IPA number 6So after talking about how we should share our favorite cellared beverages with people I did just that by throwing a party when Fuz was in town to visit. Seven or eight beers I’d made over the past few months were brought up to share with people and for the most part the feedback was good. Or at least people were having a good time and had no reason to complain, so no news is good news.

I was too busy hosting to take notes about how things might’ve fared after a few months but luckily a few beers survived the party. Drinking them now, here are my impressions.

IPA 6 (the sixth IPA I made in ’09)- had a mild sweet citrus with a low level sweetness in the nose. Slightly sharp bitterness at the very end but it’s not an IPA anymore. Pale, maybe? Amber with some bitterness? Not quite sure, but it is still quite drinkable.

ISB (an ESB I overhopped) – a soft piney nose, like wet pine from the forest. Some maltiness in the middle and it’s a good thing there’s some carbonation in there because it’s got a sharp, rising bitterness at the end. The relief of carbonation helps offset that sharpness somehow. Maybe not for everyone but a good beverage, for sure.

IPA 5 (the fifth IPA I made in ’09) – has a much thicker head and it shows that I dry hopped it; tiny chunks of hop plant are suspended in the foam and the beer itself. This has a much stronger nose initially but by the time I went to write about it the scent was nearly gone. A ghost of citrus. What is left is a beer with a flash of malt and then a strong bitterness streak at the end that camps out on the middle of my tongue.

It’s nice that these beers all held up after a few months. I’m in the process of making some milder ales now and I don’t think I’ll have the same luxury.

The Local: The Tanker

Tanker barDear Tanker:

I want to come to the bar more often. There is always a solid selection of beers on tap. Few in number, the quality of brews makes up for it and there are usually daily specials, like the 10 Barrel Pray for Snow pint I got for three bucks. Music selections include the Ramones, Motorhead, Rocket from the Crypt, Pelican and get more obscure from there. It’s easy to get here if it’s raining like hell or the city has been snowed in. The food is tasty. In short, you’re pretty damn close to a bar I’d make if I made bars.

However, there are five televisions in a space that is a little over twice the size of the living room of a house. This is a problem. Those televisions compete so very hard for people’s attention and I get it when there’s a sporting event on but when there isn’t…it’s just too much.

There’s a Wii. Let people have at it. My best memories come from times when people were doing anything but watching sports here; chatting up, enjoying their drinks and the company. Hell, I was in here once when the satellite went out-everyone was having a great time while two hapless bartenders tried to get it going again. Nobody cared; it was Friday night and we were too busy having fun.

Right now, there’s people chatting and good music but I’ve had to strategically seat myself so one TV is blocked. A second is off. I can still see two without effort. That’s just too much if I want to interact with another human being. Even writing is difficult-but let’s face it, I’m a Professional. Do not try this at home.

Less TV. More music. Let it be more like it is tonight and I’ll be happy. Turn the lights up more so I can play cards here and I’ll come regularly.

The 10 Barrel I’m happy to say is delish. It tastes like a brown ale and has the creamy smoothness of one, with a little heat and sweetness at the end hinting at a slightly higher alcohol percentage and a Belgian yeast. But there’s as hint of pine in the nose that throws me off. Not in a bad way; the beer is really good but it throws the kind of curveball that maybe I ought to expect in Portland but am still surprised about.

I stick my head up to try and catch what I’m listening to. It takes two verses before I realize that it’s a crusty punk version of “You Shook Me All Night Long.” This is what I want to go to bars for.  Gimme more of that, less Family Guy. Please?

I don’t like the stout but the stout likes me

While it is true that I don’t like to go out on St. Patrick’s Day, I still really enjoy stouts. As a matter of fact the last stout I made has shown a marked improvement on my previous efforts, as it has the mouthfeel I’d expect from the style; creamy and easy drinking with very little of the coffee bitterness, just the coffee flavor. A definite winner for me.

Ginger stout '10Still no (or very low) carbonation but that can be forgiven in this case. What I’m really looking at is the use of the C-20 malts, as I think that may’ve contributed to the moutfeel.  Recipe is as follows:

Grains steeped for about an hour
1 lb chocolate malt
.5 lb C-20
1 lb Black Patent

Fermentable malts
7 Light Malt Extract

1 oz Nugget @70
.75 oz mystery pellets @ 40 (I used to know the name and then the marker on the bag rubbed off)

1 1.8th oz Ginger @ 30

Wyeast American Ale 1272

Initial Gravity was 1.07
Terminal Gravity 1.02

Personal Notes:  I added the fermentable sugars late to the boil and it dropped the temperature so I ended up waiting for the  wort to come back up to about 170 degrees (or so). This meant I boiled the ginger for longer than I meant to. The wort was starting to smell just a bit vegetal and I was starting to worry. Luckily, everything came out great.

