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.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Portland Pub Crawl: NW 17th and 16th

This is the second in our series of Portland pub crawls (the first one was a mile-long classic SE Portland pub crawl).  This isn't a total beer geek-out -- the only place on the main list that really has a beer focus is Caps and Corks -- it's a sociable and short stroll through a few interesting places that you might not have heard of before.  The pub crawl centers on a growing bar scene that sits in the shadow of the I-405 flyovers heading up to the Fremont Bridge.  It's easy to get there via the Portland Streetcar or the #77 bus, and if you stay too late to catch the train or bus home, the Radio Cab garage is right there.  If you're biking there, the best east-west through streets are Overton and Johnson.

Click on the pins of the map for more details like opening hours:

View Portland Pub Crawl: NW 17th and 16th in a larger map

The green pins represent the main route on the pub crawl starting at NW 17th and Marshall; the yellow pins are optional but interesting places nearby.

Main route:
  • Bent Brick: A somewhat upscale "tavern" spin-off of Park Kitchen. Five carefully-chosen beer taps.
  • Moonshine Kitchen and Lounge (aka Paymaster): Homey bar with a few nice beers, a cider tap, and a burger-and-fries menu.
  • Caps and Corks: Fun little bottleshop with 400 bottled beer choices, 7 taps (soon to be more), and imperial pints.
  • Slabtown: Ostentatiously seedy dive that focuses on live music at night. A few drinkable beer taps along the lines of Lagunitas, Deschutes, and Ninkasi.
Optional add-ons:
  • Yur's: Comfortable and friendly dive bar with excellent greasy-spoon menu and a few good beers on tap, a couple blocks down from Slabtown on 16th.
  • Bridgeport Brewpub: If your pub crawl must visit a brewery, you can start off at Bridgeport, a couple blocks east of the Bent Brick on Marshall.
  • Lucky Lab: A bit further afield, a classic Portland brewpub at NW 20th and Quimby.
  • Le Happy: A late-night French cafe and creperie in the same block as Slabtown.  No beer to speak of, but a cozy atmosphere and full bar.
    The impetus for writing up this overlooked corner of town is that I'm about to move out of my office at 18th and Lovejoy, so I wanted to document the neighborhood's drinking opportunities while they are still part of my regular beat.  You get both ends of the spectrum by starting at the fancy-pants Bent Brick and ending up at gritty Slabtown, but each place has its own charm.  For instance, not only does Slabtown have several pinball machines and a Ms. PacMan, but it also has air hockey, pop-a-shot, skeeball, and some weird coin-operated punching bag.  Just don't eat there unless the recent management change has improved the kitchen.

    I also highly recommend a visit to Yur's, which is my favorite dive bar in Portland.  It always feels like nighttime in there, which makes it a nice break in the middle of the day.  And even though it's got plenty of atmosphere, you won't get that "Yeh ain't from around here, ere yeh?" attitude that some dives drape themselves in (Slabtown is a little bit like that, though it's far from the worst offender in town).  Yur's is by no means a beer-geek paradise, but they always have something workable, and they usually have one or two choices that are a little off the beaten path like Coalition or Migration.

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    Portland vs. Austin: Beer Festival Edition

    Wow!  Word out of Austin is that the bad feelings left by a botched beer festival last weekend is partly to blame for the cancellation of another festival there that was scheduled for later in the month.

    Don't take what follows as gloating -- I swear it's not.  But reading about the failed Austin Beer Festival -- described on a Beer Advocate thread as a complete disaster -- is a surprising reminder to me of how good we've got it in so many ways in Portland.  I lived in Austin for almost 20 years, and I while I still love that town, I can say confidently that moving to Portland 9 years ago was the best thing that our family ever did.  I love returning to Austin for visits, but it's a place I could never live again.  Naturally there are more reasons for that than the beer festival situation, although reading the links above underlined some other differences between the two towns:
    • It was 90 degrees there Saturday (Portland's high was in the low 50's)
    • Everyone attending a Texas beer festival drives there in a car.  OK, 99%.
    • The organizers of the ABF aren't really plugged in to the beer community -- it's just another business to them
    On the last two points, think of the central locations of Portland's big beer festivals, all well-served by multiple forms of public transit and easy to reach on a bicycle (granted, I used to occasionally bike out to Decker Lake where the ABF was held, but even then it wasn't a particularly nice ride).  Think also of the grassroots origins of all of the Portland festivals, and how they are staffed in large part by volunteers (which it sounds like was not the case in Austin).  And how about the 2 ounce sample size at the ABF?  I guess bike lanes are not the only proof that not everything is bigger in Texas.

