Thursday, July 29, 2010

Meet Mt. Tabor Brewing

Another couple of nano-brewers have been subjected to my poor cellphone photography skills.  That's Eric and Brian of Mt. Tabor Brewing, who brought a record-setting four varieties of their beer to the Beermongers for a meet-the-brewer event Wednesday evening.  I had never tried any of their beers, so I was pleased to get to sample their Asylum Avenue IPA, Tabor Special Bitter, Calf Stout, and Soapbox Blonde.

My favorite was the TSB, lighter in color than what I'd expect from an ESB, but a nice quaffable ale with a mild fruitiness and restrained hopping.  I love hops, but there's a time and a place for them, and it's nice to have a bitter that's not too bitter.  On the other end of the hop spectrum, their Calf Stout had tons of hops -- Eric said that it has a theoretical 128 IBUs -- but maintains its stouty balance.  Interesting beer: it's the second run from a Russian Imperial Stout they brewed, and still clocks in at 5.3%.  Nice job with the Reduce/Reuse/Recycle.  It's not a milk stout -- the "calf" had people asking -- they call it that because its imperial Papa is called Sibeerian Bull Stout.  I liked the Calf Stout a lot.

Mt. Tabor beers are rare enough that -- as I said -- this was my first sample of them.  So where can you find them?
  • Canton Grill (SE 82nd and Division) -- Chinese-American restaurant run by Brian's in-laws
  • Vintage Cocktail Lounge (SE 79th and Stark) -- always has 2 or 3 taps from MTB.
  • The Farm Cafe (SE 7th and Burnside) -- locavore food place that usually has a Mt. Tabor tap
The brewers mentioned that the Beermongers keg of the Calf was the offspring of a custom order of the imperial stout that a fan ordered for his wedding.  That's the stage Mt. Tabor is at right now -- if you want a custom brew for a special occasion, call them up and they're likely to make you a deal.

Cheers to Beermongers and Brewpublic for arranging this meet-the-brewer.  And don't forget to support your local nano.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beetje Brewery

Apparently there is another small brewery about to open in Portland: Beetje Brewery has been approved by the TTB to start brewing on its one-barrel garage system. Oh, you haven't heard of Beetje? Neither had I, until I noticed a comment that Jeff left on the New School a few weeks ago. "Beetje" is Flemish for small -- sounds like we have a Belgian-oriented brewery here. Here's a cartoon that explains how it got rolling:

The owner, Mike Wright, says that he hopes to be running by late summer or early fall, but he has a family and a day job, so the schedule might vary. Here's his plan:

I will definitely self-distribute and hope to get into a couple of local SE bars/restaurants. There's no money in kegs at my scale so, I am interested in exploring bottles. Not only from a financial perspective. But I like bottle conditioning some of my beers.

That's kind of the opposite of other nano-brewery strategies: Vertigo, Mt. Tabor, and Natian are strictly keg sales. But it makes sense -- if you can only brew 4 pony kegs at a time, you could have a wider distribution with a higher margin by bottling. I'm guessing it makes your startup costs a little more manageable as well: you don't invest in big kegs at the outset, just a bunch of little bottles that you add into your price.

The two beer styles Mike lists so far on his website are "a straightforward ale with a Flemish kiss", and a barrel-aged sour brown. Should be an interesting addition to the Portland scene.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oregon Brewers Festival 2010 First Glimpse

Here's a quick list of what I've liked and disliked so far at the OBF.

Liked: Lompoc Son of C-Note, Oakshire Buzz Tent Pinot Strong Ale, Rogue 21,Green Flash Le Freak, Bayern Bock .

Disliked: Great Divide Hoss, Rock Bottom Oud Heverlee, Bruery 7 Grain Saison.

At first I liked the Natian Red Ale, but Angelo pointed out it has a kind of nail polish flavor  (he's right).  So, maybe worth a try, but beware.

Anyone have other recommendations pro or con?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tourist's Guide to the 2010 Oregon Brewers Festival

A couple years ago I wrote up a meandering guide to the Oregon Brewers Festival. The most useful part of it was a map showing things to do within walking distance of the festival, so I've updated the map with new recommendations -- Bailey's instead of Tugboat; Green Dragon now that Roots has closed -- and directions to the wide new sidewalk on the Morrison Bridge. The rest of this post is a rerun of the original, updated with the new information.

The Journey is the Destination

The OBF's location at Tom McCall Waterfront Park makes for a nice 2.5 mile loop along the east and west banks of the Willamette River, walking over or under four of Portland's drawbridges. Go south along the river, beneath the Morrison Bridge, and cross the Willamette (rhymes with "dammit", by the way) on the beautiful Hawthorne Bridge (1910). Pedestrians should keep toward the bridge railing -- bicycles get the part of the sidewalk nearest the cars. Follow the curving sidewalk down to the path on the east side of the river, the Eastbank Esplanade.

