The Local: Hawthorne Hideaway

One nice thing about going to the local bars is that I get a chance to have regularly appearing beers that otherwise I’d overlook for the new thing. In this case, Ninkasi’s Believer ale, which is very much the kind of red ale I’d like to make someday. Rich enough in the malts to stand up but with a bitter finish that clears any pretense of sweetness away.

walloholTonight I’m at the Hawthorne Hideaway which has been a bar I’ve always liked but had trouble getting to. Being blessed with a number of good places to drink means that sometimes I don’t get to bars I really enjoy. Circumstances get in the way it seems but that also feels like a poor excuse. I don’t have any reason to avoid it here; the fries are good, the bartenders like heavy metal and there’s enough space but not too much so you won’t crowd the other patrons.

I like it more since the smoking ban; the Hideaway is cozy enough that just a little smoke makes it feel a hell of a lot more crowded, but even before the ban I liked it here. I could sit at a table by the window and play cards. Admittedly, I had to sit by the window as the lighting is too dim everywhere else but I’m OK with that.

Interestingly, it feels easier to pay attention to the football game here, where there is only one TV than at the 39th Street Pub where there were four. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to pay attention to the game, I can just check in, whereas at the sports bar I had to deliberately ignore it and the big empty spaces made me feel isolated.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to sit at the bar (which is why you have the shot of the wallohol) and I like it.

Plus, this bar is more lively. There’s a Monday Night Trivia event and it seems like there is a spirited competition there. As a bonus, if you don’t care about playing trivia there is a back room with pool tables where the patrons are all but isolated from the rest of the bar. I like the setup because I could walk in and enjoy myself no matter what my state of mind is. Which is pretty much what I did tonight, now that I think about it.

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The Local: 39th St Sports Pub

“Gonna walk around and drink some more”- the Hold Steady

You know, Terminal Gravity’s IPA has a crispness at the end that works for this beer. Still quite bitter but the finish is lightened by the crisp quality. 

The 39th Street Sports Pub. Or Tom’s Bar. The bartender just ran out after a customer she knew to ask him a favor and give him a hug. It’s a human moment in a bland space.

So I’ve gone local for the next series. After a year of needing transport coupled with some recent thoughts I’ve had on staying local, I decided that the thing to do next would be to go to bars that were within walking distance of my house. I’m quite fortunate in that I live near Portland’s infamous ‘stumble zone’ where there are ten places to get a drink in a three block area, not counting the liquor store. So that ought to keep me busy. 

In addition, walking distance for me isn’t quite walking distance for most other people. I like to walk, especially at night and so there are more bars within my walking range than what most people might consider walkable. Either way, I reckon this ought to keep me busy for a little while. I probably won’t have the range of beers to try as I did before because even in Portland, sports bars are dominated by more well known beers but I’ll do my best to mix the drinks up as much as the spaces I visit. 

Oh, and there will still be bad photos. 

Tom’s bar makes good use of its length, with the three pool tables at one end and four televisions around and above the bar, it’s the kind of place you could almost play catch in. Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a scent here. Odd because it’s connected to a restaurant so I’d think there would be food cooking but perhaps everyone here is thirsty instead. 

It’s spacious though and I like that. There’s room to spread out and stretch your legs and you don’t have to worry about bumping into someone at a table while you’re shooting pool. 

Sadly, there isn’t much personality to this bar. It has that inoffensive lighting and all the traditional neon signs. One Ducks schedule up, Coors Light sports flags and lights emblazoned with the Camel logo hang around and on a night like tonight, where it isn’t crowded, there isn’t a motivation to sit near strangers to absorb how they give the bar some zing. The TVs encourage absorbsion into the sports world and  the only way someone could have a semi-private conversation would be if it was loud enough to cover the noise from the next table. At that point, though, it’s loud enough that you’re practically shouting anyway so that kind of defeats the purpose. 

I suppose that’s why I’m a bit down on this space; it is devoid of personality or a point of view. Why aren’t there awesome posters on the wall, memorabilia, or little statuettes of victory? Is there a team this place hopes to see win, hopes to see in crushing defeat? 

This is the problem with most sports bars, I find. I could be anywhere in this country once I’m inside this bar. Arizona, Ohio, Minnesota; it wouldn’t matter. I could be in the middle of butt fuck Egypt and it would have the exact same decorations. Sure, there’s some local color with the presence of some misfits at a nearby table, NW style outsiders in puzzle-piece layers and flannel but after that? Nothing. What’s the point of going to your local if it doesn’t give you that local buzz? 