The Local; Horse Brass

pint and computer at horse brassLet’s just get it out of the way: It’s my birthday today. I don’t expose this fact for acclaim, I do so to explain why I’m at the Horse Brass tonight with a Hercules Double IPA from Great Divide. It’s sometimes difficult to choose a pub to go to and I have a desire to save the really good pubs, the ones I know, for days when I’ll be in need.

But if not my birthday, then when?

To most Portlanders, especially those who like beer, there is no need to explain the Horse Brass. But for those who do not live here I shall explain. A Mecca of fine suds, the Horse Brass is about as close to a British pub as one could find in Portland, maybe even this side of the Rockies. Perhaps even the Mississippi. Until the smoking ban, everyone smoked and the yellow walls carry the memory of those times. British paraphenalia holds the walls up more than plaster and there’s a punk painting of Oscar Wilde in the kitchen. It’s dim, scroogly windowed and eschews televisions for darts.

One of, if not the first, bar in Portland to focus on bringing in beers from abroad in the 1970’s when good beer was a rarity in America, the Horse Brass became a locus of hop heads, anglophiles, lovers of the weird and Portlanders. The legend says that the founders of Rogue and Widmer planned their brewery from these beaten tables, and the owner, Don Younger is well known for his influence over the Portland beer scene. You’ll see him occasionally, sitting at the southwest corner of the bar as though he was keeping secret meetings. Never at at table though and who can blame him; the chairs come from a primitive time, when duration mattered and comfort was for sissies.

It’s a pub, damnit. And this is the coolest thing that ever happened to me here:

About four years ago I had come to the Horse Brass on a Friday night, writing away at a table that insisted on two chairs and barely accommodated one person. I was grinding away as writers sometimes do, but I was getting short on my second pint and I have a rule: after the second pint no serious writing can be done. Emo poetry, dirty limericks, odes to women to come and lost, theories about the dinosaur-republican conspiracy, the link between pot and liberals, all these things are fair game on pint three.

But there was no pint three; I was in a mood. Even in my mood though, I began to notice a general rise in the boisterousness of the Horse Brass. Not ‘my sports team is winning’; that kind of joy is too short lived. But an honest to god shift in the bar. What was once a lively Friday night became a cheerful ambiance where giving a stranger a hug would seem ok. It radiated from about four feet away from the table I’m currently sitting at, right under the portrait of Churchill.

I looked at the table. Three men, one woman. They were unpacking small clear pouches of tobacco; “Cherry ’03”, “2000 Blend” was the writing on some of them. Pipes were brought out, serious pipes, and the delicious scents of tobacco began to fill the air; vanilla, cherry, fine tobacco.

The ban on smoking is due to cigarettes. People wouldn’t object in nearly the same numbers if people smoked this kind of tobacco from pipes. Trust me. (Note; Cigars still suck balls)

The waitress came by, asked me if I wanted another beer. I waved her off. She repeated her request but this time I listened: “The table there is buying the bar a round. Are you sure you don’t want a beer?”

Little legos stacked together in my mind. Everything made sense! And yes, of course I wanted another beer.

And then other legos stacked. Friday night at the Horse Brass…and they bought the BAR a round? Holy shit!

Eventually, I worked up the courage to speak to the table. I thanked them for the beer; they asked me what I was doing and we talked about writing a bit. They were extremely congenial and turned the conversation very neatly away from themselves. Other people were thanking them, albeit briefly; I attempted to engage in a conversation…though not very well. I’m a susceptible to someone taking an interest in what I do as anyone.

The conversation ended, minutes passed and I realized I had stupidly not asked the obvious question. With an embarrassed tone I leaned over and spoke to the table again.

“Why did you do this?”

And there it was. A frozen moment. I don’t know if nobody had asked them or if they just were not sure how to answer. It was a second, tops, but a second in which I understood that they were making a private joy public by doing something awesome. That someone would ask why wasn’t something that had occurred to them.

“We just has a a really good day,” one of them said. Perhaps it is memory, maybe I actually picked up on something but I’m not entirely sure that they had a really good day. However I had just enough social graces to know that I’m being asked to drop the subject so I let it go. They wanted to do something awesome; who was I to ask for their bona fides?

So I congratulated then and said thank you once more, packed my journal into my bag, tipped my had and said goodbye.

It was, hands down, one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me and someday I’d like to do it myself. Because raising the happiness experience at a place like that seems pretty damn amazing to me. Who wouldn’t do that if given the chance?

The Professional

As everyone in America knows; it’s Saint Patrick’s Day.

I don’t begrudge anyone their pint of stout. Have at thee!

But this professional is staying home. Too many people thinking they can take on too much in too short a timeframe. They inevitably cause more trouble than they ought to. Not that I don’t enjoy a good party, I just find it difficult to get excited about crowds of amateurs drinking and St Patrick’s Day is all about amateur hour.

