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.