Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Portland Beer Price Index: Winter 2012

I wasn't in a big hurry to get the PBPI out this quarter, in case the Mayans were right.  No sense wasting all that work.

Six-pack sale prices are down quite a bit from last time, even though you can see from the graph that the nominal shelf-tag price has been steady for a year.  I think you can explain that by sales on Ninkasi Total Domination. Ninkasi entered the six-pack world at a pretty high price point, and it worked pretty well for them, but I think they'll have to keep the sale prices competitive to keep the product moving, especially with new six-packs from 10 Barrel hitting the shelves.

Bomber prices are back up after some declines last quarter.  A couple of pub prices went up this time, bringing the average up a bit.  I think we'll see more of that in 2013.

Here are the Portland Beer Price Index numbers for this quarter:
  • 6-packs: $9.23, down 2 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.84, up 8 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.76, down 10 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.66, up 3 cents
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.44 up 5 cents
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.61, up 2 cents
The six-pack numbers are slightly adjusted from the ones reported last time, because QFC has made room for Caldera six-packs again.  It was a safe adjustment to make, I just recalculated last quarter's numbers with the same price QFC charged this time and the time before.  If you require more information on the makeup of the PBPI, read the page which describes the composition of the index.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

10 Barrel Pray for Snow

Last month I mentioned three winter beers that had caught my eye.  Of course that's just the tip of the iceberg, and there are even more winter beers on the shelves than there were a few years ago when I tried to describe a holiday ale family tree with branches for winter warmers, hoppy winter beers, barleywines, and what I rather inarticulately called "crazy European big brews".

A new contender has entered the field, 10 Barrel's Pray for Snow.  This beer kind of flew under my radar -- the brewery's description of it simply as a "strong ale" wasn't very inspiring, and with so many tasty winter beers at hand, there was nothing that made me seek it out.  Then a couple days ago I had a pint with a late lunch, and was bowled over by the combination of flavors in this beer.

Thinking of the family tree, I want to put it in the winter warmer family, and the first tastes remind me of Deschutes Jubelale, with flavors reminiscent of nutmeg and pie spices, and a long, bitter finish.  But it has less of the dark, roasty flavors -- Jubelale is so roasty it sometimes tastes almost charred to me, in a good way -- and substitutes a caramelly, burnt-sugar flavor that is very appealing.  That might make it sound too sweet, but it's not.  It's got a medium body, and isn't very boozy at 7% ABV.  I love this beer, it's my new favorite for the winter.

Best of all, I picked up a six-pack of Pray for Snow on sale for $7.50.  I'm glad to see 10 Barrel join the six-pack fray as part of their quest for world domination.  It ensures that cheapskates like me will keep on top of their products.

I found myself wondering if there are spices added to this beer, or if all of its flavors teased out of the malt and hops.  The label and six-pack holder don't offer any clues, and Google just brought up more questions.  The brewery's outdated webpage shows that Pray for Snow has been a seasonal since 2008; John Foyston says that it's "Tonya Cornett's reprise of the Outback Ale she made at Bend Brewing"; and the six-pack carton says it's "Created by Jimmy Seifrit".  2008 is long before either Tonya or Jimmy joined 10 Barrel, so the true parentage will have to remain a mystery for now.  Whatever the case, don't wait for the first snowfall to track down some of this tasty brew.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beer Book Gift Ideas

For you last-minute holiday shoppers, here are a few books you might consider for the beer lover on your list.  Or for yourself.

Hop in the Saddle
  • Audience: Portland beer fans who want to bike more, or Portland bicyclists with a new interest in beer.
My friend Lucy Burningham has co-authored a book of five Portland bike pub crawls, called Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland's Craft Beer Scene, by Bike. Let's just call it Hop in the Saddle for short.  Beer and bicycling are two subjects near and dear to my heart -- I like mapping out bike pub crawls myself -- so I was excited to hear about Lucy's project.  This is a nice collection of easy bike routes in Portland neighborhoods, annotated with beer destinations, with longer optional bike rides for more advanced riders.

If you're a Portland beer geek who already goes everywhere by bike, none of the routes or destinations will be news to you, and if you think you don't need this book, you're probably right.  But if your bike has been gathering dust and a pub crawl could entice you out for a ride, this book will get you started.  On the other hand, if you are a regular rider but haven't yet become a beer obsessive, Hop in the Saddle hits the high points of what each neighborhood has to offer. Click these links to buy it online from Powell's or from Amazon.

Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest
  • Audience: Visitors to the Northwest, or locals planning to travel to other parts of the region. 
I reviewed Lisa Morrison's Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest almost two years ago when it came out, but the similarities with Hop in the Saddle are so great that I feel like I have to mention it in the same article (the two books would make a great gift set).  On a small world level, I remember locking my bicycle next to Lucy's bike at the press briefing Lisa held when CBPN was published.

Similarly to Hop in the Saddle, you probably wouldn't buy this book in order to learn more about your own neighborhood.  But what you would find useful are the walkable pub crawls it maps out in other Northwest cities, and the information about other local scenes you might be planning on visiting.  Click these links to buy it online from Powell's or from Amazon.

Brewed Awakening
  • Audience: Anyone with a new interest in good beer, who wants a good overview of breweries and beer styles.
Lest anyone think I only review books written by women who are friends of mine, here's a book by a male stranger that the publisher sent me a copy of about a year ago: Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Brewing Revolution.

As the word "awakening" suggests, the book is something of a primer on beer styles and well-regarded breweries. Brewed Awakening addresses various beery topics in a breezy, lighthearted style.  But by far the best feature of the book are its dozens of single-page sections called "Four to Try" (or some other number), offering lists of representative beers from around the country.  A few of those sections call out a specific style like Saisons or Pre-prohibition Lagers, but most focus more on some other aspect of the beer -- for example, there are sections on barrel-aged beers, session beers, organic beers, and ancient recipes.

If you're already the kind of beer geek who reads a dozen blogs and trades bottles back and forth across the country, this book will not cover much new ground for you.  However, if you or someone you know is just getting started with good beer, Brewed Awakening is a readable, entertaining overview. Click these links to buy it online from Powell's or from Amazon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Few Winter Beer Recommendations

Now that it is properly wintertime, I don't mind giving a shout out to some fine winter beers.  There are so many of them, that I don't at all pretend to do justice to the subject, but a few of them have crossed my path recently that are worth commenting on.

Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale

Yes, I am one of those people that says "Is the Jubel good this year?" and "Wassail seems better than last year", despite the fact that those recipes are probably not tampered with much from year to year.  So, here I go doing that same thing with Abominable -- it's really good this year, better than I remember it.  Hopworks being Hopworks, it's always a clean, hearty 7.5% sipper, but this year the flowery hops are more noticeable right up front.  It's now available in HUB's new tall-boy cans -- thanks to Jaime at HUB for gifting me one a few weeks ago -- but my serving suggestion to you is to have it on tap, especially if your neighbor has it in his kegerator.

Didn't this used to be called "AbominabAle"?  Good thing they changed it to the more pronounceable "Abominable".  Or you can just call it A-Bomb if you get friendly enough with it.

Red Hook Winterhook

The good folks at Craft Brewers Alliance kindly sent me a couple bottles of Red Hook Winterhook this year.  This is more in the winter warmer category than in the winter hop-bomb category, though I was pleasantly surprised at the nice hop aroma and flavor that dry-hopping gives it.  Not quite as damaging as a lot of winter seasonals at 6%, and the dark malts are more restrained than in a lot of similar beers.  Certainly worth grabbing a sixer if you see it at the supermarket.

