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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Preview - Holiday Ale Festival

Holiday Ale Festival, Nov 30 - Dec 3
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Thursday - Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 6 p.m.
Free admission. Souvenir mugs cost $4, a taster is $1, $4 for a full serving.

The Holiday Ale Fest combines the best and worst of the annual fests. Best beer, worst weather. Okay, both are subjective, but I loves me the dark, rich winter ales, and just have to rise above the grim barrier of gray drizzle to actually get to the beer. (The truth is, once you actually get from your car to the site, it's not bad--they've got heaters inside tents, keeping everything at a reasonable, dry temperature.

But the beers are the real reason to go. Unlike other fests, where you're as likely to see a brewery's flagship as something new, the Holiday Ale Fest generally has a bounty of rare beers. That's true this year, with specialty beers, international ales, and a fair sampling of one-time brews from brewpubs near and far.

As a result, I have only tried fourteen of the 30 odd offerings, so there's going to be a fair amount of intuition here.

Old Standbys
A few breweries have sent their usual winter offerings, which, while good and tasty, are available everywhere. You might like one as a palate cleanser, but leave them to the out-of-towners. There are too many other interesting beers you may never see again.

(Full Sail Wassail, Deschutes Jubel, BridgePort Ebenezer, Golden Valley Tannen Bomb, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Winterhook, Rogue Santa's Little Helper, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Pyramid Snow Cap)

Familiar Breweries, New Beers
This is a relatively small group this year. As is their wont, Widmer is sending something unusual, a beer called Regifted Red described as a "NW Red." Large and hoppy isn't a dangerous guess. Hair of the Dog's Alan Sprints brewed up a beer in honor of beer pioneer Jim Kennedy called, not mystifyingly, Jim K. (Not an allusion to Kafka, methinks, but in the four-letter tradition of their named beers--Fred, Rose, Ruth, Greg, Adam, etc.) A version brewed for the Horse Brass celebration of Kennedy was described as a mixture of "Maredsous 8, a Belgian dubbel, with a blend of his own beers."

The McMenamins
are sending a tripel, which I'll probably avoid--their experiments in lagers and Belgians have historically fallen short. Walking Man's Homo Erectus gets two more ho's and even more hops and alcohol to become "double imperial IPA aged in Jamaican rum barrels." (Motto: "if you're having less than one, Ho Ho Homo Erectus is the less-than-one to have.") And finally, celebrating their five GABF medals (two silver, three gold--a "full house"), Pelican sends an imperial version of their Doryman's Dark called Full House.

Distant Breweries
What do I know about these? They weren't brewed in Oregon. Wisdom of the elder fest-goer: camp out at the line, wait for someone to get a taster, then ask if they're any good. This crowd includes Eel River Triple Exultation (Fortuna, CA), Mad River Steelhead Double IPA (Mad River, CA--the Steelhead line of beers, not to be confused with Eugene's Steelhead Brewpub). Finally, the much-maligned New Belgium is sending 2 Below Winter Ale. (Don't blame me if you try it and don't like it.)

Among the great number of brewpubs sending beers are these that intrigue me: Klamath Basin Cabin Fever Stout (because I love stouts and haven't tried a beer from this brewery before), Ninkasi Brewing's Believer (because brewer Jamie Floyd long ago made a believer out of me), and Off the Rails Blizzard of Ozz (because I never even heard of this Forest Grove brewery).

Exotic Beers

From way beyond Beervana come several international beers, among which three look pretty beguiling. First, Cuvée de Noël, from St. Feuillien, a historic brewery in Le Roeulx, Belgium. Made with herbs and spices, matured "long," and at 9% alcohol, I'd say this beer is worth a buck. Also from Belgium, Dubuisson's classic Scaldis. It is rightly one of the more famous beers in the world for its richness and complexity. I've had it a few times, and wouldn't miss sampling it on tap.

Finally, the even more legendary Samiclaus ("Santa Claus"), which was, while in production from 1836 through nearly its demise in 2000, the world's strongest beer (at 14%). It was Switzerland's main claim to brewing fame, and was reknowned for its intensity. In 1997, the Hurlimann Brewery was closed, but Austria's Eggenberg Brewery bought the rights to the name, recipe, and even the original yeasts, and began production in 2000. It has now picked up an H--Samichlaus--but is still reportedly worth a try. I had the original, and now I'll try the clone.

If you happen to go early and have something to report back, by all means do. I'll report my findings next week.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Various Cool Things ...

... about which you should be apprised.

1. Gary Corbin, a long-time Portland beer guy (writer, homebrewer, drinker), has begun his own blog. Wine creeps into some posts, but don't hold it against him.

