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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Two Doggone Good Events to Note

Two things to put on your calendar.

First, this weekend, the Lucky Lab is hosting its 8th annual Barleywine tasting. Thirty beers from 24 mostly regional, breweries (which means--yes, vertical tastings!). Relevant facts:
Barleywine Tasting
Noon-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, $1.50 per 4-ounce taster.
Lucky Lab - 915 S.E. Hawthorne
Also, Hair of the Dog brewmaster Alan Sprints is hosting a beer dinner at Jake's on March 11th. Sprints is planning a four-course meal to go along with five beers. You have to call ahead and reserve a place, and they run your credit card when you call, so have it handy. Relevant facts:
Brewmaster Dinner, Sunday, March 11, 6:30 pm
$39.95, includes gratuity
Jake's Famous - 401 SW 12th Ave
(503) 226-1419

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Riddle of Dick's

I don't ever recalling having back-to-back beers as divergent as my first two Dick's. My introduction came in our winter ale tasting, when two tasters (me included) identified Dick's as the tastiest. Then came one of the least impressive IPAs I've had from a NW brewer. So, a good brewery with an off beer or a bad brewery with a lucky recipe? This is the riddle I went to solve last week when I went and got three more from the brewery: the flagship Dick Danger, a bitter, and a seasonal tripel. A worthy troika that would test the brewery's mettle and solve the riddle.

Dick Danger
A brewery can't necessarily choose a flagship--sometimes the flagship chooses a brewery (ask the Widmer's). But, when that flagship includes the word "danger" in the title, it raises the ante. Unfortunately, there's nothing whatever dangerous about this beer. It has a pleasing nut brown color, and a mild sweet hazelnut nose. If the nose and appearance are mild, the palate is ever more so. Everything is mild--malt, hops, body. It has almost no character. It isn't a bad beer, but there's nothing whatever to distinguish it. Danger? More like Safety Beer. Rating: Average.

Best Bitter
With Best Bitter, I begin to conclude that Dick's has naming issues. That style is more than a mild session, but hop character should be subdued. Not so here--this is a hop-forward beer that's bitter enough to be an ESB, though at 4.5%, too light. More like a pale ale. Not to belabor the point, but it's the old grammar thing--fine to break the rules if you know 'em. This seems like a brewery that doesn't know the difference between a best bitter, a pale ale and an ESB.

So, the beer: it pours a dull amber, and has a mild hop hop aroma. Much nicer than Dick Danger. The hops here are pointed, but not overwhelming. A sharp, resinous hopping. More body and some added malt character would push it to the next category. Rating: Good.

The pick of this litter is the Tripel, which is also the most traditional. It is golden-orange, cloudy, and features a poor, snowy-white head, all authentic-looking. The aroma is sugary-sour, also akin to the classic Trappist models. These early indicators don't quite hold out through the flavor, but this is still a good effort. The elements are all there--alcohol, yeast character, sweetness, and a touch of funk. They aren't quite as assertive as the originals and fail to cohere into beers like those that hail from Belgium. Not surprising--those breweries have literally centuries of collective experience. Give Dick's another decade, and maybe this will have matured into a more exceptional beer. Still, you could do a whole lot worse. Rating: Good.

In the final analysis, Dick's seems like a young brewery learning its craft. (It's not: they've been around since '94.) Some of the beers are great, others are mistakes. None of the beers I tried had off-flavors; the failures are in sophistication of recipes. I won't turn down a Dick's in the future, but I probably won't go out of my way to find their beer, either.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscar Beer

Tonight I will sit down uneasily to watch the Oscars, an event I welcome with about the same enthusiasm as the Super Bowl. Both events are overhyped and overlong and leave you feeling hollow and gross. The Oscars, in particular, manage to exceed my cynicism each year--such pain for a movie fan! With this in mind, I selected a single beer to enjoy during the telecast.

I might have gone forFuller's ESB (The Queen), Casablanca (Babel), Boston Lager (The Departed), or Sapporo (Letters from Iwo Jima), but instead I chose: Rodenbach. I can offer no justification for this.

