Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hopworks BikeToBeerFest 2010

The second annual BikeToBeerFest held at Hopworks this past Saturday was a nice sequel to last year's festivities. If there were any doubts that this would continue to be a yearly event -- which there probably weren't -- I guess the good attendance and fine time had by all have put them to rest. They do seem to be feeling around for the correct date -- last year's was held in mid-September -- and I hope it stays in the pre-Labor Day range.

BikeToBeerFest went off much like it did last year. It's a welcome sight to see two parking lots each filled with hundreds of bikes instead of a couple dozen cars, and to see the famous beer bike (pictured) in action. I don't remember the cost of getting in to last year's event, but I thought it was just the price of a glass and some tokens. This year there was a small $2 entry fee which was split as a donation to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Portland Sunday Parkways, both worthy recipients.  Another difference was that this year you could get a 4-ounce sample for 1 ticket, whereas last year it was all pints.  There were some perverse incentives at work there -- you could pay 6 tickets for almost a pint of strong beer, or 4 tickets for 4 quarter-pints.  One thing that was the same was the fun live entertainment.  I was glad to catch Boy Eats Drum Machine's set -- his funky one-man-band antics stuck in my mind from last year's fest.

Hopworks really pulled out the stops with the beer this year. Last year I only remember a couple of special beers -- Ace of Spades and fresh-hop Bike Beer -- but this year there were a bunch of brilliant seasonals and one-offs:
  • Piledriver: Hopworks' Dubbel barrel-aged with cherries and wacky brettanomyces yeast
  • Gayle's Pale: first fresh-hop ale of the year
  • For Those about to Bock: Barrel-aged Bock
  • Noggin' Floggin': Barrel-aged barleywine
  • Ace of Spades: Imperial IPA
  • Galactic: Imperial Red
All of that in addition to the Hopworks standards.  I'm pretty tough to please with fresh-hop beers -- it has to knock me out with resinous freshness -- so Gayle's Pale was a little disappointing to me, though it was a fine enough pale ale.  The Piledriver was a gem: the cherries were a welcome addition to an already decent Abbey Ale, and the brettanomyces seemed to dry it out nicely without making it one of these sour endurance tests.

Portlandbeer.org has a nice writeup from Marcus and some of Matt's magnificent photos.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Upcoming Lucky Lab Events

It's Pub Night is usually written in past tense, as a diary of what I've been up to, since other Portland bloggers cover the event calendar much better than I could.  But there's one event that I love so much that I want to give you a quick heads up about it:  the Lucky Lab hop harvest party.

Next Thursday, September 2nd, the back patio of the Hawthorne Lucky Lab will be filled with homegrown hop vines brought in by anyone who cares to contribute to the Lab's fresh-hop seasonals this year.  At 3 PM, an informal hop-picking session begins -- whoever drops in can just grab some vines and start picking off the hops.  Free beer, lupulin aromatherapy, jovial company, and the satisfaction of a job well done are your payment.  Most of the work will probably be done by about 7 PM, at which time some grilled snacks will be served.

It's a very special experience that I highly recommend.  You'll see lots of the usual Portland beer geeks -- an alarming number of whom now write blogs -- as well as stalwart Lucky Lab regulars.  But -- I swear I see this happen every year -- there will also be people who just happen in to the pub for the first time, see what's going on, and dive right in.  That, friends, is Beervana.  To get a flavor of it, check out my slide show from last year, or Angelo's excellent recap. If you have hops growing at home and aren't going to use them in your own brew, bring 'em on down, even if you can't stay to pick.

While I'm writing in the future tense, another chance to drink free Lucky Lab beer is coming up September 11th: the Tour de Lab bike tour.  I guess it's not really free beer, since you pay $35 to register, but the proceeds benefit Dove Lewis veterinary hospital.  I've not gone on the ride before, but since I was offered a free pass, I'm going to brave the 30-mile loop hitting all four Lucky Lab pubs with my neighbor Lindsey (there is also a less hilly 18-mile route that skips the Multnomah pub).

While I'm writing about the future, bikes, and beer, don't forget that Hopworks BikeToBeerFest is tomorrow, and is also a really excellent time.  Here are my thoroughly-researched ideas on the best bike approaches to Hopworks (especially useful if you're in a big group or biking with kids or novices).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Buckman Village Brewery

The Green Dragon saga continues... After three years and two ownership changes, the pub is finally serving its own house-brewed beers, under the somewhat silly name of Buckman Village Brewery.  Last week they debuted three beers: an IPA (natch) and two lighter ales, one flavored with ginger and one with chamomile.

