Monday, February 28, 2011

Hazy First Impressions of Burnside Brewing

Burnside Brewing has been open for a couple of months now, and the tap list is starting to fill in with house brews.  I haven't been able to go there nearly as much as I'd like, but I've finally sampled enough of their beers to be able to jot down a few impressions.

The space itself is very comfortable.  Compared to most of the recently-opened pubs in Portland, there is a lot of open space, the seating areas are not cramped at all, and the high ceilings in the room add an even more expansive feeling.  Some attention was paid to lighting, to get it cozy but not dim. It's not exactly an open kitchen, but the long bar offers some views into the food preparation area.  The pub opens weekdays at 3 PM and weekends at 2 PM; minors are allowed until 8:30 PM.

No unicorns were harmed in the opening of Burnside Brewing, because the pub started right off serving honest pints.  The $5 regular price isn't the cheapest in town, but it's perfectly reasonable -- its $19 six-pack equivalent (SPE) price beats the most recent Portland Beer Price Index by about 30 cents.  The happy-hour price of $3.50 is a steal, and the $3 Wednesday and Sunday pints are the best deal in town right now (SPE $11.37).  In addition to the house beers, there are about a half-dozen guest taps.

Here are some thoughts on the Burnside Brews I've tried so far:
  • Gratzer (smoked wheat beer): Not sure if this will be a regular, since they have to hand-smoke the wheat malt for it, but this was a wonderful beer.  Light but flavorful, with just the right touch of smoke.  It's not like a yeasty hefeweizen -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- but it has more body and flavor than, say, a kolsch.
  • IPA: A well-done, middle-of-the-road take on the style, not trying to cram as many hops as possible into the glass.  Put it in the category of northern California IPAs like Union Jack and Racer 5.
  • Sweet Heat: Since this sounded so much like Roots 2008 OBF entry Calypso -- a wheat beer brewed with apricots and habanero peppers -- I was very excited to get my hands on it.  As usual, high expectations can set you up for a downfall:  I like this beer a lot, but it didn't stand up to my golden memories of Calypso.  I think Sweet Heat has a little heavier body than Calypso did, and the apricot and habanero flavors seem stronger than I recall.  Calypso was such a perfect summer beer; maybe it's fitting that Sweet Heat is a little more substantial at this time of year, though it's still a very reasonable 4.2% alcohol.  If nothing else, I think Sweet Heat would be better if the apricot was dialed down a little.  Ezra described it as reminiscent of a Caribbean chutney, and that's a great description:  there's fruit, chile, and a dash of vinegar flavor.  Still definitely worth a try.
  • Oatmeal Pale Ale: A few years ago when Ft. George made an OPA, I thought it was kind of a goofy joke, a play on oatmeal stouts.  Who knows, maybe it's a normal thing to do.  Back then, I was surprised at the tangy flavor of Ft. George's ale, and Burnside's OPA also seems to have a tangy component that I would not have associated with oatmeal.  Is that typical of beer brewed with oats?  Anyway, this is a nice, moderately hoppy pale ale; the tanginess is an interesting touch; very drinkable.
  • Stout: I didn't have my own glass of this, I was just stealing from the wife, but my impressions were of a well-balanced, slightly dry, drinkable stout.
It's notable that Jason has so far taken something of a light touch with the beers, like the balanced IPA and lower-alcohol wheat beers.  When I think of his previous venture, Roots, I think of exuberantly-hopped bruisers like Island Red and Woody IPA, and famously outsized winter beers like Festivus and of course Epic.  Of course Roots also had two lighter, hopless beers -- the Heather and the Gruit -- so maybe that was Jason's bag all along.  It's a good plan: it's nice to have some very flavorful beverages that won't put you under the table.

A whole nother article could be written just about the food at Burnside -- it's really an equal partner to the beer -- for now let me just say that it's a cut above most pub food in town, with prices in the $12-$18 range for most items.

