After reading this article about a man trying to change the way Germans look at brewing beer, I definitely feel fortunate that we don’t have similar ‘brewing purity laws’ in the US.

On the other hand, I know that restraint brings creativity and sometimes, when I’m looking for a beer or reading stories about what breweries are doing, I cannot help but think that the unfettered creativity often leads to outlandish plays for attention, instead of some thoughtful attempts at pushing the envelope of what is possible.

Despite that, I believe I’d rather live in an environment where something like the Maple Bacon Stout was possible, instead of illegal.

On a slightly different axis, Ratebeer has a list of the best stuff by state, even listing other countries like Canada, Britain and Germany. So Fuz, there’s stuff for you to look for!

I can’t really argue with The Abyss being the best beer in Oregon. Hair of the Dog being the best brewery though…I think they may get more attention than is warranted. They are good but I don’t think they’re the best. De Garde Brewing is a new name to me, so I’ll have to keep my eyes out. They’re bottling so hopefully I can find it in a bottle shop.

As for Washington, I can only express my disappointment that I cannot seem to get my neighbor’s beers that easily. Perhaps I need to go shopping more often? I suppose I could drive to Vancouver for beer but…that seems like an awful lot of trouble for beer.

I probably wouldn’t feel that way if I didn’t live in Portland but I do so lucky me!

NW Coffee Beer Invitational

It was a pretty chilly Saturday during the NW Coffee Beer Invitational last weekend but that’s why gloves and hats exist. These things are especially useful when an event is outside, which this was.

In some ways, I don’t think that the beers were served under just circumstances. Cold drinks plus cold weather tend to be the opposite of what normal people do. That didn’t stop people from showing up though: I got there reasonably early and by the time I left, the Invitational had gotten pretty crowded.

Once again, the mildly edited notes, ales in bold are pictured.

Grain Station Brew Works-Hank’s Dark Roast; finish is just raw hop bitterness and that wrecks it.

Base Camp-The Incredible Baltor; a baltic porter that had a weird grassy bite at the end. It’s got some complexity but the grassy note is off putting.

10 Barrel-Pray for Joe; this is a solid winter ale with a coffee accompaniment. It’s weird, but works nicely.

Breakside Brewery-Coffee Sesame Brown; I liked this one. It had a really nice nutty note in the middle of what was a nice light brown ale.

Pints Brewing-Cherry Bomb; this was a very interesting beer. The addition of coffee flavors to the tart Berliner Weisse style wasn’t something I would have expected. I think that for someone else, this would be a great beer. For me, it was just interesting.

Widmer-Scared Half to Death; this pale ale was, essentially, a cold glass of coffee. There wasn’t anything beer oriented in the flavors at all.

I’m not so sure I would go back to this event. Coffee isn’t a flavor I’m incredibly enamored with and the beers mostly fell into the “interesting but not for me” to flat out “why are you doing this to me”, categories. Still, I believe this is the first Coffee Beer Invitational, so perhaps if there is another, more refined flavors will come to light.

Where I Want To Go: Starday

During the last Local series, I went to the Starday, which had so recently shed the Bob & Alice’s title that the only real change about the place was a vinyl banner above the door announcing the new name. I wasn’t very enamored with the place then but a reader suggested that I give it some time and try it later.

This appealed to me for multiple reasons but foremost because I like second chances. Going back to the Starday has been in my mental space for awhile and it’s time to clear that out. So, on a very cold evening when I didn’t really want to make a choice about where to go, I wandered down to see what had happened.

First, I can tell you that the beer selection is much improved. I’m having a Ninkasi Double Red ale, mostly because I have had a hankering for red ales lately but there were other solid options, especially in the bottle. This is always a good thing.

Second, it would seem that the advice I got held up: there was a band playing. Your basic bar-blues band, one part George Thorogood, one part Roadhouse movie; nothing special but you could dance to it.

