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.


  1. I hope we see some big complex beers like Epic come out of Burnside eventually, but I think the game plan of getting all the taps filled with approachable house beers first, as well as brewing beers appropriate for the upcoming seasons of spring and summer, is a good one. Once that's done, maybe it'll be time to start working on stuff they're going to have to sit on for a while. The things I'll miss the most from roots will be epic, and things like the flanders red they did. Maybe we'll see something similar resurrected at burnside down the road. Who knows.

    In the mean time, I think they did a great job with the gratzer. It would be neat to see some other outside-the-box flavorful everyday-abv beers.

  2. Thanks for the profile Bill. I haven't been to Burnside yet and need to make a trip soon. They seem to have some really unique beers. I'm looking forward to tasting Gratzer, Sweet Heat, and OPA.

  3. an IPA on par with Union Jack?! I just might have to make a trip to Burnside to try it.

    Oats do not contribute any sourness or tanginess to beer. In fact, if they are un kilned/toasted or browned, they have an almost imperceptible flavor contribution. Oat's primary use in brewing is to add mouth feel. Oats have an unusually high level of lipids compared to other grains, so its that fatty/velvety oiliness that comes through in the final beer.