Blogs will save us.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Lists

Jon at The Brew Site shot me an email last week to encourage me to join in his conversation about "Fifty beers to drink before you die." I have meant to get to it, but I've been a bit tardy. Truth is, the task is daunting. Jon breaks his into ten categories, which goes to show how restrictive a list is with even fifty beers. You could select regions of the world and be limited to a handful each, which seems a little harsh; or you could go through each style and select one for each--with subcategories (brown porter, robust porter), you'd run out of slots before you ran out of styles.

Meanwhile, I've been getting an increasing number of emails from out-of-towners headed West who want to know where they should go and what they should drink when they get here. It got me thinking that maybe I should do a "best of" series that is focused on the pubs, breweries, beers, and brewpubs in Beervana. So that's the plan.

(The implementation, of course, is another matter.)

Beer and Cigarettes

Not that this should become a public policy blog, but Gary Corbin has a rumination about whether Oregon ought to ban smoking in bars.
The ban on smoking in pubs is problematic in that it takes an admittedly evil – but LEGAL – product and behavior (smoking tobacco) and removes our right to choose to do it. And, to do it in a time and place long associated (even expected) with smoking: drinking. If we’re too chicken to ban it altogether, why ban it in the very place people want to do it most?

...The problem is that pesky second-hand smoke issue. Sure, non-smoking customers can go elsewhere, but not everyone can: employees, vendors, inspectors, et al.

Maybe the occasional visit of the vendor or inspector can be overlooked. One whiff won’t kill them. But not so the employees. Oh, sure, technically they can quit. But why should it be a choice between making a living – and dying?

Further, there’s an unequal power relationship between employers and employees. In short, employers have it, employees don’t. That’s especially true in the food service industry, which has never been (and probably never will be) unionized. Jobs are tenuous and competitive, pay is typically poor (except in swanky places), and stress is very high. I can attest to all of this with first-hand experience.
This is exactly where I always end up. I hate smoking bars. You can't breathe, the food and beer tastes worse, and when you get out of the building, you realize your clothes reek. But I always end up where Gary does--it would be fine if others wanted to, but what about the employees? I've never heard a solution to this problem, but he has a thought:
Why not a pub smoking tax? Establishments that allow smoking would pay a per-seat premium to the state for that privilege (funds to be used to pay for education and health programs related to smoking). Further I think smoking establishments should be required to provide full health insurance benefits to all employees, even part-timers, and maybe a wage premium, too.
I suspect most employees who work in smoking bars are smokers themselves--or don't mind. If we followed this solution, it might actually be a reasonable compromise. Anyone have thoughts?

Monday, January 29, 2007

BridgePort's Beertown Brown

Brown ales are having their moment. Last year, Deschutes released Buzzsaw Brown and this year BridgePort has introduced Beertown Brown. Even the New York Times is hip to the trend. Browns are a worthy and neglected style, one of the only traditional English ales that hasn't made a dent in American brewing. But why now?

In the Jan 22 New Yorker, Eric Konigsberg describes the trend in colors, and maybe there's a hint here. Colors, as you know, follow the mood of the age (you do know that, don't you?): flamboyant and pschedelic in the drug-washed 70s, metalic and gray in the techno-greedy 80s. The aughts, it appears, are gloomy:
"I see an influence from the military situation, and I think it's going to be with us for a while," [pigment specialist Catherin Wunch] said. "I kind of see colors for 2008 as being grayed." Wunch, who has short hair in a square a businesslike cut, passed around a handful of color chips, in gray blues, gray browns, and a grayish pink....

Jill Liebson, a designer for a fabric-printing company in Florida, seemed to agree. "I think we're going to go much deeper than before, because we aren't living in optimistic times," she said. "And in the home people want deep safety."
So, brown ales. Safe and comforting, a touch sweet but not overwhelmingly so--Ovaltine for the soul. This appears to be what BridgePort had in mind with Beertown Brown, which the brewery describes as "an easygoing, drinkable beer." It's not designed to challenge, but to soothe.

Tasting Notes
I love browns, if such a thing can be said about this modest style. They are comforting and, when they're well-brewed, can be a symphony of minor notes. It's not a style that will knock your socks off, but you can be quietly impressed.

