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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

BridgePort's Renovated Digs

1313 NW
Monday-Thursday: 7 am - midnight
Friday-Saturday: 7 am -1 am
Sunday: 7 am -10 pm

Beers: IPA, ESB, Porter, Blackstrap Stout, Ropewalk Amber, Blue Heron (session), seasonals.

In 1984, Dick Ponzi decided being a pioneer in the wine industry wasn't enough, and so he founded BridgePort, Oregon's first craft brewery.* He dug around until he found a place in gritty Northwest Portland near to the railroad tracks and freeway--much as Fred Bowman and Kurt and Rob Widmer did a year later when they founded Portland and Widmer nearby. The BridgePort building was a brick warehouse, and it was apparently as gritty as its neighborhood when Karl Ockert first brewed BridgePort Ale (which became the name of the brewery, at the time called Columbia River Brewing). Ah, but what bones: thick beams of native fir supported nicely rounded, 100-year-old brick. It became, along with the Lucky Lab, the quintessential Oregon brewery.

But then came the Pearl and wealth and young urban professionals, and apparently, a need for a new aesthetic. Thus a million-dollar remodel.** Gone are the homey nooks, the dart board, the pizzas, the beer towels, the loading dock languor. In it's place? Well, here's how the brewery describes it:
Whether you drop in for a meal with friends at our east side BridgePort Ale House, or stop by for an espresso at the new bridgeport brewpub + bakery in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District, you are sure to have a great experience. Our brewpub and bakery has just reopened after a major renovation. While so much has changed in the century-old building, you’ll find a comfortable and familiar atmosphere awaits with rustic brick, aged timber, and classic iron.
I alert you to this language so that you'll see where I'm headed in this (now overlong) review. The new place is engineered to appeal to those who love sterile steel, vast expanses in which to be seen, and an unchallenging nouveau industrial (nouvel industriel?) chic style. In short, none of the people who used to go there.

It is a radical change. The entire floorplan has changed and all the old Portland pub quality is absolutely scrubbed from the place. Even the food menu accentuates wine--for the beer list, you have to go to the drinks menu. Pearlies want shiraz with their crispy artichoke risotto cakes (okay, maybe pinot gris), so the brewery makes it easy for them. (Though the truth is, as I looked around the place, I saw that most patrons had pints of cloudy IPA in front of them.)

Food
All brewpubs don't have to have the same halibut fish and chips to please me. Pub fare is often starchy and fatty and just so-so on the tongue. A change-up is welcome. BridgePort features pretty standard Northwest cuisine (which was formerly known as California cuisine, until Greg Higgins appropriated and tweaked it, adding local vegetables and meats). I had the pork tenderloin with cannelini beans and rapini, and Sally had a special halibut dish with assorted tubers. Both were excellent, and both went fairly well with the classic British ales BridgePort serves (I had porter with the pork, and the halibut went well with ESB). Even more surprising, the entrees were fairly reasonable, ranging from $11-18.

Beer
BridgePort long ago standardized its beer menu. In addition to beers available in bottle--IPA, Blue Heron, Ropewalk, Old Knucklehead, and Supris--they serve old standbyes Porter, ESB, and Blackstrap Stout. I suggest trying the porter and ESB as your food selection dictates. The porter is thick, creamy, and intense--black sunshine for rainy nights. The ESB is in the British style, with an accent on malt. This makes it far more suitable for most entrees than the IPA, which may tend to overwhelm. Blackstrap is aptly named; if you like molasses, you'll like the stout. I don't.

Final Judgment
Gambrinus
, which owns BridgePort, has made what is probably a shrewd short- and middle-term decision. When we were there on a Thursday night, it was packed with people, all of them paying more per person than the old pub ever got. It has a contemporary style that serves the neighborhood that (unexpectedly) grew up around it.

But it is not a classic, nor does it reflect anything intrinsic about the brewery or Portland. Styles will change and so, presumably, will the brewery. In ten or fifteen years, as aesthetics have changed, it will have the dog-earred, slightly embarrassing aspect trendy restaurants inevitably acquire. And then Gambrinus can update it. I hope, for the sake of the brewery and the city, that the company recognizes the beauty and history resident in the massive beams that still span the old warehouse and restore some of the old Portland funkiness.

