Friday, April 30, 2010

Babies in Bars

There's an interesting discussion of kids in bars over on The New School. All-star Portland bartender King C presents kids-gone-wild battle stories, and goes on to point out that the OLCC loophole that allows kids in bars -- so they can eat the food served there -- is kind of absurd when applied to babes in arms. He concludes that "Babies don't belong in the bar."

I disagree with that to the extent that I would hate to see the OLCC or the legislature throw down a blanket prohibition on kids -- even babies -- in bars.  On the other hand, if individual pubs like Bailey's Taproom or Apex choose to exclude minors, I'm all for it.  It's nice to be away from the brats for a while, at least the under-21 brats. The current status quo is working well -- some places allow minors, others don't.  Patronize the one that works for you.

It strikes me that the argument is kind of like the smoking ban argument.  It's sometimes annoying to the other patrons when people bring their infants or lit cigarettes into a bar.  It's also easy for non-smokers and non-parents to work up some righteous indignation about both things, and to start talking about it in moral terms.  The smoking ban went through because it was sold as a public health issue, and I'm sure the same busybodies would love to go the same direction with minors in bars: "Won't somebody please think of the children?"  Please folks, let's not go there.

Speaking of babies in bars, Jonathan Lethem's brilliant sci-fi dystopian detective novel Gun, with Occasional Music takes place in a not-so-distant future where gene therapy has created adult-acting babies called "babyheads" who hang out drinking and smoking in "babybars".  Here's a Google Books chapter of the book where the protagonist meets a babyhead in a babybar -- hilarious.

I turned off comments on this post.  If you're opinionated on this subject, go read King C's original post and comment over there.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Peek at Apex

It's not as though we lacked choices for beer bars in Southeast Portland, but the newly opened Apex at 12th and Division has generated a lot of excitement in town. And for good reason: owner Jesse McCann promises 50 taps of craft beer, reasonable prices, hours from 11:30 AM to 2:30 AM every day, meticulously clean tap lines, and tons of bike parking. Whew! Sounds good.

I've been to Apex a couple of times now, and I really like it. It's probably going to be one of my most regular haunts, especially since Los Gorditos taqueria next door makes it a fast, cheap lunch option, and Beermongers is conveniently located right across the street. The beer menu on the bar's website is kept up to date in real time: in fact the menu in the bar is a big-screen TV that shows the website.  What a simple yet brilliant idea. One disappointment is that Apex didn't hit the ground running with honest pints. Some Belgian and European beers will be served in correct glassware with marked volume lines, but the standard pints are just in regular conical pint glasses.  Also, it would be nice if the beer was served a little less cold.

According to Ezra, Apex's atmosphere is inspired by San Francisco stalwarts Toronado and Zeitgeist. You can see the similarities: like Toronado, the focus is entirely on good beer at reasonable prices with no food service but loud music; like Zeitgeist there is a lot more seating outside than in, and you park your bicycle right in the beer garden. However, there are noticeable differences: unlike its SF cousins, there are lots of windows and light inside Apex, and the outside seating is right out on the street, not hidden in the back. Also, the no-smoking policy on the patio makes it quite different from Zeitgeist. Not to be negative, but the "No"s kind of define Apex:
  • No smoking anywhere.
  • No food.
  • No table service.
  • No kids.
  • No dogs.
  • No credit cards.
  • No car parking.
  • No dartboard.
  • No toilets.  Just kidding, there are two: one Men's and one Unisex.
All of those make good sense to me, except I do wish there was a dartboard.  If kids or dogs were allowed, I would sometimes show up with one or the other, but there are also times when you'd like to be away from everyone else's kids and dogs, so I don't count those as negatives.

The place is open now, but the Grand Opening celebration will be May 7th.  Obviously I'm a little late reporting on Apex.  For further reading, check out Ezra's insider's guide to Apex (he's working there), or these eyewitness reports from Angelo, Jason, and Jeff (pedXer).

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bomber Price Penalty

The thing that got me started comparing and tracking beer prices was the observation that it usually costs you more -- ounce for ounce -- to have your reusable growler filled at a brewpub than it does to buy disposable bottles that have gone through packaging, wholesaling, and retailing.  This growler price penalty is apparently due to the fact that bars have a different business model than bottle shops and groceries.  But there's a related pricing issue that doesn't make any sense at all:  the disparity between the retail prices of 22-ounce bombers and 12-ounce bottles sold in 6- or 12-packs.

