Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oregon Brewers Festival 2008

Now I remember why we usually skip weekends at the OBF. By 2 PM on Saturday, there was only room for one single-file line through the tents in either direction. By 3 PM the lines for the most popular beers had backed up to the tables and made a right angle to continue down the length of the tent. And though the atmosphere remained friendly, the balance was beginning to tip towards smug preppies who couldn't answer simple questions like, "What do you like so far?".

Even so, with a good crowd of neighbors, regulars, and out-of-town guests, we had a good time. Our Texas guests Clark and Milena had arranged their Portland visit to include the festival, so I was glad it wasn't 95 degrees in the shade like it is some years. Dave got to the festival a few minutes before the rest of us, quick enough to stake out a shady spot where we could roll out a couple blankets where the kids could sit and play between dust baths.

When we bailed out about 3:30, there were a few beers I would have liked to try that I missed because I didn't get to them before the lines went crazy: Iron Horse Quilter's Irish Death, Bell's Porter, Standing Stone Almond Brown, and Hale's Kolsch, to name a few. Of the ones I did try, here are my favorites:
  • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid: awesome orangey smell and taste
  • Green Flash Hop Head Red: grew on me Saturday, caramelly and nice
  • Widmer Full Nelson: dark and syrupy, tangy grapefruit
  • Russian River Pliny the Elder: delish, of course
  • Boundary Bay Dry Hopped Pale: tasty
  • Roots Calypso: refreshing, light, spicy
  • Rock Bottom Congo Queen: tasty, fruity Belgian
  • Surly Coffee Bender: strong coffee, tasty
Jeff at Beervana thought the Widmer tasted like "cat pee" -- I can see what he's talking about, but I liked it anyway. Most of my friends disagreed with me. The roots Calypso has Scotch Bonnet peppers (a.k.a. Habanero), one of my favorite flavors in the world. In the past they've done a Chocolate Habanero Stout, which was good, but I think the peppers go even better with this really light beer. I'll be enjoying that while it lasts at the pub.

All in all, another enjoyable brewfest. I think I'll stick to the weekdays next year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

First Glance at the 21st OBF

Our big day at the Oregon Brewers Festival 2008 will be tomorrow, to accomodate out-of-town guests and tyrannical work schedules. But I popped in this afternoon, ostensibly just to buy mugs for a head start tomorrow, and ended up spending a little longer there than I planned. I love the OBF. I know it doesn't have the beer-nerd cred of other festivals, but the location and the vibe are so good that it's really a highlight of the summer for me.

Part of the reason I lingered a while was because I met Matt, on assignment from My Beer Pix and acting as a stunt double for Port Brewing's Tomme Arthur. Not a dead ringer, but he was wearing a Lost Abbey shirt. While Matt and I were chatting, Brian with the pointy mustache walked up -- like my friends Cathy and Loren, it's getting to the point where I expect to see him at every beer festival I go to.

Here are the 5 beers I tried during my short stay:
  • Oakshire (née Willamette) Amber: Drinkable, but not as exciting as their IPA from the Brewers Dinner or their Dunkelweisse from the NAOBF.
  • Green Flash Hop Head Red: Tasty big red ale, with tongue-coating amounts of hops. Possibly too hoppy.
  • Rogue Glen: Named for the late Glen Hay Falconer, a classic strong Rogue Ale. My Friday favorite.
  • Flying Fish Abbey Double: well-done Abbey Ale, on the esthery side. New Jersey? Get a rope!
  • New Holland Dragon's Milk Oak-aged Strong Ale: Chocolatey, not bad, but not as big as its hype.
I'll have more to post after our big day tomorrow. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Live from the Brewers Dinner

The Brewers Dinner, annual benefit for the Oregon Brewers Guild, is a fun kickoff to the Brewers Festival.

Some highlights: Rogue Imperial YSB, Oakshire (formerly Willamette) IPA, Bridgeport Hop Czar from the firkin.

Good times, have fun at the OBF!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Portland International Beerfest 2008

The weather was beautiful last weekend for the Portland International Beerfest -- very pleasant compared to the heat wave during the Organic Brewers Festival a few weeks ago. Even if had been as hot as that, the location helps a lot: there are eight or nine huge trees in the block where PIB is held, as opposed to the single tree that adorns the 12 acres at Overlook Park.