To sum everything up: a very respectable start for Burnside.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pliny the Younger in Portland

[Update (2011/03/08):  From Belmont Station: At 3PM Thursday March 17 we start selling tickets for the Russian River IPA event to take place Saturday. Tickets for the taster flight of Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder, and Blind Pig will be $12 (cash only). Tickets can be redeemed any time from Noon - 6PM on Saturday. You may buy multiple tickets for friends but we will only serve one taster flight per person. This will enable us to provide as many people as possible a taste of the Younger, yet keep the atmosphere relaxed. $6 from each taster flight sold will be donated to the Don Younger Foundation (currently being established)." (5-ounce samples)

Whoa -- Roscoe's quietly put on a small keg today. 10-ounce pours for $6. Way to go, guys!]

[Update (2011/03/02): Saraveza will be pouring Pliny the Younger Monday, March 7.  They will sell 80 tickets Saturday, March 5th at 2 PM. 8-ounce pours this time.  They also are going to do flights of bottled Russian River beers in the *-tion series: click the link above for details.  By the way, County Cork served 10-ounce pours for $8.50 yesterday (March 1st).]

Original article:

I can't believe Twitter isn't aflame with the news that John Foyston printed in the paper this morning:  tonight (Friday, February 25, 2011), Higgins Restaurant will be pouring Russian River Pliny the Younger (and its little big brother Pliny the Elder).

It's either because the Oregonian's pitiful website has not published John's print column to the information superhighway yet, or because Ezra decreed that Pliny the Younger is a joke.  I wouldn't say that it's a joke, but I'm not sure yet if I'm going to brave the crowds tonight to get a taste, even though I said two years ago that one shouldn't hesitate to get some of the Younger whenever it's being served.  It is a delicious, intensely flowery, rich and strong "triple IPA".

You should probably expect to pay $7-$8 a snifter for this at Higgins.  They're pretty proud of their beer.  [Update:  Commenter John M. reports it was $8.50 for a 10-ounce glass.  I guess my new algorithm for guessing Higgins prices is { guess the most I would pay; add 50 cents; }.  From the Higgins/Pliny thread on they had a sixth-barrel keg, which is at most 66 servings.  Someone posting on a related BA thread said they were sitting at the bar and watched the keg arrive at 4:20 and blow at 5:26.  Hmm... 66 servings, 66 minutes.  Higgins should have sold it for $11.10, so that 6 ounces would cost $6.66.]

If you have it this year, let us know what you thought of it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zwickeling and Randaling at Breakside

Saturday I crossed two things off my list that I should have done before, but hadn't.  Killed two birds with one stone actually:  finally made a visit to Breakside Brewing, and took part for the first time in Zwickelmania -- the Oregon Brewers Guild's annual event where breweries offer tours that include tastes of beer which is still in the fermenter.  Thanks to Kerry for inviting me to meet him at Breakside, otherwise I might still be in my benighted pre-Breakside and pre-Zwickelmania condition.

Breakside covers a lot of bases.  For starters, it serves a funky little neighborhood that doesn't have many other good beer choices.  In a town with 40 breweries, there's not one within a mile of Breakside.  The spirit of experimentation is strong there, too.  Instead of looking on the brewery's small 3-barrel system as an impediment, brewer Ben Edmunds turns it to his advantage by turning out small batches of playful experiments that he might not gamble on in larger quantities.  I missed a chance to try Ben's take on the resurrected German Gratzer style, which included apples as a flavoring; Saturday I had a tiny taste of the Aztec Ale, which you can think of as a tincture of cocoa and chile peppers.  Fresh from the Zwickel, Breakside served us a taste of an upcoming experimental release:  the Savory Stout, whose adjuncts include seaweed and miso soup -- sounds scary but judging from the slightly salty creaminess of the young beer, I think it might just work.

Breakside's Randall
The most experimental beers are released on Wednesdays at 3 PM -- the Savory Stout is coming up March 2nd.  The beer for this Wednesday is flavored with chestnuts and fermented with Brettanomyces -- read about it and the Savory Stout in this article on Brewpublic.  Breakside takes the beer taste explorations in another dimension with their Randall, infusing beers with chiles or other flavors.  On Saturday they poured us a taste of their Belgian Royal Brown ale Randallized with vanilla beans and dried cherries.  It was delicious -- cherries seem to go naturally with beer, and the vanilla added a round note to a rich beer that tends a little to the sweet side on its own. "Belgian Royal" -- that's clever.  I guess you can't use "Belgian" and "Imperial" in the same sentence.

