Thursday, December 22, 2011

Portland Beer Price Index: Winter 2011

Could you imagine yourself trading June sunshine for December sunshine? It's not a good trade, but aren't you glad that our dreary summer has been partially made up for by a dry December?  That's right, I'm talking about Portland weather on the shortest day of the year. It's the winter solstice, time for the Q4 2011 Portland Beer Price Index:
  • 6-packs: $9.23, up 25 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.99, up 6 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.73, up 5 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.78, up 1 cent
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.35, up 2 cents
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.57, unchanged
An anonymous commenter last quarter said that wholesale six-pack prices were heading up, and that certainly showed up in the six-pack retail prices:  this was the biggest jump the PBPI has ever seen.  In fact, everything went up this quarter except happy hour pints.  One pub raised their regular pint price, but kept the happy hour price the same.  I'm sad to see bomber prices bounce up from their record low last time.  They are still overpriced, with basically the same SPE price as happy hour pints.

As far as logistics go, I had to adjust the prices I have been recording at the Pearl Specialty Market, because I didn't notice until this time that their shelf price includes the bottle deposit, even on six-packs.  Not that most of us cash those deposits back in, but all the other prices I've been recording leave off the deposit, so this time I brought Pearl's prices down accordingly.  As a result, the previously reported Q3 numbers are slightly higher than the base price used for the price differences above.

Has the beer selection been shrinking at the Seven Corners New Seasons?  Unlike QFC and Fred Meyers, they continue to carry Pelican IPA, but they did not have sixers of high-volume standbys Widmer Hef or Deschutes Black Butte Porter on the shelf, nor did they have Rogue Shakespeare Stout.  I was able to record reasonable prices since they had other bottles from those breweries that are always priced the same as the missing ones, but it makes me wonder what they're up to.

Finally, I want to remind everyone that this is not a complaint about beer prices, not that I'm above that, especially with numbers like these.  But the main purpose of the PBPI is to track price trends over time. Click here for an explanation of how the numbers are gathered, and check back three months from now for the Q1 2012 PBPI.  If I had to venture a guess, I'd say to get ready to see even higher prices next time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oakshire Brewers' Reserve and Hellshire

Oakshire Brewing brewmaster Matt Van Wyck was at Belmont Station yesterday to promote the brewery's third Brewers' Reserve beer:  a tart blended ale called Skookumchuck, which is available in a very limited number of corked and caged 750 ml bottles.  Skookumchuck is mildly tart -- it won't make you pucker -- with an aroma and flavor much like lighter Belgian geuzes.  It's fairly malty but not cloying, with a little dusty wood in the finish.

The three base beers were aged in wine barrels for varying lengths of time before blending:  a 2009 strong Belgian golden ale was aged with Drie Fonteinen's strain of brettanomyces; a 2010 saison got a dose of La Folie's brett and aged on apricots and plums; the third beer was a 2009 lactobacillus-spiked Berliner weiss that was thrown into a barrel when it didn't work out as a fresh beer.  The beers themselves wouldn't point toward such a close approximation of a Belgian geuze, but I suppose the brettanomyces and the barrels contributed a lot toward the flavor.

You might be wondering what the first two Brewers' Reserve beers were.   They were released stealthily earlier this year, and are now apparently gone.  Green Power Pale Ale was available on draft only, and a Märzen called Land Trust Lager also came out in bombers.  The three beers were a collaboration with the Eugene Water and Electric Board, to commemorate EWEB's 100th anniversary, and all profits from them are donated to the McKenzie River Trust, the source of Eugene's city water.  The beer names were chosen from suggestions by EWEB employees -- "Skookumchuck" is a Chinook word for river rapids, but the literal meaning of "strong waters" is a nice double entendre for a strongly-flavored beer.

Going forward, the Brewers' Reserve line will mostly be blended barrel-aged beers like Skookumchuck, and mostly sold in corked 750s at Oakshire's tasting room.  Releases are not on a schedule: not until a barrel is ready, says Matt, though he hinted that he has a framboise in the works.  Brewpublic has a nice post by Matt talking about the philosophy behind Oakshire's barrel-aging projects.

Speaking of which, Belmont also had Oakshire's Hellshire II on tap yesterday.  Hellshire II is a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout with coffee.  (To digress for a second, whenever you're looking for a coffee stout, my favorite for the last few months has been Oakshire's Overcast Espresso Stout, especially when it's fresh on tap.  Best of all, it's widely available in Oregon on tap and in bombers.)  Planned for an annual release each winter, the Hellshires are strong ales aged in spirits barrels -- so far just bourbon barrels, but Matt said that they have various other barrels going also.  Hellshire bottles are bottle-conditioned and sold in wife-proofed wax-dipped bottles.  Last year's Hellshire I barleywine was somewhat coolly received by the rare beer crowd that had been eagerly awaiting it based on their fondness for the annual Wooden Hell barleywine that Matt did when he was the brewmaster at Chicago's Flossmoor Station.  I thought the negative reaction was overblown, it's a nice solid beer.  I've got one on hold in the basement right now.

Just like a horror movie sequel, the beer zombies have now come after Hellshire II.  Yesterday Matt was groaning because the recently released stout was getting beat up in a Beer Advocate thread called "Hellshire II Infected?"  Here's where geekiness can outsmart itself:  how are you going to taste a brettanomyces infection in a one month-old bottle of beer?  Now, I haven't tried it from the bottle, but it was beautiful on tap yesterday, with very strong notes of coffee and chocolate.  It's not your usual bourbon-bomb stout -- not that I object to those in any way -- but it isn't by any stretch soured.  Maybe the extra dose of slightly astringent coffee is throwing people off; I thought it all hung together really well, so I'll probably pick up a bottle to hide in the cellar for a year or so.  Matt promised on the Beer Advocate thread to have some labwork done on the beer, so there should be a definitive answer to the question early next year.  [Update 2011/01/05: Turns out there is a lactobacillus infection. I guess some of those geeks are pretty good at tasting these things. Matt's explanation on Beer Advocate and the Oakshire blog.]

At the Skookumchuck tasting yesterday, I expressed the opinion that its mild tartness is more in line with Belgian wild ales than most American-made sour beers are.  American sours -- even ones that I like, such as Cascade's cherry-infused ones -- tend to be so over the top that they can be a challenge to get through.  To test my point, I cracked a bottle of Lindeman's Cuvée René Gueze to try alongside the Skook' (that's the beauty of holding beer events at a bottle shop).  While the Lindeman's did have the edge in sourness, the difference wasn't huge.  Matt said they were far closer than he would have guessed.  The Oakshire was definitely maltier, making me think that one difference might be extra drying-out time by the Lindeman's.  As you can see, the Lindeman's was much clearer, and had a touch of vinegar flavor that I don't remember from last time I tried it, but which is completely absent from the Skookumchuck.  Verdict:  the Oakshire was not as sour, was sweeter and overall more approachable, but with many of the nice flavors and aromas you get from the Lindeman's.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cascade Sang Noir Vertical

Last Thursday evening I was encouraged to get out of the house when my wife was hosting her book group, so I walked down to the Cascade Barrel House to try the 2007-2010 four-year vertical tasting of Sang Noir they were offering that night.  I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool fan of sour beers, but I do appreciate cherry beers like Cascade's Kriek, and I have a history with Sang Noir, having tried a couple of vintages of it at previous Holiday Ale Festivals (in 2009 and 2010).

It was a small-world evening at Cascade that night.  When I arrived, honorary Portlandians Jim and Joan were holding down the west end of the bar, and I sat at an open barstool not far from them.  You might recognize them as the couple from Alabama that sports their funky beer-patch jackets every year at the Holiday Ale Festival -- I snapped a picture of them for my recap of the HAF 2008.  After a while of talking to Jim and Joan across the fellow on the barstool to my left, I finally introduced myself to him only to find out that he was Dan Engler, the owner and brewmaster of one of Portland's newest breweries, the German-oriented Occidental BrewingThen Portland beer expert and Sierra Nevada Beer Camp alumnus Harry Sanger (in the picture) showed up to try the vertical, saying that all the "Sang Noir"s on the chalkboard kept catching his eye and making him think they'd written "Sanger" up there.