Such, sadly, is not the case with Beertown. With mild styles, the line between good and insipid isn't wide, and I'm sad to say that it is on the wrong side. In every way, it fails to measure up: the color is faded, the head fizzy and weak; it is thin of body, and the malt notes are hollow; the hopping is far too mild to provide any interest. It's a watery beer without a distinguishing character. It is not an impressive beer.

But don't take my word for it. The Denver Post gave the beer a mini-review, and they were underwhelmed, as well:
"Beertown is a bit thinner on flavor than its British forebears, with a good malt aroma but not much behind. True to the style, there's just a hint of hops in the finish. It has 5.2 percent alcohol (by volume)."
(You know a beer is timid by Northwest standards when it is regarded as a lightweight in Colorado.)

There may be reason to hope for improvement, though. I got wind of a rumor that BridgePort
may be tinkering with the recipe. Let's hope so--with some more body and 50% more hops, Beertown could easily cross back over the line into subtle excellence. And, if I'm going to manage in the face of all this gloom, I'll need the extra body and hops in my comforting brown.

Stats
Malts: Unknown
Hops: Unknown
Alcohol by volume: 5.2%
Original Gravity: 13.2° Plato
Bitterness Units: 20

Rating
Average.

Friday, January 26, 2007

No Kids at the OBF

This is disturbing:
After 19 years of promoting the Oregon Brewers Festival as a community event, we regret that we will not be allowed to have minors under the age of 21 on the festival premises in 2007. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has stipulated no minors be on-site, citing OLCC Rule 845-006-0340 (7) (a) in which "eating predominates" and the premise must not have a "drinking enviroment". In order to view this rule, please go to here and click on "Laws and Rules". Click on OLCC Law Book. This will open up a PDF file for viewing.
One of the cool things about Oregon is that it has a grown-up view about alcohol. Kids aren't immediately corrupted by the sight of their parents sipping a nice kolsch, and the OLCC used to know it. In fact, when Oregon's microbreweries began to rise to prominence in the 1980s, drinking was actually taken out of the dark, windowless caves of the corner taverns into well-lit, homey brewpubs. Families started coming, and the focus turned from getting smashed to enjoying an artisinal product.

Kids, of course, will be lured less by a product they've watched their mother drink than by something elicit and forbidden. So the OLCC has made it forbidden again. Nice. Well, the OBF is suggesting we take action, so I'll pass it along to you:
If you disagree with the OLCC's decision, then please contact executive director Stephen Pharo and let him know: 503-872-5000,1800-452-6522,or steve.pharo@state.or.us
I think I'll send 'em a note.

Update. Tom Dalldorf, the publisher of Celebrator Beer News, sent this letter to Stephen Pharo. It's a nice statement:
Dear Mr. Pharo:

I am distressed to learn that the usually forward thinking people at the OLCC have regressed to the dark days of neo-prohibitionism in restricting kids (under age) from attending the nation's premier outdoor beer event -- the Oregon B
rewers Festival.

I have attended this event every year since 1990 and have marveled in print at how wonderfully it is organized and what a mellow non-party vibe it consistently exhibits (with the exception of that one draconian year the OLCC had the taps inside a 21 only tent). My job takes to me to beer festivals all over the world and the OBF is a stand out by any measure.

Please consider resending this ill-advised edict. Families with children are a moderating and uplifting addition to a large festival such as the OBF. Look at successful events around the country and most especially in Europe fo
r some guidance. Keep Oregon's great contribution to beer culture on track for the future.

Most sincerely,
--
Tom Dalldorf, publisher
Celebrator Beer News
Second Update. Janie Har wrote about this in today's Oregonian, and your humble blogger was quoted. Also a friend of mine:

Beer fans call the OLCC's action an unenlightened attempt to clamp down on an activity that makes the city -- and state -- unique.

"It's a pretty common thing for people to see their parents drinking beer in this town, and it's not a shocking or despicable act," says Jeff Alworth, a Portland beer blogger who publicized the crackdown in a posting on blueoregon.com.

Joe Bertagnolli, a 41-year-old therapist who brews at home, says he's taken his 13-year-old son to the event at least twice. His boy, Jordan, has never tried to get into his dad's beer, Bertagnolli says.