I don't have anything to report on the food -- I fled the Zwickelmania crowds -- but the menu looks promising.  Kids are allowed in the pub until a certain hour.  Of the house standard beers, I tried the Hoppy Amber, which was just how I wanted it to be -- pleasantly malty with nice floral hops.  I also tried the one-off hopless Wheat Gruit -- a low-alcohol offering that was refreshing and lemongrassy.  It would be nice to see that come back in the summer as a low-octane, low-priced thirst quencher.

Now that I've taken the plunge, I hope to make it back to Breakside again soon.  Nice little neighborhood pub, in a place that really needed one, with some well-crafted and imaginative beers.  If you're biking there, it's not far off the Williams/Vancouver bike highway, or if you're coming from the Southeast like I was, NE 9th Avenue takes you right to it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Migration!

Migration Brewing seems to be humming along with a dedicated clientele. Tomorrow (Saturday, February 19, 2011), they're having a First Anniversary Party starting at 1 PM.  Since tomorrow is also Zwickelmania, brewery tours will be part of the program, and they're also excited about a Russian Imperial Stout that they're going to tap for the first time.

I met some friends at Migration last night -- Joe was getting happy-hour prices until 9 PM because of a "bouldering and brews" deal with nearby rock-climbing gym The Circuit -- and the place was packed.  A lot of that was the rock climbers, but it's not uncommon to pass by Migration and see a crowd there, especially when the weather opens up the patio.  Peeking into the windows of the other half of the building, it looks like they're putting in a bar and some tables -- I don't know if they already have enough business to expand, or if they're just getting a special party room ready.

Migration got off to a rocky start with the beer geeks because of some early quality issues.  I haven't been by there much myself -- not because I was boycotting, more because I've been busy (for instance, I haven't spent much time at snob-approved Coalition down the street either).  Last night I tried three beers:  two of them were hits and one was a miss.  The Terry's Porter was roasty, smooth, and rich, and the Migration Pale Ale specially dry-hopped with Cascades was delicious, but the Old Silenus Scottish Ale had that homebrewy taste that put it right on the edge of drain-pour territory.  I reckon they're not completely out of the woods on the quality front, but like Meatloaf says, two out of three ain't bad, and they always have four or five nice guest taps as a fallback.  Joe and Lisa also had good things to say about the Luscious Lupulin IPA, but the keg had blown before I got a chance to try it.  Colin, one of the pub owners, was raving about the forthcoming Imperial Stout, so give it a try if you get the chance.

Happy birthday, Migration!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Long Brewing: New Beer from Newberg

A new brewery in Newberg is stealthily making a presence in Portland. Long Brewing first caught my eye when the Cheese Bar mentioned having their beer; then I saw these bottles in the cooler at Pastaworks yesterday.

My curiosity was dampened by the price tags on the bottles:  $12.15 for bombers of the porter and the IPA, and $9.29 for the lager.  The six-pack equivalent prices of  $39.76 and $30.40 must be a Portland record for what appear to be just everyday beers.  That's even beyond Upright Four -- which on tap is not any more expensive than its peers, but which is priced a little ridiculously in bottles for a bière de table.  At least Four is a unique style, with an interesting story and technique behind it.  Consider that bombers of Hair of the Dog Blue Dot were $7 on the same shelf as the Long IPA, and I have to hope the store made a mistake in pricing these.  There was no way I was going to try one at that price.

I've got an email out to Paul Long to learn more about his brewery, but haven't heard back yet.  Google tells us that he had an impressive streak of wins at the American Homebrewers Association between 2004 and 2007 -- 4 gold medals, 2 bronzes, and the "Ninkasi award" in 2005.  Sounds like a talented guy who has decided to live the dream.

