Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Portland Beer Price Index: Winter 2010

A few days late, here is the Winter 2010 installment of the Portland Beer Price Index.  Please remember, this is not a rant about how expensive beer is, it's just a project to watch how prices change over time.  Click here for a full explanation of the PBPI.

It's a pretty quiet update. It doesn't appear that draft prices have changed in the pubs in the survey, and on the retail side only the sale prices fluctuated a little. One small wrinkle: for comparing this quarter's bomber prices against the last quarter's, I am throwing out Pelican IPA, which was only available at two stores in the autumn survey, but the final average price includes Pelican's replacement: Beer Valley Leafer Madness.

  • 6-packs: $8.73, unchanged
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.99, unchanged ($4.68 leaving out Pelican and Leafer Madness)
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.13, unchanged
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.98, down 1 cent ($4.67 vs. $4.68 leaving out Pelican and Leafer Madness)
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.29, unchanged
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.52, unchanged

It's possible that Pelican IPA will return to the PBPI -- I found it at three stores this time. Only Fred Meyers failed me. So I recorded the Pelican prices as well as the Leafer Madness prices, because even though I found LM at all four places I check, a couple of months ago when I looked only two of them had it. Pelican is a delicious IPA, it contributes to the geographic diversity of the survey, and its new lower price is a piece of good news for Oregon beer lovers. If Fred's starts carrying it again, I'll reinstate it in the PBPI (maybe keeping Leafer Madness also).

The next PBPI will be out when the days and nights are next of equal length.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bridgeport Kingpin and Cafe Negro

This week Bridgeport released two new beers in six-packs and on tap:  Kingpin, a double red ale made with Liberty hops and 20% rye malt, and Cafe Negro, a coffee porter made with Sumatran beans from Pearl District roasters World Cup Coffee.  It appears Kingpin will be a regular part of the Bridgeport lineup, forming a royal alliance with Hop Czar to move the brewery a little more towards hoppy Northwest tastes and away from its British-inflected roots.  Cafe Negro is rolling out under the same bar code as Ebeneezer, so it will be out until at least next fall, but it might have to yield to the seasonal at that time.

Recently-promoted brewmaster Jeff Edgerton showed off the beers at a debut dinner at the Bridgeport Pub Monday night, and we were given some bottles to take home.  I've been doling some of my stash out to the neighbors to get their opinions:  both beers are well-received, but so far the favorite is the Kingpin.  It's nicely hopped, a very well-balanced beer, and much drier than other NW Reds, which I usually think of as being very malty and chewy.   At 7.5%, it's nearly as strong as Hop Czar, and definitely on the high end of NW Reds -- most are under 6%, and even the burly Ninkasi Believer is under 7% -- so maybe that's where the maltiness has gone.  The rye is very subtle.  At first I was going to say I couldn't tell what it contributed at all, but now that I let a glass of Kingpin warm up I think I'm getting just a little rye tanginess in the finish.  I'd like to see Jeff do a batch for the pubs without the rye so we could all geek out on what the rye does to the beer.

I said that Kingpin is the favorite amongst the neighbors, but Cafe Negro got a couple of votes also, and I predict that I'll end up drinking more of it than the Kingpin.  It's very drinkable, and a not-too-punishing 5.5% ABV.  The dominant flavor is coffee -- not too surprising -- over a smooth, light-bodied porter.  There's no hop bitterness to speak of, and the dark malt doesn't give any kind of burnt flavor.

My inner cheapskate is happy about Bridgeport launching these new beers in the economical six-pack format, instead of in inefficiently-priced bombers that are so common right now (Widmer also deserves mention as a brewery that sends their trial balloons up in reasonably-priced sixers).  I think they were happy with Hop Czar's six-pack success and wanted to give the new offerings a leg up.  The six-packs of Kingpin bear a goofy motto:  Feared by Some, Cheered by Many, but I like the way the Kingpin label twits Bud/Miller/Coors:  notice the Bud-like crown on top of the thumbtack logo on the pint glass, and the incantation "Triple Hopped", which tiptoes around Miller-Coors' trademarked "Triple Hops Brewed".

Jeff mentioned that the directive to come up with a couple new six-packable beers had come from Bridgeport's parent company Gambrinus.  The choice of styles was left up to Jeff, but Gambrinus owner Carlos Alvarez did suggest the coffee angle -- as Jeff put it, he said "Hey, you guys have all this good coffee up there, and I like coffee, how about some kind of coffee beer?".  When the boss gives a hint like that, it's a good idea to pay attention, and maybe you should even name the beer in his mother tongue.  Jeff did say that the Four Loko brouhaha gave them some sleepless nights this fall as Oregon and Washington considered banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages just as they were about to unveil Cafe Negro.  Hey, at least they didn't name it Moko Loko.

Speaking of Gambrinus, I know there are those who grumble about corporate ownership of homegrown breweries, but I will forever be grateful to Gambrinus for rescuing Shiner from imminent demise in the late eighties.  The company seems to be handling Bridgeport well also; hopefully its backing and creativity will prevent Bridgeport from meandering down the dreary roads that MacTarnahan's and Pyramid seem to be stuck on.

Check out the new brews when you get a chance.  I think they're a welcome addition to the Bridgeport lineup.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hair of the Dog Tasting Room

Yikes!  I finally sit down to grind out this ridiculously late post on Hair of the Dog's new tasting room -- well, it opened in mid-August -- only to discover that Dr. Wort came along just yesterday and turned in an uncharacteristically coherent report on the same subject.  (Uncharacteristically ass-kissing, also.  Geez, Doc, were you visited by three ghosts Saturday night?  Wasn't there anything you can fault Alan on?  That sweatshirt he's wearing in your picture isn't exactly Haute Couture -- are you sure that guy's really a high-class chef?)

Anyway, since I can't outdo Dr. Wort this time -- nor these earlier reports from The Beer Cave and Beervana --  I'll just get a few scattered observations out of my brain and then move on.

Location, location, location. Buying his own place, very centrally located, with a beautiful view of downtown across the river, was an ingenious move on Alan's part.  Remember how hard it was to figure out how to get to the old place, beneath an underpass and behind the railroad tracks?  Parking may be an issue, but it's also a place that's very accessible by bicycle, so maybe putting up a bunch of bike racks could help alleviate that.  He's also right across the street from the new, improved sidewalk across the Morrison Bridge -- in good weather it would be a nice stroll for downtown hotel guests.

Bankers' hours.  2 to 8 PM?  Not sure if I've ever heard of a business with those opening hours, and it's especially weird for a pub -- you're not open for lunch, not open for night owls, and barely open for dinner.  Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Big Dog, Little Dog.  It looks like there will almost always be a 3-4% ABV small beer on tap, made from the second runnings of one of HOTD's bigger beers.  I've had the Doggie Claws Little Dog a couple of times, and it's something really unique and wonderful.  It's light, but hoppy, not sweet at all, but satisfying.  I can't think of any other beer I've had with the same flavors.  Besides allowing you to pace yourself, the Little Dogs are also significantly cheaper than the regular lineup -- $2.50 a glass vs. $4.50 and up.  Word is that there is currently a Matt Little Dog on tap, with the somewhat smoky flavor of the Adam/Matt brew.

Look busy.  I haven't been there enough, but I don't really understand the kitchen situation.  It always looks like Alan and someone else are working really hard with big open flames in the open kitchen, but the menu consists mostly of prefab stuff like charcuterie or hummus plates.  The food seems a little overpriced to me for what it is, with the exception of the beef-brisket appetizer, which seems like quite a bargain for $6 if you share it around.  [Update 2011/04/16: alright, now I've had an excellent, moderately-priced meal there.  I take it all back.]

The best of beers.  In 2009 Hair of the Dog made an exclusive beer for Bottleworks in Seattle called Matt. It wasn't sold in Portland, but I was lucky enough to try it at the old brewery during a private party that was held as a school fundraiser.  It was amazing.  It's a strong, dark, smoky beer along the lines of Adam -- same basic recipe? -- that is then aged in apple brandy barrels from Clear Creek Distillery.  This year Alan made a new batch, that was sold in 12-ounce bottles for $15.  That's a pretty hefty price tag, but it really is a stellar beer -- I've already shared a couple of bottles, and it's delicious.

