Friday, June 29, 2007
Oden is tall, obviously, also tenacious, smooth, amusing, and smart. Given his sweet nature, nothing particularly hoppy. Still, he's fierce, so nothing mild will do. I wondered about a Duvel-type Belgian strong, which is a lot of strength that goes down easy, but Duvel is a little to frilly for a low-post guy like Oden. I toyed with an old ale--Oden looks like he's 37--but that's a gimmick. It's not far off, stylistically, though. Let's move up the aisle, to where the beers are big and smooth, strong but pleasant, to Scotland, land of the big malt.
There it is: a wee heavy for Greg. Cheers!
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I have been pondering this as I work on my endless "best brewpubs" post, but it's something that has crossed my mind before. I have this fantasy brewpub idea, and I wish someone would act on it. (Someone with, you know, the time, money, and culinary/zymurgical background. I'm an idea man.)
Imagine a brewery where the beer and menu were co-created, so that each was integral to the other. In my mind, this takes the form of the organic/local food movement, wherein the menu rotates with the seasons. During summer, it would feature more green vegetables and fruit, and be accomodated by drier, lighter, hoppier beers. In the fall, as squashes and pears are coming on, the beers would turn sweet and malty. The chill winter would call for potent beers to go with heartier stews and meats. And so on.
The chef and the brewer would collaborate on meals. I imagine beer would be served in smaller portions--say six or eight ounce glasses--so that patrons could enjoy complementary pours throughout their meal. When I was in Hong Kong, I was delighted to learn that most restaurants offered a jasmine tea like Americans offer water--free, when you sit down. It would be cool to have a very light aperitif to offer diners as they walked in the door--a mild lambic in a small flute, say. Or whatever. Anyway, you see what I'm after.
Many brewers actually got their start in food--Alan Sprints and Craig Nicholls jump to mind--so it's surpising brewpubs devote only 10% of their creative energy to the food. Time that changed, I'd say. Portland needs a world-class brewery-cafe to continue to stay ahead of the curve.
There's Higgins, true. But while Higgins has an amazing beer list, most of the offerings are in bottle and Belgian. As a restaurant, it's wholly appropriate that they should feature this selection, and shame on Portland's other fine dining for not offering beer menus of this breadth. Still, it's not the same as brewing beer specifically for the food you cook.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Brewer: Bolt MinisterFor those of you who may have passed through town before, Astoria Brewing is the renamed Pacific Rim Brewing--though both past and present, the sign most prominent from the Astoria bayfront has been "Wet Dog Cafe." The beers and ambiance have changed, but the amazing view is the same. I stopped in for lunch yesterday and can't offer a full review. I only tried a couple beers, and there were something like eight on tap. With luck, I'll make it back to delightful Astoria soon and update the review.
144 11th Street
Astoria OR 97103
Mon-Fri, 11am -11pm, Sat 11am-2am. $4 pint, $3.75 glass, $6 for a taster tray. No smoking, kids okay.
Beers: A large range of NW-style ales, with an emphasis on ferocity.
Whether you're craving a beer or not, it's worth a stop for the view. One wall of the building is a window overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River, where massive ships begin their journey to the Port of Portland. There's outdoor seating for sunny days, but on cloudy, cold ones, you can sit inside and nurse a stout (or bowl of chowder) while watching the play of nature--black clouds on steel water, the angry churn that defines the Oregon Coast.
What do these names suggest: Bitter Bitch, Kick Ass Stout, Stone Cold Strong Ale. They have a certain muscularity, don't they? Names like that either mean a brewery is overcompensating, or serving notice. In this case, I'm happy to say it's the latter. I tried the Bitter Bitch (a double IPA) and the Kick Ass (an imperial stout). Both were big and aggressive . . . and rather accomplished.
