Friday, January 29, 2010

Dragon Stout vs. Dragonstooth Stout

Usually when I travel I find some excuse for a beer-blog post along the way. Our family vacation to Jamaica earlier this month was an exception. In the places we were, the only beers I saw were Red Stripe, Guinness, and Dragon Stout. For the final three days of our trip, we were imprisoned at a cheap beach resort and the only beer choice was Red Stripe. But during the week we spent roaming the country before that, local Dragon Stout was my occasional beer of choice.

Dragon -- from the same company as Red Stripe -- seemed like a decent stout, not unlike Guinness, so I brought a few bottles home for further study. Wasn't Dragon Stout available in the US in the pre-microbrew days? I'm pretty sure I remember being able to get it in Austin in the mid- to late-eighties.

Today when I was at Beermongers looking for a stout to compare Dragon against, I noticed a bottle of the lovely Dragonstooth Stout from Seattle's Elysian Brewing. Suddenly the world started spinning, and in an attack of deja vu, I found myself back in 1986 standing in front of the beer cooler at Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin. I want a nice big beer tonight -- I can't afford the $6 for a 750 of Chimay, so should I get a Steinlager, a Dragon Stout, or a Tooth's Sheaf Stout? Something dark... Dragon? Tooth? Dragon? Tooth? Dragonstooth?

Did Elysian name Dragonstooth after that pair of international stouts? Whatever the case, I didn't need a flashback to convince me to pick up a bottle of Dragonstooth. It's good stuff. (And speaking of Tooth's, last year Jeff Alworth "rediscovered" Sheaf Stout, much to his delight).

Now let's compare Dragon and Dragonstooth. As you can see from the picture above, the Dragonstooth is pitch black; the Dragon is dark but reddish when the light shines through. They both weight in with nearly the same strength, 7.5% for the Jamaican vs. 7.45% for the Washingtonian. Let's see which is the champion.

Dragon Stout: very sweet, like Malta or cola, moderately thin mouthfeel, but lots of syrupy legs on the glass, little hops. As it warms, a little of stouty roastiness and a hint of molasses come in to join the original cola flavor.

Dragonstooth Stout: roasty almost charcoaly aroma, creamy mouthfeel, delicious toasted-grain flavor with a nice bitter wallop that lingers on the tongue. Also very leggy, but not nearly as sweet (a good thing).

Really there's no contest. Dragonstooth is a much more flavorful and polished beer than Dragon, which is too cloyingly sweet. But to give Dragon some credit, I later popped open a Guinness Extra Stout and found it much closer in flavor to the Dragon Stout than to Elysian's beer, though not nearly as sweet. And of course, if you find yourself on a tropical vacation where your drink choices are Red Stripe, rum punch, or vitamin-enhanced wine, Dragon Stout sounds just fine.

By the way, we had an excellent time on our vacation. We timed it to attend the annual Maroon Celebration in the town of Accompong in the interior of Jamaica. The Maroons were a group of escaped slaves that waged an 80-year insurgency against the British colonial powers, until the British relented and signed a treaty granting them self-rule in 1739 (the rest of Jamaica belonged to Britain until 1962). They celebrate the occasion of the treaty in Accompong every year on January 6th. This year's was the 272nd annual celebration -- the Maroons have been independent from England for longer than we have. It's a fascinating bit of living history, and also a great party.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bailey's Cellarfest 2010

It's not often that you can go to a beer festival, and not have a single bad beer.  But that's what I got at Saturday's Cellarfest at Bailey's Taproom: quite a few delicious big beers, and of the dozen that I tasted, not a single dud.  I mean, when the beers that grabbed me the least were 2008 versions of Rogue Glen and Lucky Lab Pavlov's Imperial Stout, then it's a very good day, because those were two really solid beers.

The other thing that was remarkable about the Cellarfest was how few of the usual beer suspects I ran into at Bailey's.  I really like the usual suspects, but it's a very good sign of the breadth of beer appreciation in Portland that the place was packed with more than just the usuals, and really without much publicity for the event. Granted, I was only there from about 4:30 to 6:30, apparently after professionals like the Brewpublic and portlandbeer.org posses had come and gone.  My friends Brian, Bryce, and Cathy had snagged a relatively quiet spot in the back of the bar, so Lindsey and I took it over when they moseyed along; maybe we would have jostled more old acquaintances in the front of the house.

Anyway, about the beer.  Bailey's has only been open for a couple of years, how deep can their cellar be?  In fact, most of the beers on tap -- 10 of 17 -- were from 2008 and 2009.  That's OK by me -- occasionally a beer will keep improving after two years of age, but for the most part two years is enough time, and you get more and more blemishes as the years go by.  I was too late to the Cellarfest to try two of the oldest ales: the Fish Leviathan from 2004 and the Terminal Gravity 2006 Bucolic Plague.  But the 2006 Alaskan Smoked Porter proved my point: still a fine beer, but the papery flavor of oxidation was starting to become a distraction.

