Monday, December 29, 2008

New Old Lompoc News

By now you've heard that New Old Lompoc has joined the clash of local brewpubs to start distributing their beer in bottles. Look for 22-ounce bottles of Lompoc Strong Draft and C-Note IPA (pictured) on store shelves now.

C-Note is my standard choice when I'm at one of the Lompoc pubs -- it's so hoppy and delicious that I can rarely bring myself to choose something else. I'm happy to report that the bottled C-Note has all the pretty flower flavor you're used to in the pubs. That was a real fear I had -- sometimes there's a vast difference between a beer's draft version and the bottle, with Bridgeport IPA showing the wildest swing I can think of.

So, the bottled C-Note is tasty, and for a bomber it's a good deal: I picked up that bottle for $4. Now, happy hour price at the Hedge House is $3.25 for a pint; if Jeff Alworth is right about Lompoc using 14-ounce cheater pints, then you're coming out much cheaper buying C-Note in 22-ounce bottles. That's usually not the case with bombers: at Roots or Bridgeport your happy-hour pints are cheaper by the ounce than buying their beer in a 22-ounce bottle retail. Go figure.

[Update 2009/01/01: Lompoc Strong Draft is bottled under the name "Lompoc Special Draft". That's undoubtedly the ATF's way of protecting you from buying a beer called LSD just because you think it's strong. Dave brought a bottle of that over yesterday, and it's good stuff also, the roasty chocolatey flavors made it into the bottle. I'm always pleasantly surprised when I pry myself away from C-Note and enjoy a Strong Draft.]

One other bit of Lompoc news is that their website has recently been greatly improved. It used to be a dog-slow collage of images that wasn't worth the wait. The front page got fixed up a few months ago, but until more recently the pages for the other pubs like Hedge House still had the old look.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nick's Coney Island

Yesterday, Carla and the girls and I trudged up Hawthorne in the snow and had lunch at Nick's Famous Coney Island. It was the kids' first time there, and they liked the old-timey atmosphere -- even our family vegetarian, who survived happily on an order of nachos.

We were really aiming for the Bridgeport Ale House, since we had spent a very cozy lunch there Saturday, watching the falling snow and the strolling shoppers, enjoying imperial pints of root beer and Raven Mad barrel-aged porter. We were dismayed that the weather kept Bridgeport from opening yesterday -- Angelo ran into the same problem, though his solution was more ambitious than ours.

The gut-bomb chili, excellent french fries, and friendly service and surroundings are the reasons to go to Nick's. Sometimes you just gotta have a hot dog smothered with chili, cheese, and onions. It's not really a beer destination: the beer of choice there is Bud, though to their credit they throw a bone to the Portland beer snobs:
I'll give Nick's community-service points for pouring the S.O.B. porter. I've seen it a couple times at the Green Dragon, but it's an interesting choice for a small diner like Nick's to serve (leave a comment if you know other good places in Portland where Southern Oregon beer is served). I didn't notice the 22 oz. Coney Island bottles until we were leaving, otherwise I probably would have tried one of them -- Schmaltz is the brewery that makes the He'Brew beers, which are gaining a little following.

The TKO Amber is brewed on contract for Nick's by RedHook (WARNING: noisy website). I wasn't impressed; it had a dark color, but the light head and macro-lager flavor gave it away as a beer made for people who don't like beer yet. It is cheaper: $3 a pint vs. $3.75 for the S.O.B. or Widmer Hef. In the picture above, TKO is on the right, the Southern porter on the left.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Port Brewing High Tide

One of my favorite hobbies is belittling California fresh-hop ales. And I had a couple of posts this summer slamming expensive California sour beers that lots of other beer nerds think are hot stuff.

So I'm happy to be able to give a good review of a California fresh-hop offering that I tried a few weeks ago: High Tide IPA from Port Brewing. Port isn't distributed in Oregon yet, but it can be had at By the Bottle just ten miles north of us in the 'Couve (thanks to Charles for saving me the trip and bringing me a bottle of High Tide).

I'll keep saying it until I sound like a parody of myself: there's no point in making a fresh-hop beer if it doesn't have the green flavor of truly fresh-picked hops. Thankfully, High Tide does indeed have that wonderful flavor. It's a big IPA, and also has a very bitter finish, which suits me just fine. The bitterness reminded Dave of dandelions -- it was really that bitter -- but to situate it in the Portland beer world, I'll say that High Tide reminded me favorably of the Mt. Rainier variant of John Harris' Lupulin Ale this year, which had a similarly bitter edge. That wasn't my favorite Lupulin, but it's still a great fresh-hop beer, so a comparison like that is high praise in my book.

It's getting past fresh-hop time; for all I know High Tide is no longer available. But if you find yourself in Vancouver, you'd do well to pop into By the Bottle and bring home some of the other Port Brewing beers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Doggie Claws and Jubel Vertical 2008

A few of us got together Saturday at Brett and Debbie's house, where Brett put together a vertical tasting of 6 years of Hair of the Dog's Doggie Claws -- 2002 to 2008, missing only 2007. The 2002 seemed to use a different recipe than the other years: from 2003 on the color was a beautiful mahogany, while the 2002 had a lighter --but still beautiful -- orange-gold color. A little grassier hop flavor in the 2002 than the later years, even though the labels for all had the same text about Simcoe and Amarillo hops.

All of the years were mighty fine barleywines, with plenty of power and maple/brown-sugar flavor. The 2008 was quite drinkable but will clearly benefit from more time in the bottle. My favorite was the 2006, it had smoothed out just enough, but not too much. I know a lot of people age big beers for many years, but I'm starting to form the opinion that two years is about the right amount. Like the Doggie Claws, the 2-year-old Roots Epic we had last month was just right; by contrast, the 3-year-old Deschutes Mirror Mirror at the Portland Holiday Ale Fest was past its prime. There are always exceptions: Matias opened a dark Belgian that he said was undrinkable right after he brewed it 6 years ago, but which was lovely Saturday.

Since we were already vertical, I dragged five years of Deschutes Jubel Ale up from the basement to take to Brett's. To be honest, we didn't detect much difference between the various years, except for the always terrible 2004 -- I got a bad case -- and the obviously fresh 2008. Even so, I'll take the 2006 as my favorite, since I've decided two years is the proper amount of time to age beer.

I could only find one six-pack holder to transport my Jubels in, but I discovered some beer geometry that I didn't know about before. You can put a six-pack holder into a grocery bag so that each corner touches a side of the bag, and it blocks off the corners of the bag so that you can put four more bottles in without the bottles clinking together. That's how you can carry 10 delicate beers with a single six-pack holder. To carry 12 delicate beers, arrange 10 of the bottles as above. Then open the other two bottles and drink the contents.

Here's an account of our Jubel vertical from last year. Coincidentally, that was the first real entry on this blog, and this post, about a year later, is the 100th entry. Cheers! to all of you: the friends who shared these beery adventures; the brewers and servers that kept us awash in good beer; and the readers and commenters who flattered me with your attention to this slightly silly project.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oregon's Smoking Ban Sucks

The smoking ban sucks, just like bicycle -- and motorcycle -- helmet laws suck.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a smoker and I hate the smell. Pubs and bars are not going to go out of business because of the ban. I'm looking forward to spending more time at the Horse Brass after January 1st (assuming it really adheres to the ban).