Carla and I made it over there last Thursday to try the beers (the on-street bike corral is a nice addition -- when did that happen?).  The chamomile beer, Chamomellow -- as far as I can tell the only Buckman beer that has its own name -- was fabulous. As Frank James noted on Brewpublic, it has a touch of honey-like sweetness, and a lovely floral flavor that is right up front but doesn't overwhelm. After being underwhelmed by the IPA and displeased by the ginger beer, Carla and I were bowled over by Chamomellow, all the more so because Carla usually doesn't care for chamomile tea. That's it in the picture above, charmingly served to us in a MacTarnahan's glass.

As I said, the IPA was not impressive. It didn't offend, but it's not one of those cases where you say "This beer has balance", because it's not very hard to balance small quantities of flavor. The Buckman Ginger was interesting, but I'm one of the few people I can think of who would persevere to the end of a pint of it. The fresh ginger flavor was nice enough, but there was also a strange, chalky bitterness -- powdered ginger or turmeric? -- in the finish that wasn't very appealing. I'm kind of surprised that Frank referred to it as "surprisingly and enjoyably subtle". I found it to be anything but subtle, and a couple of tweets I read about it also commented on its brashness.

The beers were brewed on the Green Dragon's newly-approved 15-barrel system, not the 1-barrel nano rig that the Oregon Brew Crew was providing cheap labor on. From what I can gather, the brewer was John Couchot, who has been Rogue's chief distiller -- he's the second John on the John-John ales.  Does anyone know if he is going to be the permanent Green Dragon brewer?  That would certainly stoke the paranoia of the Integrity Spirits guys who share the building.

Hopefully Rogue will drop this "Buckman Village" pretense and just call the brewery the Green Dragon.  I do want to point out a previous instance of a Buckman beverage, though.  In 2007, our vineyard-owning friends bottled Buckman wine as a benefit for Buckman Elementary school -- that's the TTB-approved label for the red in the picture.  The label for the white wine was even cooler, with two skulls entwined with a Buckman banner, but I couldn't find a bottle or label in my archives. Anyway, the word "village" sounds phony applied to an edgy tavern in the middle of a warehouse district less than a mile from downtown.  On the other hand, "Green Dragon" does fit the place just right.  Is there a lawyer behind this, or is it just some inscrutable Rogue marketing ploy?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pubs of Portland Tours

Yesterday I went on part of a pub crawl organized by Marc Martin and Charles Culp. Not unusual in and of itself -- I'm often drinking beer with those guys -- but this was a preview of their new business venture: Pubs of Portland Tours. It's a great idea -- guided pub crawls that get around solely on foot and by public transport. What better way to give people a glimpse of the Portland lifestyle than by getting them on their feet, on trains and buses, and drinking good beer?

OK, sure, a better way would be to make them ride bicycles between pubs -- this was an idea I tried to pitch to Dave next door when I was between jobs a few years ago -- but in our lawyer-infested society that simply isn't practical. You couldn't get insured to do it, and you wouldn't chance it without insurance. In fact, those kind of liability issues are what defined the Pubs of Portland model. Originally Marc thought he would do van tours of pubs, but insurance costs led him to look in a different direction. He and Charles guide the tours, but participants pay for their own beer and even their own transit passes. Take that, lawyers and insurance leeches!

Each tour will have at most 12 participants, and costs $25 per person cash ($27 if you pay with plastic). For that you get:
  • Walking/transit tour of 3 or 4 Portland brewpubs (about 5 1/2 hours long).
  • Expert beer advice and education on the brewing process
  • Meet and greet the brewers
  • Portland historical information
  • A brewery tour if desired
Marc takes the educational aspect seriously -- he has a masters degree in education and is a fanatic beer evangelist.  I have fond memories of him stomping around the Lucky Lab patio each year during the hop-shucking bee, examining peoples' cones and pronouncing on what variety they are based on their shape, size, or aroma.  And while "historical information" might sound like a stretch for a beer tour, think of how many breweries are located in the historical part of town.  On yesterday's tour, I learned that the Centennial Building that houses Portland's branch of Rock Bottom was the largest building of its time in 1876, and its construction displaced the existing Chinatown to its current location (where it displaced a Japantown).

The tours start at 12 noon 6 days a week at Pioneer Square downtown, for easy connection to MAX, streetcars, and downtown hotels.  Pubs of Portland will choose the itinerary, but if your group has bought out the whole tour, you can work with them to hit the destinations you want.

