Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2009

Announcing the results of the first Portland Beer Price Index (drumroll, please...): the average price of a six-pack of Oregon craft beer in Southeast Portland is $8.85. A 22-ounce bomber averages $4.90, and 16 ounces of quality draft beer will typically set you back $4.27. Not very fascinating information, but my real goal is to calculate the PBPI four times a year, so we can watch price trends over time. That might not turn out to be very fascinating, either, but from where I sit in the United States of $9 Six-Packs, I wish I could see the trend that took us here from five dollars or less.

Since the PBPI is based on regular retail and non-happy-hour prices, you can almost always get something a buck or two cheaper. In the future, I might also collect sale prices on the same day that I gather the regular prices, but I didn't want to get in over my head on this first mission. Here is what went into the index:
  • Six-packs: Bridgeport IPA, Caldera Pale Ale, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Full Sail Amber, Terminal Gravity IPA, Widmer Broken Halo
  • Bombers: Hopworks IPA, Laurelwood Red, Lompoc C-Note, Ninkasi Total Domination, Pelican IPA, Rogue Shakespeare Stout
  • Stores: Beermongers (bombers only), Belmont Station, Fred Meyers, New Seasons, Safeway (six-packs only)
  • Bars: Bailey's Taproom, Barley Mill, Belmont Station, Deschutes, Green Dragon, Hopworks, Horse Brass, Lucky Lab, Vincente's Pizza
  • SPE: Six-pack equivalent prices: bombers, $16.04; pints, $19.22
  • Not included: bottle deposits, bartender tips
The retail beers were chosen to be respectable craft brews from a variety of Oregon breweries. It's a little Portland-heavy, but it does include things from eastern and southern Oregon, Bend, the coast, and the Gorge. I also wanted selections that were likely to be widely available. The brand-new Beermongers surprised me with a curve-ball, though: so far they only carry one of the six-packs on the index. I couldn't even choose substitutes from the same brewery, because they didn't have a single beer from Caldera, Terminal Gravity, or Deschutes (?!), and their only Full Sail was 12-packs of Session. Safeway -- less surprisingly -- also came up a little light, with none of the indexed bombers, and a couple of gaps in the six-pack list.

For the pint prices, I took the most typical price of a pint-like serving at the place, and converted it to an SPE price based on the glassware. The average of all of those is the $19.22 SPE reported above; then to make it intelligible, I converted it back to a price per 16 ounces, since that's the most common way for people to think of a pint (even though most of the time you're served a little more or a little less than that).

Notice that the bomber SPE isn't far from what you'd pay for pints in a bar. And that's the average, so it's really just barely below the most economical imperial-pint establishments: Lucky Lab, Horse Brass, and Bailey's. Tips will increase your costs, but some of the best beer specials around town come in way below the bomber SPE: Tuesdays at Roots ($9.47) or East Burn ($9.60), or Mondays at the Lucky Lab ($12.32). You could tip lavishly on top of that and still spend less than on bombers. Support your local pub!

Next quarter's PBPI will be out right around Christmas.

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009 Fresh Hop Update

I haven't gone as insane this year as I usually do for Fresh Hop beers. I think it's the early arrival of the season -- the slow trickle of fresh-hop creations kept the pressure from building up to intolerable levels.

Still, it is a favorite time of year, and of course my fresh hop mania is what launched me down the path to beer blogging in the first place. So I have tried a few of 2009's fresh hop offerings:
  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond: Stellar, my new favorite. Drink it. Now.
  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Hop Henge: They've been playing around with Hop Henge for most of this year. Now with Fresh Hops? An amazing tour de force.
  • Full Sail Lupulin: The 2007 champion (brewed that year with Amarillo hops). Of the three hops tried in 2008, the Nugget variety was best. This year I've tried the Crystal-hopped Lupulin, and it's another winner. Excited to try the other experiment: Cascades.
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest: Tastes a lot like Lupulin to me. Which is a good thing, letting the sweet fresh hops do the work.
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Bale Pale Ale: Light and crisp, with the honeyed green-hop flavor that is called for.
  • Hopworks Bike Beer: An IPA with some freshly-picked hops in it. A lovely beer, one of my favorites at BikeToBeerFest.
  • Deschutes Hop Trip: Another perennial favorite. Once the FH Mirror Pond is gone, I'll start in on this Crystal-hopped beauty.
  • Hales O'Brien's Harvest Ale: Something I look for every year. A nice, dense ale, with a little fresh-hop flavor on the top. [Update 2009/09/29: Apparently there are no fresh hops in this year's O'Brien's.]
So far the most disappointing fresh-hop beer for me has been the Rogue Chatoe Wet-Hop. Not at all a bad Pale Ale, just lacking the crazy fresh flavor. It is impressive that they make it with hops they grew themselves. A couple other also-rans were Hopworks' other fresh-hop ales: the Fest of Fury, and Sodbuster Pale Ale. Fest of Fury is a lovely, malty beer, but for heaven's sake, stop wasting fresh hops on it. The other flavors in that beer carry the day -- just make it a year-round beer and put the fresh hops into a lighter beer. The Sodbuster was pretty good, but it was outshined by the Bike Beer. Another Laurelwood offering -- called Fresh Hop Organic Goodness -- is a nice hop bomb, but the fresh flavor is clobbered by the overall hoppiness.