Alesmith Yule Smith

A few of the neighbors gathered Thanksgiving evening at Mr. and Mrs. Smith's house, and the host fittingly brought out a bottle of Yule Smith.  It was fabulous -- a dense, potent, piney, gloriously unbalanced multiple-IPA.  He said he got it at Belmont Station, and I seem to remember seeing some bottles of this on the clearance shelf there recently, so I'm not sure if we were drinking last year's or this year's (the bottle didn't have any kind of date stamp that I could see).  No matter -- if you see a bottle, grab it.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final Thoughts on the 2012 Fresh Hop Season

Fresh hop season is the reason I started writing It's Pub Night a few years ago.  The first post here -- a copy of four emails I sent to my friend Lee which ended up as installments on his blog I Love Beer -- is kind of quaint reading five years later.  Highlights:
  • Excitement over the fabulous first version of Full Sail's (really John Harris') Lupulin Ale (RIP).
  • Visits to Roots (RIP), Laurelwood NW (RIP), and the New Old Lompoc (RIP).  Hopworks was not open yet (!) but I was mistakenly told that their IPA was a fresh-hop ale.
  • Reports of new fresh-hop bottlings: Deschutes Hop Trip and Bridgeport Hop Harvest.
  • I found around 12 fresh hop beers around town that year, and 4 more beers that I thought had fresh hops, but which I now know were made with 100% kilned hops.  Remember: dried hops are NOT fresh hops.
Now let's talk about the year 2012.  Here are some random observations from this year:

1. Best fresh hop strategy: Fresh-hop your flagship.

Look at the list of almost 70 fresh hop beers I tried this year (with approximate ranking from favorite to least favorite).  The standouts tend to be fresh-hop versions of already popular recipes:  Free Range Red (Laurelwood), Mirror Pond and Bachelor Bitter (Deschutes), and Total Domination (Ninkasi).  Makes sense if you think about it: the recipes are already proven winners, the brewers can make them in their sleep, and they probably have a good idea of which hops to add at what point in the brew.

2. Draft is better than bottled.

I often feel this way about beer, especially favorites: the draft version is noticeably better than the bottled one.  Current examples: Gigantic IPA and Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout -- two fantastic beers which seem to suffer a little getting into the bottle.

With fresh hops, it's even more true that you'll get more of the distinctive flavor on draft.  A good example is Double Mountain's Killer Red, a must-try, stunningly good beer the last couple years.  The bottles I brought back from Hood River contained very good beer, to be sure, but not the mind-blowing elixir that flows from the taps.  Talking with Stan Hieronymous before the Hood River Hops Fest this year, he mentioned how much hop flavor escapes into the headspace of a bottle: volatile compounds which easily escape from the beer and vanish into the air when the cap comes off.  Yet another reason to drink local, wherever that happens to be.

3. Some people still don't get it.

I had a little aneurysm last week when I read Kris' report on Concordia Ale House's "Fresh Hop-A-Palooza".  Nothing wrong with the blog post, but Concordia's list of beers for their blind tasting showed an utter disinterest and lack of respect for the fresh hop style:
  • Of 10 beers on the list, 2 were not at all fresh hop beers: Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest and Rogue OREgasmic Ale.  To add injury to insult, these two beers came in 3rd and 4th place in the people's choice voting!  Sickening.
  • 3 of the 10 beers were incorrectly named on the list: Ninkasi Total Crystallization (should be Crystallation, but I'll give them a pass on that, I often make that mistake myself), Deschutes Little Freshies (Chasin' Freshies), and New Belgium Trip VII.  Kris says she learned that the NB beer was actually Trip X -- I hope not, since that was last year's fresh hop Trip.  This year's is Trip XIV.
  • We're already at a 50% confusion level.  That makes me think the glass is half empty, so I have to question whether Concordia really laid their hands on fresh hop versions of 2 other beers on the list: Everybody's Head Stash, and the vaguely labeled "Hales Fresh Hop".  Now, if they have Hales Harvest Ale, that is made with 100% dried hops, even though the label in years past has deceptively said "fresh hop".  There were a couple of Hales entries at the Hood River Hop Fest, but what is in Concordia's keg?  And while there was a fresh-hop version of Head Stash this year, is that what the dingalings who screwed up everything above really were pouring?
  • To sum up, between 20% and 40% of the beers in this supposed fresh hop showcase had no fresh hops -- including the 3rd and 4th place winners.  Another beer -- the 2nd place winner, by the way! -- might be from last year's crop.

The Sierra Nevada thing really galls me.  Here's a quote from SN's own description of the beer: "Like our Celebration Ale, the fresh hops in this beer are dried right after being picked".  Oh great, DRIED FRESH hops. (See also my rant on the subject from a few years ago).  Now, for the sake of argument, suppose you accept SN's lame posturing that the first kilned hops of the season are fresh, even though they are dried.  Even then, Southern Hemisphere Harvest was brewed months ago, when the hop harvest occurred in the Southern Hemisphere.  Not the ideal timeframe for the fresh flavors.

Too bad to end it on a rant.  Really it was a great year for fresh hop beers, and some of them are still rolling out.  But you better move fast, it's almost over.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Now that we are aware that some breweries -- most notably Sierra Nevada -- label certain products as "fresh hop beer" even though every hop in the beer has been dried, beer lovers often ask for clarification on whether a beer has "wet hops", and brewers often label their beers as such.

Stop it.  STOP IT!  Stop using this term "wet hops" which was only invented to give a cover to those who wanted to jump on the fresh hop bandwagon, but for whatever reason, did not want to mess with sticky, rapidly wilting fresh hops.  Stop giving cover to people who want to deceive, simply in order to elbow in on a beautiful thing.

I have ranted about this in the past, but let me state again some of the reasons "wet hops" is a ridiculous turn of phrase.  First of all, what other fresh agricultural product do you have to call "wet" to make sure someone knows you don't think it has been dried?  If you go to the grocery store and ask for fresh parsley, or fresh ginger, or fresh garlic, they will point you to the produce aisle.  Try telling them you don't want wet parsley, you want fresh-dried parsley.  And by the way, where is the wet ginger?  I'm making a stir-fry, should I put in dried garlic, fresh garlic, or wet garlic?  I see that you have fresh cucumbers and fresh lettuce on sale, but I was really hoping to make my salad with wet vegetables, not fresh-dried ones.

How about fresh fish?  Can that be dried?  Milk?  Eggs?  Better ask for wet fish, wet eggs, and of course wet milk.  On Valentine's Day you better remind the florist that you want wet roses, because a dried bouquet might convey the wrong message even if the vase says the flowers are fresh.

Furthermore, freshly-picked hop cones are not wet anyway.  Think of the roses I just mentioned -- they are vibrant and tender, but they aren't wet, and neither are hops.  You can't squeeze water out of them -- a potato is wetter than a hop.

Finally, crowdsourced wisdom at Twitter brings up this question:  what do you call it when you dry hop with wet hops?

Now, it is certainly no sin to have a mix of fresh and dried hops in a beer -- that's how most fresh hop beers are done:  dried hops for bitterness and fresh hops later in the process for aroma and flavor.  But to call a beer with only dried hops a "fresh hop beer" is completely unjustifiable.  Yes, the first dried hops of the season are the freshest ones you can use, and should make delicious beer.  However, the flavors in those beers are not what people expect when they ask for a fresh hop beer.  Most brewers that I have asked about this subject were completely dumbfounded to hear that some fresh hop beers contained only dried hops -- it had simply never occurred to those honest folk that anyone would tell such a ridiculous lie.