That may seem a long wait, but hey--I recall the brewery of 1991, and it doesn't seem that long ago. The beams will still be there.
_________________
*Okay, second, but the Cartwright Brewery, founded a few years earlier, died after a short life of making (reportedly) bad beer. BridgePort is now the oldest Oregon brewery. Deep history here.
**I surmise/recall. A Google search fails to locate the actual cost.

Updated 6/26/06

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Overheard

Great rule of thumb right? Where ever you are, try the local brew.

I'm in St. Louis....


Is Budweiser really beer?


(Mike Rasmussen, via email)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Blind Tasting: Pale Ale

The first Beervana blind tasting happened outdoors under (unseasonably) sunny Oregon skies. Appropriately, we sampled that epitome of summer beers (at least here in Beervana), the pale ale.

Tasters
I'm toying with the title "Council of Beer Elders" for anyone who becomes a regular in the panel, but I don't want to encourage arrogance. We'll think on that one. In any case, the four tongues that swished ales were Iggi, a native Oregonian who counts Roots among his favorite breweries, Absent Mindful, a ringer and a pro who works for BridgePort (and another native), and Cap'n Cyber, the elder of the beer elders, who has surely drunk more pints than anyone on the panel. Rumors that he enjoys Hamms are slightly exaggerated. I rounded out the panel.

Beers
In alphabetical order: Caldera, Deschutes, Fish, Full Sail, Pike, Sierra Nevada, and, to mix it up, London's Whitbread. We happened to be drinking BridgePort Blue Heron, which is not a true pale, but Absent Mindful demanded its inclusion.

Initial Impressions
The major discovery in this tasting was that pales are uniformly good, but, ah, uniform: with small distinctions, five of the eight beers were very similar. Everyone was able to not only distinguish, but also identify the Blue Heron, Pike, and Whitbread. The other five were the toughies. Iggi and I both felt we knew Mirror Pond and FS Pale, but couldn't actually tell which was which (we were right and we both guessed wrong).

Individual tastes seemed to determine which beers got the big thumbs up. There were four tasters, and four different beers were identified as faves: Mirror Pond, Caldera, Sierra Nevada, and Whitbread. I asked which were second faves, and we had votes for Caldera, Mirror Pond, Full Sail, and Pike. And, just to show how close the beers were top to bottom, I asked for least favorites and got a Pike, Whitbread, and Sierra Nevada--all beers that were others' fave or second-fave.

Identification
Based on what I've already reported, it won't come as a surprise that tasters did a poor job of identifying the beers. Absent Mindful batted .500--the best in the group. Cap'n Cyber and I got three right, and Iggi--well, Iggi didn't strike out completely, and we'll leave it at that. (If Iggi and I had guessed right on the FS/Mirror Pond pair, we would have stood a little taller.) Bragging rights to both Absent and the beers we tasted--all of which were very nice.

Other Thoughts
It's worth mentioning that Caldera is available only in can. (All beers, incidentally, came from Belmont Station, so I know they were their freshest.) This caused some eyebrow-raising among tasters, but no one could distinguish the slightest tinniness from Caldera (which was my favorite).

Also, Caldera, Deschutes, Fish all employ solely Cascade hops. Full Sail and Sierra Nevada use Cascade, but others, as well. It was interesting to see the differences malt and yeast make in the production of beers--Caldera and Deschutes, for example, were noticeably different, yet made from substantially the same ingredients.

Next time, I may vary the flight somewhat and perhaps through in some beers that we should be able to identify as outliers (a macro, and import, or a beer we profess not to like, say). Just something to keep the Council honest.

Blind Tastings

This weekend, we conducted our first ever blind beer tasting--in what I hope becomes a rich tradition at Beervana. I generally followed the successful formula I used in the winter beer tasting I did for the Willamette Week last December, which was itself a modification of the now-legendary (but unavailable online) macropilsner taste-off. I may make minor revisions along the way, but here's how it works.

1. Rating.
A non-participant poured out the beers into numbered glasses, keyed to a sheet with the list of beers in the tasting. Participants then tasted each beer, gave it a rating, and identified his favorite (yes, all the tasters were men, but that, with luck, will change) and second-favorite. I also asked for least fave, but that potentially volatile element may or may not continue.

2. Identification.
This is more than a parlor trick. Depending on the flight of beers you're tasting, it is remarkable to see how similar they are, and how much factors unrelated to our senses are in determinining which beers we think are our favorites. It is also useful in exploding certain myths privately and publicly held. Explosions are painful, but we are fearless drinkers.