So why am I against the ban? Because this is a free country, and we put up with nuisances caused by other people so that they will put up with ours. Want to live a tranquil, nuisance-free life? Move to Singapore, or Saudi Arabia, or some other country where morality is legislated, so that you don't have to be inconvenienced by gum chewing, loud music, embarrassing jokes, or women drivers. I would rather chew gum, listen to music, tell jokes, and let the wife drive.

Beer lovers should be especially alarmed, because the neo-Puritans are coming after us next. Some people smoke in bars because it brings them pleasure. They can have their vices and I can have mine. But there are other people out there who think the world can and should be rid of all vices.

They have found a fetching shade of lipstick to put on their morality-legislating pig: public health. It's how the smoking ban got sold, it's how helmet laws get sold, and -- as Jay Brooks regularly reminds us -- it's how they're attacking alcoholic beverages. There was a letter to the editor in the Oregonian today that said beer and wine should be taxed more heavily to fund health care (can't find a link -- websites as terrible as the Oregonian's should be against the law).

The thing is, there are some things that are fun to do that carry a certain element of risk. Any of these things can be hazardous to your health: smoking, drinking, riding a bike, driving a car, swimming in a river, climbing a mountain, shooting guns. Sure, smoking also has a negative health impact on other people, but so does driving a car -- really, that has an even bigger impact. Are you ready to ban private automobiles? (I am, but that's just the Puritan in me talking.)

Choose freedom. Oppose helmet laws, smoking bans, sin taxes, drug wars, and encroachments on the Second Amendment. Outlawing fun things to do only decreases the amount of fun in the world, and punishes law-abiding people. Like Graham Chapman says in the video above, the only way to bring the crime figures down is to reduce the number of offenses!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Fest Pictures

Once upon a time, I was pretty handy with a 35mm camera, at least one as simple as my Pentax K-1000 with its easy-to-please 50mm lens. Nowadays it's a different story. My digital photography skills are horrendous, and I also have a bad habit of taking pictures with my cellphone in situations with too little or too much light. Still, I wanted to share a few pictures from Portland's 2008 Holiday Ale Fest. That first one is of Alabama residents Jim and Joan in their cool beer-patch jackets on Thursday afternoon.

Here's a shot of the place starting to fill up Wednesday night, about 5:30. I feel bad for the guy that caught my flash right in his face.

Thursday I accosted Green Dragon regular Russ to ask him what other beers at the festival to try. He showed me his Green Dragon tattoo.

For some better pictures from the festival, check out this collection taken by Matt at Matt takes some great photos, he's doing a wonderful job of documenting the Portland beer scene right now.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More Holiday Ale Fest

Some updates from the Holiday Ale Fest:
get the awesome Three Creeks Red, the dry-hopped Full Sail Wassail, and the Deschutes Double Cinder Cone. The Firestone last night turns out to be Parabola Stout - look for the rest today - it's awesome.

[Update (later Thursday): Some surprising missing breweries: Double Mountain, Caldera, Roots, Walking Man. What gives?]

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Holiday Ale Festival 2008

The 2008 Portland Holiday Ale Fest has begun at Pioneer Square. At 5 PM today it was still manageable, but by 5:30 PM it was breathtakingly crowded. If you plan on attending one of the next couple days, the earlier the better. By the way, the entrance is on 6th Avenue this year, not off Broadway as in years past.

One nice innovation this year is the special-beer-area up above the main floor of the event. By absorbing part of the crowd -- and some of the longer lines -- it takes some of the pressure off the main area. Most of the special kegs are in that area. The special beers Wednesday night were simply out of this world, but since they're now long gone, I'll gloat over them at the end, and first give you some recommendations that should be available the next couple of days.

I didn't try all of the festival beers, but I can recommend a few favorites (3 out of 4 from local breweries):
  • Rock Bottom: Blitzen Belgian tripel: flowery nose, beautiful
  • Widmer: Babushka's Secret black raspberry Russian Imperial Stout: full-bodied, light fruit, dark stout
  • Hopworks: Noggin Floggin' barleywine: delicious and rich
  • Firestone Walker: Velvet Merkin stout: nice and roasty
I didn't expect to like Widmer's fruity stout at all, but it was really well done -- the blackberries complemented the stout flavor nicely without being a nuisance. Van Havig's tripel and Hopworks' barleywine were right on the money. The stout from Firestone Walker -- who seem to be landing on Oregon with both feet right now -- was very solid, especially when you consider that its 5.5% alcohol is about half the strength of most of the beers at the festival.

There are a lot of beers I didn't yet get to try -- including the "Imperial Pepper Stout" from Lagunitas, which was a no-show Wednesday -- but I can complain of a few disappointments. The Deschutes Mirror Mirror from 2005 seemed a little musty -- if you've got it in the cellar, drink it now. The Eel River Climax Noel was too syrupy and not as interesting as I'd hoped. And Blizzard of Ozz from Off the Rail was completely broken, with a bad Chloraseptic taste.

Some of the best beers at the festival are single-keg offerings put out on Wednesday and Thursday. If you're going there tomorrow, be sure and take advantage of them. The standouts from tonight were:
  • Dubuisson: Scaldis Noel 2007
  • Hair of the Dog: Jim 2006, 2007, and 2008
  • Eggenberg: Samichlaus 2005
  • Bridgeport: Old Knucklehead 2003
  • Firestone Walker: Saucerful of Secrets 2007
That Scaldis Noel was an amazing thing to behold. It was literally good to the last drop -- I looked into my plastic mug and saw a tiny drop at the bottom, and when I tipped the mug back and sucked it noisily into my mouth, it was as delicious as the first sip. The Samichlaus was almost as stunning as the Scaldis, very sweet but very good. It was a great pleasure to try 3 years' worth of Jim: the notorious 2006 version was funky, sweet, strong, and all over the place; the 2007 was notably less funky and more barleywine-ish; the 2008 is a big, big, fruity beer that I hope to meet again someday. [Update 2008/12/04: Brian reports that the Firestone Walker special Wednesday night was mislabeled: it was really the Parabola Imperial Stout. To be honest, it didn't seem like a Belgian, but it was so big and so good that I just rolled with it. Anyone have a report on the Saucerful?]

I'm going back tomorrow to fill in some of the gaps; hopefully I'll have more raves to report after that. Check it out for yourself (I repeat, get there as early as possible).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanks for the Beer

Take a look at this description of buying rounds in British pubs. It seems like a pretty good description of how our Pub Night buys rounds, even though we didn't set out to pretend to be English. Heck, that's how we did in Austin, as far as I remember, even back in pitchers-of-Shiner-Bock days. Doesn't everyone do this?

The reason I ask is that I ran across this post from an Oregon publican, lamenting that his customers don't do rounds. (Thanks to blogger Tandleman for the round-buying description, he linked to it in a comment on the no-rounds post.)

By the way, I'm keenly interested in the pub in question, the Brewer's Union Local 180, which opened this year in Oakridge. Their angle: the only Real Ale brewpub -- in the CAMRA sense of "Real Ale" -- in Oregon. I'm not likely to be a frequent visitor, since it's not within walking distance of my house, but I like the attitude. Here's a nice writeup by Angelo. Anyone else get a chance to try the Local yet?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Integrity Spirits Trillium Absinthe

Last week at the Green Dragon I ran into Rich Phillips, one of the founders of Integrity Spirits, the startup distillery that shares the same building with the Dragon. I told him that I really enjoyed Integrity's 12 Bridges Gin, and wished I had tried their Trillium Absinthe. Thinking out loud paid off for me yet again, because he invited me to follow him back to Integrity for a taste of la fée verte.