Here are some short notes on the beers I tried, more or less in the order of preference, though it's almost as hard to say what my favorites were as it is to say what my least favorites were.  Everything was nice.

  • Caldera '09 Old Growth Imperial Stout: bitter, rich, licorice, wonderful
  • Lagunitas '08 Olde Gnarleywine Barleywine: nicely fruity, malty, and bitter
  • Full Sail '07 Old Boardhead Barleywine: delicious vanilla and hops
  • Laughing Dog  '08 Dogfather Imperial Stout: deliciously bitter
  • North Coast '08 Old Stock Barleywine: fruity and nice
  • Butte Creek '07 Train Wreck Barleywine: classic hoppy b-wine
  • Flying Dog '09 Gonzo Porter: pretty damn good, bitter and full
  • Fort George '09 Coffee Girl Stout: tasty strong coffee and chile flavors
  • Barley Brown's '08 Double Whiskey Ale: mellow and smooth; not whiskeyish
  • Alaskan '06 Smoked Porter: smoked meat flavors; a little oxidized
  • Rogue '08 Glen Strong Ale: solid, thick, balanced
  • Lucky Lab '08 Pavlov's Imperial Stout: a little too hoppy; expected more malt
Before there was Abyss... there was Caldera Imperial Stout.  Whenever you see it on tap, drink as much of it as you can.

A couple of suggestions for Geoff for next year's Cellarfest.  First, it would have been nice to have the styles of each beer listed on the beer list handouts.  Second, alphabetical order is a beer-drinker's friend.  But don't get me wrong, this event was wonderful as it was, from the well-chosen beers, to the sweet souvenir snifter, to the speedy service despite the big crowd.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beulahland Strikes Out

During the fall I became infatuated with Beulahland, the "Coffee and Alehouse" at 28th and Couch. I biked my daughter to soccer practice Thursdays at DaVinci Middle School, and noticed that I could take refuge at the happy hour just down the street. On my first visit I was impressed by the beer choices -- one of the ten taps was a Lompoc fresh-hop ale, and the place even had a nitro tap and a cask engine. They also have about a dozen house-infused vodkas and bourbons; I've yet to try any of them, but they have some interesting-sounding flavors like habanero whiskey and watermelon vodka.

But I have to say, when our Pub Night crawled over there this week after a visit to Spints Alehouse, Beulahland struck out:

  • Strike one: The cask engine is gone.
  • Strike two: The chalkboard and bartender both concealed the best beer tap from me.
  • Strike three: My beer was served in a cheater pint glass!
It wasn't until our second round that we noticed the telltale Terminal Gravity tap handle and found out that the delicious TG Festivale was on tap. It wasn't on the chalkboard, and the bartender didn't bother to point it out to a crowd of obvious beer geeks. That's the kind of action I expect from Henry's, not from the divey local.

Those first two strikes are no big deal. But cheater pints? Now you're adding injury to insult. Check out the picture above, and you'll see the giant boot in the bottom of the glass of Festivale on the left. That's as thick as the glasses I wore in fifth grade! I'm glad that the Honest Pint Project is starting to move the finer pubs to use glassware with fill lines on them. Cheater pints are a fraud that must be stopped.

On the plus side, the city has installed one of the new bike-parking corrals on 28th right by Beulahland, so there's plenty of two-wheeled parking. And the jukebox has a brilliant variety: Black Sabbath's first album, Duke Ellington's Money Jungle, and -- stroke of genius -- Hasil Adkins.

I still enjoy the atmosphere at Beulahland, and I would like to check out those infused boozes. This last visit cooled my ardor somewhat, but I still consider it a little-known gem in that area.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Captured by Porches Friday Rye Ale

Hats off to Captured by Porches Brewing Company for entering the retail market with returnable bottles. I picked up a bottle of CBP's Friday Rye Ale at Beermongers a couple days ago; their flagship Invasive Species IPA is also on the shelves. It's a nice bottle, a 750 ml swing-top; the deposit is $1.00 per bottle. According to CBP's blog, making bottles out of recycled glass is only 30% more energy efficient than making them from raw materials. So the effort to reuse bottles is a welcome return to common sense.

That's all well and good, but if the beer isn't any good, then who cares? I'm happy to report that the bottle-conditioned Friday Rye Ale is really well done. It's tangy and hoppy, with a dry bitterness that lingers on the tongue. The bottle I had was super effervescent at first -- it didn't pour with a huge head, but the bottle opened with a loud pop, and the first sips filled my mouth with very fizzy fine bubbles. The night before I had a Wry Pale Ale at Laurelwood -- very tasty, by the way -- and the Friday was at least as good as that, maybe even a little better.

The bottles are priced near the low end of the bomber range -- $3.80 at Beermongers -- but because they are a little bigger than 22-ounce bombers, they have a cheaper SPE of $10.79 compared to $12.44 for a bomber of the same price. I'd be happier if the price was closer to six-pack price, but it's a start.

