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!