wheat wine and dubbelSo I had the Laughing Dog St. Benny’s Labbey ale, made in the dubbel style, and liked it. At first it smells like champagne; only after it’s warmed up do malts come through. It’s quite bubbly in the mouth with a sweetness cut by a white wine kind of floralness. Knowing no better, I’d suggest that this beer has quite a bit in common with champagne.

Natian is actually pronounced ‘nation’. It said so on the beer coaster. Their winter IPA is damn tasty, which means they’re 2 for 2 with me. Plus, they have a website now! Congrats.
saison with lemon
Dear Broadway Grill: quit putting lemon in your saison. It’s a wonderful beer and you’re dumbing it down and insulting your audience by doing so. This rule is not hard and fast but it’s still a pretty good one: fruit does not belong as a compliment to beer.

We tasted a bunch of pale/amber ales at the last taste test. The big surprise was that everyone was fond of Sierra Nevada’s pale ale. The personal surprise was that I couldn’t pull Deschutes’ Mirror Pond out of that group; I used to drink that beer all the time and it’s always been my default beer when nothing else appealed to me.

The Local: Belmont Station

“Purpose, Mr. Anderson.” – Agent Smith

taps at belmont stationI realized today that I’ve not really been looking forward to these posts. I’ve lost my way a bit. The last few episodes of The Local have been draining, in part because I’ve gone to places that haven’t had a lot of energy, in part because of me, in part due to a whole host of convergent reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog. So as I slough 2009 off like a python whose head I’ve severed before it strangles me, I feel that it’s time to reassess what I’ve been doing.

I live in this area so it doesn’t seem like I ought to explore it. I’ve been to most (all?) of these bars so I already know what awaits me, right? I, like many people, pick my drinking post by virtue of its utility to me. I want X so I head to a place that serves up X, be it a brew, or a vibe, or a TV I can watch football on, or a big table where I can play cards, or a quiet place to have soft discussions. There isn’t something new for me at these old places, is there?

Well, yes, if that’s my choice, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m out to explore the neighborhood. I can’t know everything so today I set out, not exactly sure of what to do, but thinking that I needed to reevaluate why I was going to these bars. The axiom, “do what you do, just different” came to mind, and while usually I respond to that with: ‘what the hell does that mean’ I had an idea this time. So instead of heading out late and just walking straight to the Belmont Station in order to get beer for the podcast and another for this post, I wandered a bit to clear my head. Shortly after realizing that I needed to remember to explore the neighborhood, and that amongst the history I had at these bars there might be a story to tell, I stumbled upon this.

old dodge

Isn’t that a cool looking Dodge?

Now, I’m not someone who is on the lookout for signs from above but I’m also not someone to slap a gift donkey. Especially not while drinking SOB’s Son of Santa. So let’s just pretend that I’m doing something right and go with it.

Most people know the Belmont Station, of course. Back when it was on Belmont, next door to the popular Horse Brass, it was just a bottle shop but ever since it moved a cafe has been added with a perpetual motion rotation selection, it’s also become a place to sit down and enjoy yourself too.

They frequently host “Meet the Brewer” events which are always a joy. Getting to talk to professionals has always been an insightful experience for me and then there was the night I took up waaaay too much of Alastiar’s time. Still, he was great about it and I managed to keep my fanboy actions to a minimum.

The bar area doesn’t have much in the way of character to me though. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a testament to beer wall paraphernalia, visually but it doesn’t quite bring the lived in quality of comfort that older places have. Give it five years or so, enough time for the chairs to become more comfortable, for late nights with arguments of hollered laughter, for a conspiracy to happen, and the cafe will be more fun. The frame is there, it just needs a painting.  Actually, give it ten years. The scholarly aspects of drinking here will hold out against the characterization for a little while. Not that this is a bad thing. The stories that will be told then will be smarter and funnier for it.

The Son of Santa is a wall of malt beer. Hops are lighter; evident on the nose, sneaking back up on the back end, but this beer tastes sticky and sweeter, which I know doesn’t make much sense but there you go. It’s an Imperial Amber, and I like it.

Earl Gray Brown addendum

I ran into Ken from Fearless Brewing last weekend and he was kind enough to explain some of the finer points of gravity as it relates to beer, and explain to me why my beers are coming out in a similar range. I told him about my Earl Gray Brown beer and he said he was interested in the recipe, which I promised to send him. It’ll be interesting if he conjures something out of that. As I was typing up the recipe I realized that I’d pretty much forgotten to tell people how I made this beer-so here goes:

Started by steeping 14 bags of Earl Gray tea in 3 quarts of water

Steeping grains:
2 oz black malt
5 oz C40 malt
5 oz Victory
12 oz British Brown

7 lb liquid light malt extract

1 oz Amarillo @ 60
1 oz Nugget @ 30

Irish moss@ 5 for clarity

Added the tea after the wort had been cooled and put into a carboy.