I was slightly worried about the beer based on its murky appearance and lack of head--like a tall glass of unfiltered cider. But the aroma allayed my fear--it was a rich, sticky nose of saturated grapefruit, both fresh and faintly floral. Hops are the central note in this beer, but it isn't painfully bitter. The brewery describes the beer as "quadruple hopped," which while lacking in specificity, suggests a layered approach to hopping that is evident in the flavor and nose. Bitter Bitch, incidentally, won the People's Choice award at this year's Spring Beer Fest.
The stout was a more understated beer and highlighted thick, chocolately malts. It was smooth and creamy and seemed substantial, though I don't recall seeing stats on the alcohol. Much as with the Bitter Bitch, Kick Ass was in perfect balance. That's good, because Astoria is a stout town, if ever there was one. This is a pint that fortifies and warms.
I revisited the brewery in March 2009. The Wet Dog had exchanged brewers--Chris Nemlowill went on to found nearby Fort George, and he was replaced by Bolt Minister. A longer update, with a video clip of Bolt speaking about his history is here. From that review, I excerpt these capsule reviews:
- Pumpkin ale. The last bit from fall. The spices have fallen back a bit and the squash is now evident--a good change in my view.
- Bitter Bitch. The flagship ale is over 100 IBUs and is therefore shockingly bitter. The beer was designed to be out of balance--the hops vent out of the glass like strong wasabi--but the locals love it.
- Solar Dog. The nose on this beer suggests its Bitter Bitch's little brother, but it deceives. Still quite a bit of bitterness, but the malt is evident underneath, as is a richer, more floral hop flavor.
- Porter. In competition with the kolsch for brewery's best beer. The head was so creamy I asked if it was on nitro. It's both a gentle, sweet porter, but also thick, with a bit of roastiness for depth. "I praise the brown malts," Minister said by way of explanation.
- Strong ale. The final beer before my palate was certifiably shattered, this very dark brown ale was surprisingly smooth and gentle. Abram declared it an old ale, and when I asked Bolt about it later, he said, "well, it's actually an old ale..." (Abram on the case.) Also a great ship-watching beer.
The menu is impressive. It ranges from the usual pub food into a full offering of seafood. Veggie options are somewhat limited, however. I had a plate of scallops with fries on the side. The fries (steak cut) were great--crispy and not greasy. The scallops, which you can order breaded or sauteed (I went with the latter) were a little rubbery, however. Good scallops have a smooth, even consistency and are about my favorite seafood. Maybe this was an off-day for the cook. They were just switching their menu, too, so possibly things will improve.
Despite this tepid praise, you might stop in for a meal. The prices were moderate for Astoria, and I've been underwhelmed by area restaurants in the past. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wet Dog starts making restaurant short lists in the near future.
Post updated following visit on 3/28/09
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Tonight at 6pm, Christian Ettinger and Ben Love will be at Produce Row previewing beer from their not-yet-opened Hopworks Urban Brewery. Have a pint on the patio:
204 S. E. Oak
Guest on Tap is hosting a contest to win a beer tour of Beervana. Reading a little more closely, I see that they mean the beery region, not this blog.
Starting today, we would like your entries in 100 words or less about your ultimate beer tour in Beervana. Just imagine you and a couple of relatives or guests from out of town are looking to experience the true Beervana of Oregon in one night. Your list has to be able to be completed in one evening (6 hours-from first establishment to last establishment). You must have at least 4 establishments listed. All entries must be received by July 18, 2007 at 5 PM PST. Entries will be judged on originality and theme. Our Judges at Guest on Tap will pick a winner for each Tuesday in July 2007 which will be printed in the column and online. The five winning entries will win $50 gift certificates each from Guest on Tap Sponsors’ establishments. Word count will not include address of establishments when included. All contestants must be 18 years of age and employees of The Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers are excluded from entering. You may enter as many times as you like, but you are only able to win one prize in the contest.Entrance form here.
PIB Mania Begins
It is weeks away, but you can now get a program for the Portland International Beerfest, formerly the undisputed heavy weight champeen of good-beer beerfests. (Thanks to the Organic fest, the title is now in jeopardy.) Online version here, printed versions around town (Belmont Station and Steinbarts for sure).