Anyway, about the beer.  Sang Noir means "black blood" in French, though it's not noticeably darker than Cascade's Kriek, or even the Sang Rouge. Cascade says it is "a blend of red and double red beers that were aged in Bourbon and Pinot Noir barrels for 12 to 24 months then blended with barrel aged Bing and sour pie cherries".

All of the vintages were extremely tart, with Cascade's characteristic lactic bite.  My favorite was definitely the 2009 -- it was the smoothest and clearest version, and had the strongest cherry flavor.  Dan and Harry both preferred the 2008, which was by far the funkiest vintage of the four:  quite musty and earthy.  The 2010 was probably the simplest of the bunch -- very sour of course, but with a decent cherry flavor.  I thought the 2007 was starting to show some oxidation, though maybe that was just part of the intentional woody funk:  my notes describe its flavors as pomegranate and oak.

When I tried Sang Noir 2010 at the 2010 Holiday Ale Fest, I wrote that it had more cherry and less funk than the 2009 version.  That wasn't the situation Thursday, where the 2009 was definitely the least funky and most cherry of the the four vintages.  It makes me wonder if the dates on these are shifting:  is the 2008 served at the pub the same batch that was called 2009 at last year's HAF?  Similarly, the fruitier, less-funky 2009 at the pub was more reminiscent of HAF's 2010 vintage.

As of last night, Cascade's website still listed the 2010 and 2009 Sang Noir on tap (only 3 oz. tasters of the 2009).  If you're like me, and the cherry interests you more than the sour, I recommend trying the 2009 before it runs dry.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beer Advocate Loves Portland

First the New York Times got a huge crush on us, and now Beer Advocate.  Have you noticed that three of the last four BA magazine covers feature Portland beer people?
  • #56: Ryan Schmiege (Deschutes Portland Pub)
  • #57: Geoff Phillips and the gang at Bailey's Taproom
  • #59: Eric Bottero (Bazi Bierbrasserie)
The picture of Ryan was taken when he was working in Bend, but he's been brewing in Portland for more than a year.

The New York Times has been all over Portland for a few years now, especially for our food carts and restaurants.  But when they published a gushing review of Portland barbershops -- including Bart's Barbershop, where I get shorn every few months -- I knew their infatuation had crossed the line into weird obsession.  The picture of Bazi manager Bottero mixing a beer cocktail creeps me out in a similar way.  I don't mean any offense to Bazi by that -- it's an interesting new place -- but it doesn't seem to me to be at the forefront of beer cocktails, or even of the Portland beer scene.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it:  Find a Portland connection in the picture on the cover of Beer Advocate #58.  One of the bottles?  One of the people wandering around?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Draft vs. Bottle

I've been pretty sure for a while that I prefer draft beer to bottled -- it sometimes seems to me that beer loses some flavor in the bottling process -- but I've never tried the same beer side-by-side from bottle and keg. Until now. Over the weekend we had a keg of Deschutes Jubelale at a party, and I decided to do a blind tasting of the draft vs. bottles.

This was in a pretty casual atmosphere, and lately my blind-tasting skills have been questionable. In this case I didn't take very good notes about peoples' preferences between the bottled and kegged samples, though most people seemed to find the draft Jubelale to be mellower. Personally I found the bottles showed more of this year's "tannic" harshness decried by Jeff and Pete. I actually like this year's stronger taste -- it seems to me to come from extra hop bitterness or maybe some darker malts -- but it was more muted and easier to approach on tap.

In my jubilant mood, the silly thing I focused on in the blind tasting was whether people could guess which glass had beer from the keg and which from the bottle.  Almost universally, people guessed wrong, including myself.  Ritch Marvin got the question right, and Brian and Bryce might have also, but there was some possibility that their samples were swapped (those questionable skills of mine at work again).

Which was better, tap or bottle?  In this case they were nearly identical, though I still think the draft Jubelale was infinitesimally better.  There was much less of a difference than I expected, which makes me wonder if my bias is wrong, or if it is based on some other factor like out-of-date bottles.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Ale Festival 2011

The Holiday Ale Festival 2011 started yesterday in downtown Portland.  So far I'm much more impressed with the beer selection than I remember being for the last couple of years -- there were some fabulous beers, and very few failures, in my opinion.  Here are a few recommendations of my favorites, in order:
  • Firestone Walker 100% Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin: the perfect amount of vanilla/bourbon in a robust stout.  A home run.
  • Elysian Bye Bye Frost: seriously hoppy yet rather dry barleywine.
  • Bear Republic Old Saint Chongo: a strong dark wheat beer, with a tiny hint of chocolate.
  • Lagunitas 2010 Olde Gnarly Wine: predictably delicious bitter barleywine.
  • Ninkasi The Little One: a small beer from the second runnings of Critical Hit barleywine; hoppy yet light-bodied.  If you like Hair of the Dog's Little Dogs, you should enjoy this, though it's nearly twice as strong.
  • Hopworks Kentucky Christmas: no surprise that this is hoppy, bourbony, and delicious.
  • Double Mountain Chimney Stout: solid stout with a long, dry finish.
  • Burnside Barrel Aged Permafrost:  strong hoppy ale with just a bit of bourbon.
The layout is much like it was last year, but there is a little different feel because the tents are transparent everywhere this year.  It made a huge difference in the southwest corner section, which was gloomy and claustrophobic last year but seems open and airy this year.  If you're looking for the mug rinse/drinking water station, it is tucked away near the northeast exit (near 6th and Morrison).

It's a little embarrassing that my top 4 beers are from outside Oregon, since I'm usually such a reliably provincial hometown booster.  There were several other beers I tried that ranged from not bad to very good, but the ones in the list above really shine.  It's strange, because I am often left cold by Velvet Merkin/Merlin, and similarly for Elysian Bifrost, but the souped-up versions were wonderful.

There are only a few beers I can pan:
  • Breakside Cranberry Biere de Table: has a clove flavor I really didn't care for; on the plus side, it uses a nice light touch with the cranberries.
  • Fort George Kentucky Girl Stout:  this went a little sour in the barrel, adding a kind of musty, chile-pepper flavor; it wasn't terrible, and you might enjoy the sourness, but I think most people won't.
  • Buckman Fruit Cake: Ezra pointed out that this tasted and felt like egg nog; not a great beer.
  • Collaborator Hallucinator: Pretty sure I've had this in the past and enjoyed it, but it tasted bland and maybe slightly off to me yesterday.
Great festival this year!  Kudos to Preston and the gang for putting it together.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Old Tavern Rat

Lompoc is having a party at the Sidebar on North Williams today (November 29, 2011) at 4 PM to show off 9 of the 10 holiday beers they've brewed this year.  There has been plenty of bloggage about the beers -- I'll provide links to everything I know about below -- so I'm going to talk mostly about three Don Younger-inspired beers:  two variants of Old Tavern Rat that Lompoc is releasing, and Russian River's cleverly named Don the Younger, on tap right now at the Horse Brass.

Lompoc has been brewing a barleywine called Old Tavern Rat for well over ten years -- at the 2008 Lucky Lab Barleywine Festival they rolled out a keg of it from 1998 -- and in my experience it has its ups and downs.  This year's batch is fantastic:  a very classic West Coast take on the style, bitter and boozy yet balanced, with notes of maple, orange, and brown sugar.  It was news to me that Old Tavern Rat was named after the late, lamented Horse Brass owner Don Younger, who according to Lompoc owner Jerry Fechter used that nickname as his email address.

But in talking about the bourbon barrel aged version of Tavern Rat, Jerry said Don "would f***in' hate this beer".  Aged for 10 months in Heaven Hill barrels and cellared for a year after that, it definitely is not as balanced and approachable as the "normal" Tavern Rat (which is itself aged for nearly a year, just not in wooden barrels).  If you like lots of bourbon, vanilla, and oak in your barleywine, give it a whirl.  It's better as it warms towards room temperature, but given the choice I would still take the un-barreled version.  The bourbon-aged Old Tavern Rat is available in 22-ounce bottles this year, with John Foyston's oil painting of Don as the label art.