2 packs Wyeast 1084 Irish ale

Primary Gravity: 1.061

Finishing Gravity: 1.02

5.3% ABV

Building a Winter Warmer #4

It’s nearly over. After weeks of waiting, what was started is now ready to be bottled.

adding sugar to beer

First, I boil two cups of water and 3/4 cup sugar for about five minutes. This is priming sugar and is added to the beer in order to wake up the yeast that have gone dormant, having eaten all the fermentable sugars. It’s recently come to my attention that a different ratio of water/sugar might be advisable for different beers, so I might have to look into that-most of the time corn sugar is suggested for bottling but I’ve been using regular white sugar and it’s been working out fine.

Once the priming sugar (which I’m told is just a simple syrup) has cooled down I add it to the beer and wait. I want to give the syrup enough time to disapate in the beer and I don’t want to agitate the sediment at the bottom, so I usually wait as long as I can; in this case I think I left the beer alone for over an hour.

bottling toolsAfter that, I move to bottling. This photo shows the syphon, hydrometer and bottlecaps all used for this process. First I get a hydrometer reading so I can see how the beer has changed. The final gravity reading was 1.022, and through the use of handy beer calculators on the internet I know that my Alcohol by Volume (ABV) is about 5.97%.

bottlingAfter this it’s time to start bottling the beer, so I do just that. The syphon is a gravity one, so the bottles are all placed lower than the beer, and through the Magic of Science!, the beer goes into the bottles. I have to carefully regulate how fast the liquid goes into the bottles, because it comes out very quickly and if I don’t, I get more foam then beer.

As I bottle, I put bottlecaps on the filled beers. This is done to keep things from getting into the bottle before I cap them, but I’ve also been told that doing this allows the oxygen at the top of the bottle to be forced out by the tiny amounts of carbon dioxide being generated. Now I don’t know if this is true or not; the carbonation taking place may not even come close to generating enough pressure to push the oxygen out. Maybe it’s all about keeping foreign materials out while I fill other bottles.

What I can tell you is; this process is working for me. And, like a streak in baseball, you don’t fuck with your process so long as it’s working.

After all the bottles are filled, I then crimp the bottlecaps on with this device: bottle crimper Finally, I clean up. I don’t think anybody needs pictures of that.

So that’s it; I’m all done except for carbonating the beer, which ought to take about a week or so. Fortunately, I have a few beers to drink in the meantime so the Winter Warmer can sit and wait. I consider this a good thing, because while bottling I got very strong scents of cinnamon. While I do want the spices to be there, I’d prefer if they weren’t overpowering the drink itself. However, because I’ve had trouble detecting the additives in my beer so I pushed it. Maybe too far-but I won’t know for at least another week.

The Local: Triple Nickel

christmas treeI came to the Triple Nickel tonight, which has always been a place that I’d wanted to call by a cool nickname, like ‘Fifteen Cents’ but that’s not really shorter than Triple Nickel. Foiled in my attempts to nickname the bar, I have walked here via well traveled streets so I could walk past the Christmas tree joint on 39th.

I’ve always loved Christmas trees. When the days come that I can no longer drink Sierra Nevada’s Celebrator ale, the pine trees will remind me of the Christmas beers. I like to sit in front of Christmas trees, the lights blending into that blue or pink that Christmas tree lights always seem to end up at, in silence. Usually, I can hear The Band’s Christmas Must Be Tonight in my head-a gift from my parents. Even without that song though, I just like being in the presence of a tree.

Portland isn’t so Christmas-y this year. I still saw houses with vivid decorations set up and these days any decorative lights feel good. Even the weird, cagelike set of lights at the Triple Nickel, but something still feels missing. Maybe I just miss the snow from last year; although the city shut down for three days, the show coated the city in a luminescence that was wonderful.

I haven’t been here in too long. A place for pool and darts, with a the light scent of chicken strips in the air, the Triple Nickel is oddly barren on a Monday. It’s weird; the bars during The Local have been strangely empty, while Bailey’s always had people. Have I been going to too many sports bars? Or is it just that sports bars are no fun on Mondays. Let’s face it, between the holidays and my random choices, it’s pretty easy to skew my perception. Things are bound to change as I go along.

dartboardsI want chicken strips. I have a weakness for chicken strips, have for as long as I can remember. I’ve been in this bar long enough for the scent to exploit my desire for fried fowl. Resisting is easy; I’ve had dinner already but in the little mindfile of; places to get chicken strips, the Triple Nickel’s card has been recalled.