    This seems like a good place to mention that Portland's red-headed stepchild of beer festivals, the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, is happening this Friday and Saturday.  In the past I've been somewhat critical of the SBWF, though I attend almost every year, as I will this year.  This time, though, I'll think how bad it could be, and I'll consider my taster glass half-full instead of half-empty.

    If you share my interest in watching train wrecks and you didn't yet click on the ABF stories above, they are interesting reading.  Glad I didn't get wind of it on April 1st or I would have thought it was a prank.

    Sunday, April 1, 2012

    Beer Licensing Agreements

    In college we used to say, "You don't buy beer, you rent it".  That statement may become more true than ever if a trend that started with some well-known California brewers catches on.  To fight against the black market in rare beers, Stone Brewing Co. has announced it will stop selling its limited release beers, and start licensing them instead, in the same way that computer software is licensed and not sold.  [Editor's note: At Stone's request, I would like to point out that this post is an April Fool's gag.  The folks at Stone enjoyed it on April 1, but the joke wore thin as they continued to get complaints about the new policy from readers who thought it was true.  For maximum effect, be sure to click on the "Stone's BEULA" link below.]

    It sounds very peculiar at first, but it is a logical extension of brewers' efforts to prevent unscrupulous scalpers from making obscene profits re-selling highly prized beers.  Several prominent brewers have been vocal about their opposition to beer auctions on Ebay for quite some time.  Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur penned an article called *&^% Ebay about four years ago, and last year an article in the Washington Post interviewed several brewers about the problem.  Stone's founder Greg Koch was quoted in that article as saying "We have involuntarily been a part of the eBay aftermarket for many years".  Since then, Stone and Lost Abbey have hit on a clever solution to the problem.  Henceforth, their rare beers will be subject to End User License Agreements, similar to those you might be familiar with if you use computer software from companies like Microsoft or Apple.

    The first beer of Stone's to be sold under a "Beer End User License Agreement" -- BEULA for short -- is a rich and flavorful triple IPA along the lines of Russian River's vaunted Pliny the Younger, aptly named "Not For Sale Ale".  Whereas the back of a typical Stone bomber is adorned with several paragraphs of whimsically rambling boasts, NFSA's bottle (click on the picture for a closer look) is embossed with a dense legal contract that stipulates -- among other things -- that purchasers "may not lend, sell, auction, redistribute or sublicense" the beer, and that the beer may not be used in "the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons".  Click here for the full text of Stone's BEULA.

    As a fan of good beer, I have inveighed against Ebay beer scalpers for quite awhile -- I even auctioned an empty Abyss bottle once to demonstrate what a joke it is for beer auctioneers to skirt Ebay's rules by claiming that the bottle itself is what's valuable, not the beer inside.  Even so, I confess that I'm a little uncomfortable with treating beer as intellectual property in this way.  Aside from the essentially coercive nature of EULAs and BEULAs, the legalese in the contract goes against the convivial spirit of the beer world.  There is also the practical question of how to enforce a BEULA, though I suspect that having the prohibition printed right on the bottle might finally convince Ebay to be more proactive about shutting down beer auctions.

    Several more California brewers are rumored to be working with lawyers to prepare BEULAs for future releases, starting with the next offering for Lost Abbey's Saints and Sinners club.  The Bruery and Russian River are likely to be the next breweries to follow suit -- the Bruery's license allegedly goes so far as to prohibit the use of its beers in so-called beer cocktails.  Russian River seems to be taking it a little more slowly -- supposedly they will try out their new BEULA on this year's bottling of Objectification, a lighter beer unlikely to attract much collector interest anyway.

    What's your opinion?  Are beer license agreements a legitimate and reasonable way to combat beer profiteering?  Or are they an unwarranted intrusion into our enjoyment of quality fermented beverages?