July 30, 2011

Early OBF Thoughts

The masses on their way to 80+ taps of awesome.

The OBF is currently underway down at the waterfront and has another two days to go. I'm planning another run down at some point over the weekend, but wanted to give several "check this / avoid this" thoughts thus far. Ones to try?

Double Dry Hopped Glacier Pale Ale (Boundary Bay) - this was crisp, tasty, and perfect for the weather involved on Thursday. Nicely hoppy with a good bite on the end.

Daily Dose Summer Ale (Oakshire) - I ran into Matt Van Wyk in the middle of the parade and his description of the beer guaranteed that I would be sampling it. He wasn't sure if the lemon and grapefruit peel would pop in the beer the way he wanted, but I thought it was definitely in there. It's a great little Kölsch.

One to avoid?

Black & Red (Dogfish Head) - This had the longest line right from the start of the festival and nearly everyone I asked about it was disappointed. It's a wild collab of flavors, none of which really work together. I couldn't taste the raspberry, got a blast of mint, and then finished with a raisin/dates which . . . yeah, not what I was looking for or expecting by the description. Your money is better served elsewhere.

Looks like another two days of spectacular weather are in the cards, so if you have the means, get down there!

July 28, 2011

OBF '11

After defeating a nasty head-cold, the nexus of work duties, and various household tasks, I am set for this morning's trip to the Brewers' Brunch, followed by marching in the parade down to the waterfront for the 2011 Oregon Brewers Festival. The beer list is, as usual, a good mix of things I've seen before and things I have not.

A full blown report will be on the way. Weather is looking spectacular, so I advise a trip down if you have any aspect of free time.

July 1, 2011

It Begins

July is Craft Beer Month in Oregon. This would be the same Oregon that produces just shy of 10% of all the craft beer brewed in the US. That's quite a lot of celebration.

Yes, it's a party - everyone's invited. Here's a list of events from the Oregonian. A ton of good things to choose from.

I plan to kick things off on my post-work Friday with the Black Butte XXIII and see where things take me from there. Enjoy your 4th of July weekend and various beer-related activities you may get up to.

June 29, 2011

What I've Been Drinking

Recent selections to astound and amaze:

  • Dark Truth Stout (Boulevard Brewing) - What's this? All of this great beer in Oregon and he's drinking beer from Missouri? Well, yes - your author loves him some PNW, but he's still about quality concoctions, regardless of where the brewing location is camped. One of the better parts about being out here in Portland is that, provided that distribution carries it this way, good beer will show up. Even if it's rolling in from Kansas City. I have heard quality things about Boulevard from people I view as credible about beer knowledge and it turns out that John's carries a pretty good selection of their Smokestack series (creative, high-octane beers). I picked up a bottle of this and a bottle of their Chocolate Ale (not yet tried as of this writing) and found time to work through the Stout last week. So what was the verdict?

    It kicked open the door to my Top Five Stout list, strolled in like it owned the joint, and stretched out on the couch.

    This was well executed, well blended, and had all the flavors and subtleties you want out of a good, thick stout. 9+ on the abv, so it's paced for a sipper. The nose, the mouthfeel - all of it was working in unison in the best possible ways. Think Abyss without the barrel aging; that's the level of gravity/thickness/complexity that I'm talking about. This is a must try if it wanders across your path.

  • Grand Cru de Pelican (Pelican Pub & Brewery) - the 2011 version, picked up for my birthday selection. I was in the mood for a dark Belgian ale and putting your money and hopes on Pelican for a quality release is a bit like betting that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow. I went in with high expectations and the Grand Cru lived up to them. The malt, the spice, the fruit, the 10% abv - it's all here and it's all top end. I plan to pick up another bottle or two for addition to the Beer Cabinet of Perpetual Darkness because it should age like a champ.
In other news, I managed to run down to Deschutes (Portland version) on Sunday and obtained several bottles of the Butte XXIII. I didn't have time to sample any while at the location, but will absolutely dig in at some point this week. Oranges and chocolate and chilies and porter. Yes. Yes, that might work out okay.

June 16, 2011

Returning To Duty

It's been a couple of months (What, six? Really?), but I'm returning to putting thoughts to keyboard. This time away has not been due to a lack of beer or events, but primarily adjustments in 'work situations' and so forth (welcome to the wonderful world of telecommuting). Thankfully, still employed.

