Friday, October 29, 2010

Cheap Growler Tip

Two years ago a chief obsession of It's Pub Night was where to get growlers filled cheaply. The price that pubs -- especially brewpubs -- charge to fill growlers is just nonsensical, when you consider the price of bottled beer. From this obsession sprung the Portland Growler Map, and also the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator.

The Growler Map doesn't seem to get updated all that frequently these days, but John Foyston's column today in the Boregonian starts off with a place that has a great growler fill price on good northwestern beer: Plew's Brews in St. Johns fills growlers for $7. That's an SPE of $7.88 -- 25 cents below the current PBPI 6-pack sale price of $8.13. Good show, Plew's! I've added you to the map, and I'll try to make it up there with an empty growler soon.

This reminds me of another good deal, also in a less-traveled part of town. MacTarnahan's Taproom has always had cheap growler fills -- $6 was the price a couple years ago -- and now they occasionally offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal on growler fills. Follow their twitter account and watch for the BOGO announcements.

The price at Plew's makes good sense -- filling a growler should be like buying a good six-pack. Part of the reason I haven't been going on about growlers lately is that I simply don't buy them anymore, now that I've done the math and seen what a shabby deal they are. I'd rather sit and have a beer or two at a bar; if I'm taking beer home, more often than not it's a sale-price six-pack from the supermarket. If more places went with Plew's formula, growlers would take off.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bushwhacker Cider

In a town with hundreds of taverns and dozens of beer bloggers, I guess it was inevitable that a beer blogger would open a pub. Bushwhacker Cider was opened recently at SE 12th and Powell by Bulls & Brew author Jeff Smith and his wife Erin. As suggested by the name, it's a cider place, not a beer place, though they intend to keep a keg of good Oregon beer on one of their seven taps, and they have a selection of lighter European beers for use in cider-beer drinks.

With five or six ciders on tap -- most about $4 a pint -- and a large selection of bottled cider for either on-premise consumption or to go, Bushwhacker wants to be Portland's cider headquarters. They will also start making their own cider soon, while maintaining the guest taps and bottles for sale. Erin said that the feds at the TTB had to scratch their heads for a while over that business model -- apparently there is no other cidery in the country that also sells cider from other producers. Look for Bushwhacker's first house-made offerings around the first of the year.

Dave and I popped by to throw some darts last week, and we were impressed with the dart setup -- plenty of light and plenty of room at the two dartboards. We did have to impose ourselves between the regulars that were already sitting at the tables by the dartboards, but they were amiable and didn't seem too bored by our questionable dart skills.

It was a little distressing that there wasn't a beer on tap that night, which was the only way I dragged Dave down there. They had most recently served Ft. George's Cavatica Stout, and were waiting for another keg of something special from Ft. George, but there were only 7 ciders on tap, so we bravely plunged into cider world. Erin suggested the Magner's cider from Ireland for someone who was used to drinking beer, and it suited me pretty well. Dave went for the Ace Joker, about twice as strong as the Magner's, crisp and dry, pretty good. Neither would win me over from being a beer guy, though.

The bottle selection is really reasonably priced, and Bushwhacker doesn't charge a corkage fee. There were some interesting bottles, both domestic and imported, most in the $6 to $8 range. Since a 750 ml bottle is about a pint and a half, that's basically the same price as the ciders on tap. I found the Basque-country cider from Petritegi to be the most interesting thing in the house -- yeasty and a little tart, it seemed a little more special than most of the other things I tried. If you can go for something sweeter, I like Blue Mountain's Cherry cider, but you'd have to be in the mood for it.

Bushwhacker took the fiscally responsible move of opening without a kitchen. That means you can bring in your own food, but you can't bring your children. There's a nice patio out front, and a variety of casual seating inside. One issue that Jeff and Erin are working on is lighting -- when they got the space it was outfitted with about 100 bright fluorescent lights ranged along the ceiling. After one night in the place gave them all a bad headache, they turned off all of them but the one over the dartboard. Even that one fluorescent is kind of a buzz-killer, but they're working on some replacement lighting.

If you're planning on biking to Bushwhacker from the north, its location on Powell west of the 17th Avenue vortex limits your choices. Dave and I thought we could avoid a rush-hour trip down 11th by crossing Powell at 21st, but that just leads you into heavy-rail no-man's land. 11th/Milwaukee isn't all that terrible, but if you want to avoid the traffic and the stoplight, there is a funky bike-ped cloverleaf over Powell at 9th. Turn left on Franklin and it will get you over to 12th Avenue.

