Saturday, July 30, 2011

Oregon Brewers Festival 2011 Recommendations

For those of you who haven't yet plunged in and plunged out of the OBF this year, Dave and I have put together a list of recommendations, based on a visit yesterday before the whooping crowds got too thick. I apologize that it's heavy on the South tent, especially now that I see that Charles already covered the South really well. [Update 2011/07/31: I've added a few more picks and pans from the North after a visit Saturday.] As always, your mileage may vary.

Picks:
  • Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Pale: Dave's best in show, beautiful layering of hops
  • Laughing Dog Anubis Imperial Coffee Porter: Bill's best in show, not boozy, just a creamy melange of coffee, chocolate malt, and vanilla flavors
  • Laht Neppur Peach Hefe: light, subtly peachy, wheaty and refreshing
  • Upright Offen Weisse: light and refreshing with lots of banana flavor
  • Ale Industries Orange Kush: chamomile gives a nice coconutty flavor, with light citrus
  • Mt. Emily Wildfire Red: nice red, not too malty
  • Caldera Hop Hash: well done, restrained use of concentrated lupulin
  • Widmer Foggy Bog Cranberry Ale: nice wheat-beer flavor with a little cranberry tartness and astringency; beautiful to look at
  • Amnesia Imperial IPA: nice imperial, well balanced malt/hop
  • Hazel Dell Imperial IPA: less balanced, but nice bitterness
  • Hop Valley Alpha Centauri: awesome double IPA, perfect balance, smooth and creamy
  • Columbia River Brewing Nyctophobia CDA: dark, malty, hoppy, tasty stuff
  • Elysian Idiot Sauvin: great use of the Neslson hops, strong citrus flavor
  • Firestone Walker Double Jack: a ringer, must try if you have never had it
Pans:
  • Gilgamesh Mint Kölsch: way too minty, like mouthwash
  • Dogfish Head Black & Red: another mint failure, plus nasty acetone kick
  • Natian CDA: flavors don't combine well, also a little solvent note sticks out
  • Riverport Blonde Moment: oddly tart, something's wrong
  • 10 Barrel Zitrone Kölsch: too lemony, like a lemon drop candy
  • Collaborator Hopfinium: the one guy Dave heard hyping this was an idiot
  • Salmon Creek Oatus the Red: okay red, creamy body but not much malt
  • Coatlition WU Cream: one dimensional... not creamy
  • Fire Mountain Tan Line: eeeewww... had to dump it. nasty bitterness, kinda soapy
I was surprised how much I liked the light fruit beers from Laht Neppur and Widmer -- coincidentally both have added lactose for the yeast to nurse on.  They are both nice lighter choices for the heat of the day, as is Upright's dandy German-style hefeweizen, Ale Industries' (Concord, CA) Orange Kush, and of course Burnside's lightly smoked Grätzer.  A beer that I don't understand the long lines for is Ninkasi's Helles Belles.  Yesterday the lines for that were 20 or 30 deep early in the fest when you could walk right up to almost any other beer, but it's too sweet for a Helles and lacks the malty-yet-crisp finish you'd expect.

One bummer:  the one-off Buzz Tent beers went so fast the first two days, that the Buzz Tent is finished.  I missed it completely, since my time yesterday was limited.

Some other eyewitness accounts:
The weather seems perfect this year: sunny but not too hot. The crowds are thicker and earlier than usual, but I still love the OBF: its mix of snobs and newbies, the view of the river, the good vibe, and of course 85 beers to try.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gollem's Proeflokaal, Amsterdam

Our family vacation to Europe has not been, by and large, a beer vacation.  That's OK, I didn't expect it to be, and in fact family vacations always give short shrift to beer.  But the last few days in Amsterdam have been something of a beery reprieve for the man of the house, with several good beer bars, a couple of top-notch bottle shops, and even a surprisingly good cheap supermarket brand.