View Larger Map

Heading north along the river, accompanied by the automotive roar of I-5 overhead, you'll cross under the Morrison and Burnside Bridges before coming to a stretch of the sidewalk which actually floats in the Willamette. You'll cross the river back to Waterfront Park on the Steel Bridge (1914). There are other double-deck drawbridges in the world, but the Steel Bridge is the only one that telescopes: the lower deck can be raised while the upper deck remains open to traffic.  (For a shorter route, take the corkscrew sidewalk up to the nice wide sidewalk on the Morrison Bridge, and then cross Naito to get back to the festival.)

For Kids of All Ages

If you brought your kids to the festival and need to give them a break, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a science museum on the east side of the river, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, easily accessible from the Esplanade. There is also an IMAX theater and planetarium at OMSI.

Another interesting eastside youth attraction is the skateboard park hidden under the Burnside Bridge. Originally a do-it-yourself project that was later embraced by the city, you can't get to it directly from the pedestrian loop described above -- you can't even see it from there. You have to get onto the south sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge, either on the west side at Saturday Market, or by taking the stairs labeled "Burnside" from the Esplanade. Follow the Burnside sidewalk to MLK, turn right and go a block to Ankeny, turn right and go two blocks to 2nd (the sidewalk runs out), and turn right again to go under the bridge. You probably shouldn't go down there at night, but it's a cool thing to see during the day.

More Beer!

There are several interesting pub options you can walk to from the festival.

The Full Sail Pilsner Room [review] is about 3/4 mile south of the festival. Go underneath the Hawthorne Bridge and follow the sidewalk down towards the sailboat harbor.

Bailey's Taproom [review] is about 1/2 mile west of the festival. Follow Oak St. across Broadway, Bailey's is one block to your right.  Tugboat Brewing Company [review] is across Ankeny.

The Oregon outpost of Rock Bottom is about 1/4 mile southwest of the festival at 2nd and Morrison.

If you took the stroll to the east side of the river, you're only about a half-mile from the Lucky Labrador [review] at 9th and Hawthorne, and the Green Dragon [review] at 9th and Yamhill.

Further Afield

This article is too long already, so I'll briefly list a few more attractions that you should see while you're in Portland.
The Horse Brass would be quite a long walk: take bus #15 (to Parkrose) and get off near SE 45th. The Tram is not too long of a walk if you're already at the Pilsner Room, but it's not a very pleasant one; you could also take the streetcar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hair of the Dog Inventory Running Low?

John had a nice article in the Oregonian the other day about two eagerly awaited Southeast pubs: Hair of the Dog and Cascade's Barrel House.  As is always the case, the opening date for both of them has been pushed back repeatedly, and they are both going to miss their revised-revised-revised deadlines of July 2010.  Too bad:  it surely crossed their minds that it would be great to be open by OBF weekend.

A few months ago when it soaked in to my brain that Hair of the Dog would stop brewing for a while during the move, I rubbed a couple of pennies together and put a few bottles of Adam in my basement.  Mostly I was thinking it would be interesting to compare pre- and post-move Adam, but I'll admit that I also was hedging against some kind of disaster.  A late opening date isn't the end of the world, but I'm feeling pretty clever as I notice that HotD bottles are starting to thin out on store shelves around town.  The other day at Belmont Station there were only a few bottles in the cooler; at Fred Meyers down the street they were out of Fred (irony!) but still seemed pretty well stocked with Adam.

Cascade doesn't have the same problem, since they have two baskets to put their eggs in, and anyway they are already making use of the Barrel House to age beers, they just can't serve anything there yet.  If Alan isn't able to open Hair of the Dog until later this year, will we get to a point where there's no more left on the shelves?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Portland International Brewfest 2010

Friday's Live Report

The crowds are picking up at the PIB.

Picks so far: Double Mountain Devil's Kriek, Mikkeller Bourbon Black Hole and Chipotle Porter, 21st Amendment Double Trouble IIPA, Flyers Kentucky Uberwine.

The vibe is great. Lots of great beers I didn't mention.

Saturday's Thoughts

Seeing Jeff's list of grievances towards the PIB made me realize I should give you some more helpful info about the fest:
  • Bring your own drinking water.  The servers will rinse your glass if you want, but there's no free drinking water ($1/bottle).
  • The Cantillon Kriek is 6 tickets, not 3.
  • These beers are in the program, but not at the fest: Rogue Chatoe OREgasmic, Rogue John John Juniper, Deschutes Black Butte XXII, Firestone Walker Double Jack, Dieu du Ciel Rigor Mortis Abt, Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Bacon, Haandbryggeriet Odin's Tipple.
  • Beers to avoid: Epic Mayhem (OK, but not 4-ticket good), Trois Mousquetaires Imperial Weizen (nasty), Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest (this is not a fresh-hop beer).
There may have been other missing beers, but those are the ones I noticed.  Maybe the Rogue choices have arrived by now.  As for the other ones, there was usually a very decent replacement.  The Dieu du Ciel Aphrodite (replacing Rigor Mortis) was nice and chocolaty; the Mikkeller Chipotle Porter (replacing Breakfast Bacon) was a home run if you like hot peppers and dark beer.