Of course I knew Integrity was distilling right there, and House Spirits is located just down from Roots at 7th and Harrison. But while we were chatting, Rich pointed out that there were three more distilleries in the same few blocks bounded by Stark, Division, 7th, and 12th: New Deal (very incognito right near the Lucky Lab), Artisan Spirits, and Highball Distillery. We're not going to get thirsty here in 97214.

Back at Integrity, Rich poured me a generous shot of Trillium into a tapered glass, and topped it off with water from an industrial-looking hose hooked up to their purified water system, as seen in the grainy cellphone photo. None of this flaming sugar-cube pretentiousness for these guys (full disclosure: I am pretentious enough to own an absinthe spoon). And really, that was the perfect way to drink Trillium: there's just the right amount of sweetness in there that I wouldn't add sugar. Diluted three- or four-to-one like that, it's very pleasing to the eye, a slight green tinge to the milky liquid. The licoricey anise flavor is smooth and beautiful -- not harsh like Ouzo or cloying like my recollection of some other anise drinks. Something in the mix numbs your mouth a little like cloves would. A very relaxing experience.

I couldn't wait to pick up a bottle of my own. I almost flinched at 11th Avenue Liquors when I saw the $60 price tag, but keep in mind that this is a concentrated solution -- 120 proof. This isn't your cheap Spanish or Czech absinthe that you pound back in hopes of seeing stars. It's a work of art, made by true believers right here in Portland. Dilute it and savor it, it's worth the investment.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cheap Growlers at Hopworks

When I complain about the price difference between six-packs and draft growlers in Portland, I always get comments pointing out that pubs have a different cost structure than bottling breweries. The commenters patiently explain that the only fair comparison is between growler prices and the price of pints or pitchers served at the bar.

That makes sense from the business perspective, but at some point the business perspective has to take into account the customer perspective, which just checks the price of beer to-go. In my original rant, I mused that cheaper growlers "could even be a way to boost pub business: sit down for a pint and get a discount on your growler fill".

Hopworks has a similar sensible idea. Get some food to go, and get a growler discount. Here's how they describe it in their latest email newsletters:

Greenspand-er To-Go Deal! Order a large pizza and growler to-go and get $5 off! In these uncertain economic times it’s nice to know you can still fill up on tasty organic beer and pizza for less than it costs to fill your gas tank.

(Gas tank? What kind of talk is that from the bikiest brewpub in town? Oops, sorry, wrong rant.) That $5 off is the kind of deal I've been looking for. Let's do some creative accounting, and knock all the savings off of the beer rather than credit some to the pizza. That gives you a $10 Hopworks growler for $5 -- a six-pack equivalent price of $5.63. That's a good deal these days.

I haven't taken advantage of the Greenspander yet, but I love the idea. It's that kind of thinking that can help brewpubs get more of the beer-at-home market.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Deschutes Abyss 2008

Gentlemen, start your engines! Ladies, you too. The race is on to see if you can get your bottle of Deschutes' legendary oak-aged Imperial Stout before all of it gets hoarded or auctioned on ebay. I ran into a fellow last year who had made the rounds until he had -- this is what he told me -- 5 cases in his basement. That's only because he drank the sixth case. At least he wasn't auctioning it.

I wasn't up for the 10 PM release party Friday, but Dave and I headed over to the Portland pub for lunch Saturday. They had sold out of bottles Friday night, but they still had both the 2007 and 2008 Abyss on tap -- they'll do you a "flight" of 5 oz. of each. It was great to taste them side-by-side. This year's is spot-on, big body, big booze, and big hops occasionally peeking out. Last year's is even better. I don't chalk it entirely up to age, because tasting it immediately brought me back to remembrance of that same flavor from last year. Among other things, I think the 2007 has more licorice flavor, which seems like it would turn me off but which somehow works just right.

They still had the little two-stop flights when Carla was there yesterday, so you might want to scoot down there and check it out. They come out of the taps way too cold, let them warm up a bit. Drink, hoard, and share as much as you can, but don't be a lowlife and buy it up just to auction it on ebay. You do have my permission to auction your empty bottles.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obligatory Green Dragon Post

More drama from the Green Dragon. The Portland beer-snob community is completely up-in-arms about the proposed sale of the Dragon (or Ed's 2/3 of it, anyway) to Rogue.

Personally, I think it could be a positive thing. Ed was new to the pub business, and he wasn't particularly interested in beer. In my opinion, getting beer people in at the top is not a bad thing -- Ed's a nice guy, but just a few months ago everyone was wringing their hands about the loss of control by Jim Parker and Lolo.

Most people know that Ed had chosen another local brewer to take over the slowly-gestating brewing operation -- a friend of mine, as it happens. He hasn't been officially hired yet, so I'll be a little upset if the sale puts a stop to that. If he does get to become a Rogue brewer, that's a huge feather in his cap, not to mention an excellent catch by Rogue. So I'm looking on the bright side.

Why are so many people upset? There's an undercurrent of animosity towards Rogue -- puzzling to me, because they make some damn good beer -- but there is also a fear of change in three areas:
  1. The employees.
  2. The food.
  3. The taplist.
Let's look at these one at a time. Rogue promises to keep the current staff; people eventually change jobs anyway -- you can't freeze the personnel in place no matter how much you like them. There's already been so much turnover there that -- except for Chris -- I feel like I'm still getting used to the current roster.

The food has seen its ups and downs at the Dragon. Currently it's up, though the last time I ate there I bit into a twist-tie that was in my po-boy. That was right about the time that a visiting blogger from California reported her own ewww-gross moment (long post -- see 3rd paragraph from the bottom) at the Dragon. I don't think the sky will fall if Rogue takes over the kitchen.

Finally, I think the taplist will benefit from an infusion of Rogue beers. When Parker and Lolo were first telling people about the pub they were opening, they were very proud of the fact that they would pour beers you couldn't find anywhere else in town. It's a great concept, but my experience has been that the list gets clogged with a mix of mediocre beers and expensive beers, for the simple reason that the awesome normal-priced beers get sold out quickly and everything else languishes waiting for someone to buy it.

Here's some of the brouhaha from blog-land:
  • Brewpublic: original scoop and public backlash.
  • The Beer Here: Rogue responds.
  • The Champagne of Blogs: petition to keep the status quo.
  • Beervana: voice of moderation and more reactions.
Anyway, time will tell. If Rogue takes the fun out of it -- and I don't see how that could happen -- we'll drift away from the Dragon and that will be that. But I have high hopes.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beer We Can Believe In

Back before the election, Brett sent me this picture of a bottle of Ommegang that his friend in New York bought at some kind of Obama fundraiser. I didn't blog the Obamagang bottle at the time because I figured there would be hundreds of posts about it everywhere. That turned out not to be the case: the brewery doesn't mention it, and I couldn't find anything about it on Google or Beer Advocate, so here it is. It must be a homemade thing, not a brewery release. [Update 2009/01/17: The brewery wanted to do it, but the label ran afoul of the feds. Credit for the photo here: Kim Jastremski. If you repost this photo, at least give a tip of the hat to Kim and me.]