2. The Holiday Ale Fest is coming: Thursday through Sunday at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Twenty-nine beers, 39 hours. (Preview to come.)

3. A guy sent me links to three videos that feature a tour of Belgian breweries. They're part of a series called "Thirsty Traveler," they're professional (as opposed to, ahem, some online beer vids), high res, and pretty fast loading. And they're cool. First, Second, and Third in the series. (First two are the best.) Seriously, if you love Belgian beer, these are worth a look.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Chinese Beer

The last three weeks have been relatively unbeery as I made my way from India to Hong Kong ... but not completely so.

Never mind India Pale Ales, the subcontinent is a dead zone for beers. Once Mountbatten left, so did all the good beer (actually, I have no idea how long the Brits continued to line their hulls with ale). With names like He-Man 9000 and Knock Out, you devine quickly what the Indians are after. (There's an export market for beers made but not available there, but that's a different post.) In any case, I skipped the He-Man.

On to Hong Kong, famously urban and urbane city where the night life hums with action. No doubt a haven for at least one local brewer, right? No. There are exactly zero breweries on the island--except possibly for a brewpub, mentioned only obliquely (and without an address) in my guide book. You'd think that a former British colony would have beer, but in this case, you'd be wrong. Locals drink San Miguel, the poor Filippino beer, or hard liquor. Since San Miguel is available here, I skipped it, but did decide to pop into a grocery store to see if anything interesting was available there.

Turns out China has a number of breweries, and a few products are shipped to the Island. If you've been to Asia or tried Tsingtao (pr. "Ching Dow," at least on local commercials), you're probably familiar with the pale, very light lagers generally available. That's the case with the two Chinese beers I tried, one from Dali (大理啤酒) and another from Shenzhen Kingway (金威啤酒).

Kingway had a boring label, but beguiling copy: "With the best malt and Germany technology." Reading a little further, I found that rice was one of the ingredients--just like they make it in old Berlin. The beer was incredibly pale and light bodied. It was the closest I've ever had to tasting flavorless beer (Bud might take note). It was crisp, though, and had no cheap, offensive flavors. It may well have had no alcohol, either.

I bought the Dali Beer because the label was wholly in Chinese (I'll try to get a pic--I dragged the bottle home because it was so cool). The brewery is named after the city in Yunnan Province where it's brewed, and they apparently produce a number of different beers. The one I got was called "Wind, Flower, Snow, and Moon," which is apparently also a nickname for the city. The beer reminded me a lot of Singha, with that characteristic yeast note it has. Call it metallic, but in a good way. (Singha is one of my favorite pale lagers.) It was slightly soft and floral, and a rather nice beer. It was also surprisingly cheap--just a buck for a large bottle (seven dollars Hong Kong). The prettiest and the cheapest, and a good beer to boot. Cool.

Two other beer-related discoveries. There was a Turkish restaurant in the little town we stayed in (Mui Wo on Lantau Island) that had Efes Pilsener. Another very nice pale lager, and apparently the Budweiser of Turkey. It has a slightly sweet, noticeably hoppy palate--more character than I'd expect from an industrial beer, and better than anything you can get in a can in the US.

Finally, the little corner market also stocked the original Budweiser from Budvar, and so I picked up a bottle for the collection. And no US warning label!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Best Beer Towns

I'm back from my Asian jaunt, tired and off-cycle (Hong Kong, my last stop, is 16 hours in front of Portland), but I couldn't help passing along this tidbit discovered in my pile of email: MSNBC's absurd best-ten beer cities list:
1. Amsterdam
2. Berlin
3. Brugge
4. Burlington, VT
5. Dublin
6. Mexico City
7. Montreal
8. Portland
9. Prague
10. Sapporo
There's very little to be added to any list that has Mexico City and Burlington Vermont ahead of Portland. This isn't just home-town bias, this is reality speaking. The logic seems to be totally variable--in one case, the presence of a famous brewery and a lot of beer drinking make a city eligible (Mexico City), whereas in others, it's the richness of local culture--Burgge. But if that's the case, then surely Milwaukee deserves to be on the list. And Burlington, a city I've visited a couple times in as many years, isn't even the best New England city; the other Portland is. But some things are so absurd, they're useful as talking points, so here you go00

(As to my travels, there's a bit of beer news to include. More later.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Headin' to India

I'm off to India, returning Thanksgiving Day. I'll be at a Buddhist monastery in the Indian Himalayas, far from anything resembling beer or an internet connection, so this site will go quiet for a bit. I've got a cool documentary that the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery used to show before brewery tours. Now the brewery is gone, but these remain. Enjoy--I'll see you after Thanksgiving.

Part One

Part Two