If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The End of an Era

The first time I ever inhaled the dense, smoky air of a bar, it was my father's. It was a little place called GJ's or G and J's below the sidewalk level--like a speakeasy--in the basement of Boise's venerable Idanha Hotel. In a long life in which my father earned a living with his hands, this was the brief period in which his his true calling came to flower. The bar didn't last more than a few months, as I recall (and I recall it dimly and perhaps improperly) because while Dad was great with people and knew how to fill a joint, he sucked with money. It was the early-mid 1970s and I was maybe six or seven years old.

Bars occupy physical space, obviously, but we go there for their psychic terrain. Bars are simultaneously refuges from reality and monuments to it. You could get a beer at a restaurant, but you go to a bar for the intimacy, the darkness, the camaraderie, the viscous air. This was imprinted on me as a boy in GJ's. I never visited during the evening; I was there playing on the floor while sun slanted in through the open door, Dad's Winston curling lazily amid the motes. I don't know if Jim Croce was playing in a loop the times I visited, but somehow the world of Leroy Brown intersected perfectly with GJ's.

A very decent part of my late youth (not all of it post-21) was mispent in bars like the Yukon and the Bear Claw. Friends and I learned how to play adequate bar 8-ball and we drank bottomless pitchers of whatever was most cheaply pouring: Biltz, Hamm's, Rainier, whatever. It was like pretend-adulthood, where big men might knock your teeth out and older women might go home with you at the end of the night, even though none of that ever really happened. You woke up in the morning with a coating of scum in your mouth, your hair stinking of cigarettes, and you felt older somehow. And alive.

As I got older, bars were less like pretend-adulthood than a touchstone. Microbrew replaced Hamm's, and flat screens replaced mounted TVs, but the other ornaments of bardom stayed the same. The essential nature of bars haven't changed a whole lot--you go to a place like the Yukon and it looks like it did in 1988 or 1968. Things change, but not bars. Or not until now, anyway.

Of course, a different kind of bar emerged in the 1980s. With brewpubs came windows and light and children. And fresh, smoke-free air. This has been a natural evolution. In my own lifetime, I've seen restaurants go from all-smoking to having a runty, non-prime, non-smoking section (as if currents of air respected symbolic borders) to having a runty, non-prime smoking section to, finally, non-smoking restaurants. You used to be able to smoke inside office buildings, stores, even airplanes (which in retrospect seems like madness). Now I can go weeks without ever encountering the scent of burning tobacco.

Tomorrow all bars will be smoke-free. When I ran my poll asking who supported this new law, most everyone did, smokers and non-smokers alike. Yet a sizeable minority of non-smokers, about 30% of you, weren't so excited by the idea of the ban. No doubt they'll enjoy going to a place like the Horse Brass and actually smelling their beer rather than the air, but still they oppose banning cigarettes. Why?

If I may speculate, I think what they'll miss is the aspect of the psychic terrain cigarettes contribute. It's fine for a brewpub to go smoke-free. The mood at a place like that is different. But take smokers out of the Yukon, and what happens to the atmosphere? The debate over the ban tends to revolve around drier issues of public policy, but to me the real loss is something more emotional. It's not actually the end of the world for smokers to step outside a bar for a smoke--if that were the only consideration, I think we'd all agree it wasn't much of an imposition. But the real effect will be the permanent loss of that psychic space we all grew to love. We're losing that touchstone bars have offered our whole lives.

Things change. We'll survive the transition to smokeless bars. But those of us old enough to remember will miss them nonetheless. It's a moment to acknowledge and, perhaps, lament.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trends of the Year: 1) Oregon Fresh Hops

The use of fresh hops was far from original in 2008--it was probably in 2005 or 2006 that more than a random brewery or two started to experiment with these and we saw the emergence of a trend. But this year, Oregon made a pretty decent stab at establishing itself as the main purveyor of fresh hop ales. At this year's GABF, Oregon got national attention for pouring ten fresh-hop beers.

It makes sense. With so many breweries so close to hop fields, no other state can touch Oregon. Nearly every Oregon brewery is within 100 miles of a hop field, something even Washington, which produces more hops, can claim. (Seattle's 140 miles from Yakima.) As a result, we had more than 4o beers from nearly 30 breweries making a version. Call this the home-field advantage.

Other, non-Oregon breweries are putting in hop fields, and over time this will become more of a national phenomenon. But for the moment, no region is so poised as Beervana (and the greater Northwest) to seize the mantle as the premier producer of fresh hop beers, ala the Beaujolais region of France. The first codification of this seasonal tradition began last year with the roving fresh-hop "Tastivals," and perhaps we'll have a permanent, regular fest to celebrate the harvest in the future. (Yakima has already established one; but wouldn't you rather go to to Corvallis or Eugene?)*

A trend to watch and nurture--and reason 2702 that this is indeed Beervana.

___________
[Update] *Sometimes bloggers get things very wrong, and because they're flying without a net (ie, editors), they go live with very wrong info. As GG pointed out in comments below, Hood River has hosted a fresh hop fest for five years. I'm an eejit.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Last Drag

By coincidence, the winner of the blogger-sponsored international photo contest, UK edition, was this photo:


Stonch, the UK host, described the photo thus:
It's by James Sakal of Colchester, Essex, and is entitled "The Last Drag". It was taken in The Hand in Hand in Brighton days before the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces took effect in England. Many people think the ban has had a disastrous effect on pubs. I'm still in favour of it, but it's difficult not to feel nostalgic when you seen an image like this.
On that note, John reports that Hopworks' Ben Love is rallying smokers to the Horse Brass tonight. Days of nostalgia, these. Go forth and smoke, ye of the tobacco-stained fingers, and raise a pint to days passing.

[Update: Dave Selden made the cut into the final bracket for the American side of the awards.]

The Last Days of the Smoke-filled Pub

As we pull near the end of the year, we come to the end of an era. Come January first, you won't be inhaling smoke in pubs--either directly or indirectly. I plan to do another post with some of my own thoughts on it, but I'm interested to know what the mood among readers is. Presumably, you all are ground zero for this, so you should have a fairly well-formed opinion. So, what do you think, do you support the smoking ban or not?


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Good Beer at the Rose Garden

Thanks to some holiday good luck, I had the chance to see last night's Blazer game from the sixth row of the Rose Garden. We were sitting just behind the Raptor's bench, which had the benefit of putting us on the Blazers' side of the court during the second half, when Brandon Roy put on a helluva show (14 of 19 overall, 8 of 11 in the second half). You can see the angle we had from the picture at right--and also Brandon draining a long jumper.

Of course, I had a beer. As you know, concesssions are a special kind of crazy, especially at stadiums where tickets cost you a day's pay. Eight bucks is too much to shell out for a crappy beer, so it's a fine thing we live in Beervana. Two breweries enjoy hegemony of the taps--Widmer and Pyramid/Mactarnahan's. I sidled up to the Pyramid kiosk first and was rewarded with a gander at Snow Cap, which I promptly bought. Eight bucks for a Snow Cap?--you could do worse. Incidentally, I didn't have my measuring cup on hand, but the cup seemed pretty big. Could easily have been an honest pint.

The tap selection is at left.

As a comment on culture, I can say this: in the sweet seats, Widmer Hef was king. Except for the few women drinking wine and the two guys I saw with bottles of Bud Light, everyone had Wid Hef, lemon wedge and all. I don't recall that kind of uniformity in my usual cheap seats, scraping the rafters above. This observation submitted without comment.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Debut Beer - Your Choice

For the past couple years, I've awarded the "Satori Award" for the best debut beer. It must (generally) have been released in the calendar year, and (generally) be brewed in Oregon, and (generally) should be a regular or recurring beer. But I'm never slavish about details, so if a beer's been around a couple years but I only discoverd it this year, who knows? I wouldn't eliminate Walking Man for being on the wrong side of the river (a Seattle brewery ... well, probably not, but you never know). And who's to say a beer won't recur? John Harris made another batch of last year's winner, Lupulin, this year, but didn't have access to the Amarillo hops that made it so transcendent last year. Recurring? Sort of.