Don't start in on me with comments like "if you want it, just pay the price, otherwise shut up".  I'm not saying that no bomber is worth the price.  But it is worth pointing out that: 1. The exact same beer costs more in big bottles than in small ones, and 2. Similar products such as soda pop or liquor are priced in the opposite way -- bigger packages cost less per ounce than smaller ones.  To illustrate the point, I'll show you the price difference for a few beers I saw recently at a big grocery store in Portland, and also a similar comparison of Coca-Cola prices (Pepsi prices were identical).  We'll use the legal tender of It's Pub Night: the U.S. dollar and the Six-Pack Equivalent (SPE).

  • Anchor Steam:
    • bomber: $3.39 (SPE $11.09)
    • 6-pack: $9.29
    • penalty: $1.80
     
  • Deschutes Mirror Pond:
    • bomber: $2.89 (SPE $9.46)
    • 6-pack (sale): $5.99
    • penalty: $3.47
     
  • MacTarnahan's Amber:
    • bomber (sale): $2.69 (SPE $7.43)
    • 12-pack (sale): $12.99 (SPE 6.50)
    • penalty: $0.93
     
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale:
    • 24 oz. bomber: $2.89 (SPE $8.67)
    • 6-pack (sale): $6.99
    • penalty: $1.68
     
  • Widmer Hef:
    • bomber: $2.99 (SPE $9.79)
    • 12-pack (sale): $11.99 (SPE $6.00)
    • penalty: $3.79
     
  • Coca-Cola:
    • 2-liter bottle (sale): $1.67 (SPE $1.78)
    • 12-pack (sale): $5.00 (SPE $2.50)
    • discount: $0.72

For each of the above beers, I took the lowest big-bottle price and compared its SPE to that of the lowest small-bottle price. That highlights another aspect of the bomber trickery: bomber prices are marked down less frequently than 6-packs or 12-packs, which are on sale almost every single day at big groceries. In case you're worried about apples-to-apples comparisons, even if I use non-sale six-pack prices for those matchups where the bombers weren't marked down, the bomber penalty is still 80 cents for Deschutes and $1 for Widmer, though Sierra Nevada did fall into line with about a 52-cent discount.

Nor was the Coke pricing a fluke -- there was a similar discount at several groceries around town. By the way, even though I translated the cola prices into SPE, the grocery shelf tags at most stores give you comparison prices in pints. Kind of backwards -- I usually think of cans of pop, and pints of beer.

Spread the word about the bomber price penalty. The fact that no other product is priced with a volume penalty instead of a volume discount leads me to believe that bomber pricing is simply a swindle.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Firkin Fest 2010

Saturday's Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon was something of a letdown.  Writing about last year's Firkin Fest, I singled out four of the fifteen beers as especially noteworthy, those from Rock Bottom, Hopworks, Brewers Union, and Full Sail.  This year, Rock Bottom and Full Sail didn't participate; Hopworks' offering had such a hellishly sulfurous taste that I dumped it; and the Brewers Union offering was solid but completely out of character for the cask-only brewery.  The fest was supposed to have 20 different casks this year, but ended up with only 17 -- Full Sail, Calapooia, and Hop Valley were on the program but not at the fest.

Oops, did I say "program"?  I mean the list of participants posted online; actually there was no program handed out at the festival, and no list of beers printed anywhere.  How hard could that be?  At the Lucky Lab Barleywine Festivals, they often update the program as the event proceeds, to correct mistakes or last-minute changes.  A simple printout of each brewery/beer/style would have been helpful, instead of having to wander around scanning the casks to remember which ale you wanted to try next.  A further firkin fest failure this year was the tasting glass.  Last year's was a giant tulip-shaped imperial pint glass, which I'm pretty sure holds about 22 ounces.  This year's was a wee little thing, holding perhaps 8 ounces.