I’m suddenly tired, in the ‘whoa I could use a nap’ way. At 7:30, it’s a little late for a nap so perhaps it’s just time to go home.

More news

I was going to take Friday off but I stumbled upon this article at the Washington Post about extreme brewing. Some readers have probably heard of some of the beers mentioned (Brew Dog’s Atlantic IPA, for example) it’s still a great example of how many different roads there are to go for brewers, how many options they have to craft their drink.

At the Beervana blog I read about Pabst going out of business and the attempts to make it a community owened brewery. In this case I’ll just leave the humor to the experts.

Disasterpiece

So much went right with this beer. I can tell in the nose, which is sweet, and the toffee flavors that ride right through the beer that I was on the right track. Not as hoppy as I might’ve liked but the hops I’ve been using are starting to get a little old, so it’s understandable.

bad homebrewThen the aftertaste comes in. Like someone who shits on the carpet at the end of your party, so this nasty flavor comes up and ruins an otherwise good beer. Acridly bitter at first then phenolic after that, this aftertaste becomes the beer. Think bandage adhesive and you’ve got the phenolic flavor.

This is the beer I bottled a few weeks ago when my racking cane broke, leading to an unfortunate chain of events where I had to replace it. My best guess is that the beer got oxidized when I attempted to bottle it but it’s also possible that the new equipment just wasn’t sanitized enough and the result infected the beer.

I am going to retry this beer at a future date because 90% of it is right. It’s just the last 10% that kills it and I’m sure I won’t make the same mistake twice.

52 Weeks 52: Terminal Gravity Foursome

Now that I’ve sold out to get the kinky sex crowd, (’cause you just know that a whole new group of people will stumble on this blog because of the word ‘foursome’ and I can’t turn down readers) let’s get this party going.

“First of all I’d like to thank my connect,”-Jay-Z.

A heartfelt thank you to Geoff and the other staff at Bailey’s who’ve served me drinks. I’d mention them by name but I don’t wish to presume a familiarity upon them and I certainly don’t want to forget someone, which is always a danger at times like this. I took their time and certainly my share of space but they were all unfailingly helpful and pleasant. 

I’m drinking a flight of Terminal Gravity beers; two old ales, Festivals from 2008 and 2009, then two barleywines, Bucolic Plague from ’02 and ’06. As one might expect, the ’09 old ale is smoother and fuller, more roasted and mature in flavor. I haven’t gotten to the barleywines yet. 

I’m in the back chamber again-it’s been redesigned since I sat here last. The table is this big chunk of wood-maybe even a former railroad tie- that’s been cleaned up and smoothed out. It’s shiny and dense and it feels like the kind of thing to put your beer on. It’s almost a place to stand at. You can lean on the wood, rest your drink in front, and enjoy…if you’re about six inches shorter than I am. Maybe four.

This area isn’t quite done yet, I’m told, but it’s going to be a hell of a space when it’s done I promise you that. The space is just wide enough for beers, so it encourages your hands being free; a bonus for someone like me who tends to gesticulate when he speaks. 

Sparky; this moment is for you. 

And now it’s done. (Sparky  had asked, months ago, to be mentioned in the final post and I said I would oblige him.)

Oh man. That 2002 Bucolic Plague is so good. Like alcoholic caramel, warm from a street vendor, with a buttery nose and a fierce heat to it, fighting the winter off with a battleaxe. I think this beer may be solely responsible for the unseasonable warmth of today. 

I have to confess, I’m looking forward to becoming a customer again. A regular customer, that is; someone who can sit at the bar and visit or just people watch without having to both internalize the situation and externalize it for readers. Don’t get me wrong; next week there will be another post, a new (if similar) theme and I look forward to doing that but our favorite spots are favored for a reason; they are shelters where we don’t have to present our external selves all the time. We can smile in crooked ways and people understand that our laughter is still straight. 

That isn’t to say I won’t ever blog from or about Bailey’s again; I undoubtedly will. But I’m part of the scenery here now and that changes things. I’m going to take some time to figure out what that means. I’m going to take some time to just enjoy the space I’m in.

I suppose if I’ve had a theme this year, time has been a key part of it. Or at least the idea that I ought to inhabit the space I’m in as much as I can, enjoy it, or at least be in the now, this has been a recurring idea. 

