Friday, July 31, 2009

Honest Pints

I was tickled today to notice that the Portland Deschutes Pub now has a 0.5 liter fill line -- 16.9 ounces -- on their Irish-style pint glasses. Not only that, but their skinny half-serving glasses have a 0.3 l marker, and their tulip-shaped snifters have a line at 0.4 l. Admittedly, it's been a few weeks since I've been to the pub, but this seems like a new development. Thank you, Deschutes! You join the elite ranks of Belmont Station (0.5 l marker), Hopworks (0.4 l marker), and Brewers Union (20 oz. marker) who have a fill line marked on their glassware. Anyone else out there?

Marked glassware is really the way to go. I'm a big fan of Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project -- I even bought the T-shirt -- but Jeff doesn't require the glass to be marked, just that it have room for 16 ounces of beer:

The criteria for certification is simple: the pub must serve at least 16 fluid ounces for beers it labels “pints.” If the glass holds more than 16 ounces, fantastic. For certification, though, it must serve at least 16 ounces. You have to confirm this by measuring.

I get Jeff's honest pint point: if it's called a "pint", it should be 16 ounces. But that scheme goes too far, and not far enough. What I mean is, you'll rarely get 16 ounces of beer in a serving at Hopworks, but you'll know that you got at least 0.4 liters (13.5 ounces) if the beer is up to the fill line. On the other hand, a place might get certified by the HPP based on a picture of one instance of 16 ounces of beer, but how can you know how much you got in the glass you just ordered?

It's a minor quibble. The real villains are those establishments who serve "pints" in 14-ounce shaker glasses. Then you think you've got a pint of beer, but you're probably somewhere around 12 ounces. There's a one-syllable word for such a business practice: fraud. There's no enforcement against such short-changing, even though it's clearly proscribed by Oregon's Weights and Measures law:

618.096 Prohibited acts involving commercial weights and measures. No person shall:
...
(5) Sell, offer or expose for sale, less than the quantity the person represents of any commodity, thing or service.

Kudos to Deschutes for their new transparency. Support your local pub, and support the Honest Pint Project.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More Thoughts on 2009 OBF

There's probably not much more I can tell you about this year's Oregon Brewers Festival. I already wrote a bunch of picks and pans based on Thursday and Friday visits. Our houseguests from Austin -- Bobnoxious and family -- didn't arrive until Friday evening, so we made yet another foray into the OBF on Saturday, along with the brave or merely foolhardy faction of the neighborhood beer gang. The heat and the crowds eventually ran us off, though Bob and I stuck it out until almost 5. Despite the crowds, I love the OBF. Get there early and have a great time.

Saturday I tried to sample beers from some of the smaller Oregon and Washington breweries that I had missed on Thursday and Friday. Most of the offerings were disappointing, including several that I simply dumped out after a sip, but a couple of winners were the Kraken Imperial IPA from Old Market, and the Old Man River Oatmeal Stout from Riverport in far eastern Washington. Old Market's IPA was big, oily, and orangey, very well done. I haven't been a fan of their beer in the past, but their website brags about a new 15 barrel brewhouse, so maybe quality is on the rise there. Riverport is a new one on me, but their OBF stout was dark, roasty, and just right.

The other mission on Saturday was the OBF Buzz Tent. The Buzz Tent offered a kind of PlatinumPlus festival experience, where a $20 punch-card offered 8 tastes of special beers curated by beerfest guru Preston Weesner. You had to show your card to get admission to the tent, which offered a shady, grassy respite from the bigger crowds in the main tents. With no lines -- or very short ones -- and some of the brewers on hand to discuss their featured beers, the only thing it lacked was restroom facilities.

Only 1000 Buzz Tent tickets were to be available for noon-4:30 sessions on Friday and Saturday. But the tickets didn't sell out this year, and Saturday afternoon Ron Gansberg was standing at the gate trying to hawk some more of them, and on Sunday no ticket was required, just double tokens for tasters -- hey, that's cheaper than the $2.50/taste with the cards. It was an interesting experiment, and according to Preston it will be back with improvements next year.

