Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cheater Pints Must Die

This picture illustrates what a menace cheater pints are, though I wish it had a better view of the glass bottoms.  These are two sibling 12-ounce bottles of Deschutes Red Chair, one poured into the cheater pint glass on the left, the other poured into the 16-ounce pint glass on the right.

For some reason the pint glass pour didn't get a head on it, either because there was water (soap?) on the glass, or because I instinctively used the no-head pour I learned in college instead of the modern beer-geek style.  But look at Dave's cheater glass.  If you get a cheater pint with a one-finger head that reaches the rim, you've been served a 12-ounce beer.  Cheater pint + head = 12 ounce beer.

Cheater pints must die.

In related Honest Pint news:
  • Jeff has local news video from my dear home state of Oklahoma, where some local ladies sporting pink Honest Pint Project T-shirts are patrolling the bars of OKC.
  • Alan ran across an article in PMQ Pizza Magazine -- too much free time, Alan? -- advising pizzeria owners to take advantage of the "evolution of the 14-ounce pint glass".
  • The purveyor of the most honest pints in Oregon, Ted Sobel of Brewers Union 180, is in Portland for rare appearances tonight (Thursday, May 27) at the Green Dragon, and tomorrow at Belmont Station.
Since Ted's cask beer is only available in Portland when he himself delivers and serves it (!), you should try and get out to one of these tastings if you can.  Too bad the Green Dragon doesn't serve honest pints -- at Ted's pub in Oakridge the English pint glasses have a fill-line marked at 20 ounces -- but at least you're guaranteed 16 at Belmont Station.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Beer City, USA

    The laughable spectacle of Charlie Papazian's online poll to determine Beer City, USA has ended in only the second-worst outcome for Portland.  The most terrible thing that could have happened would have been for Portland to edge Asheville, NC by a few votes, so that it would have been us wearing the propeller beanie and not them.  (Photo credit: rbatina.)  In a contest to see who has the most insecure beer fans, it's better that we should come in second place than to suffer the humiliation of actually winning the prize.

    Please, please, please, I beg of you Portland beer people: don't take the bait next year.  If this poll was moored in reality, you would have seen more people voting for one of the larger population centers with a decent beer scene.  Instead, it was just a wankfest between 7400 people in North Carolina and 6600 from hereabouts.  Check out how much interest this thing attracted in other beery places:

    • Chicago (metro: 9.6 million): 190 votes
    • Boston (metro: 4.6 million): 114 votes
    • San Francisco (metro: 4.3 million): 171 votes
    • Seattle (metro: 3.4 million): 362 votes
    • San Diego (metro: 3.1 million): 884 votes
    If Portland had barely lost to a real adversary, like any of the cities listed here, or even had we been blown away by one or two of them, there would be some honor in that.  Instead, we only look pathetic, jumping up and down for attention on the internet.  The only consolation is that tiny Asheville -- which for all I know is a fine place with wonderful beer -- looks even more pathetic than we do.

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Where Angels Fear to Tread

    This week I was in the Silicon Valley for work. Not my favorite place in the world, but I was determined to make the best of it. The rental car place had upgraded me from a Hyundai to a Cadillac, so Monday evening I decided a drive to Santa Cruz was in order. Beermapping.com recommended that I hit Red Restaurant, and I was really glad I did.  The place had a great laid-back atmosphere with lots of couches spread out around a cozy room, and a wonderful tap list of about 30 beers  The goblet of Lost Abbey Angel's Share in the picture only set me back $5.50.   Friendly service and serviceable food rounded it all out.  If you're headed there, don't be confused by the ground floor -- a burrito place and a smoky bar called the Red Room -- find the stairway outside that leads upstairs to the Red Restaurant.

    That Angel's Share was a thing of beauty:  dense toffee flavors with a boozy brandy edge, balanced with unobtrusive hops.  Despite what a big beer it was, it wasn't at all cloying.  I would have drunk one after the other if I didn't have to steer a land yacht 40 miles through the rain on winding mountain roads to get back to my motel.  Back at the motel, a Unibroue Maudite -- a Belgian-style beer that I usually love, and which garners an A- on Beer Advocate -- seemed syrupy and one-dimensional compared to the memory of the Angel's Share.