Has anyone tried any Long Brewing beers?  Where did you see them?

[Update: More info from Paul Long:

Currently I only do 22 oz bottles. No one has my beers on tap yet. The only other locations are restaurants around Newberg like The Allison Inn, The Painted Lady, The Joel Palmer House and the Horse Radish in Carlton. I am working on a larger system at which point I may do a limited number of kegs. I sell direct $6/bottle for Linda's Lager and Kolsch, $8/bottle for Vienna Lager, IPA, Porter and Wee Heavy. Case price is $.50 less per bottle.

I have not heard of anyone who has tried my beers thinking they were not worth the price. We use a No Compromise approach, the best malts, freshest whole hops, very hands on small batches with great attention to produce beers with expressive aromas and flavors that are integrated and balanced. If you're interested give me a call and come by for a tasting.

So if you want to try these, your best bet is to contact Paul directly. For a porter or IPA, $7.50 is still relatively high but not unthinkable; $5.50 for the lighter beers compares pretty well with, say, Heater Allen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Don Younger, R.I.P.

The Horse Brass Pub announced Tuesday that it would be closed for regular business on Sunday, February 13, 2011 for a wake to honor its owner Don Younger, who died January 31.

The Celebration of Don's Life will be held from 2 to 6 PM at the Horse Brass. The back parking lot will be tented to allow for more people to attend.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world who knew Don and loved Don aren't able to be there in person," says organizer Lisa Morrison. "So we are having a worldwide toast -- a virtual wake, if you will -- to help bring us all together, at least in spirit."

Whatever you are doing, and wherever you are at 3 PM your time on Sunday, February 13, make sure to hoist a glass to Don.

Here's a picture of Don that I dug out of the archives -- it's from May 23, 2008. I think he's awarding the Glen Falconer Brewing Scholarship to Patrick Miller (far left) and Vasilios Gletsos (next to Don). Also pictured are the winners of the scholarship from the previous year, Jacob Leonard and Corey Blodgett.

Just goes to show you that Don's involvement in the Oregon beer scene didn't end with bringing the notion of a taphouse to town, or with encouraging the beginnings of regional powerhouses like Portland Brewing, Widmer, Hales, and Bridgeport.  He never stopped contributing, as with the Falconer Foundation, which enables local brewers to further their professional education at the Siebel Institute.  Think of the brewing ferment (pardon the pun) that is reflected in that picture:  since it was taken Jacob has left Walking Man for Widmer, Corey has left McMenamins for Maritime Pacific, Vasili has left Rock Bottom for MacTarnahan's, and Patrick has been involved in the Oregon Brew Crew collaboration with Rogue at the Green Dragon. That picture is a tiny window into the legacy that Don left -- a legacy that will live on for many years.

I didn't know Don well myself.  Maybe one reason is that I started spending more time at the Horse Brass after Oregon's ridiculous smoking ban kicked in, at the same time he started spending less time there.  While it is sad to see him go, the outpouring of love and admiration that followed his sudden hospitalization and death has been truly inspiring.  Most of us will be unable to touch as many people as Don did.  But we can strive to live a life that, when it's over, leaves people reminiscing about the good times, and about the good we've done in the world.

See you at the wake. If you're participating in the worldwide global toast, put something up on Twitter with the tag #DonYounger.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Your Thoughts on Beer Podcasts and Beer Video

I read a fair number of beer blogs, and pick up beer magazines when they're laying around free, and now I've gone and subscribed to Beer Advocate magazine -- more as a way to support than as a cover-to-cover read.  But the frontier I haven't really crossed is beer multimedia.  Podcasts, youtube/vimeo clips, and the latest spate of beer-related movies and TV shows -- I rarely watch or listen to them.  The reason is simple:  in the time it takes to listen to one podcast or watch one video, I can scan hundreds of blog headlines, and read my fill of interesting articles.  And even when a blog I read inserts a video interview, I almost never watch it.

What are your thoughts on beer audio or beer video?  Are there any podcasts that are so chock-full of goodness that you recommend watching or listening to every edition?  What about videos on blogs -- do you click the "play" button, or do you skip over them?

