Thursday, November 26, 2009

Coming Soon: Cascade Barrel House

A couple days ago I stopped to visit the future location of Cascade Brewing's new pub, catty-corner across Belmont from the Green Dragon. Brewer Ron Gansberg already has dozens of barrels in the beer-aging section of the Barrel House. The rest of the building is still in demolition mode, waiting on permits to begin construction. The pub will have up to 18 beers flowing at one time, a couple of them drawn straight out of wood barrels. As for food, Ron says that the menu will be short and to the point. No decision yet on whether kids will be allowed, but now that the Green Dragon even allows them on the bar side until 8 PM, it probably makes good business sense. There's not a firm opening date yet -- after all, the real construction hasn't yet begun -- but the plan is for "the first part of 2010".

I was surprised at how much space there is in the pub side of the building. Everything I had read up to now made me think it would be tiny, and the building doesn't look so big from the outside, but there's quite a big area in there. Some of it will turn into kitchen, cooler, and bar space, but it's still bigger than I imagined. It will have that Lucky Lab warehouse feeling -- check out the wooden arches that hold up the roof. Add to that some outside seating below the loading dock, and you've got a place that's going to fit right in to the vibe of the neighborhood pubs.

The original Cascade pub, the Raccoon Lodge, is not that deep into Southwest Portland, but I'm sorry to say that it's enough out of my range that I have never been there. My unintentional boycott has paid off with this pub they're opening within walking distance of my house. I'm excited that we'll now have a range of Cascade's beers in the neighborhood; I guess I better start working on my sour beer palate, since the awards the brewery is harvesting in that category are only going to move them even more in that direction, especially at the Barrel House.

This continuing development of the craft beer scene in Southeast Portland is one of the many things that make me thankful to live in this neighborhood. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hoppy Holiday Ales

Last week Jeff wrote about blindly tasting three Northwest winter-warmer type ales. I don't know if I'd really count it as a blind tasting, since he was able to identify all three, and while he had good things to say about all of them, he preferred Deschutes Jubelale over Full Sail Wassail and Laurelwood Vinter Varmer.

Now, Jubelale is a special obsession at my house, but this year I find myself drawn more towards hoppy holiday ales instead of the darker spiced winter warmers. Some representatives from the hoppy holiday side of the beer family tree are:
  • Widmer Brrr
  • Full Sail Wreck the Halls
  • Double Mountain Fa La La
  • Lompoc C-Son's Greetings
  • Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration
  • Bridgeport Ebenezer
That list is more or less in my order of preference. Widmer Brrr is just so darn good. It takes the idea originally set forth by Celebration, and kind of dials up the crispness or the distinctness of the flavors. It's not that it's a hop bomb -- like Fa La La and C-Son's Greetings -- but the hops are much more floral and obvious than in Celebration, without obscuring the nice malt base.

Wreck the Halls is fabulous this year, a burly, heavily-hopped ale, with a strong bitter finish. Fa La La is also a marvel, a solid strong ale, with a big Double Mountain dose of hops. You won't find it in bottles, so if you see it on tap somewhere, you better have a pint. For some reason, the Lagunitas Red Ale isn't grabbing me this year as it has in years past. I almost want to say that it's too balanced -- the caramel malts give it a real heft that keeps the hops in check. Maybe it's just that Brrr has changed my idea of how the hops should be in a holiday ale.

C-Son's greetings, a kind of double C-Note, is a regular New Old Lompoc winter seasonal. This year for the first time, it's available in 22-ounce bottles. If you like C-Note, or big IPAs of any kind, you'll enjoy this malted-up version. Bridgeport's Ebenezer is not as hoppy as most of these holiday ales, but it seems to belong more in this category than the winter warmer one. It's not unpleasant, but it's not really very exciting.