Go forth with the awareness that there are deceptively labeled fresh hop beers out there, and spread the word.  But do not give in to the falsehood.  Don't use the term "wet hop", and push back when you hear someone use it.  If you need clarification about a fresh hop beer, ask whether it has some hops that haven't been dried.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2012

A quiet edition of the PBPI this quarter, after the big increases last time.  Bomber prices have come down from the all-time highs of the summer, though they are still pretty steep compared to six-packs: $15.15 is the average six-pack equivalent (SPE) price for bombers on sale.  I went ahead and put up the graph for bomber prices again to illustrate the decline but also show how bombers are still near the top of the prices I've seen over the past three years.

Here are the Portland Beer Price Index numbers for this quarter:
  • 6-packs: $9.22, unchanged
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.76, down 7 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.83, up 1 cent
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.63, down 5 cents
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.39 unchanged
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.59, unchanged
Two notes about the composition of the index.  First, I was worried about Hopworks IPA:  a couple of the places I looked did not have any in stock, and QFC had it very obviously mismarked on the shelf (about 33% higher in price than other HUB bombers).  It made me fear that Hopworks was dropping IPA bombers now that they are canning it in tall-boys, but I have been assured by them that while there may have been a "temporary little burp in the pipeline", they are not discontinuing the HUB IPA bombers.  The other tweak I had to make was -- for the purposes of comparing to last quarter -- to pretend that QFC had Caldera Pale Ale on the shelf at the summertime price.  In fact, the prices above omit a Caldera price at QFC, because it wasn't out, and there wasn't a shelf tag for it.  Has it been bumped by the new 10 Barrel six-packs?  Or is it a temporary outage?  We shall see.

This year has flown by.  The next installment of the Portland Beer Price Index will be out around Christmas.

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 Fresh Hop Beers and Festivals

We're just a week away from Oregon's granddaddy Fresh Hop event, the Hood River Hops Fest, next Saturday September 29, 2012.  My beer-blogging brother Ezra over at the New School pulled off the astounding coup of becoming the curator for this year's HRHF, and he put together a superlative lineup of beers.  Highlights include new breweries like Pfriem, Gigantic, and Solera; a couple of beers that I've already tried this year that are among the best ever; plus a first-ever fresh-hop offering by Block 15.  I don't recall ever getting a fresh hop beer from Lagunitas, but apparently there will be one at Hood River.  Seriously, read the list, you'll be amazed.  I also like it that Ezra notes the hop varieties on all the beers -- a crucial piece of information that is often lacking at events like this.

Last year was the first year I made it out to Hood River for the fest despite a longstanding interest in fresh hop beers.  Even though it's just in a parking lot in the middle of town, the views out toward the surrounding hills make a very nice setting for a festival.

Then Portland gets its turn the following Saturday, October 6, with the Portland Fresh Hops Beer Fest at Oaks Park.  I'm not sure the list is out yet for that festival, but Oaks Park is also a lovely setting if the weather is good.  Most importantly, I can ride my bike there on the Springwater Corridor.

This year I haven't gone as insane in trying to track down fresh hop beers as I have in years past.  The 2012 Fresh Hop Map tells the tale -- not much action compared to last year's map, and this year I have 3 people helping fill it in.  Still, it's becoming difficult to avoid fresh hop beers, so here are the ones I've tried so far (I will keep updating this list as the season goes on).  As usual, I'll rank them in order of my preference, and split them into four categories:  truly excellent must-try fresh hop beers, beers with good fresh hop character, good beers that somehow lost the fresh hop character, and beers to avoid.  Beers marked "(HR)" are on the list for the Hood River Hops Fest. 
[Update 2012/10/02: Beers that will be at Oaks Park on October 6 (according to the OBG's Fresh Hop Beer List (pdf)) are marked "(OP)".]

Must Try:
  • Laurelwood Fresh Hop Free Range Red (HR) (OP)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Bachelor Bitter (HR)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond (OP)
  • Double Mountain Killer Red (draft -- bottle isn't as good)
  • Ninkasi Total Crystallization (OP)
Good Fresh Hop Flavor:
  • Crux Crystal Zwickel
  • Alameda 100# Nugget
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Deschutes River Ale
  • Upright Kiln 'em All (HR)
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Seizeon (OP)
  • New Belgium Trip 14
  • Gigantic The Most Interesting Beer in the World (HR) (OP)
  • Rogue Chatoe Wet Hop (HR) (OP)
  • Lucky Lab Mutt
  • Pelican Elemental Ale (OP)
  • Lucky Lab Last Little Fresh Hop in Oregon
  • Full Sail Hopenfrisch Lager (OP) 
  • Base Camp Hoptastic Voyage
  • Ft. George Fresh Hop Vortex
  • Burnside Nuggets With Attitude
  • 10 Barrel Crosby Fresh Hop (OP)
  • Falling Sky Whoa Dang
  • Commons Fresh Hop Farmhouse
  • Three Creeks Cone Lick'r (OP)
  • Big Horse Paragon
  • Breakside Wet Hop Simcoe 
  • Anderson Valley Mendo Mellow
  • Falling Sky So Fresh, So Green Lager (OP) 
  • Oakshire Ask the Fish 
  • Hales Fresh Hop Supergoose 
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Amber
  • Migration Green Reaper 
  • Sierra Nevada 2012 Harvest Ale (bottle) 
  • Deschutes King Cone (HR) (OP)
  • Rock Bottom Fresh Hop Ale (HR)
  • Double Mountain Killer Green
  • Pints Fresh Hop Seismic Upgrade IIPA
  • Amnesia French Connection
  • Cascade Lakes Harvest
  • Everybody's Brewing Fresh Hop Head Stash
  • Sasquatch Fresh Hopped Healy Heights
  • Burnside Pub Draught
  • Astoria Fresh Hop
  • Golden Valley Crystal Fresh Hop 
  • McMenamins Thundercone (OP)
Good Beer, Can't Taste the Fresh Hops:
  • Bridgeport Hop Harvest (HR) (OP)
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Black Ale
  • Lompoc Harvest Man Red
  • Pfriem Fresh Hop Strong Blonde 
  • Hopworks Powell Estate IPA
  • Beer Valley Fresh Hop Leafer Madness
  • Alameda Failing Street Fresh Hop IPA (OP)
  • Oakshire 100 Hops (OP)
  • Logsdon Fresh Hop Seizeon Bretta
  • Deschutes Fresh Hop Black Butte Porter
  • Hopworks Give Me Liberty (HR) (OP)
  • Pints Fresh Hop Saison
  • Ninkasi Smells Like Purple (OP)
  • Lucky Lab Reaperweizen
  • Block 15 Heliotropic
  • Schooner Exact Amarillo Fresh Hop
Beers to Avoid:
  • Two Beers Fresh Hop IPA (bottle)
  • Coalition Green Pig
  • Solera Kwazy Wabbit (OP)
  • Old Market Vers Bloem
  • Flat Tail Home Grown
  • Beer Valley Tri-State (OP)
  • Fire on the Mountain Magnum P.A.
  • Walking Man Cents and Centsability

Some of these beers deserve special mention.  Gigantic's beer reminds me of the first fresh-hop beers I ever tried, 7 or 8 years ago when the trend was just getting off the ground: an almost honeyed light ale with beautiful fresh aroma and flavor.  It's an indication of how far this style has progressed that the flavor that made me a maniac only gets you into the "good" category these days.  Speaking of which, my favorite from the last two years -- Fresh Hop Mirror Pond, which I have often proclaimed the best beer in the history of the world -- is outdone this year by Laurelwood's astounding fresh-hopped version of their Red Ale, and also by Deschutes' own fresh-hopped Bachelor Bitter.  Don't miss any of those three beers this year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My New Local

At the beginning of the year I got excited when Caps and Corks opened within sleepwalking distance of the office I was renting. Alas, after a few months I changed offices.  Homebody that I am, I rarely make it by C&C these days.