Do you follow any of these regularly?
About half of these I only know about because I'm friends with the people involved.  Are there any important beer podcasts out there that I should be aware of?  Don't tell me about the really stupid ones, I'm sure there are thousands of those.

I've had it in mind to pose this as a "your thoughts" question for awhile, but it was reading Jeff's article about the Beer West/Digimarc partnership that got me stewing about it again. If your smartphone can get useful information out of a magazine, that makes sense to me.  But if it just leads you to hours of low-information video, it doesn't seem very useful.

Anyway, fire away with your comments.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pearl Specialty Market and Spirits

Pearl Specialty's Beer and Cigar Selection
Since I realized the other day that Bridgeport ESB had been discontinued by the brewery, I've been on a mission to find a few remaining bottles on sale somewhere. One of the bottle shops that I scoured -- to no avail -- was Pearl Specialty Market at 9th and NW Lovejoy. Even though the Pearl Market couldn't fulfill my ESB quest, I realized that the place is a hidden gem that a lot of people might not be aware of, offering a classy selection of micros and imports. It has flown under the radar to become the best bottle shop in NW Portland or downtown -- the only other competition in that part of town are the big grocery stores.

I'd been aware of Pearl Specialty for a while.  It created quite a splash when it opened, because the OLCC granted it one of the few licenses in Oregon to sell beer and wine alongside stronger spirits. More to the point, I realized it was one of the few liquor stores in town to be open until 10 PM -- most of them close at 7.
The liquor selection
I've saved a couple of neighborhood parties with that knowledge.  [As an aside, click here for my trick for scoring bottles of gin and rum even later into the night.] And for a while it was one of the few liquor stores in Portland that opened on Sunday, though the Republican Recession has made that a more commonplace occurrence in the last couple of years.

So I was aware of it as a liquor store, and I knew they sold beer, but I was surprised to see how much the beer selection has improved since my last visit a couple years ago.  According to the owner, Pearl Specialty started adding more beers when the store expanded in September of last year.  They are working towards a goal of stocking 1000 beers.  The picture at the top shows most of the beer section, and there is also another bank of coolers full of bombers and 12-packs outside the frame to the left.  They carry the Oregon standards, plus a high-end selection from beyond our fair borders:  off the top of my head, they seemed to carry pretty complete lineups from places like The Bruery, Dogfish Head, and Trappist breweries like Westmalle, St. Bernardus, and Rochefort.  You won't have a problem finding something to suit your mood if you go in there.

The beer prices are pretty normal -- not Beermongers cheap, but not predatory like you'd expect from a shop in the Pearl District.  I was mighty pleased to snag a bomber of Caldera's Rose Petal Imperial Golden for about $4.50, and stalwarts like Ninkasi and Lompoc ring in at the usual Portland price of $4.  Plus, there is a 5% discount if you buy 3 bottles of beer or wine, and a 10% discount if you buy 6 bottles -- that brings the Ninkasi down to $3.60, which actually is about as cheap as you'll find.

You've got to appreciate Pearl Specialty's motto:  Purveyor to those seeking the finer things in life.  To my mind that starts with good beer and high-end booze, but they also have a decent selection of wine and sake, and a cigar humidor.  Apparently designer bottled water was part of the original plan, but it isn't conspicuously on display there anymore and doesn't show up on the website.  Tough sell in a town were the tap water is as good as it is here.

Bottle shops have been springing up all over Portland in the last couple of years.  Following Belmont Station's lead, the latest fashion is to attach a bar to a bottle shop (Beermongers, Bottles) or vice versa (Saraveza, Hop and Vine [bottle shop opening Saturday]).  Pearl Specialty's angle of bottle shop plus liquor store is another interesting business model.  You could think of it as one-stop shopping for beer cocktails.  Anyway, cool place.  If you need a bottle of booze after the other liquor stores are closed, or if you're in the Pearl and you need to pick up a good bottle of beer, Pearl Specialty is the place to go.