Jay Brooks wrote a few weeks ago about a "HOPE"-style poster from Oskar Blues brewery in Colorado, and some of the Obama-themed beers brewed out there, like Obamanator doppelbock. And in other election news, Lee reports that Obama won the pint-glass election at the Flying Saucer pub chain: 56% to 44%. Now that's a mandate.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Epic Occasion

We had a bunch of friends and neighbors over last night to celebrate the election returns. It seemed like a good opportunity to crack open the jeroboam of Roots Epic that Carla bought me two years ago. I was worried that I hadn't kept it carefully enough. Parts of our basement get rather warm in the summer, and despite the wired-shut porcelain swing-top, it looked like a tiny bit of beer had forced its way out of the bottle at some point.

Happily, it was still good -- better than good, it was awesome. It was still nicely carbonated, and that rich, smoky maple flavor was still there. Two years in the bottle seemed to smooth it out -- most people were surprised to hear that it's a 14% beer. I thought I would have to send Epic home with people -- it was a 3 liter bottle, after all -- but there were enough takers that we finished it off shortly after Obama's acceptance speech.

One bottle that wasn't hard to finish was a 1994 bottle of Thomas Hardy's Ale that Lindsey brought over -- it was just 7 ounces, and we had to serve people little shot glasses of it. Fourteen years in the bottle had made that beer completely flat. The flatness and color made it look like shots of bourbon. It was rich and tasty, but no match for the flavor-fest of Epic. It wasn't totally rank like some of the vintages Tomme Arthur writes about in his account of a massive Hardy's vertical, but I wouldn't recommend aging something quite that long.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

It's a beautiful thing that Russian River beers are now distributed in Oregon. I tried a Blind Pig IPA for the first time recently, and really enjoyed it. It's a little lighter in body and color than a lot of IPAs, but it's massively hoppy and bitter. Good stuff. This is one pig that doesn't need any lipstick.

Blind Pig is less big all around than Pliny the Elder, RR's show-stopping double IPA which you might have tried at the Oregon Brewer's Festival -- less malt, less hops, less alcohol. For those of us that love some hops, it's hard to say enough good things about Pliny, it's an incredible beer, and I think I'd almost always choose it over Blind Pig. Still, if you wanted something lighter, or if it made sense to drink a 6% beer instead of an 8%, crack open a Pig.

Naturally you can find Russian River beers at the specialty places like Belmont Station, but I picked up this bottle at Pastaworks on Hawthorne, which keeps a small but brilliant beer selection. New Seasons often has them -- especially the cork-stoppered Belgian Damnation -- but I had to ask them to find me a Pliny from the back the one time they had it in stock. Does anyone know, are those the only 3 RR beers shipped to Oregon?

There's another Blind Pig beer you'll sometimes see on tap around Portland, a dunkelweizen from Leavenworth (a.k.a Fish Brewing). It seems to be a regular at Clay's Barbecue on Division, and it was a guest tap at the Tugboat last time I was there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Apology to John Foyston

Something I wrote a few months ago has been nagging at my conscience, and I want to correct it. I put up a rant that took John Foyston to task for his article in the Oregonian that called Hopworks the "bikiest" brewpub in Portland. I wrote that "anyone who could describe HUB that way has obviously never arrived there by bike".

My main point was that HUB's location on Powell is not very bike-friendly. But the dig at John was not only unnecessary, but absolutely untrue. Of course he goes there on his bike; he even has a picture of his bike at Hopworks in his article about the recent Fresh Hop Tastival. In fact, he's rolled up on his bicycle the last couple of times I've run into him somewhere.

It's easy for me to get all hyperbolic when writing my opinion about a subject near and dear to my heart. Usually I keep the negativity pretty low, and confined to matters of taste, like "this beer doesn't taste green enough", or "I hate the word 'Tastival'". But that time I screwed up, so John, please accept my apology. Your consolation is that not many people read the rant anyway.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Beer Mapping Project

From time to time I cobble up a Google map to illustrate a post here, such as the map of Portland Growler Prices. It's easy to add your own locations with a little bit of text, or to add lines showing some route or the other.

But my puny maps are child's play compared to a beautiful website put together by a genius known as "beerinator": The Beer Mapping Project. Kept up-to-date by user submissions, photos, and reviews, it's a very powerful tool. Here's a map from the BMP that shows the beer-related sites within a 3-mile radius of the Lucky Lab:

[Hmm... this map doesn't show up in Google Reader. Click over to the blog if you can't see it.] You have to zoom out to see the full radius, but you get the idea. Click on one of the markers, and it will give you a balloon of information about the place, including some internet linkage.

The BMP site has over 40 U.S. and Canada city maps, plus regional maps of Europe, North America, and Australia. In addition to brewpubs and breweries, it lists beer bars, beer stores, and homebrew shops. The Portland map is in pretty good shape, but there are a few gaps that some of us motivated beer geeks could help fill in -- I feel a little guilty because the only location I've submitted is Vincente's Pizza, and that was months ago.

There are other goodies available, such as an interface with Twitter that will let you map out your beer wanderings. If you're really gung-ho, beerinator generously offers an API that lets you build your own application on top of the database. Or if you're only partially gung-ho, there's a push-button HTML generator that lets you embed BMP information on your blog or website -- either maps like the one above, or vital-statistics boxes like this:

So far I haven't seen a feature on BMP that would let me annotate one of their maps with my own information the same way I can with Google Maps. That's OK, it's still a great resource, especially when you're on the road.

On a related note: if you're not just a beer geek, but also a coffee geek, you should check out my buddy Eric's site: espresso map. It doesn't have the beermapping bells and whistles, but it might just save your life one day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fresh Hop Tastival 2008

There are a couple other eyewitness reports on Saturday's Fresh Hop festival at Hopworks, so I'm a little late getting my opinion out there. Angelo is really ticked off that most of the taps were dry by the time he arrived at the exact midpoint of the event. The scan of his program with the empty kegs marked is hilarious.

The consolation for those who arrived late is the fact that Hopworks rolled out for them the barrel-aged version of their fresh-hop Parsec Pale -- pumped through a filter of fresh hops(!), as seen in some of John Foyston's excellent photos of the festival. Those of us that arrived on time were told that the barrel-aged Parsec would not be served.

Despite the large crowd -- which actually wasn't so bad if you got there early -- there were several ways that this year's Tastival was better than the 2007 one at Edgefield:

  • Alphabetical order!
  • Location near my house.
  • Nicer looking pint glasses.
  • All advertised beers were served, at least for a while.
Since I had already scoured Portland for about half of the beers at the Tastival, I got almost everything covered. My favorite of the year is still the Nugget-hop variant of Full Sail's Lupulin, and there were certainly some failures at the festival, but here are some of the ones I hadn't yet tried that made a good impression:
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond: mmm...
  • Ninkasi Mt. Hops: bitter, funky, and yum
  • Hopworks Parsec Pale: nice, similar to Laurelwood Hop Bale
  • Deschutes Fairweather: light and tasty, right on
Foyston reports that the Portland Deschutes pub is still serving that Fresh Hop Mirror Pond -- and two more fresh-hop ales not at the festival. It's worth checking out. You might find the Ninkasi around town also, it's far better than the fresh-hop light lager they made last year.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hopworks Tastival Preview

