Health, Alcoholism and Craft Beer

I saw this thread at the beer Subreddit and read through a great many comments.  I have to confess, I cannot read a thread like that and ask myself some questions about my drinking. Portland is a drinking city, too, whether we want to say so or not: along with reading and strippers, great beer has come to be one of the ‘cool’ reasons to visit or live in Portland.

It’s a challenging thing to face, because these days beer not only gets you drunk, it also tastes really good.  On top of all of that, there’s this vibrant culture of people involved and they’re all excited about it. That combination is pretty damned heady for anyone, even a mentally healthy person.  For someone who isn’t in a very healthy place (and I occasionally include myself there) or who just flat out is suffering, I feel like there’s a risk for addiction that we should be vigilant about, even if we don’t discuss it much.

There are a lot of interesting comments and some good stories from people who are drinking too much, who scaled back, who learned various ways to moderate their behavior in such a way that it wasn’t detrimental (or as detrimental) to their lives. Discussions about volume of beer vs volume of alcohol, articles referencing medical studies, a whole host of people talking about judgment, about  need, and about health.

I personally think about this subject often. I have alcoholism in my family so I know that the potential is there. I also really like beer: I make it, I write about it and a great deal of my social activities involve beer at some point. At the same time, I don’t just sit around and drink, my health seems to be good, I exercise frequently and my ability to create a functional life doesn’t appear to be negatively impacted. That is: I have a job, I show up on time, I’m sober, I don’t alienate friends or family with my behavior when I drink, etc.

This is in part because, paradoxically, I want to keep drinking. Alcoholics have to stop drinking. But functional adults (which I sometimes qualify as)  get to do whatever they want. I keep an eye on my behavior, so I can keep doing the things I like to do.

It’s not a bad system, at least so far.


It’s Better To Look Good

At least this beer looks right and pours better than the last one, eh?

This is another attempt at an old ale, with ingredients donated to me by someone who wasn’t going to use them. The previous attempt at this beer lead me to throw it out so if I’ve produced a drinkable ale, I’m already ahead of the game.

The nose is sweet and the head is thick on this beer. Dense, like I could shave with it. The beer itself is more malt forward, no question but there a bitterness on the end that I like. A flag of citrus in the bitterness lets me know that it’s from the hops instead of some kind of brewer error and that’s always satisfying.

So it all worked out!

Brew Date 3.21.15

Steeping Malt:
3 lb Maris Otter
1.5 lb corn
1.25 lb Munich (dark)
.75 Biscuit
.75 Special Roast
4 oz Rice hulls

7 lb LME

2 oz Chinook @ 60
.5 oz Chinook @ 25
.5 oz @ 5

Yeast from Hopworks (ale)

OG: 1.081

FG: 1.02

Secondary on 4.8

ABV: 8.3%

On The Rail: Horse Brass

I’ve arrived at the Horse Brass at an opportune time, since finding a chair on the rail is something I don’t expect here. But sometimes you get lucky and tonight is one of those times.

It is a little strange to see the Horse Brass in ‘almost-lively’ mode. Usually it’s filled with the hordes or very, rarely but occasionally it’s low key. This in between state makes it feel like a different bar, almost, like the karma here is all off.

I drink a Bayreyther Aktien Original 1857 Helles Lager. The title is a bigger mouthful than the beer! The hop finish on this one is subtle but there is a waft of bitterness over the tongue, along with the crispness of the carbonation keeping the finish clean. It’s a sweeter beer-almost surprisingly so, with a bready quality that I find pleasing. It’s been muggy in Portland for the past few days so this beer works rather nicely right now.

Common Ales: Rogue Dead Guy

There’s always a great deal of talk about Rogue around Portland and not all of it relates to the beer. So while noting that many people have many things to say about Rogue, I’m going to set it all aside to talk about the beer they told me sold best, Dead Guy, which they were very prompt and enthusiastic about. Just so it’s clear what my objective is.

I get an element of maltiness in the nose but it fades very quickly. I wonder if this is a drawback to a malt forward style?

I go looking on the internet to find out what kind of style Dead Guy is and it comes back: Maibock.

The problem I’m having with this beer is the finish. It’s made with a lager yeast, technically, or at least a really clean ale yeast if not technically. According to the style, the finish should be really clean, right? But there’s something chewy and a bit unpleasant, a bit like licking a battery.

There’s also a coating in my mouth: My tongue keeps trying to scrape it off the roof of my mouth. I can’t quite identify it but my tongue clearly doesn’t want it around.

Something just seems off and I’m failing to pin it down. This is my fifth Dead Guy and all I can think is: this beer almost gets there. Except it doesn’t. I can’t recommend it.

Portland Craft Beer Fest

I am undoubtedly massively behind on this but last night I met Rodney and Chris, a couple of the guys behind organizing the Portland Craft Beer Fest, meant to spotlight beers made in Portland.  I was talking to Rodney about it and he said, “When someone suggested the idea of having a festival that focused on Portland breweries only, I said, ‘There isn’t one?’ ”

Which was my reaction too! So I felt fortunate to meet these gentlemen and have the opportunity to talk about the upcoming festival in July.  Sure, most of the breweries on the list are ones I’ve heard of but there’s definitely a few new names, like Back Pedal and Royale, and the opportunity to sample all of Portland’s wares in one place should not be overlooked.

What I’m really hoping for, of course, is that some of these breweries will bring some excellent beers to the event. They don’t have to be novel (although that helps) but this city is pretty saturated with beer. It would be in their interest to bring their best stuff so let’s hope that everyone involved feels like showing off. Just a little.

On The Rail: Growler Guys

“Have you ever been to Growler Guys?” Aaron asked me.

“I haven’t but I’ve heard about them.”

