Thursday, January 31, 2013

2012 Pub Night Memories

It's my tradition at the end of January to put up a slideshow of happy photos from the previous year of friends drinking beer.  You can call me cranky for not posting a nostalgic post at the end of December, or maybe I just need to wait until the days get longer before I can get up the motivation to put something together.  Anyway, despite a reduced blogging output in 2012, I did have a few pictures worth sharing lurking around the hard drive.  Some of them are ridiculously blurry, but capture an interesting enough occasion that I couldn't leave them out.

Last year's slideshow had this note:

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.

2012 was not a great year for me.  It wasn't terrible, but there were a lot of challenging times, so I'm not going to jinx 2013 by making a sappy "come what may" wish like I did last year.  Onward!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Good Karma Vegan Cafe, San Jose

The Silicon Valley underwhelms with its beer scene, which is odd considering its affluence and large population. But recently I found out about an oasis of good beer served by knowledgeable people that's located right in the middle of downtown San Jose: the Good Karma Vegan Cafe. Talk about your hidden gems -- they didn't put "beer" or "bar" in the name at all. But squeeze your way past the deli counter into the tiny bar area, and you'll find 16 well-chosen beers on tap. "Well-chosen" is probably not an adequate description of the beer list -- knockout is more like it.  On a recent visit some of the taps were:
  • Russian River Pliny the Elder
  • Logsdon Seizoen
  • Haandbryggeriet Bestefar (smoked imperial porter)
  • Allagash Interlude
  • Dogfish Head Old School Barleywine
  • Stone Vertical Epic 12
  • North Coast 15th Anniversary Old Rasputin
  • Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad
I won't bother listing the other half of the taplist, but there were no duds on it.  There is also a small selection of similarly high-end bottled beers.

Good Karma attracts a small crowd of local beer lovers -- you know the type, everyone has an opinion on what beer you should order.  The atmosphere is very casual, and even though it's a restaurant/deli first and a beer bar second, the waitstaff take an interest in the beer.  Beer prices are on the high side: pints of Pliny were $7, and most of the strong beers listed above were $6 for 8- or 10-ounce pours.  Not cheap, but reasonable given the quality level.  On the plus side, the small pours were served in glassware marked in centiliters so you knew what you were getting.  What's more, with ABVs ranging from 7% to 15%, small is beautiful.

The food is really good also -- no meat or cheese of course, but a nice selection of curries, salads, stir-fries and the like, served with rice or in tortillas.  In contrast to the beer prices, I thought the food prices were very cheap -- you could eat a hearty meal for $7, or choose smaller snack options in the $2-$5 range.  So you can go in there, eat some healthy cheap food, and spend your surplus on fancy beer.  It's a win-win.  And if you're wondering -- as I did -- why a vegan restaurant has an antler chandelier, rest assured that it too is vegan:  the antlers are made of poured resin.

Here in Portland I'm always complaining when interesting beer places aren't open during the day -- thank God Bailey's now opens at 2 PM -- but Good Karma poses the opposite problem for a business traveler:  it's open for lunch but closes at 9 PM every night except Sunday when it closes at 7 PM.  The good news is it's easy to get to on public transit from other towns in the area -- the VTA light rail stops right out in front, and only a couple blocks away there is a stop for the workhorse #22 bus that follows El Camino Real all the way to Palo Alto.

Highly recommended next time you're in the Silicon Valley.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hollywood Beverage: Eastside Liquor + Beer Store

Portland now has a second liquor store which the OLCC allows to sell beer and wine:  Hollywood Beverage at about 30th and NE Sandy.  A couple of years ago I wrote up the other such store: Pearl Specialty Market, which is still your best bet for a good beer selection in the Pearl.

Hollywood Beverage has been open since October -- its previous incarnation as the more run-of-the-mill Hollywood Liquor was further up Sandy just east of the I-84 overpass -- but I didn't make it in for a visit until a couple weeks ago.  I was stunned by how low some of the beer prices were.  Some of them seemed like mistakes until I realized there were too many of them to be in error.  If you thought the prices at Beermongers were the lowest possible, check out these bomber prices:
  • Ninkasi Oatis: $3.15
  • Lompoc Proletariat Red: $3.25
  • Pelican Silverspot IPA: $4.00
  • Gigantic IPA: $4.35
  • Pelican IPA: $4.40
  • Laurelwood Deranger: $7.25
The selection was good but not a home run -- it struck me as kind of a work in progress.  The six-pack prices weren't as startlingly low as the bombers -- most of them could be beat by supermarket sales -- but $8.50 Ninkasi six-packs and $9.50 Caldera sixers were as low as I can remember seeing anywhere.  Imported beers didn't strike me as being so cheap; I think Beermongers may have them beat, and certainly has a better selection.

An employee came up while I was shopping and asked if I had any questions.  "Yeah, why is the beer so cheap?"  He said that the owner is so used to the low margins on liquor set by the OLCC that he thought 20% was a pretty decent markup on beer and wine.  The guy who told me that turned out to be the wine buyer for the store -- "You should see some of the bargains on our wine" -- and he said he's encouraging the owner to either raise the beer and wine prices or start promoting them more to increase sales volume.  So you might want to get in there and snatch up some bargains in case sanity prevails.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Piss and Vinegar on the New School

I'm excited to report that I will be contributing a monthly column to my friend Ezra's blog/online magazine The New School.  The column, called Piss and Vinegar, will be a monthly rant about some beer subject or another.  The first installment is called Beer Confusion, where I give a few anecdotes of a beer geek's worst nightmare -- when the bartender or server at a multi-tap beer bar doesn't know the important details of the beer being served.  Beer Confusion went up yesterday on The New School; go check it out and share your own anecdotes about clueless service in the comments.

Once a month blogging is the kind of project I can get behind.  For the first four years of It's Pub Night, I enforced a quota on myself of about two posts a week (95 a year or so).  That worked well, but it was becoming less fun for me as time went on.  In order to still enjoy blogging, I dropped the schedule, and now only blog when I feel like it.  I missed a couple of months entirely in 2012, and it felt great.

The New School is a natural fit for me.  Ezra has become a great friend over the years, and we originally met because he was an early reader of It's Pub Night.  Early on I told him that he was the one who should be blogging, since he gets out a lot more than I do and has many more industry connections.  He said other people had told him the same thing.  Eventually he did start The New School, and it has become a much bigger deal than I imagined.  Not that I didn't have high hopes for it -- here's how I introduced it in a post here almost exactly three years ago:

Ezra is so plugged in to the Portland beer scene, that the New School is going to be a must-read blog for getting the latest information.

I'm feeling pretty good about that quote, especially when you consider that of the four new beer blogs mentioned in that post, The New School is the only one that is still being updated regularly.  It didn't just survive, it is expanding.

Oh yeah, the new column.  Anyway, I chose the name Piss and Vinegar to encourage the idea that I'll be writing ranty, bitter pieces.  You can kind of think of piss as a backhanded pet name for beer, and I also like to think of myself in the role of "piss-taker" -- someone sarcastically mocking his subject, but all in fun.  Go check it out as I become the oldest pupil in The New School.