December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

As I sit sipping the new Widmer '11 (KGB - Russian Imperial Stout . . . full review later, doing a very good job of masking the 9+ abv, for what it's worth), I'm currently thinking back over the good beer I've had this year and the fun I'm having finding new locations, new creations, and new discoveries. Definitely been an enjoyable year in terms of what I got to drink.

Last year's 'First Beer Of The New Year' went to Elysian and their Dragonstooth Stout. This year, I'm pulling out my bottle of Jubelale 2010 and breaking it open for my toasting glass for midnight. This is their once-a-decade creation (granted, only done a couple of times thus far) of a double version of Jubelale aged in pinot. It's a month away from the "best after" date on the bottle, but I'm willing to take a risk.

I'll have the San Diego visits up over the weekend. For now, please have a safe and fantabulous New Year.

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I've finally hit a break in my schedule and here are the plans for the next few days:
  • Holiday party this evening in the neighborhood - this is usually the event that I pull out a fun bottle of beer that 1) I've never tried and 2) I've had on hold until this point on the calendar. Today's selection will be Pelican's 2008 Le Pelican Brun and I'm fairly confident some others will be brining other good things to try.
  • My wife and I are flying out tomorrow toward Coronado to see some of my family for a few days. There have been indications that several brewing visits are on the agenda - including a potential run to Pizza Port in Ocean Beach (Pizza Port has been taking home repeated GABF medals for small brewpubs over the last few years).
Santa greatly enjoyed the Bump In The Night (Full Sail) that I put out for him.

Part of the reason that some people are turned off by the flavor of Cascadian Dark Ales is the sharp contrast between the hoppy bite and the dark malt. It's something that appeals to me, I'll admit, but I can completely understand where the other side of the fence is coming from. Full Sail did a very, very good job at the blend of the two poles and the reception for this has been across-the-board positive. I still think the Widmer '10 was the best CDA I had this year, but this and Hop In The Dark (Deschutes) are both ones that you are recommended to try.

Hopefully Santa hooked you all with enjoyable beverages to sample this Holiday season. More as I'm travelling in Southern California next week.

December 14, 2010

Oh, right. Work.

The actual job that pays me money is cramping my blogging style at the start of this week. I'll try to have some thoughts on Hopworks' two versions of Noggin Floggin (the '09 and '10) later this week.

But if you ever thought about hitting the Barrel House and have yet to do so, the two cask beers they are now serving are incredible: the NW Sour Red is reportedly the backbone to a large number of their creations and it's a treat-and-a-half. But the Raspberry Infused Tripel was so in my wheelhouse (a favorite fruit, perfect mix of sweet/sour, eye-popping color) that I had a hard time believing this was beer. Sheer delight in a glass - if this is the only time they're going to have this available, you need to get a move on. Big time high-fives to Cascade for this one, WOW.

December 10, 2010

Wired Tournament into the FInals

Ninkasi's Believer Double Red has made it to the finals of Wired's 'October Madness' bracket. It will take on Full Boar Scotch Ale from Devil's Canyon.

I've been occasionally following along with this tournament and, as with all head-to-head competitions, there have been both defeats and wins met with cries of "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa?" I was happy they matched up two-per-brewery in the first round, but am still confuzzled over how Kellerweis took out Black Butte Porter in the second. Weirdness.

Anyway, fun to look over, but not anything to go nuts over or to anoint the winner with praise. Unless Believer wins. Then it's plenty of "OREGON! WOOOOO!!" in the comment section.

December 9, 2010

Inglorious? Not quite.

Bad spelling. Strong beer.

Ah, Arrogant Bastard. Stone's unapologetic strong ale with a name that fits better than most. I suppose Obnoxious Twit, Condescending Jerk, and Inconsiderate Dick were all taken, but it's still pretty well identified. They've done the occasional variant (Oaked and Double), but today, we're trying the just-recently-released blend of all three: Lucky Bastard.

Finding info on this beer is difficult, least of which because Stone likes to get cute and attach "CLASSIFIED" to the basic stats, publishing the alcohol amount and that's about it. So we can't target the hop variety, the IBU's, the gravity, or even the type of blending that went on. I've poked around and online searches have done nothing to help. Minus the 8.5%, the bottle itself has a typewriter-esque rant on the back with intentional misspellings everywhere. I would've appreciated a bit more info to go on.

It's definitely from Stone: hop smells galore, predominantly citrus with a pungent, almost musty-scent. There is the occasional whiff of sweetness, but you only start picking that up as the beer warms in the glass. It's a beautiful shade of red, this stuff - the color completely matches what the devil on the front would be sipping.

The taste is a front-end shove from the alcohol. I admit to some surprise - with my taste buds, I tend to pick up heavy alcohol toward the finish of the beer, not the start. But this is the reverse: malty burn to start, but like a wave receding into the ocean, the burn fades and leaves an incredible amount of hoppy oils on your tongue. Excellent finish on this for an ale. Try it, but pack food along for the ride. It does a good number on cutting out the flash of booze and leaving the rest of the flavor.

December 7, 2010

A Bud By Any Other Name . . .

In a conversation with a co-worker, the topic turned to beer (shocking, I know) and the changes to his drinking habits since he arrived in Oregon. He brought up the idea that his 'fallback option' at bars completely evolved since he had been used to "Bud, Bud Light, Coors, something else" as his draft options from college on up. The first available non-macro was now his baseline when only a few years ago, his options were purely macro-brewed lager.

I remember having the same kind of thought when I touched on the Fat Tire stranglehold in Orange County, but as we kept talking, he termed Mirror Pond Pale Ale as 'the Budweiser of Oregon' since it was now his 'All-Things-Being-Equal-I'll-Have-That' pick with a given draft list. I liked that terminology - what IS the Budweiser of Oregon?

Because, if we could take the stigma out of Budweiser for just a second, you need:
  • A near-ubiquitous run in the immediate market (we're talking bars and non-official drinking locations like bowling alleys and restaurants, not brewpubs)
  • Immediate name-recognition by beer lovers and neophytes alike
  • You can have several without issue (abv and flavor both allow for that)
  • It's not a beer that divides opinion - ordering a pitcher for the table would work out fine
Frankly, you'd be hard-pressed to find something better that Mirror Pond to fit the bill. Is there another one I'm missing? Or a different fallback option that you gravitate toward?

December 3, 2010

Abyss Flight

On Wednesday, I visited Deschutes (Portland) and picked up a few bottles of The Abyss '10. Much different than The Dissident release: there were people there, sure, but not everyone coming in the door was there because of the new release (unlike a few weeks back where patrons entered and made a beeline for the stock). Most of humanity in the bar-area, however, was either drinking a snifter or jumping on what I ended up having: the Abyss Vertical Tasting.

For twenty bucks (still ongoing as of today), you can snag a flight of 4 oz. tasters of 2010, 2010 on Nitro, 2009, 2008, and 2007. If you plan on going this route, get some water and go slow. I ran into a bit of a time crunch and flavors/opinions started to run together, so don't be me. It's an enjoyable run through the versions of the beer and, based on my feelings and asking opinions both in front of and behind the bar, here's how it shakes out.
  1. 2008 - one of these things is not like the other / one of these things just doesn't . . . well, wait, it definitely belongs, but this is the black sheep of the set. Less bourbon in the smell but definitely there in the taste, this is also packing a nice, dry, bitter-edge to the back end. It was the go-to for snifters while I was there and people who had the vertical were pointing to it and nodding.
  2. 2007 - much stronger nose - probably the best of the bunch, much more flavor with the alcohol dialed down. Slightly bitter back-end, but not like the '08. Really enjoying the evolution on this.
  3. 2010 (Nitro) - with the carbonation sucked out, this is more creamy, more flavorful, and sweeter than the stock version. The sugary-nature/caramel-flavors of the bourbon is firmly in command here. The beer is definitely less 'green' with this variant.
  4. 2009 - second strongest nose of the bunch, almost as strong as the '07. It's coming along well, but I caught a bit more alcohol burn than I was expecting. Nothing that kills the beer, however. This is still a good mix.
  5. 2010 - Good, but young. Strong on the booze, but power in the flavors. I was getting a weird BBQ-scent vibe, but I think it was the combo of catching some smoke and sweet at the same time. I truly don't think they are adding KC Masterpiece to the process.
It's not looking like I'll be able to make it down to the Holiday-Ale Fest, which is a bummer, but I'm not torn up too badly about it. I'm hearing reports of great options, but also with logistical drawbacks ($25 entry? Lose the mug, wristband, or wash your handstamp and it's a full re-buy? So multi-day attendees have to wear the wristband for days?) and there's just too much on the plate this weekend to make it down. Especially when you consider the swell of people on the Friday/Saturday/Sunday of festivals instead of the "calm" earlier in the week. Hopefully some of the offerings will wander over to local taprooms later in the month.

December 1, 2010

Nietzsche Says Good Morning

Music? Check:

Picture? Check:

Owly Images

Info? Check:

In a little over an hour, the Deschutes' Portland location will have the 2010 version of The Abyss ready for sale. They will also be serving up: 2010 Abyss, 2009 Abyss, 2008 Abyss, 2007 Abyss AND 2010 Abyss on Nitro.