Talking about the buzz tent prices, it's interesting to compare the six-pack equivalent prices of the various OBF options. By far the most reasonable SPE is for the single-token 4-ounce taste: $18. That's really not bad, practically like happy-hour pub prices, maybe cheaper when you consider that most servers go a little over the 4-ounce line. On the other hand, the 4-token charge for a full mug is less of a deal. In my unscientific Pyrex experiment, an OBF mug brimming with water was just barely 14 ounces. Let's say that a beer pour is 13 ounces, then the SPE is $22.15. The buzz tent samples were quite a bit more expensive: SPE of $45 -- that's just slightly more than the SPE for strong special beers at the Green Dragon, but a much better deal than 3-4 token samples at the Portland International Beerfest. [Update: Hops and Barley Blog has an ingenious solution to the full-pour problem. Best of all, you can apply it at any festival where the SPE of a taste is less than that of a full pour.]

To sum up, here are some things to keep in mind for future OBFs:

  • get there early -- preferably Thursday or Friday -- and beat the crowds
  • full mugs are not as good a deal as single samples
  • buzz tent is a good way to get out of the crowd and taste some special stuff

Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Glance at 2009 OBF

This will be a pretty telegraphic post, just to get you some quick information early on in the 22nd Annual Oregon Brewers Festival. I just got back from trying a few beers, here are some thumbs-ups and thumbs-downs:

Thumbs-up:

  • Hopworks Rise Up Red: malty red with over-the-top hops
  • New Belgium The Trip: orange scent with flowery bitter flavor
  • Grand Teton Bitch Creek ESB: dark and flowery with a bitter edge
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA: malt and hops in perfect balance
  • Three Creeks Stonefly Rye: mild and smooth but full-bodied
  • Rock Bottom Eat a Bale o' Hops IPA: orangey and not too bitter
  • Dogfish Head Festina Peche Berliner Weisse: refreshingly tart, not SweetTart
  • Chuckanut Dortmunder Lager: tasty Helles-style beer, nicely crisp
  • Vertigo Razz Wheat: very raspberry, nice and full-bodied
  • Bridgeport Stumptown Tart: not sour, just lovely cherry beer
[Update (Saturday morning):
  • Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse: dry and fruity with a long bitter finish
  • Beer Valley Leafer Madness: big, hairy IPA
  • Elysian Loser Pale Ale: nicely balanced strong ale (reminds me of big Rogue ales)
  • Stone Cali-Belgique IPA: Belgian-y with nice hops
Second opinion: DoSiR's OBF must-have list.
]

The Trip is a collaboration with Elysian, and is a lovely must-try beer. If you need a lighter beer, the Chuckanut is definitely worth trying -- also it turns out that Green Dragon founder Jim Parker is assisting with the brewing there. Even if fruit beers aren't your thing, go for the Vertigo and the Bridgeport. Tasty stuff. The Vertigo has an amazing watermelon-sunset color, and is very satisfying. Stumptown Tart is much stronger, but also a lovely blend of beer and fruit.

Thumbs-down:
  • Green Flash Imperial IPA: (spoiled keg?) rotting vegetation smell/taste
  • Great Northern Wheatfish Lager: eh, very bland
  • Eel River Acai Berry: thin and thin
  • Collaborator Saison Cristophe: cloying, esthery, banana-y
  • Bear Republic Crazy Ivan Belgian IPA: a little mediciney in the middle
  • Cascade Lakes Blonde Bombshell: dull; I dumped mine
[Update (Saturday morning):
  • Blue Frog Blonde Frog Ale: both medicinal and infected tasting (?!)
  • Fifty Fifty Manifesto Pale Ale: thin and vegetal
  • Lazy Boy Red Head: flat taste and flat carbonation
]

There was some consensus at the OBF media preview that our sample of the Green Flash might have been off, especially since some of us tasted it Tuesday at the Green Dragon and found it to be a wholly different and drinkable beer. So, you might choose one volunteer from your posse to get a taste and see if it's OK. The Collaborator Saison was disappointingly sweet; on the other hand, if you like German hefeweizens, it might work for you.