"It's just a festival where people get together and sip beer," he says. "It takes a lot of the mysticism and illicit allure out of it for kids."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On Brown Ales

The New York Times, bless their hearts, have done another beer tasting. This time brown ales:
Perhaps it’s left to us, the Dining section’s tasting panel, to rescue brown ales from marketing torpidity and reveal the vitality within, for these beers are anything but dull. Yes, they are quiet, subtle and even self-effacing. More important, they are delicious, and they especially shine with food....

As with great character actors who are so easy to take for granted, you have to pay close attention to brown ales to appreciate their virtue. They have roles to play — quenching thirst, facilitating conversation, sharpening the appetite — and they do it well. If by chance you notice the fine, almost sweet maltiness of the aroma, and the brisk, dry, mineral quality of the flavors, even better. More likely, it’s the absence of these qualities in a poor example that stands out, conveying the sense of something missing.
Eric Asimov, the Times' beer guy, knows how to write. If only he knew beer. I don't mind so much that of the 18 beers he assembled, only one is from the West Coast, or that it finished a tepid tenth in the taste-off. I don't even mind that he included, strangely, altbiers in the tasting. What I really mind is the overall failure to offer any kind of context for these decisions or the ultimate preferences. As a reader, how is anyone supposed to evaluate the difference between Avery's Ellie's Brown ("Brisk, with rich malt aromas. Fruit, mineral and bitter hop flavors") and Sam Smith's Nut Brown ("Strong malty aroma, with dry, brisk flavors that linger"). Both are brisk and richly/strongly malty.

I might not have bothered mentioning all of this, but I have a bottle of the Beertown Brown, BridgePort's latest, in the fridge awaiting review. I'll try to do better in my review than "brisk."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Deschutes Pub to Open in the Pearl

Very big news:
Deschutes [Brewery] has been looking for suitable digs in Portland for several months and recently found space occupied by an auto body shop at Northwest 11th Avenue and Davis Street, near the renovated armory. The planned pub will have a brewery and will pour many of the special and one-off beers on tap at the Bend brewpub, which generally offers 18 Deschutes beers on tap including a couple of cask-conditioned offerings. And there will be the X-tap - which has occasionally been connected to a keg of Lemongrass Mirror Pond or the like.

The pub is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007 and will be the first Deschutes operation not located in Bend.

A few comments. That location, though it's in the heart of the Pearl, is actually also the heart of Oregon brewing. It is two blocks from where the Henry Weinhard brewery sat for 130 years, two blocks from the original Portland Brewing (now Rogue), a few blocks from BridgePort, and a few more from the original Widmer. Given founder Gary Fish's knowledge about Oregon beer, I wouldn't be surprised if he chose it for the history as much as the trendiness.

The good news for locals (local Stumptowners) is that we'll be able to get a lot of the tap-only beers like Bachelor Bitter, which have always been the reserve of locals in Bend. I predict this will become one of the most popular pubs in Portland and join the must-visit ranks for visitors.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Full Sail Limited Edition Lager (LTD Series)

With Limited Edition Lager, Full Sail extends its foray into lagers and overwrought x-games language. It is the first of their "Livin' the Dream" series (aka LTD), and the packaging--not so much the bottle, but the sixer box--drips with, like, gnarly rippin' verbiage, dude. It is the least palatable aspect of the brewery's new direction, but I've always been happy to ignore what the marketing department's doing and go straight for the beer. So let's do that.

Tasting Notes
It is an impressive-looking beer. A striking russet, and clear as a winter night. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't russet. It has a characteristically lager-y aroma, like a marzen, sweet with a touch of aromatic noble hopping.

There are two pronounced flavors in this beer, candy and spice. The initial impression is of sugar--it's perhaps the sweetest beer I've ever tasted. Candy sweet, though, not thick and malty like a barley wine. It is fairly effervescent, and I also get a cola note, which makes the whole affair taste, at first blush, like a Pepsi. But then the hopping comes in, and pretty robustly. It's peppery-spicy, and it doesn't balance the cola so much as draw your attention away from it. The finish remains sweet, but the hops do stay with you.

At first I thought it was going to be a fairly standard lager, something like a big marzen (it goes 6.4%). But this is entirely novel. I tend not to appreciate lagers as much as my wife Sally, so I studied her reaction and took a few quick notes. Said she: "I really like it. It's eeeeasy drinkin'; sweet and tasty. Hey, it even says easy-drinking on the label."