But you have a vote, too. Below is a list of beers I considered for the award (plus one comedy choice), and three have made my final cut. The Satori Award isn't a popularity contest (more of you will have had Full Sail Prodigal Sun than Double Mountain Kriek, so it won't be fair in any case), but being popular isn't a bad thing, either. So have at it. What was the best debut beer in 2009?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year in Review: Timeline

This is the week when I begin, during the doldrums between Christmas and New Year's, to toss a glance backward to see what happened over the past year. I'll look at some of the trends from this year, and of course, name a Satori Award for the best debut beer. But to kick things off, here's a timeline of the events we enjoyed. It's not exhaustive, but gives you a sense of how much happens in the world of beer in just a single year.

January
  • Alworth to Hawaii in celebration of his own decreptitude; misses most of the month
  • Fears about the hop shortage spread

February
  • It's Pub Night blog debuts
  • First annual Firkin Fest
  • Block 15 Brewpub opens in Corvallis

March
  • Lucky Lab Barleywine Fest
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery opens in Portland
  • Spring Beer Fest
  • Steve Novick offers "Left Hook Lager" as a fundraiser in his senate campaign
  • Weinhard releases an IPA--the first craft-style beer ever in the Henry's family

April
  • Cheers to Belgian Beers Fest
  • Pyramid/McTarnahan's merges with Magic Hat

May

  • Deschutes opens a brewpub in Portland
  • Oregonians recommend IPA to Barack Obama when he visits
  • FredFest

June

  • Columbia, Mt. Hood, and Gold River Distributors merge and become CoHo Dist.
  • InBev announces intention to acquire Anheuser-Busch
  • Organic Beer Festival

July

  • Widmer-Redhook officially merge
  • Moortgat (Duvel) buys Liefmans
  • Sagebrush Classic in Bend
  • Portland International Beer Festival
  • Three Creeks Brewing opens in Sisters
  • Oregon Brewers Festival

August


September

  • Fresh hop season begins--Oregon breweries will release more than forty fresh hop beers

October

  • Oregon breweries win 8 gold, 3 silver, and 7 bronze medals at the GABF
  • Brewpublic blog launched
  • Fresh Hop Tastivals tour Oregon

November
  • I believe there was some kind of election--tears of joy and sadness spilt in beers across America
  • Rogue buys the Green Dragon pub
  • Inbev officially purchases Bud--becomes AmBev

December
  • Holiday Ale Fest
  • Fourth Street Brewing opens in Gresham
  • Winter Beer Fest at Amnesia, Oregon gets hammered with the great storm of 2008--a record 19 inches of snow fall in Portland.
For those not keeping score, that's four brewery openings, 12 beer fests, five merger/consolidation/buyouts, three new blogs, and two faux micro releases. The number of new beers released is unknowable, if not uncountable. I'd say it's somewhere north of 200, but that's just a retrospective eyeball calculation. Let's put it this way: more than any person could conceivably drink. Or this way: another year in Beervana.

Cheers--

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

May your day be warm and festive and full of good cheer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When Restaurants Die

John Foyston writes about the shake-out happening in the Portland restaurant scene in today's Oregonian. I'm sure this isn't a phenomenon limited to the City of Roses, but it comes at a time when Portland is enjoying international attention for its restaurants.
We're celebrated around the country for the variety of our restaurants, the quality and imagination of our chefs and our devotion to authentic cuisine and local, seasonal ingredients. But Portland's formerly bustling scene is squeezed as never before. Soaring ingredient costs, escalating gas prices, vanishing credit lines, a looming increase in the minimum wage and consumers who closed their wallets back in October all contribute.

"I've heard some people say their business has dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last month or so," says Bill Perry of the Oregon Restaurant Association. "Things weren't too bad until October -- sales were off just 4 percent or so over the year -- but then, two or three weeks before the election, things just froze. I've never seen anything like this; if we want to avoid a big rut in January, people are going to have to begin spending again."
On its surface this may not appear to be a beer-related story, but there are ominous signs. Oregon beer has followed a singular trail to success distinct from wine, liquor, and food--the details of which are the stuff of a different post. Taken together, though, these tongue-pleasing segments do relate to one another. Portland and Oregon have enjoyed the blossoming of sophisticated restaurants that encourage experimentation. Wine and beer play a role as elements within a meal. As consumers have grown accustomed to thinking of the incredients, methods, and regional inspiration of their meal, they have also become aware of conceptually-related concepts like terroir and dry-hopping.

I worry that if the best restaurants begin to die off in Portland (we've lost 20 this year, including renowned Genoa), the creative minds who founded them will leave. The erosion of talent in the restaurant scene is just generally bad. I don't know that it will have immediate or long-lasting influence on breweries. On the other hand, I was confident that the restaurant scene here was introducing new consumers to beer, and putting beer in menus traditionally reserved only for wine.

Like everyone else, Sally and I have already slated '09 as a restaurant-lite year. Going out is one of the first expenses to jettison in a down economy. But it has its sad consequences. May this economy improve--soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Really Poor Pour

Okay, this isn't exactly beer-related, but check out what Starbucks handed me today.



Now, admittedly, I did have one sip out of this--the sip that alerted me to the incredible short pour--but good god, that's 8 ounces of liquid. Good thing I do not concern myself with the pours of bad coffee chains. Suffice it to say, there was no Stumptown nearby.

(And no, I didn't ask for "room for cream," which is the biggest racket in the coffee biz. They always give you enough headroom for 2 ounces of cream. Who puts two ounces of cream in their coffee?)

Ingredients Protocols

Well, here it is, day 42 of being cooped up under a foot of snow. Really hampers the blogging, as I'm sitting on the same old beer and visiting no interesting new events. Fortunately, I picked up the ingredients for a homebrew a while back, so I can keep myself busy today. And in one small way, this may aid blogging.

The beer I'm planning to brew will not be reinheitsgebot-compliant. However, if I make it properly, it should taste like it is. Or could be. For me, adjuncts should always be minor notes that accentuate the innate beeriness of a brew rather than bludgeoning it while seeking to disguise that fact. Sometimes adjuncts are recognizable (coriander, spruce), sometimes not (coffee, black pepper). But at the end of the ferment, it should taste like beer, not, say, a fruit smoothie.

This rumination led to a question: why do American breweries revel in detailing every ingredient they include in a beer? No doubt it's an admixture of pride and a techie's desire to share the code with others who might understand it. This appears to be a North American instinct, though. Belgian breweries regularly dose their batches with dashes of this and drams of that, never considering the the idea of divulging their recipes. This is how it is in cooking--chefs actually want to keep the recipe secret, so other cooks don't discover the ingredient that turns a mole sauce, say, from ordinary to sublime.

Perhaps it's evolutionary. We might be at that stage where brewers want to reveal their ingredients and methods because of their originality. In ten years, when pinot casks, wild yeasts, and off-beat adjuncts are de rigeur, perhaps breweries will start to get a bit more secretive. I'm not actually looking forward to that day--as someone who writes about beer, I like to know absolutely everything I can about a beer. (Full disclosure: a big part of the reason beer writers want to know is because they're chicken and don't trust their palate. I'm not to proud to admit I'm a little chicken, too.) On the other hand, it might open up the prospect of some very interesting experimentation, too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advice to Retailers

On the Rogue post below, a frustrated anonymous commenter asked the following question in what I take to be good faith, if not model diplomacy:
I'm confused. If I'm serving beer in in a 16 oz. capacity glass, but with a one-finger head, do you want me to mark it as "approximately 14 ounces" on my menu? And since beer foam is usually about 25% beer, do you want me to say it's actually 14.5 ounces, even if it's technically only 14 ounces of beer when it makes it into the customer's hand?

