Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beer at PGE Park

PGE Park is a cute little ballpark. It's handy to have the home of Beavers baseball and Timbers soccer right downtown, in a place you could bike to, or possibly walk to, with a MAX line running right past it. It's completely ludicrous that anyone would think of 1. Moving the town's baseball team out of downtown, or 2. Spending millions of dollars to "renovate" a stadium whose last renovation isn't paid off, and which is actually pretty nice the way it is right now. By the way, some of those millions are tax dollars.

Speaking of high prices, let's talk about having a beer at the ballgame. Your best bet is Thirsty Thursdays, when a 12-ounce cup of Widmer or the like is half-price: $3.75. Here at It's Pub Night, our unit of currency is the six-pack equivalent (SPE), so your Thirsty Thursday SPE is $22.50. On non-thirsty days of the week, let them supersize your beer to 20 ounces for $8.25 -- SPE $29.70 -- instead of submitting to the 12-ounce SPE of $45.

The concession stands in the park are stocked mostly with Miller Lite, with taps of Widmer Hef or Drop Top interspersed. Beer snobs need to be aware of the two locations in the ballpark with better beer selections: the beer garden, and the Beer Here stand between Sections G and H.

Widmer's beer garden, located at playing field level along the right-field line, serves Broken Halo and Drifter in addition to the aforementioned Hef and Drop Top. They also serve some wine and cocktails. The beer garden is a great trick for cheapskates: buy a general admission ticket, show up early, and get a front-row seat in the beer garden. For the price of the bleacher seats with no back, you get cast-iron lawnchairs and a table to set your drinks and nachos on. It's not the ideal location for watching baseball, but for soccer it's almost at the same spot as the premium seats, only closer. Kids are allowed there except on Thursdays.

If you simply must have a non-Widmer beer, then you'll need to check out the Beer Here stand. Wait a minute! That's the name of Mr. Foyston's blog, The Beer Here. That's a nice homage -- I might drop my resistance to the stadium boondoggle if the new ballpark in Lents were to be called It's Pub Night Field. Anyway, the little beer stand between sections G & H has six non-Widmer taps:
  • Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Ale
  • Diamond Knot IPA
  • Mac and Jack's African Amber
  • Pyramid Slim Chance
  • Heineken
  • Tecate
Well, it's not as good a selection as at PDX airport, but it gives you something to work with. I have a soft spot for the Mac and Jack's, a tasty, satisfying beer; Diamond Knot IPA rates a whopping 98 on Beer Advocate, and Green Lakes is quite nice as well. There's not even a slim chance that I'd have the other three, but who knows, maybe someone will like them. The Beer Here also has a few 12-ounce bottles for sale -- there were some Deschutes bottles like Black Butte, and I believe I saw a bottle of Guinness, but nothing really noteworthy. They should stock some 22's of Ninkasi, or the new bottles from Hopworks and New Old Lompoc.

The schedule of Timbers and Beavers home games is here. If you're in the mood to try out a Thirsty Thursday, there's a Beavers game tonight. Play ball!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Southeast Morrison Pub Crawl

There is a growing bar district between Grand and 9th on Southeast Morrison Street. With three interesting places -- Morrison Hotel, The Maiden, and Sway Bar -- opening within the past couple of years, it deserves a place on the list of Portland pub crawls. It's also nice because there are several options for extending the crawl beyond those three places: a beer-bar jaunt down 9th past the Green Dragon and Lucky Lab to Roots; spendy bowling at Grand Central; or you could head north on Grand into hipster heaven as the Pub Nighters did Tuesday.

Walking into the Morrison Hotel Tuesday, I was a little bit concerned that some poetry might be happening there. Turns out it was just the quizmaster administering some trivia to an attentive audience. We were happy to crowd into the bar side instead, where we were only occasionally distracted by an outburst from the restaurant-booth side. The Morrison isn't much for beer on tap -- only four taps -- but they have dozens of nice bottles available, with a good mix of Belgian and German imports and nice American micros, all priced pretty reasonably. Tuesday they were selling Russian River Damnation for $9 a bottle -- I've never seen it for less than $10 in a store.

