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.

August 4, 2010

Honest Pints

Everyone and their mother has been short-poured before. But what happens when you actually pay for an advertised pint of beer and end up with substantially less?

Jeff Alworth, Beervana blogger and creator of the Honest Pint Project, created a method to assure you of your pour: get photographic proof that what's being advertised is what's being served. The HPP, while created locally in Portland, is not just an Oregon thing. You, too, can authenticate your favorite public house or bar, regardless of location.

This may sound tick-tacky, but there are places (we're talking locations with reputations as great spots to drink) which will advertise "pint" and then head-fake you with a cheater-pint/mixing glass. These suckers are 14oz. with a thicker bottom and - once you get a half-inch of head on there, you might be getting a 12 or 13 ounce pour. Now, if they just put "beer" or don't mention the pint part, the establishment is in the clear. Technically, they can charge whatever they consider a 'beer' to be.

But pints? Standard weight and measure, son. You just paid for 16oz. - they better be serving you that amount. Hell, if you paid for a 16oz. strip steak and they brought you a 12, you'd likely complain to the waiter, the manager, and anyone else about getting cheated. Beer shouldn't be any different. There are some places (Deschutes comes to immediate mind) that have switched up to glasses with .5L markings on the side so you can see what you're getting. But until the happy, albeit unlikely, day that the US copies the UK and makes it illegal to sell beer in unmarked or non-authenticated glasses, a customer must be alert on their situation when ordering.

I'm pondering doing some assistance on this project by certifying locations that I frequent. There are a couple of places on the HPP list that have yet to have photos taken - this might become a person project over the next few months.

August 2, 2010

Barrel-Aged Birthdays are the Way To Go


As I noted last week, Bailey's Taproom had a barrel-aged anniversary party on Saturday and, as expected, it did not disappoint. I scheduled a hearty breakfast in the morning - a buffer was surely going to be needed for the rest of my day. The posted list contained some absolute monsters and, even allotting 3 hours, I was prepared to take my time with my selections and not rush from beer to beer. I also wanted to get the 'word of mouth' from the crowd and only went in with my opening pick in mind.

I arrived several hours into the event, paid the $15, got my glass and tokens, and side-stepped my way inside. Only one option had been killed - the Cascade Quadratic Formula. Ended up not feeling too bad about that since it gathered mixed reviews from the people I spoke to. The area was crowded, but not oppressively so. You certainly weren't getting a table or a spot at the bar anytime soon, but there was always a place to stand and there was a roped-off spot just outside the front door where it was comfortable to be outside and drink great beer.

Welcome to Portland. Here is your complimentary glass of liquid gold.

I managed to swing through seven beers on the list before I tapped out. It helped to have had a few of them before (Rogue, Full Sail, Oakshire) and, thus, keep my head focused on new things. Some definitely were better than others. Three of them in particular were more than memorable winners:

1A: Parabola (Firestone Walker) - I have heard some highly positive tales of this beer and, let me assure you, they are all true. Molasses and raisin and bourbon (part of the molasses, yes, but that boozy caramel touch) and smooth, smooth, smooth. It's a liver-kicking 13%, but you'd never guess it was quite that high. This is a beer to be savored and chewed through and spoken of with emphatic nods and gestures. The keg kicked while I was there - evidence that I was not the only one with this opinion.

1B: '09 Dragon's Milk (New Holland) - Pleasantly thinner than the nose and eye would lead you to believe with a cream feel to it. I caught a distinct, peat-like aspect to it that I really enjoyed. This was great a few years ago and my return sample is just as good as remembered. I liked the smell of this more than the Parabola, but the taste tipped slightly the other direction. Basically a two-way tie.

3: Lambicus Six (Upright) - I just had the Six last weekend and seeing it with a Lambicus strain and then put into Pinot . . . what a combo. I enjoy a decent sour beer and this had a tartness and bite that I loved. Wine notes everywhere, mainly with some dark cherry. If you're not into sours, this would be borderline, but as a switch-up to some of the dark stuff on the menu? It was an excellent selection.

I really only had one that missed quite badly:

1: #181 (Block 15) - I can kind of see the intended plan, but the acidity level was murder. I had difficulty getting past that and into any kind of flavors. White grape maybe, but who can tell?


For Those About To Bock (Hopworks) - Very odd, grain/damp-wheat nose to it. First time I'd had an aged-bock beer, and it was okay, but nothing really jumped out.

Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale (Moylan's) - There was so much going on in this that it was hard to find any focal points. Tasty, yes, and the Port barreling gave it some unique flavors - but very hard to peg. Points for being different, deductions for confusion.

Cherry Adam (Hair of the Dog) - Picked up on recommendation. Cherry, yes, but almost cloyingly so. Extremely thick, not crazy carbonated, it was borderlining on negative reaction, but warming it up a bit helped out. Thinned up a little, it was more manageable. Still, it was difficult to see where the love was coming from.

This was a great event and I can't recommend it enough. Friendly crowd, short lines, efficient staff, great day. Mortal lock for a return trip next year.

This is a roomful of very happy people.