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!