Tuesday, April 28, 2009

County Cork

A visit from one of my years-ago Austin Pub Night buddies gave me an opportunity to check out an eastside pub I hadn't been to before. Brady was in town with his girlfriend Sarah, so on Saturday we dragged Dave along and met Brady's friend Brian at the County Cork Public House after he finished his kitchen shift there. In the middle of a surprisingly tavern-free stretch of Fremont, County Cork is an oasis just west of NE 15th.

It's a comfortable place, with a pubby feel but with big windows giving lots of light. Despite the Irish theme, the 22 beer taps are skewed more toward the Northwest than the Emerald Isle. Some of the standout beers when we were there were Full Sail Keelhauler, Avery Maharaja, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Mac and Jack's Amber, Elysian ESB, and Russian River Damnation and Pliny the Elder. Dave and I swore that the Pliny was actually RR's Blind Pig -- lighter in color, body, and punch than Pliny -- but we were assured that the keg said otherwise. There are also two cask engines, though both were unoccupied Saturday -- we just missed the Lagunitas Undercover Ale on cask. Another plus: they serve Honest Pints in imperial glasses.

Two dartboards are set up nicely in stalls that prevent escaping darts, but are still visible from the rest of the pub. There's also an outdoor patio in the back -- it was too cold to sit there Saturday but as I'm writing this I'm kicking myself for not at least taking a look. The food is better-than-usual pub fare, made from scratch, with British-Isle stuff like shepherd's pie and bangers and mash taking center stage.

All in all, it's a comfortable neighborhood pub. Stop in for some darts and a pint if you're in the area.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Upright Brewing's First Firkin

Tuesday evening Belmont Station offered a special treat: the first public tasting of a beer from Portland's newest brewery, Upright Brewing. Upright, located just north of the Rose Garden on the tiny piece of Broadway that lies in the 5th Quadrant, is one of the growing number of Oregon breweries that are avoiding the restaurant business, choosing instead to distribute kegs and do a little bottling. The owner-brewer, Alex Ganum, is on the left in this picture, next to ex-Lompoc brewer Lem and Pub Night stalwart Charles.

The Upright brew served up Tuesday night on Belmont's cask engine was Studebacher Hoch Strong Ale, a dark, malty confection with some extra hops in the firkin. Put it in the "dangerous" category -- its smooth roastiness completely disguised its 8% strength. Alex intends to focus on more session-style beers at Upright -- 4% to 5% -- so he was dubious about debuting with the strong ale, not wanting to give people the wrong idea. The Studebacher was brewed to be aged in barrels until winter, but after his barrels were full he had exactly one keg's worth left. A friend had an extra firkin lying around, and convinced Alex to fill it and sell it to Belmont Station. It was meant to be.

The first thing you notice about the Studebacher is its maltiness. I think the beer it reminded me the most of is Eel River's Triple Exultation, but with less alcohol and hops. I fancied that there was a yeasty flavor there also, not a flowery Abbey yeast, but a little fresh-dough vapor. That might just be my imagination, suggested by Alex's open-fermentation methods -- something no one else in Portland is doing. At any rate, it was quite tasty; I'll be interested to try the barrel-aged version in a few months.

Alex said the first Upright beer we'll see around town will probably be a wheat beer made with a saison yeast. Talking about his goal of high-flavor, low-alcohol beers, he said he enjoys tweaking the noses of Portland beer geeks by saying that the beer he would most like to emulate is Widmer Hefeweizen. It's no joke: Alex says one of the best bets in town is to sit down at the Gasthaus and have a fresh, unfiltered Hef -- tasty, balanced, and not too strong -- poured right at its birthplace. He has a point. The supermarket bottles of Hef are quite dull, but fresh on tap -- with, say, your favorite Lebanese dinner -- it's another animal entirely. It will be a big win for Portland if Upright comes up with similarly food-friendly, drinkable beers like that.

The Belmont Station Biercafe has really been whipping it lately with interesting beers from smaller Oregon breweries. Even though it's just part of their priestly mission, I have to award them community service points for offering us this early preview of Upright.

For further reading, Angelo has a nice backgrounder on Alex with a short interview.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Deal Vodka

Saturday we marched our out-of-town guests Michael and Ana down to the open house at New Deal Distillery. That's Tom, one of the founders, manning the bar. New Deal started up a few years ago with a mission of providing Portland with quality local vodka at an affordable price. At first they worked out of a cheap office in the ActiveSpace building at SE 9th and Main Street. At some point they moved across the street into more spacious digs, which gave them room for better equipment, more experimentation, and Saturday afternoon open houses (noon to 5 PM).