The worst of beers.  Now, on the other hand, there were a couple of very questionable beers on tap at the tasting room the weekend that Matt was released last month:  two versions of Fred from the Wood, one aged on peaches, and one on apricots.  The peach one was tolerable -- though not as good as plain ol' Fred from the Wood -- but the apricot one was very vinegary, with the added insult of acetone.  Not just a little vinegar, and a little acetone, but copious, sinus-clenching quantities.  Debbie caught Brett's first taste of it on this video: you can tell it's not a minor flaw in the beer, but something overwhelming. 
Frankly, it should not have been served, and I have to wonder why Alan let it out the door.  If you wanted to offer free tastes to adventure seekers, maybe.  But charging $3 for small tasters of a bad mistake is not a very good move.

So, from one of the veterans of Portland's beer scene, a promising new start, despite the apricot-vinegar misfire. The tasting room is sure to be a prominent fixture for years to come, especially if it can start staying open past 8.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beer Bottle Hidden Picture Puzzle

There were three large bins of broken bottles sitting by the bottle-return station at the 39th and Hawthorne Fred Meyers a few days ago.  I snapped a couple of cellphone pictures on a whim, in case they would come in handy to illustrate some kind of ecological or penny-pinching rant I might go on.

The nearly intact Full Sail bottle pinned down this particular shot, but as I looked at it today I was kind of astounded at the large percentage of these bottles that once held good beer.  Without trying too hard, I can spot 3 different Deschutes labels, 2 Widmers, a Spaten, a Hales, and a New Belgium, in addition to the Full Sail bottle.  It kind of illustrates what a great market Portland is for quality beer, and how we tend to drink pretty locally.

Can you spot any other good stuff in there?  Click the picture to get a bigger version.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Old Jubelale

Last month I wrote about a 2008-2010 mini-vertical of Deschutes Jubelale.  I had found the 2008 to be starting to show signs of age, though the oxidation wasn't totally unpleasant.

A couple weeks later I got around to cracking a 2005, 2007, and a 2009 when some friends were over for dinner.  Bucking the trend, the 2005 was the clear taste favorite -- absolutely beautiful.  None of the papery oxidation notes, still nicely carbonated, and full of winter-warmer flavor.  The 2007 was not as flavorful, but probably a little nicer than the 2008.  So maybe this wacky Jubelale aging experiment is worthwhile afterall.

Now, the Jubel 2000 that came out on Thursday at the Holiday Ale Fest had lost all of its oomph.  On the one hand, you never expect the best from a 10-year-old beer; on the other hand, I thought this was a double-batch Super Jubel like the Jubel 2010 that came out early this year, and I would have expected some flavor to survive.  There wasn't even really much alcohol apparent.

Wallace and I were commiserating about the decrepit Jubel 2000 at the fest, and he mentioned that a friend of his also cellars Jubelale and had found that one year's stood out above the others -- by his recollection it was the 2004, but when I told him my bottles of 2004 were undrinkable after a single year, he thought it might have been the 2005 or 2003.  I suspect the 2005, since the bottle we had the other night was so good, but if any of you out there have a tasty 2004, I'd like to hear about it.  Maybe I just have a bad batch.

Friday, December 3, 2010

3rd Anniversary

Photo Credit: http://www.nobbieneezkids.com/
Today marks the 3rd Anniversary of It's Pub Night!  The first post went up Dec. 3, 2007: a pointer to some scribblings I did on a friend's blog about the Fresh Hop beers of 2007.

The content has been flagging a little in the last few months as I juggle an insane workload in the real world.  I plan to keep on blogging, though I have to say that what I hoped to accomplish with this blog is now being done more completely and better than I ever could by those two heavyweights Angelo and Ezra.  And the strong crop of Portland bloggers that have come along in the last year or so makes it even easier for me to sit back and relax -- the scene is being covered very well without any help from me.

There's no official celebration; just carry on enjoying good beer and good company.  Thanks to my old friend Lee for letting me get a taste of blogging years ago on I Love Beer, and thanks to all you beer people for the good times.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday Ale Festival 2010, Day One

In my Monday preview of Portland's Holiday Ale Festival, my first piece of advice was to bring water, because there hadn't been drinking water or even mug-rinse stations in past years.  This year I noticed a mug rinse counter on my way out of the festival.  It's at the east end of the tent under the exit sign.  I didn't follow my own advice, though, and bought a bottle of water for $1 at the festival.

Water is one thing.  What about beer?  For one thing, the temperature situation is much better than last year -- the beers are not being served ice cold.  Last year's weather was partly to blame, but I think they just got their act together better this year.

I was only at the festival briefly yesterday, and used 2 of my 10 tickets on a taste of Firestone Walker 14 (mmm....).  But I have a couple of recommendations for you from my 8 other tickets (in addition to my earlier beer recommendations):
  • Collaborator/Widmer Aegir's Cauldron: Very rich, dark brew with nice notes of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla.  Didn't seem like a Baltic Porter as labeled, but delicious.
  • Lagunitas Brown Mashuggana: A "digestif" meme about this beer that apparently Charles started is right on the money.  If a shot of Amaro Averna dropped into a strong Lagunitas barleywine sounds good to you, you'll love it.  Nice herbal flavor, appealingly sweet, nice hop finish.
  • Eel River 2009 Climax Noel: This is a big, rich, double red.  It started off strangely medicinal to me, but as it warmed up I really liked it.
  • Firestone Walker Barrel-Fermented Porter: Good beer for pacing yourself -- under 6% ABV.  A very flavorful, roasty porter.
  • Widmer Black Dynamite:  I only had a sip of Charles' sample, but the lemon and peppercorns really came out in the flavor, without clobbering you.  I'm going to try more on my own dime today.
My two slight disappointments from yesterday were Stone's Smoked Vanilla Porter and Lucky Lab's Pavlov's Imperial Stout.  They were both OK, but not as good as I'd hoped.  Sometimes I love Pavlov's, sometimes it doesn't hit me, though it sure looked beautiful in the mug.  The Stone was also drinkable, but a little tame on any kind of flavor.

Hey, where is Rogue at this festival?  No beer, and they aren't even there with pizza and condoms like they always are.  You can't tell me Buckman Village's Ginger Beer is the best they can do for a big winter beer.
    There are two three exciting special tappings today (Thursday the 2nd) that you should not miss:
    • Deschutes Jubel 2000: Not Jubelale -- Super Jubel like the Jubel 2010.  Only 10 years older.
    • Cascade Sang Noir 2009: My recollection of this from last year is that it was much funkier than this year's version.  I liked it then, but I like the 2010 more than my memory of the 2009.  This years also seems to have more cherry taste.  So it will be interesting to try them side-by-side.
    • Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus 2005:  Preston must have been a very good boy in 2005, because he's wheeling out another keg of this massive 14% doppelbock from Austria.  Maybe you remember it from HAF 2008.  It's a stunner.
    The special tappings cost 2 tickets for a sample, and they happen at 2 PM in various locations:  check this map.

      Have fun and maybe I'll see you there!

      Monday, November 29, 2010

      Preview: Holiday Ale Fest 2010

      It's hard to believe that it's already time for Portland's Holiday Ale Festival, which runs this Wednesday December 1 through Sunday December 5. This year, there are 47 beers on the "standard release" list -- though they're anything but standard -- bolstered by a few one-offs on the limited release list. There are more interesting and once-only beers than you'd suspect could fit into Pioneer Courthouse Square. If you don't attend the Holiday Ale Festival, then the terrorists win.

      The price has gone up $5 since last year: you'll pay $25 to get your plastic mug and 10 tickets. Additional tickets are $1, and as always they will not fill mugs from earlier years. If you're really stingy, the festival website has a link to buy a ticket in advance for $20, but since that also includes a $2.60 "convenience fee", it seems a little silly. Or, if you're a real sucker big spender, you can buy a mug, 20 tickets, and a VIP wristband for $49.60. The VIP band doesn't get you any different beers, it just lets you cut to the front of the line, provided you can elbow through the boneheads that get their beer and then just stand around in front of the counter.