Let's talk about beer.  The format of the festival is a little frustrating to completist fiends like myself: you get eight 6-ounce tastes and that's it.  Thanks to the kindness of strangers and friends I got to taste a couple things beyond my eight samples, but there were still a few worthy candidates that I just didn't get around to.  Here are my favorites from the selection I tried:
  • Deschutes Twilight: surprisingly full-bodied, flowery with a hint of citrus
  • Green Dragon Bitter: lightly roasted caramel flavor, gentle hops
  • Beer Valley Black Flag/Leafer Madness Blend: CDA-like hoppy/roasty flavors, non-bitter flowery hops
  • Pelican IPA: nice flowery IPA
My two favorites were two of the lower-alcohol, less-hoppy ales of the bunch: Twilight and Green Dragon's volunteer-brewed bitter.  Maybe I came in with a preconceived bias that that's how cask ales should be, although by no means am I above drinking a cask double IPA if it sounds good.  I did veer away from the ridiculous number of IPAs at this event, didn't even try the cask IPAs or hoppy reds from Lucky Lab, Oakshire, Eugene City Brewery, Double Mountain, or Laurelwood.  Lompoc's dry-hopped C-Note tasted OK, but looked like a truck-stop cappuccino -- that's John's glass of C-Note in the picture above -- and I heard that Lucky Lab's Super Dog was similarly turbid.  It would be nice if there was a way to let the casks settle for a reasonable amount of time before the beginning of the festival.

Even though I was a little disappointed by the Firkin Fest, I'll give it another try next year.  Each year more breweries participate -- though this year 3 of the 17 were Rogue breweries.  Another thing the Firkin Fest has going for it is a relaxed atmosphere:  with limited attendance, and the tables cleared out of the Green Dragon bar area, there is plenty of elbow room and no wait for beer.  Some changes I hope to see in next year's festival:  1. Allow people to buy additional beer and food tickets; 2. Hand out a program or list of beers at the door; 3. Bring back the big pint glasses instead of the throwaway 8-ouncers; 4. Set up the firkins the night before to give them more time to sit still before serving. [Update: turns out they were set up the night before this time, thanks to Ted from Brewers Union!]

Jeff Alworth also covered the fest at Beervana.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gilgamesh Brewing

John Foyston's column today reminds us that among the many beer-related things to do this weekend, EastBurn offers you the opportunity to try three interesting brews from new Salem-area brewers Gilgamesh. Their hop-free Black Mamba, flavored with black tea, deservedly won the People's Choice Award at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, and was also a hit with the critics.  That's Black Mamba in the pitcher in the picture -- doesn't it look chunky and nutritious?  It's definitely off the beaten path, and a well-done beer -- malty flavor with a light body, and a hint of tea and bergamot in the palate.

Gilgamesh was also pouring their IPA at the SBWF.  It was interesting to discuss it with some of the other Portland beer snobs at the fest -- opinion was pretty evenly split between those who thought it was a nice, balanced alternative to mega-IBU hop bombs and those who thought it was muddled and boring.  Put me in the latter camp.  It reminded me of a beginner's homebrew:  nice try, not infected, but not much flavor.  Try it yourself at EastBurn and see what you think.  They're also bringing a lightly-hopped 8% Scotch Ale.

Besides the Black Mamba, Gilgamesh does some other offbeat beers, specifically a Chocolate Mint Stout and a Cranberry Saison.  Chocolate is not an unusual stout adjunct, but mint isn't so common -- Beer Advocate lists 15 beers with mint in the name, a third of which also have chocolate.  I often find that dry stouts have an illusion of mint in the flavor, so this might be a winner.  Still, hearing about Chocolate and Cranberry beer makes me think of the eccentric Shallon Winery in Astoria -- warning, ugly website -- that makes Monty Pythonesque wines with flavors like cranberry-whey (sic) and chocolate-orange.  Hopefully Gilgamesh's experiments are more palatable.  (Here's the transcript of the "Australian Table Wines" sketch, from Monty Python's Previous Record.)

The EastBurn event starts at 6 PM Saturday, April 17, and will feature Black Mamba, the IPA, and the Scotch Ale.  Should be interesting, if you're not beered out after the Firkin Fest and/or Migration grand opening.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Laphroaig 18 Year Old

Today I'll take a break from beer and review Laphroaig's latest expression -- an 18-year-old bottled at cask strength 48% ABV, 10% stronger than the Laphroaig 10 and 15 year old bottlings.  [Update 2011/04/26: An astute reader pointed out that I mistakenly said it was cask strength.  Yes, it's stronger than the 15, but not cask strength.]  It has been on the market for at least six months now, but I spend so little time in liquor stores these days that I didn't notice it until a couple of weeks ago.  Man, oh man, I'm glad I finally did.  I have a new favorite Scotch whisky. Well, the legendary sherry-cask Talisker 20 might never be displaced, but let's say that of all the whiskies available to me today, this is tops.

