Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coming Soon: Migration Brewing

My eagle-eyed neighbor Lindsey spotted signage for a new brewpub near NE 28th and Glisan: Migration Brewing. That will make quite a little beer district there, with Spints Ale House going in around the corner at 28th and Flanders, and Coalition Brewing (née Hobo Brewing) at 28th and Ankeny.

Pretty soon you'll be able to do an alphabetical pub crawl up 28th. Coalition at Ankeny, Holman's at Burnside, Beulahland at Couch, we need stuff at Davis and Everett, then there's Spints at Flanders and Migration at Glisan. By the way, Beulahland escaped my attention until a few weeks ago, but it's a worthy bar for us snobby types -- ten decent taps and even a cask engine (!). They also do their own house-infused vodkas and bourbons, if you're sometimes tempted by the hard stuff.

The Linked-In page for Migration mentions a couple connections with the Lucky Lab, which gives me a good feeling about the place. They're hoping to open in January. I'll put up more information if it comes to me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern

It's already been open for a year, but last week I finally made my first visit to Saraveza. Sarah Pederson's bar is a much-needed outpost of good beer in that part of North Portland. The smallish space has an atmosphere something like a coffeeshop, with 10 taps of quality draft beer, and hundreds of snob-worthy bottles in stand-up coolers. There's a nice food menu, and kids are allowed in the place until 9 PM.

The decor is over-the-top Wisconsin, to the point of all the tap handles representing various flavors of wimpy downstream beer, from Bud to Schlitz. Hey wait a minute, I ordered a Russian River, not an Old Milwaukee -- oh, okay, it's just the handle. In fact, it's a Cascade Fall Gose that was served to me in that Coors goblet (and sitting next to a tiny snifter of 21% Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA). I've never been to Wisconsin -- despite a lifelong love for the 1880's-era Milwaukee antics of Peck's Bad Boy -- so I can't judge whether Saraveza authentically captures the Sconnie bar vibe. For me it's a little disorienting for a place to serve mostly craft beer, yet decorate with factory lager memorabilia. But it's definitely a unique approach, and probably bothers me less than it would any poor Schlitz drinker that happens to step up to the bar.

Saraveza's kitchen focuses on pasties, little fried pies made from scratch, with some cheeky junk-food options like Rice Krispie treats and a Ritz Cracker plate. When I stopped in with my friend Bill, we had just eaten a big lunch, so the only thing we tried was the jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and bacon, very tasty. Any of the bottles of beer at Saraveza are available to go at a discount from the drink-here price.

It's interesting how quickly Saraveza worked its way into the hearts of Portland beer folk. It's one of only two bars in town to have a live webcam on its tap list at Taplister (East Burn is the other). When Brewpublic celebrated its one-year anniversary, one of the parties was at Saraveza (the other one being at Bailey's Taproom, itself a relative newcomer). Sarah says she plans to put in a beer engine and start serving a cask-conditioned beer, but apart from that no big changes are planned. It's been a great first year, why change anything?

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Whine Hard about Henry's Tavern

On the previous post about the new taps at the Green Dragon, someone commented that their 50 taps must be one of the largest collections in the city. The Horse Brass just barely squeaks past them because of their 3 cask engines, and Patrick pointed out that the Dublin Pub in Hillsdale has over 50 taps (59 according to their website).

But the reigning champion in Portland is clearly Henry's Tavern, with about 100 taps. Let me pull out some cliches to describe Henry's Tavern. The large, well-chosen tap-list is like casting pearls before swine (most patrons order macro lagers or cocktails). A beer there will cost you an arm and a leg. Henry Weinhard must be rolling over in his grave to have Henry's Tavern using his name and his building.