(Which is, perhaps, the best metaphor for the Oscars. At the very least, I'll have something to enjoy.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Welcoming Doctor Wort

I am feeling a little cramped for time right now, so it seems like a good opportunity to direct you to Dr. Wort's Buzz-erk Beer Blog, which, at the tender age of five weeks, is humming right along. He has a nice post-mortem on the recently deceased Rose and Raindrop--as good a place as any to dive in:
They had an auction of all the décor--Beer engines to the coat rack! I bid on quite a few things, but in the end, people over bid me… $200 for a working beer engine didn’t cut it!

I tried to clear the top shelve of beer bottles on that day, but it was coming to an end. A pub that toted a huge metal Chimay hanging sign in the interior of the bar, came down to their last bottle of Chimay (the last keg had run dry three days before). I said, “the last bottle of Chimay at the R&R?. I’ll take it!” And with that, they brought me a dusty bottle of 1998 Grand Reserve Chimay! Had to be the best Chimay I ever had. Owner Tom and bartender John signed the last bottle of Chimay for me....
Go say hi.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Two Pales for Winter - Widmer '07 and Dick's IPA

When last I was standing in front of the beer cooler at Freddy's, I selected a couple of bottles that would more properly served in May. Maybe it's the same problem that infects holiday marketing--you want to get an earlier and early jump on things, so Spring beers come out in January.

Never mind the season, there's something to learn here: the two beers form a nice little binary set. Both are good examples of Northwest brewing: they are loose, funky variations on a style, done in a sort of grungy garage-band style. One succeeds, one fails. Why this is so becomes an object lesson in brewing.

Widmer '07 Pale Ale
Each year, Widmer releases a beer in it's "W" Brewmasters' series. Two years ago it was an IPA and last year a strong red. This year they ratchet back the oomph and give us a very summery pale ale with an amazing depth of hopping. They have used four different types of hops in various additions throughout the boil and after (it's dry-hopped), to create a sublime aroma that is sweet and citrusy, but with a distinct lemony note. On the palate, the hops comingle with the malt to draw out the sweetness--at 34 BUs, it's not actually very bitter.

The beer is a becoming reddish-pale; a strawberry blonde? Crowd-pleasingly approachable, but with lots of flavor. I sometimes find dry, slightly grating quality in the Widmer yeast, but this is purely sweet and hoppy. It reminds me of some of the beers I've tasted by younger brewers who are filled with exuberence--they want to use every hop in the house. It is certainly not the kind of beer one would expect from the largest, second-oldest brewery in the state: W '07 is of the more surprising bottled offerings from the Widmers in recent memory.

Malts: Pale, CaraVienne 20-L, Caramel 80-L, Carapils
Hops: boil - Alchemy, finishing - Alchemy, Summit, dry-hopping - Summit, Chinook
Alcohol by volume: 5.4%
Original Gravity: 13° Plato
Bitterness Units: 34
Available: Through July


Dick's IPA
Thanks to our winter ale tasting, Dick's has now entered my radar. I was pleased to see it getting some shelf space, and had high hopes when I poured out the cloudy golden bottle. Alas, Dick's is a textbook example of a rowdy beer gone wrong. At just 5%, it's far from a true IPA (most standard pale ales are stronger), but who's slavish about designations? The problem is that it's hopped like an IPA, producing a brutally aggressive beer with no legs to support itself. Hops can be a good thing, and some nuclear recipes have the layered hopping and malt backbone to support 75+ IBUs (by "layered" I mean hopping that contributes flavor and aroma along with alpha acid bitterness). But Dick's isn't balanced, and it seems like an amateurish effort.

Northwest beers are test their mettle with hoppy beers--not so much for the dollars as for bragging rights. Dick's has come out swinging, but they've shown that hops ain't enough for bragging rights--the entire recipe has to sing.