Friday, October 22, 2010

4-4-2 Soccer Bar

Another place that has opened recently in SE is the 4-4-2 Soccer Bar at 18th and Hawthorne. Okay, okay, it's not a Portland beer geek paradise and probably never will be, but there are a few qualities that immediately endear it to me. First off, no Bud/Miller/Coors is served at the place -- the furthest down the ladder you can get is the Heineken tap. I asked the proprietor what he would say if a thirsty soccer fan demanded a Budweiser. "Not in my bar, some other place," he said. When I was in there the other day, the taps were Heineken, Spaten Pils, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Caldera Pale Ale, and Ninkasi Total Domination. A third tap reserved for Oregon beers was empty, but kegs from Deschutes, Lompoc, and Laurelwood were in the cooler waiting to be hooked up. There is also a decent selection of mostly German bottled beers -- Aventinus and Paulaner Salvator are what I remember from the top of my head.

Another thing that 4-4-2 has got right from the very beginning is Honest Pints. My Ninkasi came to me in a Spaten mug with a 0.5-liter line that left plenty of room for a head on the beer. Bravo! Remember folks, every time a new brewpub or taproom opens in Portland serving beer in shaker pints, a unicorn loses its horn. And yet here is a simple sports bar that gets it, and not only serves a full portion, but uses marked glassware. "I'm not stingy," says the owner.

The third reason you might stop in even if you're not a soccer fan is the delicious Bosnian food on the menu. I used to occasionally have lunch here before the remodel, when it was the European Market grocery store. There are an assortment of sandwiches, including a few vegetarian models, but I never get past the ─ćevapi -- seasoned grilled ground beef -- served simply with onions and ajvar (red pepper relish) on homemade bread.

The three TVs are loaded up with every soccer channel the satellites can shower down upon us, and the pub regularly opens at 6:30 or 7 in the morning for important games -- where important has a meaning that I am not enough of a soccer fan to fully understand. It's not a very large space -- probably a half-dozen large tables and about the same number of small ones, plus space at the bar -- but I think a bar dedicated entirely to soccer is an idea that should succeed in Portland. Another welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cascade Barrel House

The recent spate of pub openings in SE Portland has overwhelmed our tiny newsroom here at It's Pub Night. Plus, we wanted to give you round-the-clock coverage of the Fresh Hop movement, and give a fair and balanced assessment of the angry, hard-drinking Real Portlanders who are rising up against what they call "FINO beers" -- short for "Fresh-hop In Name Only" -- in other words, beers that are sold as Fresh Hop beers but which contain 100% dried hops. Aren't we dried enough already?

But now it's time to catch up with some of the new places around the neighborhood, starting with the Cascade Barrel House, which has been in the works for well over a year. It finally opened a couple of weeks ago, and it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

I'm not as big of a sour-beer fanatic as a lot of the beer geeks out there, but Ron and Curtis and the gang at Cascade have risen to national prominence with their barrel-aging program, specializing in fruit beers. The Kriek is my favorite -- something about cherries and beer -- but there are a staggering number of masterfully-done beers on the lineup: Noyaux, with apricots, raspberries, and roasted apricot pits; The Vine, with grapes; Sang Rouge, a blend of lots of crazy stuff. Extra credit to Cascade for not intentionally or unintentionally mangling the French names like many places do.

Since I'm also not a fan of driving across town, one black mark on my record is that I have never been to Cascade's Raccoon Lodge pub. But I held out long enough and they broke down and opened their Barrel House and pub within walking distance of my house. I haven't tried any of the food yet, but they have an impressive lineup of 15 or so Cascade beers on tap -- about a third of which are more traditional ales for you non-sour people -- plus two rotating taps that pour straight from the barrel. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual. A lot of the seating is barbecue-place picnic tables which can be moved out to the front patio in good weather; there are also a few booths, bar seating, and a couple of tall barrel-top tables.


The Barrel House also has a constellation of familiar faces working the bar or behind the scenes: Angelo from Brewpublic, festival impresario Preston Weesner, and former Green Dragon/Grand Central bartender Cody. Another great thing is that they open for lunch every day at 11 AM. Minors are allowed until 10 PM.

[Update: Nice post from Charles with some behind-the-scenes photos.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fresh Hop Tastival 2010

The insistent rain made for a damp day Saturday for the Oregon Brewers Guild/Oregon Bounty Fresh Hop Tastival at Oaks Park, but it was still a very enjoyable festival. I was happy to get to fill in some of the blanks on my fresh-hop dance card, including some really delicious ones. Full Sail's Hopfenfrisch was the first fresh-hop pilsner that has ever appealed to me, and was my favorite new discovery of the fest. It had a nice crisp flavor, with an appropriate amount of hopping that included that green fresh-hop flavor we're looking for. Next to that, I really liked Fort George's Cohoperative, which was light and flowery, showing off the hops really well. Double Mountain's Killer Green is a big monster as usual, and Astoria Brewing came out with one of the few dark ales that still showed off the fresh-hop flavor.