I'm very excited about the Fresh Hop Tastival coming up Saturday at Hopworks. Although I didn't go quite as overboard this year as last, I have been running around trying to taste some of the 2008 fresh hop beers. Here's what I got around to, roughly in order of favorite to least favorite:
  • Full Sail: Lupulin with Nugget Hops
  • Full Sail: Lupulin with Cascade Hops
  • Laurelwood: Hop Bale Pale
  • Bridgeport: Hop Harvest
  • Laurelwood: Fresh Nugs
  • Lucky Lab: The Mutt
  • New Old Lompoc: Fresh Hop Red
  • Deschutes: Hop Trip
  • Widmer: TEAser
  • Full Sail: Lupulin with Mt. Rainier Hops
  • Rock Bottom: Hop Harvest
  • Hopworks: Fest of Fury
  • Rogue: Independence Fresh Hop Ale
  • McMenamins CPR: India Pale Ale
  • Roots: Hoppopotamus
  • New Old Lompoc: Hop Press
Even though I tried to put them mostly in order, I have to say that I didn't dislike a single one of the beers on that list. Even the ones near the bottom were really good; one reason I might have ranked them lower was if they missed the green flavor I wanted. A good example is the Fest of Fury, which is a delicious malty brew -- really stellar, but with only a hint of the fresh hop aroma.

After my disappointment with the first batch of Lupulin to come out, I was really happy to try the other two batches and find that they almost got me back to that happy place I was last year with the Amarillo-hopped Lupulin. Hop Trip fell a little in my estimation this year, mainly because the rest of the competition was so good. For example, I really slammed Bridgeport in 2007 because the hoppiness drowned out the freshness, but I feel like they got it right this year.

The Lucky Lab also got it right with the Mutt this year: it tastes much better than last year's. It's an amazingly mild 3.2% ABV -- that's even lower than Oklahoma/Utah 3.2%, which is ABW (about 4% ABV) -- but the fresh flavor shines through. The flyer describing it at the bar mentions that it was brewed with 45 pounds of fresh hops, but the hop-gleaning party supposedly yielded 125 pounds. Hopefully that means that there are three batches of it made up and ready to drink.

The Widmer and Laurelwood 2008 offerings tasted better to me also. Widmer's uses an experimental new hop with supposedly 0% bitter alpha acids, though I thought it was nicely bitter. New Old Lompoc didn't brew Star of India -- which I thought was really good last year -- but they did a great job with the Fresh Hop Red. It's very similar to last year's Harvest Man -- I think they're both based on their Proletariat Red -- but with a more prominent fresh hop flavor.

Even with that head start, there are a lot of beers on the list that I can't wait to try, like Ninkasi, Double Mountain, Pelican, and the fresh-hopped pale from Hopworks. The Tastival will be a great time, don't miss it!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rogue Distillery and Public House

Sometime in the past year, the Rogue pub in the Pearl vastly expanded the number of taps they have -- to 36, according to the website. Right before they did that, a bartender told me that they would have a lot more guest taps, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Today they had Guinness, Lindeman's, and something forgettable that I forgot.

Instead of guest taps, what they offer is an awesome selection of Rogue beers, including several of the "Track Town" ales from their Eugene brewery, and a couple from their brewery in Issaquah, Washington. Today they had 4 or 5 of their XS brews on tap -- extra-strong, served in a 10-ounce goblet -- including the Imperial Younger's Special Bitter, the Imperial Red, and a couple of other imperial this and that.

It's a nice place to pop in for lunch -- a little bit pricey, but hey, you're in the Pearl district, and the burgers are made with Kobe beef. There's a choice of seating -- some tables outside if weather permits, a non-smoking restaurant area inside, and a bar area without table service. Even though it allows smoking (until January 2009), I usually end up in the bar to be close to my beer. The smoke has never been too bad when I've been there.

The small distillery currently produces a decent gin and a couple flavors of rum. If you're there around 2 PM on a weekday, you can take a tour of the distillery, which is pretty interesting and includes a couple tastes. By the way, the pub can sell you a bottle of the homemade spirits, and it's open long after the liquor stores have closed in Oregon. Say it's midnight Saturday and you just realized you have to have a beer martini, but you don't have any gin. Well, hurry on down to the Rogue pub, and buy a bottle of gin -- they'll even sell you the beer. I'm not sure about the olives.

My main reason for hitting Rogue today was to try the Independence Fresh Hop Ale, made with hops from Rogue's own farm. Independence was a solid beer, not in the top fresh-hop ranks, but I was quite happy with it at lunch. Speaking of happy, that's how I felt about catching the tail end of a Rogue "garage sale" at the pub: I walked out with a growler of American Amber for $6 (six-pack equivalent price of $6.75, or if you deduct the $2 price of an empty growler, it's like a $4.50 six-pack).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Beer Martini

The other day we had some guests over and I shook up some martinis. If you're a stickler for correctness, you know that James Bond has it wrong: the classic martini is stirred, not shaken. However, I consider shaking an improvement on my usual technique, which is to just put everything into a martini glass and stir it with my finger.

After the guests had left and I was cleaning up the kitchen, I remembered that I had a few ounces of Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale in a growler in the fridge. It was totally flat, almost a week old. Hmm... can it be put any good use? Yes, of course. Here's my beer martini recipe:

Stale Pale Ale Martini
  • 2 oz. pale ale
  • 4 - 6 oz. gin
  • 3 olives
  • 3 ice cubes
Put everything into a glass. Stir with finger.

Keep your gin in the freezer so the drink will be nice and cold. Use good olives, also -- I find that garlic-stuffed olives are a good choice, or a mix of garlic- and jalapeno-stuffed. Important: for those of you arriving here from Google searches: use good beer (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sam Adams Boston Ale -- not Boston Lager). Note that a "single" at a bar uses about 1.5 oz. of gin, so the recipe above is a big drink. Scale it to fit your glassware/tolerance.

The beer martini was mighty tasty with some 95-proof Cascade Mountain Gin. It's a little sweeter than a normal martini, and the beer complements gin's aromatics very nicely. Don't be afraid of using a hoppy beer -- this also worked well with Sierra Nevada's Chico Estate. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, a couple days after my first beer martini, the Oregonian reported that the official Oregon cocktail was a concoction made with Terminal Gravity IPA. Are you ready for beer cocktails?

By the way, if you want to make a killer regular martini, simply substitute cheap white wine or leftover champagne for the pale ale. That's a trick I learned long ago from that culinary classic, Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices. The inimitable George Herter points out that vermouth is nothing but wine that was so bad that it could only be sold by flavoring it with bitter herbs. Instead of paying a premium for vermouth, go buy the second-cheapest Chardonnay at Safeway, and have yourself a decent martini.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sierra Nevada Chico Estate Harvest Ale

Bringing fresh-hop beer into Oregon is like carrying brown ale to Newcastle. With something like 41 wet-hop beers on offer around the state this year, there's no shortage of homegrown product. Nevertheless, Sierra Nevada works a couple of interesting angles: an off-season Harvest Ale with hops from New Zealand, and the Chico Estate Harvest Ale, with hops grown on the brewery premises.

Sierra Nevada's fresh-hop ales haven't impressed me yet, though the Chico Estate is the best so far. It's a fairly malty pale ale, with a long, pleasant bitterness. It has a faint green hop aroma -- which I find to be totally missing in SN's other two Harvest variants -- but not enough to convince a spoiled Portlander. And it's not just a bottled vs. draft issue -- bottles of Deschutes' Hop Trip get the flavor right, as do bottles of Hale's Harvest Ale. I'm not sure why they're not able to capture it in Chico.

