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).