Malts: Unknown
Hops: Chinook, Tomahawk
Alcohol by volume: 5%
Original Gravity: 1.055
Bitterness Units: Unknown


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Secret Shame of Beervana: Cheater Pints

When I did my review of Amnesia, there transpired an interaction I did not mention. As most readers know--whether they know they know or not--the traditional "pint" glass used in pubs across the state (and US) do not hold 16 ounces of beer. If you pour a bottle out into one of these glasses and manage the traditional head, you know what happens--it goes right to the top. You could squeeze an ounce or two more in there if you skipped the head, but you'd have to bend the laws of physics to fit in a pint. These glasses were originally designed to shake mixed drinks in, which is why they're dense and stackable, and also why they're known as "shaker pints."

I mentioned this to the table of friends when we are at the Amnesia, and they were shocked. So shocked, in fact, that they didn't believe me. So much did one of my friends disbelieve me that she brought the waiter over to set me straight. I stuck to my guns, and so he went to fetch a measuring bowl. Sure enough, 13 ounces and change. All were mollified, mystified, and mortified. The waiter apologized and said he couldn't believe they were shorting folks.

But let us not pile on Amnesia--shaker pints are the standard in Portland. The crime of the cheater pint was once revealed by Willamette Week writer William Abernathy, who used to cruise around to pubs and pour out glasses into a Pyrex measuring bowl. He managed to shame a number of pubs into going to real pints, and inspiring others to go for 20-ounce imperial pints.

But alas, cheater pints have taken over. There's a current thread discussing the matter on the Brew Crew's listserv, and I'm surprised by how many folks were unaware of this practice. With prices edging up toward five bucks, maybe it's time to re-start the shaming. Or at least offering a list of "honest pints" so informed consumers know where to go. But who would do the research?

(Note: I'll be out of town and offline until Monday. I hope you have this all figured out by the time I return. Cheers.)

Nice Article About Oregon Beer Industry

John Foyston, the Oregonian's beer correspondant, has an involved business story in today's Oregonian that's worth checking out. The upshot? Times are good for Oregon breweries:
Craft brewers in the state made 3.5 million gallons more beer last year than in 2005, a 16 percent increase and the third year in a row of double-digit gains. This at a time megabrewers such as Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Miller Brewing Co. have struggled to maintain their revenues and market share.

According to figures released this month by the Oregon Brewers Guild, the state's 79 breweries produced about 792,000 barrels of beer in 2006, or 24.5 million gallons. That's up from 21.1 million gallons a year earlier, and makes Oregon one of the leaders in a craft beer segment growing faster than any other part of the U.S. alcoholic beverage market.
He also details the new and expanding brewpub scene across the state--an early head's up for what we can look forward to in the coming year:

New Breweries
  • Beer Valley Brewing: Will start brewing in Ontario in early 2007 with a pub to follow thereafter.
  • Double Mountain Brewing: Will open this year in Hood River.
  • Fort George Brewery and Public House: A new brewery that should be open soon in Astoria's historic Fort George Building.
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery: Brewer Christian Ettinger's new brewpub should open this spring on Southeast Powell Boulevard.
  • Karlsson Brewing Co: This brewpub/restaurant recently opened in Sandy and is a family business.
  • Max's Fanno Creek Brew Pub: Brewer Max Tieger brings great beer to Old Town Tigard with a brewpub scheduled to open this spring.
  • WildFire Brewing: Central Oregon's sixth brewery opens soon in Bend.
  • Deschutes Brewery: Just announced, the pub is planned for the Pearl near the Armory.
  • Laurelwood Brewpub: The old Sylvia's restaurant building is being reworked into a new flagship brewery/restaurant for Laurelwood. The brewery will open first, probably sometime early this spring.
  • Ninkasi Brewing: Moves soon to permanent quarters in Eugene with a tasting room.
  • Rogue Ales: A new pub just opened in Astoria's Hanthorn cannery building.
  • Wild River Brewery: Wild River just added a Medford pub to its four other Southern Oregon locations.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hillsdale "Battle of the Belt"

For the past 13 years, the McMenamins have conducted a little in-house brewfest for bragging rights as the Empire's best brewer. This year, the winning brew goes to the OBF as the McMenamin submission, and of course, the winning brewer wins a prize-fighter style belt as a talisman of his/her prowess. I have never been to this event, and since I'll be out of town this weekend, won't make it yet again. But you should go. Patrons decide the winner--and, of course, get to taste the 19 beers. It's an eclectic line-up and includes some pretty groovy styles: framboise, heather Scotch ale (no hops?), two tripels, cherry porter, and an oatmeal stout, among others.