      Here is your survival checklist for the HAF:
      • Bring lots of water. In years past, there hasn't been free tap water, though you can buy bottled water.
      • No minors allowed. Period. Don't even try it.
      • Entrance is on SW 6th Avenue.
      • Go early. The space is pretty small and fills up quickly after work. The festival opens Wednesday at 2 PM, and at 11 AM on the other days.
      • Keep watching for the special tappings. Even the regular beers are special, but some of the special ones are really something.
      • Don't drive. The beers are strong, the parking and traffic are ridiculous. Best bet for bike parking: NE corner of Broadway and Morrison.
      • Warm up your beer. These are some flavorful beers, but because of the weather they can't help but be poured awfully cold.
      • Samples, not full pours. A full pour is between 3 and 3 1/2 times the volume of a sample, but costs 4 times as much. Typical bass-ackwards festival pricing.
      As always, there is a stunning lineup of beers, and I say that without having seen the one-off list yet. Festival impressario Preston Weesner presented a few of the festival beers at a media preview yesterday. Here are my favorites from what we sampled:
      • Cascade Brewing Sang Noir: A rich bourbon-aged cherry double red ale. Sour, but only in a good way, with lots of malt and fruit to back it up. Even better than last year's Sang Noir: there's more cherry and less funk. [Update: Oh cool! The 2009 version will be on the special taps Thursday after 2 PM. Compare the vintages.]
      • Columbia River Brewing Paddler's Porter: Well-done chocolate-vanilla porter -- no really, it's good -- from the folks who took over the old Laurelwood Pizza location.
      • Lompoc Franc'ly Brewdolph: A twist on Lompoc's usual seasonal -- partly aged in wine barrels. Think aged Jubelale, with a Belgian nose and a hint of red wine.
      • Alameda Papa Noel's Moonlight Reserve: Good NW winter warmer with roasty bitterness. Like a slightly richer Full Sail Wassail.
      • Coalition Lost Glove: Another classic cold-weather beer. Malty, hoppy, straddles the line between old ale and barleywine.
      • Vertigo La Nina: A coffee porter. Big coffee smell; mild coffee liqueur taste.
      • Gilgamesh Cranberry Saison: I was dubious about cranberries in beer, but this was just right. A little fruit, and I think the cranberries were a nice cover for the saison funk. This will be a nice change-of-pace beer.
      Some beers that I was a little disappointed in:
      • Block 15 Figgy Pudding Olde Stock: Lovely fig/molasses aroma, but I found the flavor too boozy, and surprisingly bitter. Not bad, but couldn't live up to its hype. You're going to try it anyway, maybe you'll like it more than me.
      • Bear Republic Ebeweesner Scrooge: A blend of smoked and sour beers, partially open-fermented, with every kind of alcohol-producing critter thrown in. But for all that effort, not much flavor beyond the raspberry tartness.
      • Seven Brides Weezinator: I thought this was way too bitter for a doppelbock, even though I like doppelbocks and bitter flavors.
      • Natian Old Grogham: A big strong IPA, starts off nice, but has too much lingering aspirin bitterness. Think Lagunitas Undercover Brown + aspirin.
      Don't take my word for it. Here are some other previews:
        I'll put up more beer opinions once I get to the festival. There are a lot of intriguing things on the list. What's on your list to try?

          Wednesday, November 24, 2010

          Beer Around Town R.I.P.

          About a year ago I wrote about how many new Portland beer blogs were popping up, and there have been even more since then. But sometimes they return to dust, and I'm sad to report the demise of Beer Around Town. Derek told me a few weeks ago that he was going to discontinue it, since Romanian hackers kept hijacking the blog and he didn't have time to keep up with it. But its absence didn't really hit home to me until this morning when I noticed that someone has put up a sham click-magnet page at his old address of www.beeraroundtown.com. If you have links to it in your blogroll, you might as well delete them, to avoid giving Google juice to the spammers.

          I know he'll still be "around town" -- I ran into him at Hair of the Dog just a couple days ago -- but I'll miss Derek's fine photography, thoughtful beer reviews, and entertaining homebrewing anecdotes. I call dibs on him for guest blogging.

          Some Portland blogs that have sprung up since the previous post about new blogs (well, the Beer Cave was lurking there a few months earlier but I hadn't noticed it):
          The cycle continues. Hmm... those are all blogspot blogs. Is Wordpress losing ground?

          Friday, November 19, 2010

          Historic Portland Breweries Map

          The faded General Brewing Corporation sign on the building at 13th and Kearney got me thinking about breweries of the past in Portland. As it happens, a few years ago at Powells I picked up a book called "Brewed in the Pacific Northwest", written in 1991 by Gary and Gloria Meier. The book was written at the beginning of the modern microbrewery era, so most of its focus is actually on pre-Prohibition breweries.

          It is also a pre-digital mapping book, so it didn't occur to the authors to map out the information in the book. It was interesting enough to me that I spent an evening plotting their Portland brewery entries on a Google Map. This map shows the breweries that opened in Portland between 1852 and 1934.

          View Historic Portland Breweries 1852-1934 in a larger map

          If you look at the map on Google's map page, there is a chronological list of the breweries in the left margin.

          At first glance, the map actually looks a lot like a present-day map of Portland breweries: almost all of them are in the SE and NW quadrants. Some of the parallels are eerie: there have never been many breweries south of downtown, yet there used to be one very close to where John Harris's Full Sail outpost is today; one of the few NE breweries was located about a football field away from Breakside, which opened this year in an otherwise deserted neighborhood. Makes you wonder if some of the same geography or demographics is at work today as it was 100 or 150 years ago.

          Anyone have any stories about the breweries or the buildings on the map?

          Tuesday, November 16, 2010

          Nostalgic Beers of the Tropics

          Saturday we went early to the New School's Brewing Up Cocktails event at the Hop & Vine, and when the crowd overcame us we headed back east on Killingsworth to get some Ethiopian food at E'Njoni. Their menu included a surprisingly broad selection of Ethiopian bottled beers, plus a couple of other international beers that I don't recall seeing elsewhere in Portland. I'm not suggesting these are excellent beverages that you should run out and try, but a couple of them startled me into such nostalgia that I wanted to point out where to find them.

          The beer I had to order right away was Castel. Twenty years ago when I was in the Peace Corps in the West African country of Mali, the only bottled beer produced there was sold under the Castel label. Castel is a French company that licenses their brand and perhaps their recipes to breweries in developing countries. We drank the Castel in Mali only out of necessity: we called it "Casse-Tête", which actually means "jigsaw puzzle" in French, but the literal translation of "head-breaker" described the quality pretty aptly. If you were lucky enough to get it in a 66 cl brown bottle, it might be a little better than the more common green bottles, and the rumor was that it contained formaldehyde as a preservative, though I doubt that was true.

          The Ethiopian Castel was better than my recollection of what I experienced decades ago, though it was still not very good. Seemed lighter than I recall. It gets a C on Beer Advocate, though of the five reviewers, the only B- is from a guy who thought it would make a "tastey (sic) binge beer".

          A little more recent nostalgia hit me when I noticed "Jamaican Stout" was also on the E'Njoni menu. "Oh, you have Dragon Stout?" I asked. "No, it's just called Jamaican Stout." Turns out to be from Big City Brewing in Kingston. Last year when we were in Jamaica, I never saw anything local except Red Stripe, Dragon Stout, and locally-brewed Guinness, so I was surprised to see it here in Portland. It was a too-sweet stout along the lines of Dragon Stout, though it was a little better than Dragon: not as sweet, with a little fuller flavor. The Beer Advocates give it a B. It was the best beer we had at E'Njoni.

