Monday, January 31, 2011

2010 Pub Night Memories

Last year for some filler at the end of the year I put up a slideshow with a lot of beery photos that never made it into It's Pub Night during 2009. I thought I would do the same thing this year, but in the whirlwind of holiday activity/depression nothing ever happened. Well, better late than never. Here are some photographic highlights of 2010, to illustrate what a good time we have here in Beervana.

The photo of Don Younger holding the bronze rubber chicken isn't an afterthought -- it brought a smile to my face and was immediately included as I put the slideshow together Friday night, before I knew anything about his hospitalization.  It shows what a presence the man is, in sickness and in health.

I hope that in 2011 I get to take as many pictures of Angelo taking pictures as I did in 2010.

Friday, January 28, 2011

McMenamins Sister Pub Layout

For a while now, I've been intrigued by McMenamins' "sister pub" arrangement. Since not every pub in the chain has a brewery on site, those without have to be supplied by those that do. There's not a central warehouse that takes care of distribution: instead, each non-brewing pub gets its beer from a particular brewery. That system first came to my attention when our friend Corey was the hotshot at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. Getting me out to Hillsboro is like pulling teeth, but I was much happier when Corey's seasonals made it to CPR's sister pub at 15th and Broadway. At some point I asked at the Barley Mill where their beer came from, and found that they are supplied by the Hillsdale pub, which seems to me to be a stroke of luck, since Hillsdale's position as the first McM's brewery means it gets a lot of love from within the company.

Say you stumble upon a tasty seasonal at one of the pubs. If you know the sister pub(s), you might be able to find it closer to home, or at one of the other establishments you'd been intending to check out. Since the only connections I knew about were the ones I mentioned above, I emailed Kevin Tillotson, the brewing/distilling/winemaking director at McMenamins, to ask him what the current setup is. Kevin was kind enough to send me this list for Oregon:

  • Edgefield Brewery to Bagdad and White Eagle
  • Crystal Brewery to Grand Lodge
  • Hillsdale Brewery to Barley Mill, Greenway, and Riverwood
  • CPR Brewery to Broadway and Rock Creek Tavern
  • West Linn Brewery to Oregon City, Sunnyside, and 205 Pub
  • Kennedy School Brewery to St. Johns and Chapel Pub
  • Fulton Brewery to Market St., Mission, and Blue Moon
  • Lighthouse Brewery to Hotel Oregon
  • Roseburg Brewery to East 19th
  • High Street Brewery to North Bank
  • Monroe Brewery to Corvallis 3rd Street
  • Thompson Brewery to Boons Treasury
  • John Barleycorns Brewery to Sherwood and Raleigh Hills
  • Highland Brewery to Ram’s Head, Tavern and Pool, and Rock Creek Tavern

In Washington, the Columbia Brewery supplies the East Vancouver pub, and the other Washington breweries -- Spar, Olympic Club, Six Arms, Queen Anne, Dad Watson’s and Mill Creek -- all share kegs among themselves. Interestingly, beer from the Washington breweries can be sold in Oregon, but the Oregon beer is not approved for Washington. And Kevin points out that within Oregon, McMenamins could distribute beer from any brewery to any of the other pubs. It's just that the list above describes their current distribution. I had assumed there was some OLCC regulation that guided the arrangement, but that's not the case. I also thought each brewery supplied just one other pub, but that turned out to be wrong also. Many thanks to Kevin to clearing up these little mysteries for me.

The scenario I mentioned was wanting to locate a special seasonal at another pub, but in all honesty it might work the other way -- if you found that one particular McMenamins had a problem with its beers, you could also use the list to decide which other pub to avoid. In any case, I'm glad to finally be able to visualize the distribution of a ubiquitous player in the Oregon pub game.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Six-Pack Equivalent iPhone Apps

Earlier this month I introduced you to Lindsey's Android phone app for calculating six-pack equivalent (SPE) prices.  The SPE is a handy way to compare prices when beer is served in various quantities.  When I wrote about Lindsey's app, there was a general outcry from the other 99% of smartphone users that there should be an iPhone app for calculating SPEs.

I'm pleased to announce that there are now not one, but two iPhone SPE apps, thanks to two enterprising readers.  First out of the gate was Shawn Bernard, whose ad-free SPE calculator will set you back a mere 99 cents.  A competing app by Mark Rickert is an ad-supported free Six-Pack Equivalent calculator.  Full disclosure: I have a gentleman's agreement with these guys to kick me back 10% of everything they make over $50K on these apps.  I'm gonna be rich.