A far different tribute to Don is Russian River's Don the Younger, which is described as a hoppy session ale.  At 5.5%, I think it's a little out of the session range, but it is a lovely beer.  Lots of hop bitterness, on top of a bready malt base, it's both satisfying and drinkable.  Reviews on Beer Advocate tend to call out the floral hops, but I didn't find it to be especially floral.  Despite the name, it's certainly not in the same floral-hop category as Pliny the Younger, or even Pliny the Elder, and that's just fine.  The Horse Brass laid in 24 kegs of it last month on the occasion of the bar's 35th anniversary -- in fact the beer was commissioned by Don before his untimely death last year -- and as far as I know it is only available there and at Russian River's Santa Rosa pub.  If you haven't tried it yet, make a pilgrimage to the Brass and enjoy a pint or two.

Back to the Lompoc holiday beers.  Certainly the Tavern Rats are my favorites of the Lompoc holiday brews, but many of the others are also worthy.  The only two that I would avoid are the Brewdolph -- the yeast gave it overpowering clove and camphor notes that I don't care for at all -- and the Jolly Bock which tastes to me like it was not lagered long enough (it's a little gamey).  It's a shame about the Brewdolph -- the version last year that was partially aged in Cabernet Franc barrels was very charming.

For further reading, here are a bunch of reviews of the Lompoc lineup by local bloggers:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Your Thoughts on Holiday Beers

Deschutes Jubelale has been a special obsession of mine these nine winters I've spent in Portland, and this year's version is really good, seems better to me than the last couple years, not that they were bad.  (Jeff at Beervana has the inside scoop from Deschutes on why it's a little different this year -- and he disapproves of the change.)  The 2011 Sierra Nevada Celebration was tasty when I tried it a couple weeks ago.  Bridgeport's Raven Mad is a treat -- an imperial porter with part of it barrel-aged, only a hint of bourbon, which is a nice respite from the usual vanilla onslaught of similar beers.

But my favorite right now is Full Sail Wreck the Halls.  I've had it a few times on tap and on cask, and I'm really loving it right now.  Haven't had a bottle yet; maybe I'll just keep getting it fresh.

Everyone is talking/blogging about winter beers right now -- here's a local thread on Beer Advocate -- so it leads me to echo Sanjay's question:  what's your favorite holiday beer right now?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hair of the Dog Bottle Share at the Commons

As a sort of pre-func for Hair of the Dog's dock sale last weekend, there was a well-attended beer-geek bottle share Friday night at the new Commons Brewery (née Beetje) facility at SE 10th and Stephens.  The dock sales have traditionally inspired impromptu breakfasts and sharing of rare beers as people waited in line, but it's just not possible to do that at the new place at Water and Yamhill.  So HotD owner Alan Sprints looked around for a place to hold a party the night before, and Mike Wright generously opened the doors at Commons.

There were probably a couple hundred bottles opened and shared around: various Hair of the Dog vintages, unmarked homebrews, rare imports, and cult favorites like 3 Floyds Dark Lord Imperial Stout.  If you were standing in the right place at the right time, you might get a little pour of Dark Lord, or some 4-year-old Fred from the Wood, or something sour from Drie Fonteinen.  I brought the Rogue/Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple beer that I won a couple weeks ago -- a good thing to share since no one wants a big glass of that but most people would like to say they've tried it.  It was a little too sweet, but wasn't as bad as I'd heard and feared it would be -- actually it tasted a lot like a doughnut.  Definitely worth a try just for the fun of it.  To compensate for that somewhat whimsical entry, I also brought a Rahr and Sons bourbon-aged Winter Warmer that Portland Beer and Music founder Jason Wallace brought me from Texas.  Not that they need winter warmers down there, but it was a solid holiday ale with a nice whiskey/oak touch to it.

For most of us, it was our first look at the Commons.  I don't think the tasting room has regular hours yet, but a few taps were already hooked up, and barrels full of beer were scattered through the room.  There's a nice feeling to the place, and while I wish Mike had kept the funky, unpronounceable Beetje name, it's great to have a new brewery in the neighborhood.  His Belgian-inspired beers have all been very well-made so far, usually on the lower-alcohol end of the scale, and while there are some similarities with Upright's farmhouse line, there are enough differences to keep it interesting. Weekend tasting-room hours should begin before the end of the year.

I didn't have an extra $90 burning a hole in the pocket that made me want to stand in line for a six-pack of Adam from the Wood the next day at Hair of the Dog, though I might have been tempted by sub-$6 bottles of Bourbon Fred from the Wood if I'd known about them. There was a lot of grumbling on Beer Advocate about the poor organization of the sale.  While that's not a big surprise for a sale at Hair of the Dog, I do sympathize with people who were effectively punished for trying to pay with cash instead of plastic: apparently the credit card orders were collected up first, which had the effect that some platinum-plus people further back in line were able to buy Adam FTW ahead of those waving greenbacks around.  That's rather perverse, since card fees take a bite out of the brewery's haul.  But you should also read Jim Bonomo's hilarious rant -- complete with crybaby graphic -- that shows no sympathy for people complaining about the first-world problem of not being able to buy a few bottles of a rare and highly-prized beer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nice Lady Beer

If you've spent any time at all at Portland's 4-4-2 Soccer Bar, you've heard the Bosnian proprietor say "What can I get for nice lady?".  I've been flattered with the label "nice man" a few times when accompanied by my wife, and "nice people" gets a little bit of play, but you can be sure that every night is nice ladies' night at 4-4-2.

Thus it is both appropriate and amusing that 4-4-2 will soon have a house brew called Nice Lady Beer.  It's a pale ale brewed by Lompoc Brewing, and like everything in the place it will be served at a reasonable price in a marked half-liter mug.  The ceremonial first tapping is happening at the Soccer Bar this coming Saturday, November 19, 2011, at 7 PM.  You're invited, as long as you're nice.

Here are the details on Nice Lady Ale, from Lompoc brewer Zach Beckwith's blog:

Jerry is a regular at 4-4-2 and conceptualized a beer for them using 4 malts and 4 hop varieties then dry hopped with 2 more hop varieties, representing the typical alignment of a soccer team. Jerry and I decided on a hybrid between a pilsner and an American pale ale using our house yeast fermented at a lower temperature (similar to the process we used for PilzIPA last summer). I brewed the beer on Monday using NW pale, Vienna, Munich and light crystal malt and Perle, Saaz, Tettnang, and Cascade hops in the boil. The goal is to have a crisp and quaffable beer with spicy hop character and a big American hop aroma.

Dry-hopped lagered pale. Sounds tasty. Strong enough for a man, but... OK, I won't go there.

On a related note, since I've heard a few negative comments about the name of Boneyard's very tasty Girl Beer, I want to throw out a pre-emptive "lighten up" to anyone that might quibble with the name Nice Lady.  This isn't about trying to give something separate and less equal to the fairer sex, and it certainly isn't objectification.  I order a Girl Beer every time I see it on tap.  It's a very satisfying and delicious brew that could appeal to anyone, and I expect the same will be true of Nice Lady.  In this case, it's just a bit of self-deprecating humor on the part of the bar's owner.

The Girl Beer joke cuts both ways.  Someone told me a story recently about a customer that went up to the bar at Bailey's Taproom and asked what he should order, seeing as how he didn't usually care for microbrews.  Whoever was tending bar that night very helpfully and sincerely recommended Girl Beer to him. The guy thought his masculinity was being called into question and made an angry scene.  Not nice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recent Raffle Winnings

A couple weeks ago I went to see my daughter's junior roller derby bout at Oaks Park.  I bought some raffle tickets to support... well, not sure what it was supporting, but it must have been the grown-up roller derby and not the kids because the prize was a bag of Pabst swag:  the T-shirt, socks, and mittens (!) in the picture, along with some other junk like koozies and stickers.  Oh yeah, and a tube of New Belgium lip balm.  Classy.

The next weekend when the Beermongers held their charity glassware swap, I bought a raffle ticket, hoping to win the magnum of Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous CDA.  Didn't win that, but I did win the pretty pink bottle of Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple beer.  I had been wanting to try that, but I was unwilling to spring the $13 or $14 bucks it's going for.  So it was nice to win.

