Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wine is the New Beer

Reading about the new upscale tavern that just opened near my office -- the Bent Brick at NW 17th and Marshall -- it caught my eye that they plan to offer 16 wines on tap.  Not beers, wines.  Beer bloggers are fond of saying beer is not the new wine (here's another)... but is wine becoming the new beer?

I first noticed wine on tap a couple months ago at St. Jack on SE Clinton, which offers 10 wines on tap, but only 2 draft beers.  That's where I took the grainy picture at right, and you can also see the giant-booted 46 cl bottle St. Jack will draw your keg wine into (the empty bottle on the left).  They're proud of those French-imported bottles; as an Honest Pint partisan, I approve of the 0.1 liter precision as opposed to "wine by the glass", though I don't know enough about wine to say if the 46 cl keg price is better than the price of a 750 ml bottle.

Then a few weeks later when Dave and I stopped at Standing Stone Brewing in Ashland on our way to San Francisco, I noticed that they have four wines from southern Oregon on tap.  In the comments below, Andrew points out that McMenamins serves their wines on tap, though none of their online menus talks about it.  And Google helped me find two more restaurants in Portland with wine on tap.  Here are the ones I know of today:
Wine on tap seems like a good idea for product quality, price, and sustainability, but as a beer guy I'm a little bit miffed that these restaurants are passing up draft beer for draft wine.  Is wine the new beer?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tips on the North American Organic Brewers Festival

[Editor's Note:  I'm still out of town, but my neighbor Dave was kind enough to reconnoiter the NAOBF at Overlook Park for me yesterday.  Thanks, Dave!  These are his notes from the festival.]

2011 NAOBF...not alphabetized! No discernable order, either; some breweries' offerings were yards from each other. All of the beers were served cold: some benefited from this, others needed significant time to warm up to be properly enjoyed. Warmer weather will hopefully shorten the wait. The venue was identical to previous years. Perfect weather Friday; no rain and nice sun breaks without getting too hot. Our favorite aspect of this festival is the amount of space for the crowd -- there is always some open grass for the kids to run around and get their ya-yas out.

Picks:

  • Ambacht Golden Rye Farmhouse - Very nice; the rye adds a malty body to carry the spice flavors
  • American Brewing Hop, Skip, and Go Natural Pale Ale - This was my first exposure to this new brewery and I was pleasantly surprised. While billed as a Pale Ale, my notes categorized it as an IPA. It appears that the brewmaster comes to ABC via Boundary Bay and Water Street Brewing...it all makes sense now.
  • Elliot Bay Black Ops CDA - Nice representation of a CDA, though I'm still working towards a full understanding of the style. This one reminded me of HUB's Secession Ale; somewhat dry with some coffee flavors floating around.
  • Elliot Bay Demolition Strong Pale Ale - Nice beer...lots of complexity that borders on muddiness. With 6 malts and 6 hops in the ingredients list and some additional dry-hopping, makes me wonder if they were cleaning house or going for a record of some sort. Nonetheless, a tasty beer.
  • Fort George Quick Wit - Nice sessionable Wit, perfect for a sunny day.
  • Fort George Spruce Budd Ale - Well done non-hopped beer! I can't say I picked up on the spruce flavors...another summery sessionable beer from Fort George...I'd guess that both will be quite popular at the fest if the weather gets warmer.
  • Hopworks Galactic Imperial Red - Had to get it (twice), even though I've already consumed a gallon or two from the pub and bottles. I'm disqualifying it as a ringer...and making plans to get more.
  • Logsdon Seizoen Bretta - Co-winner of the CTBBF; working towards giving sour beers a good name.
  • Lompoc Notorious IPA - Nice clean IPA after the wall-of-sound from Elliot Bay. Good floral hoppiness with crisp bitter finish...could have used a touch more malt to balance it out.
  • Widmer Crunchy Dude Pale - tasty; the fruit in the granola contributes to the nose but stays in the backgound on the tongue. Nice creamy body from the oats.
Pans:
  • Beetje Tonic 42 Saison - Just okay; a little bland for a Saison. The description states a 5 liter/day allocation...4 ounces was plenty.
  • Bison Honey Basil Ale - I didn't actually taste this, but heard it described as "drinking pickles"
  • Fish Brewing IPA - Reinforced my general ambivilance towards Fish...drinkable, but nothing to set it apart from the Alameda or Eel River IPA's.
  • McMenamins Oak Hills Kolsch - Bad example of a Kolsch...thin and watery, no spice.
  • Terminal Gravity Pale Ale- "a lot of malt flavor" must be a relative term...not one of my favorites from a very competent brewery.
Other notes:
  • Alameda El Torero IPA - Heard some buzz in the crowd, and have heard some raves around town about Alameda...I just don't see it. My scale might be off, but it's hard to believe this hits 110 IBU's.
  • Captured By Porches - Another brewery that I didn't sample, though not for lack of sort of trying. By the time I decided to take one for the team I couldn't find any of their offerings in the main tent. The program only described four different kombuchas, and none of them sounded very enticing.
  • Eel River IPA - Another indication that I may not be clued into what IBU's define...I found this to be a bit underwhelming for clocking in at 95.
  • Laht Neppur Strawberry Cream Ale - no direct experience; Jill snuck a taste and declared it to have a nice beer flavor and to not be scared by the name...the fruit is subtle and well-managed.
  • Natian CoDA CDA - This one is worth warming up a bit to bring the malt forward.
  • Oakshire Subtext PNWR - Another one served too cold; gotta say it didn't open up like I thought it would. Overall, a nice balanced red with a dry finish.
  • Oakshire Triple Bottom Line Belgian - NOT a Triple...just a Belgian Pale. I probably would have liked it more if I'd clued into that sooner.
  • Upright Reggae Junkie Gruit - Another hopless beer; not bad, but the no-hop win goes to Fort George.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Some Oklahoma Beers

A couple of years ago on a family visit to Tulsa, I finally discovered the glories of Choc Beer, a brewery with a colorful history dating back 90 years located in the small town of Krebs, Oklahoma.  I'm in Tulsa right now, and I decided to branch out a little further while I'm here and check out a few more local beers.

My favorite so far is the Washita Wheat -- pretty bold to insert a four-letter word into the name of your beer -- from Mustang Brewing.  It successfully walks the line between lighter American wheat beers and German hefeweizens, with some of the yeasty banana notes you'd expect in the latter, but with a lighter touch and not as carbonated.  A very refreshing summertime beer.  Oops, turns out it's contract-brewed in Wisconsin by Stevens Point, but the label makes a point of saying it's brewed with Oklahoma red wheat.

Another wheat beer I tried is Choc's Waving Wheat -- more in the witbier category.  Another good choice for summer, though I think I'd just as soon go for Choc's cloudier, yeastier flagship 1919.

On the stronger side, I thought the Native Amber from Oklahoma City's COOP Aleworks was a pretty good stab at a Northwest Red.  Malty and bitter, over 6% ABV, it reminded me a little of Ninkasi Believer, though I would have liked to had a little more aroma from the hops, and dial the astringency back a little. Extra credit awarded for selling this in tall boy cans (4-packs).  The brewery has been around for 2 or 3 years, but they only started canning beer in the fall of 2010.  I'll be interested to see how they're doing next time I'm in the area.

The Marshall Brewing Company in Tulsa bottles several of their beers: the one I tried was McNellie's Pub Amber, which they bill as a Best Bitter "with a New World twist".  I guess the twist is extra hops; it struck me as more of an American Pale Ale than a bitter, but let's not get hung up on styles too much.  This was pretty good, a pretty orange-brown ale, malty and fruity with some hop bite at the end.