I'm not going to knock myself out looking for this beer, but I think it may appeal to some of the same people Session appeals to, but draw them further into the quicksand of good beer--from which, I hope, they will never escape. If it does that, well, that'd be rippin' gnarly, dude.

Stats
Malts: Caramel, chocolate, wheat
Hops: Czech Saaz, Hallertauer
Alcohol by volume: 6.4%
Original Gravity: 16 degrees Plato
Bitterness Units: 26
Other: A "secret sauce" (brewery's words)
Available: Everywhere, until the Spring when LTD 02 will be released.

Rating
Good.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Full Sail's New Direction

With the arrival of 2007, Full Sail celebrates its 20th anniversary. Among extant, non-amalgamated breweries, its ride has been among the wildest. With age, apparently, does not come stasis. A few weeks ago, Full Sail released Limited Edition Lager, its second in as many years, making it the only Oregon brewery to seriously brew lagers. But before we talk about that, how about a trip down memory lane?
  • 1987 - Brewery founded in Hood River. In their first year, they brewed just 2,000 barrels of Golden Ale in what was a glorified home-brewery (they hand-capped and hand-labeled each bottle).
  • 1988 - Full Sail releases Amber Ale, which quickly becomes a much-imitated standard, eventually evolving into a recognized style (American Amber Ale).
  • 1988-1994 - Full Sail grows at an average rate of 40% per year and is brewing 80,000 barrels by the mid-90s, making it Oregon's largest brewery.
  • 1994-95 - To accommodate expected growth, Full Sail builds a 250,000-barrel brewery (a quarter the size of the old Henry's brewery on Burnside).
  • 1995-98 - Industry-wide collapse strands the brewery with a vast facility and shrinking production.
  • 1998 - Four of the original owners decide to sell their stock, and an Indian beer magnate tries to drive the company into near-bankruptcy so he can buy the brewery on the cheap.
  • 1999 - The brewery manages to weather the storm and the employees pick up the stock, making Full Sail the first employee-owned brewery in the US.
  • 2003 - Full Sail announces it will pick up some of the production of the Henry Weinhard's brand, bringing it back to Oregon.
  • 2005 - The brewery re-brands itself and releases "Session" to tap into the hipster Pabst market. It's a big success.
When it released Session in 2005, the brewery took an interesting risk. They decided to try to create a retro beer that recalled the Northwest's historic regional breweries and was not a challenge to the palate. An industrial lager that was a lot tastier and more expensive than Pabst, but which was cheaper than micro and in the family of Henry's. I recall reading a Foyston article in the Oregonian that quoted Jamie Emmerson, the founding brewer, saying he wanted a beer his neighbor could drink. They were going for a drinker that had been missed by micros--the guy who wanted to like good beer, but really didn't.

So now they have released Limited Edition Lager, part of their LTD series. It's also a lager (I've got a review in the hopper), and further explores the lager market. It is, however, very much unlike Session. Saxer has trod this ground before, discovering that Oregonians don't really like lagers, no matter how good they are (and Saxer's were really good). But that was ten years ago, so now maybe Oregonians have expanded their horizons. It's another interesting gamble, but one worth watching.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Review - Amnesia Brewing

832 N Beech Street
Portland, Oregon

Monday 4-11 pm
Tuesday-Sunday noon-Midnight

Pints: $2.75

Pitchers: $10.00
Seasonal outdoor seating; dogs allowed.

Beers: Pale ale, porter, IPA, ESB, seasonals and specials.


Brewpubs come in a few major styles, and among these, a Portland standard is the converted warehouse. While it has its aesthetic virtues, generally the warehouse brewpub is the result of a thin pocketbook: breweries need space and warehouses provide it. Cheaply. Amnesia, like so many brewpubs, was an early resident in a marginal neighborhood. But it also fits the vibe of the no-longer-marginal Mississippi neighborhood: straightforward, hardworking, and a little funky.

The building is made of corrugated metal, and except that the parking lot in front has been converted to outdoor seating--picnic tables under white tents--you might mistake it for a metal shop. In fact, once you're inside, you see an old sign on its side up near the rafters that reads "Ornamental Iron" and you might still think it's a metal shop. The building is a one-room job, but the brewery is set off from the seating area by the bar. The rafters are open and disappear into insulation at the roofline. Tables are oak, and the chairs may even have been picked up at auction from the old, original BridgePort--anyway they're exactly the same variety. All in all, a Lucky Lab-ish vibe.