Our work isn't finished yet. The Mutt was not yet on at the Lucky Lab earlier in the week when I was there, but I'm eager to try it since the sweat of my own brow went into the hops for it. I haven't hit Roots, Widmer, Lompoc, or Rock Bottom yet for fresh-hop ales, and of course there is the Fresh Hop Festival Saturday the 10th at Oaks Park. If that wasn't enough, Angelo has some seldom-seen fresh-hopped beers lined up as part of Brewpublic's 1st-anniversary party at Bailey's. Fresh-hop beers from Upright, Barley Brown's, Vertigo, and Standing Stone?!?! That's ridiculous Angelo, are you trying to kill us?

One more thing: if you buy a growler of fresh-hopped pale ale, and have a little left when it's past its prime, don't forget that the original Stale Pale Ale Martini was made with Laurelwood's Hop Bale. I had a flat Lupulin Martini the other night, and it was fabulous.

Life is short. Stop and smell the fresh hops.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BikeToBeerFest 2009

You gotta hand it to Christian Ettinger for taking a chance on BikeToBeerFest. Closing both parking lots at Hopworks Saturday was a bold move, and one that could have blown up in his face. But attendance was good when I was there for a couple of hours in the afternoon, so I suspect that it wasn't a money loser. It was a really good time, and I hope it becomes an annual tradition. By the way, note the spelling -- it's not "Biketoberfest", which was trademarked by a motorcycle event in Florida -- but "bike-to-beer-fest". Nice.

The back parking lot and dead-end street were organized really well for the fest. A couple tents with picnic tables were set up on the east side of the lot, between a snack bar and the music stage. In front of the stage was a dance/bike-trick area, and a little more space in front of the tents where a lot of people sat or stood to take in the acts. After some old guys on BMX bikes showed their stuff, local one-man-band Boy Eats Drum Machine put on an impressive show, followed by bike-scene darlings the Sprockettes. I bailed out pretty soon after that, but there was plenty more entertainment as the evening went on, ending up with the March Fourth Marching Band.

Booths for a few local bicycle frame-builders were set up along the west side of the parking lot, as was the now famous Hopworksfiets pictured at the top. The kegs on the beer bike were dispensing two wonderful beers: a pale ale called Bike Beer, brewed for the occasion, with a dose of fresh hops; and the Ace of Spades, a flavor-packed double IPA. There was plenty of space for milling around between the east and west sides of the festival -- not at all like the fire-hazard conditions at last year's Fresh Hop Festival.

Sounds like a lot of action, but wait! There's more! The back forty of Hopworks' long lot had its own share of attractions. A good supply of porta-potties, a row of beer taps with shorter lines than in the front area, a washer-toss area, and best of all, the playing field for a fabulous new sport: Huffy throwing. It's harder than it sounds -- sorry Steve, looks like you gave up a couple of yards by not getting all the way up to the line -- but some people either had a knack for it, or had practiced beforehand. The furthest throw I saw was probably about 15 yards with a good bounce -- very impressive.