There were a few misses, though. As many people noted, the Hop Diddly brewed on the Green Dragon's pilot system was a complete disaster. I had Dave take a picture of me pouring mine right into the city storm drain, so it could mingle with Portland's combined sewer outflow a few yards away at the Willamette River. (Sorry to commemorate the Tastival with that picture, but I forgot to take any others.) The other beer that I dumped was Ram Brewery's Hop Sack Harvest Ale, which was pretty bland except for an unwelcome musky flavor.

Jeff Alworth had issued an advisory against Philadelphia's Sellwood Golden, and while it was a little homebrewy and not that good, it wasn't in the same league of awful as Hop Diddly. I even finished my sample of it as I scarfed down a Philly's cheesesteak. On the upside, McMenamins must have hand-picked the most awesome keg of Thundercone for the festival -- I enjoyed my first taste of Thundercone at the Crystal, but the festival batch was seriously good -- very lovely green floral hops flavor. Thanks to Rich for tipping me off to it. Anyone know which McM's brewery made that batch?

Because of the rain, I spent a lot longer in the tent Saturday than I did at last year's fest. It was a pretty awful atmosphere -- even though it wasn't very cold in the tent, it was so humid you could see your breath. The lighting was pretty grotesque in there also. I'll never complain about the convention center setting of the Spring Beer and Wine Fest again. Luckily, the rain mostly let up a little later, and it was possible to stand around outside.

There's one more Fresh Hop Tastival, this Saturday in Eugene. If you want a cheat sheet, here is my final ranking of the fresh hop beers I've tried this year:

Must try:
  • Deschutes Fresh-Hopped Mirror Pond
  • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (fresh-hopped Total Domination)
  • Walking Man Hop-Along
  • Full Sail Lupulin (I like the First Gold version slightly more than the Centennial)
  • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest
  • Full Sail Hopfenfrisch
  • Ft. George Cohoperative
  • Upright Tyler the Elder
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
  • Elysian/New Belgium Trip VI
  • Double Mountain Killer Green
  • Ninkasi Parlay
  • Lompoc Crystal Missile
  • Laurelwood Hop Pickin Pale
  • Lucky Lab The Mutt
Worth a try:
  • Alameda Failing Street IPA
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
  • Sierra Nevada 2010 Harvest Ale
  • Oakshire Localvore
  • Lompoc Ale Conner ESB
  • Pelican Elemental Ale
  • Deschutes Yam-a Lam-a
  • Sierra Nevada 2010 Estate Ale (usually better than Harvest, this year a little blander)
  • Everybody's Brewing Head Stash
  • Amnesia Mother Plucker
  • Astoria Fresh Hop Dark
  • Three Creeks Cone Licker
  • Beer Valley Hwy 19
  • Deschutes Lug Nut
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Lager
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
  • Fort George Hopstoria
  • Issaquah (Rogue) Wet Frog
  • McMenamins Thundercone
  • Golden Valley Centennial Fresh Hop
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Mac's
Don't get distracted:
  • Lompoc Harvest Man Red
  • Coalition Liquid Sterling
  • Vertigo Midnight Harvest VSB
  • Cascade Brewing Rye Pale Ale
  • Silver Moon Hoppopotamus
  • Hale's Harvest Ale (all dried hops)
  • Hopworks Gayle's Pale (all dried hops)
  • Deschutes King Cone
  • Laurelwood Some Like It Hop
  • Philadelphia's Sellwood Golden
  • Hopworks Goldilocks (all dried hops)
  • Widmer Black Nugget (all dried hops)
  • Ram Hop Sack Harvest Ale
  • Rogue/Eugene City Brewery Tracktown Wet Hop
  • Green Dragon Hop Diddly

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fresh Hops 2010: Third Report

This year I've kept a pretty good streak going of trying a different fresh-hop beer each day: today makes it the three-week mark. By the way, I'm talking about fresh hops, not dried fresh hops (see rant #1 and rant #2).

Some days I actually tried two fresh-hop beers. It's been a good year! So I have plenty to add to my three categories of "must try", "worth a try", and "don't bother". It's tough, because some of the "don't bother" beers are quite tasty, they just don't win in the fresh-hop category, or they are not really fresh-hop beers, no matter how hard the brewers wish they were.

