Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meet Hillsboro's Vertigo Brewing

Tuesday's meet-the-brewer at the Green Dragon featured Mike Haines and Mike Kinion, the brewer-owners of Vertigo Brewing, which opened in Hillsboro last year. Rather than subject them to my poor digital photography skills, I just left the shutter open and twisted the camera to get a vertiginous portrait of them under the Dragon's harsh new neon.

They brought three beers with them: Friar Mike's IPA, High Altitude Amber, and an untitled Cream Ale. I only had a tiny taste of the Cream Ale -- a very mild starter beer -- but I was pleased with the pints of IPA and Amber I had. The IPA is well-balanced: hoppy and dense, but not an extreme-hop freakout. The amber was also very well done, malty but with a nice bitter finish. Now that I think of it, that amber seemed more like an Alt to me than the Vertigo Schwindel Alt that I had a couple weeks ago at East Burn. I panned the Schwindel at the time, so I was happy to see that the Friar Mike's and High Altitude were much tastier.

Vertigo is one of a growing number of small Oregon breweries that have decided to just brew and not have a pub attached. The Mikes said that they may eventually bottle some of their beers, but that right now they just want to brew, and the details of bottling would be a distraction. Their strategy involves sticking close to home. Instead of trying to muscle into the Portland market, they will focus on getting more tap handles in and around Hillsboro. Even so, they're happy that some of the finer establishments hereabouts are occasionally serving their brews. Definitely check them out if you see them around town.

For further reading, check out these posts by Matt and Angelo.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Battle for the Belt 2009

Saturday was the 16th annual McMenamins Hillsdale Brewfest, aka the Battle for the Belt. Twenty breweries from around the McMenamins empire each entered a beer in the battle to see who will represent the company at the Oregon Brewer's Festival this year. Attendees sample the beers and vote for their three favorites.

The Hillsdale pub holds a significant home field advantage, so a bunch of us headed over there to throw some support behind Pub Night regular Corey Blodgett, who brews at the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. That's Corey on the right -- I think he's saying "No more pictures" -- next to Lindsey, Charles, and Scott's hand. Hopworks brewer Ben Love is just out of the picture to the right of Corey -- he'd be in the picture if I was any good at photography or brown-nosing.

CPR's entry this year was Cashed Out Imperial Porter -- a very smooth, hearty porter with just a little hint of bourbon from its barrel-aging. It's not a 10% bruiser like the other imperial porter that comes to mind -- Full Sail's Top Sail; Cashed Out is a more festival-friendly 7.3% ABV. It got the admittedly biased votes at our table. The name is an homage to Johnny Cash -- I don't know if Corey was aware of the Johnny Cash tribute band Cash'd Out, but coincidentally they're playing a Portland gig towards the end of April.

I seem to remember being more impressed with the field of beers at the 2008 brewfest than I was this year, but maybe I just went in with lower expectations last year. Nevertheless, there was some good stuff. These were my favorites:
  • Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Cashed Out (Imperial Porter, Corey Blodgett and Chris Oslin): smooth with light bourbon touch
  • John Barleycorns Brewery Old Shovelhead (Barleywine, Graham Brogan): nice, reminds me of Old Foghorn
  • Concordia Brewery Hot For Teacher (IPA, Tim Proctor and Ben Nehrling): nice, mega-hoppy
  • Old St. Francis Brewery Reducyble Organic (IPA, Mike White): easy-drinking with long hops
  • Hillsdale Brewery Sledgehammer (Strong Ale, Matt Carter): very hoppy; nice cola flavor
Sledgehammer -- a sort of double Hammerhead -- rubbed me the wrong way with the first sip, but it grew on me and in the end it made my top 5. A couple of other beers get an honorable mention: Big Lou's Smoked American Amber from the Queen Anne Brewery (Worth Laflin), and Boysen' the Hood from Roseburg (Tom Johnson). The extra smoked malt and boysenberry flavors were nicely done; but they were beers I'd only have occasionally, and some people would pour them out immediately.