    Tuesday evening I took Caltrain up to the City to hang out with our friend Andy and check out a couple of North Beach places that I hadn't been to.  La Trappe is a Belgian-themed beer-snob favorite that I was embarrassed to have missed during our family vacation in March.  With my sights set on La Trappe, Beer Advocate came up with another North Beach gem to try: Kennedy's Irish Pub and Curry House.

    Kennedy's has a respectable 30-some-odd beer taps, but I was also interested in the Indian-food angle of the place.  I figured the menu would consist of British-inflected curries, but when we got there I was surprised to see that in addition to the standard fare, they also served South Indian dosas and utthappam.  This was a bit of overkill for me -- I had already had a huge pesarattu dosa with upma for lunch that day at Dosa Place in Santa Clara -- but there is so little in the way of good South Indian food in Portland that I was happy to repeat myself.  The Kennedy's dosas were not exactly kosher: in fact we ordered a spicy chicken dosa and a lamb utthappam.  Those are odd variations on a basically vegetarian cuisine, but they were tasty enough and a welcome departure from usual bar food.  If you go there, one dosa is enough for two people.

    The schizophrenia at Kennedy's doesn't end with the Irish-Indian juxtaposition.  There's also sort of a sports-bar vibe to the place, with TVs in every corner, and pool, foosball, and air hockey.  Andy was excited when we ambled up to the door -- "This is one of the last bars in San Francisco that has air hockey," he said.  If that wasn't enough, on our way out we discovered that one room in the place is now a wine bar with rotating exhibits of modern art, and local meet-the-winemaker events.  With something for almost everyone, Kennedy's is definitely a place to check out.

    Full of spicy food, Andy and I made our way over to La Trappe.  There was a kind of resonance with my Red Restaurant experience:  the cellar dining area of La Trappe has a similarly dark and relaxed ambience, and even has a little candlelit cove of couches and coffee tables if you are just there for a beer or two as we were.  What really resonated with me was that they also had Angel's Share on tap, though at a more diabolical big-city price of $8, for a less generous pour than the one I had the night before in Santa Cruz.  I was really happy to get another shot at such a wonderful beer that isn't available in Portland.  Andy ordered a Kwak that was served in one of the more ridiculous pieces of glassware ever seen -- a round-bottomed beaker that rests in a cheesy wooden stand.  Good beer, and a really fine atmosphere that left me wishing I had more time and money to spend there.

    The beer tourism was a welcome relief from the woes of business travel.  I highly recommend La Trappe and Red if you find yourself in SF or Santa Cruz respectively, and Kennedy's is a fun, funky place that I expect to return to again.  And take as many shares of Angel's Share as you can get -- it's a stunner.

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Cascade Brewing Beer Belly

    Following on the heels of the Fred Fest report, here's another opportunity for you to rub shoulders with local beer luminaries, enjoy special beers with good food, and benefit a good cause. You don't even have to wait a year to do it: the EastBurn hosts a new Beer Belly Dinner every month on the 2nd Thursday. It's hard to beat a $35 four-course meal, paired with five beers presented by the brewers themselves. And proceeds go to Ride On, the local non-profit that helps drivers get home with their cars when they shouldn't be behind the wheel themselves.

    Thursday's Beer Belly with Cascade Brewing found Carla and I -- and probably some of the other attendees -- slightly out of our comfort zone, in the world of sour and fruit beers.  But if your comfort zone has to be breached, this is the way to do it. Ron Gansberg and Curtis Bain brought along a brilliant set of beers to show off their talents at brewing wild things, then aging and blending them to near perfection.  The weather was perfect on the patio, we had interesting and affable table mates, and chefs Jeff Pagel and Joe Dougherty served up a delicious menu.