Everyone enjoys complaining about the liquor laws in their state, but Oklahomans have more right to complain than we do in Oregon.  Of course they have the much-detested three-tier distribution -- I think they actually have a fourth tier, at least for out-of-state products, since a "broker" must import the beverage and then sell it to the wholesalers -- but the restrictions on beer and wine are particularly silly.  Beer up to 3.2% ABW (that's about 4% ABV) can be sold in grocery stores, but all other beer and wine is only sold in liquor stores.  Worse, the liquor stores are not allowed to sell strong beer cold, which is not just inconvenient, but can be a quality control issue for slow-moving products that sit on the shelf for a while, like the surprise six-pack of Bridgeport ESB I found on my first day in town.

I did a backflip in the liquor store when I saw that Bridgeport ESB on the shelf.  By the time it finally dawned on me earlier this year that Bridgeport had discontinued their ESB, it was too late, it was all off the shelves around Portland.  Six months later, here I was in Tulsa looking at an unopened case of ESB, two unopened cases of Bridgeport Blackstrap Stout, a few loose six-packs of each, and even a six-pack of Haymaker, also retired.  There were no date markings I could decipher on the bottles, but the front of the ESB case was sun-faded, and I found a sticker on the Stout case indicating it was shipped in December 2009.  Those are bottle-conditioned beers, so they could be all right, but the lack of refrigeration for 18 months in such a warm climate did not inspire confidence.  I did buy a six of the ESB -- which I always thought was far better on tap than in the bottle anyway -- and it had clearly suffered but was not entirely undrinkable.

Over the years I've been accustomed to thinking of Oklahoma as a beer wasteland, but things are definitely changing for the better here.  Like the license plates used to say, Oklahoma is OK!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Portland Beer Price Index: Summer 2011

Even though we've endured a lot of rain this June, it is indeed the summer solstice, that bittersweet moment when the days are blessedly long, but doomed to grow shorter.  So allow me to present the Summer 2011 installment of the Portland Beer Price Index.  Beer prices are migrating northward this quarter, as you can see by the chart on the left, which shows the average retail shelf price and "on-sale" price of six-packs in the survey.  I've added one retail location, one six-pack, and one bomber to the data; I'll explain the changes in detail below.  As always, I ask you to remember that this is not a rant about how expensive beer is, it's simply a project to watch how prices change over time.  If you're having trouble sleeping, click here for a full explanation of the PBPI.

The Summer 2011 PBPI is as follows:
  • 6-packs: $9.03, up 11 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers: $5.08, up 8 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.69, up 11 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.90, up 5 cents
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.33, up 4 cents
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.57, up 5 cents
Everything's going up.  Two pubs raised their draft prices this quarter, and the six-pack and bomber prices are not surprisingly continuing an upward trend.  The reported six-pack price here is actually up more than 11 cents since last time: that is due to the fact that I've added the relatively expensive Ninkasi Total Domination six-packs into the data.  I recorded the Ninkasi price last quarter but left it out of the index at that time since I didn't have any past data on it.  This time it's in for good, and this quarter's numbers reflect the change from last quarter when you include Ninkasi in both numbers.

On the bomber side, I had hoped Beer Valley Leafer Madness would be a more permanently available choice than Pelican IPA, but Fred Meyer has stopped carrying Leafer, and I didn't see it at QFC either.  Reluctantly, I will leave both Pelican and Leafer in for now, since each is available at 3 of the 5 locations I canvass.

One change to the PBPI that I'm excited about is that I added a fifth store to the retail survey:  Pearl Specialty Market.  Despite my efforts to compile a list of beers that are pretty universally available, it's surprisingly difficult to find a store that carries all of them.  I was very happy to notice that Pearl does carry them, so I added the store to the survey.  That addition also helps the bomber sale price numbers, since if you buy 6 bombers at Pearl, you get a 10% discount.

Look for the next PBPI around the fall equinox.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hopworks BikeBar Opens

Circumstances came together miraculously last night to allow me drop in on the grand opening of the Hopworks BikeBar on North Williams.  It's embarrassingly rare for me to make a beer foray into North Portland, but St. John Foyston -- I think they named a North Portland bridge after him -- interceded on my behalf and I swung by for a quick look.