And if I switch to Imperial Pints, do I call it a 20 oz. pint like your beloved Bailey's, or do I call it a 19.8 ounce Imperial Pint, since the box sez they actually only hold 19.8 ounces. Then there's the foam issue again... Please advise, because I really don't know what you want me to do here in order to comply with your rules.
Let's step back. The Honest Pint Project is not designed to enforce rules. Rather, the two goals are:
  1. Increasing transparency so consumers know what they're paying for;
  2. Encouraging retailers to serve 16 ounces of liquid when their menus refer to "pints."
Anon, I encourage you to switch to imperial pints in your establishment. On your menu, you can call them imperial pints. The reason they're a shade below 20 ounces is because the volume standard comes from the UK, where the measure is slightly different from the American standard. But the key thing here is that an imperial pint is a known, fixed volume--it provides the customer with the information to make an informed decision about pricing, and provides a full 16-ounce pour (or more) for those who are unaware of British volumes.

If your establishment uses 16-ounce glasses, it won't qualify as a "Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint," but I won't be designating it an, ahem, rogue pub, either. The goal here is to encourage good behavior and transparency, not punish pubs using 16-ounce glasses. (I can't promise that I won't post names of pubs using 14-ounce or smaller glasses that they are trying to pass off as "pints"--though I'm not about to become a pub cop.)

As to what you should call 16-ounce glassware, I don't have a good suggestion. You have ably described the problem with those glasses in your question.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Is this Portland, Oregon?

What the ... ?

[Update. I just took the car out to run errands. The snow is still adding to modest accumulation (3 inches, four?), but the roads are fine. Main thoroughfares have a dusting of gravel, but it's not necessary; as long as the snow's falling, there's lots for tires--even those without studs or chains--to grab onto. Grocery stores are open and doing a bang-up buisness.]

Friday, December 19, 2008

When Aged Beers Are Still Green and Other Minor Discoveries

Although a last minute crap-out is often in the cards when I plan to go to a beer event (introversion, decrepitude, alzheimers--pick one), I did manage to make it to Roots last night. For my troubles I was rewarded with a great bounty: snifters of both '06 and '07 vintages of Epic, three bottles of 2008 Epic ($22/22 ounces or, inexplicably, $45 for 40 ounces--methinks the Roots boys skipped the business class where they taught the "volume discount" lesson*), and an introduction to Bill, the illustrious blogger from It's Pub Night. As a cherry on top, Bill was sporting a fine Honest Pint Project t-shirt. (It with embarrassment that I tried to explain, inadequately, why I wasn't wearing my own.)

But you care about the beer.

As I sniffed and sipped the icy Epics (and tried to warm them with chilled hands), a couple things came to me as snow does, lately, in Portland--softly and tentatively. The first is more an admission than a discovery: with beer as strong as Epic (14%), one travels to a land where the signposts don't mean anything. The aromas and flavors are saturated and dense--beyond the ken of someone with only a good palate. I was picking up notes I didn't recognize and couldn't describe. In the middle of the '06, for example, there seemed to be something toasted, but this made no sense; shouldn't anything toasted be swamped, Tsunami-like, by the liquor and hops and malt alcohol?

Observation two: big beer, more than other styles, has no fixed nature. The constituents wink in and out of expression so that in a vertical tasting, the best years might be dominated by different elements--alcohol here, oxidation there, hops in another one. (A point relevant to the Epics--see below.)

Finally, and this is the most surprising discovery: a one-year old beer can be green. The '07 wasn't quite done yet; its notes were too sharp-edged. You might not have noticed had the '06 not been available--but there it was, creamy, rich, softer, more appropriately stewed. I picked up a bottle for the larder, and I don't plan on cracking it for years--three at a bare minimum, five more likely, and maybe longer. Homebrewers know that you can tell what your beer will taste like when you bottle it. Sure, it's flat, warm, and unfinished, but you get the idea. That's what young Epic is like--halfway done. You don't spend a dollar an ounce on a beer so that your reaction is "I get the idea." Let it sit and you'll experience the idea, not intuit it.

Okay, some notes. We picked up a pour each of the '06 and '07 and tasted them side by side. Both were a very dark brown, but the '06 was murky while the '07 was brighter and had red notes. The '07 had zero head (could have been the pour), while the '06 had a gorgeous, creamy (if quickly-dissipating) frosting. I got more nose off the '06, something like those traditional fruit cakes that are made with liquor--lots of fruit and alcohol. Also a note of wood. The '07 was sweeter and smelled more like straight liquor. On the tongue, the '06 was a lot creamier, while the '07 seemed thinner and more viscous than creamy.

The '06 had a clearly identity in terms of flavor: the malt alcohol came forward while the liquor notes remained that, notes. I got a lot of toffee more than fruit, some roastiness and that toast. The '07 was liquor-forward, sharper and less refined. However, and here's the thing about age, it had a wonderful vanilla middle wholly absent in the '06. My attention went back to it on each sip. I wouldn't say it's worth cracking a bottle of '07 to find this note, but it shows how beers are not fixed entities, but evolutions of flavor and aroma.

____


Two other Roots-related items. First, they now have a full kitchen. I don't know how long, or how long I've missed it (though more than once, for sure), but you can now get cooked food. I haven't a clue whether it's good, but it's pretty fast. Even amid the rush last night, a friend I was with got a burger in about 20 minutes from ordering it.

Second, the side room is sort of open (see pic, circa 5:45 last night before the crowd arrived)--Cheers to Belgian Beers-goers will recognize the space. It's pretty raw, with the adhesive still on the cement floor, sheet rock unpainted, and no heat to speak of--but it made it possible for a lot more people to enjoy the Epic release.

__________________
*Okay, this may not be true. A commenter on another thread says they're 50 ounces--which would make them a slightly better per-ounce deal than the 22s, restoring order to the universe.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brett Joyce Responds

A week ago, an emailer wrote me that the Portland Rogue (Flanders Street) was pouring short shakers. He offered his name and a picture of the offending short pour in a measurer. At long last, Brett Joyce has commented:
The truth will set you free. The Rogue Nation has been proudly serving Ales, Porters, Stouts, and Lagers in 16oz pints in all Rogue Meeting Halls for 20 years. We also provide all guests with a complimentary 4 ounce “taster of the day”.

See the photographic and video evidence below to see for yourself: video, competing image.

We look forward to wearing and selling Honest Pint T-shirts and to an official apology.
You can be the judge. However, Brett, to comply with the Honest Pint Project's goals, you gotta serve 16 ounces of liquid, not a 16-ounce glass. I am not calling out pubs using 16-ounce glasses, though. You are charged by my readers with using the dreaded cheater pint. I haven't made it out to do my clandestine, definitive measuring, so I remain agnostic. As always, the buyers will decide. (Rogue's response is an impressive one. You put thought into it, guys, thanks!)

Thanks for commenting--

Roots Epic Release Tonight

The Beer
Epic starts not with the brew kettle, but earlier, when the Roots men smoke 55 pounds of Munich malt in a smoker of their own creation ("a special stainless perfrated contraption"). The fuel for the fire is cherry wood that has been soaked in 18-year-old Glenlivet, cognac, rum, as well as cherries. They spend a week smoking the malt, hand turning 3-pound batches every 15 minutes for four hours. They use a massive amount of malt to brew the beer, resulting in a 14%, 80 IBU monster ale.

The Release - 6pm
Tonight's the release party, and it's probably going to be a madhouse. Bottles (just 40 cases!) are available only at the brewery. You can also get a 10 oz glass (according to the brewery; Angelo says it's 8.5). Either way, at 14%, it's a mighty pour. Careful if you're driving, particularly if the roads go wrong. I'd encourage you to come tomorrow in order that I might have easier access to the beer, but I know that's a fool's request. See you there--

Roots Brewing
520 SE 7th
503-235-7668

Good Beer Store in Southern Oregon?

I have a rather breathless request for a store that carries Young's Double Chocolate Stout in the Medford/Ashland area. I suspect, given the anxiety of the request, that it's Christmas-related. Anyone help this poor guy out?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Buying Guide

'Tis the season for giving, and what beerhound wouldn't love to find a bottle of something nice in her stocking? Ah yes, but which beer? Never fear, your faithful blogger is here with an assist.