    The beers on hand were:

    • Spring Gose: German wheat beer with salt and coriander
    • 2009 The Vine: Belgian Abbey ale barrel-aged with wine grapes
    • Busta Nut Brown: mild brown ale
    • 2009 Cascade Kriek: Flanders Red aged with cherries
    • Noyeaux: Belgian blonde with raspberries and apricot pits (!)
    • 2009 Apricot Ale: another Belgian ale, with apricots
    The sample of  Noyeaux was an unannounced bonus at the dinner.  Ron introduced it by saying he thinks it's the first truly world-class beer that Cascade has produced.  I think others would disagree that it is the first, as the accolades for their sour beers are starting to pile up, and it really took some chutzpah to make that statement right as the diners were finishing their glasses of the show-stopping Kriek.  Noyeaux was a fine beer with a kind of mingled raspberry/apricot flavor, and the apricot pit adjunct makes it an interesting conversation piece as well as adding almond notes to the smell and taste of the beer.  When I first heard that Gansberg made a beer with the meat from apricot pits, my first reaction was, "Is he trying to poison people?".  Turns out that roasting the pits detoxifies them and leaves you a little almond-like nut (there's a trace of cyanide left, so you wouldn't want to eat a pound of them).  I was glad to get a taste at the dinner, though I did watch Ron take a drink before I tried mine.

    Finer palates than mine may pronounce Noyeaux the top of the Cascade line, but for me the highlight of the evening was definitely the Kriek.  I had never tried it, because the 750 ml bottles seemed out of my price range for something I suspected I might not like.  But it was an astonishing beer, rich and lush with dark cherry flavors, and went especially well with the lamb entree.  What is it about cherries that makes them work so well with beer?  I hardly ever think I want to eat a cherry or a cherry pie, but the cherry beers that have come to my attention lately have been wonderful -- Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam, Bridgeport's 2009 Stumptown Tart, Upright's Four Play, and now Cascade's Kriek.  Whereas the lighter Tart and Four Play had more of a pie-cherry flavor, the Kriek was reminiscent of darker bing cherries.  It was an eye-opener for me; I'll be looking for more of this.

    There wasn't a bad beer there that evening.  Even Carla liked the Gose, and she didn't like the Goses I plied her with before.  It was my second dose of The Vine that week, though I had to wait for my glass to warm up before it reminded me of how much I had liked it at Fred Fest.

    Cheers to Cascade and EastBurn for putting together a wonderful meal.  Definitely keep an eye on the Beer Belly calendar -- they're great events.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Fred Fest 2010

    About 11 months from now, when you're asking yourself, "Self, should I pony up the $X to go to Fred Fest this year?", make sure that you do whatever it takes to make yourself answer in the affirmative.  This is the kind of right-place, right-time beer festival that you should absolutely attend if at all possible.  I'll remind you of a few of the good reasons:

    • It's your chance to chat with craft beer legend Fred Eckhardt, and pick up some of his off-the-cuff homespun wisdom.
    • You get to taste several one-off or otherwise rare beers, limited only by the laws of supply and demand.
    • There is copious excellent food prepared and served under the supervision of Hair of the Dog brewer Alan Sprints.
    • You'll be surrounded by a jovial and convivial crowd that is dense with Oregon brewers, publicans, retailers, beer experts, and beer scenesters of all stripes.
    • All proceeds go to charity.
    Last year I was on-the-ball enough to jot down a couple of the witticisms that Fred tossed my way; this year I failed to take notes of that kind, but just talking to the man for a minute or two put a smile on my face and put a new perspective on whatever mundane worries were in the back of my mind.   Go to Fred Fest, be patient, and at some point you'll get a minute to talk to Fred.  He doesn't have a halo, but he's something of a saint, or maybe a Zen master, but not the kind of Zen master that cuts your fingers off.

    One of the most ridiculously rare beers this year was a keg of Wild Duck Barleywine brewed in 2003 by the late, lamented Glen Falconer.  As if that wasn't enough backstory, the keg had been stashed away by the similarly late and lamented Toby Day.  With no disrespect intended at all, Brian pointed out that this beer was really a Double Dead Guy Ale.  It was the first beer that many people headed for at the festival, and it was worth it -- a classic strong barleywine, with lots of hops, a brown-sugar palate, and a little bit of papery oxidation.