There are definitely some good watering holes near my new digs:  I'm just a few blocks from the Deschutes pub; Bailey's is only about five blocks away and plausibly on the way home; and the new brewpub Pints is just across the park.

But one place that I was surprised to find myself returning to for a beer at least once a week is the Pizza Schmizza at 11th and Glisan.  The thing that keeps me coming back is that happy hour starts at Schmizza at 2 PM, which is often about when I get around to eating lunch.  Happy hour means $1 off beers and slices priced from $2.50 to $3.  The beer list is not geeky, but it has as its basis a simple three-beer spectrum that works well at lunch: Widmer Hef, Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, and Oakshire's fabulous Overcast Espresso Stout.  One of those will work with whatever mood I'm in on a given day.

I mentioned happy hour.  The picture above doesn't do justice to the "Mighty Mug" of Hef sitting there.  I haven't measured its volume, but I've been obsessing about glassware lately so I feel pretty confident in guessing that it holds at least 24 ounces of beer, and goes for just $5 at happy hour.  If I'm right about that, it's an SPE of $15 -- not the best happy hour SPE in town, but pretty good, especially if you consider that you might be saving money and tips by just having one giant beer instead of two smaller ones.  Regular-sized pints are $4 at happy hour.

Big beers, quick service, cheap prices.  Fine qualities to find in a new local.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My New Beers

Tuesday I wrote about my new glassware, and since each glass in the fashion show was being worn by a different lovely beer, I thought I'd say a few words about each.

The brutally honest Brewers Union 180 22-ounce pint glass got filled up with Gigantic IPA.  Perhaps it's not the style of beer the glass was intended for, but I liked the idea of putting a Gigantic beer in a gigantic glass.  The IPA is an instant Portland classic: big, full-bodied, with orangey hops.  I fancy that it tastes better on tap, but in a pinch the bombers are available wherever fine beers are sold.


The stalwart Rogue goblet was shown off by the lovely and talented Widmer Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.  At the 2011 Fruit Beer Festival I declared Widmer's Raspberry Hibiscus Gose my biggest disappointment, despite being easily the prettiest beer served that day.  On the other hand, I really like the 2012 marionberry version, which is probably still out there on the shelves in 12-ounce bottles.  It's not as visually stunning, but it seems maltier and a touch saltier than I remember the raspberry one being.  I didn't get much hibiscus flavor from either of them, which is probably a good thing.  Hibiscus strikes me as a very strong, distinctive flavor which is interesting on its own but doesn't play well with others, though I'm sure it contributes to the gose's beautiful color.

Oddly, one of my complaints about the 2011 was that it wasn't as tart as Cascade's Goses -- which is a surprising thing for me to complain about in the first place -- but one thing I like about the 2012 is that it is less tart than the 2011.  Go figure.  Meanwhile Widmer brewer Ben Dobler told me he liked the tarter raspberry version better.  Isn't beer wonderful?   (Thanks to Widmer for the free bottle.)

Last but not least, that nutritious-looking potion in the giant grail my Austin friend Brady gave me is a treat that Dave recently stocked in his kegerator next door:  Migration's Luscious Lupulin IPA.  Even though Migration is not more than a mile from my house, I rarely seem to make it over there.  Luckily, they're doing a booming business without me, and a couple years in they seem to be hitting their stride with the beers.  Luscious Lupulin is cloudy, dank, and delicious.  It's bitter for sure, but really it's the floral qualities of the hops that shine through, balanced with enough malt.  I know I've had it in the past, but it seems better to me than it used to, a very well done NW IPA.  I'll be filling my chalice with it as often as I can.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My New Glassware

It all started in May, when Carla and I finally visited the Brewers Union 180 Pub in Oakridge.  Oregon's only 100% Real Ale pub also serves tactlessly honest pints.  A beer glass at Brewers Union is not only shaped like an English pint glass, it doesn't only hold an imperial 20-ounce pint of beer, it is marked with a 20-ounce fill line that also leaves room for a head.  The pub sells them for 10 bucks each, so even though I have been instructed to reduce the number of logo-bearing beer glasses on our shelves at home, I just had to bring one of these beauties home with me.  As you can see from the picture, if you're careful and slurp off some of the head, you can fit a 22-ounce bottle of beer into a gigantic BU180 glass.  Brilliant.

Then I transgressed further.  For a long time, I have admired the hefty goblets that Rogue pubs use to serve some of their bigger beers.  At one of Rogue's "garage sales" this summer I finally treated myself to a pair of them so I could feel kingly when drinking beer at home.  I really enjoy these goblets, but they don't hold much -- 10 ounces at best.  That can often be a good thing, though it would be nice if a whole 12-ounce bottle could fit in one.

Then I got goblet envy once more in early August when I was at the Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin.  They were serving some beers in giant fishbowl goblets that weigh about two and a half pounds and hold at least 16 ounces.  They didn't bear any logo, and they weren't for sale as souvenirs, but my friend Brady took note of my excitement over this Holy Grail-shaped vessel.  When he saw several of them for sale at an estate sale shortly thereafter, he bought them up and was kind enough to give me one.  This is the glass I reach for first nowadays, though the huge surface area and heavy weight means I tend to slosh a bit of beer on my feet if I'm walking back to my house after filling it up at Dave's kegerator next door.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tourist's Guide to the Oregon Brewers Festival (3rd Edition)

I love the OBF.  Sure the Oregon Brewers Festival gets crowded as the weekend wears on, and it's often hot and dusty, and there is only one beer from each brewery.  Still, it's hard to beat in terms of a happy crowd and pretty surroundings.

In 2008 I wrote up a meandering guide to the Oregon Brewers Festival, which I followed up with a more to-the-point Tourist's Guide in 2010.  The rest of this post is a rerun of that 2010 guide, updated with even more Eastside places to drink beer.  The guide and the accompanying map have recommendations of things to do within walking distance of the festival, not all of which have to do with beer.

The Journey is the Destination

The OBF's location at Tom McCall Waterfront Park makes for a nice 2.5 mile loop along the east and west banks of the Willamette River, walking over or under four of Portland's drawbridges. Go south along the river, beneath the Morrison Bridge, and cross the Willamette (rhymes with "dammit", by the way) on the beautiful Hawthorne Bridge (1910). Pedestrians should keep toward the bridge railing -- bicycles get the part of the sidewalk nearest the cars. Follow the curving sidewalk down to the path on the east side of the river, the Eastbank Esplanade.

View Larger Map

Heading north along the river, accompanied by the automotive roar of I-5 overhead, you'll cross under the Morrison and Burnside Bridges before coming to a stretch of the sidewalk which actually floats in the Willamette. You'll cross the river back to Waterfront Park on the Steel Bridge (1914). There are other double-deck drawbridges in the world, but the Steel Bridge is the only one that telescopes: the lower deck can be raised while the upper deck remains open to traffic.  (For a shorter route, take the corkscrew sidewalk up to the nice wide sidewalk on the Morrison Bridge, and then cross Naito to get back to the festival.)

For Kids of All Ages

If you brought your kids to the festival and need to give them a break, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a science museum on the east side of the river, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, easily accessible from the Esplanade. There is also an IMAX theater and planetarium at OMSI.

Another interesting eastside youth attraction is the skateboard park hidden under the Burnside Bridge. Originally a do-it-yourself project that was later embraced by the city, you can't get to it directly from the pedestrian loop described above -- you can't even see it from there. You have to get onto the south sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge, either on the west side at Saturday Market, or by taking the stairs labeled "Burnside" from the Esplanade. Follow the Burnside sidewalk to MLK, turn right and go a block to Ankeny, turn right and go two blocks to 2nd (the sidewalk runs out), and turn right again to go under the bridge. You probably shouldn't go down there at night, but it's a cool thing to see during the day.