Food
The menu is simple: meat. The kitchen consists of an outdoor grill, and the brewery will throw a burger or four varieties of sausage on for you. They also have a mixed appertiser plate that includes cheese and bread. Since I'm still irrationally afraid of mad cow disease, I skip the burgers and go for the sausage and, as a connoisseur, I give them the hearty thumbs up. My fave are the slightly spicy Hungarian sausages.

Beer
Brewer Kevin King seems to groove to the pale tune--he's currently got two IPAs and an ESB on tap, and he usually has a pale as well. They are Northwest in character, with lots of citrus and bite, but fairly approachable. During the holidays, he had on two winter ales, a big and bigger, that de-emphasize hops for malt and warmth. They are, like the brewery, straightforward and hardworking. Most Oregonians will recognize these beers as variations on very popular themes. As a group, they're above average--not at the Roots/Laurelwood level, but substantially above the McMenamins. Below are some capsule reviews I scribbled out the last time I was there.
ESB - Very nice, balanced ale. Has a good, malty structure and a spicy hop complement. Almost tending toward brown in the glass. A classic English-style ESB. Rating: Excellent.

Porter - The palate is chalky and I get more tannins in the mouth than I would like. The brewery's weakest beer, but, if you like dark ales, perfectly respectable. Rating: average.

Copacetic IPA - Rich, super creamy, sweetly malty with a spritely citrusy hopping. Their strongest beer. Rating: excellent.

Frosty's Revenge (winter seasonal) - A rich, malty beer, akin to a Scottish ale. It's frothy and creamy, and has a touch of diacetyl that's actually a nice note. Rating: good.

Sleighjerker (winter seasonal) - A traditional winter warmer with lots of hops and alcohol (8%). It did end with a sweet note that not everyone at the table found uniformly delightful. I thought it was fine. Rating: good.
Amnesia is one of those great brewpubs that reflects the character of the neighborhood and feels like a happy gathering place for locals. Of course, it's worth a drive, too.
_________________
PHOTO CREDIT: Vicki Jean

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Would Have Been Cooler if He'd Called it "Beervana," But ....

Portland Mayor Tom Potter has declared the city "Beertown," mainly as a tie-in for BridgePort's forthcoming Beertown Brown. (Nice PR work.)

Friday afternoon, Mayor Tom Potter will officially declare Portland "Beertown," where he will serve as honorary mayor....

Portland is known all over the world as "Beervana," largely due to the 28 breweries operating within city limits, more than any other city in the world. This title does not include the eight breweries that operate in the surrounding metro area.

There are three more breweries scheduled to open in 2007, making Portland the largest craft brewing market in the country.

Perhaps he did not declare this city "Beervana" in deference to the state, which has some claim to the name. In any case, good to see the city leaders embrace our heritage.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Best Oregon Beer of 2006: Ninkasi Believer

Long ago, in a world far, far away, a young man from Hope was our President, and breweries made seventy-five beers plus seasonals. 'Twas the wild west in brewing, and if you didn't have a hemp beer, three wheats and a blackberry ale, you weren't really trying. I remember going to the grocery story and every week there were three or four new beers. Sadly, this was moments before the bottom fell out of brewing, companies realized they could lose money, and everyone started to focus on core brands.

We haven't returned to those days, but for the first time, things are looking a little more creative in the beer world. Deschutes went nuts and released about 30 new beers--apparently a strategy more than a quirk of timing. Widmer, BridgePort, and Full Sail all got in the game, too. And even wee Hair of the Dog, which has never been profligate with new releases, had a banner year with Blue Dot and the now-legendary Jim (aka Jim K). New brewpubs started opening up again, and I have been remiss in visiting many of them. Still, a fine trend. All in all, I'd call it the best year in beer since the mid-90s.

To celebrate this new trend, and since this blog is almost a year old, it makes sense to begin a tradition of naming the year's best beer.* Owing to the fact that this blog is Beervana, I'll constrain my focus to those brewed in Oregon (not to mention that trying to sample the vast array of new releases at the national level would pickle my liver). I'll also limit myself to beers released this year, or in the cases of small, far-flung brewpubs, those that made their Portland debut.