“I had a good experience there,” he said and that was all it took.

So here we are. There’s no place to sit at the rail; it is, instead, a true counter where you order your beer and then find a table. I ponder my choices-GG may be a chain but it’s got a nice selection of beers and they’re smart enough to tilt my options towards Oregon at the Portland location. There’s an interesting saison from Off Color I have a taste of but it doesn’t strike me like the kind of beer I want a pint of.

I settle on Alesmith‘s Nautical Nut. It’s a brown ale and the nose is like chocolate frosting, so I’m in for that. As it warms up, coffee flavors start to appear so the ale doesn’t ever come across as being too sweet. I’m one-quarter though the beer before I know it: A good sign, speaking to the easy to drink quality of the ale but I’m starting to worry that my description will be lacking because it’ll gone too soon.

I also paid $5 for this beer and I am uncertain that it is a pint. For five bucks, one should get a pint.

It’s also uncomfortably quiet at the GG. This would be OK by me except for the reggae music that’s on. I’m always going to prefer silence to reggae.

Still, that there’s almost no one here and that seems strange for a Saturday night. I wonder if that’s because it’s a chain? Two televisions-both set to sports stations-and a total of seven patrons counting myself, none of whom are paying attention to them. It’s not unpleasant and it’s well lit enough that I could play cards here (always a virtue for me). It’s not extremely distinctive though and while there is a nice spread of beer selections, they aren’t particularly off the radar. Plus, with the Commons, Green Dragon and Cascade Ale House within a two block radius, a legitimate question to ask is: why would you come here when you have local options that are right there?

But that is an issue with location, not service, selection or atmosphere (except for the reggae). If this place was in an underserved neighborhood? I’d be alllll about it.

My beer is nearly empty and it still smells like chocolate cake. If nothing else, this beer is goading me to make a brown ale again.

The Half Empty

I thought about calling this the Half Full but The Half Empty trips off the tongue better. Maybe I should call this the 50/50?

But here’s why:

Every bottle I’ve opened has come out looking like this photo. Visually amazing to witness, not as much beer left to drink.

My goal was to make a Mild ale and I have to say, it is easy to drink once you can drink it. Sweeter, with a nice coffee and chocolate blend, coming down further on the chocolate side.

Of course, drinking too soon means chewing on foam and that’s a lot less appetizing. The finish is too bright as well; the bubbly elements of this beer wash everything out too fast and hard. It feels prickly and dissuasive of the next sip of beer. Less than awesome, that.

Brew date: 2.28.15

5.5lb mild malt
6 oz Carafa 3
6 oz C80
6 oz Kiln Amber

Fermentables: 3.5 lb LME

Hops :1 oz Simco @ 60

Yeast: 1028 London Ale Wyeast

OG: 1.053

FG: 1.029

ABV: 3.25

Lagers Are The New Black

What goes around, comes around.

After a near relentless focus on ales for the past two decades, in part because lagers were sealed up as far as the market was concerned, craft brewers are (apparently, or at least according to this article) turning their attention to lagers.

This article is solid for a couple reasons; first if you don’t know what the difference between an ale and a lager is, it does a fine job of explaining that. Second, it does a reasonable job explaining why lager styles are being made by craft brewers and why American craft brewers have a chance to make inroads in the beer drinking populace with the style.

As always, I feel this is a good thing. There is no perfect sauce, there are only perfect sauces, as they say. More interesting beers to drink is better than less and summer is almost here.

On The Rail: Sandy Hut

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the Sandy Hut; my ambient memories are dark and tinted green but enjoyable. The Sandy Hut was one of Portland’s better known and loved dive bars so there was an understandable concern when the place was sold to new owners. What would they do? How would it change? So I’ve come to check it out now that it’s been renovated.

And wow, is it an awesome joint. It feels divey; wood paneling and lighting out of the 1970’s or at least what I seem to feel like the 1970’s was like. Plus, because it’s Portland I can get Ft George’s farmhouse ale.

It’s spicy from the yeast, with a hop bitterness followed by a citrus nip at the tongue at the end. It’s got a softness on the mouthfeel; makes me think of saisons and the clarity of the beer suggests that’s just what they did. It’s pretty good; both easy to drink and complex in the best ways. I feel like I lucked out on this pick!

There’s a man in an incredibly ugly plaid shirt and a straw hat that has loudly proclaimed that he used to live near here when he was a boy. “Same bar,” he says, “but so much better. It’s unbelievable.”

The man’s taste in shirts is questionable but is assessment of this bar isn’t. The coolers may not be installed yet (the bartender is pulling beers from buckets of ice out of view) but there’s a warmth to this place that I feel ought to keep the regular dive patrons while welcoming people who want to check it out.

I’d be happier if there was a better selection of beer on draft but there’s a Rainier draft handle that must be from the 1970’s and that earns a sliver of forgiveness.

The bartenders are still talking about the changes, too: it’s new to them as well. “There’s all these creepy manikins in the basement,” one says, “that they used to hang from the ceiling. It freaks me out whenever I have to walk in the office.”

There’s a BASEMENT here? Holy crap, I can barely imagine what might be lurking in the basement of the Sandy Hut.

One of the bartender stumbles for a moment. “Jesus Christ, we gotta get rid of that bucket,” he says. Yeah man. But I look forward to coming here again and  having a drink. It feels pretty damn fantastic in here and I hope the bar is rewarded for cleaning up.


After the big to-do that was Elysian Brewing’s sale, I wondered if breweries were starting to plan for the days when the founders would have to put their brewery into the hands of someone else.

This article, about the changes at large in the craft brewing world, suggest that some businesses, like Deschutes and Brooklyn are thinking about just that. I find that encouraging because I am hoping that some of these craft breweries find a way to become legacy breweries.