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 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-TĂȘte", 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.]