1. Something from the laboratory of Ron Gansberg at Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge. It's possible that his beers will one day resemble a standard line of beers, but that day is in the distant future. To follow him around his brewery is to here a monologue of experimentation. When I was there this summer, he poured out a measure of golden elixir with the pedestrian title Apricot Ale ($15). It was a revelation and is on a very short list for my Satori Award for 2008. If it's not available, you might try his Kriek ($15) or, if he has any for sale, the Quadrupel ($$ ?).

2. Let us next turn our attention to different, more southerly laboratory--that of Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River. Oregonians know him for his Pliny the Elder, the long-time favorite of the Oregon Brewers Fest. But I'd rather try one of his Belgian yeast experiments. Start me out with Deviation ($$ ?), his barrel-yeasted wild ale. It has attracted national attention, including mine. We don't get a lot of his beers here, but they are uniformly well-regarded. Most of the ones I'm interested in have the suffix -tion, and I saw one of these at Belmont Station recently (was it Salvation, Deviation, Damnation, Beatification, Sanctification, Redemption, or ... ?). It hardly matters--though I think it was Damnation; get it for your beerhound and he will be most pleased. ($10.50)

3. Here's a hard-to-find gift for that beer drinker whose too rich to notice the economy's collapsing: Sam Adams Utopias ($130). It's not really a "beer" by any reasonable definition: at 54 proof, it's a barley-based liquor. In fact, given the number of liquor barrels it has been aged in, it's actually more of a liquor-based beer. However, I had the good fortune of trying a sip from the trunk of a guy's car (it's that kind of beer) last year and I can confirm it's extraordinary. Unfortunately, you can't buy it in Oregon.

4. Another big-ticket item is one I mentioned recently, Roots Epic. I have generally been too cheap to buy a magnum (I think they're eighty forty bucks), especially since I can drink it on tap. But this year they're selling them in 22-ounce bottles (available Thursday), surely at a rate most of us can afford. The beer is a massive 14%, and so if you're trying to encourage someone to start a beer cellar, tell them to put this in it.

5. Two expensive beers in a row demand a bargain. I suggest BridgePort Raven Mad, which I raved about here. Who says five bucks won't buy you a world class beer?

6. One of my PIB discoveries this year was Scotland's Harviestoun Brewery. They brought a couple versions of their "Engine Oil" beers, known as "Ola Dubh," aged in Highland Park scotch barrels. The beers are labeled by the length of time the scotch aged in the barrel, ranging from 12 to 30 years. Obviously, you pay a lot more for the 30-year. But here's the cool thing: Ola Dubh 12-Year is the pick of the litter. As I wrote in my review, "The 'oil' of the name is apt; it has a viscosity rarely achieved in beers. In this beer, though, the Scotch is a complimentary, minor note. Certain elements were accentuated--vanilla, wood, pipe tobacco." The 30-year is out of balance; like beer-flavored scotch. I don't know about you, but I want my scotch straight up. Leave the beer out of it.

7. You could offer your loved one a Belgian sampler pack. For many people, Belgian beers are too weird, too extreme, and/or just too much trouble to sort through. I recommend a four-pack of affordable beers that almost any craft beer fan will like.
  • Start out with the Devil, Moortgat's Duvel ($10/750 ml). It's a Belgian-strong ale much copied by craft breweries because it's so approachable and likeable.Also a bit on the hoppy side [full review].
  • Since we loves our hops, add Orval ($6.50), the hoppiest of the Trappist ales. Arguably the best beer in the world, and, as a bonus, made by monks [full review].
  • Who can resist pink elephants or the name Delirium Tremens ($5.50/11 oz)? Huyghe's classic strong ale is consistently named one of the world's best, but it's a smooth, approachable beer full of complexity--a crowd and critic-pleaser.
  • Finally, to push the envelope ever so slightly, throw in a Duchesse de Bourgogne ($4.5/11 oz). It's a Flemish red ale, known as one of the "sour beers" of Belgium--and it is sour, but approachably so. I have yet to find a person--beer fan or no--who didn't like it [full review].
With this sampler pack, you may unlock a new world of beer for the beerhound in your life.

7a. If your beerhound has already begun unlocking that door, but still feels overwhelmed by the variety of Belgian beers, give her Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium, the definitive guide to Belgians, and one of the best beer books ever written.

8. You can buy your loved one a beer, or better still, teach her to brew. The best way to understand beer is to brew it, and one can get started for about $100. Warning: this product may cause bad beer, obsessiveness, profligate spending on strange, specialized devices, hop cultivation, and vast stores of bottled beer. Go to FH Steinbart's to get started.

9. Under the heading "weird and wonderful," I have a few items to suggest, all available at Belmont Station. Let's start with Bahnhof Leipziger Gose ($19/750 ml), one of the most obscure styles of beer, hailing from Germany. Not only is it brewed with salt (!), but coriander and lactic culture. Definitely not reinheitsgebot-compliant. (I've never had the pleasure, so you're flying blind on this one.) But that's only half the reason to buy it--the other is the amazing, Moorish bottle.

Sometimes it's nice to test the outer boundaries of beer, just so you know where they are. I offer you Hanssen's Oudbeitje ($10.50), a strawberry lambic so funky it's on the way to compost. It's the limburger cheese of beer, definitely an acquired taste. Of course, I love it.

Finally, for authentic German beer drinking, you need das boot. Available in either the liter ($20, for sissies) or two liter ($40, for manly men) version, it's a boot-shaped glass vessel with a built-in booby trap for the untutored. Don't know what that is? Buy it and find out! It therefore offers entertainment value along with handsome utility and strangeness.

10. Last, you might also consider some proprietary glassware (also available via Belmont Station, prices vary), from the Trappist goblets to Rodenbach tulips to English pub glasses. Nothing says beer geek more than busting out your Beamish glass in which to decant your Beamish stout.

Okay, that ought to at least get you started (and if not, look to comments, where there are sure to be a few more ideas). Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Difficult Adjuncts/Roots Habanero Stout

I stopped into Roots yesterday to see if I could rustle up either some Epic or the Chocolate Habanero Stout. Epic isn't out til Thursday, but the Habanero's pouring (or burning, depending on your palate). To refresh your memory, last year's version was a fascinating beer. The chocolatey stout was up front, not the chilis. At first, you didn't notice but a touch of spice, but then at swallow, the fire warmed up enough to kindle some sparks going down. It was a subtle background note. Over time, the spiciness would collect at the back of your throat, though, and it would slowly warm up.

In this year's version, the habaneros (100, including 15 donated by a proud guy sitting at the bar last night) are the first thing you notice, like a punch in the mouth. I braced, imagining that this was only the first wave, with pain and awe to follow. Remarkably, the heat died and the sweeter stout came forward. It didn't spark going down, and it didn't collect on my palate; but to the last sip, the first contact always brought a shock to my tongue like static electricity.

Habaneros are a dangerous chili to work with. They are many times more spicy than most other peppers--100 times spicier than a jalapeno. That makes the margin of error very small--too many and you have nuclear heat, but too few and you get nothing. In beer, spruce is like this--so easy to overdo. I think Roots has essentially got the recipe right. The chili-to-chili variation means that it's never possible to know if a batch is slightly hotter or cooler than the last. The brewers are aiming to heat up their beer (and, presumably, the chilly bellies of their drinkers), so they can't risk ratcheting back too much. (Though I think the fact that they steep the peppers in the fermenting beer, rather than adding them to the boil, helps minimize risk.)

It will be interesting to watch this beer in years to come. The unpredictability of the chilis will produce something a little different each time. I look forward to sitting down to each new batch, never knowning what will happen when I tip the glass toward my waiting tongue.

[Update: In case it wasn't clear in this post, Roots launches Epic on Thursday at 6pm at the pub. I suggest arriving at 6:30, so that you will allow me to have safely secured a couple 22 ouncers and a snifter of the elixir first.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Resting

Sometimes you need to take a day off blogging. This is that day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Pub-going Tonight

At least, not if this keeps up:


It's more a cup of hot chocolate in front of the fire kind of day, anyway.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stouts Are Back

One of my favorite styles of beer is the humble stout, a style that seems to blink in an out of popularity. In the mid-80s, it was a cult beer, but attained prominence with the release of Obsidian. It was for some years the "extreme beer" on the scene, only to be supplanted in the new millennium by more glamorous extreme beers sporting the adjective "imperial." (Stouts, the ugly girl at the dance, kicking their toes in the corner, said, "but we were imperials first.")