Anyway, that's just a quick first glance -- feel free to comment if you find another must-try beer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

OBF Lineup: 2008 vs. 2009

The list of beers that will be at the 2009 Oregon Brewers Festival [Warning: noisy website!] is out. Hopefully Jeff at Beervana will soon give his traditional style analysis and recommendations, but the first thing that catches your eye is the number of breweries that will be at the festival this year but weren't there last year. In fact, there are twenty-six breweries which did not participate in 2008, but will be at the 2009 festival. It's a "drink locally" list: almost two-thirds of them are Oregon and Washington breweries. Here are the 26:

  • Astoria Brewing
  • Ballast Point Brewing
  • Beer Valley Brewing
  • Cascade Lakes Brewing
  • Chuckanut Brewery
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
  • Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom
  • Elysian Brewing
  • Firestone Walker Brewing
  • Fish Brewing
  • Great Northern Brewing
  • Laht Neppur Brewing
  • Lazy Boy Brewing
  • Marin Brewing
  • Moylan's Brewing
  • Mt Shasta Brewing
  • North Coast Brewing
  • Oregon Trail Brewery
  • Pike Brewing
  • Port Townsend Brewing
  • Riverport Brewing
  • Scuttlebutt Brewing
  • Southern Oregon Brewing
  • Three Creeks Brewing
  • Vertigo Brewing
  • Victory Brewing
Now, some of those simply didn't exist or were brand new last year, for instance S.O.B., Three Creeks, Vertigo, Chuckanut. Others must have been to past OBFs but didn't come last year: Pike? Elysian? Cascade Lakes? And I can't believe Double Mountain wasn't there last year, but they're not in the 2008 program -- well, all I can say is "Welcome!". There is some good stuff on that list.

Last year there were 72 breweries at the OBF (plus the Oregon Brew Crew/Widmer Collaborator project). This year there are 80, a welcome increase, but not enough to absorb the 26 new ones. The 18 breweries that exhibited last year but won't in 2009 are:
  • Allagash Brewing
  • Bell's Brewery
  • Dick's Brewing (surprising)
  • Electric Brewing
  • Four Plus Brewing
  • Goose Island Beer
  • Hales Ales Brewery and Pub (surprise)
  • Iron Horse Brewery (one-hit wonder?)
  • Lang Creek Brewery
  • Mad River Brewing
  • Pelican Pub and Brewery (huh?)
  • Roots Brewing (uh-oh...)
  • Russian River (now that Pliny is in Oregon)
  • Sacramento Brewing
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Steelhead Brewing
  • Surly Brewing
  • Wild River Brewing
Only a third of the missing breweries are from Oregon or Washington, the reverse of the new-in-2009 list. Still, Iron Horse had one of the buzz beers last year -- why'd they drop out? Pelican? They're supposed to be one of the pillars of Oregon beer. And it can't be a good sign that Roots -- with rumors swirling of its ill health -- isn't coming. Roots' 2008 beer -- summery Calypso, flavored with apricots and habaneros -- was a strange and wonderful creation, one of the reasons to attend festivals like the OBF.

Another thing I'm looking forward to at the 2009 OBF is the "Buzz Tent". From what I understand, special beers will be served for limited times at the tent. Anyone know what some of those specials are? [Update: A partial list of the Buzz Tent beers has been released. Take a look over at portlandbeer.org.]

The 2009 list looks great to me. Apart from the missing locals I'm not too troubled by any of the dropouts. What do you think of the additions and deletions?

[If you're an out-of-towner coming in for the fest, you might want to read the guide to the OBF and nearby attractions that I wrote last year.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oklahoma's Choc Beer

Somehow the Choc Beer Company in my former home state of Oklahoma escaped my notice until this year, even though they've been selling beer in Oklahoma liquor stores since 2004. It's an embarrassing lapse on my part, because the family-owned business has been brewing legally in the small town of Krebs since 1995, and has a history of black-market brewing dating back 90 years. If I had known of all that, I would never have called Oklahoma "zymurgically challenged".

Last weekend I was visiting my family in Tulsa, so I checked out a couple of Choc beers: the "original family recipe", marketed under the name 1919; and a new Kolsch called Spahnie 363, named after Milwaukee Braves pitcher Warren Spahn, who retired to Oklahoma.