Must try:
  • Deschutes Fresh-Hopped Mirror Pond
  • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (fresh-hopped Total Domination)
  • Full Sail Lupulin (right now it's the First Gold variant)
  • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest
  • Upright Tyler the Elder
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
  • Ninkasi Parlay
  • Lompoc Crystal Missile
  • Laurelwood Hop Pickin Pale
  • Lucky Lab The Mutt
Worth a try:
  • Alameda Failing Street IPA
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
  • Sierra Nevada 2010 Harvest Ale
  • Oakshire Localvore
  • Lompoc Ale Conner ESB
  • Pelican Elemental Ale
  • Three Creeks Cone Licker
  • Beer Valley Hwy 19
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
  • Fort George Hopstoria
  • Issaquah (Rogue) Wet Frog
  • McMenamins Thundercone
Don't get distracted:
  • Lompoc Harvest Man Red
  • Silver Moon Hoppopotamus
  • Hale's Harvest Ale (all dried hops)
  • Hopworks Gayle's Pale (all dried hops)
  • Deschutes King Cone
  • Hopworks Goldilocks (all dried hops)
  • Widmer Black Nugget (all dried hops)
  • Rogue/Eugene City Brewery Tracktown Wet Hop

I've tried to get those roughly in order of how much I prefer them. If you take only one piece of information away from this post, it's that you must try the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond brewed by the Portland Deschutes operation. It is my favorite beer of all time. Following that, Ninkasi has finally come out with not one but two excellent fresh-hop beers this year, which is only a surprise because their fresh-hop beers have been very disappointing every year so far. The fresh-hopped version of Total Domination is fabulous, and I liked the Parlay Bitter a lot also.

Another thing to note about a lot of these beers is that you're going to lose some of the goodness if you drink them too cold. Take the time to let them warm up a little. For me, this was especially true of Upright's Tyler the Elder and Laurelwood's Hop Pickin -- at first taste there was nothing to write home about. Upright's was also a little too phenolic or chemically at first. But after they got to tasting temperature, those were two really well-done beers.

I didn't make it to the Hood River Hops fest last weekend. Actually, I've never made it out there. Maybe next year. But you can read Angelo's positive review, Jason's negative review, or this report from Ben. I am very excited about the upcoming Fresh Hop Tastival at Oaks Park this Saturday. In light of all the fresh-hop cheating this year -- and the ridiculousness of calling something a "tastival" -- I hope Brian will rename it next year to the "Wet Hop Wastival". Also, keep an eye on Belmont Station's tap list this week -- it's heavy on fresh hops. Finally, remember to consult the 2010 Fresh Hop Map for all your pub-going needs.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cherry Beers

We interrupt the barrage of fresh-hop posts with a question that's been on my mind for a while. What is it that makes cherries work so well in beer?

The first fruit beers I became aware of years ago were made with raspberries -- I'm sure Celis Raspberry is the first I tried, and from that I learned that there existed this "frambozen" category of Belgian beers. Raspberries are still the most common fruit adjunct -- an unscientific search for raspberry on Beer Advocate came up with 357 matches -- but cherries seem to be the second-most common, and for my money they're the best.

Last night I took a couple of cherry beers over to the neighbors' house: Upright's Four Play and Bridgeport's 2009 Stumptown Tart. It seemed a little risky keeping that bottle of Tart in the basement for a year, but that's what Karl Ockert told me to do, so I did it. It held up very well -- it is about 7% ABV -- and even a fruit-beer skeptic like Dave was impressed. Of the three years of Stumptown Tart, the cherry one is my favorite, hands down. Not really sour, with a nice cherry-pie flavor over the mild Belgian ale.

Very similar in flavor was the Upright Four Play that's been sitting in my fridge for about six months. It's not as strong at 5%, but had the same level of cherry taste, and I liked it even more than the Bridgeport. It was just slightly tarter, and had a more interesting balance of flavors. That's the Four Play in the glass in the picture; really the two beers looked remarkably alike in the glass.

The other cherry beers that have been on my mind are the Cascade Kriek and Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam. I'm glad to be able to get the Kriek in $6 doses now that the Barrel House is open, instead of having to plunk down $16 for a bottle of it. Sours are definitely an acquired taste, but I've acquired a taste for that one. It's a work of art. As for the Cherry Adam, I had a fabulous bottle of it about a year ago; more recently there was a less inspiring undercarbonated version on tap at the new Hair of the Dog bistro. I love the smoky taste of Adam, and the cherries bring a beautiful new dimension to that, so I'm going to keep hoping for a repeat of that first batch I tried.

What else is out there? Got any cherry beers I should try? [Update 2010/12/20: Oh yeah, also the Hopworks Piledriver that was at BikeToBeerFest. Awesome!] [Update 2011/04/15: Widmer Cherry Doppelbock from 2009 is another good example. Wouldn't mind if they brought that back.]