I like this idea of a holiday-ale family tree. I'd say that winter warmers like Jubel are on a branch typified by Anchor's Christmas Ale -- think porters with winter spices. Then there's the Celebration branch of hoppy strong ales, and the closely-related winter barleywine branch, whose archetype is Bigfoot -- another Sierra Nevada brew -- emulated now by bruisers like Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws and Lagunitas Brown Shugga. I can think of one more category: the crazy European big brews -- Samichlaus, Scaldis, and various Belgian Noel beers. Can every holiday beer fit on one of those branches, or does the category need splintering some more?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Migration Update

I stopped by the future location of Migration Brewing yesterday on Glisan just east of SE 28th. The three co-owners were all there working on the building -- that's McKean, Colin, and Michael in the picture. A kegerator stocked with Lompoc's Fresh Hop Harvest Man helps ensure that the work goes smoothly.

There's a lot of work to do to get the building ready, but it will be a nice open room, with high ceilings showing off the original fir rafters. There will be a patio area out front along Glisan. The plan is to open in January, but sometimes the guys say "early 2010", so it wouldn't be surprising if the schedule slips a little. A lot of the details are still being worked out, but in the beginning the pub will open in the late afternoon, and add lunch hours as the business grows. They'll probably allow minors until 8 or 9 PM, but all things are contingent on the OLCC.

The 7-barrel brewing system is under construction right now in North Portland. Check out Migration's Facebook page for some pictures of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Collaborator CXI

The current edition of the Oregon Brew Crew/Widmer Collaborator Project is called CXI Pumpernickel Ale. It's brewed with an interesting adjunct: 60 pounds of pumpernickel bread from La Petite Provence bakery. I had a pint with lunch today at It's a Beautiful Pizza next door to Stumptown Coffee on Belmont.

CXI is a nice big beer for winter. It's a beautiful mahogany color with a yeasty, bready nose; the flavor is boozy on top of a nice dark roasted malt. There's a kind of herbal aromatic thing that creeps into your nose as you drink it -- it might be largely due to the alcohol, but you can also imagine the rye bread contributing to it. The beer has a long malty finish, with lots of bitter hops; not at all floral, just kind of a coffee bitterness. Despite the big booze -- it's 8.5% -- and the malty flavor, it's not a sweet-tasting beer. It's good stuff -- try it while it's available at Beautiful Pizza, the Widmer Gasthaus, and eventually the usual beer-snob taverns. I can't think of a beer to compare it to; the closest category I can shoe-horn it into is "winter warmer".

It's a Beautiful Pizza has a respectable set of 10 beer taps, plus a Blackthorn Cider tap. Today a couple of taps were off, but in addition to the Collaborator, they had Eel River Amber, Lagunitas IPA, Victory Prima Pils, and a few other Oregon beers. In the past I've always seen a Lucky Lab tap there, but maybe it was one of the blown kegs today. Plenty of bike parking in the corral on Belmont, and they've recently added a no-minors section with some vid-poker, if you want to get away from the ankle-biters.

For a firsthand report on the making of CXI, listen to Lisa Morrison's Beer O'Clock show from last week. Lisa has an interview with Widmer brewer Ike Manchester and OBC member Noel Blake.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alcohol vs. Acetaminophen

My Tylenol bottle thinks I drink too much.

Well, it's not every day that I drink three or more beers, but I drink some amount of beer most every day, and if I have one I usually have two. And, like anyone who likes to drink, I sometimes have way more than three.

It's great fun to make liver jokes -- the liver is evil, must be punished -- but I have a feeling that liver failure wouldn't be much fun. We all know that chronic alcohol abuse is bad for the liver. But did you know that acetaminophen poisoning is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the US? Apparently the recommended daily maximum dosage -- which the FDA is about to lower -- is only about half of the dosage that starts to overwhelm your liver, and the way over-the-counter remedies sprinkle in a little of this and a little of that can get some people over the line without them even thinking about it.

The combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can have immediate bad effects on the liver. First thing to remember: do not take Tylenol after heavy drinking. Like the next morning, when your head is pounding. I am not a doctor, but it looks like ibuprofen (Advil) is a safer bet for hangover help. Ibuprofen, like aspirin, is rough on the stomach -- take it with food. There's a place for each pain reliever, just don't combine alcohol and Tylenol. Furthermore, if you drink every day, only take half the maximum acetaminophen dosage (2 grams a day instead of 4 grams a day), even if you stopped drinking when you became sick. Here's a pretty good explanation of that, despite having been written by a lawyer.