Meanwhile, Lindsey has been busy, and he now has a "Buy Me a Beer" ad-free edition of his Android SPE app, selling for $2.  Of course, if you're an Android user and you don't want to buy Lindsey a beer, or buy me 1/500,000th of a beer, he still offers an ad-supported free version.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Caldera Old Growth Imperial Stout

Before there was The Abyss, there was Caldera Imperial Stout.  Well, there were other big stouts too, like Widmer's KGB, but in my early days in Portland in 2003 and 2004, I remember discovering Caldera's pitch-black licoricey stout at a lively little neighborhood place called the Buckman Bistro, connected to a fancier restaurant called William's on 12th.  The bistro was decorated with the clever conceit of dozens of picture frames containing only mirrors, and in the winter of 2003-2004 they were pouring an opaque stout with a thick, muddy head, from a brewery in Ashland that had only recently started distributing to Portland.

Caldera Imperial Stout was a revelation: complex, sticky, bitter yet smooth.  After that winter, it would occasionally pop up at the Horse Brass, but it was pretty hard to come by.  I almost wonder if they stopped making it for a few years:  at the Lucky Lab's 2008 Barleywine Festival, there were only older vintages: 2004 and 2005.  Then in the last couple of years the brewery started releasing Old Growth Imperial Stout, and it made a splash at a few big-beer festivals at Bailey's Taproom.  I don't know if it was always called Old Growth or if this is a new recipe, but whereas the main whispered-about adjunct in the early years was brewer's licorice -- remind you of any other imperial stouts? -- the rumor about Old Growth is that it is flavored with peppercorns.

I was excited to see that the brewery bottled Old Growth this year, in bombers that go for $9-$10 around Portland.  It doesn't quite live up to my grandiose memories of it as Abyss' big brother -- a caldera is a kind of abyss, if you think about it -- but it's still a beer I would recommend that you try if you get a chance.  It's less of a dessert beer than older vintages, and I feel like the 8.8% strength is lower than it was back in the day.  From the bottle, it pours with a dark tan head, not too thick, and not as dark as my recollections.  The nose is very malty, but the beer isn't overly sweet.  It has a nice dark chocolate flavor, with a long, moderately bitter finish. I said it wasn't a dessert beer; another way to express that is it's a better beer with a meal than if it was a bigger and richer stout.

Quantities may be limited, so grab it while you can.  Beermongers only had a case last week, though Belmont Station seemed to be well-supplied.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bridgeport's Product Shakeup

Jeff's review of Bridgeport beers inspired me to hit the Bridgeport pub in the Pearl for lunch yesterday.  That visit brought home some details of the brewery's recent product shakeup that hadn't yet occurred to me.  We knew that Bridgeport had axed the slow-selling Blackstrap Stout, and introduced two new six-packs: Kingpin Red Ale and Cafe Negro Coffee Porter, that I reviewed last month.  I suppose it had also dawned on me that Cafe Negro had supplanted the porter that was often on tap at the main pub.  But I didn't realize that the tasty Bridgeport ESB was gone.  Not gone like put into a seasonal rotation, just gone.

Apparently I wasn't the only one surprised by this, because as I was sitting near the bar eating lunch, I overheard one of the waitstaff talking to one of the cooks.  The cook needed a pitcher of ESB for one of the recipes in the kitchen.  "No más," said the bartender. "Not ever."  Now, the stout and porter are not a huge loss, but the ESB -- especially fresh on tap or from the firkin -- was a satisfying, sessionable beer, and I'm sad to see it go.  I understand the decision to axe the ESB sixers -- I almost never bought one myself -- but it's too bad it won't be offered at the pub.

Here is a summary of the Bridgeport reshuffle:
  • ESB: gone
  • Stout: gone
  • Porter: replaced by Cafe Negro
  • Ropewalk Brown Ale: gone
  • Haymaker Extra Pale: no longer bottled; still on tap in the Pearl
When I looked chagrined about the loss of the ESB, the hostess yesterday said, "Kingpin is the closest to ESB, if you liked that".  Um.... not really.  It's about 25% stronger and much hoppier -- a different beast entirely.  Haymaker and Ropewalk never really caught on, so you could see why they were canned.  I wish they had kept ESB at the pub instead of Haymaker, but they must know which one they can sell more of in the restaurant.