The 1919 is made with part barley and part wheat, and might not be the exact recipe handed down from Grandpa, seeing as how its ingredients include Hefeweizen yeast and Cascade hops. Nevertheless, it is a nice, refreshing brew, very satisfyingly full-bodied for its 4% ABV. Naturally it calls to mind Widmer Hef, but it's perhaps slightly more esthery than Widmer, and a little darker in color. Kind of a grainy finish, not in a bad way.

The Kolsch was also nice, right on the money for the style: light and crisp, slightly citrusy. If I had had my wits about me, I would have tried some of the other Choc offerings. For such a small concern, they bottle a lot of styles: a pale ale, a schwarzbier, a Belgian dubbel, a German hefeweizen, and a few others.

Choc's history is ready-made for a National Public Radio feature. It all started in a 1920's Italian restaurant called Pete's Place. Krebs was a coal-mining town, and after Italian immigrant Pete Prichard -- he anglicized his name from its original Pietro Piegari -- was injured in a mining accident, he opened a restaurant. Even though Prohibition was in effect, Pete served homebrewed beer made with a Choctaw Indian recipe.

Homemade, untaxed Choc beer continued to be served at Pete's Place -- with a nod and a wink from the local authorities -- until 1981, though Pete apparently did serve some time for his brewing activities. In 1995, his grandson Joe restarted the brewing operation -- legally, now that brewpubs had been legalized in the Sooner State. The brewmaster is a longtime employee of the restaurant who got interested in the modern style of homebrewing and even took some classes at Siebel.

Today's Choc is a really interesting endeavor. They're marketing their historical roots, but making serious beer in a variety of interesting styles. The beers are bottle-conditioned -- or can-conditioned in the case of the canned 1919 -- something that seems very advanced for a small brewery in a small town in a state that isn't a great microbrew market. They also sell in Kansas and Arkansas, and they're marketing the Kolsch in Wisconsin (Spahnie for the Sconnies). I can't help but think they're trying to pull a Shiner: use a small-town historical angle to get attention and sell lighter, more accessible beers, but keep the brewmaster happy with a line of more interesting styles.

If you're in that part of the country, pick up some Choc. It's good beer with a great story.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Latvian Beer Labels, 1993

When Ezra threw his Baltic Porter party a few weeks ago, it reminded me of my trip to Latvia in 1993, when I visited my friend Kristen who was in one of the first batches of Peace Corps volunteers there. There was a fair amount of beer involved, some of which was fresh and delicious, some of which was bland or worse. Sadly, that's the extent of my memory of the beer situation.

Luckily, I did save a few cool-looking beer labels. The top one commemorates the summer solstice, Ligo, which is celebrated in Latvia by staying up all night burning bonfires to scare away the witches. It's where the phrase "You can sleep in the grave" entered my repertoire -- it was considered bad luck not to stay up and see the sun rise. Cool iconography on that label: the maroon and white Latvian flag draped down the left and back up the right; forest ferns on top; oak leaves at the bottom.

I dug out these labels because I remembered drinking some porters at the time, so I hoped I had a cool porter label to commemorate the porter party. The only one I could find was the Aldaris Porter label here, which wasn't as interesting as I hoped. I seem to remember having a lot of porters, but since this is the only label I can find, I might be remembering it wrong.

Most of my time was spent in Bauska, a small town south of Riga. There was a local brewery there, whose unpasteurized bottles of beer -- a dark ale and a lighter one -- were tasty and cheap. The bottles didn't have a big label around the middle, only a small one on the neck, commemorating the castle ruins the town is known for. I don't know the meaning of the "16%" on the label -- it's not the ABV or ABW: the beer was not even half that strong.