We were very surprised to see Widmer Alt on tap at the Morrison Hotel. Not the 25th Anniversary Double Alt that is selling in 22's right now -- which is excellent, by the way -- but the honest-to-goodness original Widmer brew. Not sure I've ever seen that outside of the Gasthaus.

Then we went a few doors down to The Maiden -- originally called the Maiden in the Mist, but renamed by new management. We weren't sure if the live music that night was going to impede conversation too much, but we ended up having a blast there. Some really good swing dancers were going to town -- apparently they knew to show up when the Tracy Kim Trio was playing. The mellow Parisian jazz was a great backdrop, and it was fun for a bunch of wallflowers like us to watch the dancers. The beer selection was not incredibly inspiring, but on Tuesday they always have a $3 IPA -- usually Ninkasi, but this week it was Alameda's El Torero. Swanky atmosphere, good food, and lots of fun if there's dancing going on.

When I told my wife we were going to the Sway Bar, she eyed me suspiciously and said "That looks like a pick-up place to me." Not for our type. It was a bust for the beer-loving Pub Night crowd. The bartender was offended when we turned up our noses because there was no draft beer: "We have six taps, it's just that we're out tonight." Call me a zealot, but zero out of six seems like a smaller number than, say, zero out of two. Anyway, I'm not sure how they sold out of all six at once, there were only two customers in there Tuesday evening, and couldn't you keep a spare somewhere? Might be an interesting place, but we took our party around the corner to the cheater-pint slinging establishments on Grand Avenue.

Over on Grand, we stopped in at the Eastbank Saloon, the Slow Bar, and My Father's Place. Not very impressive for beer nerds, except Bridgeport's Hop Czar on tap at the Slow Bar, which also had the most interesting atmosphere of the bunch. I might write up a Grand Avenue pub crawl another time; meanwhile check out the Morrison Hotel and the Maiden, and maybe even the Sway Bar if they remember to stock some kegs of beer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drifter vs. Grifter

Isn't it strange for MacTarnahan's to come out with a beer called "Grifter" a couple months after Widmer came out with one called "Drifter"? I couldn't find a snifter for my Drifter and Grifter picture, so I photographed them in the pint glasses my brother-in-law gave me.

I'm a big Widmer booster, but Drifter Pale Ale is not going to be a regular for me. It starts off nice: a pretty copper-colored beer, with a beautiful -- really amazing -- smell. The smell is a combination of floral and citrus -- something like grapefruit peel and orange blossom. Unfortunately, it's downhill from there. The taste is a little bit of a letdown after the wonderful aroma. Still, it's not bad... at first. What bugs me is that the taste suffers as the beer warms up, which is not how good ale is supposed to be. By the time it gets to room temperature, the hop aromas and bitterness are all gone, and there's not enough heft to take up the slack.

That's my opinion, but a lot of people seem to really like it. The reaction on Twitter has been mostly positive, on the excited side. The Beer Advocate average grade is B+, which I guess is pretty good. But most of my friends are as underwhelmed as I am. Charles said he's been adding the remnants of his six-pack to pots of beans as he cooks them. Over at Beervana, Jeff panned it very diplomatically, blaming the "catty" flavor of the Nelson hops used in the brew. I did like it a little better on tap than from a bottle, but that's not surprising. Final verdict: Drifter is not a terrible beer, but drink it cold. Maybe they should sell it in 7-ounce bottles.