The joint was hopping, but it didn't seem as jam-packed as the original Powell Blvd. Hopworks grand opening a little over three years ago.  Of course, the anticipation for that opening had been building for nearly two years, whereas the BikeBar came together in just a few months, and the outdoor seating area accommodated a lot of patrons on what turned out to be a beautiful evening after a soggy, gray day.

The BikeBar is fantastic.  I've been one to grumble about the irony of the original Hopworks location: a bike-themed pub in a not-so-bike-friendly location.  BikeBar, on the other hand, is located right on the busiest bike thoroughfare in town -- brilliant.  There is a ton of bike parking behind the pub: instead of parking out front, ride down the alley from Shaver or Failing and pull in to the rear.  And while the space inside is not as large as the mothership, it is laid out a lot more efficiently.  The seating capacity is not that much less than on Powell, especially when the weather permits the back patio to be used.

There are ten Hopworks taps and a cask, and the menu will remind you of the original location.  Kids are allowed, but it's not a play-area paradise like on Powell, which many of you might find to be very good news.

By the way, the Lompoc Sidebar next door to the BikeBar -- kudos to Hopworks for cleverly echoing their neighbor's name -- has expanded its hours in response to the friendly competition.  The funky hideout lined with barrels is now open Wednesday through Saturday evenings, and Sundays noon to 7 PM (of course Lompoc 5th Quadrant around the corner is open every day).  This stretch of Williams is now a great bicycle-beer destination.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 Portland Fruit Beer Festival

By most accounts this weekend's Portland Fruit Beer Festival was a raging success -- I'll address some of the gripes later in the post. Hats off to beer impresario Ezra Johnson-Greenough and the Burnside Brewing crew for hitting the ground running. I've been referring to this year's festival as the "first ever", since there was no telling whether it would succeed well enough to be repeated next year, but I guess I was too timid, because even the T-shirts at the festival proclaimed it to be the First Annual, and the tasting glasses staked out the territory of the 2nd weekend in June. Plans for next year involve closing the stretch of NE 7th adjacent to Burnside, doubling the square footage of the festival.

The beer highlights for me were:
  • Ninkasi Pinot Barrel-Aged Oatis with Cherries: beautiful taste of cherries, chocolate, and oak
  • Lompoc Cherry Fechter: classic cherry pie taste in a light ale; reminded me of Bridgeport's cherry Stumptown Tart or Upright's 2009 Four Play, high praise for me
  • Laurelwood Mango Mint Pale Ale: nicely balanced with a tiny hint of mint and a little whiff of mango
  • Hopworks Chupacabra Chile Stout: an instant classic, rich coffee stout with dark dried-chile notes but not too much heat
  • Breakside Brewer's Bramble: uniquely flavored amber ale, an homage to the gin cocktail called the Bramble
  • Block 15 Psidium Guava Farmhouse Ale: I went on and on about this tasty little number in my festival preview; brewer Nick Arzner was pouring his own brew Saturday afternoon
There were plenty of other enjoyable beers at the fest.  Probably my biggest disappointment was the Widmer Raspberry-Hibiscus Gose.  It wasn't bad -- and it was hands down the prettiest beer served -- but it wasn't quite what I wanted.  I was thinking along the lines of the tarter Goses from Upright and Cascade, and I would have liked a little more grain backing up the giant dose of raspberries.  Several people told me it was one of their favorites though, so take my review with a grain of salt.

The PFBF was also my first experience with pouring beer at a festival since I got my OLCC card a couple months ago.  I had a great time pouring at the rare beer taps on Saturday during the quiet early hours, before passing the torch to Angelo and Margaret when the going got tough.

Some people who arrived late Saturday afternoon had a few complaints about the festival.  It was very crowded by that time, and several of the beers had already run out: Alameda, Ninkasi, Breakside, Upright, and Fort George were early casualties.  There was also some confusion about the rare-beer taps; the system was explained in the festival program, but apparently it could have been explained more clearly, or in bold-faced type or with better signage.  Many people didn't understand that the beers rolled out two or three at a time, some on Saturday and some on Sunday, in a particular order but with no set schedule.