But like women's shoulder pads and Duran Duran, what was out inevitably comes back in. I was at Belmont Station last night and basked in the selection of the venerable old black beer, ultimately selecting Ommegang's Chocolate Indulgence 10th Annivesary Ale ($13). I will confess that part of the lure of the stout is its narcotic effect. Some beers bring a gentle, cheery fizz to the back of my brain (in quantities of two); other, stronger beers a liquor-like slap across the cheek. Stouts confer a feeling like the sleepiness that comes after you've been out working in cold weather and have come in to a cozy, warm room. Ommegang's Indulgence, made with Belgian chocolate, scored high marks on this measure. A storm blowing in, and Sally and I settled into the fourth season of The Wire and goblets of chocolate stout.

(You could do better than Indulgence. The flavors are not quite as rich or articulated as I would like; the chocolate, hard to detect at cool temperatures, is a little bossy once the beer warms up. It would be a fine $5 beer, but thirteen? That raises the stakes pretty high.)

Anyway, cheers to stouts. There's still some time to lay in a few before the snows fly tonight.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Localvore Movement Goes Beery

Five years ago I read a story in Harper's Magazine that revolutionized the way I thought about food. It was really the vanguard of a now well-documented movement devoted to eating local. In the Harper's piece, Bill McKibben described a diner in Barre, Vermont that tried to buy all its produce locally. At the time, it was a radical idea. There weren't so many local producers--gigantism had wiped out most of the family farms. The remaining local producers already had contracts with huge conglomerates. And thanks to the streamlined national food-production network, there weren't local producers growing the diversity owner Tod Murphy needed.

Since there weren't any Vermont pork producers, Murphy found a 15-year-old kid to do it on his parents' dairy farm. He had to build his own smoker to cure the pork. And so it went. Murphy had to build up a micro network of producers who were willing to disconnect from the national/global food chain and sell directly to him. (If you are a subscriber, you can log on to the Harper's webpage and see the archived article here.)

The virtues were manifold: small farmers could make more money selling to Murphy and could survive as small-scale producers; Murphy got local food that was healthier and tastier than what he could find in the national marketplace; it helped create a sense of community and began to rebuild local connections between producer and retailer; the money stayed in the local marketplace; the carbon footprint required to produce the food dropped substantially; and on and on.

The movement has gained a lot of traction, and now we're seeing breweries get into the action:

A few yards from his brewhouse at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Virginia, Taylor Smack, owner and brewmaster, shows me his little field of dreams. One year ago, on a quarter-acre plot, Smack planted 200 hop vines, climbing plants that produce the flowers that are used to make beer. Today he admits that his yield wasn't quite what he'd hoped for. He didn't water the plants enough, he says, and he used the wrong fertilizer. Standing between thin rows of his plants, Smack reaches up and picks off a bud. "These are kind of pathetic looking compared with a German hops yard, where they grow thick and bushy and 30 feet high. But we're trying," he says. "We don't claim to be farmers."

Eco-conscious foodies already know the "buy local" mantra, and for good reason: reduce the miles a product travels from farm to table and you typically reduce its carbon footprint. But for many, including Smack, buying local is about something more. It's about establishing a sense of place, knowing where your food comes from, and supporting your own community. Smack is trying to apply these principles to his beer. And so despite his obvious shortcomings as a farmer, Smack continues to tend his fields, because he can't get locally grown hops unless he goes out and grows them himself.
Leave aside the fact that he doesn't know how to grow hops (planted a year ago, it's no wonder his yield sucked), this is a great trend. He's trying to do what the Farmer's Diner did:
Toward the end of my visit, Smack walks me out the back door of the brewery to show me the irrigation system he's set up: he's recycling the wastewater from his brewery and using it to water his hop vines.... Smack has a lot of loyal patrons, and he's even opened a restaurant in his brewhouse that will soon feature beef and lamb raised on a nearby farm and fed with Blue Mountain Brewery's leftover barley.
Smack is trying to figure out where to get local barley, but it's just not grown in Virginia. He has a local who is willing to help him grow hops, and maybe he can find someone to grow some barley for him, too. (Gentleman farming is big in the South, right?)

It would be great to see this happen all over the country--or at least where barley and hops can be reasonably grown (counterintuitively, not everything local is green; if farmers have to use too much energy--power for greenhouses, petrol-derived fertilizers, precious water in arid climates--it takes more energy to grow local than to ship from, say, Oregon).

Since I spent yesterday castigating Rogue, let me at least tip my hat to them here. It is the only Oregon brewery I know of that has begun hop and barley cultivation. The motivation may have been financial as much as environmental, but that does nothing to diminish the impact.

The benefits of local production could extend well beyond lowering carbon footprints. The hop market is one of the most streamlined, global markets in agriculture, and small breweries often get crunched by the demands of the giants. Hop growers cater their crops producers like In-Bev, which mainly demand super-high-alpha varieties that maximize the bitter-to-dollar ratio. Why not? You can't taste hops in Bud, anyway.

Perhaps local cultivation would lead growers to develop specialized hops that would thrill craft beer lovers. American brewing is distinguished mainly by our citric hops, but why should it stop there? Local cultivation creates the opportunity for rebuilding those connections between brewer and grower, creating the opportunity for collaboration. What about organic hops--it's a lot easier if you've trying to convince a 10-acre producer. You get the point.

So cheers to Virginia's Blue Mountain, and cheers to Rogue. May you be only the start of a much larger trend.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Honest Pint, Further Thoughts

The latest incident of dishonest behavior has provoked a bit of speculation about the Honest Pint Project and how to proceed. Although I've been slow to get the site up and running, I've actually thought this through. Here's how I plan to do it (eventually).

Honest Pint by Definition
I'll certify pubs for serving 16 ounces or more of liquid. When someone orders a pint, they expect a pint of liquid, not that they're getting 14 ounces served in a 16-ounce glass. The project is designed to reward good behavior, not punish bad behavior, so we can afford to be stringent on this requirement.

Certification Process
I hope to make this a national initiative (or anyway, the Wall Street Journal and NPR coverage have made me want to), so I had to come up with a way of certifying pubs I can't visit. The process will be the same for everyone. They'll need to take a photo of the contents of the pub's glass in a clearly-market measuring cup. The liquid contents must measure at least 16 ounces. The picture should be taken in a distinctive part of the pub so other patrons can verify by quick visual inspection. (At the bar, for example.) Once someone submits this photo, I'll list the pub on the site as a "Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint." Finally, I plan to make up stickers that announce the place as "Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint" and mail them out to the person who took the photo (or the pub, whichever).

I have meant to go around and do this in Portland as a way of showing how to do it, but December's a packed month. Probably in January.

Help Fund the Project!
In comments on the Rogue post, someone suggested that it would be cool to have a t-shirt. You're in luck! I've made up two versions (light and dark) in women's and men's sizes. You do it through Zazzle, and they cost a premium because they make them individually, but I get a couple bucks without having to spend anything. That will help fun the website and cost of printing stickers for pubs. I ordered one, and the quality's good. Zazzle has it set up so you can order the shirts in any style or size you wish.

Men's dark











Men's light














Ladies dark














Ladies light

Roguish Rogues?

[Post has been updated.]

I just got this tip from an emailer:
I went to Rogue brewery last night with a friend to confirm the rumors that they were pouring soft pints. We confirmed that they were using 14 oz glasses. After the beer arrives at your table it's only 13.5 or less. They also removed their beer pricing from their menus and blackboard. Now customers have no idea that they are paying $5.25 for a short beer. Just down the street is Bridgeport Brewery which pours full 16 oz pints for only $3.75.
Consider this just a rumor for the moment. I throw it out there in case someone has a chance to confirm it. This is exactly the problem with the shaker pints Rogue uses--you can't tell whether they're 14 or 16 ounces. It's why I started the honest pint project, and why imperial pints are so much better at ensuring transparency.