More Beer!

There are several interesting pub options you can walk to from the festival.

The Morrison Bridge sidewalk drops you right at the door of the Hair of the Dog tasting room at Water and Yamhill Streets.

The Full Sail Pilsner Room [review] is about 3/4 mile south of the festival. Go underneath the Hawthorne Bridge and follow the sidewalk down towards the sailboat harbor.

Bailey's Taproom [review] is about 1/2 mile west of the festival. Follow Oak St. across Broadway, Bailey's is one block to your right.  Tugboat Brewing Company [review] is across Ankeny.

If you took the stroll to the east side of the river, you're only about a half-mile from a cluster of breweries in a neighborhood that is also known as Distillery Row:  the Lucky Labrador [review] at 9th and Hawthorne, the Green Dragon [review] at 9th and Yamhill, Cascade Barrel House at 10th and Belmont, and the Commons Brewery at 10th and Stephens.  There is also a brand-new taproom at the corner of 12th and Hawthorne:  Lardo has about 15 nice taps, and high-fat snacks.

Further Afield

This article is too long already, so I'll briefly list a few more attractions that you should see while you're in Portland.
The Horse Brass would be quite a long walk: take bus #15 (to Parkrose) and get off near SE 45th. The Tram is not too long of a walk if you're already at the Pilsner Room, but it's not a very pleasant one; you could also take the streetcar.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pfriem Family Brewers

You will soon start to see taphandles around town from a new brewery in Hood River: Pfriem Family Brewers.  Brewer/owner Josh Pfriem (pronounced "Freem"), was at Bazi Bierbrasserie Friday with his wife Annie and some more of the Pfriem crew to promote his new Belgian-styled beers.  Those in attendance got to try the five beers on the current roster -- Pfriem calls them the "2012 varietals", implying that 2013 might offer a different lineup.

The beers don't have clever names, at least not so far:  they're just called by whatever style they are.  Here's what we tried on Friday:

  • Wit: Noticeably more bitter than most wits (this is intentional), but a nice take on the style, with the usual herbal/yeasty flavors.
  • Blonde IPA: Josh said he thinks of this as a "Pilsner IPA" -- it is brewed with pilsner malts -- but also intends it as an homage to Westvleteren Blonde (a surprisingly hoppy light Belgian beer).  It is very crisp and dry.  Interesting and not bad, though I think IPA is not quite the right word for it.
  • Belgian Strong Blonde: I loved this beer. It has that nice clovey flavor like Duvel (though it's always dangerous to compare something to Duvel).  Like the other Pfriem beers, it's pretty dry and light-bodied, and it is a beautiful-looking beer: impossibly light in color, almost clear, but with a golden sparkle.
  • IPA: This is intended to be the NW style house offering.  Again, surprisingly dry and light on the tongue, but with nice floral hops.  Pretty strong at 7.2%.  Not bad, but probably not going to become your go-to IPA.
  • Belgian Strong Dark: A 10% sipper, with the kinds of dark fruit, chocolatey, almost leathery flavors you want in big beers like this, but still drier than a lot of beers this size.  Josh wouldn't call it a Quadrupel, but he does want you to think of beers like St. Bernardus when you're drinking this. 

All the beers were clean and well-made.  At a point in time where saisons and related "farmhouse" styles seem to be all the rage, it's interesting that Pfriem didn't go down that road.  Nor are they selling any wild or sour ales, though Josh did say that a wild-ale program is in the works for future releases.  I predict that the Strong Blonde and Strong Dark are going to be the most popular Pfriem beers.  It's great to have an Oregon brewery focus on those kind of Abbey-inspired Belgians -- I can't think of another brewery in the region that has those as their flagships, though Hopworks comes out with some great strong Belgians from time to time.

Except for the Wit, all the beers we tried were filtered, which gave them a really pretty clarity in the glass.  If there's a common theme in my tasting notes, it's "dry" -- there was nothing anywhere near cloying in any of the beers, and even the stronger ones were surprisingly light-bodied and drinkable.

Look for Pfriem beers on draft in Portland at finer establishments.  The brewery has ordered equipment to produce corked-and-caged 750 ml bottles.  The tasting room at the brewery in Hood River will hold a grand opening Saturday August 4th, and it looks like the hours after that will be 11:30 to 9 Wednesday thru Sunday.

Further reading: Ezra has a very detailed interview with Josh over at the New School.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Belgium Sour Blending Symposium

Last month I was invited to New Belgium's Sour Beer Blending Symposium at Saraveza.  The event was a fine Monday night offering during PDX Beer Week: for some background, here is the press release for it over on the New School; here is Jeff Alworth's excellent recap of the session.  It was a really interesting and fun experience which my brain has been digesting about as quickly as brettanomyces digests sugar, and now I'm ready to give you my point of view.

Symposium.  I like it.  It's not a meet-the-brewer, it's not even a seminar, it's a symposium.  I was going to make fun of the snootiness of that word, until I looked up the etymology:  holy crap, in Latin it meant "drinking party", with Greek roots:

syn- "together" + posis "a drinking,"

Say what you will about Fat Tire -- go ahead, I dare you -- New Belgium has a boldness that you have to admire: hiring a brewmaster from Rodenbach, promoting bicycling with the Tour de Fat, and putting on Sour Beer Symposia and/or Drinking Parties around the country.  The Symposium in Portland was headed by the husband and wife team of Eric and Lauren Salazar.  Eric is a brewer at New Belgium, and Lauren is NB's Sensory Specialist, in charge of the blending program that produces the sour beers in the Lips of Faith Series.

The Symposium started off with an hour-long slide show about the brewery, including a virtual tour of the warehouse where they age beer in giant wooden casks called foeders.  All the sour Lips of Faith beers are based on some combination of an Odd Couple of beers called Oscar and Felix.  Oscar is a dark ale that has almost the same components of NB's 1554 Black Ale, minus the black malt; Felix is a lighter-colored strong Belgian.  If you've had Eric's Ale or Le Terroir, those are 100% Felix beers, so you might get an idea of what Felix is about.  The beers are fermented out to be pretty dry -- they don't want a lot of residual sugars in these beers.

New Belgium has some wooden barrels for aging beer, but their real workhorses are the foeders. When a new foeder arrives at the brewery, a certain amount of the wood inside is shaved off, but there may be some residual critters.  Once filled with beer, they are inoculated with the house blend of... well, of what we aren't exactly sure.  Lauren said that they started off with all the stuff that sounds like childhood diseases:  pediococcus, brettanomyces, lactobacillus.  But now she says that what's growing in those foeders is its own little world, and New Belgium doesn't care so much what it is, as how it is.  When people asked her what was growing in the foeders, she said (I'm paraphrasing) "I don't know exactly, but it's a bunch of organisms that love where they're living".

And so the NB blending program doesn't rely on any microbial analysis, the blending is done entirely on sensory perception.  Because there is no particular schedule to the Lips of Faith releases, the brewery has the luxury of waiting until they think they have something worth bottling before they pull it out of the casks.  As the foeders are sampled, they are grouped into three rough categories:  Users (ready to use), Blenders (ready to extend Users), and Waiters (not ready yet).  Every now and then, a beer tastes so good out of the foeder that it is deemed suitable to be bottled without any blending.  These are the beers that occasionally appear as "NBB Love" beers -- if you ever see a New Belgium beer with the word "Love" in its name, it's a single-barrel beer that you should not pass up.

