Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2011 Pub Night Memories

Last year by accident I didn't reminisce about the previous year until the end of January. I enjoyed that month's delay so much that I'm going to make it a tradition. Now that you've had a breather from all the looking back, looking forward, and the Top 7 Top 5 Lists, it's time to take a walk down memory card lane. Here is a slideshow of pictures that I took at various beer events last year that never made it into the blog:

It's great to look back on the good times of last year, and reflect on the good times to come this year, though my enjoyment is dampened right now by some terrible news about an old friend I received as I was compiling this slideshow. Come what may, I hope you all have a great year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Cook with Expensive Beer!!!

Cooking with beer is nothing new, but the trend does seem to be taking flight as of late.  I have occasionally cringed to see recipes that use a beer that would be better put to use by drinking it -- say, making an ice cream sauce from Deschutes Abyss.   But the recent event that made today's rant inevitable was Beer Advocate's Thanksgiving installment of the Homebrew Chef, which counseled readers to brine their turkeys with 4 (four) 750 ml bottles of Allagash Tripel, and serve it up with cranberry sauce made from an even rarer Deschutes beer than Abyss:  The Dissident.

Beer can chicken is one thing, but soaking a turkey in $40-$50 worth of beer which then has to be dumped down the drain is just sick.  And no matter what your opinion is on extremely sour American takes on Belgian ales, can you see opening a bottle which is nearly impossible to get hold of right now, and pouring it into cranberry sauce?

Look, if you find that beer adds a flavorful dimension to your cooking, that's great.  But suppose a recipe calls for red wine.  Are you going to add 2 cups of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape to it?  No, because it's an insult to a wine of that quality, not to mention a silly waste of money.  You'll use a good-enough table wine, and your food won't be any worse for it.

I suppose a Deschutes chef cooking with Abyss is just using what he has on hand, though I don't think the dish would have suffered any from the use of the less costly Obsidian Stout instead.  Here's a picture of Alan Sprints whipping up some chocolate-raspberry sorbet that includes some Hair of the Dog Adam.  It's not a cheap beer, but he's the brewer and it's what he's got.  Even so, I doubt he would pull out some of his barrel-aged creations and give them the same treatment.  [Oops! Matt points out in a comment below that Alan has made cheesecakes and ice creams with Cherry Adam from the Wood.  Now I don't have to feel so bad for making him the expensive-beer-cooking poster boy.]

I'm not the first person to inveigh against the evils of cooking with rare beer  Here's a year-old blog post from across the pond that gets it about right:  "Sometimes, it seems the point is to impress with big beer names. Regardless of the impact it actually has on the dish’s flavour."   There are also a couple of quasi-sensible comments about it on the Beer Advocate turkey-brining fiasco mentioned above.

Respect beer: don't cook with the rare stuff!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Portland Pub Crawl: SE 9th to SE 12th

Not long ago I claimed to have invented the Portland pub crawl.  But looking back through the pub crawls I've written up over the years, every single one of them is out of date.  The other day when I asked your advice on where to send tourists drinking in Portland, a common theme was that a pub crawl is the best way to experience Portland's beer scene. I heartily concur, so I propose to outline a few easy-to-walk Portland pub crawls.  The audience for these posts is more likely to be visitors than natives, though of course I welcome your input if there's something you would change about the routes.

First up:  a no-brainer through my own zip code of 97214:

View Portland Pub Crawl: SE 9th to 12th in a larger map

The green pins represent the main points on the pub crawl.  I recommend that you go from north to south, since Apex and the Firkin are open far later in the night than anywhere else, though if you're hoping to visit the worthy Beermongers, keep in mind that they close at 11 on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday. The yellow pins are optional (except for Commons Brewery:  don't miss it if your pub crawl happens during the few hours they are open).  Here's the green-pin plan:
  • Cascade Barrel House: Nice patio, Crazy wild beers, but also more accessible beers available in honest pints
  • Green Dragon: Great taproom.  Maybe the least Rogue-ish Rogue establishment.
  • Lucky Labrador: A Portland classic.  The patio isn't very scenic, but it's a convivial hangout if the weather is good.  Great setup for darts.
  • The Firkin: New place with 14 rotating taps, midway between Lucky Lab and Beermongers.
  • The Beermongers: Super casual bottleshop, with great prices, and 8 well-curated beers on tap.
  • Apex: Portland's answer to Toronado.  No frills, just reasonable prices on excellent beers.
Now, this is a pretty serious itinerary, and although it's only 1 mile from beginning to end, it would probably take you an entire day to finish it. Maybe it's better to think of this map as describing two separate pub crawls:  one north of Hawthorne Blvd., the other one south of Hawthorne.  Clicking on the pins will tell you the opening hours of each place -- most of them are open between 11 am and at least 11 pm every day -- as well as a short description of the pub.