The Hillsdale, despite the modest building, is in some ways the most historic of the McPubs: it is where brewing began. Thus, the brewers return to the source to battle it out. Should be big fun, so go try the beers for me.
Hillsdale Brewery and Public House
1505 S.W. Sunset Blvd.
Portland, OR 97201
Saturday, February 17 - 11am to close

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Review - Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse

Brewer: Jack Harris
188 N. Hemlock

Cannon Beach, OR 97110
(503) 436-2202

Sunday through Thursday - 11am to 11 pm
Friday and Saturday - 11am to 2am
Children allowed in separate seating area

Beers: lighter ales, specialty ales (rye and blackberry), seasonals

Last month I went to the coast during an unprecedented snow storm that left drifts on the beaches. Locals were skittish and unnerved, but it made for one of the more exhilerating hikes I've taken as we stepped out into clearings in Oswald State Park and saw the sea beyond the snow. As a testament to its hardiness, Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse was up and running. The beer was cold and the chowder was hot, and that put this reviewer in fine fettle.

Bill's is one of the very cute little buildings along Hemlock, the very cute little street running through this tricked-out seaside town. There was a time there when it looked like Cannon Beach might turn into a treacly tourist town devoid of any heart, but it seems to have turned the corner and has become a beautiful yet functional town. The pub itself is a wonderful little building and a marvel of design. The brewery is in the center of the building, rising up into the gabled rafters--you can see the tanks through a window above the bar. The eating areas are divided between a family area and a "bar," though both are essentially mirrors of each other. The entire interior is decked out in fir and homey touches (including a wood stove), giving it a lodgey feel.

Food and Beer
I tend to judge a restaurant by its chowder, and so in my sole visit, that's what I had. I'd give it a B-. The clams were fresh and there was a trace of grit (good sign), but it was on the thin side and not quite hot enough. Sally had the fish and chips--her point of judgment for any pub. Their halibut was perfectly cooked; it was flaky (not rubbery) and the fish was also fresh. The chips were soggy, though. (No one buys fish and chips for the chips, so just a minor deduction there.) The menu featured typical pub fare, and seems like a reliable bet.

The brewery favors lighter ale, and isn't afraid of adjuncts. I suspect this is partly in deference to their clientele, who are probably not after strong, characterful beers. (Food on the coast is worse than any region in the state--it's two decades behind the times, and finding a decent cup of coffee is like looking for an intact sand dollar on the beach.) Within the confines of these limitations, brewer Jack Harris gets a lot out of his beers. A good example: I thought his summery Blackberry Beauty was his best beer, and one of the best fruit ales I've ever had. I imagine that it tastes like heaven on a summer afternoon after you've been wandering the beach for a couple hours. Below are my notes on the beers we tried (it's a fairly stable line-up, which contrasts with most Portland brewpubs):

Golden Rye - Delicate, astringent nose with evident maltiness. Rye offers a pronounced dryness in the palate, and is a fairly noticeable flavor--a little like rye bread. I also get a lemongrass note that may arise from the play between rye and hops. Rating: Good.

Blackberry Beauty - The nose is blackberry, but more like the essence of the fruit, rather than picked berry. Wheaty palate and tartness from the fruit almost completely without sweetness. Rating: Excellent.

Bronze Ale - Sweet aroma with no detectable hopping. On the palate, hops offer a delightful minor, peppery note. It's a little bit more tannic than I would like. Rating: Good.