There have been quite a few visits and events that I've hit since January. These included:
  • Apex's 1st Anniversary. A lot of good options were on deck that day. I had one of those moments that summed up my love for this area: sitting outside, in the sun, lightly pelted with rain, and drinking hard-to-find beer.
  • Breakside's 1st Anniversary. Had a co-attendee drive us up to their location so we could give them their due. Had their Randall-aided, serrano-and-mango IPA (.5 seconds of hops and then the flames), had their anniversary ale, had a wit-with-strawberry-and-mango, and had a great time.
  • Zwickelmania. Breweries in Oregon throwing their doors open. We started small (Amnesia) and worked our way toward big (Widmer). Will do this again with different breweries next year.
  • Cheers To Belgian Beers. There was everything from a stout to a near-cocktail to straight IPAs represented. Breakside's Brewers' Bramble was my vote for best in show - truly unique among a sea of really good offerings. If you are in the area next year, this is a MUST ATTEND event.
  • Portland Fruit Beer Festival. This was a first time festival run last weekend and due to weather and word of mouth, the attendance level dwarfed expectations. My mantra of "get there early" paid off, but others that arrived late found smaller selections as kegs ran dry. I expect the PFBF to have a break-out second season and will be there with bells on. And if you, dear reader, have the power to convince Hopworks to remake the Chili Chupacabra Stout, do so and earn the thanks of many grateful drinkers.
July is on the horizon. Fests everywhere. Should be interesting.

January 26, 2011

Return to the House of Sour

Sunny spot at the bar, a glass of Nightfall, and no other immediate plans.

With the sun peeking out on Portland during a fairly mild Saturday, I made a return trip to the Cascade Barrel House. I'm pleased to see that business is still hopping over there. While there were maybe 6-8 people having drinks when I first arrived, the freaking world rolled in over the next hour and it was suddenly packed to the gills. Maybe I caught a lull, but the word is out and the people are coming. And that's great to see - this is a place that deserves to stick around.

The main reason for the trip was after I heard about their 'Tuesday Tapping' of Früit Loops. I nearly fell out of my chair reading the description: a blend of the Apricot and Noyeaux. Oh, and Razberry Wheat. And Frite Galois. AND Sang Noir. Who in the hell could come up with that and where do I get in line to give them a hug? That's mad scientist stuff, gang. And the result is an incredible sour mix - the nose is unlike any beer I've ever tried. Sweet aromatics and waves of fruit all over the place. I could definitely pick up on the Sang Noir bite, but the rest was sour fruit cocktail and I mean that in the best possible light. Complex, delicious - just another day at the office for Cascade. It's still on-tap as of this post. You should seriously consider getting some.

The author with Früit Loops. No, he's not sharing.

Even while getting some mixed reviews at the bar from other patrons, I had to try the other Straight-From-The-Cask offering: Chocolate Raspberry. Cascade describes this as the last keg of their Fresh Hop Porter (which was pretty tasty) and a new batch of Busta Nut Brown. Then they added in Raspberry Infused Triple (dug that a few weeks back) and Bourbonic Plague. While one guy said he thought the raspberry dominated everything, I didn't find that to be the case. It's there, yes, but I got more than enough cocoa and sour from the Plague to make this a pretty nifty little blend. It would be really good as a post-dinner beer - just a shame it's a one-shot deal that will likely never be seen again.

Also had a free sample (this is why you sit at the bar if you can) of the Sang Rouge (great, as always) since they overpoured a few tasters during the mad rush of people. And I couldn't leave without a touch of the Nightfall '10. For my money, it's the best of the lot that Cascade offers. That is admittedly splitting hairs between "really really good" and "really really really good", but the blackberry backbone simply adds to the sour in a way that my tastebuds are configured to enjoy.

You, sir or madam, definitely need to get to Cascade if you've yet to make the trip. Personally, I need to get back there for the 'standard' roster at some point, but the sour creations are always too good to pass up.