That gives me material for several blog posts, but let me start off by tipping you off to the -- as of this writing -- last surviving member of the Gollem family of Amsterdam beer bars.  Gollem's Proeflokaal, which wasn't on beermapping.com or Beer Advocate's BeerFly before my visit, is a charming and well-stocked pub, well off the beaten path at 160 Overtoom, but just a short walk from the Van Gogh Museum.  We ended up there for lunch Saturday by accident -- no, really, the South Indian dosa place at the corner was closed -- and were very pleased with our burgers, vegetarian croquettes, and salads.  Oh yeah, and by the bottle of Westvleteren 12 ($20).

I was glad to get to a Gollem location, since the famed original Café Gollem in central Amsterdam has been closed for nearly a year because of some hangup with its license, and so has the Biercafé Gollem in the De Pijp neighborhood.  The Netherlands has a lot going for it, government-wise, but it sounds like it is still possible to get crosswise with officious bureaucrats.  Rumor has it that some kind of deal might allow the reopening of the other Gollem locations this fall, but meanwhile your only option is the Proeflokaal.

It may not have the dark, cozy atmosphere of the original Café Gollem, but the Proeflokaal has a spacious, relaxed vibe, good food, and an excellent beer selection.  Definitely check it out if you're in Amsterdam.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

La Cave à Bulles, Paris

Alcoholic beverage word association, quickly:  "France?"  Of course you said "Wine".  Good beer is available in France, just not in the variety that an Oregon beer geek has come to demand, and not piled high in every restaurant, diner, and convenience store the way good wine is.  After a week in the Loire Valley and Paris, I'm delirious with joy if a bar has Affligem Blond on tap instead of the ubiquitous and somewhat cloying Leffe Blonde; in the supermarket the best option tends to be Hoegaarden tall-boys, though I did drink a couple Kronenbourgs to support the local team.

Luckily, our Paris lodgings were a five-minute walk from the showcase beer store in the City of Light:  La cave à bulles -- translation: The Suds Cellar -- at 45 Rue Quincampoix, around the corner from the Centre Pompidou.  It's stocked with a few hundred varieties of beer, and might remind you somewhat of the original Belmont Station location.  The focus is fittingly on French beer, though there is a good selection of Belgians, and even a few Sierra Nevada and Left Hand bottles tucked away.  The Belgian selection is less than what is available in Portland at Beermongers or Belmont, but la Cave did have a few Cantillons on the shelf, which hasn't been available in Oregon recently ($8 for 375 ml).

The proprietor, Simon Thillou, is very welcoming, and gives personal attention to each customer that walks in, to try and guide them in their beer selection.  I watched him work with an older couple who came in to look for a bottle to impress a beer loving friend:  "Do you want something stronger or less so?  Darker or lighter?  Sweeter or drier?  How bitter?"  They were beer novices, and balked a little at "bitter".  "But you drink coffee, you eat chocolate, don't you?  It's not bitter in a bad way."  He's equally adept at working with a picky beer geek, starting with a few questions about what you like, and branching out with some choices to help you explore the French beer scene.  His English is probably better than your French, so don't hesitate to ask questions.

Most of the bottles are sold at room temperature, though a small number are kept refrigerated, if you're in a big hurry to get some beer down your throat.  Prices are reasonable, considering a central Paris location:  generally about $4.25 for 33 cl bottles, or $8.50 for 750 ml.  Big bottles of Cantillon Iris were on the shelf for $19, and if you're homesick, drop €6.10 for a Ninkasi IPA -- oh, wait, that's the French Ninkasi in Lyon, which predates the Oregon one.  La cave à bulles is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 2 PM, and 4 PM to 8 PM (but not Wednesday mornings).

I only got to make one visit to the Cave à bulles, because the store is closed Sunday and Monday, we arrived in Paris in a downpour Saturday evening after it was closed, and we left town Wednesday morning before it opened.  I'm glad I finally made it there, and I highly recommend it to you if you're visiting Paris.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Portland Pub Crawls

There's something I have to get off my chest: I invented the Portland Pub Crawl.