I was on such a streak that I could hardly believe it when I didn't win any of the old Celebrations in the raffle at Woodstock Wine and Deli's Celebration vertical last weekend.  Oh well. I did win some money at poker later that evening, so maybe I'll find a way to win something this weekend and keep the streak alive.

Speaking of roller derby, isn't it a shame that such a Portlandish activity is owned by Pabst and New Belgium instead of a hometown brewery?  Those were the only beers for sale at the Oaks Park Derby Barn -- at least the tasty Ranger IPA was one of the choices -- maybe because they're in cans, but surely a keg of something local could be brought in.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sierra Nevada Celebration Vertical Tasting 2011

Saturday my friend Lindsey and I took advantage of a break in the rain and biked over to Woodstock Wine and Deli for WWD's annual vertical tasting of Sierra Nevada Celebration.  I had always been intrigued by the event but never attended, so I was happy to get in on that. Every table in the place was full, but it was never more crowded than that during the time we were there, so the atmosphere was busy and exciting without being uncomfortable.

Celebration is a wonderful beer, the progenitor of the Hoppy Holiday Ale category, though it ticks me off that Sierra Nevada put the misleading tag "Fresh Hop Ale" on Celebration's label again this year when the beer only contains dried hops.  Remember, dried hops are NOT fresh hops, despite SN's wacky definition of "fresh" as dried and shipped within 7 days.  Nevertheless, it is a delicious beer if you like lots of hops and lots of malt, and this year's batch really hit the spot with me.

It seems slightly odd to age a beer known mainly for its hop character, but you'd be surprised how well the hop flavor held up in some of the older batches, and it does give you a glimpse of the year-to-year variation in the hops, since the beer's recipe is the same every year.  WWD tapped kegs from seven consecutive years:  2005-2011.  For the most part, I preferred the newer batches in the tasting, though for some reason the odd-numbered years stood out over the even-numbered ones (Lindsey called this "reverse Star Trek movie ranking"):
  • 2011: hoppy and clean
  • 2009: hoppy with some oxidation
  • 2005: hoppy and surprisingly flowery still
  • 2010: hoppy and piney
  • 2007: hoppy and a hint of maple
  • 2008: hoppy and malty with more oxidation than '09
  • 2006: hoppy but it's gone around the bend
I was surprised at how much I liked the oldest beer in the bunch, the 2005, which still had more floral hop notes than I got from the other years.  The 2006 was a dog:  interestingly, way back at the 2007 tasting Dave Selden also panned the '06; reporting on last year's tasting, Lisa Morrison found that the 2005 was off but she enjoyed the 2006.  Go figure.  Among people I talked to at the tasting Saturday, there was a lot of love for the 2008 and 2007 vintages, though they were pretty low on my list.  That's one reason I've been cutting back on my cellaring activities -- you can't go wrong with fresh beer, and there is definitely a tipping point after which even the biggest beer is too old, though the tasty 2005 Celebration shows that it's still a worthwhile experiment to age a few old favorites.

By the way, Woodstock Wine and Deli is an interesting place to shop for bottled beer.  They hide a few beers away and shelve the vintages later at random times.  Saturday there were bottles of Celebration as far back as 1996 for sale; on previous visits I've seen bottles of Bridgeport's Old Knucklehead from the 90's as well.  Even if you don't find that special bottle, they always have three or four decent beers on tap.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Changes Coming to Captain Ankeny's

When I first arrived in Portland in 2003, Captain Ankeny's Well at SW 3rd and Ash had a reputation as one of the best beer bars in its part of town.  Even in 2011, its beer selection is respectable, twenty decent taps from around the Northwest, always including a few seasonals from the likes of  Deschutes or Full Sail.  But our idea of "best beer bar" has been changed in recent years by new places like Bailey's Taproom, the Green Dragon, and Apex, so Captain Ankeny's has lost some of its beer appeal.  Another thing that has changed is Portland's concept of cheap food.  Ankeny's trade in pizza slices and sandwiches has been hammered by all the food carts in that end of downtown -- case in point, the Big Ass Sandwiches cart directly across the street.

Business has been tough, and so it is that Ankeny's will soon go under the knife for a remodel.  Its focus will shift from beer-and-cheap-eats to a more nightlife-oriented entertainment venue.  Weekday lunches are out, and a new split-level floorplan will allow room for a couple of stages and smaller bar areas, which probably means a smaller, more mainstream beer selection.  A new name is part of the rebranding, but I haven't yet heard what that name will be.  If you were ever a fan of Captain Ankeny's Well, drop in soon for a last pint.

Dave coaxed me over there last week for lunch.  For years it was his regular Friday lunch spot, but changing circumstances -- kids mostly -- pretty much broke him of the habit.  Several years ago he did a project for Ankeny's, building the wooden base for a display of old tap handles.  It's worth a trip to the pub just to see that museum piece before the remodel takes it out -- there's lots of history there.  Some of the handles are from defunct breweries like Grant's, Star, Umpqua, Thomas Kemper, Yamhill... well, I shouldn't belabor the point.  Others tout discontinued beers that were before my time:  Bridgeport Coho Pacific, Widmer Blonde, Full Sail Black Lager (hmm...).  Still others are so obscure that the Google couldn't help me figure out who brewed them:  anyone know who made beers called Sauvie Island Pale Ale or Chinook Coffee?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

(Good) Brettanomyces in Wine

The last paragraph of this post last week in Lambic and Wild Ale points out an interesting paradox about the slow-growing but tenacious yeast strain known as brettanomyces:

Brewing with brettanomyces, or even 100% brettanomyces, is now quite popular in craft beer brewing. In wine making, brettanomyces is considered a “fault,” even among many natural wine makers. ... I have tasted a number of wines where the presence of brettanomyces was unmistakable — in some wines I agree that it impoverished the wine, in others I think it positively amplified the dark, brooding, and rustic character of the wine. As far as I am aware, unlike beer drinkers, wine drinkers never express an explicit liking for brettanomyces.

You know how wine bottles are usually marked with the warning "Contains Sulfites"? That's all about brett: sulfur is applied in the vineyard to reduce its growth, and wooden barrels that wine is aged in are fumigated with sulfur dioxide to keep it from hiding in the wood. Almost every article written about Russian River's brett-slinging brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo -- ironically a former winemaker -- mentions the antipathy of vintners towards brettanomyces (here's one that's larded with such anecdotes).

On the beer side, all the cool kids are doing brett.  It's a bit more nuanced than that:  sour-beer powerhouse Cascade Brewing doesn't intentionally use brettanomyces, though they've served up beer that caught a dose from a wanton barrel; similarly, though Deschutes dabbles with brett in some sour ales, they have also offered to buy back 2009 bottles of Abyss and Mirror Mirror, many of which are apparently unintentionally tainted with brettanomyces.  And brett's beer history is not restricted to avant garde Belgian-style sour beers:  before the funky yeast had a name, 110 years ago, its musky flavors were apparently prized in British Pale Ales -- which today we think of as very clean, straightforward beers.

To get back to the original point, it strikes me as strange that sour beers -- many innoculated with brett -- are often touted as a way to get wine lovers interested in beer, whereas brett influence is usually considered an off flavor in wine.  In the quote above, Aschwin hypothesizes that wine drinkers don't explicitly appreciate brettanomyces.  Is that just because they aren't aware of what causes certain earthy flavors in wines they like?  You could easily imagine that the lingering taboo against brett in wine circles would keep its presence from being acknowledged.  That may be changing, though.  Read this 2003 article from a wine magazine about brettanomyces: it includes an interesting story about a collector who sent samples of two vintages of Château de Beaucastel to a lab which confirmed that they both contained a great deal of brett.  Apparently the infected vintages had a complexity that appealed to a lot of wine connoisseurs.

In the article on Brettanomyces on Wikipedia -- sorry to play that card, but bear with me -- brett is mentioned as an important part of the character of two wines: Château de Beaucastel mentioned above, and Château Musar.  Beaucastel is a well-respected Châteauneuf du Pâpe from France's Rhône Valley; Musar is an obscure wine from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.  I'm not a big wine drinker, but I actually have tried several very nice vintages of Château Musar's red wine, thanks to a wine-loving friend of Middle Eastern descent who is a big fan.  It's a fascinating wine with a beautiful light red hue, slightly dry but not tannic, and a fruit flavor unlike anything else in my limited wine experience.  When I last tried it a few years ago, I knew nothing of brettanomyces, but now I wonder if that contributed to the unique flavor.  My friend's assertion that vintages less than 10 years old were not ready to drink may be more evidence that slow-growing brett is an important part of Musar's profile.