Enough cliches. I would love to love Henry's, with its massive beer list and great historic location. The first bar I ever went into -- as you can see by my identification card -- was a tavern owned by my Uncle Henry. The finest honky-tonk in Austin used to be Henry's Bar and Grill on Burnet Road (now an AutoZone parking lot, grrrr...). But Portland's Henry's Tavern always manages to annoy me in one of the following ways:
  1. The servers know nothing about the beers.
  2. The beer list doesn't list prices or serving quantities.
  3. The servers don't know the quantities.
  4. The beer list is often out of date.
  5. The servers can't tell you any additions/subtractions to the list.
  6. The beer is expensive.
Every few months I torment myself with a trip to Henry's, but there's always some annoyance. Either the first three beers I order turn out to be unavailable, or a beer of normal strength comes to the table in a small goblet after the server assures me it is served in pints. One time when Brian and I were having lunch there, I pointedly asked our waitress if there were any new beers that hadn't made it onto the list. She said she'd check with the bartender, then came back and said there weren't. And yet when the beer buyer came by and recognized Brian, she recommended we try a new release from Ninkasi that was not yet on the list. Brilliant.

Henry's probably has the most expensive pints in town -- well, maybe Higgins or Rogue can beat them, but those places at least give a damn about the beer they're serving. And since the prices aren't posted anywhere, you just take your chances until the check arrives.

That's one thing, and I'll admit to being kind of a tightwad. Nevertheless, I would patronize the place more if not for the total lack of respect for beer there. It could be a kind of beer-geek heaven with just a little bit of creative management. For example, the Tap House Grill in Seattle is a similar establishment, but a nod is given to beer fans, and the servers know their stuff.

Don't hold your breath: I think Henry's has done the calculation on what kind of customer they are angling for, and it's corporate restaurant diners, not beer geeks. The giant beer list attracts a certain chest-thumping contingent, but they are mostly oblivious to the genuinely interesting variety on the list.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Evolution of the Green Dragon

The 30 new taps that have been sticking out of the back wall of the Green Dragon since March are now stocked. That makes 50 taps, including a couple nitro taps, plus a beer engine. At lunchtime when I've been in, there's not a dedicated server at the "Back 30" -- that's what they call the back bar -- so whoever's tending bar has to hustle back and forth. I'd say 30 taps is a good trade for the dartboard that used to be back there, but it would be nice if they figured out some other place to put a dartboard or two. I say ditch the shuffleboard table that no one ever uses.

Last week the first beer brewed at the Green Dragon was served: the aptly named Finally! IPA. Does that mean there's a brewer at the Dragon now, and the brewhouse is in production mode? Well, no. The beer was brewed by Oregon Brew Crew members. Man, $4.75 a pint and you're using free labor to make the beer? Nice Tom Sawyer action there -- the bartenders better hope Rogue doesn't realize how many Portland beer swillers would work a shift for free. Anyway, hats off to the stand-in brewers, they did a nice job on Finally! -- a dense, cloudy IPA with very grapefruity hops. It's already off -- don't know if they sold it all or saved some kegs for posterity's sake.

In another development, the door from the bar to the back patio was finally installed a few weeks ago. That's handy: it's now legal for you to carry your own beer from the bar to the patio. The "Ed's Patio" sign over the door doesn't make much sense -- it labels the entry back into the bar, not the opening to the patio. It's an awkward gesture to name part of the bar after the last guy to hold 2/3 of the hot potato, given the drama occasioned a year ago by Ed's sale of the place to Rogue over the objections of Lolo, a founder and 1/3 owner. I have an idea: let's start calling the front bar "Lolo's Bar", and the pinball machines "Parker's Arcade".

Speaking of Parker and Lolo, their post-Dragon assistant-brewmaster gigs are going well. Jim is at Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, WA, which won four GABF medals -- 2 gold, 2 silver -- this year, as well as the Small Brewpub of the Year. Lolo is brewing at Silver Moon in Bend. A few months ago I saw him at Fred Fest, and he looked happier than he did even during the early days of the Green Dragon. The Green Dragon regularly puts on a keg of Silver Moon, and stocks 3 or 4 bottles from them, so he's brewing some beer for the place after all, just not the way he envisioned it.