          They also have Tusker from Kenya -- I remember having that as an occasional novelty years ago in Austin. If you can't go for the imports, they do have Mirror Pond and Widmer Hef, or you could get a refreshing glass of water. Here's the full list of off-the-beaten track beers at E'Njoni (from Ethiopia unless otherwise noted):
          • Meta
          • Bedele
          • Harar
          • Hakim Stout
          • St. George
          • Bati
          • Castel
          • Jamaican Stout (Jamaica)
          • Tusker (Kenya)
          • Alhambra Negra (Spain)
          The food's good too -- the usual Ethiopian vegetables and stews served on tangy flatbread. Even though the Ethiopian beers are not likely to bowl you over, it's interesting to see such a broad assortment, and I appreciated the chance to order a Castel with my meal. I'm not sure if Jarra's on Hawthorne or the attached Langano Lounge has any Ethiopian beer, though they usually have a decent Deschutes and something from Spaten on tap.

          Thursday, November 11, 2010

          Old Jubelale

          It might be silly to save Deschutes Jubelale in the basement year after year, but it's what I do. I started off putting a case aside every year, but last year I only saved 12 bottles, and I'll do the same this year (oops -- just stole one of this year's to have something to write about; better remember to replace it).

          Over the past few days I've been rotating up some 2008 and 2009 bottles into the fridge. After a year or two, the flavors are rounded a bit; hops and spices have faded and the malt really comes out. It seems like the mouthfeel is a little denser, but having just cracked a brand new bottle, I think that's an illusion brought about by the lower bitterness.

          The year-old (2009) bottle is a pleasant counterpart to a fresh bottle -- cloudier, flatter, mellower, more subtle; malt and molasses flavors, plus a lingering memory of the hops. The two-year old is more of the same, but the oxidation is starting to creep in, though not in a totally bad way. I once heard someone say that there was a pleasant oxidation in a beer we were tasting -- I think it was something old brought out for a Fred Fest one year -- and I was a little flabbergasted at the thought that someone would appreciate that damp paper taste. Now I understand. The oxidation really dominates the nose on the 2008, but it actually adds something a little interesting to the taste. Now, that case of 2004 Jubelale in my basement that was badly, horribly oxidized after only a year is a different story -- anyone need some bad beer?

          The 2010 is a gem. Everyone likes to say of Jubel "It's good this year" or "It was better last year". I'm not sure if this year's is better than the 2009, but it might be: it's a beautiful chorus of roasted malt and piney hops. Lingering in the background is a faint rosewater flavor that ties a lot of Deschutes beers together for me -- I get a similar sensation from Black Butte and especially Cinder Cone. Tasty stuff. I'll have more to say about it about a year from now.

          For another twist on Jubel, check out the Jubel Wassail schemed up by Ezra and Jacob for Saturday's "Brewing up Cocktails" event at the Hop and Vine.

          Monday, November 8, 2010

          Great Beers out Right Now

          I had a few beers over the weekend, but three of them stood out as so tasty that it seems worthwhile to point them out. They're all of somewhat limited or sporadic availability, so you should look for them right away.

          Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Grand Cru

          Of course you've been watching -- and hopefully tasting -- Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary series. The Helles Bock that Portland's own Fred Eckhardt had a hand in, the Black Barleywine, the Imperial Stout... those were very well-done beers, everything in balance, clean flavors, but nothing I'd stock up on.

          The Grand Cru that just came out is different. It's a beautiful beer, a wall of hops on a firm foundation of malt. It walks the line between barleywine and imperial IPA, with kind of that barleywine intensity, but without the sweeter notes. Tons of hops, but not intensely bitter (not that it would be a bad thing). Do yourself a favor and pick up some of this beer -- it was under $9 at Beermongers Friday. You might be tempted to cellar it, but it's delicious right now.

          By the way, I am disappointed that Sierra Nevada is extending their abuse of the term "fresh hop" to Celebration, which is now subtitled "Fresh Hop Ale". Cut it out! If there's a glimmer of hope, it's that the little band on the neck of the bottle explains that the beer features "the first hops of the growing season". "First Hops" would be a suitable term for all you brewers who don't want to use un-kilned hops but still want the fresh flavor from newly-dried hops. Just stop calling dried hops fresh.

          Caldera Dry-Hopped Red

          It's not too unusual to see Caldera's Dry-Hopped Orange in Portland, but I've always been a little disappointed in that beer, probably because years ago I ran into the Dry-Hopped Red first. Dave maneuvered me down to Vincente's Saturday afternoon, we were happy to see Caldera's Red on tap there. It's a classic of the NW red style -- full-bodied but on the dry side, and lots of hops without getting out of balance. For some reason, it doesn't show up in Portland all that often -- maybe it's a winter seasonal for them -- but if you like the big reds from Ninkasi, Laurelwood, or Hopworks, seek this one out. It's good stuff.

          Terminal Gravity Cascade Single-Hopped DIPA

          Carla and I snuck away to Accanto (the bistro side of Genoa) for a rare dinner date Saturday. Dr. Wort had me in the mood for a martini before dinner -- and Accanto will take good care of you on that account -- but with the meal I happily ordered the Cascade variant of TG's single-hop series. It was delicious. Nice floral hops, just a little citrusy, on top of a very hearty double IPA. I would have liked to try it against the other C-hop variants that came out a few months ago, but maybe this means some more batches are on the way. Please leave a comment if you see them around town.

          Thursday, November 4, 2010

          General Brewing Corporation

          I've been bicycling through the intersection of NW 14th and Johnson pretty regularly for the last few months, but now that the leaves are off the trees, I finally noticed this old sign painted on the top of the building at 13th and Kearney: General Brewing Corporation. Were there Brewery Blocks in this part of the Pearl before Bridgeport?

          A little googling led me to this article about Lucky Lager, which was the star brand of General Brewing. At one time it was the best-selling beer on the west coast. The Lucky Labrador has been dabbling in lagers, they should definitely jump on that name (oops -- guess not: commenters point out that Labatt's still sells Lucky Lager). [Update: I took a better picture of the sign from across the street: you can see lower down some faded block letters that read "LUCKY LAGER", especially if you click on it to see it full-size.]

          General Brewing was founded in San Francisco in 1933. I can't find any mention of them brewing in Portland, though they bought Vancouver's Star Brewery in 1939. They changed their name to Lucky Lager Brewing Co. in 1949, so this sign probably went up sometime between 1939 and 1949. Since they didn't brew here, maybe that building was a warehouse or sales office for them, or maybe the sign is just an advertisement.

          That article on Star is an interesting read: we always think of Henry Weinhard when we think of old-timey Portland-area beer, but it looks like the Star plant was a pretty good-sized operation itself. I like the 1890 ad for Star that boasts that it's "brewed exclusively from Oregon Barley and Oregon Hops"-- even then the 'Couve had an inferiority complex.

          Kind of cool that the General Brewing sign survived to see the beer renaissance in its neighborhood. I hope it can be preserved into the future.

          [Later: I just stumbled on this blog Portland Building Ads that has a much better picture of the General Brewing Sign.]

          Friday, October 29, 2010

          Cheap Growler Tip

          Two years ago a chief obsession of It's Pub Night was where to get growlers filled cheaply. The price that pubs -- especially brewpubs -- charge to fill growlers is just nonsensical, when you consider the price of bottled beer. From this obsession sprung the Portland Growler Map, and also the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator.

          The Growler Map doesn't seem to get updated all that frequently these days, but John Foyston's column today in the Boregonian starts off with a place that has a great growler fill price on good northwestern beer: Plew's Brews in St. Johns fills growlers for $7. That's an SPE of $7.88 -- 25 cents below the current PBPI 6-pack sale price of $8.13. Good show, Plew's! I've added you to the map, and I'll try to make it up there with an empty growler soon.

          This reminds me of another good deal, also in a less-traveled part of town. MacTarnahan's Taproom has always had cheap growler fills -- $6 was the price a couple years ago -- and now they occasionally offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal on growler fills. Follow their twitter account and watch for the BOGO announcements.

          The price at Plew's makes good sense -- filling a growler should be like buying a good six-pack. Part of the reason I haven't been going on about growlers lately is that I simply don't buy them anymore, now that I've done the math and seen what a shabby deal they are. I'd rather sit and have a beer or two at a bar; if I'm taking beer home, more often than not it's a sale-price six-pack from the supermarket. If more places went with Plew's formula, growlers would take off.