This "Labrit" label is one of my favorites, mainly because of the story behind it. I had taken a side trip to Lithuania, and took a night train back to Riga, arriving the morning of July 1. As I stumbled around in front of the train station, the usual small-time vendors were out, including the beer sellers. When I saw this bottle sitting on top of one vendor's icebox, I couldn't resist, because "labrit" means "good morning" in Latvian. What can I say? it spoke to me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Taplister Launches

Last night there was a party at East Burn to celebrate the official launch of Taplister, a website that intends to offer up-to-the-minute information on what beer is on tap at various bars and restaurants around Portland. My grainy non-iPhone picture is of the four founders of Taplister: Kevin, Ken, Kerry, and Scott. The ultimate goal is to have webcams pointed at the bar's own beer list or menu. The webcam operation is still ramping up -- right now only two "live" images are available, this Saraveza taplist, and this one from East Burn. I put "live" in quotation marks, because as I write this the images haven't changed since I first looked at them last night.

While the camera system is still in its larval stage, Taplister is using Twitter to provide pretty reliable crowdsourced info. You can use your Twitter account to add to the beer listings, or to ask where to find a certain beer. To contribute a listing, add "#ontappdx" to a tweet, like this: "Mmm... Full Sail Grandsun of Spot at Vincente's Pizza #ontappdx". To query Taplister, follow @ontappdx, and send it a tweet like this: "@ontappdx where Double Mtn IRA?" In a few minutes, the Taplister robot will reply to you with any establishments where the beer is on tap. It's a clever setup.

The Twitter interface works best when the bar itself tweets in the #ontappdx info, because with one update they can say that one tap is replacing another. Bailey's Taproom is a good example of that, check out their Twitter feed. You can also tweet in that a beer is "off". As this thing becomes more popular, there will undoubtedly need to be more safeguards added to the system. For instance, with no authentication I was able to click an "off" button on the website to purge the East Burn list of a beer called "Your Mom" -- which later investigation revealed to be a joke tweet from Hopworks' Ben Love (sorry Ben, I clicked before thinking).

If you're an iPhone person, there's a Taplister app called Beer Signal to help navigate the lists. The rest of us can content ourselves with the website and the Twitter interface. There are also a couple of blog sections to the website: one a compendium of Portland beer blogs (including It's Pub Night), and another with original material including slick video interviews with local beer personalities.

Taplister is pretty nifty already; it will be really cool when more pubs around town start to host their webcams. Hopefully there's enough money in it to keep it afloat -- personally I think Google ought to snap it up while the founders could be tempted by something less than nine figures.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Roots Changes

I noticed on Tuesday that Roots is no longer open for lunch. It's a little disappointing. I had been excited a year ago when they started being open for lunch, since that's the time of day when it's easiest for me to sneak off for a pint of blog research.

On the other hand, it's not a huge loss, because lunchtime service was terrible. A few months ago I got all the way through a pint waiting on a club sandwich... on my next visit I made the mistake of ordering a hamburger, and waited -- I'm not exaggerating -- one hour for it. On both occasions, there were only five or six patrons in the place, so it's not like the kitchen was slammed. Not long after that I bravely wandered in around 1 PM to spin the wheel again. When I got there I joined three people waiting at the bar to order their first pint; when no one showed up to slake our thirst for all of 10 minutes, I tucked my tail and ran.

The lunch closure may have something to do with the "Roots closing" rumor that Derek wrote about a couple weeks ago. Of course, the other component to that is the recent departure of co-owner Jason McAdam owing to artistic differences with Craig Nicholls. I was sworn to secrecy about this fact a couple months ago, but I don't mind blabbing it now that Ezra mentioned it in a comment on Derek's post:

They did go through rough times but not because of the economy. I am guessing this got started with Jason Mcadam the co-owner and head brewer leaving Roots recently. I have not heard this publicized anywhere. But he has to get bought out so a lot of money is owed to him and others but Roots is basically hunkering down to pay off their bills. Also they were hit hard with the distributor shake-ups and mergers.

They are becoming more of a brewpub and you will see less of the beers distributed around town.


The lunchtime closure kind of goes against Ezra's "more of a brewpub" comment. I also have to wonder if moving away from distribution is a good idea. It was one of the notable things about Roots when they first opened: their beer was everywhere in town. I'm not an expert, but you would think that's got to be good insurance against the ups and downs of the tavern business.

We may get a two-fer here. Hopefully Craig will weather this rough patch and keep turning out burly organic beers at Roots; meanwhile Jason will undoubtedly put down roots of his own, it will be interesting to see what his next venture is.