuff, local one-man-band Boy Eats Drum Machine put on an impressive show, followed by bike-scene darlings the Sprockettes. I bailed out pretty soon after that, but there was plenty more entertainment as the evening went on, ending up with the March Fourth Marching Band.

Booths for a few local bicycle frame-builders were set up along the west side of the parking lot, as was the now famous Hopworksfiets pictured at the top. The kegs on the beer bike were dispensing two wonderful beers: a pale ale called Bike Beer, brewed for the occasion, with a dose of fresh hops; and the Ace of Spades, a flavor-packed double IPA. There was plenty of space for milling around between the east and west sides of the festival -- not at all like the fire-hazard conditions at last year's Fresh Hop Festival.

Sounds like a lot of action, but wait! There's more! The back forty of Hopworks' long lot had its own share of attractions. A good supply of porta-potties, a row of beer taps with shorter lines than in the front area, a washer-toss area, and best of all, the playing field for a fabulous new sport: Huffy throwing. It's harder than it sounds -- sorry Steve, looks like you gave up a couple of yards by not getting all the way up to the line -- but some people either had a knack for it, or had practiced beforehand. The furthest throw I saw was probably about 15 yards with a good bounce -- very impressive.

BikeToBeerFest was definitely not your everyday beer festival -- only one brewery, pints instead of samples, no cars allowed. That's a good thing, something new and fun for the whole family. Congratulations to the whole Hopworks crew for pulling it off.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fresh Hop Frenzy

It was the night the lights went out in Portland. When the Pub Nighters moved from Bridgeport to the Rogue Public House last night, we found a startlingly dark bar, the result of a blown transformer somewhere in the Pearl. Probably not what Rogue had in mind for the Portland debut of their Chateau Wet Hop fresh-hop ale. Due to the darkness, I didn't have to show my Rogue identification papers to receive a 75-cent discount on my shaker pint. It still cost me $5 -- Pow! That hurt after the $4.25 imperial pints of Hop Harvest at Bridgeport. That's an SPE of $16.11 for Bridgeport vs. $24 for Rogue -- but not as bad as the $27.60 SPE that Rogue would charge to undocumented drinkers in its territory.

But the best SPE for us last night was at Deschutes, where some lucky timing and mistaken identity got us our beers on the house (we did tip the bartenders handsomely). Deschutes had the same power outage as Rogue. The lights came back on just as we arrived, but they had already decided to close for the night and make sure everything was back on track after the outage. We blurted out that we were there for the Hop Trip, and for some reason that got us ushered into the bar with a company sales rep, who told the bartenders to set us up. The Hop Trip was quite good, but it turned out they also had fresh-hopped Mirror Pond and fresh-hopped Hop Henge (!) both on cask. Oh my goodness. The fresh-hopped Mirror Pond is as good as it was last year; I have to proclaim it the new Fresh Hop Champion. Amazingly fresh flowery flavor, on top of the just right pale ale body. The fresh Hop Henge was also fabulously good, big and chewy, and hoppy of course, but without the almost gritty hoppiness of some of the Hop Henge experiments.

No one I talked to last night -- the Pub Night gang, plus Beer Advocates Josh and Sean that I ran into -- was very impressed with the 2009 Bridgeport Hop Harvest, but for me it was exactly what I'm looking for in a fresh-hop ale. I'd compare it to this year's Full Sail Lupulin, which I consider to be one of the best. There's kind of a honeyed quality to the best fresh-hop beers, that isn't entirely due to the malt. Contrast that with the Rogue Chateau Wet Hop, where the fresh hops didn't really bring anything noticeable to the flavor.

I've got to hand it to Charles and his iPhone. I was totally unprepared for a Pearl pub crawl, and I didn't have the Beer Mapping Project codes in my phone for anyplace but Deschutes. Thanks, buddy. My obsessive need to update my twitter map would have driven me insane.

Don't miss out on the fresh-hop Mirror Pond and Hop Henge at Deschutes. It's a wonderful experience.