If you know where to pick up some bottles of Bridgeport ESB, leave a comment.  They didn't have any left at the pub, nor the Safeway across the street.  I'd like to have a last taste.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Master of Malt: Drinks by the Dram

Almost all of my alcoholic beveraging is beer these days, but I do have a soft spot for a few distilled spirits, especially single malt whiskies. My involvement peaked a few years ago when my neighbor Dave and I got into an Islay arms race at about the same time we fell in with a poker and Scotch group that included some prodigious collectors who were very generous with their whisky hoard.  Below is a picture of the buffet at my house one night -- the collection was often twice as large if we were playing at the chief instigator's house.

Scotch and Poker Night, 2006
Hanging with a crowd like that, I got to try a range of bottlings much broader than any bar would ever stock.  But in the quest for novelty you sometimes end up with a pricey bottle of something that sounded special but that doesn't really suit you that well.

So I was definitely intrigued when I got an email from British spirits retailer Master of Malt, touting their Drinks by the Dram program, where you can order 3 cl samples of many of the whiskies they sell, for prices mostly in the range of $3.50 to $8.50 (at today's relatively favorable exchange rate of £1 = $1.56)  all the way up to $122 for a rare 1952 Glenfarclas. Now, I'm not likely to go for that 1952, but in a moment of weakness I might part with $28 for a taste of the Glenfarclas 1966 -- distilled the year I was born.  The real usefulness of Drinks by the Dram is to get a reasonably-priced sample of something you might want to buy a whole bottle of -- for example, plunking down $7 on a 19 year old Laphroaig bottled by Signatory before taking a $95 chance on a full bottle.

Master of Malt recently sent me 5 free samples from Drinks by the Dram.  The samples were packaged in little screw-top vials that are then sealed with red wax.  If 3 cl doesn't mean anything to you, consider that bars usually pour you a 4 cl dram of whisky or brandy, and airplane/minibar liquor bottles are 5 cl. The picture at left shows one of the samples poured into a Reidel single-malt glass: slightly smaller than what I'd normally pour myself from the bottle, but enough to get a good idea of the taste.

The prices of the samples ranged from $5.43 for MM's 12 year old Islay from an anonymous distillery (Bruichladdich is my guess) to $13.31 for Johnnie Walker Blue, but if you're ordering from the U.S. -- or anywhere outside the EU -- request a VAT (value added tax) refund in the delivery instructions when you place your order.  VAT is 20% right now, so your refund is effectively a 16% discount on the list price.  For example, a dram listed at $6 will get you a $1 refund.

The total cost for my shipment would have been $34.08 ($40.56 before the VAT rebate), plus $15.68 for shipping to the U.S., which should take a week or so.  It's a little pricey per ounce, but a very economical way to try some hard-to-find stuff.  Consider that bars here in Portland would charge you $8-$12 for a dram of Scotch, and the total cost for the Drinks by the Dram pencils out to be about the same or maybe less, especially if you are tipping correctly.  You'd get a little more whisky at the bar, but your selection would be much smaller.

It's especially nice that the more expensive the bottle, the more reasonably priced the sample is as a percentage of the cost.  For example, the Johnnie Walker sample at $13.31 is about 6% of the $209 price of a 70cl bottle, but the house-bottled Islay sample was almost 10% of the price of a full bottle ($56.71).

OK, enough about the pounds and pence, I'll tell you about the whiskies I got to try as part of this deal.  Dave is at least as big a whisky hound as I am, so he came over and tried them with me.  Neither of us had tried any of them before, so chalk one up for novelty.
  • Johnnie Walker Blue - Blended whisky is so far off my radar that I didn't even know there was a Blue label JW.  Apparently it's the top of the line, and it showed.  It was impressively smooth, with just a hint of smoke in the finish. Quoth Dave: "I could drink gallons and gallons no problem".
  • Tyrconnel 10 y.o. Sherry Cask - Irish single malts are also a new concept for me.  This one had a nice caramelly sherry palate, followed by an aromatic finish that had me thinking "hairspray", though not in a totally disagreeable way.  Worth a try if Irish whiskies are your thing.
  • Master of Malt 12 y.o. Islay - Intense smoke over a full malt body, followed by a light touch of iodine. Like one of the smoky Bruichladdich bottlings.  I love this style of whisky, but $56 plus shipping for a 700ml bottle isn't a great deal for US buyers.
  • Edradour 10 y.o. cask strength - Hot, woody, and dusty. A little bit of a wine flavor. Tastes a lot like a 25- or 30-y.o. (i.e., too long in the barrel).  Not my thing, but if you like that dusty flavor of a long time in the barrel, it might be for you.
  • Zuidam 5 y.o. Rye Whisky - From a Dutch distiller better known for his traditional gins (genevers).  This whisky is smooth, understated, quite dry. The fruity rye flavor takes a while to hit you. Dave says it's like sucking on a honeycomb -- not sweet, but dries your tongue out like that.  If you're a rye whiskey person and want something a little mellow, it might be for you.
Anyway, Drinks by the Dram is an interesting service.  As I said, I'm not the whisky man I used to be, but I can definitely imagine myself ordering a few samples to satisfy my curiosity about a given distiller or bottler, or to try something special I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blue Moon Grand Cru