On Friday night the pleasant breeze helped clear out the cigar smoke that so oppressed another blogger on Saturday. It's true, there were an astounding number of cigars being smoked, and lots of dogs, but children weren't allowed this year. I'm not much on prohibiting kids from beer festivals, but given the small space and the large crowd at the PIB this year, I think it worked out for the best.

I mentioned before that the Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza was the standout beer for me -- the one I'd never had that really impressed. After reading Jeff's account of the Harviestoun Ola Dubh Stout aged in Highland Park whisky casks, I'm embarrassed that I was too stingy to spend the $4 for a taste of it. Chalk it up to my experience last year with the J.W. Lee's barleywine aged in Lagavulin casks: it sounded wonderful but was such a disappointment that I was afraid the Ola Dubh would let me down in the same way.

Here are some other beers that made a good impression:
  • Rogue Brewer's Ale: very nice dark, strong ale, reminded me of Lucky Lab's Old Yeller barleywine
  • Rochefort 8: awesome dark Belgian ale
  • Rogue Batch 10,000: delicious barleywine
  • Abbaye Des Rocs Gran Cru: sweet, orange-blossom honey flavor
  • Dogfish Head Burton Baton IIPA: not bad, brown sugar flavor
  • De Koningshoeven Quadruple: nice quad, bubblegummy
  • Baird Temple Garden Yuzu Ale (Japanese beer with fruit): interesting
  • Mahr's Weissebock: nice, rich
  • Allagash Black: nice, but a little thin
The Allagash Black was listed as a "Foreign Stout", which made me think it would be like the unusual and delicious stout from de Dolle. It wasn't bad, but didn't stack up to my expectations. I was discussing it with a stranger while waiting in line for something else; in his opinion it should really be compared to Brussels black ales, like New Belgium's 1554. Sadly, I never got back around to the Allagash tent for a sample of Curieux, their barrel-aged Tripel, but I can heartily recommend it based on previous experience.

Wow, googling around for a website for Mahr's, I stumbled upon my own notes from last year's PIB, on Lee's blog. I had forgotten that he published them. Just another reminder of what a good time the PIB is -- yet another reason not to leave Portland during July.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Live from PIB 2008

In a few days I'll do a recap of the 2008 Portland International Brewfest, but today I'm experimenting with posting live via cell phone.

Each year it seems like there is one beer at the PIB that sticks in my mind. Something I never had before that really opens my eyes. Last year it was Eel River Triple Exultation; a couple years ago it was de Dolle's Belgian Stout. What will it be for 2008?

And the answer is... Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza. Dry and yeasty, just delicious.

Go to the festival, have a good time!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Don't Boycott the Green Dragon

It looks like things are back on track at the Green Dragon. I don't know the reasons for Lolo's departure -- and I for one will miss seeing him there -- but Chris was back behind the bar last night. That's what had people so upset, the thought that a lot of the personality of the place had been purged overnight. You could call it a tempest in a teapot -- which is what several folks did call it right from the start.

Jim Parker is still involved with promoting and/or scheming for the Dragon even though he sold his share, and he reports that another of the original owners, Kevin, is still doing some graphics work for the pub.

Jason from Roots was there last night with family in tow for meet-the-brewer. Epic 2006, Belgian Golden, Flanders Red, Mother Pucker (Tripel aged in Pinot barrels), and the Gruit Kolsch (hop-free!). Man I love Epic. Big crowd.

There is now sidewalk seating, and a lot more bike racks! Call off the boycott.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More of Todd's Beers

Here we go with another installment of beery adventures that took place when my Texas friends were in town a couple weeks ago. In addition to the Isabelle Proximus that we opened July 4th, Todd also brought two more Lost Abbey beers from Port Brewing -- Inferno Ale and Moonlit Sessions Lager -- and a bottle of Russian River Supplication. We had a poker game/beer-tasting the night of July 1st, and those three California beers were supplemented by some Oregon heavy-hitters I'd been saving up to spring on Lee and Todd.