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Right across the street from the convention center, at MLK and Holladay, there's a weird little half-block, landscaped as if it was a park, but unmarked, so you can't be sure whether you're visiting a city park, or trespassing.... It's owned by the PDC, and although it sure looks like a regular park, it's (supposedly) only temporary. As soon as the PDC finds a sufficiently well-heeled crony who wants to build here, poof, no more "park". Or that's the theory, anyway.So, since I'm still working on the other post, you can go check out this blog.
Monday, June 18, 2007
2. Speaking of homebrewing, Peter DeFazio may have a batch of IPA bubbling down the valley. He is not only a homebrewer, but co-chair of the new House Small Brewers Caucus:
The only brewer on the small brewer caucus? That'd be cool.
The five Oregon members of the U.S. House of Representatives dominate the newly formed 34-member House Small Brewers Caucus, co-chaired by Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republican Greg Walden.
In the world of House caucuses, having co-chairs from the same state delegation is unusual, but, as Walden put it, "Yes, but if you have the best beer, you want the best co-chairs...."
DeFazio has an even stronger connection with the industry; he's a longtime home brewer himself.
"Summers I brew IPA (India Pale Ale)," he said. "And I brew English ales in the winter."
3. Finally, I'm working on my long-planned Best Brewpubs in Portland post as a part of my Beervana travel guide. This may slow other posting, but behind the scenes, I'm a busy bee.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
When you're headed for fun, you're headed for Blitz
Yes, when you're headed for fun, you're headed for Blitz.
Blitz Weinhard: the light beer with real beer flavor
Blitz Weinhard, from the oldest brewery in the West
Thursday, June 14, 2007
In his book Stout, Michael Lewis tells that "the earliest use of the word 'stout' clearly referring to a beer beverage appears in a letter of 1677..." Furthermore, Lewis contends that porter originated from stout, and not the other way round.(Incidentally, that final period isn't in error--that's how they write in England. But perhaps it doesn't jump off the page at you, aggressively, like it does at me.) Porters came from stouts or stouts came from porters--this seems like it has the makings of an irresolvable Irish-English blood feud.
If further evidence were need that stout was not an Irish offshoot from London porter, beer writer and historian Ron Pattinson (author of the online European Beer Guide) tells me that "all the London brewers whose logs I´ve looked at were brewing beers called 'Stout' well before 1800 ... I'm 100% certain stout originated in London".
But from it, Lew Bryson last week composed a nice post on the nature of beer styles, a topic that lends itself to different blood feuds.
Look at the beers called "stout": dry stout, export stout, foreign stout, imperial stout, American-style imperial stout (the GABF just added this one), milk stout, American stout, sweet stout, oatmeal stout, cream stout...By way of illustrating the differences in the way Brits and Americans look at beer styles, Bryson compares the categories used in the British Industry International Awards (nine) against the styles of the GABF (75). (Even better, the 140 styles identified by the World Beer Cup. 140! You've got to distinguish, after all, between "American-Style Lager" and "American-Style Premium Lager.")
Are we really supposed to keep a straight face while saying these are all variations on a theme? These are all dark ales. But "stouts"? That's like saying the beers in Germany and eastern Europe are all lagers.
Bryson chalks it up to the differences in culture, but I don't think that's it. For one thing, aren't Brits maniacs about categorizing things? And aren't Americans democratic and protestant and above careful parsing, culturally, anyway?
Style fascination doesn't arise from our collective psychology, but reflects our convert's fascination with beer. American brewing is really only 30 years old. Before microbrewers re-energized the ancient art, it was a wholly commercial enterprise and the differences between beers had to do with advertising. Forced to parse between Hamm's and Blitz for generations (the great debate was "tastes great--less filling!"), there was something liberating about knowing that stouts even existed. Never mind that there were 27 styles of stouts. What bliss!