On the other hand, the curiously-named Grifter exceeds expectations. You won't switch from your favorite IPA, but give it a shot if it's served at a sporting event or you see it on sale -- I couldn't resist when I saw it for $7 a six-pack. It's a respectable Northwestern IPA: nicely hoppy and bitter with a decent body to back it up. And the flavor holds up as it warms. MacTarnahan's hasn't impressed me during my 6 years as a Portlander, so it's nice to see them come out with something solid. They're calling it a summer seasonal, but hopefully they'll make it a regular.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Meet Barley Brown's Brewer

Wednesday night Belmont Station hosted a meet-the-brewer with Barley Brown's, an award-winning brewpub way out in Baker City. Shawn Kelso (on the right) brought four beers for us to try, including his Armstrong Double Gold, whose name understandably intrigued Abe Goldman-Armstrong, pictured here with Shawn. Turns out the beer was named for a famous gold nugget residing at the U.S. Bank in Baker City. Since it was first served a few years ago while the Tour de France was on, it also pays homage to Lance Armstrong, and now Shawn says he's got a third reason for the name.

The Double Gold -- made partly with rye -- was tasty with a little hops on top of very strong alcohol. A unique and interesting beer, I can't think of another one to compare it to. It was my favorite of the evening, partly because of the sheer novelty of it, but it won't appeal to everyone. If you like some hops, you might be safer going with one of the two Barley Brown's IPAs -- they're classics of the Northwest IPA genre. The WFO IPA is along the lines of a Lagunitas IPA or Ninkasi Total Domination; the Tank Slapper Double IPA was stronger and maltier, but not necessarily hoppier.

Belmont's menu described Barley Brown's Double Whisky Ale like this: "It's not Barrel aged, but the flavors and aromas will make you think it is". At 9.5%, it was another big beer -- I guess you'd call it an Old Ale. It's brewed with smoked rye, and definitely did have a boozy flavor. Quite tasty.

So far Belmont Station has been the only place in town to bring in some Barley Brown's beer. It's not likely to be a regular occurrence, so you may have to make the five-hour drive to try more of Shawn's products. I hope to do that myself during our family vacation this summer as we pass by on I-84.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fred Fest 2009

"Technical doesn't taste good." Thus was I rebuked Saturday at Hair of the Dog's Fred Fest, when I asked Fred Eckhardt if the 15-year-old Saxer doppelbock being served had technically missed the mark. Burn! The author of The Essentials of Beer Style went on to say, "I don't care so much about style, but about what I like." As we learned in the Life of Brian, only the true Messiah denies his divinity. That settles it for me: from here on out I'm following Fred. If I like a beer, I'll drink it, even if it misses a particular style by a mile. Wait, I was doing that anyway. Whew! I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on Fred.

To be honest, that old doppelbock wasn't so bad, and the more I tasted it, the more I picked up the "liquid bread" flavor I would expect from a doppelbock, despite the lighter color and cloudy appearance. More sophisticated palates pronounced it oxidized, and counseled me to smell it. You could indeed pick up that slightly metallic odor of too-old beer. Still, now and then you give a really old beer a try, out of nostalgia or simply to celebrate the forbearance required to keep a beer that long without drinking it.

The other rather old beer at Fred Fest was an 11-year-old Full Sail Old Boilermaker barleywine. It also held up well for its age: deliciously bourbony; sweet and smooth, with a nice vanilla flavor. I didn't try a bad beer at the festival, but some other highlights were:
  • Firestone Walker Abacus: very malty and dark, like a delicious malt-o-meal
  • Lucky Lab Pennsylvania Swanky: full flavor, like a Cascadian Dark Ale
  • Cascade Bain de Brugge: delicious rich, dark Abbey ale
  • New Belgium/Elysian Tripel: nice and full, surprisingly hoppy
  • Astoria Imperial Wit: sweetly nice, wheaty
  • Midnight Sun Brewtality: perfectly smooth dark coffee stout
I only got a sip of the Brewtality because Lisa Morrison's husband Mark was kind enough to pour me a drop out of his own glass -- it ran out very quickly. Mark's generosity was just one example of the beer-loving camaraderie of Fred Fest -- like Hopworks brewer Ben Love sharing tastes from his bottle of Firestone Walker XII. The beers were marvelous, as was the food, but the best part of the day was the spirit of conviviality among the attendees. And really, there's no better tribute to Fred than that.