    Another once-in-a-lifetime beer was brought by Fred himself, and if you were standing in the right place, at the right time, you got a taste of it.  Here's Fred's description of it:

    I have two big gallons of Sierra Nevada pilot brew on their Thirtieth Anniv.... Charlie Papazian and I were s'pozed to have designed this beer for Ken, but Charlies plan was way beyond mine. This is a magnificant, but very dark, Helles-bock lager. 16.8Plato, 7%abv, 35ibu.

    As you can imagine, once Fred's growler was opened, it went fast, but most of the people who got their tasting glass underneath it were generous and poured it around for other folks.  In fact, that's how I got a taste, and I am forever grateful to the young fellow -- a complete stranger to me -- who kindly slopped half his glass into mine.  It was an interesting brew: grainy (like you'd expect a Helles-bock to be) with mildly citrusy hops.

    I foolishly missed the Firestone Walker Parabola and the Rock Bottom 3-5 year old Maude Flanders, but here were a few other noteworthy beers:
    • Deschutes Wood-Aged Double Black: strong, slightly tart, and malty
    • Barley Brown's Cherrywood-Smoked Rye Whiskey Beer: mesquite smoke, like candied BBQ pork
    • Cascade The Vine 2010: smooth delicious winey sour (Sharon said it was like a stronger Berliner Weiss)
    • Bridgeport 2008 Fallen Friar: sour wine notes, smooth, floral yeast (2 years aging has helped this a lot)
    • Bend Brewing Rocksy Stein Lager: bitter, caramelly lager -- I'd been wanting to try this lager brewed with hot stones for a long time.
    This was also a first glance at Hair of the Dog's new location at Water and Yamhill.  There's definitely still work to be done there, but there are at least three exciting things about the new place:  1. Alan is no longer renting: he owns the building; 2. There will be a Hair of the Dog pub for the first time; 3. It's a lot easier to get to than the old super-secret location.  It looks like there's quite a bit more space there also.  Very exciting.

    For further reading: check out Angelo's writeup at Brewpublic, Jeff's at the Beer Cave, and Lisa's at the Hop Press.  And remember:  next year when faced with the question of whether to go to Fred Fest, don't even hesitate.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller

    Way back in February I was the undeserving recipient of some amazing Canadian generosity when Ryan O'Connor, who edits the CAMRA Vancouver newsletter, bestowed on me a tasty assortment of some of his favorite British Columbia craft beers.  He recommended that I not sit for too long on the two bottles of Old Cellar Dweller barleywine from Victoria's Driftwood Brewery, as part of the attraction was the "big, sticky, resinous hop nose", which he said goes away with just a little age.

    It was a good call.  When I opened a bottle of Cellar Dweller at a neighborhood poker game a couple weeks after Ryan gave it to me, it was a big hit.  We also tried another barleywine that he brought with him, the Old Bad Cat from Fat Cat Brewery in Nanaimo, BC.  The Cellar Dweller's tons of malt and hops blew away the Bad Cat, which was merely syrupy in comparison.

    Last week I opened the other bottle of Cellar Dweller so I could give a slightly more descriptive report than "tons of malt and hops".  The bottle was at room temperature, and the hop aromas may have faded a bit, because strong alcohol was the main component in the nose this time.  Flavorwise, it has lots of everything, all balanced well against one another:  brown-sugar (or even burnt-sugar) malt, lots of bitter, orangey hops, and a little alcohol sting (it is 12%).  It was pleasantly viscous, with a hoppy/roasty finish that didn't overstay its welcome.  This time Dave, Carla, and I compared it with a year-old bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, and the fresh Old Cellar Dweller won hands down.  The hops in the Bigfoot were bitter but losing their floral qualities, and the body just wasn't as full as the Driftwood.

    Ryan also brought some cans of Red Racer IPA from Central City Brewing in Surrey.  It was a very nice, big IPA, plenty of hops but not over the top.  He also dropped some off with Ezra, who describes it in more detail in this review, as well as comparing it to Bear Republic's Racer 5.  Ezra also reports that Bear Republic has sued Central City, claiming that Red Racer infringes their Racer 5 trademark.  Don't you think the world would be a better place with fewer lawyers in it?