It's been a while since I had New Deal's eponymous 80-proof vodka, and it was even nicer than I remember it -- perhaps a testament to the new equipment. It is distilled with a few secret botanicals to add a little aromatic flavor, but not enough to push it out of neutral vodka range. I'm not a spirits expert, but that was news to me: I always thought vodka was just pure distilled hooch with no fancy additives. Next time you need some vodka, buy local! It's good stuff.

We also sampled their other wares: Portland 88, stronger and less aromatic than the flagship vodka; Hot Monkey, a pepper vodka made with five secret chiles; and a chocolate vodka that hasn't hit the store shelves yet. I didn't expect to like the chocolate vodka, and I didn't for a couple seconds, but it grew on me quickly. It wasn't half bad. The Hot Monkey was more to my liking. Carla and I argued over which pepper types are in it -- ancho was the flavor I picked up, but she claimed chipotle. More research is needed, so I bought a bottle to take home.

Distilleries have taken off in that neighborhood in a big way. We wanted to make another stop at Integrity Spirits, but no one was there Saturday afternoon. Just a few blocks south on 7th is House Spirits, and distillers Sub Rosa and Artisan Spirits are somewhere nearby.

New Deal is also producing a line of organically-grown liqueurs for a Bay Area company called Loft Liqueurs. We tried three of the Loft flavors: lavender, ginger, and lemongrass. Pretty fancy. I liked the ginger best, but I'm especially impressed at how good the lemongrass liqueur was. I love the flavor of lemongrass, but when I tried to infuse some into vodka a few years ago, it was a disaster -- an alarming chemical-solvent flavor was what I ended up with. Not so with Loft's lemongrass: its delicate herbal lemon flavor was right on. Certified organic and repels mosquitoes, should be a big seller.

If you find yourself at the Lucky Lab or the Green Dragon some Saturday afternoon, walk over to New Deal and take advantage of the open house.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Beer Information Theory

What's the best way to describe a beer to other beer lovers? In the recent Beer Review Generator post, I expressed my skepticism about beer reviews in the current style of "appearance - nose - palate - mouthfeel - finish". Although they are endlessly fun to read, I claim that such reviews convey little information to a reader about whether he or she would like the beer. In the comments to that post, I proposed an experiment to try and prove or disprove my point. I presented two positive reviews of well-known beers -- edited for clarity and brevity, as the officious editors at the Oregonian like to say -- and asked which beers or even which styles were being described. The answers are hidden behind the button below, so if you want to play my guessing game, there's still time to click on over to the reviews.

The reviews are from two prolific reviewers on Beer Advocate, one of whom is one of the BA-founding Alström Brothers. I tried to play fair by picking reviews from knowledgeable sources, who liked the beer they were writing about. I picked the first review thinking that a reasonably sophisticated beer snob could easily call the style; the second review seems more challenging but not impossible. Only two brave readers -- Anónimo and Brett -- published their guesses on the earlier post, and they did pretty well. Ready for the answers?

Since only two people took part, I don't have much evidence whether my skepticism is justified or not. Are wine-talk beer reviews the best way to communicate how good or bad a beer is, and whether a reader will like it or not? How did you do on the quiz?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Opening a Twist Off

A few weeks ago when I was writing about Full Sail Session Lager, I had my wife take some pictures of my favorite party trick: opening a twist-off bottle with my forearm.

You'll have to take my word for it that the bottle was open. I wish the cap had stuck to my arm for that last photo, instead of exposing an alarming vortex of puckered skin. Good lord, am I that jowly? Don't worry, you can almost always do this without breaking the skin at all. The Internet supplies us with this unillustrated how-to. My technique is a little different: I hold the bottle in my left hand, and open it by pivoting my right arm counter-clockwise from the elbow.

Of course, there aren't that many West Coast snob-worthy beers that come in screw-tops. Lagunitas is the only one I can think of off the top of my head. [Update 2009/04/30 (and later): Full Sail, Terminal Gravity, Hale's, Alaska Brewing, MacTarnahan's.] Are Bridgeport sixers twist offs? Opening a growler with your forearm isn't very dramatic.

My trick isn't so great when you compare it to this:

The guy sniffs the bottle! Dude, you need to find the bottlecap!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hobo Sighting

On Monday, Jeff Alworth broke the news that we'll soon have another brewpub in close-in SE Portland, at 28th and Ankeny. Jeff was walking past the former Noble Rot location on Sunday and noticed a yeast experiment going on inside. Luckily, the proprietors were puttering around and he was able to get some info on their new pub, called Hobo Brewing, which they hope to have open this summer.