BikeToBeerFest was definitely not your everyday beer festival -- only one brewery, pints instead of samples, no cars allowed. That's a good thing, something new and fun for the whole family. Congratulations to the whole Hopworks crew for pulling it off.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fresh Hop Frenzy

It was the night the lights went out in Portland. When the Pub Nighters moved from Bridgeport to the Rogue Public House last night, we found a startlingly dark bar, the result of a blown transformer somewhere in the Pearl. Probably not what Rogue had in mind for the Portland debut of their Chateau Wet Hop fresh-hop ale. Due to the darkness, I didn't have to show my Rogue identification papers to receive a 75-cent discount on my shaker pint. It still cost me $5 -- Pow! That hurt after the $4.25 imperial pints of Hop Harvest at Bridgeport. That's an SPE of $16.11 for Bridgeport vs. $24 for Rogue -- but not as bad as the $27.60 SPE that Rogue would charge to undocumented drinkers in its territory.

But the best SPE for us last night was at Deschutes, where some lucky timing and mistaken identity got us our beers on the house (we did tip the bartenders handsomely). Deschutes had the same power outage as Rogue. The lights came back on just as we arrived, but they had already decided to close for the night and make sure everything was back on track after the outage. We blurted out that we were there for the Hop Trip, and for some reason that got us ushered into the bar with a company sales rep, who told the bartenders to set us up. The Hop Trip was quite good, but it turned out they also had fresh-hopped Mirror Pond and fresh-hopped Hop Henge (!) both on cask. Oh my goodness. The fresh-hopped Mirror Pond is as good as it was last year; I have to proclaim it the new Fresh Hop Champion. Amazingly fresh flowery flavor, on top of the just right pale ale body. The fresh Hop Henge was also fabulously good, big and chewy, and hoppy of course, but without the almost gritty hoppiness of some of the Hop Henge experiments.

No one I talked to last night -- the Pub Night gang, plus Beer Advocates Josh and Sean that I ran into -- was very impressed with the 2009 Bridgeport Hop Harvest, but for me it was exactly what I'm looking for in a fresh-hop ale. I'd compare it to this year's Full Sail Lupulin, which I consider to be one of the best. There's kind of a honeyed quality to the best fresh-hop beers, that isn't entirely due to the malt. Contrast that with the Rogue Chateau Wet Hop, where the fresh hops didn't really bring anything noticeable to the flavor.

I've got to hand it to Charles and his iPhone. I was totally unprepared for a Pearl pub crawl, and I didn't have the Beer Mapping Project codes in my phone for anyplace but Deschutes. Thanks, buddy. My obsessive need to update my twitter map would have driven me insane.

Don't miss out on the fresh-hop Mirror Pond and Hop Henge at Deschutes. It's a wonderful experience.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Your Thoughts on Beer Prices?

I'd like your input on an idea I've been kicking around for a little over a year. After I published the map of Portland growler prices, Jeff Alworth suggested the notion of the Growler Price Index, or GPI. He figured that the average cost of a growler around town was $10, so if you saw one cheaper than that, it was a good deal.

Taking Jeff's idea one step further, I'd like to compute quarterly price indexes for beer in Portland, so that we can watch price trends over time. It seems like the following indexes would be interesting:
  • Retail six-pack index
  • Retail bomber index
  • Pub pint index
  • Pub happy-hour pint index
  • Pub pitcher index
  • And, yes, growler price index
The retail prices will be the average of non-sale prices of a collection of year-round Oregon beers, at a few representative Portland outlets. Similarly, the pub prices will be taken from a few beer bars, based on the usual price of a pint. For instance, an imperial pint is usually $4.50 at Bailey's Taproom, though of course some selections cost more. Pub prices will be normalized to six-pack equivalents, using either the fill line on the bar's glassware, or by taking the volume of the glass and subtracting two ounces for head/air.

Ideally I would gather these prices 4 times a year, on the solstices and equinoxes -- the upcoming equinox is what motivated me to finally ask for help. With the caveat that this has to be a doable chunk of work for me, and it can't be all things to all people, I would like your advice on the following matters:
  1. Which beers go into the retail six-pack index and bomber index?
  2. Which retail outlets do I gather the prices from?
  3. Which bars do I gather the prices from?
  4. Do brewpubs go into a separate category than non-brewing pubs?
  5. Is the happy hour price the lowest pint price at the place (e.g. Roots $2.50 Tuesday) or the daily happy hour price (Roots $3.50 happy hour)?
Here are my proposed answers, please comment and let me know what you think:
  1. Six-packs: Bridgeport IPA, Deschutes Black Butte, Full Sail Amber, Terminal Gravity IPA, Widmer Broken Halo. Bombers: Hopworks IPA, Laurelwood Red, Lompoc C-Note, Ninkasi Total Domination, Rogue Brutal Bitter.
  2. Retail stores: Beermongers, Belmont Station, Fred Meyers, New Seasons.
  3. Bars: Bailey's Taproom, Belmont Station, Green Dragon, Horse Brass, Vincente's Pizza.
  4. Brewpubs: Barley Mill, Bridgeport, Deschutes, Hopworks, Laurelwood, Lucky Lab, New Old Lompoc, Roots, Widmer Gasthaus
What changes would you make, either to the details or to the whole scheme?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Breweries in Mirror Appear Closer than They Are