Clicking on the bus icons will tell you the last departing times for the main buses to and from downtown Portland, and also gives you the Trimet stop IDs so you can check bus arrivals in real time.  If you click the "View larger map" link, the Google map lets you select the Transit overlay to see more bus routes in the area.

I added the optional yellow pins to give you more choices if you decide on one of the smaller routes, or if you need to stick close to TVs for some kind of sporting event, or if you want some different food options.  As I said, even though its pin is yellow, don't miss the Commons Brewery if your pub crawl is early on a Friday or Saturday evening -- it's a small brewery that makes high-quality, approachable beers in a variety of interesting styles.  There are many other optional places I could have added, but I didn't want to clutter the map too much.  If you crave more variety, click to the larger Google map and search nearby for "bar".

Enjoy your pub crawl!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Caps and Corks

It's not often that I pick up a beer scoop around here, but the other day I stumbled on a newly opened bottleshop/taproom in NW Portland:  Caps and Corks at 17th and Lovejoy.  As Jason and Nicole pointed out last year, the NW quadrant is hurting for just such a business.  The location had for years been the Emanon Cafe -- the name was "No Name" backwards -- but has started a rebranding this week.

There are currently 7 beers on draft and 400 bottled beers, with plans to add more taps and a few more bottles.  20-ounce pints are $5 and shaker pints are $4, both 50 cents off during happy hour.  When I stopped in Wednesday at lunchtime, the taplist was pretty good, about evenly split between widely accessible and more esoteric regional beers:
  • Occidental Alt
  • Anchor Steam
  • Fearless Porter
  • Widmer Hef
  • Klamath Basin Lager
  • Goodlife Stout
  • Boneyard Notorious IIPA
Beer and wine bottles are available to go:  the corkage fee on beers is $1, whereas the price tag on a wine bottle is discounted by $5 if you get it to go.  The bottled and canned beer selection had some interesting choices but will hopefully evolve further; I'm not a wine guy but the wine selection seemed a little paltry to me.  They have a good selection of mainstream lagers in tall-boy cans if someone in your party can't drink the good stuff.

Caps and Corks is a welcome addition to the neighborhood for me:  it's kitty-corner from my office, and open for lunch.  Most food items are in the $4-$10 range, and the menu includes such Portland favorites as poutine, house-made pickles, and meat and cheese boards. Nice to see the 20-ounce beer option at a reasonable enough price; in a perfect world every new beer bar in Portland would start off immediately using glassware with a marked fill line, but we're not there yet.

There's quite a little tavern district popping up along NW 17th in the last year:  the Bent Brick at Marshall, Moonshine Tavern mid-block, and now Caps and Corks at Lovejoy.  Along 16th are some colorful bars that have been there a while: Slabtown (supposedly due to re-open soon), Le Happy, and my personal favorite dive bar in the area, Yur's.  Caps and Corks is the only one to focus heavily on beer, let's wish them luck.  They're already open for business, but they will have a Grand Opening celebration on January 27th.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thinning Out the Cellar

It's fun to cellar beer.  You get to buy something cool, and you still have it months or years later.  At some point you can amaze your friends by opening that oldie but goodie.

But there are risks involved.  All beer will eventually be too old to drink, even beers that age very well.  You invested some money and some storage space on that beer -- how long is too long to keep it?  I've been known to say that you should drink beer within two years of its bottling.  Of course that's not a hard and fast rule -- on New Year's Eve I cracked a 3-year-old Roots Epic that was truly delightful -- but I claim that aging beyond two years doesn't add much benefit to most beers, and the things that can go wrong start to have more effect.

After an initial excitement about cellaring beer when I started geeking out a few years ago, I'm now at the point where I'm trying to reduce the amount of beer in the basement -- and I'm not a very big hoarder by any means.  One part of that equation is to not keep as much beer -- hey, those big ones age well, but they can be really good fresh also.  The other part is trying to use up more of the bottles I've got.