If you're interested in exploring brettanomyces in wine, I see Château Beaucastel on the shelf all the time in Portland, though you might want to cellar it a while to get the most effect.  As for Château Musar, Ya Hala Lebanese restaurant at SE 80th and Stark had it on their wine list as recently as six years ago, though they wouldn't admit to having any the last few times I've been there.  At about that time, my friend bought a case of Musar at Vinopolis downtown, so you might be able to find it in better wine shops, though again, it's best after 10 years or so.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Black Raven Brewing, Redmond, WA

On my recent trip to the Seattle area, I stayed in Redmond with my old college buddy Jesus, who's on a job there for a few months.  The suburbs don't hold the same charm as other Seattle neighborhoods, but that doesn't mean good beer isn't to be had.  Northwest brewing pioneer Mac and Jacks is located in Redmond, as is the up-and-coming Black Raven Brewing.  The weather was nice, so on Saturday evening we walked about a mile from Jesus' apartment to the Black Raven tasting room to check out the beers there.

From the outside, you wonder why you came to a nondescript office park in search of a beer.  Inside, however, the atmosphere is very relaxing:  soft, warm lighting, lots of wood and stone, a couple of bars and lots of tables spread through a few small rooms.  There's no kitchen: bring your own food or have pizza delivered from a joint nearby.  They also served free bowls of peanuts in the shell -- I like the way Washington tasting rooms give you some free bar snacks. The place was full right up until closing time, but not overcrowded. They were playing good reggae at a conversational level on the stereo all night -- more Burning Spear and Culture than Bob Marley -- which suited me very fine, though one of the bartenders conceded he gets a little tired of it.

While we were enjoying our Black Raven brews, one of the brewers -- the dapper Keil Anderson (in the photo) -- was showing a couple of his friends the brewhouse and barrel room.  I insinuated myself into the field trip, and was impressed with the various barrel experiments they have going on.  They even had a fermenter stewing away with some brettanomyces.  Since I was still in the throes of fresh hop mania, I was disappointed to hear that Black Raven wasn't able to do a fresh hop beer this year: the grower they planned to get the green hops from brought his crops in early, but neglected to tell the brewery about it in time to get them into the planned brew.

Over a couple hours Jesus and I ran through everything Black Raven had on tap that night -- from memory (since I foolishly forgot to photograph the chalkboard or write anything down) an IPA, a pale, a brown porter, a stout, a barleywine, a scotch ale, and a black lager.  Our favorite of the evening was the scotch ale:  hearty without being too sweet, and just a little smoky.  The barleywine was an excellent nightcap, the porter was very quaffable, and everything else we tried was well done, though the nitro stout I started out with was a little forgettable.  The tasting room is open most days 3 PM to 10 PM, opening at noon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Keep an eye on Black Raven:  they've only been brewing for a couple years, but they're a big hit in Seattle right now and they're looking to grow.  Further reading:  this month's Northwest Brewing News has an article on Black Raven.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fremont Brewing Company, Seattle

A couple of weekends ago when I went up to Seattle for the Fresh Hop Throwdown, I spent Friday evening running around with Chris, a Seattle beer friend once known as The Beer Retard, who has moved up in the world by getting out of the beer blogging hobby.  My Seattle beer credentials are so weak that it was easy to think of crucial places that I hadn't been to before.  We were on our way from Elysian Fields near the train station to Bottleworks in Wallingford when Chris suggested that we stop at the Fremont Brewing Company tasting room, despite the possibility of having to dodge the unattended ankle-biters of our fellow imbibers.

There only ended up being a couple of toddlers in attendance, sliding around in a small spill of beer next to a neighboring table as their oblivious parents rolled their toys into it again and again.  The warehouse space -- I called it a tasting room, but Fremont calls it the Urban Beer Garden -- consists of a long communal table with kegs for seats, a padded bench lining one wall, and a few small tables with custom upholstered booths backed up against the brewery's fermenters.  The tables were nearly full, but we found room to sit on the bench.  Since we were on a fresh hop mission, it was good to see Fremont's Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Pale on tap, though if had arrived half an hour later we would have missed it.  It was decent, growing so much on me as it warmed that later at Bottleworks I bought a bomber of it to take back to Portland.

Besides the fresh hop, there Fremont was pouring a standard lineup of the usual beer styles, plus a gravity-poured cask of the week -- when we were there it was a stout flavored with chocolate mint.  We were on our way elsewhere, but I haven't had good luck with mint beers recently so I didn't even consider a glass of that. 

The Urban Beer Garden hours are pretty sparse: it's open Thursday and Friday from 4 PM to 8 PM, Saturday 12 to 8, and Sunday from noon to 6.  You can bring your own food, or cleanse your palate with free pretzels.  Kids and dogs are allowed.  Relaxed, friendly neighborhood vibe -- I will definitely visit again if I'm in the area during opening hours.

Fremont also opens at 10 AM every weekday for retail sales:  bombers are $3.75 and up, or swap out your empty growler for a full one for $8.  That's a refreshing growler price, $9 six-pack equivalent.  I would take home more growlers at that price: with most Portland growlers starting at $10, it's been at least a year since I got one filled.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Thoughts on Alcohol Counseling

This is a weird question that I hope doesn't sound like a cry for help.  Do you have any good recommendations for alcohol counseling?

It's this friend of mine... No, actually, it's this blog itself.  The page on It's Pub Night that gets Googled the most -- I'm going to describe it obliquely so that the hits keep going there and not to this post -- is this one that describes a bad interaction between a common store-bought headache remedy and the intoxicant found in beer (click the link if that's too confusing).

What does that have to do with alcohol counseling?  Because that post comes up in a lot of (possibly remorseful) web searches, I got an offer earlier this year to insert paid text links into it, pointing to a website that purports to find you help with substance abuse.  It was easy to turn down the offer, because the website carefully obscured who was behind it, putting the ball in your court to either telephone them or send them your personal info.  On one level or another it was obviously a scam and not a professional service.  At best it would mechanically hand you off to someone in that line of work in exchange for a finder's fee; at worst it is a phishing operation.  No way to tell.

But it put the idea in my mind that I could put links to reputable rehabs or counseling services on my oft-searched page.  It would be purely a public service, not a paid advertisement, but only if I can find links that would truly be helpful to someone who wanted help with a drinking problem.

Got any recommendations?  Or is my whole idea ridiculous?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seattle Fresh Hop Throwdown 2011

Fresh hop beers have exploded in Portland the last few years, and they are also catching on more and more in our sister city of Seattle.  This past Saturday, Geoff Kaiser of Seattle Beer News (he's also a regular columnist at NW Brewing News) curated 15 fresh hop beers for a mini-festival at The Noble Fir, a relatively new tavern in the Ballard neighborhood.  The place quickly filled up, and had a line running down the block.  There were eight beers from Washington and seven beers from Oregon, so before the doors opened about a dozen beer mavens from the two states took part in a blind tasting to choose the best of the lot -- and to decide which state turned out the best fresh hop beers.

Oregon won the blind tasting decisively.  Scoring out of 25, where anything above 13 was a good beer, and 19 and above indicated a good showcase for fresh hops, the Oregon beers averaged 16.2 vs. 15.7.  That's hardly a landslide, but the top four beers went to a second round of judging for best in show, and Oregon beers took gold, silver, and bronze:
  1. Laurelwood Fresh Hop Cavalry IPA
  2. Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond
  3. Double Mountain Killer Red
Fourth place was taken by a Washington beer:  Two Beers Fresh Hop Ale.  I wasn't involved in the final best-of-show judging, so of the four finalists, I only scored Double Mountain and Two Beers.  If it's any consolation to fans of Washington beer, I preferred the Two Beers to the Killer Red, though both were excellent.  Afterward I did have my first taste of the Laurelwood Cavalry.  I had been hearing good things about it from people who had already tried it in Portland, and it was indeed a top-tier fresh-hopper.