There’s been a shift change; I can tell because in the middle of Duran Duran’s Rio (which I like quite a bit) the music has cut out and shifted to a song I don’t immediately recognize. I almost think I should’ve asked if I could play my iPod tonight. It would be all Pelican, all the time. If my choices are Duran Duran, some kind of hip-hop and heavy fucking metal, then…
/short laughter

The 2006 Bucolic Plague is a bit different, a touch more sour than it’s older sister. Not quite as much body; an interesting brew but I think I would’ve preferred to finish with the ’02. Ah well; that’s life.

I’ll see everyone next week, bad photos and all.

Localization

So, after last week’s post on the Iron Horse Brewery, I got to thinking about the troubles Iron Horse may be having. In the comments someone from the brewery says that it’s a size issue and that they’re scrambling to supply the markets they already have. This seems like a good problem in some ways but I remember talking to someone from Ninkasi Brewing last year and having him tell me the same thing; they had a five year business plan that was being met in two years and they were desperately trying to keep up.

Again, this seems like a positive until one takes into account the potential difficulties with scaling up an operation quickly. In addition to having to suddenly build more of the basics: fermenters, chillers, etc, problems like storage and transport start to loom, but I have a guess what the biggest issue would be.

Quality control. The bigger you are, the harder it becomes to ensure that your product is what you expect it to be. Hell, just look at Microsoft: Windows has been plagued with issues for years and will likely never be an entirely smooth operating system. Yes, yes, there are lots and lots of reasons for this but certainly size and demand play into the difficulties of making a rock-solid operating system. So I think a basic question still remains; how do you meet the demand and satisfy the quality (which is the reason for your demand) in a timely fashion?

In the middle of all this I begin to wonder; does Iron Horse have any obligation to ensure their product gets to me?

No, they don’t. Their obligation, as I see it, is to produce the best damn beer they can. If that means that their beer stays local then good. Do I miss out on a tasty beer? Yes and that’s unfortunate. But there’s a silver lining too, in my opinion.

Now I have a reason to travel.

We’re pretty fortunate, as Americans, to have access to almost any kind of food we want, whenever we want. The more research I read about that, however, the more I think that maybe we shouldn’t have that luxury at quite the level we have it at. It’s bad for the environment, bad for your health, and frequently just doesn’t taste as good. Yes, bananas are good for your prostate but do you need them twelve months of the year? Perhaps it’s better to have local things as often as possible, expanding one’s diet based on what’s around wherever you go. Certainly an easy way to appreciate the local culture when you travel, too.

Granted, Ellensburg is a little over 200 miles from Portland so that’s not far. In the US that distance could certainly be called local-but how far does local go? Idaho? Sure. California? I don’t know; San Francisco or San Diego? Montana?  Vancouver, BC? I’ve pined for beers from Vancouver and Victoria ever since visiting last year; yes it’s international but could you call it local? Both those cities are closer than San Francisco.

It’s certainly more local than the beers I can get from Japan, England, Belgium or Germany. But what’s the cutoff distance? Is it Kansas? Mexico City? The Atlantic?

I don’t know and I certainly don’t wish ill towards Iron Horse’s attempts to satisfy the markets they are in. I like their beers and would love for nothing more than to find them at my local store. At the same time, if I had to go to Seattle (which I visit regularly) or Tacoma to find their beers, doesn’t that just increase the value of my trip?

My personal feeling is that it does. Yes, I have access to beers by Meantime and Brew Dog but the selections are limited. I’d have to go to England to investigate the depth of their selections.

Which I’m totally up for. Sure, it would be nice if all their beers were in Portland but if they were then what’s left to make England special?

And yes, I realize that’s a loaded question but I’m trying to ask it in a broader sense; if everything comes to you then why go anywhere?

If your reaction to that question starts with “Because…” then good. This is my point. We go to places to experience them and all they have to offer. On the other hand, if that means that I have to go without some things that I like then there can be positives to that as well. It gives me a chance to look around and see what is right in front of me and unearth the wonders of what’s right here. I doubt I would have found the Natian Brewery at all if I wasn’t in Portland so there are clearly new worlds to explore without having to go far from home.

I can wait for Iron Horse to make its way down to Portland. I believe their success is coming because they make a damn good beer and people like me are exhorting the praises of their efforts. If that means that I have to be patient so that they can grow their business in a smart, positive way that allows them to stay in business because they’ve been focused on making a damn good beer, then I will be patient. They can stay local and make my trips north more prized through their presence there.