Consider this a direct appeal, Jack and Co: switch to imperial pints. It's the right thing to do.

Update. This is the kind of proof I love: photographic. The emailer encourages me to use his name, further evidence that he and his buddy stand by their proof. From Michael Andri and Bryan Donovan:


Michael adds: "You should also note the fact that they removed all pricing notices from the bar so now it is a fully operational tourist trap." So noted.

All right, Rogue, what do you have to say for yourself?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Papazian Asks: Where is Beertown, USA?

Charlie Papazian goes there:
There are many great beer cities such as San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston. You’ll even find incidences among beer enthusiasts in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and Denver, Colorado often battling over bragging rights as “Top Beer City, USA.” They’re all out of contention for top honors when it comes to actually calculating the number of breweries per capita in America’s towns.
Guess what? He concludes that based on a per capita basis, Colorado towns finish 1-2 as best Beertowns. Portland finishes fifth. We're going to be having this argument 'til the cows home for their spent grain, but I don't think anyone is really going to buy Durango, Colorado as the best beer town in the country.

First, the factual errors. According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, there are 38 brewing facilities in Portland--for a ratio of 1 in 14,484, moving us up to 4th place. He also misses Bend, with 7 breweries and a ratio of 1 in 10,270 (it'll be 1/9000 in the spring when Brewtal opens). That's good enough to edge Boulder for number 2. The real problem is that small towns have a huge advantage over larger ones. It's no wonder that there's only one actual city in Charlie's top five. (And no wonder that it's Portland, either.)

Looking at cities through a single data point doesn't hardly begin to answer the question. Portland drinks more craft beer than any other city (not per capita--total) and we have the most breweries of any city in the world (not per capita-total). If you're running the stats, you gotta run these, too.

Personally, I think there are far more convincing reasons why Portland's the best beer city in the country:
  1. Horse Brass Pub/Bailey's Taproom
  2. Ducks games at the Mission
  3. Organic beer
  4. Meet the brewers at local pubs
  5. Oregon Brewers Festival
  6. Fred Eckhardt
  7. Lucky Lab porch on a summer afternoon
  8. Fresh hop ales
  9. Six winter ales at the Lompoc
  10. Cheers to Belgian beers competition
I could come up with another ten--and I'm sure I missed some critical reasons--but you get the point. Durango, Colorado?--come on. We rock.

Apostasy!

Every now and again the British beer blogger Stonch (actual name Jeff, no word on whether he's a Sox fan) and the Good Beer Blog (Canada) host a photo contest. It usually produces some lovely photos, and I suppose I should point them out. Since we have Portlandbeer.org, with Matt's extraordinary pictures, I guess I got lazy. But on Stonch's site today is this photo, which I regard as a great crime:



You see the problem, right? Leinenkugel?! I have nothing against the venerable (and now Miller-owned) Wisconsin brand, but in the shadow of the gorgeous Mt Hood (I think--you'll correct me if I'm wrong)? Apostasy. I eliminate it from competition due to poor composition.

By the way, have a look at one of Matt's shots. I'd kill to be able to take photos like this:


I don't know who's off to Fred's left, but in profile to his right you see Alan Sprints. Talk about composition! (Follow the link above for a larger version of this photo.) It's slightly grainy, suggestive of history, and Fred appears to be talking while others listen. Perfect. If Matt gets around to publishing a photo book of Oregon brewing, this iconic gem would tell future generations a lot.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

All the News That's Fit to Reprint

[This post has been updated with new info.]

July may be Craft Beer Month, time of 47 fests and great pandemonium, but December is craft brewer's month. 'Tis the season when brewers' sugar plum dreams are made manifest in the most extravagant beers. (Hey, sugar plums, that gives me an idea....) In this omnibus post, I hope to catch everthing I find especially noteworthy. Please revise if I missed something.


Releases
It's not enough for breweries to release one winter ale; two is now de rigeuer. Old Lompoc is the outlier with six (!). These are in addition to the beers released in past weeks or those already discussed here.
  • Alameda Papa Noel - English-style winter warmer hopped with Fuggles (7.7% abv).
  • Amnesia Sleighjacker, Frosty's Revenge - No info.
  • Amnesia Kuykendall - A strong, hoppy pilsner aged 6 months.
  • Caldera Cauldron Brew (Dec 15) - No info on this year's version.
  • Caldera Old Growth Imperial Stout - A massive beer spiced with a potpourri of peppercorn, licorice, chocolate, and lavendar (10.3% abv).
  • Cascade/Raccoon Lodge Baltic Porter - Barrel aged, available on tap and in 22s (8.5%).
  • Double Mountain Fa-La-La-La-La - a "hop bomb" with 83 BUs of Centennial hops (7.6% abv).
  • Heater Allen Sandy Paws - Cross between a doppel and schwarzbier (6.7% abv). Only 42 cases bottled.
  • Laurelwood Weihnachtsfest Doppelbock - Made from imported malts and hops (8% abv).
  • Old Lompoc Blitzen - Dry-hopped with coriander and orange peel (5% abv).
  • Old Lompoc Brewdolph - Belgian-style strong ale made with honey and wheat (8.8% abv).
  • Old Lompoc C-Sons Greetings - Strong ale hopped with all seven C-named hops: Cluster, Columbus, Challenger, Chinook, Crystal, Cascade, and Centennial (8% abv).
  • Old Lompoc Jolly Bock - Strong bock (7% abv).
  • Old Lompoc Old Tavern Rat - A barley wine cellared for ten months prior to release (9% abv).
  • Old Lompoc Holiday Cheer - Robust porter infused with vanilla beans (7% abv).
  • Pelican Perfect Storm - 2007 Stormwatcher's Winterfest Barleywine, aged in Evan Williams Bourbon Barrels.
  • Roots Chocolate Habanero Stout (Dec 10) - brewed with chocolate wheat malt, cacao nibs, and Alma Chocolate and "dry hopped" with habaneros.
  • Roots Epic (Dec 18) - Hand-smoked Munich malt over cherry wood soaked in Glenlivet Scotch, cognac, and cherries. Available at the brewery and also in 22s and jereboams. (14% abv)
  • Widmer Babushka's Secret - (Gasthaus only) Black raspberry-infused imperial stout (9% abv)

Events
One winter beer fest is not enough, you say. You're in luck: Amnesia's hosting their first winter fest, and it includes a bunch of breweries that didn't make it into the Holiday Ale Fest (and some that did), including Caldera, Double Mountain, Lucky Lab, Roots, Walking Man and, oh yeah, Amnesia. Proceeds benefit the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation.

Amnesia Winter Ale Fest
832 N Beech St.;
Noon- 9 pm, Sat, Dec. 13th
503-281-7708


Random News
Just in time for the holiday office party, Angelo notes that Old Lompoc just had their first bottling. Following Roots in the mobile-bottling tradition, they just had Green Bottling over to package up some C-Note and Lompoc Strong Ale.


New Brewery
Lost in the mix, a new brewery planned.

The Brewtal Brewing Co., formed by Bend resident Tony Lawrence, will be the region’s eighth brewing company. Lawrence began moving into a small warehouse near downtown Bend on Tuesday and will begin building the brewery he hopes will fill its first keg this spring.

“I’ll be brewing ales, like most craft breweries do, IPAs, pale ales,” Lawrence said. “Some guys are over the top heavy-handed with hops, but that’s not my school. I’m a more traditional, balanced brewer.”

And another one opened in Gresham:
Yesterday, the 4th Street Brewing Co. opened its doors in the town of Gresham. While the Grand Opening won’t take place for another month or so (January 16-17), you can stop buy for lunch or dinner Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

Owner and brewer Adam Roberts has been brewing beers in the new space for about a month. What’s he been making? Well, five beers — Gresham Light, Demented Duck Amber (that’s just a brilliant name), Black Roots Blonde, Powell Porter, and Eager Beaver IPA — will always be available, while the brewpub will rotate several seasonal and specialty beers throughout the year.