January 24, 2011

Hoptimum / Renewale

Quickly then - since my plans of long, thoughtful posts in January are clearly a pipe dream:

ReNEWale (Ninkasi) - a rare misstep by Ninkasi in their seasonal lineup, but a misstep nonetheless. Irish-style red ale, says the bottle, and it definitely starts that way with a hazy-looking amber beer and a faint mix of hop smells mixed with a few whiffs of hay. The taste is an early wash of bitter hop that rolls to more of the hay/straw flavor that I was picking up in the nose. Sort of an odd curveball to the taste pattern and one that I personally wasn't a huge fan of. It's drinkable and isn't a drainpour by any stretch, but I can't see myself making a second attempt with this beer unless I see glowing reviews elsewhere.

I seriously love that picture on the bottle.

Hoptimum (Sierra Nevada) - if you like hops, this one will float your boat. Just a large whiff of pine and citrus and everything good about double-IPAs right out of the gate. It's a good looking beer (orange/bronze with head retention) and up until halfway through the first sip, I was thinking this might be a new favorite. But the incredible sweetness and bite of the hops had a blindside punch of alcohol burn at the back end. While not entirely unpleasant, it can be jarring until you get used to it. I found that things mellowed and merged as the beer was allowed to warm up, so it might just be a different beer at cold temperatures. Regardless, while it's not quite the atom-bomb hop flavor of certain representatives of the style, Hoptimum is still easily packing more than enough to get the job done and is a recommended pickup if you see it.

Also, I hit the Cascade Barrel House on Saturday:

It's not that I was actually drinking liquid gold . . . but some of it was pretty damn close. More on that later.

January 17, 2011

New Samplings

As expected, I was housebound this weekend and, as hoped, I did manage to get out and pick up a few things that I hadn't tried yet for weekend consumption. Two were sampled over the weekend and I should get to the other two in the next few days.

Before we get to that, those souls in PDX who continue to see Asheville, NC coming up as Beer City USA in the yearly online poll and begin with the wailing and gnashing of teeth are advised to check out Michael O'Connor's article on Brewpublic. I found the Bizzaro-world comparisons to be kind of funny (Barley's Taproom? . . . weird), but at least they've got a healthy looking amount of options in-town.

Now then:

Kingpin (Bridgeport) - this is a double-red ale, "triple hopped", and sporting 7.5% on the dial. This is an occasion where the name is completely at odds with the beer. I'm expecting Wilson Fisk levels of power and control with a moniker like this and instead, while perfectly acceptable, the result is not the bad-assery I had hoped for. There is some malty tang to the nose, but the beer is not at thick as the smell would have you believe. Hoppy taste on the front end with a crisp, slightly bitter finish. The flavor pattern in Kingpin changes a bit as it moves toward room temperatures. There's a touch of spice that comes in toward the back end, but nothing that changes things too crazily from the initial first sips. This is decent beer (the flavors do blend well) but this isn't one I'm going out of my way to locate since I feel there are other double-reds that are better. Believer from Ninkasi, for example.

CoCoNut Porter (Maui Brewing) - slight bit of a cheat here since I technically had a taste of this for the first time at the OBF last July. That was draft, however, and this - as all beers are from Maui Brewing - is canned. MB is a large proponent of canning, indicating the protection from light, the ease of recycling, and the "metallic taste is a fallacy" argument. Now, I know a few friends of mine who are beer drinkers that would sooner drink Bud from bottles than drink anything out of a can. I don't agree with this - in my opinion, provided that your method of delivery doesn't alter the flavor, beer out of a cloth-covered wooden bucket would be fine by me.

My impressions of this beer from the OBF were highly favorable and that continued with this off-tap version. It pours cola-colored with a tan head and an immediate dessert-like smell hits your nostrils. Vanilla and roasty notes and, yes, a strong whiff of coconut. It finds a good spot between thick and thin on the gravity and the wash of flavors is an excellent blend. Because the coconut is toasted, it works well with the ingredients that are similarly kissed by heat (coffee, malt) and finishes cleanly. There's the slightest bit of alcohol burn, but it's extremely faint. Only 5.7% here, so that was unexpected, but it still works out okay. Glad to see my initial impressions in July were not off-base (it was the 12th beer of the day or so - notes start getting muddled). If you're in the mood for a flavored porter, this is a pretty good call.

On deck for this week: Hoptimum (Sierra Nevada's whole-cone monster - hearing good things) and Renewale (Ninkasi's 'new every year' initial release - Irish style red this year).