Here's what we passed around that evening:
  • Russian River Supplication Batch 003: very sour; not so cherry; dry
  • Deschutes Abyss 2007: dry, bitter, and awesome
  • Lost Abbey Inferno: sweet like a strong Belgian; tasty
  • Lucky Lab Pavlov's Imperial Stout: aged really well (in the fridge); smooth and dark
  • Brett's homebrewed 2006 Belgian: delicious candy Belgian
  • Hair of the Dog Fred from the Wood 2008: rich; strong alcohol; yeasty bitter edge
  • Lost Abbey Moonlit Sessions Lager: black lager; smooth, chocolatey
A lot of work went into Supplication -- a brown ale with four different wild yeasts and bacilli, aged on sour cherries 14 months in pinot noir barrels, then bottle-conditioned -- but sadly all that work is wasted on those of us who haven't caught the sour-beer bug. It reminds me of this anecdote from the liner notes of a CD of Ligeti's Cello Concerto: "A number of the critics present [at the premiere] expressed surprise at the evident disproportion between the enormous difficulty of the work and ... the acoustic result". That's about how I feel about Supplication and Isabelle Proximus -- all that effort for just sourness. But Supplication does have its fans: here's a fresh blog entry (with nice photos) from someone who gets it.

The Lost Abbey beers on poker night were more to my liking. Inferno is in an abbey-style bottle with a champagne cork, but it didn't have that yeasty dubbel/tripel flavor; it seemed to me to be more in the Duvel family tree. The Moonlit Lager was a good poker-game beer; only 5% ABV but with a rich roasty flavor.

It was fun to rotate in the big Oregon beers also. I was happier with the Pavlov's than when I opened my other bottle of it six months ago. Brett's Belgian went over really well, and of course Fred from the Wood and Abyss are slam dunks any time. But the real Oregon success story was Dave's poker game. He was the only native at the table, and he took so much money from the Texans that he decided that Texas Hold'em should be called Oregon Hold'em from now on.

Thanks again to Todd and Andy for the California beers -- Lost Abbey and Russian River are hard for us to get here. And thanks to Brett for the awesome homebrew.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Isabelle Proximus

Our Texas buddy Todd -- well, he was in Portland for a year, now in Cleveland -- is becoming quite the beer geek, despite claiming an allergy to hops. First he goes to Boston and attends the American Craft Beer Fest; then he shows up on my doorstep with an armload of hard-to-find beers from Russian River and Port Brewing's Lost Abbey, courtesy of his friend Andy in LA.

Lindsey and Amy threw their traditional July 4th party, and Brett provided an excellent home-brewed Kolsch. The two five-gallon cans of it were exhausted in record time, which gave us an excuse to crack open Todd's bottle of barrel-aged Isabelle Proximus.

Isabelle Proximus is not simply a Lost Abbey product, but as the label says, an "Allaverdogportrush" ale -- a collaboration between five rock star brewmasters from Allagash, Avery, Dogfish Head, Port Brewing, and Russian River. Rob Tod, Adam Avery, Sam Calagione, Tomme Arthur, and Vinnie Cilurzo, respectively. Whew! That's some lineup. But from the outset there were two things working against this beer for me: first, it's a recently-released bottle-conditioned ale that most aficionados would cellar for awhile before opening; second, with its combination of wild yeasts and other fermenting beasties, it's going to be intensely sour. I reserve the right to one day acquire a taste for sour beers, but it hasn't happened yet.

We shared it around in one or two glasses; it looked right in a Saison Dupont glass that Lindsey had, more or less the same light-golden color as a saison. And, not surprisingly, it was extremely sour, so much so that I can't think of any other description of the flavor. There were no spoiled or medicinal flavors; it wasn't cloying; no hop or fruit flavor... just tartness. It was a big hit with sour-Belgian fans like Corey and Adam, who intoned in solemn Mayor Quimby voices "This is a fine bee-yuh." That is, if intoning is something you do over and over.

One interesting insight was from Tave, who I've known since we were both in the Peace Corps years ago in the West African country of Mali. "It's like dolo," she said -- traditional Malian millet beer. When I've tried to explain millet beer to people, I usually compare it to Bavarian hefeweizens: cloudy and yeasty, a little tart. But Tave is onto something by associating it with sour Belgian-style ale: dolo is fermented in open cauldrons, so at least some of its fermentation is likely due to wild yeasts. You drink it fresh, at room temperature -- which is admittedly somewhat higher than the temperature of a Belgian cellar -- and there are assuredly no hops in it.