Laphroaig is a long-time favorite of mine.  I love the intense smoke/seawater/medicine flavors of Laphroaig 10; I appreciate the mellower, more refined presentation of Laphroaig 15; I respect the big Islay wallop of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask.  Take the strengths of those three variants and put them into one bottle, and voila, you have Laphroaig 18.  In other words, if you're a fan of the distillery and you haven't had this yet, you must try it.

The 15-year-old -- which by the way is being replaced by this 18 -- is a nice dram, but it always disappointed me a little bit because it gives up too much of the flavor you get with the 10-year-old.  On the other hand, there's no denying that Laphroaig 10 is perhaps a little too pungent.  The 18 is the best of both worlds.  It rounds off the harsh edges that remain in the 10, without losing the massive assault of peat smoke and iodine that defines Laphroaig.  The peaty, briny finish stays on the tongue for ages.  It's a big 'un, too:  96 proof.  Don't dilute this masterpiece very much, but to really open up the flavors, add 1 or 2 drops of water.

The price is a steal for this caliber of whisky:  right now it's $78 in Oregon liquor stores.  That price may be headed up: Google turns up prices over $100, and a California liquor store favored by some Scotch-loving friends of mine is selling it for $130 (for comparison, they list Laphroaig 10 at $30, far cheaper than the usual Oregon price).  Click here to order Laphroaig 18 from British retailer Master of Malt: it's a 70 cl European bottle, but remember to request your 16% VAT refund if you're ordering from outside the EU.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Terminal Gravity Single-Hop Horizontal

A few weeks ago at the Cheese Bar I got to try Terminal Gravity's single-hopped double IPA (Chinook). It seemed obvious from the parenthesized name that there must be other varieties out there, but it's a pretty stealthy project: I hadn't heard any publicity about it before noticing it that evening, and had no idea what other hops they had experimented with.

So hats off to Belmont Station for offering a horizontal tasting of three versions of TG single-hopped brews. Thursday night Lindsey and I dropped in for a quick flight. Here are my impressions:

  • Chinook: most stereotypically "hoppy": resinous, orangey hops
  • Columbus: mildest up front, but with a long aspirin finish (in a good way)
  • Centennial: mildest overall, light citrus hop flavor
The underlying beer was a big, malty ale that clocked in at 6.8% -- think big Rogue ales and you'll have the idea.  A taster of Terminal Gravity's regular IPA was thrown into the flight, which was kind of a mistake -- it didn't stand up well against the heavier double IPA, even though it's a fine beer in its own right.  Scanning the internet for more information about the project, I notice that Bailey's Taproom served the same three single-hopped varieties at various times during February and March.  Anyone know if there are other hop varieties in the series?

By the way, uber-geeky Danish brewer Mikkeller has done a single-hopped IPA series with at least 10 different hop varieties.  Derek at Beer Around Town recently tasted a couple of them: one with East Kent Goldings, another with Tomahawk hops, which he says are the same as Columbus.  Interestingly, Tomahawk had the same effect in the Mikkeller as Columbus did in the Terminal Gravity, with the malt dominating at first, but a "sharp dry bitterness in the finish".  I'm glad Derek wrote about that, I had been pondering a similar experiment, but haven't tried any of the Mikkeller IPAs. Beernews.org has more information on the Mikkeller single-hop series.

If you see the Terminal Gravity single-hop brews on tap, they're definitely worth a try, especially the Chinook and Columbus flavors.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Your Thoughts on Beer Publications

Here you are reading a beer blog. It's unlikely that It's Pub Night is your only Internet source for beer information, so I assume you read other blogs, maybe online forums, or maybe you even subscribe to an antiquated email discussion group.

But what about printed media? Do you find any of these worth your time:

I'm sure I left off some important publications.  There, I've admitted my own ignorance, you don't have to bring it up again in the comments, but please do fill in the blanks if there's another magazine or tabloid out there that you enjoy reading.

What got me thinking about this question was a comment on my San Francisco vs. Portland post.  The Bay Area correspondent for the Northwest Brewing News recommended the February/March 2010 issue of the paper, which had a cover story called Bay Area Alehouses.  As it happens, I had indeed read that article before my trip to San Francisco, but had not found it useful or memorable.  Why not?  For starters, it only mentioned a handful of places in downtown San Francisco, and I had no plans for going further afield.  Moreover, as I read the article, I noticed that it didn't mention any specific beers served at any of the bars, but it did mention the name of the owner or manager of every single place.  That must be fascinating information for a local insider, but for a tourist or dabbler it was useless and actually quite annoying to read such a tour de force of name-dropping.  So annoying that I put down the article and never gave it another thought until Mario brought it up.