It usually takes a few days before McMenamins reveals the winner of the contest. I'll update this post as soon as I find out -- Corey, help me out with that, would ya? [Update 2009/02/26: Corey reports that Hot for Teacher was 1st, Sledgehammer 2nd, Old Shovelhead 3rd. Congratulations, guys, those were well done.]

The weather was so nice Saturday that I bicycled to the Hillsdale Pub in my shirtsleeves. I had forgotten how steep Capitol Highway is, but at least I worked up a good thirst and got to go downhill on the way home.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chicken & Jo-Jos

Last month I listed the Reel 'M' Inn tavern as a stop on a Division Street pub crawl, despite never having been in there myself. That didn't seem very prudent, so I stopped in recently at lunchtime to try the tavern's signature chicken and jo-jos. If you're wondering what the heck jo-jos are, they're quartered potatoes, battered and deep fried. Mmm mmm!

It's quite a bargain. The picture at right doesn't quite do justice to the massive quantity of fried food that comprises Reel 'M' Inn's 3-piece plate -- $7.75 gets you a drumstick, a breast, a thigh, and a couple pounds of potatoes. Simple but tasty, and probably best shared by two. It's not fast food: I ended up waiting so long for my lunch that I burned my mouth as I tried to inhale my fresh-fried goodies and get back on schedule. It wasn't due to slow kitchen help -- there's no kitchen and no help, just the bartender and a fryer behind the bar. I guess it takes a long time to fry potato chunks that big.

Mirror Pond was the only drinkable beer on tap, unless you're able to drink Pabst or Blue Moon; for readers of It's Pub Night, the fried foodstuffs are the attraction. The early afternoon crowd was an affable mixture of geezers and geeks, all male except for the bartender. It's a really small place, you probably wouldn't want to invade with a party larger than four. Reel 'M' Inn is at 25th and Division; check it out next time you need a heaping helping of fried bird.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Defeat Extra Beer Taxes: HB 2461

When I was inveighing against Oregon's smoking ban, I pointed out that "public health" is the new good-luck charm that neo-Puritans use to get otherwise progressive people on board with their efforts to legislate morality. Now they're at it again, with Oregon House Bill 2461: a proposal to increase the excise tax on beer by 2008%, to the highest in the nation.

Be very afraid of these people: they love the power of regulating individual behavior, and they love it when everyone lets them get away with claims that it's for our own good. They're comfortable with big lies, like the claim that "untreated substance abuse" costs Oregon $5 billion a year -- nicely refuted on Beervana. Or take this statement by one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ben Cannon of Portland -- "We know that this works, and it pays for itself many times over in reduced incarceration, reduced crime." -- at about 1:32 in this KGW video. Liar, liar, pants on fire! (Thanks, Steve Novick.) You do not know that a punitive tax on beer production results in reduced crime. Be a man, and admit that you want to tax activities that seem sinful, because you are afraid to increase state revenues with taxes that make more sense.

It may be possible to excuse Cannon for sponsoring this sin tax -- his Portland district seems to have been gerrymandered to exclude any of our city's fine breweries -- but my own State Senator Diane Rosenbaum is also listed as a sponsor of this bill. Her district includes six small, locally-owned breweries that would be severely impacted by this bill:
  • Hair of the Dog
  • Lucky Labrador
  • Roots
  • Hopworks
  • Clinton Street
  • Philadelphia's
To give you an example of the impact this would have, Jim Parker estimates that Hopworks' tax bill would increase by $150,000 per year. That's a mom-and-pop establishment, beloved by the community, started from scratch by local entrepreneurs, whose business practices are very "green". And you're going to increase their taxes by an amount that is about 3 or 4 full-time salaries? Sen. Rosenbaum should be extremely embarrassed to have her name on this bill.