I like it that they're just easing into the business slowly -- rather than try and dive in during the frenzy of July, they'll do their first tours starting September 1.  Call them for reservations (hey guys, what's with the Austin phone number? You should be in the 503 now, or at least the 1-800).  I'm sure they expect mostly tourists, but it's not a bad deal even for locals who have yet to make the rounds of Portland's great pubs and breweries.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Neglecting the First-Born

    We all know that change happens, in fact it can be healthy.  Forest fires opening up the pinecones so the seeds can sprout -- maybe the recent closure of Roots can be seen that way.

    But something's been nagging at me lately.  Have you noticed how when a local brewpub opens a new location, that place gets more love from the management than the original location does?  Here are the examples I have in mind:

    • Lucky Lab Hawthorne vs. Quimby
    • Lompoc 23rd vs. 5th Quadrant
    • Laurelwood 51st vs. Pizza Company -- now closed!
    Ever since Quimby opened, the Lab seems to do a lot more brewing over there, and consequently Quimby gets a lot more of the experimental beers than Hawthorne, not to mention more of the festival action.  And, while I really love the atmosphere at Hawthorne, you have to say that it's starting to look a little frayed at the edges, while the Quimby Beer Hall is kept a little more spiffy.

    Similarly with Lompoc: 5th Quadrant seems to get many more of the special events, special beers, and special cleaning than the old New Old Lompoc on NW 23rd.  Laurelwood loves their new baby so much that they gave their eldest away! To some extent, you could say McMenamins hasn't showered as much love on the Barley Mill or Hillsdale as on some of their newer places, but that seems more like nostalgia than neglect.

    Why does the first-born get neglected? A few years from now, what names will we add to this list?

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Your Thoughts on Yelp

    During the spring when we took a short family trip to San Francisco, we needed a quick breakfast one morning. We didn't know much about the city, so we consulted yelp.com for help. Luckily, it found us an inexpensive mom-and-pop cafe right around the corner that rated 4 stars, and had fairly positive reviews about the coffee, pastries, and friendly service. Sounded like what we needed for a low-key start to the day. Of course, like everything on yelp, there were a couple of disgruntled reviews, but I tend to filter out the ones that sound like they're from the kind of person that can never be satisfied.

    The cafe we chose was pathetic. Flavorless coffee, crumbly dry baked goods, dingy atmosphere -- we would have been better off at Starbucks. It got me thinking that -- while yelp might be useful for getting some crowdsourced opinions about places you haven't been in your hometown -- it's not trustworthy enough to guide you during the priceless days of a vacation.

    Search yelp for "beer bar" in Portland, then sort by "highest rated". It's a mixed bag: sure, there's Bailey's at #2, but apparently the #1 rated beer bar -- Leisure Public House -- has 5 beer taps. Then there are a couple of wine bars listed, followed by Ground Kontrol (!) and Beermongers; Hop and Vine shows up at #10. OK, click on the "Pubs" category link that's attached to Bailey's, and the list starts to look a little more reasonable, except that Leisure is still #1, and three run-of-the-mill McMenamins -- not even the best McMenamins pubs in town -- get onto the list well ahead of Horse Brass at #10.

    I conclude that yelp is not at all useful for finding the real attractions in an area. It might be useful if you knew you were going to choose between two or three specific places, and you could get a few quick opinions on those.

    So I ask you, what are your thoughts on yelp? Anyone want to defend it? Or tell me how to use it properly?

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    RIP Roots Organic Brewing

    It's been nearly a month now since John Foyston broke the news that Roots Organic Brewing was closing for good.  Instead of blurting out the first thing that came to mind, I've been gathering up my thoughts and memories, and now I'll blurt out what comes to mind a month late.  I have mixed emotions about Roots closing -- it was for a time my favorite pub in town, but we've been drifting apart for a couple of years now.

    When Roots came on the scene in 2005 it was like a breath of fresh air.  As soon as they opened, you could find their beer on tap at nearly a hundred places in Portland.  The hoppy, muscular Woody IPA and Island Red were instant winners, and if you didn't care for those, they had two very good hopless beers -- the Burghead Heather and the Gruit Kolsch.

    We soon switched our neighborhood pub night from Mondays at the Lucky Lab to Tuesdays at Roots.  It was more crowded, with little outside seating and terrible feng shui indoors, but the beer was better -- the Lucky Lab was in a slump that it has since recovered from -- and priced to sell at $2.50 for an imperial pint.  The beer seemed to keep getting better and better: the Sharkbite Imperial IPA was smashing, then winter came and the powerful double-red Festivus came out, followed by the eye-popping, smoky, hint-of-cherry, completely insane 14% concoction known as Epic.