Here are more accounts of Fred Fest from Jeff, Derek (who has a nice picture of most of Portland's bloggers clustered around Fred), Charles, and the ever-evasive Dr. Wort. I had a great time at the fest, and I offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone involved. The ones I know to call out by name are: Alan Sprints for providing the venue and atmosphere, Lisa Morrison and Preston Weesner for organizing the fest, Sean for grilling the meat and garlic to perfection, and Fred himself for inspiring such a community. Happy Birthday, Fred!

I'll leave you with a couple more thoughts from Fred:

"My palate isn't what it was last week."

That's OK, Fred. Care to name any highlights of Fred Fest 2009?


Friday, May 8, 2009

Mirror Mirror Mirror Mirror

Take Deschutes' very drinkable Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and double everything in the recipe except the water. Now take two different vintages of that, and see if you can find your way out of the hall of mirrors. Dave and I went down to the Deschutes Portland pub for lunch today, so I could check out the two vintages of Mirror Mirror barleywine they have on tap: this year's and 2005's. Dave was there last week, and reported that the 2005 they were serving was excellent. I don't know if you tried the 2005 at last year's Holiday Ale Fest, but the sample I tried had gone around the bend, and I heard the same about the 2005 MM at this year's Barleywine Festival.

So it was a delight to have a well-preserved sample of the 2005, and even more delightful to try it next to this year's model. The 2009 has the classic barleywine flavors of dense malt and strong alcohol -- without being out of balance. It's on the hoppy end of the spectrum, and in fact the fragrant hops are the main thing you get in the nose. The finish is very bitter. It's a delicious aperitif right now; give it a couple years in the basement and it will be even better.

By comparison, the hops in the 2005 had mellowed quite a bit. They were definitely still present in the flavor, but the aroma was all whiskey -- most likely from the bourbon barrels that part of the batch was aged in. It was a delicious drink, the flavor beginning to get a little dusty, but not spoiled at all. In the picture above, the 2005 is the paler, cloudier snifter on the left; the 2009 is the darker clearer one on the right.

I like this technique of doubled recipes from Deschutes. Mirror Mirror, Double Black Butte, Double Cinder Cone.... Is Abyss a Double Obsidian?

The wife-proofed wax-dipped bottles of this year's Mirror Mirror are stamped confidently with a "Best After" date: April 2010. I agree, but I would also advise against keeping them too long. My current hypothesis is that two years is the right amount to age big beers. That's enough to let the ingredients mellow and interact, but not enough for the beer to decline. Whether it's this year or next, make sure you take a look in the mirror.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cheers to Belgian Beers 2009

Smallish beer festivals at the Quimby Street Lucky Lab are always a good time, and last weekend's Cheers to Belgian Beers was no exception. Regrettably, my time there was limited to a couple hours Friday afternoon, so there were a lot of beers I didn't get around to. As an example of what a rush job it was, I forgot to get a pour of my friend Corey's Zen Lunatic -- rated very highly by both Jeff and Dr. Wort in their reviews of the festival. Luckily, I had a small unofficial taste of the Lunatic earlier in the week on a visit to the CPR, so I can pronounce it a nice, dry, light -- but not thin -- Belgian, but since I didn't try it at the festival itself it's hard for me to know exactly where I'd rank it among the ones I tried.

When I arrived at the Lab, Derek from Beer Around Town had already been there a couple hours, so I sat down and picked his brain about which beers to get. Dave is my usual parnter-in-crime for these weekday festival outings, but Jill very inconveniently chose to give birth to a lovely baby girl on Friday instead of letting her husband spend the afternoon drinking a bunch of one-off beers. Some other Pub Night compadres showed up unexpectedly: Davey, Rocco, Bryce, and Jason brazenly plunked down huge pint glasses next to the dainty Belgian samples Derek and I had on the table, as seen in the first picture.

