You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Gratzer and Honest Pints at Burnside Brewing

For someone who has lived in Portland for nearly a quarter century, the experience of visiting inner East Burnside for sophisticated food and drink still provokes cognitive dissonance. Credit the city planners for turning the erstwhile traffic canyon into a more sedate street where restaurants and pubs no longer fear to gather. Burnside Brewing, joining restaurant pioneers Farm and Le Pigeon, is cut from the same upscale-urban cloth, and is the first brewpub in Portland to make a full, clean break with the standard pub grub menu. I need to go back a few times to try the food and beer before I offer a real review, but I was impressed on my first visit. And very excited: for a city on the leading edge of both cuisine and brewing, the meeting of these two trends is long overdue.

There are two things I can and should comment on: the brewery's second beer, a grätzer, and the glass it came in, an honest pint. First, the beer. A couple of months ago, I discussed the style, along with the first example brewed locally, at Breakside. The style emerged in Poland, where it was known as grodziskie for the town of its birth, Grodzisk. An early 20th Century brewing text described it as "rough, bitter beer, brewed from 100% wheat malt with an intense smoke and hop flavour."

When Ben Edmunds made his grätzer at Breakside, he eschewed the intensity of smoke and hop for a milder version that accentuated an apple note described in first-hand accounts of the beer. Burnside, which used 600 pounds of apple-smoked wheat malt (70% of the grist), followed suit. Brewer Jason McAdam was a little worried about overdoing the smoke, so this first batch displays a light hand. (Still, it took fourteen hours to smoke the malt.) It's gently smoky, more of an accent note, with a light, fruity body and soft mouthfeel. At only 8 BUs, McAdam also ditched the "rough, bitter" hops. The beer uses kolsch yeast, but the wheatiness makes it taste more like a weizen, despite the lack of phenols and banana/bubblegum notes.

I asked Jason yesterday if he planned to do it again, and he was a bit equivocal, but I hope to see a slightly more assertive iteration down the road. Burnside's beers will not be aimed solely at the beer geek set; rather, Jason is working with the kitchen to create beers that will accompany the menu. (When I visited, they were offering a duck "cohiba"--boneless duck leg wrapped like a cigar, served in retro ashtrays with a dollop of sauce at the end, like ash.) This grätzer appears engineered to complement, not overwhelm, the cuisine.

Honest Pints
I'm also pleased to see that Burnside has opted for elegant, embossed glasses that carry an honest pint. Even before I visited, the brewery's Byron Rolston sent me over the following picture for certification. Consider it done, Byron:

Burnside Brewing

Certified Purveyor of an Honest Pint
701 E Burnside
website | Facebook


  1. I really enjoyed the Gratzer this week when I tried it, although I was curious how close it came to traditional examples. Being my first taste of the style, I found it to taste less like a new (to me) style of beer, and more like a hefeweizen with a twist.

    Regardless of how close it kept to style, I thought it was very satisfying (had two!), and gutsy of Burnside to debut it while offering Weihenstephaner hef on a guest tap. You need to be confident in your wheat beer to give it that kind of competition.

    I'd love to see this done again in any form, but especially with a bit more smoke and hop bite... I'm picturing a smoked Hopfen-Weisse.

  2. I've been to Burnside Brewing once, and tried the Gratzer once. I'm more interested in how a beer tastes than in how historically accurate a beer is. I found the Gratzer to be much too smokey and phenoilc to drink a drink. The other 3 people at my table agreed.
    If it were my establishment, I might try to gain a following for solidly brewed beers before attempting something beer drinkers won't drink.

  3. Anon, I'd be careful to extrapolate about a beer's wider popularity from the response at one table.

    This gratzer is closer to traditional, but still not quite to style. Gratzers are heavily-hopped and use all wheat grists. I would love to taste one sometime.

    I'd give Burnside a chance. They actually debuted with an IPA, the most popular style in Oregon. Their third beer (after the gratzer) was a pale ale. Not so outre if you ask me.