    What happened?  Sometime in 2007 or 2008 Roots seemed to lose its momentum.  Their tap-handles vanished all over town, apparently because of a feud with their distributor -- note to small breweries: a feud with your distributor is going to go about as well for you as a feud with my wife goes for me.  The quality of the beers went down -- even non-jaded out-of-town guests were puzzled when I insisted on bringing them to Roots.  The bottle of Island Red pictured above -- bought at Belmont Station a day after Roots closed -- was perfectly bland.  There were exceptions: Calypso, their 2008 OBF beer brewed with apricots and habaneros was brilliant; the Flanders Red (released in 2009 but two years in the making) was an impressive feat if you like that sort of thing.

    Maybe it was the competition.  Beeronomics guy Patrick Emerson says it's only natural for some beloved businesses to fail, and that it's a sign of a healthy economy.  Remember, when Roots arrived, there was no Ninkasi and no Hopworks.  When those two breweries started up, they brought their own burly IPAs, plus Ninkasi offered a beautiful NW Red and Hopworks offered an entry-level lager to compete with Roots' Heather.  Now Hopworks and Ninkasi tap handles are all over town, following the trail blazed by Roots.

    The pub itself had competition also: down the street the Green Dragon opened in 2007, and by 2008 had started regular meet-the-brewer nights on Tuesdays, grabbing some of Roots' pint-night business.  Hopworks probably drew some of the Roots crowd away to its cleaner, fancier digs.  And Roots didn't do itself any favors with its disastrous attempt to be open for lunch -- I was so annoyed by a couple of my lunch visits that it put me off visiting at other times.

    It's worth noting Ezra's report of financial shenanigans at the Roots-affiliated NAOBF, though it's hard to say whether this was a symptom of problems at Roots, or two symptoms of the same lack of business acumen.

    For better or worse, it's over now.  It was a meteoric rise, a fun ride, and a long decline.  I'll remember the good times.  The cycle continues, let's see what happens next.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Picks and Pans from 2010 OBF

    Sometimes I take this blog too seriously. I almost didn't post this followup to the 2010 Oregon Brewers Festival, so as not to waste your time with my untrustworthy three-word reviews of beers at the festival, and also because the burgeoning number of Portland beer bloggers have already covered it better than I will. But that's the wrong attitude, because it should always be a glorious waste of time to read It's Pub Night, and next year I want to be able to ask Google what I liked at this year's OBF. Therefore, I present you with the following time-wasting report.

    Picks:
    • 940 Lompoc Son of C-Note IPA: Nice and hoppy, full-bodied
    • 920 Rogue 21 Old Ale: Baramelly and delicious, mild circus peanut flavor
    • 910 Hop Valley Alpha Centauri Binary IPA: Well done; grapefruity
    • 910 Oakshire Overcast Expresso Stout: Nice full coffee flavor
    • 910 Terminal Gravity Columbus Hop DIPA: Nice and orangey
    • 905 Flying Fish Exit 4 Tripel: Just-right tripel, esthery, smooth for its strength
    • 905 Pyramid Outburst IPA: Right-on malty, hoppy joy
    • 900 Bayern Dump Truck Summer Bock: Light color, solid body, well done
    • 900 Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA: Nice and citrusy
    • 900 Green Flash Le Freak Belgian IPA: Slightly bandaidy but rich and full
    • 900 Mendocino Imperial IPA: Nice
    Gee, do you suppose I am a hophead?  The number on each line is my 1000-point ranking system.  Don't think of it as a letter grade, or you'll find me to be a very lenient grader.  It's just my way of being able to try and order my preferences on the fly.  Those are all beers from the general festival.  The Buzz Tent also had many awesome beers -- you couldn't catch all of them, but I really enjoyed Oakshire's Pinot barrel-aged Old Ale, Vertigo's Friars Gone Wild, and Surly's Coffee Stout.

    Now, the beers that weren't so great:
    • 750 Bruery 7 Grain Saison: Bitter edge, but bland
    • 730 Three Skulls Hop the Plank IPA: No; vegetal
    • 710 Mt. Emily Ale House Hells Canyon IPA: No; weirdly fruity
    • 690 Great Divide Hoss Marzen: No
    In the middle were plenty of enjoyable beers.  And some good beers that I forgot to take notes on.  And lots of beers that I didn't get around to trying.

    Here are some other roundups:
    There, wasn't that a pleasant waste of time?