Duckdive Pale - Robust hop aroma that comes off as slightly soapy. There are tannins in this beer, too, and they combine with the hops to make it unpleasantly bitter. Soapiness persists in the palate. Extremely dry. Rating: Average.

Yule Mule - Smoky, roasty, and malty aroma create the impression that this is going to be a Scotch or related ale, and completely belies the riot that awaits the tongue. I thought it was spruce, but Sally picked out the peppermint. There is also cut lemon balm. I believe Bill's does a different seasonal every winter with different adjuncts. Not my cup of tea, but a worthy experiment. (I'll skip rating this one.)
I'll leave you with some footage I shot while I was there. Music snippet by my friend Vince Maldonado.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Beer Taxes Introduced

This is probably more appropriate for BlueOregon, but Dems have introduced two versions of beer taxes that won't thrill breweries:
House Bill 2535 would increase the tax by about 10 cents per drink for large beer manufacturers. Right now, the tax is one of the lowest in the country, penciling out to less than 1 cent per drink. The proposal would exempt smaller home-grown breweries.

Senate 502 would eliminate Oregon's beer distributor trade laws, which the legislators call "sweetheart" protections for the middle men. It would also allow grocers to use credit to pay for their beer deliveries -- a provision they've wanted for years from Salem. Rob Bovett, president of the Oregon Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, said he wants lawmakers to combine the two bills as a way to get retailers on board with a beer tax increase.
Beer taxes are generally worrisome to breweries, because they cut into already razor-thin margins (at three fifty a pint, the retail value of a keg is nearly $900, but a brewery makes around a hundred). The first bill affects breweries producing 125,000 barrels or more, which is fairly low--within a few years, as many as four Oregon breweries could be producing that amount. The Senate bill isn't online yet, so I haven't seen whether it would rectify the power imbalance distributors enjoy. Let's hope.

Update. The senate bill is now up, and it's no clearer. Here's a summary:
"Repeals laws relating to required contracts between suppliers and wholesalers of alcoholic beverages. Eliminates statutorily mandated exclusive territories for wholesalers of alcoholic beverages. Repeals other laws governing relationship between suppliers and wholesalers of alcoholic beverages."
Inside info? Do tell.

Friday, February 02, 2007


A word on the post below. I didn't have time to finish it off, but I may not get back to a computer for awhile, so I'm posting the 70% version. I'll fill in the text on the last three when I can. Still ahead in my "best of Beervana" series: Portland brewpubs, Oregon brewpubs, Portland taverns, and Best McMenamin pubs.

Beervana Bests - The Beers

There are probably two dozen world-class beers pouring at any given time in Oregon. Some of them are seasonals, some are venenerable standbyes. Some, like Saxer's Three-Finger Jack Doppelbock and Wild Duck's Sasquatch Strong Ale, are destined to fade away. If you're visiting Beervana, it always pays to try something new--you may stumble on a gem that will never be brewed again. But, if you you want a sampling of the best of the best, here's a list of can't-miss offerings that are reliably (if occasionally only seasonally) available. (To avoid the appearance of favoritism, they're listed alphabetically.)

BridgePort IPA
Among the many legendary Oregon brews, BridgePort's flagship may be the most hallowed. It became the first American beer to win the 119-year-old Brewing Industry International Awards for "champion beer" in London in 2000 (beating 750 beers from 43 countries). BridgePort slipped to silver the next time the event was held, in 2002, but regained the title in 2005. Perhaps more than awards, though, BridgePort IPA has come to define hoppy in the Northwest, and made IPAs Beervana's fave style. At 5.5% alcohol, it's technically just a hoppy pale, but never mind, to Oregonians, it's the IPA.

Caldera Pale Ale
Pale ales are as ubiquitous on the West Coast now as industrial lagers were thirty years ago, and a number of them are best sellers (Mirror Pond, Full Sail Pale, Sierra Nevada). But when we did a blind tasting, Southern Oregon's Caldera held its own with the giants. It's a classic pale hopped with nothing but Cascades, slightly sweet and full of citrus. If you're not in Ashland, you may have a hard time tracking it down, but Belmont Station stocks Caldera, and you might find it at Henry's or the Horse Brass in Portland. Believe it or not, Caldera cans this beer, but it suffers not a whit for arriving in this humble container.