This weekend's tasting included a flight of pale ales, and I'll put up the results in a few hours.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Inactivity

Q: Good lord, man, do you realize how long it's been since you last made an entry?

A: Yes.

Q: This blog isn't going down the crapper is it?

A: Possibly, but not due to lack of content, which will pick up directly.

Q: You're just lame, then.

A: That's right.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Elysian's "The Wise ESB"

As I just two posts ago discussed Elysian, I'll jump right to the tasting.

Tasting notes
What's the difference between an IPA and an ESB? They're both biggish (IPAs are bigger) and both hoppy and both pale and both British. It's the malt. In an IPA, the malt is merely there to protect you from the lacerations of the hops' alpha acids--brewers may hope there's residual flavor for the discerning drinker, but that's gravy. Not so with ESBs--although they feature robust hopping, it's their malty depths by which they're defined.

The two best ESBs I've tasted are Fuller's and Elysian, and both are distinguished by their wonderfully complex malts. Elysian is a deep golden in the glass, and smells delightfully of caramelly malts and a touch of citrus. I don't recall exactly what Fuller's looks like, but my recollection of the palate is that it is much like Elysian's--a deep, rich maltiness (nutty sweet) offset (in a IPA reversal) by balancing bitterness. The hops in Elysian are pure Northwest, but they, like the English hops in Fuller's, are there to carry out the malt note.

It's one king hell of a beer.

Stats
Hops: Bittering, Chinook, finished with Cascade and Centennial hops
Malts: Pale, Munich, Crystal, Cara-hell and Belgian Special B malts
Alcohol By Volume: 5.9% by volume
Original Gravity: 4.5 Plato/1.058 OG
BUs: 39
Other: Won the gold for ESB at the 2003 & 2004 GABF.

Rating
A classic.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Widmer Broken Halo IPA

The Widmer Brewery has been in a bind since the late 80s, victims of inadvertent success. When Rob and Kurt founded the brewery, they imagined the flagship ale would be an alt like the one they fell in love with in Germany. Dry, bitter, and smooth--it would actually have been a great beer for current Oregon palates. Alas, they started brewing a wheat ale during a period of evolving palates and now their flagship--and anchor--is the bland Hefeweizen.

The Widmers have staked out a few interesting niches. Their Collaborator project, wherein homebrewers create obscure beers, has produced a milk stout, Snowplow, that is now part of their regular rotation. Mmmm, tasty. And they are famous for producing some of the most interesting beers for brewfests--beers locals can later try at the Gasthaus. But the commercial experiments tried and abandoned--Big Ben Porter, Sweet Betty Blonde, Hop Jack Pale (the list goes on)--litter beer bottle collections across the state.

Will Broken Halo break the string of bad luck? We'll see.

Tasting notes
The brothers always produce very bright, filtered beers, but Broken Halo looks too bright when it pours out. It's straw pale, clear as water. This is a hint to the central character of the beer, but we'll get to that in a moment. The aroma is nice--a clean, citrusy bouquet.The head is, like the picture in the photo, snowy white. My initial impressions were favorable, but there was something out of place.

Turns out that Broken Halo is not an IPA--which had been suggested by its delicate appearance. Judged against some of the broad shoulders of the NW IPA world, poor BH is wouldn't stack up well. But if the label said Pale Ale, you'd nod admiringly. The hopping is rich and resinous, not just bitter, but flavorful. The malting is subdued, coming through as a mildly sweet balance. A fine pale and a fine beer.

I think what we're seeing is the result of the misnamed BridgePort IPA--one of Oregon's most popular beers. Though it tastes big enough to be an IPA, it has the advantage of drinkability: people knock back a couple-three and they're not staggering around. All the flavor, but manageable alcohol. No other IPA has cracked BridgePort's domain because they tend to be actual IPAs--7% alcohol or more--which are just too big for people to drink regularly.

The downsizing of IPAs leads to compromises. The Widmers have made a tasty, balanced beer. Pour this in a glass and hand it to a hophead, and she'll be happy. Just leave out the India part.

Stats
Hops: Bittering, Alchemy, finishing Cascade and Columbus
Malts: Pale, Caramel (10 and 20l), and Munich (10l)
Alcohol By Volume: 6.0% by volume
Original Gravity: 14.25 degrees Plato
BUs: 45
Other reviews: Belmont Station Blog

Rating
As an IPA, Average. As a pale, Excellent.