The Contenders
None of the new beers I tried were a misfire--maybe one reason why it seemed like such a good year. But among the notables, five stood out:
Deschutes Inversion IPA and Buzzsaw Brown
Full Sail Vesuvius
Hair of the Dog Blue Dot
Ninkasi Believer
Let's work backwards toward the winner, which, since I put it in the title, is not much of a secret. I had a half glass of Hair of the Dog Blue Dot and then it was gone. I don't know if the brewery intended it to be a limited edition, or if it's a seasonal, but if you didn't act quick, you missed Blue Dot. (Since it was named for the earth, maybe this was intentional; a commentary on global warming?) It was a massive, cloudy ale with an herbal quality that, like so many of HotD's beers, defied category. It was part NW IPA, part Belgian golden, and another part that was totally unique. I would love to have tracked down another bottle, and if you want to give this old blogger a wee, late Christmas bonus, you could do worse than digging up a bottle from your cellar hoard.

Full Sail's Vesuvius was also notable for its variance from the NW norm. A Belgian golden, it had the hallmarks of that style--rich yet approachable, and dangerously misleading on the tongue. You could throw down two pints like water, but you'd pay for having missed that it was 8.5%. I wrote about it: "Vesuvius [is] extremely approachable, quaffable, and tasty, concealing its substantial alcohol. [N]ice fruitiness, a very slight Belgian tart, and a long, dry finish. Very tasty and very dangerous."

Deschutes had a banner year and deserves a special award for consistent excellence. You could take the beers they released this year, found a brewery with those beers alone (never mind Mirror Pond, Black Butte, et. al.), and you'd have one of the best in Oregon. The first of the two honored beers, Inversion IPA, may one day challenge BridgePort as Beervana's king--a possibility I wouldn't have considered 12 months ago. Of it I wrote "Hops are the main note (again, as expected), a festival of citrus that contain notes of apricot and spice. The malt offers a nice biscuity complement and the alcohol seems to atomize the aromas in the mouth."

Deschutes' other honoree, Buzzsaw Brown, was my second-favorite beer of the year. Brown ales are deceptively simple affairs until you start sampling them or trying to brew them. Then you realize that hitting the sweet spot on creaminess, malt sweetness, and balancing hops is exceedingly difficult. It's a mild style, so imperfections are magnified. I have waited for literally fifteen years to see a good brown ale come out in the bottle, so Buzzsaw was a long-delayed dream. I wrote these understated comments in my review: "It's essentially a session ale, so it's not bursting with intensity. Yet it's that kind of beer that immediately has a comfortable, recognizeable quality, like you've been tippling pints for decades." A really nice beer.

The Winner
Before I introduce the winner, let me tell you about the first time I ever tried BridgePort IPA. I was joining an out-of-state friend for a movie at Cinema 21. We were trying to kill some time, so we stopped in at the Gypsy across the street, where I had BridgePort's newest beer. The second I tasted it, I knew the brewery had done something special. This was amid that period of shakeout, when B-Port was casting around to find a replacement for Blue Heron as a flagship. A lot of really fine beers had failed to find a market, but this one was so good, I knew instantly that it was destined for greatness.

I have had that experience very rarely. At the Holiday Ale Fest, even before I tasted Ninkasi Believer, I suspected I had found another. The aroma was so exceptional that I didn't even try a sip before I handed my mug around for people to smell. To a person, they all had the same surprised look, and they all went back for a follow-up sniff. The flavor was no disappointment--like BridgePort's IPA, it was sunny and delightful, equally appealling to a beer geek or a novice. I have no idea whether Ninkasi will continue to brew this beer, but I hope they do. It could become an Oregon standard.

So congrats to one of Oregon's youngest breweries and one if its most engaging and accomplished brewers, Jamie Floyd--that was a helluva beer.
___________________
*Usual caveats: I didn't try every beer released in 2006. I visited not a single non-Portland brewpub in 2006. Beer preference is wholly subjective. Mood, circumstance, and conditions play a more than insignificant role in one's experience of a beer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Your Best Beer of 2006

I am at this moment preparing a Best Beer of 2007 post. I am poring through old posts and notes and trying to recall all the beers I tried this year. For the first time in a long time, we saw breweries really experimenting, and so there's a lot of material. It occurred to me that you might have some good thoughts. So, what was the best beer you tried in 2006? (My criteria are that it had to be new in '06--or, if it's from an obscure brewpub, new to me--and it had to be brewed in Oregon. You need not adhere to these strictures.)

