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.