And people did. The isolation I felt the last time I was there wasn’t really present, as it was clear there was a community of people enjoying themselves. I could join in if I wanted to or not if I didn’t. Sure, I couldn’t hear anyone talk, because they layout of the Starday is tiny and a band is the kind of experience that overrides most everything else but I have to say that overall, it’s a much improved venue.

One small complaint though: if the beer is listed at $4, it’s probably best to note, somewhere, that it’s $4.50 on nights with the band. I don’t mind getting in for free and paying an extra fifty cents, but I do mind not being told what my prices are. The bartender explained and all was well but she shouldn’t have to do that. It just makes things awkward.

(Not a) Winter Ale

When is a winter warmer not a winter warmer? When I forget to put the spices in that would make this beer a winter ale (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and/or ginger).

Sigh. Ah well: Sometimes these things happen. I tried to make up for it by adding orange blossom tea in secondary, to add some complexity to what I was pretty sure was going to be an overly boozy tasting ale. It mostly worked!

There’s a strong caramel presence throughout the majority of this beer, with the orange blossom tea serving as a highlight until the end when the tea bitterness kicks in. It’s probable that this bitterness is combining with the hop bitterness but the dominant flavor is one that resembles black tea, along with a slightly oversweet maltiness. It’s not a terrible beer but it definitely tastes incomplete.

Brew Date: 11.11.13

Steeping Grains
3 lb C 80
3 lb Maris Otter
2 lb 2 row

Fermentables: 7 lb LME

.5 oz Nugget @ 60 (some in preboil)
.5 oz Millennium @ 60
.25 oz Mt Hood @ 30
.5 oz Palisade @20
.25 oz Palisade & Millennium @ 5

Yeast: Hopworks ale yeast (Wyeast 1811, I think).

OG: 1.092

FG: 1.03

Put into secondary: 11.22
Added some orange blossom tea (handful)

ABV: 8.4%

The Big Woody Fest review

For a first effort, the Big Woody Fest made a pretty strong impression, despite some less than hopeful initial signs. The website was only part of it, as the whiskey was kept on another level entirely, either because of logistical or legal reasons, I don’t know, but an opportunity was missed. There was also a need, I think, for some food vendors instead of just samples. The beers were mostly quite strong and whiskey isn’t water. Food is good.

Despite that, the beers available were interesting, varied and mostly pretty tasty! Plus, there was a brochure that took the trouble to describe all the beers available so I was able to make some decisions about what to try. Here again: my (mostly) unedited notes. I bolded the ales that are in the photos, and special thanks to my girlfriend for holding the glasses.

Crux, Tough Love Imperial Stout- smells boozy, has an astringent finish that kinda wrecks it, nose of whiskey vanilla is wasted. This one was served quite cold but even after warmup, didn’t improve. A disappointment from a brewery that I’ve enjoyed before this.

Stone, Cali-Belgique- has a lightness, mango finish. Sour but not seriously so. I like this one, maybe with a little ice cream. I’m so used to them being hardcore IPA brewers that it’s cool to get something so different.

Ale Apothecary, SAHALIE- surprisingly good! I hadn’t heard of them before and was turned off by what I felt was a ‘head up our own ass’ product description that said their beer avoided style categorization, but I was wrong. They totally earned it with a great beer.  Lighter, champagne element without the part of champagne I don’t like, the harsh finish.

Mazama, Nightside Eclipse- a great porter: not heavy at all, a light spiciness at the finish. Really well done. I don’t pick up individual notes so much as just a very drinkable beer.

New Belgium’s NBB loves Leopold- the first wave of flavors reminded me of Nerds candy. Pushes sour about a far as I can stand it. I like it and would have a small glass, but a pint is out of the question. Blueberry note but it’s all sour, no sweet.

Deschutes, 2012 Jubelale- has a plum note? Dried fruit and maple syrup too. Has the sour ale nose but that only barely registers in the finish. Really good. I like it but it is too complicated for me to pick it all up in one little taste. Recommended.

Oakshire, Brandywine- no. Just….thin, no nose, caramel, elements subdued, even an oddly strong hop presence. Just not right for the style. Maybe if it had been called something else? Names matter.