So, here we are after a year of Rogue ownership. The finished patio and increased number of taps are positives. The relatively high prices on beer and food are negatives. The atmosphere is as good as it's ever been -- Rogue has kept up an interesting schedule of meet-the-brewer nights (though tonight's "brewer" is Aengus Ciderworks) -- and the new Cascade barrelhouse and pub around the block will make the area even more of a beer destination. I don't go to the Green Dragon as often as I used to -- largely because of the high beer prices -- but it's still in the rotation. What do you think? Has Rogue changed it for the better, the worse, or not much at all?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last Fresh Hop Post of 2009

You must be completely bored by now with all the fresh-hop talk on It's Pub Night. One last gasp from me: I'll list the ones I've tried this season, in roughly the order that I'd recommend them to you as examples of fine fresh-hop flavor. Some of the ones far down the list are still nice beers, just not as remarkable for fresh-hop-ness.
  1. Deschutes Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond
  2. Full Sail Lupulin (Crystal)
  3. Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale
  4. Walking Man Fresh Hop IPA
  5. Bridgeport Hop Harvest
  6. Three Creeks Santiam Hop Harvest
  7. Full Sail Lupulin (Cascade)
  8. Widmer Hopturnal Emission
  9. New Old Lompoc Crystal Wheat
  10. Lucky Lab The Mutt
  11. Barley Brown's Roadside Fresh Hop
  12. Upright Fresh Hop of Belair
  13. Double Mountain Killer Green
  14. Standing Stone Wet-Hop Amber
  15. Deschutes Fresh-hopped Hop Henge
  16. Hopworks Bike Beer
  17. Silver Moon Hoppopotamus
  18. Oakshire Harvest Ale
  19. New Old Lompoc Crystal Missile
  20. Vertigo Midnight Harvest
  21. Lucky Lab Das Moot Pilsner
  22. Deschutes Hop Trip
  23. Pelican Elemental Ale
  24. Laurelwood Fresh Hop Organic Goodness
  25. Astoria Hoptimus Prime 2.0
  26. New Old Lompoc Millenium IIPA
  27. Beer Valley Fresh-hopped Leafer Madness
  28. Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
  29. Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
  30. Deschutes King Cone
  31. Hopworks Sodbuster Pale Ale
  32. McMenamin's on Monroe Hop Bud-E
  33. 4th Street Brewing Fresh Hop Pale
  34. Hopworks Fest of Fury
  35. Oakshire Conundrum Cascadian Dark Ale
  36. Cascade Cascadian Fresh Hop
  37. Beer Valley Fresh-hopped Black Flag
  38. Oakshire Red Nugget
  39. Rock Bottom Hoodwinked
  40. Golden Valley Mt. Hood Fresh Hop
  41. Roots Hoppopotamus
  42. Fort George Cohoperative Ale
  43. MacTarnahan's Fresh-hopped Amber
  44. Ninkasi Nugg E. Fresh
That's a lot of beers, if I do say so myself, though some of them I just had small tastes of. I tried all of those on draft -- or cask -- except the Silver Moon, which I got a bottle of from Belmont Station. That's probably it for this year, though I haven't had Amnesia's, Caldera's, or the Harvest Man from Lompoc yet, and I suppose there's a chance I'll see one of them.

And now I'll shut up about fresh hops for a few months.

Monday, October 12, 2009

That Was a Busy Week

Last week was a blur of beer activities. Throughout the week, I was on my October mission to sample as many fresh-hop beers as I could, ramping up to the Fresh Hop Tastival at Oaks Park on Saturday. It was a beautiful day to hang out with friends and neighbors and all their ankle-biters. And here's a big "Happy Birthday" to the blog Brewpublic -- the Killer Beer Fest at Bailey's Saturday night to celebrate one year of Brewpublicanism was a blast.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The madness really started on Wednesday, when Alan Sprints brought some big Hair of the Dog brews to the Green Dragon for meet the brewer. This year's Cherry Adam from the Wood and Doggie Claws were probably too young to drink by HotD standards, but it was nice to try them. It was my first taste of the Cherry Adam, though thanks to Brian G. I have a bottle from last year stashed in the basement. The Green Dragon bungled the event, only announcing it the day before, but the usual suspects made it out, as covered by Brewpublic.

Thursday I finally made it to Belmont Station for their Fresh Hop Week. It's great to see so many fresh-hop beers on tap at once, and Belmont is a nice, relaxed place to do some experimenting. I think the only beers they had that didn't show up at the Tastival were Oakshire's Conundrum (Cascadian Dark) and the Crystal Hop variant of Full Sail Lupulin. They also had the Cascade Hop Lupulin, and I believe they're still on, so if you want to try them side-by-side, get on in there.