Plus, my curmudgeonly behavior means that I can take St Patty’s Day off. Who’s got the holiday now, baby!

Bonus: The Onion reminds you that people order Budweiser.

The Local: Matchbox Lounge

matchbox lounge“For meetings that are not entirely business, but not exactly personal either, the best places are litle pubs, with five or six tables at most.” -Anton Gorodetsky, Twilight Watch by Sergi Lukyanenko.

I’m all scattershot now.

Usually I arc out a narrative as I walk to the bar. In this case, it was going to be something about how the Whiskey Soda lounge wasn’t for me but when I left I walked by the Matchbox and thought; I didn’t know that was a pub! So here I am.

On my way here though, about 42nd and something, just after walking under the monkey arm tree, I heard a jingling, a kind of limp beat. Looking for the source I saw a fuzzy kitty, brown-gray with a black collar, limping between two houses. It’s silver and red tags clanging together as it gimped to what I hope was a safe location, left forepaw held up and dangling in the way that animals have when they’ve hurt a limb, it caused me to stop.

Owch. You need help there?

The cat stopped and looked at me. None of your nonsense human; I’m on my way home.

I certainly hope so.

Though I began walking on and heard the jingle of movement I still worried. The cat has a home, fortunately.

Now instead of a narrative I have jumbles of thoughts, like a Boggle board; scents of pine, lemongrass, and smoke, girls playing on their front porch, a strange starburst shaped thing with blue and purple colors on another, and look, there’s a Cube.

Who the fuck thought that Cube was a good name for a car? Brought to you by the people who named ‘orange’.

The Matchbox treats. The bartender has an Isis shirt on and we talk about the upcoming Melvins/Isis split and tour. All of fifteen seconds and the Lounge has won me over because there’s a heavy metal bartender. The art on the wall ranges from multimedia to sparse, local artists with their wares on display, a solid wal-o-hol and a nice jukebox selection; some music expected, some not. Plus, I can see from there Johnny Cash is there and liking Johnny Cash is pretty much quintessentially American. Not everybody is going to get Metallica or Crooked Fingers; everybody gets The Man in Black.

I got a Daily Bread common ale. I keep trying common ales in part because it was an extinct style-or nearly extinct-and I like the idea that what is lost can be revived. It’s the Roman Catholic in me; I have a thing for redemption, even if it’s beer. Actually, beer makes more sense than anything else.

However, the style just never quite works for me. A little thin in front like sweet air, a bit too bitter at the end, slightly dry finish in this case. I probably would’ve been better off with an IPA but I cannot resist the glory of new things. I think I’d rather have a proper mild ale than a common but oh well. What’s done is done.

The bartender removes a bottle of Johnny Walker red to light a candle behind it. I like that there are hidden candles. I don’t know how the drinks are here but I think this might make a good alternate for the Victory lounge on nights when that place is crowded.

I hope that cat made it home. It bothers me that I had to let it go. I am not a cat person but I dislike seeing someone limp.

Two Great Things

While I don’t talk about it much here, it’s no great secret that I love heavy metal. I come late from the second generation of metalheads, when it’s younger punk brother was starting to size it up and borrow the skills, and the metal kids were taking the attitude and style. Everyone was still in exile from the ‘normal’ world but snarls and solos kind of bridged the gap.

Now, heavy metal and punk are this big sticky mess of sound. Being ‘pure’ doesn’t matter that much to people who love the music, in no small part because we’ve all grown up and can see now that those lines we set up? They were pretty meaningless. With Black Flag railing against the cops and Metallica spitting in the face of TV preachers, insisting that one genre was inferior to the other was something that you do as a kid but didn’t make any sense after 1991. Once the Seattle groups insisted that punk and heavy metal could be friends…well, being dogmatic about your music got a bit silly after that.

And now we’re all grown up. (In a way.) Grownups do things to honor their past though, especially when it comes to honoring something we could love without reservation because we knew nothing of betrayal. So it is that beers like this one, honoring the group Mastodon has come to pass.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this kind of convergence; Ninkasi with their Sleigh’R and Maiden the Shade brews evoke Slayer and Iron Maiden, respectively.

You just know that these dudes were drinking terrible beer early on because that’s what kids at metal shows do; drink the cheapest stuff they can so they can pay to get in the door. Seeing the music is more important than beer…until you grow up and have juuuuust enough income for both. Then suddenly, having a good beer matters and if you’re in a position to make it yourself, why not?


beer comparisonThe beer pictured on the left is Widmer’s Deadlift. The one on the right is an amber beer that I made myself.