The mere concept of a double version of Coors' Blue Moon piqued my interest as a ridiculous novelty as soon as I heard of Blue Moon Grand Cru, but the $10+ price tag ($28.39 SPE) was more than I was willing to pay for a laugh. A few months ago Brady tweeted that he'd seen it on sale for 5 or 6 bucks at a Fred Meyers, but it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I saw such a deal myself, at the Hawthorne Fred's. When I did, I plunked down my $6 with a sigh, and stuck the bottle in the refrigerator, thinking I'd at least get a blog post out of it.

Well, I'll probably get a headache out of it too. My impression of it is that it's too sweet, kind of like the cheap champagne that there was too much of at our New Year's Eve party, and alcohol is the most prominent flavor component, despite the relatively reasonable 8.2% proclaimed on the label. There is a pleasant flowery Belgian yeast flavor to it, and a hint of Belgian Wit spices. But the sweetness and the surprising booziness have hangover written all over them. I'm losing interest. It's not better than I expected it to be, but I suppose it's not really worse than I expected, so let's give it a grade of C. If you want a big Belgiany beer, spend your money on a Unibroue or a 4-pack of Duvel or North Coast Pranqster. You'll be much better off. But you knew that already.

If you're bored, part of the Blue Moon marketing materials includes a "Tasting Journal" (pdf). Really it's just a marketing brochure for the beer, but it contains some real howlers. "Traditional Belgian Wits tend to be tart or sour. They’re garnished with a lemon to help accent these flavors. ... We were the first brewery to garnish a Belgian-style wheat ale with an orange. And right away, we knew we discovered something special, because other brewers latched on to the idea." Mm-hmm, right.

I guess the biggest question for me is this: who is this beer aimed at? Blue Moon drinkers won't like it; non-Blue Moon drinkers won't like it enough? What's the purpose?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Six-Pack Equivalent Android App

Despite the fact that I make a living writing electrical engineering software, I am not a gadget guy or early adopter of technology. Thus, when a commenter on the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator post requested an Android phone version of the SPE tool, I filed it away as something I might pursue sometime, but since I don't have a smart phone myself, it never got very high on my list of priorities.

As luck would have it, my neighbor Lindsey -- who is a gadget guy, but a fellow cheapskate -- was recently gifted an old Android by a merciful friend. So he took it upon himself to create an Android Beer Cost Calculator that gives you the SPE of any quantity of beer. Right now the app is free and shows an advertisement; later Lindsey may offer a 99-cent ad-free version. Under the terms of our agreement, I'll get 10% of any money over $50,000 that he makes off of this. (For those of you with limited sarcasm-detection or math skills, that means that Lindsey will make a few dollars more than the $0 I will make. Which is fitting, since he actually inspired the SPE idea in the first place, as a way to understand growler prices.)

In case you're unfamiliar with the SPE, it is the legal tender of It's Pub Night. When trying to compare the relative price of differently-sized bottles, kegs, or glasses of beer, it helps to convert them into a unit we're all familiar with -- the beloved six-pack. Before anyone goes on a rant, let me clarify that I wouldn't expect snifters of rare Belgian monk nectar to cost the same as a six-pack of Miller High Life. This is just a tool for normalizing prices so you can understand what kind of value you're getting for your money, or compare two similar beers of unequal volume.

Of course an iPhone SPE App would be more popular. If someone has an idea of how to develop iPhone apps without an iPhone or a Mac, let me know.  [Update: you now have a choice of two iPhone SPE apps.]