Had enough? Me, too. Time for a beer.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Holiday Ale Fest, Full Monty Edition

For the first time in three years, I can say that I enjoyed the experience of the Holiday Ale Fest. Admittedly, it's because I showed up at 10:50 am on Saturday and left by three-thirty, four. But not everything can be chalked up to the early hour. The last few years I showed up early, and the crowds did, too. It was better this year.

Ch-ch-ch-changes
Credit the organizers for recognizing that the HAF had just gotten too popular. In past years, it has been shockingly over-crowded and noisy. Pity the party that got separated in the crowd--they're probably still looking for each other. So this year they added days and some space. These changes probably didn't affect the noise and crowds at peak times, but they did create some times when serious beer fans could sample the offerings in relative calm and solitude. Will it last? Hard to say--nature and beer fests hate a vacuum, so we'll have to check back in '09. I suspect that the new area won't remain as undiscovered as it was on Saturday afternoon. But credit where credit is due: my experience this year was almost as pleasant as the beers.

The Attic
I know others have commented on the new area in the fest, but I have to add my two cents. Historically, the HAF lived under a big-top in the lower part of Pioneer Courthouse Square. This year, they added a tent on the upper level up by the statue of the umbrella man (I will henceforth attempt to propogate my nicname by calling this "the attic"). However, rather than run a single set of stairs up to this section, organizers tried to leave an access route between it and the tent, apparently for peds outside the fest. To get people over this easement, they built a set of stairs up, a hamster-like habitrail across, another set of stairs down a ways, another habitrail, and finally, a few more steps up to this tent. Perhaps it was an on-site drunk-o-meter, but it also seemed like a massive lawsuit waiting to happen.

On the other hand, it was a great place to camp out. The main tent features about ten little tables to stand around. These are seized and guarded like the fields in WWI, where inhabitants fend off sorties of the table-less hordes. Eventually, the tables get swamped by the crowd, and in any case, they're smack dab in the loudest part of the tent. The attic had a fair number of tables with chairs, and for most of our time there, had available seating. It was relatively quiet (you could at least carry on a conversation), too. Big improvement.

The Beers
I didn't try anywhere near a reasonable number of the beers available, so this is far from comprehensive. Of the modest number I did try, most were at least good, and a few were fantastic. The big winners were:
  • Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux. My fave of the fest was Dupont's holiday beer, a robust farmhouse ale that has the sweetness of a biere de garde mixed with the hop character and crispness of a saison. It was a perfectly balanced, perfectly luscious big beer.
  • Hair of the Dog Jim. A guy sat down at our table with a pour of Jim, and he just kept shaking his head. Not an experienced beer guy, he couldn't quite make the connection between the liquid in his mug and his conception of "beer." I'm sure he wasn't alone. It is one of the most intense beers I've tasted--regular winter beer condensed down. The flavors form a cacophany of notes, and they come at you like fragments of conversation in a noisy room. It will change month by month, but in this state the bourbon was forward, along with a spicy mid-note. In comments below, Doc Wort called it "sappy," which is exactly right.
  • Widmer Babushka Black Raspberry Stout. I wish this stout were available year-round, just as an example of how to use fruit. In Babushka, the black raspberries offer a flavor note without any sweetness. The beer is muscular and masculine, sporting bitter notes of coffee, leather, and tobacco, maybe even a little cannibis. I was reminded of a Stumptown coffee I've had, Lake Tawar Sumatra. To this, the fruit draws out some of the flavor notes that one perceives as fruity, but adds almost none of the sugar. Fruit doesn't have to overwhelm or make a beer treacly sweet. This is proof.
Other good ones:
  • Allagash Curieux. A lush, complex tripel aged in Jim Beam barrels. The whiskey note is a subtle one.
  • Cascade "Sang Noir." Only sour fans need apply. Whiskey and fruit notes also subdued, and are bent to the dominance of the sourness.
  • Golden Valley Oaken Bomb. Rich and tasty, and not nearly as sweet as last year's iteration. Nice hopping. I would love to try this after it aged another year.
  • Yakima Twin Stag Scottish. I know nothing about this brewery, but I like the introduction. This was a very big Scottish ale, reminding me almost of a doppelbock. Accomplished.
Misfires:
  • Lauganitas White Pepper Stout. Not at all pleasant. Weedy.
  • Stone Vanilla Smoked Porter. Root beer.
Swigs from friends (ie, too little tasting to really know, snap reactions only)
  • North Coast Old Stock. Stanky. Funky. Old Sock.
  • Pyramid Snow Cap('n & Tennille). Terribly embarrassing name. Somewhat sweet but superficial riff on their impressive regular Snow Cap. So perhaps aptly named.
  • Full Sail Dry Hopped Wassail. The dry-hopping seemed more understated than I would have liked, but it was still a fine beer.
  • BridgePort Raven Mad. A friend grabbed this late in our stay, and I'll admit that it didn't wow me. I don't blame the beer but my palate. It's a problem with beer fests--after a few beers, your tongue can lie to you. A word to the wise when you read reviews like this one.
I had a great time--hope you did, too.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Ale Fest - Briefly

Not a lot of time to go into detail, but if you happen to be reading this before heading out, I'd recommend the Widmer Babushka Stout (burly, with the berries adding just a minor key), Hair of the Dog Jim (huge beer, super intense, rich, spicy, bourbony, amazing), and Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux. I'd skip the weedy Lagunitas Black Pepper Stout.

Also, the upstairs seemed way less crowded in the early part of yesterday's visit.

Friday, December 05, 2008

75 Years Ago

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in the US. Rather than trying to wax eloquent about a subject I know only marginally, I'll turn the mike over to Maureen Ogle. She has become the Doris Kearns Goodwin of beer, America's historian laureate, and in two articles--one the in US News, another in the Philly Enquirer--she argues that Prohibition wasn't a wholesale failure--it still inculcated in the population a anti-alcohol disposition.

But when repeal came in December 1933, lawmakers celebrated with an orgy of regulations designed less to generate revenue than to maximize the barriers between Americans and alcohol. States, counties, and municipalities burdened manufacturers and retailers with complicated licensing requirements. Lawmakers separated manufacturers from the public by inserting distributors between the two. A welter of laws restricted the hours and days that people could buy drink. New state-owned liquor stores oozed the "alcohol is evil" message. Bottles of gin and wine, and the clerks who sold them, stood inside grilled enclosures that resembled miniature jail cells for the evil spirits. Customers browsed a row of empty containers on the counter—samples of the inmates, slipped money through a small opening, and received the corrupting goods in exchange. Children who accompanied their parents on those trips got the intended message: This stuff is bad!

Put another way, repeal institutionalized the demonization of alcohol. Per capita alcohol consumption did not reach pre-Prohibition levels until the 1970s and then only because the sheer number of baby boomers temporarily elevated it. In the 1980s, the national appetite for drink drifted downward again, prodded in part by a new generation of dry agencies and activists, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the federally funded National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

She concludes that this attitude has resulted in an unhealthy drinking culture that fosters unhealthy habits:
Still, squabbles over restrictions on retailing and wholesaling focus on who gets how much of the revenue, rather than on the values that originally shaped the constraints. It's a vicious, and lethal, cycle: As long as we remain addicted to demonization, we avoid serious discussion about those values. The longer we avoid that conversation, the longer we pass on the booze-is-bad message to our kids, who grow up to pass the message on to their kids. And as long as we teach children to fear rather than respect alcohol, we'll interrupt the silence with periodic spasms of hand-wringing and finger-pointing about campus drinking, binge drinking, underage drinking, and the like. But here's the truth: The "alcohol problem" is of our own creation. We've got the drinking culture we deserve.
It's an interesting argument to be making today, when most of the rest of the beer folks are raising a pint. I tend to agree with her diagnosis, too--the US does have a bad drinking culture. But I wonder if Prohibition was the cause or a symptom. We have an innately Puritanical culture, one that enforces moralism through social approbrium and shame. But this culture goes back 400 years, not 90; the temperence movement emerged as the shaming mechanism that ultimately created Prohibition. Ogle is right to situation Prohibition in a larger context, and mentions the politics that create this environment. But it's not so obvious where the cause and effect cycle starts.