Americans have gotten a little too excited, perhaps. Once it becomes old hat--after 100 GABFs, say--we'll ratchet back on the styles. But culturally, we're still learning about beer, and that means sifting through every detail. So for now we're stuck with trying to learn the subtleties that distinguish a strong ale from a double IPA. It'll pass.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Monday, June 11, 2007
(I've organized these into three categories--the sublime, the delightful, and the merely tasty. I personally sampled a dozen beers, and there wasn't a single one I wouldn't recommend.)
Despite the innovation and exotica at this fest, if I were asked to cite a "best in show," I'd go for a beer in one of the most modest of styles: Cascade Lakes Organic Bitter. Brewed for the fest, it is a textbook lesson in making a lot of a little. It has a roasty, almost light-roasted coffee aroma and a biscuity malt backbone. The hopping is crisp and rounded. For a beer that only had 4.5% alcohol and 32 IBUs, it had an amazing depth of flavor. I'll admit to be a little ignorant of Cascade Lakes. No more: they caught my attention with this one.
How's this for a debut? Double Mountain Brewing, the brand-new brewpub in Hood River, brought two beers, and one was so good it blew Friday (Hop Lava). I can't imagine how good it must have been, because the beer left over on Saturday was extraordinary. Dubbed the IRA (I may henceforth call it Ira, because it has nothing to do with IPAs or Red ales), it is brewed with a Belgian yeast strain, which really removes it from the the classic character you'd expect from a muscular IPA. It has a kind of creamy sweetness that bouys the ample hops and simultaneously mellows out the palate. I am reminded of Duvel, which is also a huge, yet deceptively smooth beer. It will be familiar to fans of NW beers, but also quite distinctive.
Here's a brewery to watch: Crannog Ales from Sorrento, BC. Canada's only all-organic brewery also appears to be a spiritual sibling of Roots; not only are they exclusively organic, but they experiment with adjuncts like potatoes (see below), cherries, and flax. But of the two beers pouring, my fave was Backhand of God Stout (I prefer the former name, Black Wolfhound). It is a traditional Irish stout (appropriate for a Gaelic brewery), light, silky, and dry. As with the best Irish ales, the dry, coffeeish note is balanced by a dark-fruit sweetness that is drawn out at the final sip. No sooner is the beer slipping down the back of your throat than your hand is rising, reflexively, for another sip.
There were two buzz beers at the fest, Roots' stout and a saison by McMenamins (see both below). It is a testament to the increasing attention to beer that one of my picks was a different McMenamins' ale, Ryenoceros, from the Kennedy School. Rye is a dangerous grain--it can offer an unpleasant sharpness or a dreary sourness. But used properly, it imparts a spicy quality that is abundant in Ryenoceros. The malts and hops create a kind of continuum, from an earthy spice in the malt out to a more peppery hop finish. Yet I also noted down the word "springwater"--of the quality one finds in a good single malt.
The hosts knew they had to come out with something special, and it is possible that Roots' Habenero Stout is better than I'm giving it credit for. It was the last beer I tried, and due to the vagaries of beer fests, this meant my palate was a little wrecked. I can report that I heard raves about the beer all day long. What I was able to discern were striking contrasts in the beer. Built on a Irish stout base that was both creamy and sweet (they added chocolate nibs to the mash), the "dry hopped" peppers (added during fermentation) mainly add sensation, not flavor. Chocolate and chile is a famous combination, and I believe the Aztecs would have recognized this beer.
I tried Brouwerij 't IJ's Zatte first, and that was lucky--it was a very subtle tripel, and my palate was fresh to appreciate it. Unlike some tripels, this one was characterized by a chardonnay-like dryness of palate. Nevertheless, a rich skiff of head rode the taster through my last sip, despite the 8% alcohol. It was, moreover, surprisingly creamy for such a dry beer. The yeast character was subdued, contributing mainly a kind of cellary earthiness. I imagine it would be an ideal beer with a variety of foods, from the cheese tray through fish entrees. It was one of the few not on tap; my guess is you can find bottles around town.