Now, it's not going to be as thin on the ground as The Dissident - Deschutes usually comes correct with a good amount of The Abyss available for purchase. But if there's any yearly-offering I try to drag people to try, this is it. And with this kind of roll-out, there are some incredibly sexy options of vertical tastings, vintage samplings, and there appears to be a gift pack that you'll want to pass along to Santa with a note reading "THIS" in large letters.

It's going to be a good day.

November 27, 2010

Sierra Nevada XXX Anniversary - Part IV

The Michigan v. Ohio State game is one that I usually watch with a Buckeye fan - it's either my friend on the East Coast or my friend on the West Coast. This year, neither of them were able to work out the logistics, so I invited a friend from work over for the game. It turned out to be a bad day for football (was not expecting a 30 point shellacking - ugh) but a good day for beer. My work-buddy brought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration and I just happened to have a bottle of SN's fourth release of their 30th Anniversary beers - the Grand Cru. As Celebration is one of the blended beers in this release, it was a good chance to have a side-by-side comparison.

Grand Cru, by SN's description, is a marriage of our three most acclaimed ales: Oak-aged Bigfoot, Celebration Ale, and fresh Pale Ale blended together and generously dry-hopped.

The pour contained a sizable head that stuck around for quite a bit, leading to a lot of lacing. A dark red/heading-toward-brown color, it's got a little cloudiness to the liquid, but we're not talking unfiltered beer here. Picked up some strong hops in the nose - pine - and some malts and spices, but the hops were dominant. Oak kicked in about halfway through the bottle, but it was more of an addition to the scent vs. a complete reworking just because it climbed to room temp.

Sharp, pine-like hoppiness on the front end (this is the Celebration saying hello), little bit of caramel sweetness from the Bigfoot. And then your hair is blown back by dry-hop finish. Very bitter rush as the beer passes by with a hoppy aftertaste. You get some additional spice and some sweetness as the beer warms, but on the whole, this feels like the marrying of a red and an ESB. For my taste preferences, this is quite good. It's a solid blend, but I feel that the Celebration and Bigfoot are clearly in the driver's seat - if the Pale brought anything to the party, I wasn't immediately picking it up. Oh, and the alcohol isn't hidden - the 9.2% causes the occasional flash of heat, but it works decently with the rest of the flavors involved.

Of Sierra's four, 30th Anniversary releases this year, this would easily clock in as the second best offering (in order: the Stout, the Grand Cru, the Bock, and then the Barleywine) and it's definitely worth a try.

November 26, 2010

One Year Later: Black Butte XXI

Along with turkey and potatoes and a minor food coma and a 5+ hour return leg to Portland, I cut the wax on a bottle of Black Butte XXI. From my notes/impressions when it was green: bit of an alcohol burn, bourbon/sweet smell up front, malty flashes of dark chocolate and espresso. Pleasantly thick.

Now? Well, the alcohol has completely died off and, if it's still packing a north-of-10% abv, you cannot tell without letting it get close to room temperature. Even then, the alcohol is all at the back-end of the beer. Thinned-out a bit, but looking very dark with the occasional brown highlights and a moderate head that doesn't stick around for too long. The nose is predominantly sharp on the bourbon barrel character with some malt and a couple of wisps of coffee grounds. I passed the beer to a few others and they all agreed that the sweetness from the bourbon was the first thing to hit their nose. I figured that would be the first identifiable flavor with such a big headstart.

Could not have been more wrong. As far as the BB XXI is concerned, this is a convincing TKO in the year-long bottle-battle between these flavors: Coffee is your undisputed champ in this fight by a mile. This beer turned into a coffee porter, first and foremost, more than anything else. The front end is filthy with espresso flavors before giving way to some of the other ones like toffee and dark chocolate in the back half. Warming it up lets more of the bourbon out to play, but it's all secondary to the coffee. Hell, with this kind of bomb, the turkey was almost secondary to the coffee. Honestly never saw that one coming, but it was a more-than-pleasant surprise for someone who digs espresso-manipulated beer.

November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

It's a day early, but I'll be on the road to my hometown in the next few hours and wanted to wish everyone a good holiday. Safe travels to anyone heading out the door.

Brew-wise, the plan is to hit Flyers when we get up to Oak Harbor. I've heard good things about their beer and would like to obtain live, self-confirmation of the praise. And for my Thanksgiving meal, I'm breaking into the Black Butte XXI that I held off on about a week ago. Very interested to see what a year in the bottle has wrought.

Looking ahead to the weekend, the Beer Fridge stands empty and needs restocking. A trip to either John's or Belmont is extremely likely for Saturday with an eye toward the winter selections that have been rolling out. Maybe a side run to the Barrel house if I end up crossing the river. After the UM-OSU game, I might need cheering up with good beer.

November 22, 2010

Weekend in Review: November 19-21

Let's open with a tweet from Deschutes on Friday:

40 cases of The Dissident sold out in 2.5 hours at the Portland pub today.

Color me unshocked. I arrived about an hour after they opened and saw the sizable dent in the available stock. Passed three guys on the sidewalk with half-cases and zen-like expressions and another four people walked in to buy their bottles while I was there. You just got the feeling that a post-work trip would've been fruitless. I felt happy to grab my three bottles and a shirt when I did. Timing is everything, etc, etc. I caught Angelo (and Tyffany, should have at least said hello but I blanked on her name from the site) from Brewpublic at the bar and chatted a bit on the beer itself. I obtain a lot of my beer-in-Portland knowledge from that site and I was a little surprised that he remembered my face from the party for the website a few weeks ago. Our opinions of the beer were fairly in sync and he let me try a pull of the tulip glass he was working on. He had also already tried the other beers in my weekend plans (quell surprise) and had some initial suggestions on what to expect.

As for The Dissident, it landed right about where my flavor preference wanted it to be. I cracked open one bottle after putting the other two in storage and will stand by my first impression. Malt, cherry, almost a hint of a cinnamon flavor, yes - but the brettanomyces are large and in charge from start to finish. My one sample of the '08 variety was so long ago (and before I started to really pay attention) that I cannot compare the two with any major accuracy, but my memory says there is more bite to the 2010 vs. the 2008. If you got your hands on some, high-fives all around - get those bottles under lock and key. If you missed it, the Bend location reportedly still has it in stock. I suggest a road trip.

Saturday, I hit Hopworks to try the two beers with their estate-grown San Juan hops. Angelo said I would probably like the dark lager more than the double-IPA and damned if he wasn't right. Pig War (the IIPA), while pleasant, is not much different from other offerings. It held the 'sweet' note that I associate with Hopworks beer and built a hoppy pile on top of it. I didn't find myself picking up huge differences in the hop variety used for this brew, but that's not a complaint. Decent, but they've done better work.

Better work like Dark Helmet. Wow. This is a black lager with a thin body and miles of dirty/dark taste to it. If told that they dumped six cartons of Marlboros in the tank during the brewing process, I would likely buy that story. There is a monster vein of tobacco running through this beer and it's one that gets you sitting up and taking notice. I got a touch of chocolate off the malt, but that's at something like '2' while the tobacco is at '9'. At 5.0% abv, this is an easy-drinking lager with a hell of a flavor profile - one that I can't immediately tie to another beer I've tried. Good stuff.

November 18, 2010

The Next Two Days

Item 1: The Dissident, The Dissident is here.

(note to self: get Vs. on the iPod for the drive in tomorrow)

Deschutes is dropping the 2010 version at both the Bend and Portland brewpubs at 11am sharp. The word is "no more than six bottles a person" and considering my horrible, horrible plan in 2008 ("of COURSE I'll be able to find them in a few weeks"), your author will be at the doors in the first hour of business to carve his share from the existing supply. A Brett-backed brown ale (Flanders-style) aged with cherries in wine casks for 18 months, if this is anything like the '08, it's going to be gloriousness in a glass. Can't wait to try it.

Item 2: Hopworks has two new beers on-tap and both are made from hops grown on San Juan island. This hits home for me: I grew up in the same area on Whidbey Island and I'm all about trying some creations with 'local' ingredients. The two beers are a black lager and an imperial IPA, so I definitely won't be confusing the two at all. I'll be heading into HUB on Saturday for a few tastes of both and I suspect I'll end up bringing some home with me.

As always: it's good to live here. And I say that even while looking at the darkened clouds and torrents of rain falling to the ground.

November 16, 2010

Eisbock 28

Back when your author was in college and fairly inept about alcohol, I felt ahead of the curve on ice beer. Rock Ice (Rolling Rock's minor dip into that pool) was in my fridge for quite some time and I was somewhat insufferable about my 'knowledge'. "They freeze the water, man! That leaves, like, all the booze! How is that not better?? This is my beer from now on!"

Cue the facepalm every person usually has when thinking about their youth.

I reflected on that as I was cracking open Redhook's Eisbock 28, their Fall selection in their limited series run, because the ice beer of my youth should not even be in the same store as this stuff, let alone the same zip code. That's not to say this is gold medal brew, but there were a lot of things I liked about it. There is some sweet, date-like flavor and bran malt in the nose of the beer that I found well-balanced. I compare it to opening a fresh box of sweet-smelling Raisin Bran and taking a large whiff. The 11% abv is much smoother than some other beers with the same alcoholic content. Yes, you can tell it's there, but no, you're not wondering if somebody put a shot of Everclear in your glass when you weren't looking. I don't know if I'd swing for it at a 6 or 7 dollar price, but if it's at your local market for under 5 bucks (Fred Meyer to the rescue) then it's worth a shot.