The other beers that were poured at the throwdown were:
  • Oakshire Triune
  • Iron Horse Fresh Hop Loco Red
  • Schooner Exact Fresh Hop IPA
  • Full Sail Hopfenfrisch Pilsner
  • Snipes Mountain The Hooch
  • Seven Seas Hop Prophet
  • Hopworks Give Me Liberty...
  • Ninkasi Fresh Hop Tricerahops
  • Big Al Harvest Ale
  • Big Time Fresh Hop Bhagwan's Best
  • Paradise Creek Alpha Madness
On that list, I judged the six from Oakshire down to Seven Seas, and that's the order in which I had them scored (after Two Beers and Double Mountain).  I foolishly left the bar before the festival opened for real and was then stuck outside because of the crowd, so sadly I missed trying the last three Washington beers.  Still, it was a great experience, and I am grateful to Geoff for inviting me to take part.  Further reading: Geoff's official report on the Throwdown.

If you're not familiar with the Noble Fir, it's a nice place that's worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.  Fifteen beer taps, plus two nitro taps, and a pretty good selection of bottles; no kids allowed.  The food menu consists of small plates, including vegan options:  you can pick an assortment of 3, 5, or 7 items for $10, $15, or $20 respectively (if I remember right), which seems pretty reasonable.  It's not reflected in the name, but there is a travel theme to the restaurant:  one wall is lined with travel books and laminated maps for your reading pleasure while you're having a beer or some snacks.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Beer Festival Prices Keep Going Up

A couple weeks ago, I thought the Hood River Hops Festival was a little cheeky for charging $6 for an empty plastic mug; then the obligatory pint glass at the Oaks Park Fresh Hops Fest was $8.  The pint glass was nicer to drink from and more of a keepsake than a plastic mug; ditto the $8 tulip glass at the recent Beermongers 2nd Anniversary.  Either way, $6 or $8 seems like a pretty steep price for entry, though looking into it more, Hood River was just following the lead of the Oregon Brewers Festival, which has charged $6 for their plastic mugs for at least the last couple of years.

So I was a little floored to realize that the $25 entrance fee at the upcoming Holiday Ale Festival -- for a mug and 8 tickets -- effectively means that your plastic mug costs you $17!  HAF prices have been steadily climbing: last year the mug penalty was $15, up from $10 in 2009 and 2008, and $5 in 2007.  I guess I am going to have to add a festival category to the Portland Beer Price Index.

There has been some beer-geek discussion around Portland about how maybe the big festivals should raise the entry price to help keep the crowds smaller, but now that I'm faced with the reality of a $17 entry fee, I wonder if I agree with that.  It would be convenient to blame Mr. Alworth -- here's a Holiday fest write-up from 2007 where he hints that higher prices might thin the crowds.  But that wouldn't be fair:  the Mighty Mites small beer festival that Jeff helped organize in August charged an entry fee of $0 and encouraged attendees to bring their own mug from some other festival.

Now the big question on my mind is whether I will see Jim from Portland Beer and Music at the HAF.  He has a thing against drinking fancy beer from plastic cups.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Westvleteren vs. St. Bernardus

One of these things is not like the others...
Disclaimer: this tasting didn't go how I wanted it to.  Not the results, the tasting itself.

A few weeks ago there was a multi-birthday party at the home of our friends Brett and Debbie.  Since lots of our beer-loving crowd was going to be there, I decided it was time to trot out the bottles of Westvleteren 8 and 12 (one of each) that I brought back from Belgium this summer.

To make it more interesting, I decided to make it a blind tasting, comparing the Westy 12 with St. Bernardus Abt 12.  Westvleteren 12 is one of the world's rarest and most sought-after beers: it is only distributed at the Abbey St. Sixtus where it is produced.  St. Bernardus is very easy to find: I bought the bottle for this tasting for $4 at the CVS on East Burnside.  The two beers are often compared to one another, and have some history in common.  I had tried them side-by-side in Amsterdam, but I knew which was which, so I was probably biased in favor of the rarer, more expensive Westvleteren.  This blind tasting -- with a lot of experienced palates -- would be a great experiment.

But the best laid schemes go oft awry, and so it was with this tasting.  See the bottlecaps in the picture?  I popped the blue bottlecap from the bottle of St. Bernardus and poured some samples into small glasses, and then popped the Westvleteren bottle with the blue bottlecap and divided up that beer.  Westvleteren bottles don't have paper labels, so the bottlecap was my indication of which style was in each bottle.  In my excitement about what a fun tasting this would be I let the color fool me instead of reading the numbers, which means that instead of comparing two similar quadrupels, I had pitted  Abt 12 against the dubbel Westy 8 -- also a fine beer, but quite a bit subtler than the 12.  I didn't realize the mistake until all the glasses had been passed around and drained, and I went to open the third bottle as Act Two of my show and tell.  "OK, now try the Westvleteren eigh... uh oh."

Not too surprisingly, the Abt 12 handily defeated the Westy 8 in the blind tasting, 5 votes to 2 -- hey, a couple of people enjoyed the more subtle pleasures of the dubbel, anyway.  Before I knew about the mix-up, I was perplexed by how different the Westvleteren was than my memory of it from a few weeks earlier.  And I was even more disappointed because the Abt 12 seemed a little cloying to me that day, not worthy to knock off such a sought-after beer.

We did share the Westy 12 around after that.  It was as spectacular as I remembered it being, and in my opinion was better than a 3 year-old Westy 12 that Angelo generously shared with a few people back in August.  Cellaring beer is fun, but sometimes your best bet is to drink things fresh.  At the party, I think most of us agreed that the Westvleteren 12 was indeed a notch above the St. Bernardus.  But by then the damage had been done -- it wasn't a blind tasting anymore.

Almost forgot to mention: it was this tweet by Matt at that inspired me to finally write this up!

Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Fresh Hop Tastival Checklist

Fresh hops, click, fresh hops, click, fresh hops... Yes, I am a broken record at this time of year.  It's just that the beers are so good, so special, and so fleeting, that it becomes something of an obsession.

The Oregon Brewer's Guild/Oregon Bounty Portland Fresh Hop Tastival takes place tomorrow (Saturday, October 8, 2011) at Oaks Park, noon to 8 PM.  Scroll past the confusing east-is-up map on this page to see the beer list.  Kids are allowed, and if the weather is nice -- unlike last year -- the picnic area just outside the festival building is a great place to mingle in the fresh air.  As with any beer festival, the earlier you can arrive, the happier you'll be.  There is usually drinking water available, but the most convenient option is usually to bring your own.

There are still some entries on the Tastival list that I haven't tried yet, even after the Hood River Hops Fest and several weeks of trying an average of one new fresh hop beer a day.  So I'll be out there trying to fill in those blanks.  Meanwhile, here's my updated list of 2011 fresh hop beers, divided into these four categories:  fresh-hop beers you must try; beers that show off fresh hops well enough; beers that are really good but where I didn't really notice much fresh hop flavor; finally, beers to avoid.  The ones that will be available at Oaks Park this weekend are marked with "(Oaks)". [Update 2011/10/08: and new ones I tried at Oaks Park are marked with italic "(Oaks)".]