So there you go -- some people pay $40 for a bottle of aged sour beer, some people pay a few cents for a fresh gourd of it. If you like a well-made wild ale that is going to age well for many years, Isabelle Proximus is for you. It's not really my cup of tea, but I sure am glad to have gotten a taste of a beer with such an interesting parentage. Salut to Todd and to Andy for generously providing the bottle!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What's up with the Green Dragon?

The Oregon Brew Crew mailing list is chattering about a further shakeup at the Green Dragon. Apparently Lolo is out, meaning none of the original founders remains, and I heard from another source that another beloved presence there is also gone. Strange, because I saw both of them there last Wednesday, and yesterday was supposed to be the "One-year not-quite-open party".

In less than a year this has become one of my favorite places in the neighborhood. I'll be ticked off if it's going under or if something fishy is happening.

Anyone have any details? Leave a comment, or if you want to keep it on the down-low, click on the "Email me" link on the blog.

[Update: 2008/07/16] It looks like the tempest has blown over.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

An Easy Bicycle Pub Crawl

This week we had a house full of old Texas friends. In honor of Lee's upcoming 40th birthday, Bret, Todd, and I took him on a bicycling pub crawl accompanied by his Portland friend Eric. No, not a 78-beer decathlon, just a little loop Wednesday evening through Southeast. Since Todd moved away shortly after Lee's visit last summer, I wanted to show off by including a couple of great pubs that have opened in the short time since then: Hopworks and Green Dragon. Bret was having a little trouble with his helmet by the end of the ride.

It probably shows a lack of good judgment that I led us across Powell Blvd. to Hopworks right at the five-o'clock rush hour. We were able to turn left from 26th onto the Powell sidewalk just as the light turned green for the cross traffic. For future reference, I have since found a better way -- especially if you're in a group -- to bicycle to Hopworks. Continue across Powell on 26th and turn left on Rhone. That dead-ends into 28th Place; bike back up the hill to Powell and walk the last block on the sidewalk. The left turn on Rhone has you battling much less traffic in all directions, and you get to enjoy a few blocks more of the Texas-sized bike lane on 26th. You may have heard that everything is bigger in Texas, but when referring to a bike lane, "Texas-sized" means it's about half the width of the Portland standard -- really it's just a little strip of pavement used to keep all the broken glass and roofing nails out of the automobile lanes.

After Hopworks, we went around the corner to a place I'd never been before, the Pub at the End of the Universe at 28th and Gladstone. You'd be forgiven for looking at the outside of the pub and thinking it was out of business, but inside it's a funky, comfortable dive. The mission was to try the Ozzy Osbourne-themed beers from Off the Rail, since the P.E.U. is one of the few places nearby that serves them. They had a bunch of them:
  • Mad Man IPA: smooth, a little hop edge, malty
  • War Pigs Wheat: mild banana flavor, nice
  • Sweet Leaf Amber: caramelly, not bad
  • Over the Mountain Stout: chocolate stout, didn't try it
  • Coal Porter: didn't try it; someone please explain to me the Ozzy connection in the name
I was impressed by the Off the Rail beers, the ones we had were well done. Oddly, there were posters up using Ozzy's picture not to sell Off the Rail products, but Coors' Blue Moon Wheat. We were disappointed by the jukebox: absolutely nothing by Black Sabbath or Ozzy. Zero.

The P.E.U. had an interesting beer selection, they are clearly trying to be original. No Widmer, no Bridgeport, only one Deschutes; but they did have Mac and Jack's Amber, a couple of Pike ales, and Lazy Boy IPA -- I've seen bottles of Lazy Boy around town, but that's the first tap. Community service points for that one! It's a little smoky in there, but definitely worth a visit for the offbeat selection and the laid-back atmosphere. They have a few pool tables and two soft-tip dart machines -- another unusual choice.