Now I'm eager to try a bottle of the IPA. In the past I wasn't very impressed with Captured by Porches, but it had been awhile since I had their beer, so this delicious bottle of Friday Rye gives me hope that they're moving onward and upward. [Update 2010/02/12: Well, I did try a returnable bottle of the IPA, and it's as I remember it. Tastes homebrewy; muddled flavors and too sweet. Stick with the Rye.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Cask Saga Continues

As part of my obsession about the correctness of cask ale in Portland, I resolved to go sample some of the cask nectar at Rock Bottom. If you're skeptical of chain pubs, I understand, but Van Havig brews brilliant beer at the Portland RB branch, very worthy of your patronage. In particular, the cask-conditioned ales are treated with appropriate care at Rock Bottom. Just make sure you sit at the bar when you visit -- most of the waitstaff is in an extreme state of blissful ignorance about the beer, but the folks behind the bar will keep you informed.

Charles was good enough to meet me there for lunch yesterday. Unfortunately, only one cask was pouring -- the Amber Ale -- and Charles and I got the last two pints of that. I asked, "Oh, are you going to throw another one on?", a trick question that was correctly answered "No". I should have followed up to find out how long they do let the casks settle before serving, but I can only think of one trick question at a time. The Amber Ale was lovely, a little nutty and sweet, like an ESB with a little more floral hops. Quite a head on it for a cask ale, maybe because it was pulled through a sparkler.

As you can see from the picture, the Rock Bottom setup is with real firkins, with filtered air coming in the top, as opposed to pumping beer out of a standard-issue keg. What got me jonesing for a Rock Bottom cask ale was this article on the Brewers Union 180 Blog, about the first firkins Ted has allowed to be served by someone other than himself. Block 15 in Corvallis has met his stringent handling requirements, so he sold them some of his ale after they sold out of their own cask-conditioned offering. The Block 15 blog itself has a very nice writeup of their cask system. Give it a read. Kudos to both pubs -- I've got to hit the road soon and visit them in person.

Back to Rock Bottom: they are serving a fabulous barrel-aged version of last year's Anniversary Ale (an Imperial IPA). Aged in Woodford Reserve barrels, tons of vanilla and bourbon flavor on top of a very lovely beer. This year's Anniversary Ale is also on tap, but wasn't very impressive. However, the Black Peter -- labeled as a Belgian Porter -- is wonderful. It's got the delicious Belgian floral-yeast flavor on top of a dark, strong, smooth porter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Portland Beer Blogs

This beer blogging thing is a pretty competitive business. I leave the country for 10 days, and four new Portland beer blogs start up:

Ezra is so plugged in to the Portland beer scene, that the New School is going to be a must-read blog for getting the latest information. I'll go ahead and take credit for the birth of that blog: I've been encouraging Ezra to start a blog for about the last year and a half. At first I think he worried that it would conflict with his job at Belmont Station; now that he's moved on from there I guess he feels more free to express himself. So far he's been cranking out close to one post a day -- I hope he doesn't burn out, because he turns up lots of good material.

Speaking of burning out, Dave Selden is going to write about one beer a day until September 26, 2012. Haven't you heard of the kid in the candy shop, Dave? I hope he can pull it off, although it would have made much more sense to wrap up the project at the end of the Mayan calendar on the 2012 winter solstice. I'm usually skeptical about beer-a-day projects like this, but I like it that it highlights Dave's low-tech beer app 33 Beers.

I was beginning to wonder if Facebook and Twitter had killed blogging, but it looks like it's alive and well. There must be about a dozen good Portland beer blogs that I follow now.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Double Blue Moon

At last year's OBF, I was having a friendly conversation with a stranger who sat near me to eat his lunch. As I do with everyone, I asked him what he liked so far. He said, "I loved that Red Hook Tripel. It was like Double Blue Moon!"

Pretty funny thing for a beer geek to hear, but hopefully it means one guy will step up from Coors to Red Hook, and maybe keep going up the ladder. Ironically, Coors has now brewed a stronger version of Blue Moon, the -- let me compose my straight face -- Blue Moon Grand Cru.

I was trying to work up the courage to buy a bottle of this from Belmont Station, but at $11 for 750 ml -- SPE $31.23 -- all I could do was take a picture of the bottle on the shelf. I'm proud to say that, despite growing up in Oklahoma, my lifetime expenditure on Coors beer is less than $11. There's no way I'm going to triple or quadruple it in one shot. The Beer Advocate consensus is B-. Have any of you tried BMGC?

Monday, January 4, 2010

From the Cellar

I'm on vacation right now, far from the gray skies of Portland. To fill the space, here are some reruns -- posts that have aged for over a year. In other words, they were written when only a handful of people read It's Pub Night. Now that readership has risen to two handsful, I'd like to reintroduce some of the early posts that I'm happiest with. I hope you like them.