Here are a few of the newbies to prime your keg:
BridgePort Supris
Deschutes: Buzzsaw Brown, Anniversary Pils, Inversion IPA, The Abyss, Hop Trip
Widmer: '06 Hoppy Ale, Broken Halo IPA, Hooligan
Full Sail: Vesuvius, Black Gold Imperial Stout
Hair of the Dog: Blue Dot, Jim K (aka Jim)
Ninkasi Believer
Pelican Full House
Klamath Basin Brewing Cabin Fever Stout
Thoughts?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Huzzah!

The new Belmont Station opened yesterday, and it looks good:


Pert near just straight north a few blocks: 4500 SE Stark. The cafe's still a couple weeks out, but it looks like the beer is stocked and ready to go. Finally! Yay!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Winter Beer Tasting

When I started this blog, I imagined many things. Looking into the future, I foresaw a site bristling with reviews of every beer and brewpub in Oregon; I promised myself glorious prose; I envisioned hosting regular tastings. In my reveries about that latter point, I saw the emergence of a professoriate of the palate, a council so wise and powerful it dictated the preferences of an entire state.

It is with this prologue that I announce the second Beervana tasting, which I conducted on New Year's Eve. A yin to this summer's pale ale tasting yang, we sampled seven dark winter ales. That time, if you recall, the difficulty was that the beers all tasted too much alike to identify. But winter beers are a whole different mug of grog, right? Whoo boy, is that ever not true. They are different enough to distinguish subtle differences, but as far as lining them up to the memories of the same beers in our minds--no chance. So it appears that our wise council is a bust.

Nevertheless, some interesting findings did emerge.

Tasters and Method
As before, we had a person who was not participating pour out the bottles into glasses marked 1-7. From these we all slurped and sipped, medievally, insensitive to germs. We took notes, tried to assign a name to each number, selected a favorite, and then subjected ourselves to the horror of learning how wrong we were. The panel (call us The Chastened) consisted of five seasoned palates with a combined expertise of several decades of beer swilling.

Tasting Notes
Although we all sucked at identification, it was interesting to see how similarly we all described the individual entries. Clearly, we were tasting the same beers and were well-enough equipped to agree on what they tasted like.

Beer 1 (Fish Brewing Winterfish)
Grapefruit hops, fruity. Light-colored, some alcohol.

Beer 2 (Full Sail Wassail)
Floral, smooth. Rich brown. Roasty. Piney hops.

Beer 3 (Golden Valley Tannen Bomb)
Unfortunately, this was a bad bottle. It was sour and fetid-smelling and easily garnered everyone's vote for "worst." Having had a couple bottles already, I know it's not a characteristic of the beer itself. Dunno what happened. It did, however, yield the most amusing quote: "That's the weirdest, grossest beer ever--I can't stop drinking it."

Beer 4 (Deschutes Jubelale)
Creamy, great head. Apples? Deep red. Lots of caramel.

Beer 5 (Dick's Double Diamond)
Sharply bitter. Aromatic. Creamy. Noticeable alcohol flavor.

Beer 6 (Pyramid Snow Cap)
Deep copper. Aggressive. Plummy and sweetish.

Beer 7 (Ebenezer)
Coppery-red. Creamy and gentle. Mild.

Assessments
Except for the Tannen Bomb, we found these all to be pretty fine beers. However, when people were pressed to name their favorites, three came out the winners. With two votes each, Dick's Double Diamond and Deschutes Jubel took highest honors. None of us had ever had Dick's, so factor that in. (Points for novelty? Who knows?) Pyramid Snow Cap picked up the final vote--and by a person who thought it was Snow Cap and who thought he liked Snow Cap the best.

Join us next time for our "Beers that are very different from one another" tasting, wherein we attempt to recapture our identification mojo....

Redhook and Widmer "Consolidating"?

Breaking news, and it's interesting:
Northwest brewers Redhook, Widmer to discuss consolidation
Merger talks to begin in next few days

BLOOMBERG NEWS

Redhook Ale Brewery Inc. and Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., both partly owned by Anheuser-Busch Cos., are considering a possible merger that would give the companies better access to new drinkers.