Lauren boasted that she could train anyone to be on her sensory panel; that seemed overly idealistic to me so when I followed up with her by email she said "No one panelist is perfect, we all are going to be more or less sensitive to families of compounds (sulfurs, organic acids, esters, etc). Your panel is your strength and that strength comes from a number of trained and validated panelists that you know their strengths and weaknesses."

After the slide show and infomercial came the audience participation part of the Drinking Pa-, er, Symposium.  New Belgium had brought five firkins to Saraveza, four of which contained beer from various foeders at the brewery; the fifth contained La Folie (an expertly blended sour -- the 2010 vintage if I remember correctly).  Participants were given samples of the five beers -- in plastic cups, sorry Jim -- and asked to sample them and come up with a ratio that they would want to take home in a growler as their own personal blend.

For the record, in Portland our samples were from Foeders 2, 7, 8, and 14, plus La Folie of course.  It was a little bit suboptimal in that the pure items were uncarbonated -- if you wanted a little fizz in your mix, you had to add in the La Folie training wheels.  I've lost my notes on the different samples, but there was definitely a range of funk there, from sweet tart to "did you step in something?".  At our table we were pretty much in agreement as to the nastiest beer -- not that it was totally irredeemable -- and that tended to occupy a smaller part in most of our blends.  Interestingly, one of the NB marketing guys told me that the foeder we eschewed was the most popular in the earlier session.  Where's my tasting panel?

I was pretty happy with the beer I took home, though like Jeff, I think that this blending thing is pretty difficult.  My hat's off to people that do it for a living.  My blend was 8 parts firkin 2, 18 parts firkin 7, 14 parts firkin 8, 16 parts firkin 14, and 8 parts La Folie.  Needless to say, it was flat as a pancake, especially after riding home on the front rack of my bike.  But tasty -- funky, and not too tart.

If you are a fan of sour beers, especially if you are a fan of La Folie or any of the New Belgium Lips of Faith beers, you should absolutely attend one of these Sour Beer Symposia if you get the chance. 

Further reading: Here's an excellent long interview with Lauren on a blog called Embrace the Funk.

Monday, July 2, 2012

De Struise Meet the Brewer at Hair of the Dog

Urbain Coutteau (photo: Teresa Culp)
I haven't been paying very close attention to the beer events happening around me lately, so I was glad to get an email from Brian Thursday morning that there would be a meet-the-brewer that evening at Hair of the Dog with Urbain Coutteau of Belgium's De Struise brewery.  The event featured a tap takeover with eight De Struise beers seldom tapped in these parts, and since Hair of the Dog lies directly between my office and home, it was an easy call.

This was the most fun I've had at a meet-the-brewer in a long time.  The beers were great, and Hair of the Dog's wide open space made things very comfortable.  Urbain was orbiting the bar area, stopping to chat with clusters of people who dragged him over to talk about beer.  He told us he's been here about a week, but that HotD brewer Alan Sprints kept him busy brewing much of the time.  He'll have to return another time to see more of Portland.

Belgian beer is held in such reverence here that we sometimes miss some of the fun in their brewery names.  "De Struise Brouwers" means "The Sturdy Brewers" -- already a lighthearted name along the lines of "Gigantic" -- but there is also a pun involved because "struise" can mean "ostrich".  (The brewery that brought this situation to light for me was De Proef, whose self-deprecating name means something like "The Test Brewery".)

The beers that were on were:

  • Witte
  • Svea IPA
  • Elliot Brew (Mikkeller collaboration double IPA)
  • XXX Rye Tripel
  • Tsjeesus Tripel
  • Pannepot Quadrupel
  • Pannepot Reserva (barrel-aged)
  • Pannepeut Quadrupel

My favorite of the bunch was the regular Pannepot, which the brewer himself described as "a punch in the face".  It does have tons of dark roast and esthery Belgian flavors, which I felt like were diminished too much in the barrel-aged version.  Pannepeut -- a drier, lighter-bodied version of Pannepot originally brewed as Pannep√łt for a festival in Copenhagen -- was a subtler version that was still very interesting.  Urbain said he thinks of it as a more traditional abbey ale than the heavy-handed Pannepot. 

The Svea IPA seemed to me to have a lot in common with Hair of the Dog Fred -- both of them being quite hoppy but nicely balanced beers on the sweet end of the spectrum -- even though it's only about 75% the strength.  On the other hand, I thought the Elliot Brew -- I can't believe I'm about to type this -- overdid the hops.  It wasn't terrible, but a little more balance would have made it better.

Urbain seemed uncomfortable at first when I asked him what he and Alan brewed this week, so I asked if the beers were clones of De Struise recipes, and he said, "Well, pretty close, but with Hair of the Dog's hopping schedule".  Alan was more direct in proclaiming their lineage, telling me they brewed Pannepot and Pannepeut, and that he plans to barrel age some of the Pannepot to recreate De Struise's Pannepot Reserva.

This was a nice low-key event that I'm glad I didn't miss out on.  Now if we can only convince De Struise to send us a keg of their 26% ABV Double Black...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Portland Beer Price Index: Summer 2012

Summertime, and the beer buyin' ain't easy. The PBPI is up, up, up this quarter, except for the sticker price of six-packs, which stayed the same. Bomber prices, after hitting a historic low last quarter, are back up to historic highs. That's kind of a blow to my theorizing, since I thought the past year's trend of lower bomber prices meant that their artificial price inflation with respect to six-packs would eventually correct itself.  Not yet, so in honor of that, this month's chart shows the oscillations of the bomber numbers over the last three years.  Here are the prices I observed this quarter:
  • 6-packs: $9.25, unchanged
  • 22-ounce bombers: $4.83, up 13 cents
  • 6-packs (sale price): $8.85, up 12 cents
  • 22-ounce bombers (sale price): $4.68, up 17 cents
  • 16 oz. draft: $4.39 up 6 cents
  • 16 oz. draft (happy hour): $3.59, up 5 cents
Three of the pubs I survey have raised their draft prices since I last checked.  That's after one pub raised them last quarter.  Beer on tap is going to cost you more going forward.  I won't be surprised to see more price hikes at bars next time also.

If you're very fastidious, you've noticed that the bomber prices quoted above don't add up with the difference to last quarter's price.  It's because I made an adjustment, dropping Beer Valley's Leafer Madness from the index (at least for now).  I had added it in a while back when it was difficult to find Pelican IPA around Portland, but this time -- for the first time ever -- every store I canvass had Pelican in stock.  That by itself wouldn't lead me to kick Leafer out, but that beer was only on the shelf at one of the places I check.  Ouch.  That was supposed to be my high-end replacement for the fading Pelican, but the tables have dramatically turned.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rye Beer Fest 2012 Recap

It's not like we need any extra beer festivals in Portland, but the Rye Beer Fest that helped kick off Portland Beer Week last Friday at Spirit of 77 was a nice low-key event with an eclectic set of beers.  The festival benefited local clean-water charity We Love Clean Rivers.  Pub Night regular and  Taplister mogul Kerry Finsand organized the fest in honor of his wife Josie's taste for rye beers and river sports.  Way to overacheive, Kerry.  I hope that doesn't give the rest of the beer widows out there too many ideas.

Spirit of 77 has a mix of good and bad qualities as a bar and as a festival venue.  On the plus side, the beer selection is decent, always with one or two nice surprises.  If you're watching sports, the huge screen is great, and free pop-a-shot hoops is very civilized.  But the location is kind of out of the way over by the convention center, and it gets noisy in the high-ceilinged space -- a little hard to hold a conversation.  Still, I'm impressed that you can get a 20-ounce pint there, and you can also order a 10-ounce glass for exactly half the price -- a surprisingly rare situation called linear pricing that the Beeronomist has taught us about -- or, if you're an economist or a sucker you can order a relatively more expensive 16-ounce pint.  At the Rye Fest, small 4-ounce tasters were also available in plastic cups.