Hopworks, Boom Stick- is quite good doesn’t shy away from the bourbon at all, but still sweet, woody, just what I would expect from this. (I went back for the Army of Darkness a little later and that beer was even better).

Widmer, Downward Spiral IPL- has a nice hop to it and is a pretty remarkable achievement. There are some subtle flavors that exist and nothing is overpowering, yet this is a lager. Very good.

I had tastes of other beers, including a really good stout from Lagunitas and a surprisingly excellent barleywine from McMenamins, but I’d stopped taking notes by then. Still, the beers were good enough that I felt that should be mentioned.

Finally: I had tastes of Bendistillery’s Crater Lake Rye whiskey, which I liked and Templeton’s Rye, based on a Prohibition recipe, which I did not. I can’t really evaluate them except to say that the Bendistillery rye had a nice spiciness and the Templeton’s had a corn flavor that I wasn’t fond of.

Where I Want To Go: Lion’s Eye

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I’ve returned to the  Lion’s Eye. If it was closer-and I lived in an area less full of awesome-I would probably attempt to go there weekly. As it stands: I was easily able to convince my girlfriend to join me for an evening of revelry (although she was probably coming along in part to just quiet me about the place.)

I had a Base Camp Ultra Gnarly IPA and it was quite tasty. It seemed to be a bit bolder than Base Camp’s usual offerings and I appreciate that they are occasionally trying some new stuff. My girlfriend was suitably impressed with the Lion’s Eye and remarked how quiet it was, especially since it was right on 82nd. I hadn’t noticed that last time but it’s true; this pub is really a nice place to hang out.

Which leads me to wonder: ‘how does a place like this continue to exist in such a divey area?’ When I was at Andy’s bar, I could tell there was a group of regulars who were there every night.

Though we are here on a Friday evening and there were customers, the Lion’s Eye isn’t full of people, wrestling to be served. There should be: this place is great. So what’s keeping this going?

I got up to walk around this time and on the other side of the room there were two pool tables, both of which had games being run on them. That’s when I noticed the collection of trophies in the back. Lots of trophies, all for billiards.

I turned back to the tables and took a quick look at them: new black felt, immaculate and deep in color, the kind of surface you want to play pool on.  The light bulb went off in my head; you bring in people who want to play the game and you respect their desires for an excellent environment to play in.

That’s how you keep it going: you build a culture and you respect it, and they in turn respect you. This is on top of a fine beer list and wait staff who have, both times I’ve been in, been  great.

Don’t tell anyone else. This bar is going to be come my Secret Place of Awesome.

The Big Woody Fest

I’m probably being unnecessarily uptight here but the name of the barrel aged beer and whiskey fest this weekend feels overly puerile. Perhaps that’s the point and this event is meant to be a bit loosey-goosey? I dunno. It just feels like I keep coming across beers and festivals that want to allude to somebody’s penis and I’m over it, especially when it’s not very clever.

I bring all this up because I’m getting to attend, though. No point it talking about it otherwise, right? So let me tell you about the beers I’m looking forward to…except that, in a genius stroke of marketing, the website lists only the brewers at the event and mentions nothing about the ales that will be served.

The whiskey guys all have it figured out: their page is full of description and is easy to navigate. Some anchored links so users could bounce from one distillery to another quickly would improve it but aside from that, at least all I have to do is scroll down.

The beer page makes two massive mistakes: first, it doesn’t tell you what specific beers are going to be at the event, and second, it forces users to click through to get to more information, information that is nothing more than a profile of the brewery. So not only is information being kept from me (which I’m not too irate about, as it’s likely they don’t know) but I have to click through to reach a dead end, and this does irritate me.

Still, I am going and there will be a review of the event on Wednesday.

Also, this cool site came up via my Twitter feed:

It’s rad.

More science

It’s a slow week (so far) so I just thought I’d share a couple stories from the ‘to blog’ file, even if they are old.

First, we have people attempting to tweak beer so that it’s more hydrating. The article is emphasizing how this could reduce hangovers–although I would think that the lower alcohol content would do that on its own, but I look at it in a different way. It might also have applications for places where you have to boil your water. A more hydrating beer would keep longer and have a more positive effect on health.