January 12, 2011

Beer Roundup

We've hit a point at my Actual Job where volume goes through the roof (175% increase - nearly triple what we normally do). Visits to anyplace other than my living room are not going to be common for the month of January. This is par for the course, but decompression in the evening can and will involve beer, so I can still review new things.

We'll start with one I mentioned a few posts back, the Widmer '11 / KGB Imperial Stout. I have been a strong advocate of the last few Reserve releases from the Brothers W. Last year's 'Pitch Black IPA' (cue every CDA-name lover twitching uncontrollably) was one of my favorite examples of the style and I probably bought more of it in January 2010 than any other beer. I can almost guess that W'11 is going to do the same thing. It's a very drinkable Russian Imp-Stout with toasty notes and only the slightest burn from the alcoholic content. And, by the way, FULL points to these guys for dropping a 9+ abv beer into six-packs. You normally see these in four-ways or in bombers, but snagging a six of this for under 8 bucks feels like theft. Recommended sampling, just be careful since that 9% sneaks up on you without warning.

Keeping on the dark side of the fence, Cafe Negro (Bridgeport) is another new release that recently hit the shelves. As previously noted, I am all kinds of down with a good coffee porter and I had some of this batch to go with our 'New Year's Breakfast For Dinner' party. The coffee notes have a great earthy/dirty quality that I look for in this style and there's a hop effect on the back end that had some bite to it. That was strange for a porter, but it worked okay with the flavors involved. If you like coffee in your beer, I'd advise picking some up.

My last 'new' beer in recent weeks was Billy the Mountain (Upright) and it's another "you will not find stuff like this elsewhere" kind of brew. This is not going to be for everyone and, truth be told, I'm not entirely sure it was my cup of tea. I'm uncertain if this was just the bottle I purchased or what, but there was nearly zero carbonation as I poured it into my glass. I've seen other reviews and write-ups talking about 'over carb'ing" so I have no baseline to run with here. But with the lack of fizz, the brett and the dark fruit in the nose, and the reddish coloring, this was a bit like drinking a tart wine. Dates/raisins and some of the oaky-ness from the aging are present, but I wasn't getting into it with quite the degree of enthusiasm which I had hoped. It's not bad stuff, but either I need to snag it on-tap at Upright or I need to try another bottle to see if my particular purchase was out of character.

I'm trying to find the time for a Hopworks run (new batch of Secession) this weekend, but energy levels are going to dictate what happens. Might just drag myself to John's or Belmont and keep working through 'new' stuff.

January 8, 2011

San Diego, Part II: Pizza Port

I know a running joke at the GABF is that there are so many medals and categories and the like, a guy could set his drink on a judging table, lean over to tie his shoes, and straighten up to find out he just took home a Bronze. Yes, lots of awards, lots of winners. But, let's be honest, Large Brewpub Of The Year is nothing to sneeze at. Rock Bottom has won it (this is the Rock Bottom of old, not the Rock Bottom of current, of course). Pelican won the Small category and then promptly won the Large back in '06. At minimum, it's not given to run-of-the-mill locations.

Which is why the fact that Pizza Port (Port Brewing) winning it back-to-back in the last two years should really say a lot.

Don't let the mass of high-chairs fool you - you are in for a treat.

While the Ocean Beach location was technically closer to the house, the Carlsbad spot actually won the official awards. Walking in, I could tell I was in for a treat. The tap list comprising of signs, the fact that the medals were all the way in the back by the restrooms, the forty(!!) taps staring me down, the easy-going nature of the place - it was all looking good the moment we strolled in off the street. Surfboards hang from the ceiling in the seating areas and a few of the brewing tanks are upfront near the door. We grabbed seats at the bar and scanned the list:

Decisions, decisions, decis--, oh, hey Hop Trip!