  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond (Oaks)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Twilight Ale
  • Full Sail Lupulin (with Tettnanger hops) (Oaks)
  • Breakside Fresh Hop IPA
  • Laurelwood Cavalry IPA
  • The Commons Fresh Hop Farmhouse (Oaks)
  • Big Horse Vernon the Rabbit Slayer
  • Elysian Kama Citra
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Sezoen (Oaks)
  • Two Beers The Fresh Hop
  • Alameda Citronix (Oaks)
  • Double Mountain Killer Red
  • New Belgium Fresh Hop IPA
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest (Oaks)
  • Laurelwood Laurelfest Vienna Lager (Oaks)
  • Deschutes Hop Trip (Oaks)
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Mac's Amber (Oaks)
  • Coalition Green Pig (Oaks)
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Free Range Red (Oaks) 
  • Green Dragon (OBC) Sophie Harvest Ale (Oaks)  
  • Ft. George CoHoporative Ale
  • Terminal Gravity Wild Wild Wet 
Good fresh hop beers:
  • Full Sail Lupulin (with Magnum hops) (Oaks)
  • Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop (Oaks)
  • Ninkasi Tricerarillo (Oaks)
  • Hopworks Fest of Fury (Oaks)
  • Widmer Liberty Fresh Hop Lager (Oaks)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Inversion IPA
  • Pelican Elemental Ale (Oaks)
  • Migration 69 Pound Perle (Oaks)
  • Fremont Brewing Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Pale
  • Oakshire Triune Wet Hop Pale Ale (Oaks)
  • Everybody's Brewing Head Stash Pale Ale
  • Iron Horse Fresh Hop Loco Red 
  • Schooner Exact Fresh Hop IPA
  • Full Sail Hopenfrisch Pilsner (Oaks)
  • Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale
  • Lucky Lab The Mutt (Oaks)
  • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest (Oaks)
  • McMenamin's Thundercone (Oaks)
  • Cascade Lakes Harvest Ale (Oaks)
Tasty beers, not much fresh-hop flavor:
  • Full Sail Lupulin (with Centennial hops) (Oaks)
  • Breakside Fresh Hop CDA
  • Long Brewing Fresh Hop IPA #1
  • Port Brewing High Tide IPA
  • Double Mountain Killer Green (Oaks)
  • Hopworks Give me Liberty... (Oaks)
  • Lompoc Crystal Missile (Oaks)
  • Cascade Fresh Hop Porter (Oaks)
  • Old Market Nugget IPA (Oaks)
  • Snipes Mountain The Hooch 
  • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (Oaks)
  • Upright Hits from the Vine (Oaks)
  • Gilgamesh Fresh Prince 
  • Big Horse Red Fang
  • Seven Seas Hop Prophet
  • Seven Brides Fresh Hop Emily's Ember (Oaks)
  • Coalition Liquid Sterling (Oaks)
  • Beer Valley Fresh Hop Leafer Madness (Oaks) 
  • Gilgamesh Fresh Hop Double IPA
  • Ft. George Fresh Hop Vortex IPA (Oaks)
  • Burnside Nuggets with Attitude (Oaks)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Chainbreaker White IPA
  • Lucky Lab Reaperweizen (Oaks)
  • Portland U-Brew King Harvest (Oaks) 
  • Philadelphia's Willamette in the Rye (Oaks) 

Of course, those are just my opinions, and your mileage may vary. But if you see something in the top two categories that ordinarily you would have skipped, give it a try at the Tastival or around town. A good example is the Fresh Hop Mac's Amber. The last couple years it hasn't been too exciting, and I had low expectations this time since Mac's excellent head brewer Vasili Gletsos jumped to Laurelwood earlier in the year, but the 2011 batch of Fresh Hop Mac's is really outstanding.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hood River Hops Fest 2011

Early autumn in the Northwest is marked by the return of the rain and drastically shorter days, but brings with it a special compensation: beer flavored with fresh hops.  The Hood River Hops Fest kicks off a series of fresh hop beer festivals around Oregon each year, and I was glad to finally make it the HRHF for the first time last Saturday.  The weather could not have been nicer, the crowd was bustling but manageable, and there were some very nicely done beers on tap.

There were 38 fresh hop beers offered up, and I had already slimmed down the task ahead of me by scouting out 16 of them around Portland in the couple of weeks that the fresh stuff has been out. I also cut a few corners by skipping Portland breweries that I knew I could easily catch up with if I didn't get to those beers at a festival. Even so, the taps started drying up mid-afternoon, and I missed out on a couple of beers that I intended to try: Pelican Elemental Ale and Beer Valley Fresh Hop Leafer Madness. Those are pretty popular numbers, and both are bottled in limited quantities, so I expect to track them down somehow or another. Is it just a coincidence that these are also the two breweries that give me so much trouble every time I go to compile the Portland Beer Price Index?

My favorites of the day were:
  • Big Horse Vernon the Rabbit Slayer -- giant double IPA, with a beautiful flowery hop flavor
  • Elysian Kama Citra -- awesome, very fresh flavor
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Sezoen -- very different take on fresh hops, nice apricot flavor
  • Double Mountain Killer Red -- malty red ale with good fresh hop presence
  • Ft. George CoHoporative Ale -- great orange blossom hops (lots of Centennials?)
Double Mountain's Killer Green is a yearly favorite, though I tend to complain that the fresh hop greenness gets buried under the massive bitterness, so I was looking forward to trying this year's and comparing it to Killer Red, which I don't recall seeing before.  Killer Red is just as massive, but to my mind does show off the fresh hops better, even though it's built on a darker, roastier beer.

I was a little disappointed in Ninkasi's Total Crystallization -- Total Domination with fresh Crystal hops.  Last year it was stunning, and really a breakthrough for Ninkasi, who had always come up surprisingly short at fresh hop time.  This year it was nicely bitter, with a pleasant grassiness, but not up to the level of last year's.  Their Fresh Hop Tricerarillo had a little more going for it, but could still be better.

There was one disaster at the festival:  Lucky Lab's Reaperweizen, which was either infected or had something else strange going on with it.  A couple weeks ago I had an early taste of Reaperweizen, and it seemed promising at that time, so I don't know what happened in the meantime to it.

The Hood River Hops Festival was a great time; if you've never been, consider going next year.  As with every festival, early is better, as some of the buzz beers were gone in just a few short hours, and by about 7 PM very few of the 52 beer lines were still flowing.

The Portland Fresh Hop Tastival is coming up this Saturday, October 8, 2011 at Oaks Park, 12 - 8 PM (there is also a sneak preview Friday night from 5:30 to 8:30).  I've updated the Fresh Hop 2011 Progress Report with my opinions from the Hood River Festival -- when the Oaks Park taplist is published I'll probably put up another progress report annotating the beers that will be on tap Saturday.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tonight: Lompoc Monster Mash Release Party

[Editor's Note:  Meet It's Pub Night's newest guest bloggers, Brian and Sharon!  I've been begging them for weeks to write something for the blog, and here they are.  You may have already met them at Portland beer events, and in addition to being great people, Brian is a local Beer Advocate linchpin (msubulldog25), a relentless festival volunteer, and BA's BeerFly Guide for Oregon.  They attended a preview of Lompoc's Monster Mash Release Party this week, and submitted this post about the beers that will be available there.  The Monster Mash Release Party is tonight, Friday Sept. 30, 2011, 4 - 11 PM at the Lompoc 5th Quadrant Sidebar.]

When we were first invited to this event, we thought “Lompoc is solid… sure, why not.” Then we saw the line up: their beloved Monster Mash Imperial Porter, a Condor Pale fermented in bourbon barrels with sour cherries, a 2008 Belgian-style Golden?!... Say no more, count us in! Considering our palates are often polar opposites, we decided to taste these independently and compare notes after the fact. Let’s see how they stack up, in the order they were tasted:

Flamingo – Condor Pale Ale fermented in bourbon barrels with 35 lbs. of sour cherries. (5.2%):

Brian: (one I rarely order…). Brewed with cherries and aged in bourbon barrels, the result is a reasonable tartness, a hazy rosy appearance and surprisingly sweet and rather light-bodied beer. Easy to drink.

Sharon: Big bourbon at the front. The carbonation reminded me of a dry, Belgian champagne style. Slightly sour, not overwhelming. Without knowing the details, its darker color led me to expect something heavy and syrupy like a quad, but it was light and refreshing.

Monster Mash – Imperial Porter (8.1%): an annual hodgepodge of leftover ingredients which was described by the brewers as ‘great’ some years, and somewhat ‘undrinkable’ in others. Not a glowing endorsement by a brewer, but refreshingly honest.

Brian: Poured into a large teardrop. Big and darkly roasted , fudgy chocolate and dark coffee. A tiny bit hot, sweetness without a great deal of complexity – but that’s not bad, as it helps with drinkability. Hardly seems 8+%, extremely smooth.

Sharon: Goes down easy for a big beer, almost too easy. Strong malty flavor, but tasted more like coffee than chocolate for me. For a second, I thought I was drinking a stout. Regardless, MMmmmmmm, pass me another.