I should seriously start listing the things I thought about beer before my head was screwed on straight. Just not sure if I can type while repeatedly cringing.

November 12, 2010

Station Break

After a Saturday where I tried The Bruery's Autumn Maple (verdict: one of the better 'fall' beers that I've tried. Spicy, chewy, and crazy tasty good. Who knew that yams could add that much flavor?), I found myself in a bit of a funk this week and didn't replenish the Beer Fridge. This has led to a week of no beer (gasp!), which I find to be a good refresher every so often. It's not quite like the beered-out feeling one gets from a post-festival funk, but it's enough to get it out of the rotation for a week.

This weekend, I do intend to correct course. A trip to John's today to see what kind of newness they have there and I'll definitely get the Beer Fridge restocked. There's also the bottle of Black Butte XXI which is just now hitting the "best after" date that they have listed. I was thinking to save that one for Thanksgiving, but it might get cracked open this weekend if the mood strikes.

In a sidebar note, I know that Brewmasters is coming up on the Discovery Channel in a little over a week and I had a couple of friends ask me about it. Personally, I back Jeff's musings on the subject. I like Dogfish Head and some of their beer is very good, but this show worries me since the angle is less "Beer is awesome!" and more "DFH is awesome!" It's not that I don't get the reasons why the production went that route, it's just disappointing that all the clips I've seen either feel like Standard Manufactured Reality Drama or DFH giving themselves a tongue bath. It's what Ace of Cakes is to cooking - you're not getting technical details by any stretch of the imagination and it's all about the Owner Who Doesn't Play By The Rules and his Fun, Wacky Staff. There might be bits and pieces that I enjoy, sure. I just don't think that's enough to warrant weekly watching by any stretch. Your mileage, as always . . .

November 3, 2010

Zeus Frowns On Fake Red, Smiles On Rainbow Bridge

Elysian Brewing. I admit I'm a fan.

In business about 15 years in the heart of Seattle, they've produced some very good beer that I have no problems recommending. The Immortal IPA, The Wise ESB, Perseus Porter, and - my favorite - the Dragonstooth Stout (chosen as the first beer of 2010 for your author) are all top-notch examples of their particular style. I have friends who worship their Jasmine IPA as a minor deity. When asked about them, I would always respond that you honestly can't go wrong with anything on their roster.

Sadly, I'm forced to change that statement. You almost can't go wrong. And while I'm not saying that The Mens Room Original Red Ale is swill, it's definitely not up the standard that Elysian set with their other brews. I realize this opinion runs counter to Seattle's - bottle shops in the area have had this beer at, or near, the top of their selling list so it's clearly getting love. But I think that love is tied to the KISW drive-time show that it's named after/created for and not for an actual opinion on the beer itself. And while I know this style can range from mild ambers to bitter hop blasts, I feel saying "Red Ale" means you plan for the bitter end of the scale. This beer couldn't find Bitter with Google Maps and a GPS.

There is the barest hint of a reddish-tinge to the beer along with about a finger of head that didn't stick around. The nose is not big and letting it warm up for a few minutes produced more sweet malt scent than anything else. It tastes very neutral with both the hops and the malt moving around on your palette, but neither one stepping forward. The finish is faintly hoppy but there's a spice bite that comes in from left field that took awhile to identify. The more time I gave it, the more I got convinced it was cinnamon. But I can't find a single recipe or mention of this anywhere else, so you would figure I have to be wrong. It's possible that one of the malts tricked out my taste buds, but I was not enthusiastic about that finish.

It's an amber with a bit of spice to it. Not horrible or an immediate drainpour, but nothing I'm suggesting you should try.

BiFrost, on the other hand, is not one to shy away from. An odd-looking Winter Warmer (straw-colored, almost like a pale ale), it's got a pine-like hop scent to the nose with a little bit of floral worked in there. While not bread-chewing quality, the beer is thicker than what you would expect from a visual standpoint. Opens with sweet floral hops and then quickly transitions into a more pine/weed hop bite with a spicy/bitter finish. Tiny bit of alcohol burn, but not quite something that would have you reach for the bottle to look up the ABV (7.5%, if you care). It's not among my top three or four seeds from the brewery, but it's still a moderately good offering.

November 2, 2010

Deschutes Portland Pub Trip

First of all: go vote.

I was in the area on Sunday and, having not been there in a couple of months, my wife and I swung by Deschutes for some lunch (her focus) and some beer (that would be me). I had hoped that I might stumble upon The Dissident getting a secret, oh-boy-aren't-you-lucky release but no such luck. Guess the world still has to wait a week or three before getting hands and lips on that one.

They were, however, pouring Black Butte XXII and I was very curious to see how the beer was fairing. The story is probably known at this point, but Deschutes made the decision to not ship this beer earlier in the year after taking a look at it. Not a small announcement when it's your Anniversary Brew. Made with chocolate that they had never tried before, it never fully blended with the ingredients and the visual look of the beer was less than appealing. This led to many discussions of visual aesthetics and how that relates to taste. The brewery did decide to still pour the stuff at their locations, so consumers were able to try it at the very least.

There are large amounts of chocolate and toffee/sweet in the nose with a faint hoppy note that might be a bit of the orange peel. It's got some thickness to the body but I think that had more to do with the creaminess of the liquid. I don't mean to indicate thinness, but I did not get the sense that this stuff could balance a quarter on it's head. The beer rolls with several touches of chocolate and roasted flavors in the taste before finishing with a . . . well, it's hard to describe. It dried up with a bitter finish that I first took to be the chilies but then realized that couldn't be it since I couldn't find heat anywhere (and my taste buds are fearful of chilies to the point of immediate ID if I'm dealing with them). While it's worth a try, I definitely have fonder impressions of previous versions.

My slight disappointment was cleared up with Hop Trip. Flavorful, hoppy, bright - it's everything you want in a fresh-hop ale and then some. Grapefruit and citrus in the nose, blast of fresh hop flavor (I'm becoming convinced that Crystal hops are the go-to-winner for fresh hop beer) that lingers with a clean finish. Truly a winner and worth your wallet getting cracked open.

Some new offerings from Elysian are in my hands for later this week (Men's Room Red, BiFrost) and Full Sail dropped this year's version of Wreck the Halls. I've also got the bottled version of Pelican's Full House and am very curious to see how it compares to the glass I had on-tap at Bailey's. In other words: it's going to be a good week.

October 29, 2010


They don't conduct massive festivals or drop 18% sour ales with chocolate nibs, but I still have a soft spot for the Alameda Brewhouse. It was the first brewpub I visited in Portland and I retain fond memories of decent food and good beer after climbing out of a five hour plane ride. I'm not in Northeast a whole hell of a lot, true, and when I do wander that direction, there is usually a previously-selected beer target drawing me up there. Alameda is not a place I'd drop by if I was hitting Saraveza, for example.

But I do find the establishment another reminder on how different Portland is when it comes to beer vs. the rest of the United States. Alameda would be a huge hangout and praised for their beer city-wide if picked up by space aliens and dropped down in, say, Wyoming. But because it's located in this slice of the world, it tends to get lost in the wash when up against the OMFG selection that Beervana can provide.

Alameda does have a few of their options in bombers and I recently took two familiar selections for a review spin:
  • Black Bear XX Stout - the '03 GABF winner in the Foreign Stout category (for comparison, Obsidian Stout from Deschutes took 3rd that year) and a repeat champ in 2005. A trending-toward-black-yet-still-brown color with a nice head greets you in the glass. Lacing aplenty as I worked through it. Light chocolate malt on the nose - little bit of hops but fleeting. Big burst of roast-malt and molasses that hangs out for a bit with some bitter chocolate. I am still surprised this stuff isn't thicker - gravity hangs right in the middle of the road. This isn't bad, but the smell and appearance sets up a "incoming chew-fest!" and that's definitely not the case. It's a very good beer and hides the near-7% pretty well.
  • El Torero IPA - Cloudy orange/amber with about a finger of head. Fruity-hop smell, but it's not overpowering. Good swirl of hop flavor on the front end that leads into a specifically-bitter finish that I normally associate with rye-based beers. This definitely increased as the beer warmed up and while I found it good, those who aren't a fan of the rye-finish are likely to have issues. What's amusing is that Torero's description lists all-organic grain, 7.2% abv, and 80+ IBUs. I don't see rye on there, the abv is well hidden, and it doesn't feel like bitterness is shotgunned into your taste buds. It's still a nice IPA and worth a sample, but I found it odd that my experience was so different that what the basic bullet points would suggest.
Drop by if you're in the area. It also does wonders for easing jet lag if my experiences are anything to go on.

October 26, 2010

Brewpublic has excellent taste. Go figure.

I was in the Run Like Hell 10K on Sunday and took the day off yesterday, so it was a long weekend for your humble author. This was a rainy set of days, perfect for indoor weather, hearty soups, thick bread, and excellent beer.