Deschutes Bachelor Bitter
Over the past couple years, Bend's Deschutes Brewery began solidifying itself as Oregon's (and possibly the nation's) best brewery. Nearly every beer it releases is exceptional, and lately, Deschutes has been releasing a lot of beers. It would be easy to select Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond, or newcomer Inversion IPA from the stock of amazing beers. Instead, I'll go for one of the brewery's oldest and one that's now available only on tap at the brewery: Bachelor Bitter. Brewed by founding brewer John Harris (now at Full Sail), it typifies the brewery's genius. Deschutes does pretty standard English-style ales, but they just do them better than anyone else. Generally, bitters are unassuming little ales that keep the mouth wet and the conversation lively. But Bachelor Bitter delights the tongue with traditional British and classic Northwest hops, and the malt is toasty, toffee sweet. You have to go to central Oregon to get a pint, but there are worse places to visit.

Full Sail Session
Every "best of" list needs a controversial inclusion, and so I offer you Full Sail Session. It is a summer lager modeled on the old regional brands that defined the Northwest for decades--Henry's, Rainier, Olympia. Executive brewmaster Jamie Emmerson designed the beer to appeal to beer drinkers who just can't do stronger ales (including, apparently, his neighbor, who admitted he wanted to like Full Sail, but after years of trying, gave up). I admire the brewery for taking good beer full circle. Session is better than the tin-can pilsners, of course--it is a sparkling light lager, but in a hat tip to Beervana, the hopping is relatively pronounced and citrusy. It is not the kind of beer that knocks your socks off, but in the context of the history of Northwest brewing, it's a worthy heir.

Hair of the Dog Fred
If there's an asterisk next to Deschutes when talking about Oregon's best brewery, it points you to Hair of the Dog, a wee brewery with the most devoted fans in the country. Located in a warehouse next to the railroad tracks in SE Portland, the brewery has been run on a shoestring since was founded in1993. Nevertheless, HotD beers are regularly cited as among the best beers in the world.

Fred is characteristic of the brewery's approach to beer. It features ten hop varieties from five countries and a huge malt bill that includes rye. It really doesn't hit its stride until its been in the bottle for 18 months, and it conforms to absolutely no style on the planet. Fred is amazing and unique, and any visitor to Oregon should definitely have a bottle. Incidentally, it's named for beer writer and home-brewing pioneer Fred Eckhardt, who is one of the godfathers of the good beer movement and a mentor to Oregon's early brewers.

Pelican Doryman's Dark
One of the prettiest brewpubs in Oregon is located on the beach at Pacific City. They could serve water in their dining room and people would pay five bucks to sit there, but instead, Pelican has become the most celebrated brewpub in the state. Listen to the accolades: brewpub of the year and best brewer of the year three times each from the GABF, 18 medals from the GABF, dozens of awards from other contests. Of these decorated beers, the most interesting is Doryman's Dark. It's called a brown ale, but I think that's misleading--it's bigger and hoppier, and just plain different from traditional browns. Oregon brewers are rarely able to do a beer straight--they must tweak and rearrange until it's something almost like a regular style, but Oregonized. Such is Doryman. Dorymen, namesakes of the beer, are, by the way, fishermen (and women) who ply the cold waters off the Oregon coast in dories--funny, banana-shaped small craft. It is a local nod to a characteristic local craft.

Rogue Shakespeare Stout
Dark beers were instantly popular when good beer returned to Beervana, and why not? We already loved black, bitter coffee, so making the transition to espresso-y stouts wasn't much effort. Of the many very good black beers in the state worthy of mention, my favorite is Shakespeare Stout. It combines the finest qualities of the style--dense bitterness, rich creaminess, and a dollop of chocolate to round out the mocha-like palate. Along with the other beers on this list, it has won its share of awards and accolades. It was named for the Ashland Skakespeare Festival, which used to be down the road from a Southern outpost of the Newport-based brewery--until it was washed away in a flood.