  • Drop what you're doing right now, and write your state legislators.
  • As usual, Jeff Alworth has a very level-headed analysis (even though he fell for the smoking ban).
  • This comes up every two years. Let's go nuclear. The Oregon Brewers Guild should write an initiative that amends the Oregon Constitution to require a unanimous vote of the legislature to raise beer taxes.
  • "Defeat Extra Beer Taxes" can be typed just with the left hand on a QWERTY keyboard.

Friday, February 13, 2009

East Burn

On Tuesday, Pub Night was at East Burn, a relatively new bar/restaurant at 18th and East Burnside, in the former Nocturnal location. It's been open a few months already, but it was the first visit for a lot of us. The enticement that finally lured me in there was Tuesday's special: $2 pints.

The 20 or so beer taps rotate pretty frequently -- follow @eastburn on Twitter to get updates. The selection seemed just right to me, lots of good choices from around the region. Some of the beers that came to our table were: Cascade Imperial Red, Walking Man Homo Erectus, Bear Republic Red Rocket, and Double Mountain Irish Stout. Did someone have the Mia and Pia's IPA? On top of that, they were pouring Schwindel Alt from Vertigo Brewing, a brewery that just started a couple months ago in Hillsboro. Vertigo is beginning to be seen around town -- Bailey's Taproom has had a couple kegs -- but I'm awarding community service points to East Burn since it was my first chance to sample Vertigo's wares. (The alt was a little homebrewy, and didn't have the right bitter finish, but let's give Vertigo some time to get their feet on the ground.)

In the basement is the "tap room", laid out with tall bar tables and a couple of sofas. It was a little too loud in there for our purposes, owing to the Skee-Ball(!), pinball machines, and music blaring out of a giant speaker attached to the ceiling. We did better in the restaurant area on the ground floor (top picture) -- though somehow we got off on the wrong foot with our waitress and she was all rolling eyes and exasperation with each round of beer we ordered. The ground floor has its own bar area -- the taps are split about evenly between upstairs and down -- and there is also a heated outdoor patio where smoking is allowed. At three of the indoor tables for two, the seats are wicker swings hanging from the ceiling; some of the patio seats are porch swings.

East Burn is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. An interesting tap list, funky setting, and good prices -- especially on Tuesday -- will continue to draw a crowd.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Belmont Dives

Matias herded a bunch of us out on a pub crawl Saturday to celebrate Paul and Jana's impending parenthood. The theme was "formerly smoky bars". We kicked off at the Horse Brass, but the rest of the places on the agenda can safely be filed under "dive". The Triple Nickel and the Vern (directory assistance name: Hanigan's Tavern) were pleasant surprises for me. We proceeded on to Claudia's, and I even made it as far as the Langano Lounge, but I bailed out from there before they got around to serving me a beer.

No offense to Claudia's or Langano -- or the beloved Horse Brass -- but as the title indicates, today I want to write about those two dives on Belmont: places I wouldn't have set foot in before the smoking ban, but which are now fair game.

Triple Nickel (37th and Belmont): Four steel-tip dartboards, that's all you need to know about this place. Same number as the Horse Brass, but on Saturday two of them were free at the Nickel, on a night when you'd need the patience of Job and cat-like reflexes to get a dartboard at the Brass. The Nickel has a lot of taps -- 27, the bartender counted them for me -- but only one or two that are more palatable than the drinks at this other Triple Nickel. Dave and I ended up with Terminal Gravity IPA. Other pluses: lots of pool tables, and Black Sabbath Vol. 4 on the jukebox.

The Vern (26th and Belmont): Not quite as many taps as the Nickel -- they're in the picture above -- but much better beer. A couple of good Lagunitas taps, Full Sail Wreck the Halls, and Stone Arrogant Bastard come to mind. I had to go for a Ninkasi Total Domination. The Vern looks so inauspicious from the outside that I never imagined it would have a selection like that. There are one or two pool tables, but no dartboards.