The trouble with taking a beer blogger on a family road trip, is that he maps out all the potential breweries and pubs along the route -- many more than it would be possible to actually visit. It's a pretty easy task, thanks to the Beer Mapping Project, and the handy proximity maps on beermapping.com make the problem worse, because when you look at some of the things inside the circle, you start imagining different itineraries than what has already been planned out.

But, as I said, it was a family vacation, so many beery destinations were left off, either because we passed them at the wrong time of day, or they were too far out of the way, or they didn't have food or weren't family friendly. No regrets: the vacation was a great success. It was the first visit to Yellowstone for all of us -- I would say it's the quintessential all-American vacation, except that about 60% of the visitors there were from other countries -- and a lovely drive through some amazing Western scenery.

Of course we accomplished a few beer tasks, like a visit to the smashing Barley Brown's pub in Baker City. But here are some of the breweries and brewpubs that we passed by along the way (in some cases, I mean we saw the whites of the brewers' eyes, but still couldn't or didn't stop):
We even walked into Portneuf in Pocatello, but it didn't feel right to take the girls into such a boisterous bar on a Friday night, so we sheepishly walked back out. No problem, compensation was had the next day, when we hit Table Rock in Boise and Barley Brown's in Baker City.

Again, no regrets, but if ignorance is your bliss, then stay away from beermapping.com.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lucky Lab Harvest 2009

Yesterday afternoon was a reminder of how great it is to live in Southeast Portland -- the center of the universe. An assortment of beer lovers came out to help the Lucky Lab pick fresh hop cones off of donated vines, for inclusion in the Lab's fresh-hop seasonal, The Mutt. I had a blast the short time I was able to participate last year, so I scheduled a little extra time to hang out this year.

Angelo already has a good writeup of the event at Brewpublic -- including the fact that the Lab ended up with 215 pounds of hops from the shucking bee -- so I'll content myself with presenting a slideshow of pictures from the day. [Update: John also has a nice article at The Beer Here.]

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Beermongers Now Open!

Only a couple of months behind schedule, a new bottle shop has opened at the corner of 12th and Division: The Beermongers. Last night they were celebrating the "soft opening" with balloons and a keg of Ninkasi Total Domination. The shop currently has about 185 kinds of beer on the shelf, with room to bump it up to about 250. Beermongers is open 11 AM to 9 PM, seven days a week.

You might ask yourself, what's a success strategy for a smallish beer store in Southeast Portland? They're not far from New Seasons on Division, which has a really good beer selection. And they don't plan to match the 1000-beer selection of Belmont Station. So what is the angle? Surprisingly, Beermongers plans to compete on price, with prices lower than Belmont, New Seasons, convenience stores, or even Fred's or Safeway. I never would have come up with that idea, but it sure warms my penny-pinching heart.

The proprietors are Sean Campbell and Craig Gulla, a couple of longtime McMenamins employees, seen here ringing up a $9 12-pack of Session Lager -- that's an old-timey SPE of $4.91. Craig told me that the plan is to keep the everyday prices low, and not rely on special sale prices. That's a nice price on Session: on my way home I stopped into New Seasons and saw it priced at $12. Some other low prices I noticed were:

  • Bridgeport IPA: $6 6-pack
  • North Coast Old Rasputin: $7.80 4-pack
  • Unibroue 750ml bottles: $6.35
  • Paulaner Salvator: $2.05 half-liter

[Update 2009/09/23: Turns out these were extra-low grand-opening prices. Session is now $11-something, Bridgeport $7.20, Paulaner $2.50. Not those original 25% discounts, but still good prices.]