Good and Tasty (B)
Christian Ettinger made his debut with Hopworks Urban Brewery IPA, a beer I think most people would have rated more highly than I did. When he was brewing at Laurelwood (which shared a booth with Hopworks at the fest), Ettinger made a minor specialty of beers with Amarillo and/or Ahtanum hops--both of which appear in this IPA. Hops react differently on the tongues of different tasters, and on mine, these have a slightly harsh, chemical signature. I believe I'm the exception. Beside this, though, it was an impressive debut: the hops were aggressive without overbearing the malt, which held up its end of the bargain. I would recommend it to anyone who loves Laurelwood's beers.
The McMenamins beer everyone raved about was Saison du Pass. My lovely spouse decried it as "too sweet" and "hollow in the middle." While I won't go that far, I don't think it was quite the buzz beer everyone claimed. It lacked the crispness I would have liked and didn't stand up to the world standard-bearers. On the other hand, it was nicely spicy and refreshing, and an impressive effort coming from the McBrothers. Probably likely to be the best thing on tap at Corneilius Pass, where it was brewed (hence the name).
In the exotica category, another offering came from Bison Brewing in Berkeley: Gingerbread Ale, a hearty sweet porter spiced mildly with ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon (almost below the threshold of taste, though you could pick it up in the aroma). Not an everyday beer, but nice on a chill day. Continuing in the exotic vein, Crannog brought a potato ale called Hell's Kitchen that tasted distinctly (though not unpleasantly) of the common tubers. I occasionally drink a Polish beet drink that had a similar quality. Definitely worth a tipple if you have the chance.
A final curiosity was Mateveza's Yerba Mate Pale Ale. The basic beer was a nice recipe in the classic pale ale style, but the yerba mate added an unmistakeably medicinal note. It actually felt like it was anesthetizing my mouth. From a psychotropic perspective, even the four ounces I had altered the course of the usual narcotic sensation unfolding at the back of my brain. I suspect a pint would be an interesting ride.
Two other beers lost in the shuffle were Roots' East Side Abbey, about which I wrote one word (before, apparently, forgetting to write further notes): "Nice." Also Ukiah Brewing's pilsner, which got similar short shrift in my notes. (I seemed to enjoy it). You're on your own with those two.
Looking over my friend's notes, I find fragmentary documentation: "Ah, hop-o-licious. Big flavors--complex [unreadable] palate!" (Alamedo El Torero IPA) Actually, unreadability seems to be a hallmark. From what I can discern, these were the big winners:
- Butte Creek Revolution X Imperial IPA - "[Wow]!* I'm quite a few in, but this is definitely a big boy."
- Double Mountain Ira - "Damn, this is really good --> very, umm...full-bodied on the tongue."
- Fort George Quick Wit - "I like it."
- Hopworks IPA - "This is awesome, but I love hops."
- Roots Habenero Stout - "Excellent. Habeneros build at the back of your tongue."
And by all means, add your own thoughts in the comments.
Update: John Foyston has pics, and Belmont Station has a review. So does Rooftop Brew. More importantly, Belmont Station is attempting to locate some of the beers that were pouring at the fest, so keep your eyes open.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
This was hands down the best fest of NW beers I've been to in years. In terms of overall consistency of beers, it may have been the best ever (even PIB, with its 200+ beers and dozen countries, always has a few losers in the bunch). This may have been due to a selection process--were the beers juried? More likely, it is a reflection of a particular moment in time: breweries don't lightly brew organic beers. Since they take special effort, it seems like breweries take special care with the recipes. We had habenero stouts, gingerbread browns, potato beers, and Belgian IPAs. And they weren't gimmick beers; they were serious and seriously good. (I'll go through the reviews in the next post.)
It is inevitable that this moment will not last. All trends revert to the mean. Eventually, if we're lucky, organic beer will become the norm, not the exception. And then we'll have the usual distribution of mediocre efforts and noble failures. But for now, and probably for the next couple-three years, seek out organic beers. And for the love of all that is pure and good (and hoppy), don't let the rain dissuade you next year.