We rolled back up 26th and ended up stopping at Clinton Street Brewing. The Wit was a better batch on this visit than the last couple times I tried it, and our crowd generally liked the Amber and the IPA. We had the place pretty much to ourselves, it was a good time. They're still brewing in the tiny back room, but you can understand why the brewmaster wants to head for more capacious digs in Northwest.

Continuing up 26th, we went left on Harrison so that we could take the bikes-only crossing of 20th and bike past the east rose garden in Ladd's Addition. On summer evenings there's always some kind of activity in Ladd's center circle -- there were some jugglers this time -- so I made us do 1 and 3/8ths laps of the circle, turning right on Ladd Avenue. I think it's fun to stop in at all four of the rose gardens, but by this time we needed to get some food.

We took the bikes-only left turn onto Clay, and headed up 9th to the Green Dragon for the best pub food in the neighborhood. Todd and Lee were thoroughly excited by the recently-installed shuffleboard table at the Dragon. Yee Haw!

Then it's just four blocks down 9th to the back porch of the Lucky Lab. A cool summer evening on the Lab's patio with imperial pints and a bowl of peanuts in the shell: it doesn't get any Portlander than that. Roots beckoned from around the corner, so close that we just left the bikes at the Lucky Lab and walked over. When Jim turned off the lights, we realized it was time to call it a night and roll back up Main Street. Happy 40th, Lee!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Organic Brewers Festival 2008

Hot! That's my main impression of Saturday's session of the North American Organic Brewers Festival, and of the bike ride back home. It doesn't hit 100° very often in Portland: lucky thing there is one tree remaining in Overlook Park. It was pretty big, too, I don't know how the woodmen missed it. It provided enough shade for every single festival goer to cower beneath it between trips to the beer tent.

This was the first year I've attended the NAOBF, despite years of good intentions. I noticed that a couple of Portland bloggers list the Organic Festival as their favorite -- well, the word Jeff used was "premier" -- and although I had a good time, I can't say I feel the same way. Maybe without the crippling heat; or in a more scenic location. I should be careful what I wish for... Brett was telling me that they had the opposite weather problem last year -- too rainy.

I did totally approve of the alphabetical ordering of the brewery stations. A friend of mine taught me this useful saying: "There are exactly two kinds of order in the world: alphabetical order and random order." Please remember that next time you organize a beer festival! Dave noticed it right away, and it was certainly a big help in navigating the festival.

Dave and Brett and I were swapping tastes around, but we still kept the samples to a relatively small number. There were quite a few beers that I wanted to try but ended up skipping, plus a couple on my wish-list that were out by the time I got around to them. I kept my usual inarticulate notes on the beers I tasted, but didn't try to rank them like I occasionally do. Here are a few highlights (in random order):
  • Eel River Triple Exultation Old Ale: "awesome". The brewery calls this the "Ozzy Osbourne of Old Ales" -- they should cross-market with Off the Rail.
  • Eel River IPA: "good... no, bad... no, good!". There was so much flavor in this beer that it sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. I need to try a whole pint.
  • Laurelwood Green Mammoth IPA: "very tasty". Laurelwood is at their best when they go big.
  • Fort George Quick Wit: "very nice".
  • Hair of the Dog Blue Dot Double IPA: "oh yeah".
  • Willamette Dunkel: "very nice". This was a spot-on dark hefeweizen. Cloudy, fruity, and delicious.
  • Sasquatch Legacy Project Imperial Vienna: "nice". Very refreshing, which is amazing for an 8.7% lager.
  • Crannog Ales Hell's Kitchen: "nice". British Columbia brewery. They say this is an "Irish Red Ale made with organic potatoes". It was smooth and tasty.
I mentioned a few months ago that I had seen Willamette Brewing's unfiltered Amber on tap at the Pizzicato Pizza at the airport, but I didn't get a chance to try it then. The Dunkel was wonderful, and the IPA they had at the NAOBF was also good; keep an eye out for their beer around town. Belmont Station has bottles of some Eel River offerings -- I know I've picked up Triple Exultation before -- and it I think I've seen rotating taps for them in Portland a couple times, but nothing steady that I know of.

Overlook Park actually wasn't too bad of a bike ride from the east side. Just connect up with the Interstate bike lane from the Esplanade near the Rose Garden. Hopefully next year it won't be 100 degrees out.