My favorite beers were:
  • Hopworks Fight for Your Rye't Dark Mild - dark, smoky malt; light yet creamy body; very drinkable
  • Commons Enkel Light Belgian Pale - reminiscent of a hefeweizen, plus some nice hops that play well with the rye
  • Breakside Kellerbier - packed with flavor, a little caramelly, with spicy rye and piney hops
  • Short Snout Rye-teous Dude Stout - very nicely balanced stout, on the malty side
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA - if you haven't tried this beer, get a bottle right away: smoky, rich, hoppy
  • Bear Republic Ryevalry IIPA - a nice big hop monster with a little rye in the background 
Nice to see Milwaukie-based Kickstarted brewery Short Snout starting to place some kegs at festivals and a few bars.  The stout was the first beer I've had the chance to try, and it was a winner.  I really enjoyed the first two beers on the list above -- they were relatively low in alcohol, but very tasty.  That's the cloudy Commons Enkel in the picture above.

Congratulations to Kerry for pulling together an interesting beer lineup.  I hope the Rye Beer Fest comes back next year, it's a nice addition to the festival ecosystem.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Preview: Portland Fruit Beer Festival 2012

Last year's "first annual" Portland Fruit Beer Festival had about twice the attendance that organizer Ezra Johnson-Greenough expected it to have -- with most of that coming on the busy Saturday opening despite parking and traffic disruptions by the Portland Rose Festival parade a few blocks away.  There were some shortages of the mostly one-off beers, but for the most part the festival went off pretty smoothly.  The preponderance of beers brewed specifically for the festival made for a very enjoyable time; to jog your memory, read my recap of last year's festival.

This year's festival should be even better, with:
  • More space (NE 7th Ave. closed off)
  • More beer in stock
  • Draft trucks for faster keg replacement
  • Four rare taps on at once, instead of last year's two
  • Several ciders on tap for your beer-challenged loved ones
On the down side, the entry price is a little higher this year:  in order to get a wristband for drinking, you must purchase a $20 package that includes a nice glass and 12 tickets for samples (the glass was only $6 last year).  Additional tickets are $1.  Minors and other non-drinkers get in free.

It's always fun to look over a festival's beer list before you get there, to make a plan for what you're going to attack first.  Here is the PFBF's main list; there is also a rotating rare tap list.  I have a few recommendations for you, some of which I have tried, others that caught my eye on the list for one reason or another (alphabetical by brewery):
  • Alameda Huckleberry Hound IPA: Not my favorite, but one of the quickest to run out last year, so get it fast.
  • Bend Brewing Ching Ching Berliner Weisse: A GABF medal winner from the talented Tonya Cornett.
  • Breakside Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Golden Ale: Made with whole pies!
  • Burnside Red Light District Imperial Stout: A little sweet, and over 10%, but one of the few beers I've had where strawberries make a good addition.
  • Gigantic Hot Town, Summer in the City Imperial Black Saison: Gigantic's already tasty IBS, with Ben Love's sarcastic addition of the fruit of the chile pepper plant.
  • Laurelwood Cascara Obscura Belgian Dubbel: A delicious abbey ale, with a slight rose-hip tartness from the addition of the coffee berries -- excellent off-the-wall fruit choice.
  • Ninkasi Cherry Bourbon Renewale Porter: Last year the Cherry Oatis was my unexpected favorite of the festival, so I have to check this one out.
  • Upright Levinator Bock: The picture above doesn't do justice to the pretty beet-juice color that black currants add to this full-bodied, slightly tart bock.  Delicious.
  • Widmer Marionberry Hibiscus Gose: Last year I was underwhelmed by Widmer's very pretty Raspberry Hibiscus Gose, though lots of people loved it.  I like this year's much better, it seems a little maltier and a little saltier.  Check it out.
I'm not even going to go into the rare beers list, but do keep an eye out for Burnside's International Incident, a news-making strong wheat ale with mangos, hot peppers, and Indian spices.  There are also rare kegs from breweries seldom or never seen in Portland:  Short Snout Brewing, a new Kickstarter-funded nanobrewery in town; California's Almanac (founded by a beer blogger!); and Naked City and Schooner Exact from Washington.

Some things to keep in mind for the festival:
  • Where: 701 E. Burnside (Note: The Burnside Bridge is closed Saturday morning for the Rose Parade.)
  • When:
    • Saturday June 9, 2012, 11 AM - 9 PM
    • Sunday June 10, 2012, 11 AM - 6 PM
  • Cost: free entry; 16-ounce tasting glass plus 12 tastes $20; 4-ounce taste $1
  • All ages are admitted.
  • Car parking: good luck. The Rose Parade will further complicate matters early Saturday.  Bike or take the bus.
  • Bike parking:  not much at the festival.  There are big bike corrals just off East Burnside at 6th, 8th, and 9th, and there's another one at 9th and Ash.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Au Revoir, Angelo!

I almost never blog about bloggers, or blog about blogging, since this is a beer blog, not a blog blog.  But the departure of Brewpublic founder Angelo De Ieso from Portland deserves special mention.  For the last few years, during this great beer explosion in Portland, Angelo has been in the thick of it:  writing about it, staging events, and most importantly, enjoying Portland beer.  He's so much more than a blogger, he's one of the beer people that makes this place great.

Angelo's off to start a new life with his new wife Ashley -- a.k.a. The Beer Wench -- in the Bay Area.  At least he didn't head to Maine or Michigan or someplace I'd likely never see him again.  But he will be missed here.

I remember meeting Angelo -- and then-girlfriend Margaret Lut -- for the first time at the 2008 Lucky Lab hop harvest.  I'd read some of Angelo's beer writing before that, but he and Margaret mentioned that they were about to launch Brewpublic.  Can you remember a time before Brewpublic?  There are more and more good beer blogs in Portland all the time, but if Brewpublic and/or the New School had been around in December of 2007, I would never have started It's Pub Night, because they document our beer scene the way I wanted to do it -- only better than I ever could.

Three generations of Portland beer writing

Brewpublic's Killer Beer Fest 3.5 last Sunday at Bailey's was an appropriate send-off to Angelo, with great beers at great prices, including the delicious and hilariously-named De Ieso Spades from Hopworks (it's a dry-hopped version of The Ace of Spades IIPA).  Angelo, don't be a stranger, you're welcome back to Portland any time!

To get Angelo's story in his own words, read Sanjay's recent interview with him. I'm sure Brewpublic will keep going, either with a new California focus, or staying Oregon-oriented with its solid roster of local contributors.  Now, if any of you Brewpublic writers want to switch loyalties and become writers at It's Pub Night, I'm happy to poach you, just send me an email.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brewers Union Local 180 - Oakridge, Oregon

Finally! Only four years after the one-of-a-kind Brewers Union Local 180 opened in the out-of-the way location of Oakridge, Oregon, I finally paid a visit this week and was able to sample a range of brewer Ted Sobel's cask-conditioned beers in their native habitat.

In case you're not familiar with Brewers Union, it's a pub which brews and serves "real ale" in the sense of England's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).  Ted brews beer in 2-barrel batches -- that's British imperial barrels, about 2.8 Yankee barrels -- conditions them in firkins, and serves them at cellar temperature in 20-ounce imperial pints.  The small batches are open-fermented, typically between 4% and 5% ABV, and drawn from the firkin with hand pumps.  So, the proprietor must be a homesick British expat, right?  Er, no, but he did learn the trade during a stint a few years ago at a Lake District pub called the Woolpack Inn.