As noted on Saturday, I headed down to Bailey's for Brewpublic's second birthday party. I drove in and arrived about two hours into the festivities, hoping that enough time had passed to let things thin a bit. With the weather, any outside-options were going to be slim and I had guessed that the demand would be wholly for the Cascade Blueberry concoction. Figured an hour for that to blow, another hour for the top 10-15 percent to bail, should be fine, right?

Ha ha ha ha ha - no. Not even close: it (understandably!) looked like a rock concert. Angelo from Brewpublic was at the front door when I rolled up and I kind of stammered a weak "Happy Birthday" as I gazed upon the sea of humanity. Shoulder-to-shoulder, absolutely no room to move around, body surfing (okay, that last one might be stretching it). I couldn't even see the hint of a line toward the counter and I felt that the enjoyment-to-CAN'TMOVE ratio was not in my favor. Or, anyone else's if I was going to add myself to the crush. I headed back to my vehicle, rolled across the river to watch my wife sing in a concert in NE, and then returned at about 9:30pm to a smaller crowd. Things were still solidly attended, even 5+ hours in, but definitely lighter. I mean, walking up and ordering was actually possible - success!

Two bucks for a five ounce taster, 3 bucks for a 10 ounce glass, or 5 bucks for a pint. With so much to choose from the 20 taps (the Cascade, as expected, was gone-daddy-gone), I kept to glasses and tasters in the hour I was there. None of my selections were misfires and here are my three favorites:
  • Kentucky Coffee Girl (Fort George) - I like my coffee stouts to be a little filthy and this had some earthy qualities that I really enjoyed. A little thinner than the crude-oil that one expects from an imperial stout, but it was still creamy and carried some sweetness on the back-end that cut through the coffee.
  • Full House Imperial Brown (Pelican) - What can I say? I love their Doryman's Dark Ale, so a doubled-version was only going to pander to my tastes. Malty and chewy, this was masking the 8.3% behind a swirl of flavor that I found to be very well blended. Slight hop on the back end with some nuttiness to the finish - a winner!
  • Force of Nature (Lucky Lab) - I'd never been able to sample barrel-aged beer from the Lab before, so this was a must try for me and, wow, I was not sorry at all. It's an imperial pale aged in pinot barrels and the sour/tart qualities from the aging matched up very, very well with the hops. I sent the glass around to several people standing with me at the bar and all of them agreed with my assessment: more please.
Some of the beers at this event are still on-tap at Bailey's as of this posting. You could do worse than having a pint there before things kick.

Beer from Alameda Brewing on the radar this week.

October 23, 2010

Go Brewpublic, It's Your Birfday!

KillerBeerFest at Bailey's Taproom.

I am heading down there in the next 30 minutes. With that lineup, how could I not?

October 18, 2010

Saraveza's 2nd / Cascade Barrel House

Saturday was a pretty good day.

Early at Saraveza - before the masses started their post-work arrivals that evening.

I wasn't in the front door of Saraveza for two minutes before Tyler Vickers (of Tyler the Elder fame) was pouring me an imperial porter with a Whopper dropped into the head. This apparently earned me some street cred at the bar from a patron or two, but I was unable to gather if it was because I was drinking porter at 11:45am or if it was due to my immediate agreement to add candy to my beer. In either case, this is just an example of how fun this place can be. It had been about 10 months since I was last there and I felt immediate pangs of regret to live halfway across the city. Saraveza has friendliness pouring from the windows and it's a great little watering hole. I enjoyed the spicy chili that was recommended to me (not the best pairing with my beer, but it's all good) and just missed a bottle-cap-in-a-container-guessing-contest win by about 20 (225 to 243, I think and the total in Container #1 was about 270). If you're in the north part of town and rolling down Killingsworth, you are implored to stop by.

There are worse ways to start your day.

The beer was from Caldera Brewing down in Ashland - 'Mogli' Imperial Porter. The picture above is one sip in and it was an effort not to chug before getting the camera out. This was a good porter that turned into 'very good' with the chocolate backbone involved. The balance is nicely done with some light bittering from the hops moving the chocolate flavor smack in the middle between Sweetened and Unsweetened. If you see in on-tap, it won't disappoint. Just pack Whoppers ahead of time - I doubt other places are going to offer.

Step two on my Saturday trek was a visit to the new House of Sour.

Returning to Cascade is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

For those not aware of their history, Cascade Brewing is a great example of How To Succeed In Oregon Brewing. It's no secret that there are a large number of breweries in this neck of the woods, so to rise up from the pack, carving out a niche (and then kicking ass at it) is almost mandatory. Cascade dove headlong into aging and sour ales a few years back and, seriously, bless them for it. The Gold AND Silver medals for Wood-Aged Sour (2009 GABF) turned a few heads and their popularity, both in town and outside of it, has steadily increased. My primary reason for visiting? The two beers that took those medals: Bourbonic Plague and Vlad the Imp Aler. In bottles. For sale.

The second reason was that the Barrel House is getting obscenely good reviews (at least the garbled sounds of delight seemed positive) and I definitely wanted to see if the joy was legit. Cascade's own description of their house: "Of the 7,100 sq ft, the pub takes up 2,100 sq. feet. On the aging side – not open to the public - we can house 350 wine, whisky or port barrels in the cooler, plus another 150 outside of the cooler, as well as bottles for filling and aging. The barrel room is specially designed to keep the sour beers at a proper temperature for aging, specifically the cultivation of bacteria that give these brews their distinctive tang."

Yes, the place is badass. How's the beer? Tongue-tying in uniqueness. You are simply not going to get anything remotely like this unless you're on an active Sour Seeking mission. Even then, the chances of you getting a lineup like this are between slim and HAHAHAHAHA.

My first beer there was the Bourbonic Plague. While I'd like to look all kinds of knowledgeable and worldly in my reviews, I have to be honest: it's almost too complex for someone with my skills to break down. Sure, the nose is fairly straight-forward with white wine and a sweet note or two. But the taste is like drinking Calculus out of a glass when Algebra II is all I've seen so far. Just a rush of flavors across your taste buds and you're getting everything from oak to faint hop to cinnamon in there. Sour finish (natch), but not anywhere near as oppressive as you might think. I'm just not the guy to pin down the sixty tastes that are flying around in there - it took me six sips before I finally said, " . . . oh, cinnamon!" That's one flavor, mind you. Definitely good and definitely worth a try. My purchased bottle is going into the Beer Cabinet of Perpetual Darkness for a bit, but having this now would not be a problem.

My other selection at the House was Nightfall. The description from Cascade: "Nightfall Blackberry starts as a soured blonde wheat beer aged for 12 months in oak barrels, then laid on blackberries for another six. It features intense fruitiness and a concentrated color and aroma." My glass was sent over with zero head, which was odd since the beer ended up providing good lacing. Sours are weird that way. Fruit and sour/wine in the smell - obviously with a predominant blackberry angle on things. Admittedly, I love sour fruit if it's done correctly and during my first sip of this, my eyes lit up like I was about to explode. I'm amazed that the fruit can just overpower the sourness of the ale to create a great blend like this - the margin for error has to be slim as hell. It's a testament to brewers who know the process and can get the most out of it and I have to high-five Cascade on their skill. Those who visit Cascade's new place are strongly advised to put Nightfall on their list.

Just another weekend in Portland. Hard work, this.

October 15, 2010

Rethinking Believer

Ninkasi's Believer Double Red Ale and I did not get off to a good start.

As I've indicated before, I'm not the biggest fan of their standard lineup and my previous experience with this beer in bottled form was unpleasant. There was a underlying metallic taste to a large portion of the sips, I found the bitterness to be wholly unworkable with the beer, and ended up transferring the last third of the bomber to the drain.

Sunday evening, my wife and I had an anniversary dinner at Caffe Mingo (our #1 seed for Favorite Portland Restaurant). Like any Italian-based eatery, their wine list is wholly dominant, but they always have about three local beers on tap. When advised that Believer was one of the three, I decided that a red would work well with my chosen meal and figured I'd give it another shot.

And, woo-hoo!, excellent call on my part. This was not the beer I remembered. This, instead, was pretty damn good. Massive head that stuck around and produced heavy lacing down the glass, an eye-catching dark ruby color, and a very nice blend of malt with the hops flexing their muscles on the back-end. I found nothing metallic this time around and the balance was very well done. As a fan of red ales in general (I lean toward Bitter vs. Sweet), this is a beer you can trust to fit the flavors of the style.

This experience basically confirmed my personal maxim that, "If you can find it on-tap, drink it on-tap." Additionally, as this is the third or fourth time that I've have had issues with a particular beer in a given format (bottle or draft), but pull a complete one-eighty on it when I have it the other way, I feel a need to reassess how I'm forming my opinions on things. I should revisit some of the "I wish this had been better . . . " beers in my personal history if I can find them in a format that differs from my first time. Then I can see if my opinion has either changed over time (due to the different method of deployment) or if I just snagged a bad bottle or had a bad keg. I don't think all of them will flip quite like this one did, but there might be a few that will surprise me.