I already mentioned the Saturday Tastival. There were no astonishing new beers to displace fresh-hopped Mirror Pond from the throne as the best fresh-hop beer of 2009. I thought the Santiam Hop Harvest from Three Creeks was nicely done -- a light ale that let the freshness shine through. Astoria's Hoptimus Prime 2.0 was a nice hop bomb, one of those like Double Mountain's Killer Green that is an awesome beer that clobbers the fresh-hop flavor. Pelican's Elemental Ale was bitter and tasty, though Lindsey was put off by what he called a "coconut" flavor. Caldera was a no-show in Portland: I would have liked to try their Alpha Beta.

One interesting thing was to note the similarly cabbagey taste of the two beers brewed with Mt. Hood hops: Rock Bottom Hoodwinked and Golden Valley Mt. Hood Fresh Hop. That's the flavor that turns some people away from fresh-hopped beers: it made our group wonder if that particular hop might be a bad choice.

The Brewpublic party at Bailey's Taproom Saturday night gave me a chance to try a couple of hard-to-find fresh hop beers -- Vertigo's Midnight Harvest, and the fabulous Wet-Hop Amber from Standing Stone. But as impressive as the beer list was, it was the crowd that really made the party. Portland's beer-obsessed turned out in droves to congratulate Angelo and Margaret on a terrific first year. Brewpublic does an excellent job reporting on Oregon beer, including some nice in-depth interviews with brewers and other beer characters. It's become such a fixture in Portland's blogosphere that someone I was talking to said "It seems like it's always been there", and it's really true. Happy First, Brewpublic, and keep up the good work!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting Ready for the Fresh Hop Tastival

The Portland edition of the Fresh Hop Tastival is this Saturday at Oaks Park. Despite its goofy name -- can we call it a "Wastival" next year? -- I'm really looking forward to it, a frenzied climax to the fresh-hop season. To get you even more excited, the OBG has published the tentative list for the Portland fest.

Last year's festival in the small Hopworks parking lot was way too crowded. Holding it at Oaks Park is a great idea -- a pleasant bike ride down the Springwater Corridor and you're there. There's another excellent beer event Saturday night: Brewpublic's first anniversary party at Bailey's Taproom. Angelo has lined up a bunch of possibly once-in-a-lifetime beers -- including six fresh-hop ales -- so pace yourself at Oaks Park and save some room for Bailey's.

Carla asked me yesterday morning how many fresh hop beers I've tried so far this year. I came up with 13, but I'm not a morning person, so there were 7 more that I forgot about until later. Then I applied myself at Belmont Station last night to bring the total up a little more, to 25. That's without the aid of a Fresh Hop Tastival -- I didn't go to the Hood River Hops Fest last weekend. Here's what I've tried so far:
  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond
  • Full Sail Lupulin (Crystal)
  • Laurelwood Hop Bale Pale
  • Walking Man Fresh Hop IPA
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
  • Deschutes Fresh-hopped Hop Henge
  • Full Sail Lupulin (Cascade)
  • Widmer Hopturnal Emission
  • New Old Lompoc Crystal Wheat
  • Lucky Lab The Mutt
  • Barley Brown's Roadside Fresh Hop
  • Upright Fresh Hop of Belair
  • Double Mountain Killer Green
  • Hopworks Bike Beer
  • Oakshire Harvest Ale
  • New Old Lompoc Crystal Missile
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Organic Goodness
  • New Old Lompoc Millenium IIPA
  • Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
  • Deschutes King Cone
  • Hopworks Sodbuster Pale Ale
  • Hopworks Fest of Fury
  • Oakshire Conundrum Cascadian Dark Ale
Not one of those is a bad beer. I suspect that the specialness of doing a fresh-hop beer means that extra care is taken with these batches, which raises the quality level. Still, with such an embarrasment of riches, I can get a little picky, and say that Hop Trip and all the beers above it on the list are the beers that show the most fresh-hop character. The beers at the very top of the list are highly recommended: make every effort to try them before they're gone.