It seems like I hear more people talking about thinning out the cellar lately.  Is it just me, or are a lot of people having the same idea?  Are you keeping less and/or drinking more of your collection?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Changes to Hopworks Cask Ales?

[Editor's Note: Another excellent guest post by Dave.]

Please excuse this interjection, but I felt the need to sic the blogosphere on Hopworks. This evening we were at the mothership with our children and in-laws (HUB is first on our list with out-of-towners when the kids are in tow) and I ordered one of my favorite cask-conditioned ales, their IPA. The CO2 version never does much for me, but the cask version is perfect...floral nose, bitterness, and the malt comes out shining. Tonight, the pour seemed like a flat, cold CO2 pour.

I was almost embarrassed describing it to the waitress...I felt like a noob complaining about my first cask-conditioned pour. After some well-tipped commiseration, she brought a replacement CO2 pint and relayed that the pub was experimenting with a new method: Lower gas pressure for the cask taps. Huh? Why is there any pressure, isn't it pumped out by hand?  My suspicion is that they are trying to cheat the cask, and I'd like to get informed opinions to confirm. I had a tried-and-true cask IPA before Christmas that was just fine; has anyone experienced the new method?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Your Thoughts on Where to Drink Beer in Portland

Somehow on Tuesday's post about Bridgeport, the comments veered off on a tangent of what beer places to recommend to out-of-town visitors to Portland.

My top three recommendations to anyone are always:

One of the commenters yesterday suggested Hopworks as a great place to take visitors, and even though it isn't the first place that comes to my mind, there is nothing but solid beer there, and guests I've taken to HUB have always been very impressed (especially if they have young kids).

I think pub crawls are also a great way to show off the town, since there are often several good pubs within easy walking distance of one another.  If you can get your guests on a bike, so much the better.  I've written about a few Portland pub crawls, but several of them are out of date due to openings and closings, so you might want to check out Jeff's series of pub crawls on Beervana.

What about you?  Where do you insist on taking out-of-town guests for beer, and why?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Scattered Thoughts about the Bridgeport Pubs

Yesterday I took advantage of Bridgeport's Monday beer special at their Pearl District pub while watching the Rose Bowl -- $3 imperial pints is about as good a deal as it gets in Portland these days.  As I was leaving, I happened to walk directly in front of the bar, and noticed that Bridgeport's new "black pale ale" Dark Rain was on tap.  Funny, I'd been there for hours, and it wasn't listed on the sign above the bar, nor was it on the printed menus, nor did anyone bother to tell me about it.  Talk about hiding your candle under a bushel.

It points to an issue at that pub: the employees do not seem very happy. The service is rarely great but usually OK there, but sometimes it's really bad. Unhappy employees are unmotivated employees -- you know this yourself from whatever bad work experience you might have had in the past. Somewhere on the management side is something keeping these people gloomy. If the wheels were running smoothly, someone would have read me as a beer geek -- first question: "What's on cask?" -- and alerted me to the new beer.

Something else was odd yesterday.  Looking up at the bar chalkboard, I ordered a pint of Ebeneezer -- the winter warmer -- but was told, "Oh, that's only in bottles".  Reasonable enough, it's a seasonal release, they ran through the kegs, but some bottles remain.  But the next bit of information was more surprising: "That, and Blue Heron.  The brewers have been on vacation."  Out of kegs of Blue Heron?  It's no longer the flagship beer, but it has a following and its low alcohol makes it a great choice for a few pints watching a football game.

In case you missed it, the coffee porter Bridgeport released last year, Cafe Negro, is out of the lineup at least temporarily.  No surprise, it was due to be replaced by Ebeneezer when that rolled out.  A straight-up Bridgeport Porter -- the previous recipe, last seen a little over a year ago? -- is on tap right now.  A cask version of Kingpin double red was on yesterday. It was darker than I remember it being, and a little smoother and richer than the non-cask version, but still not as malty as many of its local competitors.

Finally, if you've been to the "remodeled" Bridgeport location on Hawthorne, what do you think about it?  I'm disappointed that it's no longer open for lunch, only dinner.  And the changes to the interior were very minor.  Was the whole thing just a tactical maneuver to be able to lay off all the staff -- some of whom I remember seeing there even before I moved to Portland eight years ago -- without calling it a layoff?