October 12, 2010

A Pair Of Reviews

Topic the First: Alaskan 2010 Smoked Porter. Alaskan reminds me of Full Sail - solid regular lineup and a great group of seasonal releases. With the Smoked Porter, the brewers have always been up front about the importance of aging this beer. This means that you are guaranteed an insane amount of flavor when drinking a particular version in the same calendar year. After this bottle, I can safely say 2010 is par for the course.

Deep black swirls, malted-milk colored head, and . . . well, let's be honest - you didn't buy this for the looks. The smell is where it's at and it's extremely distinct. Your olfactory sense is immediately grabbed by the smoke and it just continues straight into the flavor. In it's current form, this is like drinking beer formerly buried in an alderwood-house fire. There are some tobacco notes here and there, but the smoke is dominant and not letting a whole lot else get through. This is another beer that will be good after a year or two on the shelf.

Topic the Second: Ninkasi's Sleigh'r. This was another one I picked up over the weekend in favor of the "Ninkasi does better seasonals than year-rounds" rule. And damn if it isn't another very strong showing from these guys. Described as a "dark, double alt", The New School took a look at this earlier today and I have to concur with the opinions: Get Some.

Sweet, dark malt and toasty/bread flowing up out of the glass. But Sleigh'r throws you for a loop with the taste - more hop flavor than I expected but it's wonderfully mixed with the malt backbone. The bitter finish is enough to let you know it's there, but not enough to wipe out the previous taste patterns. There is more happening here than I would've expected going in, but I'm not at all familiar with Alts. My knowledge would immediately increase if this was the mold they all emerged from. Take the praises coming from reviews everywhere to heart and find this beer if you can.

October 11, 2010

Brrrbon - See You In 2011

A few months back, Widmer announced their third release in the Brothers' Reserve series. The first (Cherry Oak Doppelbock) and the second (Prickly Pear Braggot) were both reasonably decent, but the headline for the third had me pretty excited: Barrel Aged Brrrbon. That would be Brrr (Widmer's winter offering) aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for four months. I like Brrr. I like barrel-aging. You can see why I'd be intrigued and (possibly) drooling. This was targeted as a must-try when it hit the shelves.

On Friday I was able to pick up a bottle at John's along with a few other things. The stats:

Malts: 2-row pale, Carapils, Caramel 10-L, Caramel 80 L & Dark Chocolate
Hops: Alchemy (bittering), Simcoe & Cascade (Aroma)
ABV: 9.4%
IBU: 40

I'd like to be able to give some flavor characteristics other than "there's a hint of caramel bourbon flavoring", but I'm unable to do so at this time. This is because the 9.4% was punching me in face on every sip. Front end, middle end, back end - booze, booze, and more booze. The heat off the alcohol was extremely difficult for my taste buds to navigate, but there were one or two sips where I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Halfway through warming up, I got an very nice mix of some sweet vanilla/caramel with the malt/spice of the Brrr. I just wish there were more of those moments instead of fighting through it.

Predisposed to like this, I'm a little sad that I can't sing it's praises right now in this incomplete form. Brrrbon will, in all probability, be an enjoyable beer when it matures a bit. I'm planning on picking up another bottle and putting it straight into the Beer Cabinet of Perpetual Darkness - we'll say hi again around Halloween of 2011. But, yow, straight-up green with this stuff? Only if you have developed an ability to ignore boozy heat and find the underlying flavors. Even then, it's going to be a challenge.

Reviews on-deck from the weekend: Alaskan's 2010 Smoked Porter, Deschutes' Hop Trip, and a realization that Ninkasi's Believer is a wholly different beast on-tap than what I remember out of the bottle.

October 8, 2010

John's Market

As I've mentioned a few times, buying beer in Portland is a treat. Other areas of the country have stores and locations and great brewpubs that are worth visiting and I truly don't mean to give them a pat on the head while saying, "Buck up, little camper!" But there are a sickeningly good number of options in this area of the world and I'm well aware of how good I (and the rest of the western-Oregon beer drinking fools) have got it. I've had conversations with other transplants from the east coast in my office and all of us went through the same, wide-eyed, kid-in-a-candy-store realization. It's like loving BBQ and living in Kansas City - every so often, you just need to sit back and give a contented sigh.

So, we're buying beer, yes? Neophytes quickly realize that there are three main ways of going about this:
  • Supermarket Shopping: your Whole Foods, your New Seasons, your Market of Choice - these spots all have beer selections that can easily satisfy your immediate needs. Even Safeway or Fred Meyer works in a pinch. Not so different from anywhere across the country, Oregon locations usually have a nice mix of local and regional selections. On rare occasions, head-turning options will just magically appear. Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary series, for example, (bottle #1 - the stout) had a slow rollout and I was having a hard time running it down in the first few days. Ended up snagging one from a Market of Choice while ducking in to grab a loaf of bread. Sometimes, you just get lucky.
  • Brewpubs: on the one hand, you're limited to what they are pouring on the premises. On the other, this is why growlers were invented. While more expensive than a six-pack (a $10 growler fill is on par with an $11 sixer), you're still getting draft beer at much, MUCH cheaper prices than they will sell at the bar. Four pints to a growler, 10 bucks per? By my weak math skills, that $2.50 pints. That completely works for me. And having several growler options available for a party is a good way to look cool. You're also getting beer straight from the brewer - both from an 'economically-rewarding-the-creator' and a 'it don't get no fresher' viewpoint, this is a good thing.
  • Bottle Shops. Pretty much in two styles - Total Beverage/Total Wine joints with near-warehouse capacities of wine and beer, and smaller locations with a more limited selection. But while TB/TW possess tons of alcohol, the beer selections lean toward single distributor lineups and you see nothing but the "large and local" range. Total Wine in Virginia, for example, can be counted on for Brooklyn, Rogue, Magic Hat, Sam Adams, Stone, Dogfish Head and others that qualify as big for the area or nationally-known micros. But the odds of you finding a great deal of, say, Rogue's extended lineup vs. Dead Guy, Amber, and maybe Mocha Porter are not in your favor. And there's no way in hell you're finding something like Russian River or Pelican. Foreign beer? The brew had better be a pillar of it's country (Beck's, Dos Equis, etc) or you need to be equipped with a plane to fly there and get it yourself.

    Smaller shops may be limited on the total number of bottles or square footage, but the harder-to-find stuff and local brewery offerings make it worthwhile. And while I met people at larger shops who could reasonably speak about beer, they don't hold a candle to the knowledge in the average bottleshop shelf-stocker.
John's Market in Multnomah Village is one such location. And let me get this out of the way now: if you are viewing this, live within 30 minutes of Portland, and have never been to this place? Stop reading and get over there now. You'll thank me later. Actually, I can even save you some time and give you your reactions in advance:

Outside: " Ugh, seriously? I'm looking for beer, not sunflower seeds and Mountain Dew."

5ft Inside: "The guy that sent me here is getting punched in the throat."

10ft Right: "Cute wine selection, but I-- . . . wait, what's to the left?"

Turning Left: " . . . oh my god."

Sprinting Forward: *hyperventilating noises* / *mortal fear for your wallet* / *tears*

Excellent domestic options to the left, an Epic-Tour-Of-The-Planet foreign selection to the right, and awe-struck first timers wandering the aisles - you can't go wrong. I love watching new people in there for the first time. Disbelieving grins and phone-cam shots tend to dominate, along with mutterings of "I'm going to spend so much money here." Good times, good times.

John's should be given gifts. I'm in there pretty much on a bi-weekly basis to replenish the Beer Fridge and I bring new people in as much as possible. I'm not going to get into arguing if Belmont Station or Bottlemongers are better spots (there are pluses and minuses for each), but John's can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any place in town from a sheer selection standpoint. By all means, visit - just remember to keep to a budget. Either that or you're hiring a Sherpa in advance to mule your purchases home.

October 7, 2010

Jubelale - '10 version

There are quite a few beer drinkers in Oregon who consider Jubelale from Deschutes to be as tied to the holidays as turkey, mistletoe, snow, and Santa. For good reason, too: it's an established, well-made, tasty winter ale. This year's version started dropping in various locations around town and I picked up a six-pack a few days ago.

So, just a quick little review on this. I like the new label (there's a new one every year) and the appearance of the beer is pleasing to the eye. Trending toward a darker-amber, it was a smooth pour. About a finger of head and this reduces to a nice glaze over the beer, sticking around as you progress down the glass. Moderate amounts of sweet hop to the nose with some 'warm/roast' malt swirling around in there. Good flavor, but there are some differences this year. Hops, yes. Spice & molasses, yes. But less of that pairing this time around than I've come to associate with this beer and more alcohol burn than I previously recall. Now, the reduction/increase is not wildly pronounced and I don't want to give the impression that the flavors are all out of proportion. Personally, I only noticed the alcohol sprinting to the front of the taste pattern as the beer warmed up. YMMV.

Still - it's Jubelale, man. Even with a few tweaks to the process, you're still in good hands.

October 4, 2010

2010 Hood River Hops Fest

The crowd enjoying spectacular weather and good beer.