Roots Burghead Heather Ale
In the 80s and early 90s, every brewery was fooling around with funky ingredients. A few of these, like Saxer's dreadful Lemon Lager, became huge hits among the Bartles and James crowd, and before long, respectible brewers had retreated to the safe harbors of malt and hops. Craig Nicholls, then brewing for the Alameda Brewhouse, bucked the trend. He made a series of beers that included adjuncts, but instead of overwhelming the beer, they added subtle notes that drew out the beeriness rather than crushing it. One of his most interesting experiments was a recipe he based on ancient pre-hop Scottish ales that used heather to balance the malt. Many of his other recipes have been lost to the sands of time (Spring Rose Doppelbock, Juniper Porter, Sage Festbier), but Burghead Heather Ale is a regular summer offering. It is a great example of the innovation that characterizes Oregon brewing.

Terminal Gravity IPA
It is impossible to have a "best of" list without including one true IPA, the favorite style of good beer fans throughout Beervana. It's equally as impossible to identify a "best" IPA--there are just too many good ones. I'm selecting Terminal Gravity, though, because no brewery other than BridgePort is more associated with its IPA than Terminal Gravity. The little brewery from Enterprise, in the far Northeast corner of the state, has always found an audience in the cutthroat Portland market, and many people call this their favorite beer in the world. Who can argue? It's a burly ale with a thick mouthfeel and a saturated bitterness that satisfies the most inveterate hophead.

Widmer Snow Plow Milk Stout
There is an interesting story behind milk stouts, but an even more interesting story behind Snow Plow. Back in the late 1980s, the Widmer Brothers decided to partner with a local Portland homebrewing club to produce obscure styles of beer that lacked a commercial market. Periodically, the brewery and the homebrewers jointly decided on a style, and then the homebrewers held a competition to see who could make the best version. That recipe was then converted so that it can be produced at the brewery, and was distributed on tap to various local pubs. The first style they tackled was milk stout, which, to everyone's surprise, found a market. Two years ago, Widmer started releasing it as their winter seasonal.

Milk Stouts aren't actually brewed with milk, but rather milk sugar (lactose). Unlike most sugars, however, lactose can't be broken down by beer yeast, and remains unfermented, as calories and carbohydrates. It gives the beer a unique sweetness and silkiness on the tongue that does in fact suggest milk. Snow Plow is sweet and creamy, bordering on decadant, but there are hints of roasty malt and a breath of hop at the end. I have never found a person who liked beer but disliked Snow Plow.

Post has been updated (2/5/07)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sierra Nevada IPA

I was in the store the other day, and saw a sixer of Sierra Nevada IPA, a beer listed on the brewery's webpage as a "specialty draft." Apparently a seasonal, but I know nothing more about it. However, it was mighty tasty, so here's a quickie review (more on the style here, if you wish a backgrounder).

Tasting Notes
Sierra Nevada has gone for an English IPA, distinct from the Northwest version by virtue of hops. You notice it first in the nose (the appearance, golden orange, looks like Inversion)--nothing citrusy about this beer. It has an aroma I finally settled on as cedar, reminiscent of strongly-hopped London ales I've had.

The flavor is also woody, with an intense, resinous hopping. I am particularly (pleasantly) sensitive to Goldings, and these really pop. The beer is sharply effervescent and has a hard-water crispness. The aftertaste leaves your mouth coated and lips smacking. It reminded me quite a bit of Fuller's ESB, though I don't know if they would taste alike side by side.

Given that there are a million IPAs on the West Coast, it's a nice change-up to find an English style. I really enjoyed this one.

Malts: "English malts"
Hops: Boil - Magnum; finishing and dry-hop - Golding
Alcohol by volume: 6.9%
Original Gravity: N/A
Bitterness Units: N/A