    Anyway, many thanks to Ryan for the unexpected beer delivery.  And definitely seek out some Old Cellar Dweller or other Driftwood beers if you find yourself in the Great White North.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Cheers to Belgian Beers 2010

    Had a great time Saturday at Hopworks for the 4th annual Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers festival. The upper parking lot was bustling with jovial beer drinkers, but it wasn't over-crowded like a couple of years ago when the Fresh Hop Festival was held at the same venue. The weather was just right, lines were never long, and as far as I know, there were no beer outages by the time I left about 4 PM. There was a nice variety of mostly good beers, tasty snacks in the $3-$6 range were served at the top of the lot, and alphabetical order was adhered to pretty closely. In short, it was everything you could hope for in a beer festival. Congratulations to Hopworks, the Oregon Brewers Guild, and everyone involved for a job well done.

    There were 29 beers that used this year's prescribed Belgian yeast, and were thus eligible for the festival's People's Choice award (Kevin has a nicely formatted list of this year's beers). I got around to tasting fewer than half of the 29. My favorites, roughly in order:
    • Big Horse Cuvee de Ferme (Sour Saison/Golden blend): sour balanced well with malt, peachy notes.  Grade: A
    • Upright Mingus and Monk (Farmhouse Brown): tart, cherry notes, with bitter finish. Grade: A
    • Green Dragon King Ghidorah (Biere de garde): funky and full-bodied with vanilla and banana notes. Grade: A
    • Deschutes Portland Sinfully Delicious (Dark Strong Ale): nice Abbey dubbel. Grade: A-
    • Widmer Biere de Table (Farmhouse Table Beer): very drinkable with light grassy, lemony flavors. Grade: A-
    • Oakshire La Ferme (Farmhouse Ale): nicely dry and citrusy, surprisingly bitter for 15 IBUs. Grade: B+
    Pretty near everyone I talked to got the Widmer table beer as their first try, since it was a very tame 3% alcohol.  Lots of people have noted a growing trend of trying to produce flavorful beers with lower alcohol levels.  It's a worthy endeavor, and the Biere de Table was a great example of a light, refreshing, food-oriented beer.  Along those lines, the 4.8% Tropisch Bruin from the Deschutes Bend brewery was also a pretty nice table beer, I'll give it a B grade. Cascade's Frite Galois was a 4.6% sour ale that had some nice flavors, but had a chalky finish that I didn't care for.  It gets a B- from me.

    I listed the Big Horse sour in first place above -- I thought it had the best-balanced combination of interesting flavors -- but as I left the festival I cast my ballot for the Upright Farmhouse Brown, partly out of personal loyalty to Corey and Alex, partly out of the calculation that I didn't want to risk sending the festival to Hood River next year.  It wasn't much of a stretch, it was a fine beer.  I also think that aging will make Mingus and Monk into an even nicer beer than it was Saturday, and I suspect that Alex will oblige us by bringing a little out at a time as the months go by.

    In fact, a lot of the beers at the festival would probably benefit from a few months' aging: I especially thought that the Oakshire and Green Dragon entries were not yet at their best.  It was kind of a common refrain in talking to people about the beers -- "I'd like to try this again in a few months".  Talking to Derek and Josh at the festival, they had the idea that this year's winner should announce next year's yeast immediately to give brewers more time for experimenting and aging.  One of them even proposed scheduling out the yeast several years ahead of time, but I'm not sure the brewers are taking the event quite as seriously as the rest of us are.

    To fill in some of the gaps I left in the list, and for valuable second opinions, check out the writeups by other Portland bloggers: Dr. Wort, Derek, Jeff, Angelo, Brady.

    Update: The People's Choice winner has been announced: Block 15 Ferme de Demons Black Saison.  Congratulations, Block 15!  Definitely one of the most creative breweries in the state, though I'll admit that Ferme de Demons was one of my least favorites of the festival.  Now the big question is, where will the CtBB be held in 2011?