Bourbon barreled Monster Mash – Barrel aged for 1 year in 2009, bottled since Aug 2010.

Brian: Mellow, with a latent boozy warmth, vanilla and sweet wood. Looks still, feels silky.

Sharon: Wow, of the two, I prefer this. The big bourbon flavor really brought out the chocolate. This would be my perfect after-dinner winter beer.

Mon Cheri – Belgian-style golden ale brewed in Jan 2008 (6.4%)

Brian: I don’t recall there being any fruit added, but the end result was mildly citrusy and berry-sweetened with a heavy ‘cereal’ graininess. Not bad, but seemed past its prime. Fun to try, though maybe not a keg that benefitted from the extra cellar time.

Sharon: Je t’aime! The Belgian Golden is currently my favorite style and this was truly my darling of the evening. A little tart, it was sweet but not syrupy and, for me, had a floral nose. For a beer that was aged 3 years, it was incredibly complex yet balanced.

Bierz Brown – Dark brown ale (5.3%): an ‘unfinished’ creation by newest brewer, Irena Bierzynski. To be bottled this Friday.

Brian: A sessionable and rather tasty brown, full of cocoa and roasted nutshells and an ever-so-slight tartness. Only distributed at Lompoc pubs.

Sharon: While still a bit young, this malty, session beer went down easy and I could see it pairing well with food, especially in the Fall. Speaking of young, this is a first time brew by Lompoc’s newest addition, Irena “Brew Ha Ha” Bierzynski. She’s a recent Lewis & Clark grad/chemistry major and after hearing how she came to be at Lompoc, it’s clear she’s passionate about brewing and this is just the start to a bright future for her.

Steaming California – Steam beer brewed with an American Pils yeast strain fermented at ale temps. (5%)

Brian: Steam beers aren’t a style I’m all that familiar with. Since we were trying these out of order and were growing more sociable by this time, this final beer was deemed ‘spicy… a little dry… crisp and fruity’ according to my notes. That’s all I’ve got.

Sharon: solid, but the strong flavors of the other beers overpowered it, leaving it forgettable.

C-Note – Brewed with 7 “C” hops: Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus, and Challenger. Clocks in at 100 IBUs. (6.9%)

Brian: Prior to pouring, brewers Jerry Fechter and Dave Fleming tossed around the story of C-Note’s origins. Apparently the first version, crafted in 1991 – for the Horse Brass Pub’s 25th Anniversary, was a result of brewers aiming to outdo each other; the final product was an ‘all C hops’ beer that was pretty much unheard of at the time. That C-Note recipe is now the winter favorite, C-Sons Greetings. This ain’t too shabby – no notes, just a lovely hop-intense mouthful.

Sharon: “How big is yours?” In PDX, IPA’s = Dick wars. Originally a huge IPA now called C-sons Greetings, C-Note was retooled to be a smaller, more lunchtime friendly brew. Seeing as I’m not a hophead, it helped that I had a few beers to warm me up and dull my taste buds – 100 IBUs is no joke. That said, it was quite tasty. I ended on this and yes, 6.9% is just big enough for this girl.

Many thanks to Lompoc for showing us a good time! It was a fun way to spend a Tuesday night, hanging out with other beer geeks and hearing the brewers talk firsthand about how their beers were created. We’re definitely looking forward to the Crystal Missile at the Hops Fest this weekend.

Further reading about tonight's Monster Mash party:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fresh Hop 2011 Progress Report

The 2011 Hood River Hops Festival is Saturday (October 1), and I'm going to make it over there for the first time. Maybe the hops are always greener on the other side of Gresham, but it always seemed to me like the beer list was a little nicer for the Hood River festival than for the followup fresh-hop festival in Portland (this year's is at Oaks Park again, on next Saturday, October 8). Ezra published the Hood River taplist yesterday -- it looks pretty good.

Meanwhile, I've been on my yearly quest to try a new fresh-hop beer every day.  I missed Monday, which would have been the 15th day in a row, because foolish overindulgence Sunday left me with no appetite for beer that day.  Maybe I'll cut myself some slack and count one of the earlier days when I tried two new fresh-hop beers as a reasonable substitute for Monday.

Since the festivals are cranking up, I'll give you my progress report on the beers I've tried so far this season.  I'll put them into four categories:  fresh-hop beers you must try; beers that show off fresh hops well enough; beers that are really good but where I didn't really notice much fresh hop flavor; finally, beers to avoid.  The ones that will be available at Hood River this weekend are marked with "(HR)".  [Update 2011/10/03: I've added in the beers I tried Saturday at Hood River, marked with italicized "(HR)".]

  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond (HR)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Twilight Ale
  • Full Sail Lupulin (with Tettnanger hops) (HR?)
  • Breakside Fresh Hop IPA (HR)
  • Big Horse Vernon the Rabbit Slayer (HR)
  • Elysian Kama Citra (HR)
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Sezoen (HR)
  • Double Mountain Killer Red (HR)
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest (HR)
  • Laurelwood Laurelfest Vienna Lager (HR)
  • Deschutes Hop Trip (HR)
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Mac's Amber (HR)
  • Ft. George CoHoporative Ale (HR)
Good fresh hop beers:
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop (HR)
  • Ninkasi Tricerarillo (HR)
  • Hopworks Fest of Fury (HR)
  • Widmer Liberty Fresh Hop Lager (HR)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Inversion IPA
  • Migration Fresh Hop Pale Ale
  • Oakshire Triune Wet Hop Pale Ale (HR)
  • Everybody's Brewing Head Stash Pale Ale (HR)
  • Rock Bottom Hop Harvest (HR)
  • McMenamin's Thundercone (HR)
Tasty beers, not much fresh-hop flavor:
  • Full Sail Lupulin (with Centennial hops) (HR?)
  • Breakside Fresh Hop CDA (HR)
  • Double Mountain Killer Green (HR) 
  • Hopworks Give me Liberty... (HR)
  • Lompoc Crystal Missile (HR)
  • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (HR)
  • Big Horse Red Fang (HR) 
  • Seven Brides Fresh Hop Emily's Ember
  • Ft. George Fresh Hop Vortex IPA (HR)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Chainbreaker White IPA
  • Lucky Lab Reaperweizen (HR)
These are just my opinions; feel free to comment if you disagree.  Leave it to Deschutes to take first, second, and last place in the pageant -- they're all over this fresh hop thing.  Likewise, John Harris' experiments with various hop varieties in Full Sail Lupulin keeps pushing the boundaries:  I thought the Centennial was a miss, but the Tettnanger was as good as the mind-blowing batch of Amarillo Lupulin that started the dynasty in 2007.  Anyone know which Lupulin will be on hand in Hood River?  There are some big gaps in my list -- some from breweries that haven't put out the green stuff yet, others that I just haven't gotten to yet.  I'll fill the list in with more beers as I try them.

One thing that makes me very happy is that I don't have to chastise anyone around Portland this year for using 0% undried hops in their "fresh hop" beers.  Remember, no one expects 100% fresh hops in these beers -- although at Breakside Ben Edmunds went the extra mile with his fresh Simcoe IPA and used no dried hops whatsoever -- they just expect brewers to make an effort to get that green flavor with some amount of fresh hops.

Don't forget to consult this year's Portland Fresh Hop Map when looking for that fresh flavor around town.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2011

The days have been growing rapidly shorter, and here we are at the autumn equinox. Time for the 2011 third quarter Portland Beer Price Index:

  • 6-packs: $9.04, up 1 cent
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.94, down 14 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.74, up 5 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.78, down 12 cents
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.33, unchanged
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.57, unchanged

Six-pack prices continue their upward trend, but the regular bomber price of $4.94 is the lowest (adjusted) price I've recorded in the two-plus years of the index. The huge drops in the bomber numbers are all attributable to lower prices on the high-end bombers: Pelican, Rogue, and Beer Valley. Pelican IPA continues to give me trouble. I only found it at two stores in my survey this time, though both of them had it at the entirely reasonable price of $5.

Remember, this is not a complaint about beer prices, it's an exercise in tracking price trends over time. Click here for an explanation of how the PBPI numbers are gathered. Join me at the winter solstice for the fourth quarter PBPI.