The two brewers will begin merger talks within the next few days, Redhook Chief Executive Paul Shipman said. St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch disclosed the plans between the two companies Wednesday in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Redhook and Widmer have had a relationship for 20 years and already share some marketing and distribution. A combination would allow the brewers to cut costs and fully consolidate their operations, and give Portland-based Widmer more access to Redhook's brewery in Portsmouth, N.H.

"There's going to be discussions between Redhook and Widmer on a number of things, including a possible merger," Shipman said. "We haven't actually started the conversation yet."

Redhook, based in Woodinville, operates two breweries, and Widmer has one. Redhook had sales of $31 million in 2005, down 7 percent from the prior year.

Redhook produced about 225,000 barrels of beer last year, and Widmer made about 250,000 barrels, said Widmer spokesman Tim McFall. A barrel equals 31 gallons of beer.

Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer, owns 33.6 percent of Redhook and a 39.5 percent stake in Widmer. The company said it expects Redhook would be the surviving company should a merger take place.

Sounds like it might not have much effect on either brewery. I hadn't realized that Widmer had eclipsed Redhook in barrelage. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Best Winter Ales Revealed

Okay, I'm pulling your chain. I meant to get a post up about a winter ale tasting we did over the weekend, but it looks like that won't be up until tomorrow. However, of the seven beers we tried, two received two votes each as the best of the bunch, and another got the final vote of our judges. Care to guess which ones?
Deschutes Jubelale
Full Sail Wassail
Dick's Double Diamond
Fish Winterfish
BridgePort Ebenezer
Golden Valley Tannen Bomb
Pyramid Snow Cap
Iggi is not allowed to guess, as he was a member of the exalted tasting team.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Site Update (and more!)

You may have noticed that a new line has been appearing at the end of each of my posts that reads something like: "Labels: Elsewhere, Meta" (to take this post as an example).

This is a fairly cool new feature that Blogger has added that allows you to assign labels to your posts. If you click on one of those links, Blogger generates a page with all the posts similarly labeled. It may allow you to cruise around the site more easily, particularly if you're trying to compare beers from a brewery or find out what I've said about a particular brewpub. I have had to manually assign these to the 137 previous posts on this site, but I think it's mostly up to date. Enjoy.

In an unrelated development, I got an email yesterday from an OU student who wonders:
I am trying to answer the question "Why is Portland beervana?" It seems to be generally accepted that Portland has more breweries than any other city--I've read this in several places. Now I want to know why? Some of my ideas are the availability of hops and barley in the Northwest, low beer taxes, distance from larger national brewers, and perhaps something of an independent spirit in the area.
He gets credit for being the first student I know of who is actually using a blog to do a college paper. He loses points for grammar. Anyway, he asked me to link to his blog and encourage my readers to go do his work for him. I begrudge him not--his history prof will have to determine if "Drucken Beer Troll" qualifies as a legitimate cite.

So go and help the kid out if you wish.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Abyss - Deschutes

When I saw John Foyston's article about Deschute's new "brewmaster's reserve" beer, I instantly went out and bought it. Deschutes almost never brews bad beer, and this one hit my stylistic sweet spot:
The Abyss is the second of the Deschutes Brewery's Reserve Series launched last year with oak-aged Mirror Mirror, which was based on a double Mirror Pond Ale. The Abyss is an imperial stout -- 11 percent alcohol -- aged in French oak and bourbon casks.
Well, I cracked a bottle last night, and I am sorry to report that it's a little green. "Little" as in Kansas has a little corn.

It may be that in a year the flavors will ultimately coalesce, but for now, it's an overly strong, harsh beer. Unlike the Storm King I reviewed last week, The Abyss is unpleasantly bitter and aggressive. Dark malts are alternately burnt and tannic, overwhelming the creamy body and subtler notes of bourbon and oak. Imagine unsweetened chocolate.

I will stow my bottles in the basement and let them age at least five years. It's not a sure bet, but my guess is that these flavors will change and produce an exceptional beer. If you are/were lucky enough to score a bottle, cellar it and check back in 2011.

Statistics
All the brewery tells us is the alcohol percentage and the method of aging. Everything else is up to your palate.

Available: Bottles: Belmont Station, Liquid Solutions, selected New Seasons. On tap: Concordia Ale House, Horse Brass, Oaks Bottom, the Mash Tun.

Rating
Average