This year has been one where it seems hard to get into the holidays. I’m not sure why-again, it’s likely the economy is to blame but it’s also possible I’m projecting. Perhaps I just need to be amongst more lively people; celebrating the longest night of the year is easier when there’s a group of people hoisting glasses in defiance of the cold.

Which makes me feel bad; I like this bar, but my experience is not giving me much to relish. That’s not anybody’s fault; I know that on a weekend this bar is riotous and it has good bartenders with a fun crowd. One of my favorite stories has me walking into the Triple Nickel and running into an elderly couple, sitting at the bar. She called me ‘dear’ and he didn’t say much, except to smile occasionally, just enough for me to pick up that he didn’t have to say much. She could do the talking, and he could let me know where he stood with a gleam in his eye.

I could hope to grow old in such a way.

But tonight we’re all mellowed out and preoccupied, as though the day cannot end fast enough. I’ve gone against the nature of the space; it’s open and invites people to come and be festive; without that, it just doesn’t carry the same swagger.

I’m a helper

Through the workings of the internet I became involved with Seamus Campbell’s Fearless Critic project, where 250 beers are reviewed by a panel, and then Mr. Campbell gathers up the comments and data and distills it into one page reviews. Last night was my first night helping with this project and we tried six different beers, took notes and then had a brief discussion. It was fun and low key, like these things ought to be-despite finding out I was rating such, erm, superlative beers such as Icehouse, Budweiser and Corona. Fortunately, better things are in the works.

Because 250 beers is a lot of beers. Take a look at the receipt:


You can imagine what we’re in for. As a matter of fact, I’ve even got a picture of some of the beers that are in the pipeline.

beers to come

I’m told that’s not quite one-third of what we’re going to do. The good news is that there are teams of people to drink and rate these beers. However, Seamus tells me that there aren’t quite enough people on those teams. So if you live in Portland, have some time in the evenings for a project like this that looks like it’ll go for a month or so, like beer, and are interested in this, drop him a line. It’s only once a week so it won’t take too much time out of your schedule.

For those wondering, of the lagers I tried that night I liked Harp the best and would actually consider paying for one on a scorching day with a hot dog.

Building A Winter Warmer #3

After about a week, maybe ten days, the yeast has mellowed out enough that it’s time to put the beer into secondary. I made this beer after Justin asked if I’d been giving beers enough time in primary, so since then I’ve been paying more attention to see if the yeast has really settled or if I’m just rushing through things by rote.

The trick is, each beer is different and when I re-use a yeast, as I did with the warmer, the take off and slow down times shift, usually accelerating, then when I start with a fresh yeast. When I use a fresh yeast it usually takes twenty-four hours to really get going. With a yeast that’s already been used in a beer, the activity can start within two hours. I’m pretty sure this is because by re-using the yeast I’ve essentially made a starter for the beer and the yeast is primed and ready to go, instead of needing to acclimate and grow.

However, in this case I waited for nine days before putting the warmer into secondary and it sits nicely here: winter warmer in secondary

It’s not an exciting process or one that has a lot of interesting photo opportunities. Beer starts in carboy A, goes into carboy B and that’s about it.

Prior to that, of course, everything has to be sanitized; the syphon, the airlock and the empty carboy. Again, not a real exciting process, but this is as good a time as any to mention that I use iodophor to sanitize my equipment. I try to give things about a day to dry out; I know small amounts of the sanitizer won’t kill me but others have told me that in some of my brews a touch of the iodophor remains when I don’t let things dry for very long.

Nothing enhances the flavor like sanitizer, right? Right?

I’m kidding of course; I just want to make the best beer I can so letting equipment dry overnight seems like a good precaution.

Anyway, after it’s transfered, the equipment needs to be cleaned, especially the primary fermenting carboy. The mess that’s left at the bottom of a carboy looks much like this: wort sludge

You can imagine why cleaning is so important, yes?

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that this photo-which isn’t that awesome to begin with-was taken after I’d dumped a good portion of the sludge out already. Usually this goes into compost or to feed the raspberry plants outside. The point is; there’s usually a couple inches worth of sludge at the bottom, minimum. It’s not lethal-yeast, hops and the grains leftover from the boil that made it in-but I wouldn’t eat it, you know?