Pity. I eagerly awaited the arrival of Chico Estate when I heard it would be bottled this year. I had gotten a taste of last years' at the Portland Holiday Ale Festival (they called it 20th Street Ale at the time), and found it better than the ordinary Sierra Nevada Harvest. I got even more excited when I read a review last week that said this year's bottled version tasted "green" -- hey, that's how I describe these things. But it's not how I'd describe Chico Estate. I think I'll stick to Oregon beers -- and that tasty Hale's -- for the rest of fresh-hop season.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thumbs Up for Lupulin No. 3

I'm sitting here in the Pilsner Room with a pint of the third batch of Full Sail's 2008 Lupulin Ale, this one made with Nugget hops. Lighter in color than batch number one, the flavor reminds me much more of last year's awesome brew, more vegetably and less bitter than the batch made with Mt. Rainier hops.

Get it while it lasts -- it looks like the second batch (Cascade hops) went on while I was out of town, and it's already gone (though I hope to catch it at a Tastival).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Laurelwood: Fresh Hop Duel

You can't go wrong with either of Laurelwood's fresh hop ales this year -- the fresh, green flavor comes through clearly in both of them. Sunday I had a pint of Hop Bale Pale at the 51st and Sandy location, and brought home a growler of that and a growler of Fresh Nugs from the 40th and Sandy Laurelwood Pizza Company.

The Hop Bale is exactly what I'm looking for this time of year: a light, almost honey-sweet beer, with the herbal hop aroma that only the wet hops impart. This nudges Bridgeport out of first place for me in 2008, though of course there are a lot more beers yet to try. It's the beer on the left in the picture.

On the right is a glass of Fresh Nugs. It's much hoppier than the Hop Bale -- Laurelwood's blog describes it as "mondo super good times hoppy" -- but it's still unmistakably fresh-hopped. The bitterness lasts and lasts, which is a good thing. Comparing the two beers in the picture, you can see that the Nugs is cloudier and a little darker -- more vitamins I guess. If IBUs are your thing, you might prefer it, but my vote goes to the Hop Bale, which gets the flavor exactly right.

Last year I thought Laurelwood's fresh-hop brew suffered from the same problem as Bridgeport's: too much regular old dry-hop flavor. Both breweries corrected that this year. I'm a happy camper.

Friday, September 26, 2008

San Jose Airport Beer Blues

What a wasteland! Once I got past security at terminal C of Mineta Airport, my only draft beer options were Bud and Bud Light at the sports-themed bar. No one was taking them up on it. Compare PDX, with Rogue and Laurelwood pubs, and at least some Widmer taps at the hot dog stands.

The other bar in the terminal at San Jose -- called Martini Monkey -- used to have a couple of taps: Sierra Nevada Pale and Widmer at least, but now they only offer the bottles in the picture above. Gordon Biersch Marzen was the least of all evils. Six bucks... What's the six-pack equivalent price of that? Oh, $36? Guess I'll stop complaining about growler prices.

There is a GB pub in the other terminal, but there's no connection behind security as at the Portland airport. Get me outta here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

North Coast Cru D'Or

There's nothing like a trip to the Silicon Valley to make you appreciate Portland's pub culture. The intrepid West Coast Good Beer Guide doesn't get any further south in the Bay Area than Burlingame; there are a few brewpubs in the valley, but by and large the most interesting place to pick up local beers turns out to be the grocery store. My best beer experience so far on this trip is that I found a tasty beer from North Coast Brewing that I don't recall seeing in Portland: Cru D'Or, a certified organic Belgian-style ale.

Despite the name, Cru D'Or isn't a golden ale -- pardon my inappropriate hotel plasticware -- it's a darker Abbey ale, like a dubble. It's rather sweet, with that delicious flowery Belgian yeast taste. A winner.

Now that Russian River is even distributed in Oregon, I was hoping to pick some up in the stores here, but I haven't seen any yet. Oh well. Give credit to the Mountain View Whole Foods for stocking the Cru D'Or. BevMo didn't have it [Update: Corey points out that Cru D'Or is a Whole Foods exclusive -- how does he learn these things?!?], but listen to the awesome thing BevMo does have: alphabetical order. That's right, beers are shelved alphabetically by brewery. Why does anyone do it any other way?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lucky Lab Hop Harvest

What a blast! I got submerged in work yesterday and almost forgot to go help the Lucky Lab pick the cones off the hop vines for this year's fresh hop beer. Not to worry, there were still plenty of vines to work on by the time I got there.

In contrast to John Harris' experiment this year with different single-hop versions of Full Sail Lupulin Ale, the Lab's harvest ale -- aptly named "The Mutt" -- is made with whatever hops wandered into the yard. Some of them are grown on premises, but most of them were donations brought in from gardens all over town.

The Lucky Lab is special to me in many ways, one of which is the fact that it's where I first tasted fresh-hop ale a few years ago, but I was unimpressed by the 2007 Mutt. The 2008 will use the same grain recipe, but it should pack more of a hop punch. Last year they put 74 pounds of fresh hops into the Mutt -- yesterday's bumper crop weighed in at 125 pounds, almost twice as much.

It was great fun to stand around pulling the hops off the vine. I was only there for an hour or so, but a number of the hop pickers were there the whole time from noon until around 6 PM. It wasn't just the usual Portland beer suspects -- although they were certainly there -- and that was part of the beauty of it. Anyone with a love of beer and a willingness to get sticky fingers could walk right up and pitch in. It was another true Portland experience.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

First Fresh Hops 2008

Since John Harris' Lupulin Ale was my favorite fresh-hop beer last year -- and I wasn't alone in that assessment -- I had to be at the Full Sail Pilsner Room last Wednesday when this year's Lupulin was presented to the public. Actually, this was the first of three single-hop variations of the ale, all with the same malt bill. This first batch was made with Mt. Rainier hops.

It wasn't a madhouse at the Pilsner Room, like it was a few months ago when John presented some barrel-aged stouts and porters. So I was able to walk right up and say hello, and snag a seat at the bar so I could eavesdrop as John Foyston interrogated him about the beer. Brett showed up later and had a couple Lupulins with me.

On Friday evening, however, it was a madhouse at Bridgeport when Dave and I went over for the Hop Harvest opening night. I was glad we went, because in addition to this year's offering, they also served up the 2006 and 2007 incarnations of Hop Harvest. That vertical tasting confirmed my opinion that the 2007 Hop Harvest -- while an excellent strong IPA -- overplayed the hops and drowned out the fresh-hop goodness. The 2006 was more to my liking.

On to this year's beers. My first impression is that this batch of Full Sail's Lupulin doesn't have that green, green flavor that last year's had, that was so fantastic. John said that last year's was made with a last-minute windfall of fresh Amarillo hops from Hop Union. He was unable to get any Amarillos this year, but he says that apart from the hops the recipe is the same. That surprised me because the color is quite a bit darker than last year's. Dark but also clear -- wasn't the 2007 Lupulin kind of cloudy?