Jeff's helpful series on Portland Pub Crawls -- so far he's done part 1 (downtown) and part 2 (SE) -- is what set me off on this rant. Can you believe it? His downtown pub crawl only visits Deschutes one time. And skips Tugboat. That's not crawling, that's limping. Well, or whatever is less than crawling.

Angelo and Margaret have done a smashing job the last couple years with Brewpublic's Division Street Pub Crawl. But who invented that pub crawl? I did, here in 2009.

I would be remiss in my egotism if I didn't also take credit for Ezra and Lisa's Night of the Living Ales, which I invented a year earlier in this post about the not-yet-open Migration Brewing, just as an offhand mention of an alphabetical pub crawl along NE 28th. A freebie.

Now word comes from Nicole of a moving bicycle bar, making the rounds in NW Portland, in a watered-down version of the Biking Pub Marathon Dave and I did a few years ago. The rolling pub is a pretty cool idea, I hope an army of cloven-hoofed blood-sucking lawyers doesn't descend to make this kind of fun impossible in Portland. Also, watch out for those streetcar tracks, guys.

Here are a few more Portland pub crawl ideas for you:

Next week:  How I Invented the Beer Cocktail.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Get It in the Can on East Burnside

I'm volunteering to pour beer tomorrow evening (Saturday, July 8), at the Guild Public House's Cans Fest.  In honor of that:

Hat tip to Lee, who posted the Get It in the Can video a couple years ago.  I'm not above juvenile humor; I would normally be above linking to a Bud Lime ad, but Lee said his readership went through the roof after he posted it.  Sold!

Now, about the Cans Fest.  Put aside your fears that the BPA liners in beer cans will kill you faster than your beer and greasy food habits.  There are beers from several breweries pouring at this festival that are not generally available in Portland:
  • Central City (British Columbia)
  • Kenai River (Alaska)
  • SanTan (Arizona)
  • Ska (Colorado)
  • Two Beers (Seattle)
  • Uncommon Brewers (Santa Cruz)
I think the Avery selections at the festival are not usually seen in these parts, and the festival will debut cans from Portland nano Natian Brewing.  If you haven't yet been to the Guild -- a comfortable little pub located at 11th and East Burnside -- the Cans Fest is a good opportunity to check it out.  And a good opportunity to get it in the can.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Zeus Café

McMenamins really put their back into the rehabilitation of the old Club Portland building into the new Crystal Hotel and its ground-floor Zeus Café.  Perhaps to draw a clear contrast with the run-down gay bathhouse that most recently occupied the location, the Zeus is a lot tonier than the usual McM's place.  It's quirky, for sure, but in a fancier way than even the crown jewels of the chain like Edgefield or the Kennedy School.

In addition to the decor, another place you'll notice the difference is the lunch/brunch menu, a simple half-sheet of paper with no whimsical allusions to the Grateful Dead or other colorful characters, no tater tots, rather dishes (and prices) aimed at a well-heeled clientele.  The dinner menu is even more abbreviated and spendy, and the wine list is far more extensive than all the food menus combined.  At first all this is a little jarring, but it makes sense when you remember that the regular-folks McMenamins atmosphere and menu is available one block down at the Crystal Ballroom.  No need to duplicate that at the Zeus, better instead to compete with nearby grown-up restaurants like Jake's and Henry's.  There is a darker bar in the basement called Al's Den, which opens at 4 PM, but its menu is a subset of the upstairs food.

The beer for the Zeus is brewed, as you might expect, down the street at the Crystal Ballroom (here's a previous post with more details on the McMenamins sister-pub network).  Since I was just musing about wines on tap the other day, I'll note that the McMenamins house white wines at the Zeus are served from CO2 taps -- they don't do the red wines that way because the wine kegs sit in the same cooler as the beer kegs, which would be too cold for serving the reds.  Another fancy beverage touch that was added was a sweet Victoria Arduino manual lever espresso machine (at right).

The Zeus is a nice place in a great location, it will be interesting to see if they stick with the somewhat upscale hotel-restaurant menu or trend back towards the McMenamins house style.  Further reading:  check out the Portland Mercury's take on the Crystal Hotel remodel.