Next up, we have research into a hop molecule that may help treat diabetes. Due to the sugars involved, I doubt diabetics could suddenly start drinking beer for their ailment but wouldn’t it be way, way better if medicine came via beer instead of pill form?

Where I Want To Go: Bunsen Brewers

Disclaimer: the owner of this place is an OBC member so I know the guy. He’s managed to open a new brewery and naturally I wanted to check it out.

The sign outside Bunsen Brewers says beneath it: A fermentation laboratory. That’s really the first moment that I thought was in for something a little different. I ordered the Experiment #2: Oatmeal Stout and had it served to me in this:

Now I like this glass a lot. A whole lot, and there are a few reasons for this which I’ll get into in a moment. What needs to be discussed before anything else is what Bunsen is attempting to do, namely be forthcoming about the science of it’s brews. I’m told they can brew about 1.5 barrels per batch which means it’s a small brewery but it also means they can experiment in a variety of ways. So the plan is to have recipes posted so that patrons can see what was done to make a beer and, if there is a similar beer on tap, compare them to each other to see how changes in malt, yeast, water, etc made an impact. Which brings us back to the glass, and what I like about it.

First, it’s incredibly thematic, fitting the more scientific bent of Bunsen. Second, there is a mark on the glass measuring 1 pint, which is not only really cool, it ensures that patrons know they are getting their money’s worth, something I’m sure many people, especially Bill, will appreciate. So it encapsulates a really clever branding by providing an identifiable theme AND subtly suggesting to customers that they are getting what they pay for.

I also like the space Bunsen is in. The bartender told me that it used to be an art space and I believe it: there are lots of white walls with open spaces where there are little thematic touches (posters of Einstein, the periodic table) but I could see paintings once hanging. Above the walls, it’s all black insulation with strong but not too strong lights coming down, so there’s a very stark contrast between the lower and upper areas as well as being a pleasant place to sit and hang out in.

But I’m here for the beer and you should be too. That oatmeal stout was very, very good-I’ll even admit to being surprised at how much I liked it. It’s got a velvety mouthfeel from the oatmeal and the chocolate flavors are soft and round the beer out nicely. Near the end of the glass, there was a hint of a buttery quality that I couldn’t quite pin down. The kind of thing that I’d talk out with friends to figure out what it was. So often I am told that breweries just cannot be judged on the work of their first year, because it takes time to work all the kinks out of a system. Despite that truth, this beer tastes great and I am really pleased to see Bunsen hit the ground running with this one.

Better Red Than Dead

I may not have shared this before, but I’ve been trying to make a really balanced red ale for a little while now. Something with a solid malt presence but legitimate hop characteristics in the nose and finish. Too dark and malty to be called a pale, but not bitter enough to be an IPA. I don’t even know if such a style really exists because red ales tend to emphasize malt and pales tend to lean hops, but this is what I’m shooting for.

This beer is the closest I’ve come to that, so far. It’s pretty good and I’m mostly pleased with that.

There is a little bit of a bite on the very finish; I’m having trouble sussing out if it’s metallic or just really dry. There may be a yeast impact that I haven’t accounted for and that may be because this yeast was on it’s third and final pass, or it’s possible I didn’t clean properly and a mild infection set in. Still, this is a batch that I should transition into a partial-grain brew, because I want to try it again. A different yeast and I think I might have a real winner on my hands.

Brew Date: 11.23.13

Steeping grains:
1.5 lb Maris Otter
1.5 lb Victory

Fermentables: 7 lb LME

.75 oz Wakatu pellet hops @ 60
.25 oz Glacier @ 60
.5 oz Chinook @ 30
.5 oz Glacier @20
.25 oz Wakatu & Glacier @5

reused Wyeast 1332-3rd final use

OG: 1.068

FG: 1.012

Put into secondary 12.13, .5 oz Chinook in secondary
Bottled 12.14

ABV: 7.58