Anyway, the weather is beautiful, have a great time!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Coalition Brewing Opens for Business

While I was in Texas, Coalition Brewing opened at SE 28th and Ankeny where Noble Rot used to be a few years ago. Coalition is only about a year late: in April 2009 when word of the new brewery got out, they expected to open that summer under the name Hobo Brewing. Think of the pubs that have been built out and opened during that time: Migration, Apex, and Breakside come to mind.

A few of us went by late last week to check Coalition out (sorry about the picture, Dave). The beers fit into standard Northwest pub styles -- a pale ale, a stout, a red ale, and a hoppy bitter -- which suits me fine, those are all good to drink. The stout was my favorite: dark and creamy, nice roasty flavor with a thick tan head. Dave liked the bitter, though for my money I would have liked to see it with a little less hops, more English style, especially since the northwest red had the hops covered really well. Everything we tried was solidly well done -- no misfires. I didn't write down any of the clever beer names, but they were all of a pretty reasonable strength, between 5% and 6% if I remember correctly.

Why don't people opening new pubs start right out with honest pints? I mean, they don't have to be 20-ounce pints, just something with a line marking the volume. It's the wave of the future, best get on it right away.

The space is pleasant but pretty tiny: inside there are seats for about 30 people, including 3 or 4 at the bar, and there are 4 or 5 tables outside on the sidewalk. The brewing operation is actually in a building across Ankeny. I believe the original plan was to brew in the same building as the pub, which would have been madness if the kitchen area is on the same scale as the front. Someone is living in the apartment above the pub -- maybe at some point Coalition will be able to expand into that space. It's a great bicycle destination -- there's a bike-parking corral a few steps away on 28th.

The panini-style sandwiches were decent, but nothing to rave about. None of us were brave enough to try the mini-meatloaf muffins. Our visit ended in something of a rush: it was last week during Portland's bizarre mosquito infestation, and when the breeze died down right after sundown, we went howling away slapping our foreheads, ears, and ankles.

But the beer is the main thing, and Coalition does it right. I'm glad to welcome them to the neighborhood!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Alchemy Name Change

A few weeks ago, Ezra reported that Jason McAdam's new venture, originally called Alchemy Brewing, had to be renamed Foundry Brewing, apparently to avoid encroaching on the Widmer Brothers' trademarked Alchemy hops.

I've learned from a reliable source -- actually Google -- that the saga continues: it appears Alchemy has applied to register the trademark Burnside Brewing Company. The name reflects their new location in the former Ozone Records location at 7th and East Burnside, and not any predilection for scruffy facial hair. Someone should register Muttonchop Brewing and ride on Jason's coattails. (General Burnside photo lifted from: History and War.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Suburban Austin Pub Crawl

I promise to get back to writing about Portland beer very soon, but I've got to get this last Texas story out of the pipeline after our recent two-week stay in the Lone Star state.

For the time we spent in Austin on this trip, we stayed in the northwest suburbs, drawn by the temptation of a free house to ourselves and free use of a car. Most of my hangouts in Austin turned into 15- or 20-mile drives -- even now it makes my head hurt to think about it -- but that led me to pay a couple of visits to the worthy North by Northwest brewpub, and to check out a couple of oases of potable beer in the far lands of Cedar Park.

North by Northwest built their business on a platform of good food in a chic setting, accompanied by solid but unadventurous beers. They're flexing a little more beer muscle these days: for example, on the last Monday of every month they tap a firkin of cask-conditioned ale. It's a regular event for my Austin beer posse, so it was lucky for me that we were in town for June's tapping of Green Menace, a double IPA dry-hopped in the firkin. It was well done, with great floral hops -- there were leaves floating in my first pint -- and plenty of backbone to support them.

Another example of the way NXNW has stepped up their game is that they have one tap dedicated to experimental sour beers, and one to barrel-aged beers. I shied away from the so-called lambic tap, and somehow I never got around to the barrel-aged tap -- I think it had blown on my first visit, and on the second I was pacing myself. Of the other beers I tried, I really liked the Okanagon Black Ale (a malty schwarzbier, not a CDA), and the light, citrusy Summer Ale. The Pyjingo Pale Ale -- one of the original standards -- was not to my liking. There was something gamey about it.