But these were minor hitches, and things were surprisingly well-organized -- including alphabetical order at the beer taps and a nice pint glass for samples -- for a first-time festival.  It was better for the festival to run out of some beers than for it to lose a ton of money on its first outing, which was by no means an impossibility.  Saturday's attendance of 2,600 people was higher than what the organizers expected for the entire weekend; Sunday's 1,200 people were just icing on the cake.  Even though the lines got a little long the first day, it was nothing like, say, OBF lines, and they flowed pretty quickly, especially in the rare beer area.  While I'm comparing the PFBF to other beer festivals, consider that all but one of the rare beers went for only $2 a sample -- compare that to the Portland International Brewfest, where you have a tough time finding something interesting for $2, and $5-$7 samples is not uncommon.

All in all, it was a very promising start for an exciting new festival.  Check it out next year.

Further reading:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your Thoughts on Sharing Tastes

Here, try this.
I'll probably never live this post down, but here goes.

With the beer festival season about to get into full swing -- don't forget to go to the first-ever Portland Fruit Beer Festival this weekend -- it seems like a good time to ask a question that I've been mulling over for a while.  How do you feel about passing the glass around a group of friends, to let everyone have a taste of this really good OR really bad OR really rare beer?  I don't mean splitting a bottle or a pitcher, I mean actually handing over your glass and saying "Try this".
  • Are you worried about passing germs around?
  • How well do you have to know someone before you'll share?
  • Suppose you're just recovering from a cold or flu yourself:  how long do you quarantine yourself? 
Personally, I'm a libertine about sharing and accepting tastes, and of course alcohol doesn't just disinfect, it dis-inhibits.  But sometimes in the despair of a wintertime fever, my paranoid side wonders if I would still be on my feet if I hadn't taken so many sips from other peoples' glasses.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why You Should Attend the Portland Fruit Beer Festival

This picture gives you a glimpse of what's behind the scenes at the upcoming Portland Fruit Beer Festival: barrels, kegs, canisters of compressed gas, jockey boxes, Jason McAdam.  But the real reason you should head over to this first-ever festival at Burnside Brewing this weekend (June 11 and 12) is the beer.  In the main festival area in the Burnside parking lot, there will be 15 different fruit beers available for $1 per sample, and inside the brewery there will be two special taps with a rotating selection of special fruity rarities priced at $2-$3 a sample.

Put aside any preconceptions you might have about light, fruit-flavored beers designed to appease people who don't like beer.  Ezra has put together a program of outstanding and highly creative beers, most of which were brewed just for this event and haven't been seen before.  Paradoxically, there are more beers on the "rare beer" list that you might already have tasted than than there are on the "standard" list.  If you want to do some homework before the festival, descriptions of all the beers -- standards and rarities -- are on this list.  Here are a few that I recommend trying:

Standards:
  • Block 15 Psidium Guava Farmhouse Ale: one of my favorites from a festival preview the other day: tropical fruit and funky yeast aromas and flavors, pleasantly fizzy and yeasty with a bitter hop finish.  Typically hyperactive creation from Block 15: the citra-hopped (!) guava (!) farmhouse ale (!) is mixed with 25% golden ale barrel aged (!) for 20 months with brettanomyces (!) and lactobacillus (!).
  • Fort George Badda Boom Cherry Stout: nice cherry and coffee notes (no coffee added), very bitter and a little astringent.  Brewed with the Westmalle yeast that was used at this year's Cheers to Belgian Beers.
  • Ninkasi Pinot barrel-aged Cherry Oatis Stout: can't wait to try this.
  • Breakside Mango IPA: We gotta have some hops.  Sounds tasty.
  • Widmer Himbeere Gose mit dem Eibisch: Yet another Portland Gose, with raspberries and hibiscus.  I like goses, and this should be a pretty one.
Rarities:
  • Widmer 2009 Cherry Oak Doppelbock: I was just talking to Brian the other day about this first Brother's Reserve beer, hoping to see it again.  Well, here it is.
  • Hopworks Chupacabra Chile Stout: Hopworks decided to be that guy that says "Well, technically peppers are fruits, not vegetables.  Did you know okra is a fruit?"  But the result of this smart-assery was the most polished beer at the preview:  the chiles go very well with the coffee in this variant of their Survival Stout.
  • Burnside Marionberry Berliner Weisse: a beautiful dark-pink beer, very light and refreshing, not as tart as you'd expect, with a lovely berry flavor.
  • New Belgium Peach Love Flanders Brown: La Folie aged on peaches.  This could be really good or an insane challenge, but I want to try it for myself.
  • Block 15 La Ferme de Demons 2010: the winning entry from last year's Cheers to Belgian Beers; I didn't care much for it last year, but I'd like to taste it a year older.
If none of those sound appealing to you, there are other intriguing choices from Alameda, Beetje, Dogfish Head, Laurelwood, Lompoc, Oakshire, and Upright.
    All but two of the festival "standards" are unique to PFBF -- only the selections from out-of-town big boys New Belgium (Ooh La La) and Dogfish Head (Festina Peche) are something you might have had before.  As I said above, the rarities list actually has several beers that you may well have tried already:  Widmer doppelbock, He'Brew Origin, Cascade Apricot and Kriek, and Double Mountain Devil's Kriek.  Still, those are some interesting offerings, so you'll want to keep checking the board to see what's on tap, or better yet, follow PFBF on Twitter or Facebook for instant updates.

    Now for some festival details:
    • Where: 701 E. Burnside (Note: The Burnside Bridge  is closed Saturday morning for the Rose Parade.)
    • When:
      • Saturday June 11, 2011, 11 AM - 9 PM
      • Sunday June 12, 2011, 11 AM - 6 PM
    • Cost: free entry; 16-ounce tasting glass $6; 4-ounce taste $1
    • All ages are admitted.
    • Car parking: good luck. The Rose Parade will further complicate matters early Saturday.  Bike or take the bus.
    • Bike parking:  not much at the festival.  There are big bike corrals just off East Burnside at 6th, 8th, and 9th, and there's another one at 9th and Ash.
    Make some time this weekend to come on out to the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, even if you haven't been a big fruit beer fan in the past.  There will be some unique beers that are really worth a try and may never be seen again.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Dunsmuir Brewery Works

    The forested little town of Dunsmuir, California, is a convenient stopping point when driving I-5 between Portland and San Francisco.  That's a trick my friend Eric taught me years ago:  driving to California, Dunsmuir's old-school vacation cabins are an entertaining place to stay the night if you got a late start; driving back, it's a convenient lunch stop.  Dave and I pulled into the little town on the way back from San Francisco a couple weeks ago, with no higher hopes than to find some kind of mom-and-pop diner.  Lo and behold, there is a fairly new brewpub open on the main drag, Dunsmuir Brewery Works.

    We had a decent bratwurst lunch there.  They only had two of their beers on tap -- an IPA and a porter -- because their customers have been drinking them dry, kind of like what happened a couple months ago to Breakside here in Portland.  The IPA was not all that great, a little flat if I remember right, but I thought the porter was pretty well done and I'd be happy to drink it again next time I'm passing through.  Ordinarily they would have five house beers on tap, plus a couple guest taps.  When we were there, the guest taps were Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat (the Widmer Hefeweizen of Northern California), Stella Artois, and the tasty Phoenix Red from Etna Brewing, a small brewery just southwest of Yreka.

    Dunsmuir prides itself on the spring water that provides the city's municipal water supply -- the city website is subtitled "Home of the best water on Earth".  It is very good water -- though not quite as good as our Bull Run water -- and it's nice to see a local brewer take advantage of it. If you're on I-5 and need to stretch your legs or get a quick bite to eat, pull off in Dunsmuir and hit the Brewery Works.