The 2008 Lupulin reminds me of Deschutes' Green Lakes Organic Ale, which I like a lot. It's got that roasty-sweet richness, plus a lot of hops, naturally. The very bitter finish calls to mind Sierra Nevada's Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, though the SNSHHA didn't have that rich Green Lakes flavor backing it up. So, I'm a little disappointed in this first taste, but I will be very interested to try the other variants. [Update (2008/10/21): The Nugget- and Cascade-hopped versions are awesome.] And there should be plenty of it to go around: John said he'll brew seven times as much Lupulin this year as last -- 140 barrels vs. 20.

Bridgeport's 2008 brew -- also darker in color than previous years -- seems a little more on target than Full Sail's. You get a little more of the grassy fresh flavor, though the bitterness still is more predominant than I'm looking for. I give a "B" grade to each of the three harvest beers I've had this year -- the third one being Rock Bottom -- but so far my favorite is Bridgeport's.

Stay tuned: the season is just getting started.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fresh Hop Tastivals

My favorite time of year is fresh-hop season. If you're not a total maniac, a way to try a lot of the fresh hop beers in one sitting is to attend one of the Oregon Brewers Guild's 2008 Fresh Hop "Tastivals":They all take place on Saturdays from noon to 9 PM. I'm glad to see that the Portland affair is at Hopworks -- I really enjoyed the 2006 festival at the Quimby Street Lucky Lab. Last year's was way out at Edgefield, pretty much guaranteeing a car trip to get there, which always sets me off on the wrong foot.

The suburban location was only one of the gripes I had about last year's festival. Some other annoyances:
  • At least 8 of the advertised beers were not actually poured at the Edgefield event.
  • The $5 souvenir glass was ratty looking.
  • I hate the term "Tastival". Please stop using that word.
The gaps in the program last year were truly breathtaking. No beers from Ninkasi, Amnesia, Standing Stone, Mia and Pia's, Raccoon Lodge, or Calapooia -- even though they had been promoted as part of the tastival -- and a couple of alternate brews from other breweries were missing also. That was a drag.

You probably think it's whiny to complain about the glass, but the 2007 glass was really, really ugly compared to the one from the year before. In the picture above, 2006 is on the left, 2007 on the right. Even if the logo itself wasn't so ugly, the quality of the printing was far worse, with flaws and bubbles. It's not a big deal, but still disappointing.

The good news is that this year's season has started -- Dave went and picked up growlers of Rock Bottom's harvest ale last Thursday. Both Full Sail and Bridgeport will unveil their offerings this week, on Wednesday and Friday respectively. It seems like the fresh-hop ales are coming out a little earlier in 2008 than 2007 -- my first sighting last year wasn't until September 25th. I also heard that New Old Lompoc was brewing theirs last Friday, so look for it sometime around the 19th.

Rock Bottom's Hop Harvest had the right idea, a rich golden ale with a nice body. It had that fresh, green flavor that I crave in these beers, but not quite enough of it. I'll give it a "B". I'm eagerly awaiting the rest of this year's crop!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Roots' New Brews

Finally! Delicious and refreshing Calypso is back on tap at Roots. Light but not thin, flavored with Habanero peppers, it's a winner. If you didn't try it at the OBF, grab some now.

At the other end of the spectrum, Younger's Nightmare is on tap now also. Sold in 10 ounce goblets because of its 9% strength, it's a chewy imperial stout aged for a while in bourbon barrels. If that sounds good to you, this one won't disappoint you, it's wonderful. If it doesn't sound good, don't have one, because supposedly there are only two kegs of it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Portland Growler Prices

A couple weeks ago I was grousing about the high price to get beer growlers filled in Portland. With that in mind, I give you the Portland Growler Price Map, which lists the growler price at pubs around Portland, as well as the Six-Pack Equivalent price:

View Larger Map

Click on the individual thumbtacks on the map, to get details for that location. A lot of the information on this map was stolen from the Champagne of Blogs' growler index, augmented with a few things I investigated on my own.

You Can Help

A lot of the prices on the map were a year or more out of date on Day One. And many worthy establishments are not yet listed. I'll volunteer to keep this updated for the Portland metro area (say, a 20 mile radius), but I need all of you to send me current information. Use the email address in the sidebar: for each pub that you want to update me about, please send the following data:
  • Price to fill 64 ounce growler.
  • Price to buy the growler itself (if available).
  • Whether they'll fill competitor growlers.
  • Whether they'll fill 2-quart mason jars.
  • The date of your information.

They Should be Cheaper!

About those prices. My feeling is that it's silly to have to pay a premium for something that doesn't have to be packaged, distributed, and retailed. Commenters on the Growler Math post pointed out that pubs have a different business model than beer bottlers, and that economies of scale apply.

Nevertheless, beer drinkers spend some of their money in pubs, and some money on bottled beer -- let's leave our brave homebrewers out of the equation for now. Wouldn't brewpubs like to take away some of that bottled beer market? They should be able to do so if they can offer a growler price that corresponds roughly to the price of a good 6-pack.

Given the price of a 64-ounce growler, multiply it by 1.125 to get the price of 72 ounces of beer, so that you can compare the price with that of a 6-pack. So a $12 growler is like a $13.50 six-pack -- ouch! Canadian prices! On the other hand, an $8 growler is like a $9 six-pack -- not cheap, but increasingly common. I would divert a lot of my 6-pack budget to growlers if the price at places I frequent was $8 or less.

I've just been talking about the dollars-and-cents of beer growlers, but there's also the environmental aspect of reusing the beer container, and cutting down on some of the transportation and refrigeration. Beer writer Stan Hieronymous recently blogged about New Belgium Brewing's report on their carbon footprint. Stan clipped a graphic from the report that shows that 60% of the footprint is from packaging (glass and paper), distribution, and retailing. So you've cut more than half of your environmental impact from your beer drinking if you fill up locally!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Southern Star Pine Belt Pale

Carla was visiting her family in Conroe, Texas a few weeks ago -- for those of you who aren't familiar with Conroe, it's in the southeast part of the state, just five miles from Cut and Shoot. Happily enough, one of Texas' newest microbreweries is located in Conroe: Southern Star. She was able to sample their first release, Pine Belt Pale Ale, and -- attentive wife that she is -- she brought me a 16-ounce can so I could try it myself.

It's a solid first effort: quite malty with a good dose of hops. Pine Belt is unfiltered, so it's a little cloudy, and mine even seemed to have some flecks of yeast in it. The hops are not so floral but nicely bitter. Carla picked up what she called an interesting oily flavor -- in a good way -- but try as I might I couldn't taste that. The 16-ounce cans are a great idea -- as more breweries start to can their beer, I hope they go the tall-boy route like this. They still take up less space than a 12-ounce bottle. Hey, how about 20-ounce cans?

The obvious Oregon beer to compare Pine Belt to is Caldera Pale Ale, also sold in cans. The Caldera is definitely a few shades lighter in color, but almost as malty in flavor. Crystal clear -- must be filtered -- and with a little more flowery hops. In my opinion, Caldera's is a little better offering, but there's no shame in that, they've been at it a lot longer than Southern Star, and they get to brew with pure Oregon water. Our correspondent in Texas calls Southern Star the Rookie of the Year. For now Pine Belt Pale is their only brew; I'll be interested to hear what other styles they work up.

