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.