I'm proud of what I've been able to accomplish so far this season, but looking over the list, I see quite a few beers that I will set my sights on this Saturday at Oaks Park:
  • Ninkasi Nugg E. Fresh
  • Caldera Alpha Beta
  • Three Creeks Santiam Hop Harvest
  • Lucky Lab Das Moot Pilsner
  • Fort George Cohoperative Ale
  • Rock Bottom Hoodwinked
  • Astoria Hoptimus Prime 2.0
  • Amnesia Fresh Hoppalata
  • Cascade Cascadian Fresh Hop
  • Pelican Elemental Ale
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh-hopped Amber (why not?)
What, no Roots? I guess I'll have to stumble down to the pub to check out this year's Hoppopotamus. And a couple years ago Mt. Hood Brewing brought a reasonable fresh-hop ale to the Tastival; I wonder why they've dropped out. Hopworks and Double Mountain have a couple more fresh-hop brews -- Crystal Method Pale and Fresh Vienna -- up their sleeve. I hope I have enough stamina to get to those also.

Are there any good fresh-hop beers out there I missed? Anything that really grabbed your attention?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Good Is Deschutes?

Last week the Pennsylvania-based beer writer Lew Bryson posted a review of Deschutes Hop Trip on his blog. He was underwhelmed by what I consider to be one of the better fresh-hop ales each year, finding the fresh hop flavor to be too subtle. No big deal, everyone has different tastes, and I certainly wouldn't claim to have the most refined palate on the Internet.

What was surprising was the thread of comments following his post, where a few commenters had some really harsh words for Deschutes. It started off with a fellow from our own neighborhood, who said the brewery is a shadow of its former greatness. Another commenter opined that the brewery is now merely competent although it was once great; someone else went so far as to compare Deschutes to Miller High Life.

Since Deschutes is one of my favorite breweries, I want to sound off myself. I'm a little late: Jeff beat me to the punch yesterday by opening a discussion of this "Deschutes Backlash" on Beervana. But here goes...

I only moved to Oregon six years ago, so I don't have the history that some of the Deschutes detractors have. The "shadow of former greatness" commenter has fond memories of John Harris' tenure at Deschutes, and finds everything since that time to be boring. The "High Life" comment guy thinks Deschutes gutted their beers in 2003 -- the year I moved here, what luck. I don't doubt that John did a great job there, just like he's doing at Full Sail's Riverplace brewery right now. Heck, I bet Hammerhead tasted better when John was the first McMenamin's brewer, too.

But surely some good things have come out of Deschutes since the good ol' days, right? What about the superstar imperial stout, the Abyss? The Abyss is so highly prized that I was able to sell my empty Abyss bottle on Ebay last year for $15. Some of their other big beers are anything but boring: Mirror Mirror, Double Black Butte, Hop Henge, and -- for you sour beer sickos out there -- the Dissident.

Big beers in wax-sealed bottles are one thing, but the everyday supermarket beers from Deschutes are also at the head of their class. Inversion IPA has become my default six-pack. Black Butte and Mirror Pond may not be revolutionary, but you can pretty much count on any guest at your house -- beer expert or novice -- being able to enjoy one of them. So I was also shocked by another recent symptom of Deschutes Backlash: when the Beermongers opened last month, they didn't stock a single beer from Deschutes, despite carrying industrial brews like Coors, Bud, and Miller. Ouch!

Jubel Ale, a rich, creamy, roasty winter ale is on the shelves --and taps -- now. That first winter I lived in Portland, my neighbor Dave did a little dance when that year's Jubel came out, and the two of us got a little carried away, chasing from pub to pub in the rain on rumors that the Horse Brass or Rose and Raindrop had Jubel on cask. I still have a couple bottles of 2003 Jubel in the basement.

Chasing down cask Jubel is no longer much of a problem, now that there's a Deschutes pub here in Portland. As Derek pointed out not long ago, the pub always has several creative beers on tap in addition to the usual Deschutes lineup. Since it's fresh-hop season, I highly recommend the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond that's been pouring there. An amazing beer, one you'll remember for years. If it's on, the fresh-hopped Hop Henge is also a stunner.

So if Hop Trip or Black Butte -- or even the Abyss -- doesn't grab you, fine. But look at the range of beers put out by Deschutes, the awesome one-offs in the pubs in Portland and Bend, and the ability to produce mass quantities of high-quality supermarket six-packs. What's not to like about all that? Those pieces weren't all in place 10 years ago, so how could this be a brewery in decline?