Deadlift is Widmer’s take on the imperial IPA style and it’s pretty good. I had a chance to try it recently at the Belmont Station at a Widmer tasting. The Widmer rep (and I’m sorry I don’t remember his name) was very helpful in explaining why the Deadlift was more expensive than most Widmer brews; they added twice the hops and malt. It’s a good beer too; an imperial IPA that, as you can see from the picture, is surprisingly clean.

The W’10 was also available to sample and it was a revelation for me. I haven’t liked Cascade Dark Ales but this was a pretty good beer. I was told that instead of dark malts, they used a malt syrup from Germany made in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot.  As a result, the Widmer beer didn’t have the acrid, astringent coffee flavor that’s turned me away from the style. I was honestly stunned I enjoyed it.

Plus, Rob Widmer was at the event and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had. He elaborated on the malt syrup used in the W’10, saying it was something you could put on ice cream, and told me why the Deadlift took just a little longer to make than their regular line of beers; the equipment in Widmer’s brewery is calibrated to brew the best Hefe they can.

Which blows my mind a little. Someone has geared their equipment to make one kind of beer.

Rob also told me that the X-114 hop that they brew the excellent X-114 pale with at the Gasthaus is going to be called Citra.

I’ve said it before; X is cooler and they should’ve left it as the X-114 hop.

Now why the heck did I put a picture of a beer I made on the right?

Well, to underscore a couple points. First, I have a ways to go before I can claim any kind of mastery. Second; the masters? They really know what they’re doing. But third; that beer I made? It’s still pretty good. It’s not as clear and the effervescence is still inconsistent but I did alright for myself. Look at it as something to aspire to, not as a recriminating comparison.

The Local: Sapphire Hotel

sapphire hotelI probably have more stories here than I should.

There was arguing with the waitress about the merits of Joyce’s Ulysses. (Her pro, me con.) There was the time I had to ‘abandon ship’ here-a reference only my sister will understand and I think everyone is better off without the full details of that story. There was the tale of the woman I loved and could not have.

But perhaps the most amusing story was the time I invited a woman here on a date. A first date.

We’d met at a party and through the power of Ouzo and Jager I’d managed to introduce myself. Things seemed to go well, although who can tell under those circumstances? So it was that the next day my friend insisted I call her if I was interested. Not three days. Not a week. The next day. I was interested and as it turned out she thought meeting me for a drink would be great.

I was early. Nervous, as I am a terrible dater. I set my coat down at a table and went to the bathroom. Leaving the bathroom, hands damp, heart a little tight, I looked up to see coming through the entrance, lo and behold…

My ex-girlfriend. And her new beau.

Our breakup had been…messy. Even ugly in parts. I was not innocent-no one is-but I certainly was unwise. I had been in love. You might imagine the kind of wisdom I was to acquire in that relationship…or maybe you just know that there are people who make your heart pang like a dog suddenly pulling away from the leash. Life is like that, sometimes.

Now, as I prepared to meet a girl, the old one came through with a man who I could tell just by the look of him conformed to her in ways I would not and could not.

She put on a smile said hello. He and I shook hands and I had his measure in a moment. I was not better than him but he was with her and I was not. I smiled and took a fleeting moment of superiority but there was a part of my brain, the writerly part, that stood back and laughed with all the glee of Lex Luthor.

This is your life and it’s right out of a goddamn movie.

They sat a few tables away and through stolen glances I saw she had sat with her back to me. I didn’t blame her. I let it go; I was the ghost singing in her basement and she did not want to visit me anymore.

My date arrived and we ordered drinks and charmed each other. I did not have the Chimay, as I am now but what I did have I cannot remember. We laughed and eventually I walked her to her car and she touched my nose with hers, asking me if I’d like to follow her home.

Not too bad a start to a relationship I say.

It feels darker now. Is memory lighting the scene or did it actually get darker? The waitstaff is still all adorable tomboy lasses, short hair, long boots, black blouses or jeans, tattoos. I confess I do not know, despite coming here for drinks since it opened nearly ten years ago. So much has changed from a visual perspective yet so much is the same from the plane of the heart.

Once upon a time, the Sapphire Hotel was a joint for travelers, sex workers, sailors and gypsies. I wonder if it was as welcoming a century ago, if it was a place where souls were soothed in small rooms, where tiny dramas played out like a hand of cards. I can see old women sitting by crystal balls at entry tables, waiting for an unwary traveler to bestow gifts or curses upon. Maybe there was even the occasional lost soul, taken to a room by a gypsy dancer, falling in with the spell the hotel cast.

I like to think that Portland, for all its roughhouse history and shanghai tunnels had room for a seedy, loving place, where people would stop just to stop, have a drink, wink at the person across from them and accept that the woman with her back turned six feet away was done with you. Not unlike Lady Sally’s Brothel. Yeah, it’s idealistic but so what? Some daydreams are worth having, even when they can never be true.