One thing we can celebrate, though, is craft brewing's contribution toward a much more positive, healthy drinking culture. In the 1970s, taverns were little shops of shame--smoky, windowless buildings on the edges of communities. No one considered the flavor of alcohol, just the alcohol/dollar ratio and the cheapest way to a buzz. For food, you got lil smokies--10 for a buck--a meal for men who didn't take time to stop off at Mickey D's on the way to the bar.

Craft brewing changed all that when it introduced us to the art of brewing and its sensual joys. Pubs got moved to the center of communities. They have lots of windows and no smoke, and many of them have kids' menus. They're neighborhood places families go for a nice meal. Mom and Dad have a pint to taste the newest concoction by the local brewer--or maybe they have their favorite pint of IPA. Anyway, craft breweries foster the right things about drinking--flavor and moderation.

Anyway, they do here in Oregon. That's why we call it Beervana. Cheers!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Double Mountain .... Now Blogging!

It's not enough that Double Mountain makes some of Oregon's best beer--now they're blogging. Hey guys, why not leave something for the amateurs? Actually, this is a very cool thing, and it runs exactly counter to a problem I complained about back in June. Brewery websites tend to, you know, suck. They're con jobs by the PR department; they tell you less than nothing about the brewery, and afterward you feel like you need a shower.

But with only two posts, Double Mountain has shown how to use the internets to bring their customers into their thought process. In a long rumination, Matt Swihart offers a wonderful anecdote about how he got turned onto barrel aging:

My original interest in cask beers came from when I was head brewer at Full Sail. I was giving a tour to the head distiller at Macallan Distillery. Oh that’s good scotch. Anyway, I remember being very excited to talk to Peter about Scotch whisky and was anxious to show off the brewery. I was touring through the cellars and we stopped to sample some Old Boardhead I had been aging for a year prior to its release. The beer was sitting in a stainless tank, maturing nicely at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Peter then made a simple comment:

“What are you doing?” head distiller Peter asked.

“I’m aging the beer.”

“Why?”

“To mature the flavors, promote a more balanced barleywine through some long-term maturation…to develop some slight oxidative notes, reduce the bitterness, enhance the malt,” replied the head brewer.

“Well, if you want to develop those flavors, and you were making whisky, which uses beer as a base for the distillery, and you wanted to promote some oxidation, I would put that whisky in an oak barrel and hold it at cellar temperature. What you are doing now is protecting the beer from aging, you are not developing its maturation flavors, you’re trying to preserve the freshness. I think your approach is flawed.”

As a bonus, Double Mountain has finally gotten their website up and running. It has previously just been a splash page with the address. Now they have info on the beer, brewery, and so on. (They even appropriated a photo from my review--that'll cost you a growler, guys!) Welcome to the neighborhood, gents. Keep up the fine work. This is exactly the kind of thing we want to read.

Oh, and a shout-out Chad Kennedy, who was, to my knowledge, the pioneer of brewer blogging round these parts.

Early Reports on the Holiday Ale Fest

Who needs me when you have such a vast and accomplished blogger corps? (That's a rhetorical question!) Seems like everyone but me headed down to Pio Square last night. Here's what they found:
Bruce/BS Brewing
Testing, testing…. is this thing on? Trying out the WPtoGo app on the G1 phone. 1 failure so far. It’s about 3:45 and numerous beer geeks and chronic alcoholics have already arrived, but nowhere near tha capacity crowds that will be here in the evenings.

DA Beers/Beer Around Town

So the Wednesday session is on! Arriving at 3pm for the opening founding me waiting in a 40 person line, sure maybe a few more people than I expected, but I was in the company of people that were truly there to drink and appreciate some good brew. I have to give it up to Preston for adding this day, as I trekked around the tent I met a ton of great local beer enthusiasts. This really was the day for the beer geeks to show up and mingle.

This years fest featured a new navigational hazard... the 2nd beer tent. ....Now, i've been to my share of beer fests, but this looks like a fricken mine field in the making, I mean how the heck do you expect people to traverse this thing after some of these beers? Now I was only here for a hand full of samples, but I have seen Friday and Saturday nights and some of the sauced people it creates, this looks like a lawsuit in the making. I understand the need for more space, but this was head-scratching. Also, no Jim for wheelchair bound people. But overall it lead to this tent.

Bill/It's Pub Night
The 2008 Portland Holiday Ale Fest has begun at Pioneer Square. At 5 PM today it was still manageable, but by 5:30 PM it was breathtakingly crowded. If you plan on attending one of the next couple days, the earlier the better....

I didn't expect to like Widmer's fruity stout at all, but it was really well done -- the blackberries complemented the stout flavor nicely without being a nuisance. Van Havig's tripel and Hopworks' barleywine were right on the money. The stout from Firestone Walker -- who seem to be landing on Oregon with both feet right now -- was very solid, especially when you consider that its 5.5% alcohol is about half the strength of most of the beers at the festival.

Angelo/Brewpublic
[Mostly an overview/preview, but he has some great pics from the media event last night.]
Not for nothing, I'll lay ten to one odds that Oregon has more and more able beer bloggers than any state in the country. Great work, men!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Holiday Ale Fest - Special Tappings

The Holiday Ale Fest kicks off in about an hour. When it does, a very, very special beer will be pouring: the mythical Jim '06 from Hair of the Dog. It sparked a frenzy like few the town has seen, and for good reason (video below). I believe it will be just a single keg, and when it blows, it's gone. They'll also tap the '07 version--wonderful, but not guaranteed to confer enlightenment like the '06.

Tomorrow they'll be tapping four beers you should note:
  • Allagash Curieux (pronounced "curio" unless I misheard brewer Jason Perkins), a bourbon-aged tripel,
  • Cascade's barrel-aged (and misnamed) Baltic Porter, which is really a tasty Gansberg funk-o-rama,
  • Firestone Walker Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in--wait for it--bourbon barrels,
  • Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis, which is the closest thing to a desert you'll ever taste coming from a brewery.
Cheers!

Holiday Ale Fest
Pioneer Courthouse Square [map]
Wednesday, Dec 3rd, 3pm - 9pm
Thursday- Sat, 11am - 10pm
Sunday, 11:00am - 7:00pm

Initial $20 tasting package required--includes mug and 10 tickets. Additional tix $1. No previous years' mugs.
Prices for a 4 ounce taster start at one ticket, though some beers require more. Full pours are four tickets. 21+ only.


Is the Holiday Ale Fest Too Popular?

Last year in my write-up of the Holiday Ale Fest, I kicked off with this observation:
Something's gotta give. Pio Square is a wonderful location, looking out as it does on the downtown buildings. But it's only wonderful if you can get a beer in less than 20 minutes (or say, two minutes) and aren't in constant physical contact with all 23 of your closest neighbors. I stopped off after work on Friday for a full pour of Jim (just to be sure) and returned at 11:30 on Saturday. Friday night, even at five straight-up when I arrived, was insane. It was so crowded and so loud that I had to text Sally to find her once she'd gotten (almost instantly) lost in the crowd on her trek to get us tickets; when I tried to call, I couldn't even tell if she picked up. Saturday was all right until about three and then almost instantly the lines went from ten-person affairs to behemoths that ran the length of the tent.
Preston Weesner, the impresario of the Fest, has done a fantastic job bringing in exceptional beers. Problem is, we're running up against physics here--bodies cannot be folded into other dimensions so they can all fit under the tent. Short of that, I fear Weesner's success at luring the masses in will result in something that looks like a Bombay train. My request last year was to move the thing. Admittedly, this cuts into the charm. I suppose you could also limit bodies in who get inside--but this would probably result in riots outside the tent. (In 2006, the tapping of Hair of the Dog "Jim" almost led to riots inside the tent). Perhaps stretching it out to five days will help. I plan to go on Saturday, so I can test this theory.

But if it's as bad as it has been the last couple years, I may have to rethink things in '09.