Tuesday night at EastBurn I looked down at my nearly empty glass and noticed it had the Hobo Brewing logo on it! That gave me quite a charge. My grainy cellphone photo leaves -- as usual -- a lot to be desired, but at least my hand model Dave was there to hold up a napkin behind it, and Picasa was able to dial up the contrast so you can get an idea of the logo. The hobo figure is actually on the back of the glass. No website yet, but they've got their glassware out in the neighborhood.

That's a little bit of Full Sail Keelhauler in the glass. It's a lovely malty beer, billed as a Scottish Ale, but not as sweet and dense as a wee heavy can get. The taste reminds me a little of an Abbey Ale, there's just a hint of that flowery yeast flavor. Good stuff.

Anyway, I'm excited to hear about Hobo, and look forward to checking them out when they open!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Your Thoughts on the Spring Beer Fest?

What is it about the Spring Beer and Wine Fest that turns Portland beer snobs off? Is it the:
  1. Flea-market vendor list, as Jeff says? Vinyl windows, violins.... Someone's been thumbing through the Yellow Pages.
  2. Boring beer offerings, as Dr. Wort says? Blue Moon?!?
  3. Houston Intercontinental Airport atmosphere of the Convention Center?
  4. Monosyllabic festival moniker? It's really called a "fest", not a "festival".
  5. Easter weekend dates, as Mary Sue says?
  6. All of the above?
It's coming up this Friday and Saturday, April 10th and 11th. It seems unlikely I'll go, unless I happen to be walking down the street in front of the convention center when it's open. That's the excitement level.

One spark of interest: there are three breweries on the list I'd never heard of. The Beer Mapping Project was able to inform me about 10 Barrel Brewing (Bend, 2006; not sure how I missed them) and Lang Creek Brewery, but not even the mighty Google can tell me what's up with Lat 44, who is bringing their -- wait for it -- IPA to the festival. The SBWF website doesn't have links to exhibitor websites -- anyone know anything about Lat 44?

[Update: I emailed the promoter about Lat 44. He replies: "It's from the folks at Miller/Coors. Think upscale Henry's. It is made at Hood River though." Ugh.]

What about you? Do you go to the SBWF? If so, enthusiastically or begrudgingly? 10 Barrel's Sinister Black Ale looks interesting -- are there any other beers on the list worth going to check out?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bailey's Taproom

Bailey's Taproom had been open for more than a year when I finally made my first visit there this past January. For evenings out I tend to stay on my side of the river; I sometimes branch out a little further at lunchtime or on weekend days, but the Taproom is closed Sundays and never opens until 4 PM. If it fit my schedule better I'd be there a lot more often, because Bailey's hit its stride very quickly to become one of the best beer bars in Portland. So when Geoff -- the proprietor -- put out the word that he was going to open at noon last Friday, I knew I had to show up.

The atmosphere is hip but comfortable, with a great selection of 20 rotating taps, one cask beer engine, and a few elite bottles. What's surprising is how inexpensive an outing to Bailey's can be. Most beers are served in imperial pints at lower prices than smaller servings at places like Henry's or the Green Dragon -- that snifter Geoff is filling is for a 9% old ale. But the real economy is because you can bring food in to Bailey's, now that the cheese and chocolate snack menu has been scrapped-- frankly, that menu was a ridiculous idea anyway. At most pubs in town you'd be looking at a $9 hamburger or $12 fish and chips; around the corner from Bailey's you have your pick of international street food at the $5 food carts at SW 5th and Oak. Heck, you can bring your own food from home if you want.

When you go to Bailey's you'll likely see Geoff behind the counter. He's a little on the quiet side, but he'll discuss any of the beers with you. The couple of times I've been there, he's been amazingly candid about what's on tap: if he thinks one of the beers isn't so great, he tells you straight out, or gives you a sample to let you make that decision yourself. That kind of personal touch bodes well for the business. By the way, his last name isn't Bailey -- I'm not sure how the bar got its name.

That beer in the snifter was a delicious dessert on Friday. It was Pappy's Dark from Block 15 in Corvallis. It was a heavenly, dense, malty elixir... wait, let me see if my review generator can do better. Here we go: Intense maple aroma, punctuated with toffee and strawberry. Sexy boozy flavor, accompanied by vanilla and raisin. Well, if you don't believe that, just believe me when I say it was awesome. And check out the lacing that Ninkasi Spring Reign left on Dave's glass in the background!

Like a lot of places, Bailey's keeps their online taplist current almost daily. For up-to-the-minute info, follow Geoff on Twitter: he tweets the change whenever one keg is switched with another.