Something about the name Southern Star had a familiar ring to it. I finally realized that the beautiful picture of a table laden with Tex-Mex food that takes up the whole gatefold of ZZ Top's Tres Hombres LP shows a glass of beer with a Southern Select bottle next to it. Apparently that was a Houston-area brewery from the 1930's to the 1950's. Given that Southern Star is producing craft ales instead of factory lagers, the naming similarity is probably only coincidental.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eugene's Oakshire Brewing

Last night, the Pub Night gang descended on the Green Dragon's excellent new outdoor patio for meet-the-brewer with Oakshire Brewing. That's Oakshire brewer Todd Friedman in the picture, next to the clever business-card-holder tap handles. These guys didn't appear on my radar until earlier this year, when the Green Dragon poured their Amber, but according to their website they've been selling beer since late 2006. We've had an amazing run of good new breweries in Oregon these last few years.

Originally Oakshire was called Willamette Brewing, but as they got more attention they started getting cease and desist letters from Willamette Valley Vineyards. That's pretty stupid -- maybe Willamette University or Willamette Week should sue the whining winemaker. To get on with the business of making beer, the brewers changed their name to Oakshire Brewing, but then had to tweak their oak tree logo after getting a cease-and-desist from Laurelwood's lawyers, who think they invented the "tree" shape. Hey lawyers, why don't you go out and do something constructive for a change?

The Amber seems to be their signature beer. It's not bad, but of the ones I've tried so far, it seems the least interesting to me. Last night the big winners were the Watershed IPA -- which I had enjoyed at the OBF Brewers Dinner last month -- and the Overcast Espresso Stout. The stout was pitch-black, with a nice dark-brown head. Flavored with coffee from Eugene's Wandering Goat, the stout mixed with the java flavor really well. They also brought along a Hefeweizen, which was OK, but a little disappointing compared to the awesome Dunkelweizen they showed off at the Organic Brewfest this year. Or maybe it's as good as the dunkel, but I just need to drink it on a 100-degree day.

Look for their beers on tap around town -- the Green Dragon and Belmont Station seem to have them on fairly regularly. For more information, check out thisthat Portland writer

Friday, August 22, 2008

West Coast Good Beer Guide

Anytime you're traveling on the West Coast, you'll want to bring along the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for our fair region. The British authors of the Guide, both in their early 30's, do an amazingly thorough job of covering the breweries and pubs of the area. They even have an entry for a bar 10 blocks from my house -- Roadside Attraction -- that I was dimly aware of, but had never ventured into. Cheeky devils -- if I was younger I'd go write a book about drinking beer in their neighborhood. The writing is witty but concise: they cram a lot of beery information into 300 pages.

In addition to covering Washington, Oregon, and California, the Guide has chapters on Alaska, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. Within each geographic area are separate sections for breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, and "other beer destinations". The entries within each section are numbered, with a map at the end of each chapter for handy reference. Driving through Washington on Highway 97 last week, if it weren't for the map in the Guide, I would never have been aware we were passing so close to the Hop Museum in Toppenish, although we got there too late in the evening to visit it. It also saved me by providing the phone numbers for Boundary Bay and Iron Horse -- even though we intended to visit both breweries, I had left home without directions or phone numbers for either.

Just before buying this book, I had blogged about Tugboat Brewing. Thumbing through the Portland section, I became embarrassed about the uncomfortable number of similarities between what I wrote about Tugboat and the Guide's take on it. Both descriptions noted that it was a cozy pub with a 4-barrel operation that had been there since the early 90's. We both recommended the Chernobyl Stout, and dutifully pointed out that it is only served in half-pints. Finally, I regretted my pretentious use of the British phrase "opening hours", since it made it seem like I took every bit of my information from the Guide. I was certain someone was going to accuse me of plagiarism; fortunately my readership is small enough that no one made the connection.

As good as the GBG is, I wouldn't be a beer nerd if I couldn't find a few things to nitpick about it. For starters, the Washington map is a little confused: the things I noticed are that some of the brewpub numbers between 33 and 40 are incorrect, and the map shows Dick's Brewing to be in Long Beach instead of Centralia. I also wish they had included a chapter on British Columbia -- that would have been more useful to Northwesterners than Alaska and Hawaii. Another quibble is that most Portlanders will be ticked off that the only Portland brewpubs that rate a "Highly Recommended" are Edgefield and the Rogue pub -- and Rogue doesn't even brew at the Portland pub.

Still, you don't buy a travel guide for your hometown, you buy it for the places you're visiting. The Good Beer Guide is thorough, up-to-date, well-organized and fun to read. Don't leave home without it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Washington Vacation Beers

On our way back from Canada, we stopped for lunch at Boundary Bay in Bellingham. The Pale Ale they brought to the OBF was one of my favorites this year, and we were hungry after a frustrating wait at the border, so the pub was a welcome sight. The service was especially friendly there; for example, they quickly found us a new table inside when it started to rain on our original porch seats.

Carla was the big winner, since she ordered their delicious IPA. It's their most popular ale, and it's easy to see why -- it's flowery and rich, even better than the single-hop pale that I tried. The Oatmeal Stout was also tasty -- better than the Dry Irish Stout -- but that IPA topped them all. Good food, too.

I saw a guy at another table get his gallon-sized apple-juice jug filled with beer, twice the size of regular growlers. The price for that was $15, close to bottled beer pricing, corresponding to about $8.50 per 6-pack. Regular half-gallon growler fills were less of a deal at $8.75, but that's less than most Portland pubs charge.

Then we drove across the Cascades on Highway 2, to spend nearly a week off the grid in Stehekin, a town without telephone or cellular service, that can only be reached by taking a boat up Lake Chelan. There is no brewpub action to report for that part of the vacation, though I was impressed by the selection of beer available at the one little grocery there: Alaskan Amber, Rogue Dead Guy, and even Shiner Bock were available for not-too-ridiculous prices. If I had known about that, I might not have bothered to haul in my own supply of Unibroue acquired in Vancouver.

On the way back to Portland Saturday afternoon, we went through the interesting little Central Washington town of Ellensburg. It's basically in the middle of nowhere [oops, only 100 miles from Seattle, see the comments], but it caught my attention because it's the home of the Iron Horse Brewery. Iron Horse's Quilter's Irish Death Stout was one of the buzz beers at the 2008 OBF, but I failed to try it before the lines went crazy.

Now, Iron Horse is not a pub. They do have a tasting room, but we were a tired, hungry family of four, so that wasn't good enough for us. Fortunately, a call to the brewery led to a fantastic restaurant recommendation: the Palace Cafe and Saloon, which serves four of Iron Horse's beers. The Palace -- open since 1892, in the current location since 1949 -- serves very good Western diner food in a quaint setting that would seem cheesy in almost any other place, but which succeeds in being totally charming. The bar in the back is less quaint, but they've got your sports viewing covered with several TVs mounted all over.

I got my taste of Irish Death at the Palace. It was a smooth, decent stout, but I have a feeling that its name gave it a little extra appeal. The IPA seemed better to me, another classic Northwest hop-slam. Very surprising to find something that good brewed in such an out-of-the way -- from my perspective -- place.

The tasting room sounds fun. When I called Iron Horse Saturday about 5 PM, I could hear a hubbub of happy conversation in the background. The woman who answered the phone told me about the Palace, but she couldn't direct me to it from Highway 97, because she wasn't from Ellensburg and didn't know where the highway was! Pretty informal there, I guess. If you're driving through Ellensburg on 97 or I-90, try to make a visit to the Iron Horse tasting room, and definitely hit the Palace for dinner.