Once again, Oregon gets a single foot in the door (blasphemy!) but they made it a good one (okay, put down the pitchforks). While it's unsurprising that Port's own beer is going to dominate the selection, I was admittedly raising my eyebrows at the lack of any OR material in-house. Maybe it's just a subconscious expectation from drinking a lot of local beer in the past few years, but it's odd to see a large taplist with nothing 'native', so to speak. I guess it's likely the same for any state with a rich brewing history - 90% of what's available will be made within the same borders. But no matter! I was here to sample beer from Pizza Port, so that's what I ordered:
  • Sharkbite Red Ale - This is nicely hopped (Cascade and Centennial) with a great color to it. Very happy with the finish on this. I like my red ales to be aggressive closers and this had a crisp, bitter bite to the back end that worked well.
  • California Honey Ale - Maltier than expected, but light and sweeter-than-normal like the name would suggest. It was nothing too earth-shattering.
  • Night Rider - Now we're talking. Nearly black liquid, tobacco in the nose, and pleasantly thicker than I expected. It ticks off all the boxes for a well-made Imperial stout and the flavor didn't let me down. Put this on your "If I Ever Find It As An Option, I Should Get That" list.
  • Cow Stout - This? I ordered a full pint of this. I am a sucker for a good milk stout and this did not disappoint in the slightest. Roasty malt flavor, little bit of coffee, and just the right amount of lactose sugar to sweeten the beer. Great example of the style and worth all the accolades it has received.
Were I perpetually in San Diego, I could easily see these locations being hangout spots and/or places I took out-of-towners for good beer. I'll put in another way: the Carlsbad location could be teleported straight to Portland as-is and it would have no problems fitting in and making a local name for itself. The beer and laid-back nature would work very well up here and anyplace that has Pliny on tap is probably doing something right.

If you are in the area, don't hesitate on a go-or-don't-go decision for Pizza Port locations. GO.

January 3, 2011

San Diego, Part I: Stone

Stone: points awarded for the signage.

I have to say, I've returned to home territory with a better appreciation of San Diego's beer scene. While I was only able to hit two locations with the limits on time (family, as much as they would believe otherwise, does outrank beer), both gave me an idea of what brewpub life is like down there. General conclusion: worth the trip.

First visit was to Stone Brewing up the road in Escondido. Stone is pretty familiar to beer drinkers, with their IPA, Bastard series, and Vertical runs near the top of the, "Yep, had that" list. They've grown anywhere between 20-30% every year, with the exception of '09. But even if the percentage of increase dips to single digits, they'll cross into the 100K-barrels-a-year territory in 2010. Their HQ is a combo of a bistro & beer garden attached to the brewery with a gift shop right in the front door.

The Garden, aka The Back Porch, aka The Only Place There Was Room

The brewery tour was heavily packed and looking at a 2-hour wait. We decided to opt out of that and hit the outside bar since the weather was pretty spectacular. My first glance at the beer list - 36 or so on tap, double that in bottle options - was to check and see how many Oregon beers were listed. This wasn't coming from a superiority angle; I honestly wanted to see what, if any, they had. Only one from Oregon was listed on draft, but they made it a good one: Fred! Always a plus to see HOTD as a selection.

Of the beers I tried, the best one wasn't even from Stone - Black Lightning Porter from Lighting Brewery out of Poway, CA. It's classified as a Baltic, but it was nothing like any Baltic porter I've every tried. Nothing in any description can account for the near-sour backbone to this stuff, but I really enjoyed the contrast. All the typical porter notes are there - tobacco, chocolate, etc - but it's almost like they used wild yeast (brett, maybe?) in an attempt to live dangerously. Great stuff.

Since I wasn't going to be able to visit Ballast Point during my trip, I made my second beer from their lineup: the Dorado Double IPA. Helluva nose on this - piney, definitely hoppy, definitely what you would expect. I found the back end of the beer to be bitter as it clears your tongue, but the flavor is a nice shot of pine and it's smooth all the way around. There are no sharp dividers on the open/middle/close - it transitions nicely with very little alcohol burn. That's kind of surprising for 9.6%, but it definitely was a good pick. BP will be on the list of visits during my next trip down that way.

The food was on the pricey side. This should not have been a surprise: they were advertising their New Year's party on billboards up front and - even with a nice lineup - tickets were $150 per person. Stone is well designed, but very California. The feel of the place was different than I expected. It's just . . . corporate? Maybe 'upscale' is what I'm looking for. I don't know, the attitude of the Bastard series is just on the opposite end of the spectrum from the bistro that serves it. Transplant it side-by-side with wineries in Napa and it would be right at home. Visit, enjoy good brew brewed six feet away from where you're drinking it, bask in the sunshine. But don't be surprised at 'duck tacos' on the menu with a $15 price tag and something from a Top Chef appetizer competition arriving at your table.