Hood River is just about an hour away from the heart of Portland and is a great little place to visit. Besides the beer scene (Full Sail, Double Mountain, Big Horse), there are a number of nice restaurants and it's incredibly scenic. I drove out on Saturday for the Hop Fest, parking about 8 blocks away from the location and walking down. Mugs were $6 with dollar tasters. Per usual, the size of your taster was based on the mood of the volunteer who was pouring. Most of mine were the usual 3-4oz., but both myself and others also were hooked with half-mugs on occasion.

The appropriated parking lot across from Full Sail was just the right size for this event - at least during the afternoon hours I was there for. My understanding is that business picks up post-6pm as a lot of locals roll in, but things were perfect in my experience. Longest line I found was four people deep and that was only because the woman doing the pouring was chatting with everyone. Met Jaime Rodriguez of Hopworks for a few minutes, so that was kind of fun. Also hit the Full Sail pub for a bite before leaving town - the food was good and the pint glasses are marked and filled above the line. All in all - GREAT day, wholeheartedly recommended if you're in the area next year.

Looking up the line of the pouring stations.

I was able to sample eleven offerings while I was there. These three stood out for one reason or another:
  • Total Crystalization (Ninkasi) - Hop. Overload. We're talking a mathematical improbability to get any more hops in here, and I mean that in the best possible light. After all, this is a location billing itself as a Hop Fest, dammit, THIS is exactly what should be on the menu. Crystal hops are just jammed into the mug and between the nose and the taste, it's like burying your face into a freshly picked pile of cones. Wonderful offering. This was truly remarkable stuff.
  • Tyler the Elder (Upright) - Samplers either walked away nodding appreciatively or made a face and looked to dump it. I watched two friends argue both angles and I can see what they are talking about. It's an odd co-mingling of tastes with what 'felt' like a saison yeast with fresh Nugget hops. The bitter back-end of this beer was at odds with the sweet front-end and it's understandable that it would not appeal to everyone, especially those who were there for Standard Hops. Interesting experiment.
  • Vernon the Rabbit Slayer (Big Horse) - Much in the way that Ninkasi's offering shotgunned samplers in the face, this was another one that unloaded both barrels right out of the gate. Just an unashamed attempt to kill you with hop oils, nothing much to get crazy about. But where the TC was floral, the Rabbit Slayer was like getting whacked in the face with a pine tree. Great front end, bitter finish, definitely a winner - and I have to say that a lot of the conversation around the tables were people encouraging others to try it or commenting on how good it was.
Went with Adam's Malty Bomb (Full Sail) to finish off my day at the brewpub since I was looking for something with the hops dialed down JUST a bit. Really good choice, full of porter-like bitter chocolate, some tobacco flavors, and a clean finish. I've liked several of the Brewers' Share beers and this is another good addition to the ranks.

This was a great festival and one worthy of Hopheads who are nuts for the style. I'll definitely be looking to head back here next year.

Our intrepid reporter (about five beers in) after sampling the Rabbit Slayer.

October 1, 2010

Flying Dog Week - Part . . . wait a minute . . .


2010 Hood River Hop Fest. Tomorrow. Sold.

I will admit that I blank on events outside of Portland, so I hang my head in shame that this was off my radar. High-fives to Brewpublic and the New School for cluing me in.

The lineup is obscene. I foresee this being an excellent day.

September 30, 2010

Flying Dog Week - Part 3

Today's beer is Double Dog Double Pale Ale. This is the doubled version of the Doggie Style Pale, with a website-reported 'insane amount' of dry-hopping. Crystal malt, several types of hops (with Cascades getting the lion's share), 85 on the IBU range and . . . woof, 11.5% on the abv. On paper, this is not timid. I'm expecting good things here.

Much like the others, not a great deal of head. Flying Dog does not appear to have fondness for carbonation. It's a pretty beer. Cloudy, reddish/golden hues - I liked the look. By comparison to the other beers this week, this is big on the nose. Hops. Wait, let me try that again: HOPS. There, that's better. It's the sweet-smelling, flowery version that you tend to find with red ales and it's not shy about letting you know it's in the room.

The smell is legitimate advertising for the taste - hoppy, fruit-like front end that starts a roll toward the bitter finish. Ah, but hang on, we've got a delayed blitz. The bitterness is de-freakin'-railed by a blast of alcohol. The 11.5% is definitely saying hello. I wouldn't say it's a bad thing (you're drinking a double-digit beer - alcohol is kind of the expectation), but just know what you're getting into.

If you gave this to me blind, I'd say it was something from Lagunitas. Their roster is heavily loaded with shotgun blasts of alcohol and hops and Double Dog would fit in without a problem. If that combination matches your desired tastes, this will float your boat.

September 28, 2010

Flying Dog Week - Part 2

Today's beer: Flying Dog's Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale. 5.5% abv and 30 IBUs, says the bottle. Wait, thirty? That seems a bit low for a Pale Ale, but we'll see. I know that you can't always take the IBU rate as gospel, but it IS a metric that tends to be correct more often than not.

The head . . . well, there is no head. Zero. Nada. None after pouring and only the faintest island of white hanging around the top of the liquid during drinking. Are you a person that enjoys a hat on your beer and lacing down the glass? This might not be the best call for you.

Sweet malt and citrus in the nose, neither of which is painting the other into a corner. It's not a overpowering smell, even after letting things warm up - although the citrus note does start raising its hand first as the beer heads to room temperature. Front end of the taste is a bit on the blank end before a beat of sweet, near-peach flavor that gives immediate-way to hoppy back-end. Crisp, definitely crisp. Kind of surprised by the sharpness of the bitter finish - those 30 IBUs are some false advertising.

It's a decent little Pale Ale - this would be a suitable beer to have stocked in a cooler for a cookout with friends. Just make sure said friends enjoy an unexpected bite.

September 27, 2010

Flying Dog Week - Part 1

The first craft beer I had was a Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA.

My step-father had hosted an event during the previous weekend and a friend of the family left some beer in the fridge. He asked me to bring him a couple at the grill and I had my first taste of legit IPA. To say it knocked my palate on its ass is an understatement. Bitter . . . but with a flavor component that I dove into. Ahhhh, memories. Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to take a roll back through a few beers on the Flying Dog roster to see how they compare with my current tastes.

So this week, I'm taking one Flying Dog beer a day. First up in the rotation, the return to the originial: Snake Dog IPA.

Golden orange, light head, and the nose is definitely on the 'earthy/mulch' side of a hop smell vs. crazy citrus or floral. Taste is a medium-shot of hop flavor, kind of creamy in the body, and with an expected bitter grapefruit finish. I have to say, this is better than run-of-the-mill, but this is nowhere near the monster I remember. Ten years is a piece of time to move through, so it's not surprising that opinions and taste patterns have changed with experience. Red wine was like that for me - the first time I tried it, my taste buds couldn't take it. A few years down the road, and it's not a problem.

I hold a spot in my memory for this beer. I simply never had an idea that beer could be like this. In hindsight, it's not such a bad thing to have waited that long - the odds of me being able to handle this stuff back then? I'm thinking, "very, very low."

Anyone else remember the first craft beer they tried?

September 21, 2010

Bridgeport Hop Harvest Ale

Bridgeport was the second brewpub I visited in Portland during our Trial Weekend (Alameda Brewhouse gets the 'We Were First!' award since it was closest to the airport and we got in past 9pm). Their Ropewalk Amber was the first sixer I bought the week we officially moved here. I like them, but I'd admit that they tend to fall by the wayside when I'm out browsing around. I tend to be a fan of their Big Brews series vs. their regular lineup, but don't get me wrong: everything in the year-round stack ranges from Perfectly Acceptable to Pretty Good.

The Big Brews lineup, however, has three killers on the roster that I dig. Stumptown Tart, a beer I've mentioned before, has been wonderful the last three years with the fruit rotating from marionberries to cherries to raspberries. Highland Ambush is another good one and I'll be jumping on the next version that drops for a review. And then there's the newest edition of Hop Harvest Ale - advertised as a metric ton of Centennial hops only off the vine for an hour before being used. I had a chance to try this last night after picking up a bomber from John's over the weekend.

Great look to the beer - orange/gold, slightly hazy, about a finger of head that stayed for awhile. Hops aplenty in the nose and the intensity increased as it warmed up. Smooth blast of near-sweet hoppy flavor on the front end, bitter white-grapefruit finish that I'm starting to associate with Centennials. This is a "My DB9 Is Only In Third" sort of hoppy. Yes, it's smooth and moderate and strolling along, but you can feel that there is some backbone here that would blow you off the road if it felt like doing so. Frankly, I like the relaxed nature of this offering and enjoyed it being well-flavored without trying to strangle my tongue. Definitely a recommended pickup if it's in your vicinity.

September 20, 2010

The Weekend +1

Hit Hopworks on Saturday (needed to start up a new punch card) and had a pint of the Gayle's Pale, their fresh hop beer. It's another good showing, the flavors are very much in line with the style. I did find that the hops feel . . . muted? Which is slightly unfortunate since the fun of fresh-hop beer is that the bite is sweeter than normal. Still - worth a try. Brought a growler of the Seven-Grain Survival Stout home. It's such a great little stout - only 5.3% - and packs a lot of flavor with the additional espresso kick. This weekend just felt like 'dark' weather, and so the stout and I enjoyed some college football and the sampling from friends.