          Tuesday, October 26, 2010

          Bushwhacker Cider

          In a town with hundreds of taverns and dozens of beer bloggers, I guess it was inevitable that a beer blogger would open a pub. Bushwhacker Cider was opened recently at SE 12th and Powell by Bulls & Brew author Jeff Smith and his wife Erin. As suggested by the name, it's a cider place, not a beer place, though they intend to keep a keg of good Oregon beer on one of their seven taps, and they have a selection of lighter European beers for use in cider-beer drinks.

          With five or six ciders on tap -- most about $4 a pint -- and a large selection of bottled cider for either on-premise consumption or to go, Bushwhacker wants to be Portland's cider headquarters. They will also start making their own cider soon, while maintaining the guest taps and bottles for sale. Erin said that the feds at the TTB had to scratch their heads for a while over that business model -- apparently there is no other cidery in the country that also sells cider from other producers. Look for Bushwhacker's first house-made offerings around the first of the year.

          Dave and I popped by to throw some darts last week, and we were impressed with the dart setup -- plenty of light and plenty of room at the two dartboards. We did have to impose ourselves between the regulars that were already sitting at the tables by the dartboards, but they were amiable and didn't seem too bored by our questionable dart skills.

          It was a little distressing that there wasn't a beer on tap that night, which was the only way I dragged Dave down there. They had most recently served Ft. George's Cavatica Stout, and were waiting for another keg of something special from Ft. George, but there were only 7 ciders on tap, so we bravely plunged into cider world. Erin suggested the Magner's cider from Ireland for someone who was used to drinking beer, and it suited me pretty well. Dave went for the Ace Joker, about twice as strong as the Magner's, crisp and dry, pretty good. Neither would win me over from being a beer guy, though.

          The bottle selection is really reasonably priced, and Bushwhacker doesn't charge a corkage fee. There were some interesting bottles, both domestic and imported, most in the $6 to $8 range. Since a 750 ml bottle is about a pint and a half, that's basically the same price as the ciders on tap. I found the Basque-country cider from Petritegi to be the most interesting thing in the house -- yeasty and a little tart, it seemed a little more special than most of the other things I tried. If you can go for something sweeter, I like Blue Mountain's Cherry cider, but you'd have to be in the mood for it.

          Bushwhacker took the fiscally responsible move of opening without a kitchen. That means you can bring in your own food, but you can't bring your children. There's a nice patio out front, and a variety of casual seating inside. One issue that Jeff and Erin are working on is lighting -- when they got the space it was outfitted with about 100 bright fluorescent lights ranged along the ceiling. After one night in the place gave them all a bad headache, they turned off all of them but the one over the dartboard. Even that one fluorescent is kind of a buzz-killer, but they're working on some replacement lighting.

          If you're planning on biking to Bushwhacker from the north, its location on Powell west of the 17th Avenue vortex limits your choices. Dave and I thought we could avoid a rush-hour trip down 11th by crossing Powell at 21st, but that just leads you into heavy-rail no-man's land. 11th/Milwaukee isn't all that terrible, but if you want to avoid the traffic and the stoplight, there is a funky bike-ped cloverleaf over Powell at 9th. Turn left on Franklin and it will get you over to 12th Avenue.

          Friday, October 22, 2010

          4-4-2 Soccer Bar

          Another place that has opened recently in SE is the 4-4-2 Soccer Bar at 18th and Hawthorne. Okay, okay, it's not a Portland beer geek paradise and probably never will be, but there are a few qualities that immediately endear it to me. First off, no Bud/Miller/Coors is served at the place -- the furthest down the ladder you can get is the Heineken tap. I asked the proprietor what he would say if a thirsty soccer fan demanded a Budweiser. "Not in my bar, some other place," he said. When I was in there the other day, the taps were Heineken, Spaten Pils, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Caldera Pale Ale, and Ninkasi Total Domination. A third tap reserved for Oregon beers was empty, but kegs from Deschutes, Lompoc, and Laurelwood were in the cooler waiting to be hooked up. There is also a decent selection of mostly German bottled beers -- Aventinus and Paulaner Salvator are what I remember from the top of my head.

          Another thing that 4-4-2 has got right from the very beginning is Honest Pints. My Ninkasi came to me in a Spaten mug with a 0.5-liter line that left plenty of room for a head on the beer. Bravo! Remember folks, every time a new brewpub or taproom opens in Portland serving beer in shaker pints, a unicorn loses its horn. And yet here is a simple sports bar that gets it, and not only serves a full portion, but uses marked glassware. "I'm not stingy," says the owner.

          The third reason you might stop in even if you're not a soccer fan is the delicious Bosnian food on the menu. I used to occasionally have lunch here before the remodel, when it was the European Market grocery store. There are an assortment of sandwiches, including a few vegetarian models, but I never get past the Ćevapi -- seasoned grilled ground beef -- served simply with onions and ajvar (red pepper relish) on homemade bread.

          The three TVs are loaded up with every soccer channel the satellites can shower down upon us, and the pub regularly opens at 6:30 or 7 in the morning for important games -- where important has a meaning that I am not enough of a soccer fan to fully understand. It's not a very large space -- probably a half-dozen large tables and about the same number of small ones, plus space at the bar -- but I think a bar dedicated entirely to soccer is an idea that should succeed in Portland. Another welcome addition to the neighborhood.

          Monday, October 18, 2010

          Cascade Barrel House

          The recent spate of pub openings in SE Portland has overwhelmed our tiny newsroom here at It's Pub Night. Plus, we wanted to give you round-the-clock coverage of the Fresh Hop movement, and give a fair and balanced assessment of the angry, hard-drinking Real Portlanders who are rising up against what they call "FINO beers" -- short for "Fresh-hop In Name Only" -- in other words, beers that are sold as Fresh Hop beers but which contain 100% dried hops. Aren't we dried enough already?

          But now it's time to catch up with some of the new places around the neighborhood, starting with the Cascade Barrel House, which has been in the works for well over a year. It finally opened a couple of weeks ago, and it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

          I'm not as big of a sour-beer fanatic as a lot of the beer geeks out there, but Ron and Curtis and the gang at Cascade have risen to national prominence with their barrel-aging program, specializing in fruit beers. The Kriek is my favorite -- something about cherries and beer -- but there are a staggering number of masterfully-done beers on the lineup: Noyaux, with apricots, raspberries, and roasted apricot pits; The Vine, with grapes; Sang Rouge, a blend of lots of crazy stuff. Extra credit to Cascade for not intentionally or unintentionally mangling the French names like many places do.

          Since I'm also not a fan of driving across town, one black mark on my record is that I have never been to Cascade's Raccoon Lodge pub. But I held out long enough and they broke down and opened their Barrel House and pub within walking distance of my house. I haven't tried any of the food yet, but they have an impressive lineup of 15 or so Cascade beers on tap -- about a third of which are more traditional ales for you non-sour people -- plus two rotating taps that pour straight from the barrel. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual. A lot of the seating is barbecue-place picnic tables which can be moved out to the front patio in good weather; there are also a few booths, bar seating, and a couple of tall barrel-top tables.

          The Barrel House also has a constellation of familiar faces working the bar or behind the scenes: Angelo from Brewpublic, festival impresario Preston Weesner, and former Green Dragon/Grand Central bartender Cody. Another great thing is that they open for lunch every day at 11 AM. Minors are allowed until 10 PM.

          [Update: Nice post from Charles with some behind-the-scenes photos.]

          Wednesday, October 13, 2010

          Fresh Hop Tastival 2010

          The insistent rain made for a damp day Saturday for the Oregon Brewers Guild/Oregon Bounty Fresh Hop Tastival at Oaks Park, but it was still a very enjoyable festival. I was happy to get to fill in some of the blanks on my fresh-hop dance card, including some really delicious ones. Full Sail's Hopfenfrisch was the first fresh-hop pilsner that has ever appealed to me, and was my favorite new discovery of the fest. It had a nice crisp flavor, with an appropriate amount of hopping that included that green fresh-hop flavor we're looking for. Next to that, I really liked Fort George's Cohoperative, which was light and flowery, showing off the hops really well. Double Mountain's Killer Green is a big monster as usual, and Astoria Brewing came out with one of the few dark ales that still showed off the fresh-hop flavor.

