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 beermapping.com 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).