There are plenty of promising dives in the neighborhood that I still need to check out, but this was a good start. The Vern in particular is so close to my house that it's likely to become a semi-regular haunt, now that I know there's something decent to drink there. Cheers to Matias for getting this crawl rolling.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Laughing Buddha Purple Yam Porter

Rumor has it that Seattle's Laughing Buddha had a hard time rounding up hops for their beers as they started operations right at the height of last year's hop crisis. When life gave them lemons, they made lemonade -- or rather gingerade, mangoade, and yamade. I'm referring to their "Asian-inspired" beers: Ginger Pale Ale, Mango Weizen, and Purple Yam Porter. They also make a lager and a Pandan Leaf Brown.

Last summer Adam brought the Mango Weizen and the Ginger Pale Ale to town for the Portlanders to try. I only had a sip of each, and can't remember much about them. They didn't offend, but didn't excite either. On my recent foray to By the Bottle in Vancouver, I picked up the Porter to give it a try (only to find out Laughing Buddha is now distributed in Oregon also).

The Purple Yam Porter made more of an impression on me than the lighter beers. If porters are your thing, you might be disappointed: if I'd tried this blindfolded I don't think I would have called it a porter. There is a dark malt flavor, but not the kind of round smokiness I associate with porters. It's also pretty big for a porter at 7% ABV. There's a nice bitterness to the beer -- not at all floral, is it the yams? Or maybe the creamy thickness comes from the yams. Other than creaminess or bitterness, I'm not sure what the yams are adding, because nothing else tasted yammy. That's probably a good thing. All in all, PYP is not bad, but not likely to become my favorite beer.

Beer nerds will be either scandalized or underwhelmed by the Laughing Buddha beers, but I don't think that will be a problem for the brewery. They'll do well in the "pair-me-with-Asian-food" niche they are aiming at. As long as they rub the belly of the laughing buddha.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kaua'i Vacation

We've spent the last week on a family/neighbor vacation in Hawaii. Leaving Portland in the winter is a good strategy, except that 12 of the 14 days before we departed had the best weather you could expect during a Portland winter -- sunny and not too cold. It was still a good time; also a first for me, I'd never been to Hawaii.

The island of Kaua'i is not a beer destination, especially when you live in a place that is a beer destination, but of course Dave and I rooted around for as much local beer as we could find. Here's what I got around to trying, basically in order of preference:
  • Kona Brewing Fire Rock Pale Ale: quite tasty on tap; surprisingly dull in bottles.
  • Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA: nice hoppy IPA in a can.
  • Hawai'i Nui Golden Ale: sounds like a beer aimed at novices, but it has a nice, balanced flavor.
  • Waimea Brewing (no website?) Uli Uli Brown: mild caramelly session beer at the island's only brewpub.
  • Mehana Brewing Mauna Kea Pale Ale: pretty good pale; hop flavor reminded me of Hopworks IPA.
  • Kona Brewing Pipeline Porter: nice coffee porter.
  • Maui Brewing Coconut Porter: pleasant, but a little syrupy.
Waimea says it's the westernmost brewpub in the world, which only means there are no brewpubs in Nome or American Samoa. It was a pleasant place to have a couple of beers with lunch; you could compare it to the Lucky Lab in terms of quality and atmosphere -- laid-back, comfortable place, beers drinkable but not earth-shattering. The brown ale seemed the best, but the red ale and porter were good also. I couldn't resist polluting my Beer Mapping Project Twitter map with my visit to Waimea, but it messes up the map so badly that I'll have to delete that tweet pretty soon.

I found it interesting that the locals could really care less about Hawaiian beer. This picture is of a guy whose aloha shirt had an excellent pattern with dozens of old-time Hawaiian beer labels and bottles. When asked what kind of local beer he liked, the only two he could think of were Primo -- a lager now contract-brewed in California -- and Steinlager, which of course is from New Zealand. Another guy standing in line behind me at Safeway pointed at the local beers I was buying and asked "Are any of those any good?". I gave him a few brief reviews, and he said, a little sheepishly, "I've never tried any Hawaiian beer, I always just get the other stuff."

It's been a great vacation, but it will be nice to get back to Beervana!