Tylenol has made my life bearable the last few days, with this damn flu I've got. I'm looking forward to getting back to some beer drinking, though.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Belmont Station's New Prices

This week, Belmont Station introduced two-tier pricing on its bottled beers: customers paying cash will pay about 4% less than those using credit cards. There was a small amount of anguish about this on Twitter, and the Bulls & Brew blog published a rebuke, but 4% truly reflects the costs that third-party card processors charge to small merchants like Belmont Station -- basically a 50-cent charge per transaction, plus 3% of the total transaction. Two-tier pricing seems like a fair solution to me: let the customer decide whether the fee is worth the convenience.

Part of the initial reaction to Belmont's move was along the lines of "The most expensive bottle shop in town is raising its prices?" To counter that impression, the Station's latest email newsletter -- titled "WE REDUCED PRICES ON HUNDREDS OF BEERS!" -- tries to spin things the other direction:

We've reduced the everyday prices on hundreds of beers. 95% of our six packs and large single bottles (22 ounce, 750ml, etc.) now cost less.

Effective this Monday, November 2, the biggest discounts will go to CASH customers.

Sorry guys, but I'm not buying that. As luck would have it, I can do a quick fact check on this, since I recently collected a few 6-pack and bomber prices for the PBPI. The average price of the 6-packs in my survey did indeed fall from $9 to $8.67 at Belmont Station, and the bomber average dropped from $5.21 to $5.07. That's the cash price, and the reductions are 3.67% and 2.67% respectively. So credit-card customers are not -- on average -- seeing lower prices.

Furthermore, I would be surprised if 95% of the prices were reduced, since in my small survey, only four of the six 6-packs decreased in price, and only three of the six bombers are cheaper. The other prices stayed the same. So, either I'm a really good shot with my beer picks, or the price reductions fell disproportionately on the 950 special-occasion beers on the shelves, not the 50 biggest movers.

One more problem: customers paying with a debit card pay the same higher price as credit-card customers. My admittedly shallow understanding of the problem is that there is not a percentage fee on debit card transactions, just a 50-cent charge. On a $5 purchase, 50 cents is already 10% of the transaction, but at least there isn't the added percentage there is with credit cards. Maybe the 4% averages out, but it seems like debit cards should be treated more kindly than credit cards. [Update: In the comments below, Chris from Belmont Station clarifies that debit cards are now charged a percentage as well; Kevin points out that nowadays debit is only cheaper to process than credit above about $25. So, I was wrong to think that debit should get off lighter than credit.]

Despite Belmont Station's clumsy attempt to cheapwash their new policy, I like their approach of passing the savings on to the customer. Although I've gotten used to the convenience of paying with a credit card, I've recently started paying with cash at local establishments. Do your local merchants and publicans a favor: use cash when you can.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Clinton Street Brewing Disappears

The status of Clinton Street Brewing (warning: noisy website) -- next to the movie theater at 26th and Clinton -- has been weird for quite a while, since the little in-house brewing operation was assimilated by Captured by Porches. But it appears that the whole thing is now kaput. A new banner on the awning declares the establishment to be "The Workshop", and there are no CSB or CBP taphandles behind the bar.

As I peered in the window today, I got some details on the change from the barbecue chef, who was sitting at a picnic table outside. In my usual blundering way, one detail I didn't get was the gentleman's name, but his outfit is Smoky Mountain BBQ, most recently serving at the Queen of Hearts Tavern near the Mt. Scott Rec Center. Anyway, the Smoky Mountain Man said that the new owners will also brew their own beer -- in fact are apparently already brewing it -- but not at the place itself. That may be a good thing, considering the scary-looking setup pictured above that Clinton Street used.

Right now The Workshop opens at 5 PM; next week they hope to open at 2 PM, and eventually serve lunch. The barbecue is pork-leaning North Carolina-style. You can still buy a beer to take in to the theater next door -- the taps I can recall are Jubel and Pabst... there were three or four other choices, none remarkable one way or the other.