Sunday evening, I cracked open Great Divide's Smoked Baltic Porter. Alaskan is still king with me on that front, but this is a more-than-acceptable stand-in. Smoooooooke everywhere in this beer and baltics are just perfect for this kind of treatment. Solidly black, tan head that held for a bit, good lacing - odd, since it's not a 'thick' beer. Warming it up brought some peat-like smells to the front of the line. Believe me, people who enjoy scotch would likely love this stuff. Definitely worth locating, but only if they're out of the Alaskan.

I was feeling a little under the weather today, so I called in sick and got some rest. It did wonders. Felt good enough to finish my evening with Oakshire's Harvest Ale. This is the finale to the Seasonal selection they began to lay out with Ill Tempered Gnome last year (O'Dark:30 and Line Dry Rye being the other two). Personally, I've enjoyed all three releases so far and went into the Ale with some expectations.

They were met.

It's fairly unique for my experience, but I'm sure more knowledgeable drinkers could rattle off 20 that taste just like it. Slightly cloudy, orange and gold, light head and not a lot of lacing. Nose is faint, some dough, more in the way of hops. Warming it up a bit pulled some yeast to the front of the line, giving it more bread than the hoppy scent. The taste is where the needle scratched on the record. Opens with some sweet malt, a tiny hop note, and a spicy bite from the yeast strain. This lingers. You're halfway through the experience and are thinking, "Okay, well, not bad," when your eyes widen . . . when did all these ninja hops get here? Seriously, that transition is remarkably awesome. Bitter hop finish, very well done. It took me a couple of tastes to get the pattern down - my first few attempts involved me staring into space with an expression of, " . . . que?"

Excellent weekend. Another fresh-hop ale and one of the better barrel-aged imperial stouts you can get are both in the on-deck circle.

September 17, 2010

Miles Probably Would Have Enjoyed It

This was delayed since I had another go at the remainder of the bottle last night. My thoughts:

Bitches Brew (Dogfish Head) - right out of the blocks, you cannot find fault with the bottle design. This is one I'll be keeping around and I'm sure DFH paid some fees to get the album art licensed.

It poured smoothly into the snifter glass, no over-carbonation here. Visually, we're talking a dark brown/black body with a pretty thin head. A few times during my sessions, it took on the appearance of cola - dark middle, brown edge, a few bubbles. On Monday evening, I was even asked why I was drinking coke "like it was port or something". Clearly, I was not the only one thinking this.

There's a lot to like with the nose. The molasses/licorice/tobacco scent that usually comes with imperial stout is in there, but there's also a bit of plum or prune along for the ride. I'm leaning more toward 'prune' - there were more than a few times where "I'm getting Dr. Pepper here" would have been an apt statement to make. Warming it up forced the imperial stout smell to the forefront.

From what I've read, this is 3 or 4 parts imperial stout to one part honey ale. All I can say is that the honey ale must be crammed to the gills with flavor since it handles it's share of the load despite being 20-25 percent of the product. The sweetness of this beer - and I want to clarify I don't mean sugary-overload like, say, Southern Tier's Creme Brulee - was unexpected, but not unpleasant. There is little in the way of alcohol burn (you feel the 9%, but you don't really taste it) and you get all the good flavors from a stout. Tobacco, a little coffee, a little licorice, a little smoke, and so on, but there is usually a bitter bite to some degree on the back end - not the case with the BB. It's well blended (which I would credit the anti-bitter finish to), thinner on the mouthfeel than you'd probably guess, and worth a taste at the very least.

My one drawback on this is I will admit uncertainty on where this beer is going next. With most of the aged beer I've had, the major difference between point A and point B is a reduction of alcohol burn and a smoothness of flavor. I feel like this is already there . . . sort of. Just not entirely sure what a year or two will do to this. However, I do look forward to seeing how it goes.

It's a firm B+ for me.

September 13, 2010


My first taste of true, fresh-hopped ale was three years ago. I'd arrived back into Portland after finishing a business trip and, with the rest of the day off, hit the Full Sail tasting room. The Lupulin Ale (humulus lupulus is, of course, the scientific classification for hops) that I had that day was eye-opening. I'd never tasted anything quite like it - the hop flavor was exploding out of the glass.

Since then, I've made it a point to get back there during the first few weeks of September when the new batches are released. Really enjoyed tasting the different variants with the varieties of hops involved. While I would not be able to tell you in a blind-test which one is which, I can definitely taste the difference in Centennial versus, say, Cascade.

This year, as far as I have been able to tell and as I indicated in my last post, the newest batch was made with First Gold and it's got a much more pronounced bitterness to the front end than some of the other varieties I can recall. The next few seconds are all hops and citrus flavor and it finishes clean. But yes, more of your bitter citrus (white grapefruit comes to mind) instead of your sweeter types - I will be very interested to try the Centennial in a week or two and make a comparison.

Events of the weekend blocked other trips to other locales, but I should be hitting them in the next week. Also: tonight I'll be getting into Bitches Brew and seeing if the fuss is worth the . . . um, fuss. Write-up on that tomorrow.

September 10, 2010

Hop Harvest Time

Oregon is in the homestretch of harvesting the hop crops for this year and brewers from all walks are rolling into farms across the Willamette to get orders in. Websites are rife with tales of harvesting, hauling the bags of hops back to the ranch as fast as possible, and dates and times of the newest creations dropping all over town. If you've never had true, honest-to-god, fresh-hopped beer before, you are missing out on something unique. The nose and 'brightness' of a "these-hops-were-off-the-vine-for-60-minutes-before-going-into-the-brew" IPA is eye-openingly awesome. Consider yourself a Hophead? You should be finding this stuff with all available speed.

I intend to hit a few of these this weekend. Full Sail's Lupulin Ale (a version with First Gold and a version with Centennial) has been my kick-off for the last three years and has already arrived in the Pilsner Room on the waterfront. Rock Bottom has their version out and initial reports are "GOOD!" And I may even hit Deschutes to complete the Southwest loop. They are not bringing out Hop Trip (their fresh hop style) until closer to the end of the month, but I still haven't been there in more than a few weeks and I'm starting to keep an eye out for the '10 version of The Dissident. AS SHOULD YOU.

September 7, 2010

Finding Beer

My weekend began with the sound of a gauntlet hitting the ground. Several friends from the East Coast had made a trip to their local bottle shop and picked up a few items. These items were then photographed and put on Facebook, with a tag for me in the photo to ensure that I saw the haul. The crown jewel of their trip was obvious: Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew.

I had seen the bottle in my last trip to John's, but had not obtained any since I didn't know the limited backstory and had not yet seen reviews. New School dropped their knowledge last Thursday and the beer immediately moved to the front of the line in my purchasing plans. Sadly, the Friday trip to John's had me starting at an empty shelf and the impending mockery from the East Coast crew was looming large.

But this is Portland. Five minutes of on-line work and bottles were located at Belmont Station - which made for a perfect next-day plan. I swung into Southeast on Saturday before the Michigan-Connecticut tilt started and pulled up with excellent timing: they were just finishing up the taps on their Imperial IPA-fest for the weekend! Score! After picking up a few bottles at the store, I had just enough time on the clock to enjoy a glass of Laurelwood's Organic Green Elephant IPA. Wonderful blast of sweet citrus on the nose and a very flavorful bite to a great IPA. Just the sort of Saturday-afternoon beer you'd want to be sipping on.

Belmont is a legend in PDX. So quintessentially "Portland" - you have a bottle shop on one half of the building and a small bar on the other. Knowledgeable staff, friendly consumers, and a quiet location (Saturday at noon, anyway) make for a lovely trip. While not as extensive into the foreign market as John's is, the lineup at Belmont should satisfy damn near anyone that walks in the door. I downed the last of my beer, hefted my purchases, and rolled homeward - snapping off a picture of my own to send back East.

And that's a great thing about Portland - it's always here. Always. Unless there is some distribution blockade (Bell's would make a killing in this area), you're going to find what you're looking for at a dedicated bottle shop, alehouse, taproom, or supermarket. That last option is normally an eye-roller . . . until you're minding your own business at a New Seasons and realize - yes - that IS the 2008 version of The Abyss sitting on the shelf. These are the kinds of things that happen out here and just a part of what makes it so utterly unique.

I have yet to crack open the BB - would expect to do so at some point in the next week or two. In summary - Portland is awesome. Just thought people should know.

August 30, 2010

What I Drank Last Weekend - Late August Edition

A trip to John's Marketplace last Friday (we'll discuss John's at another time) produced two new beers to my list:

  • Sanctuary (Full Sail) - a Belgian dubbel, this is one of the seasonal rotations from Full Sail and, to be honest, they usually run the gambit from Not Bad to WOOOOOOOOOO. This one fell more toward the former side of that spectrum. Bready, biscuit smell, just what you'd expect from the style. But if you had asked me what the abv on this beer was after the first taste, I would've guessed 9 or 10. Seven? Getthehelloutofhere.

    It needs time. There's a good beer in there with some excellent flavor and a dry sweetness, but a year on the shelf is not the worst idea in the world. I'd be very interested in re-visiting this, but cannot recommend it as-is after my experience.

