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.