On one of the NXNW outings, I prevailed upon the lads to accompany me 10 miles north to the Dig Pub in Cedar Park, a mere 3.5 miles from where I was staying.  Inside an inauspicious strip-mall location is a 30-tap beer geek's paradise.  The taps are well-chosen:  a variety of Central Texas crafts from Independence, (512), and Real Ale, as well as solid choices from the likes of Dogfish Head, Stone, New Belgium, and even Deschutes.  The menu listed Jubel 2010, and I was excited to get the chance to inflict it on some Texans, but it had already blown.  The waitresses at the Dig were well-informed about the goods being offered -- good evidence that the place takes beer seriously.  There were two dartboards with lots of space to throw, and -- making Lee's night -- free shuffleboard.  If you're trapped out there in the hinterlands of Austin, the Dig is a great place to go.

On another night, Lee and Margaret journeyed out to meet Carla and me at the Dig.  They needed a late dinner, and the Dig kitchen had closed at 11, so after a pint there, we tried our luck at another Cedar Park beer bar: the Tap Room. The Tap Room is also a strip-mall establishment -- come to think of it, there probably isn't any other real estate option in that area -- that boasts 30 taps and a couple of dartboards, but the resemblances to the Dig end there. About a third of the taps are crap -- that's OK, the place is a sports bar -- so that leaves about 20 decent taps, including the enjoyable (512) Pecan Porter. But the craft beer choices are just a veneer. The staff can't tell you anything about them, and even the menu lists them in puzzling ways. For example, Widmer W'10 and Widmer Hef were on the menu, as well as "Halo IPA" (I think you mean "Widmer Broken Halo IPA"). Similarly, New Belgium Fat Tire was on the list, and somewhere else was "Ranger IPA" (not listed as NB).

You might choose the Tap Room over the Dig if there's a sporting event you need to catch, or someone in your party will only drink wimpy downstream beer, or if you want to avoid a Comedy Open Mic night at the Dig. Still, the Tap Room has a pretty good variety for that part of the 'burbs. Maybe it will improve its beer IQ over time. Until then, stick to NXNW and the Dig for your suburban Austin pub crawls.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Southern Star Brewing Company

My in-laws live in the city of Conroe, Texas, north of Houston. It's also the hometown of a very successful brewery startup, Southern Star Brewing, whose canned beers are now distributed in Texas and eight other states. A couple of years ago Carla was visiting her family and brought me a tall-boy of their first offering, Pine Belt Pale Ale. On this summer's trip to Texas, I discovered that they are now distributing a couple of more varieties: Buried Hatchet Imperial Stout, and Bombshell Blonde Golden Ale.

Southern Star opens to the public for tasting Saturdays from 1 PM to 3 PM. This month (July 2010), they're open every Saturday, but apparently the schedule changes, so check the website. Some people we talked to in Austin said that the tasting hours would be pretty sparsely attended, but there was a large happy crowd when my brother-in-law and I showed up there last Saturday. There were at least a hundred people there at the peak, enjoying the generous free samples. We got into the merchandise line to buy a couple of 21-ounce Southern Star tulip pint glasses, then got into the longer drink line to get a sample and our ratio of wooden nickels for our visit. They had the three flavors mentioned above on tap.

The tasting is a great time. The whole warehouse-sized brewery is open, so there you are surrounded by the fermenters, sacks of malt, and stacked pallets of canned product. There are a good number of large picnic tables and benches, but it was standing-room only when we were there. Out back a couple of guys were manning the grills, selling beer brats, smoked pork loin, and hamburgers. A beer brat on a stick is a mere $2, quite a bargain.

I liked Pine Belt Pale Ale when I tried it a couple years ago, and on Saturday I thought it might even have improved some since that time. The other beers are also very good. Buried Hatchet is a robust but easy-drinking stout. I called it an imperial stout above, but it's only 8.25% and Southern Star calls it an "American Strong Stout". The dark malts give it very noticeable cocoa and coffee flavors. It definitely appeals to the beer geek faction. The Bombshell goes the other direction -- a lighter, less hoppy ale that might bring in a broader audience, but which still has plenty of malt flavor. I thought the 16-ounce cans were such a good idea that I'm surprised the two new beers are sold in 12-ounce cans -- four-packs of the stout and six-packs of the blonde. Even more puzzling is the fact that six-packs of the lighter Bombshell are more expensive than the bigger six-packs of Pine Belt Pale Ale.

Southern Star has a smoked porter in the works -- part of their "Pro-Am" homebrewer collaboration series. They didn't have it available Saturday, but apparently it will be out soon, and will be sold in 22-ounce bottles.

When in Texas, definitely seek out Southern Star beers. And if you happen to be in the Conroe area on a Saturday, I highly recommend a trip to the brewery.