Enough chit-chat, let's talk about beer. Of the 10 that I tried, here are my favorites:
  • Deschutes La Fleur: perfectly smooth, gingery
  • Double Mountain Barrel-Aged Ingelmonster: beautiful dark candy
  • Deschutes (Portland) Streaking the Quad: sweet, smooth, nice
  • Lucky Lab Beljamin: nice candy and flower flavor
  • Astoria Avant Garde Akloo: big, round, long finish
  • Pelican La Fleur Amère: full-bodied, a little floral, long bitter edge
I can see how some people would be put off by the ginger flavor in La Fleur, but I loved it. Apparently both Derek and Dr. Wort disapproved of the Lucky Lab entry, but to me it was just right for a light Belgian. (Yesterday at the Hawthorne Lab they were serving "Ben's Belgian". I'm not sure if it was the same beer -- it was very clear while the festival beer was a little hazy -- but it tasted even better than my sample of Beljamin.) Which just goes to show you, there's no accounting for tastes, no right answer. Another example: Derek was appalled by the Block 15 entry; in Angelo's review he gave it 2nd place; Doc Wort found it so-so; and poor Bill didn't get around to trying it.

Astoria's stinky pun would have been better if the third word was a possible French word. The letter "k" only appears in borrowed words in French, and I'm not sure what sound "oo" would make, but it certainly wouldn't rhyme with "clue". If you guys are keeping that beer around, try "Éclou", which a French speaker would pronounce as "A Clue".

Hats off to Deschutes for landing on this festival with both feet.

Kudos to the organizers for a great time and for putting the beers in alphabetical order. So far, no word on who won the People's Choice Award. I'll update when the news comes out. [Update: Hopworks Dubbel Suplex won the People's Choice Award. I skipped it at the festival, but had it at the pub -- it's a fine winner. Congratulations Hopworks!]

Friday, May 1, 2009

Corey's off to Bend

Pub Night chum Corey Blodgett is moving on from the McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, where he built quite a following for his seasonal and special brews. Since his fiancée Anastasia got a good job in Bend, he's moving out there. He's hired on as the summer-season brewer at McMenamins' St. Francis School.

Wednesday was Corey's final Last Wednesday beer tasting at the CPR, so we had to make the trek out there to help drain some special kegs and send Corey off with a bang. It takes a lot to get me out of my comfortable Southeast Portland beer cocoon, but thankfully Dave was man enough to drive Lindsey and me out there. It's in Scott's neck of the woods, so he met us there also.

Corey brought out some treasures:
  • Rose City Til I DiePA: year-old double IPA aged on oak chips
  • May Day Mild Ale: cask-conditioned English Mild served by gravity
  • Sasquatch Strong Ale: the Glen Falconer recipe, but aged 6 weeks in a whiskey barrel
  • Evolution Altbier: easy-drinking amber ale
  • Beatnik Saint: delicious Biere de Garde
The Beatnik Saint was the star of the evening. The picture shows Corey handing out a glass of that. It's a beautiful, hearty ale made partly with wheat, just slightly tart with a tiny bit of esthery flavor. The aged Sasquatch was interesting. Corey thinks the barrel might have had some wild yeasties living in it, because it got a little sour in the barrel. It wasn't as good as the pure Sasquatch that he brought to the Green Dragon a few weeks ago, but it was interesting enough for me to bring a small growler home. The huge malty flavor of the beer was enough to balance a little sourness and a little whiskey.

Rose City is always a fine choice, and Evolution is a pleasant session beer. But the real session beer champion Wednesday was the Mild. It was a fabulously flavorful dark mild, coming out of the firkin almost completely flat. If I had a firkin of that at home, I'd give up on water, especially seeing as how the grains were all organically grown. Even with the low alcohol, it didn't seem thin, and even tingled a little on the tongue. My pint was almost gone before I'd even paid for it.

Try a taste of Corey's Zen Lunatic at Cheers for Belgian Beers today and tomorrow. All I can say is, our loss is Bend's gain. Auld lang syne, Corey! We'll take a cup of kindness yet.