There were only four house-made beers on the pumps Monday when Carla and I were in Oakridge, all delightful:
  • Wotcha Best Bitter - 4.3%: smooth and honeyed, balanced with a touch of earthy hops.
  • Good With Bacon Special Bitter -  4.9%: light caramel flavor, nice balance of bitterness.
  • 3 Sigma Out IPA - 5.3%: beautiful floral aroma, light body, long hop finish.
  • Cumbrian Moor Porter - 4.8%: smooth and roasty without being charred; full-bodied but not cloying.
I enjoyed all the beers, but Wotcha -- this batch made with Mt. Hood hops -- was the standout and I came back to it again and again.  It might have an alcohol content lower than Budweiser, but it was packed with flavor.  Ted credits the Maris Otter malt from Thomas Fawcett with the great taste.  Northwest aroma hops in most of the beers provide a nice counterpoint to the otherwise studiously English recipes and presentation.  The food menu, too, is more Oregon than England, though there is an obligatory fish and chips plate (I got mine with sweet potato fries).

The usual IPA -- Union Dew -- was out when we were there, but a fifth pump had on a nice malty cask of Block 15's Ridgeback Red -- at 6.3%, pretty potent compared to the BU180 beers.  There are always a few guest kegs of "regular beer" on tap for non-believers. Monday's guests were Oakshire Domaine du Lane Saison, Oakshire Watershed IPA, Seven Brides Chocolate Stout, and Hale's El Jefe Hefeweizen. There was also a cider on tap from Wandering Aengus, and a mead from Eugene's Blue Dog Meadery.

A lot of attention goes into the brewing, storage, and serving of the ales, but Ted says the important thing about Brewers Union is that it provides a space where people can get together and socialize.  He is a very hands-on publican, mingling with the customers, and getting to know them by name.  I once needled him for setting up such an idiosyncratic pub pretty much in the middle of nowhere -- Oakridge (pop. 3220) is the only incorporated city in Oregon that lies entirely within a national forest -- but his response was simple:  "Every town needs a pub".  It is a cute little town, surrounded by miles of beautiful scenery, and now that I've seen it, I do think it's a great place for a pub. If you ever have the time, take the hour's drive out from Eugene and experience it for yourself.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Honest Pints... of Pabst

Well, they didn't use the term Honest Pint, but I like the anti-cheater pint sentiment, even if it is just to make sure you get a full pint of PBR.  I was a little surprised to see this sign up outside a neighborhood bar, but I'm glad news of the cheater pint menace has gone mainstream.

Here's an old post with photographic evidence that a cheater pint plus a reasonable amount of head on the beer is really just a 12-ounce pour.

Join your Pabst-drinking hipster brethren in saying "no" to cheater pints!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gregwatch: May 2012

A little over four years ago, I wrote a post called Gregwatch: March 2008.  At the time, Hair of the Dog's unusual winter-squash beer Greg was only available at Higgins Restaurant in downtown Portland, and the quality of Greg seemed to swing back and forth between sublimely wonderful and almost undrinkable.  Hence the silly name of the blog post, as though we needed to keep track of when there was good Greg available.

Around that time I asked Alan Sprints why there seemed to be so much variation between the batches, and he seemed genuinely perplexed by the question, basically saying he didn't think there was.  So I was amused last weekend when I asked the bartender at HotD's tasting room if Greg was good right now, and he shot back "It always is!"

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since 2008.  I don't work near Higgins anymore and so I get there a lot less often, though the last few times I was there they didn't even have Greg or any HotD beer on tap (they have various ones in bottles of course).  Meanwhile, Alan has opened a pub of his own, and it does always have Greg on tap.

And it's doing fine.  There was a nice tight head -- oddly gray in color as Greg's head often is -- on top of a cloudy and delicious Belgian golden ale.  It wasn't the best iteration of Greg I've had, but it was perfect for a cloudy evening, chatting with some friends.

I'm looking forward to Fred Fest 2012 at Hair of the Dog this Sunday.  It looks like tickets are still available.  Among the many delights at the festival, apparently the Hair of the Dog/Deschutes collaboration beer will be served.  If you want more convincing that you should buy a ticket, read some of my reports on previous Fred Fests.  You'll have the time of your life.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Let's Stop Calling It "Craft" Beer

The term "craft beer" annoys me.  I wrote part of this diatribe a long time ago, but since a lot of beer friends have headed to San Diego this week for the Craft Brewers Conference, it reminded me that I think it's a silly term.  Why?
  • The Brewers Association promulgates a definition of "craft brewer" that excludes Widmer's parent company -- the ironically named Craft Brewers Alliance -- while including three larger breweries with similar product lines.  The reason?  Anheuser Busch owns a large stake in CBA.
  • On the other hand, the Gambrinus Company -- parent company of Bridgeport, Shiner, and Trumer -- makes the BA's list of "craft brewers".  All right, Bridgeport fits in with what people think of as craft beer, but Trumer?  Everything from Shiner?  I say that with love in my heart -- Shiner Bock was the first beer I loved, and I will always love the Spoetzl Brewery and its beers.
  • Many perfectly fine imported beers would fail the BA's size or ownership tests:  Spaten, Guinness, and Hoegaarden to name a few.
  • Look at wine connoisseurs.  Do they talk about "craft wine"?  No.  They know there is good wine and bad wine, and it's clear from the context which kind they are talking about.
Lots of people have already made these points or similar ones about the term "craft".  I'm not claiming any originality here: Brian Yaeger had a good rant last year when he said I hate "craft beer"; a few months later Jeff Alworth slyly asked Is This Craft Beer? about some lovely bottles from Goose Island, which was thrown off the BA's craft brewer list after being bought by Anheuser Busch themselves.

A comment by Vasili Gletsos (now the Laurelwood brewmaster) on Jeff's post captures the matter so perfectly that it can't be paraphrased, and has to be reported in its entirety:

To me, the term is most useful as a historical movement to describe the resurgence of smaller breweries in a post-prohibition environment. We are now in a post-craft environment in which there is a wide variety of business models and ownerships in addition to a great depth of beer styles and experimentation.

"Post-craft environment":  what a great phrase. Let's move on and just talk about "beer" from now on.  If you need a word to distinguish beer from mass-produced macro-lager, turn the tables and call the latter "crap beer" as Brian suggested in his post.

Who cares how many barrels are produced, or what company owns a stake in the brewery?  If the beer's good, drink it. If it's bad, complain.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Check Out These Floaties

I was excited to hear that Two Beers Brewing would start selling beer in Oregon -- in cans no less.  When Geoff Kaiser invited me up to Seattle last year to help judge the Fresh Hop Throwdown, the entry from Two Beers was one of my favorites, and I'm very picky about fresh hop beers.

So I've been looking forward to trying more of their beers now that they're coming this way.  Yesterday I snagged cans of their Trailhead India Session Ale and Evolutionary IPA.  The Trailhead is a nice hoppy pale with a relatively low 4.8% ABV.  Not quite as bitter or even as low alcohol as the Stone-Ballast Point San Diego Session Ale, but it's a choice I'll seek out again.

I liked the Evolutionary also, but wow! what a lot of yeast floaties were in there, so many that you can see them pretty clearly even in the crummy cellphone picture there.  I was taken aback a few years ago by Hop Henge floaties, but Evolutionary takes it to the next level entirely.  It was kind of mesmerizing to watch them rise and fall with the bubbles in the glass -- it was like a beery snow globe.  Thick and sticky, with tons of citrusy hops, it's good stuff as long as the big chunks don't turn you off.

One more note about Two Beers:  the recently introduced Churchkey Pilsner is contract-brewed at Two Beers.  Interestingly, the recipe for that was developed by Sean Burke, the full-time brewer at SE Portland's Commons Brewery.