          There were a few misses, though. As many people noted, the Hop Diddly brewed on the Green Dragon's pilot system was a complete disaster. I had Dave take a picture of me pouring mine right into the city storm drain, so it could mingle with Portland's combined sewer outflow a few yards away at the Willamette River. (Sorry to commemorate the Tastival with that picture, but I forgot to take any others.) The other beer that I dumped was Ram Brewery's Hop Sack Harvest Ale, which was pretty bland except for an unwelcome musky flavor.

          Jeff Alworth had issued an advisory against Philadelphia's Sellwood Golden, and while it was a little homebrewy and not that good, it wasn't in the same league of awful as Hop Diddly. I even finished my sample of it as I scarfed down a Philly's cheesesteak. On the upside, McMenamins must have hand-picked the most awesome keg of Thundercone for the festival -- I enjoyed my first taste of Thundercone at the Crystal, but the festival batch was seriously good -- very lovely green floral hops flavor. Thanks to Rich for tipping me off to it. Anyone know which McM's brewery made that batch?

          Because of the rain, I spent a lot longer in the tent Saturday than I did at last year's fest. It was a pretty awful atmosphere -- even though it wasn't very cold in the tent, it was so humid you could see your breath. The lighting was pretty grotesque in there also. I'll never complain about the convention center setting of the Spring Beer and Wine Fest again. Luckily, the rain mostly let up a little later, and it was possible to stand around outside.

          There's one more Fresh Hop Tastival, this Saturday in Eugene. If you want a cheat sheet, here is my final ranking of the fresh hop beers I've tried this year:

          Must try:
          • Deschutes Fresh-Hopped Mirror Pond
          • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (fresh-hopped Total Domination)
          • Walking Man Hop-Along
          • Full Sail Lupulin (I like the First Gold version slightly more than the Centennial)
          • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest
          • Full Sail Hopfenfrisch
          • Ft. George Cohoperative
          • Upright Tyler the Elder
          • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
          • Elysian/New Belgium Trip VI
          • Double Mountain Killer Green
          • Ninkasi Parlay
          • Lompoc Crystal Missile
          • Laurelwood Hop Pickin Pale
          • Lucky Lab The Mutt
          Worth a try:
          • Alameda Failing Street IPA
          • Deschutes Hop Trip
          • Sierra Nevada 2010 Harvest Ale
          • Oakshire Localvore
          • Lompoc Ale Conner ESB
          • Pelican Elemental Ale
          • Deschutes Yam-a Lam-a
          • Sierra Nevada 2010 Estate Ale (usually better than Harvest, this year a little blander)
          • Everybody's Brewing Head Stash
          • Amnesia Mother Plucker
          • Astoria Fresh Hop Dark
          • Three Creeks Cone Licker
          • Beer Valley Hwy 19
          • Deschutes Lug Nut
          • Deschutes Fresh Hop Lager
          • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
          • Fort George Hopstoria
          • Issaquah (Rogue) Wet Frog
          • McMenamins Thundercone
          • Golden Valley Centennial Fresh Hop
          • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Mac's
          Don't get distracted:
          • Lompoc Harvest Man Red
          • Coalition Liquid Sterling
          • Vertigo Midnight Harvest VSB
          • Cascade Brewing Rye Pale Ale
          • Silver Moon Hoppopotamus
          • Hale's Harvest Ale (all dried hops)
          • Hopworks Gayle's Pale (all dried hops)
          • Deschutes King Cone
          • Laurelwood Some Like It Hop
          • Philadelphia's Sellwood Golden
          • Hopworks Goldilocks (all dried hops)
          • Widmer Black Nugget (all dried hops)
          • Ram Hop Sack Harvest Ale
          • Rogue/Eugene City Brewery Tracktown Wet Hop
          • Green Dragon Hop Diddly

          Wednesday, October 6, 2010

          Fresh Hops 2010: Third Report

          This year I've kept a pretty good streak going of trying a different fresh-hop beer each day: today makes it the three-week mark. By the way, I'm talking about fresh hops, not dried fresh hops (see rant #1 and rant #2).

          Some days I actually tried two fresh-hop beers. It's been a good year! So I have plenty to add to my three categories of "must try", "worth a try", and "don't bother". It's tough, because some of the "don't bother" beers are quite tasty, they just don't win in the fresh-hop category, or they are not really fresh-hop beers, no matter how hard the brewers wish they were.

          Must try:
          • Deschutes Fresh-Hopped Mirror Pond
          • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (fresh-hopped Total Domination)
          • Full Sail Lupulin (right now it's the First Gold variant)
          • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest
          • Upright Tyler the Elder
          • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
          • Ninkasi Parlay
          • Lompoc Crystal Missile
          • Laurelwood Hop Pickin Pale
          • Lucky Lab The Mutt
          Worth a try:
          • Alameda Failing Street IPA
          • Deschutes Hop Trip
          • Sierra Nevada 2010 Harvest Ale
          • Oakshire Localvore
          • Lompoc Ale Conner ESB
          • Pelican Elemental Ale
          • Three Creeks Cone Licker
          • Beer Valley Hwy 19
          • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop
          • Fort George Hopstoria
          • Issaquah (Rogue) Wet Frog
          • McMenamins Thundercone
          Don't get distracted:
          • Lompoc Harvest Man Red
          • Silver Moon Hoppopotamus
          • Hale's Harvest Ale (all dried hops)
          • Hopworks Gayle's Pale (all dried hops)
          • Deschutes King Cone
          • Hopworks Goldilocks (all dried hops)
          • Widmer Black Nugget (all dried hops)
          • Rogue/Eugene City Brewery Tracktown Wet Hop

          I've tried to get those roughly in order of how much I prefer them. If you take only one piece of information away from this post, it's that you must try the fresh-hopped Mirror Pond brewed by the Portland Deschutes operation. It is my favorite beer of all time. Following that, Ninkasi has finally come out with not one but two excellent fresh-hop beers this year, which is only a surprise because their fresh-hop beers have been very disappointing every year so far. The fresh-hopped version of Total Domination is fabulous, and I liked the Parlay Bitter a lot also.

          Another thing to note about a lot of these beers is that you're going to lose some of the goodness if you drink them too cold. Take the time to let them warm up a little. For me, this was especially true of Upright's Tyler the Elder and Laurelwood's Hop Pickin -- at first taste there was nothing to write home about. Upright's was also a little too phenolic or chemically at first. But after they got to tasting temperature, those were two really well-done beers.

          I didn't make it to the Hood River Hops fest last weekend. Actually, I've never made it out there. Maybe next year. But you can read Angelo's positive review, Jason's negative review, or this report from Ben. I am very excited about the upcoming Fresh Hop Tastival at Oaks Park this Saturday. In light of all the fresh-hop cheating this year -- and the ridiculousness of calling something a "tastival" -- I hope Brian will rename it next year to the "Wet Hop Wastival". Also, keep an eye on Belmont Station's tap list this week -- it's heavy on fresh hops. Finally, remember to consult the 2010 Fresh Hop Map for all your pub-going needs.

          Monday, October 4, 2010

          Cherry Beers

          We interrupt the barrage of fresh-hop posts with a question that's been on my mind for a while. What is it that makes cherries work so well in beer?

          The first fruit beers I became aware of years ago were made with raspberries -- I'm sure Celis Raspberry is the first I tried, and from that I learned that there existed this "frambozen" category of Belgian beers. Raspberries are still the most common fruit adjunct -- an unscientific search for raspberry on Beer Advocate came up with 357 matches -- but cherries seem to be the second-most common, and for my money they're the best.

          Last night I took a couple of cherry beers over to the neighbors' house: Upright's Four Play and Bridgeport's 2009 Stumptown Tart. It seemed a little risky keeping that bottle of Tart in the basement for a year, but that's what Karl Ockert told me to do, so I did it. It held up very well -- it is about 7% ABV -- and even a fruit-beer skeptic like Dave was impressed. Of the three years of Stumptown Tart, the cherry one is my favorite, hands down. Not really sour, with a nice cherry-pie flavor over the mild Belgian ale.