  • 30th Anniversary - Jack & Ken's Ale (Sierra Nevada) - this is the third of the four-bottle series that Sierra Nevada is doing for their birthday. The first one, a stout, was amazing. The second, a Helles bock, was good, but not something I would sprint back to the store to obtain. This is a 'black barleywine' and another beer that needs some time to mellow the hell out. Dark fruit like plums and dates are present in both nose and taste with a pretty aggressive hop-bite. But as with Sanctuary, it's hard to get by the burn of the alcohol cutting through the flavors. Barleywine, in my opinion, is phenomenal if you leave it alone for a year or so and I believe this will be pretty damned good, say, this time next year. Just not something I'm reaching for in this status.

August 22, 2010

H.U.B. is the Life For Me.

I will cop to the fact that I've only been in Portland for three years. I will readily admit that I have no official beer credentials and come at my opinions simply from a "drinking buddy who likes beer" point of view. I am a simple voice among the many, many beer blogs that roll across the world. The following statement should be qualified with the above sentences.

All things considered - Hopworks is the best brewpub in Portland.

Again, I'm not a guy that gets samples from breweries. So when I say I love these guys, you know it's from a purely unsolicited point of view.

I've had pints pulled for me by the owner and brewer-in-charge of Hopworks, Christian Ettinger. I've had pints pulled for me by the newest hire at the brewpub. In both occasions, attention to detail and a desire to pour you the perfect pint was paramount. You are never short-poured at this place - period. I would even say that 90% of my growler fills are over the 2L line. They are also incredibly friendly with samples, so ask to try anything they have. The food ranges from average to very good and when you catch a good round of pizza that matches the beer, it's a thing of beauty. You're also drinking in a place that is about as eco-friendly as you can get, if that floats your boat.

The beer . . . I mean, what can you say? It's some of the best stuff produced in town. The one signature that I can count on is that all of their Imperials or Doubles have a measure of sweetness that I just can't get over - you expect a blast of booze with doubles and somehow they avoid it while making things tastier. The growler in the above photo is Velvet Underground, a beer that I've mentioned before. A doubled version of the Velvet ESB, this is just a boozy, malty monster that is well worth your cash.

In addition, I had some of the newly-tapped Galactic Imperial Red - a doubled, hoppier version of one of my personal favorites, Rise Up Red. While I hesitate to use the term "mulch heap" to describe a particular nose (negative imagery and all), this had an earthy, dankness to the smell that I really enjoyed. Not overpoweringly bitter, but with 100+ IBUs, this isn't a beer you would expect smoothness from - and yet, smooth it is.

Hopworks is running their BikeToBeerFest this weekend on Saturday - if you are in the area and rolling on two wheels, I highly recommend that you attend.

August 18, 2010

Fat Tire?? Yes, Fat Tire.

Having returned from the Long Beach / Orange, CA area, I was a little surprised about the options at various drinking holes. Oregon is definitely a one-of-a-kind place - the mean of places up here contain, at worst, three or four beers that are 'micros'. I took my wife to a birthday dinner at Ken's Artisan Pizza yesterday and had Hopworks ESB, Caldera Pils, and Upright Four as three of the four draft selections. But the ol' OC wasn't quite like that.

In fact, right after your basic openers of Bud, Bud Light, and Coors, the absolute #1, dead-certain, ask-for-it-and-it's-there option was always New Belgium's Fat Tire. I can't be sure of the market share, but just the places we went to, the options at supermarkets, and what was in my friend's beer fridge, I'd say 1000% is close to the mark.

Fat Tire is a PA beer (perfectly acceptable) - it's not going to knock your socks off, but as far as ambers go, you're not drinking dishwater swill by any means. It actually seems to be a decent lead-in for people who want something more than Bud/Coors but have not yet dipped their toes in the waters of microbrews. No mockery from this end - I just was a little shocked by the lack of ubiquitous good-beer in this area. Cali is supposed to be one of the five "This State Brews Better Than You Can Imagine" places in the US and I had thought I'd get the same experience in restaurants as I do in Portland: not a wide selection, yet what's there is killer. But to find any off-the-beaten-path brew in the LBC, you had to hit a Gastropub or something that screamed 'BEER!' from the rooftops. Standard bars or restaurants and you had no shot at ordering anything with more flavor than Fat Tire.

Moral of the story and continued personal reminder: give thanks to Beer that you live in Portland - you honestly don't know how good you've got it until you leave.

August 15, 2010

In the city they call Long Beach

On vacation in California with a few old friends of mine. Got picked up at the airport and, withing 15 minutes, we were sitting beachside at the Belmont Brewing Company. We ordered several pitchers of the Top Sail Amber - which I found pretty good, but definitely with more bitterness to the back end than you get out of a traditional Amber. Less on the malt sweetness, more on the hops.

I'm hoping to get us directed toward an establishment with some rotating taps for a few more CA-based brews while I'm in town through Tuesday.

August 9, 2010

Upright Tasting Room

Barrels. Barrels everywhere.

Expectations can sometimes trip me up. In life, I tend to be a creature of status-quo with certain bedrock principles in place but, with regard to beer, I'm making major efforts this year to change that. I'm plunging headlong into styles and beers that I would've never glanced at 18 months ago and finding stuff I like and stuff I don't like. And I am discovering enjoyment in (insert noun here) being not at all what I expect and yet awesome at the same time. This is probably why Upright is fast becoming a favorite of mine - and I mean that in two different ways.

Let's start with the premises. I had never been on-site, so finding my way into the building and then locating the tasting room was a bit of an adventure. Fortunately, once inside, it was easy to follow the brewery smell and locate their lair. I was expecting tasting rooms that I had been in before. Not this place. Upright felt like a speakeasy crossed with a brewery operation in a basement - and I mean that in the best possible sense. Glasses of beer vs. pints, small bowls of snacks on the table, Monk on vinyl playing softly over the speakers, and beer quietly aging in barrels pretty much everywhere you look.

Sadly, you can't get growlers of the Late Harvest. Damn right, I asked.

On Saturday, I had rolled past the PSU Farmers Market and hit the Upright booth. I spoke to a guy behind the counter who I had assumed was just a normal worker at the Market (on a previous trip, the staff there were hires, not brewers) and he and I discussed Late Harvest and the next day's tasting. Then I saw him again yesterday and managed to speak for another 10 minutes and realized he was a brewer for Upright. And then, today, I hit the website and find out that the guy I was talking to the entire time was Alex Ganum, owner and head brewer. I now feel pretty stupid - but the conversation was enjoyable and one I'll touch on at a later time.

Now then - the beer. A reminder on Late Harvest:

Late Harvest is a Pinot Noir barrel-aged farmhouse-brown ale brewed with pomegranate seeds, grains of paradise and Tasmanian peppercorns, all of which produced a tart, complex and balanced beer. The aroma and flavor are both reminiscent of some Italian-style bitters with an herbal and spicy character while it maintains a rich grain profile by heavy use of caramel malts and rolled barley. Late Harvest was brewed August 11th 2009 and barrel-aged for over 8 months before yielding only 75 cases being cellared at the brewery until it’s release. 7% abv

Brown with reddish-hue to it, this is both pleasing to the eye and the tongue. I love brown ale and this had all the hallmarks of what I enjoy plus some added tart/sour notes from the Pinot barreling. I didn't quite pick up the pepper, but that bit of spice that I've had in Sam Adams Summer Ale (which also uses grains of paradise) is definitely around. Wholly awesome on-tap, but I'm told the bottle version is a bit different and am interested to see what the variables are.

My second glass was the Six-And-A-Quarter: 75% of Six blended with a 25% version of Seven aged in what Alex described as a very small bourbon barrel the size of a keg. There was so much going on in that beer that I had a hard time pinning anything down. It's got ridiculously good flavor from the rye ale and you can occasionally pick out a caramel wave, but my palate is not skilled in the separation needed to truly nail this down.

There was a table right behind me selling Four aged w/ Bing Cherries.

Rolled out after a bit with two bottles of the Harvest - one for sometime soon and one that is going into the Secret Beer Storage Area. I'll revisit it this time next year to see how it's aged.

August 6, 2010

Weekend Options: 8/6 - 8/8

Couple of events and happenings in the area that I'm possibly doing this weekend:

  • The 2nd Annual Nano Beer Fest: Fanno Creek Brew Pub in Tigard is doing another of their "small brewery" festivals. Think of it is a very reduced version of the OBF, but for smaller breweries (or closely approximating a small brewery). There are some nice things on the list of beers and, since it's basically six minutes from my front door and I met a guy at Bailey's last weekend who was telling me to go, this may be in the cards for a Saturday trip.
  • Bite of Oregon: While primarily food based, there is a beer garden in place at the Bite and the beer, while nothing hard to find or out of season, is still a good list of local, big-name brewers putting a decent foot forward. Two or three on the list are ones I have not tried, so if we're in the area and attend, I'll definitely head that direction.
  • Upright Releases 'Late Harvest': On Sunday, Upright drops their newest creation during their usual 1-6pm Tasting Room hours. The description (a pinot-barrel-aged farmhouse brown ale brewed with pomegranate seeds, grains of paradise, and Tasmanian peppercorns) is more than enough to pique my interest and since I've never been to the location, it might be a fun Sunday afternoon event.