The space itself reminded me a lot of By the Bottle in Vancouver, and the beers are arranged by style similarly to By the Bottle and Belmont Station. Even though there are plenty of snob-worthy beers, Beermongers also stocks Bud-Miller-Coors and Pabst, priced aggressively. They have an on-site license, so future plans include a small bar with three or four local taps, and a little bit of seating if you want to sample a bottle right off the shelf. Craig said they also plan to stock a small selection of reasonably-priced wines to cater to multi-beverage households. It would have saved me a trip to New Seasons last night, so I think their instincts are good.

I've heard two different rumors of pubs that might go in across the street from Beermongers, so this corner of Ladd's Addition might be a happening little beer area in the coming years. Best of luck to The Beermongers in their new venture!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Barley Brown's Brewpub

On our way back from Yellowstone last week, we spent Saturday night in Baker City. It was a family vacation, not a beer vacation, but the Baker City stop was a concession to dear old Dad, so that I could visit Barley Brown's, a prize-winning pub whose beers only rarely show up in Portland.

In fact, the only time I've seen BB's beers here was at Belmont Station's meet-the-brewer last May. The burly Barley Brown brews at that event convinced me that I needed to stop in and try more of their offerings. Between Carla and me, we got around to:

  • Turmoil Cascadian Dark Ale: very satisfying balance of malt and hops
  • Tankslapper IIPA: Carla's favorite, strong, thick, with citrusy floral hops
  • Tumble Off Pale Ale: cloudy orange ale with bracing hops
  • WFO IPA: classic Northwest IPA
I could have plotted out our sampling a little better by swapping the WFO -- which I'd tried in Portland -- for the Whiskey Malt Ale, which I thought I'd tried, though what I'd had at Belmont was the Double Whiskey Malt Ale. I was also intrigued by their Hot Blonde Ale, a chilli pepper beer, but they were out of it Saturday night.

Barley Brown's was doing a whopping business Saturday night -- we waited about 20 minutes for a table on the restaurant side. While we waited we strolled down Main Street. There wasn't much else in the way of entertainment: a dive bar was empty except for a lone barkeep; the saloon at the Grand Hotel was humming pretty well; I don't recall any other family restaurants open at that time.

We were really pleased with the Barley Brown's food. After a long day on the road and in the motel pool, everyone was hungry for some good eats. We ordered fairly sensibly -- splitting two entrees between the three omnivores in the family, and getting an order of nachos for our vegetarian daughter. The servings were very generous: look at the hunk of pork ribs they served to a 10-year-old girl. The chicken-fried steak that Carla and I split was not all that huge, but that let us help out with the ribs. All the food was tasty -- even the nachos appeared to use decent-quality cheese -- but a special mention goes to the side vegetables. They were steamed exactly the right amount, until they were tender but they hadn't lost any color or flavor. Garnished with some fresh garlic, they were a wholesome and delicious way to round out the meal.

Baker City is a cute little town, with lovely views of the Blue Mountains, even if it didn't have a fantastic brewpub. Barley Brown's (open 4-10 PM daily) makes it a must stop if you're on a long drive out I-84.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Deschutes King Cone Fresh Hop Ale

Deschutes has had a Fresh Hop beer -- King Cone Pale Ale -- on at the Portland pub for a few days. So it's not like I'm breaking new ground here, but I finally got my first taste of it today at lunch. Pretty good, a solid pale ale is the foundation for lots of resinous hoppy flavor. The green vegetal fresh-hop flavor that I require is detectable but a little overpowered by the general hoppiness.

I'd say it reminds me of the first batch of Full Sail Lupulin that John Harris brewed last year. In other words, very worthy, but not quite to the pinnacle. I can't help it, there's a specific thing that I'm seeking in these fresh hop beers, and I get very picky. Deschutes promises many more fresh hop ales in the coming weeks, and if past performance is any indication, some of them will be stellar. Hop Trip is always a favorite, and the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond they did last year was fabulous.

Gosh this is an early start to the season. Why is this happening, that the beer seasons get pushed earlier and earlier all the time? I shouldn't complain, fresh-hop time is something that I eagerly await each year. Now I don't have to pester my local pubs about it, they're beating me to the punch.

Mark your calendar, the Portland Fresh Hop festival put on by the OBG and Oregon Bounty is at Oaks Park this year, October 10! Another fun thing to do is help the Lucky Lab pick hop cones off the vine: Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 8). I had a blast last year.