          Very similar in flavor was the Upright Four Play that's been sitting in my fridge for about six months. It's not as strong at 5%, but had the same level of cherry taste, and I liked it even more than the Bridgeport. It was just slightly tarter, and had a more interesting balance of flavors. That's the Four Play in the glass in the picture; really the two beers looked remarkably alike in the glass.

          The other cherry beers that have been on my mind are the Cascade Kriek and Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam. I'm glad to be able to get the Kriek in $6 doses now that the Barrel House is open, instead of having to plunk down $16 for a bottle of it. Sours are definitely an acquired taste, but I've acquired a taste for that one. It's a work of art. As for the Cherry Adam, I had a fabulous bottle of it about a year ago; more recently there was a less inspiring undercarbonated version on tap at the new Hair of the Dog bistro. I love the smoky taste of Adam, and the cherries bring a beautiful new dimension to that, so I'm going to keep hoping for a repeat of that first batch I tried.

          What else is out there? Got any cherry beers I should try? [Update 2010/12/20: Oh yeah, also the Hopworks Piledriver that was at BikeToBeerFest. Awesome!] [Update 2011/04/15: Widmer Cherry Doppelbock from 2009 is another good example. Wouldn't mind if they brought that back.]

          Monday, September 27, 2010

          Fresh Hops 2010: Second Report

          Last Monday I listed the fresh hop beers I had tried so far, and promised more updates along the way.  I thought I might be able to pull off the stunt of trying a different variety each day, but Monday and Tuesday already fell through for me.  The earliest beers came out much sooner than the parade of them that is starting to emerge now.

          I think there are enough things out now, that if I can schedule things right, I should be able to keep a streak going now for a couple of weeks, maybe until the Portland Fresh Hop Tastival Oct. 9.  Remember, if you see a fresh-hop offering that's not on the Fresh Hop Map, drop me a line so I can update it.

          Here's my current list of must try/should try/don't bother from what I've seen so far:

          Must try:
          • Deschutes Fresh-Hopped Mirror Pond
          • Full Sail Lupulin (right now it's the First Gold variant)
          • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest
          • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
          • Lompoc Crystal Missile
          Worth a try:
          • Sierra Nevada 2010 Harvest Ale
          • Fort George Hopstoria
          • Issaquah (Rogue) Wet Frog
          • McMenamins Thundercone
          • Pelican Elemental Ale
          Don't get distracted:
          • Hale's Harvest Ale (all dried hops)
          • Hopworks Gayle's Pale (all dried hops)
          • Deschutes King Cone
          • Hopworks Goldilocks (all dried hops)
          I had complained that the Fresh-hopped Mirror Pond was not as good as last year's, but I have to take that back.  I tried it again Friday, and it was just how I remember it.  I don't know which of us -- me or the beer -- was having a bad day when I first tasted it, but I'm back on board with saying it is the most important beer you will ever taste in your life.

          People have been raving about the hard-to-find Pelican Elemental.  I don't get it.  It is a solid beer, with unmistakable fresh-hop goodness, but it has a few too many other flavors going on to make it into my first tier.  Instead, I would seek out the Lompoc Crystal Missile, which is a light, easy drinker just perfect for showing off what we like about these fresh-hop ales.  It reminds me of the first of these that I tasted a few years ago.

          The McMenamins Thundercone I tried at the Crystal was not bad.   A little light on the hops, but they had the idea.  McM's threw a curve ball at my plans to keep the Fresh Hop Map complete:  this beer was brewed at every McMenamins brewery, and is served at every pub.  Well, after adding two of the locations to the map, I realized I wasn't going to cover them all.  If you taste a batch that was especially fine, contact me and I'll add that location to the map.


          Why do I put "all dried hops" next to some of the beers to avoid? Why not just leave them off the list? Because these beers are promoted as Fresh Hop Beers.  Oh, the hops are "freshly dried", but they're not "wet hops".

          That is ridiculous.  If you go to the grocery store and ask for fresh parsley, or fresh ginger, or fresh garlic, they will point you to the produce aisle.  Try telling them you don't want wet parsley, you want fresh-dried parsley.  And by the way, where is the wet ginger?  I'm making a stir-fry, should I put in dried garlic, fresh garlic, or wet garlic?

          Hopworks is selling "fresh hop beers" brewed with 100% dried hops. Gosh, maybe we better go over their food menu. Hmmm... that fresh romaine lettuce, is it wet lettuce, or fresh-dried? What about the fresh spinach and fresh basil -- are you sure those were dried freshly at the farm? I'm not sure about the fresh cucumbers on that salad, is it possible to get it with wet cucumbers?

          Don't fall into this trap of talking about "wet hops".  Those are fresh hops.  All other hops are dried hops.  Calling dried hops "fresh" is pure deception.

          Wednesday, September 22, 2010

          Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2010

          Today is the fall equinox, and it marks the first anniversary of the Portland Beer Price Index.  A few more quarters, and then we'll really have some data.  Please remember, this is not a rant about how expensive beer is, it's just a project to watch how prices change over time.  Click here for a full explanation of the PBPI.

          Here are the figures for Autumn 2010:

          • 6-packs: $8.73, unchanged
          • 22-ounce bombers: $4.94, down 1 cent
          • 6-packs (sale price): $8.13, down 12 cents
          • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.94, up 11 cents
          • 16 oz. draft: $4.29, up 8 cents
          • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.52, up 1 cent

          On the retail side, the "normal" prices are about the same as the Summer 2010 figures.  The "sale" prices look like they're wildly swinging, but if you look back over the last couple of surveys, you could interpret it that they're just returning to prices they were at in earlier surveys.  In the past two PBPIs, bomber sale prices had fallen 12 cents; now they're up 11.  Mainly this continues the trend of very few bomber prices being marked down.  The six-pack sale price simply undoes the 12-cent rise from last time, when surprisingly few sixers were on sale.

          On the pub side, prices are creeping up.  I think the happy hour price would have been up more, except Hopworks' happy hour is at a 75-cent discount, while last time I had it at at 50 cents.  It was probably my error, since it was 75 cents the time before.

          There is one problem I have to fix.  Pelican IPA has now gone two quarters without being available at Fred's or QFC.  A beer and wine guy at Fred's told me it is because they now self-distribute.  This quarter I just used the historical price for those two stores, since its price hadn't changed at the other two stores, but I have to find a replacement.  You guys helped me find QFC to replace the lame selection at Safeway: now help me find a replacement for Pelican.  I would like it to be something outside of Portland, with wide availability, and something a little on the high end of the price range, like Pelican.  I had been considering Oakshire and Heater Allen, but I think Oakshire is too reasonably priced (thanks!) and Heater Allen may not be available at all four retail places.  Maybe Beer Valley Leafer Madness is a good replacement?  Other ideas?

          Look for the next index around Christmas.

          Monday, September 20, 2010

          Fresh Hops 2010 -- The Story So Far

          Some years I try to keep up a streak of tasting a different fresh-hop beer every day while they're out. I'm going for it this year, but it already has some gaps. Maybe I started a little early, but I try and soak it up while it's available. Anyone have an idea for me for today? I don't have anything on the radar, so if you know of something available today that's not on this list, let me know.

          First let me give you a few recommendations from what I've tried so far. Last year when I boastfully listed all the fresh-hop beers I had tried, Jeff Alworth asked a very reasonable question: "Which ones were good?". Now, almost every one of them on my list was a beer I would have again. Some of them were fantastic. However, many of them -- even some fantastic ones -- failed to really show off the distinctive flavor of green un-dried hops. This year I want to lump the beers into three categories: those that nailed the fresh-hop flavor and must be tried immediately; those that have a nice fresh-hop flavor but won't knock you out of your chair; and those that should not be allowed to distract you during this holy time of year.