The Local: Sewickleys

sewickleysI’ll admit it; I do not belong at Sewickley’s.

The last time I was in here it was for breakfast and as a breakfast joint, it’s a different animal. The time before that however, was over ten years ago and I got the heebies and promptly left. Alcohol was definitely involved and instead of trying to endure a space where I felt I was going to feel threatened the whole time, I took off.

I get a very different vibe a decade later on a Monday. The space is the same; my beer choices on tap are Pabst and Sierra Nevada Pale.

I’m sure you can figure out what I ordered.

The bartender has a friendly/sardonic blend, not unlike a bloody mary and she calls me ‘hon’, insisting that this bar is great Mon-Wed and really only gets rowdy on the weekends. She threatens divorce and a restraining order against one of the regulars whom she has nothing against and then goes out for a smoke. There’s a quiet, insistent holler from one of the two older guys “Open bar!” but nobody makes a move. When she comes back, she sets a drink alight to make a Spanish Coffee and holds the blue flame so casually you’d think she was Merlin, bored with the grunt level magic.

I can’t say that the bar is a welcoming space for me-but who said that the bar is supposed to be for me? There is a crowd of regulars and they’ve got that long-term rapport established by loneliness and alcohol. Hell, it’s illusionary enough that the guys who called for open bar are now shooting spitballs out of thin red bar straws and singing along what what sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughn on the PA.

Mine is not to judge. The camaraderie here is its own animal and it would take me at least a month just to be accepted amongst this group. If they want Xmas decorations that metallically sing ‘White Christmas’ and make less than witty jokes, who the hell am I to tell them that their bar isn’t cool? This bar works for them and in a way I know I could fit in here easily if I put in the effort.

People need places where they can just hang out and while some might feel high and mighty making judgments and insisting that they are better than this place, the regulars drinking here are making Cheers jokes, drinking without being harassed by idiots and singing Rolling Stones songs you never heard of before. That isn’t to say I approve of the douchy behavior of some of the fools, even though their misogynist comments are reigned in by a whippersnapper barkeep, just that I get that there is a culture here I do not understand and would be unwise to wash my hands completely of.

Earl Gray Brown (again)

earl gray brown aleI have, once again made an Earl Gray Brown. The results are rather tasty. The nose has a chocolate and nut aroma, like a not quite as sweet version of Nutella. Having moment like that is always promising.

The beer itself tastes like a sweeter version of a brown ale. I’m just not familiar enough with Earl Gray tea to accurately say where it kicks in and I’m pretty certain I could’ve amped the tea mixture up even further. There is an orange flavor though, almost like what you’d get from one of those chocolate oranges. Good stuff.

Next time I’m just using the whole damn box of tea though. Overall, this is a pretty drinkable beer and at 5.2% it falls comfortably in the brown ale style pretty well. Good stuff.

Building a Winter Warmer #2

First, a link back to the original post for reference and so people can see the recipe if they so desire.

hops boilingFrom where I left off, it’s time to add the hops in. At the beginning of the boil, it’s one ounce of Centennial hops, then with twenty minutes left I added in another half ounce of Centennial. These are pretty bitter hops but I’m trying to keep their influence to a minimum. With only 20 minutes left to go, the half ounce should do more for the aromas of the beer than the flavors.

With only ten minutes left in the boil I added in the spices. I upped the spices for this batch because when I made the Later Winter Warmer, the spices weren’t too prominent. I’d like to be able to taste the flavors I’m putting in the beer, otherwise what’s the point?

Once sixty minutes have passed, I take the pot down to the basement to cool it down. This takes about ten to fifteen minutes with a wort chiller. Once that’s done, I start to pour the beer from the pot into a carboy through a strainer and funnel setup to filter out the hops and any leftover grain.

bug in hopsNice huh. This happens sometimes, but still. Wow. Not what I was expecting. I’m not worried about the bug; it was dead before it went into the boil and a full boil should be enough to kill anything, with alcohol getting everything after that. But still…

(If you can’t quite see the bug, it’s in near the center, just off to the left.)

Anyway, at this point I add water to the wort until I have about five gallons, dump the yeast in and let it sit. It doesn’t look like much at first, but later on it starts to pick up steam.
Active winter warmer

All that fluffy white looking stuff at the top is the yeast in action. At the bottom, that faint stripe of light brown is all the other elements of the wort settling out, including the dead yeast. Next week, I’ll talk about putting it into secondary with more kinda gross looking photos!