It put me in the mood to write a blog post lambasting the NWBN for being such a lame publication.  Scanning the Feb/Mar edition I found another annoyance:  an article on beer pricing with a section headed "Let there be Honest Pints!", which didn't mention Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project.  But even though I was in a nasty mood, I couldn't find much else to complain about in that issue or the subsequent April/May issue (well, the Beer Bitch column is a joke that stopped being funny a long time ago).  Instead, I'm going to make a point of picking up the NWBN whenever I see a new issue; there's plenty of good information in there, especially about other areas I'm less up-to-date on.

This train of though also got me thinking that I need to put my money where my mouth is and subscribe to Beer Advocate.  The magazine itself never knocks me off my feet, but the BA website is an invaluable part of the community and I want to pitch my dollar into their tip jar.

So I ask you, gentle readers.  What are your thoughts on dead-tree beer publications?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Support Your Local Beermapping

If you're traveling, one of the most useful tools to help you find good beer away from home is the Beer Mapping Project. The maintainer -- Jonathan Surratt, aka Beerinator -- has put together a database of breweries, beer bars, and beer stores with a nice interface to Google Maps, and is very responsive to contributors who send in new locations.



There's a way that you can help with beermapping.com. Every location on the map has a review page, like this one for Belmont Station. If you look at the project's city map for Portland, you'll notice that locations in our town are rather sparsely reviewed. And that's the gist of my appeal to you today: please get out there and add some reviews! Here are some Portland favorites that have not yet been reviewed:

That's just a sampling of places that it seems like we should explain to out-of-towners.  Don't limit yourself to those places; in fact, even the Portland locations that have been reviewed could benefit from more reviews, or from pictures if you have a mind to share.  Look at it as an easy way to be a Portland beer ambassador.  By the way, Google is now picking up beermapping.com reviews in Google Maps searches, like this one.  All you have to do is register on the beermapping forums, and you can start adding reviews to the site.  Tell 'em ItsPubNight sent you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring Beer and Wine Fest 2010

The Spring Beer and Wine Fest is an oddity in Portland -- an Easter weekend beer festival largely eschewed by beer geeks and Catholics.

The hard core turn up their nose because of the pedestrian offerings at the festival. Nevertheless, there are a few unusual beers that merit your attention.

Best in show: Block 15's Pappy's Dark. A bourbon-aged Old Ale with beautiful vanilla, whiskey, and molasses goodness. Right now both taps at Block 15's booth are Pappy's, despite the stout label on the other tap.

Check out the Black Mamba from Salem-area brewers Gilgamesh. Their IPA is homebrewy, but the cloudy no-hop Mamba flavored with black tea had a delicious fruity flavor.

Try the burly Collaborator Ale-X (poured by Rob Widmer in the picture). I also liked the Astoria West Coast Pils - a cloudy masterpiece that is like a beefy Victory Prima.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Migration Darts and Happy Hour

Tuesday I finally made another visit to Migration Brewing, thanks to a pub night call put out by Ezra. Two items of good news: the two dart boards are up on the wall behind the bar, and Migration has a cash-only happy hour all day Tuesdays -- $3.50 pints instead of $4. Read about it on their blog. Yet another reason to carry cash when visiting your local establishments.

The dart setup looks a little cramped -- the line you stand behind is just a couple feet from the wall. But a couple of guys throwing darts there said even though they were skeptical when they first saw it, that it worked fine for them. I'll try it out myself soon. (Darts trivia: that "line you stand behind" is called the oche, pronounced like "hockey" without the H.)

Colin said they've got approval to start brewing in the building now, so expect Migration's first house brews to be pouring by May. The first batch of Migration Pale Ale brewed at Lompoc sold out in a matter of days -- I didn't even get to it myself -- but they have another batch in the works at Three Creeks in Sisters.

Even though today is April Fool's Day, all the stuff in this post is true. Luckily someone in town has the spirit, and took the time to cook up a hilarious send-up of Ezra's The New School blog -- The Newest School. If you've been reading The New School it will crack you up.