          Must try:
          • Deschutes Fresh-Hopped Mirror Pond
          • Full Sail Lupulin (right now it's the First Gold variant)
          • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest
          • Bridgeport Hop Harvest
          Worth a try:
          • Oakshire Harvest Ale (oops, all dried hops)
          • Sierra Nevada 2010 Harvest Ale
          Don't get distracted:
          • Hale's Harvest Ale (all dried hops)
          • Hopworks Gayle's Pale (all dried hops)
          • Deschutes King Cone
          Bridgeport and Rock Bottom have improved their fresh-hop beers this year, and you should check both of them out (though I didn't care for the cask version of Bridgeport's that was available at the beer release party).  Lupulin and Mirror Pond are returning favorites, though the Mirror Pond is not quite as stellar as last year.  Dave summed it up well by saying that last year's was unmistakably Mirror Pond, but with extra goodness from the fresh hops.  This year's is really good, but won't remind you much of Mirror Pond, and the freshness isn't as intense as last year. [Update 2010/09/26: I had the FH Mirror Pond again Friday, and the love is back. I don't know why the first try didn't grab me, but this beer is incredible. Don't miss it.]

          I usually am not very impressed by Sierra Nevada's Harvest, but I think they did a good job capturing the fresh flavor this year.  And yes, it uses un-dried hops, unlike their Southern Hemisphere Harvest, and unfortunately unlike Hale's Harvest Ale, which the brewery has told me uses "FRESH dried" hops.  I feel an Honest Fresh-Hop Project coming on.  Nevertheless, Hale's is a robust, malty, hoppy delight, and it comes in six-packs.  Good thing to have in the fridge this time of year.

          Anyway, this is a work in progress.  Next week I hope to have more recommendations as more beers come out [Update: click here for the second report].  And remember to check the Fresh Hop Map for where to find stuff.

          Wednesday, September 15, 2010

          Attention! Dried Hops are NOT Fresh Hops

          I'm going to milk this month of fresh hops for all it's worth. Partly because I love fresh-hop beer; partly because I don't have time to generate original content for you.

          A commenter on the Fresh Hop Map said:

          I sense the level of confusion rising between fresh hop (freshly dried hops) and wet hop (freshly picked hops).

          Some people might be confused about this, but those of us who have tasted the delights of Fresh Hop beers are not confused.  Hops that have been dried are not fresh.

          What the hell is a "wet hop"?  A hop that slipped and fell in the bathtub?  A hop that got rained on?  If you've ever touched a hop on the vine, it's not wet, in fact it's kind of papery and rough like a cat's tongue.  But it isn't wet like a fresh tomato or a fresh berry.

          If there's any damn confusion, it might stem from Sierra Nevada, who promotes their Southern Hemisphere Harvest thusly:  "the fresh hops in this beer are dried right after being picked" (emphasis mine).  Are you kidding me?  Do you consider beef jerky to be fresh?  Dried apples?  Evaporated milk?  Powdered garlic?  Let's put this another way:  what other dried item do you think of as fresh?

          Fresh hops have not been dried.  Accept no substitutes.

          More ranting at the bottom of this post.

          Thursday, September 9, 2010

          2010 Fresh Hop Map

          We're getting into that wonderful few weeks when the fresh hop beers start rolling out.  I've been so patient waiting for them this year that I have only asked one establishment -- Deschutes -- if they have it on tap yet.  And I haven't even made it over to Full Sail to try this year's Lupulin -- an annual favorite -- but I will remedy that very soon.

          Since Google maps are such a handy way to present lists of Where Stuff Is, I propose to maintain a map of which fresh hop beers are available in the Portland area (no offense, Taplister). As far as I know, Full Sail's is the only one on tap so far, so I've started a map with only that entry so far [Update 2010/09/10: it's steadily filling up now]:

          View 2010 Portland Fresh Hop Beers in a larger map

          Click on the thumbtacks to find out what and where the beer is. I think I'll start with green thumbtacks, and if a beer runs out I will change the tack to red.

          Please help me fill it in! If you see a fresh-hop beer on tap around town, leave a comment, email me, or tweet me (@itspubnight). Feel free to comment on how you liked the beer, I'll add some of that to the entries on the map.

          Tuesday, August 31, 2010

          Hopworks BikeToBeerFest 2010

          The second annual BikeToBeerFest held at Hopworks this past Saturday was a nice sequel to last year's festivities. If there were any doubts that this would continue to be a yearly event -- which there probably weren't -- I guess the good attendance and fine time had by all have put them to rest. They do seem to be feeling around for the correct date -- last year's was held in mid-September -- and I hope it stays in the pre-Labor Day range.

          BikeToBeerFest went off much like it did last year. It's a welcome sight to see two parking lots each filled with hundreds of bikes instead of a couple dozen cars, and to see the famous beer bike (pictured) in action. I don't remember the cost of getting in to last year's event, but I thought it was just the price of a glass and some tokens. This year there was a small $2 entry fee which was split as a donation to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Portland Sunday Parkways, both worthy recipients.  Another difference was that this year you could get a 4-ounce sample for 1 ticket, whereas last year it was all pints.  There were some perverse incentives at work there -- you could pay 6 tickets for almost a pint of strong beer, or 4 tickets for 4 quarter-pints.  One thing that was the same was the fun live entertainment.  I was glad to catch Boy Eats Drum Machine's set -- his funky one-man-band antics stuck in my mind from last year's fest.

          Hopworks really pulled out the stops with the beer this year. Last year I only remember a couple of special beers -- Ace of Spades and fresh-hop Bike Beer -- but this year there were a bunch of brilliant seasonals and one-offs:
          • Piledriver: Hopworks' Dubbel barrel-aged with cherries and wacky brettanomyces yeast
          • Gayle's Pale: first fresh-hop ale of the year
          • For Those about to Bock: Barrel-aged Bock
          • Noggin' Floggin': Barrel-aged barleywine
          • Ace of Spades: Imperial IPA
          • Galactic: Imperial Red
          All of that in addition to the Hopworks standards.  I'm pretty tough to please with fresh-hop beers -- it has to knock me out with resinous freshness -- so Gayle's Pale was a little disappointing to me, though it was a fine enough pale ale.  The Piledriver was a gem: the cherries were a welcome addition to an already decent Abbey Ale, and the brettanomyces seemed to dry it out nicely without making it one of these sour endurance tests.

          Portlandbeer.org has a nice writeup from Marcus and some of Matt's magnificent photos.

          Friday, August 27, 2010

          Upcoming Lucky Lab Events

          It's Pub Night is usually written in past tense, as a diary of what I've been up to, since other Portland bloggers cover the event calendar much better than I could.  But there's one event that I love so much that I want to give you a quick heads up about it:  the Lucky Lab hop harvest party.

          Next Thursday, September 2nd, the back patio of the Hawthorne Lucky Lab will be filled with homegrown hop vines brought in by anyone who cares to contribute to the Lab's fresh-hop seasonals this year.  At 3 PM, an informal hop-picking session begins -- whoever drops in can just grab some vines and start picking off the hops.  Free beer, lupulin aromatherapy, jovial company, and the satisfaction of a job well done are your payment.  Most of the work will probably be done by about 7 PM, at which time some grilled snacks will be served.

          It's a very special experience that I highly recommend.  You'll see lots of the usual Portland beer geeks -- an alarming number of whom now write blogs -- as well as stalwart Lucky Lab regulars.  But -- I swear I see this happen every year -- there will also be people who just happen in to the pub for the first time, see what's going on, and dive right in.  That, friends, is Beervana.  To get a flavor of it, check out my slide show from last year, or Angelo's excellent recap. If you have hops growing at home and aren't going to use them in your own brew, bring 'em on down, even if you can't stay to pick.

          While I'm writing in the future tense, another chance to drink free Lucky Lab beer is coming up September 11th: the Tour de Lab bike tour.  I guess it's not really free beer, since you pay $35 to register, but the proceeds benefit Dove Lewis veterinary hospital.  I've not gone on the ride before, but since I was offered a free pass, I'm going to brave the 30-mile loop hitting all four Lucky Lab pubs with my neighbor Lindsey (there is also a less hilly 18-mile route that skips the Multnomah pub).

          While I'm writing about the future, bikes, and beer, don't forget that Hopworks BikeToBeerFest is tomorrow, and is also a really excellent time.  Here are my thoroughly-researched ideas on the best bike approaches to Hopworks (especially useful if you're in a big group or biking with kids or novices).