Friday, June 08, 2007
That is all...
However, as I was returning from a long day in Medford yesterday on Alaska (Horizon)--a twelve-hour round trip, not including commute times to the airport--the gracious flight attendant offered me a plastic cupful of the hef, gratis. She even came back by and offered me a refresher (I declined). It was slightly over-warm and the plastic cup did nothing to enhance the experience. Still, there's something about a free beer at the end of a long day that really hits the spot. Fred Eckhardt is famous for saying his favorite beer is the one he's drinking, and while I won't go that far, given the right circumstances, I see what he means.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Organic Beer Fest
Friday June 8 (3 - 9:30 pm)
Saturday June 9 (Noon - 9pm)
Overlook Park (Fremont and Interstate)
Admission is free, $5 for a mug (a dollar off if you show a Tri-met ticket or bring a can for the Oregon Food Bank). A 4-oz taster is a dollar.
For the first time in over a decade, I self-consciously decided to skip the Spring Beer Fest. There has been an ever-growing tendency by that fest to include random vendors (last year's review here). At first it expanded to vintners (fine), then to some vendors more or less distantly connected to food (eh), then to random peddlers (bad), then to guys who sold vinyl windows (very bad). So I blew it off.
There arrives this year the third installation of a new beerfest that I expect to jump in the hole left by the SBF in my four-season calendar (in Oregon, Spring runs through June): The North American Organic Brewers Festival. It is headed by the boys of Roots, which is a good start, and it includes 25 breweries and 40 beers (even better), and will be held this year in the beautiful Overlook Park (hot damn). I anticipate a rocking good time. Keeping in mind that I rarely am a bandwagon promoter, I regard this as the most interesting beer event this year, and a definite must-see.
Normally, I would offer a preview of the beers here, but I have tried exactly three of them. This is mainly because organic beer is yet hard to brew. Organic hops and malt are specialty items, so most breweries (Roots, Fish Tale, and Wolaver's excepted) don't have regular organic offerings. So you get things like Deschutes Organic Carbonic Red (5.2% abv 44 IBUs). There will also be an appearance of a beer from Christian Ettinger's as-yet unopened new brewery (Hopworks Urban Brewery).
In fact, it is festivals like this that create the interest in, and subsequent market for, organic beers. It's by no means a totally obscure market, and the more brewers ask for organic malt and hops, the more growers will devote acreage to it. So by attending this fest, you help the cause of organics (and also Oregon Tilth, Oregon Food Bank, Doernbecher Children's Hospital, who will receive some of the proceeds.)
The link above is to John Foyston's post, and he has a more detailed summary of the event. I'll include a short list of the interesting-looking beers I'm hepped up for (no promises!). For more, check his site out (it's better than the official site). And plan to set aside an afternoon. See you there!
A Few Interesting-Looking Beers
- Crannog Ales (British Columbia) - Backhand of God Stout
- Deschutes Brewery - Organic Carbonic Red Ale
- Elliot Bay Brewing Co. (Seattle) - Klondike Gold Belgian IPA
- Fort George Brewery (Astoria) - Quick Wit Belgian White Ale
- Hopworks Urban Brewery ( Portland) - Hopworks Organic IPA
- Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI) - Organic ESB
- Brouwerij 't IJ (Netherlands) - Natte, Zatte [both are 2 tickets]
Monday, June 04, 2007
At some point soon I'm going to pick up a digital cam and the quality should improve markedly, though I actually think there's something charming about the low-res quality of cell-phone photos. On mine (an older Razr), it tends to really wash out at the edges. Reminds me of a Super 8 movie I shot when I was younger--the crudeness added some visual interest. Anyway, here's the Chapel Pub:
That last one is an especially bad shot, and I normally would flush something of that quality, but you get a sense of the artisinal light fixtures they have there, suggestive of the whimsy and attention to detail for which the McBrothers are rightly praised.